Engaging the Gospel – Luke 9:18-24

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Luke 9:18-24

St John Paul II expands upon the meaning of taking up our cross:

I invite you to reflect on the conditions that Jesus asked of those who wanted to be His disciples: ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’

Jesus is not a Messiah of triumph and power…He is the Messiah Who did not fit into any mould and Who came without fanfare, and Who cannot be ‘understood’ with the logic of success and power…

Love is the condition for following Him, but it is sacrifice that is the proof of that love…

If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and  follow Me.’  These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ…

Yet they must be faced, because the path outlined by God for His Son is the path to be undertaken by the disciple who has decided to follow Jesus. There are not two paths, but only one: the one trodden by the Master. The disciple cannot invent a different way. To deny oneself is to give up one’s own plans that are often small and petty in order to accept God’s plan…

It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving…

With His invitation ‘follow me,’ Jesus not only says again to His disciples: take Me as your model, but also: share My life and My choices, and stake your life for love of God and for neighbor together with Me.

Message for World Youth Day 2001.

Question for reflection: How do I take up the cross in my own daily life?

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Engaging the Gospel — Luke 4:21-30

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 4:21-30

Right after Jesus proclaims the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the people in His own hometown synagogue reject him violently. Already, at the very outset of His ministry, we see a foreshadowing of the rejection He will endure during His Passion — likewise a fulfillment of prophecy.

St John Paul II commented on Jesus’ trials and hardships, suffering and death, and what they mean for us, in his Apostolic Letter On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (Salvifici Doloris):

Christ drew close above all to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon His very self. During His public activity, He experienced not only fatigue, homelessness, misunderstanding even on the part of those closest to Him, but more than anything, He became progressively more and more isolated and encircled by hostility and the preparations for putting Him to death….

Christ goes towards His Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that He has to fulfill precisely in this way….Precisely by means of His Cross He must accomplish the work of salvation. This work, in the plan of eternal Love, has a redemptive character (16).

…One can say that with the Passion of Christ all human suffering has found itself in a new situation….In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed.

…Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ (19).

Question for reflection: How do I identify with Jesus’ experience of rejection?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 8:27-35

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 8:27-35

Today’s dramatic Gospel speaks directly to us, beginning with Jesus’ pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?”

Some reduce Jesus to a simply human religious figure, and fail to recognize Him as God come in the flesh, as Benedict XVI comments:

Today, too, similar opinions are clearly held by the ‘people’ who have somehow or other come to know Christ, who have perhaps even made a scholarly study of Him, but have not encountered Jesus Himself in His utter uniqueness and otherness.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 292.

St. Peter’s recognition of Jesus as Messiah goes only so far, for he resists the Cross – and we do too.

The whole scene thus remains uncomfortably relevant to the present, because in the end we do in fact constantly think in terms of ‘flesh and blood,’ and not in terms of the Revelation that we are privileged to receive in faith.

— ibid., p. 299.

The Lord doesn’t mince words: we must also traverse the way of the Cross.

In order to mature, in order to make real progress on the path leading from a superficial piety into profound oneness with God’s will, man needs to be tried. Just as the juice of the grape has to ferment in order to become a fine wine, so too man needs purifications and transformations…Love is always a process involving purifications, renunciations, and painful transformations of ourselves.

— p. 162.

Question for reflection: How has my relationship with Jesus been deepened through trials?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 4:35-41

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Mark 4:35-41

Jesus notes the lack of faith on the part of the disciples, who were terrified in the storm-tossed boat. We can identify with that feeling of being overwhelmed, without a tangible sense of God’s help and support.

“Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil” (Catechism paragraph 272).

Yet we know that the Lord is in fact sustaining us by His gracious will at every moment. Whatever trials or tragedies we may endure, God is bearing us up in the midst of them. He still carries us through every breath, every beat of our hearts, and desires to bring us into eternal blessedness with Him in heaven. In the perspective of eternity, we will one day see how God has ordered everything to our spiritual good, even overcoming and transforming the evil that others commit against us.

“Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power” (273), and reveal to us that “in everything God works for good for those who love Him. The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth” (313).

As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich wrote,

Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith…and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord showed in this time – that “all manner (of) thing shall be well.”

— quoted in 313.

Question for reflection: When have I felt that my faith was being tested?

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?

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.

Engaging the Gospel – Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Gospel – John 3:13-17

We could never heal our own brokenness, never restore our relationship with God, never attain the eternal blessedness of heaven, by our own devices.

So out of His great love for us, God took the initiative in a design that unfolded throughout salvation history. He sent His Son, Jesus, to become man, and brought about our redemption through the mystery of His Cross.

Jesus’ “redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation,” and “the desire to embrace His Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life” (Catechism paragraph 607).

“The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith,” as Benedict XVI explains:

for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us…

Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is He who will make us free to love as He loves us, and to build a reconciled world.

For on this Cross, Jesus took upon Himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ.

Because the power of God transformed this cruel death into a means of life, we can rightly see the Cross as a sign of victory:

And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified One for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew.

Homily of September 14, 2008.

Question for reflection: How does it feel to know that God went to such great lengths to save me?