The Lectionary Readings for this weekend, the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Is 53:10-11 – Suffering and Triumph of the Servant of the Lord
Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 – Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Heb 4:14-16 – Jesus, Compassionate High Priest
Mk 10:35-45 – Ambition of James and John
This Sunday is also World Mission Sunday. Resources on World Mission Sunday:
The first reading, from Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Song, shows an appointed representative in Isaiah’s prophetic vision as being the victim of the salvation of all. “By his sufferings shall my servant justify many.” Isaiah perhaps saw some historical figure, or his own suffering, or the suffering of Israel, as this victim who would redeem the world by his suffering. But the early Church Fathers, following the lead of the Lord Himself, saw Jesus as being the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. Quotes of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Song are all over the gospel narratives, especially as they get closer to describing the Lord’s Crucifixion. Meditating deeply on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and sympathizing with the anguish, scourging, humiliation, suffering, and death that Jesus endured in His love for each one of us can bring us to a deeper experience of gratitude for His sacrifice of Love.
The Letter to the Hebrews, which we began two weeks ago, and will read through until Advent, was written to the Jewish converts to Christianity. Having become Christian, they suffered some loss to morale–and cultural identity–because they had given up their Jewish cultural markers, such as rituals, sacrifices, the priesthood etc. The Temple was eventually destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, and synagogue service, led by rabbis, replaced the Temple ceremonies, led by the priests. But to assauge the sense of loss by the Jewish Christians, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tries to show them how they still have all these “missing” things, and in a better form in Christianity than they had them in Judaism. Jesus is the true High Priest, superior to and far better than the Jewish priests because He, the Son of God, was greater than the Temple, was both High Priest and the Lamb of Sacrifice, and shared our fragile, suffering humanity. Therefore, we have access to a far greater claim to mercy and compassion, because of Jesus (God saves his people from their sins) who is Emmanuel (God with us).
Jesus, who is God incarnate, the Son of God, the greatest being in all of existence, teaches us how to be humble. In words attributed to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of oneself; it is thinking of oneself less.” Or put another way, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking less about yourself.” St. James and St. John, for all their credit and virtue, really missed the mark in today’s Gospel. In wanting to be at the right and left of Jesus when he came into his reign, they still apparently had the understanding of an earthly territorial kingdom, probably the restoration of Israel as an independent earthly kingdom. Jesus, aware of the ambition of James and John, challenges them with the requirements of glory in His Kingdom: humility, sacrifice, and suffering. The other apostles, also aware of the ambition of James and John, became indignant at their attempted bamboozling into the top spots. So Jesus explains to his disciples what it means to rule: it means putting everyone’s interests ahead of your own. It means doing whatever it takes for everyone else to be successful. It means humble service. It means suffering for others, even if they are unappreciative and disrespectful. To close with another quote from the great C. S. Lewis, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” If you want a sense of how difficult humility can be, go to the Prayers page of the website, and with all your energy, pray the Litany of Humility. Now that’s really uncomfortable!
The Lectionary Readings for this weekend, the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Wis 7:7-11 – I deemed riches nothing in comparison to wisdom
Psalm 90 – Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy
Heb 4:12-13 – The Word of God discerns reflections and thoughts of the heart
Mt 5:3 – Sell what you have and follow me
Our readings for this weekend require of us to seek what is above–especially Wisdom–because the riches of this life are as nothing in comparison. “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me,” says the first reading. It comes from the book of the Wisdom of Solomon, which is one of the Old Testament Books omitted by most non-Catholic bibles. Prudence is one of the four Cardinal Virtues, along with Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1805 Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called “cardinal”; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. “If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom’s] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage.” (Wis 8:7) These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.” “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.” Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
1807 Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
1808 Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.” “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
1809 Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.”
To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence). — St. Augustine
The Psalm–Psalm 90–also reinforces the theme that we must eschew earthly wisdom (or lack of it, in vain pursuit of earthly desires), because our time here is short, and we must seek what is most important–“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” Recall Tuesday’s Gospel on Martha and Mary–“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.” (Lk 10:41-42). When we strive to see as God sees, or at least strive to trust in His will, we have patience to endure suffering, and hope to sustain us in difficult times.
The Second Reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews, in the New Testament. It is a clear reminder that our life is not our own. We are stewards of our life, our talents (charisms), and our time here, and we will be called upon to give an account for the worthiness of our stewardship. When (not “if”!) we face our moment of judgment, there will be no argument, no semantics, no excuses, no mitigating circumstances, no spin. We will have no recourse but one: “All my sins have been paid for by the most holy sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is my Lord and Savior.” Then our lives and our hearts will be laid bare, and we will be judged on whether our lives show the fruit of the Spirit. “Indeed the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”
And finally, the Gospel–the exchange between the rich young man and Jesus. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus knew the heart of this young man. While he may have been meticulous in keeping the law of Moses, his heart was still blocked from the full measure of holiness: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.‘” This is not to say that it is sinful to have money, or even to be rich. Money is not the root of all evil–Love of money is the root of all evil. Greed, selfishness, and blindness toward the suffering of others, is the problem. Many people have money, but it does not have them: they are stewards of their resources, and use them generously and charitably. But when some people grow rich and powerful, they begin to have an inflated sense of self-importance, and self-reliance. The “little people” are a social problem. Getting one’s way is a matter of wielding one’s resources. There is less of one’s time, energy, and resources spent on one’s religious identity, because religion is “a crutch for weak people who can’t handle life.” Jesus lamented, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Is it impossible? No–nothing is impossible for God. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God, but for his merciful offer. The problem is that worldly popularity and success drowns out the voice making that offer, and people refuse to concede their worldly enjoyment for a life marked by selfless generosity and Christian service. We need to seek the things that are above, because the things here below are transitory and insignificant. Our time is short, and the Day of Judgment approaches.
The Lectionary Readings for this weekend, the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Genesis 2:18-24 – The Garden of Eden
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6 – May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Heb 2:9-11 – Exaltation through Abasement
Mk 10:2-16 – Marriage and Divorce
We have several themes in today’s readings, many of them difficult, and some radically unpopular in today’s social climate. Man and Woman, human beings created for one another in a unique way, unite together in marriage. Marriage is the proper context for engaging in the marital embrace, by which a husband and wife come together in intimacy, open to the possibility of life, by which a new human being, a new person, is conceived in the womb of the woman, a child with his or her own soul, own genetic uniqueness, and own eternal relationship with the Divine. Human beings relate to each other in many different and meaningful ways (I might recommend C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves), but marriage is a unique arrangement, by which a man and woman unite to one another for life, providing stability and security for fostering children. Divorce, the revocation of the irrevocable promises the husband and wife made at the time of their wedding, destroys this stability. Jesus reveals that the law of the Israelites introduced divorce as an accommodation to the weakness of the Israelites, but it was not God’s plan. God’s plan, Jesus teaches, is revealed in Genesis 2: that the two become one. To engage in the marital embrace with someone, having given yourself to another in the covenant of marriage, is adultery.
Sometimes marriages are not the “happily ever after” that people consent to at the altar. Sometimes things become unbearable, even dangerous. The Catholic Church offers many resources to help a marriage in trouble. You may want to meet with the priest or deacon in your parish, and then he may suggest some of the resources available, including Marriage Encounter, Retrouvaille, counseling services and referrals, and other valuable resources. Know that you do NOT need to remain in a dangerous situation, and that you are NOT alone without support.
Jesus also reveals that we must accept the Kingdom of God like a child–with trust, and obedience. We cannot be childish–stomping our feet when we don’t get our way. We becoming childlike–looking to the Father to provide us what we need for (eternal) life. Our parents might make the green beans, but we still have to eat them to grow strong. Our Father gives us the grace, and the sacraments, and our guardian angels, the teaching of the Church, the models of the saints, and even the many beautiful prayers and practices of our Tradition. But we still have to engage them for the singular way of salvation: to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Paschal Mystery, and grow in ever-deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There’s no other way. You have to take the garbage out (of your life) and clean your (inner) room.
The first Sunday of October is “Respect Life” Sunday, and on this day every year we renew our commitment as the people of God toward respecting the dignity of human life: the dignity of the life of the most innocent, the unborn, and respecting the dignity of life even of criminals, who although they may have distorted their moral character, their God-given lives still have indelible dignity, and so we object to capital punishment. We object and teach against suicide and euthanasia (assisted suicide). But we also work to end the offenses against the dignity of life caused by human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, spousal and child abuse, poverty, hunger, and natural catastrophes. We speak out and teach against the errors of societies and governments that threaten to distort and destroy human nature and its inherent dignity.
Here is a link for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Respect Life Program.