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?

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Engaging the Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus inveighs against the Pharisees, who were so caught up in their own rules about external purification that they ignored the most important purification of all – the interior cleansing of the heart.

“The organ for seeing God is the heart,” Benedict XVI affirms:

The intellect alone is not enough…The heart – the wholeness of man – must be pure, interiorly open and free, in order for man to be able to see God…Purification of heart occurs as a consequence of following Christ, of becoming one with Him…The pure heart is the loving heart that enters into communion of service and obedience with Jesus Christ.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 92-95.

The pure of heart are “attuned” to God in three primary ways: “charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (Catechism paragraph 2518).

Although we have received purifying grace in baptism, we must continue the “battle for purity,” struggling against the weakness of our flesh (2520).

“Purification of the heart demands prayer, the practice of chastity, purity of intention and of vision” (2532).

Purity of heart “enables us to see according to God, to accept others as neighbors; it lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbor’s – as a temple of the Holy Spirit” (2519).

Question for reflection: What can I do to strive for purity of heart?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 6:1-6

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 6:1-6

While last Sunday’s Gospel revealed the power of faith, today’s Gospel presents us with its empty opposite – hardness of heart resulting in a lack of faith.

Jesus is amazed at the lack of faith among the people of His own town of Nazareth, who take offense at Him. Having known Him and His family for years, they cannot reconcile the ordinariness of Jesus’ life with His profound teaching and His performing mighty deeds:

During the greater part of His life, Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor…The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of His hidden life was already inaugurating His work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed. The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.

–Catechism paragraphs 531-533.

Like the people of Nazareth, we can find pretexts for ignoring, or even rejecting, the Lord’s message when it strikes us as difficult or inconvenient. But we would then be refusing God’s gift, denying the truth, and lying to ourselves:

God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth…Since God is true, the members of His people are called to live in the truth. In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest.

–paragraphs 2465-66.

God offers us the gift of faith (153), but we must respond of our own free will to embrace it (154-55), and we must persevere lest we lose our faith (162).

“The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith,” and also implies how we can sin against faith. One of these sins is willful doubt, which “disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief…If deliberately cultivated, doubt can lead to spiritual blindness” (2088).

That kind of spiritual blindness was on display at Nazareth, preventing the people from receiving what the Lord wanted to give them.

Question for reflection: When have preconceptions hardened my heart?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

The first reading from Isaiah, and Jesus’ parable in the Gospel, both employ the imagery of a vineyard to illustrate a common theme: our failure to respond generously to God’s nurturing attention.

Just as the landowner makes every effort on behalf of his vineyard, symbolic of Israel, so does God continually lavish His gifts and graces upon us.

“God loved His people first,” establishing His covenant, and revealing His Commandments to seal our relationship with Him.

As a result, our “moral existence is a response to the Lord’s loving initiative” (Catechism paragraphs 2060-62), an honoring of our “fundamental duties” toward God and neighbor (2072).

But the wayward tenants in the Gospel refuse to meet their just obligations, despite the repeated calls of the landowner’s servants – the prophets – and even His own Son, Jesus. Their violent reaction is a foreshadowing of the Lord’s Passion and Death, which Jesus addresses directly to His listeners.

As Benedict XVI notes:

The audience knows he is saying to them: Just as the Prophets were abused and killed, so now you want to kill me: I’m talking about you and about me.

…But the Lord always speaks in the present and with an eye to the future. He is also speaking with us and about us.

If we open our eyes, isn’t what is said in the parable actually a description of our present world? Isn’t this precisely the logic of the modern age, of our age?

Let us declare that God is dead, then we ourselves will be God…At last we can do what we please. We get rid of God…

The “vineyard” belongs to us. What happens to man and the world next? We are already beginning to see it…

–Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 257.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when challenged by a truth I may not want to hear?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 16:21-27

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 16:21-27

Peter takes issue with Jesus’ prophecy of the Passion

Like Peter, we too want God to fit our own preconceived notions, as Benedict XVI explains:

Peter had not yet understood the profound content of Jesus’ Messianic mission, the new meaning of this word: Messiah.

…He was shocked by the Lord’s announcement of the Passion and protested, prompting a lively reaction from Jesus.

Peter wanted as Messiah a “divine man” who would fulfill the expectations of the people by imposing his power upon them all: we would also like the Lord to impose His power and transform the world instantly. Jesus presented himself as a “human God,” the Servant of God, who turned the crowd’s expectations upside-down by taking a path of humility and suffering.

This is the great alternative that we must learn over and over again: to give priority to our own expectations, rejecting Jesus, or to accept Jesus in the truth of His mission and set aside all too human expectations.

…And it seems to me that these conversions of St. Peter on different occasions, and his whole figure, are a great consolation and a great lesson for us. We too have a desire for God, we too want to be generous, but we too expect God to be strong in the world and to transform the world on the spot, according to our ideas and the needs that we perceive.

God chooses a different way. God chooses the way of the transformation of hearts in suffering and in humility. And we, like Peter, must convert, over and over again. We must follow Jesus and not go before Him: it is He Who shows us the way.

General Audience of May 17, 2006.

Question for reflection: When have I wanted to turn away from the reality of the cross?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 11:25-30

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 11:25-30

Take Jesus’ yoke upon you and find rest

Jesus presents us with paradoxes in Sunday’s Gospel. Revelation comes to the “little ones,” not to those who deem themselves wise, and by taking the Lord’s yoke upon us, we actually find true rest in Him.

These statements are integrally related: to accept the Kingdom of God, we must have a “humble and trusting heart” (Catechism paragraphs 544, 2785).

This truth contradicts our contemporary culture, which promotes pride of mind and heart. The culture often denies objective standards of morality and claims that we can fashion individual ideas of right and wrong to suit ourselves.

As St. John Paul II has observed, such moral relativism is essentially “a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, Who guides man with the moral law” (The Splendor of Truth 84).

“God, Who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of His very love,” He teaches us what is good by giving us the commandments (35).

We are authentically free, not when we try to deny the truth of God’s word, but when we embrace God’s will and choose the good (35, 84).

Jesus Himself shows us the way: “The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness” (Catechism paragraph 459). “His exclamation, ‘Yes, Father!’ expresses the depth of His heart…this loving adherence of His human heart to the mystery of the will of the Father” (2603).

Question for reflection: When have I found peace in surrendering to the Lord?