Welcome to the Word & Life Series. In this series, Fr. John Ludden will take the Sacred Scriptures offered at Mass each Sunday and apply them to our everyday lives. As you read Fr. John’s reflection, open your hearts and minds in new ways to God’s Holy Word. St. Paul says “The Word of God is living effective“. So as we journey together in the Word & Life, let us allow the wisdom of God to transform our relationship and our outlook on life, inspiring us to love one another as He has loved us. You are now invited to reflect on the Word of God which is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Welcome again to the Word & Life!
September 25, 2011
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
The Reluctant Giver
There is power in Jesus’ Word today as he confronts the chief priests and the elders with their hypocrisy. He uses the parable method to present the case and then poses a question to the religious establishment of his day. They seal their own fate in the way in which they answer the question. In Jesus’ example, the first son does the father’s will regardless of his reluctance to do what was asked of him. The second son, however, tells his father what he wants his father to hear and then does nothing about it. Jesus is pointing out to the chief priests and elders that they are like the second son. The Father in heaven wills that they bring others closer to him. The leaders accept the invitation, but then hide behind the letter of the law, failing to bring people into the presence of God. They give lip service to God’s saving power but do not put in the effort to make it a reality in the world. Furthermore, even though tax collectors and prostitutes were looked down on by the ruling classes, Jesus points out that these sinners were more ready to receive John’s message than they were. God’s grace was at work in their lives, turning them away from their sin, allowing themselves to be transformed by the wisdom they received and to grow in the eyes of God.
Cynics often criticize people who attend church on a regular basis for just giving lip service to the message of the gospel. Many will accuse church-goers as hypocrites. Some use this as an opportunity to suggest that is why they do not attend church. It is hard to be a Christian today because it demands more than lip service –– it means that we must put into practice what we preach. A great deal of effort is involved in living the Christian life. The work of Jesus is never over. Even though we may be reluctant in our approach to the Father’s will in our lives, once we struggle with the demands of our faith, God sees the blessing of our endeavors. God loves the one who tries. Jesus warned the chief priests and elders not to be self-righteous and superficial. Instead, he encourages these men to reach out to sinners and recognize the sacred ground of their road to transformation. Jesus invites us to also journey down this road of transformation.
In order to discern the Father’s will, we need to discern the needs of those around us. God is constantly asking us to reach out to the vulnerable and the poor. These people are present in our communities. Our response to their need ultimately reflects our understanding of the demands of faith and our commitment to God. When we truly live a Christian life we feel the pinch of sacrificing our time, and we turn our energies to those who do not yet know the Living God. Jesus reminds us to hold onto the vocabulary of outreach and acceptance. This is what it means to know the Father’s will –– to follow the example of Christ and his commandment to love. The parable encourages us to move beyond spoken promises to incarnate the Word in our lives. By truly embracing the wisdom Jesus imparts in this parable, our lives become an expression of God’s Word among us.
We pray: Strengthen us, O Lord, help us to know your will. As the days pass, may we not neglect opportunities of fulfilling your will. Empower us to be doers of your Word. May our lives become a reflection of your presence to those we meet. Amen.
- Which character of today’s parable best reflects the way in which you respond to God?
- What does the image of being called into the vineyard mean to you?
- What do you think is meant by the kingdom of God?
- Why does Jesus think prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of God before the religious leaders?
- What is God’s will for you?
- How do you reflect your belief in the kingdom of God in your daily life?
- Name those moments of grace when you resisted God’s will but then carried it out??
Faith of the Fathers
“Do everything calmly and peacefully. Do as much as you can as well as you can. Strive to see God in all things without exception, and consent to His will joyously. Do everything for God, uniting yourself to him in word and deed. Walk very simply with the Cross of the Lord and be at peace with yourself.”
— St. Francis de Sales
September 18, 2011
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Phillipians 1:20c-24, 27a
Seeking A Generous God
Everyone wants to be treated fairly and with justice. In our dealings with those in our family, with our friends, and with people in church or society, we expect that they will grant us the dignity of being fair. Today’s gospel contradicts the world’s sense of fairness. It seems extremely unfair that those who worked long hours should receive the same pay as the ones who came at the last hour. How many of us would put up with this scenario? What we have to remember is that through this parable, Jesus is teaching us to go deeper into the reality of God. The parable demonstrates how God summons people into His kingdom at various times and in various places. God calls people in every season. He is always at work, ready to seek out what is lost and to offer salvation. God offers the gift of eternal life and it is never too late to accept His invitation. Such is God’s generosity, that He is ready to love and forgive even in the eleventh hour.
The message for us is that God’s ways are clearly not our ways, neither are his thoughts our thoughts. We are always invited to turn to God who is gracious and forgiving. It takes longer for some people to recognize the Giver in the midst of the gifts of life. Most of us can easily give witness to the ways in which God has manifested Himself to us and how we have responded to Him. Even though some of us may have been totally dismissive of God’s will in our lives, certain events take place or certain people enter our lives to remind us that God’s redemption is forever at work and that He is calling us to right relationship with Him. It may well take us or others until the eleventh hour to respond to the grace and love of God’s invitation, but God offers us the gift of forgiveness and transformation nonetheless.
Let us consider for a moment how the countries of our world have tried to settle international disputes. International affairs can be far removed from God’s plan for unity and peace. Deadlines are necessary at times to affect change in hostile environments. But is it necessary to go to war when countries run out of time? We must discern how to create environments in which lasting peace can be secured, patiently building up trust and offering adequate time for negotiations. The example set by God is one of patience, not hurriedness. The parable demonstrates this very point. International politics are indeed complex, but we should heed the lessons of history. Although not the true way, war sometimes is very necessary. No matter what our stand, we must always pray for those young men and women who give themselves in service to their country, praying that God will keep them safe.
Those of us who are thirty or older will remember that we were asked to pray for the conversion of Russia from communism to religious freedom. Today, if we adhere to the wisdom of the gospel, we know we must pray for the conversion of those who engage in violence and mass destruction. Prayer changes hearts, not violence. It is never too late for those who are violent to have a change of heart and to begin to love instead of hate. God waits for such individuals to enter the harvest of His love and kingdom. It is never too late for them. It takes our prayer and openness to God’s generosity to allow this transformation to take place. God’s ways are certainly not our ways for anything is possible for Him. In the words from Isaiah we can only pray that the scoundrel forsake his way and the wicked his thoughts.
We pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your mercy and love. May all people come to know you, especially those who sin against your love. May we rejoice when the sinner returns to you and let us encourage one another to pray for those who persecute us. Amen.
- What is challenging about today’s parable?
- What does today’s parable tell us about God’s initiative?
- How does God’s mercy and justice differ from that of the world?
- Name the times in which you have responded to the Lord and have neglected the Lord?
- In what way do you think God will repay you for your discipleship and Christian witness?
Wisdom of the Fathers
“Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice. The common good of humanity finds its ultimate meaning in the eternal law. But since the concrete demands of this common good are constantly changing as time goes on, peace is never attained once and for all, but must be built up ceaselessly. Moreover, since the human will is unsteady and wounded by sin, the achievement of peace requires a constant mastering of passions and the vigilance of lawful authority…
…For this reason, all Christians are urgently summoned to do in love what the truth requires, and to join with all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and bringing it about.”
— GAUDIUM ET SPES, paragraph 78
September 11, 2011
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year A
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
A Great Gift – Our Greatest Challenge
In our readings today, we are confronted with the hardest component of Christian living: the challenge of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of the will and heart that washes the slate clean for someone who hurt us or who has sinned against us. We sometimes play games with our notion of forgiveness. We may have said, for example, “This is your last chance,” or, “If you do that again, I will not forgive you a second time,” or better still, “I can forgive but can never forget.” Forgiveness is not easy. Overcoming hurt is not easy. We have to take a risk to forgive someone by opening ourselves to them once again.
In the reading from the Book of Sirach, we learn that if we forgive the injustice of our neighbor, then God will forgive the injustices that we commit against Him. The act of forgiveness does not necessarily follow the world’s response, a response that generally involves punishment and retribution. Forgiveness is God’s initiative for us. In the gospel text, Jesus warns us about the double standard that is at work when we try to deal with forgiveness. He uses the parable of the compassion of the king who forgave the debt of one of his servants by letting him go free. This fortunate servant then treats without compassion a fellow servant who owed him money and has him thrown into jail. The fortunate servant expected mercy himself but did not want to show mercy. Jesus concludes by telling us the king finds out about the fortunate servant’s treatment of his fellow man and hands him over to be punished for his lack of mercy and compassion.
Jesus is clearly telling us today that we must forgive if we expect God to forgive us. Peter asked how many time one should forgive. Jesus’ response was seventy-seven times. Since seven was the perfect number for the Jews, Jesus’ answer meant that we must always forgive, even if it costs us! There is no more dangerous thing than not letting go of someone’s sin. Sin does not define the person — God defines all human beings by making them in His own image and likeness. In order to be forgiven, a person must be contrite — this is where the notion of forgiveness becomes complex. Nonetheless, when we forgive someone, it opens us to love and transformation. When we refuse someone forgiveness we anchor them to their sin. If we hold onto anger and resentment, we ultimately stand as an obstacle to God’s presence. If we do not transform our anger, resentment and hurt, we will transmit it to those around us. Jesus teaches us that if we refuse to struggle with the challenge of forgiveness, then we too will be refused this vital and precious gift ourselves. He reminds us that forgiveness leads us and others closer to the reality of God’s mercy and love, redemption and salvation.
We pray: Lord, whenever we are hurt, help us to forgive. Transform our fragile lives with the spirit of reconciliation. Help us to not take pleasure in other people’s failures. Rather, whenever we come across failure, may we be ready to help them to get back up and invite them to get closer to you. Amen.
- What does today’s gospel teach about forgiveness?
- What is the gospel teaching us in regard to those who refuse to forgive?
- Why do the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith in this context?
- Where in my life do I need to embrace the gift of forgiveness that God is calling me to?
- Who do I need to forgive?
- Do I expect to be forgiven even if I am not ready to forgive?
Wisdom of the Fathers
“Think about the people who have hurt you. Do you still carry resentments and anger? How can you proceed to heal yourself? Remember the feelings are okay; in fact, it is essential that you recognize them before healing becomes possible. Counseling can be very helpful in working through your emotions, and prayer is an important component. Don’t let the pain of the hurtful experience be with you for your entire life. The peace and freedom you feel when you forgive is worth all the work it encompasses.”
— Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
September 4, 2011
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Life is not easy at times because of things that come our way. The hardest challenge for humanity is that of relationship. If one steps back to look at Scripture and to consider what is taking place throughout the Old and New Testaments, one will quickly come to the conclusion that the Scripture is all about relationship. The Word of God tells the story of humanity’s relationship with God. Moreover, the Scriptures contemplate the meaning of our very existence and the destiny which is filled with hope. The history of the world records the great accomplishments of humanity but also bears the scars of marred relationships. The most unpleasant reality for us as a people is to deal with awkward relationships. There are many things that cause friction within relationship. Motivation to control or the reality of stress often affects relationships.
In today’s gospel, Jesus confronts a very human problem, that of one person sinning against another. He offers very practical advice to his listeners. His message is clear –– if you have a problem with your brother, then go to him to resolve it. Jesus goes on to say that if this fails, seek the help of friends, if unsuccessful, the Church. If everything fails after much effort, Jesus says treat you brother as you would a Gentile –– at a respectable distance. Jesus gives blessed assurance to his disciples by telling them that whenever two or three gather in his name, he will be in the midst of them. By invoking Jesus’ name to help us deal with conflict, we are promised that he will always be there to advise and inspire, to heal and to forgive. Just as when we gather in Jesus’ name, we are given the wisdom and courage to transcend the quarrels and the hurts of this life.
The Good News today is telling us to approach the difficulties of relationship directly. People often react to problems in relationships too quickly by voicing anger and rage. This takes what is an already tenuous problem to another level, making it more difficult to resolve. In our quest to justify our own anger and rage we often let others know of someone’s sin. This action causes the person who made a mistake or sinned to be embarrassed, and it often makes matters worse. Sometimes we just need to pray about how to confront the difficulties in relationships. It is important to seek the wisdom of Jesus by asking: what would Jesus do in this situation? Any response to this question would empower us to do what is right and loving.
Paul reminds us in Romans that the commandments may be summed up very easily by loving your neighbor as yourself. If we make mistakes, we like to be forgiven and to resolve the mistake. In the same way, if others make mistakes, we need to treat them as we would expect them to treat us. The Christian call is one of reconciliation and healing –– to bind up wounds and let the oppressed go free. Contrite people can continue to hurt because others will not let go of the fact that they have sinned against them. This makes them a slave to their sin. The simple, practical message of the Scripture today is most certainly blessed assurance for all of us who take this advice to heart. Forgiveness is the hardest gift to grasp, but it is, nonetheless, at the heart of Jesus’ message.
We pray: Dear Lord, help us to understand ourselves. When someone sins against us, inspire our hearts to take the path of reconciliation. Speak to the hearts of those who will not let go of past hurts, so they may find the grace to forgive. Lead and guide us down the pathways of righteousness and truth. Amen.
- What is challenging about Jesus’ approach to problematic situations?
- How does this gospel challenge our litigious society?
- Why is forgiveness a central theme of the gospel
- How have you embraced the gift of forgiveness in your life?
- In what ways does Jesus’ wisdom help you to bring reconciliation to your difficult relationships?
- Are you courageous and strong enough to live this radical call to forgive? Why/why not?
The Feminine Genius
“To live out of love means to banish all fear, every memory of past faults. I see no mark of my sins, and in a moment love burnt everything.”
“I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects –– not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.”
— St. Therese of Lisieux
VIEW August 2011 Word & Life