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!
October 30, 2011
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10
Psalm 131:1, 2, 3
1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13
Leadership ~ The Call to Serve
As we listen to the gospel, we find that Jesus makes no veiled attempts at putting the Scribes and Pharisees in their place. Jesus’ criticism of the religious leaders had been communicated by way of parable up until this point. Such criticism of the religious aristocracy brought Jesus’ mission to another level. He was confronting the religious leadership with its own weakness. What was their weakness? The weakness that Jesus clearly sees is that these men had succumbed to power and control rather than surrendering to God’s will and mercy. They were no longer servants of God’s Word, rather they became the astute lawyers and police of the people. Jesus warns his listeners to follow the observances of Moses, but not the example of the teachers. Jesus did not want the religious leaders to become more caught up in their practices and their appearances. Jesus wanted each one of them to see that tradition certainly has its place but it is never more important than people. Christ recognizes the great opportunity the leaders have in removing painful burdens from people’s lives, but He also recognizes the painful reality of the leaders doing nothing about it. Jesus encourages his listeners to pay heed to the ultimate teacher who is God. The only true father is the Father in heaven — the Father of truth and love, the Father who is slow to anger and rich in mercy, the Father who takes away his children’s burdens.
Many fundamentalists have used this gospel text to challenge the leadership of the Catholic Church on a variety of different levels. As Catholics we are often asked, “Why do you call your priests ‘father’ when scripture states that you should not call anyone on earth your father, you have but one Father in heaven?” To approach the gospel in this way is too literal and entirely misses the point that Jesus was making. Jesus was reminding the people of his day that religious leadership is about service to the Word of God, inspiring others to fall in love with the Father in heaven and to listen to his commandments of love. The leader of faith should become selfless and transparent so that God may be encountered through him. The priest is given the title “father” as a reminder of his mission and ministry to bring others to God the Father and to love them as our heavenly Father does. Authentic religious leadership should bring others to the teachings of Truth that has been granted by the Father in heaven. There are others who have mentioned that all the sense of ritual in the Church is reminiscent of this gospel passage, and they use this opportunity to ridicule members of the clergy. Again, such a position entirely misses the point that Jesus was making. When we look at the gospels it is very clear that Jesus observed many customs and practices of his faith. In fact, on the night before he died, he celebrated Passover, the oldest ritual practice of the Jews, in the presence of his disciples. Ritual has its place. Vestments and the adornments in places of worship certainly raise humanity’s consciousness toward God and our destiny. However, these are never intended to be put ahead of people.
Since the Second Vatican Council, many have been called to leadership within the Church. Both the ministerial priesthood (Clergy) and priesthood of believers (the baptized) are asked to communicate the truth of the gospel, sharing the grace of God’s mercy. Together as priest and people, the Church strives to grow in holiness as it serves the world. From the community, God calls people forth to offer their lives in humility and sacrifice, so that others may feel the healing hand of God. Jesus is reminding us today that all of us share in the dignity of Christian leadership. We should not just be concerned about ourselves and those who are dear to us. Rather, we should be concerned with the redemption and salvation of all people. More specifically, this means that we should always have the humility to recognize that the broken reality of people’s lives is actually the fertile ground in which God’s mercy grows through the work of our hands. Whenever we are confronted by suffering and sin, we are given an opportunity to give witness to Rabbi Jesus and follow his example of mercy and love.
We pray: You are our Father in heaven. Through Jesus, You call us to serve. May your will be done, not ours! Inspire those who are called to lead to move beyond themselves and to have You, O Lord, ever in mind. May we experience Your fragrance through their words and their very lives. Amen.
Faith of the Fathers
“Having set forth the functions of the hierarchy, the Sacred Council gladly turns its attention to the state of those faithful called the laity. Everything that has been said above concerning the People of God is intended for the laity, religious and clergy alike. But there are certain things which pertain in a special way to the laity, both men and women, by reason of their condition and mission. Due to the special circumstances of our time the foundations of this doctrine must be more thoroughly examined. For their pastors know how much the laity contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. They also know that they were not ordained by Christ to take upon themselves alone the entire salvific mission of the Church toward the world. On the contrary, they understand that it is their noble duty to shepherd the faithful and to recognize their ministries and charisms, so that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one mind. For we must all “practice the truth in love, and so grow up in all things in Him who is head, Christ. For from Him the whole body, being closely joined and knit together through every joint of the system, according to the functioning in due measure of each single part, derives its increase to the building up of itself in love.”
— Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, paragraph 30
October 23, 2011
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
All That We Are ~ All That We Offer
In today’s gospel, Jesus is once again faced with the scholars of the Law who want to put him to the test. However, when asked about the greatest of the commandments, Jesus’ eloquent response astounds his listeners. Jesus’ wisdom tells his listeners that in order to truly love God, one must love with every fiber of one’s being. Loving God involves all that we have — the heart, the soul, the mind and all of our strength. The scholars and religious aristocracy of Jesus’ time knew what it was to love God with the entire mind. The only problem was that those people found it difficult to express their faith in God through the language of the heart and the profundity of the soul. Throughout our Church’s history, we have seen much assent given to the mind, that is, the ‘knowledge of God’. During the Medieval period of the Church, emphasis was placed very much on a cerebral understanding of God. Much emphasis had been given to imparting knowledge as a key component to evangelization. While it is important to reason out the truths of revelation and tradition passed on throughout history, it is equally important to experience God’s presence and give our assent to our belief in Him through the language of the heart, and encounter Him in the depths of our souls. We can know things about God, but the challenge remains to be transformed by what we know of God.
As Jesus taught the scholars all those years ago, he also teaches us today. He tells us that there are three ways in which we can know and love God: with all our heart, our soul and our mind. The language of the heart speaks the universal language of humanity. The heart is the source of life for the human body. The analogical heart is the capacity within us that enables us to enter into relationships with others. The way in which we love defines who we are and crowns our individual histories. To love God with all our heart means that we have to love what God has given to us. Love for the widow, the orphan, the poor and displaced, are all ways in which we can love God. Similarly, we can love God by transforming our own relationships by following the example of Christ’s love.
Loving God with the soul is the immortal character of our being— it directs us to our journey’s end. The soul is what gives us purpose. The indelible mark upon the soul given in baptism immerses us into Christ’s mission, death, and resurrection. To love the Lord our God with all our soul is a recognition that our lives belong to Him, for our lives our most certainly in His hands.
To love the Lord with all our mind is to surrender to the Truth that has been handed to us in Sacred Scripture and through our tradition and the magisterial of the Church. Jesus is the greatest teacher of all time who communicates the will of the Father to an evolving world. To love the Lord with the entire mind is to love what he taught, be inspired by what he revealed and to follow his example. It also means that we hold dear to the sacredness and dignity of every individual because every individual is a reflection and gift of God to the world.
Loving God is a process that involves loving God with our whole being — we are urged to love God with every thing that we have and call our own. We are asked to love our neighbor as we would love ourselves. The challenge for humanity is to recognize that all people belong to God and are indeed our neighbors. We have a responsibility to uphold the dignity of all human beings and to love them equally.
We pray: Eternal God, let our love for you flow through the depths of our heart, soul and mind. Enable us to be living expressions of your divine love. Help us to understand the mystery of your love. May we have the courage to embrace the Truth that will set us free. Whenever we encounter your presence in the depths of our being, let us quietly reverence you in the way in which we conduct our lives. Amen.
- How did the religious establishment of Jesus’ day demonstrate their love for God?
- How did Jesus live the greatest commandment?
- Define the ways in which you love the Lord, your God, with all you heart, your soul and your mind.
- Do you love yourself as a child of God?
- Who is your neighbor?
- In what ways are you living the commandment to love your neighbor?
- What are the challenges in loving your neighbor?
Faith of the Fathers
“My sole occupation is love. All my occupation now is the practice of the love of God, all the powers of soul and body, memory, understanding, and will, interior and exterior senses, the desires of spirit and of sense, all work in and by love. All I do is done in love; all I suffer, I suffer in the sweetness of love.” This is the meaning of David when he said, “I will keep my strength to You.”
When the soul has arrived at this state all the acts of its spiritual and sensual nature, whether active or passive, and of whatever kind they may be, always occasion an increase of love and delight in God: even the act of prayer and communion with God, which was once carried on by reflections and other diverse methods, is now wholly an act of love. So much so is this the case that the soul may always say, whether occupied with temporal or spiritual things, “My sole occupation is love.” Happy life! happy state! and happy the soul which has attained to it! where all is the very substance of love, the joyous delights of the betrothal, when it may truly say to the Beloved with the bride in the Canticle, “The new and the old, my Beloved, have I kept for You” “All that is bitter and painful I keep for Your sake, all that is sweet and pleasant I keep for You.” The meaning of the words, for my purpose, is that the soul, in the state of spiritual betrothal, is for the most part living in the union of love — that is, the will is habitually waiting lovingly on God.”
— St. John of the Cross, “Spiritual Canticle of the Soul.”
October 16, 2011
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year A
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
A Radical Knowledge
The cunning of men can be too hard to bear at times. Jesus was no stranger to deception. In today’s gospel, we encounter the deceit of the Pharisees as they seek to entrap Jesus. It is hard to imagine why the religious teachers had such a problem with Jesus’ teachings. Stranger still is how people could undermine a man who brought so much healing to the world. Maybe the religious establishment feared Jesus because it eroded their sense of control. Perhaps they saw him as a magician who brought temporary relief to those who were hurting. These leaders were most certainly skeptical. Nothing could convince these men that Jesus’ mission and ministry was the work of God.
When we look at the reality of Jesus, we see at work a radical theology that challenged the conventional religious thought of his time. Jesus taught that God was not only someone to be feared, but someone with whom one could have an intimate relationship. Jesus taught the people to refer to God as ‘abba’, ‘father’. The literal translation is ‘daddy’. Such an outlook fundamentally changed the way in which humanity approached God. Jesus’ wisdom revealed how people were no longer passive spectators in the history of salvation, but involved in the divine drama that was unfolding. Jesus healed disease and the negative traits of the human condition. The healing that Jesus offered showed these leaders that sin and illness could be overcome by God’s grace. Jesus also put humanity ahead of the Sabbath and tended to the needs of God’s people who were crying out to him from the wildernesses of their lives. Within this context, the Pharisees failed to bring Jesus down. Instead, they endeavor to rend Jesus powerless by trying to make him an enemy of the Roman occupation by asking him was it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus sees through this and exclaims: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
The challenge that Jesus gave to the Pharisees two thousand years ago remains the challenge for the Church today, i.e. to give to God what belongs to God. We must discern what this means for us today. Obviously, we have to be faithful to the duties we have to society as citizens by paying taxes and abiding by the laws of the land. Each one of us has to be faithful citizens and work to protect the rights and dignity of the vulnerable. We have the responsibility in choosing governments that will strive to work for justice and peace. We have to be faithful citizens of the kingdom of God also. The Church’s challenge is to constantly seek its Christological heart. Church laws are important because they bring us to the ideal and perfection that God intends. However, whenever people fall short of the ideal, the Church must seek to offer Christ’s compassion, listening and love to those broken situations. Today, as the people of the Church, we are asked to offer ourselves to others as Christ did and be agents of such transformation. We, like all missionaries across the world, are being called to take this radical message to those who have yet to encounter Christ.
We pray: Be with us Lord as we live. Let our lives be a radiance of your divine compassion. Help us to learn to give completely of ourselves offering the gift that is truly yours. May we always be faithful to our call as citizens and as people of your kingdom. Amen.
- How is Jesus’ teaching radically different from the religious establishment?
- Why do the Pharisees try to entrap Jesus?
- What is Jesus teaching us about the obligations that citizens have to the State?
- What are your obligations as an American citizen?
- What are your responsibilities as a member of the Body of Christ?
- How does your sense of religious responsibility dialogue with your duty as a member of society?
- What do you offer to your country and to God?
Wisdom of the Fathers
“Profound and rapid changes make it more necessary that no one ignoring the trend of events or drugged by laziness, content himself with a merely individualistic morality. It grows increasingly true that the obligations of justice and love are fulfilled only if each person, contributing to the common good, according to his own abilities and the needs of others, also promotes and assists the public and private institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life. Yet there are those who, while possessing grand and rather noble sentiments, nevertheless in reality live always as if they cared nothing for the needs of society. Many in various places even make light of social laws and precepts, and do not hesitate to resort to various frauds and deceptions in avoiding just taxes or other debts due to society. Others think little of certain norms of social life, for example those designed for the protection of health, or laws establishing speed limits; they do not even avert to the fact that by such indifference they imperil their own life and that of others.
Let everyone consider it his sacred obligation to esteem and observe social necessities as belonging to the primary duties of modern man. For the more unified the world becomes, the more plainly do the offices of men extend beyond particular groups and spread by degrees to the whole world. But this development cannot occur unless individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society; thus, with the needed help of divine grace men who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming.”
— Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 30, Vatican II
October 9, 2011
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year A
Psalm 23:1-3, 3b-4, 5, 6
Phillipians 4:12-14, 19-20
Fit and Ready for the Feast
Our Scriptures today are a continuation of last week’s teaching. In today’s parable, Jesus is clearly teaching that many had been invited to the wedding feast but refused to come. The invitation was eventually extended to anyone who wished to come. However, once they had accepted the invitation they had to prepare themselves accordingly to attend the wedding feast. The parable of the wedding mirrors the reluctance of humanity to accept the will of God. The servants sent out to summon the guests are the prophets. The invited guests are the religious classes and the chosen people who follow the precepts of the law. They refuse the invitation to engage in this new radical life that Jesus was offering them. The final group of guests is the sinners and the poor. Once these people accept the invitation they are expected to clothe themselves accordingly in order to be worthy to attend the feast.
We are being shown that all are invited to experience the kingdom of God by engaging in the message of the gospel. However, once we are invited we must assume the responsibilities and be held accountable for what the kingdom expects of us. The image of the wedding garment is not about educating us as to the importance of the outward appearances, rather it points to the inner dispositions of who we are. If we are to clothe ourselves in anything, we must clothe ourselves in Christ and his teaching of compassion and mercy. Once our attitudes and choices reflect the life of Christ, we will be ready for the feast.
People have traditionally used our gospel today to point out the appropriateness of clothing for church services. While it is important that we make an effort to wear dignified clothing for the celebration of the Eucharist, this is not the point that Jesus makes. When we come to share in the Eucharist, we enter into linear time and stand on the edge of eternity. We become one with one another and with those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. God is not necessarily looking at our outward appearances. Rather, God looks at what is in our hearts and at the reality of our lives. The Lord sees how we respond to his call to make his kingdom known through our words and actions. God holds us accountable for the gift of life that he has given us. We have the opportunity to reach out to others in a way that Christ would reach out to them. In following the call, we will most certainly etch these achievements into the Book of Life.
Jesus tells us at the end of the gospel that many are called to hear the message: his message, but few are chosen. Christ’s message has been proclaimed to millions of people around the world. The way in which we attend to God’s Word and respond to others with the attitude of Christ will determine whether or not we are to be considered to be the chosen ones of God. Our free will gives us the choice to say yes or no to the invitation –– to clothe ourselves in Christ and secure our place at the banquet table of eternal life.
We pray: As we journey through life, inspire us to make known your kingdom in a world waiting for love. May our lives reflect the vocation of our baptism to be people of charity and concern. Help us to be the prophetic voice of the Spirit in situations that need to hear your voice. Let us always remember that our story does not end with the kingdoms of this world, but in the kingdom that we yearn and pray for. Amen.
- Why has humanity refused God’s invitation throughout history?
- What is important about the last invitation issued by the king?
- What does the wedding feast and garment represent?
- How has God invited you to participate in the wedding feast?
- How do you clothe yourself in Jesus Christ?
- Name the ways in which people can experience God’s feast in today’s world?
Wisdom of the Fathers
“This proclamation, this confession of trust in the all-powerful love of God, is especially needed in our own time, when mankind is experiencing bewilderment in the face of many manifestations of evil. The invocation of God’s mercy needs to rise up from the depth of hearts filled with suffering, apprehension, and uncertainty, and at the same time yearning for an infallible source of hope. That is why we have come here today, to this Shrine of Lagiewniki, in order to glimpse once more in Christ the face of the Father: “The Father of mercies and the God of all consolation” (2 Cor. 1:3). With the eyes of our soul, we long to look into the eyes of the merciful Jesus in order to find, deep within His gaze, the reflection of His inner life, as well as the light of grace which we have already received so often, and which God holds out to us anew each day and on the last day…”
October 2, 2011
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year A
Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Christ ~ The Cornerstone of our Lives
We all know the importance of making a building solid by using durable materials. If someone cuts back on the quality of the materials, it can compromise the integrity of the structure. Jesus is the cornerstone and the solid foundation for all Christians. If we remove him as the foundation of our lives, it compromises our lives causing our relationships and way of life to get out of balance.
In today’s parable, Jesus talks about salvation history. He uses the image of a landowner sending servants into the vineyard at vintage time. Each time the servants are killed. He eventually sends his son thinking that his heir will be respected. The tenants also kill the son. Jesus is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people. He is pointing out to them that God has sent many prophets who were put to death because of their message. Jesus is also pointing out that he is the heir and is predicting his own demise at their hands. He goes on to say that he is the stone rejected, only to become the cornerstone and give the kingdom to a people who will be open and willing to produce its fruit.
Jesus is the foundation of the Church and all of its traditions. The message of Jesus is the foundation of all of his teachings. The message of the gospel is the cornerstone of our lives —creating a solid foundation so that we may enjoy the mansions of heaven. If we live the message of the gospel, we set our feet firmly on the path. Once we move away from the message of the gospel, things quickly get out of balance and our relationships suffer. Messengers of God have always suffered at the hands of those who decide to wander from the path. The prophets held humanity accountable to live justly before God. Their message was radical and transformative. People were urged to reform their lives before their God. Likewise, the heir of God’s kingdom, Jesus, disturbed the complacency of the religion of his time, asking the people to reform their lives and join in the revolution of his love and compassion.
Today, we are asked to reform our lives and each day to contemplate the mysteries of our faith. By the virtue of our very baptism, we are called to be the prophetic voice of God in the modern world. We are challenged to speak out against injustices and to be made accountable for our fellow man. We may well suffer insults when we align ourselves with the message — a message that respects life in all of its stages. It is also a message that calls us to uphold the dignity of humanity by being caretakers of the poor, the needy and the vulnerable.
We pray: Help us, O Lord, to be faithful stewards of your kingdom. Inspire us to embrace fully the gospel of life, making Christ the cornerstone of our lives. Let our eyes be wide open to the world and its needs. Fill us with the passion for your Word. When our pilgrimage on earth has ended, admit us into your blessed vineyard. Amen.
- Why do you think people throughout history persecuted the prophets?
- Why was Jesus put to death?
- How is Jesus the cornerstone of your life?
- How do the teachings of Christ shape your consciousness?
- Have you faced rejection because of giving witness to the truth and your faith?
- How does society reject Christ?
- What part are you going to play in building God’s kingdom in your own life?
The Feminine Genius
“Often the Church has also been called the building of God. The Lord Himself compared Himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the cornerstone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles, and from it the Church receives durability and consolidation. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which dwells His family; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This Temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Holy Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. John contemplates this holy city coming down from heaven at the renewal of the world as a bride made ready and adorned for her husband.”
— Lumen Gentium, paragraph 6.
(Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution of the Church)
VIEW August 2011 Word & Life