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?


Engaging the Gospel – Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of the Lord (Year C): Gospel – Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

“Jesus’ public life begins with His baptism by John in the Jordan” (Catechism paragraph 535).

Because the Holy Spirit is visibly present as a dove descending upon Jesus, and the Father proclaims Him as His beloved Son, the baptism of Jesus is another aspect of His “epiphany,” or “the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God” (535).

“The Spirit Who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended then on the Christ as a prelude of the new creation” (1224).

Christ transformed Baptism into a sacrament, which purifies us from sin, fills us with sanctifying grace, and brings us into this new creation “ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection” (2174). The baptized person is made “a new creature, an adopted son of God, who has become a partaker of the divine nature, member of Christ and co-heir with Him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1265).

As St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote in the mid-fourth century,

Everything that happened to Christ lets us know that, after the bath of water [in baptism], the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father’s voice, we become sons of God.

— quoted in paragraph 537.

Let us always strive to live in accordance with our baptismal dignity.

Question for reflection: When have I felt especially close to God?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 7:31-37

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 7:31-37

By healing the deaf man, Jesus signifies that He is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading: He has come for our salvation, not only at a specific moment in history, but for us and our age as well.

This “life-giving presence of Christ, the physician of souls and bodies,” remains in the Church, particularly “through the sacraments and in an altogether special way through the Eucharist” (Catechism 1509).

As Benedict XVI observes,

There is not only a physical deafness which largely cuts people off from social life; there is also a ‘hardness of hearing’ where God is concerned, and this is something from which we particularly suffer in our own time. Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God — there are too many different frequencies filling our ears. What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age.

Along with this hardness of hearing or outright deafness where God is concerned, we naturally lose our ability to speak with Him and to Him. And so we end up losing a decisive capacity for perception. We risk losing our inner senses…

…‘Ephphatha’ — ‘Be opened.’ The Evangelist has preserved for us the original Aramaic word which Jesus spoke, and thus he brings us back to that very moment. What happened then was unique, but it does not belong to a distant past: Jesus continues to do the same thing anew, even today. At our Baptism He touched each of us and said ‘Ephphatha’ – ‘Be opened’ — thus enabling us to hear God’s voice and to be able to talk to Him…

But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to open their hearts to God, to seek Him, to hear His voice. As we gather here, let us here ask the Lord with all our hearts to speak anew his ‘Ephphatha,’ to heal our hardness of hearing for God’s presence, activity and word, and to give us sight and hearing.

Homily of September 10, 2006.

Question for reflection: How have I experienced an opening up to God?

Engaging the Gospel – John 6:41-51

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 6:41-51

Jesus says, “the Bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.”

Benedict XVI considers “how we can ‘feed’ on God, live on God, in such a way that He Himself becomes our bread…God becomes ‘bread’ for us first of all in the Incarnation” of Christ, and in its “ultimate realization: Jesus’ act of giving Himself up to death and the mystery of the Cross.”

Indeed, “what underlies the Eucharist” is this “sacrifice of Jesus, Who sheds His Blood for us, and in so doing steps out of Himself, so to speak, pours Himself out, and gives Himself to us…The offering of His Body on the Cross” is made accessible to us, really and tangibly, in the sacrament of Holy Communion (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 268-69).

Because bread and wine have themselves been subjected to a kind of death in their preparation, the Lord has chosen fitting elements to veil His presence in the Eucharist:

Earthly bread can become the bearer of Christ’s presence because it contains in itself the mystery of the Passion…the grain of wheat first has to be placed in the earth, it has to ‘die,’ and then the new ear can grow out of this death…The same is true of wine. It too contains the Passion in itself, for the grape had to be pressed in order to become wine (pp. 271-72).

Let us always remember that the Eucharist makes present, brings us into, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross (Catechism paragraphs 1366-67).

Jesus emphasizes that eating His Bread leads to eternal life. The Eucharist is therefore “a pledge of the life to come” and “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (paragraph 1402).

As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century, we “break the one Bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ” (quoted in 1405).

Question: Have I reflected upon Jesus’ total self-giving in the Eucharist?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 5:21-43

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 5:21-43

Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage are more than just inspiring miracle stories. These two exemplars of faith remind us how vitally important our own attitudes and dispositions are in the spiritual life. It is in response to their faith that Jesus performs “signs that anticipate the power of His death and Resurrection” (Catechism 2616).

This power is with us still, conveyed through the sacraments instituted by Christ. Just as Jesus’ power went forth to heal the woman, even so “sacraments are ‘power that comes forth’ from the Body of Christ” (1116).

“Jesus’ words and actions” during His earthly life “announced and prepared what He was going to give the Church when all was accomplished.”

As Pope St. Leo the Great said, “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into His mysteries” (1115).

The sacraments are performed by the power of God, regardless of the personal worthiness of the priest. “Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them” (1128).

Today’s Gospel illustrates the point. Many people were in Jesus’ presence, but failed to benefit because they were indifferent, heedless, or even dismissive of what He could do for them. Let us follow the example of Jairus and the woman, trusting in the Lord’s power to act for us personally.

Question for reflection: When have I stepped out boldly in faith?

Engaging the Gospel – Corpus Christi

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: Gospel (Year B) – Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

“I would like to rekindle this Eucharistic ‘amazement,’” St. John Paul II wrote in On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church.

The Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist has been an article of faith since the foundation of the Church. The Catechism expresses this wondrous truth: “The mode of Christ’s Presence” in the Eucharist is

unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life…The Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore, the whole Christ, is truly, really, and substantially contained.

— paragraph 1374.

Since the Eucharist is not a symbol, but really Christ under the appearances of bread and wine, we ought to adore the Lord in our midst.

JPII wrote movingly of Eucharistic adoration in the same encyclical:

It is pleasant to spend time with Him, to lie close to His breast like the Beloved Disciple and to feel the infinite love present in His heart…How often, dear brothers and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!…The Eucharist is a priceless treasure (25).

Benedict XVI explores this extraordinary gift in Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity):

In the Eucharist, Jesus does not give us a ‘thing,’ but Himself; He offers His own Body and pours out His own Blood. He thus gives us the totality of His life (7).

By giving us the gift of himself, Jesus reveals to us

God’s infinite love for every man and woman. This wondrous sacrament makes manifest that greater love which led Him to lay down His life for His friends. Jesus did indeed love them to the end….

In the same way, Jesus continues, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, to love us to the end…What amazement must the Apostles have felt in witnessing what the Lord did and said during that Supper! What wonder must the Eucharistic mystery also awaken in our own hearts! (1).

Question for reflection: How have I experienced the power of the Eucharist?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B): Gospel – John 15:1-8

Today’s Gospel of the vine and branches is no mere imagery, but rather teaches us the truth about our profound union with Christ.

St John Paul II reflected on how we are incorporated into this mystery, and live it out, through the Church:

Christ lives in the Church, the Church is the mystery of Christ living and working among us…I want therefore to invite you all to a new discovery of the Church and of your mission in the Church…To be living branches in the vineyard of the Church means above all to be in living communion with Christ the vine.

This living communion is nourished especially through our faithful reception of the sacraments:

To be living branches, you must live this reality of your Baptism, deepening every day your communion with the Lord, by listening to his Word and obeying it, by participating in the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, and by speaking personally with Our Lord in prayer.

“To be living branches in the vineyard of the Church also means accepting a commitment” to take part in the Church’s life, where “each one has his or her own place and his or her own task.”

“Take your place in the Church,” for we are not just passive “objects of pastoral care,” but “active protagonists in the Church’s mission.”

The Church is yours. More still, you yourselves are the Church! …The Church is not an abstract and disembodied reality. On the contrary, it is a very concrete reality: precisely, a diocesan Church gathered around the Bishop, successor of the Apostles. It is also the parish Church that you must discover, its life, its needs and the many communities that exist and work within it.

Message for World Youth Day 1990.

Question for reflection: How does parish life enable me to remain in the Lord and bear fruit?