16th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that contemplation and hospitality are like love and service: they go together and enrich one another. In today’s readings it seems one person might be getting the brunt of the grunt work (Sarah and Martha), but when it is understood from the perspective of communion, a perspective Paul reminds us of in today’s Second Reading, we know that whether we are in a moment of contemplation or hospitality, love or service, we are benefiting the whole Mystical Body of Christ.

Abraham in today’s First Reading had a special encounter with the Lord through three visitors. He’d been told to wander to new lands as a nomad with the promise of a land and children of his own. Sarah had been there every step of the way for years, just as she was now by preparing food for the unexpected visitors. Now the Lord, in the three mysterious visitors, promises that Sarah will bear a son. Sarah receives the blessing, a blessing for her and her husband, that both had been striving for in different ways. Sarah let Abraham take the lead, but both reaped the benefits.

Paul in today’s Second Reading speaks of making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church. Greco-Roman philosophers spoke of society as being like a body, with its members doing things, glamorous and unglamorous, for the good of society. Paul may have been inspired, in part, by this understanding of a society as like a body, but the Body of Christ for him was something much more profound, perhaps from the moment the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus (when he was still Saul, the persecutor of Christians) and said “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). As Saul persecuted Christians he was persecuting Jesus himself.

As members of the Body of Christ we can benefit our brothers and sisters in the faith, and they can benefit us, just as our sins can adversely impact the whole Body. Our Lord took upon himself the toughest part, on the Cross, to teach us that we too can take on the hard things for the spiritual benefit of others. Some always have the tougher part; as believers they can be consoled by knowing that doing their part, easy or hard, will result in blessings for them and the entire Body.

Mary in today’s Gospel seems to have left her sister Martha in the lurch, sitting at Our Lord’s feet, and Martha is not shy about bringing that up to Our Lord. We all are tempted from time to time of being envious of what others are doing when our part seems burdensome or unfair. Our Lord reminds Martha that everyone has a part to play, be it love and contemplation or hospitality and service. Mary may have had the “better” part, but Martha had an important part to play as well. In the end, both Mary and Martha would be blessed when Our Lord raises their brother Lazarus from the dead thanks to their love and faith.

The story of Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel also helps us take stock of our prayer life. Martha, through serving the Lord, is making her life a prayer; she’s busy, but she is doing it for him. The first step in any prayer life is the desire to know and to serve the Lord. At the same time, Martha’s prayer life is tainted with activism: focusing on doing so much that she loses sight of why she is doing it. This is proved when she comes to Our Lord to complain and judge her sister: a lack of charity is a symptom of a lack of prayer life. Our Lord is well aware of this, which is why he presents Martha’s sister Mary as an example of contemplative prayer: Mary just sits at the Lord’s feet, apparently “doing” nothing, but she is loving the Lord. Everyone needs this kind of prayer too: prayer not so much of reciting words or doing things as simply “sitting” in the Lord’s presence and listening to whatever he has to say, or simply just being there and loving him while he loves us.

Martha wanted to serve the Lord, but when she got cranky about how she served him she had taken her eyes off what was the most important in her life. The Lord had to remind her. Activism is when we keep doing things but lose sight of why we are doing them, eventually crowding out the people for whom we’re doing them. If you’re in a position of service, whether work, parish, or family, take a moment to remember whom you are serving and why.

Readings: Genesis 18:1–10a; Psalm 15:2–5; Colossians 1:24–28; Luke 10:38–42. See also 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, St. Martha and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that it is not hard to know the Lord’s expectations for us. We’re the ones who complicate things. The difficulty comes in doing what Our Lord expects of us. Why?

In today’s First Reading Moses, in his parting words to the Israelites, encourages them to see that what the Lord expects of them is not hard to know or achieve: it is turning to God with all their heart and soul. The Lord had come to them when they were slaves in Egypt, led them to freedom, and constituted them as his people at Mt. Sinai, giving them the Ten Commandments that we live even today. When they rebelled, the Lord had Moses lead them through the desert for forty years, but his expectations never changed. They resisted for a long time, but he’d already told them at Mt. Sinai what he expected of them. When Moses speaks to them in today’s First Reading, just before they would finally enter into the Promised Land, he is almost pleading them to turn to their Lord with all their heard.

The Lord has made this even easier by sending us his Son, the image of the invisible God, as Paul describes in today’s Second Reading. Moses in the First Reading describes the Lord’s commandment as close, already in their hearts and lips, waiting to be carried out. With the coming of Christ, the Lord’s expectations become even closer: we see them in the flesh, in the Son. Paul reminds us that all things were created in, through, and for the Son. By conforming ourselves to Christ we are conforming ourselves to what humanity is truly meant to be, turning away from any confusion or disfiguration due to sin. This is not just a process of aligning our goals with Our Lord’s. We were created in the image and likeness of God, so by conforming ourselves to the “image of the invisible God” we conform ourselves to the pattern of life the Lord wants for us. It is the best lifestyle for which we can hope. Through the Son we are aided in turning to God with all our heart and soul; he not only leads by example, but also empowers our charity through his act of love on the Cross.

In today’s Gospel the scribe shows wisdom in seeing that love for God and for neighbor are the path to fulfillment in life. He just wants to know one point of fine print: who should we consider our neighbor? The answer is not hard: everyone is our neighbor, as the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches. The man waylaid on the way to Jericho was heading from a “good part of town” to a “bad one” (Jericho often symbolized turning your back on Jerusalem and heading into sin); anyone could have rationalized that when you head to a bad part of town you deserve what you get. The Samaritan was overcome with compassion at the sight of his neighbor bleeding and half dead alongside the road. In Luke’s Gospel the scribe asks in the context of asking what he needs to do in order to inherit eternal life. That Samaritan’s goodness and compassion, by extension, despite all the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans, won him eternal life. It’s not complicated. We make it complicated. Strive to love God and every neighbor and you will accomplish something in life and achieve everything truly worthwhile.

It’s not uncommon that when we hear Our Lord’s expectation that we love our neighbor one or two people come to mind that make us shudder (“Love him? Love her? No way!”). The Good Samaritan today was moved with compassion at the sight of the beaten man. Sacred Scripture doesn’t say what the Levite felt, only that he kept his distance. Whether someone invokes compassion or revulsion in us, Our Lord expects us to love them. Love is a conviction, and, at times, there won’t be feelings to back it up. Anyone who has experienced love has experienced how strong it is when it is not backed up by pleasant feelings. If there is anyone in your life that your feelings are keeping you from loving, make the resolution to love them and wish for them whatever will make them healthy and holy. Your feelings may not change, but your love will.

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10–14; Psalm 69:14, 17, 30–31, 33–34, 36, 37; Colossians 1:15–20; Luke 10:25–37. See also 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 3rd Week of Lent,Friday,  9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings are such a big sell for welcoming the Gospel when it is preached to us that we have to scratch our heads at why anyone would not accept it. The benefits are described as the peace and security you felt as a child on your mother’s lap (First Reading), joy (Second Reading), healing from illness (Gospel), liberation from the power of evil (Gospel), and your name being written in Heaven (Gospel). Today’s readings teach us that welcoming the Gospel means letting it shape our lives and, above all, sharing it with others.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us of the joy, peace, and security that will come from welcoming the Gospel. In the latter part of the Book of Isaiah he speaks above all of the times to come. In speaking of Jerusalem his prophecy also speaks of the Church. In speaking of Jerusalem as mother he also speaks of the Church as our mother. It was not all roses: Isaiah says at one point the misfortunes of Jerusalem were cause for mourning. The sadness will give way to abundance and joy, and just as children share in the misfortunes of their mother they’ll also share in her blessings. Hearing and welcoming the Gospel leads us to Baptism, which not only makes us children of God, but children of the Church as well, leading from the dark sadness and poverty of a world in sin to a new life, full of hope. Even as members of the Church today there is some sadness and poverty, but in the future, as Isaiah teaches us, those things will pass.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reveals the “fine print” of the arrangement and why we don’t always welcome the Gospel, despite all the benefits it offers. We have to be crucified to the world, and the world crucified to us. Our Lord in today’s Gospel describes the fate of those rejecting his disciples as worse than that of Sodom, which was the epitome of debauchery and depravity. It’s not easy to become crucified to the things of this world; it means not letting those things have sway over us or they’ll only lead to our destruction. In faith and hope we have to focus on the benefits of welcoming Christ, following him, and making him known.

In today’s Gospel Luke recalls a moment not narrated in the other Gospels: the sending out of 72 disciples. In Luke’s time the Church and her mission were starting to spread far and wide. Just as Our Lord’s ministry was taken up by the Twelve, little by little, with the passing of the Apostles, the other disciples had to take up the mission too. Luke reminds us that this didn’t just happen after Our Lord had ascended. He sent out those disciples too. We’re all called to go out and share the Gospel, just not necessarily in the same way and under the same circumstances. The instructions Our Lord gives for effective discipleship are very similar to those he gives the Twelve. Don’t get bogged down in having everything you “might” need. Keep it simple and stick to the essentials. Stay focused on where Our Lord is sending you. Don’t make it tourism with a lot of needless side stops. Wish peace toward others in everything you do, even when it is not reciprocated. Don’t abuse the hospitality you are offered as a disciple of Our Lord. If you welcome the Gospel and help others know and welcome it your name will be on the only wall of fame that matters: Heaven’s.

Being Christian means being commissioned to spread the Gospel, like the Seventy-Two. It is the Lord himself who sends us out. What’s your mission? Your family? Your friends? Your colleagues? Your neighbors? All of the above. Don’t count on anyone else bringing the Gospel if you are standing right there.

Readings: Isaiah 66:10–14c; Psalm 66:1–7, 16, 20; Galatians 6:14–18; Luke 10:1–12, 17–20. See also 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, TuesdayWednesday ,and Thursday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time; 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle BThursday and Saturday of the 26th Week in Ordinary time, and 1st Week of Advent, Saturday.

13th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

A superficial reading of today’s First Reading and Gospel may give us the impression that Elijah is easier on his disciple than Our Lord is with his, but the Second Reading can shed a little light on the apparent difference.

In today’s First Reading we see Elisha called by Elijah to follow him and become a prophet. The Lord sent Elijah to invite Elisha to follow him. Every call comes from the Lord. Elisha asks Elijah if we can put his affairs in order before leaving. Scholars differ about what Elijah meant when he responds, “Have I done anything to you?” It seems he is simply saying that Elisha has not started following yet and is free to do what he wants. Elisha does a last gesture of kindness and concern for his family before dedicating his life to the Lord’s service.

Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that life is a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. The Christian life presents a new way of living, living in a way that you are not enslaved to things and situations, but alive in the Spirit and focused on the spiritual goal. Even good things, if sought for the wrong reasons, can oppose a life of the Spirit. The ultimate measure of Christian living is whether you are truly loving your neighbor or not. Every direction we take in life is measured by our intentions in taking the next step.

A common denominator in today’s First Reading and Gospel is that the disciple asks to do something before following his master. The subtle difference is that, unlike Elijah, Our Lord can always read hearts and see whether that heart is speaking from the flesh or from the Spirit. Elisha is “liquidating his assets” and doing one last gesture of love for his family before departing. The hearts of disciples in today’s Gospel are only known to Our Lord, and it is in his response to them that we see a potential conflict between Spirit and flesh that he is trying to help them address.

The first disciple in today’s Gospel perhaps doesn’t understand that following Our Lord is a lifelong commitment: he’s not just headed to the Rabbi’s house instead of his own, he is committed to permanently follow Jesus, just as every Christian is called to do, and go wherever he leads them.

The second disciple wants to attend to important family business, but sometimes following Our Lord requires sacrifice and self-denial: in telling the dead to bury their dead Our Lord perhaps is telling him too that the family business he is concerned about can already be handled by another member of his family. Remember here that, unlike Elijah, the Lord can read hearts.

The last potential disciple wants to go home and say goodbye first: Our Lord sees something in that request that would put flesh over Spirit. Perhaps the disciple would go home and stay there. Perhaps his father or mother would convince him not to leave. Following Christ is the best thing we can do for ourselves and our family, and we must never lose sight of that.

Most Acts of Contrition today include the promise to avoid the “near occasion of sin” or “whatever leads me to sin.” We all know there are places both physical and virtual that we should not go, and many of them have no warning signs posted, because there are people out there who want you to fall into danger so that they can profit from it. Certain situations can also lead us to sin, situations we must strive to avoid. Lastly, certain attitudes can make us skate on thin ice when it comes to living a life of virtue and holiness. They should raise yellow flags or red flags in our conscience depending on how close they bring us to spiritual ruin. Take some time this week with the Holy Spirit’s help to assess your moral “early warning system” and whether there are certain places, situations, or attitudes that you need to weed out of your life.

Readings: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19–21; Psalm 16:1–2, 5, 7–11; Galatians 5:1, 13–18; Luke 9:51–62. See also 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II and 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.

Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Cycle C (2)

Today we celebrate a gift born of blessings from Our Lord, the blessing that bread and wine, combined with his sacrifice, become his Body and Blood, the Eucharist.

The First Reading today shows us a foreshadowing of the gift we are celebrating today. Abram, who we know today as Abraham, our father in faith, had just rescued his nephew Lot from kings who captured him during a raid. The high priest Melchizedek was a mysterious figure in the Old Testament: he almost came out of nowhere to bless Abram for the rescue, and Abram paid him a special tribute for the blessing. A priest brings forth bread and wine and a blessing, and Abram gives him a tribute…Does this sound familiar? Does it remind you of anything you do on Sundays? I’m not referring to the collection basket. In the letter to the Hebrews we see the connection between Melchizedek and Christ: Christ is that priest who brings bread and wine, but above all a blessing, a transforming one or, as the theologians say, a transubstantiating one. Through Christ’s blessing that bread and wine become his body and blood, soul and divinity: the Eucharist.

In Abram’s case this blessing was not just for him, but for his descendants, and in the Second Reading today Paul tells the Corinthians that he is just a bearer of the blessing too. Paul says, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,” and then he recalls the words priests says every time Mass is celebrated over the bread and wine so that they become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of Jesus until he comes, as St. Paul tells the Corinthians, and, as we pray in Mass, until he comes in glory. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a sacrifice. We offer up the sacrifice of the Son of God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that he never intended for us to go it alone. When he ascended into Heaven, he promised he would be with is until the end of the age. He remains with us through the Eucharist. He didn’t tell the disciples, “send them off, tell them to read a book, go see a doctor, apologize that the catering was not arranged.” They came to Christ and received a blessing that transformed them and others. If you don’t see the blessings in your life, ask Jesus to show you. He is in every tabernacle so that you can approach him and ask him for guidance, healing, strength, direction. He comes into your heart every time you receive Holy Communion worthily. He may ask something of you that makes no sense, that is hard to understand, that seems too much for your strength, beyond your means, but he will bless it. He will transform it into twelve wicker baskets full of blessings. They may not be the blessings you expected—the disciples didn’t expect at the end of the day that they would have twelve baskets full of food and thousands of people fed—but Jesus will help you to count your blessings. Let’s offer Jesus our whole life so that he can bless it and transform it.

The Eucharist is more than just a blessing. It is Our Lord, the bearer of blessings. Our Lord remains with us outside the times of participating in Mass so that we can spend time together and continue to be blessed. When did you last spend some time in Adoration before the tabernacle? The bearer of blessings is waiting for you.

Readings: Genesis 14:18–20; Psalm 110:1–4; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Luke 9:11b–17. See also Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Cycle C, Solemnity of Corpus Christi17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B2nd Week of Easter, Friday1st Week of Advent, Wednesday, and Tuesday after Epiphany.

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