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.

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

Today’s readings remind us that when it comes to distinguishing between the messenger and the message the important thing is to focus on the message. It doesn’t matter what state the envelope is in when you start opening it; what matters is the message.

In today’s First Reading, when Jeremiah brings the message of the Lord to the people of Israel, they questioned the “envelope.” They questioned the messenger when what they really should have been doing was focusing on the message. In today’s Gospel we see that as well, because Our Lord comes to his hometown to his synagogue and they’re so stuck on it being Jesus, whom they’ve known for years, that they’re not paying attention to the message that he is trying to share with them.

The question that we should really ask is whether the message is true and, in the case of the things of God, even more importantly, whether the message comes from God. The way that we know that something comes from God is the faith, just as Our Lord mentioned in today’s Gospel. The people in his hometown lacked that faith. The faith helps the word of God when we hear it resonate within our hearts. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, talks about all the faithful having sort of a sixth sense when it comes to the things of faith and morals (n.12) and with the sixth sense it helps them to recognize something is coming from the Lord.

Let’s ask our Lord today to help us recognize his voice in the people that we meet and share his Word and message with others.

Readings: Leviticus 23:1, 4–11, 15–16, 27, 34b–37; Psalm 81:3–6, 10–11b; Matthew 13:54–58. See also 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B and 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.

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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s readings Our Lord reminds us that disciples know they always have something to learn and to pass along to the people that they help. Christians never stop being disciples; Our Lord always has something to teach us and is always there to help us.

In the First Reading Elisha, who was the disciple of the prophet Elijah, learned the miracle of the multiplication from his master. Elijah once asked a widow for the last bread she had to feed herself and her son (1 Kings 17:8-16), and when she explained her situation Elijah told her the Lord had promised to provide for them all, and so it came to be. Elisha in today’s First Reading was doing something similar, but because the Lord promised to help him. The Lord said a miracle would happen, and it did. Just as the Lord had helped Elijah and the widow, Elisha knew to encourage his servant to begin handing out the bread, and the miracle happened. Prophets of the Lord, just like his disciples, know they are working with the Lord, not alone, helping him to do something for souls.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that in caring for others, as Elias learned from Elijah and the Apostles learned from Our Lord, we’re showing ourselves to be good disciples who listen and learn. We have to stop once in a while and remember how blessed we are to have been chosen by Our Lord to be his disciples. Our Lord not only teaches us how to treat others; he also teaches us how to treat each other. He’s always been quick to address and correct disciples that argue about who was the greatest or seek positions of privilege. We’re called to a lifestyle that can be challenging, but he’s empowered us to live it through his grace and the sacraments: humility, gentleness, patience, and faith.

The disciples in today’s Gospel are proactive: they know from Our Lord’s question that he wants to feed the people who came to see him, and it seems he’s asking them to make it happen. Phillip sees it as impossible, even if they had enough money to feed them, due to the size of the crowd. Andrew at least starts asking around, but the resources come up short.

Both lost sight of the fact that Jesus said “we.” When we feel Our Lord is asking something difficult or impossible, we must remember that, like in today’s Gospel, he will be with us and help us. We never stop being disciples, so the Master never abandons us to our mission. We just have to take it one step at a time, even when sometimes it seems difficult or impossible. In the end, through taking things step by step and following his guidance, they helped Our Lord to make the miracle happen.

Have you felt in your heart that Our Lord has been asking you to try to do something difficult or impossible? Don’t think of the end game; ask him to teach you what first step he wants you to take, and then keep taking things one step at a time. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish working with him. As disciples he never leaves us alone.

Readings: 2 Kings 4:42–44; Psalm 145:10–11, 15–18; Ephesians 4:1–6; John 6:1–15.

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the Israelites are so disturbed by the change in Moses’ countenance after conversing with the Lord that he needs to start wearing a veil when dealing with them in day to day affairs. His face now reflects something unearthly, something divine. The face is one of the most expressive parts of the human body: your countenance is like a window into your mood, even your soul. Imagine what transformation had taken place in Moses after encountering the Lord.

Moses spoke with the Lord face to face. He was transformed by having such intimacy with the Lord. The rest of us here on earth would have to wait until the Incarnation to be able to see the Lord face to face in Jesus, but that encounter transforms us too. When we live our faith, something changes in our life, and people notice, especially those who haven’t experienced God in their life. In the Old Testament looking upon the face of the Lord risked death; in the new we give witness to the fact that we have seen the face of God in Jesus Christ.

Lumen Gentium, the constitution of the Second Vatican Council on the Church, says the Church reflects the light of Christ. Let’s all try to reflect the light of Christ in our lives.

Readings: Exodus 34:29–35; Psalm 99:5–7, 9; Matthew 13:44–46.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Modern society often seeks solutions, but in many times it has stopped seeking wisdom. Today’s readings remind us that the just and wise society we seek will take shape to the degree in which we strive for and seek the Kingdom of heaven.

Today’s First Reading recalls why King Solomon was considered one of the wisest kings of Israel, so much so that almost all the wisdom literature in the Old Testament was believed to have been written by him. His father David had established a united and prosperous kingdom. It was a tough act to follow. When the Lord offered Solomon help as he began to reign, he didn’t jump straight to specific needs for addressing specific problems: wealth, power, military strength. He knew something would help him address them all: an understanding heart that could distinguish right from wrong. Moral wisdom would not only ensure that he was a good king, but that the good of his subjects under his leadership would endure as well, because the common good is just as important as the good of the individual.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that if we really want things to work out we must love God in all things. Love for God is the wisest course of action. Complex situations, difficulties, and trials all bear the risk of separating us from God, but only if we distance ourselves from him in those moments. Throughout salvation history God has taught us how to face all these things, until finally the Son came and showed us how to face them, all the way to Calvary. In Our Lord we find embodied all the moral wisdom for which Solomon could have hoped, but something even more: the spiritual wisdom and power to be holy. The Lord calls everyone to holiness, and those who respond to the call are put back on track through the grace of justification and, if they persevere in holiness, aided by grace, they will one day be glorified.

The three parables in today’s Gospel teach us about what summarizes, epitomizes, and reflects the moral and spiritual wisdom that the Lord has not only woven into creation, but revealed and announced: the Kingdom of heaven.

First, like a hidden treasure its worth is something that takes us by surprise and is found in the most unexpected of places. In finding it you don’t just feel smart; you feel fortunate. It doesn’t come free, and it doesn’t come cheap: if you’re willing to spend everything on obtaining it, it must be of more value that what you already have. The Kingdom of heaven should put everything we have, everything we are, into perspective. When we invest ourselves completely the returns will be unimaginable.

Second, the Kingdom of heaven, like finding a great pearl after a lifetime of smaller ones, is something comparable to all the things we value in this world, but much greater in comparison. The Kingdom of heaven is not going to be something totally different from the “treasures” we hold and experience in this life. When we seek the true, the good, and the beautiful in this life, we are paving the way for the Kingdom, already present in those things, to come to full fruition.

The final parable reminds us that the Kingdom of heaven will come one day fully for everyone. If we understand the Kingdom as not only the work of salvation, but all the other natural goods that in some way result from that work–a healthy society, solid families, true concern for the spiritual and material needs of others, etc.–we can understand how it is not just identified with the people who are actively working to be a part of it and to extend it. All kinds of “fish” end up in the “net.” Like any society there are good members and bad members, and part of society’s duty is to help all its members be good members of society, even, when necessary, through penal measures applied to those who are bad with the hope of helping them to reform themselves and to not present a danger to themselves or to society.

At the end of history, when the work of the Kingdom has definitively run its course and reached everywhere Our Lord wants it to be (and that, in the end, is everywhere and everyone), no one will remain unaffected or beyond its reach. That could be a chilling thought if we didn’t remember that the Kingdom equates to salvation and a good and just order of things that spreads and takes hold forever. Each person in the end chooses how they’ll end up in the Kingdom, in that “net”: the bad will have squandered all their opportunities to be good and will be cut off from the goods of the Kingdom forever. The good, through their efforts and God’s aid and mercy, will enjoy a beatific life: they will possess God and receive all the promises Our Lord made on the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5:1–12) in full. We must work for the good of others, not just our own good, but in the end each person will stand or fall on his or her own merits and no one will be able to ride on another’s coat tails on Judgement Day.

A rule of life summarizes the rules and principles that you consider important for a happy and successful life. Some are published for the benefit of others, while others are very personal.For some that can simply be a philosophy of life. For others, a specific career goal or achievement that requires preparation and perspiration. For believers, the monastic rules of life, such as the Rule of St. Benedict, can be adapted for living your life more in accord with basic Gospel values. Spend some time this week in prayer to take stock of your life and the rules and principles with which you live it. If you have difficulty sorting things out, consider seeking out a spiritual director.

Readings: 1 Kings 3:5, 7–12; Psalm 119:57, 72, 76–77, 127–130; Romans 8:28–30; Matthew 13:44–52.