Engaging the Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

Jesus challenges us with very difficult sayings – that anyone who doesn’t “hate” his own family and life, and renounce all of his possessions, can’t be His disciple.

Of course, Jesus isn’t literally telling us to hate, when His commandments call us to love. Rather, it is a manner of expression in Semitic languages like Jesus’ own Aramaic: Jesus is pointedly stating that to be true disciples, we must put God first, and prefer Him to everything, including family and possessions. We must not allow relationships, or things, to become obstacles that keep us from God.

Put another way, “Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with Him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social” (Catechism paragraph 1618).

As Benedict XVI has reflected,

If we listen to today’s Gospel, if we listen to what the Lord is saying to us, it frightens us…We would like to object: What are you saying, Lord?

But the Lord is revealing a profound truth:

Whoever wants to keep his life just for himself will lose it. Only by giving ourselves do we receive our life. In other words: only the one who loves discovers life.

And love always demands going out of oneself, it always demands leaving oneself. Anyone who looks just to himself, who wants the other only for himself, will lose both himself and the other. Without this profound losing of oneself, there is no life.

‘Whoever loses his life for my sake…’ says the Lord: a radical letting-go of our self is only possible if in the process we end up, not by falling into the void, but into the hands of Love eternal. Only the love of God, who loses Himself for us and gives Himself to us, makes it possible for us also to become free, to let go, and so truly to find life.

Homily of September 9, 2007.

Question for reflection: What is the most difficult thing that God has asked of me?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel – John 12:20-33

Jesus emphasizes the centrality of the Cross, in His saving mission and in the lives of everyone who would follow him.

Jesus’ “redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation” (Catechism paragraph 607). Through the “great Paschal mystery – His death on the Cross and His Resurrection – He would accomplish the coming of His kingdom. ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself’” (542).

“This gathering is the Church, on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom” (541) — “born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation” (766).

Jesus calls us to follow His example of total self-giving, affirming that only by dying to ourselves can we enter eternal life. In so doing, the Lord offers each one of us “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the Paschal mystery” (618).

We experience this reality most profoundly in the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. In Baptism, the descent into the water signifies “the descent into the tomb” (628), our “burial into Christ’s death,” from which we rise up “by resurrection with Him, as a new creature” (1214).

Having “become members of Christ” (1213), we are called to “become God’s fellow workers and co-workers for His kingdom” (307). We offer ourselves in union with the Lord’s sacrifice:

In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value.

paragraph 1368.

By embracing our own crosses, we advance in the spiritual life and grow closer to Jesus: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (2015).

Question for reflection: How has dying to myself helped me to follow Jesus more closely?

God’s Inspiring Plan for the Family

Today’s celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a sign of the dignity of the family itself, and a call to live up to God’s inspiring plan for our own families.

Marriage and family life have profoundly theological dimensions, as St. John Paul II explains in Familiaris Consortio.

God Himself is the author of marriage: He created man and woman as complementary partners, designed for a matrimonial union, to cooperate with Him in the extraordinary gift of transmitting new life. Husband and wife therefore enjoy a “unique participation in the mystery of life and of the love of God Himself” (29).

Parents are to bring children up in the faith – a task so important that St. Thomas Aquinas “has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests” (38). The family thereby fulfills its vocation of being a “domestic church.”

The family is also “the first and fundamental school of social living,” with each member called to self-giving for the others (37).

“The essence and role of the family” is summed up by love: “the mission to guard, reveal, and communicate love,” as “a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride” (17).

And to the lonely, John Paul offers a special word: “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone” (85).

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16a

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16a

The generous landowner in this parable symbolizes God, and the daily wage He gives to all the workers, regardless of their length of service, represents the gift of eternal life with Him.

“In the Kingdom of God, the pay or wages is God Himself,” as St. John Paul II explained:

When it comes to salvation in the Kingdom of God, it is not a question of just wages, but of the undeserved generosity of God, Who gives Himself as the supreme gift to each and every person who shares in divine life through sanctifying grace.

…When we receive a gift, we must respond with a gift. We can only respond to the gift of God in Jesus Christ — his Cross and Resurrection…with the gift of ourselves…one can never match or equal the value of God’s gift of Himself to us.

Homily of September 19, 1987.

Once we view our lives through the prism of God’s generosity, we cultivate a sense of gratitude for all of his gifts. On the other hand, if we fail to be grateful, and instead compare ourselves to others as the grumbling workers in the parable did, we open ourselves up to envy.

The sin of envy involves “sadness at the sight of another’s goods,” or conversely, “joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor.” Envy is fundamentally a “refusal of charity” because it seeks to deprive our neighbor, rather than to promote his good (Catechism paragraphs 2539-40).

Question for reflection: How do I deal with temptations to envy?