24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that in this life moments may come when we are down, but, as Our Lord reminds the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, with his help we are not out.

In today’s First Reading the freshly minted people of Israel falls into idolatry almost immediately after entering into a covenant with the Lord by making and worshiping a golden calf, something worthy of condemnation. The Lord had revealed himself to Moses and send Moses and Aaron to liberate them from Egypt and become a people. The Lord sounds out Moses about whether a “do over” was called for: should the idolaters be punished, and a new people be founded on Moses? It is a testimony to Moses’ famous humility that he did not accept the invitation to become another patriarch. It would have gone contrary to the promises he and the Israelites had heard for generations: countless descendants from the patriarchs and a land to call their own. The people of Israel were down, but, thanks Moses’ intercession and the Lord’s mercy, they weren’t out.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul recalls when he was down, but thanks to the Lord’s mercy he was not out. He remembered very well when he persecuted the Christians and, as a result, persecuted the Lord. We can only imagine how Our Lord looked down upon him as he took the completely wrong direction in life, persecuting the disciples. Paul was struck down on the road to Damascus because the direction he was taking was so mistaken that the Lord in his mercy chose to intervene. Paul could have gone down anonymously in history as just another sinner redeemed by Our Lord, but the Lord had bigger plans for him, making him an apostle and a witness to the fact that when we’re down we’re never out as long as we live.

The Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus in the Gospel today because he is spending time with people who are sinners: tax collectors, who robbed them by charging unfair taxes and serving their Roman oppressors, and sinners, who did evil and did not come worship at the Temple. So Jesus asks the Pharisees and scribes to think of how happy they would be if they found something valuable that they’d lost.

Imagine if you lost your spending money for the week, and after searching and searching your locker you give up and take your books to class and there it is, stuck between two books! Wouldn’t you be happy? Imagine if you lost your cat and you searched for hours and hours and came home sad and suddenly heard him scratching at the door to be let in. Wouldn’t you be happy? Now imagine if it were your brother or sister or aunt or someone in your family who went missing. You would never stop looking. Never. You would always be waiting to hear from them.

In Heaven God knows that sinners are lost, and he wants to find them so badly, but they hide from him and go far away from him, just like the son in the Gospel today. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, God waits and waits for them to come back. Our Lord teaches us that all of Heaven shouts for joy when a sinner is found and comes back and gets on the road to Heaven again. Our Lord goes to the sinners in the Gospel today because if he doesn’t help them find God the Father again, they will never find him. Like the son today in the Gospel, they go far away and become poor and miserable, but when they come back, sorry for what they have done, all of Heaven is happy and God welcomes them back as if nothing had happened.

When we hurt others, it is so hard to say we are sorry, but when we don’t, we are left poor, alone, and lonely, because it is like we have left someone in our family. The other son in the Gospel today didn’t want to forgive his brother and look how angry and alone he was. The Prodigal Son, the tax collectors, and the sinners in today’s Gospel were all down, but the Lord was ready to pull them back onto their feet again.

When we do bad things, all we have to do is say we’re sorry and ask God to forgive us. It is not complicated, even though it may be costly at times. Go have a good Confession for the big things. For the little daily things, just tell him (and whoever else you’ve hurt) that you are sorry. If you remain down in this life (and the next, for that matter) it is because you didn’t take the Lord’s extended hand to pull you back onto your feet.

Readings: Exodus 32:7–11, 13–14; Psalm 51:3–4, 12–13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–32. See also 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C2nd Week of Lent, Saturday, and 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

At first glance it may seem that in today’s Gospel Jesus is asking his disciples to burn their bridges, but if we look a little more closely we can see he’s inviting them to “do the math,” to go from a worldly, calculating idea of love and happiness to a liberating one founded on humility, faith, and trust.

It may seem illogical that the Lord would ask us to abandon our family, our health, our security, and our comfort to follow him, but when we read the words of today’s First Reading, we see the “logic” that goes contrary to that invitation break down. When we try to find the answers to the big questions—life, death, love, our calling in this life—we see that the cut and dry business or scientific approach doesn’t work. The big questions escape our categories, experience, and observation, and with such big mysteries looming over our heads, mysteries that seem to decide our fate, our hearts yearn for freedom. Our Lord in today’s Gospel is offering us those answers and that freedom. He asks us to have faith and trust in him

Onesimus, the escaped slave whom Paul mentions in today’s Second Reading, sought freedom from his master, Philemon, but Onesimus found a far greater freedom in the end. In the time of ancient Rome, slaves were a big percentage of the population. Slavery resulted from debts or being on the wrong end of a war. Slave labor was so needed in ancient Roman society that they were a social class of their own. Rome took escapees very seriously, and Onesimus got caught, but the Lord let him get caught so he could experience a true freedom, with the help of St. Paul, whom he met in prison. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with the letter, a part of which we consider in today’s Second Reading, to be Christ’s instrument of liberation: a liberation of love. Paul urges Philemon to see Onesimus now as more than a servant, more than a piece of property. Paul invites him to see Onesimus as the Lord wants him to be seen: a brother.

After inviting his disciples in the first part of today’s Gospel to take of their crosses and follow him, the Lord invites them in the second part to “do the math:” to think about what they’re trying to build in their life, like the tower builder, and what battle they’re ready to wage against life’s challenges, like the king. When we follow Christ, our families, our sufferings, our very selves will experience, like Onesimus (and, hopefully, Philemon) a liberation of love When we follow Christ, those we love will also seek in him the answers to the big questions of life that go beyond their “math” too. However, we must put Christ first in our lives. That can hurt us and our family a lot, but when we put our calculations aside, when we face the unknown trusting in Christ, we show him we are following him, and he never leads us astray.

When you consider how you love and who you love, does it feel constraining and confining to you, or liberating? When you love, do you condition it based on the love you have received (or lack thereof)? When we focus on the trouble loving causes us it shows us the disordered love from which the Lord wants to liberate us: egotistical love. If you make an effort to put the Lord and others first in your life, even if it implies renunciation and discomfort, you will experience a liberation of love.

Readings: Wisdom 9:13–18b; Psalm 90:3–6, 12–14, 17; Philemon 9–10, 12–17; Luke 14:25–33. See also 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C31st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

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.

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.