32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the life to come in Christ is not the same as the life we live here and now. Sometimes we make the mistake of living for today as if there is no tomorrow, but Our Lord teaches us to live today in the light of not just tomorrow, but forever.

In today’s First Reading we see an attempt to violently Hellenize the Jews by forcing them to abandon Jewish practices, including their religious dietary laws. Pork was a ritually unclean food for the Jews and is even today. Their captors are astounded that the tortures being inflicting mean nothing to the young men who die, one by one, for their faith. For the captors the most important life is this one, a life meant to be lived in comfort, not pain, and some day ended forever. It’s in what the suffering young men say that we see them measuring their earthly life by the eternal life promised to them by the Lord if they remain faithful to him. They even taunt their captors by telling them their lives are headed toward a dead end due to their wickedness. The Jews who aided in forced Hellenization and the Jews who fought back are the predecessors of the Sadducees and the Pharisees respectively. In Our Lord’s time the battle had shifted from outright persecution to ideology, which is why in today’s Gospel the Sadducees try to show Our Lord the logical fallacies of believing in the Resurrection: they don’t believe in the life to come.

Believers today are in both situations: outright persecution and intellectual ridicule. Paul in the Second Reading teaches us that no matter what we suffer for our belief: “the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” Our faith will help us endure. The enemies of our faith have none, which is why they’ll never see beyond their ideologies, selfish scheming, and worldly outlook. Our Lord reminds us today that even if we don’t have justice in this earthly moment of our life, we will have it in eternity. Faith in eternal life is what led the young men in the First Reading to embrace martyrdom, and eternal life was the outlook that confounded the Sadducees arguments in today’s Gospel as well.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that even something as beautiful as matrimony is only a means to an end, and if lived well, a happy end. The Sadducees denied the Resurrection, and by seeing marriage as an end, not a means, they couldn’t understand how the Resurrection would work. The Sadducees see marriage according to reason and civil order: it results in an obligation to continue the family line by some member of the family marrying the widow and provide her with children who’ll care for her in the future and continue the family line.

Our Lord teaches them that the life to come is to be lived in a different way, so it can’t be completely measured by today’s categories and concerns. All the trials and tribulations of this life–family spats, health issues, work headaches, social angst–will pass away. Marriages will be concluded when death does them part, but the love that sustained them and grew in them will last forever, which is the true purpose of marriage.

In short, when you reach Heaven, it’s “game over, you win.” Nothing else will matter and everything you underwent to get there will be put into perspective as worth it. Our Lord teaches us today that we have to live in this world, but we always have to keep the life to come in mind in order to understand why we live in this world and how we should live in it. In the game of life winning is what matters, but that victory doesn’t happen here, even though this is the playing field where we win or lose.

It’s no coincidence that when marriage vows are made today the clause is included “until death do us part”: in eternity marriage will have already served its purpose, which is the fostering of unconditional and exclusive love between a man and a woman that is often blessed by children who are loved and learn to love as well. Marriage and family are a means to enjoying an unconditional love for God and for others that will blossom in eternity. Even physical marital intimacy is a means toward that end, but, as we know, that physical intimacy has the danger of being debased, exploited, and even “weaponized”; if it stops being something good for the spouses and closed by the spouses to bringing children into the world, it becomes the means to an unhappy end. Let’s pray today that all marriages be lived well and become homes and schools of unconditional love that help us love God unconditionally too. Let’s also pray for all marriages and families in difficulty.

Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1–2, 9–14; Psalm 17:1, 5–6, 8, 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5; Luke 20:27–38. See also 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday and 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings teach us that God cares for everything he has created (and, except for Himself, he has created everything). More importantly, they teach us that the Lord not only cares for us as his creatures or his servants, but as his friends, whether we reciprocate that or not.

The First Reading today reminds us that God loves and cares for all he has created. 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 and have something to do. 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. 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 an important part in God’s plan. St. Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica that he is praying for God to help us be worthy of our calling: 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 too. Our Lord has shown time and again that he is our friend.

Jesus was Zacchaeus’ friend from all eternity. Jesus created Zacchaeus to be his friend. Zacchaeus didn’t know Our Lord was his friend when he heard he 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. Zacchaeus didn’t give up. He ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a tall tree to get a better view. 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.

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. 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.

Today the crowd, whether wittingly or unwittingly, is not enabling Zacchaeus to see Our Lord, making Zacchaeus resort to drastic measures. There are those in the crowd who already dislike him for being a tax collector. Zacchaeus doesn’t care about appearing ridiculous; he just wants to see Jesus. Our Lord rewards him by standing up for him before the entire crowd. This doesn’t mean Zacchaeus was not a sinner. The crowd accuses him of it, and Our Lord himself says salvation has come to someone who was lost. If Zacchaeus had not managed to see Jesus, who knows what would have happened? When we size people up and find them lacking, or judge them, we mustn’t make that a pretext to write them off and not help them meet Our Lord. We shouldn’t close ranks and prevent them from drawing closer to the person for whom we’re together in the first place: Our Lord. Let’s not be shy about helping people draw closer to Jesus through us, no matter what they’ve done in the past.

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 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.

Image result for moses praying with arms raised

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.