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: Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul

Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles: Gospel – John 21:15-19 (Vigil); Matthew 16:13-19

The Gospel for the Vigil Mass and Sunday’s Gospel feature pivotal dialogues between Jesus and Simon Peter, each culminating in the Lord’s entrusting him with his unique mission in the Church.

In the text from Matthew, Jesus asks his disciples the pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Upon this profession of faith, Jesus entrusts to Peter a “unique mission,” as the Catechism notes, “to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it…The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church” (paragraphs 552-553).

In this context, it is significant that Jesus bestows upon Simon a new name — Cephas, “Rock,” which was rendered in Greek as Petros, in Latin as Petrus, as Pope Benedict XVI observes:

And it was translated precisely because it was not only a name; it was a “mandate” that Petrus received in that way from the Lord.

This fact acquires special importance if one bears in mind that in the Old Testament, a change of name usually preceded the entrustment of a mission…

Jesus responded by pronouncing the solemn declaration that defines Peter’s role in the Church once and for all…what the subsequent reflection will describe by the term: “primacy of jurisdiction.”

But “the ultimate meaning of this primacy” is in service to the love of Christ:

Thus, Peter is responsible for guaranteeing communion with Christ, with the love of Christ, guiding people to fulfill this love in everyday life.

Audience of June 7, 2006

In John 21:15-19, the Risen Christ asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Lost in the English translation is the fact that the Greek text involves different nuances in the words for “love.”

Benedict explains this “very significant play on words,” with deep implications for our own path of discipleship:

In Greek, the word “fileo” means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word “agapao” means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time:  “Simon… do you love me (agapas-me)” with this total and unconditional love (Jn 21:15)?

Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said: “I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally.” Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: “Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se)“, that is, “I love you with my poor human love.” Christ insists: “Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?” And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love:  “Kyrie, filo-se,” “Lord, I love you as I am able to love you.”

The third time Jesus only says to Simon: “Fileis-me?”, “Do you love me?”

In this way, Jesus asks us for the love that we can give. Even if we are incapable of giving Him the perfect love that He deserves, the Lord graciously accommodates Himself to our own frailties and limitations:

Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se).

This is to say that Jesus has put Himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level!

…Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus Who adapted Himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts Himself to this weakness of ours.

We follow Him with our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and He accepts us.

Audience of May 24, 2006

Question for reflection: How would I respond to the Lord when He asks, “Do you love me?”

Engaging the Gospel: Ascension of the Lord

Ascension of the Lord: Gospel – Matthew 28:16-20

Christ ascended into heaven and “is seated at the right hand of the Father,” preceding us into His “glorious kingdom” (Catechism paragraphs 663-666).

But Christ still dwells with us in His Church, which He took care to establish as “the seed and the beginning of the kingdom” on earth (669). Because His kingdom is to embrace all nations, so must the Church be universal, literally “catholic,” a word which derives from the Greek term meaning “universal” (830).

Just as the Father sent Christ as His Emissary, so does Jesus appoint emissaries – in Greek, apostoloi (858). Christ empowered His apostles to continue His mission all over the world, investing them with the authority to teach, sanctify, and guide His flock (857). He “promised to remain with them always,” revealing that “their office also has a permanent aspect” and that this “divine mission…will continue to the end of time” (860).

As a result the apostles designated successors, bishops, to shepherd the Church (861-862). Thus began the unbroken line, from the apostles through the successive Catholic bishops for two millennia, down to our own very day.

The preservation of this precious apostolic heritage makes the Church “catholic” in a more profound sense. The Catholic Church receives from Christ “the fullness of the means of salvation which He has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession” (830).

Question for reflection: In what ways do I try to draw others closer to the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Gospel – Matthew 26:14-27:66

“Today we are contemporaries of the Lord,” Blessed John Paul II instructed us, “and, like the multitude in Jerusalem, like the disciples and the women, we are called to decide if we are to be with Him, or flee, or just be spectators at His death” (Palm Sunday 2002).

“The palm of triumph and the cross of the Passion: this is not a contradiction; rather, it is the heart of the mystery that we want to proclaim. Jesus gave Himself up voluntarily to the Passion; He was not crushed by forces greater than Himself. He freely faced crucifixion and in death was triumphant” (Palm Sunday 2001).

John Paul further pondered the Lord’s Passion in his apostolic letter On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.

The Son of God suffered to save us from the ultimate suffering — “the loss of eternal life…damnation.” To rescue us from such an unmitigated evil, Jesus “must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots,” which are “grounded in sin and death” (14).

Because the Son shoulders “this horrible weight” of our sins, “the entire evil of the turning away from God” (18) throughout human history, “all human sin in its breadth and depth becomes the true cause of the Redeemer’s suffering” (17).

Because Jesus is both God and man, He suffered an agony greater than any other human being is capable of feeling (17). But still “Christ goes toward His own suffering, aware of its saving power,” out of love for each and every one of us (16).

Question for reflection: What would I say to Jesus at the foot of the Cross?

Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent: Gospel – Matthew 17:1-9

The Transfiguration

Last Sunday, we toiled along with Jesus undergoing temptation in the desert; in this Sunday’s Gospel, we are uplifted by His dazzling Transfiguration.

Pope Benedict XVI has commented on this abrupt transition from the depths to the heights:

Considered together, these episodes anticipate the Paschal Mystery: Jesus’ struggle with the tempter preludes the great final duel of the Passion, while the light of his transfigured Body anticipates the glory of the Resurrection.

On the one hand, we see Jesus, fully man, sharing with us even temptation; on the other, we contemplate him as the Son of God who divinizes our humanity.

Thus, we could say that these two Sundays serve as pillars on which to build the entire structure of Lent until Easter, and indeed, the entire structure of Christian life, which consists essentially in paschal dynamism: from death to life.

Angelus of February 17, 2008.

Blessed John Paul II commented on another kind of dynamism inherent in this passage – though we experience joy on the mountaintop, and glimpse our future glory in the radiant Christ, we don’t have the luxury of staying there:

We, pilgrims on earth, are granted to rejoice in the company of the transfigured Lord when we immerse ourselves in the things of above through prayer and the celebration of the divine mysteries.

But, like the disciples, we too must descend from Tabor into daily life where human events challenge our faith.

On the mountain we saw; on the paths of life we are asked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel which illuminates the steps of believers.

Homily of August 6, 1999.

Question: When have I had a “mountaintop experience” in my spiritual life?

Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent — Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus rebuffs the devil’s temptations

Sunday’s readings present contrasting portraits of temptation: while our first parents made the wrong choice in Genesis, Jesus offers us a model of faithfulness to the Father in the Gospel.

Although simply summed up as the choice between obedience and disobedience, its root lies deeper: Do we trust God, and know that He wants the best for us? Or do we mistakenly imagine in our pride that we know better?

The serpent’s first tactic was to insinuate doubts about God’s word:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart, and abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in His goodness.

— Catechism paragraph 397.

Benedict XVI zeroed in on the fundamental aspect of temptation:

At the heart of all temptations…is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive Him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives.

— Jesus of Nazareth Vol. Ip. 28.

The devil tries to use such ploys on Jesus, to the point of misusing Scripture itself in an insidious questioning of Jesus’ identity.

But Jesus’ absolute trust in the Father never wavers; perfectly united to the Father’s will, the Word made flesh dismisses the tempter by authoritatively reciting God’s Word in Scripture.

“Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion” (Catechism paragraph 539), when His obedience atoned for our disobedience, and accomplished our salvation (615, 1850).

Question for reflection: What kind of internal dialogue do I go through when tempted to sin?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 6:24-34

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus reassures us not to worry, but to seek the kingdom

For Blessed John Paul II, Sunday’s Gospel features “particularly touching” words about the Father’s loving care for each one of us:

With these words the Lord Jesus not only confirmed the teaching on divine Providence contained in the Old Testament. He entered more deeply into the subject as regards humanity, every single person, treated by God with the exquisite delicacy of a father…

They are said by the Son who, ‘scrutinizing’ all that has been said on the subject of Providence, bears perfect witness to the mystery of his Father, a mystery of Providence and of paternal care which embraces every creature, even the most insignificant, like the grass of the field or the sparrows. How much more, therefore, human beings!…

In this page of the Gospel on Providence we find the truth about the hierarchy of values which is present from the beginning of the Book of Genesis, in the description of creation — man has primacy over things. He has that primacy in his nature and in his spirit, he has it in the attention and care of Providence, he has it in the heart of God!

Moreover, Jesus insistently proclaimed that man, so privileged by his Creator, is duty-bound to cooperate with the gift received from Providence. He cannot be satisfied with the mere values of sense, of matter and of utility. He must seek above all ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’

General Audience, May 14, 1986.

Question for reflection: What worries must I let go of and entrust 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 – Matthew 5:13-16

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 5:13-16

Our responsibility to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”

By calling us “salt of the earth” and “light of the world,” Jesus describes our mission as the People of God (Catechism paragraph 782).

This is not a command imposed upon us, but rather, it reveals what we have become through Baptism. The sacrament of Baptism conforms us to Christ (1272-74), who is the “true light that enlightens every man” (1216).

Light and salt are both invested with symbolism, as Blessed Pope John Paul II noted:

The images of salt and light used by Jesus are rich in meaning and complement each other. In ancient times, salt and light were seen as essential elements of life.

One of the main functions of salt is to season food, to give it taste and flavor. This image reminds us that, through Baptism, our whole being has been profoundly changed, because it has been ‘seasoned’ with the new life which comes from Christ…

For a long time, salt was also used to preserve food. As the salt of the earth, you are called to preserve the faith which you have received and to pass it on intact to others…

The light which Jesus speaks of in the Gospel is the light of faith, God’s free gift, which enlightens the heart and clarifies the mind…Our personal encounter with Christ bathes life in new light, sets us on the right path, and sends us out to be his witnesses…

Just as salt gives flavor to food and light illumines the darkness, so too holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory.

Message for World Youth Day 2002.

Question for reflection: Who has been a beacon of Christ’s light for me?


Engaging the Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus begins to preach the Gospel and to call His disciples

Jesus begins his public ministry by preaching the Gospel. While “gospel” is literally translated as “good news,” the word has a much deeper meaning in its historical context, as Pope Benedict XVI has explained:

In Jesus’ time, the term ‘gospel’ was used by Roman emperors for their proclamations. Independently of their content, they were described as ‘good news’ or announcements of salvation, because the emperor was considered lord of the world and his every edict as a portent of good.

Thus, the application of this phrase to Jesus’ preaching had a strongly critical meaning, as if to say God, and not the emperor, is Lord of the world, and the true Gospel is that of Jesus Christ…an announcement that it is God who reigns, that God is Lord and that his lordship is present and actual, it is being realized.

The newness of Christ’s message, therefore, is that God made himself close in him and now reigns in our midst.

Angelus of January 27, 2008

Besides preaching the Gospel, Jesus also calls his first disciples in today’s reading.

These two actions are profoundly related: the Gospel is “the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” (Catechism paragraph 1846), and that divine mercy invites each and every one of us to follow Jesus intimately, calling all to “the fullness of Christian life” and “to holiness” (2013).

Question for reflection: When have I sensed that the Lord was calling me?

Engaging the Gospel: Baptism of the Lord

Gospel – Matthew 3:13-17: Jesus deigns to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness

From Pope Benedict XVI’s insights on this feast in 2008:

Basically, the whole mystery of Christ in the world can be summed up in this term: ‘baptism,’ which in Greek means ‘immersion.’

The Son of God, who from eternity shares the fullness of life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was ‘immersed’ in our reality as sinners to make us share in his own life: he was incarnate, he was born like us, he grew up like us and, on reaching adulthood, manifested his mission which began precisely with the ‘baptism of conversion’ administered by John the Baptist.

Jesus’ first public act, as we have just heard, was to go down into the Jordan, mingling among repentant sinners, in order to receive this baptism. John was naturally reluctant to baptize him, but because this was the Father’s will, Jesus insisted…

This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mystery of Baptism: God desired to save us by going to the bottom of this abyss himself so that every person, even those who have fallen so low that they can no longer perceive Heaven, may find God’s hand to cling to and rise from the darkness to see once again the light for which he or she was made.

We all feel, we all inwardly comprehend, that our existence is a desire for life which invokes fullness and salvation. This fullness is given to us in Baptism.

Homily of January 13, 2008

Question for reflection: How have I surrendered to the embrace of God’s will?

Engaging the Gospel: Epiphany of the Lord

Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12The Magi adore the Lord made manifest

“The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world,” as he is adored “by the wise men (magi) from the East” (Catechism paragraph 528).

Pope Benedict XVI commented upon the meaning of the magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh:

These gifts have a profound significance: they are an act of justice. In fact, according to the mentality prevailing then in the Orient, they represent the recognition of a person as God and King, that is, an act of submission. They were meant to say that from that moment, the donors belonged to the sovereign and they recognize his authority.

Homily of January 6, 2010

In the same way, the Catechism teaches that we “render to God what we as creatures owe him in all justice” (2095) – first of all, adoration:

To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love…

To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself…confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets [us] free from turning in on [ourselves], from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.

Catechism paragraphs 2096-97

Question for reflection: In what ways do I adore the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel: Feast of the Holy Family

Gospel – Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23: Joseph acts to protect Mary and Jesus and keep them out of harm’s way

Already in Jesus’ infancy, we see St. Joseph fulfilling his role as fatherly protector in the Holy Family. Warned by the angel, Joseph takes Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt, and returns only after the angel informs him that it is safe.

Joseph continues to serve God’s saving plan for us, both as a powerful intercessor in heaven and as a model for us to follow.

Blessed John Paul II reminds us of this truth: “Inspired by the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church from the earliest centuries stressed that just as St. Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, that is, the Church” (Redemptoris Custos/Guardian of the Redeemer, 1).

Benedict XVI has encouraged us to learn from Joseph:

If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Joseph, that descendant of Abraham who hoped against hope; if exasperation or hatred seizes you, think of the love of Joseph, who was the first man to set eyes on the human face of God in the person of the Infant conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary…

I wish to extend a particular word of encouragement to fathers so that they may take St. Joseph as their model. He who kept watch over the Son of Man is able to teach them the deepest meaning of their own fatherhood…Dear fathers, like St. Joseph, respect and love your spouse; and by your love and your wise presence, lead your children to God where they must be.

Homily of March 19, 2009

Question for reflection: What family concerns might I entrust to St. Joseph’s care?

Engaging the Gospel: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24 — Joseph obeys the angel and takes Mary into his home

St. Joseph serves as a model of profound faith and generosity of spirit, as Blessed John Paul II has reflected upon in Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer).

Calling the angel’s revelation to Joseph “the ‘annunciation’ by night” (19), the Holy Father links Joseph’s acceptance of God’s plan with Mary’s obedience as the handmaid of the Lord.

“Joseph not only heard the divine truth concerning his wife’s indescribable vocation; he also heard…the truth about his own vocation” (19) – that is, “to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood” (8). By taking Mary into his home, “he showed a readiness of will like Mary’s with regard to what God asked of him through the angel” (3).

Thus “Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah’s coming into his home” (26).

Pope Paul VI contrasted the sanctity of Joseph and Mary with the disobedience of Adam and Eve:

“We see that at the beginning of the New Testament, as at the beginning of the Old, there is a married couple. But whereas Adam and Eve were the source of evil which was unleashed on the world, Joseph and Mary arc the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth. The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family — that sanctuary of love and cradle of life” (quoted in Redemptoris Custos 7).

Question for reflection: When has God led my life into an entirely unexpected direction?

Engaging the Gospel: Third Sunday of Advent

Gospel – Matthew 11:2-11: Jesus answers John the Baptist’s question by recounting His fulfillment of prophecy

The fulfillment of prophecy is a recurring theme in St. Matthew’s Gospel, as exemplified in today’s passage. When St. John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus if He indeed is the one to come, the Lord responds by citing His miracles — the signs of the Messianic age as foretold by the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus’ wondrous deeds “manifest that the kingdom is present in him and attest that he was the promised Messiah…They invite belief in him…So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God” (Catechism paragraphs 547-48).

Therefore Jesus’ response to the disciples, who would bring this confirmation back to John in prison, reminds us that faith involves our intellect too. Jesus provides evidence to appeal to our rational minds.

Such proofs of the truth of divine revelation are called “motives of credibility, which show that the assent of faith is by no means a blind impulse of the mind” (156).

As the Council Fathers of Vatican II noted, God’s deeds and words have an “inner unity; the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them” (Dei Verbum 2).

Question for reflection: How have I sought answers to questions of faith?

Engaging the Gospel: Second Sunday of Advent

Gospel – Matthew 3:1-12John the Baptist calls for true repentance.

“St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way” (Catechism paragraph 523).

As today’s Gospel makes clear, repentance is an essential part of preparing for the Lord’s coming. John confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees, who didn’t offer a sign of sincere repentance. John’s questioning of their intentions is likewise a challenge to each one of us.

The “call to conversion and penance” aims first and foremost at “the conversion of the heart, interior conversion.” Without this, such penances [as fasting or receiving ashes] remain sterile and false” (1430). Real repentance involves contrition, or “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (1451).

The true penitents who came to John for baptism showed contrition by acknowledging their sins, which St. Basil the Great (d. 379) viewed as a prototype of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

St. Jerome (d. 419/420) used an analogy from the medical field to convey what happens in Confession: “If the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know” (quoted in 1456).

Let us prepare for our celebration of Christmas by making a good confession.

Question for reflection: What faults and failings should I bring before the Lord in a spirit of repentance?

Engaging the Gospel: First Sunday of Advent

With the coming of the new liturgical year, it’s a fitting time to begin posting about each Sunday’s Gospel reading.

Just as the ongoing Catechism summaries arose from an initiative at my parish, so did the weekly thoughts to encourage further engagement with the Gospel. This took the form of supplementary material to explore the Gospel’s theme, drawn from the Catechism and Blessed John Paul II or Benedict XVI, along with a question for reflection.

Accordingly, here is the one for Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent:

Gospel – Matthew 24:37-44: Be prepared, for the Son of Man will come unexpectedly.

The Church’s liturgical year begins with the season of Advent for a simple but profound reason: the liturgical year “in a certain way reproduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption” (Blessed John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 10).

Hence the Church’s year opens by preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth, and it ends by recognizing Christ’s kingship over the entire universe. During Advent, as we recall His coming into human history, we logically also look ahead to his final coming at the end of time.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to be prepared, for the end will come unexpectedly — just as suddenly as the flood destroyed Noah’s contemporaries. Just as the flood marked a new epoch in the life of the world, so will the Second Coming radically transform all of creation.

“At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness…The universe itself will be renewed…Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, ‘new heavens and a new earth'” (Catechism paragraphs 1042-43).

“The form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and…God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men” (1048).

Question for reflection: In what ways am I responding to the Lord’s call to “stay awake” and prepare for His coming?