31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

In today’s Gospel the Pharisees and scribes have a far different attitude to Our Lord’s when they see that tax collectors and sinners are listening to Jesus and spending time with him. For them, sinners are a write off, a lost cause, and even a potential source of contamination. Our Lord responds with an example that speaks more to their wallets: if you’d lost even one percent of your inventory and rediscovered it, wouldn’t you be happy? That inventory holds worth, and valuable enough to be worth celebrating with your friends when it is recovered.

A sinner is someone of lasting value, regardless of his or her mistakes, and that value is great, hence the second example. No one would be indifferent to losing ten percent of their savings, whether rich or poor; they do something about it. A sinner is not something only of small worth, but substantial worth; he or she is worth seeking out. Beyond this, Jesus insists twice that Heaven, a place of the greatest joy, celebration, happiness, and contentment would actually rejoice even more if a sinner repented. Our Lord doesn’t want to “write off”anyone and we shouldn’t either.

In using the example of the sheep our Good Shepherd reminds us that we shouldn’t be indifferent to our lost fellow sheep. He wants them back in the fold, and so should we. Let’s help him go out and find those lost and fallen away brothers and sisters so that we can all celebrate, not only here and now, but in eternity.

Readings: Romans 14:7–12; Psalm 27:1b–e, 4, 13–14; Luke 15:1–10.

31st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord presents the need to renounce the two most precious things in our life in order to be able to successfully follow him: our family and our life as it stands without him. If he calls us to follow him, it means putting other things on hold and embracing sacrifice and difficulty for something greater. When he teaches us today to hate our family and life as it stands he does not mean abandoning them or harming them; he means practicing a healthy detachment from them where God’s will comes first because God knows best and wants the best for everyone, including those we love.

If we don’t form this healthy detachment he warns us we may not have the spiritual resources to finish what we started or to succeed. He uses two images: a construction project discontinued for lack of funds, and a battle lost for not have sufficient forces to win or the foresight to seek a diplomatic solution instead. Everyone wants to build something with their life; Our Lord wants us to build a life with him, and he knows that requires the spiritual resources that only come from detachment, sacrifice, and discernment. Our life is a battle at times, a struggle to succeed, and detachment, sacrifice, and discernment are what enable us to succeed in what truly matters: love for God and love for others.

Let’s examine our lives today with the Lord’s help and see whether anything in our lives might be preventing us from being the success he wants us to be.

Readings: Romans 13:8–10; Psalm 112:1b–2, 4–5, 9; Luke 14:25–33. See also 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

31st Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord responds to someone dining with him who speaks about the beatitude of Kingdom of God with the parable of a king inviting people to a great feast. They’d already been invited to the feast, and now servants were sent to tell them it was ready. Obviously these invitees had a closer relationship with the king than just being his loyal subjects: they were invited to come, and didn’t feel obliged to come. The invitees ask to be excused, but really just gave excuses not to come: they’d known when the great dinner would be held and had made other plans. They either didn’t want to go or were simply indifferent about going: that showed what they thought of their king, both as their ruler and as their friend. Something or someone else came first.

Abandoned by his friends, the king invited other members of his kingdom, but not on the basis of friendship, just on the basis of a benevolence a king owes his people. In the end he also invites his subjects who are complete strangers to him, perhaps people not even a part of his kingdom at all. They benefit from the great dinner, but they cannot take the place of those the king wanted to partake of it, his invitees, those he wanted to acknowledge as his friends.

The Kingdom of God is not just something in the future: Christ the King invites us right now to come to the great feast with every celebration of the Eucharist, to show us how much we mean to him and to lavish spiritual joy and refreshment on us. Does a vacation rental come first? Taking the new car for a Sunday drive? Spending the weekend with your spouse? Let’s show Our Lord what he means to us by coming to his banquet frequently, knowing that someday we’ll enjoy a great and eternal feast with him and with our family and friends. Let’s also be those servants who go out and invite others to come to the feast which is already prepared for them and waiting.

Readings: Romans 12:5–16b; Psalm 131:1b–e, 2–3; Luke 14:15–24.

All Souls Day

Today we are praying for and celebrating some important family business that every one of us are called to pitch in and help resolve. As Christians we’re part of an extended family beyond this world. When we become a part of the Church, we become part of a big family. Christ makes all Christians our brothers and sisters. Yesterday, on the feast of All Saints, we celebrated the members of our extended Christian family who are now in Heaven: they are with God forever and praying for us so that we can join them some day. We are part of what’s called the pilgrim Church on earth: our life in this world is a pilgrimage, a journey that will one day lead us to our true home: Heaven, with God and the saints.

However, there are also members of our extended family who have died and are almost in Heaven, but need some help to get there more quickly. When the chores aren’t done around the house, forgiveness is one thing, but if we were supposed to take out the garbage, the garbage still has to be taken out by someone. Maybe just a little of that trash was caused by us, but taking out the trash helps the whole family take care of business. We do it for the good of the whole family. So when we don’t, the whole family suffers. God has a plan for each one of us, and He has big expectations: He expects all of us to be and become saints. We do that by helping Him take care of family business: by loving Him and loving our neighbor, by praying, fasting, and helping the poor. In short, we help him by doing whatever “chores” He gives us out of love.

In the readings today, God promises us that if we have faith in him and live as he asks us to, we will be saints and take care of family business. Today’s First Reading speaks of the just souls: those who suffered for the sake of God and for doing good. They’re in the palm of God’s hand, where nobody and nothing can get to them. Every soul who dies in friendship with God is guaranteed to get to Heaven. Today’s Second Reading reminds us that all things on earth, past and present, that we were expected to do and didn’t, are taken care of by Jesus coming to earth and suffering and dying for us on the Cross, even when we didn’t want or ask him to do it. He makes up for what we didn’t do, and he sends us the Holy Spirit to help us stay in friendship with Him and keep doing what God expects us to do. In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises us that anyone who comes to him and believes in him will have eternal life, because God the Father wants it too and promises it.

But God expects more from us than just doing what it takes to get ourselves in Heaven, because that is easy if we do whatever he tells us. God expects us to help take care of family business. He could do it all by himself, but then we wouldn’t have a chance to love, because love is about doing things freely, not just because we’re getting something out of it. And it is love that makes us truly happy. If you were to say to your Mom, “I love you, so I’m taking out the trash … that’ll be five dollars.” What kind of love is that!? That’s looking for a job, not love. That’s loving five dollars, not loving Mom. We each have a part to play in taking care of family business. Whatever we do for love of God benefits us, but it also benefits others, because God blesses us, and blesses certain people that He has entrusted to our prayers. So we don’t pray just for ourselves, we also pray for others, living and dead.

Today we remember that we need to take care of unfinished family business, even if it wasn’t business we were supposed to take care of in the first place. If you were forgiven for not taking out the garbage, somebody still needs to take out the garbage, and, if it took a long time, somebody needs to clean up and do something about the smell, the ants, the mess it left, etc. Today we pray for all those members of our extended family who received forgiveness, but didn’t have a chance to take out the garbage and clean up the mess before their lives ended: who didn’t do all the reparation they should have during their earthly life. They’re on the way to Heaven, but can’t get there quite yet because of unfinished business on earth. God expected something of them, they received forgiveness for being sorry and not doing it, but they left something undone.

We pray today for the souls in Purgatory to help them get to Heaven. We can help them take care of their unfinished business, because they’re family, and their business is our business. When we pray, when we sacrifice, when we help the poor, God helps us become holier, we do what he expects us to do, and, if we offer up our prayers and sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory, God blesses them and helps them go to him sooner, because we take care of that unfinished business they left on earth. We help them take out the garbage and clean up the mess. When we pray and sacrifice for the souls in Purgatory, they know and can see us, and imagine how happy they are when they know we’re helping them. When they reach Heaven, they’ll help us take care of family business as well by their prayers and intercession for us.

There’s so much unfinished business that we have to make an extra effort to do what God expects us to do, and to have something left over to help take care of unfinished family business. Let’s ask Our Lord in his mercy to look upon all the good we’ve done, and to help our extended family in Purgatory to reach him quickly in Heaven. Let’s take extra time this week in prayer, or in giving something up, or in helping someone poor, and offer it so that even one soul gets to Heaven more quickly.

Readings: Wisdom 3:1–9; Psalm 23:1–6; Romans 5:5–11; John 6:37–40. These are the readings for this reflection, but the Lectionary has many options for this day.

All Saints

The Church dedicates specific feast days and memorial Masses to the believers who have preceded us in Heaven and shown an example of life and holiness for every believer to imitate. We ask for their intercession by addressing them as “Saint” or “Blessed.” However, making it onto the Roman liturgical calendar is not how you become a saint: everyone who makes it to Heaven is a saint, and the feast of All Saints commemorates all those anonymous saints who lived virtuous and holy lives and now stand before the throne of God, as St. John describes in the First Reading today, and worship him. All our departed friends and loved ones who persevered in the faith are there, praising God and interceding for us so that we can someday join them.

Their example helps us to realize the great gift of being children of God, as St. John reminds us in the Second Reading today. Someday we will see him face to face, and we will see the “family resemblance” in a way we might have never imagined. That thought, as St. John reminds us, should fill us with hope and motivate us to live a holy life so that one day we too, from Heaven, may rejoice in today’s feast, receiving all the blessings Our Lord promises in the Beatitudes today.

The path to sanctity begins right here on earth. Let’s ask Our Lord to live the attitudes he describes in the Beatitudes today so that we too can become saints.

Readings: Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; Psalm 24:1b–4b, 5–6; 1 John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12a. See also 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.