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 – All Saints’ Day

Solemnity of All Saints: Gospel – Matthew 5:1-12a

Jesus’ proclamation of the Beatitudes is a particularly appropriate Gospel for All Saints’ Day, for the lives of the saints provide powerful witness of the Beatitudes in action:

The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching…The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity….They shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life….They have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.

— Catechism paragraphs 1716-17.

This is our game plan to follow, for we too are “called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness” (2013).

The Lord is calling each and every one of us — regardless of our place in life. But the specific ways we live out that call vary.

If you’re a parent, your top priority is to raise your children in the faith. If you’re a student, your path of discipleship is to study diligently. If you work, be a witness to faith in the workplace. If you’re battling health problems that keep you home, you can be a prayer warrior for the Church.

Wherever we find ourselves, the Lord has a particular form of discipleship in mind for us. And by living that out, we do our part to build up the Body of Christ.

We are reminded of this truth by our celebration of All Saints. Untold numbers of men and women have answered the call to holiness, across all walks of life, down through the ages. They weren’t famous in the world, but they have reached the only goal that matters — heaven. These “ordinary” saints serve as inspiration that we too can reach heaven by following the Lord.

Let us ask them to pray for us, that we may live out our discipleship as the Lord wills.

Question for reflection: How does the example of the saints help me to live the Christian life?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

“Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all”

The Christian imperative to serve others is expressed in the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity), which urges laypeople to “take up the renewal” of the world “as their own special obligation” (7).

The Council Fathers remind us that “charitable enterprises can and should reach out to all persons and all needs” —

Wherever there are people in need of food and drink, clothing, housing, medicine, employment, education; wherever men lack the facilities necessary for living a truly human life or are afflicted with serious distress or illness or suffer exile or imprisonment, there Christian charity should seek them out and find them, console them with great solicitude and help them with appropriate relief. This obligation is imposed above all upon every prosperous nation and person.

Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8.

But our inspiration for serving others isn’t just philanthrophy or humanitarianism, as noble as those ideals are.

Rather, we serve because we are conformed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came down from heaven to redeem us as the Suffering Servant: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

By giving of ourselves on behalf of others, we unite with Christ’s own self-emptying. The more we grow in union with Christ, the “greater” we become in holiness:

Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ…

— ibid., 4.

Question for reflection: How do I answer Jesus’ call to serve others?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus inveighs against the Pharisees, who were so caught up in their own rules about external purification that they ignored the most important purification of all – the interior cleansing of the heart.

“The organ for seeing God is the heart,” Benedict XVI affirms:

The intellect alone is not enough…The heart – the wholeness of man – must be pure, interiorly open and free, in order for man to be able to see God…Purification of heart occurs as a consequence of following Christ, of becoming one with Him…The pure heart is the loving heart that enters into communion of service and obedience with Jesus Christ.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 92-95.

The pure of heart are “attuned” to God in three primary ways: “charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (Catechism paragraph 2518).

Although we have received purifying grace in baptism, we must continue the “battle for purity,” struggling against the weakness of our flesh (2520).

“Purification of the heart demands prayer, the practice of chastity, purity of intention and of vision” (2532).

Purity of heart “enables us to see according to God, to accept others as neighbors; it lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbor’s – as a temple of the Holy Spirit” (2519).

Question for reflection: What can I do to strive for purity of heart?

Difficulties in Prayer: Acedia

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2733:

One of the most pernicious temptations to infiltrate our prayer life is a certain sluggishness, laziness, or lack of interest in pursuing the things of God. The proper term for this is “acedia,” spiritual sloth.

While our emotions are subject to change, and it’s only natural for our energy or enthusiasm to level off, acedia goes deeper than feelings. It burrows into our will, where we make the choice to pray or not, to seek God’s will or not, to strive to be a better disciple, or not.

Acedia can be the result of presumption. If we take our salvation for granted, believe that God doesn’t expect anything of us, or think that holiness is for other people, we will likely not have much motivation for the spiritual life.

But we can overcome acedia by remembering the high stakes involved – nothing less than our eternal destiny. Do we want to accept God’s offer of salvation? Then we cooperate with God’s saving grace by attending Mass, remaining faithful to personal prayer, doing our best to avoid sin, and seeking forgiveness when we fall short. By fighting the fight, so to speak, we answer His call to holiness, even in the midst of our human frailty.

Because acedia can be described as insufficient love for God, reflecting on God’s intense, personal love for us can also fire our motivation. How can we be indifferent to the Lord Who has thought of us from all eternity, created the world for us, mapped out salvation history for us, became man for us, suffered and died for us, redeemed us, and wants to sanctify us so that we may delight in eternal life with Him?

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?

Hallowed Be Thy Name

God desires to draw us into His own life. Because He is indescribably holy, we are called to be transformed by His grace and become holy.

This is what is meant by the petition “hallowed be Thy Name,” that God’s Name be made holy in us, and in others. As sinners still on the path to sanctification, we pray for God’s saving plan to be accomplished in our lives.

God has entrusted us with a great mystery of intimacy — His revelation of Himself, first to the People of Israel, and ultimately in the Person of Christ.

But how do we respond to this divine gift? If we treasure the holiness of God and strive to live in accord with His grace, we hallow His Name. On the other hand, if we deliberately indulge in unrepentant sin, or disparage sacred things, we besmirch His Name, effectively telling God that we don’t care about Him or His friendship.

That is why the saints have been so zealous for the Holy Name: God’s friends yearn to glorify Him.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2803-15.