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?

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 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 – 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?

Engaging the Gospel – John 6:51-58

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 6:51-58

“The Eucharist is revealed as man’s unceasing great encounter with God,” Benedict XVI observes. “For us this food must become an opening out of our existence, a passing through the Cross, and an anticipation of the new life in God and with God” (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 270).

As the name of this great sacrament implies,

Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus…Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet.

— Catechism paragraph 1391.

But this fruit of union presupposes that we are already in the state of grace, or right relationship with God. If we have broken our relationship with God through grave sin, we “must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (1385).

A corollary of growing in union with Christ is becoming detached from sin:

Holy Communion separates us from sin…The Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life…By giving Himself to us, Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in Him…

By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in His friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from Him by mortal sin.

— paragraphs 1393-1395.

By fortifying us in our struggles, and increasing our union with God, the Eucharist prepares us for eternal life. It is “a pledge of the life to come” and “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (1402).

Question for reflection: What impact does the Eucharist have on the way I live my life?

St John Paul II & St John Vianney on the Priesthood

With today’s memorial of St John Vianney, patron saint of priests, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the wondrous gift of the priesthood — and how much we as laity should support, encourage, and love our priests.

Known for his great sanctity and heroic dedication to the Sacrament of Confession as the Curé of Ars, St John Vianney turned the little French village into a great place of pilgrimage.

So it was at Ars that St John Paul II gave a retreat for priests, deacons, and seminarians in October 1986. His three meditations resonate with profound depth, offering a gift to all priests, especially those who may be in need of a tonic or morale boost in trying circumstances.

The English text can be found in Fr George Rutler’s The Curé d’Ars Today, Appendix 2, pp. 249-73 (the source for all of the quotations below)The full text is also available in French and Italian on the Vatican website.

Here are some excerpts:

People can speak of priesthood as of a profession or function, including the function of presiding over the Eucharistic assembly. But we are not reduced by this to functionaries. This is so first of all because we are marked in our very souls through ordination with a special character that configures us to Christ the Priest…we are ‘set apart,’ totally consecrated to the work of salvation…

You know the saying of the Curé d’Ars: ‘Oh, the priest is something great! If he knew it, he would die!’

…[T]he baptized need the ministerial priesthood. By means of it, in a privileged and tangible manner, the gift of the Divine Life received from Christ, the Head of all the Body, is communicated to them. The more Christian the people become…the more they feel the need of priests who are truly priests.

It was for their salvation that the Curé d’Ars wanted to be a priest: ‘To win souls for the Good God!’…And when he was tempted to run away from his heavy charge as parish priest, he came back, for the salvation of parishioners.

‘Grant me the conversion of my parish, and I am ready to suffer whatever you wish for the rest of my life.’

‘The priesthood,’ as Jean Marie Vianney also said, ‘is the love of the Heart of Christ.’

Let us note what his vicar-general said to the Curé d’Ars: ‘There is not much love of God in this parish: you will put it there.’

The Curé d’Ars said: ‘Do not be afraid of your burden. Our Lord carries it with you.’

After recounting the difficulties that priests experience in a number of aspects of ministry, as well as personally, JP II notes:

sometimes there is the sentiment of a great spiritual poverty or even humiliating weakness. We offer to God this fragility of our ‘earthen vessels.’ It is good for us to know that the Curé d’Ars too knew many trials…

How could we bring a remedy to the spiritual crisis of our time, unless we ourselves grasp the means of a profound and constant union with the Lord, Whose servants we are?

The priestly ministry, then, living in a state of union with God, is the daily place of our sanctification.

JPII concludes with thanksgiving, and an “urgent appeal” to priests:

…I give thanks to Jesus Christ for this unheard-of gift of the priesthood, that of the Curé d’Ars and that of all the priests of yesterday and today. They prolong the sacred ministry of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

To this word of thanks, I join an urgent appeal to all priests: whatever may be your interior or exterior difficulties, which the merciful Lord knows, remain faithful to your sublime vocation…In critical times, remember that no temptation to abandonment is fatal before the Lord Who has called you…

Let us always pray for our priests, and remember to include them as we offer up our daily crosses to the Lord. In addition to supporting our own parishes materially, we can also support priests in need through Opus Bono Sacerdotii.

Prayer of Petition

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2629-33:

Petition is a form of prayer in which we ask the Lord for what we need.

First and foremost is our need for forgiveness: because our relationship with God is the “one thing necessary,” we want to preserve it, protect it, and nurture it above all else. Each and every sin frays this relationship, and mortal sin ruptures it (which is why we seek an encounter with the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to heal and restore it).

When we realize that we have hurt God, and others, through our faults and failings, we are moved to ask for His mercy. Sometimes we can fall into the bad habit of taking sin lightly and treating forgiveness as a mere formality. While God is eager to forgive, He wants us to repent truly, and recognize sin for the evil that it is.

So important is it to ask for forgiveness, that the Catechism describes it as a “prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer.”

Another vital need for which we pray is the coming of the Kingdom, as Jesus taught us. This petition involves not only beseeching the Lord to bring salvation history to its culmination, but also asking that we may receive His help in striving toward, and cooperating with, the Kingdom’s coming.

Because “the seed and beginning of the Kingdom” on earth is the Church, our petition for the Kingdom also involves the building up, the flourishing, of the Church here in the world.

Of course, we have many other needs in our daily lives, and we are encouraged to bring these too – even the small ones – before the Lord in our prayers of petition: “Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in His Name.”

This is especially helpful for family prayer time, when children may be invited to offer their own petitions.