23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

At first glance it may seem that in today’s Gospel Jesus is asking his disciples to burn their bridges, but if we look a little more closely we can see he’s inviting them to “do the math,” to go from a worldly, calculating idea of love and happiness to a liberating one founded on humility, faith, and trust.

It may seem illogical that the Lord would ask us to abandon our family, our health, our security, and our comfort to follow him, but when we read the words of today’s First Reading, we see the “logic” that goes contrary to that invitation break down. When we try to find the answers to the big questions—life, death, love, our calling in this life—we see that the cut and dry business or scientific approach doesn’t work. The big questions escape our categories, experience, and observation, and with such big mysteries looming over our heads, mysteries that seem to decide our fate, our hearts yearn for freedom. Our Lord in today’s Gospel is offering us those answers and that freedom. He asks us to have faith and trust in him

Onesimus, the escaped slave whom Paul mentions in today’s Second Reading, sought freedom from his master, Philemon, but Onesimus found a far greater freedom in the end. In the time of ancient Rome, slaves were a big percentage of the population. Slavery resulted from debts or being on the wrong end of a war. Slave labor was so needed in ancient Roman society that they were a social class of their own. Rome took escapees very seriously, and Onesimus got caught, but the Lord let him get caught so he could experience a true freedom, with the help of St. Paul, whom he met in prison. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with the letter, a part of which we consider in today’s Second Reading, to be Christ’s instrument of liberation: a liberation of love. Paul urges Philemon to see Onesimus now as more than a servant, more than a piece of property. Paul invites him to see Onesimus as the Lord wants him to be seen: a brother.

After inviting his disciples in the first part of today’s Gospel to take of their crosses and follow him, the Lord invites them in the second part to “do the math:” to think about what they’re trying to build in their life, like the tower builder, and what battle they’re ready to wage against life’s challenges, like the king. When we follow Christ, our families, our sufferings, our very selves will experience, like Onesimus (and, hopefully, Philemon) a liberation of love When we follow Christ, those we love will also seek in him the answers to the big questions of life that go beyond their “math” too. However, we must put Christ first in our lives. That can hurt us and our family a lot, but when we put our calculations aside, when we face the unknown trusting in Christ, we show him we are following him, and he never leads us astray.

When you consider how you love and who you love, does it feel constraining and confining to you, or liberating? When you love, do you condition it based on the love you have received (or lack thereof)? When we focus on the trouble loving causes us it shows us the disordered love from which the Lord wants to liberate us: egotistical love. If you make an effort to put the Lord and others first in your life, even if it implies renunciation and discomfort, you will experience a liberation of love.

Readings: Wisdom 9:13–18b; Psalm 90:3–6, 12–14, 17; Philemon 9–10, 12–17; Luke 14:25–33. See also 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C31st Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that if sin is messy Redemption involves some messiness and discomfort too. It’s through material realities that we fell, so it’s logical that Our Lord should establish material ways to redeem us, like the sacraments.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes a post-Eden world, crippled and thirsting for relief due to sin. The effects of sin go beyond those who committed them; they cripple and wound us all. As Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden the Lord told them a consequence of their sin would be the need to eke out an existence; instead if a plentiful garden the world had become a hostile wilderness and desert. Neither did they face a wild post-Fall world with all the strength they had before, sin wounded them and crippled them. The sign of the crippled healed and the lands bounteous once again were all signs of a Redemption to come in Christ.

In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that the vindication, understood as justice, and recompense describe by Isaiah would be an ongoing process that even believers after Baptism would have to remember. Dignity is not superficial. Many times it is not fashionable or stylish. Through Baptism everyone in the Church, rich or poor, has the dignity of being our brother or sister in Christ. Our Lord came to restore a dignity lost by sin, and as believers we strive to acknowledge that dignity in everyone, rich or poor, healthy or sick, baptized or not.

In today’s First Reading we are reminded that the Lord wants to heal us from our infirmities, but it’s likely that the Israelites never imagined Our Lord would want to come personally and do so. God wants to touch us and heal us; we see that in today’s Gospel. By modern standards it may seem distasteful that saliva is involved, but when we consider that every time we celebrate the Eucharist we are receiving Jesus’ body and blood, it’s not much of a stretch. God assumed a human nature because he wanted to come touch us and heal us through human nature. God still wants to touch us and heal us. Today he does so through the sacraments.

In each sacrament there are certain materials, certain expressions, certain dispositions of heart through which Our Lord reaches out and touches us and heals us or strengthens us. When we receive him in Holy Communion we touch God, who comes into our hearts and makes us more like him after he decided, out of sheer goodness, to assume a human nature and become like us. Let’s be thankful in receiving the Eucharist today that Our Lord wants to be close to us, wants to touch us. And let’s examine how our sacramental life is going: Mass, confession, etc., so that it really touches us and helps us to change for the better.

In today’s Gospel the Lord visibly works miracles, and he still does, invisibly, through the sacraments. The water poured on our heads at Baptism cleans our very souls. A few words and dispositions in Confession reconcile us with God and the Church. A little consecrated bread and wine are the Bread of Life. Let’s thank Our Lord this week for all the quiet miracles he continues to work under sacramental signs.

Readings: Isaiah 35:4–7a; Psalm 146:7–10; James 2:1–5; Mark 7:31–37. See also 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year I

In today’s First Reading it seems Paul is addressing an implied misconception of Our Lord that he is just another powerful spiritual being among many, perhaps according to some hierarchy of angels in which the Colossians believed. Paul is very clear: “in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily.” Jesus Christ is God. In today’s Gospel the Lord is healing people with a touch and driving out demons effortlessly. People are flocking to him just to touch him and be healed.

The First Reading also reminds us that we have not just been taught by Christ, but, through the sacraments, we participate in his very life, including the most important events of his earthly life: his death and resurrection. He took our condemnation upon himself and when we share in his life, that condemnation is obliterated for us too.

Our Lord, through the sacraments, continues to give us an opportunity to be touched by him and healed. Let’s take advantage of every opportunity to draw closer to him.

Readings: Colossians 2:6–15; Psalm 145:1b–2, 8–11; Luke 6:12–19. See also 2nd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday14th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday and Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Nobody likes to be corrected. It tweaks our ego, and it is often badly done, or consists of someone making snide comments or berating us because we’ve done something they don’t like. Fraternal correction can also sting, but it has the good of the corrected person in mind. Today’s readings remind us that correction, when done fraternally, it a great act of charity that we should appreciate and practice for the good of others.

In today’s First Reading the Lord reminds Ezekiel, and us, that it is our moral responsibility to warn a brother or sister that they are doing something evil. It’s our duty to inform people of the consequences of their evil actions. When the Lord first asked Cain about the murder of Abel, he phrased it in a way that tried to help Cain realize he was responsible for his brother: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain responded, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). We are all our brother’s keeper. We live in a world that teaches us to mind our own business, but that doesn’t include someone who is drowning, at the mercy of criminals, or committing a crime themselves. Our society is full of initiatives to help others turn from evil: from programs for “at risk” youth to drug rehab to penitentiaries, but none of them has the same power as a brother or sister who genuinely cares and takes an interest in someone on the wrong path. The Lord today is telling Ezekiel today, and us, to inform consciences out of charity, not to force them onto the right path. If we love someone we cannot leave them in ignorance about the evil they’re doing.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that every just law is built on love, and if we focus on loving and teaching others to love everything else will fall into place. Society has many laws and measures today that are built on justice, but not always enforced with love. Deeper than the labels of “suspect,” “victim,” “criminal,” there is only one label that matters: “brother.” Paul simply repeats what Our Lord himself answered when the scribe asked him what was the greatest commandment regarding each other: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (see Mark 12:31). Fraternal correction is not returning evil for evil, no matter what our brother has done.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that before entering into litigation with someone who has wronged us we should try simple fraternal correction. Our society today tends to try and resolve disputes through rules and regulations, lawyers and courts, fines and penalties. We often try from the beginning to get justice from someone through someone else, when we know that nobody reacts well to being pressured into doing something. We should always try to start by settling a dispute fraternally: one on one, in frank but charitable dialogue.

We should not only seek our own good, but the good of the person who has afflicted us, and we won’t completely understand their motives if we don’t speak to them. There are many small disagreements that can be resolved this way, and to everyone’s satisfaction. If an attempt at fraternal correction fails it is not a lack of charity to bring witnesses in and, if necessary the Church (authorities), in order to help both parties see the truth and adhere to it. Justice is sought, but the good of both parties as well. If the guilty party does not listen to all the facts and to an authoritative judgment, then the guilty party has been shown to not be in communion with those he or she has afflicted and that has to be acknowledged, sometimes publicly. When the Church formally declares someone to be excommunicated or under interdict it is taking this step for the good of the unrepentant party.

Today’s readings are about doing fraternal correction, but we need to learn to accept correction as well. If someone takes an interest enough in you to point out something that you might need to work on, you should be grateful. If the person is not exactly fraternal about it, and it is a valid point, you should be grateful. As an added bonus, it well help you to be more fraternal in correcting others.

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7–9; Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9; Romans 13:8–10 Matthew 18:15–20.


23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Paul invites us to consider who or what we are idolizing. We only really have one altar in our hearts, and no matter how much we try to crowd onto it, it only has room for one. Anything else will just fill us with restlessness and unhappiness.

The Christians of Corinth faced a polytheistic culture that was woven into the fabric of their society. Banquets and even the meat from the local butcher was food that had been sacrificed to idols, and eating that food gave the impression of worship those false gods. Paul explains the danger by reminding us that when we eat the Bread of life and drink the Precious Blood we enter into communion with Our Lord. Partaking of food in any other context of worship implies desiring communion, and we are only meant for communion with God and with each other.

We may not face this danger in the same way today, but we do often risk putting others or other things on that altar in our hearts that should be reserved for the Lord alone. Let’s take a moment today to withdraw into that shrine of our souls and make sure the Lord alone is worshiped and honored there.

Readings: 1 Corinthians 10:14–22; Psalm 116:12–13, 17–18; Luke 6:43–49. See also 1st Week of Advent, Thursday, 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, and 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.