Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Listen to those words of Jesus again:

“Enter through the narrow gate;

for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction,

and those who enter through it are many.

How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.

And those who find it are few.”

Those are pretty challenging thoughts, I think. But they are thoughts we can resonate with. Certainly Lot fell into the trap of going through the wide gate into the land of Sodom, the residents of which our first reading says “were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD.” And how true for us as well. Isn’t it always easier to take the road more traveled, despite the fact that that road doesn’t take you anywhere you want to go? We might very well take that easy road time and again, and end up, with Lot, well, in a place like Sodom.

Because the narrow gate isn’t easy to find and is harder still to travel. Living the Gospel and laying down our lives for others is hard work, and may often seem unrewarding. We may have to set aside our desires for the pleasures and rewards of this life. And we may even fail to get through that gate by our own efforts, due to the brokenness of our lives and the sinfulness of our living. We may find it next to impossible to travel through that narrow gate by ourselves.

But we don’t have to. The one who is our teacher in this constricted way is also the way through it. Our Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and through him we can all find our way to the Father. He even gives us the key to that narrow gate: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets.” As we pledge to live our lives by considering the needs of others just as we would consider our own needs, we will indeed find that traveling that narrow road is the way that gives most joy to our lives. As the Psalmist reminds us today, “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

Friday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning we have to wrestle with the question: is there something in my life that distracts me from living my life as God intended that I need to cut out?  It’s a ruthless image that we find in our Gospel reading: gouge out an eye, cut off a hand – all of that is better than taking the road to hell.  And it really does need to be that ruthless.  Because hell is real and it’s not going to be pleasant.  So we really need to attach ourselves to Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.  And whatever gets in the way of that needs to be brutally ejected from our lives.

Yes, that might hurt sometimes.  But, as the cliché goes, whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  Saint Paul is a good model of that:  he was constantly subjected to torture and imprisonment and death, but he considered that as gain so that he might have Christ.  And in today’s first reading, he testifies that all he endures is manifesting the sufferings of Jesus in his flesh, for the benefit of the Corinthian Church.

So in like manner, we too need to be willing to put to death in us anything that does not lead us to Christ.  The pain of it can be joined to the sufferings of Christ for God’s glory and honor.  It is something that we can offer to our God, as our Psalmist said, as a “sacrifice of praise.”

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Every now and then, in the Liturgy of the Word, we hear words that have directly influenced our prayers in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Today is such an occasion.  Just before we receive Holy Communion, I will elevate the host and the chalice and say: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  These words are directly influenced by the last line of the first reading this morning.  Here John the Revelator is told to write down specific words:

Blessed are those who have been called
to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

And we all long to be on that invitation list, don’t we?  If not, we certainly should.  Here we will be brought in and given everything we need: at this banquet no one goes hungry, no one is left out, no one is unimportant.  At this banquet, Christ, the Lamb of God, is united most perfectly to his bride, the Church.  Here, all who have been called to the wedding feast are drawn up into the very life of God and are united with God in all perfection.

This is the goal of all our lives, and we get there by following the example of the saints, and by giving our life over to our Lord, the Lamb of God, who came that we might have eternal life in all its perfection and abundance.  In these last days of the Church year, Holy Mother Church reminds us where we’re going so that, should we have strayed from the path, we might make amends and correct our course.

Because not showing up at the wedding feast of the Lamb has eternal consequences.  And forfeiting eternal happiness with all the blessed ones is absolutely unthinkable.

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?

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There are a lot of pitfalls on the road through our spiritual lives.  We ourselves experience that all the time.  Making our confessions, we have a firm purpose of amendment, but it seems like the devil knows that, and so we barely make it to the parking lot and there’s a new temptation or frustration.  Those pitfalls in the spiritual life are many, and frequent, and exasperating at times.

Jesus said it would be so.  Listen to what he says in the Gospel reading again:

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man
who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.

Did you catch that?  The Kingdom of heaven will be like that.  It will be planted with good seed, but the enemy will sow weeds.  That’s still the Kingdom of heaven.  So when we are frustrated by the pitfalls we encounter, we can at least take some relative comfort in that our Savior said it would be like that, and we’re still in the Kingdom of heaven.

But what we can’t do is accept that to the point that we decide we can participate in it and still be forgiven.  We can’t love our sins and expect God to save us.  That’s called presumption, and it too is a sin, and a pitfall in the spiritual life.  Presumption is what was going on in our first reading this morning. Jeremiah calls the people out on their practices of worshipping and then as soon as they leave, sinning gravely. He tells them they can’t murder, commit adultery, and worship false gods only to say, “We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again.” God is a God of justice; he sees that kind of nonsense and calls it what it is.

So here’s the take away.  Yes, there will be pitfalls in the spiritual life.  But when we run into them, it doesn’t mean we’re not still in the Kingdom of heaven.  What we have to do is call them what they are, repent, reform our lives, and call on God’s mercy.  But we can’t presume God’s mercy so that we give ourselves permission to sin.  We have to love God more than our sins; love eternity more than today’s passing pleasures.  We have to be like the Psalmist today who recognizes the pitfalls and cries out:

My soul yearns and pines 
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.

The Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So here’s one of those occasions when we have what seems to be a pretty odd parable in the Gospel reading.  It’s a story that challenges our notion of who Jesus is and what he was about – it almost seems in this story that he’s being “un-Jesus-like” or even unchristian in the story.  But bookmark that for a second.  I always maintain that when a Scripture gets us riled up, then God is trying to tell us something important, and I definitely thing that’s what’s going on here.

So, first, we have to understand the parable. Wedding customs in first century Palestine were a little different than those we know today.  The wedding was a rather drawn-out affair, beginning with the betrothal.  After that, the couple was basically married, but would not live together until the complex negotiations regarding the dowry were complete.  When that was done, the bridegroom would go to the bride’s house and bring her to his own house.  Then there would be a splendid feast that would go on for several days, complete with feasting and flowing wine and all the rest.

So the parable we have in today’s Gospel puts us in the moment of time just as the negotiations are complete and they are expecting the bridegroom to go to the bride’s house.   The virgins are there ready to begin the great feast, but the bridegroom is delayed a bit, and they all fall asleep.  However, that is not the problem.  The problem is that half of them were unprepared.

And here I think is the point that gets us riled up a bit.  I think we bristle at the whole notion of the wise virgins’ refusal to share their oil with the foolish.  Jesus was always for sharing and charity, so what’s the deal here?  Well, since we know Jesus regularly encourages such sharing, I think we can safely conclude that is not the point of the parable and move on.  The point of the parable then, may well be the oil itself.  What kind of oil is he really talking about?  Of what is this oil symbolic?

The Church Fathers help us a bit there.  They talk about the oil as the oil of salvation.  This would be an oil that can only be had in relationship with Jesus.  It’s an oil that can’t be begged, borrowed, stolen or bought at an all-night Walgreens.  We fill the flasks of our lives with that oil through daily prayer, devotion, the sacraments, and a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior.  So the foolish virgins were looking for oil too late — too late not just because it is midnight, but too late because they should have been filling their flasks with this oil all along.  It’s not the wise virgins’ fault they did not share: indeed this is an oil that cannot be shared, any more than one could live another’s life for that person.

What astounds me is that five of these virgins showed up unprepared.  We may not be familiar with first-century Palestinian wedding customs, but they certainly were.  So they would have known the wedding would go on for some days.  How is it, then, that they forgot to bring extra oil?  Even if the bridegroom had not been delayed, they certainly would have needed it!  What was so important to them that they forgot to attend to the most basic part of their job in preparation for the wedding banquet?

Just so, we certainly have nothing more important to do than to show up at the wedding feast of heaven with our flasks filled with the oil of salvation.  No other concern should distract us for our most basic job on earth, which is preparing for our life in heaven.  We must not be deterred from prayer, devotion, good works of charity, fasting, and zealous reception of the sacraments lest we hear those awful words the bridegroom spoke to the foolish virgins: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

When we get to the feast, if our flasks are not full, it is already too late.  As we approach the immanent end of this Church year (there’s just less than three weeks left), this is a very good time to take a look back and see how well we have filled our flasks in the last year.  Have we been zealous to attend to our spiritual lives?  Have we been careful to be sure we have received the Sacrament of Penance on a regular basis?  Do we take time to reflect on our relationship with God and try our best to live our lives as we have been called?  Have we even thought about what our calling is at this stage of our lives?  Are we, at this point in life’s journey, walking with our Lord through good times and bad?  Or have we veered off the path, in search of inferior oil with which to fill our flasks?  Have we been content with oil that does not burn brightly and which runs out just when we need it?

If that’s where we have found ourselves this year, then we have some work to do in the coming weeks.  As we wind up this year and begin the next, we need to steadfastly resolve to fill our flasks to overflowing with the oil of salvation in the year ahead.  The only way we can do that is by zealously seeking our God, praying the prayer of the Psalmist:

O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

One of the great obstacles to the spiritual life is when we come to believe that we ourselves have all the answers. When that happens, we may often hold to relative truth, even if we wouldn’t say that we do.   Or perhaps we insist on acting according to our opinions, instead of acting on consciences formed by Truth. You’ve heard it before, when having a conversation about a moral issue. People might say, “well I think…” whatever, as if that were the gold standard of morality and truth.

It’s cold comfort to see, in our gospel reading this morning, that we aren’t alone. Jesus’ generation was much the same. John the Baptist came across too strict, and Jesus came across like a drunkard and a partier. But the real problem was that they both proclaimed the truth; Jesus, obviously even stronger than John. But the crowds dismissed them both, because both required them to change their lives and their ways of thinking. If John and Jesus were right, then they weren’t, and that was unsettling.

It’s unsettling for us too, but we have the benefit of centuries of Church teaching to help us. And so we are called to leave behind our own opinions and think with the grace of Truth. It’s time that we considered that perhaps our own point of view isn’t the be-all and end-all of wisdom. Advent is about dispersing the darkness with the light of Christ, and the light of his Truth. The psalmist said it best: “Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.”

Monday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time: What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

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?

The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think a lot of us can identify with what’s going on in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and the Twelve had been working hard: they had just been out on mission, proclaiming the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, and healing the sick. They were busy, they were tired, but they were excited. Jesus calls them together to go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, maybe have something to eat. But as soon as they arrive, they find that the crowds figured it out and got there ahead of them.

If you’re a parent, that might sound familiar. When’s the last time you had a minute to yourself, only to find out that the children have figured out where you were and needed something right now? Or at work, you finally have five minutes to take care of your own work, only to have a coworker come and ask for help with something they are doing? We know the experience. Responsibility for whatever we are charged with never really ends. We have so many things to do, we don’t have time for ourselves, for our spiritual lives, for those things that are ultimately important.

And Jesus doesn’t want it to be so. He wants to shepherd all of us to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, to rest in him. He wants to feed all of us with the best of food: his own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, that we might have strength to take care of the crowds clamoring around us for our attention.

So we have to let him. We have to give him five minutes of our day, if we haven’t been giving him anything at all. We have to give him a little more now, so that he can use that space to help us rest a while, to refuel, to recharge, to grow and become more. It won’t be easy. If we can’t find five minutes for ourselves, it’s going to be hard to find five minutes for Jesus. But it is possible. Maybe it’s too much at the end of the day when we’re dog tired. But maybe we can get up five minutes earlier just to read a verse of Scripture and put ourselves in the presence of our Lord for the day.

Jesus can do a lot with five minutes. In these hot days of summer, those five minutes can be the refreshment we need to move forward in our relationship with God and with the people in our lives. They can help us to not be resentful of what we’re called to do for others. They can help us to give more than we think we can. They can help us in good times and in bad. Give him five minutes, go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while.

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