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Reflections on forthcoming Mass readings. Note: More guides are available under “Don’t Miss.”
BY Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, Aug. 22, is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, Cycle II).
On Aug. 22, Pope Benedict XVI prays the Sunday Angelus at his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, at noon.
Pope Benedict XVI returns to Rome Aug. 25 to offer his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
There are two feasts of mothers this week.
Aug. 22 is the Coronation of the Blessed Mother. This is a highly ironic feast day. The last thing Mary wanted was to be a queen. On this day, we always think of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel side altar at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Inscribed on the altar are the words: “Mary is more mother than queen.” Indeed she is. But it is precisely because she was so thoroughly a mother to Jesus that she is a queen. A queen, after all, should be someone who looks out for others with love from a position of authority. That’s Mary.
Aug. 27 and Aug. 28 are great feasts to the fallibility and flexibility of mankind. St. Augustine was a great intellectual who made a great mistake. He gave his heart and mind to Manichaeism. His mother was probably smart too, but her faith was simpler. She didn’t complicate her belief by second-guessing the Church; she simply prayed intensely for her son. Her faith proved stronger than her son’s intellectual doubts, and he was won to Christianity.
Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117:1, 2; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30
Today’s readings stand as a sad response to the prevailing understanding of heaven. Too often people believe that we live, we die, and then we smile on our loved ones from heaven. It’s a comforting thought — but it isn’t true.
In the first reading, the Lord tells us he has come to gather all nations to see his glory. The reading is a great preview of the New Testament. He says he will send “fugitives to the nations.” Fugitives are people who are rightfully prisoners but have been set free. That would be us. He compares the gathering process to a long, arduous journey.
What’s the lesson? Heaven is the natural resting place of all mankind, but because of sin, it’s a place you have to journey to, and the journey is long and hard.
The second reading compares this process to discipline. “At the time,” says the Letter to the Hebrews, “all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”
Jesus has the last word in the Gospel when he is directly asked the question “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He responds by describing the way to heaven as a narrow gate: “Many, I tell you, will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.”
He describes two attempts to enter heaven that will fail.
One will happen to those who come “after the master of the house has arisen and locked the door.” These people will stand outside and knock, saying, “Lord, open the door for us.”
These are people who have known who Jesus is — they call him “Lord” — and seem to know that he promised them “Knock and the door will be opened to you.”
They knew it, but they didn’t live it, apparently, because he tells them, “I do not know where you are from.”
Their next attempt shows that they knew even more about him: They believed in his presence among them. “We ate and drank in your company, and you taught in our streets,” they say. “We went to Mass and volunteered,” we might say today.
Even that’s not good enough. Jesus says, “Depart from me, all you evildoers!”
So, if that’s not good enough, what is? Do we need to make a superhuman effort to be part of heaven?
No. We need only do what Jesus says they didn’t do. They came too late. They didn’t know him. They did evil.
So we should make sure we know him, in daily prayer, at Mass — starting today.
And we should live our life in conformity with his will. Remember the “fugitives” in the first reading. At baptism, we are released from imprisonment to sin and are given the freedom to live according to our true nature. People who crawl back into the prison will find themselves locked in — and locked out.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.