Engaging the Gospel – Luke 17:5-10

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 17:5-10

Today’s Gospel is marked by what appears to be an abrupt transition: from the well-known saying about the power of faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus then goes on to describe how we are simply God’s servants, doing what we ought to do.

Hence Jesus’ dramatic imagery, of the mulberry tree being uprooted and planted into the sea, is put in context – not as a magic trick by which we cater to our own whims and compel God to comply, but as a symbol of what God can accomplish, if we have the faith to let Him work in our lives.

Jesus’ quick turn, from faith to serving God, also shows us that the two are inextricably linked.

Faith is not something that we develop by ourselves; rather, “faith is man’s response to God,” Who reaches out to us first (Catechism paragraph 26).

By revealing Himself, “God, from the fullness of His love, addresses men as His friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into His own company” (142). When we respond to this invitation with faith, we submit ourselves to God totally (143):

Believing in God, the only One, and loving Him with all our being, has enormous consequences for our whole life (222).

Because we “freely commit [our] entire self to God,” as believers, we also “seek to know and do God’s will…Living faith works through charity” (1814), which is why “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

Question for reflection: When have I asked God to increase my faith?

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Engaging the Gospel – Sixth Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter: Gospel – John 14:23-29

Jesus tells the disciples that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to them. The Catechism explains:

Before His Passover, Jesus announced the sending of ‘another Paraclete’ (Advocate), the Holy Spirit. At work since creation, having previously spoken through the prophets, the Spirit will now be with and in the disciples, to teach them and guide them into all the truth.

–paragraph 243.

This knowledge of faith is possible only in the Holy Spirit: to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit. He comes to meet us and kindles faith in us (683).

The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls His word to them, and opens their minds to the understanding of His death and resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist…(737).

The Holy Spirit, whose anointing permeates our whole being, is the interior Master of Christian prayer (2672).

The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’ – the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates His work of salvation through the liturgy of His Church, until He comes (1076).

Question for reflection: When have I been comforted by a timely reminder of Jesus’ words?

Divine Mercy Sunday

2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday: Gospel – John 20:19-31

This Gospel passage featuring “doubting Thomas” is appropriate for Divine Mercy Sunday.

When revealing the unfathomable depths of His mercy to St Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s, Jesus emphasized how much He longs for us to trust Him, and how our lack of trust grieves Him.

Just as Jesus showed His wounds to Thomas as proof of His resurrection, so does He remind us of His wounds as a pledge of His mercy:

Remember My Passion, and if you do not believe My words, at least believe My wounds.

— Diary of St Faustina, paragraph 379.

Thus Jesus implores us to entrust ourselves to His merciful Heart, especially today, Divine Mercy Sunday. This feast was not established because of a personal inspiration on the part of St John Paul II, nor is it just a matter of one’s own spiritual tastes.

Jesus Himself is the Author of Divine Mercy Sunday. In His revelations to St Faustina, the Lord requested that the second Sunday of Easter be dedicated as the Feast of Divine Mercy:

I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.

The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flows are opened.

Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity (699).

Just as He ordered the Feast, so did Jesus call for the Divine Mercy image to be painted, depicting the rays of mercy streaming from His Heart:

The two rays denote Blood and Water…These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross (299).

Jesus commissioned St. Faustina to spread the Divine Mercy devotion throughout the world, asking us to confide in His infinite love for us:

I came down from heaven out of love for you, I lived for you, I died for you, and I created the heavens for you (853).

Love has brought Me here, and love keeps Me here (576).

I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy (367a).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord in His mercy helped me through a struggle of faith?

Pope Francis on Lectio Divina

Lectio divina, “divine reading,” is a form of prayer that includes meditation.

Pope Francis explains:

There is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in His Word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina. It consists of reading God’s Word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us…

In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example: ‘Lord, what does this text say to me? What is it about my life that you want to change by this text? What troubles me about this text? Why am I not interested in this?’

Or perhaps: ‘What do I find pleasant in this text? What is it about this word that moves me? What attracts me? Why does it attract me?’

When we make an effort to listen to the Lord, temptations usually arise. One of them is simply to feel troubled or burdened, and to turn away.

Another common temptation is to think about what the text means for other people, and so avoid applying it to our own life. It can also happen that we look for excuses to water down the clear meaning of the text. Or we can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make.

This leads many people to stop taking pleasure in the encounter with God’s Word; but this would mean forgetting that no one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait.

He always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before Him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from Him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.

Evangelii Gaudium, 152-53.

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus inveighs against the Pharisees, who were so caught up in their own rules about external purification that they ignored the most important purification of all – the interior cleansing of the heart.

“The organ for seeing God is the heart,” Benedict XVI affirms:

The intellect alone is not enough…The heart – the wholeness of man – must be pure, interiorly open and free, in order for man to be able to see God…Purification of heart occurs as a consequence of following Christ, of becoming one with Him…The pure heart is the loving heart that enters into communion of service and obedience with Jesus Christ.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 92-95.

The pure of heart are “attuned” to God in three primary ways: “charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (Catechism paragraph 2518).

Although we have received purifying grace in baptism, we must continue the “battle for purity,” struggling against the weakness of our flesh (2520).

“Purification of the heart demands prayer, the practice of chastity, purity of intention and of vision” (2532).

Purity of heart “enables us to see according to God, to accept others as neighbors; it lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbor’s – as a temple of the Holy Spirit” (2519).

Question for reflection: What can I do to strive for purity of heart?

Difficulties in Prayer: Lack of Faith

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2732.

A lack of faith is “the most common yet most hidden temptation” in our prayer, according to the Catechism, because it isn’t as straightforward as simple disbelief. Instead, lack of faith is something more insidious and subtle, which is why we may have trouble recognizing it for what it truly is.

Do we turn to God only as a “last resort,” after all else fails? That implies that we didn’t have the faith to go to Him right away in our distress, but thought that we, or others, could handle it.

On the other hand, we can be tempted to treat God as the cosmic Being Who caters to our wishes, and arranges everything just the way we’d like. In that case, our prayer devolves into telling God what we want Him to do for us. That’s not faith in God, but presumption.

While the Lord obviously wants us to ask Him for our needs, we must do so in the humble spirit of creatures who don’t really know what’s best for us, or for our eternal destiny. True faith means that we turn our needs over to the Lord in prayer, while submitting ourselves to His will, in an attitude of radical trust in His loving providence.

Sometimes a lack of faith creeps in when we try to pray, but remember other things that we have to do. At that moment, do we resolutely remain with the Lord, and put our other action-items aside for a more appropriate time? Or do we put the Lord aside?

If we’re jumping up to help someone in urgent need who depends upon us, we are serving the Lord in that person. But otherwise, if we’re just dropping prayer to do something that could wait, we’re effectively telling the Lord that He doesn’t take priority in our lives.

We may not say it, but our actions reflect that we are prioritizing something other than God. The Catechism describes this as “the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love?”

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 6:1-6

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 6:1-6

While last Sunday’s Gospel revealed the power of faith, today’s Gospel presents us with its empty opposite – hardness of heart resulting in a lack of faith.

Jesus is amazed at the lack of faith among the people of His own town of Nazareth, who take offense at Him. Having known Him and His family for years, they cannot reconcile the ordinariness of Jesus’ life with His profound teaching and His performing mighty deeds:

During the greater part of His life, Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor…The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of His hidden life was already inaugurating His work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed. The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.

–Catechism paragraphs 531-533.

Like the people of Nazareth, we can find pretexts for ignoring, or even rejecting, the Lord’s message when it strikes us as difficult or inconvenient. But we would then be refusing God’s gift, denying the truth, and lying to ourselves:

God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth…Since God is true, the members of His people are called to live in the truth. In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest.

–paragraphs 2465-66.

God offers us the gift of faith (153), but we must respond of our own free will to embrace it (154-55), and we must persevere lest we lose our faith (162).

“The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith,” and also implies how we can sin against faith. One of these sins is willful doubt, which “disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief…If deliberately cultivated, doubt can lead to spiritual blindness” (2088).

That kind of spiritual blindness was on display at Nazareth, preventing the people from receiving what the Lord wanted to give them.

Question for reflection: When have preconceptions hardened my heart?