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?

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Difficulties in Prayer: Acedia

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2733:

One of the most pernicious temptations to infiltrate our prayer life is a certain sluggishness, laziness, or lack of interest in pursuing the things of God. The proper term for this is “acedia,” spiritual sloth.

While our emotions are subject to change, and it’s only natural for our energy or enthusiasm to level off, acedia goes deeper than feelings. It burrows into our will, where we make the choice to pray or not, to seek God’s will or not, to strive to be a better disciple, or not.

Acedia can be the result of presumption. If we take our salvation for granted, believe that God doesn’t expect anything of us, or think that holiness is for other people, we will likely not have much motivation for the spiritual life.

But we can overcome acedia by remembering the high stakes involved – nothing less than our eternal destiny. Do we want to accept God’s offer of salvation? Then we cooperate with God’s saving grace by attending Mass, remaining faithful to personal prayer, doing our best to avoid sin, and seeking forgiveness when we fall short. By fighting the fight, so to speak, we answer His call to holiness, even in the midst of our human frailty.

Because acedia can be described as insufficient love for God, reflecting on God’s intense, personal love for us can also fire our motivation. How can we be indifferent to the Lord Who has thought of us from all eternity, created the world for us, mapped out salvation history for us, became man for us, suffered and died for us, redeemed us, and wants to sanctify us so that we may delight in eternal life with Him?

Difficulties in Prayer: Lack of Faith

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2732.

A lack of faith is “the most common yet most hidden temptation” in our prayer, according to the Catechism, because it isn’t as straightforward as simple disbelief. Instead, lack of faith is something more insidious and subtle, which is why we may have trouble recognizing it for what it truly is.

Do we turn to God only as a “last resort,” after all else fails? That implies that we didn’t have the faith to go to Him right away in our distress, but thought that we, or others, could handle it.

On the other hand, we can be tempted to treat God as the cosmic Being Who caters to our wishes, and arranges everything just the way we’d like. In that case, our prayer devolves into telling God what we want Him to do for us. That’s not faith in God, but presumption.

While the Lord obviously wants us to ask Him for our needs, we must do so in the humble spirit of creatures who don’t really know what’s best for us, or for our eternal destiny. True faith means that we turn our needs over to the Lord in prayer, while submitting ourselves to His will, in an attitude of radical trust in His loving providence.

Sometimes a lack of faith creeps in when we try to pray, but remember other things that we have to do. At that moment, do we resolutely remain with the Lord, and put our other action-items aside for a more appropriate time? Or do we put the Lord aside?

If we’re jumping up to help someone in urgent need who depends upon us, we are serving the Lord in that person. But otherwise, if we’re just dropping prayer to do something that could wait, we’re effectively telling the Lord that He doesn’t take priority in our lives.

We may not say it, but our actions reflect that we are prioritizing something other than God. The Catechism describes this as “the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love?”

Love God Above All

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2052 through 2141:

  • The Ten Commandments are our roadmap to true freedom, as opposed to the bondage of sin; it is no accident that God revealed them after liberating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to teach a new way of life for a free people.
  • Indeed, this context is vital to understanding the profound meaning of the Commandments: they were given during a “theophany,” or God’s manifestation to His people, and His forming an intimate bond, a “covenant,” with them.
  • The Commandments are a great gift because they describe what we must do to abide in this deep relationship with God; He loved us first, and we respond with love toward Him by keeping the Commandments; the first three regard our right behavior toward God, and the rest govern our relationships with our neighbor.
  • The First Commandment expresses this wholehearted relationship: “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before Me.”
  • We follow this commandment by adoring God, submitting to Him as the Lord of all, to Whom we owe everything; by daily conversing with Him in prayer, uniting our sacrifices with Christ’s perfect sacrifice; by keeping the promises we make to God; and by helping others to come to the fullness of worship in the Church.
  • Conversely, we sin against God when we prefer other things to Him, and treat them as gods; this is idolatry; our idols need not be the false gods of paganism, for we create modern idols all of the time – money, power, pleasure, sports, etc.
  • We sin against God’s love when we are indifferent to Him, spiritually lazy, ungrateful, or hateful toward Him; we sin against hope when we despair of God’s mercy and forgiveness, or when we presume upon salvation without real conversion; we sin against faith by doubting or rejecting Church teaching.
  • Dabbling in the occult is a sin – e.g., reading horoscopes, going to mediums, engaging in magic; we also sin by falling into superstition, treating our prayers or sacraments as if they were magical formulas; to avoid superstition, we must have a proper disposition of encountering God, not trying to control Him.
  • The sin of sacrilege denigrates sacred things or persons, and is especially heinous when directed against the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ; other forms of irreligious behavior include testing God because we question His love for us.
  • By definition, atheism is a sin because of its outright denial of God, and agnosticism, which won’t discern one way or another, similarly fails to give God His due; yet an individual’s level of culpability varies greatly according to circumstances, especially if one has been scandalized by the sins of believers.

Live Your Faith

Each one of us is personally addressed by God in the Commandments, as the Hebrew text makes clear. When God says, “You,” He is using the singular form, not the plural, underscoring the personal relationship He courts with every single one of us.

This prompts us to examine our consciences, and reflect upon how faithfully we have given love in response to the One Who has loved us so. What do I put first in my life, prioritizing above everything else? If it’s not God, it’s an idol.

 

Heaven and Hell

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1023-29, 1033-37:

  • Heaven is the fulfillment of our deepest desires, a state of perfect happiness that lasts forever, without end, without any lessening of pleasure.
  • This eternal blessedness arises from the soul’s intimate communion with God, for Whom it was created and in Whom alone it can find its ultimate joy.
  • Because heaven is the state of perfect union with God, only those who die in God’s grace, and are completely purified, are able to enter.
  • The blessed see the Most Holy Trinity “face to face,” in what is called the “beatific vision,” and as a result become like God; these saintly souls radiate heavenly glory and reign with Him, in harmony with all of the choirs of angels.
  • Our earthly minds cannot adequately conceive, let alone explain, this exalted manner of being; by way of analogy, Scripture employs such imagery as a wedding feast, the Father’s house, and paradise (a royal pleasure garden).
  • But those who definitively reject God cannot enter heaven; God respects their free will, and abides by their decision to cut themselves off from Him.
  • Hell is this state of eternal separation from God; by turning away and depriving itself of its true home, the soul feels unimaginable desolation and suffering, which Scripture describes as an eternal fire.
  • God never predestines anyone for hell; rather, He continually reaches out, offers us His grace, and calls us to repentance.
  • Those who sin gravely against God and neighbor, willfully refuse to repent, and deliberately rebuff His love, are eligible to cast themselves into hell.
  • We cannot presume to judge the state of anyone’s soul; God alone searches the inmost heart and knows how culpable someone might, or might not, be.

Live Your Faith

If we want to live with God forever in heaven, we should already live faithfully with Him now on earth.

We can lull ourselves into a false sense of security that heaven is the default position, but Jesus Himself has warned us repeatedly of the real danger of hell.

This teaching should never make us despair, for God will eagerly embrace us in His boundless mercy, if we seek it.

But we should guard against the sin of presumption, wherein we take our spiritual lives lightly, and salvation for granted.