6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Today’s readings remind us that a relationship with Our Lord is not optional in our lives if we truly want a fulfilled and complete life. A life without the Lord is ultimately a life without hope. What he taught, did, and experience in his life has ramifications for ours from here to eternity.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Jeremiah describes the importance of a relationship with the Lord in terms of favorable conditions for growth and unfavorable ones. Jeremiah condemns those who put their trust in human beings and the flesh and turn away from the Lord, but believers are not mistrusting people. What is he trying to say? The example of the barren bush teaches us that trust in human beings and the flesh at the expense of Our Lord is ultimately a withered life that just limps along and subsists as best it can, monotonous and agonizing. It is a dry and arid life, compounded by the fact that human beings and the flesh are ultimately mortal and finite. Even putting your trust exclusively in those things is futile in the end: you’ll be separated from others and from health by death. Putting your trust in the Lord changes your life dramatically: it doesn’t mean you or others won’t follow the earthly course of life and die, but it does mean that you’ll have a new source of life that weathers adversity, even the adversity of physical death, and is not only subsistence living, but thriving in this life and the next.

In today’s Second Reading Paul teaches us that a life without the Lord is ultimately a futile life, because a life with the Lord is a life redeemed and transformed by the Resurrection into a life of hope. Paul is shocked when he hears Christians are denying that the Resurrection happened. He teaches them that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead it would not just be bad news for Our Lord, but for all of us. If Our Lord didn’t rise from the dead, neither would we. If death had the last word, there would be no reason to hope. Why? What does Christ’s Resurrection have to do with us today and every day? Our Lord’s life is so fruitful, like the well-placed plant in today’s First Reading, that it gives life to all of us constantly, even eternally, if we let it. He is the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep: we too, redeemed by him, will rise from the dead. However, that requires turning to him for redemption, and if Christ did not conquer death in the Resurrection, he did not conquer sin either, and we remain in a sinful life that is as finite, fleeting, and arid as the bleak desert bush of today’s First Reading. But Christ has risen from the dead, conquering sin and death not only for himself, but for those who believe in him. We now live a redeemed life hoping that one day he will raise us from the dead too.

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes and the consequences of not only living them, but ignoring them. The well-placed plant in today’s First Reading stays green during heat waves and fruitful during droughts: it draws on a deeper source that is undiminished by adverse conditions. The Christian who draws from hope in Our Lord, hope in the promises he makes in the Beatitudes, draws from something undiminished by poverty, hunger, sorrow, or persecution. He knows that there are bad seasons and good ones in life, but a good harvest will ultimately come. Luke’s account also recalls Our Lord’s warning to those who would put their trust in other things, like the barren plant of today’s First Reading. Those who trust in riches, a full belly, a perpetual good time, and the flattery of others, separated from Our Lord, will find how fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying those things truly are in comparison to what Our Lord offers: a resilient life that thrives and blossoms in eternity.

Even in the spiritual life we can fall into routine and superficiality, but that’s because we stop making an effort to go deeper in our relationship with Our Lord. That enormous source of water described by Jeremiah today is the mystery of God. We can try to plumb its depths, but we never will. It never goes dry or gets stagnant. Dryness can occur in the spiritual life when Our Lord is trying to show us that we must go deeper in our relationship with him than mere sentimentality, than an empty stomach, a diminishing bank account, or sorrow. If we truly place our trust in him he will help us to spiritual grow with profundity.

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5–8; Psalm 1:1–4, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16–20; Luke 6:17, 20–26.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

All three readings today share one common thread: an experience of God’s majesty and power, a call to mission and conversion, and the need for God’s grace and encouragement to change and to accept the invitation.

Isaiah in today’s First Reading experiences a vision of God’s glory and thinks he’s about to die, and die as a sinner. Throughout the Old Testament a basic principle was that anyone who looked upon the Lord would die. The Lord sends the angel to purify him and then invites him to be his prophet. When Our Lord calls you to do something great with your life (and being Christian is something great to do with your life), a natural reaction is to feel your unworthiness, your nothingness in comparison to Who is asking something of you. Isaiah today needed to know that the Lord would “have his back.” Isaiah wouldn’t be working alone and unprepared: the Lord had him purified and would be with him on his mission.

Paul in today’s Second Reading recalls the core of the Gospel: that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and his own close and personal encounter with the Risen Lord. When he recalls his own encounter with the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he also recalls his unworthiness to be commissioned as an apostle, but by God’s grace he’s made capable of carrying out his mission. Paul persecuted Christians and was convinced they were abandoning their religion. Then the Risen Lord appeared to him, struck him blind, and gave him “quiet time” to process what had happened. One of the most humiliating experiences anyone can have is realizing that you were completely wrong about something, compounded by the fact that you know everyone’s going to find out you were wrong. Worse still, Paul received a special revelation that he had actually been hindering Our Lord’s mission and not really embracing the mission Our Lord had sown in his heart. Paul sees his mission of being an apostle as a great work of Our Lord’s grace, not just his own merits.

In today’s Gospel, upon seeing the miraculous catch of fish that makes him go from calling Jesus “Master” to calling him “Lord,” Peter acknowledges his sinfulness and unworthiness for what Our Lord is asking him. Throughout the Gospel we see faith and fear mixed in the man who would become, after Jesus’ Resurrection, the leader of the Apostles and the vicar of Christ on earth. After a long night of fishing an itinerant rabbi asks to use his boat and take advantage of the natural acoustics of being out on the water, also giving his listeners a better view. Was Peter hoping Jesus would give him something? Was he performing an act of charity? The Gospel account isn’t clear, but he let Our Lord into his boat and, in a certain sense, into his world. As Peter soon found out, Jesus expected something much greater from him. We don’t know if he listened to much of Our Lord’s teaching as he sat in his boat, since he was tired after a long night of fishing, but Jesus encouraged him to cast out the nets and Peter responded with trust, even if maybe he was just humoring him. The amazing catch was a response to Peter in a language he could understand. In that moment he realized Our Lord was asking him for far more than a shuttle service, and that he was not just another itinerant rabbi. Suddenly Peter knew that Our Lord understood his world too. Peter knew his weakness, but Our Lord knew it too. In the end, even though it presented a few more hurdles, Peter’s weakness did not prevent either of them from accomplishing their mission.

Our Lord wants to step into your world, just like he stepped into Peter’s boat. He wants to build the bridge between yours and his. However, he expresses this by way of invitation, and, no matter what your anxiety and concerns, accept his invitation and he will help you succeed. It was not easy for Isaiah, Paul, or Peter either, but it will be more fulfilling than you could have ever imagined possible.

Readings: Isaiah 6:1–2a, 3–8; Psalm 138:1–5, 7–8; 1 Corinthians 15:1–11; Luke 5:1–11. See also 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 1st Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that truth and love go hand in hand, and that can sometimes call for a strong love. A weak love fades when things get tough and proves itself to not be love at all.

In the today’s First Reading Jeremiah receives a mission to be a bearer of a message to his own people that they don’t want to hear: an unpleasant truth regarding their immediate political future and military fortunes. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritatem (Charity in Truth) taught “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are … exacting and indispensable forms of charity” (n.1). The Lord encouraged Jeremiah to not to be discouraged and to be firm in proclaiming the truth. Before Jeremiah was even formed in his mother’s womb the Lord had planned for him to be a prophet testifying to the truth. The Kingdom of Judah, due to its infidelities, was going to be conquered by the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was told to deliver that message and to have Judah surrender so that their punishment is more lenient due to their repentance. It wasn’t just his opinion: it was the Lord’s will. Due to his message he was imprisoned, branded a traitor, and threatened with death multiple times. In the end Babylon conquered Judah and suffered all the more for it. It was not just a political and military mistake, but also a turning away from the Lord’s will for them that resulted in their defeat and exile. He wanted them to embrace a hard truth, but they didn’t love him enough to trust him.

In the today’s Second Reading Paul describes love as something that can withstand a lot of punishment. When it doesn’t, there’s a problem. Jeremiah loved the Lord and he loved Judah: the Lord was administering tough love to an obstinate people, and Jeremiah needed to be the messenger of that tough love, despite the hatred he received from his people as a result. A prophet is a spokesperson of the Holy Spirit, an eminently charismatic mission, so it’s no wonder that Paul speaks of the most important spiritual gift of the Holy Spirit: charity. Charity is a theological virtue that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts at Baptism and that grows throughout our life if with practice it and ask the Holy Spirit to help us with his grace. Other charismatic gifts and virtues are only revealed to be gifts from the Holy Spirit if the gift of charity underlies them all. True charity is tough enough to withstand adversity because superficial sentimentality often masquerades as charity until the going gets tough and instead of love we based our actions and attitudes on passing and voluble feelings.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord probably had Jeremiah’s mission in mind when he said a prophet was without honor in his own country. Our Lord’s childhood friends and loved ones wanted a stage show, not the truth. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, they expected a miracle from the Lord that they didn’t deserve. They considered themselves entitled to it. When Jesus’ love gets tough, by drawing from examples of the Lord withholding his favor toward a stubborn and unfaithful people, his former neighbors show the superficiality of their love, but Jesus’ doesn’t diminish a bit. He is telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. They loved the thought of what Our Lord could do for them, not him, and went from speaking highly of him to trying to toss him off a cliff.

Any truth is easier to accept if it is communicated in love. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritatem (Charity in Truth) taught “All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person” (n.1). Today’s readings speak to those on both sides of the conversation: those trying to communicate a hard truth to those they love, and those who spurn that hard truth. Let’s pray to be strong in truth and love when we’re called to share it with those we love. Let’s also accept with humility and love those messengers who help us try to see the truth more clearly as well.

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19; Psalm 71:1–6, 15, 17; 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21–30.See also 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C,  14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, and Thursday after Epiphany.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us of the importance of the Word of God in our lives and of those who help us to understand it. Our Lord never meant us to try following his Word without help.

In today’s First Reading, the priest Ezra, as part of a liturgical assembly in honor of the dedication of the newly rebuilt Temple in Israel, reads the law for hours to the people in order to help them to renew the covenant and understand how to live it. It was probably the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The Israelites found their identity in the words of the Law, just as we find it in the Sacred Scripture today, especially in the Gospel. In embracing the Gospel we haven’t discarded the Old Testament: God’s Word endures throughout history to guide us and to shape our identity, then in the life of Israel, now in the life of the People of God. The New Testament helps us to understand the Old Testament more deeply. Just as in Ezra’s time, we don’t understand Sacred Scripture just as individuals. We gather to hear and be helped in understanding the Word of God by our sacred ministers: bishops, priests, and deacons.

In today’s Second Reading Paul, envisioning the Church as one great body composed of many members with different functions, strengths, and weaknesses, notes that the Church has certain members of the body that help understand the Word of God. As the Church we are one body in Christ: through Baptism we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. It was one Spirit that moved us to believe in Jesus and seek Baptism—the Holy Spirit—and that same Spirit sustains the unity of the Body, like a soul.

We became a part of this Body after we not only heard the Word of God, eliciting the faith in our souls, but put our love, faith, and trust in the Word—Jesus—completely, through Baptism, making our lives Christian in a way we never could alone. Although we are one Body and have one Spirit in Christ, we don’t all have the same role within the Body, just as the head, the toe, the heart don’t have the same role in a human body. Thanks to the apostles, the prophets, and the teachers we’re always sure to understand and live the Word of God as he has been communicated to us. The apostles and prophets may now be in Heaven, but their words continue to transmit God’s Word to us.

In today’s Gospel Luke explains to Theophilus that he sought to check and compile all concerning Jesus that had been written or handed down by other “ministers of the word.” Our Lord too in today’s Gospel reads from the prophets, but presents something new, something that represents his Incarnation and mission and sheds light on all the Word of God. He has come to fulfill everything promised through the prophets, and to give meaning to the history of salvation lived until that moment. What we call the Bible today was passed along through oral and written traditions, compiled into books at various moments of salvation history, and the Church, aided by the Holy Spirit, established as the canon (rule) of Scripture those books we read and meditate on today. Without God’s Word we’d soon lose our identity and our way in a world plagued by ignorance, confusion, and evil. Sacred Scripture continues to ensure that we have access to the Word of God, spoken through all of salvation history, and remain united in the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Just like Ezra, Paul, and Jesus himself, the Lord blesses us with people who conserve and interpret what God has said to us throughout salvation history.

While sacred ministers help us know the authentic interpretation of the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, they don’t have a monopoly on learning Sacred Scripture. There are many good commentaries on Sacred Scripture to help us understand the Word of God more deeply and put it into practice: The Navarre Bible, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, and Catholic Study Bible are just a few examples. Reading a little of the Word of God daily is important, but seeking a little help in understanding it will help you meditate on it even more fruitfully.

Readings: Nehemiah 8:2–4a, 5–6, 8–10; Psalm 19:8–10, 15; 1 Corinthians 12:12–30; Luke 1:1–4, 4:14–21. See also 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B and 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

2nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s Gospel, taken from John, recalls the first of Our Lord’s signs that show his glory, signs of a new Spirit that wants to transform us and help us to transform others into what truly gives glory to the Lord: our holiness.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us the Word of God continues to resound for our sake throughout history, taking us, spread among the nations of this world, and making us a crown for his glory as his Bride, the Church. The Word of God, Jesus as we know him today, will not keep silent so long as there is any risk of unjust loss or condemnation. Even on the day of Judgment his Word will praise us or condemn us, a point John makes in his Gospel (cf. John 12:48ff.).

Isaiah describes this vindication and victory using nuptial symbolism. Nuptial symbolism is very strong in the mind of Israel as the way to understand the joy her salvation will bring. For Isaiah, any checkered past of Israel, any past disgrace will be swept away by the Lord not only wedding himself to her by way of concession, but with the delight of a young couple in love. That wedding is definitively consummated between him and the Church, with the wedding banquet awaiting us in Heaven. In today’s Gospel John’s account of the Wedding Feast of Cana has this nuptial symbolism in mind. He’s recalling a wedding feast, but he is also recalling that the Heavenly Groom, Jesus, is preparing to wed his Spouse, the Church.

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us that when we welcome the Word of God into our lives we also invite the Spirit to fill us with gifts for our spiritual edification and the spiritual edification of others, the path to glory. The Word does not just educate us by sharing saving and joyful truth: even as the Word takes root in our hearts his Spirit fills us with gifts as well.

Grace itself is a gift, and common to many, but Paul reminds us today that the Holy Spirit also gives specific gifts to specific people: it can be a spiritual gift to educate, to heal, or to counsel; it can be a vocation to the priesthood, to the consecrated life; it can be to form part of an ecclesial movement or other association of faithful, etc. The Holy Spirit heals, educates, counsels, and sanctifies, but also gives those gifts for the healing, sanctification, etc. of others. The Holy Spirit has a plan for those gifts, so it is being attentive to the Spirit that enables us to use those gifts and help the Spirit’s sanctifying and edifying work.

What starts in today’s Gospel with Our Lord attending a wedding banquet turns into a sign that the Lord’s courtship with Israel, foretold in today’s First Reading, has begun in earnest. The transformation of the water into wine is the first sign Our Lord performs in John’s Gospel. John doesn’t speak of miracles as much as he speaks of signs: each sign is an opportunity for Israel to put her faith in the Lord. Wedding celebrations in Jesus’ time were prolonged affairs with abundant wine to represent the joy of the wedding and the future joy of when the Lord would be wed to his spouse Israel.

When it seems today that the joy is going to prematurely run out, Our Lord through transforming the water into wine not only extends the joy but makes it an even greater joy. All the things we enjoy in life that are good and holy for us will experience a similar transformation. The huge jars of water represent penance, conversion, purification, and baptism, everything that shows our contrition for our checkered past and our desire to change. Our Lord takes that penance and purification and converts it into pure joy, just as he turns the water into fine wine. Our Lord envisions his relationship with us, whether as Church or as individuals, as one of intimate and joyful love. If we want to be captivated and purified by him and achieve a greater joy, let’s follow the Blessed Mother’s advice today to do whatever he tells us.

Mary today shows great considerateness toward the young couple about to be embarrassed before all their family and friends, but also toward the seriousness and importance of her son’s mission. She doesn’t ask him so much as mention that there’s a pending need. She could have just ordered told him to do it, backed up by the Ten Commandments (honor thy mother). Our Lord’s enigmatic reply to his mother is going to be the subject of discussion until the Second Coming, but Mary keeps it simple, telling the waiters, “do whatever he tells you.” She leaves it in her son’s hands, just as we, when we need something, should just mention the need to him and trust him to do what’s best, like his mother. Let’s learn from Mary how to ask for what we need.

Readings: Isaiah 62:1–5; Psalm 96:1–3, 7–10; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; John 2:1–11. See also 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C.

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