Engaging the Gospel – Ascension of the Lord

Ascension of the Lord (Year C): Gospel – Luke 24:46-53

“Jesus’ final apparition [to the disciples] ends with the irreversible entry of His humanity into divine glory,” His Ascension into heaven, where He is “exalted at the Father’s right hand” (Catechism paragraphs 659-660).

“Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom” (664) and reveals that “Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history” (668).

To extend the reign of His kingdom on earth, He instructs His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, a command handed down the ages, even to our own day.

In one respect, “the Church is catholic [literally, ‘universal’] because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race” (831).

As the Vatican II document Lumen gentium states,

All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled: He made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all His children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one (quoted in 831).

Question for reflection: In what ways do I express solidarity with fellow Christians around the world?

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Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 10:27-30

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” featuring a Gospel passage on this ancient theme.

Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) considered what this means for us:

Turn now to consider how these words of Our Lord imply a test for yourselves also. Ask yourselves whether you belong to His flock, whether you know Him, whether the light of His truth shines in your minds…

Again [the Lord] says: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them; they follow Me, and I give them eternal life

So Our Lord’s sheep will finally reach their grazing ground where all who follow Him in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity. These pastures are the spiritual joys of heaven. There the elect look upon the face of God with unclouded vision and feast at the banquet of life for ever more.

Beloved brothers, let us set out for these pastures where we shall keep joyful festival with so many of our fellow citizens. May the thought of their happiness urge us on! Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us. To love thus is to be already on our way.

No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast.

— From a homily on the Gospels

Question for reflection: When has listening to Jesus filled me with a sense of peace?

Engaging the Gospel – Pentecost

Pentecost: Gospel – John 7:37-39 (Vigil); John 20:19-23

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is a momentous event in salvation history.

The Old Testament prophets had proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord “was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people.” Christ fulfilled this promise “first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost” (Catechism paragraph 1287).

That very date was significant to the Jewish people. Pentecost, meaning the “fiftieth” day after Passover, was the “feast of the Covenant which commemorated the Sinai event, when God, through Moses, proposed that Israel be His own possession among all peoples to be a sign of His holiness” (Pope Benedict XVI, May 11, 2008).

The descent of the Holy Spirit likewise came on the fiftieth day after Christ’s Resurrection, fulfilling His Passover (Catechism paragraph 731) and forming the Church as the People of God (751).

“The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era…the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates His work of salvation through the liturgy of His Church, until He comes” (1076).

“The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (797), where we come to know Him “in the Scriptures He inspired; in the Tradition…in the Church’s Magisterium, which He assists; in the sacramental liturgy…in prayer…in the charisms and ministries…in the witness of saints” (688).

Question for reflection: How might I grow in devotion to the Holy Spirit?

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?

 

The Church in God’s Plan

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 748-810:

  • The English word “Church” derives from the Greek Kyriake, meaning “what belongs to the Lord.”
  • The Latin term for “Church,” Ecclesia, is a loan word from the Greek Ekklesia, meaning “convocation” — with the special sense of an assembly literally “called forth” by God, not just any ordinary group which associates on its own terms.
  • The Church has been in God’s plan from before the foundation of the world: God has ever intended to gather together a family in communion with Him, and even the tragedy of human sin will not prevent God from accomplishing His will.
  • This plan to form a People of God begins to unfold in the Old Testament, as God calls Abraham, our father in faith, and espouses Israel as His own chosen people, to whom He reveals Himself.
  • Jesus fulfills this divine plan by founding His Church, through His preaching, His sacrificial offering on the Cross and in the Eucharist, and by endowing His Apostles with authority, thus giving the Church a visible structure.
  • Christ cannot be separated from His Church, which is His Body, comprising the saints in heaven, the holy souls being purified in Purgatory, and the faithful on earth; as God wedded Israel, so does Christ join Himself to the Church, His Bride.
  • The Church is a mystery because it is both the divinely established, Mystical Body of Christ, filled with holiness and grace, and at the same time human, including the earthly community of flawed people still striving to overcome sin.
  • The Church serves as both the means and the goal of God’s plan: God helps us to attain interior union with Him through the sacramental life of the Church, so that we may enjoy eternal life with Him in heaven.
  • As the soul is to the body, so the Holy Spirit is to the Church: the Spirit forms us into the Temple of God, and lavishes charisms (graces) upon its members for the building up of the Church and the good of the world.
  • Because the Church is the convocation of the human race for salvation, it is in its very nature missionary: we must teach and make disciples of all, to bring everyone into the intimacy of God’s family.

Live Your Faith

The root meaning of the Church, as an assembly convoked by God Himself, gives us perspective: the Church does not belong to us as its members, but instead belongs to the Lord.

The Church is not a social club, in which we get to write the bylaws to suit ourselves. Nor can the Church be reduced to our experience within a particular parish.

Rather, the Church is both the visible society on earth and a transcendent reality as the Mystical Body of Christ.