Engaging the Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14

Why is pride so harmful to the spiritual life? Pride is rooted in a lie, as though we’re the architects of our own existence, with no need for God.

Humility, on the other hand, is grounded in the truth of who we are. As creatures, we are constantly dependent upon God. As sin-prone human beings, we are incapable of saving our souls for eternal life. And as disciples of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are called to emulate His humility.

In today’s Gospel, set against the background of intense social competition at a banquet, Jesus takes the opportunity to instruct the guests on the virtue of humility. In essence, He counsels us to follow His example.

As God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, He humbled Himself to take up our humanity in order to redeem us. Just as He tells His host that he should invite the poor and outcast, so does Jesus invite us, who cannot possibly repay Him, to His eternal banquet.

In the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604),

that He might bring us back to the way of life through humility, He deigned to exhibit in Himself what He teaches us…For to this end the only begotten Son of God took upon Himself the form of our weakness; to this end He endured…the reproaches of derision, the torments of suffering; that God in His humility might teach man not to be proud. How great, then, is the virtue of humility for the sake of teaching which alone He Who is great beyond compare became little even unto the suffering of death!

Book V, Letter 18.

Remembering that we are sinners, forever in God’s debt, helps us to develop a true sense of humility before God and neighbor – not to denigrate our gifts and accomplishments, but to know that they come from God, and to view ourselves in proper perspective.

Because humility enables us to recognize our dependence upon God, and to treat others charitably, it is essential for growth in the spiritual life.

Question for reflection: How might I cultivate the virtue of humility?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 5:1-11

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 5:1-11

Despite the fact that Simon Peter had failed to catch a single fish after spending all night at sea, he obediently followed Jesus’ instruction to “put out into the deep water,” and was amazed at the miraculous number of fish bursting within his nets. As a result, he grasped the significance of Who Jesus is:

Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance….Before the divine signs wrought by Jesus, Peter exclaims, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Catechism paragraph 208).

The term “Lord” itself encompasses the name of God:

Out of respect for the holiness of God, the people of Israel do not pronounce His Name. In the reading of Sacred Scripture, the revealed name (Yhwh) is replaced by the divine title ‘Lord’ (209).

The New Testament uses this full sense of the title ‘Lord’ both for the Father and – what is new – for Jesus, Who is thereby recognized as God Himself (446).

By attributing to Jesus the divine title ‘Lord,’ the first confessions of the Church’s faith affirm from the beginning that the power, honor, and glory due to God the Father are due also to Jesus (449).

Question for reflection: When have I found unexpected joy in doing God’s will?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 9:30-37

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 9:30-37

This Gospel passage illustrates the problems engendered by selfish pride, as the disciples argue about who is greatest among them.

Pride can give rise to envy of another, which St. Augustine saw as “the diabolical sin” (Catechism 2539).

As St. Ambrose wrote, “Pride transformed angels into demons; humility makes human beings into saints.”

Jesus counsels the disciples to practice humility and self-giving: whoever wants to be first, should be the servant of all.

In this way we will achieve “victory,” but not “in triumphalistic terms,” Benedict XVI explains:

Christ suggests to us a very different road that does not pass through dominance and power. Christ speaks of a victory through suffering love, reciprocal service, help, new hope and practical comfort given to the lowliest, to the forgotten, to the outcast.

For all Christians the loftiest expression of this humble service is Jesus Christ Himself, the total gift that He makes of Himself, the victory of His love over death, on the cross, that shines in the light of Easter morning.

Only if we let ourselves be transformed by God, only if we undertake to convert our life and if the transformation is brought about in the form of conversion, can we share in this transforming ‘victory.’

General Audience of January 18, 2012.

Question for reflection: When is it most difficult to put aside my selfishness?

Difficulties in Prayer: Lack of Faith

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2732.

A lack of faith is “the most common yet most hidden temptation” in our prayer, according to the Catechism, because it isn’t as straightforward as simple disbelief. Instead, lack of faith is something more insidious and subtle, which is why we may have trouble recognizing it for what it truly is.

Do we turn to God only as a “last resort,” after all else fails? That implies that we didn’t have the faith to go to Him right away in our distress, but thought that we, or others, could handle it.

On the other hand, we can be tempted to treat God as the cosmic Being Who caters to our wishes, and arranges everything just the way we’d like. In that case, our prayer devolves into telling God what we want Him to do for us. That’s not faith in God, but presumption.

While the Lord obviously wants us to ask Him for our needs, we must do so in the humble spirit of creatures who don’t really know what’s best for us, or for our eternal destiny. True faith means that we turn our needs over to the Lord in prayer, while submitting ourselves to His will, in an attitude of radical trust in His loving providence.

Sometimes a lack of faith creeps in when we try to pray, but remember other things that we have to do. At that moment, do we resolutely remain with the Lord, and put our other action-items aside for a more appropriate time? Or do we put the Lord aside?

If we’re jumping up to help someone in urgent need who depends upon us, we are serving the Lord in that person. But otherwise, if we’re just dropping prayer to do something that could wait, we’re effectively telling the Lord that He doesn’t take priority in our lives.

We may not say it, but our actions reflect that we are prioritizing something other than God. The Catechism describes this as “the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love?”

Blessing & Adoration

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2626-28:

Blessing is a form of prayer that underscores how our prayer is a personal encounter, a dialogue, with God.

Recognizing that all of our gifts are blessings from God, we respond in kind by “blessing” God: “because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One Who is the source of every blessing.” A twofold movement occurs: our prayer of blessing rises to God, and His blessing descends upon us, in a continuous cycle of grace.

Closely linked to the concept of blessing is “adoration,” whereby we realize our status as creatures, utterly dependent upon God for our very existence.

Adoration necessarily involves a healthy sense of humility. By seeing ourselves as we truly are, and admitting our human limitations and frailties, we are better able to feel our need for God.

Children are especially open to this spiritual insight, and we can learn from their readiness to glimpse God’s presence. Asking our children how God has blessed them each day may be a helpful prelude to family prayer time.

Engaging the Gospel – Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of the Lord (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:7-11

Humility is the leitmotif of Sunday’s Gospel. St John the Baptist embraces his role as forerunner, humbly serving the One Who is to come. Jesus humbly lowers Himself — the Holy One, perfectly sinless, stoops to accompany the repentant sinners — to be baptized by John.

“Jesus’ gesture is a manifestation of His self-emptying,” as the Catechism (1224) notes, for He “voluntarily submitted Himself to the baptism of St. John, intended for sinners, in order to fulfill all righteousness.

The baptism of Jesus is on His part the acceptance and inauguration of His mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows Himself to be numbered among sinners; He is already the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. Already He is anticipating the ‘baptism’ of his bloody death…submitting himself entirely to His Father’s will: out of love He consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.

— paragraph 536.

While the baptism of John was a sign of repentance, it is fundamentally different from the sacrament of Baptism instituted by Jesus, as John himself points out (Mark 1:8).

Jesus has sanctified the waters for our Baptism, whereby the treasures of sanctifying grace are lavished upon us. It is through this sacrament that we are cleansed of sin, made “a new creature” in Christ, and brought into the intimate life of the Holy Trinity (1264-65).

Through Baptism, the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus….The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with Him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father’s beloved son in the Son and walk in newness of life.

— paragraph 537.

Question for reflection: In what ways do I try to practice the virtue of humility?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us about the personal and communal dimensions of reconciliation.

The first has been described as fraternal correction – when we approach someone privately, in a spirit of charity, not with animus or resentment, in order to promote healing and for the spiritual good of the person who committed the fault.

“Fraternal correction is a work of mercy,” Benedict XVI reminds us:

None of us sees himself or his shortcomings clearly. It is therefore an act of love to complement one another, to help one another see each other better, and correct each other…to know the shortcomings that we ourselves do not want to see…

Of course, this great work of mercy, helping one another so that each of us can truly rediscover his own integrity and functionality as an instrument of God, demands great humility and love.

Only if it comes from a humble heart that does not rank itself above others, that does not consider itself better than others but only a humble instrument to offer reciprocal help; only if we feel this true and deep humility, if we feel that these words come from common love…can we help one another in this regard with a great act of love.

October 3, 2005

At the same time, sin is not just a private matter, because it is “an offense against God” that also “damages communion with the Church” (Catechism paragraph 1440).

Hence Jesus has provided a way for us to be reconciled in a deeper sense. By giving His apostles the power to forgive sins, He established the sacrament of Reconciliation through the Church (1444-45). This healing sacrament reconciles us first and foremost with God (1468), restores fraternal communion, and has a “revitalizing effect on the life of the Church” (1469).

Question for reflection: When have I benefited from charitable correction?