14th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings are such a big sell for welcoming the Gospel when it is preached to us that we have to scratch our heads at why anyone would not accept it. The benefits are described as the peace and security you felt as a child on your mother’s lap (First Reading), joy (Second Reading), healing from illness (Gospel), liberation from the power of evil (Gospel), and your name being written in Heaven (Gospel). Today’s readings teach us that welcoming the Gospel means letting it shape our lives and, above all, sharing it with others.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us of the joy, peace, and security that will come from welcoming the Gospel. In the latter part of the Book of Isaiah he speaks above all of the times to come. In speaking of Jerusalem his prophecy also speaks of the Church. In speaking of Jerusalem as mother he also speaks of the Church as our mother. It was not all roses: Isaiah says at one point the misfortunes of Jerusalem were cause for mourning. The sadness will give way to abundance and joy, and just as children share in the misfortunes of their mother they’ll also share in her blessings. Hearing and welcoming the Gospel leads us to Baptism, which not only makes us children of God, but children of the Church as well, leading from the dark sadness and poverty of a world in sin to a new life, full of hope. Even as members of the Church today there is some sadness and poverty, but in the future, as Isaiah teaches us, those things will pass.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reveals the “fine print” of the arrangement and why we don’t always welcome the Gospel, despite all the benefits it offers. We have to be crucified to the world, and the world crucified to us. Our Lord in today’s Gospel describes the fate of those rejecting his disciples as worse than that of Sodom, which was the epitome of debauchery and depravity. It’s not easy to become crucified to the things of this world; it means not letting those things have sway over us or they’ll only lead to our destruction. In faith and hope we have to focus on the benefits of welcoming Christ, following him, and making him known.

In today’s Gospel Luke recalls a moment not narrated in the other Gospels: the sending out of 72 disciples. In Luke’s time the Church and her mission were starting to spread far and wide. Just as Our Lord’s ministry was taken up by the Twelve, little by little, with the passing of the Apostles, the other disciples had to take up the mission too. Luke reminds us that this didn’t just happen after Our Lord had ascended. He sent out those disciples too. We’re all called to go out and share the Gospel, just not necessarily in the same way and under the same circumstances. The instructions Our Lord gives for effective discipleship are very similar to those he gives the Twelve. Don’t get bogged down in having everything you “might” need. Keep it simple and stick to the essentials. Stay focused on where Our Lord is sending you. Don’t make it tourism with a lot of needless side stops. Wish peace toward others in everything you do, even when it is not reciprocated. Don’t abuse the hospitality you are offered as a disciple of Our Lord. If you welcome the Gospel and help others know and welcome it your name will be on the only wall of fame that matters: Heaven’s.

Being Christian means being commissioned to spread the Gospel, like the Seventy-Two. It is the Lord himself who sends us out. What’s your mission? Your family? Your friends? Your colleagues? Your neighbors? All of the above. Don’t count on anyone else bringing the Gospel if you are standing right there.

Readings: Isaiah 66:10–14c; Psalm 66:1–7, 16, 20; Galatians 6:14–18; Luke 10:1–12, 17–20. See also 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, TuesdayWednesday ,and Thursday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time; 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle BThursday and Saturday of the 26th Week in Ordinary time, and 1st Week of Advent, Saturday.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

The dogmatic constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, reminds us that as believers we’re all called to exercise a prophetic role in our state of life, in imitation of Our Lord: “The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name” (n.12). As today’s readings remind us, this mission is not without difficulty, so we must carry it out with zeal and enthusiasm.

In today’s First Reading the Lord prepares the prophet Ezekiel for a tough mission: to be the Lord’s spokesperson to a rebellious people not disposed to listen. Ezekiel called out Israel, at the Lord’s command, for its infidelity and corruption in the period leading up to, and then following, the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C. The Spirit set Ezekiel on his feet. It spurred him to action, not just his own frustration and disgust with what was befalling his people. The Holy Spirit is very active in helping the prophet carry out his mission, and the Spirit wants to put us on our feet as well.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that me may not feel up to the mission, due to our limitations, but Our Lord makes his power shine through our weakness. The Church Fathers have had all sorts of opinions on what the “thorn” hindering Paul in doing his job was. John Chrysostom saw it as referring to the persecution and trials he suffered. Augustine saw it as some physical debilitating illness that was chronic. Gregory the Great thought it might have been temptations to concupiscence. The Spirit of the Lord spread and conquered hearts, just as it does today. All of these reasons are valid, even today, for discouragement, but St. Paul tells us today what Our Lord told him: you have all the help you need. Our “thorns” make our mission even more fruitful, and Our Lord will not let our mission fail because of them. We just have to keep trying and not get discouraged when it seems there are no results.

In today’s Gospel Mark describes the reception of Jesus’ message in his home town as like that of a prophet: unwelcome. In Jesus we find the mission of priest, prophet, and king combined. As prophet he is the bearer of God’s message; in fact, he, as the Word, is the message of God himself. In sharing the faith we as Christians also have a mission to bear God’s message and make it known. That happens through sharing our faith, through teaching the faith, but also by the very fact of being Christian.

It’s important to keep in mind something that’s fundamental to being a prophet: God is sending a message that people don’t want to hear. In being a prophet we can sometimes question whether if we’d said something more eloquently or done something better that message would have been welcomed more warmly. Today’s readings remind us that even if we do everything perfectly, as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, there’ll still be incredulous people. Let’s ask Our Lord today to be bearers of his message in our words and our example, and to help us not get discouraged in our mission of sharing his Word with everyone we meet, especially the ones we love.

If you’re shy about sharing your faith because you’re afraid of coming across weird: own it. Prophets are weird and counter cultural, because they’re bearing a message people need and probably don’t want to hear. Examine your life this week and see whether you’re just being “weird” at your parish or letting that weirdness shape your life everywhere. People, strangely enough, seem a little attracted by the weird. Help them experience Gospel “weirdness.”

Readings: Ezekiel 2:2–5; Psalm 123:1–4; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; Mark 6:1–6.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that while many things in a believer’s life remain the same whether they’re believers or not, the believer also lives those things differently: in meekness and humility of heart.

In today’s First Reading, a prophecy of the Messiah, the Messiah does not come charging in on a huge warhorse; he comes on a lowly beast of burden not “built for speed.” The king is just, but meek. That doesn’t seem enough to do the job. How is he going to banish chariots and archers and establish peace among the nations with so little? The Lord promises this king will not just serve national interests: he will proclaim peace to the nations and reign over them all. He is not ambitious, but selfless and simple. He has a big job to do and he doesn’t tackle it making a lot of noise or mustering a huge army. We know who this Messiah, is and how he brought peace: his meekness, justice, and desire for peace disarmed the world of his time and took it by storm.

In today’s Second Reading Paul gives us an insight into how the Messiah, and his disciples, conquered the world: by turning from the flesh and living the life of the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord spread and conquered hearts, just as it does today. However, we always face the danger of backsliding, and some don’t live according to the Spirit of God at all, despite the fact that they’ve received the Spirit through faith in Christ and Baptism. It’s the Spirit that teaches us the true cause of woe and war and provides the solution: the desires of the flesh must be conquered. Wars and discord in our world stem from those who strive after the things of the flesh, desires that make them greedy, selfish, and cruel. The true war, at times unseen, is between the flesh and the Spirit. It is still waged by Christians, with victories and defeats, but always with their hope firmly placed in the Lord, who definitively overthrew the things of the flesh.

In today’s Gospel the Lord teaches us that there are things in life to which we’ll be blind if we are not “little” in our aspirations and taught by him how to be meek and humble of heart. Creation was made with the Son in mind, so it is no wonder that the Father would make his Son the key to understanding life’s meaning and purpose. The Son encourages us to learn from him, meek and humble of heart. Without this knowledge, life is much more burdensome than it was meant to be. That’s why in today’s Gospel he assures us that it is not as tough as it seems, and will give us rest from our struggles. If the Spirit of Christ is woven into the fabric of creation, the more we imitate him and try to make his Spirit guide our lives, the easier everything will be, because through peace with Our Lord we’ll also achieve peace with ourselves and with his creation.

The most common misconception about meekness is that it is synonymous with weakness. Did Our Lord seem weak to you? Meekness requires a concerted effort of various virtues. It requires self-mastery which forestalls and checks impulses of anger, so it is related to temperance. It requires tolerance of the failings of others, so it requires patience and fortitude. It calls for forgiveness of injuries and benevolence towards all, so it comes from charity. If you’re still not convinced, try being a little meeker this week and see how much effort it requires.

Readings: Zechariah 9:9–10; Psalm 145:1–2, 8–11, 13–14; Romans 8:9, 11–13; Matthew 11:25–30.

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Isaiah experiences the Lord’s enormity and his own unworthiness to be his messenger. It is a recurring theme in the Old Testament that anyone who should look upon the Lord’s face would die. Isaiah thinks his moment of judgment is at hand. Imagine his surprise when the angel declares him cleansed from his sin and Isaiah eagerly offers himself to be the Lord’s prophet.

In today’s Gospel we see Our Lord encouraging his disciples to be his messengers and to not be afraid of the treatment they’ll receive when they share what they’ve heard and stand up for him. The Lord’s enormity does not mean only transcendence or distance from his creatures: he is close to us, by becoming man, but also because he cares for all of creation and especially us, his most beloved creations.

Through the Lord’s loving care, in his Providence and in Person through his Son, we have nothing to fear. Let’s be his disciples with the same enthusiasm we’ve seen today in Isaiah.

Readings: Isaiah 6:1–8; Psalm 93:1–2, 5; Matthew 10:24–33. See also 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

There are still many places throughout the world where Christians must follow Our Lord’s admonition to flee persecution. Believers in some countries are ostracized by their family and friends for being Christians, and in others are subjected to violence, imprisonment, and death, even at the hands of their loved ones, for what they believe. Imagine a culture where the Good News is seen as bad. When there is no societal support, either in public or in private, we must be prudent, and also entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit in order to persevere.

Shrewdness and simplicity don’t seem to go together, but Our Lord expects us to show both. Christians are accused at times of being mindless sheep, but if we consider the impressive cultural contributions made by Christians throughout history this caricature simply does not stand. It is our simplicity that ensures we don’t turn our shrewdness into a lack of charity and concern for others; it keeps us from becoming jaded in the face of persecution and ridicule, as well as helping us to maintain a healthy dose of common sense that is so necessary when facing outlooks on life today that are more and more sophistical.

The Holy Spirit helps us maintain a balance between shrewdness and simplicity, even when our convictions are on trial. Let’s ask the Spirit to give us the words that proclaim the Gospel in good times as well as bad, and to watch over Christian refugees suffering throughout the world due to their faith.

Readings: Hosea 14:2–10; Psalm 51:3–4, 8–9, 12–14, 17; Matthew 10:16–23. See also 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday and 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.