Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – John 8:1-11

Benedict XVI has commented on this Gospel passage of the adulterous woman, in which human sinfulness and Divine Mercy “come face to face.” As the Pope Emeritus explained,

The pitiless accusers of the woman, citing the law of Moses, provoke Jesus – they call Him ‘Teacher’ (Didáskale) – asking Him whether it would be right to stone her. They were aware of His mercy and His love for sinners and were curious to see how He would manage in such a case which, according to Mosaic law, was crystal clear. But Jesus immediately took the side of the woman…‘Let him who is without sin among you (He uses the term anamártetos here, which is the only time it appears in the New Testament) be the first to throw a stone at her.’

…Augustine added that with these words, Jesus obliged the accusers to look into themselves, to examine themselves to see whether they too were sinners. Thus, ‘pierced through as if by a dart as big as a beam, one after another, they all withdrew.’

…When they had all left, the divine Teacher remained alone with the woman. St Augustine’s comment is concise and effective: ‘relicti sunt duo:  misera et Misericordia, the two were left alone, the wretched woman and Mercy.’…

Dear friends, from the Word of God we have just heard emerge practical instructions for our life. Jesus does not enter into a theoretical discussion with His interlocutors on this section of Mosaic Law; He is not concerned with winning an academic dispute about an interpretation of Mosaic Law, but His goal is to save a soul and reveal that salvation is only found in God’s love…only divine forgiveness and divine love received with an open and sincere heart give us the strength to resist evil and ‘to sin no more,’ to let ourselves be struck by God’s love so that it becomes our strength. Jesus’ attitude thus becomes a model to follow for every community, which is called to make love and forgiveness the vibrant heart of its life.

Homily of March 25, 2007.

Question for reflection: How has my acceptance of God’s mercy helped me to extend mercy to others?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 22:34-40

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus distills the essence of the whole Law and Prophets – love of God and love of neighbor – by quoting verses from two different books of the Old Testament.

As Benedict XVI has commented,

The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might’ (6:4-5).

Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbor found in the Book of Leviticus: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (19:18).

Deus Caritas Est, 1.

Jesus thereby emphasizes that these two elements of love of God and neighbor are closely intertwined: “One cannot adore God without loving all men, His creatures. One cannot honor another person without blessing God his creator” (Catechism paragraph 2069).

By citing the Scriptures in this way, Jesus affirms that “the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation” (129).

Because the God-given Law served as a teacher “to lead His people towards Christ” (708), the Church has constantly proclaimed the unity of the Old and New Testaments (128).

“The Old Testament prepares for the New and the New Testament fulfills the Old; the two shed light on each other; both are the true Word of God” (140). That is why the Church “has retained certain elements of the worship of the Old Covenant” in our Mass, such as “reading the Old Testament” and “praying the Psalms” (1093).

Question for reflection: How does my daily life reflect love of God and neighbor?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

The wedding feast in this parable symbolizes the kingdom of heaven, and at the same time, is evocative of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

“The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets,” who expressed “God’s covenant with Israel in the image of exclusive and faithful married love” (Catechism paragraphs 796, 1611).

This “nuptial covenant between God and His people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant” in Christ (1612).

As St. John Paul II observes, “It is not difficult to see in this wedding feast a reference to the Eucharist: the sacrament of the new and eternal covenant, the sacrament of the marriage of Christ and humanity in the Church” (September 18, 1991).

We are all called personally; no one is excluded from God’s universal invitation. But Jesus reveals that we in turn must respond appropriately. We too must enter with a “wedding garment,” as we learn from the unprepared guest in the parable.

JP II explains:

…in Israel’s world, on the occasion of great banquets, the clothes to be worn were made available to the guests in the banquet hall. This fact makes the meaning of that detail in Jesus’ parable even clearer: the responsibility not only of the person who rejects the invitation, but also of those who claim to attend without fulfilling the necessary conditions for being worthy of the banquet.

This is the case of those who maintain and profess that they are followers of Christ and members of the Church, without obtaining the ‘wedding garment’ of grace…

We must embrace this “garment” offered to us by God:

The parable emphasizes the responsibility that every guest has, whatever his or her origin, regarding the ‘yes’ which must be given to the Lord Who calls, and regarding the acceptance of His law, the total response to the demands of the Christian vocation…

December 11, 1991.

Question for reflection: How have I experienced God’s invitation to draw near to Him?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 11:25-30

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 11:25-30

Take Jesus’ yoke upon you and find rest

Jesus presents us with paradoxes in Sunday’s Gospel. Revelation comes to the “little ones,” not to those who deem themselves wise, and by taking the Lord’s yoke upon us, we actually find true rest in Him.

These statements are integrally related: to accept the Kingdom of God, we must have a “humble and trusting heart” (Catechism paragraphs 544, 2785).

This truth contradicts our contemporary culture, which promotes pride of mind and heart. The culture often denies objective standards of morality and claims that we can fashion individual ideas of right and wrong to suit ourselves.

As St. John Paul II has observed, such moral relativism is essentially “a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, Who guides man with the moral law” (The Splendor of Truth 84).

“God, Who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of His very love,” He teaches us what is good by giving us the commandments (35).

We are authentically free, not when we try to deny the truth of God’s word, but when we embrace God’s will and choose the good (35, 84).

Jesus Himself shows us the way: “The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness” (Catechism paragraph 459). “His exclamation, ‘Yes, Father!’ expresses the depth of His heart…this loving adherence of His human heart to the mystery of the will of the Father” (2603).

Question for reflection: When have I found peace in surrendering to the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 5:38-48

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus continues to perfect the Law, revealing His divine authority

Today’s Gospel is a seamless continuation from last Sunday, with Jesus perfecting the Old Law in His teaching of the New Law. Beyond just instructing us in His Law, Jesus also embodied it, living it out perfectly to become a model for us.

“Jesus could say to His disciples not only and not merely, ‘Follow My law,’ but, ‘Follow Me, imitate Me, walk in the light which comes from Me,’” as Blessed John Paul II summarized.

Why must we do so? Because Jesus reveals Himself as God:

In the important passages of the Sermon on the Mount, the contraposition is repeated, ‘You have heard that it was said….But I say to you.’ This was not to abolish the divine law of the old covenant, but to indicate its perfect fulfillment…

He did so by claiming for Himself an authority identical with that of God the lawgiver. It can be said that in that expression repeated six times, ‘I say to you,’ there resounds the echo of God’s self-definition, which Jesus also attributes to Himself, ‘I Am.’

John Paul II also noted how this struck Jesus’ audience:

It is a witness to us that the people immediately recognized the difference between Christ’s teaching and that of the Israelite scribes, not only in manner but also in substance. The scribes based their teaching on the text of the Mosaic Law, of which they were the interpreters and glossators. Jesus did not at all follow the method of a teacher or commentator of the old law.

General Audience, October 14, 1987.

Question for reflection: What concrete steps might I take to act more charitably?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 5:17-37

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus fulfills the Law by intensifying its moral standards.

He “insists on conversion of heart” (Catechism paragraph 2608), showing us that we are accountable not only for our actions, but for our thoughts and words as well. In this way Jesus raises the bar, so to speak, on the sin of anger (2262), on purity of thought (2336), sanctity of marriage (2382), reverence for God’s name (2153), and being truthful (2466).

“The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure” (1968).

Hence the New Law, the Law of the Gospel, “becomes the interior law of charity” (1965), teaching us what we ought to do (1966).

As St. Augustine wrote, the Sermon on the Mount is “the perfect way of the Christian life,” containing “all the precepts needed to shape one’s life” (quoted in 1966).

For this reason, the Sermon on the Mount is one guide to an examination of conscience, especially to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation (1454).

Question for reflection: How carefully do I guard my thoughts and my words?

Engaging the Gospel: Presentation of the Lord

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord — Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary offer Him to God in accordance with the Law; in the Temple, Simeon and Anna recognize the Infant as the long-awaited Messiah

Pope Benedict XVI sets the scene:

This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; He who is the new Temple of God: He comes to visit His people, thus bringing to fulfillment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation.

It is interesting to take a close look at this entrance of the Child Jesus into the solemnity of the temple, in the great comings and goings of many people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty, the numerous devout people and pilgrims anxious to encounter the Holy God of Israel. Yet none of them noticed anything. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple parents.

Even the priests proved incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Savior.

Alone two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover this great newness. Led by the Holy Spirit, in this Child they find the fulfillment of their long waiting and watchfulness….

The prophetic attitude of the two elderly people contains the entire Old Covenant which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that He was the Awaited One.

Homily of February 2, 2011

Beyond their representation of the Old Covenant, Simeon and Anna also stand for all of humanity, as Benedict has explained:

In giving a deeper interpretation to these things we understand that at this moment it is God Himself who is presenting His Only-Begotten Son to humanity through the words of the elderly Simeon and the Prophetess Anna.

Simeon, in fact, proclaimed Jesus as the “salvation” of humanity, a “light” for all the nations and a “sign that is spoken against,” because He would reveal the thoughts of hearts (cf. Lk 2:29-35).

In the East this Feast was called Hypapante, a feast of encounter. In fact, Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus in the Temple and recognized Him as the Messiah so long awaited, represent humanity that encounters its Lord in the Church.

Subsequently, this Feast also spread to the West, where above all the symbol of light and the procession with candles which gave rise to the term “Candlemas” developed.

This visible sign is intended to mean that the Church encounters in faith the One who is “the light of men” and in order to bring this “light” into the world, receives Him with the full dynamism of her faith.

Homily of February 2, 2010

Question for reflection: When have I realized that God is faithful to His promises?