31st Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Paul encourages the Philippians to be of one mind in their charity and concern for others, because that would crown his joy. The key is putting others first: it shows that the gifts of grace we have received as believers were not given in vain. We struggle at times to put others first, but how much joy it brings us when we overcome our selfish tendencies and truly help someone in need.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites us to go beyond our circle of comfort when it comes to putting others first. When we put our family and friends first, often we’re just fulfilling an obligation or responding in turn to what they have done for us. That is noble, but when we show concern for those who have nothing or no one, we are 100% putting others first, expecting nothing in return. There’s no greater imitation of Christ’s love than that.

Let’s examine our level of concern for “everyone” as Paul encourages us today, so that the joy of Our Lord and his saints will be complete.

Readings: Philippians 2:1–4; Psalm 131:1b–e, 2–3; Luke 14:12–14.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

The First Reading today reminds us that God loves all he has made – and he created it all – and cares for its good. From something as amazing as the sun, that lights our way and warms us, down to the littlest speck of dust, God cares for it. Unlike us, God cares for those things since they are for our good. He made the sun so we could see and be warm, he made the dust so that we could clean our house … maybe you ask yourselves right now, “Having to clean my house is a GOOD thing?” “If he really cared, why didn’t he just make everything clean forever?” Because the most wonderful thing he created of all is us, and, unlike the Sun, which just shines and warms and does nothing else, or the dust, which just floats around and lands on our furniture, God created us in a way that we can decide to do good things, and by deciding to do good things, like cleaning our house, helping our brothers and sisters, loving our children, doing our work well, we grow in goodness and holiness and become happier and happier.

He knows we need challenges to grow and to really be happy and satisfied, because he created us to only be fully satisfied when we are with him in Heaven some day. If we had everything done for us, how boring that would be: we think if everything were easier, we’d be happier, but we’d just get really bored, because real happiness and satisfaction start in the world, and lead us to Heaven, where we will be completely happy by being with God. Would scoring a goal in soccer make us happy if we put it in the net every time without any effort? We train and we practice and we get around the defense and we barely make the kick, and when that goal goes in, we’re happy that we have scored a goal after so many challenges and hard work. So in the big things and the little things that happen in our lives, we know the reason for them is found in the plan God has for them and for us. It’s a plan to make us happy, and someday will make us completely happy.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that we have a big challenge and something very important to do in God’s plan. St. Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica, and tells us, that he is praying for God to help us become worthy of our calling. What is our calling? What does God want us to do? He calls us to be his friends. Jesus told the apostles in the Last Supper, “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends.” God’s dream is that we be his friend. He shows his friendship through all the things he has created for our good, and he shows it by becoming man and living with us as Jesus, teaching us, and dying for us on the Cross. To be a friend with anyone, you have to know them first, and it is something that they have to show and you have to show as well.

Sometimes we say that our friends “go out of their way” for us, or we go out of our way for them. We bring them something from work that they forgot, or they stop by our house on the way home to say hello. They didn’t have to, they had to go out of their way, but they do it for friendship. Sometimes instead of “going out of our way” for our friends, we just try to “get away” from them instead: they ask us for more than we want to give them, to do more than we want to do, and that is where real friendship is tested. Friendship is wanting to do something good for your friend just because he or she is your friend. If so do something for your friend just because you want him or her to do something for you, you’re doing it for yourself more than you are doing it for your friend. Sometimes our friends show us more friendship than we show them by “going out of their way” for us when we don’t feel like going out of our way for them.

Jesus was Zacchaeus’ friend from all eternity, because Jesus created Zacchaeus to be his friend. God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – created us from all eternity to be his friend, and out of friendship. God is all‑powerful and doesn’t need anything or anyone. He created us entirely out of love. Zacchaeus didn’t know Our Lord was his friend when he heard someone special was passing through Jericho in the Gospel today, but something inside him made him want to find out who Jesus was. It was a challenge to find out: the crowd was big, and nobody in the town liked him, because he was a tax collector, and the Jews at that time considered tax collectors traitors, because they cheated people out of their money. Zacchaeus didn’t give up. He ran ahead of the crowd and Jesus, and climbed up a tall tree to get a better view, and Jesus didn’t just walk by: he stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at Zacchaeus. At the start of the Gospel it said Jesus only intended to pass through Jericho and probably keep going to another town, but here he was, not just stopping and looking at Zacchaeus, but asking to stay in his house. Jesus said in another part of the Gospel to his disciples that when they visit a town, they should just stay at one house. When Jesus said, “come down quickly … I must stay at your house” to Zacchaeus, he was saying he was Zacchaeus’ friend. And Zacchaeus literally jumped for joy, because jumping is the only way you can quickly come down a tree – thankfully he didn’t break a leg.

The people in the town couldn’t handle this. “He is going to stay in the house of a sinner?!” For them, Jesus was friends with a sinner. Jesus a friend of every sinner, even when they are not friends with him. He has been our friend from all eternity. Jesus wouldn’t deny his friendship with Zacchaeus, even though Zacchaeus did bad things. Zacchaeus had a chance to show he really wanted to be Jesus’ friend. He knew what everyone was thinking, and so he told everyone he would repay anything he’d stolen, and give half of what he owned to the poor. Jesus rejoiced that his friend had changed his ways.

Let’s thank our Lord for going out of his way for us. Every time we receive the Eucharist, Jesus is saying, I want to stay in the home of your heart. I want to be your friend. So we must show that we accept his friendship by doing good and loving each other, nd whenever we get lost or go far away for him by doing bad things, by sinning, Jesus comes to us through the sacrament of Confession and makes us friends with him again. No matter how lost we are, no matter how far away we go, he’s always ready to come find us as a good friend. Let’s ask for the grace to always show the same friendship and go out of our way for him.

Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 11:22–12:2; 145:1–2, 8–11, 13, 14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2; Luke 19:1–10. See also 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

Christians sometimes get accused of spiritual egotism because they seem to only be concerned with their own salvation. Pope Benedict XVI addressed this in his encyclical Spe Salvi (n. 28) when addressing a conception of hope that saw salvation as nothing more than striving for “my” salvation:

Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole.

Paul in today’s First Reading is torn between just wanting to die and be with Jesus or remaining on earth for the sake of his flock, and he makes the noble choice because he knows well that he’s not going to be saved on his own, nor should he expect others to be. His flock needs him. Would it be beautiful, full of Christian hope, to die and to be with Our Lord forever? Yes, but since we won’t get there alone we should also focus on helping others to get there as well first.

Our life should be suffused with a hope that fills us with a joy no one can dampen. Let’s ask Our Lord to help us to help others to believe and hope as well so that we can all enjoy Heaven one day together.

Readings: Philippians 1:18b–26; Psalm 42:2–3, 5c–f; Luke 14:1, 7–11. See also 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

Today’s First Reading may seem like a drastic shift in Paul’s thought, since until now he’s been speaking of married life and family, but this shift of emphasis underscores something many believers have forgotten: that while we live on this earth we are waging spiritual warfare. We can lament hunger, armed conflict, and violent persecution afflicting the world, but all these sad events have a spiritual foundation: sin. There is an active evil presence in the world, beyond the human, that seeks to separate us from God and leave us in misery forever out of spite for the paradise he lost for himself and the fallen angels in league with him.

We’re only left vulnerable and exposed to evil if we don’t fight with the weapons provided by Our Lord. Our salvation, our victory (the helmet) is assured if we keep fighting, if we live a sacramental and prayer life that help us to maintain and grow in sanctifying grace (a breastplate of righteousness), if we are alert in avoiding occasions of sin and seizing opportunities to practice virtue (feet shod in readiness), and if we not only keep on the defensive, but go on the offensive wielding Scripture, Tradition, and our faith (the sword and shield ). Sometimes we may feel like we’re bringing a knife to a gunfight, but our secret weapon is that our arms are powered by God, whom nothing can withstand.

Are you on the battlefield or parked on the couch spiritually? Defense or offense? It’s never too late in this life to take up arms and defend yourself and those you love. Christ has won the war, but we must battle to ensure a share of his victory.

Readings: Ephesians 6:10–20; Psalm 144:1b, 2, 9–10; Luke 13:31–35. See also 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Paul continues to give advice to the Church at Ephesus on various categories of relationship, and today he focuses on the relationship between parents and children, as well as master and slave. It’s no surprise that Paul reminds children of the Commandment to honor their father and mother, but he adds that this is a source of blessing. This duty of honoring goes from the crib to eternity: as parents get older the roles often get reversed, and children should love and care for their parents with the same love and care that they received. This mutual love breaks down when the parents don’t treat their children as they should, which is why Paul also reminds parents not to lord their position over their children.

For slaves Paul encourages them to spiritually “transfer ownership” to Our Lord. Slavery is a great injustice, but in Paul’s time it was so prevalent that he didn’t see the need to question it. For Paul, we’re all slaves of the Lord anyway: he owns master and slave alike, and both answer to him, therefore neither is entitled to abuse the relationship they share. Slaves in Paul’s time could be freed as well, and even in then, as his other letter to Philemon shows, Paul’s hope was that believers would go from master and slave to brothers in the Lord, either spiritually or otherwise. Thankfully most of the world today doesn’t suffer the scourge of slavery, but we can follow Paul’s advice as employer or employee too.

Let’s ask Our Lord to help us today be a fair and loving parent, child, employer, or employee. Or all of the above.

Readings: Ephesians 6:1–9; Psalm 145:10–14; Luke 13:22–30. See also 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, and the 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday and Thursday.