Engaging the Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

“Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all”

The Christian imperative to serve others is expressed in the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity), which urges laypeople to “take up the renewal” of the world “as their own special obligation” (7).

The Council Fathers remind us that “charitable enterprises can and should reach out to all persons and all needs” —

Wherever there are people in need of food and drink, clothing, housing, medicine, employment, education; wherever men lack the facilities necessary for living a truly human life or are afflicted with serious distress or illness or suffer exile or imprisonment, there Christian charity should seek them out and find them, console them with great solicitude and help them with appropriate relief. This obligation is imposed above all upon every prosperous nation and person.

Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8.

But our inspiration for serving others isn’t just philanthrophy or humanitarianism, as noble as those ideals are.

Rather, we serve because we are conformed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came down from heaven to redeem us as the Suffering Servant: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

By giving of ourselves on behalf of others, we unite with Christ’s own self-emptying. The more we grow in union with Christ, the “greater” we become in holiness:

Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ…

— ibid., 4.

Question for reflection: How do I answer Jesus’ call to serve others?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

Jesus exercises His power to rebuke and cast out unclean spirits

As the Catechism explains, “evil is not an abstraction” (paragraph 2851). There are malevolent spiritual beings, fallen angels who oppose God, at work in the world.

By their own free choice, “these created spirits…radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign” (392), and “they try to associate man in their revolt against God” (414).

The word “devil” comes from the Greek dia-bolos, referring to the fact that he “‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and His work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (2851).

One of the great documents of Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, reiterates that this spiritual warfare involves each one of us:

The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield, man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.

— quoted in Catechism paragraph 409.

“Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and His kingdom in Christ Jesus,” his power is limited, and he “cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign” (395). Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil” (394), and victory was achieved “once and for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave Himself up to death to give us His life” (2853).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord helped me with a spiritual struggle?

Engaging the Gospel – Divine Mercy Sunday

Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday: Gospel – John 20:19-31

Divine Mercy Sunday is an especially fitting day for the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

In his address upon the opening of the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII memorably said that “we prefer to make use of the medicine of mercy, rather than that of severity.”

John Paul, as Archbishop of Krakow, embraced the Divine Mercy devotion promoted by his compatriot, St. Faustina Kowalska.

When canonizing St. Faustina on this Second Sunday of Easter in 2000, John Paul declared that henceforth this day would be called Divine Mercy Sunday — highlighting the theme that was already present in our readings for this Mass.

John Paul explained how Sunday’s Gospel reveals the mercy of Christ:

Jesus shows His hands and His side. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in His Heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity. From that heart Sr. Faustina…will see two rays of light shining and illuminating the world: ‘The two rays,’ Jesus Himself explained to her one day, ‘represent blood and water.’ …

The blood recalls the sacrifice of the Cross and the gift of the Eucharist; the water, in Johannine symbolism, represents not only Baptism but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. Divine Mercy reaches human beings through the Heart of Christ crucified…

As the Apostles once did, today too humanity must welcome into the upper room of history the risen Christ, Who shows the wounds of His Crucifixion and repeats: ‘Peace be with you!’ …

Thus the message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes; Christ gave His life for each one; to everyone the Father gives His Spirit and offers intimacy…

The gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from His Heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope.

Homily of April 30, 2000

Nearly five years later, in 2005, Pope John Paul died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday.

Question for reflection: How is my heart changed by experiencing Jesus’ mercy?

The Liturgy

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1066-1112, 1135-1209:

  • Liturgy comes from the Greek leitourgia, “public work,” which often referred to a service performed by a benefactor on behalf of the people.
  • The term was readily employed by the New Testament writers; aside from its obvious connection to charitable works, it was also applied to the proclamation of the Gospel and to the celebration of divine worship.
  • Liturgy, in the sense of divine worship, is the ultimate public work: it is the work of Christ and His Church, serving to glorify God and to sanctify the faithful who take part in it.
  • The liturgy brings us into the mystery of salvation: through the Mass and the sacraments, Christ communicates His work of redemption.
  • Our liturgy on earth mystically shares in the heavenly liturgy, the eternal chorus of the angels and saints before God’s throne; as a result, the liturgy is not private, nor does it belong to us, but is rather the work of the whole Body of Christ.
  • Christ presides over every liturgical celebration, drawing us up into the prayer that He Himself prays to the Father, in the Holy Spirit; hence the Church’s liturgy is profoundly Trinitarian.
  • Through Christ, we adore and praise the Father for His blessings, both spiritual and earthly; we offer our gifts, and ourselves, in loving return to Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit works intimately in the liturgy, preparing us for our encounter with God, and binding us in communion with God and with each other.
  • Described as the “Church’s living memory,” the Holy Spirit stirs us to recall the events of salvation history, embrace their meaning in faith, and respond in praise and thanksgiving, in a loving dialogue.
  • This is not simply a human act of remembering: through the Holy Spirit, God’s saving action is made present, and actualized, in the liturgy.

Live Your Faith

Vatican II called us to “full, conscious, and active participation” in the liturgy, but how well do we actually participate at Mass? Do we find Mass boring? Only if we lose sight of its awesome mystery!

The early Church understood that the very ways we worship – our actions and prayers – all reflect the truths of the faith; hence the ancient expression, Lex orandi, lex credendi: “The law of praying is the law of believing.” The more we understand our faith, the more we appreciate the liturgy.