What This Sunday’s Gospel Teaches Us About Vocations

I read this great article about the role of women in the Catholic Church and how women not being ordained priests should not be equated with having a lesser status or role within the Church.  From the Catholic News Agency, Ana Cristina Villa, a consecrated laywoman with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, writes:

“I think that is a big distortion for the vocation of women, because women are obviously not the clergy,” she said, explaining that “when you get into this discussion about women in the Church you have to understand that there is a wider context.”

In her view, Catholic faithful need to grow in their understanding that, “according to their own vocation,” all “baptized are the Church and all baptized are called to feel the Church as their own and to contribute to the Church.”

When I read the CNA article, my mind immediately recalled this upcoming Sunday’s Gospel. We will be celebrating Jesus as King and yet the Gospel for Sunday focuses on His crucifixion. This highlights how people’s expectations of Christ the King did not match up with the reality — one of the suffering servant. They expected an earthly king with all the power that they envisioned. What they got, but many did not see, was someone infinitely more powerful; not bounded by worldly power but possessing salvational power.

The reason why the CNA article relates to this Sunday’s Gospel is that God created a special role for all of us in His Church. Just because women aren’t intended for the priesthood does not make them any less important. Jesus was not the worldly king people envisioned but that did not make Him any less powerful. When it comes to how we envision women’s role in the Church, we should not limit our thinking to titles and responsibilities.  Otherwise, we fall into the same narrow-minded thinking as those who crucified Jesus for not meeting their pre-conceived notion of a king.

What I want to call your attention to is the importance of reading the Gospel daily and the Sunday Gospel a few days in advance.  If I had not read this Sunday’s Gospel, I would have missed some of the deeper meaning in the article.  By reading scripture and praying the rosary, I can put all the news and events in my life into a perspective that I otherwise might miss.  If you don’t already pray the rosary and read scripture regularly, give it a try.  Advent is right around the corner and it would be a good time to start.

Scary Times

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We are going into that “scary” period in the liturgical calendar right before Advent where many of the readings and Gospels focus on the end times, persecution, and final judgment.  There are many people who take these apocalyptic verses to extremes.  There is the one camp that just ignores these readings or see them as a lot of hyperbole and not events that will eventually occur.  The other camp thinks the end of the world will occur every day and finds every shred of circumstantial and coincidental evidence to support their claim.  I want to take a more balanced look at these readings and how we can approach them without being hysterical.

The Gospel reading from Luke on November 14, 2010 presents some very grim imagery.  Jesus describes wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and persecution (Lk, 21:5-19).  I do not think anyone would disagree that these are all pretty terrible things and we would be fortunate to avoid them.  In many people’s world view this is how it all ends; people dying in misery and despair.  However, many people do not see that there is light at the end of this dark tunnel we call human existence.  There is the glory, comfort, and joy of eternal life in Heaven.  Last Sunday’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying,  “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Lk, 21:19).  And that is the central message we should take away from these apocalyptic readings — the joy of Heaven is infinitely greater than any suffering here on Earth.

Think back to your childhood.  Do you remember the first time you cut yourself?  Perhaps you fell when you were playing.  Maybe you poked yourself with a sharp object.  I’m sure many of us cried and wailed over that pain as it seemed like the worst torment we would ever encounter.  Now as adults we probably don’t have the slightest recollection of that ordeal.  This is similar to how Heaven will compare to all our Earthly suffering.  The worst wars and tragedies won’t even be a faint memory compared to the joys of Heaven.  This is what Jesus teaches us in the Gospel.  In the end, our faith and perseverance will bring us more happiness than we can possibly imagine and make all our earthly suffering seem like nothing more than a scraped knee.

We can pick any Sorrowful Mystery as an example of  perseverance through hard times.  In this period before Advent, when we pray the rosary, we should ask God for the strength to endure any difficulties in our lives.  Perhaps you are having a hard time at work or at home.  Maybe you are having relationship problems or there are people in your life that bring you nothing but misery.  Take all those challenges and present them to God when you pray.  Try to look past the misery and difficulties of this world by reminding yourself that it is all temporary.  When you put it all in perspective you will realize that life’s biggest obstacles are so small compared to the joy of Heaven and you will wonder why you even worried about them in the first place.

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Ask and it Shall be Given

I discuss how the Gospel of Luke relates to the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary and how persistance makes us spiritually stronger.

Azulejos of Presentation of Jesus in temple, i...
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I discuss how the Gospel of Luke relates to the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary and how persistance makes us spiritually stronger.

Today’s Gospel contained many homilies-worth of themes.  You have Jesus teaching His apostles how to pray in which He gives them the “Our Father.”  Jesus also discusses the idea of persistance when trying to obtain graces from God through a parable of a man trying to get bread from his neighbor.  I find one passage particularly interesting:

I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it to him for friendship’s sake, persistence will make him get up and give his friend all he wants (Luke 11:8).

I tried to think about what rosary mystery applies to this week’s Gospel.  What mystery deals with the idea of persistance and also asking God for direction, strength, and grace?

I can’t think of a better example of persistance than Simeon waiting for the Son of God and finally seeing Jesus at The Presentation in the Temple.  Simeon came to the temple every day hoping to see the Messiah.  And every day he came back unfulfilled until the day he died after seeing the baby Jesus.  Simeon never gave up or lost faith.  Chances are people ridiculed him and labeled him as the crazy man who is waiting to see the Son of God.  But despite never seeing the Lord until his dying day, Simeon lived according to God’s plan for him which ultimately led him to Heaven.

How easy is it for us to lose faith when we think God does not answer our prayers, sacrifices, and good works?  Would anyone have blamed Simeon if he gave up after a few years of disappointment at the temple?  Our human nature wants God to immediately reward us for good actions and punish those who are bad.  We often ask ourselves, “why me?” when confronted with hardship.  However, while we may not know it, God is doing us a favor by not immediately answering our prayers or answering them in unexpected ways.  It is that perceived silence which builds a longing for grace.  That longing leads to persistance and that persistance builds spiritual strength.

If God immediately gave us everything we wanted we would never build up spiritual muscle for life’s obstacles.  We would become so weak spiritually that the slightest difficulty would knock us down and keep us down.  But our perseverance builds strength.  Constantly working to live in a state of grace builds our resistance to evil and sin.  To use a gardening analogy, getting everything we want is like over watering a plant.  The plant does not develop a strong root structure and cannot survive under stressful conditions.  A little stress and some challenges really help us develop strong spiritual roots.

When we pray the Fourth Joyful Mystery may we remember to show the same level of persistance as Simeon.  Remember, God does hear our prayers and answers them accordingly.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says that when we ask, God will answer.  It may not be in the way we would like or it may lead us down a difficult road, but God answers our prayers in the way that will ultimately lead us to Heaven.  And at the end of the day, that is all that really matters.