Sunday by Sunday
John Boyle FAITH Magazine September - October 2007
Our regular guide to the Word of God in the Sunday Liturgy
Sunday 2nd September
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Lk 14:1.7-14
1. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour... No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there...” I think it is safe to assume that the Lord is giving more than a lesson in wedding reception etiquette. There is a tendency in certain quarters to see the teachings of Jesus as nothing more than moral or ethical maxims to be observed to ensure harmonious relationships between each members of the human race. Yet this would be to empty him of his messianic character and divine nature. No, Jesus is getting to the heart of what it is to be capable of receiving the Divine Mercy when he says that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”
2. In her canticle of praise of the Almighty, uniquely given to us in the Gospel of Luke, Mary proclaims: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Lk 1:46-49) Humility is an essential virtue for any disciple of Christ who wishes to rise to the heights of union with him, to be summoned to a higher place at the table. It is not wrong to desire to be at a higher place. As it is a privilege and an honour to be seated close to the bride and groom
at a wedding reception, so each of us yearns in our hearts to be close to the action at and keen participants in the wedding feast of the Lamb.
3. And surely this is the wedding feast the Lord is referring to in his lesson – the holy sacrifice of the Mass, during which Christ and the Church are timelessly wedded to one another. At Mass, we are invited as “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” – the Church – who are incapable of repaying the bridegroom for the immense privilege of being invited to the Lamb’s Supper. During the Mass, the Lord has regard for our low estate. We come hungry, and he fills us with good things. (Cf. Lk 1:53) Those, on the other hand, who come not in poverty but rich leave empty handed. If one may be permitted to adapt slightly the invitation that the priest makes before Holy Communion: Beati (pauperi) qui ad coenam Agni vocati sunt. – Blessed are (the poor) who have been calledto the supper of the Lamb.
Sunday 9th September
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Lk 14:25-33
1. “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.” These appear to be harsh words. At a recent day of ongoing formation for priests, one of the speakers – herself a mother of four as well as a respected theologian and writer – was addressing the theme of the day: Home is a Holy Place. She asked: is it? Is the home, of its very nature, a holy place? Or does it need to be made holy? Whilst for many (hopefully most), home is truly a holy or at least happy, place, home can also be a place which destroys people, where there is cruelty and abuse. Even if this is not the case, it is less common than it used to be in families for prayers to be said together or for children to beencouraged to seek a vocation of total commitment to Christ. It is possible for home and family to be exalted to such a degree as to come between the individual and God.
2. The Jesus who says we must “hate” our nearest and dearest is the same who condemns the pharisaical neglect of family under the pretext of declaring whatever parents would have gained from their son to be Corban (i.e. given to God) so that he no longer has to do anything for his father or mother cf. Mk 7:11. St Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer comments on these words as follows: “These words indicate simply that we cannot be half-hearted when it comes
to loving God. Christ’s words could be translated as ‘love more, love better,’ in the sense that a selfish or partial love is not enough – we have to love others with the love of God.” (Christ is Passing By, 97)
3. Great saints and martyrs showed true love for their closest relatives by putting eternal life with Christ first. St Thomas More, despite being entreated by his family, refused to accept the Act of Succession, preferring to prove himself God’s servant first. St Francis of Assisi was prepared to lose the favour of his father in order to follow Christ in poverty. St Paul Miki, one twenty six Japanese martyrs who were executed in 1597, was from an aristocratic Japanese family but embraced the Jesuit vocation which eventually led him to crucifixion. Many a young man or woman has known the pain of misunderstanding and disinheritance when they have converted to the Faith, or embraced a priestly or religious vocation. Jesus knows that his journey through this life isheading towards the Cross. Anyone who follows him must know the cost involved if they are to persevere.
Sunday 16th September
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Lk 15:1-32
1. The parable of the prodigal son is one of the most endearing passages of the Gospel. It is also the subject of a famous painting by Rembrandt. Many a confessional has this image displayed in or nearby. As much as being a parable to help us understand the joy of God the Father when we return to him, no matter how far away we have been, it also provides a model for fathers and mothers, and all who are responsible for others. If God is so ready to forgive, so should parents be ready to forgive their children, husbands their wives and vice versa, priests the souls who come to them for absolution.
2. There should be no doubt about the seriousness of the son’s sin: “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” By these words, he was guilty of the sin of presumption: that he would, in fact, receive a share of the estate as if by right. He had also indicated his wish that his father were already dead, for the inheritance is not received until after the death of the testator. What human father would be expected to be looking out for the return of his son in these circumstances? And yet that is what God our Father is doing when we distance ourselves from Him and His house which is the Church.
3. The late Cardinal Basil Hume, in his book The Mystery of the Incarnation, says that we are loved by a God who can never take his eyes off us. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved to pity.” How must the Lord be looking upon the world at the present time, a world scarred by human conflict, war, terrorism, abortion, divorce. Today, let us call upon the Divine Pity to look upon his creatures with mercy. Let us pray for all who have lapsed and left the House of the Father that they may return through the joy of reconciliation by confession and forgiveness so as to partake once again at the rich banquet of the Eucharist. The father ordered that a fattened calf be killed and prepared for a feast. Christ, the Lamb of God, is offered to theFather for our reconciliation.
Sunday 23rd September
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Lk 16:1-13
1. The parable of the dishonest steward is a puzzling one. The master praises this dishonest steward for his “prudence” in seeking to gain the friendship of his master’s debtors by reducing their debt, even though the master himself will suffer financially from the actions of his soon to be ex-steward. Perhaps the master himself is unjust and dishonest, and is happy to see that his steward has been satisfactorily apprenticed in dishonest ways.
2. The steward and “the sons of this world” won the praise of Our Lord who said that they “are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light.” The former takes great care to exercise foresight for the future. St Augustine writes: “When even a cheat is praised for his ingenuity, Christians who make no such provision blush. I mean, this is what (Christ) added, ‘Behold, the children of this age are more prudent than the children of light.’ They perpetrate frauds in order to secure their future. In what life, after all, did that steward insure himself like that? What one was he going to quit when he bowed to his master’s decision? He was insuring himself for a life that was going to end. Would you not insure yourself for eternal life?”
3. “Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it
fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” Almsgiving is a duty of charity, a commendable spiritual practice along with prayer and fasting, and a means for us to win friends in eternity, whether by giving money to organisations or individuals who carry out the corporal works of mercy – saving the lives of pre-born babies by supporting pro-life work, feeding the hungry by the alleviation of famine, sheltering the homeless, welcoming the stranger, or the spiritual works of mercy, such as having Masses offered for people who are sick or in particular need, or those who have died and the souls in purgatory.
Sunday 30th September
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Lk 16:19-31
1. The parable of Dives (the rich man) and Lazarus (the poor man) has many lessons for us. The first is that there are consequences for neglecting those neighbours of ours who are in need and failing to come to their assistance through almsgiving (see last week’s commentary) or by other means: we might end up in the torment of Hades, i.e. hell. St Jerome indicates that Dives could have saved himself quite easily: “Most wretched of men, you see a member of your own body lying there outside at your gate, and have no compassion?... Give what you waste to your own member. I am not telling you to throw away your wealth. What you throw out, the crumbs from your table, offer as alms.” Jerome also tells Dives he had no excuse. He could not say “‘I did not notice him. He was ina corner. I could not see him. No one announced him to me.’ He lay at the gate. You saw him every time you went out and every time you came in. When your crowds of servants and clients were attending you, he lay there full of ulcers.”
2. Conversely, the one who is neglected by his own is not left without the aid of God. Jerome says that the name Lazarus is “one who has been helped.” “In his poverty, the Lord came to his assistance.” God never forgets those who are despised in this world.
3. “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.” Jesus foresees continued lack of faith as he prophesies his own resurrection. The duty to care for one’s neighbour is a law that is written on our hearts; it is written
in the law and the prophets; it is proclaimed once again by Christ the Lord, and continues to be proclaimed by the Church teaching in the name of the One who has risen from the dead. The law of love of neighbour sums up the teachings of the Son of God. Those who suffer here on earth will be comforted in heaven. “Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” (Lk 6:21)
Sunday 7th October
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Rosary Sunday) Lk 17:5-10
1. “Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man... To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be ‘working through charity’, abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.” (CCC 162) There are: the gift, our attempts to nourish it, our prayer for increase, its practical expression. Faith enables us to see what needs to be uprooted – the mulberry trees – in our lives and to be single-minded in uprooting it. Miracles? Yes, but the ordinary kind.
2. “We are merely servants...” (better translated as “we are useless servants.”) The Lord himself is the Servant King. The Son eternally obeys the Father. His greatest satisfaction is the fulfilment of his Father’s will: “Not my will but thine be done.” This is his glory. And it is ours too. Perseverance in the work entrusted to us requires faith. It is all too easy to give up in the face of a lack of apparent results. “Perhaps I should be somewhere else where my talents would be better used...” we might think to ourselves. What we are probably looking for is greater glory for ourselves or human satisfaction. St John Chrysostom writes: “Dearly beloved, see how the person with his mouth open for human glory and performing the works of virtue on that account has nobenefit from it. Despite practising every example of virtue, if he seems to give himself credit for it, he ends up empty-handed and bereaved of everything.”
3. Today is Rosary Sunday, the first Sunday of the month dedicated to the Holy Rosary. Particular attention to the contemplation of the mysteries of the Rosary during this month will lead us to a deeper faith after the example of the Blessed Virgin. The Rosary begins with the trusting faith of Mary who, like the servants in the Gospel today, obey the Master: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) Elizabeth declares: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Lk 1:45) The Rosary continues through the mysteries of Christ and ends with Mary’s coronation in heaven. The Master treats his most faithful of servants with the highest honour. By comparison with Mary,we truly are “useless servants.” But our faith will bring perseverance, and our perseverance our reward in heaven, with Mary’s intercession.
Sunday 14th October
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Lk 17:11-19
1. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will have his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday followed by his passion and death on the Cross. On the Cross he will accomplish the redemption of all mankind, opening the way to entry into the Kingdom and giving birth to the Church and her sacraments from his wounded side. The road to Jerusalem leads him through border country, straddling Samaria and Galilee, and he is approached by ten lepers at the entry to one of these borderland villages. Leprosy was considered a sign of sinfulness. There was therefore a double ostracism: from the civic community for fear of contagion and from the worshipping community because of the implied sinfulness of the sufferer.
2. In response to their plea for mercy, Jesus heals all ten. By this healing, re-integration into society from both the civic and religious points of view is now possible. From Jesus’ complaint at the lack of gratitude of nine of them, we can assume that these latter were Jews. The only one who thanked him was the Samaritan. In response to the Samaritan’s gratitude, Jesus assures him of more than physical healing. As St Athanasius says: “They (the nine) thought more highly of their cure from leprosy than of him who had healed them... Actually, this one was given much more than the rest. Besides being healed of his leprosy, he was told by the Lord, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’” Were the other nine saved?
3. Leprosy is now easy to cure if caught in time. A course of tablets is all that is needed. The stigma of leprosy is lessened today. But all of us suffer, to some extent,
from leprosy of the soul. The cure is as easy as the one Christ gave the ten lepers: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The sacrament of Reconciliation heals our souls and saves us. Availing ourselves of this means of forgiveness is the surest way of giving thanks to the Lord for his great mercy.
Sunday 21st October
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Lk 18:1-8
1. Prayer is the most important activity for a human being. It is what sets us apart from the rest of creation. Everyone connected with the Faith movement will know the maxim of St Ephrem that is oft repeated at its conferences: “Fish swim, birds fly, men pray.” The whole of creation praises God through the praise that mankind offers to God on its behalf. Yet so few have discovered the art of real prayer. Few understand what prayer really is. Many try but give up when they perceive that their prayers are not being answered.
2. The Old Testament reading from the book of Exodus relates how important it was for the Israelites that Moses remain in an attitude of prayer while they were contending against Amalek. As long as Moses’ arms were raised in prayer, Israel had the advantage. When he tired and his arms fell, the advantage turned to Amalek. Thus he was provided with a stone to sit on and Aaron and Hur supported his arms which remained raised until sunset and the victory was Israel’s.
3. We too can tire of prayer. We let our habit of prayer slip, and things begin to go wrong in our lives. We slack in our interior struggle, we lose a sense of perspective, we fight the wrong battles, failing to judge situations objectively and with wisdom. In short, we lose a sense of justice, an appreciation of things ‘as they are meant to be’. Then we fail to be what we are meant to be, and we fail also to live this out in our relations with others. There is an internal justice (justification) which is the result of God’s action in us, and an external justice (performance of good works) which involves our response to the gift of God’s grace. What did the widow in today’s Gospel want from the unjust judge? All we are told is that it was ‘justice... against my enemy.’She persisted until she obtained it. The Lord teaches that we too must ‘cry to (God) day and night’ for justice. We must persevere in prayer until things
are ‘as they are meant to be’, so that our Father in heaven may ‘deliver us from evil’ as Israel was delivered from the hands of the Amalekites and so that the Son of Man might find faith in us when he comes.
Sunday 28th October
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Lk 18:9-14
1. It is good to give thanks to God for the graces he has lavished upon us. The Pharisee in today’s Gospel parable pronounces a prayer of thanksgiving... or so it seems. In fact, he is making himself equal to God, adopting the position of judge upon his poorer neighbour as well as judging himself all too favourably. He counts himself among the justified and the tax collector among those who are ‘grasping, unjust, adulterous.’ The tax collector may well have been all these things, but the Pharisee and his prayer are rejected and condemned.
2. As in the readings from the past few weeks, once again we find in the Gospel of Luke our Lord aligning himself with the poor, meek and lowly. The psalm is a prayer of one who is poor, humble, distressed, broken-hearted, crushed in spirit, but who confidently blessed the Lord ‘at all times’ with praise ‘always on my lips’ for ‘The Lord hears the cry of the poor.’ The Pharisee prayed with an attitude of confidence, but the tax collector who beat his breast was the one who went home again ‘at rights with God’, in a state of justice having obtained the mercy of God.
3. St Cyril of Alexandria admonishes the Pharisee of today’s parable: ‘Moderate yourself, O Pharisee. Put a door and lock on your tongue. You speak to God who knows all things. Wait for the decree of the judge. No one who is skilled in wrestling ever crowns himself. No one also receives the crown from himself but waits for the summons of the referee... Lower your pride, because arrogance is accursed and hated by God. It is foreign to the mind that fears God.’ Of the tax-collector, the same father of the Church says: ‘(He) feels shame for his conduct. He is afraid of the judge. He beats his breast. He confesses his offences. He shows his illness to the Physician, and he prays that he will have mercy. What is the result?... “This man went down to his house justifiedrather than the other.”’ St Basil the Great reminds us: ‘Humility often saves a sinner who has committed many terrible transgressions.’