20th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s First and Second Readings show the two extremes in which a believer be found in sharing the Lord’s message: alone and abandoned in the mud at the mercy of evil and injustice, or spurred on by the example and help of a “cloud of witnesses” who show that the path of belief is the right one. We all experience moments in the mud and moments enthused by our faith and that of our fellow believers. As Our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel, believers are signs of contradiction, and the world doesn’t like being contradicted.

Jeremiah in today’s First Reading was the victim of the very division of which Our Lord would later forewarn his disciples, yet Jeremiah in the end was rescued through the intercession of just men. Jeremiah is the only one telling the king and the people of Israel what the Lord wants them to hear, and they hate him for it, because they do not disagree. The king, who should have stood up for Jeremiah’s rights, let himself be cowed by the princes into throwing Jeremiah into a muddy cistern (an empty lined reservoir for collecting water): they don’t like Jeremiah’s message, so they want to bury it by burying him. Jeremiah would prove right, because he was the Lord’s prophet: the kingdom would suffer calamity for not listening to the Lord. He knew he was the Lord’s messenger, so he did not stop trying to deliver the message. It was the truth, and no contradiction could change that.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us of all those believers who suffered as signs of contradiction, in imitation of the Lord himself, but persevered and now encourage us, just as Our Lord does. Throughout the centuries believers have been subjected to mudslinging, violence, and death for contradicting the “wisdom” of their time. When we face division and strife over transmitting the Gospel we should not become discouraged, because Our Lord suffered such things first, as well as many believers who came before us. In moments of enthusiasm we mustn’t forget that there will be moments of the Cross, but in moments of the Cross we should be bolstered by memories of our moments of enthusiasm.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that taking our faith more seriously and making the commitment to live it often means becoming a sign of contradiction, not just for today’s culture, but even for our family and friends. Accepting Christ’s invitation to repentance and belief is accepting Christ into your life as your best friend and more. For those who knew you before, it may seem like instead of your life being turned around by Christ, it has been turned upside down: they may see Christ as a rival for your affections, and that puts many converts into the difficult situation of having to choose between their loved ones and God. With your change in lifestyle they may see a condemnation of their own and blame the messenger (you), not the message, or simply not understand what has happened.

Our Lord doesn’t promise an easy solution to this dilemma. Everyone must choose their path in this life, and conversion can imply a radical change in direction that others are unwilling or, at their moment of life, unable to do. All those paths are meant to converge in Christ, and for many people there are no shortcuts, or wrong turns that require time to recover from. This does not mean questioning our commitment to Christ; rather, it means patience and charity toward those we know and love, tactfully helping them where we can and entrusting them to the Lord where we can’t, knowing that the goal is help everyone where they’re at to advance along the path that Christ wishes to show them.

Sharing the Gospel can be heroic, but Christians are not meant to live a double life or treat their Christianity like a secret identity. You may suffer ridicule or persecution, but the Lord promises us that the truth will set us free, and it’s meant to set others free as well. Assess the situations and people in your life that make you uncomfortable sharing your faith, and let the “cloud of witnesses” inspire you to find tactful, creative, and sincere ways to share the greatest treasure of your life: faith.

Readings: Jeremiah 38:4–6, 8–10; Psalm 40:2–4, 18; Hebrews 12:1–4; Luke 12:49–53. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II29th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

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.

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the reason we pray is because we expect good things from Our Lord, although sometimes we pray to him because we expect bad things to come from him instead. Throughout salvation history Our Lord has shown us that we should expect good from him, not evil.

In the First Reading the Lord sends angels to confirm that Sodom and Gomorrah are as bad as reports say, and Abraham knows what that means: annihilation. The Lord speaks of hearing an outcry over Sodom and Gomorrah. What just souls had already clamored in prayer for the evil taking place there to be ended? Abraham’s cousin Lot lived there, and Abraham knew his cousin was a good man, so he feared the Lord would wipe him and his family out along with the wicked.

It’s almost comical that in his prayer Abraham is trying to give the Lord an ethics lesson: he doesn’t speak specifically of Lot, just the apparent injustice of good men being struck down with wicked ones. Abraham questions whether the Lord will do the just thing or not, which is why he couches his potentially insulting questions with such humility and self-deprecation. The Lord humors Abraham in his discourse, but also says he will spare the city if good people are still there. The Lord is as good as his word, but he doesn’t spare the city. He rescues Lot’s family before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and Sodom and Gomorrah fail their last chance to do the right thing (see Genesis 19). Abraham had already dealt with the Lord for years when this incident takes place, but he shows his faith and trust in the Lord is still a little weak.

In contrast to the First Reading, where wicked men are about to be destroyed, in today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Jesus took all the wickedness upon himself, wickedness for which he was not responsible, and surrendered himself to destruction on the Cross to destroy that sin as well and any debt owed to God for it. How would Abraham have responded to a good man being struck down for the wickedness of others? That is exactly what Our Lord underwent on the Cross.

Spiritually we face a death sentence for our sins, just as physical death awaits us one day as the consequence of our sins and the sin of Adam and Eve. In Baptism we go down into the depths of death, symbolized by going under the water, but Our Lord leads the way, just as he leads the way for us to arise from the waters into new life. For us this involves a sacramental and spiritual death; for him it meant a physical one, which he undertook to destroy our sins and to free us from sin’s bondage. Jesus, especially on the Cross, continues that conversation with God that Abraham had so long ago by showing us how far God in his justice and mercy is willing to go for us. As we go deeper in prayer, we come to understand that God is a God of justice, but one of love and mercy as well.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord explains the willingness and commitment of Our Heavenly Father toward us using the examples of friendship, persistence, and paternal love. A good friend knows that if he is in a fix he can count on his friends to help him out. The friend asking for bread today is passing along the opportunity to be a good friend: he welcomed a guest into his home in the middle of the night, and he needs help to provide for that guest. Yet even if his friend refused at first, his persistence would pay off: that shows the friend, even if inconvenienced, is a friend who’ll come through.

It is the friendship that gives the confidence to ask, repeatedly if necessary. God is our friend; we can ask him for whatever we need, and he’ll respond as a friend should. However, Our Lord reminds us today that our relationship with God goes even farther: he is Our Father, and no father would give his child misfortune instead of a blessing. Ask today and you will receive; maybe not on your timetable, maybe not as you’d have expected, but the Lord as friend and Father will provide for you what you truly need. He showed that to Abraham in today’s First Reading and he showed it dying on the Cross for us.

In today’s readings we have two examples of persistence in prayer: Abraham in the face of Lot’s possible destruction and the midnight friend seeking aid. Often it is perseverance in prayer that helps us understand ourselves and the motivations for which we are praying. Jesus tells us that the friend in bed does it due to the persistence: he does it to get his friend off his porch. He gives that example to show how much more God answers our prayers when we persist, because we can ask a million times and God never stops loving us. He always listens to our prayers.

Readings: Genesis 18:20–32; Psalm 138:1–3, 6–8; Colossians 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13. See also 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, First Week of Lent, Tuesday and Thursday27th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday; and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that contemplation and hospitality are like love and service: they go together and enrich one another. In today’s readings it seems one person might be getting the brunt of the grunt work (Sarah and Martha), but when it is understood from the perspective of communion, a perspective Paul reminds us of in today’s Second Reading, we know that whether we are in a moment of contemplation or hospitality, love or service, we are benefiting the whole Mystical Body of Christ.

Abraham in today’s First Reading had a special encounter with the Lord through three visitors. He’d been told to wander to new lands as a nomad with the promise of a land and children of his own. Sarah had been there every step of the way for years, just as she was now by preparing food for the unexpected visitors. Now the Lord, in the three mysterious visitors, promises that Sarah will bear a son. Sarah receives the blessing, a blessing for her and her husband, that both had been striving for in different ways. Sarah let Abraham take the lead, but both reaped the benefits.

Paul in today’s Second Reading speaks of making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church. Greco-Roman philosophers spoke of society as being like a body, with its members doing things, glamorous and unglamorous, for the good of society. Paul may have been inspired, in part, by this understanding of a society as like a body, but the Body of Christ for him was something much more profound, perhaps from the moment the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus (when he was still Saul, the persecutor of Christians) and said “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). As Saul persecuted Christians he was persecuting Jesus himself.

As members of the Body of Christ we can benefit our brothers and sisters in the faith, and they can benefit us, just as our sins can adversely impact the whole Body. Our Lord took upon himself the toughest part, on the Cross, to teach us that we too can take on the hard things for the spiritual benefit of others. Some always have the tougher part; as believers they can be consoled by knowing that doing their part, easy or hard, will result in blessings for them and the entire Body.

Mary in today’s Gospel seems to have left her sister Martha in the lurch, sitting at Our Lord’s feet, and Martha is not shy about bringing that up to Our Lord. We all are tempted from time to time of being envious of what others are doing when our part seems burdensome or unfair. Our Lord reminds Martha that everyone has a part to play, be it love and contemplation or hospitality and service. Mary may have had the “better” part, but Martha had an important part to play as well. In the end, both Mary and Martha would be blessed when Our Lord raises their brother Lazarus from the dead thanks to their love and faith.

The story of Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel also helps us take stock of our prayer life. Martha, through serving the Lord, is making her life a prayer; she’s busy, but she is doing it for him. The first step in any prayer life is the desire to know and to serve the Lord. At the same time, Martha’s prayer life is tainted with activism: focusing on doing so much that she loses sight of why she is doing it. This is proved when she comes to Our Lord to complain and judge her sister: a lack of charity is a symptom of a lack of prayer life. Our Lord is well aware of this, which is why he presents Martha’s sister Mary as an example of contemplative prayer: Mary just sits at the Lord’s feet, apparently “doing” nothing, but she is loving the Lord. Everyone needs this kind of prayer too: prayer not so much of reciting words or doing things as simply “sitting” in the Lord’s presence and listening to whatever he has to say, or simply just being there and loving him while he loves us.

Martha wanted to serve the Lord, but when she got cranky about how she served him she had taken her eyes off what was the most important in her life. The Lord had to remind her. Activism is when we keep doing things but lose sight of why we are doing them, eventually crowding out the people for whom we’re doing them. If you’re in a position of service, whether work, parish, or family, take a moment to remember whom you are serving and why.

Readings: Genesis 18:1–10a; Psalm 15:2–5; Colossians 1:24–28; Luke 10:38–42. See also 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, St. Martha and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.