Engaging the Gospel – Luke 17:11-19

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 17:11-19

The ten lepers’ crying out to Jesus to “have pity” on them is an example of a prayer of petition, when we ask God for help with any need:

By prayer of petition we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end.

— Catechism paragraph 2629

Jesus responds to their request by healing them. His gift not only restores their physical health, but also ends their isolation from society, reuniting them with their families and giving them back their lives. Despite the life-transforming nature of this gift, only one person returns to express his gratitude and glorify God, in a prayer of thanksgiving.

We too have been cleansed by Christ, but our healing is an even greater miracle of redemption: we have been “disfigured by sin and death,” yet Christ restores us in the “Father’s likeness” (705), brings us into the very life of the Holy Trinity (1997), and enables us to fulfill our “original vocation” of eternal life (518, 1998).

How can we give thanks for this awesome gift? Christ himself has instituted the perfect way – through the Eucharist, which literally means “thanksgiving.”

The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is the pure offering of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God’s name…it is the sacrifice of praise (2643).

Question for reflection: When have I been especially grateful to God?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14

Why is pride so harmful to the spiritual life? Pride is rooted in a lie, as though we’re the architects of our own existence, with no need for God.

Humility, on the other hand, is grounded in the truth of who we are. As creatures, we are constantly dependent upon God. As sin-prone human beings, we are incapable of saving our souls for eternal life. And as disciples of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are called to emulate His humility.

In today’s Gospel, set against the background of intense social competition at a banquet, Jesus takes the opportunity to instruct the guests on the virtue of humility. In essence, He counsels us to follow His example.

As God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, He humbled Himself to take up our humanity in order to redeem us. Just as He tells His host that he should invite the poor and outcast, so does Jesus invite us, who cannot possibly repay Him, to His eternal banquet.

In the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604),

that He might bring us back to the way of life through humility, He deigned to exhibit in Himself what He teaches us…For to this end the only begotten Son of God took upon Himself the form of our weakness; to this end He endured…the reproaches of derision, the torments of suffering; that God in His humility might teach man not to be proud. How great, then, is the virtue of humility for the sake of teaching which alone He Who is great beyond compare became little even unto the suffering of death!

Book V, Letter 18.

Remembering that we are sinners, forever in God’s debt, helps us to develop a true sense of humility before God and neighbor – not to denigrate our gifts and accomplishments, but to know that they come from God, and to view ourselves in proper perspective.

Because humility enables us to recognize our dependence upon God, and to treat others charitably, it is essential for growth in the spiritual life.

Question for reflection: How might I cultivate the virtue of humility?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 10:25-37

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 10:25-37

The usual reaction to the parable of the Good Samaritan is an examination of conscience: how well do we step forward to help our neighbor?

But instead of always comparing ourselves to the Good Samaritan, it can be beneficial to identify with the robbers’ victim. From a spiritual perspective, we are the wounded; unable to save ourselves, we need someone to rescue us from sin and eternal death.

The Church Fathers interpreted the parable through this lens, seeing the wounded man as symbolic of fallen humanity and the Good Samaritan as a symbol of Jesus.

Benedict XVI summarizes this theologically rich explanation in his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth (pp. 200-201):

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho thus turns out to be an image of human history; the half-dead man lying by the side of it is an image of humanity. Priest and Levite pass by; from earthly history alone, from its cultures and [human] religions alone, no healing comes.

If the assault victim is the image of Everyman, the Samaritan can only be the image of Jesus Christ. God Himself, Who for us is foreign and distant, has set out to take care of His wounded creature. God, though so remote from us, has made Himself our neighbor in Jesus Christ.

He pours oil and wine into our wounds, a gesture seen as an image of the healing gift of the sacraments, and He brings us to the inn, the Church, in which He arranges our care and also pays a deposit for the cost of that care…

Now we realize that we always need God, Who makes Himself our neighbor so that we can become neighbors.

The Good Samaritan parable thus has special resonance during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Having received God’s mercy, we then act mercifully toward our neighbors:

Everyone must first be healed and filled with God’s gifts. But then everyone is also called to become a Samaritan – to follow Christ and become like Him.

Question for reflection: How am I allowing the Lord to heal my woundedness?

 

Divine Mercy Sunday

2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday: Gospel – John 20:19-31

This Gospel passage featuring “doubting Thomas” is appropriate for Divine Mercy Sunday.

When revealing the unfathomable depths of His mercy to St Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s, Jesus emphasized how much He longs for us to trust Him, and how our lack of trust grieves Him.

Just as Jesus showed His wounds to Thomas as proof of His resurrection, so does He remind us of His wounds as a pledge of His mercy:

Remember My Passion, and if you do not believe My words, at least believe My wounds.

— Diary of St Faustina, paragraph 379.

Thus Jesus implores us to entrust ourselves to His merciful Heart, especially today, Divine Mercy Sunday. This feast was not established because of a personal inspiration on the part of St John Paul II, nor is it just a matter of one’s own spiritual tastes.

Jesus Himself is the Author of Divine Mercy Sunday. In His revelations to St Faustina, the Lord requested that the second Sunday of Easter be dedicated as the Feast of Divine Mercy:

I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.

The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flows are opened.

Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity (699).

Just as He ordered the Feast, so did Jesus call for the Divine Mercy image to be painted, depicting the rays of mercy streaming from His Heart:

The two rays denote Blood and Water…These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross (299).

Jesus commissioned St. Faustina to spread the Divine Mercy devotion throughout the world, asking us to confide in His infinite love for us:

I came down from heaven out of love for you, I lived for you, I died for you, and I created the heavens for you (853).

Love has brought Me here, and love keeps Me here (576).

I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy (367a).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord in His mercy helped me through a struggle of faith?

Engaging the Gospel – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday (Year C): Gospel – Luke 22:14-23:56

Benedict XVI invites us to “open our hearts” to the profound meaning of the Lord’s Passion:

Is it possible to remain indifferent before the death of the Lord, of the Son of God? For us, for our salvation He became man, so as to be able to suffer and die. Brothers and sisters, let us direct today our gaze toward Christ, a gaze frequently distracted by scattered and passing earthly interests. Let us pause to contemplate His cross…

His nailed arms are open to each human being and they invite us to draw near to Him, certain that He accepts us and clasps us in an embrace of infinite tenderness…

Through the sorrowful way of the Cross, the men of all ages, reconciled and redeemed by the blood of Christ, have become friends of God, sons and daughters of the heavenly Father…

‘Friend,’ He calls each of us, because He is the authentic Friend of everyone. Unfortunately, we do not always manage to perceive the depth of this limitless love that God has for us…

Let us ask ourselves, in this moment, what have we done with this gift, what have we done with the revelation of the face of God in Christ, with the revelation of the love of God that conquers hate…

Dear friends: After having lived together the Passion of Jesus, let us this night allow His sacrifice on the Cross to question us. Let us permit Him to challenge our human certainties. Let us open our hearts. Jesus is the truth that makes us free to love. Let us not be afraid…Let us remain, then, in adoration before the Cross.

Good Friday, 2008.

Question for reflection: How does the Lord’s Passion prompt me to search my own heart?

Christmas: a feast of God’s personal love for us

I think God must have said to Himself: Man does not love Me because he does not see Me; I will show Myself to him and thus make him love Me. God’s love for man was very great, and had been great from all eternity, but this love had not yet become visible…Then, it really appeared; the Son of God let Himself be seen as a tiny Babe in a stable, lying on a little straw.

— St. Alphonsus Liguori, quoted by Fr. Gabriel in Divine Intimacy, p. 83.

May these poignant words of St. Alphonsus help us to grasp more fully the meaning of Christmas. Jesus’ birth isn’t simply an historical event from long ago, which we may feel is too distant and remote from us.

It does involve us, in a deeply personal way, for the Eternal Son of God became man with each one of us in mind. The Lord thought of every human being that has ever existed, and ever will exist. Loving us with a personal love, He acted to save us from our sins and restore us to His friendship.

This same Jesus, Who humbled Himself to come as a vulnerable infant, continues to come to us – preeminently in the Eucharist.

When fashioning the entire arc of salvation history, God carved out our own special place within His design. We belong to this divine love story, if we would only accept Our Lord’s invitation.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, expressed it thus:

In the night of eternity, you were chosen by the Father; in the holy night of our Savior’s birth, you were remembered in the heart of God’s newborn Son and made His brother and sister; and now the Father draws you to His loving heart: With My Son, born in the stable, you have become My dearest child. With Jesus you are celebrating a birthday, reborn unto God in the holiest of nights.

— The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. I, p. 213.

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

“Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all”

The Christian imperative to serve others is expressed in the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity), which urges laypeople to “take up the renewal” of the world “as their own special obligation” (7).

The Council Fathers remind us that “charitable enterprises can and should reach out to all persons and all needs” —

Wherever there are people in need of food and drink, clothing, housing, medicine, employment, education; wherever men lack the facilities necessary for living a truly human life or are afflicted with serious distress or illness or suffer exile or imprisonment, there Christian charity should seek them out and find them, console them with great solicitude and help them with appropriate relief. This obligation is imposed above all upon every prosperous nation and person.

Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8.

But our inspiration for serving others isn’t just philanthrophy or humanitarianism, as noble as those ideals are.

Rather, we serve because we are conformed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came down from heaven to redeem us as the Suffering Servant: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

By giving of ourselves on behalf of others, we unite with Christ’s own self-emptying. The more we grow in union with Christ, the “greater” we become in holiness:

Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ…

— ibid., 4.

Question for reflection: How do I answer Jesus’ call to serve others?

Nativity of Mary: the ‘origin of every feast’

As with all celebrations of the Blessed Virgin, today’s Nativity of Mary ultimately refers to Christ.

The birthday of Our Lady heralds the coming of Our Redeemer. We rejoice at Mary’s arrival in the world because she is the Lord’s chosen who will be the Mother of Christ.

With her birth, salvation history takes a momentous step forward: the birth of her Son draws ever closer. The one from whom the Eternal Word will take His flesh, is now here. God is working out His plan of redemption!

From Dom Gueranger’s Liturgical Year:

Andrew of Crete calls this day a solemnity of entrance, a feast of beginning, whose end is the union of the Word with our flesh; a virginal feast, full of joy and confidence for all.

‘All ye nations, come hither,’ cries St. John Damascene, ‘come every race and every tongue, every age and every dignity, let us joyfully celebrate the birthday of the world’s gladness.’

‘It is the beginning of salvation, the origin of every feast,’ says St. Peter Damian, ‘for behold! The Mother of the Bridegroom is born. With good reason does the whole world rejoice today; and the Church, beside herself, bids her choirs sing wedding songs.’

— Vol. XIV, pp. 148-49.

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?

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.

Crux fidelis

Good Friday CrossA beautiful hymn with great theological depth, Crux fidelis is a 6th century composition by Mamertus Claudianus, according to Dom Prosper Gueranger’s Liturgical Year.

You can listen to it chanted in Latin here.

And here is the translation as it appears in the current edition of the Roman Missal:

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare. Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear!

Sing, my tongue, in exultation of our banner and device! Make a solemn proclamation of a triumph and its price: how the Savior of creation conquered by His sacrifice!

(Repeat) Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

For, when Adam first offended, eating that forbidden fruit, not all hopes of glory ended with the serpent at the root: broken nature would be mended by a second tree and shoot.

(Repeat) Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear! 

Thus the tempter was outwitted by a wisdom deeper still: remedy and ailment fitted, means to cure and means to kill; that the world might be acquitted, Christ would do His Father’s will.

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

So the Father, out of pity for our self-inflicted doom, sent Him from the heavenly city when the holy time had come: He, the Son and the Almighty, took our flesh in Mary’s womb.

Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear! 

Hear a tiny baby crying, Founder of the seas and strands; see His Virgin Mother tying cloth around His feet and hands; find Him in a manger lying tightly wrapped in swaddling-bands!

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

So He came, the long-expected, not in glory, not to reign; only born to be rejected, choosing hunger, toil and pain, till the scaffold was erected and the Paschal Lamb was slain.

Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear! 

No disgrace was too abhorrent; nailed and mocked and parched He died; blood and water, double warrant, issue from His wounded side, washing in a mighty torrent earth and stars and oceantide.

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

Lofty timber, smooth your roughness; flex your boughs for blossoming; let your fibers lose their toughness, gently let your tendrils cling; lay aside your native gruffness, clasp the Body of your King!

Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, sweet the burden that they bear! 

Noblest tree of all created, richly jeweled and embossed; post by Lamb’s Blood consecrated, spar that saves the tempest-tossed; scaffold-beam which, elevated, carries what the world has cost!

Faithful Cross the Saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare! Never was there such a scion, never leaf or flower so rare.

Wisdom, power, and adoration to the Blessed Trinity for redemption and salvation through the Paschal Mystery, now, in every generation, and for all eternity. Amen.

Engaging the Gospel – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Year B): Gospel – Mark 14:1-15:47

“My own sin was present in that terrifying chalice.”

So writes Benedict XVI in his reflection on the Lord’s Passion in Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2 (p. 156).

The Pope Emeritus teaches us that Sunday’s Gospel is not simply a recitation of what occurred in a certain week in Jerusalem. Rather, it unfolds the entire drama of our salvation, and mystically encompasses all of human history:

Palm Sunday was not a thing of the past. Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine.

— ibid., p. 10.

This is why we proclaim the “Hosanna” at Mass, as we prepare to welcome the Lord in the Eucharist.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was marked by Messianic imagery (pp. 3-7), but only through the Cross did He inaugurate His kingdom. His agony was not just a natural aversion to pain.

Because Jesus is God, “He sees with total clarity the whole foul flood of evil,” every sin ever committed. He suffers immensely when “the full power of destruction, evil, and enmity with God” is “unleashed upon Him…All this He must take into Himself” (p. 155).

Through this contact, the filth of the world is truly absorbed, wiped out, and transformed in the pain of infinite love…God Himself drinks the cup of every horror to the dregs and thereby restores justice through the greatness of His love.

— ibid., pp. 231-32.

Question for reflection: Which person in the Passion narrative do I identify with most?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel – John 12:20-33

Jesus emphasizes the centrality of the Cross, in His saving mission and in the lives of everyone who would follow him.

Jesus’ “redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation” (Catechism paragraph 607). Through the “great Paschal mystery – His death on the Cross and His Resurrection – He would accomplish the coming of His kingdom. ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself’” (542).

“This gathering is the Church, on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom” (541) — “born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation” (766).

Jesus calls us to follow His example of total self-giving, affirming that only by dying to ourselves can we enter eternal life. In so doing, the Lord offers each one of us “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the Paschal mystery” (618).

We experience this reality most profoundly in the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. In Baptism, the descent into the water signifies “the descent into the tomb” (628), our “burial into Christ’s death,” from which we rise up “by resurrection with Him, as a new creature” (1214).

Having “become members of Christ” (1213), we are called to “become God’s fellow workers and co-workers for His kingdom” (307). We offer ourselves in union with the Lord’s sacrifice:

In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value.

paragraph 1368.

By embracing our own crosses, we advance in the spiritual life and grow closer to Jesus: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (2015).

Question for reflection: How has dying to myself helped me to follow Jesus more closely?

Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Lent

Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel – John 3:14-21

Today’s Gospel features one of the best-known verses in all of Scripture, but precisely because of its familiarity, we can become de-sensitized to its radical power:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.

In His very Person, Jesus embodies God’s love for His people. He confirms the testimony of the prophets who described the covenant relationship with God in the most intimate terms:

In the course of its history, Israel was able to discover that God had only one reason to reveal Himself to them: His sheer gratuitous love…

His love for His people is stronger than a mother’s for her children. God loves His people more than a bridegroom His beloved; His love will be victorious over even the worst infidelities and will extend to His most precious gift: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.’

— Catechism paragraphs 218-219.

Precisely because He loves us, God wants to rescue us from our sinful plight, heal our brokenness, and restore us to His friendship: “The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God” (457).

St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. late 4th century) described just how desperately humanity needs a Redeemer:

Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator.

— quoted in 457.

Through our baptism, we are regenerated in Christ (1213), and so, “in a certain way, we have already risen with Christ” (1002). We thus begin to experience God’s gift of eternal life, communion with Him, while still here on earth (260, 2796).

Although our salvation originates from this sheer grace of God, we have the free will to accept the divine gift, or to turn away from it. We respond by giving our assent of faith, by striving to live a moral life in accordance with God’s will, by repenting when we fall short, by frequenting the sacraments to strengthen us (1989-2003).

Let us be mindful of the extraordinary gifts God offers us in Christ, and never take his graces lightly (679).

Question for reflection: How have I experienced the love of God?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 1:29-39

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:29-39

The people throng to Jesus in search of healing

Do we sometimes wish that we had lived during Jesus’ time, and like the residents of Capernaum in Sunday’s Gospel, had been able to gather around the Lord? Yet Jesus is just as present, and accessible, to us as He was to the people 2,000 years ago.

He is here, right now, in our Church, and we too can experience His transforming touch, if we are open to Him. For this reason, we should look forward to Mass as our place of encounter with the Lord, and not view our Sunday attendance as an obligation we can do without. Most especially present in the Eucharist (Catechism paragraphs 1373-81), Christ is “at work in each of the sacraments,” where “He personally addresses” each one of us (1484).

Benedict XVI develops the Gospel theme:

Jesus’ entire mission is symbolically portrayed in this episode. Jesus, coming from the Father, visited peoples’ homes on our earth and found a humanity that was sick, sick with fever, the fever of ideologies, idolatry, forgetfulness of God.

The Lord gives us His hand, lifts us up and heals us. And He does so in all ages; He takes us by the hand with His Word…He takes us by the hand in the sacraments, He heals us from the fever of our passions and sins through absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He gives us the possibility to raise ourselves, to stand before God and before men and women.

And precisely with this content of the Sunday liturgy, the Lord comes to meet us, He takes us by the hand, raises us and heals us ever anew with the gift of His words, the gift of Himself.

Homily of February 5, 2006.

Question for reflection: What prompts me to seek Jesus?

The Awesome Truth about Christmas

The Nativity Scene at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Ky.

The Nativity Scene at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Ky.

Are we so accustomed to Christmas that we overlook the shocking truth of what we’re actually celebrating?

Christmas, “Christ’s Mass,” marks the birth of Our Lord. What a startling fact: God has become man to redeem us! God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, holds His arms out to us as a newborn baby!

Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461) describes the mind-boggling awesomeness:

He comes down from the throne of heaven…Invisible in His own nature, He became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, He chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, He began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, He hid His infinite glory, and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, He did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, He chose to be subject to the laws of death.

Leo’s words are recalled especially for our March 25 celebration of the Annunciation, when the Blessed Virgin Mary accepted her role in salvation history, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and she conceived Jesus — the precise instant of the Incarnation, the enfleshment, of the Lord.

God went to such extraordinary lengths to seek us out, cultivate a relationship with us, and save us so that we may enjoy eternal life with Him.

That in turn calls for a response from us, to welcome the Lord into every aspect of our lives. Can’t we respond with greater love and fidelity to the One Who has loved us infinitely?

Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Advent

(Year B) Gospel – John 1:6-8, 19-28

When cross-examined by the priests, Levites, and Pharisees, St. John the Baptist stands firm, declaring that he prepares the way of the Lord. His clear realization of his own identity as Christ’s forerunner, rooted firmly in God’s plan, is instructive for us.

Contrary to what the world tells us, our worth is not dependent on the opinions of others; rather, our true identity is bound up in God, our Creator and our ultimate end. We are each created by God, “in a plan of sheer goodness,” in order to “share in His own blessed life” (Catechism paragraph 1).

“It is in Christ,” the Eternal Son of the Father, that we are “created in the image and likeness of the Creator.” Although we have defaced this image through sin, “it is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior,” that our “original beauty” is restored and “ennobled by the grace of God” (1701).

It is this wondrous gift of Christ that we will celebrate in a heightened way at Christmas.

“The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God” (457), “so that thus we might know God’s love” (458), “to be our model of holiness” (459) and “to make us partakers of the divine nature” (460).

All human beings have “the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” We are each “called by grace to a covenant” with God, “to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in [our] stead” (357).

Question for reflection: How do I define myself?

Thanksgiving

The term “Eucharist” is derived from the Greek for “thanksgiving.” This form of prayer reaches its apex in the celebration of the Eucharist, in which we participate in Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, in a salvific work that encompasses the entire cosmos.

As the Catechism explains, “in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for His glory.”

Because Christ is the Head and we are the members of His Body, we too are integrally involved in this action. When we make our own offerings at Mass – of our time, resources, and most of all ourselves – all are taken up and absorbed into Jesus’ perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving.

But our thanksgiving is not limited to the Mass itself. Anything that we experience can become an occasion for thanksgiving. Although it is obviously easier to render thanks in happy circumstances, we should also learn to thank God even in our trials. St. Paul exhorts us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18).

By offering thanksgiving to God in the midst of difficulties, we grow in trust, knowing that the Lord is ordering all things for our eternal welfare. In this way we keep our earthly lives in the proper perspective of our ultimate destiny.

God did not have to create us at all, or share with us His own divine life. If we maintain a spirit of gratitude for God’s great works of creation, redemption, and sanctification – which we could never merit on our own – we can better shoulder the burdens of daily life.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2637-38.

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16a

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16a

The generous landowner in this parable symbolizes God, and the daily wage He gives to all the workers, regardless of their length of service, represents the gift of eternal life with Him.

“In the Kingdom of God, the pay or wages is God Himself,” as St. John Paul II explained:

When it comes to salvation in the Kingdom of God, it is not a question of just wages, but of the undeserved generosity of God, Who gives Himself as the supreme gift to each and every person who shares in divine life through sanctifying grace.

…When we receive a gift, we must respond with a gift. We can only respond to the gift of God in Jesus Christ — his Cross and Resurrection…with the gift of ourselves…one can never match or equal the value of God’s gift of Himself to us.

Homily of September 19, 1987.

Once we view our lives through the prism of God’s generosity, we cultivate a sense of gratitude for all of his gifts. On the other hand, if we fail to be grateful, and instead compare ourselves to others as the grumbling workers in the parable did, we open ourselves up to envy.

The sin of envy involves “sadness at the sight of another’s goods,” or conversely, “joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor.” Envy is fundamentally a “refusal of charity” because it seeks to deprive our neighbor, rather than to promote his good (Catechism paragraphs 2539-40).

Question for reflection: How do I deal with temptations to envy?

Thy Will Be Done

When we ask that God’s will be done, do we feel a sense of hesitancy, as if bracing for something that runs counter to our own interests?

But we need never fear God’s will, if we truly understood what He intends for us — the absolute best gift of eternal salvation. God wants us all to be saved, to experience the joy of His love both now and in everlasting life.

To accomplish this plan, God sometimes does not prevent bad things from happening. When He allows us to go through adversity, it is because He will transform that suffering into a spiritual good, for ourselves or for others.

This is not merely pious theory, for Jesus lived it out Himself. The Son was so radically committed to the Father’s will, that He even embraced death on the Cross. Out of that agony came the Resurrection, and our redemption.

In union with Jesus’ own prayer, and through the Holy Spirit, we too are empowered to seek and to accept the Father’s will. That divine will reigns supreme in heaven, where all is bliss. If each one of us did God’s will, earth would be much more like heaven.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2822-27.