16th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that contemplation and hospitality are like love and service: they go together and enrich one another. In today’s readings it seems one person might be getting the brunt of the grunt work (Sarah and Martha), but when it is understood from the perspective of communion, a perspective Paul reminds us of in today’s Second Reading, we know that whether we are in a moment of contemplation or hospitality, love or service, we are benefiting the whole Mystical Body of Christ.

Abraham in today’s First Reading had a special encounter with the Lord through three visitors. He’d been told to wander to new lands as a nomad with the promise of a land and children of his own. Sarah had been there every step of the way for years, just as she was now by preparing food for the unexpected visitors. Now the Lord, in the three mysterious visitors, promises that Sarah will bear a son. Sarah receives the blessing, a blessing for her and her husband, that both had been striving for in different ways. Sarah let Abraham take the lead, but both reaped the benefits.

Paul in today’s Second Reading speaks of making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church. Greco-Roman philosophers spoke of society as being like a body, with its members doing things, glamorous and unglamorous, for the good of society. Paul may have been inspired, in part, by this understanding of a society as like a body, but the Body of Christ for him was something much more profound, perhaps from the moment the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus (when he was still Saul, the persecutor of Christians) and said “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). As Saul persecuted Christians he was persecuting Jesus himself.

As members of the Body of Christ we can benefit our brothers and sisters in the faith, and they can benefit us, just as our sins can adversely impact the whole Body. Our Lord took upon himself the toughest part, on the Cross, to teach us that we too can take on the hard things for the spiritual benefit of others. Some always have the tougher part; as believers they can be consoled by knowing that doing their part, easy or hard, will result in blessings for them and the entire Body.

Mary in today’s Gospel seems to have left her sister Martha in the lurch, sitting at Our Lord’s feet, and Martha is not shy about bringing that up to Our Lord. We all are tempted from time to time of being envious of what others are doing when our part seems burdensome or unfair. Our Lord reminds Martha that everyone has a part to play, be it love and contemplation or hospitality and service. Mary may have had the “better” part, but Martha had an important part to play as well. In the end, both Mary and Martha would be blessed when Our Lord raises their brother Lazarus from the dead thanks to their love and faith.

The story of Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel also helps us take stock of our prayer life. Martha, through serving the Lord, is making her life a prayer; she’s busy, but she is doing it for him. The first step in any prayer life is the desire to know and to serve the Lord. At the same time, Martha’s prayer life is tainted with activism: focusing on doing so much that she loses sight of why she is doing it. This is proved when she comes to Our Lord to complain and judge her sister: a lack of charity is a symptom of a lack of prayer life. Our Lord is well aware of this, which is why he presents Martha’s sister Mary as an example of contemplative prayer: Mary just sits at the Lord’s feet, apparently “doing” nothing, but she is loving the Lord. Everyone needs this kind of prayer too: prayer not so much of reciting words or doing things as simply “sitting” in the Lord’s presence and listening to whatever he has to say, or simply just being there and loving him while he loves us.

Martha wanted to serve the Lord, but when she got cranky about how she served him she had taken her eyes off what was the most important in her life. The Lord had to remind her. Activism is when we keep doing things but lose sight of why we are doing them, eventually crowding out the people for whom we’re doing them. If you’re in a position of service, whether work, parish, or family, take a moment to remember whom you are serving and why.

Readings: Genesis 18:1–10a; Psalm 15:2–5; Colossians 1:24–28; Luke 10:38–42. See also 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, St. Martha and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel the Good Shepherd not only goes in search of the lost sheep, but they go looking for him: they know they are lost and Our Lord will care for them.

The First Reading reminds us that the Lord promised to personally shepherd his people after certain shepherds had mislead them, mistreated them, and scattered them. Israel’s kings had not shepherded the Lord’s sheep as they were called to do. When Our Lord sees the crowds seeking him out everywhere, he feels that same compassion, wanting to care for them and lead them to those pastures Jeremiah speaks about. Jesus is Lord and Good Shepherd.

Our Lord doesn’t walk the earth anymore as he did, but people still seek him. Why? The Second Reading tells us that the blood of Christ has drawn together people from near and far. Through Our Lord’s sacrifice we feel the call in our hearts to be united through him. Anything that separates us can be overcome through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross: we are reconciled with him and reconciled with each other.

Our Lord still works to gather his sheep and lead them to greener pastures, aided by the shepherds he has appointed. After Jesus’ Ascension the people would be seeking out the Apostles taught by Jesus in order to be united into the flock that always remains the Lord’s, as they do today through bishops and priests.

Today’s Gospel reminds us why Our Lord came down from Heaven. The compassionate gaze of Our Lord is the same as the one he had from Heaven when he saw his creation lost and disoriented by sin, hungering for meaning in their lives.

Even now, back at the Father’s right hand, he directs that same compassionate gaze toward us. Maybe we don’t see him seated before us and teaching us, speaking quietly to his disciples and asking them to take care of us too, but in every celebration of the Eucharist the same thing happens.

In parishes and chapels throughout the world we all form small groups of believers, but all those groups are gathered around Christ, who through the Blessed Sacrament can be with all of us.

The Word of God is read and its meaning explained by bishops, priests, and deacons who’ve been entrusted with continuing Our Lord’s mission to preach the Gospel and to care for his flock. Simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Life that eventually will end all hunger in us and satisfies our deepest needs. Let’s show our gratitude for Our Lord’s compassion by being his instruments of compassion to those we know who are in spiritual or material need.

Organizations with volunteers speak of the 90%/10% rule: among every ten people the organization serves, one of them volunteers. Do the math on the ratio between pastors and faithful and you’ll get the idea.

Every pastor is a shepherd who is laying down his life for you. Pray for our pastors and support them, whether at the parish itself, with a meal or treat, or a simple “thank you, Father.” As pastors we appreciate your prayers and support.

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6; Psalm 23:1–6; Ephesians 2:13–18; Mark 6:30–34.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

In today’s First Reading it doesn’t take long for the Israelites to prefer the thought of full stomachs and slavery to hunger pangs and freedom. The Exodus is not just a historical event; it is also the drama of man turning away from sin physically while still feeling its attraction spiritually and psychologically. Egypt in this story represents sin, which is spiritual slavery, no matter how much it seems to satisfy us. The satisfaction of sin is a hollow one. It promises contentment, but only delivers misery.

The Lord has led the Israelites out of the slavery of Egypt (sin) to form them as his people in the desert (conversion and purification). Conversion and purification can be as dry and unsatisfying, humanly speaking, as wandering the desert on an empty stomach, but it reminds us that true spiritual freedom is worth any price, any suffering.

Don’t become discouraged when your thoughts drift back to whatever slavery you’ve left behind. Savor the freedom instead. It’s an acquired taste, but a much more satisfying one.

Readings: Exodus 16:1–5, 9–15; Psalm 78:18–19, 23–28; Matthew 13:1–9. See also 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A and 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year II.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that evil will be present in the world until the last days of Judgement, when the fruits of all are measured. Evil festers in hearts; it is not always seen on the surface. Holiness is characterized by meekness and humility, so it is not always seen on the surface either. Like wheat, holiness is in the world trying to grow into something good. Like weeds, evil is at work doing the opposite, preying on the good in parasitic way to serve nothing other than itself. It can be hard to tell the difference and, therefore, we need to be on guard against a holiness that is only skin deep.

Today’s First Reading reminds us that we can try to be masters of moral disguise, but the Lord sees beyond the surface and measures us by our deeds, not just appearances. The Lord never misjudges anyone, yet people still try to deceive him, if they believe in him at all. The Lord gives the unjust time to change their ways, to seek his forgiveness, usually for far longer than we would, because he truly cares about them. The Lord is willing to put up with a lot of things, but in justice he cannot ignore insincerity. When we sincerely try to do good and to be good, even with moments of weakness, he forgives and helps us, and that gives us cause for hope. If we’re insincere we don’t trust him, and all that’s left is justice. The Lord shows us justice is necessary, but that doesn’t put kindness on hold.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that holiness is something that comes from the depths of our soul, because it consists of making the Spirit of God our spirit. The special ingredient in a Christian life is that even when we’re weak the Holy Spirit helps us to be holy. The Spirit is the protagonist in our sanctification, from the sacraments we receive to the prayers we say. If the “one who searches hearts” finds the Holy Spirit there, he knows he has found one of the “holy ones.”

The three parables in today’s Gospel teach us that holiness is often hidden, even small in the eyes of the world, but makes good things spread and grow, unlike parasitical weeds. The moment of harvest is a moment of reaping fruits. Our Lord’s listeners in Matthew’s Gospel have just heard the parable of the sower (see the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle, A), and now they hear their lives compared to wheat, leaven, and a tiny mustard seed. Wheat is not very glamourous, but if we want bread, a symbol of life, it is essential. When we eat a sandwich we don’t think much of the wheat that went into it, but we certainly enjoy the sandwich.

Leaven is useful not only for baking bread, but for baking delicious bread. When we receive the Eucharist, made from unleavened bread due to Passover traditions, we note the difference from the bread we eat every day. Leaven does its job by quietly being sifted throughout the flour used to make the bread, but it makes a big impact on the recipe.

Mustard seeds average between 1-2 millimeters in size and may seem small and inconsequential, but on a hot day the shade and shelter of a tree that grows up to twenty feet tall and wide is not to be ignored. The mustard seed in today’s parable also shows that the Church may start small and seemingly insignificant, but is meant to spread far and wide.

Today’s parables present us with two things representing two opposed lifestyles: yeast that leavens and weeds that feed. Which one am I? Leaven is often hidden and unappreciated, but as an ingredient it makes recipes go from good to great. Weeds sprout where they don’t belong and engender other weeds, choking out the lives of the plants around them. The parable of the weeds and the wheat doesn’t leave room for weeds becoming wheat, but the Lord does, as the First Reading reminds us. It’s never too late to be a leaven for good in the Church and the world.

Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16–19; Psalm 86:5–6, 9–10, 15–16; Romans 8:26–27; Matthew 13:24–43.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that evil will be present in the world until the last days of Judgement, when its fruits are measured. Since evil festers in peoples’ hearts, it is not always seen on the surface. Things may seem to be okay, even normal, but, just as good is at work in the world, like the wheat, trying to grow into something good, evil is at work doing the opposite, preying on the good in parasitic way to serve nothing other than itself, like a weed.

Jeremiah’s in today’s First Reading is sent to the Temple itself to warn Israel that they are being weeds, not wheat, in the sight of the Lord. They’re counting on the Lord to never abandon them, but the Lord is warning them that he’ll do exactly that if they do not amend their ways. This warning reminds us that while we live on this earth we can become wheat, not matter how long we’ve been weeds,or vice versa. Our Lord doesn’t just help believers to become wheat; through our testimony, and his, of an upright and moral life and the difference between right and wrong, without sophisms, we help everyone to go beyond appearances and examine the forces in this world that are truly good and truly evil.

Jeremiah today warns us that we can appear observant while still being a weed. Ask Our Lord today to help you go beyond appearances, deep into the roots of your soul, and become a source of good fruit again if you’ve strayed.

Readings: Jeremiah 7:1–11; Psalm 84:3–6a, 8a, 11; Matthew 13:24–30.