Engaging the Gospel – Luke 19:1-10

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 19:1-10

Today’s Gospel, focusing on the dramatic repentance of Zacchaeus, reveals that an encounter with Jesus is a life-changing experience.

Benedict XVI has often emphasized this very theme of encountering Jesus:

We are only Christians if we encounter Christ…We too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ’s Heart and feel Him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One, do we truly become Christians.

September 3, 2008.

St John Paul II viewed Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus as a “biblical icon” that illustrates the sacrament of Reconciliation, “God’s arrival at a person’s home.” Just as Jesus’ look deeply affects Zacchaeus, “that same gaze looks upon each” one of us:

Mercy has already come to him as a gratuitous and overflowing gift…Beneath the loving gaze of Christ, the heart of Zacchaeus warms to love of neighbor…

The salvation which truly heals and restores, involves a genuine conversion to the demands of God’s love. If Zacchaeus had welcomed the Lord into his home without coming to an attitude of openness to love and reparation for the harm done, without a firm commitment to living a new life, he would not have received in the depths of his heart the forgiveness which the Lord had offered him with such concern.

Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2002.

Question for reflection: In what ways do I relate to Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus?

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Engaging the Gospel – Luke 15:1-32

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 15:1-32

St. Luke’s Gospel has been called the “Gospel of Mercy,” and today’s parables are especially illustrative of this theme.

As Benedict XVI has commented,

Above all, this Gospel text has the power of speaking to us of God, of enabling us to know His Face and, better still, His Heart. After Jesus has told us of the merciful Father, things are no longer as they were before.

We now know God; He is our Father who out of love created us to be free and endowed us with a conscience, Who suffers when we get lost and rejoices when we return.

Benedict explains that our relationship with God develops over time, much as the child-parent relationship does:

In these stages we can also identify moments along man’s journey in his relationship with God. There can be a phase that resembles childhood: religion prompted by need, by dependence.

As man grows up and becomes emancipated, he wants to liberate himself from this submission and become free and adult, able to organize himself and make his own decisions, even thinking he can do without God. Precisely this stage is delicate and can lead to atheism, yet even this frequently conceals the need to discover God’s true Face.

Fortunately for us, God never fails in His faithfulness, and even if we distance ourselves and get lost, He continues to follow us with His love, forgiving our errors and speaking to our conscience from within in order to call us back to Him…

Only by experiencing forgiveness, by recognizing one is loved with a freely given love – a love greater than our wretchedness but also than our own merit – do we at last enter into a truly filial and free relationship with God.

Angelus of March 14, 2010.

Let us respond to the Father’s merciful love by availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Question for reflection: How have I experienced being lost, and being found by God’s merciful love?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 7:36-8:3

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 7:36-8:3

Today’s Gospel reveals the “divine tenderness to repentant sinners,” as Benedict XVI has commented:

All at once, an uninvited and unexpected guest entered from the back of the room: a well-known prostitute…She had heard [Jesus’] words of pardon and hope for all, even prostitutes; she was moved and stayed where she was in silence. She bathed Jesus’ feet with tears, wiped them dry with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with fragrant ointment.

By so doing, the sinner woman wanted to express her love for and gratitude to the Lord with gestures that were familiar to her, although they were censured by society. Amid the general embarrassment, it was Jesus Himself Who saved the situation.

Jesus essentially says to the scandalized Pharisee,

‘You see? This woman knows she is a sinner; yet prompted by love, she is asking for understanding and forgiveness. You, on the other hand, presume yourself to be righteous and are perhaps convinced that you have nothing serious for which to be forgiven.’

The message that shines out from this Gospel passage is eloquent: God forgives all to those who love much. Those who trust in themselves and in their own merits are, as it were, blinded by their ego and their heart is hardened in sin. Those, on the other hand, who recognize that they are weak and sinful entrust themselves to God and obtain from Him grace and forgiveness.

It is precisely this message that must be transmitted: what counts most is to make people understand that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whatever the sin committed, if it is humbly recognized and the person involved turns with trust to the priest-confessor, he or she never fails to experience the soothing joy of God’s forgiveness.

Address of March 7, 2008.

Question for reflection: When have I been deeply moved by experiencing the Lord’s forgiveness?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – John 8:1-11

Benedict XVI has commented on this Gospel passage of the adulterous woman, in which human sinfulness and Divine Mercy “come face to face.” As the Pope Emeritus explained,

The pitiless accusers of the woman, citing the law of Moses, provoke Jesus – they call Him ‘Teacher’ (Didáskale) – asking Him whether it would be right to stone her. They were aware of His mercy and His love for sinners and were curious to see how He would manage in such a case which, according to Mosaic law, was crystal clear. But Jesus immediately took the side of the woman…‘Let him who is without sin among you (He uses the term anamártetos here, which is the only time it appears in the New Testament) be the first to throw a stone at her.’

…Augustine added that with these words, Jesus obliged the accusers to look into themselves, to examine themselves to see whether they too were sinners. Thus, ‘pierced through as if by a dart as big as a beam, one after another, they all withdrew.’

…When they had all left, the divine Teacher remained alone with the woman. St Augustine’s comment is concise and effective: ‘relicti sunt duo:  misera et Misericordia, the two were left alone, the wretched woman and Mercy.’…

Dear friends, from the Word of God we have just heard emerge practical instructions for our life. Jesus does not enter into a theoretical discussion with His interlocutors on this section of Mosaic Law; He is not concerned with winning an academic dispute about an interpretation of Mosaic Law, but His goal is to save a soul and reveal that salvation is only found in God’s love…only divine forgiveness and divine love received with an open and sincere heart give us the strength to resist evil and ‘to sin no more,’ to let ourselves be struck by God’s love so that it becomes our strength. Jesus’ attitude thus becomes a model to follow for every community, which is called to make love and forgiveness the vibrant heart of its life.

Homily of March 25, 2007.

Question for reflection: How has my acceptance of God’s mercy helped me to extend mercy to others?

Prayer of Petition

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2629-33:

Petition is a form of prayer in which we ask the Lord for what we need.

First and foremost is our need for forgiveness: because our relationship with God is the “one thing necessary,” we want to preserve it, protect it, and nurture it above all else. Each and every sin frays this relationship, and mortal sin ruptures it (which is why we seek an encounter with the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to heal and restore it).

When we realize that we have hurt God, and others, through our faults and failings, we are moved to ask for His mercy. Sometimes we can fall into the bad habit of taking sin lightly and treating forgiveness as a mere formality. While God is eager to forgive, He wants us to repent truly, and recognize sin for the evil that it is.

So important is it to ask for forgiveness, that the Catechism describes it as a “prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer.”

Another vital need for which we pray is the coming of the Kingdom, as Jesus taught us. This petition involves not only beseeching the Lord to bring salvation history to its culmination, but also asking that we may receive His help in striving toward, and cooperating with, the Kingdom’s coming.

Because “the seed and beginning of the Kingdom” on earth is the Church, our petition for the Kingdom also involves the building up, the flourishing, of the Church here in the world.

Of course, we have many other needs in our daily lives, and we are encouraged to bring these too – even the small ones – before the Lord in our prayers of petition: “Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in His Name.”

This is especially helpful for family prayer time, when children may be invited to offer their own petitions.

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 1:29-39

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:29-39

The people throng to Jesus in search of healing

Do we sometimes wish that we had lived during Jesus’ time, and like the residents of Capernaum in Sunday’s Gospel, had been able to gather around the Lord? Yet Jesus is just as present, and accessible, to us as He was to the people 2,000 years ago.

He is here, right now, in our Church, and we too can experience His transforming touch, if we are open to Him. For this reason, we should look forward to Mass as our place of encounter with the Lord, and not view our Sunday attendance as an obligation we can do without. Most especially present in the Eucharist (Catechism paragraphs 1373-81), Christ is “at work in each of the sacraments,” where “He personally addresses” each one of us (1484).

Benedict XVI develops the Gospel theme:

Jesus’ entire mission is symbolically portrayed in this episode. Jesus, coming from the Father, visited peoples’ homes on our earth and found a humanity that was sick, sick with fever, the fever of ideologies, idolatry, forgetfulness of God.

The Lord gives us His hand, lifts us up and heals us. And He does so in all ages; He takes us by the hand with His Word…He takes us by the hand in the sacraments, He heals us from the fever of our passions and sins through absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He gives us the possibility to raise ourselves, to stand before God and before men and women.

And precisely with this content of the Sunday liturgy, the Lord comes to meet us, He takes us by the hand, raises us and heals us ever anew with the gift of His words, the gift of Himself.

Homily of February 5, 2006.

Question for reflection: What prompts me to seek Jesus?

Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive

Jesus is adamant that we cannot receive God’s forgiveness unless we forgive others who have hurt us.

Far from being a simplistic admonition to “be nice,” this petition teaches us an invaluable truth about the spiritual life. If we are so caught up in our own grievances that we nurse grudges and refuse to forgive, our hearts are not open to God: we do not have the capacity to receive His mercy.

The Lord doesn’t want us to be turned in on ourselves, and our pain, but instead to give it to Him. We can do this by making an act of the will to forgive.

That doesn’t mean we can easily forget the offense, or trivialize it, or that we no longer feel the hurt. Rather, our decision to forgive is a step in our healing, which also serves to identify us with Christ.

If God Himself on the cross forgave those who were crucifying Him, how much more should we forgive our fellow frail human beings! By experiencing what it means to forgive an offense, we develop a greater appreciation for what God continually does for us. Despite our many failures to love Him, He is always eager to forgive us and begin anew.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2838-45.