Engaging the Gospel – Luke 19:1-10

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 19:1-10

Today’s Gospel, focusing on the dramatic repentance of Zacchaeus, reveals that an encounter with Jesus is a life-changing experience.

Benedict XVI has often emphasized this very theme of encountering Jesus:

We are only Christians if we encounter Christ…We too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ’s Heart and feel Him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One, do we truly become Christians.

September 3, 2008.

St John Paul II viewed Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus as a “biblical icon” that illustrates the sacrament of Reconciliation, “God’s arrival at a person’s home.” Just as Jesus’ look deeply affects Zacchaeus, “that same gaze looks upon each” one of us:

Mercy has already come to him as a gratuitous and overflowing gift…Beneath the loving gaze of Christ, the heart of Zacchaeus warms to love of neighbor…

The salvation which truly heals and restores, involves a genuine conversion to the demands of God’s love. If Zacchaeus had welcomed the Lord into his home without coming to an attitude of openness to love and reparation for the harm done, without a firm commitment to living a new life, he would not have received in the depths of his heart the forgiveness which the Lord had offered him with such concern.

Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2002.

Question for reflection: In what ways do I relate to Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus?

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Engaging the Gospel – Luke 18:9-14

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 18:9-14

Jesus’ parable of the self-righteous Pharisee, contrasted with the contrite tax collector, prompts us to consider our own hearts: do we recognize our need for God’s mercy, or do we think we’re doing well just because we fulfill religious obligations? Do we tend to rationalize, and overlook, our faults?

As St John Paul II explained,

The tax collector might possibly have had some justification for the sins he committed, such as to diminish his responsibility. But his prayer does not dwell on such justifications, but rather on his own unworthiness before God’s infinite holiness: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ The Pharisee, on the other hand, is self-justified, finding some excuse for each of his failings. Here we encounter two different attitudes of the moral conscience of man in every age.

The tax collector represents a ‘repentant’ conscience, fully aware of the frailty of its own nature and seeing in its own failings, whatever their subjective justifications, a confirmation of its need for redemption.

The Pharisee represents a ‘self-satisfied’ conscience, under the illusion that it is able to observe the law without the help of grace and convinced that it does not need mercy.

All people must take great care not to allow themselves to be tainted by the attitude of the Pharisee, which would seek to eliminate awareness of one’s own limits and of one’s own sin. In our own day this attitude is expressed particularly in the attempt to adapt the moral norm to one’s own capacities and personal interests, and even in the rejection of the very idea of a norm.

Accepting, on the other hand, the ‘disproportion’ between the law and human ability (that is, the capacity of the moral forces of man left to himself) kindles the desire for grace and prepares one to receive it.

Veritatis Splendor, 104-05

Question for reflection: What “blind spots” do I have regarding my own faults?

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 13:22-30

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 13:22-30

Recent Gospels have emphasized that we should keep our eyes trained on the ultimate prize of eternal life.

After warning us about the perils of greed, and lack of vigilance, Jesus identifies another error to be avoided: presumption — when we take eternal life for granted, imagining that we can get by without making any effort to cooperate with God’s grace.

We are in danger of falling into presumption in two ways:

Either man presumes upon his own capacities (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit.

— Catechism paragraph 2092.

On the other hand, the flip side of presumption is the sin of despair, when a person

ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to His justice – for the Lord is faithful to His promises – and to His mercy (2091).

Instead of the pitfalls of presumption or despair, we are called to an authentic hope and trust in God’s merciful love, while striving to live in accordance with the Gospel, and repenting when we fall short. The virtue of hope is entirely different from the sin of presumption.

“Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing” — that we enjoy “the beatific vision of God” in eternity – but hope also involves the healthy “fear of offending God’s love” and of harming our relationship with Him through sin (2090).

Question for reflection: How do I guard against complacency in my spiritual life?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 10:25-37

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 10:25-37

The usual reaction to the parable of the Good Samaritan is an examination of conscience: how well do we step forward to help our neighbor?

But instead of always comparing ourselves to the Good Samaritan, it can be beneficial to identify with the robbers’ victim. From a spiritual perspective, we are the wounded; unable to save ourselves, we need someone to rescue us from sin and eternal death.

The Church Fathers interpreted the parable through this lens, seeing the wounded man as symbolic of fallen humanity and the Good Samaritan as a symbol of Jesus.

Benedict XVI summarizes this theologically rich explanation in his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth (pp. 200-201):

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho thus turns out to be an image of human history; the half-dead man lying by the side of it is an image of humanity. Priest and Levite pass by; from earthly history alone, from its cultures and [human] religions alone, no healing comes.

If the assault victim is the image of Everyman, the Samaritan can only be the image of Jesus Christ. God Himself, Who for us is foreign and distant, has set out to take care of His wounded creature. God, though so remote from us, has made Himself our neighbor in Jesus Christ.

He pours oil and wine into our wounds, a gesture seen as an image of the healing gift of the sacraments, and He brings us to the inn, the Church, in which He arranges our care and also pays a deposit for the cost of that care…

Now we realize that we always need God, Who makes Himself our neighbor so that we can become neighbors.

The Good Samaritan parable thus has special resonance during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Having received God’s mercy, we then act mercifully toward our neighbors:

Everyone must first be healed and filled with God’s gifts. But then everyone is also called to become a Samaritan – to follow Christ and become like Him.

Question for reflection: How am I allowing the Lord to heal my woundedness?

 

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 – Luke 7:11-17

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 7:11-17

Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son from death is a great miracle that illustrates His power over the natural order. But as St Augustine comments, it is also symbolic of the Lord’s raising us from spiritual death to new life through grace.

Pope Francis expands on this theme:

The mercy of Jesus is not only an emotion; it is a force which gives life that raises man! Today’s Gospel also tells us this in the episode of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17). With His disciples, Jesus arrives in Nain, a village in Galilee, right at the moment when a funeral is taking place. A boy, the only son of a widow, is being carried for burial. Jesus immediately fixes His gaze on the crying mother.

The Evangelist Luke says: “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her” (v. 13). This “compassion” is God’s love for man, it is mercy, thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term “compassion” recalls a mother’s womb. The mother in fact reacts in a way all her own in confronting the pain of her children. It is in this way, according to Scripture, that God loves us.

What is the fruit of this love and mercy? It is life! Jesus says to the widow of Nain: “Do not weep” and then He calls the dead boy and awakes him as if from sleep (cf. vv. 13-15).

Let’s think about this, it’s beautiful: God’s mercy gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. Let us not forget that the Lord always watches over us with mercy; He always watches over us with mercy. Let us not be afraid of approaching Him! He has a merciful heart! If we show Him our inner wounds, our inner sins, He will always forgive us. It is pure mercy. Let us go to Jesus!

Angelus of June 9, 2013

Question for reflection: How have I experienced new life in Christ?