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.

19th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

In today’s Gospel Our Lord warns us to be vigilant, but also promises that we will be rewarded if we serve him well. Peter’s question might be our own: to whom is he referring in this parable? Just some or all of us? That servant is you.

Today’s First Reading recalls that Passover night in Egypt when the Israelites celebrated the Passover in their homes as the Angel of Death passed through Egypt striking down the first born of those who did not serve the Lord (see Exodus 11:1-12:36). This was the last plague that represented the last straw for Pharaoh: he didn’t just release them from slavery in Egypt; he drove them out, along with all the other Egyptians. The author of the book of Wisdom sees this obedience by the Israelites to what the Lord had instructed them (the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb and Passover meal, the placing of the sacrificed lamb’s blood on the door) as faithful service to the Lord. It was also a moment for vigilance: their liberation from slavery and death was at hand. Their faithful obedience in this matter saved their lives and won them their freedom.

In today’s Second Reading we are reminded that, like Abraham, even in this life we have already received something of the faith that the Lord has promised us. It describes Abraham as having died without having seen the promises made to him by the Lord completely fulfilled. Before his death he received the land, an heir, and descendants, just as the Lord had promised. He even passed the great trial of faith by being willing to sacrifice Isaac at the Lord’s command, which would have killed two of the promises. The Lord’s promise went beyond Abraham’s family and blood descendants: Abraham’s faith paved the way for believers in Christ to call Abraham our father in faith, and to serve now with our eyes set on the true Promised Land that awaits us in the future: Heaven. Abraham’s countless descendants are all believers in Christ, more descendants that he could have ever imagined. We too have faith because the Lord has already done great things for us, whether we recognize them or not, and his promises are already being fulfilled, until the Last Day when they are completely fulfilled.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord encourages his disciples regarding his return at the end of time: the “wedding” of the Lamb is fulfilled in Heaven after his Ascension, and the master’s return in the parable refers to Our Lord’s Second Coming. He exhorts them to vigilance: to be ready to serve at any time, under any conditions, day or night (hence the lamp), at home or travelling (hence girded for a trip). He tells them his return could be quick or be long, but that they should be ready, whether late at night or early in the morning. He also describes how pleased he’d be to find them ready: can you imagine someone after a long trip making his servants sit down and waiting on them instead of the other way around? He considers himself the servant-in-chief. He wants his servants to share in the joy of a job well done in service to Our Heavenly Father. Peter asks Our Lord to explain the teaching about vigilance; was it only for the Twelve, or for everyone? Our Lord repeats the need for vigilance, and then explains the fate of servants who do not their master’s will. As believers we are servants of God and servants of others, but that doesn’t take away our freedom: we can be faithful servants or rotten ones. The choice is ours, but with that freedom comes responsibility.

Our Lord will return at the end of time, but for each of us, at the end of our life, we can expect an encounter with him as well. Ask yourself today how you’d react if Our Lord showed up right now on your doorstep. Is there anything to which you should have attended, but haven’t? Are you excited at the thought of his return? Persevere in hope, trust, and service.

Readings: Wisdom 18:6–9; Psalm 33:1, 12, 18–19, 20–22; Hebrews 11:1–2, 8–19; Luke 12:32–48. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday and Wednesday.

18th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings invite us to consider what “retirement plan” should be our priority in life: whatever gets us to Heaven.

In today’s First Reading Ecclesiastes, who is doing an extended philosophical reflection on what things are truly worthwhile in life, laments the emptiness of working for something that you cannot take with you when you are gone. Our endeavors are profitable, but upon death those profits may be given in inheritance to those who had nothing to do with them, who will eventually lose them too. Ecclesiastes wisely asks what is the point of striving for a profit that ends with our earthly life? We all catch ourselves from time to time worrying about things that are ultimately fleeting and secondary. What’s the point about worrying about these things?

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches us what is truly worth worrying about: our heavenly inheritance. What we treasure impacts the focus of our concern and attention. Paul puts us on guard against fleeting treasures: putting other things in place of God, seeking pleasure at any cost, sowing division, etc. Through Baptism we’ve received the pledge of an eternal reward. The first payment has already been advanced to us: the Holy Spirit. Our lives, like a treasure, are now buried, safe and sound, in Christ. We always retain the option of digging up that treasure and squandering it for something earthly, but we’d be fools if we did.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel is teaching us to not rely on earthly, vain things. We don’t even know how many years we’ll have to enjoy them. Our Lord today almost answers Ecclesiastes’ question as to the point of striving for vain things, and St. Paul learned the lesson. What is truly profitable for us and others is what the Lord considers treasure. He created all things and knows the worthwhile way to invest them. The rich retiree in today’s parable did not use the goods the Lord had put into his path to accumulate true and lasting wealth in Heaven. He decided to accumulate his wealth and live off his earnings. We’ve all heard of early retirements. The flaw in his logic was thinking he’d have time. Ecclesiastes’ question tragically played out as the wealthy man’s riches are taken away from him in death, leaving them for someone else, and leaving him with nothing. The wealth that Our Lord offers us is non-transferable, and never expires. Holiness and virtue are the investments that win us lasting wealth.

If the rich man in today’s Gospel had realized that time was such a precious commodity in his life, especially in light of its importance for a happy eternity, he would have used it much more wisely. In the light of eternity, we see that time is our most precious commodity. We don’t know how much time we have in this world. The way we invest that time will affect us forever. Ask yourself this week whether you are making the best investment of your time in the light of what really matters: the wealth Our Lord wants to offer you.

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21–23; Psalm 90:3–6, 12–13; Colossians 3:1–5, 9–11; Luke 12:13–21. See also 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, and 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.