Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

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The Foundation Within

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Matthew 16:13

Today’s Gospel scene takes place about twenty miles north of the Sea of Galilee outside of Herod’s jurisdiction and away from the Pharisees’ watchful eyes. This is a private conversation between Jesus and His disciples that took place where they could speak freely. For that reason, this conversation is particularly personal in nature in that the disciples felt free to express their personal convictions without fear of retribution.

As the conversation unfolds, Jesus asks two consecutive questions. First, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Second, “But who do you say that I am?” By asking these two questions, Jesus first invites the disciples to identify the different opinions floating around about Him and then gives the disciples an opportunity to speak their own conviction. Peter responds on behalf of them all when he solemnly professes, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

If Jesus were to ask you these two questions, what would you answer? First, what is the general opinion about Jesus that most people have today? When asked, most Christians would give the correct answer. Jesus is God. He is the Savior. He is the Son of the Father. But sometimes those answers are more theoretical than they are personal. Often it is easy to believe things about Jesus rather than believing in Jesus. So if you were to answer the second question, what would you say? Ideally, you would answer that Jesus is your Savior, your God, your Shepherd, your Lord. Faith in Jesus must not only be theoretical, it must be deeply personal, flowing from the depths of your heart.

Deep personal faith in Jesus can only come from one source. It comes from the Father speaking to your heart in a real and personal way. After Peter professed His faith in Jesus, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Peter’s personal faith in Jesus was not just something he heard from others, it was not just a popularly accepted opinion, it was something that the Father in Heaven personally revealed to him. This is the gift of faith.

Peter’s personal profession of faith became the rock foundation on which Jesus built His Church. “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” This reveals Jesus’ plan to establish Peter as the head of the Church and to give to him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven for the whole Church. Similarly, our personal profession of faith will become the unshakable foundation within our souls upon which God’s Church becomes alive in each one of us. When our faith is based upon a personal revelation from the Father in Heaven, spoken within the secrecy of our souls, then nothing can extinguish this faith. The gates of the netherworld cannot prevail against it.

Reflect, today, upon this holy conversation between Jesus and His disciples. As you do, know that Jesus wants to have the same conversation with you. As Jesus took the disciples away to this quiet and safe place, He wants to take you away through prayer to the privacy of your own soul. There, within you, He seeks to elicit a response of personal faith. He wants you to identify Who He is to you. He wants you to profess your faith to Him. This faith is your personal solid foundation, and upon that foundation our Lord will build up His Church in you and through you.

Glorious Lord, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I believe this with all my heart. Please continue to deepen my faith in You by revealing to me Who You are. As You do, I pray that this gift of faith will become a rock foundation upon which You form me more fully in the life of holy virtue and grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

Unwavering Fidelity Always

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”  John 6:67–69

These words of Saint Peter present us with the conviction we must have when fidelity to the will of God becomes difficult. God is demanding. He wants everything from us. We will only obtain Heaven once we surrender everything over to the will of the Father and believe all that He has revealed. If we fail to do so before we die, we will need to be purified in Purgatory. There is no way around this. God is a demanding God to the greatest extent possible.

The truth is that this is all good. It is good that God demands complete submission to His perfect will and teaching because these are exactly what is best for us. From time to time, because of our weak and fallen human nature, we can perceive God’s will as too demanding and His teaching as too difficult. Do I really have to forgive everyone completely? Do I really have to lay my life down without reserve? Do I really have to keep the Commandments to perfection? Do I really have to be perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect? Yes. But as we try to do so, we will experience many temptations to give up, thinking that God’s will is too hard.

Today’s Gospel comes at the end of the beautiful Bread of Life Discourse in which our Lord taught clearly, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” At the beginning of today’s Gospel, upon listening to Jesus’ new teaching, many of His disciples murmured among themselves saying, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” This teaching of Jesus is “hard” in the sense that it requires a profound faith to understand completely. But just because something is hard to accept does not mean that we should not accept it.

Peter’s statement quoted above gives us the words we should say whenever we find God’s will or His teaching difficult to accept. When that happens, we must hear Jesus ask us the same question He asked the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus will not try to manipulate us. He will not back down when He sees we are struggling. He will not lessen the requirement of being His faithful follower. Instead, He will give us the freedom to either believe or leave. And when we feel like leaving, we should always remember Peter’s words, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter’s statement says all we need to know in the face of any interior conflict of faith. Sure, we could leave our Lord and do our own thing. But where would we go? To embrace the passing pleasures of the world? To what end? If we believe and are convinced that Jesus is the Holy One of God, then no matter how hard, no matter how demanding, no matter how difficult, we must embrace fidelity to God in all things. That act of fidelity, especially when we struggle with some interior conflict, is the key to unlocking the transforming power of God in our lives.

Reflect, today, upon any ways that you have felt God’s will or any of His revealed truths to be difficult and demanding. When you face such an interior challenge, what do you do? If your response is to turn from God and become lax in your fidelity to Him, then reflect upon Peter’s words to Jesus. Make those words your prayer, and let that prayer strengthen your conviction to become an unwavering and faithful follower of God.

My demanding Lord, in Your great love and mercy You require everything of me. You ask me to give You my life in total surrender and service of Your perfect will. When I am weak, give me strength. When I doubt, give me faith. Help me, Lord, to always deepen my resolve and to follow You with complete fidelity. Jesus, I trust in You.

Perceiving the Dignity of Others

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Luke 13:22–24

The context of this passage provides insight into Jesus’ mission and His concern for each and every person. Note that Jesus was traveling toward the large and populous city of Jerusalem. But as He traveled, He passed through “towns and villages” and taught the people as He went. This might seem like a small detail, but it is also a significant one.

A city like Jerusalem was large and often had wealthy, influential, and “important” people. The less-populated towns  had borders and often some form of local government. Villages were much smaller rural areas, often made up of poorer, less educated, less influential, and simpler people. One historian, Josephus, wrote that there were about 240 villages throughout Galilee at the time Jesus lived. It’s interesting to note that Jesus wanted to teach everyone. He didn’t care if they were wealthy and powerful people in the large city or peasant farmers and shepherds from the countryside. His mission was to all.

One thing this teaches us is that we, also, must have love and concern for everyone, regardless of their social status. Each and every person is equal in dignity. From the president of a large country, to the beggar in an alleyway, everyone deserves our respect and attention in an equal way.

Our fallen human nature experiences various forms of temptation. Among them are temptations for riches, power and prestige. For that reason, we tend to admire those who have obtained worldly success because we want it for ourselves. As a result, we tend to show greater respect for those who have achieved what we covet and give less attention to those who do not have that success. This, of course, goes to the heart of the problem.

When you think about the people whom you have encountered recently, what comes to mind? Perhaps your “encounter” was to read about someone’s great success in the financial world. Or perhaps it was to read about someone’s demise in another way. Perhaps a neighbor has done well and purchased a new car, or a friend got fired from a job. Whatever the case may be, it is important to consider the level of personal respect and love you show for each person. It must be equal. Worldly status cannot determine how we treat others. This is hard to avoid.

The teaching that Jesus gave to those in the towns and villages was an exhortation to holiness. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” And at the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” The latter statement must have especially resonated with those who felt somewhat insignificant and unimportant in life. Those who felt like they were “last” would have received a certain hope. This tells us that God never measures us by our successes from a worldly standpoint. He measures us only on the level of our fidelity to His holy will.

Reflect, today, upon how you look at all people. Do you see every person in the way that God sees them? Do you see everyone with equal dignity and worth? Or do you elevate those whom you envy and whose success you covet? Seek to eliminate all worldly ways of looking at others so that you will only look at others through the lens of their dignity and fidelity to the will of God.

Lord, as You journeyed through life, You looked only at the hearts of those You encountered. You treated each person with dignity and love. Please help me to shed all temptations to see others through the eyes of the world and to show full respect to all of Your sons and daughters. Jesus, I trust in You.

Unity of Truth and Virtue

Monday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” Matthew 23:13

Today begins Jesus’ “Woe to you…” condemnations of the scribes and Pharisees. He issues seven subsequent condemnations. The one quoted above is His first. At the time, Jesus’ condemnations of these religious leaders fell mostly on deaf ears. They were obstinate and would not listen to what Jesus had to say. But it’s useful to note that these condemnations appear to actually be spoken about the scribes and Pharisees to the disciples and the crowds to whom Jesus was speaking.

Though there are many lessons we can learn from our Lord, let’s consider the first thing He says. He condemns hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is essentially saying one thing and doing another. It’s a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Hypocrisy can also come in the form of trying to present oneself as if one has every virtue under Heaven but in reality cares little for the clear doctrine and moral precepts given us by God. In the scripture passage, the scribes and Pharisees claimed to be leading people to salvation, but they were condemning the very source of salvation. On one hand, some of what they taught was true, but they failed to teach with the virtue that comes from God. On the other hand, some of what they taught was flat-out erroneous, because they were more concerned about their public persona than they were about the truth. Essentially, they were hypocrites, because their words and actions were neither united in the truth nor lived through the virtues given by God.

These two opposing tendencies seem to be a source of much division within our Church today. On the extreme “right,” we have those who preach doctrine but fail to exercise the necessary virtue so as to be effective instruments of those truths. And on the extreme “left” are those who act as if so-called virtue is all that matters. They deemphasize the clear and unambiguous moral and doctrinal truths that were given to us by our Lord, so that others will praise them for appearing kind, accepting and compassionate toward all. The problem is that one cannot exclude truth from virtue or virtue from truth. Compassion is not compassionate if it lacks truth, and the truth is not true if it is not presented with the virtues by which our Lord wants them brought forth. And though the scribes and Pharisees appear to be more focused upon their interpretations of various truths to the exclusion of virtue, their struggle with hypocrisy is just as real for those on both extremes today.

Reflect, today, upon the importance of embracing each and every moral and doctrinal precept given by our Lord. We must embrace everything He says with every fiber of our being. Reflect, also, upon how you express these teachings of Jesus to others. Do you strive to present the full Gospel with the greatest virtue? The deeper the truth, the more necessary is the virtue with which it is presented. And the more virtue you have, the better instrument of the full truth you will be. Strive to overcome every form of hypocrisy within your life by working toward true holiness. Holiness is wholeness. The Truth united to virtue. Only then will you escape from the condemnation of our Lord, but you will also thrive as a pure instrument of His saving grace.

My saving Lord, You desired deeply that the religious leaders of the time be powerful instruments of Your saving Gospel by presenting all truth in pure love. Please free me from every error so that Your holy Word will be alive in me and will be sent forth to others through the manifestation of the many virtues You wish to bestow. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Sanctuary Within You

Tuesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew 23:24–26

Imagine if someone were to offer to wash the dishes after dinner and all they did was to wash the outside of the cups and bowls but left the inside untouched and then placed them back in the cupboard. The next time you would go to use them, you would find them looking good until you took them down and saw the dried liquid and food inside. This is the image that Jesus uses to describe the Pharisees. They only cared about the external appearance and ignored the more important interior of the soul.

Jesus also used the contrasting images of straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel. This was a reference to the laws in Leviticus that forbade the Israelites from eating “swarming creatures,” such as gnats and other bugs, (Leviticus 11:41–45) as well as the meat of camels (Leviticus 11:4). Saying that the Pharisees “strain out the gnat and swallow the camel” was a figure of speech by which Jesus accused the Pharisees of distorting the smallest details of the law while ignoring the most important ones. For example, the Pharisees required everyone to strain all liquid before drinking it, just in case a gnat accidentally was present in that liquid, but they cared little about true justice when it came to killing the Son of God. For these reasons, the Pharisees had become “blind guides” and “hypocrites,” incapable of leading people to holiness.

The bottom line is that Jesus is telling us that we must truly become holy, not just appear so. God sees the heart and judges the heart. The only other person who can see your heart is you. Therefore, we must also hear this condemnation of the Pharisees so that we will understand the importance of looking into our own souls first and foremost. From there, from the holiness within, our exterior will also radiate the holiness of God.

One of the documents of Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, beautifully speaks to us about the conscience: “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths” (#16). This “secret core and sanctuary” within us is what Jesus is most concerned about. Very often we are tempted to be far more concerned about how we look to others than how we truly are inside. For example, the person who lives a sinful double life may go to great lengths to look holy to others, doing all they can to hide their sin from others. On the contrary, someone might be living a very holy life but be falsely accused by another publicly, causing much pain. In the former case, as long as the person is not found out, they appear at peace. In the latter case, even though the person is living a good and holy life, if they are falsely accused, they may be tempted to despair as their public image is shattered.

What others think and say about us is ultimately out of our control to a lesser or greater degree. What is within our control is that which is within us. Our interior life, that secret core, that sanctuary within where we meet God, must become the focus of our energies. Exteriorly, it ought not matter that others praise us or criticize us. What matters is that which is true, and only you and God can look into your heart to see that truth. The Pharisees failed to understand this essential truth. They put all their energy into their public image, neglecting that which was most important, making them incapable of leading others to God.

Reflect, today, upon your soul. How often do you look inside yourself? Are you able to be honest with yourself, acknowledging your sin and being grateful for your virtue? Or are you among those who are more concerned with how you look to others? Turn your eyes to the secret sanctuary within because it is there, in that secret core, that you will meet God, grow in holiness and then radiate that true holiness within our world. When that happens, God will also be able to use you to be a true guide to holiness for others.

Lord of true holiness, You desire to cleanse my soul, and You invite me to meet You there within. Please give me the grace I need to care more about my holiness within than the external perceptions and judgments of others. May I become holy, dear Lord, and learn to become an instrument of that holiness for others. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Firmness and Strength of Love

Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”  Matthew 23:27–28

This would not have been an easy thing for the scribes and Pharisees to hear. It is a hard truth, spoken by our Lord, partly in an attempt to shake them free of their sin. And even though they may not have enjoyed hearing this clear condemnation spoken, since it came from the Savior of the World, we can be sure that these are words of the deepest love and were spoken so that these men would repent and change their ways.

Perhaps each of us, at times, feels like criticizing another. Most often, when we feel this way, it stems from our own personal sin of anger. Perhaps we were hurt by another and that hurt results in a desire for a form of vengeance that comes from anger. But this was not the case with Jesus.

First, these words were spoken by Jesus to his disciples and to the crowds of people, not only to the scribes and Pharisees. So in many ways Jesus spoke this for the good of those who were suffering under the misguided leadership of these religious leaders. But Jesus knew that these leaders would also hear His words, so He spoke those words to them. But unlike us, He did it out of perfect virtue so as to care for their souls.

At times, each one of us needs to hear Jesus rebuke us in love. If any of the scribes and Pharisees were open at that time, then Jesus’ words would have first stung them to the heart but then had the powerful effect of challenging them to change. They needed this and so do we. When we become stuck in our sins, especially if obstinacy sets in, then we need to allow Jesus to challenge us firmly. Such a challenge can be rattling, but that rattling is sometimes necessary. Emotion and passion can lead to sin, but it can also lead to repentance and conversion. The passion with which Jesus spoke became an instrument by which their own passions made them sit up and take notice. The result was that they either became more steeped in their sin or they repented. And though most became even more steeped in sin, which ultimately resulted in their persecution and death of Jesus, we can hope that there were some who did repent, such as Nicodemus.

Reflect, today, upon the strength of Jesus’ words to these religious leaders. Though they were supposed to be both “religious” and “leaders,” they were neither. They needed Jesus’ strength, courage and firmness. They needed to be confronted directly and receive the hard and clear truth about their sin. Reflect upon what it is in your own life that Jesus wants to say to you. Is there an area of your life in which our Lord needs to address you with passion, strength, clarity and firmness? Most likely there is. Perhaps not in an area of serious sin like it was with these scribes and Pharisees, but if we are open, Jesus wants to powerfully go after every sin within us. Open yourself to Him and allow Him to help rid you of the sins with which you struggle the most. And be grateful for this grace when He does.

My passionate Lord, You hate sin but love the sinner. You perfectly desire to rid me of all sin and all attachment to sin. Please open my mind and heart to hear Your rebukes of Love so that I may respond to Your invitation to repent with all my heart. I love You dear Lord. Free me from sin so that I may love You more. Jesus, I trust in You.

Gentle Promptings of Grace

Thursday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Matthew 24:42–44

Our Lord contrasts the call to stay awake with those who are asleep. Clearly, by stating “Stay awake!” so emphatically, Jesus is also telling us that it is easy to fall asleep, spiritually speaking. So are you more often awake and attentive to His presence? Or are you most often asleep and therefore unaware of His presence?

First of all, this exhortation must be understood as a reference to our passing from this life. And though most who are younger do not expect to pass suddenly and unprepared, we know that this does happen. It could happen to any one of us at any time, unexpectedly and without warning. Therefore, we must see this passionate exhortation from Jesus to be a clear warning to always be ready to meet Him in our particular judgment upon our passing from this life.

With that said, this passage is also an invitation to become increasingly aware of the countless ways in which Jesus speaks to us each and every day. The goal of the Christian life must be to be continually at prayer. This does not mean that we are necessarily “saying” prayers all day every day. Rather, it means that we form a spiritual habit of becoming continually attentive to the promptings of grace given to us throughout our lives. God wants to lead us always. He wants to inspire us with His grace every day all day. He wants us to have one eye on the things that occupy our day and the other eye upon Him, allowing Him to gently lead us through everything.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that God is only concerned about the big decisions of life. But the truth is that God is most clearly found in the details of life, even the smallest ones: a short exchange of words with a family member, a smile at a co-worker, a kind gesture to a stranger, and a random prayer offered for an anonymous person in need of that prayer. All of these are but a few examples of the many ways that God wants to commune with us every day throughout the day. And this can only happen if we are continually awake and attentive to His gentle promptings of grace.

How is this accomplished? How do we become attentive to God as He speaks to us and guides us every moment of every day? It is done by forming a spiritual habit of ongoing prayer. We begin by setting aside time for prayer every day, time in which all we do is pray. We set aside all distractions and begin by offering prayers, meditating upon scripture, attending the Mass, speaking from our hearts, etc. But from there, this special time of prayer, set aside exclusively for God, must begin to have an effect upon us throughout the day. And when we get distracted by the things of the world, we stop again, focus exclusively on God, and invite Him to be with us yet again. And then this is done again, and again, and again. Prayer must become a consuming habit by which God becomes present to everything we do. When this happens, we become spiritually “awake” to Him always.

Reflect, today, upon this clear and concise exhortation from our Lord. “Stay awake!” Let those words resonate within you. Hear them as a call to form this holy habit of prayer throughout the day. If you do so, God will slowly take over your life and lead you each and every day into His holy will. And through you, God will be able to extend His love and mercy to many who are in your life and beyond.

My demanding Lord, You desire me to live my day, every day, in such a way that I am continually attentive to You. Please help me to form a holy habit of listening to You and responding to all that You say to me always. My life is Yours, dear Lord. Lead me continually by Your gentle Hand of grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

Being Prepared by Charity

Friday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.” Matthew 25:1–2

The “ten virgins” in this parable refer to the bridesmaids who were following Jewish tradition by going to the home of the bride to await the coming of the groom for a wedding. This parable is one of a few parables Jesus told that emphasizes the importance of being vigilant in our Christian walk. As the parable goes on, we are told that the groom was delayed and that the bridesmaids fell asleep. Upon waking, the foolish ones had no more oil for their lamps and had to leave to get some more. When they returned, they discovered that the groom had already arrived and that the door was locked. They then knocked and said, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But the reply came to them, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” And they missed out on the wedding celebration.

Traditionally, the “oil” has been understood as a reference to charity. The message is simple. As we prepare to meet our Lord in Heaven, it is not enough to make the claim that we are Christians. We must also produce the good fruit of charity by our actions. Faith must result in charity, otherwise it is not true faith at all.

This parable should be taken seriously. We should use it as a regular source of examination of our lives in regard to the charity we have…or do not have. When you look at your life, can you point to regular acts of charity that flow from your love of God and are bestowed upon others? Charity is not based on your preferences in life. It’s not based on what you feel like doing. Charity is always selfless and sacrificial. It always looks toward the good of the other. How much charity is alive in your life? Jesus clearly told this parable because He was aware of many who professed a faith in God but did not live the love of God. It’s very easy to live our lives day in and day out, doing what we do because of our personal likes or dislikes. However, it is very difficult to foster true charity within our souls and to regularly choose to love others because it is good for them.

We must work to foster charity, first, in our thoughts. Critical and condemning thoughts must be eliminated, and we must strive to see others as God sees them. Charity must also direct our words. Our words must be encouraging of others, kind, supportive and merciful. Our actions become charitable when we become generous with our time, go out of our way to serve and are diligent in the ways we express our love of others.

Reflect, today, upon the high calling you have been given to live an active and manifest life of charity. Spend time reflecting upon what charity truly is. Have you allowed yourself to become guided by a more secular and selfish form of “love?” Do you act more out of selfish preferences than out of self-giving and sacrifice? Do you truly build people up and witness the love of God to them? Try to answer these questions seriously. This parable spoken from our Lord is much more than a story. It is truth. And the truth is that some will arrive at the day of judgment without the necessary “oil” for their lamps. Take our Lord seriously and examine your life of charity. Where you are lacking, become fervent in your mission to change. In the end, you will be eternally grateful you did.

My loving Lord, You showed us all that true love is selfless and sacrificial. You came to this world to serve and to give Your sacred life for us all. May I open my life more fully to Your love so that Your love may also affect and direct every relationship I have. Fill me with the gift of charity, dear Lord, so that I will be fully prepared for the day of my particular judgment. Jesus, I trust in You.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Superabundance

Saturday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.’” Matthew 25:20–21

Oftentimes, when we are presented with a story of success versus tragedy, our attention goes to the tragedy first. The parable we are given today, the Parable of the Talents, presents us with three persons. Two of the people display stories of great success. One, however, offers a story that is more tragic. The tragic story ends by the master telling the servant who buried his money that he is a “wicked, lazy servant!” But both of the success stories end with the master saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.” Let’s focus upon these success stories.

Both of the servants who were successful doubled the master’s money. Even from a secular point of view, that is very impressive. If you were investing money with a financial advisor and shortly after investing you were told that your money had doubled, you’d be quite pleased. Such a rate of return is rare. This is the first message we should take from this parable. Doubling the gifts and graces God gives us is very doable. The reason for this is not primarily because of us; rather, it’s because of God. By their very nature, God’s gifts to us are meant to grow. By its very nature, grace flows in superabundance; and, when we cooperate with God’s grace, then it grows in an exponential way.

When you consider your own life, what gifts has God given to you that He wants you to use for His glory? Are there gifts buried away that remain stagnant or, even worse, are used for purposes that are contrary to the divine plan for your life? Some of the more obvious gifts you were given within your very nature are your intellect and will. Additionally, you may be extra-talented in one way or another. These are all gifts given on a natural level. In addition to these, God often bestows supernatural gifts in abundance when we begin to use what we have for His glory and for the salvation of others. For example, if you work to share the truths of our faith with others, God will begin to deepen your supernatural gifts of Counsel, Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding so that you will be able to speak about God and His will. All seven of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are among the clearest examples of supernatural gifts given by God as follows: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord. The prayer that concludes this reflection comes from a traditional novena to the Holy Spirit and not only asks for these gifts but also gives a short description of them for a better understanding. 

Reflect, today, upon the fact that what God has given to you, both on a natural and supernatural level, must be devoted to the service of God and others. Do you do this? Do you try to use every talent, every gift, every part of who you are for God’s glory and the eternal good of others? If you don’t, then those gifts dwindle away. If you do, you will see those gifts of God’s grace grow in manifold ways. Strive to understand the gifts you have received and firmly resolve to use them for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. If you do, you will also hear our Lord say to you one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, grant me the Spirit of Wisdom, that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal; the Spirit of Understanding, to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth; the Spirit of Counsel, that I may choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining Heaven; the Spirit of Fortitude, that I may bear my cross with Thee and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation; the Spirit of Knowledge, that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints; the Spirit of Piety, that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable; the Spirit of Fear of the Lord, that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Jesus, I trust in You.

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