20th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s First and Second Readings show the two extremes in which a believer be found in sharing the Lord’s message: alone and abandoned in the mud at the mercy of evil and injustice, or spurred on by the example and help of a “cloud of witnesses” who show that the path of belief is the right one. We all experience moments in the mud and moments enthused by our faith and that of our fellow believers. As Our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel, believers are signs of contradiction, and the world doesn’t like being contradicted.

Jeremiah in today’s First Reading was the victim of the very division of which Our Lord would later forewarn his disciples, yet Jeremiah in the end was rescued through the intercession of just men. Jeremiah is the only one telling the king and the people of Israel what the Lord wants them to hear, and they hate him for it, because they do not disagree. The king, who should have stood up for Jeremiah’s rights, let himself be cowed by the princes into throwing Jeremiah into a muddy cistern (an empty lined reservoir for collecting water): they don’t like Jeremiah’s message, so they want to bury it by burying him. Jeremiah would prove right, because he was the Lord’s prophet: the kingdom would suffer calamity for not listening to the Lord. He knew he was the Lord’s messenger, so he did not stop trying to deliver the message. It was the truth, and no contradiction could change that.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us of all those believers who suffered as signs of contradiction, in imitation of the Lord himself, but persevered and now encourage us, just as Our Lord does. Throughout the centuries believers have been subjected to mudslinging, violence, and death for contradicting the “wisdom” of their time. When we face division and strife over transmitting the Gospel we should not become discouraged, because Our Lord suffered such things first, as well as many believers who came before us. In moments of enthusiasm we mustn’t forget that there will be moments of the Cross, but in moments of the Cross we should be bolstered by memories of our moments of enthusiasm.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that taking our faith more seriously and making the commitment to live it often means becoming a sign of contradiction, not just for today’s culture, but even for our family and friends. Accepting Christ’s invitation to repentance and belief is accepting Christ into your life as your best friend and more. For those who knew you before, it may seem like instead of your life being turned around by Christ, it has been turned upside down: they may see Christ as a rival for your affections, and that puts many converts into the difficult situation of having to choose between their loved ones and God. With your change in lifestyle they may see a condemnation of their own and blame the messenger (you), not the message, or simply not understand what has happened.

Our Lord doesn’t promise an easy solution to this dilemma. Everyone must choose their path in this life, and conversion can imply a radical change in direction that others are unwilling or, at their moment of life, unable to do. All those paths are meant to converge in Christ, and for many people there are no shortcuts, or wrong turns that require time to recover from. This does not mean questioning our commitment to Christ; rather, it means patience and charity toward those we know and love, tactfully helping them where we can and entrusting them to the Lord where we can’t, knowing that the goal is help everyone where they’re at to advance along the path that Christ wishes to show them.

Sharing the Gospel can be heroic, but Christians are not meant to live a double life or treat their Christianity like a secret identity. You may suffer ridicule or persecution, but the Lord promises us that the truth will set us free, and it’s meant to set others free as well. Assess the situations and people in your life that make you uncomfortable sharing your faith, and let the “cloud of witnesses” inspire you to find tactful, creative, and sincere ways to share the greatest treasure of your life: faith.

Readings: Jeremiah 38:4–6, 8–10; Psalm 40:2–4, 18; Hebrews 12:1–4; Luke 12:49–53. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II29th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today the table is ready and Wisdom, symbolized in today’s First Reading as a woman, but also experienced in our lives as the Word made flesh, invites us to a more profound banquet. Our Lord invites the Jews in today’s Gospel, and each one of us, to go beyond the limits of our reason, our human knowledge and earthly understanding, so that we approach the Lord’s table and eat and drink him, true food and true drink.

Wisdom invites us in today’s First Reading to come to her banquet and experience wisdom through the path of understanding. Experience is what helps us not only experience something, but Someone. Experience influences out decisions, actions, and attitudes. It either leads us down the path of kindness or the path of wickedness. If we take the wrong path we’ll understand nothing and, little by little, our intelligence and will start to wane, like the drunk to which St. Paul alludes in today’s Second Reading. Life soon gets out of hand. Wisdom, the path of understanding, helps us stay on course, always moving toward the true banquet to which we are invited: the Lord’s banquet.

Today’s Second Reading aptly summarizes the discourse we’ve been considering over the last few Sundays regarding the Eucharist. Instead of seeking the fleeting pleasure of wine and remaining in ignorance, Our Lord is inviting his listeners to be filled with the Spirit and to partake of the banquet of his Body and his Blood and to grow in knowledge through faith in him. The path of wisdom and understanding is not just taken through experience, but also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in faith. Wisdom ultimately is not just something, but Someone: Our Lord.

In today’s Gospel the Lord reminds the Jews of the long path tread by their forefathers. The Lord has guided us on this path toward the true banquet for a long time, step by step, through a series of individual and collective experiences, always with the goal of eternal life. The path from here to eternity is very long. Our Lord reminds the Jews how their forefathers were sustained by manna in the desert before entering the Promised Land, as recalled by the Old Testament. However, those forty years in the desert, and the centuries that followed in the history of Israel and humanity, were just steps toward the definitive goal: eternal life.

Like Wisdom personified as a woman in the First Reading the Lord prepared everything for the banquet, everything to give those dear to him an understanding and experience of his life in the Eucharist. That understanding and experience go beyond our human reasonings, knowledge, and earthly understanding, without denying their validity. The Jews in today’s Gospel are arguing and trying to understand the Eucharist just with human reasonings, and they’re unable. They’re not capable of seeing the spiritual order of things with faith, and it is faith that would enable them to take the next step forward: a step into the spiritual order of things through faith in Our Lord as sent by God. Through faith in Our Lord they’ll be led, step by step, to the eternal banquet, the Eucharist, which in this life appears under the signs of bread and wine, but in the future, in eternity, will be with the Lord, face to face.

Our Lord not only teaches; he reveals. Accepting revelation is about trusting and believing the revealer. In today’s Gospel the Lord reveals something, but they want to understand it before they believe it. A believer starts with believing, and then works it out. The Eucharist is a perfect example of something you have to believe before you can try to start understanding it. Has the Lord revealed something in your life that you’re trying to understand before believing? A Church teaching? A lifestyle? Take the step of faith and you’ll understand.

Readings: Proverbs 9:1–6; Psalm 34:2–7; Ephesians 5:15–20; John 6:51–58. See also 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

20th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Ezekiel has a vision of the glory of the Lord returning to the Temple. Earlier he had a vision of that same glory leaving the Temple when it and Jersusalem were about to be conquered by the Babylonians. The Lord promises to dwell among the children of Israel forever. This promise goes beyond the building; the Temple would be rebuilt, but after it was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans it was never rebuilt. The Lord meant something more in this vision.

When we are baptized the most Holy Trinity comes to dwell in our hearts. The Lord is always with us, and St. Paul reminds us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and should act accordingly. Just like Ezekiel’s visions, when we commit grave sin the Lord doesn’t just leave our hearts; we kick him out. Even in those sad moments he is just waiting for us to reconcile with him and welcome him back. He wants to be with us forever and he will be, if we let him.

Communion with the Lord means you are never alone. He is always with you. Let’s thank him today for this precious gift, and if we do feel like we’ve kicked him out of our hearts, let’s not be shy about putting out the “welcome mat” again through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Readings: Ezekiel 43:1–7ab; Psalm 85:9ab, 10–14; Matthew 23:1–12. See also 2nd Week of Lent, Tuesday20th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, and 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

20th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s First Reading the Lord gives Ezekiel a vision depicting the degree of Israel’s hopelessness in the face of its present situation. We all have moments where we say to ourselves, sarcastically or not, “I’m dead. It’s hopeless.” The plain of bones shows a degree of death so vast that there is not even anyone left to bury the dead: it’s complete death. Yet the Lord invites Ezekiel to speculate whether such total death can be reversed, and he, as we, respond that only the Lord, the Lord of life, would know.

Ezekiel prophesies at the Lord’s command and, in the first two prophesies, something happens even as he speaks. The bones have their flesh returned to them, and then the spirit of life is breathed back into them. The prophesies that follow are phrased as promises: that the Lord would raise them from the grave itself, restore them in a stable way in the Promised Land, put his own spirit into him, and they would know that he was the Lord. These promises would be fulfilled in the future, beginning with his Son: some day we will be raised up from the grave, settled forever in the Promised Land, be filled with the Spirit of the Lord, and, with the veil of faith withdrawn, know the Lord as he is, face to face.

Even in the face of certain death we have nothing to fear. The Lord is faithful to his promises if we are faithful to him.

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14; Psalm 107:2–9; Matthew 22:34–40. See also 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C3rd Week of Lent,Friday,  9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

20th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

Salvation history is a history of promises fulfilled, and a promise that in the future all the Lord’s promises will be fulfilled. In today’s First Reading the Lord promises to show once again the holiness of his name after his people sullied it through the sins, and he did so through Jesus Christ. He promises to show his holiness through bringing his people home again. He describes how he’ll sprinkle water on them to cleanse them from their impurities and idolatry, a promise fulfilled through Baptism, which not only initiates sinners into Christian life, but also represents turning from other gods to serve the Lord through an act of faith.

He promises us a new heart, a compassionate one to replace the hardened stone heart that only led to misery and sin, and through Baptism we receive the theological virtue and grace of charity. He would put his own Spirit into us, the Holy Spirit, that is poured into our hearts in Baptism and strengthened through the sacrament of Confirmation. Through the Spirit we are empowered to do good and bei holy, so that we may be seen to be God’s People and, one day, reach the definitive Promised Land in eternity.

Ask Our Lord to help you see all the promises he has fulfilled in your salvation history.

Readings: Ezekiel 36:23–28; Psalm 51:12–15, 18–19; Matthew 22:1–14. See also 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday and 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.