Engaging the Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

For centuries in the life of the Church, the month of November has been a time when we pray more intensely on behalf of the dead.

Following so closely from All Saints’ Day on November 1, and All Souls (the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed) on November 2, it is fitting that the Church offers us this Gospel passage today, in which Jesus affirms the resurrection of the dead.

The idea of the resurrection was not explicit in the early Jewish faith, which is why the Sadducees refused to believe in it: “God revealed the resurrection of the dead to His people progressively” (Catechism paragraph 992).

Christ was “raised with His own Body…but He did not return to an earthly life.” So will we “rise again with [our] own bodies which [we] now bear, but Christ will change our lowly body to be like His glorious Body” (999).

This has important implications for how we view the body – not as a disposable object, but as fundamental to the human person, in profound unity with the soul (362-65).

Death, brought into the world by sin, separates body and soul, but God will restore the unity of body and soul in the resurrection (997):

In expectation of that day, the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering (1004).

Question for reflection: How does my belief in the coming resurrection affect the way I live now?

Engaging the Gospel – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday (Year C): Gospel – Luke 22:14-23:56

Benedict XVI invites us to “open our hearts” to the profound meaning of the Lord’s Passion:

Is it possible to remain indifferent before the death of the Lord, of the Son of God? For us, for our salvation He became man, so as to be able to suffer and die. Brothers and sisters, let us direct today our gaze toward Christ, a gaze frequently distracted by scattered and passing earthly interests. Let us pause to contemplate His cross…

His nailed arms are open to each human being and they invite us to draw near to Him, certain that He accepts us and clasps us in an embrace of infinite tenderness…

Through the sorrowful way of the Cross, the men of all ages, reconciled and redeemed by the blood of Christ, have become friends of God, sons and daughters of the heavenly Father…

‘Friend,’ He calls each of us, because He is the authentic Friend of everyone. Unfortunately, we do not always manage to perceive the depth of this limitless love that God has for us…

Let us ask ourselves, in this moment, what have we done with this gift, what have we done with the revelation of the face of God in Christ, with the revelation of the love of God that conquers hate…

Dear friends: After having lived together the Passion of Jesus, let us this night allow His sacrifice on the Cross to question us. Let us permit Him to challenge our human certainties. Let us open our hearts. Jesus is the truth that makes us free to love. Let us not be afraid…Let us remain, then, in adoration before the Cross.

Good Friday, 2008.

Question for reflection: How does the Lord’s Passion prompt me to search my own heart?

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 – Third Sunday of Advent

(Year B) Gospel – John 1:6-8, 19-28

When cross-examined by the priests, Levites, and Pharisees, St. John the Baptist stands firm, declaring that he prepares the way of the Lord. His clear realization of his own identity as Christ’s forerunner, rooted firmly in God’s plan, is instructive for us.

Contrary to what the world tells us, our worth is not dependent on the opinions of others; rather, our true identity is bound up in God, our Creator and our ultimate end. We are each created by God, “in a plan of sheer goodness,” in order to “share in His own blessed life” (Catechism paragraph 1).

“It is in Christ,” the Eternal Son of the Father, that we are “created in the image and likeness of the Creator.” Although we have defaced this image through sin, “it is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior,” that our “original beauty” is restored and “ennobled by the grace of God” (1701).

It is this wondrous gift of Christ that we will celebrate in a heightened way at Christmas.

“The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God” (457), “so that thus we might know God’s love” (458), “to be our model of holiness” (459) and “to make us partakers of the divine nature” (460).

All human beings have “the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” We are each “called by grace to a covenant” with God, “to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in [our] stead” (357).

Question for reflection: How do I define myself?

Engaging the Gospel – Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Gospel – John 3:13-17

We could never heal our own brokenness, never restore our relationship with God, never attain the eternal blessedness of heaven, by our own devices.

So out of His great love for us, God took the initiative in a design that unfolded throughout salvation history. He sent His Son, Jesus, to become man, and brought about our redemption through the mystery of His Cross.

Jesus’ “redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation,” and “the desire to embrace His Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life” (Catechism paragraph 607).

“The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith,” as Benedict XVI explains:

for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us…

Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is He who will make us free to love as He loves us, and to build a reconciled world.

For on this Cross, Jesus took upon Himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ.

Because the power of God transformed this cruel death into a means of life, we can rightly see the Cross as a sign of victory:

And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified One for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew.

Homily of September 14, 2008.

Question for reflection: How does it feel to know that God went to such great lengths to save me?