Engaging the Gospel – Luke 18:9-14

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 18:9-14

Jesus’ parable of the self-righteous Pharisee, contrasted with the contrite tax collector, prompts us to consider our own hearts: do we recognize our need for God’s mercy, or do we think we’re doing well just because we fulfill religious obligations? Do we tend to rationalize, and overlook, our faults?

As St John Paul II explained,

The tax collector might possibly have had some justification for the sins he committed, such as to diminish his responsibility. But his prayer does not dwell on such justifications, but rather on his own unworthiness before God’s infinite holiness: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ The Pharisee, on the other hand, is self-justified, finding some excuse for each of his failings. Here we encounter two different attitudes of the moral conscience of man in every age.

The tax collector represents a ‘repentant’ conscience, fully aware of the frailty of its own nature and seeing in its own failings, whatever their subjective justifications, a confirmation of its need for redemption.

The Pharisee represents a ‘self-satisfied’ conscience, under the illusion that it is able to observe the law without the help of grace and convinced that it does not need mercy.

All people must take great care not to allow themselves to be tainted by the attitude of the Pharisee, which would seek to eliminate awareness of one’s own limits and of one’s own sin. In our own day this attitude is expressed particularly in the attempt to adapt the moral norm to one’s own capacities and personal interests, and even in the rejection of the very idea of a norm.

Accepting, on the other hand, the ‘disproportion’ between the law and human ability (that is, the capacity of the moral forces of man left to himself) kindles the desire for grace and prepares one to receive it.

Veritatis Splendor, 104-05

Question for reflection: What “blind spots” do I have regarding my own faults?

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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 7:11-17

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 7:11-17

Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son from death is a great miracle that illustrates His power over the natural order. But as St Augustine comments, it is also symbolic of the Lord’s raising us from spiritual death to new life through grace.

Pope Francis expands on this theme:

The mercy of Jesus is not only an emotion; it is a force which gives life that raises man! Today’s Gospel also tells us this in the episode of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17). With His disciples, Jesus arrives in Nain, a village in Galilee, right at the moment when a funeral is taking place. A boy, the only son of a widow, is being carried for burial. Jesus immediately fixes His gaze on the crying mother.

The Evangelist Luke says: “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her” (v. 13). This “compassion” is God’s love for man, it is mercy, thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term “compassion” recalls a mother’s womb. The mother in fact reacts in a way all her own in confronting the pain of her children. It is in this way, according to Scripture, that God loves us.

What is the fruit of this love and mercy? It is life! Jesus says to the widow of Nain: “Do not weep” and then He calls the dead boy and awakes him as if from sleep (cf. vv. 13-15).

Let’s think about this, it’s beautiful: God’s mercy gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. Let us not forget that the Lord always watches over us with mercy; He always watches over us with mercy. Let us not be afraid of approaching Him! He has a merciful heart! If we show Him our inner wounds, our inner sins, He will always forgive us. It is pure mercy. Let us go to Jesus!

Angelus of June 9, 2013

Question for reflection: How have I experienced new life in Christ?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – John 8:1-11

Benedict XVI has commented on this Gospel passage of the adulterous woman, in which human sinfulness and Divine Mercy “come face to face.” As the Pope Emeritus explained,

The pitiless accusers of the woman, citing the law of Moses, provoke Jesus – they call Him ‘Teacher’ (Didáskale) – asking Him whether it would be right to stone her. They were aware of His mercy and His love for sinners and were curious to see how He would manage in such a case which, according to Mosaic law, was crystal clear. But Jesus immediately took the side of the woman…‘Let him who is without sin among you (He uses the term anamártetos here, which is the only time it appears in the New Testament) be the first to throw a stone at her.’

…Augustine added that with these words, Jesus obliged the accusers to look into themselves, to examine themselves to see whether they too were sinners. Thus, ‘pierced through as if by a dart as big as a beam, one after another, they all withdrew.’

…When they had all left, the divine Teacher remained alone with the woman. St Augustine’s comment is concise and effective: ‘relicti sunt duo:  misera et Misericordia, the two were left alone, the wretched woman and Mercy.’…

Dear friends, from the Word of God we have just heard emerge practical instructions for our life. Jesus does not enter into a theoretical discussion with His interlocutors on this section of Mosaic Law; He is not concerned with winning an academic dispute about an interpretation of Mosaic Law, but His goal is to save a soul and reveal that salvation is only found in God’s love…only divine forgiveness and divine love received with an open and sincere heart give us the strength to resist evil and ‘to sin no more,’ to let ourselves be struck by God’s love so that it becomes our strength. Jesus’ attitude thus becomes a model to follow for every community, which is called to make love and forgiveness the vibrant heart of its life.

Homily of March 25, 2007.

Question for reflection: How has my acceptance of God’s mercy helped me to extend mercy to others?

Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Lent

1st Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 4:1-13

Jesus was subjected to temptations after forty days of fasting in the desert, for the devil “would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from His Father” (Catechism paragraph 394).

By categorically rejecting Satan’s lures, “Christ reveals Himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror” (539).

The fact that “Christ vanquished the tempter for us” (540) encourages us as we face our own temptations.

Our human nature has been “wounded” in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s sin. Even after baptism, original sin’s “consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle” (405).

“Prayer is a vital necessity” (2744):

Prayer is a battle…against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God….The ‘spiritual battle’ of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer (2725).

Let us recommit ourselves to prayer during this season of Lent, “the solemn forty days” when “the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (540).