Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Very often, when we hear this story about the widow’s mite, the story is equated with the call to stewardship. That’s a rather classic explanation of the text. And there’s nothing wrong with that explanation. But honestly, I don’t think the story about the widow’s mite is about stewardship at all. Yes, it’s about treasure and giving and all of that. But what kind of treasure? Giving what?

I think to get the accurate picture of what’s going on here, we have to ask why the Church would give us this little vignette at the end of the Church year, in the very last week of Ordinary Time. That’s the question I found myself asking when I looked at today’s readings. Well, first of all, it’s near the end of Luke’s Gospel so that may have something to do with it. But I think there’s a reason Luke put it at the end also. I mean, in the very next chapter we are going to be led into Christ’s passion and death, so why pause this late in the game to talk about charitable giving?

Obviously, the widow’s mite means something other than giving of one’s material wealth. Here at the end of the Church year, we are being invited to look back on our lives this past year and see what we have given. How much of ourselves have we poured out for the life of faith? What have we given of ourselves in service? What has our prayer life been like? Have we trusted Jesus to forgive our sins by approaching the Sacrament of Penance? Have we resolved to walk with Christ in good times and in bad? In short, have we poured out everything we have, every last cent, every widow’s mite, for our life with Christ? Or have we held something back, giving merely of our surplus wealth?

In this last week of the Church year, we have to hear the widow telling us that there is something worth giving everything for, and that something is our relationship with Christ.

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, this Gospel reading is filled with all sorts of off-putting comments, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I bristle at the thought of comparing God to a dishonest judge! But that’s not the point here. Of course, Jesus means that God is so much greater than the dishonest judge, that if the dishonest judge will finally relent to someone pestering him, how much more will God, who loves us beyond anything we can imagine, how much more will he grant the needs of this children who come to him in faith?

But people have trouble with this very issue all the time. Because I am sure that almost all of us have been in the situation where we have prayed and prayed and prayed and nothing seems to happen. But we can never know the reason for God’s delay. Maybe what we ask isn’t right for us right now – or ever. Maybe something better is coming our way, or at least something different. Maybe the right answer will position itself in time, through the grace of God at work in so many situations. Most likely, we just don’t have the big picture, which isn’t ours to have, really.

But whatever the reason, the last line of the Gospel today is our key: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” And that’s why we have this particular Gospel reading at this late date in the Church year. As the days of Ordinary Time draw to a close, we find it natural to think of the end of time. We don’t know when the end of time will come; Jesus made that clear – nobody knows but the Father. But when it does come, please God let there be faith on earth. Let that great day find us living our faith and living the Gospel and loving one another.

Friday of the Thirty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So many religious people tend to get concerned about the end of time.  Some years ago, there was a serious of books called Left Behind, and a couple of movies made from them.  The premise was that Jesus returned to take all the faithful people home, and “left behind” everyone else.  It’s a notion known as the rapture, which is not taught by the Catholic Church, because it was never revealed in Scripture or Tradition.  In fact, no Christian denomination taught this until the late nineteenth century, so despite being a popular notion, at least among those who clamored after that series of books, it is not an authentic teaching.

I mention this because you might hear today’s Gospel and think of the rapture.  But Jesus is really talking about the final judgment, which we hear of often in the readings during these waning days of the Church year.  In the final judgment, we will all come before the Lord, both as nations and as individuals.  Here those who have made a decision to respond to God’s gifts of love and grace will be saved, and those who have rejected these gifts will be left to their own devices, left to live outside God’s presence for eternity.

So concern about when this will happen – which Jesus tells us nobody knows – is a waste of time.  Instead, we have to be concerned about responding to God’s gift and call in the here-and-now.  The first reading from the book of Wisdom warns us to be attentive to this: “All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God…”

The day of our Lord’s return will indeed take us all by surprise.  We’ll all be doing what we do; let’s just pray that we’re all doing what we’re supposed to do: living our call as disciples.

The Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What if this life was all there was?  I’m sure you know some people who think that.  I’m not sure how people who think that can get out of bed in the morning, let alone keep on living day after day. Questions about life and death and last things and life after the last things are what’s going on in the Church’s mind and imagination in these last days of the Church year.

It’s little wonder these questions grab us in these waning days of the year. The trees are losing their foliage. The daylight hours are getting shorter. The air is a bit colder, unseasonably so these days.  It’s as if winter can’t wait to get here!  We can sense there is a change approaching, and perhaps it isn’t one that we look forward to.  Even with the festive atmosphere of the upcoming holidays, or perhaps even because of the holidays, many of us feel depressed or blasé, and the festivity of the holiday season only serves to highlight it for us.  Please God, let there be something more.

Fundamentally, we human beings need to make connections.  We want life, we want light, we want peace, we want love.  And because we want all these things, we know we are alive.  We attempt to fill them up as best we can.  We hope that our attempts are healthy, but honestly sometimes we find ourselves stuck and attempt to fill our desires with things that are well, just shoddy.  We anesthetize ourselves with drugs or alcohol or internet pornography or retail therapy.  We enter into relationships that are unhealthy.  We work ourselves to death. We distance ourselves from loved ones.  We sin.  We often just try to fill up the something more that we desire with something less than that of which we are worthy.

And that’s exactly what the Sadducees were doing in today’s Gospel reading.  The Sadducees, we are told, were a group of religious authorities that taught there was no resurrection.  So these Sadducees come to Jesus and seem to have an earnest question.  They speak of a woman seven times widowed and wonder whose wife she will be in the resurrection of the dead.  Except that their question wasn’t earnest at all.  Clearly they were out to discredit Jesus, even embarrass him.  “So you think there will be a resurrection,” they say, “well then, what about this…?”

The Sadducees didn’t get it when it came to the resurrection, and they weren’t willing to open their minds to any kind of new possibility.  If what Jesus said didn’t fit what they believed, then it absolutely must be wrong.  They were filling their desires with the sin of pride instead of the possibility of eternal life.  What a horrible, shoddy way to fill up their desires!

But swing that around and look at the seven brothers in the first reading.  All they would have to do was eat a little pork and they could have lived.  I mean, who’s going to begrudge them a little bacon?!  Yet they patently refused to do so.  One by one, they are tortured and killed.  Why would they have let themselves be treated that way?  All they had to do was eat some pork, for heaven’s sake; surely God would forgive them, right?  But listen to what the first brother says: “You are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.  It is for his laws that we are dying.”  These brothers and their mother realized that there was something greater, something more.  They knew their desire could never be filled up with a little pork, or the shoddy life that would come about as a result of giving up their beliefs.  What a stark contrast they are to the prideful Sadducees!

We may be tempted to settle for something less, but we know there is something so much better in store for us.  There is something that will fill up our desires once and for all, and that something – or rather that someone –  is Jesus Christ.  It’s not going to be our pride, boasting of our elaborate wisdom or ability to take care of ourselves.  It’s not going to be a little pork, or giving in to whatever temptation comes our way to take us off the path.  It’s not going to be alcohol, or drugs, or unhealthy relationships or self-help gurus, or anything else.  It’s only going to be Jesus – only Jesus! – who will fill up the desires that touch us to the core of who we are.

The Church in these waning days of the Church year would never deny that there is suffering in the world.  But she will encourage us to open up our desires to be filled with our Savior who comes not to make our suffering go away, but instead to fill it up and sanctify it with his presence.  There is something more, and we can expect to be filled up with it when we realize that the fit for the hole we have in our hearts is Jesus Christ.

That, friends, is why it is so important that we gather as believers every Sunday, and avail ourselves of the other sacraments, especially reconciliation, on a regular basis.  We have an unquenchable desire that can only be filled up with Christ, that Christ who longs to be our life, who died to be our savior, who rose to be our salvation.

Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living.  To him all are alive.  So in these last days of the year, if we find ourselves desiring peace, desiring wholeness, desiring comfort, desiring love, desiring fulfillment, or desiring anything else, that’s okay.  Because what we’re really desiring is Christ, and he is always there to fill us beyond our wildest imaginings.

Saturday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our readings have been reminding us that the night is far spent and the day is drawing near.  We are called upon today to remain vigilant so that we do not miss the second coming of the Lord.  And it is well that we receive that warning today, on the cusp as we are of the new Church year.  This is the last day of the Church year and tomorrow, well even tonight, we will begin the year of grace 2019 with the season of Advent.  The day draws ever nearer for us.

As the day draws nearer, we will need less and less of the light that has been given to us in this world.  The first reading says, “Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.”  St. Augustine says of that great day: “When, therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ comes and, as the apostle Paul says, brings to light things hidden in darkness and makes plain the secrets of the heart, so that everyone may receive his commendation from God, then lamps will no longer be needed. When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself. Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.

When all these things are removed as no longer necessary for our illumination, and when the men of God by whom they were ministered to us shall themselves together with us behold the true and dear light without such aids, what shall we see? With what shall our minds be nourished? What will give joy to our gaze? Where will that gladness come from, which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, which has not even been conceived by the heart of man?” (Tract. 35, 8-9)

And of course, the answer to that, is we shall get our light looking on the face of Christ himself.  As Advent approaches, we pray earnestly for that day: Come quickly Lord, and do not delay!

Monday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“What do you want me to do for you?”

I think that is perhaps the important question in the spiritual life. In fact, when I begin working with someone for spiritual direction, I usually have them spend some time reflecting on this Gospel reading. When I myself go on retreat, I reflect on it too. Because unless we’re clear about what we want God to do for us, we won’t ever see any change in our spiritual lives.

I think that question – “What do you want me to do for you?” – is especially important in our world today. Too many people don’t think God does do or can do very much in our world today. We in particular are from a society that prizes its independence and can-do spirit, and so that starts to seep into our spiritual lives. Or perhaps we don’t think we should bother God by asking for what we truly need, as if he had better things to do than deal with us. Let’s be clear: he made us in his image and likeness, breathed us into life, and so he certainly has concern for our welfare.

But maybe the most prevalent reason people don’t ask enough from God is that they don’t think about him very often. Maybe as a last resort, yes, but not so much that there is that ongoing conversation and relationship with God which enables us to ask whatever we need in his name and trust we can get it, as Jesus famously promised.

Honestly, I’ve struggled with this question at various times in my own life. Because to really answer that question, you have to get over the struggle of asking for what you think he wants to hear. You have to get past the embarrassment of asking for something you think you should be able to get all on your own. You have to truly acknowledge where you are in your relationship with him, and ask for what you need. It’s not easy, but it’s a question we should ask ourselves often.

We’re coming to the end of the Church year. We’ve lived another year in his grace. It’s time for us to reflect on where we are, how far we’ve come, and what we still need.

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think we all wonder what Jesus meant when he said, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  Certainly the then-current generation has come and gone, and it doesn’t seem like we’ve come to the end of the world.  But the Church would pose two very important questions about the coming and going of that generation.

First, what constitutes that generation?  Did Jesus mean just the people that were alive at that time?  We tend to think not.  All of us who believe in Jesus and live the Gospel are the members of his generation.  Jesus came to create the world anew, and we are all creatures of that wonderful new creation.  We will all live, in some way, to see the end of days, either here on earth, or from the joy of heaven.

Secondly, what was it that generation was supposed to see?  They were to see the signs of a new creation.  Just like the first buds of the fig tree and other trees that Jesus spoke about, all of which signaled the beginning of summer, so the signs of the new creation are evident among us.  Sins are forgiven, people return to God, miracles happen.  Granted, all these are imperfect in some ways now, given that they happen to us fallen creatures, but one day they shall be brought to perfection in the kingdom of God.  Then, we will see “One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven,” whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I really don’t like that over-used phrase “at the end of the day.”  You hear it all the time, and it’s one of my least favorite corporate-speak phrases.  But I can’t help but think about this tired old phrase when I read the Scriptures for the Liturgy in these last days of the Church year.  Because the Liturgy is calling our attention to the fact that the end of the year is near, and asking us to reflect on our experience in the year gone by.  Have we been changed?  Are we responding to the Gospel?  Is our relationship with God any different than it was this time last year?

God is always ready for the harvest, with the sickle at the ready.  But our Scriptures today take care to point out that we must not be overly-anxious to jump the gun.  We may hear of Nostradamus prophecies, or revelations from some very obscure mystic that lead us to fear the end is upon us.  Lots of people will misinterpret all of the things that are happening in the news all over the world.  But God wants us to know that he is still at work, redeeming the lost, calling those who have strayed, binding up those who are broken.  So much has to happen before the end of days, so many still need to be redeemed.  Even we ourselves can use conversion and repentance and a renewed relationship with our God, if we’re honest.

So at the end of the day, are we any different?  Have we been changed?  Are we responding to the Gospel?  Has our relationship with God grown?  If not, we need to take the opportunity that next week’s beginning of the new Church year affords us.  We can allow Christ to be the King of our hearts and our lives.  We can be intimately connected with God through prayer and acts of peace and justice.  Seeking the Lord, we need not fear all those powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues.  We can instead cling anew to our Lord who earnestly longs for everything to be made right, at the end of the day.

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Jesus says to us today, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” This includes all of us, past, present and future. We will all live, in some way, to see the end of days, either here on earth, or from the joy of heaven. We are all part of the new generation of God’s loving creation.

So what will we see; what things will take place? We will see the signs of a new creation. Just like the first buds of the fig tree and other trees that Jesus spoke about, all of which signaled the beginning of summer, so the signs of the new creation are evident among us. Sins are forgiven, people return to God, miracles happen. Granted, all these are imperfect in some ways now, given that they happen to us fallen creatures, but one day they shall be brought to perfection in the kingdom of God. Then, we will see “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” as our first reading promises.

And so, in these closing days of the Church year, we pray for the coming of the kingdom, and hope for the salvation of the world as Jesus promised.

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