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.

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

In today’s Gospel we see the culmination and the aftermath of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. Jesus has presented his teaching on the Eucharist, and the disciples are struggling with believing in it because they don’t understand it. It is the moment of decision.

Today’s First Reading, taken from the Book of Joshua, recalls a decisive moment for the people of God. The Exodus and forty years in the desert are over. They’ve not only entered the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership and with the Lord’s help; they’ve conquered it. With a long journey behind them where the Lord not only accompanied and guided them, but also worked great signs and wonders, they now had to decide whether they would still serve him or turn back to the gods they’d left behind.

Joshua tells them they can do whatever they want, but he’s already made his decision: he and his household will serve the Lord. Everything the Lord has offered is freely given, just as it is freely accepted. They’re free to simply decide to go back to their old way of life, even though they’d be foolish to do so. The Israelites in the face of all the Lord has done for them acknowledge they’d be crazy to turn away from him now. However, as the Book of Judges reminds us, they soon did turn away from the Lord after Joshua passed away.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that service implies being subordinate to another, and subordination is not always a bad thing. That last statement may rankle us, who pride ourselves on our independence and self-reliance, but Our Lord teaches this by example. When Paul used the example of the husband being the head of the household, he points to the relationship between Our Lord and the Church to show how this should be lived. To use a more contemporary expression, there’s no daylight between Christ and His Church, just as there should not be between husband and wife. Everyone should see them as one thing, no longer two, inseparable. Being subordinate to someone bears a greater responsibility on the part of the person to whom you’re being subordinate. Our Lord laid down his life for our wellbeing. He may call the shots, but he cherishes us, just as a husband should cherish his wife.

In today’s Gospel we see the culmination and the aftermath of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. His teaching about the Eucharist presents the moment of decision for those who follow him, because it requires faith, not just understanding. As a result, “many” disciples of Jesus return to their former way of life. Our Lord even poses the question to the Twelve, and Peter’s response holds a lesson we should all consider in our own life of faith: belief is supported by grace, and it is through belief that we understand some of the deepest mysteries of God.

If we try to start with reasons, as we’ve seen over the last few Sundays, some truths of God will remain out of reach for us and we’ll fall back on the certainties we know, as many of the disciples did in today’s Gospel. We shouldn’t be shy about asking Our Lord to help us in our unbelief. As Peter describes it in his response to Our Lord, believing leads to conviction. We can live a life of faith without understanding it completely and, somehow, it all fits together. The Twelve, except Judas, are building on an experience of God and his mystery that they’ve had ever since they started following Jesus, which, in turn, was built on their understanding of God before Jesus’ coming that had been lived and passed along throughout salvation history.

Today’s readings provide a great way to take spiritual inventory of how we our living our lives when faced with adversity and difficulty in matters of faith. The teaching on the Eucharist was too much, and many disciples abandoned the life Jesus had taught them. Their faith when challenged was anemic, and Our Lord already knew who had welcomed grace into their hearts and who hadn’t. Those who did persevere in faith and in living as Christ taught were blessed in abundance. Today’s individualism often tempts us to try and work out spiritual matters on our own, a la carte, on our terms, and without anyone else’s “interference,” but the Church has been established and sanctified by Our Lord so that believers can help believers. Let’s examine our life today and see whether we’ve drifted from what Our Lord has taught, or doubted that his teaching now continues through his Church. Often this results from a teaching difficult to accept. Like Peter in today’s Gospel, let’s believe first, in order to then be convinced through grace that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

Readings: Joshua 24:1–2a, 15–17, 18b; Psalm 34:2–3, 16–21; Ephesians 5:21–32; John 6:60–69. See also 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

21st Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I

In today’s parable Our Lord teaches us to unearth our talents and make at least a minimal effort to put them to good use. It’s true that in the parable the servants receive their talents and one decides to bury them, but in real life Our Lord has created us with many talents that we can employ if we discover them. In the Last Supper he reminded his disciples that they were to bear fruit as the best way of glorifying the Father (see John 15). How do we give the Lord a return on his investment in us?

We mustn’t let fear keep us from taking risks in Our Lord’s service. As the unfortunate servant found out today, he was so rattled about what he thought were his master’s expectations that he made the wrong move. He was so foolish that the simple steps he could have taken were far from his thoughts. Who knows how things would have turned out if he had simply asked his master for suggestions.

We too must ask the Lord to help us unearth our talents and teach us the best way to use them. As he reminds us today, everyone has talents and is expected to use them. Let’s get to work. Even a little effort goes a long way in Our Lord’s service.

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:9–11; Psalm 98:1, 7–9; Matthew 25:14–30. See also 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Even today there are lots of opinions on who Jesus is or who he was, but today’s readings remind us that the most important opinion is our own: who do I say that Christ is?

Today’s First Reading shows the contrast between the faithful steward entrusted with the keys to everything and the steward stripped of them due to his infidelity. The palace to which Isaiah refers today is the royal palace, an important responsibility. The master of the palace, a steward, represented the king’s interests in many ways and in the king’s name. When Isaiah refers to the house of Judah and the House of David he is referring to much more than a building: he is referring to the royal family and the kingdom. A good steward to the king serves him, his family, his servants, and his people. This level of responsibility brings an incredible pressure from all sides trying to curry the steward’s favor or bring about his downfall. It requires a solid acknowledgement on his part of who is truly in charge: the king. We don’t know what Shebna did to get fired, but Isaiah sees in Eliakim a man who will stand firm in his service to all. This reading is a Scriptural foundation for the Church’s faith on what it meant to have Christ, Our King, entrust the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, his keys, to Peter and his successors.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that an even greater treasure and responsibility has been entrusted to Peter and his successors. God came in Person in his son to reveal the treasures of Our Father: “the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” The Church has faithfully watched over this treasure through the centuries, but not just collectively. Our Lord entrusted Peter and his successors with what we call today the deposito fidei: the deposit of faith. Our treasure is the truth about God, about who Our Lord is and what he said and did, about the path to holiness and happiness. The greatest treasure the Church watches over and communicates is the truth about who Jesus is.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord starts quizzing his disciples about the rumor mill regarding him, but then hits them with a pop quiz. Who did people think Our Lord was? Simply a prophet, and, for most, not even a new prophet: one back from the dead. Little did the disciples realize as they rattled off the theories that they’d have to answer for themselves too. Peter taught us how we should respond to the question: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s profession of faith in today’s Gospel was bolstered by grace, not just his own sleuthing. The Father revealed something about his Son in Peter’s response, and Peter’s faith should be our faith. Peter’s faith in Christ was rewarded by Christ’s trust in him. Just as Eliakim was entrusted with the keys to all the House of David’s possessions, Peter was entrusted with the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. Our Lord promised him that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against the Church that the Lord would found upon him as the Rock.

Who is Christ to you? If your response lacks any element of Peter’s response it is time to reexamine and deepen your faith.

Readings: Isaiah 22:19–23; Psalm 138:1–3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33–36; 16:13–20.

21st Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

Today’s Gospel is a parable about our life. Paul reminds us in the First Reading that everything we have received is from the Lord; we have nothing to boast about. The master in today’s parable gives his servants all the capital they need, but he also expects them to use that capital in a way that benefits him. We have been given talents, some more, some less, and we’re expeced to do something with them. We cannot boast about coming up with any of them on our own.

It doesn’t matter how talented we are; what matters is how we use our talents in the service of God and for the good of others. The succesful servants doubled what they’d received; if through our efforts even one more believer stands before Our Lord on Judgment Day, prepared to enter into his master’s joy, we’ll have accomplished our mission. The master departed for a long time; we have a lifetime to make those talents bear fruit. The only thing we need to fear is not using our talents in the Lord’s service at all. If the master is so upset in today’s parable it is because it is so easy to use your talents to bear even a little fruit that not doing so is negligence.

Take stock of the talents you’ve received from Our Lord and ask him to show you how to best invest them.

Readings: 1 Corinthians 1:26–31; Psalm 33:12–13, 18–21; Matthew 25:14–30. See also 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.