Engaging the Gospel – Luke 17:11-19

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 17:11-19

The ten lepers’ crying out to Jesus to “have pity” on them is an example of a prayer of petition, when we ask God for help with any need:

By prayer of petition we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end.

— Catechism paragraph 2629

Jesus responds to their request by healing them. His gift not only restores their physical health, but also ends their isolation from society, reuniting them with their families and giving them back their lives. Despite the life-transforming nature of this gift, only one person returns to express his gratitude and glorify God, in a prayer of thanksgiving.

We too have been cleansed by Christ, but our healing is an even greater miracle of redemption: we have been “disfigured by sin and death,” yet Christ restores us in the “Father’s likeness” (705), brings us into the very life of the Holy Trinity (1997), and enables us to fulfill our “original vocation” of eternal life (518, 1998).

How can we give thanks for this awesome gift? Christ himself has instituted the perfect way – through the Eucharist, which literally means “thanksgiving.”

The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is the pure offering of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God’s name…it is the sacrifice of praise (2643).

Question for reflection: When have I been especially grateful to God?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 12:32-48

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 12:32-48

The central message of today’s Gospel is that we must be prepared, and ever vigilant, as we await the Second Coming of Christ in glory.

Jesus uses the imagery of a banquet in His example: if the servants are found to be vigilant when their master returns from a wedding, the master himself will serve them at his table. This alludes to an idea that was especially prevalent in Jesus’ day: namely, the Messianic banquet that would take place at the end of time, a feast celebrating the Lord’s final victory over evil.

By virtue of His passion, death, and resurrection, Christ has already triumphed, and His victory is celebrated eternally in heaven.

We are able to participate in that celebration at each and every Mass, a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice that culminates in the Eucharistic banquet. This celebration is called “liturgy,” meaning “public work.”

“The liturgy is the work of the whole Christ” — Christ Himself and all the faithful who comprise His Body. “Our high priest [Christ] celebrates it unceasingly in the heavenly liturgy” (Catechism paragraph 1187).

At Mass, the ordained priest in fact “represents Christ as Head of the Body” (1188). “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy…toward which we journey as pilgrims” (1090).

Let us enter more deeply into the mystery of the Mass, which helps us to prepare for the Lord’s coming.

Question for reflection: What would I do if I knew that Christ would return tonight?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 11:1-13

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 11:1-13

“The meaning of prayer in Christ’s ministry” is emphasized throughout Luke’s Gospel (Catechism paragraph 2600), but especially in today’s passage.

Jesus encourages us to pray persistently and confidently to the Father, trusting that He will give us whatever is best for us.

“Prayer and Christian life are inseparable” (2745). We must not only believe in our faith, and celebrate it at Mass, but we must also “live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer” (2558).

“Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget Him Who is our life and our all” (2697).

Hence the Church’s sacred Tradition helps us by setting out “certain rhythms of praying intended to nourish continual prayer” – i.e., “morning and evening prayer, grace before and after meals, the Liturgy of the Hours,” and of course Sunday Mass, along with the great feasts of the year (2698).

Even so, we often find it difficult to pray faithfully. “Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love” (2742).

Let us have recourse to the Holy Spirit, “the interior Master of Christian prayer…To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all” (2672).

Question for reflection: How might I seek to deepen my prayer life?

The Mass draws us into the mystery of Epiphany

Epiphany of the Lord: Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12

During our celebration of Epiphany, let us not only hear the familiar story of the Magi who came from afar to honor the baby Jesus. Let us put ourselves in their place, recognizing that we too come to worship, giving gifts and doing homage before the Lord really, truly, substantially present in the Eucharist.

“Holy Mass repeats the scene at Bethlehem,” comments the liturgical scholar Pius Parsch:

See, the Offertory procession is taking shape; we join in eagerly and with the Magi proceed to the altar. We too are kings, and our gifts today are kingly gifts.

At Mass a wondrous exchange of gifts takes place: we give ourselves to the Lord, Who gives Himself to us. Our gifts of bread and wine will become, upon consecration, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ:

the Church’s sacrificial Offering is more precious than gold, frankincense, and myrrh – it is Christ Himself. Our offering is Christ, mirrored in our hearts in the gold-like purity of the love that attends our oblation; our offering is Christ, immolated like frankincense; our offering is Christ, received at the sacrificial Banquet and penetrating our inmost soul like myrrh. At the Communion, we have come with the Magi to the goal of our journey. The star that once shone on high shines now within our hearts; and having found the Lord, we worship Him.

And at the same time, we are uniting ourselves with His sacrifice on the Cross: “Our offering represents our person; in other words, we offer ourselves.”

On Epiphany, let us

make a special offering, one that includes all our going and coming during the year; and we ought bring gifts that match gold in preciousness, frankincense in holiness, and bitter myrrh in willing submissiveness to the divine Infant.

— The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. I, pp. 270-71.

Question for reflection: What gift am I giving to Jesus?

Engaging the Gospel – John 6:51-58

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 6:51-58

“The Eucharist is revealed as man’s unceasing great encounter with God,” Benedict XVI observes. “For us this food must become an opening out of our existence, a passing through the Cross, and an anticipation of the new life in God and with God” (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 270).

As the name of this great sacrament implies,

Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus…Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet.

— Catechism paragraph 1391.

But this fruit of union presupposes that we are already in the state of grace, or right relationship with God. If we have broken our relationship with God through grave sin, we “must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (1385).

A corollary of growing in union with Christ is becoming detached from sin:

Holy Communion separates us from sin…The Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life…By giving Himself to us, Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in Him…

By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in His friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from Him by mortal sin.

— paragraphs 1393-1395.

By fortifying us in our struggles, and increasing our union with God, the Eucharist prepares us for eternal life. It is “a pledge of the life to come” and “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (1402).

Question for reflection: What impact does the Eucharist have on the way I live my life?

Engaging the Gospel – John 6:41-51

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 6:41-51

Jesus says, “the Bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.”

Benedict XVI considers “how we can ‘feed’ on God, live on God, in such a way that He Himself becomes our bread…God becomes ‘bread’ for us first of all in the Incarnation” of Christ, and in its “ultimate realization: Jesus’ act of giving Himself up to death and the mystery of the Cross.”

Indeed, “what underlies the Eucharist” is this “sacrifice of Jesus, Who sheds His Blood for us, and in so doing steps out of Himself, so to speak, pours Himself out, and gives Himself to us…The offering of His Body on the Cross” is made accessible to us, really and tangibly, in the sacrament of Holy Communion (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 268-69).

Because bread and wine have themselves been subjected to a kind of death in their preparation, the Lord has chosen fitting elements to veil His presence in the Eucharist:

Earthly bread can become the bearer of Christ’s presence because it contains in itself the mystery of the Passion…the grain of wheat first has to be placed in the earth, it has to ‘die,’ and then the new ear can grow out of this death…The same is true of wine. It too contains the Passion in itself, for the grape had to be pressed in order to become wine (pp. 271-72).

Let us always remember that the Eucharist makes present, brings us into, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross (Catechism paragraphs 1366-67).

Jesus emphasizes that eating His Bread leads to eternal life. The Eucharist is therefore “a pledge of the life to come” and “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (paragraph 1402).

As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century, we “break the one Bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ” (quoted in 1405).

Question: Have I reflected upon Jesus’ total self-giving in the Eucharist?

Engaging the Gospel – John 6:24-35

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 6:24-35

Jesus reveals that He is the Bread of Life – not to give out the earthly bread that the crowd seeks, but to bring us everlasting life. This “Bread of Life” discourse, the heart of John 6, will furnish our Gospel readings for the next few weeks.

“The fundamental context in which the entire chapter belongs is centered upon the contrast between Moses and Jesus,” Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1. “Jesus is the definitive, greater Moses” (p. 264).

Moses was identified with the gift of manna that sustained the Israelites in the desert: “Even the manna was not heavenly bread, but only earthly bread…or rather a food substitute” (p. 267).

But the Lord gives us much more – He gives us Himself in the Eucharist.

As the manna physically nourished the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land, so does the Eucharist sustain us spiritually on our journey to heaven.

The Eucharist is literally the “food of eternal life” (Catechism paragraph 1212):

What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ…preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism. This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion…

— paragraph 1392.

The North African Christians in the early fourth century gave eloquent testimony to the necessity of the Eucharist. When Christian worship was banned during a vicious persecution of the Church, they chose martyrdom rather than give up the Eucharist, proclaiming that they could not exist without the Sacrament (see Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 95).

Question for reflection: How do I prepare to receive the Lord in the Eucharist?