21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings teach us that Christianity is not meant to be something superficial in our lives, like a designer label. The Lord calls us to make Christianity our lifestyle, and that lifestyle requires a willingness to go to the distance, to discipline ourselves and persevere in the face of difficulty, and to welcome the Lord’s grace into our lives.

In today’s First Reading the Lord describes knowledge of him spreading to the ends of the earth, even where no one has heard of him. The Lord sends believers out so that all those who know and believe in him may come together and unite around him. If that implies going far and wide it also implies a long distance between the Lord and those who want to journey toward him. People must come from far and wide too, and a long journey is not an easy journey. It implies taking a direction in life and staying the course. It will not just be a long road, but a difficult and tiring one that requires discipline and determination to complete the journey.

In today’s Second Reading the Lord is described as a father coaching his children to train themselves well (quoting Proverbs 3:11-12) and to keep pushing and striving so that they are able to go the distance. Discipline is not meant to drain us; it is meant to strengthen us and give us endurance. A life of virtue is a life of discipline and effort; it can be tiring, but the long-term effects make it worthwhile. Life on this earth may be a battle, but when we are saved, it will all have been worthwhile. When a father is tough on his children they resent it, but, eventually, if they are wise, they thank him for it. When the Lord expects a lifestyle that we consider demanding we too must see the need to work toward achieving it as coming from a loving Father who wants to bring out the best of us for our own good.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord warns that salvation is like a narrow door where not everyone is admitted. It is not just what you know, but who you know. If you come to the master at the key moment and he sees you as a stranger, although you claim otherwise, it should be no surprise when he leaves you out in the cold. Our Lord is asked how many will make it, and he doesn’t give a number. He warns us that many will try, but few will succeed. The First Reading described news of the Lord spreading everywhere to enable people to come to him. The evildoer’s in the description of today’s Gospel come from a place unknown to the master: if there is somewhere where the Gospel is not found, it is where evil and sin are found. Sin takes us far away from the Lord and keeps us there.

Being in grace means being in communion with God; it means being part of his family and recognized as such, and God takes the initiative to offer it to us and make it grow in our lives. Through Baptism, sacraments, prayer, and a life of virtue the Lord gives us the grace to go the distance, persevere, and show people we are Christians. Don’t be discouraged by the distance and difficulty that still lies ahead. Our Lord has sent you the Gospel to get your bearings, your fellow Christians to coach and encourage you, and his grace to be welcomed in the Father’s house. When Christianity is a style of life for you, not just a label, you will succeed.

Marketers are very careful about avoiding anything that damages their brand, and Christians must be very careful about doing anything that gives Christianity a bad name, not just for the “label,” but for their souls and the souls of those seeking Christ through them. We become Christians through Baptism and that sacrament imprints something spiritual and deep on us, something meant to transform us and our way of life, whether we reflect it afterwards or not. Strive to make Christianity more than skin deep in your life.

Readings: Isaiah 66:18–21; Psalm 117:1, 2; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; Luke 13:22–30. See also 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C.

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.

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that it is not hard to know the Lord’s expectations for us. We’re the ones who complicate things. The difficulty comes in doing what Our Lord expects of us. Why?

In today’s First Reading Moses, in his parting words to the Israelites, encourages them to see that what the Lord expects of them is not hard to know or achieve: it is turning to God with all their heart and soul. The Lord had come to them when they were slaves in Egypt, led them to freedom, and constituted them as his people at Mt. Sinai, giving them the Ten Commandments that we live even today. When they rebelled, the Lord had Moses lead them through the desert for forty years, but his expectations never changed. They resisted for a long time, but he’d already told them at Mt. Sinai what he expected of them. When Moses speaks to them in today’s First Reading, just before they would finally enter into the Promised Land, he is almost pleading them to turn to their Lord with all their heard.

The Lord has made this even easier by sending us his Son, the image of the invisible God, as Paul describes in today’s Second Reading. Moses in the First Reading describes the Lord’s commandment as close, already in their hearts and lips, waiting to be carried out. With the coming of Christ, the Lord’s expectations become even closer: we see them in the flesh, in the Son. Paul reminds us that all things were created in, through, and for the Son. By conforming ourselves to Christ we are conforming ourselves to what humanity is truly meant to be, turning away from any confusion or disfiguration due to sin. This is not just a process of aligning our goals with Our Lord’s. We were created in the image and likeness of God, so by conforming ourselves to the “image of the invisible God” we conform ourselves to the pattern of life the Lord wants for us. It is the best lifestyle for which we can hope. Through the Son we are aided in turning to God with all our heart and soul; he not only leads by example, but also empowers our charity through his act of love on the Cross.

In today’s Gospel the scribe shows wisdom in seeing that love for God and for neighbor are the path to fulfillment in life. He just wants to know one point of fine print: who should we consider our neighbor? The answer is not hard: everyone is our neighbor, as the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches. The man waylaid on the way to Jericho was heading from a “good part of town” to a “bad one” (Jericho often symbolized turning your back on Jerusalem and heading into sin); anyone could have rationalized that when you head to a bad part of town you deserve what you get. The Samaritan was overcome with compassion at the sight of his neighbor bleeding and half dead alongside the road. In Luke’s Gospel the scribe asks in the context of asking what he needs to do in order to inherit eternal life. That Samaritan’s goodness and compassion, by extension, despite all the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans, won him eternal life. It’s not complicated. We make it complicated. Strive to love God and every neighbor and you will accomplish something in life and achieve everything truly worthwhile.

It’s not uncommon that when we hear Our Lord’s expectation that we love our neighbor one or two people come to mind that make us shudder (“Love him? Love her? No way!”). The Good Samaritan today was moved with compassion at the sight of the beaten man. Sacred Scripture doesn’t say what the Levite felt, only that he kept his distance. Whether someone invokes compassion or revulsion in us, Our Lord expects us to love them. Love is a conviction, and, at times, there won’t be feelings to back it up. Anyone who has experienced love has experienced how strong it is when it is not backed up by pleasant feelings. If there is anyone in your life that your feelings are keeping you from loving, make the resolution to love them and wish for them whatever will make them healthy and holy. Your feelings may not change, but your love will.

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10–14; Psalm 69:14, 17, 30–31, 33–34, 36, 37; Colossians 1:15–20; Luke 10:25–37. See also 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 3rd Week of Lent,Friday,  9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.