24th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

The mention of holy women in today’s Gospel underscores their importance not only to the first generations of believers, but to us as well. Some of these same women on the day of the Resurrection were the first witnesses of the Risen Lord, because as they followed him and served him today, so they sought to do him one last service when he was laid in the tomb, and ended up giving the news to the Apostles. Their example teaches us the good traits of every disciple: gratitude, generosity, and service.

They’ve been blessed by healing in their life, and they show their appreciation with gratitude. Maybe the blessings we’ve received haven’t been as dramatic as someone like Mary Magdalene, but they are a cause for gratitude. These blessings prompt them to respond with generosity: the holy women helped Jesus and the other disciples out of their own resources. It’s likely that their names are mentioned here alongside the Twelve not only to be remembered, but also for the first hearers of Luke’s Gospel to know how they came to know and follow Our Lord after meeting them or hearing about them. Lastly, this gratitude and generosity are translated into service: they don’t just stay home and send care packages. They follow Our Lord and serve him and the Twelve in their work of proclaiming the Gospel. Everyone has a role in the work of evangelization.

Let’s ask Our Lord to grow in gratitude, generosity, and service, inspired by the example of these holy women.

Readings: 1 Timothy 6:2c–12; Psalm 49:6–10, 17–20; Gospel Luke 8:1–3.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that in this life moments may come when we are down, but, as Our Lord reminds the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, with his help we are not out.

In today’s First Reading the freshly minted people of Israel falls into idolatry almost immediately after entering into a covenant with the Lord by making and worshiping a golden calf, something worthy of condemnation. The Lord had revealed himself to Moses and send Moses and Aaron to liberate them from Egypt and become a people. The Lord sounds out Moses about whether a “do over” was called for: should the idolaters be punished, and a new people be founded on Moses? It is a testimony to Moses’ famous humility that he did not accept the invitation to become another patriarch. It would have gone contrary to the promises he and the Israelites had heard for generations: countless descendants from the patriarchs and a land to call their own. The people of Israel were down, but, thanks Moses’ intercession and the Lord’s mercy, they weren’t out.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul recalls when he was down, but thanks to the Lord’s mercy he was not out. He remembered very well when he persecuted the Christians and, as a result, persecuted the Lord. We can only imagine how Our Lord looked down upon him as he took the completely wrong direction in life, persecuting the disciples. Paul was struck down on the road to Damascus because the direction he was taking was so mistaken that the Lord in his mercy chose to intervene. Paul could have gone down anonymously in history as just another sinner redeemed by Our Lord, but the Lord had bigger plans for him, making him an apostle and a witness to the fact that when we’re down we’re never out as long as we live.

The Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus in the Gospel today because he is spending time with people who are sinners: tax collectors, who robbed them by charging unfair taxes and serving their Roman oppressors, and sinners, who did evil and did not come worship at the Temple. So Jesus asks the Pharisees and scribes to think of how happy they would be if they found something valuable that they’d lost.

Imagine if you lost your spending money for the week, and after searching and searching your locker you give up and take your books to class and there it is, stuck between two books! Wouldn’t you be happy? Imagine if you lost your cat and you searched for hours and hours and came home sad and suddenly heard him scratching at the door to be let in. Wouldn’t you be happy? Now imagine if it were your brother or sister or aunt or someone in your family who went missing. You would never stop looking. Never. You would always be waiting to hear from them.

In Heaven God knows that sinners are lost, and he wants to find them so badly, but they hide from him and go far away from him, just like the son in the Gospel today. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, God waits and waits for them to come back. Our Lord teaches us that all of Heaven shouts for joy when a sinner is found and comes back and gets on the road to Heaven again. Our Lord goes to the sinners in the Gospel today because if he doesn’t help them find God the Father again, they will never find him. Like the son today in the Gospel, they go far away and become poor and miserable, but when they come back, sorry for what they have done, all of Heaven is happy and God welcomes them back as if nothing had happened.

When we hurt others, it is so hard to say we are sorry, but when we don’t, we are left poor, alone, and lonely, because it is like we have left someone in our family. The other son in the Gospel today didn’t want to forgive his brother and look how angry and alone he was. The Prodigal Son, the tax collectors, and the sinners in today’s Gospel were all down, but the Lord was ready to pull them back onto their feet again.

When we do bad things, all we have to do is say we’re sorry and ask God to forgive us. It is not complicated, even though it may be costly at times. Go have a good Confession for the big things. For the little daily things, just tell him (and whoever else you’ve hurt) that you are sorry. If you remain down in this life (and the next, for that matter) it is because you didn’t take the Lord’s extended hand to pull you back onto your feet.

Readings: Exodus 32:7–11, 13–14; Psalm 51:3–4, 12–13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–32. See also 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C2nd Week of Lent, Saturday, and 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

At first glance it may seem that in today’s Gospel Jesus is asking his disciples to burn their bridges, but if we look a little more closely we can see he’s inviting them to “do the math,” to go from a worldly, calculating idea of love and happiness to a liberating one founded on humility, faith, and trust.

It may seem illogical that the Lord would ask us to abandon our family, our health, our security, and our comfort to follow him, but when we read the words of today’s First Reading, we see the “logic” that goes contrary to that invitation break down. When we try to find the answers to the big questions—life, death, love, our calling in this life—we see that the cut and dry business or scientific approach doesn’t work. The big questions escape our categories, experience, and observation, and with such big mysteries looming over our heads, mysteries that seem to decide our fate, our hearts yearn for freedom. Our Lord in today’s Gospel is offering us those answers and that freedom. He asks us to have faith and trust in him

Onesimus, the escaped slave whom Paul mentions in today’s Second Reading, sought freedom from his master, Philemon, but Onesimus found a far greater freedom in the end. In the time of ancient Rome, slaves were a big percentage of the population. Slavery resulted from debts or being on the wrong end of a war. Slave labor was so needed in ancient Roman society that they were a social class of their own. Rome took escapees very seriously, and Onesimus got caught, but the Lord let him get caught so he could experience a true freedom, with the help of St. Paul, whom he met in prison. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with the letter, a part of which we consider in today’s Second Reading, to be Christ’s instrument of liberation: a liberation of love. Paul urges Philemon to see Onesimus now as more than a servant, more than a piece of property. Paul invites him to see Onesimus as the Lord wants him to be seen: a brother.

After inviting his disciples in the first part of today’s Gospel to take of their crosses and follow him, the Lord invites them in the second part to “do the math:” to think about what they’re trying to build in their life, like the tower builder, and what battle they’re ready to wage against life’s challenges, like the king. When we follow Christ, our families, our sufferings, our very selves will experience, like Onesimus (and, hopefully, Philemon) a liberation of love When we follow Christ, those we love will also seek in him the answers to the big questions of life that go beyond their “math” too. However, we must put Christ first in our lives. That can hurt us and our family a lot, but when we put our calculations aside, when we face the unknown trusting in Christ, we show him we are following him, and he never leads us astray.

When you consider how you love and who you love, does it feel constraining and confining to you, or liberating? When you love, do you condition it based on the love you have received (or lack thereof)? When we focus on the trouble loving causes us it shows us the disordered love from which the Lord wants to liberate us: egotistical love. If you make an effort to put the Lord and others first in your life, even if it implies renunciation and discomfort, you will experience a liberation of love.

Readings: Wisdom 9:13–18b; Psalm 90:3–6, 12–14, 17; Philemon 9–10, 12–17; Luke 14:25–33. See also 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C31st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings teach us that if we want to avoid a life of frustrated schemes and aspirations we must, in humility, seek the place in life the Lord has prepared for us and trust he has a place prepared for us in Heaven too. It is a place of honor. The alternative is humiliation in this life and the next.

Today’s First Reading reminds us that humility attracts people more than buying gifts ever could. The way you deal with others determines their respect (or disrespect) for you. Buying it is overpriced and costly. The humble person realizes his limitations and imperfections no matter how great he actually is. He also realizes that in some things he can be over his head or out of his league: humility is solid self-knowledge. Lastly, he knows there’s always something new to learn and appreciates good advice.

Today’s Second Reading, addressed to Christians who were tired and discouraged, reminds us that the distance between God and us has been eliminated. The Lord no longer hides in fire and smoke. He is no longer beyond our reach or our experience. Every Sunday we are at table with him—the Mass—and he shows us our place in his heart through the gift of his life. Abel was killed for having pleased the Lord, causing Cain’s jealousy; Our Lord gave up his own life to please his Father and save us: that is humble service. If someone as great as the Lord was willing to shed his blood for you there’s no reason to seek other signs of his respect and esteem for you. He cherishes and honors you through his sacrifice on the Cross.

The most obvious question that crosses anyone’s mind when hearing today’s Gospel, a parable about Heaven, is, “what spot am I going to get?” That question shows flawed logic. Our Lord teaches us today that invitees don’t decide their own spot in his banquet. We don’t decide any spots in our life on our own. The quest for honorable positions, according to worldly logic—power, wealth, etc., is almost a guarantee of failure, because we seek the spot we don’t deserve.

We see this in so many areas of our life: school, sports, work, and family. Despite this, we keep seeking them and then suffer the shame of returning to a spot that may even be a step down from what we could have merited through humility. Our Lord puts us on guard against this tendency today. If we seek the humblest spot we will see that he honors us beyond our expectations. We live this in every celebration of the Eucharist, which reminds us of the only place that matters: our place in Heaven. A place in the Lord’s heart is the most honorable place we have, which is why Our Lord invites us to have a place in our heart not just for those we know and love, but for everyone.

We’ve all been invited to the Heavenly banquet without earning it or deserving it. We’re poor (lacking the only currency of worth—love for our neighbor), crippled and lame (by not living our Christian life well), and blind (not seeing our own flaws and limitations). Despite all this misery, the Lord invites us and gives us a place of honor. Let’s thank Our Lord today for having saved us a place in his Heavenly banquet through his blood on the Cross. Let’s assure him that he’ll always be in first place in our hearts and strive to give this love to others.

Make an extra effort this week to put others first in gratitude to Our Lord for reserving you a place of honor in Heaven. Hold the door for someone entering or exiting. Offer to help carry parcels or groceries. Let someone else serve themselves first at the buffet (or make them lunch). Clear the table or do some other chore, even if it is not your turn.

Readings: Sirach 3:17–18, 20, 28–29; Psalm 68:4–7, 10–11; Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24a; Luke 14:1, 7–14. See also 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings teach us that Christianity is not meant to be something superficial in our lives, like a designer label. The Lord calls us to make Christianity our lifestyle, and that lifestyle requires a willingness to go to the distance, to discipline ourselves and persevere in the face of difficulty, and to welcome the Lord’s grace into our lives.

In today’s First Reading the Lord describes knowledge of him spreading to the ends of the earth, even where no one has heard of him. The Lord sends believers out so that all those who know and believe in him may come together and unite around him. If that implies going far and wide it also implies a long distance between the Lord and those who want to journey toward him. People must come from far and wide too, and a long journey is not an easy journey. It implies taking a direction in life and staying the course. It will not just be a long road, but a difficult and tiring one that requires discipline and determination to complete the journey.

In today’s Second Reading the Lord is described as a father coaching his children to train themselves well (quoting Proverbs 3:11-12) and to keep pushing and striving so that they are able to go the distance. Discipline is not meant to drain us; it is meant to strengthen us and give us endurance. A life of virtue is a life of discipline and effort; it can be tiring, but the long-term effects make it worthwhile. Life on this earth may be a battle, but when we are saved, it will all have been worthwhile. When a father is tough on his children they resent it, but, eventually, if they are wise, they thank him for it. When the Lord expects a lifestyle that we consider demanding we too must see the need to work toward achieving it as coming from a loving Father who wants to bring out the best of us for our own good.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord warns that salvation is like a narrow door where not everyone is admitted. It is not just what you know, but who you know. If you come to the master at the key moment and he sees you as a stranger, although you claim otherwise, it should be no surprise when he leaves you out in the cold. Our Lord is asked how many will make it, and he doesn’t give a number. He warns us that many will try, but few will succeed. The First Reading described news of the Lord spreading everywhere to enable people to come to him. The evildoer’s in the description of today’s Gospel come from a place unknown to the master: if there is somewhere where the Gospel is not found, it is where evil and sin are found. Sin takes us far away from the Lord and keeps us there.

Being in grace means being in communion with God; it means being part of his family and recognized as such, and God takes the initiative to offer it to us and make it grow in our lives. Through Baptism, sacraments, prayer, and a life of virtue the Lord gives us the grace to go the distance, persevere, and show people we are Christians. Don’t be discouraged by the distance and difficulty that still lies ahead. Our Lord has sent you the Gospel to get your bearings, your fellow Christians to coach and encourage you, and his grace to be welcomed in the Father’s house. When Christianity is a style of life for you, not just a label, you will succeed.

Marketers are very careful about avoiding anything that damages their brand, and Christians must be very careful about doing anything that gives Christianity a bad name, not just for the “label,” but for their souls and the souls of those seeking Christ through them. We become Christians through Baptism and that sacrament imprints something spiritual and deep on us, something meant to transform us and our way of life, whether we reflect it afterwards or not. Strive to make Christianity more than skin deep in your life.

Readings: Isaiah 66:18–21; Psalm 117:1, 2; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; Luke 13:22–30. See also 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C.

20th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s First and Second Readings show the two extremes in which a believer be found in sharing the Lord’s message: alone and abandoned in the mud at the mercy of evil and injustice, or spurred on by the example and help of a “cloud of witnesses” who show that the path of belief is the right one. We all experience moments in the mud and moments enthused by our faith and that of our fellow believers. As Our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel, believers are signs of contradiction, and the world doesn’t like being contradicted.

Jeremiah in today’s First Reading was the victim of the very division of which Our Lord would later forewarn his disciples, yet Jeremiah in the end was rescued through the intercession of just men. Jeremiah is the only one telling the king and the people of Israel what the Lord wants them to hear, and they hate him for it, because they do not disagree. The king, who should have stood up for Jeremiah’s rights, let himself be cowed by the princes into throwing Jeremiah into a muddy cistern (an empty lined reservoir for collecting water): they don’t like Jeremiah’s message, so they want to bury it by burying him. Jeremiah would prove right, because he was the Lord’s prophet: the kingdom would suffer calamity for not listening to the Lord. He knew he was the Lord’s messenger, so he did not stop trying to deliver the message. It was the truth, and no contradiction could change that.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us of all those believers who suffered as signs of contradiction, in imitation of the Lord himself, but persevered and now encourage us, just as Our Lord does. Throughout the centuries believers have been subjected to mudslinging, violence, and death for contradicting the “wisdom” of their time. When we face division and strife over transmitting the Gospel we should not become discouraged, because Our Lord suffered such things first, as well as many believers who came before us. In moments of enthusiasm we mustn’t forget that there will be moments of the Cross, but in moments of the Cross we should be bolstered by memories of our moments of enthusiasm.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that taking our faith more seriously and making the commitment to live it often means becoming a sign of contradiction, not just for today’s culture, but even for our family and friends. Accepting Christ’s invitation to repentance and belief is accepting Christ into your life as your best friend and more. For those who knew you before, it may seem like instead of your life being turned around by Christ, it has been turned upside down: they may see Christ as a rival for your affections, and that puts many converts into the difficult situation of having to choose between their loved ones and God. With your change in lifestyle they may see a condemnation of their own and blame the messenger (you), not the message, or simply not understand what has happened.

Our Lord doesn’t promise an easy solution to this dilemma. Everyone must choose their path in this life, and conversion can imply a radical change in direction that others are unwilling or, at their moment of life, unable to do. All those paths are meant to converge in Christ, and for many people there are no shortcuts, or wrong turns that require time to recover from. This does not mean questioning our commitment to Christ; rather, it means patience and charity toward those we know and love, tactfully helping them where we can and entrusting them to the Lord where we can’t, knowing that the goal is help everyone where they’re at to advance along the path that Christ wishes to show them.

Sharing the Gospel can be heroic, but Christians are not meant to live a double life or treat their Christianity like a secret identity. You may suffer ridicule or persecution, but the Lord promises us that the truth will set us free, and it’s meant to set others free as well. Assess the situations and people in your life that make you uncomfortable sharing your faith, and let the “cloud of witnesses” inspire you to find tactful, creative, and sincere ways to share the greatest treasure of your life: faith.

Readings: Jeremiah 38:4–6, 8–10; Psalm 40:2–4, 18; Hebrews 12:1–4; Luke 12:49–53. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II29th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.