18th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  [C]
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23  —  Colossians 3:1-5,9-11  —  Luke 12:13-21
August 1, 2010
[Y]ou have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  These words that Saint Paul wrote to the Colossians seem mysterious.  In fact, this verse intertwines two mysteries. 
Regarding the first mystery:  what is Saint Paul claiming, when he tells the Colossians that they have died?  Of course, he’s not talking about a physical death.  He’s talking, rather, about the death that marks the life of every person who follows Jesus.  In this regard, Saint Paul’s claim is as true of us in the 21st century as it was of the Colossians in the first century.  Imagine Saint Paul writing this letter to you, and claiming:  you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

[Y]ou have died…. What sort of death marks the life of someone who follows Jesus?  What sort of death marks your life because you follow Jesus?  Picture in your mind a large stone being thrown mightily into a deep pond.  The stone beings to sink as soon as it hits the water, and that impact causes a large splash.  But while the stone continues to sink, smaller splashes rise and fall in the water, as the impact of stone and water spreads outwards in wider and wider circles.  This image symbolizes your Christian life. 
The moment of impact is the moment of your baptism:  an experience of dying in Christ.  Baptism is the beginning of the Christian life.  But baptism is not the end of the Christian life.  From the moment of baptism onwards, the death of baptism leads to waves in your life.  Baptism echoes in many smaller deaths in your daily life.

What do these waves look like?  What are they called in the spiritual life?  They are called asceticism.  Asceticism is a habit of the Christian life.  It’s a good habit, and so we call it a virtue of the Christian life.  Asceticism is the good habit of self-denial.  To the world, this sounds like foolishness:  how can denying one’s own self be good?  To the world, what is good is to promote oneself, to inflate oneself, to indulge oneself.  But the Christian looks at life differently.  Baptism is the source of our whole life on this earth.  Baptism—itself an immersion into the Death of Jesus on the Cross—is the pattern for the asceticism of our daily life as Christians.

Every act of Christian asceticism is the sacrifice of something good.  On the other hand, not doing something that’s evil is a moral imperative.  We must not do what is evil.  But we may do what is good… or, we may not do what is good.  Regarding what is good, we are free to do, or not to do.  It’s from this freedom that asceticism derives its value.  To sacrifice what is good, when we have a right to enjoy it, turns something good… into something better!

To repeat all this in a little different way:  not doing something that’s intrinsically evil is commanded by God, and must not be done by every Christian, in every circumstance.  But asceticism is different.  Asceticism is not doing something that’s good, something that we are in fact free to do, because we want to sacrifice that good thing to God.  We want freely to lift up to God what is good.

Here’s an example:  a person is always free to eat what his body expects in order to function in a healthy manner.  But a person may freely choose to sacrifice this same good—that is, a healthy meal that his body expects—as an act of asceticism.  Will his body perish because of his asceticism?  No:  Christian asceticism should never cause irreparable harm to the human person.  But even an athlete, when he wants to strengthen his muscles, has to tear them down first.

A right act of asceticism has two ends.  The first end of asceticism regards God:  that is, to recognize God as the source from whom all blessings flow.  The second end of asceticism regards oneself:  that is, to discipline one’s body and soul, so that I become less attached to what is earthly, and so that it is easier for me to accept suffering.  God does not want us, in an absolute sense, to suffer.  But because we live in a world that has been filled by mankind with sin and suffering, God teaches us through asceticism how better to suffer this valley of tears.

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Regarding the second mystery:  what is Saint Paul claiming, when he tells you that your life is hidden with Christ in God?  We hear a clue in the last words of Jesus’ parable:  Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.  Jesus makes a sharp contrast, and Saint Paul echoes this contrast in our Second Reading with two sets of images.  Saint Paul first exhorts us to [t]hink of what is above, not of what is on earth.  Later he exhorts us by noting that you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self. 

These contrasting images distinguish the life of one whose life is hidden with Christ in God from the life of one whose life is not thus hidden.  What would this latter person’s life look like?  The person who constantly thinks of what is on earth, who has not taken off the old self with its practices, who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God… talks to himself a lot.  What does he say to himself?  He repeats to himself… over and over… “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”

But as the years wear on, and this person wears down, he ceases to believe his own words.  He ceases to believe in himself.  He becomes the man of our First Reading—Qoheleth—who finally recognizes, with honest courage, that his life—as he has lived it—is nothing but vanity of vanities!  For him, in his old self, [a]ll things are vanity!

When Jesus stands face to face with Qoheleth—when the Gospel is proclaimed to those whose lives echo Qoheleth—how does Jesus move Qoheleth and his followers to take off the old self with its practices and… put on the new self?  The answer, in one word, is… death:  the death of Christian Baptism, the death of rejecting sin, and the death of Christian asceticism.  This may not sound optimistic.  It may sound gloomy to say that our salvation is found in death.  It may sound gloomy to say that vanity is dispelled and meaning is found, by entering freely into the death of Christ.

But when you hide your life with Christ in God, by entering into the death of Christ, God opens up your life.  God first, through your Christian Baptism, pours into your life the graces that make you His child.  He makes you a member of Christ’s Body, the Church.  You, secondly, reject sin:  you take off the old self with its practices of sin.  You, thirdly, through your Christian asceticism, put to death the good things that you are otherwise free to enjoy.
You put on Christ.  You clothe yourself in Christ.  As Christians, we live in this world, but are not of the world.  We live amidst things that will pass away.  But in our souls, we bear the grace that poured forth from Jesus on Calvary, and that pours forth from Jesus in the Eucharist.  This grace, in which is hidden what matters to God, is the grace that will carry us aloft, through this world, into a joy that will never end.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year C]

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Genesis 18:20-32  —  Colossians 2:12-14  —  Luke 11:1-13
July 25, 2010

Those of you who have raised children remember that when a child learns to talk, one of his first sentences… is to ask for something.  And once children grasp this idea—the idea that they can express one of their desires in words, and likely have that desire fulfilled—they take this to the bank.  Over, and over, and over again, they ask for what they want, so that they get what they want.  In the supermarket, as you walk down the aisle with breakfast cereal, or at the checkout stand, where gum and candy are strategically placed, you can hear children wearing down their parents by asking over and over for what they want.

You can see this same dynamic in a child’s life of prayer.  Though there are many types of praying—for example, adoring God, or expressing sorrow, or giving thanks—the type of prayer that children seem to gravitate towards is the prayer of petition.  Children ask God to grant their wishes, just as they ask their parents to grant their wishes. 

Of course, petition is a perfectly good type of prayer, but it has to be balanced with the other types of prayer.  To take an example from a different area of life:  before Christmas, little Joey asks Grandma for a certain present, and when Grandma gives him this present, little Joey usually has to be prompted to say “thank you” to Grandma for her kindness and generosity.  In the same way, little Joey has to be prompted in his prayers, to give thanks to God for the gifts that God has given to little Joey.

Today’s Gospel passage speaks to the prayer of petition.  Jesus helps us, because He loves us, to put this type of prayer into better perspective.  Jesus helps us to answer the sorts of questions that come to mind about prayers of petition, such as:  “Why should we ask God for things?”  “Doesn’t God already know what we want?”  “If God knows what we want, why do we need to ask?”  “And, after all, doesn’t God know better than we do what we truly need?”  Today’s Gospel passage answers these sorts of questions, by making three particular points.

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Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray….”  Right away, we notice something about this Gospel passage that is so simple, it’s almost ironic. Jesus’ teaching about petitioning God happens because… why? Because one of Jesus’ disciples petitioned Him.  This simplicity marks everything Jesus teaches us here about prayer.  Often, we make prayer more complicated than it needs to be.  Jesus teaches us that prayer—at its heart—is very simple.

But, in considering what happens here in the Gospel, we could play the devil’s advocate.  After all, we know that Jesus is God.  And so we could ask, “Didn’t Jesus know the disciple’s question before he even asked it?”  “Didn’t Jesus know that they needed to pray?”  “Why had Jesus been praying by Himself, when He knew that the disciples would want to learn how to pray from Him?”

How can we answer these questions?  Yes, Jesus knew that His disciples needed to pray, and Jesus knew that they wanted to pray.  His disciples wanted to pray because they saw Him praying, and they wanted to have what He had.  By praying in their midst, Jesus taught them that praying is good.  He didn’t have to say:  “You need to pray.”  By His example of prayer, he nurtured in His disciples a desire to pray.  And it’s this desire that is the first key to answering the devil’s advocate.

God never treats us, His children, like puppets or marionettes.  But it matters a great deal what sort of thing we desire when we pray.  Naturally, God does not want us to want what is evil.  He wants us to want… what He wants for us.  Yes, that’s a bit of a tongue-twister, so here it is again:  God wants us to want… what He wants for us.  In other words, with your free will, you must conform your will to God’s Will.

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So Jesus’ first point about asking God for things, is that your will has to be conformed to His Will.  Jesus’ second point has to do with expanding your will beyond your self.

We hear in the Gospel that one of [Jesus’] disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray....  This disciple didn’t say, “Lord, teach me to pray.”  He was speaking on behalf of his fellow disciples, and he was speaking because of his care for his fellows.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t teach isolated individuals.  Prayer is never an individual activity.  A single person, of course, may pray with no one else around (perhaps even as a hermit), but a Christian can never pray simply for himself.  This is because the Christian life is not about “Jesus and me.”  The sort of prayer that is only about “Jesus and me” is not Catholic Christianity.

The surest sign of this truth is in the pronouns.  Jesus does not teach His disciples to say:  “My Father, who art in Heaven….  Give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive myself for not being good to myself.”  This sort of prayer may sound humorous, and rightly so, because it’s such a distortion of ecclesial faith.  The Faith of the Church is not self-referential, like a closed circle.  The Faith of the Church opens out towards others.

The Our Father is a communal prayer.  The Our Father is the prayer of the Church.  We live as disciples within the Body of Christ, among all her members, and for this reason we pray:  Our Father, who art in Heaven….  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

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So if Jesus’ first point is that your will has to be conformed to God’s Will, and if His second point is that your will is formed to look outwards, towards others, then
His third point is simply about God the Father.  Who is God the Father?  How does God the Father shape our prayers of petition?

Taking up again the role of devil’s advocate, we might ask, “If God is our loving Father, and if the old saying—that ‘Father knows best’—is true, then why pray in petition?”  The answer to this isn’t only about God respecting our free will.  When we look at God as a loving Father, then we need to consider how His Will is providential, and reflects His very nature.  God is calling us to see that He wants us, His children, to become like Him Whose very nature is love.

God’s divine Will is not arbitrary.  When He asks something of us, He’s not just talking off the top of His head (metaphorically speaking).  Rather, when He desires something for us, and asks us to conform our will to His, we need to remember that God’s divine Will is providential.  God has a plan.

We can imagine this by picturing a father walking alongside his toddler son.  The father is six feet tall, and can see a great deal from “up there”, while the toddler, on the other hand, can see very little:  not only because he’s so small, but also because he’s so unsure of himself that he’s constantly looking down, to keep himself from falling.  You and I are that toddler.

God, though His providential Will, is guiding the course of the future.  That does not mean that human free will cannot accomplish evil things that are contrary to the Will of God.  God does permit evil.  But God can also create good from evil.  God can redirect the course of evil events, and fold them back into the course of His Providence.  Because of free will, God’s Will is not accomplish in every single thing.  But His Will is accomplished in all things.

God does this by guiding all things… towards Himself.  God, who is Love, draws persons, families and nations, in all times and places, towards Himself:  into His  bosom, metaphorically speaking.  As you and I struggle daily to conform our human wills to the Will of God, one of the most powerful ways to motivate ourselves is to remember this:  that the God who is Love guides all things—by His Hand—into His arms.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C] - reflection

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  [C]
Genesis 18:1-10  ¾  Colossians 1:24-28  ¾  Luke 10:38-42
July 18, 2010

Maybe you’ve been out to eat, and as you’re sitting there in the restaurant, you notice a young couple sitting in a booth, across from each other.  But they’re not saying a word to each other, and they’re not even looking at each other.  Maybe it’s a blind date gone wrong, or maybe they’ve been dating for some time, and recently had an argument.  Regardless, even though they’re sitting just a few feet from each other, these two persons are in each other’s presence only in terms of physical distance.  In terms of understanding each other, or in terms of emotions, they’re miles apart.

On the other hand, maybe you’ve seen an elderly couple eating together.  They don’t speak to each other—not because they don’t want to—but because they don’t need to.  They understand each other so well, that they can see and hear things about each other without the need for words.  They can comfort, console, and encourage each other simply by being in each other’s presence.

In the Gospel, we see two persons who are in the presence of Jesus.  But these two sisters—Martha and Mary—are in Jesus’ presence in extremely different ways.  Let’s say that Martha is the younger sister:  even though she’s physically in the same house as Jesus, she doesn’t have a clue as to why He is there.  And even when He does speak, she’s not really listening to him.  Martha is in the presence of Jesus, but she’s not present to Him.

In other words, Martha is doing something for Jesus, but is not doing what Jesus wants.  Turn this portrait of Martha around, and imagine it’s a mirror.  Do you see yourself in this portrait of Martha?  Are you sincere in doing what you do, but nonetheless, not doing what Jesus wants?  Here’s one of two misconceptions about spirituality that emerges from today’s Gospel passage:  namely, that if we are sincere in what we do, we are doing God’s will.  This is the misconception that sincerity is the measure of fidelity.  but in fact, this is not true.  We can be sincere, and still not be doing what God wants of us.

But how can we know?  How can we know whether our lives reflect fidelity to the Will of God?  We cannot know this, until we become like Mary.  Mary is the wiser of the two sisters.  Mary is in the presence of Jesus, and is also present to Him.  Let’s look at the portrait of Mary that the Gospel paints for us.

For many years as I heard today’s gospel passage, I always tried to imagine the details of the scene.  For example, “What furnishings did Martha have in her house?”  “What meal was Martha was preparing? (what did Jesus like to eat?)”  “What did the two sisters look like (did they resemble one another?)”

But there’s one thing that for a long time I never wondered about:  that is, what it was that Jesus was saying to Mary as she sat at his feet.  But it’s interesting:  Saint Luke does not tell us.

It’s easy to assume that Jesus and Mary were just sort of chatting away:  talking maybe about the local harvest, or the health of the old couple that lived down the road, or about how their brother Lazarus was doing.  Here is a second misconception about this Gospel passage:  namely, that there was a conversation between Mary and Jesus.

What Saint Luke the Evangelist actually says is that Mary seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to his words.  That is to say, there was no conversation between the two.  There was no dialogue.  It was not two-way communication.  The words flowed in only one direction:  from Jesus, to Mary.  And Mary listened.  Mary listened to Jesus’ words:  this is what Jesus calls the better part.

Now, what do we get when we put these two portraits—of Martha and Mary—together, and look at them side by side?  How do the two relate to each other?  The saints and doctors of the Church who have reflected on this passage have taken many lessons from this scene.

Some of the saints point out how Martha and Mary are symbols of good works, and prayer.  The primary lesson of the passage, then, is that prayer is the better part.  Prayer is more important than good works.  But that’s not to say that good works are bad.  It’s not that works are bad, and prayer is good.  Rather, it’s that works are good, and prayer is better.  From this, we see the reason why Martha is anxious and worried:  not because she’s doing something bad.  Martha is anxious and worried because she did not put prayer first.  Her works do not flow from her prayer.  In your own daily life, when you put prayer first, and base decisions on prayer, then this becomes the foundation of our fidelity to God.  That doesn’t mean that we’ll always be correct in hearing God’s voice in our prayer, but we can be sure that we’re on the right path.

There’s also another lesson that many of the saints have drawn from this passage.  Instead of seeing Martha and Mary as two poles of human life:  Martha the symbol of the active life, and Mary as the symbol of the contemplative life, we can see this passage as teaching us about two different ways to pray.  Here, both Martha and Mary symbolize prayer, but Martha symbolizes active forms of prayer, and Mary symbolizes listening in prayer.

In English, it’s easy to remember this lesson by a four-letter word:  “ACTS”.  “A” stands for the form of prayer that Mary symbolizes:  Adoration.  This is the better part.  This is the type of prayer where we simply bask in the beautiful Presence of God.  This type of prayer is not only Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, although that’s a perfect example of Adoration, if a person is quiet in their adoration before God, not reading or speaking, but simply dwelling in the Presence of Almighty God.  But we can pray in adoration before God in our homes before we go to sleep, or when we wake up, or when we’re on break at work.  In fact, most of the images that the Bible give of Heaven (for example, in the Book of Revelation), describe images of the saints on their knees, adoring God.

In contrast, the last three letters of the word “ACTS” — “C”, “T” and “S” — stand for the three types of prayer that are highly active.  “C” stands for “Contrition”:  sorrow for our past sins or the sins of others.  “T” stands for “Thanksgiving”:  expressing our gratitude for what God has done for us in the past.  “S” stands for “Supplication” (another word for “petition”):  that is, asking God to fulfill our needs in the future.

You probably noticed another difference between the types of prayer that Martha symbolizes, and the type of prayer that Mary symbolizes.  Martha symbolizes prayers about the past and future:  what has happened, and what we hope will happen.  But the prayer of Mary is the better part:  it rests in the present moment.  Adoration is about the Presence of God:  the God who is ever-Present.  Adoration is simply recognizing God for who He Is.  Adoration is recognizing that in all things, no matter where we are and what we face, that God is with us.

Please share your comments

Dear readers,

I would like to know which parts (if any!) of the Reflections on the Sacred Liturgy blog you find useful in your spiritual life.  The current weekly structure has the following elements:  reflections on the First Reading, Second Reading, and Gospel Reading; a passage from St. Thomas Aquinas about the feast or one of its readings; a passage from the Office of Readings for the feast; links to others' reflections for the Sunday; and finally, a reflection for the feast as a whole.

Please email your comments to:

Thanks very much,

and God's continued blessings upon you,
Father Tom Hoisington

16th Sunday in OT [C] - St. Thomas Aquinas

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Genesis 18:1-10    Colossians 1:24-28    Luke 10:38-42
July 18, 2010

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the Scriptures for this Sunday

commentary on Colossians 1:24
(excerpted and edited)

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church….

60. [Saint Paul] is a faithful minister. This is obvious, because he does not run away from the dangers involved in his preaching.

First, he shows his attitude toward his sufferings; secondly, the fruit of his suffering (v. 24b).

His attitude was one of joy, because Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, that is, for your benefit: “If we are afflicted it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Cor. 1:6). He also rejoices because of the joy of eternal life which he expects from them, and which is the fruit of his ministry: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testimony of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jas 1:2), “Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Phil 2:17).

61. – And along with the above there is the fruit that in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. At first glance these words can be misunderstood to mean that the passion of Christ was not sufficient for our redemption, and that the sufferings of the saints were added to complete it. But this is heretical, because the blood of Christ is sufficient to redeem many worlds: “He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). Rather, we should understand that Christ and the Church are one mystical person, whose head is Christ, and whose body is all the just, for every just person is a member of this head: “individually members” (1 Cor. 12:27).

Now God in his predestination has arranged how much merit will exist throughout the entire Church, both in the head and in the members, just as he has predestined the number of the elect. And among these merits, the sufferings of the holy martyrs occupy a prominent place. For while the merits of Christ, the head, are infinite, each saint displays some merits in a limited degree. This is why he says, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, that is, what is lacking in the afflictions of the whole Church, of which Christ is the head. I complete, that is, I add my own amount; and I do this in my flesh, that is, it is I myself who am suffering. Or, we could say that Paul was completing the sufferings that were lacking in his own flesh. for what was lacking was that, just as Christ had suffered in his own body, so he should also suffer in Paul, his member, and in similar ways in others. And Paul does this for the sake of his body, which is the Church that was to be redeemed by Christ: “That he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27). In the same way all the saints suffer for the Church, which receives strength from their example. The Gloss says that “afflictions are still lacking, because the treasure house of the Church’s merits is not full, and it will not be full until the end of the world.”

16th Sunday in OT [C] - First Reading

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Genesis 18:1-10  —  Colossians 1:24-28  —  Luke 10:38-42
July 18, 2010

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In every beloved there is an encounter with the one and only Beloved, just as in every divine name the totality of Names is found again… [1]

God creates all people, men and women. He creates out of love, for a specific purpose, making our destiny eternal life with Him. This destiny is called divinization, and it means that we are created to experience life within the Trinitarian communion of persons. What exactly this divinization consists in we do not know, for it is a mystery known only by God in Himself. Our participation in the life of the Trinity will not make us sharers in this mystery in the same way each of the Persons in the Godhead shares in it. But God has, in a very real way, entered into the mystery of our humanity, so that we may enter into the mystery that is His communio personarum. St. Athanasius said, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” By this he did not mean that we will become divine ourselves, but that through His incarnation in Jesus Christ, God has invited us into His life.

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The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)