22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings teach us that if we want to avoid a life of frustrated schemes and aspirations we must, in humility, seek the place in life the Lord has prepared for us and trust he has a place prepared for us in Heaven too. It is a place of honor. The alternative is humiliation in this life and the next.

Today’s First Reading reminds us that humility attracts people more than buying gifts ever could. The way you deal with others determines their respect (or disrespect) for you. Buying it is overpriced and costly. The humble person realizes his limitations and imperfections no matter how great he actually is. He also realizes that in some things he can be over his head or out of his league: humility is solid self-knowledge. Lastly, he knows there’s always something new to learn and appreciates good advice.

Today’s Second Reading, addressed to Christians who were tired and discouraged, reminds us that the distance between God and us has been eliminated. The Lord no longer hides in fire and smoke. He is no longer beyond our reach or our experience. Every Sunday we are at table with him—the Mass—and he shows us our place in his heart through the gift of his life. Abel was killed for having pleased the Lord, causing Cain’s jealousy; Our Lord gave up his own life to please his Father and save us: that is humble service. If someone as great as the Lord was willing to shed his blood for you there’s no reason to seek other signs of his respect and esteem for you. He cherishes and honors you through his sacrifice on the Cross.

The most obvious question that crosses anyone’s mind when hearing today’s Gospel, a parable about Heaven, is, “what spot am I going to get?” That question shows flawed logic. Our Lord teaches us today that invitees don’t decide their own spot in his banquet. We don’t decide any spots in our life on our own. The quest for honorable positions, according to worldly logic—power, wealth, etc., is almost a guarantee of failure, because we seek the spot we don’t deserve.

We see this in so many areas of our life: school, sports, work, and family. Despite this, we keep seeking them and then suffer the shame of returning to a spot that may even be a step down from what we could have merited through humility. Our Lord puts us on guard against this tendency today. If we seek the humblest spot we will see that he honors us beyond our expectations. We live this in every celebration of the Eucharist, which reminds us of the only place that matters: our place in Heaven. A place in the Lord’s heart is the most honorable place we have, which is why Our Lord invites us to have a place in our heart not just for those we know and love, but for everyone.

We’ve all been invited to the Heavenly banquet without earning it or deserving it. We’re poor (lacking the only currency of worth—love for our neighbor), crippled and lame (by not living our Christian life well), and blind (not seeing our own flaws and limitations). Despite all this misery, the Lord invites us and gives us a place of honor. Let’s thank Our Lord today for having saved us a place in his Heavenly banquet through his blood on the Cross. Let’s assure him that he’ll always be in first place in our hearts and strive to give this love to others.

Make an extra effort this week to put others first in gratitude to Our Lord for reserving you a place of honor in Heaven. Hold the door for someone entering or exiting. Offer to help carry parcels or groceries. Let someone else serve themselves first at the buffet (or make them lunch). Clear the table or do some other chore, even if it is not your turn.

Readings: Sirach 3:17–18, 20, 28–29; Psalm 68:4–7, 10–11; Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24a; Luke 14:1, 7–14. See also 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the source if good and evil is the heart, not external things. The heart is our inner sanctum where we can be pure or defiled, and both conditions try to go beyond their confines to influence the lives of others.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that that the purpose of the Law is to enable us to grow closer to God and to show our intelligence and wisdom. In Jesus’ time the Pharisees had derived over six hundred rules and regulations from the Law, all derived from the Law spelled out in the Old Testament books (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, etc.). However, they had lost sight of the fundamentals: love for God and neighbor, not just ritual cleanliness. Moses reminds them today that the Law is to be followed so that they not only have intelligence and wisdom, but show it. Intelligence is something that shines from within. It’s not just the information we receive that counts, but how we process it and use it. Wisdom influences how we perceive the world. It makes us see causes, connections, and consequences, and our actions show or disprove that we are wise.

In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that in order to please God we should strive “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The “world” today believes that if something feels good, you should do it, but the world is also witness to how much destructive behavior comes from following that principle. We are wounded by original sin and our own sins; not everything as a result feels good that is good–addicts destroy themselves by trying to feel good. Lots of behavior turns into compulsive behavior that we can’t control: this is a stained heart that Our Lord wants to make clean again through love and mercy.

The Pharisees in Our Lord’s earthly time were focused on externals and had lost sight of the bigger picture. Our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel that defilement comes from hearts and endangers other hearts, and we should strive to maintain purity of heart, not just ritual cleanliness. In today’s Gospel, using the example of dietary laws, Our Lord is teaching us that the “Devil made me do it” as an argument has no merit. The problem of evil has plagued man and philosophy almost since Creation, and a trend has always tried to blame God or other things as the cause of sin when all man needed to do was look in the mirror. The Lord created everything good and for the good, but his creatures freely chose to do evil instead: the fallen angels, starting with the Devil, and humanity, starting with Adam and Eve. If the world is a mess it is because we, sinners, made it so.

The dietary laws in Jesus’ time believed certain foods brought ritual contamination and, therefore, defiled a man, Mark makes a point of saying in his account that Jesus is teaching that there are no ritually impure foods. It’s a teaching that even the first disciples would struggle with as they realized that Christianity was meant to go beyond the Jewish world and culture. The Original Sin of Adam and Eve robbed us of something we, their descendants, couldn’t do without, and it is only thanks to the Redemption that their sin didn’t condemn us all to spiritual death. However, Adam and Eve aren’t to blame for all of it: we too have sinned and continue to sin. This sobering reality is not meant to discourage us; rather, it makes us realize that not only do we need Savior, but have one: Our Lord.

Our Lord gives a long list of things that come from defiled hearts and endanger other hearts, and they can all be traced back to someone going overboard in trying to feel “good” and dragging others into their behavior, even through their bad example. James in the Second Reading may have spoken of charity toward widows and orphans, but acting in this disordered way is also a lack of charity toward others, since it can lead them to spiritually ruin themselves. Let’s ask Our Lord to practice charity with all our heart, not only caring for others, but treating them with purity of heart and encouraging them to do the same. In that way we’ll please God and remain close to him.

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8; Psalm 15:2–5; James 1:17–18, 21b–22, 27; Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23. See also 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s Gospel Peter balks at the thought that Christ must deny himself and take up his cross. Last week Our Lord was praising Peter’s faith; this week he is condemning his worldly outlook.

In today’s First Reading Jeremiah laments all the ridicule and suffering he endures for the Lord’s cause. Jeremiah was called to be the Lord’s prophet in a time when people preferred their own counsel and wished for an easy solution to their problems that didn’t involve faith or sacrifice. He is dejected because his mission is as hard as he imagined, but he let the Lord talk him into it anyway. When facing the hardship of decisions made, we often ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” Jeremiah is having one of those moments. Despite difficulty and dejection he burns inside to carry on, because he knows he is heralding the truth, something no one can turn their back on. He knows his message will save his people.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that we are called to a spiritual worship that implies sacrifice, just as Christ sacrificed himself on the Cross as an act of perfect worship for our sins. The martyrs answered the call to sacrifice their very lives for the cause of Christ. The confessors suffered physically for the cause of his name. By shouldering our crosses we offer spiritual sacrifice to Our Lord and place our worship alongside Our Lord’s perfect sacramental worship each time we celebrate the Eucharist. We can never forget that now we offer in a non bloody manner at each Mass what he offered in a bloody manner on Calvary. The world tries to turn our minds away from the Cross, but the cross is the true path to life and fulfillment. When we accept and shoulder the crosses in our life it renews our attitude toward the fleeting things of this world and what is truly important.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that the cross is a part of our life whether we want it or not, and what matters is how we face it and why we face it. He also encourages us to practice self-detachment and to remember that everything we have comes from God. No matter how often we try to accumulate things and ensure comfort, something prevents it from happening. Some people are wealthy, or healthy, or in charge of their lives, yet they feel something is missing. All things that God has created only serve us to the degree that they help us and others draw closer to God. Sometimes we lose sight of that: we want a life that does not involved self-denial and the Cross, a life where we own everything we could possibly want, not just everything we need. We seek financial security, comfort, and control, and we convince ourselves that we’ll be satisfied with having more money, more comfort, more control.

The things of this world are fleeting and we’ve all experienced that after one bill comes another, that we can’t always enjoy the health or comfort we crave, no matter how hard we try, and that there are many things that will always be beyond our control. When we get obsessed about achieving the impossible in this world–unlimited wealth (the latest and greatest and a big nest egg), complete comfort (no aches and pains, nothing unpleasant), and total control (everything arranged to our satisfaction)–those things that God created for our good become obstacles to drawing closer to him, and throw up obstacles for others as well.

Our Lord reminds us today that we can have the whole world, but not possess what is truly important: an enduring and fulfilled life. That enduring and fulfilled life doesn’t exist in this world, yet this world is the path to it. It depends on how we live in this world. Our Lord teaches us today that the only way to achieve what we truly desire is to take up our cross for the sake of a higher cause: his cause. Our Lord was ravaged on the cross, but not defeated, and from that Tree of Life an enduring and fulfilling life is made possible, if we take up his cause and imitate him. The alternative is a ravaged world: the more we seek fleeting things, the more we flee from our crosses, the more we’ll suffer lasting misery, because if we put our stock only in the things of this world, they will, sooner or later, pass away.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us see our crosses not as burdens, but as opportunities to help construct a better world in his name. Through our crosses, in his service, we can achieve a better life for ourselves and for others. Let’s take up our cross and take up the cause of Christ.

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7–9; Psalm 63:2–6, 8–9; Romans 12:1–2; Matthew 16:21–27.

22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Paul reminds us that the mission of the apostle is to put others first, and that invariable leads to the frustration of being put last. He describes the Christian communities he founded as his spiritual children, and every good father strives to give the best to his children. How many parents have worked overtime and given up opportunities for the sake of those they love? The apostle’s mission is very similar.

Whether we are on the receiving end or the giving end of this process, the correct response is humility. Humility helps us not lament our lot in life when it seems hard and thankless, and it also helps us remember that we are beneficiaries of everything, including our very existence. When everything is a gift from the Lord and acknowledged as such there’s no room for an attitude of entitlement. The Corinthians were put in first place by Paul and Apollos, but that should be a motive for thanking Our Lord, not boasting.

Take some time today to take stock of all you’ve received and all those who’ve put you in first place, and try returning the favor by putting others in first place in your own life.

Readings: 1 Corinthians 4:6b–15; Psalm 145:17–21; Luke 6:1–5. See also 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, and  15th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.

22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s First Reading the Christians of Corinth are reminded by Paul that as a steward of the Lord and his mysteries he is accountable to the Lord, not the flock. This may concern us today when most organizations require some sort of oversight that comes from the group in general, but it is important to see here that this does not give Paul the license to do whatever he wishes. Every minister answers to the Lord for what he does, Paul included.

Paul himself says he doesn’t think he has done any wrong, but the Lord is the ultimate judge of his actions. This is not just true for ministers, but for everyone. If we can help someone to see that their behavior is displeasing to the Lord, we should try to help them see it, but ultimately they will answer to the Lord for what they’ve done or not done.

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians is addressing criticisms regarding him and his ministry that he has been receiving. Let’s pray for our ministers today and give them the benefit of the doubt. If we experience the human weakness of one of the Lord’s ministers, let’s help him however we can.

Readings: 1 Corinthians 4:1–5; Psalm 37:3–6, 27–40; Luke 5:33–39. See also Friday after Ash Wednesday22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.