Engaging the Gospel – Luke 21:5-19

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 21:5-19

While last Sunday’s Gospel focused on the resurrection at the end of time, today’s passage braces us for the wars, disasters, and persecutions that must be endured before the Lord comes again. But whatever suffering we experience, Jesus promises us that by our “perseverance” (sometimes translated as “endurance”), our lives (or “souls”) will be saved.

We should ask God for the gift of final perseverance. As St. Augustine (d. 430) observed in Admonition and Grace,

God willed that His saints should not…glory in their own strength, but in Himself, who gives them not only such assistance…but He also works in them the will to persevere….Aid, therefore, is brought to the weakness of the human will, so that it might be affected firmly and invincibly by divine grace (12, 38).

A current scholar of Augustine, Benedict XVI, has also spoken of the saint’s view of perseverance:

I return to St. Augustine: at first he was content with the grace of conversion; then he discovered the need for another grace, the grace of perseverance, one which we must ask the Lord for each day…

It seems to me that we must have trust in this gift of perseverance, but we must also pray to the Lord with tenacity, humility and patience to help and sustain us…and to accompany us day after day to the very end, even if our way must pass through dark valleys.

Address of February 17, 2007.

Question for reflection: When have I learned the value of perseverance?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 7:11-17

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 7:11-17

Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son from death is a great miracle that illustrates His power over the natural order. But as St Augustine comments, it is also symbolic of the Lord’s raising us from spiritual death to new life through grace.

Pope Francis expands on this theme:

The mercy of Jesus is not only an emotion; it is a force which gives life that raises man! Today’s Gospel also tells us this in the episode of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17). With His disciples, Jesus arrives in Nain, a village in Galilee, right at the moment when a funeral is taking place. A boy, the only son of a widow, is being carried for burial. Jesus immediately fixes His gaze on the crying mother.

The Evangelist Luke says: “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her” (v. 13). This “compassion” is God’s love for man, it is mercy, thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term “compassion” recalls a mother’s womb. The mother in fact reacts in a way all her own in confronting the pain of her children. It is in this way, according to Scripture, that God loves us.

What is the fruit of this love and mercy? It is life! Jesus says to the widow of Nain: “Do not weep” and then He calls the dead boy and awakes him as if from sleep (cf. vv. 13-15).

Let’s think about this, it’s beautiful: God’s mercy gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. Let us not forget that the Lord always watches over us with mercy; He always watches over us with mercy. Let us not be afraid of approaching Him! He has a merciful heart! If we show Him our inner wounds, our inner sins, He will always forgive us. It is pure mercy. Let us go to Jesus!

Angelus of June 9, 2013

Question for reflection: How have I experienced new life in Christ?

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 – Third Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 21:1-19

In a scene that calls to mind Peter’s previously denying Jesus three times, the Risen Christ asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Peter responds with three declarations of love, and each time, Christ charges him to care for His flock.

St John Paul II reflected on the meaning of this exchange in Ut Unum Sint, his encyclical letter On Commitment to Ecumenism:

It is just as though, against the backdrop of Peter’s human weakness, it were made fully evident that his particular ministry in the Church derives altogether from grace. It is as though the Master especially concerned Himself with Peter’s conversion as a way of preparing him for the task He was about to give him in His Church (91).

As the heir to the mission of Peter in the Church, which has been made fruitful by the blood of the Princes of the Apostles, the Bishop of Rome exercises a ministry originating in the manifold mercy of God. This mercy converts hearts and pours forth the power of grace where the disciple experiences the bitter taste of his personal weakness and helplessness (92).

Associating himself with Peter’s threefold profession of love, which corresponds to the earlier threefold denial, his Successor knows that he must be a sign of mercy. His is a ministry of mercy, born of an act of Christ’s own mercy (93).

Saint Augustine, after showing that Christ is ‘the one Shepherd, in Whose unity all are one,’ goes on to exhort: ‘May all shepherds thus be one in the one Shepherd; may they let the one voice of the Shepherd be heard; may the sheep hear this voice and follow their Shepherd, not this shepherd or that, but the only One; in Him may they all let one voice be heard and not a babble of voices…the voice free of all division, purified of all heresy, that the sheep hear.’

The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the College of all the Pastors consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein), like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches…

This primacy is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church’s mission, discipline and the Christian life…He has the duty to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith (94).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord given me an opportunity to make amends?

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 – Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of the Lord (Year C): Gospel – Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

“Jesus’ public life begins with His baptism by John in the Jordan” (Catechism paragraph 535).

Because the Holy Spirit is visibly present as a dove descending upon Jesus, and the Father proclaims Him as His beloved Son, the baptism of Jesus is another aspect of His “epiphany,” or “the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God” (535).

“The Spirit Who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended then on the Christ as a prelude of the new creation” (1224).

Christ transformed Baptism into a sacrament, which purifies us from sin, fills us with sanctifying grace, and brings us into this new creation “ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection” (2174). The baptized person is made “a new creature, an adopted son of God, who has become a partaker of the divine nature, member of Christ and co-heir with Him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1265).

As St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote in the mid-fourth century,

Everything that happened to Christ lets us know that, after the bath of water [in baptism], the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father’s voice, we become sons of God.

— quoted in paragraph 537.

Let us always strive to live in accordance with our baptismal dignity.

Question for reflection: When have I felt especially close to God?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

Jesus proclaims the indissolubility of marriage

“God Himself is the author of marriage,” as the Catechism reminds us (paragraph 1603).

“Since God created [the human race] man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man” (1604).

Sadly, when sin came into the world, this harmony was disrupted: “as a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman” (1607). “To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help” of God’s grace. “Without His help, man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them in the beginning” (1608).

Jesus comes “to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin,” and thereby “He himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God…This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life” (1615).

To learn more about God’s design for the family, see Love Is Our Mission, a guide prepared for the recent World Meeting of Families. Also, for practical helps, visit www.foryourmarriage.org, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.