Engaging the Gospel – Luke 16:1-13

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 16:1-13

Parable of the dishonest steward

Recent Gospel readings have featured recurring themes from St. Luke – the radical demands of discipleship as well as the superabundance of God’s mercy – and today’s reading highlights another recurring theme, the right use of our material goods.

The Gospel turns on the distinction between worldly riches, which are fleeting, and the true wealth of eternal life. Jesus calls worldly riches “dishonest wealth,” reminding us that it cannot ultimately satisfy.

As human beings, we are “created by God and for God,” so “only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (Catechism paragraph 27).

If we seek that happiness in money and possessions, we will be disillusioned. Worse still, if our lives are consumed by the pursuit of material things, we risk losing our only real treasure, our relationship with God – a choice summed up starkly in Jesus’ warning that we “cannot serve both God and mammon.”

To be open to receiving God’s gift of everlasting spiritual wealth, we must put our worldly goods to use in a spirit of generosity:

All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy and of their neighbors in want. A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods (952).

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities (2043).

Question for reflection: How have I learned that material things don’t really satisfy?

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Engaging the Gospel – Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B): Gospel – John 15:9-17

“Jesus makes charity the new commandment” (Catechism paragraph 1823). “The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ Himself” (1825).

In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), Benedict XVI explores Jesus’ call to love:

God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, He makes us see and experience His love, and since He has ‘loved us first,’ love can also blossom as a response within us.

Moreover, “love is not merely a sentiment,” but rather involves our will and intellect as well:

The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself.

…in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ…Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God Who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a ‘commandment’ imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others.

Deus Caritas Est, 17-18.

And by living in accordance with this love, as Benedict explains, we find our joy:

God wants us to share in His own divine and eternal joy, and He helps us to see that the deepest meaning and value of our lives lie in being accepted, welcomed and loved by Him…God offers us an unconditional acceptance which enables us to say: ‘I am loved; I have a place in the world and in history; I am personally loved by God. If God accepts me and loves me and I am sure of this, then I know clearly and with certainty that it is a good thing that I am alive.’

…God wants us to be happy. That is why he gave us specific directions for the journey of life: the commandments. If we observe them, we will find the path to life and happiness. At first glance, they might seem to be a list of prohibitions and an obstacle to our freedom. But if we study them more closely, we see in the light of Christ’s message that the commandments are a set of essential and valuable rules leading to a happy life in accordance with God’s plan. How often, on the other hand, do we see that choosing to build our lives apart from God and His will brings disappointment, sadness and a sense of failure…

Christians are men and women who are truly happy because they know that they are not alone. They know that God is always holding them in His hands.

Message for World Youth Day 2012

Question for reflection: In what ways do I try to radiate God’s love and joy to others?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter: Gospel – John 14:1-12

Jesus goes to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house

Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that “the Father’s house is our homeland” (Catechism paragraph 2795).

Because we are “created in God’s image and called to know and love Him” (31), we can only be completely happy and fulfilled by God Himself, a state of being that we will enjoy perfectly in heaven (1024).

Yet we cannot get there by ourselves, for “sin has exiled us” (2795). “Left to its own natural powers, humanity does not have access to the Father’s house, to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open” the way for us (661).

But how can we spend eternity with God, unless we begin by spending time with Him here on earth? Recitation of prayers, and meditation on the Scriptures or devotional works, are important, “but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with Him” (2708).

“One can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state” – we need only to “recollect our whole being under the prompting of the Holy Spirit… abide in the dwelling place of the Lord which we are [and] enter into the presence of Him who awaits us” (2710-11).

St. Teresa of Avila (d. 1582), a Doctor of the Church renowned especially as a teacher of prayer, offered a beautifully simple definition: “Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him Who we know loves us” (quoted in 2709).

Question for reflection: What am I doing now to prepare for eternal life with God?

Freedom and Conscience

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1691 through 1802:

  • Professing the truths of the faith, and receiving the sacraments, are only part of the Christian life; we must also put our beliefs into practice, and act upon sacramental grace, through our moral conduct; by striving to emulate Christ in our daily lives, we grow in friendship with Him.
  • Moral living enables us to flourish as human beings, and leads us to the true happiness – “beatitude” – that all desire; this universal thirst for happiness comes from God, Who alone can ultimately fulfill it, if we choose to follow His path.
  • God does not force Himself upon us, but instead wants us to choose Him out of our own free will; He gave us the dignity of being able to decide whether to pursue His way of life, for our own good, or to reject it, to our detriment.
  • Our freedom is just one way in which we are made in God’s image; through our gifts of intellect and will, we dictate our actions, and thereby incur responsibility for them; as morally free persons, we merit praise or blame for our choices.
  • Bad choices actually end up undermining our freedom; when we deliberately choose to do wrong, we abuse God’s gift of freedom and become attached to sin, to the point that it becomes a type of slavery; but when we use our freedom rightly in service of the good, we become more and more truly free.
  • We judge the morality of our acts by the object (what we do) and the intention (why we do it); a good intention never excuses an intrinsically wrong action, because the end doesn’t justify the means; at the same time, a bad intention can corrode an otherwise good action (e.g., performing a work just to brag about it).
  • The circumstances surrounding our acts can increase or diminish the degree of good, mitigate or aggravate the evil, and affect our level of responsibility; but circumstances cannot make an inherently wrong act right.
  • Our emotions are neither good nor evil in themselves, but our will can let them influence us to right or wrong acts.
  • Conscience is our innermost core where we judge the morality of our acts, while listening to God’s voice; we are called to heed the moral law inscribed in our hearts, and recognize how to apply it in concrete situations; after an honest and thorough examination, we have a sacrosanct right to abide by our conscience.
  • But following our conscience does not mean that we can willfully set aside God’s law and make up our own commandments; rather, our conscience must be well formed by the Word of God and the teaching of the Church.
  • Conscience can make erroneous judgments, possibly through ignorance of the right course, or more seriously, because of culpable negligence in seeking the truth, attitudes hardened by sin, lack of charity, or refusal to undergo conversion.

Live Your Faith

Freedom and conscience are watchwords in our culture, but do we actually understand the full depth of their meaning?

Freedom is not license, but the ability to choose the good. Conscience is not a loophole, but a gift to guide our moral decision-making. God’s law is not designed to oppress us, but to empower us to live the most fulfilled life.

Consider the importance of rules in a game or sport: the rules make it possible to enjoy the game, or else there would be anarchy, and no game at all. Even so, God’s law sets the guidelines to ensure the best experience on the playing field of life.