Engaging the Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

For centuries in the life of the Church, the month of November has been a time when we pray more intensely on behalf of the dead.

Following so closely from All Saints’ Day on November 1, and All Souls (the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed) on November 2, it is fitting that the Church offers us this Gospel passage today, in which Jesus affirms the resurrection of the dead.

The idea of the resurrection was not explicit in the early Jewish faith, which is why the Sadducees refused to believe in it: “God revealed the resurrection of the dead to His people progressively” (Catechism paragraph 992).

Christ was “raised with His own Body…but He did not return to an earthly life.” So will we “rise again with [our] own bodies which [we] now bear, but Christ will change our lowly body to be like His glorious Body” (999).

This has important implications for how we view the body – not as a disposable object, but as fundamental to the human person, in profound unity with the soul (362-65).

Death, brought into the world by sin, separates body and soul, but God will restore the unity of body and soul in the resurrection (997):

In expectation of that day, the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering (1004).

Question for reflection: How does my belief in the coming resurrection affect the way I live now?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Jesus warns us to avoid sin

“Before being against a law or a moral norm, sin is against God, against your brothers and sisters and against yourselves,” wrote St John Paul II, who described sin as our refusal

to let ourselves be loved by the true Love: the human being has in fact the terrible power to be an obstacle to God Who wills to give all that is good…

Today, unfortunately, the more people lose the sense of sin, the less they have recourse to the pardon of God. This is the cause of many of the problems and difficulties of our time.

Message for the 14th World Youth Day.

“Sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives” us (Catechism 387), a “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor” that “wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (1849). Moreover, “sin creates a proclivity to sin” (1865).

As St Augustine wrote, we must not ignore the cumulative effects of even small sins: “A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession”(1863).

The Lord is always eager to welcome us in Reconciliation. JPII urged us to “approach trustfully the sacrament of Confession” and “receive with a grateful heart the absolution given by the priest…The Source of love regenerates and makes us capable of overcoming egoism and of loving again, with greater intensity” (op. cit.).

Question for reflection: What efforts do I make to overcome my habitual faults?

The True Meaning of Freedom

Too often in our society, freedom is taken to mean the ability to do whatever we want. But if we follow that illusion, we end up being unhappy.

In reality, freedom isn’t about being free from all constraints; rather, freedom is about being free for something, the ability to choose the good.

God gave us the gift of free will to choose Him and to live in accordance with His will for us. Because He created us, He knows what is best for us, what behavior contributes to our human flourishing and happiness.

This moral law is encoded within our very being as human persons. Whenever we flout the moral law in the name of “freedom,” we go against the truth of God’s design for us and actually deliver ourselves up to slavery to sin.

But Jesus liberates us from bondage to sin, gives us true freedom, and empowers us to live in His friendship. As disciples, we are called to follow Jesus in freely giving ourselves for the good of others.

St John Paul II explains this beautifully in Veritatis Splendor: “Human freedom…is given as a gift, one to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly” (86).

Our “freedom of conscience is never freedom ‘from’ the truth but always and only freedom ‘in’ the truth” (64).

Jesus is “the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God.” Through contemplation of Jesus on the Cross, we grasp “the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in service to God and one’s brethren” (87).

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

God never tempts us, nor does He mount a “sting operation” to catch us, just waiting to condemn our every lapse.

Although the English translation of this petition could be misunderstood, the underlying Greek text actually means “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation” (Catechism paragraph 2846).

Far from trying to trip us up, God so ardently wants to free us from sin that He became man to save us from its thrall. Christ, Who Himself conquered temptation in His earthly life, teaches us that we can only resist through vigilant prayer in union with Him.

By asking God for help in our struggles to live a moral life, we recognize our weakness and frailty, our tendency to give in to sin. Such humility, grounded in the truth about ourselves, draws down God’s grace upon us – the very grace that He is eager to give us, if we just open our hearts to receive it.

With the light of the Holy Spirit, we can see temptation for what it truly is: evil masquerading as something good. But however attractive a temptation may be on the surface, we know that it’s an illusion, for sin ultimately hurts us.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2846-49.

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 21:33-43

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

The first reading from Isaiah, and Jesus’ parable in the Gospel, both employ the imagery of a vineyard to illustrate a common theme: our failure to respond generously to God’s nurturing attention.

Just as the landowner makes every effort on behalf of his vineyard, symbolic of Israel, so does God continually lavish His gifts and graces upon us.

“God loved His people first,” establishing His covenant, and revealing His Commandments to seal our relationship with Him.

As a result, our “moral existence is a response to the Lord’s loving initiative” (Catechism paragraphs 2060-62), an honoring of our “fundamental duties” toward God and neighbor (2072).

But the wayward tenants in the Gospel refuse to meet their just obligations, despite the repeated calls of the landowner’s servants – the prophets – and even His own Son, Jesus. Their violent reaction is a foreshadowing of the Lord’s Passion and Death, which Jesus addresses directly to His listeners.

As Benedict XVI notes:

The audience knows he is saying to them: Just as the Prophets were abused and killed, so now you want to kill me: I’m talking about you and about me.

…But the Lord always speaks in the present and with an eye to the future. He is also speaking with us and about us.

If we open our eyes, isn’t what is said in the parable actually a description of our present world? Isn’t this precisely the logic of the modern age, of our age?

Let us declare that God is dead, then we ourselves will be God…At last we can do what we please. We get rid of God…

The “vineyard” belongs to us. What happens to man and the world next? We are already beginning to see it…

–Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 257.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when challenged by a truth I may not want to hear?

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?