Solemnity of Christ the King, Cycle A

Today’s Sunday is also ominously referred to as the last Sunday in Ordinary time, and not just because next Sunday a new liturgical year begins with Advent. Today’s Sunday reminds us that one day will be the last day of history: the day when Christ, Our King, returns in glory so that, as the Second Reading today phrases it, “God may be all in all,” and he reigns forever.

In today’s First Reading Ezekiel has just criticized the kings of Israel for not being good “shepherds” to Israel, their flock (see Ezekiel 34:1–10) and tells Israel that the Lord himself will shepherd them. This shepherd will rescue the sheep no matter how much they’ve strayed or been scattered. When he is among them he will tend them as a shepherd should. He will make sure they have the pasture and rest that they need, and will keep them together and take care of the sick and injured.

The Lord, however, also warns that the “sleek and strong” sheep will be destroyed, and that it is the right thing to do. The implication shifts back to the Lord being a good and just king who punishes the bad kings of his people. Those bad kings grew strong at the expense of their flocks and lost sight that they too were sheep of the Shepherd. Anything of danger to the flock gets ended. The Lord also has a word for the flock: they too will be judged. The Good Shepherd, Our King, does all this for us.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul outlines the process that began with Christ’s Resurrection from the dead and continues until the end of time when “God may be all in all.” Christ’s Resurrection was just the beginning. As the “firstfruits” the resurrections are just starting. Adam’s Fall condemned us all to death; Christ’s resurrection brings life back to us again. This won’t happen until he returns in glory. His Resurrection is a testimony that it will happen to those who believe in him as well.

At the Last Judgment everyone will be raised from the dead, good and evil, and judged by Our Lord in the sight of all. The powers he destroys, including death itself, are all the evils in creation that afflicted us. We will never have to fear them again, because they’ll be definitively overthrown by Christ. Then, with his Kingdom secure and established, Christ will offer it to the Heavenly Father who gave it to him in the first place, and the Heavenly Father’s desire to have those who believe in him gathered around his Son to be with him forever will be fulfilled.

In today’s Gospel we hear, in Our Lord’s words, what the Last Judgment will be like: at the end of time everyone, living or dead, will stand before the Judge and be evaluated on their charity. The Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” receives an added incentive: what you do unto others you are also doing to the Lord himself.

Love for neighbor is not just the ethical and loving thing to do; it is a way to love God himself. We’ll be judged on love for both. Sometimes Our Lord hides really well in those we’re trying to love. Many saints throughout history have persevered in loving nasty, smelly, offensive, ungrateful people because they know they are loving Our Lord and showing those people how much God loves them. We may not feel loving or feel the love, but we continue to try based on a deeper spiritual conviction that it is the right thing to do and a way of loving Our Lord. When we live this deep spiritual conviction, driven by charity, the difference between those who don’t and us is like the difference between a nasty cranky goat and a humble simple sheep: night and day.

With every Our Father we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, and Our Lord, at the start of his public ministry, said the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The Kingdom began with Christ preaching it and grows even today. It’s not just something that will come at the end of time. Charity and justice are the way we can help Christ’s Kingdom to spread. His Kingdom is a conquest of hearts, starting with ours. We should go out and through our justice and charity help him conquer the hearts of the whole world.

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11–12, 15–17; Psalm 23:1–6; 1 Corinthians 15:20–26, 28; Matthew 25:31–46.

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A recurring theme in all of today’s readings is the importance of a healthy respect for the Lord. In Biblical language this is usually referred to as “the fear of the Lord,” but today’s Gospel parable reminds us that fear can rattle us into making bad decisions as well as encourage us to make good ones.

Today’s First Reading presents an abbreviated wish list of everything a man should expect from a good wife, but also what is her due. A man entrusts his whole heart to a woman he considers “worthy.” She brings good things into his life, not grief. She is industrious and productive with her talents. She is not selfish, but helps the poor and needy. She is not focused on vanity, but what the Lord expects of her. Note that it says she “fears the Lord”: everything she does is out of respect for the Lord, not just her husband or society. And, as justice demands, she should be rewarded for her praiseworthy works. A good wife has all the characteristics of the fruitful servants in today’s Gospel, and this wish list could describe any person we consider good.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches the Thessalonians that if they truly respect the Lord and put that respect into practice they should have no fear about the day he comes. The Thessalonians are worried about when the Second Coming will occur. Paul tells them it is completely pointless to worry if they live a holy life. What does the thought of Christ returning in glory today do to you? The only fear it should bring is for the unrepentant sinners who’d face Judgment. It is the guilty who fear discovery and judgment. The guilty hide in a life unillumined by the light of Christ, thinking it provides them cover. The fear of the Lord’s judgment can rattle us in the same way, making us scramble for a cover that does not exist, trying to avoid a judgment we know we deserve, all in vain. It’s an awareness of the Lord’s love and mercy that makes us always respect him and live, without fear, in the light of a holy life pleasing to him.

Today’s Gospel is a parable about life. 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 not only him, but them. Two servants use it wisely, and one, so rattled by a fear of his master, doesn’t benefit the master or himself at all and pays the price. We have been given talents, some more, some less, and we’re expected 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 successful 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. In the Last Supper the Lord reminded his disciples that they were to bear fruit as the best way of glorifying the Father (see John 15:2, 4, 5, 8, 16). How do we give the Lord a return on his investment in us?

We mustn’t let fear be an obstacle in truly serving Our Lord. 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 culpably 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 in the first place. We too must ask the Lord to help us unearth our talents and teach us the best way to use them.

Readings: Proverbs 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6; 25:14–30.

32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the Lord reminds us of the responsibility we have to others in evaluating situations and giving advice. Justice is not just meted out in courtrooms anymore; the Internet is a court of public opinion, but sometimes we forget that opinions need to be weighed to see what is truly just to all involved and truly wise as a way to achieve not only personal growth, but holiness. It’s no coincidence that the Lord not only condemns injustice, deceit, and foolishness, but wants nothing to do with them: they are not only the wrong thing to do, but the sinful thing do do, and sin is not compatible with God. If you love, can you ever condone something you know is bad for those you love?

In today’s Gospel Our Lord laments those who are the occasion for sin in the life of another. We’re called to help each other on the path to a holy and fulfilling life, and in a world where a cloud of contrary opinions seek our attention each of us must examine our conscience and see whether we’re helping others along the path of truth or just contributing to the moral noise. That requires us to remember our own obligation to seek the truth, spread the truth, and put it into action. Some may question the wisdom of that because they see convenience as the path to success, but Our Lord has taught us that the truth will set us free.

When a friend tries to make us stumble, wittingly or unwittingly, let’s not shy away from pointing out the truth and being forgiving when forgiveness is warranted. Foolish friends need our help even more than wise ones do.

Readings: Wisdom 1:1–7; Psalm 139:1b–10; Luke 17:1–6.


32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Christ is sometimes referred to as the Wisdom of God, and that comparison goes both ways. Just as Our Lord always lights the way, wisdom is necessary for us to see our path in life and to show the path to Christ for others as well. The greatest wisdom is him.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that we seek out the things we love, and we need to seek out and love wisdom. If you don’t look for something it is unlikely that you are going to find it. Wisdom is the light by which we see the bigger picture in life. The more we consider the bigger picture in life, the more wisdom we can find.

The world sometimes can be very dark, and we need to keep watch for those moments of light when they present themselves. It’s no coincidence that the First Reading today has us keeping vigil to find wisdom or seeking her out at the crack of dawn. In today’s First Reading wisdom is personified as a woman, but we know that Christ is wisdom Personified. He doesn’t just wait for us to find him. He seeks us out, comes into our lives, our situations, and tries to help us sort things out. Thinking of wisdom perfects the virtue of prudence, and prudence the virtue of knowing the right thing to do in every situation and circumstance. What better teacher than Christ?

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians who are in the dark as to the fate of their fellow believers who have died. In the early Church the Second Coming of Christ was thought to be just around the corner. The Thessalonians were concerned because some of them had already died and the Second Coming had not yet happened. Would the dead be left out?

In the light of the Risen Christ Paul helps them see the bigger picture. It is the wisdom of the Resurrection: if Jesus died and rose, so would their departed loved ones. Death does not have the last word, because Christ has conquered death. Christ sheds light on death and his victory over it, and we have hope as a result.

In today’s Gospel the lighted lamps represent charity. The less charity you have, the less likely you’ll be ready for Our Lord or able to help yourself or anyone else to find him. An Entrance Antiphon in the liturgy for the feast days of virgins summarizes perfectly what is praiseworthy of the Wise Virgins today, “Here is a wise virgin, from among the number of the prudent, who went forth with lighted lamp to meet Christ.” The wise ones know the wait for the Lord can be long, so they take extra oil. They see farther and plan. The foolish ones probably didn’t see much beyond the party they wanted to enjoy, but the party was just one part of what was expected of them.

The marriage feast in today’s parable is an image of Heaven. The wise virgins continued to stoke the light with the fuel of their charity (love for Christ, and love for others in him), and that light not only showed them path to take, but others as well. Jesus today teaches us that we must have an intense and lasting love to light the way. Love is the only mark of an authentic disciple. If a disciple is following Christ, someone can follow that disciple to be led to Christ. Like the bridegroom in today’s parable, Jesus will appear at a midnight of human history, and we must be ready with lamps bright and alight.

The foolish maidens proved how foolish they were by thinking they could risk not loving enough when the moment of decision came. They wanted to draw the wise virgins into their foolishness by asking for their oil. We see this played out in so many areas of our lives: that negative comment, that judgment, that suspicion. We lack charity and we want to suck others in thinking it will resolve our problems, but it doesn’t. Love for Christ is not a tradeable commodity. It is intimately personal. If the wise virgins had taken their advice, then there would have been ten foolish virgins left out in the dark that night instead of five. Since we’re speaking of the love of Christ it begs the question: how much is too much? Jesus teaches us today that the real question should not be how much should we do, but how much can we do.

In Baptism we received the light of Christ, and Christ has asked us to make that light shine in others’ lives in a special way. Are we leaving anyone in the dark? Are we leaving those with whom we work in the dark? In today’s parable the failure rate was fifty percent. Am I sharing the love of Christ with them? Am I helping them? Am I accepting them? Am I sharing the things with them that are truly helpful for them? Paul phrases it beautifully in his letter to the Ephesians: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (4:29).

Are we leaving those we “love” in the dark? Those with whom we work are not the only co-workers in our lives. What about our family? Is it a fight every day just to get the kids out of bed, bathed, clothed, and groomed? Are you on the same wavelength as your spouse?

Love is like light. It’s meant to shine on the things that are darkest in order to bring them to light, address them, and resolve them. Love is a light that has to shine in the dark in order for you to see and to show the way to others as well.

Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 6:12–16; Psalm 63:2–8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; Matthew 25:1–13.

31st Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year I

Today’s First Reading is a little confusing if it is not seen within the context of whom Paul has been speaking about: Israel. In the Acts of the Apostles we see Paul going to the Jews first to proclaim the Gospel, only to receive hostility. Paul then tells them they’ve rejected what Our Lord was offering them and would, therefore, share it with the Gentiles (see Acts 13:44–49). In today’s reading Paul describes the Jews’ loss as the Gentiles’ gain.

If the Jews had not rejected the Word, “disobeyed,” the opportunity of mercy would never have been presented to the Gentiles, who did accept the Word, becoming reconciled with God as a result. The wonders the Gospel did among the Gentiles gave the Jews an opportunity to re-think their disobedience and receive God’s mercy through the Gospel as well.

Many people who have returned to God tell the tale of how many twists and turns the path to mercy took in their lives. That’s not God’s fault, but ours. John the Baptist, quoting Isaiah, encouraged us to “Make straight the way of the Lord” (see John 1:23). Let’s embrace his mercy and his way with all our heart.

Readings: Romans 11:29–36; Psalm 69:30–31, 33–34, 36; Luke 14:12–14.