August 19, 2016

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Isaiah provides the first reading for this weekend. Isaiah is a fascinating book of Scripture. It covers a long period of Hebrew history. Its early chapters deal with events and conditions in the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah, before the kingdom’s conquest by the mighty Babylonian army.

Then, as the book progresses, it tells of the plight of the Hebrews taken to Babylon, the imperial capital, where they and their descendants languished for four generations.

At last, the Hebrews were allowed to return, but the homeland that they found was hardly the “land flowing with milk and honey.” It was sterile, lifeless and bleak. It must have been difficult not to succumb to cynicism, or outright rejection of God. Why did God lead them to this awful place after all that they have experienced in Babylon? How was this God’s confirmation of their covenant with him?

This dreary situation clearly appears in this weekend’s reading but, nevertheless, the prophet unceasingly and without any doubt calls the people to reaffirm their devotion to God. God always will rescue them and care for them.

For its second reading, the Church presents a reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the late part of the first century, when this epistle was composed, the plight of the Jews was bleak. In 70, the Jews rose up against the Romans, and the Jews paid a dreadful price for their audacity.

Things were as bad as they were in the days of the last part of Isaiah, from which came the reading heard earlier this weekend.

Even so, as the prophets so often had encouraged the people in the past, the author of Hebrews assured the people of the first century that God would protect them and, after all their trials, would lead them to eternal life in Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God.

St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is a somber reading, indeed a warning. Indeed, life is eternal. God lives and reigns in an eternal kingdom. Jesus has the key to the gate, but all who are true to God and who obey God’s law will be admitted to this wonderful kingdom. Others will not.

Reflection

For several weeks, the Church, either directly or indirectly, has taught us in the weekend readings at Mass that earthly life is not the only experience of living for humans.

Life does not end with earthly death. Life is eternal. Eternity awaits everyone after life on Earth—heaven for the good, everlasting misery and remorse, what we often call hell, for the bad.

God offers us every opportunity and every aid in our way to reach heaven. He could show us no greater love than to give us Jesus as our Redeemer and companion as we move toward heaven. The Son of God, one with the Father in divine eternity and power, forgives us, strengthens us, guides us, restores us and finally places us at the banquet table of heaven.

Humans, thus, create their own destiny. They can ignore or outright reject God’s love, so lavishly given in Jesus, and bring upon themselves the consequences—eternal pain. Those who experience everlasting despair and pain choose it of their own accord.

The saved choose to be with God. It is that simple.

God drags no one kicking and screaming into heaven, and virtue is not always easy to achieve, but God opens wide the gate and shows us the way, helping us along when we stumble.

God mercifully and lovingly assists us through Jesus. Jesus is our teacher. In Jesus and through Jesus, our sins are forgiven. The just are empowered and enlightened in Jesus.

While God gives us free will, therefore, we are sustained, strengthened and shown the way. †

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