Engaging the Gospel – Christ the King

Solemnity of Christ the King (Year C): Gospel – Luke 23:35-43

For the Solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church presents us with a stark Gospel: Jesus on the Cross.

“The Cross is the paradoxical sign of His kingship,” Benedict XVI has reflected:

It is in the very offering of Himself in the sacrifice of expiation that Jesus becomes King of the universe…

But in what does this ‘power’ of Jesus Christ the King consist?…It is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart…

This Kingdom of Grace is never imposed and always respects our freedom….Every conscience, therefore, must make a choice. Who do I want to follow? God or the Evil One? The truth or falsehood?

November 22, 2009.

This choice is reflected in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus is reviled by some, but venerated by the “Good Thief.”

The Gospel dialogue reverberates to our own time, when the kingship of Christ is still subject to mockery and derision. Many in our culture commit the sin of blasphemy, “uttering against God – inwardly or outwardly – words of hatred, reproach, or defiance” (Catechism paragraph 2148).

As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to shape our world, and transform our culture, in the light of the Gospel (898-99, 2105), and thus advance the Kingdom.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when someone mocks the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 13:31-33a, 34-35

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

The Catechism teaches:

The entire Law of the Gospel is contained in the ‘new commandment’ of Jesus, to love one another as He has loved us (paragraph 1970).

The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom…lets us pass from the condition of a servant…to that of a friend of Christ…or even to the status of son and heir (1972).

Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see (2840).

It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by Whom we live can make ours the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (2842).

Question for reflection: Why do I sometimes fail to love others as I should?

Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The parable of the prodigal son isn’t just about the wayward lad, but is more revealing of the father who is “prodigal” — in the sense of extravagantly generous — in his merciful love:

The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father: the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy – all these are characteristic of the process of conversion.

The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life – pure, worthy, and joyful – of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of His family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ Who knows the depths of His Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of His mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.

— paragraph 1439.

Question for reflection: What aspect of the prodigal son’s story strikes me most deeply?

Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 13:1-9

Like the fig tree that has failed to produce any fruit for the landowner in this parable, we disappoint God when we fail to respond to His love.

For His part, God lavishes even more care upon us to help us bear fruit. In the parable, this special care – or grace – is symbolized by the gardener’s offer to cultivate the ground around the barren tree:

Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life (Catechism paragraphs 1996-97).

“God’s free initiative demands man’s free response” – either we choose to enter “freely into the communion of love” (2002), or we choose to cut ourselves off from it, counting “the offer of God’s grace as nothing” (678).

Jesus warns us of the eternal consequences of our choice. If the fig tree remains barren, even after the gardener’s extra attention, it will be cut down:

By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love (679).

Question for reflection: How might I respond more generously to God’s nurturing care?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Jesus warns us to avoid sin

“Before being against a law or a moral norm, sin is against God, against your brothers and sisters and against yourselves,” wrote St John Paul II, who described sin as our refusal

to let ourselves be loved by the true Love: the human being has in fact the terrible power to be an obstacle to God Who wills to give all that is good…

Today, unfortunately, the more people lose the sense of sin, the less they have recourse to the pardon of God. This is the cause of many of the problems and difficulties of our time.

Message for the 14th World Youth Day.

“Sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives” us (Catechism 387), a “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor” that “wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (1849). Moreover, “sin creates a proclivity to sin” (1865).

As St Augustine wrote, we must not ignore the cumulative effects of even small sins: “A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession”(1863).

The Lord is always eager to welcome us in Reconciliation. JPII urged us to “approach trustfully the sacrament of Confession” and “receive with a grateful heart the absolution given by the priest…The Source of love regenerates and makes us capable of overcoming egoism and of loving again, with greater intensity” (op. cit.).

Question for reflection: What efforts do I make to overcome my habitual faults?

Prayer of Intercession

Based upon Catechism paragraphs 2634-36:

Intercession derives from the Latin for “go between,” with the sense of intervening on behalf of someone. As the root word suggests, intercession is a form of prayer in which we ask God to help others, offering Him our petitions for their sake.

Intercessory prayer is an act of love, for we are truly seeking the good of others by praying to God on their behalf. In so doing, we exhibit a “heart attuned to God’s mercy.”

More astonishingly, we are thereby caught up in the mystery of God’s own life, where intercessory prayer wells up within the depths of the Most Holy Trinity. Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, continuously prays to the Father for us, as does the Holy Spirit. We enter into this dynamic of divine mercy whenever we pray for others, and especially when we pray for our enemies, as Jesus taught us.

Most often, however, our intercessory prayer will involve those closest to us, as we beg the Lord for the needs of our families, friends, neighbors, fellow members of the Body of Christ. We may even feel our faith stretched if our intercession doesn’t seem to help, if changes don’t occur for the better.

But in these difficulties, we must remember that God always respects the freedom of others. Our petition may require a certain level of openness or receptivity on another’s part, and if that person is not ready at a given point, the Lord will not force the issue. Rather, He will offer His grace according to His inexhaustible patience with us.

For that reason, we should never give up praying for someone, no matter how impossible the case may seem. God may be moving us to pray, so that He will cause it to bear fruit when the time is ripe.

 

The True Meaning of Freedom

Too often in our society, freedom is taken to mean the ability to do whatever we want. But if we follow that illusion, we end up being unhappy.

In reality, freedom isn’t about being free from all constraints; rather, freedom is about being free for something, the ability to choose the good.

God gave us the gift of free will to choose Him and to live in accordance with His will for us. Because He created us, He knows what is best for us, what behavior contributes to our human flourishing and happiness.

This moral law is encoded within our very being as human persons. Whenever we flout the moral law in the name of “freedom,” we go against the truth of God’s design for us and actually deliver ourselves up to slavery to sin.

But Jesus liberates us from bondage to sin, gives us true freedom, and empowers us to live in His friendship. As disciples, we are called to follow Jesus in freely giving ourselves for the good of others.

St John Paul II explains this beautifully in Veritatis Splendor: “Human freedom…is given as a gift, one to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly” (86).

Our “freedom of conscience is never freedom ‘from’ the truth but always and only freedom ‘in’ the truth” (64).

Jesus is “the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God.” Through contemplation of Jesus on the Cross, we grasp “the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in service to God and one’s brethren” (87).