The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14  +  2 Thessalonians 2:16—3:5  + Luke 20:27-38
Catechism Link: CCC 992
November 6, 2022

“Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”

Many Christians aren’t sure how to go about the practice of meditation.  One difficulty arises from the fact that meditation always requires something to meditate upon:  an idea or image of a person, event, or truth.  But how, then, can the individual Christian decide what to fix his attention upon during daily meditation?

The simplest answer is found among the Scripture verses proclaimed at the current day’s Mass.  The persons, events, and truths spoken about in a given Scripture verse can serve as the focus of Christian meditation.

Of course, even on a weekday there are three different passages of Scripture to choose from if you include the Responsorial Psalm.  There are also the Entrance Antiphon and Communion Antiphon for the day’s Mass, which almost always are taken from Sacred Scripture.  So in the midst of this wealth of Scripture passages at a simple weekday Mass, where does a Christian begin to meditate?

Tradition offers two suggestions.  The first and perhaps most obvious is the Gospel Reading from that day’s Mass.  In the four Gospel accounts, the Word made Flesh speaks directly to us through both words and works.

The other suggestion comes from the day’s Responsorial Psalm.  The reason that the day’s Psalm is often suggested is that the psalms are poetry.  They were originally composed to be sung.  But even if we only read them, they’re lyric and are often easier to “break open”, as it were, than a Gospel passage that requires more background knowledge to comprehend it.

So if you decide to use the Psalms from Holy Mass to nurture your daily meditation, the most obvious place to start is the refrain of the day’s Responsorial Psalm.  This refrain guides you through the course of the entire psalm, and presents a single theme that you can focus upon in meditation.  As an illustration, consider the Responsorial Psalm’s refrain from this Sunday’s Mass.

“Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”  Why does the Church put this verse from Psalm 17 on our lips today, so close to the end of the Church year?  This last month of the Church year means to alert you to what she calls the “last things”:  Heaven and hell, death and judgment.  For you who are a pilgrim on earth, all four of these lie in your future.  They’re not past events, like the creation of Adam and Eve, the birth of Jesus, or the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Heaven and hell, death and judgment lie squarely before you in your future, although we have to make distinctions among them.  Death and judgment are inevitable for each human person.  But Heaven or hell are only possibilities, determined by whether one cooperates with God’s grace.

However, one of the difficulties in meditating on the “last things” is that they’re somewhat abstract.  It’s easier to meditate upon them by relating each of them to the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time.

Likewise, the Second Coming of Jesus can help us focus concretely on the refrain of Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm:  “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”  The Second Coming is often pictured in religious art as apocalyptic and frightening.  It’s certainly natural to fear the reality of death and the possibility of eternal damnation.

Today’s Psalm, however, presents a future full of hope.  With the Psalmist, we Christians eagerly hope for the Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus isn’t just some ancient guru about whom we read in dusty books, and whose example and teachings we strive to follow.  Jesus is the eternal Son of God.

He is as alive now as He was two thousand years ago.  Further, through the virtue of hope, we know that the joy open to us here and now as Christians is destined to be surpassed.  The Psalmist speaks to the Lord of a future time:  “when your glory appears”.  Christians know that this verse refers to the glory of Jesus’ Second Coming.  We not only wait for this second coming, but long for it, since when He comes, our “joy will be full”.  That phrase—“my joy will be full”—speaks to man’s vocation in Christ:  that is, to the fulfillment of human life as an adopted child of God the Father, called into the fullness of joy that is His Heavenly Liturgy.

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 14:12-14

“For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Although Jesus’ words today take the form of a command (“do not invite…”) to us as His disciples, we can reflect on His words through a process of inversion.  That is, we can consider ourselves as those invited to a banquet.  The one inviting us is the Lord Jesus.  The banquet is the sacramental celebration of the Last Supper:  the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Shortly before the distribution of Holy Communion, the priest—holding aloft the Sacred Host—proclaims that “[b]lessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  The response of the faithful is, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof… .”  In this, both priest and faithful gaze on the One who has called us to Him.  We are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” of whom Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel passage.

For God Himself, of course, it’s not that He will be blessed because of our inability to repay Him.  It is from the Lord’s own divine goodness—eternal and infinite—that He bestows on us the blessing of being called to the banquet of the Eucharist.  Although we are unable to repay the Lord “in kind” for this invitation, we can repay Him with our lives:  with the self-gift of our own body and blood, soul and humanity as His disciples.

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 14:1,7-11

“… do not recline at table in the place of honor.”

The virtue of humility is a thread that runs through today’s Scriptures.  Jesus weaves this thread through the parable that He tells after He notices that His fellow dinner guests were choosing the places of honor at the table.  They were not content to receive a sumptuous meal.  They wanted also to receive honor.

These dinner guests were looking only to receive gifts.  They were not thinking of giving.  This is natural, on the one hand, since when you accept a dinner invitation, you’re accepting a gift.  On the other hand, when you go to a dinner party, you might take a token gift such as a bottle of wine.  But your token gift would seem out of place if it were greater than the banquet itself.

But here is the metanoia—the change of heart and mind—which Jesus effects in His disciples through His saving words and deeds.  He wants His disciples—including us—to recognize every gift, every invitation to receive, as an opportunity to give:  to be as loving to our neighbor and to love God in His Providential Will as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are fully loving in their communion of divine love in the Godhead.

Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles

Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles
Ephesians 2:19-22  +  Luke 6:12-16

… with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.

St. Paul, at the beginning of today’s First Reading, declares to the Ephesians:  “You are no longer strangers and sojourners”.  But St. Peter, in his first epistle, admonishes his disciples:  “conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning” [1 Peter 1:17-21].  How should we understand this discrepancy?  Were St. Paul and St. Peter speaking to different groups of disciples?  Were their words about sojourning in reference to differing circumstances?

Another name for the Church Militant—which is to say, the Church on earth—is the Pilgrim Church.  It’s important that we teach every disciple on earth to have this focus:  namely, that we do not live for this world, even as we take our faith into the world.  So on this feast of two holy apostles, what are we to make of St. Paul declaring, “You are no longer strangers and sojourners”?

In the second phrase of the first sentence, St. Paul makes his intent more clear.  The first half of today’s First Reading is a single sentence:  “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.”

St. Paul is setting down before the Ephesians his vision of the Church’s nature:  what we would call his “ecclesiology”.  He’s preaching about the Church’s essence.  Although we, like the Ephesians, are sojourning in faith each day, we also share now—by grace—in the eternal life that the Church Triumphant enjoys fully in Heaven.  The role of the apostles—and in turn their successors, including the bishop of one’s own diocese—is to foster our faith, to fix our hearts and minds, and all our apostolates and ministries here on earth, upon the eternal life of Heaven.

The Solemnity of All Saints

The Solemnity of All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4,9-14  +  1 John 3:1-3  +  Matthew 5:1-12

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”

In two great commands, Jesus summed up all that God asks of us.  At their simplest, we are to love God, and love our neighbor.

God asks a lot of us as Christians.  But like any good father, God equips us for success.  God equips us so as to be able to fulfill what He commands.  That’s one of the reasons why God bestows His grace upon us.  Through His grace, God the Father equips us to succeed as his adopted children.  But there are other gifts by which God also equips us.

One of the greatest of the Father’s gifts to us is the Communion of Saints.  We profess our belief in the Communion of Saints whenever we pray the Apostles’ Creed.  The Nicene Creed, which we proclaim together at Sunday Mass after the homily, does not speak specifically of the Communion of Saints, but it does profess belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”.  The Church that Jesus founded is an expression of the Communion of Saints.  The Church manifests the life of the Communion of Saints, with Christ Jesus as its Head.

We can reflect on today’s feast of all the saints as an encouragement for ourselves.  The feast of All Saints gives us hope that, where the saints are now, we also might be after our deaths, if we persevere in the virtues of faith, hope and divine charity on this earth.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a great teacher of the Faith who lived during the twelfth century, was very blunt about the fact that today’s feast does far more for us on earth than for those we honor.  He asked:

“Why should… the celebration of this feastday mean anything to the saints?  What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son?  What does our commendation mean to them?  The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs.  Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them.  But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.”

St. Bernard goes on by describing how today’s feast is a benefit to those of us on earth who would like someday to be saints in Heaven.  He continues:

“Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself.  We long to share in the citizenship of Heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins.  In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints.” [1]

What St. Bernard in this sermon does not discuss, though, is a common objection from some of our fellow Christians.  The objection is made that every moment we spend in devotion to the saints is a moment taken away from God Himself, who should be the object of all our devotion (as they claim).  However, this is one of many topics about the Faith where we can learn about God from the blessings God has given us:  in this case, the gift of the family.  The life of a human father can reveal the life of God the Father.

Does a loving human father object when brothers and sisters turn to each other in their needs?  A loving human father does not object; in fact, he encourages and fosters relationships among brothers and sisters.  This shows one of the reasons that God gives us brothers and sisters.

God doesn’t give us brothers so that we can develop our punching skills.  God doesn’t give us sisters so that we can have a larger wardrobe.  God gives us brothers and sisters to teach us how to help brothers and sisters when they’re in need, and on the flip side, to turn to them when we ourselves are in need.  This is the first and most practical way for children to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Likewise, on this holy feast of All Saints, we give thanks to God for giving us our elder brothers and sisters in the Catholic Faith.  They strengthen us by the example of their struggles on earth in following Jesus.  They strengthen us by their prayers from Heaven, through which they turn to the same God who helped them reach Heaven, that God’s grace will strengthen us to be faithful on earth, to dwell eternally with God and all His holy saints.

[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo 2: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 5 [1968], 364-368, quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours, vol. IV (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975), 1526-7.

Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven by Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455)

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 13:31-35

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you ….”

In the Book of Revelation (see Rev 21:2), the city of Jerusalem serves as a symbol for the Church.  The Church is the “new Jerusalem”.  In that passage from the Book of Revelation, it’s specifically the Church in Heaven that is being spoken of.  The Church in Heaven is sometimes called the “Church Triumphant”, in contrast to the Church on earth (the “Church Militant”) and the Church in Purgatory (the “Church suffering”).

It shouldn’t be surprising that a city would serve as a symbol for the Church.  Both are congregations of people united in a certain way.  In any city, its residents are united by a common locale, where the residents’ homes and workplaces are located.  The city has leaders who maintain public order and utilities.  The analogy to the life of the Church is clear.

Yet in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus speaks of Jerusalem in terms of reprobation.  He refers to Jerusalem in personal terms, declaring that it’s the city itself “who kill[s] the prophets and stone[s] those sent to” it.  While exploring a theology of corporate moral responsibility is beyond the scope of a brief daily reflection, it’s worth noting that what Jesus says in this passage is not mere history.  In some sense, there is a parallel between Jesus’ reprobation of Jerusalem and the reprobation due to the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.  Despite the Church’s divine commission, the Church Militant throughout her history, and the individual lives of almost all of her members, bears sins deserving the Lord’s reprobation.  The Church is always in need of reform, because her members require ongoing conversion.

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 13:22-30

“‘Depart from me, all you evildoers!’”

Christ in today’s Gospel touches upon one of the great temptations faced by those who serve Him.  Repeatedly He tells us that our motivations are as important as our words and actions.  Indeed, bad motives can cancel the “good” we think do and say.

There should be only one motive for serving God in Christ, and that is the sincere desire to return the love He pours out on us and to do His will out of that love, not just for our good but also for the good of others.  God is interested in the condition of our hearts, not just an impressive list of our deeds.

Sin enters into the serving of Christ when it is used as a means of self-aggrandizement or to line pockets with “green.”  While such people may perform well their hearts remain focused on themselves.  They dazzle audiences with their cleverness and charisma and say only what pleases the listeners—denying or downplaying sin, rationalizing wrongdoings, emphasizing God’s love while failing to mention God’s irrevocable truths and the justice by which we must live.  Theirs is the “wide door” against which Christ speaks.

The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Wisdom 11:22—12:2  +  2 Thessalonians 1:11—2:2  +  Luke 19:1-10
Catechism Link: CCC 2412
October 30, 2022

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus ….

Out of the 52 Sundays of the Church year, more than thirty are Sundays in Ordinary Time.  When we reach these “Thirty-something” weeks, the Church’s liturgical year is drawing to a close.  During these final weeks, the Church focuses on what are called “the Last Things”:  that is, realities commonly associated with the end of the world.  The four Last Things are Heaven, Hell, death, and judgment.

Nonetheless, the Gospel on this 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time is not dramatic or apocalyptic.  It’s a simple story about Jesus and a fellow of short stature named Zacchaeus.  Yet the simplicity of this story helps us relate to it.  We might be impressed or even awed by dramatic stories about the end times that include earthquakes, fire and brimstone.  But it’s challenging—once we finish listening to those stories and return to the ordinary grind of daily life—to convince ourselves that such stories have much to do with us.  The story about Zacchaeus, on the other hand, is easier for us to relate to because it’s such a humble story.

Look at Zacchaeus.  He is a rich collector of taxes.  Each of us, like him, is attached to worldly things.  Zacchaeus (meaning you) wants to see who Jesus is, but Zacchaeus has two strikes against him.

The first strike against Zacchaeus is the crowd, because everyone wants to see Jesus.  It’s easy to get lost and to feel unloved when you’re in the middle of a crowd.  You might ask, “How can Jesus love everyone?”  The second strike against Zacchaeus is his small size, which may represent the size of our souls.  You might feel unworthy of God’s love and ask, “How could Jesus love me, as small as I am?”

That’s why Zacchaeus climbs up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus.  This is all Zacchaeus wants:  simply to see Jesus.  But that’s not enough for Jesus.  This reveals to us an important point about the spiritual life.  God always wants more for us than we want for ourselves.  The question, then, is whether we’re willing to do what’s needed to accept the gifts which God wants to bestow upon us.

This brings us to the turning point in the Gospel passage.  When Jesus reached the place where Zacchaeus had climbed the tree, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly; for today I must stay at your house.”  Jesus takes the initiative to reach out to this individual.  Likewise, just as he reached out to this little sinner, he is trying to reach into your life.

This passage illustrates the point and purpose of the spiritual life:  that God would dwell within us, and from within, transform us.  This is the point of listening to God in the Liturgy of the Word at Holy Mass:  to come down from our self-regard and allow Jesus to enter our home—to enter our soul—in order to transform us from within through the grace of the Eucharist in Holy Communion.

In the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus offers Zacchaeus hope.  Zacchaeus knew that he was coming up short in life, but he didn’t know if Jesus would offer him what he was lacking.  Jesus responds by declaring, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

What was lost?  The human soul was lost in Zacchaeus’s life.  Or in other words, the heart of this human person was lost.  Zacchaeus admits that his way of life has been dishonest.  If you and I, also, can have the humility of Zacchaeus, the Lord Jesus will dwell with us.  But it demands a two-part admission.  Number 1:  it demands admitting that apart from God, our souls are lost.  Number 2:  it demands admitting that Jesus has come here for us, “to seek and to save what was lost.”

Hopefully as we grow older, we also grow wiser.  With that wisdom we might see that our mistakes are often God’s opportunities to enter our house, which is to say, our souls.  Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said:  “God writes straight with crooked lines.”  As we reflect on the best way in which to respond to God’s graciousness, we can also reflect upon another saying of Mother Teresa:  “God does not call me to be successful.  He calls me to be faithful.”

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 13:18-21

“To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?”

Today’s Gospel passage presents two brief parables in which Jesus specifically focuses our attention on “the Kingdom of God”.  It might seem a simple question, but what exactly is this Kingdom?

Is the Church the Kingdom of God?  If so, and if the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, then the mission of the Church would seem to consist in nothing other than the Church proclaiming itself.

Certainly there is an intimate relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it is a relationship of service, articulated by the Second Vatican Council in this manner:  “While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the church has a single intention:  That God’s Kingdom may come, and that salvation of the whole human race may come to pass.”

The sacrifice that Christ makes of His Body for the sake of the Church is the paradigm for understanding the sacrifice that the Church makes for the sake of the Kingdom.  This mission of the Church is inherently future-oriented, calling from Christians the virtue of hope, as they look forward to the Church’s fulfillment through the Lord’s Second Coming.