Engaging the Gospel – Christ the King

Solemnity of Christ the King (Year C): Gospel – Luke 23:35-43

For the Solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church presents us with a stark Gospel: Jesus on the Cross.

“The Cross is the paradoxical sign of His kingship,” Benedict XVI has reflected:

It is in the very offering of Himself in the sacrifice of expiation that Jesus becomes King of the universe…

But in what does this ‘power’ of Jesus Christ the King consist?…It is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart…

This Kingdom of Grace is never imposed and always respects our freedom….Every conscience, therefore, must make a choice. Who do I want to follow? God or the Evil One? The truth or falsehood?

November 22, 2009.

This choice is reflected in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus is reviled by some, but venerated by the “Good Thief.”

The Gospel dialogue reverberates to our own time, when the kingship of Christ is still subject to mockery and derision. Many in our culture commit the sin of blasphemy, “uttering against God – inwardly or outwardly – words of hatred, reproach, or defiance” (Catechism paragraph 2148).

As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to shape our world, and transform our culture, in the light of the Gospel (898-99, 2105), and thus advance the Kingdom.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when someone mocks the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 17:5-10

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 17:5-10

Today’s Gospel is marked by what appears to be an abrupt transition: from the well-known saying about the power of faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus then goes on to describe how we are simply God’s servants, doing what we ought to do.

Hence Jesus’ dramatic imagery, of the mulberry tree being uprooted and planted into the sea, is put in context – not as a magic trick by which we cater to our own whims and compel God to comply, but as a symbol of what God can accomplish, if we have the faith to let Him work in our lives.

Jesus’ quick turn, from faith to serving God, also shows us that the two are inextricably linked.

Faith is not something that we develop by ourselves; rather, “faith is man’s response to God,” Who reaches out to us first (Catechism paragraph 26).

By revealing Himself, “God, from the fullness of His love, addresses men as His friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into His own company” (142). When we respond to this invitation with faith, we submit ourselves to God totally (143):

Believing in God, the only One, and loving Him with all our being, has enormous consequences for our whole life (222).

Because we “freely commit [our] entire self to God,” as believers, we also “seek to know and do God’s will…Living faith works through charity” (1814), which is why “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

Question for reflection: When have I asked God to increase my faith?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 15:1-32

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 15:1-32

St. Luke’s Gospel has been called the “Gospel of Mercy,” and today’s parables are especially illustrative of this theme.

As Benedict XVI has commented,

Above all, this Gospel text has the power of speaking to us of God, of enabling us to know His Face and, better still, His Heart. After Jesus has told us of the merciful Father, things are no longer as they were before.

We now know God; He is our Father who out of love created us to be free and endowed us with a conscience, Who suffers when we get lost and rejoices when we return.

Benedict explains that our relationship with God develops over time, much as the child-parent relationship does:

In these stages we can also identify moments along man’s journey in his relationship with God. There can be a phase that resembles childhood: religion prompted by need, by dependence.

As man grows up and becomes emancipated, he wants to liberate himself from this submission and become free and adult, able to organize himself and make his own decisions, even thinking he can do without God. Precisely this stage is delicate and can lead to atheism, yet even this frequently conceals the need to discover God’s true Face.

Fortunately for us, God never fails in His faithfulness, and even if we distance ourselves and get lost, He continues to follow us with His love, forgiving our errors and speaking to our conscience from within in order to call us back to Him…

Only by experiencing forgiveness, by recognizing one is loved with a freely given love – a love greater than our wretchedness but also than our own merit – do we at last enter into a truly filial and free relationship with God.

Angelus of March 14, 2010.

Let us respond to the Father’s merciful love by availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Question for reflection: How have I experienced being lost, and being found by God’s merciful love?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

Jesus challenges us with very difficult sayings – that anyone who doesn’t “hate” his own family and life, and renounce all of his possessions, can’t be His disciple.

Of course, Jesus isn’t literally telling us to hate, when His commandments call us to love. Rather, it is a manner of expression in Semitic languages like Jesus’ own Aramaic: Jesus is pointedly stating that to be true disciples, we must put God first, and prefer Him to everything, including family and possessions. We must not allow relationships, or things, to become obstacles that keep us from God.

Put another way, “Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with Him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social” (Catechism paragraph 1618).

As Benedict XVI has reflected,

If we listen to today’s Gospel, if we listen to what the Lord is saying to us, it frightens us…We would like to object: What are you saying, Lord?

But the Lord is revealing a profound truth:

Whoever wants to keep his life just for himself will lose it. Only by giving ourselves do we receive our life. In other words: only the one who loves discovers life.

And love always demands going out of oneself, it always demands leaving oneself. Anyone who looks just to himself, who wants the other only for himself, will lose both himself and the other. Without this profound losing of oneself, there is no life.

‘Whoever loses his life for my sake…’ says the Lord: a radical letting-go of our self is only possible if in the process we end up, not by falling into the void, but into the hands of Love eternal. Only the love of God, who loses Himself for us and gives Himself to us, makes it possible for us also to become free, to let go, and so truly to find life.

Homily of September 9, 2007.

Question for reflection: What is the most difficult thing that God has asked of me?

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 – Luke 7:36-8:3

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 7:36-8:3

Today’s Gospel reveals the “divine tenderness to repentant sinners,” as Benedict XVI has commented:

All at once, an uninvited and unexpected guest entered from the back of the room: a well-known prostitute…She had heard [Jesus’] words of pardon and hope for all, even prostitutes; she was moved and stayed where she was in silence. She bathed Jesus’ feet with tears, wiped them dry with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with fragrant ointment.

By so doing, the sinner woman wanted to express her love for and gratitude to the Lord with gestures that were familiar to her, although they were censured by society. Amid the general embarrassment, it was Jesus Himself Who saved the situation.

Jesus essentially says to the scandalized Pharisee,

‘You see? This woman knows she is a sinner; yet prompted by love, she is asking for understanding and forgiveness. You, on the other hand, presume yourself to be righteous and are perhaps convinced that you have nothing serious for which to be forgiven.’

The message that shines out from this Gospel passage is eloquent: God forgives all to those who love much. Those who trust in themselves and in their own merits are, as it were, blinded by their ego and their heart is hardened in sin. Those, on the other hand, who recognize that they are weak and sinful entrust themselves to God and obtain from Him grace and forgiveness.

It is precisely this message that must be transmitted: what counts most is to make people understand that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whatever the sin committed, if it is humbly recognized and the person involved turns with trust to the priest-confessor, he or she never fails to experience the soothing joy of God’s forgiveness.

Address of March 7, 2008.

Question for reflection: When have I been deeply moved by experiencing the Lord’s forgiveness?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 13:31-33a, 34-35

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

The Catechism teaches:

The entire Law of the Gospel is contained in the ‘new commandment’ of Jesus, to love one another as He has loved us (paragraph 1970).

The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom…lets us pass from the condition of a servant…to that of a friend of Christ…or even to the status of son and heir (1972).

Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see (2840).

It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by Whom we live can make ours the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (2842).

Question for reflection: Why do I sometimes fail to love others as I should?