Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Hearing the Gospel

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but they do not practice.”  Matthew 23:2-3

It is often said that actions speak louder than words.  These words of Jesus above contain this truth.  In the verses following this passage, Jesus goes on to give various examples of how the Pharisees act in hypocritical ways.  Furthermore, Jesus points out that “All their works are performed to be seen” (Matthew 23:5).

What’s most interesting about this passage is not so much the harsh criticism of the hypocrisy and pride of the Pharisees.  Rather, it’s that Jesus tells His disciples to “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you…”  The truth is that not even the greatest saint can preach the Gospel fully by their actions.  This is because the Gospel is perfect, and human beings are not.  We will never be perfect instruments of the Son of God.  But the good news is that Jesus wants to use us anyway.  We are called to witness with our actions.  When we fail in our actions we are also called to preach with our words. 

This statement from Jesus should help us be more receptive to the Word of God as it is preached by His ministers.  If Jesus wanted His disciples to listen even to the words of truth spoken by the hypocritical Pharisees, then He will certainly want us all to listen to His Word as it is preached by the ministers of His Church, regardless of their sanctity.

No minister is perfect, but they do have the mission of proclaiming the Gospel.  If we fail to receive the Gospel from them, then it is as much our own sin as it is theirs. 

Reflect, today, upon this command from our Lord and allow it to also apply to you as a command to listen to the Gospel spoken by those in the Church.  When their example also supports their words, rejoice in that fact.  When it does not, be merciful and seek to hear our Lord speak through them anyway.  Jesus has much to say through them if you will listen.

Lord, may I always be open to the Gospel whenever it is preached.  I thank You for the great example set by so many saintly people.  I also pray that I will be merciful to those who preach Your Word and fail to live up to it in their actions.  I thank You for the ministers of Your Church, especially, and pray for their fidelity to the proclamation of Your Word.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Love of God and Neighbor

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

“The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:31

The first and greatest Commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  But Jesus goes on to give us the second most important Commandment.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

First of all, it’s important to point out that loving God with all your might is the greatest Commandment, in part, because unless you do so you cannot also love your neighbor.  Love of neighbor hinges on whether you love God with your whole being.  Only when you love God can that love overflow into other relationships.

When we look at the love of neighbor as an effect of the overflow of your love of God, this second Commandment takes on a clearer meaning.  Jesus doesn’t only say to love your neighbor, He says to do so “as yourself.”  So how do you love yourself?  You do so primarily by fulfilling the first Commandment of the love of God.

Loving God with your whole self is, in fact, the best way to also love yourself.  Why?  Because we were made for love and communion with God.  Loving God is not some extra favor we do for God; rather, it’s a way of fulfilling the deepest meaning of who we are.  We are made for love and we are made for God.  Therefore, loving God is the best way to love yourself.

From this starting point, we then move to a better understanding of how we are called to love our neighbor.  If the fulfillment of loving yourself is found by loving God and being in an intimate relationship of love with God, then you love your neighbor as yourself by drawing your neighbor into a relationship of love with God also.  There is nothing you could do that is more loving for others than to act as a bridge between them and God.  And the more directly you act as that bridge, the greater your love for them and the more completely you fulfill this Commandment.

Reflect, tod
ay, upon the ways that you act as a bridge of love between God and others.  Recognize this as your absolute duty, privilege and honor.  Commit yourself to a wholehearted love of God and allow that love to overflow and be poured out upon all those with whom you encounter every day.  Love is contagious and it must consume everything you are and everything you do.

Lord, I desire to love You with my whole being.  Increase my love for You and allow that love to overflow into every relationship I have in life.  May love be the one and only mission of my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Overcoming Obstacles

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  Luke 19:5

Zacchaeus was up a tree.  Why?  Practically speaking, he was up a tree because he was short and he wanted to see Jesus as Jesus passed by.  But the symbolism reveals far greater meaning.

The first thing we must note is that Zacchaeus was a wealthy and well respected man.  In the eyes of the world he was successful.  But despite his wealth, it appears there was something missing.  He heard about Jesus and desired to know Him.  This passage is fascinating because it must have been an unusual sight to see a wealthy and successful man climbing a tree in the presence of a large crowd.  In fact, it was so unusual that Jesus immediately noticed it.

Jesus also noticed Zacchaeus because of something far more significant than a grown man climbing a tree.  Zacchaeus was noticed by Jesus primarily because Jesus was able to perceive the desire and openness of his heart.  Zacchaeus, this wealthy and successful man, was missing something and he was zealous to obtain it.  He longed for Jesus and this desire is fulfilled by the compassion of our Lord.

Regardless of whether or not you are “successful” from a worldly point of view, it’s essential that you, too, recognize the unfulfilled desire of your heart.  That “unfulfilled desire” refers to any way that God is not fully the center of your life.  Some people try to fulfill this desire in many worldly ways.  But those who are like Zacchaeus will realize that Jesus is the answer.  And when someone recognizes this fact, they will go to any length necessary to see Him and be with Him.

Reflect, today, upon a simple question: How far am I willing to go to see Jesus?  Are you willing to do anything you have to so as to see Him, hear Him and be with Him?  It may take an act of humility and you may have to act in a radical way.  Doing so will call out to the heart of our Lord and He will respond to you with much generosity just as He did to Zacchaeus.

Lord, I desire to choose You above all things.  May I never be drawn to the things of this world more than I am drawn to You.  Increase my desire for You and give me the courage I need to be faithful to You always.  I love You, dear Lord.  Please increase my love.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Mercy

Monday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  Luke 14:13-14

Too often in life we fall into the trap of working for immediate rewards.  If we do well, we want to be noticed, thanked and repaid.  But this exhortation from Jesus reveals that our lives of service should be lived in such a way that we expect no repayment here and now.  Rather, we should anticipate our reward in Heaven.

This mission from our Lord can be hard to actually live.  It requires great selflessness and concern about the other without expecting anything in return.  But when we understand this spiritual principle, we will realize that “payment” is not only awaiting us in Heaven, it is also received through our act of selflessness here and now.

The “payment” we receive here and now for acts of selfless service of others is holiness of life.  We achieve holiness of life when we seek to bestow mercy upon others.  Mercy is an act of love given to one in need without any selfish motivation.  It’s not something done on the condition that you receive something back.  Mercy is offered as love of another for the good of the other and for no other reason.  But the good news is that true mercy has an effect upon the one who offers it in a profound way.  By showing selfless mercy to another, we imitate our merciful God and become more like Him.  This is a greater reward than we could ever receive from another.

Reflect, today, upon how willing you are to be merciful to others in need.  Are you willing to give without expectation of repayment from them?  If so, you will find far greater blessing in this selfless act than in anything else for which you obtain worldly recognition.

Lord, give me a heart that is full of mercy and compassion for all those in need.  May I daily seek to serve them without any expectation of reward.  May these acts of mercy be reward enough and become a source and foundation of my holiness of life.  Jesus I trust in You.


Priorities

Tuesday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come, everything is now ready.’ But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves.”  Luke 14:16-18a

This happens far more often than we may at first think!  How does it happen?  It happens any and every time Jesus invites us to share in His grace and we find ourselves too busy or occupied with other more “important” things.

Take, for example, how easy it is for many to intentionally miss Sunday Mass.  There are countless excuses and rationalizations that people use to justify missing Mass on occasion.  In this parable above, the Scripture goes on to speak of three people who excused themselves from the feast for “good” reasons.  One just bought a field and had to go examine it, one just bought some oxen and had to go care for them, and another just got married and had to be with his wife.  All three had what they thought were good excuses and thus failed to come to the feast.

The feast is the Kingdom of Heaven.  But it is also any way that you are invited to participate in God’s grace: Sunday Mass, moments of daily prayer, the Bible study you should join, the mission talk you should attend, the book you should read or the act of charity that God wants you to perform.  Every way that grace is offered to you is a way in which you are invited to the feast of God.  Sadly, it is very easy for some to come up with an excuse for denying the invitation of Christ to share in His grace.

Reflect, today, upon God coming to you and inviting you to share more fully in His life of grace.  How is He inviting you?  In what way are you being invited to this fuller participation?  Do not make excuses.  Answer the invitation and enter into the feast.

Lord, help me to see the numerous ways in which You call me to share more fully in Your life of grace and mercy.  Help me to recognize the feast that is prepared for me and help me to always make You the priority in my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Choosing God Above All

Wednesday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  Luke 14:26

No, this is not an error.  Jesus really said this.  It’s a strong statement and the word “hating” in this sentence is quite definitive.  So what does this actually mean?

Like everything Jesus said, it must be read in the context of the entire Gospel.  Remember, Jesus said that the greatest and first commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart…”  He also said to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This most certainly includes family.  However, in the passage above, we hear Jesus telling us that if anything whatsoever gets in the way of our love of God, we must eliminate it from our life.  We must “hate” it.

Hate, in this context, is not the sin of hate.  It’s not an anger welling up within us that causes us to lose control and say mean things.  Rather, hate in this context means we must be ready and willing to distance ourselves from that which gets in the way of our relationship with God.  If it is money, prestige, power, the flesh, alcohol, etc., then we must eliminate it from our lives.  Shockingly, some will even find that they must distance themselves from their own family in order to keep their relationship with God alive.  But even in this case, we are still loving our family.  Love simply takes on different forms at times.

The family was designed to be a place of peace, harmony and love.  But the sad reality that many have experienced in life is that sometimes our family relationships directly interfere with our love of God and others.  And if this is the case in our lives, we must hear Jesus telling us to  approach those relationships in a different way out of love for God.

Perhaps this Scripture could be misunderstood and misused at times.  It is not an excuse to treat those in the family, nor anyone else, with spite, harshness, malice or the like.  It is not an excuse to let the passion of anger well up in us.  But it is a call from God to act in justice and truth and to refuse to allow anything to separate us from the love of God.

Reflect, today, upon that which is the greatest obstacle to your relationship with God.  Who or what tears you away from loving God with your whole heart.  Hopefully there is nothing or no one who fits this category.  But if there is, hear the
words of Jesus today encouraging you to be strong and calling you to put Him first before anything else in life.

Lord, help me to constantly see those things in my life that keep me from loving You.  As I identify that which deters me in faith, give me the courage to choose You above all things.  Give me the wisdom to know how to choose You above all things.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Welcoming Sinners

Thursday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Luke 15:1-2

How do you treat the sinners you encounter?  Do you shun them, talk about them, ridicule them, pity them, or ignore them?  Hopefully not!  How should you treat the sinner?  Jesus allowed them to draw near to Him and He was attentive to them.  In fact, He was so merciful and kind to the sinner that He was harshly criticized by the Pharisees and scribes.  How about you?  Are you willing to associate with the sinner to the point that you open yourself up to criticism?

It’s quite easy to be harsh and critical toward those who “deserve it.”  When we see someone clearly going astray, we can almost feel justified in pointing the finger and putting them down as if we were better than they or as if they were dirt.  What an easy thing to do and what a mistake!

If we want to be like Jesus we must have a very different attitude toward them.  We must act differently toward them than how we may feel like acting.  Sin is ugly and dirty.  It’s easy to be critical toward one who is caught in a cycle of sin.  Yet if we do so, we are no different than the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ time.  And we will most likely receive the same harsh treatment right back from Jesus for our lack of mercy. 

It’s interesting that one of the only sins that Jesus consistently rebukes is that of judgmentalness and criticalness.  It’s almost as if this sin shuts the door on God’s mercy in our lives.

Reflect, today, upon how you look at and treat those whose sins are somewhat manifest.  Do you treat them with mercy?  Or do you react with disdain and act with a judgmental heart?  Recommit yourself to mercy and a complete lack of judgment.  Judgment is Christ’s to give, not yours.  You are called to mercy and compassion.  If you can offer just that, you will be much more like our merciful Lord.

Lord, help me when I feel like being harsh and judgmental.  Help me to turn an eye of compassion toward the sinner, seeing the goodness You put in their souls before seeing their sinful actions.  Help me to leave judgment to You and embrace mercy instead.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Worldly or Heavenly Success?

Friday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.”  Luke 16:8b

This line comes at the conclusion of the parable of the Dishonest Steward.  Jesus told this parable as a way of highlighting the fact that the “children of the world” are indeed successful in their manipulation of worldly things, whereas the “children of light” are not as shrewd when it comes to worldly things.  So what does this tell us?

It certainly does not tell us that we should enter into a worldly life striving to live by worldly standards and working toward worldly goals.  In fact, by acknowledging this fact about the worldly, Jesus is presenting us with a strong contrast as to how we should think and act.  We are called to be the children of light.  Therefore, we should not be surprised at all if we are not as successful in worldly things as others are who are immersed in the secular culture. 

This is especially true when we look at the numerous “successes” of those who are fully immersed in the world and the values of the world.  Some are successful in obtaining great wealth, power or prestige by being shrewd in things of this age.  We see this in pop culture especially.  Take, for example, the entertainment industry.  There are many who are quite successful and popular in the eyes of the world and we can tend to have a certain envy of them.  Compare that to those who are filled with virtue, humility and goodness.  We often find that they go unnoticed. 

So what should we do?  We should use this parable to remind ourselves that all that matters, in the end, is what God thinks.  How does God see us and the effort we give in living a holy life?  As children of the light, we must work only for that which is eternal, not for that which is worldly and passing.  God will provide for our worldly needs if we put our trust in Him.  We may not become huge successes in accord with worldly standards, but we will obtain greatness in regard to all that truly matters and all that is eternal.

Reflect, today, upon your priorities in life.  Are you focused on building up riches that are eternal?  Or do you continually find yourself caught up in the manipulations and shrewdness that has as a goal only worldly success?  Strive for that which is eternal and you will be eternally grateful.

Lord, help me to keep my eyes on Heaven.  Help me to be one who is wise in the ways of grace, mercy and goodness.  When I am tempted to live only for this world, help me to see what is of true value and stay focused on that alone.  Jesus, I trust in You.


False Images of Ourselves

Saturday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him. And [Jesus] said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.”  Luke 16:14-15

“God knows the heart!”  What a great truth to be deeply aware of.  So often in life there are misconceptions we have of others and misconceptions that others have about us.  This passage goes to the heart of this tendency of the Pharisees to create a false image of themselves for others to see and to care little about the inner truth that only God is aware of.

So what is more important to you?  What do you prefer?  Are you more concerned about the opinions of others or the truth of your life in the mind of God?

This struggle can go two ways.  On one hand, like the Pharisees, we can strive to present a false persona of ourselves to others while, at the same time, God is fully aware of the truth and is aware of the false image we are trying to portray.  On the other hand, we may find that others have a false image of who we are, which can cause us much hurt.  When this happens, we can be led into anger towards others and tend to irrationally and excessively defend ourselves. 

But what is important?  What should concern us?  The truth is what matters and we should care little about that which God is not concerned.  We should care only about that which is in the mind of God and what He thinks about us and our lives. 

Reflect, today, upon your tendency to worry about what others think about you.  Know that God wants you to live an honest life by which you present yourself in the truth.  Do not be like the Pharisees who were obsessed with the flattering and false images others had of them.  Worry only about living in the truth and what is in the heart of God and leave the rest to Him.  In the end, that’s all that matters.

Lord, help me to see what is in Your heart and help me to have concern only about how You see me.  I know You love me and I know that You want me to live fully in the truth.  May Your truth be the guide of my life in all things.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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