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 18:1-8

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 18:1-8

Today’s Gospel “is centered on one of the qualities of prayer: it is necessary to pray always without ceasing and with the patience of faith” (Catechism paragraph 2613).

Through the parable of the widow, whose sheer persistence wears down the dishonest judge, Jesus encourages us to keep praying, no matter what difficulties we have in prayer:

When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? (2732)

We tend to get distracted (2729), or lazy (2733), or even discouraged if we don’t get the results we want.

What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? Or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? (2735)

In fact,

In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father Who is good beyond measure, with His Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit…Thus the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with Him (2565).

If we understand prayer in that light, and not only as a recitation of words, it is possible to pray always.

As St. Therese of Lisieux observed,

for me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven; it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy (quoted in 2558).

Question for reflection: In what ways have I witnessed the power of prayer?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 16:1-13

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 16:1-13

Parable of the dishonest steward

Recent Gospel readings have featured recurring themes from St. Luke – the radical demands of discipleship as well as the superabundance of God’s mercy – and today’s reading highlights another recurring theme, the right use of our material goods.

The Gospel turns on the distinction between worldly riches, which are fleeting, and the true wealth of eternal life. Jesus calls worldly riches “dishonest wealth,” reminding us that it cannot ultimately satisfy.

As human beings, we are “created by God and for God,” so “only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (Catechism paragraph 27).

If we seek that happiness in money and possessions, we will be disillusioned. Worse still, if our lives are consumed by the pursuit of material things, we risk losing our only real treasure, our relationship with God – a choice summed up starkly in Jesus’ warning that we “cannot serve both God and mammon.”

To be open to receiving God’s gift of everlasting spiritual wealth, we must put our worldly goods to use in a spirit of generosity:

All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy and of their neighbors in want. A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods (952).

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities (2043).

Question for reflection: How have I learned that material things don’t really satisfy?

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 – Fourth Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The parable of the prodigal son isn’t just about the wayward lad, but is more revealing of the father who is “prodigal” — in the sense of extravagantly generous — in his merciful love:

The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father: the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy – all these are characteristic of the process of conversion.

The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life – pure, worthy, and joyful – of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of His family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ Who knows the depths of His Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of His mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.

— paragraph 1439.

Question for reflection: What aspect of the prodigal son’s story strikes me most deeply?