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.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that when we become believers in Christ we can no longer live in the same way. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus extending that invitation to the crowds for whom he had just multiplied the loaves and fishes, yet they were still seeking a sign like the one recalled in today’s First Reading. It was time to leave the First Reading attitude behind and believe in him.

In today’s First Reading the Israelites wanted their bellies filled, and complained, and were even willing to return to slavery just to have a full stomach.  They’re still far from today’s Gospel, a people who need signs just to keep going at all.  The Israelites today had a weak faith that could only be nurtured by signs, but signs don’t last forever, nor are they meant to. The Lord always planned to go beyond simply providing subsistence to a desperate, sometimes disgruntled people.

The people who sought Jesus in today’s Gospel still want nothing more than a full stomach, but Our Lord is trying to help them see that what they really crave is what that full stomach normally gives them: life, not just for a few decades, but for eternity.  As Jesus reminds them, full stomachs didn’t enable those Israelites under Moses to live forever, even though the Lord provided them with manna to eat.

Our Lord wasn’t just speaking metaphorically when he said he was the bread of life: every time we receive the Eucharist we know that he is the Bread of Life, and we know that one day that we’ll never need to fear dying of hunger or anything else ever again. Like the Israelites in the First Reading the people were still seeking signs, but now the moment had come for faith, a faith that lead to no longer living as the Gentiles did, just focused on immediate needs and concerns of this life and not seeing the bigger picture where this life is a pilgrimage toward eternal life.

The Israelites who grumbled in the desert in the First Reading didn’t live to see the Promised Land due to their lack of trust in God; the people in today’s Gospel are being extended an opportunity to one day enter into the true Promised Land, but they have to trust the new Moses–Jesus–to lead them.

Whenever we receive Communion we hear “the Body of Christ” and respond “Amen” without thinking much about how incredible it is that we are receiving God into our hearts under the appearance of bread. Whenever we genuflect in front of a tabernacle and that little red lamp is glowing nearby we acknowledge our faith that Our Lord is sacramentally present in the Eucharist.

Imagine the crowds hearing the teaching of the Eucharist for the first time and trying to understand it before believing in it. In today’s Gospel Jesus is trying to move them from thinking of ordinary bread in their stomachs to thinking of the bread of life. Our Lord today is asking them to go from what they understand of bread and the thought of endless bread to what they are really looking for: eternal life, not just as living forever, but as living contentedly forever.

When we consider our needs and our expectations for God to help fulfill them we can never lose sight of our ultimate need, God, and the means God has given us to fulfill it: believing in his son and receiving him as the Bread of Life. Let’s try believing today even when understanding something God teaches us is challenging, knowing he is always trying to provide for our eternal needs, not just our short term ones.

Readings: Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Psalm 78:3–4, 23–25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; John 6:24–35.See also 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time,Cycle B3rd Week of Easter, Monday and 3rd Week of Easter, Tuesday.

18th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that the cross is a part of our life whether we want it or not, and what matters is how we face it and why we face it. No matter how often we try to accumulate things in order to ensure  comfort, something prevents it from happening. Some people are wealthy, or healthy, or in charge of their lives, yet they feel something is missing. Our Lord reminds us today that we can have the whole world, yet not possess what is truly important: an enduring and fulfilled life. That enduring and fulfilled life doesn’t exist in this world, yet this world is the path to it. It depends on how we live in this world.

Our Lord teaches us today that the only way to achieve what we truly desire is to take up our cross for the sake of a higher cause: his cause. It’s no coincidence that in this same reading he speaks of the impending arrival of the Kingdom of God: with his very Incarnation the Kingdom has arrived, and on the Cross it begins to achieve fruition as the “conquered” becomes the conquerer of sin and death. Nahum in today’s First Reading describes the point of arrival: peace for the People of God, security forever, and the destruction of evil. He describes Israel (Jacob) as a vine that was damaged by ravagers, but not destroyed: it was pruned by sufferings, yet it endured. Our Lord was ravaged on the cross, but not defeated, and from that Tree of Life an enduring and fulfilling life is made possible, if we take up his cause and imitate him. The alternative is the ravaged world described by Nahum in the second part of today’s reading: the more we seek fleeting things, the more we flee from our crosses and suffer lasting misery, because if we put our stock only in the things of this world,. they will, sooner or later, pass away.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us see our crosses not as burdens, but as opportunities to help construct a better world in his name. Through our crosses, in his service, we can achieve a better life for ourselves and for others. Let’s take up our cross and take up the cause of Christ.

Readings: Nahum 2:1, 3, 3:1–3, 6–7; Deuteronomy 32:35c–36b, 39a–d, 41; Matthew 16:24–28. See also Thursday after Ash Wednesday18th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

18th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

The Lord promises the Israelites through Jeremiah in today’s First Reading that the next covenant he forges with them will be different. The first covenant he made with them was on Mt. Sinai after he had led them out of Egypt, and even as he was writing it on stones for Moses up on the mountain the Israelites were violating it down below in the camp. The new covenant would be written on their hearts, not on a piece of stone.

Our Lord brought about this new covenant in his blood, as he himself said in the Last Supper and we remember in every celebration of the Eucharist. We renew this covenant every time we participate in the Eucharist. It is a covenant born from a profound encounter with God in Jesus Christ. That inner intuition that makes us strive to please him and chides us for displeasing him is the covenant written on our hearts. It is not just our conscience, but the Holy Spirit also working within our hearts.

Let’s show our love for the Lord today by making an extra effort to listen to that voice in our heart that leads us to please and serve him.

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31–34; Psalm 51:12–15, 18–19; Matthew 16:13–23. See also 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, and Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.


18th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year II

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel shows a lot of courage in the quest to free her daughter from being afflicted by a demon. Canaanites and Jews had a long history, and they did not get along. Our Lord was a Jew, but also a miracle worker, so she decided to try. In her first attempt to greet Our Lord she even used the Messianic title, “Son of David”: for the people of the time it was not clear that the Messiah would be a good thing for anyone who was not a Jew. Perhaps she was trying to butter him up a little.

Our Lord responds as she probably expected: the cold shoulder. However, we know Our Lord can read hearts, so this was not a simple brush off; something more profound was going on. When the disciples press him regarding the matter, he tells them it’s not time yet for his ministry to go beyond the children of Israel. Israel had a special role in the plan of salvation and Our Lord was sent to attend to them; the rest would be attended to later. In a sense, the Canaanite woman was trying to skip the line.

When Our Lord rebuffs her again she is not shy about acknowledging that she is not entitled to what she is requesting. Sometimes we forget that Our Lord doesn’t have to give us anything. Yet Our Lord rewards her faith and humility in the end. Let’s ask Our Lord for what we need, thankful that he’ll consider our petition and humble that we aren’t entitled to it.

Readings: Jeremiah 31:1–7; Jeremiah 31:10–12b, 13; Matthew 15:21–28. See also 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.