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.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings are an invitation that go far beyond the fashionable pastime of bashing on the rich in the face of the world’s needs and problems. They remind us that complacency is not just an affliction of the rich: we all run the risk of being complacent, no matter how much is in our bank account, because we can be complacent in the use of our time and talent, not just our treasure.

The word of today’s First Reading could almost describe the day spas and boutiques of modern society, but should put couch potatoes on guard too. People with the wealth and the time to help society are couch potatoes too, just on fancier sofas with better meals and more expensive hobbies. Amos is warning the influential of Israel that the Assyrian’s threatening their nation will take them into exile right alongside their afflicted people if they don’t act. In referring to Joseph he is referring to the two main tribes of Israel at the time, who were descended from Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh (see The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL 2008, 1670). Society was in trouble and they were doing nothing. The option to stop the party and get to work instead of having the party ended for them is in their hands. They opted to party and Israel was conquered and absorbed into the Assyrian Empire.

St. Paul in the Second Reading encourages St. Timothy, who is taking up the mantle of pastoral leadership, to strive for what is truly excellent in the eyes of the Lord, no couch involved. Timothy had worked closely with St. Paul and was now taking on the responsibilities of a bishop, a successor of the Apostles. His pursuits will be in great contrast to those of today’s First Reading: “devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” All these pursuits are not self-centered; they’re related to others and can be difficult to master. Paul encourages him to compete well for the faith, drawing from the athlete metaphors of his other letters to remind St. Timothy that he is called to discipline himself, to train, and to strain for the prize he should “lay hold” of: eternal life. As a bishop he’ll lay hold of eternal life by helping others attain it too.

The rich man in today’s Gospel converted too late, but his late conversion should be a lesson for us to consider that one day we may too hear those dreaded words, “too little, too late.” There may be people in the world who live in plush mansions with everything they could want, but the rich are not the only people in society today endangered by abundance. There are lots of couch potatoes out there who are parked on their sofas when they can do something to help make our world a better place.

The poor are not just at the gates of mansions; they’re in our towns and neighborhoods. It is our society that runs the risk of falling apart due to selfishness and sin. Each of us can take inventory of the plenty with which the Lord has blessed us and ask him how we can use that plenty in a way pleasing to him. A surplus of time, talent, or treasure should never stay a surplus for long, otherwise we run the risk of drowning in our abundance due to our complacency and apathy. Let’s ask Our Lord today to give us the nudge to get off our sofas and help shape society for the better.

Take stock of how much time you dedicate to leisure every week. There’s planned leisure and leisure that we fall into when we know we should be doing something else. How much time do you dedicate each week to bettering our world (not just your world; our world)? If you don’t have a regular commitment to outreach or works of evangelization (or both) it is time to start. If health problems prevent you from more direct action you can always pray and offer up your sufferings for the conversion of sinners.

Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4–7; Psalm 146:7–10; 1 Timothy 6:11–16; Luke 16:19–31. See also 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 2nd Week of Lent, Thursday.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s Gospel speaks of dishonest employees and employers, but the main point Our Lord wants to make today is that you can’t buy or sell friends.

In today’s First Reading the Lord, through the prophet Amos, laments the exact opposite of friendship: exploitation. The wicked see the Sabbath or religious holidays as keeping them from doing what they really want: do business and make money. Their wickedness goes deeper than just wanting to make money instead of giving the Lord his due: they cheat their neighbors by rigging the scales and other systems of measurement for trade. The worst of all is that they turn their neighbors into property, forgetting that the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt.

St. Paul invites us in today’s Second Reading to pray for those in authority over us, because when authority is abused it leads to strife. A quiet and tranquil life gives society the serenity to seek and find the Lord and serve each other. Society should seek the common good, and that good does not exclude the good of any individual, just as Our Lord wants every soul to be saved. In our dealings with the highest authority—Our Heavenly Father—Our Lord has interceded for us, showing his true friendship with us and teaching the friendship we should show our neighbors, whether they are in positions of authority or not.

At first glance the Gospel today can leave us perplexed. It seems that the rich man about to fire his untrustworthy steward is congratulating him for the very thing for which he is being fired: dishonest accounting. There’s no forgiveness going on here: the “prudence” that the rich man is acknowledging in his soon-to-be-former steward is the astuteness with which he saves his own skin at the expense of his soon-to-be-former boss. In Jesus’ time usury, an immoral marking up of the value of goods, was done by changing the quantities owed on invoices. The bills in those days never said, “50 measures of oil, plus a 50 measure ‘service fee’”; they just said, “you owe 100 measures of oil.” By doctoring the billing in this way, the rich man, with the help of his steward, was making a tidy profit while hiding his usury. When the steward sees he’s on his way out, he closes the books at their real value, not at the marked-up value benefiting his master: he’s turned the tables on his master in a way that wins him “friends” for his impending unemployment, and in a way in which his former master can’t touch him.

However, Jesus reminds us today that you can’t buy friends. Friendship based on what someone gains me is not true friendship. Maybe the steward will bounce around from “friend” to “friend,” but who is going to trust him knowing what he did to win their friendship? Dishonest wealth fails. Friendship is based on trust. As Jesus reminds us in the Gospel today, trust is something that must shine in all our actions, big and small. Trust means being at the service of your friend with no strings attached. Trust means I can rely on someone when the chips are down. Real friends show themselves in times of adversity.

Whenever we look upon a crucifix, we are reminded of a friend we’ve always been able to rely on, even when many times we haven’t returned the favor. The apostles, after so much quality time with Christ, abandoned him, but he didn’t turn the tables on them: he shouldered the burden and paid the bill with his life so that we would have eternal life, no strings attached. He could have just closed the books and left us all out in the cold, but he didn’t. What greater sign of friendship is there?

Christ can be acknowledged as a historical figure, Our Lord, Our Savior, and Our Redeemer. Do you recognize him as your best friend? He has shown you friendship in countless ways, making him worthy of your friendship. Don’t spurn it.

Readings: Amos 8:4–7; Psalm 113:1–2, 4–8; 1 Timothy 2:1–8; Luke 16:1–13. See also 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and Saturday.