30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the Lord is a judge that we can trust, and he helps us judge ourselves better that we can, because he sees beyond pride, ambition, or depression.

In the First Reading Sirach reminds us that the Lord is completely impartial and hears every “case” that is presented to him in prayer, even when earthly justice fails. When we pray, we stand before Our Lord and judge, and he is not indifferent to whatever injustices we face in this world. The just Judge lets no case slip through the cracks or get lost in a backlog. He always strives to win justice for those who serve him justly and act justly toward others.

In today’s Second Reading Paul faces earthly injustice alone, but he is not discouraged, because he knows that the just Judge is with him and that even if, at the end of his life, he suffers at the hands of injustice, the Lord will ultimately give him the justice he deserves. This is one of Paul’s last letters, written from prison. He sees the end of his life is drawing near, and we know he was beheaded in Rome under the reign of the emperor Nero. The world of his time was unjust in many ways, but its worst injustice was being separated from the Lord and, as a result, mankind being separated from each other. There’s seemingly no reward in the world for sharing the Gospel, but Paul sees the true prize beyond this world: the reward the just Judge has waiting for him.

In today’s Gospel the Pharisee decides to become the judge of himself and others and shows his flaws. Every moment of prayer, in addition to being supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or intercession, is a moment of truth. It’s a moment where we acknowledge who we are before God, who is immune to all spin, all subterfuge, all self-promotion. It’s a moment where we ask ourselves whether God’s view of us and our view of ourselves coincide. We know this is not easy, because Our Lord knows us better than we know ourselves.

Despite this, we know deep down that lowering our estimation of ourselves is probably more in line than increasing it. Our Lord promises us that if we “aim low” we’ll receive the recognition that counts: his recognition. The Publican in today’s Gospel knew he was a sinner; Our Lord didn’t deny it. The Publican knew he needed mercy and didn’t deserve it. Prayer in that moment for him was a moment of truth: the truth he claimed was the truth as Our Lord saw it. He received mercy from God for his interior honesty.

It’s not surprising that today’s Gospel says the Pharisee “spoke [his] prayer to himself”: it could just mean he didn’t say his prayer out loud, but it could mean that he was so wrapped up in smug self-worship that he really was praying to himself instead of God. Our Lord says he did not go home justified like the Publican; he’d really accomplished nothing of worth and just went home. The Pharisee judged the Publican praying nearby, and he also judged himself to be just, but Our Lord confirmed that he wasn’t, probably due to his selfishness, arrogance, and lack of charity. The Publican knows he faces a just Judge in his prayer, which is why he rightly laments his faults, but he also knows that he faces a merciful Judge and throws himself upon the mercy of the “court.” Whenever we pray we stand before the just Judge who has shown us mercy and continues to do so.

Among the Beatitudes the Lord teaches us that those who hunger and thirst for justice are satisfied. The justice we seek for ourselves is connected to the justice we seek for others. In today’s First Reading the Lord teaches us that “The one who serves God willingly is heard.” It was that fact that consoled St. Paul when he was in prison, facing death. Make an effort this week to hunger and thirst for justice for everyone, not just yourself.

Readings: Sirach 35:12–14, 16–18; Psalm 34:2–3, 17–19, 23; 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18; Luke 18:9–14. See also 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 3rd Week of Lent, Saturday.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

In today’s readings we’re encouraged to persist in our prayer and insist on our convictions of faith. The Church’s mission to spread the Gospel in the world depends on it.

In today’s First Reading Moses persists in prayer with a little help from his colleagues. Moses arms are raised in supplication to the Lord while the Israelites battle the forces of Amalek. Moses keeps his arms raised as long as he can, but soon needs to sit to conserve his strength. The Lord is hearing his prayers. Soon his friends must support his arms to keep them raised. This image evokes how our shepherds try to persevere in their intercession on our behalf, but they need our support too. With the staff of God, the authority of God, in his hands, Moses keeps his arms upraised in prayer, and Joshua and the Israelites triumph over the Amalekites. We are grateful to God for the Pope and all the bishops who ceaselessly raise their arms in prayer for the people of God in battle for the world’s soul. They count on our persistence and insistence in the faith.

In today’s Second Reading Paul encourages Timothy, who is taking up the mantle of shepherding the flock, to insist on the right teaching that Paul shared with him. Paul had known and taught Timothy since he was a child. He had big shoes to fill. Paul tells him to remember what he has been taught and to persist in teaching it even when it may not be popular or conditions may not be as favorable as they could be. Persistence in teaching the faith goes hand in hand with insistence. That requires our firm conviction that we are teaching the truth that we embraced and let shape our lives. If we are not convinced we won’t insist on anything.

The widow in today’s Gospel wants justice in her case. She insists on it, since Our Lord uses this parable to teach the importance of persistence in prayer. He also questions, since we can give up so easily, whether he’ll find any faith left upon his return in glory. Widows and orphans are repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament as those deserving special care, since they represent those who have no one to care for them, and the Lord gives dire warning to those who’d abuse them. The widow today can only get justice through a judge who cares nothing for those things; he only cares about himself. Yet the widow’s persistence starts to wear on his obstinacy; he doesn’t do justice for the right reasons, but he does do justice in the end, albeit for a little peace and quiet as well as a concern for his own hide. In the face of maximum injustice and little hope of attaining it the widow continues to ask for it and in the end is heard.

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” are Our Lord’s prophetic words at the end of today’s Gospel, and we have to ask ourselves: is that a rhetorical question?  They are prophetic words because, by referring to himself as the Son of Man, he is referring to his return in glory. These words should cut right to our hearts. We know Our Lord means what he says: he is saying we must do our part. Does society find faith today as the judge in today’s Gospel parable found it in the widow? Her persistence made an impact. He, as thick-skinned as he was, didn’t say simply that he would decide in her favor. He said he wouldn’t rig the trial: he said he would judge justly on her behalf. Both the First and Second Readings remind us that our persistence and insistence make or break the Church’s mission in the world.

Are you praying daily? Are you part of a prayer group? Prayer pays off if you stick to it. If the widow today gave up at the first refusal of the judge she would have failed. We shouldn’t condition our prayer on getting immediate results. Don’t be shy about asking your family and friends to support you in prayer. Be sure to return the favor.

Readings: Exodus 17:8–13; Psalm 121:1–8; 2 Timothy 3:14–4:2; Luke 18:1–8. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.


28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

In today’s readings we have two people who’ve received healing from God and recognize the need to thank him, and nine who should know better and don’t. Naaman washed in the river Jordan, reminding us of the spiritual cleansing from sin we received at Baptism. Miraculous healings from leprosy in today’s readings remind us of the miracle of Our Lord in his mercy healing us of sin’s effects. When’s the last time you thanked Our Lord for all that he has done for you?

In today’s First Reading Naaman is so grateful for being healed of his leprosy in Israel by following Elisha’s instructions that he wants to take some of the Promised Land back home to Syria with him. We too were spiritually unclean before our Baptism. It was not our fault, like all lepers, but, nonetheless, we were spiritually sick and rotting. Just as Naaman washed himself in the Jordan we washed ourselves at the Baptismal fount and were made spiritually clean, our sins washed away. Just as Naaman took a little of the Promised Land with him to always remember to whom he owed his healing, our Promised Land, the seed of eternal life, is sown in Baptism and remains with us as long as we don’t forget and act against the gift we received.

The Samaritan in today’s Gospel went back to Our Lord when he realized he was clean. The fact that he is a Samaritan makes it even more astounding: Jews wanted nothing to do with Samaritans, and vice versa. The Samaritans had their own worship and he would have probably returned to his own people to be certified clean, just as the other nine, if they were Jews, would go to the Temple so that the priests, as required by Mosaic Law, certified their healing. The ten lepers have faith, but only one of them has the faith that goes the distance in terms of acknowledging God: the Samaritan who returns to Jesus to thank him upon realizing that he’s been cured, a Samaritan, unlike the Jews, who didn’t even have all the spiritual resources at the time that a Jew would. Naaman hadn’t either.

Yet the nine, despite all they’d received, didn’t thank Our Lord. Ingratitude hurts, and those men had as much for which to be thankful as the Samaritan and Naaman did. The Lord in his mercy did not reverse his miracle, but he expected and deserved more. Just as the Rich Young Man turned away from Our Lord and drifted from anonymity to oblivion in the Gospel account, so these nine are only remembered for what the Lord did for them, for their lack of gratitude, and for the grace of God that they let pass by: friendship with Christ.

Every year those who participate in the Easter Vigil renew their baptismal promises. Parents and godparents do it too when children are baptized. Meditating on and renewing your baptismal vows can be very helpful in gauging your fervor:

  • “Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?”
  • “Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children? Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin? Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?”
  • “Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?”
  • “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?”
  • “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?”

Readings: 2 Kings 5:14–17; Psalm 98:1–4; 2 Timothy 2:8–13; Luke 17:11–19. See also 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

A common thread of today’s readings is that the Lord’s disciples, old and new, are looking for more of what they need in order to fulfill their mission, perhaps discouraged by a lack of immediate results. The Lord’s response is an invitation to renewed patience, zeal, faith, and service.

Habakkuk in today’s First Reading laments the injustice he sees and the prayers to the Lord to do something about it seemingly remaining unanswered. The Lord’s response is to remind Habakkuk, as the Lord’s prophet, do continue doing his duty. Impatience makes us question why we do the things we do, and in the spiritual life that impacts our zeal and service. We are able to learn even today thanks the words Habakkuk wrote down at the Lord’s command. He didn’t give up his duties as the Lord’s prophet just because it seemed there were no results. The Lord reminds him, as us, that his designs (described in the reading as his “vision”) continue moving to fulfillment. The Savior has now come in our midst. The battle against sin continues, but Our Lord has already won the war. When we see the final outcome in Heaven we will see that it was all worthwhile.

Today’s Second Reading is part of a letter of encouragement that Timothy receives from his imprisoned mentor Paul, who encourages him to be brave and re-stoke the flame of zeal that he received at ordination. Timothy has big shoes to fill, and Paul, whom he esteems greatly, is now in prison. That’d give anyone cause for discouragement. When Paul refers to a flame given through the imposition of hands he is referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit handed down through administering the sacrament of Holy Orders. The Holy Spirit gives all the gifts described by Paul: power, love, and self-control. We add zeal and courage to the mix. Both zeal and courage are needed by Timothy as he transitions from a priestly role to the tasks now expected of a bishop. Timothy needs to muster enough courage and zeal to inspire those same qualities in his flock too.

The disciples in today’s Gospel ask for more faith and Our Lord responses that even a little faith would go a long way; the apostles are asking for more faith because the little faith they have doesn’t seem to be enough to do their job. Our Lord tells them a parable to put things into perspective. A servant doesn’t expect some special reward for just doing his job; he just does it. Faith is not just an attitude; it is action and struggle, and only grows with prayer and effort. Our Lord invites us today to focus on the task at hand of our current mission, not the imagined resources we may be lacking, the possibility of failure, or the other missions we could be doing. Habakkuk is told to write down his prophecies and thanks to that we now have them. Timothy is told to be a good shepherd of souls and the Church, thanks to him, continued to grow. The apostles are told to do their duty expecting nothing other than the satisfaction of a job well done, and we all have the apostles to thank for receiving the faith. The prophecies were fulfilled in Christ and the Gospel has triumphed in so many lives and will continue to do so. Whatever your state of life–laity, consecrated, ordained–focus on how you can best serve Our Lord right here, right now, with the resources, spiritual and material, that you have at your disposal and Our Lord will ensure that you succeed.

Make some extra time this week (or soon) to renew yourself spiritually. Spiritual reading, extra Eucharistic adoration, or just some extra quiet time in conversation with Our Lord are all ways to re-ground yourself and renew your desire to live a good and holy life. If your parish organizes evenings of reflection or retreats, don’t neglect these moments to take time out and work out things with Our Lord, not on the fly.

Readings: Habakkuk 1:2–3, 2:2–4; Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9; 2 Timothy 1:6–8, 13–14; Luke 17:5–10. See also 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.