The readings today present two different approaches to seeking answers. In Sirach, we hear of a search for wisdom. A search that involves the whole person. A search that transforms the individual at the deepest level. This search leads one to God and at the same time opens one to the power of His love and mercy.
The answers sought by the chief priests, scribes and elders are not part of a desire to know God better or to improve their lives or to seek a deeper fulfillment in their relationship with the Lord. Their search for answers is to condemn, to use any answers as a means to protect their way of life. Their desire isn’t for divine love and truth, it is greed. What could be an opportunity for spiritual renewal and growth, they seek as a means of destruction.
In our spiritual journey, we must be careful that it is a search for Christ, one that feeds our desire for His truth and love. A search that will challenge us at times, transform us and draw us closer to Him.
Hospitality has always been an important practice in the scriptures. First, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us today (13:1-8), we do not know when the person we extend hospitality to is actually an angel or God himself. Second, when others feel welcomed, they are open to listening, and in their openness to us, they are able to receive Christ’s love and presence. To be hospitable, we must not be selfish or absorbed in our concerns and needs. We must be hospitable also to God, welcoming him into our hearts. We turn to the example of others for inspiration, the saints and leaders in our church. Their words and actions can guide us and inspire us to live the gospel in deeper ways. As we grow closer to God, the fruits of that love become apparent in our interactions with others.
It is not an easy thing for us to maintain our focus on God as we go about our lives each day. There are very real concerns and stresses that must be dealt with: family concerns, financial, health, etc, etc, etc. The question is asked by some (and perhaps pondered silently by others), how are all these ideals of the gospel relevant to ‘real’ life?
‘Because he was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.’ (Heb 2:18) It is precisely because of these struggles that we need to make sure God is a part of our life. All of these issues are temporary. If we spend all of our energies on them there will never be time to actually live life-there will always be an issue with family, finances, health, etc- we run the risk of losing ourselves.
Simeon and Ana recognize right away who Jesus is-the result of a strong prayer life. While some are called to dedicate their lives to constant prayer, like Simeon and Ana, most of us struggle to balance prayer and the activities of life. We need to take time to be inspired by the Simeon’s and Ana’s of today and we must work to incorporate some aspect of quiet prayer into our day. It is the only way we will be able to recognize the Lord in our midst and remain focused on that which is forever and our ultimate destiny.
“You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he promised.” (Heb 10:36)
Prior to this statement of our need for endurance the author to the Letter to the Hebrews acknowledges that we will experience persecution in attempting to live and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In living the Gospel, we open ourselves to change and this will affect those around us: they too will need to change to a certain respect. In addition, by sharing the Gospel, we more explicitly challenge others to change. In either case, change is what we are dealing with and human beings dislike change and often will work to prevent it.
Thomas Aquinas (whose feast day is today) also faced persecution, but in a different way than the Letter refers to. First, his family kidnapped him when he planned to join the Dominicans, then the Church and others put pressure on him because he sought to apply principles from Aristotle to his theological method.
Aquinas endured all of this because of his faith and relationship with Christ. It reinforces the point of today’s readings: our need to build up spiritual endurance to persevere and grow in faith. How do we do this: participate at Mass, receive the Eucharist and Reconciliation on a regular basis, daily prayer, take time to read the writings of the saints or about their lives, and taking time to learn more about the faith.
We will face challenges to faith and the process of conversion that comes with living the Gospel. How we persevere will depend on our endurance.
The Beatles song “Come together” is thought to describe each member of the band. Each a unique individual, but united as one for a purpose. So it is with us who call ourselves Christian: we are unique individuals, but united as one for a purpose: the building of the kingdom of God here on earth. Important and necessary in yhis work is our coming together as one, most especially at the celebration of Mass.
“We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another…”(Heb 10:25) The first reading reminds us that participating in the mass is not the means of supporting the Church, but the necessary action of those seeking salvation. We are baptized into a family of faith. This family is how we remain connected to God, how we learn more about Him, are nourished and challenged. All of this is necessary if we hope to grow closer to Him.
The mass not only is a means of support and encouragement, it is where we meet the Lord in word and Sacrament, where we are drawn into the Paschal Mystery in such a way that we are able to persevere in faith, hope and love in the struggles and trials we encounter in daily life.
In the 2nd Letter to Timothy today, St. Paul reminds him of a couple of things that should serve as reminders to us. First, in being ordained, Timothy does not go into the world alone, he is part of a larger community. This is true for all of us who have been baptized and particularly those of us living our vocation. We do not live this faith nor seek to share it by ourselves. That is one of the reasons why we gather together to worship God in addition to our personal prayer. There is strength in numbers, and we understand that in these numbers Christ himself is present. This gives us courage and strength to persevere, even when we are alone. The second point is just as important: we must take time to nurture the gifts God has given us. Jesus stresses this in calling us to be the ‘rich soil’, to accept the Word of God in our hearts and remain vigilant in seeking to live according to that Word. We have been given a great responsibility in sharing the Gospel with the world and seeking to build the Kingdom here in our midst. We are reminded today that God gives us the graces and gifts to accomplish.this.
The story of Paul’s conversion is one that is well known by christians. Between the tradition and the Scriptures it is quite the dramatic story: a blinding flash knocks Paul off his horse, he.is unable to see or speak until Ananias is sent ny the Lord to heal him. After baptism, Paul is healed, he is converted and the greatest persecuter of the Church, becomes its greatest evangelizer.
Great story. However, on this feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, let us not miss the point of the story or the message of the scriptures. ‘Go into thw whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature’ (Mk 16:15). This wasn’t a suggestion, ‘hey if you like, this is something you could do.” It was a command. We are bound to one another, those made in God’s image and likeness. Love only deepens when it is shared, so to fall deeper in love with God, we need to share his love with others in our daily lives. ‘Random acts of kindness’ isn’t a nice bumper sticker that expresses a nive warm fuzzy sentiment, it is part of how the christian lives life.
In the words of Ananias, ‘Now, why delay?’ Lets us live and share what we celebrate here.