Engaging the Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

For centuries in the life of the Church, the month of November has been a time when we pray more intensely on behalf of the dead.

Following so closely from All Saints’ Day on November 1, and All Souls (the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed) on November 2, it is fitting that the Church offers us this Gospel passage today, in which Jesus affirms the resurrection of the dead.

The idea of the resurrection was not explicit in the early Jewish faith, which is why the Sadducees refused to believe in it: “God revealed the resurrection of the dead to His people progressively” (Catechism paragraph 992).

Christ was “raised with His own Body…but He did not return to an earthly life.” So will we “rise again with [our] own bodies which [we] now bear, but Christ will change our lowly body to be like His glorious Body” (999).

This has important implications for how we view the body – not as a disposable object, but as fundamental to the human person, in profound unity with the soul (362-65).

Death, brought into the world by sin, separates body and soul, but God will restore the unity of body and soul in the resurrection (997):

In expectation of that day, the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering (1004).

Question for reflection: How does my belief in the coming resurrection affect the way I live now?

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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?

The Resurrection is not ‘just some miracle from the past’

Easter Sunday: Gospel – Luke 24:1-12 (Vigil); John 20:1-9

“If it were simply that somebody was once brought back to life, and no more than that, in what way should this concern us?”

With this pointed question, Benedict XVI called us to deepen our understanding of the Resurrection of the Lord – and what it means for us, our lives, and our eternal destiny.

Christ is truly risen in the flesh, not to resume earthly life as we know it, but to take up a transcendent life in His glorified Body:

If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest ‘mutation,’ absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history…

The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which…ushered in a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which a new world emerges.

It is clear that this event is not just some miracle from the past, the occurrence of which could be ultimately a matter of indifference to us…

We have been caught up into this supernatural reality through Baptism. Incorporated into Christ, each baptized person is capable of “finding oneself within the vastness of God,” sharing in the intimacy of God’s own life:

The great explosion of the Resurrection has seized us in Baptism so as to draw us on. Thus we are associated with a new dimension of life into which, amid the tribulations of our day, we are already in some way introduced.

To live one’s own life as a continual entry into this open space: this is the meaning of being baptized, of being Christian. This is the joy of the Easter Vigil.

The Resurrection is not a thing of the past; the Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that He holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak.

Easter Vigil Homily of April 15, 2006.

Question for reflection: How am I changed by encountering the Risen Christ?

Engaging the Gospel – Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday: Gospel – John 20:19-31

St. John Paul II established the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.

In his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (“rich in mercy”), JPII wrote that Jesus makes God’s mercy “incarnate and personifies it” (2). Expressing the Father’s love and mercy thus becomes “the fundamental touchstone of His mission as the Messiah” (3).

This is especially visible in the Paschal Mystery: “In His resurrection, Christ has revealed the God of merciful love, precisely because He accepted the cross as the way to the resurrection,” proving that the Father’s love “is more powerful than death” and “more powerful than sin” (8).

Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite….Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man, only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent.

— ibid.,13.

And yet even when we put up obstacles, the Lord still seeks us out, and offers us a way to trust in Him.

We see this clearly in today’s Gospel passage about “doubting Thomas,” which speaks to us in three important ways, according to Benedict XVI:

First, because it comforts us in our insecurity; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and, lastly, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to persevere, despite the difficulty, along our journey of adhesion to him.

The figure of Thomas shows us that we have “the right, so to speak, to ask Jesus for explanations” —

Let us be brave enough to say: ‘I do not understand you, Lord; listen to me, help me to understand.’

General Audience of September 27, 2006.

Question for reflection: When has the Lord brought His mercy home to me in a personal way?

Engaging the Gospel – Easter Sunday

The Resurrection of the Lord: Gospel – Mark 16:1-7; John 20:1-9; or Luke 24:13-35

The Resurrection is a literal truth, a real historical event, of Christ being raised from the dead.

It cannot be dismissed as merely a nice metaphor for how the disciples were inspired to carry on after Jesus’ death, or a pious myth to recover from the horror of the Crucifixion (Catechism paragraphs 639-44). Such a dismissal doesn’t comport with the facts that the disciples were terrified, in hiding, crushed that their Messianic hope had apparently failed in the most gruesome way under Roman torture.

The transformation of the apostles – from this demoralized and cowardly crew, into fearless missionaries and ultimately martyrs – is inexplicable in purely human terms.

As Benedict XVI observes, their preaching “would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter” with the risen Christ (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2, p. 275).

Nor was the Lord just brought back to our ordinary human life, in the way that He had raised others during His ministry.

“Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out into an entirely new form of life” that lies beyond our earthly existence (ibid., p. 244). In truth, His Resurrection marks a “leap” into a new order of being, “opening up a dimension that affects us all…a new space of being in union with God” (p. 274).

“It is a historical event that nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it” (p. 273).

Question for reflection: How does the radical reality of the Resurrection transform my life?

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 – Easter Sunday

Easter: The Resurrection of the Lord

Gospel – Matthew 28:1-10 (Vigil), John 20:1-9 

Christ says to each one of us personally, “I arose and now I am still with you.”

So Pope Benedict XVI reflected in his Easter Vigil homily of 2007.

But, the Holy Father went on to ask, “what exactly did Christ bring that was new?”

The fulfillment of our deepest longing for God:

[Our] own powers are insufficient to lift [us] up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights.

And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them…

Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon His shoulders and carries it home. 

Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free.

Homily of April 7, 2007.

While we celebrate in an especially intense way at Easter, each and every Mass said anytime, anywhere, draws us into this same mystery and makes present Christ’s saving action.

Blessed John Paul II expressed this truth in On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church:

“The Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of the Savior’s passion and death, but also the mystery of the resurrection which crowned His sacrifice” (14).

Because the Lord is truly, really, substantially present in Holy Communion, we receive His “Body in its glorious state after the resurrection. With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the ‘secret’ of the resurrection” (18).

Question for reflection: How do I respond to the Lord’s total gift of Himself, in His Passion, Death and Resurrection, for me?