Engaging the Gospel – Luke 19:1-10

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 19:1-10

Today’s Gospel, focusing on the dramatic repentance of Zacchaeus, reveals that an encounter with Jesus is a life-changing experience.

Benedict XVI has often emphasized this very theme of encountering Jesus:

We are only Christians if we encounter Christ…We too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ’s Heart and feel Him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One, do we truly become Christians.

September 3, 2008.

St John Paul II viewed Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus as a “biblical icon” that illustrates the sacrament of Reconciliation, “God’s arrival at a person’s home.” Just as Jesus’ look deeply affects Zacchaeus, “that same gaze looks upon each” one of us:

Mercy has already come to him as a gratuitous and overflowing gift…Beneath the loving gaze of Christ, the heart of Zacchaeus warms to love of neighbor…

The salvation which truly heals and restores, involves a genuine conversion to the demands of God’s love. If Zacchaeus had welcomed the Lord into his home without coming to an attitude of openness to love and reparation for the harm done, without a firm commitment to living a new life, he would not have received in the depths of his heart the forgiveness which the Lord had offered him with such concern.

Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2002.

Question for reflection: In what ways do I relate to Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus?

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Engaging the Gospel – Luke 18:9-14

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 18:9-14

Jesus’ parable of the self-righteous Pharisee, contrasted with the contrite tax collector, prompts us to consider our own hearts: do we recognize our need for God’s mercy, or do we think we’re doing well just because we fulfill religious obligations? Do we tend to rationalize, and overlook, our faults?

As St John Paul II explained,

The tax collector might possibly have had some justification for the sins he committed, such as to diminish his responsibility. But his prayer does not dwell on such justifications, but rather on his own unworthiness before God’s infinite holiness: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ The Pharisee, on the other hand, is self-justified, finding some excuse for each of his failings. Here we encounter two different attitudes of the moral conscience of man in every age.

The tax collector represents a ‘repentant’ conscience, fully aware of the frailty of its own nature and seeing in its own failings, whatever their subjective justifications, a confirmation of its need for redemption.

The Pharisee represents a ‘self-satisfied’ conscience, under the illusion that it is able to observe the law without the help of grace and convinced that it does not need mercy.

All people must take great care not to allow themselves to be tainted by the attitude of the Pharisee, which would seek to eliminate awareness of one’s own limits and of one’s own sin. In our own day this attitude is expressed particularly in the attempt to adapt the moral norm to one’s own capacities and personal interests, and even in the rejection of the very idea of a norm.

Accepting, on the other hand, the ‘disproportion’ between the law and human ability (that is, the capacity of the moral forces of man left to himself) kindles the desire for grace and prepares one to receive it.

Veritatis Splendor, 104-05

Question for reflection: What “blind spots” do I have regarding my own faults?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 10:38-42

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 10:38-42

Today’s readings revolve around the theme of hospitality, or how we treat God Himself as our guest.

In the first reading from Genesis, Abraham waits attentively on his three mysterious guests, a divine visitation prefiguring the revelation of the Holy Trinity.

In the Gospel, Martha also hosts a divine visitor in Jesus, but she is too absorbed in, and overburdened by, her activity, to be attentive to Him. Meanwhile, her sister, Mary, offers hospitality, not by serving, but by listening intently to Jesus. When Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping, Jesus gently tells her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.”

As St John Paul II observed,

How can we not perceive in this episode the reminder of the primacy of the spiritual life, of the need to be nourished with the Word of God which gives light and savor to our daily routine.

It is an invitation which is particularly opportune for the summer period. Holidays and vacation time, in fact, can help to balance activism with contemplation, haste with natural rhythms, great noise with the healing peace of silence.

Angelus of July 22, 2001.

We too have a divine guest, the Holy Spirit, Who dwells within us — let us always be mindful of His presence.

Question for reflection: When have I been so busy that I lost sight of what was truly important?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 9:51-62

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 9:51-62

Today’s Gospel continues a theme from last Sunday – “the nobility and difficulty of the Christian vocation,” as St John Paul II described it:

Jesus calls us to follow Him personally. This call, it may be said, is at the very heart of the Gospel.

We think of all those calls of which the evangelists tell us. One of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.’ This is a drastic way of saying: leave everything, immediately, for Me.

JP II went on to put this scene in its proper perspective, guiding us to its meaning for our own lives. The specific way that we dedicate ourselves to following Christ is shaped by such factors as our state in life and our unique talents. The Lord doesn’t call all to serve “in an identical manner,” but all of us are called to the same spirit of radical commitment to Christ:

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Gospel request for heroic renunciations…commits everyone…to be ready in spirit to carry out what is required, should one be called upon to do so…The counsels therefore imply for everyone an interior detachment, a donation of self to Christ, without which there is no true evangelical spirit.

— General Audience of October 28, 1987.

It’s only natural to feel our inadequacy to respond to such a radical call. But we don’t have to rely on our own strength. The Lord in His mercy will help us, if we cooperate with His grace and take a single step toward Him.

Question for reflection: Do I keep putting off a resolution to follow the Lord more faithfully?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 9:18-24

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Luke 9:18-24

St John Paul II expands upon the meaning of taking up our cross:

I invite you to reflect on the conditions that Jesus asked of those who wanted to be His disciples: ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’

Jesus is not a Messiah of triumph and power…He is the Messiah Who did not fit into any mould and Who came without fanfare, and Who cannot be ‘understood’ with the logic of success and power…

Love is the condition for following Him, but it is sacrifice that is the proof of that love…

If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and  follow Me.’  These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ…

Yet they must be faced, because the path outlined by God for His Son is the path to be undertaken by the disciple who has decided to follow Jesus. There are not two paths, but only one: the one trodden by the Master. The disciple cannot invent a different way. To deny oneself is to give up one’s own plans that are often small and petty in order to accept God’s plan…

It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving…

With His invitation ‘follow me,’ Jesus not only says again to His disciples: take Me as your model, but also: share My life and My choices, and stake your life for love of God and for neighbor together with Me.

Message for World Youth Day 2001.

Question for reflection: How do I take up the cross in my own daily life?

Engaging the Gospel – Corpus Christi

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Year C): Gospel – Luke 9:11b-17

“The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through His disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of His Eucharist,” the Catechism teaches (paragraph 1335).

Hence one of the names of this Most Blessed Sacrament is “the Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meal, when as master of the table He blessed and distributed the bread, above all at the Last Supper” (1329), “giving His disciples His Body and His Blood” (1339).

In the Eucharist, “the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ — and therefore, the whole Christ — is truly, really, and substantially contained” (1374).

To strengthen our faith in this extraordinary gift, St John Paul II expressed “with deep emotion” his own “testimony of faith” in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (59-60):

Here is the Church’s treasure, the heart of the world, the pledge of the fulfillment for which each man and woman, even unconsciously, yearns. A great and transcendent mystery, indeed….

In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have His redemptive sacrifice, we have His resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?

Question for reflection: How does receiving the Eucharist satisfy my deepest need?

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?