Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 13:1-9

Like the fig tree that has failed to produce any fruit for the landowner in this parable, we disappoint God when we fail to respond to His love.

For His part, God lavishes even more care upon us to help us bear fruit. In the parable, this special care – or grace – is symbolized by the gardener’s offer to cultivate the ground around the barren tree:

Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life (Catechism paragraphs 1996-97).

“God’s free initiative demands man’s free response” – either we choose to enter “freely into the communion of love” (2002), or we choose to cut ourselves off from it, counting “the offer of God’s grace as nothing” (678).

Jesus warns us of the eternal consequences of our choice. If the fig tree remains barren, even after the gardener’s extra attention, it will be cut down:

By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love (679).

Question for reflection: How might I respond more generously to God’s nurturing care?

Thy Kingdom Come

Although the Kingdom of God has begun to come in Christ, and continues among us through His Real Presence in the Eucharist, and in the Church, it has not yet reached its final consummation.

We therefore pray for its perfect fulfillment, when Christ returns in glory, and hands over the Kingdom to God the Father.

By looking forward to the Lord’s coming, our minds turn to the last things – death, judgment, heaven, and hell. We recognize our own need to prepare, so that we may be ready to welcome the Lord whenever He comes for us.

The liturgical season of Advent is focused upon the theme of preparation for His coming. We most often associate Advent with salvation history, setting the stage for our celebration of Christmas, the mystery of God’s becoming a newborn baby.

But Christ’s coming is not just a single historical event. We experience many comings of the Lord: He regularly enters our hearts through His grace, pre-eminently when we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Let us reflect upon the ways that Christ comes to us, in history, in our lives, and in His ultimate return at the end of time.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2816-21.

Penance & Reconciliation

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1420-98:

  • Although Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist instill grace within us, they do not erase the weaknesses of our fallen human nature, and our inclination to sin, called concupiscence; thus conversion is an ongoing process in the Christian life.
  • Sin is an offense against God that damages our relationship with Him as well as with Christ’s Body, the Church; sin causes a cascade of detrimental effects that hurt us.
  • The Holy Spirit prompts us to recognize our sins, and gives us the grace of repentance and contrition – being sorry for our sins and resolved to change our lives with the help of God’s grace.
  • Christ provided for our need by instituting the sacrament of Reconciliation, to pick us up when we fall, restore our friendship with Him, reconcile us with each other and within ourselves, and strengthen us in our struggle.
  • Only God forgives sins, but as recorded in the New Testament, Christ gave this power to forgive sins, and the authority to bind and to loose, to His apostles; He therefore entrusted the Church with the ministry of reconciliation.
  • This sacrament is known by several names, depending upon which aspect is being emphasized; while the precise manner of celebration has varied over time, its fundamental structure remains, along with the inviolable seal of absolute confidentiality and secrecy.
  • The penitent confesses sins to the priest in order to be healed and rid of them; each and every grave (mortal) sin must be confessed, and although it is not strictly required to include lesser (venial) sins, the Church strongly encourages us to mention them too, for our spiritual health and well-being.
  • In so doing, we anticipate the particular judgment that takes place at our death; by judging ourselves honestly now, and casting ourselves upon God’s mercy, we receive absolution from the priest acting in the person of Christ; our sins are forever blotted out by His Blood, and we will not be liable for them at judgment.
  • Absolution takes away sin, but does not repair the damage left by it; the penitent must also try to make amends by doing penance, first and foremost the penance assigned by the priest; while we cannot make sufficient reparation ourselves, our penance serves to unite us with Christ, Who alone expiates our sins.
  • The Church also helps by means of indulgences: obtained through certain prayers and works, indulgences apply to us the merits of Christ and His saints, thereby freeing us from the lingering after-effects of sins that have already been forgiven.

Live Your Faith

It is often asked, why confess sins to a man when you can go straight to God?

Just as we go to a doctor to treat a physical illness, out of concern for our mortal bodies, so we seek the sacrament for the far more important health of our immortal souls. Sin is a spiritual cancer that requires God’s healing grace, or it only metastasizes.

God, Who created and redeemed us, knows us better than we know ourselves, and in His Wisdom, established this forum as the ordinary means for the forgiveness of sins. Instead of thinking that we can manage our own spiritual lives better than God, why wouldn’t we want to use the very means the Lord has given us to free us of our burdens?

Resurrection and Last Judgment

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 988-1004, 1038-60:

  • Because the separation of soul and body in death was not what God desired for us, He will ultimately reunite them by raising our bodies on the last day.
  • The general resurrection of the dead has been an important component of Christianity from the very beginning; despite incomprehension from some and even opposition, the Church has always upheld this article of faith.
  • God had revealed the resurrection of the dead gradually to the Jewish people; by restoring the unity of our original creation, as human beings composed of body and soul, He would thereby fulfill His covenant.
  • Jesus explicitly taught this doctrine before His Passion and Death, and proved His trustworthiness with His Resurrection on Easter morning.
  • Just as Christ rose to a new life, so too will He raise us up; we receive His risen and glorified Body in the Eucharist, which gives us a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection.
  • This truth underscores the dignity and sanctity of the human body; it is among the reasons why we must respect and care for our own, and others’ bodies, and why we want to avoid sins of the flesh, that disrespect God’s gift of the body.
  • When Christ comes again, all of the dead will be raised and gathered for the Last Judgment; publicly confirming the particular judgment on each soul, Christ will also expose the ramifications of the good we did, or failed to do, on earth.
  • Then Christ, as Lord of history, will reveal the meaning of all that has happened down the ages – the triumphs and tragedies of the entire human family – and we will understand the mysterious workings of divine providence.
  • The bodies of the faithful will go on to enjoy the blessings of heaven, while the bodies of those in hell will participate in their torment.
  • The entire cosmos will be renewed and transformed, in what Scripture calls “new heavens and a new earth,” in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

Live Your Faith

Our culture promotes misleading views of the body. On the one hand, it pretends that we have the right to do whatever we want with our bodies, that the flesh is just a disposable container. Yet at the same time, it overemphasizes physical appearance, as if our self-worth depended on the body.

But our faith tells us the truth about ourselves: God loves us – both body and soul. He wants us to be happy with Him in this life and the next, and we will be, if we abide by His will for us in both body and soul.

Death and Particular Judgment

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1005-22, 1680-90:

  • Death – the separation of the soul from the body – was not part of God’s original plan, but only entered the world as a consequence of sin.
  • Yet God, not death, has the final word; by willingly suffering and dying for us, Christ has transformed death into a blessing, for through it we come to God.
  • Even before we physically die, Christians have already died sacramentally with Christ through our baptism; we mystically participated in His death and burial, and arose to new life in God’s grace.
  • Like Jesus, we too should embrace our own mortality in obedience and love for the Father.
  • In this way our physical death completes our incorporation into Christ, if we die in this state of grace, in right relationship with God.
  • At the moment of death, the soul immediately goes before God for the “particular judgment,” and learns its eternal destiny – either heaven (possibly after undergoing further purification in Purgatory), or hell.
  • We determine our own eternal destiny by the choices we make in our earthly life.
  • Each of us has just one life on earth; there is no reincarnation, for we are totally unique, unrepeatable creations.
  • We have only a certain amount of time to respond to grace and to grow in love for God and neighbor; our eternal life depends upon how we use this gift of time on earth.
  • Because death will come for us all, we should remind ourselves of our mortality and prepare for that inevitable hour; we do this in every “Hail Mary,” asking the Blessed Mother to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Live Your Faith

We diligently strive to achieve our earthly goals, but how much effort do we put into the ultimate goal of all, the only one that really counts – our eternal destiny?

Getting to heaven is more important than any success we could possibly have in this life, but we are often tempted to put our spiritual life on the backburner.

Are we prepared to be judged by God instantly? If not, what do I need to do right now to change my life?