Gospel Reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
I packed a bag full of black attire before joining my two sisters to road-trip to celebrate our soon-to-be sister-in-law's bachelorette party. If the glow of the beautiful bachelorette is not enough to draw attention, her white attire makes her shine extra radiantly amidst a sea of black dresses. The purpose of a bachelorette party is to celebrate the love and friendship of the smitten bride-to-be as her "tribe" of women anticipate the best that is yet to come. The focus is on the bride as she's honored in creative, fun, and special ways by companions who have been by her side through her joys and sorrows.
As I reflected on this week's Gospel passage, I was astonished once again to find God using the ordinary to speak about the extraordinary. I recognized that I had the most fun during the weekend when I was able to get out of my own head and focus on others rather than myself. Rather than thinking about being the oldest single woman in the group, I could support my sister-to-be as she spoke about her love for my brother. I was not there for me, but for her. Similarly, my life is not about me; it's about the Father who created me for His glory.
I can get lost in the lie that marriage is the goal of life. I love marriage and make a living helping couples to grow closer together through the conjoint experience of therapy. As loved ones and strangers continue to walk down the aisle and exchange vows year after year, I wonder why I haven't reached that stage yet. This sometimes feels like I'm behind in life -- like I'm losing some sort of race.
God has gently reminded me that marriage is an assist rather than the goal. Marriage points to the love that God has for each of us. If we focus on the visible symbol rather than the invisible reality we become disoriented.
Jesus tells Peter, in today's Gospel, "you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
How many times is this statement true in our lives? How many times do we look at the world through the eyes of an orphan, rather than a beloved child of God? We somehow think love comes without suffering, but St. Gianna testified that, "One cannot love without suffering or suffer without love."
Just before the aforementioned passage from Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples He would soon suffer greatly in Jerusalem. Peter is rebuked because of his worldly perspective. He saw Jesus' suffering as a loss, rather than a gain. He saw it as defeat, rather than a victory. Two thousand years later, we remember the Passion of Our Lord on Good Friday. While the world saw the cross as an instrument of torture, we wear it today as a symbol of salvation. In difficult situations, friends have told me, "Sometimes rejection is God's protection." Though this sounded cliché for years, its truth is finally beginning to resonate deeply inside my heart. God always knows best.
Much of the world, especially when it comes to faith, focuses on what we get rather than what we give. We don't see the value of something if we aren't receiving pleasure or happiness. Those are good things, but not essential in this life. A society captured by greed, addiction, and entertainment gets easily consumed by sex, alcohol, drugs, and other worldly pleasures. These passing pleasures cover up the lasting hunger deep inside for eternal life, true joy, and a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Following the Beatitudes in St. Luke's Gospel, Jesus says, "Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort" (Luke 6:25). Wealth and success in the world's eyes are not synonymous with being wealthy and successful in the eyes of God. Jesus lays out this rich, paradoxical truth in Matthew's Gospel this Sunday:
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"
After getting Tobymac's song "Lose My Soul" stuck in my head, I started to see how this passage is illustrated in every vocation. This article beautifully explains the symbolism behind black vestments:
"Symbolically black is associated with simplicity and humility and reminds priests of their need to imitate those virtues. Black is also a color that represents death and mourning and symbolizes how a priest is to die to oneself and decrease so that God may increase in his life. He is called to take up the cross of Our Lord daily, dying to sin so that he may rise in the life of grace....Nevertheless, the distinctive color of the priest’s clothing sets him apart from the rest of society. It reminds us of his mission to serve and signals him out in a crowd of people. The presence of a priest is supposed to point our hearts to heavenly things and brings the person of Christ to each one of us. The color simply highlights this reality and should provide a kind of 'mini-homily' every time we see a priest."
Priests and religious sisters wear black modest clothing to call the world to a greater understanding that the best is yet to come. They die to themselves so that the Bridegroom (Jesus) and the Bride (the Church) can shine through them.
If we love our life, we want the credit, attention, and reward now.
If we hate our life, we are more open to being vulnerable, taking chances, and sacrificing for others.
This act of laying down our lives displays the love that Jesus modeled on the Cross. The black that the ladies and I wore this weekend at the bachelorette party precedes the black that my brother will wear as he accompanies his beautiful bride on their wedding day.
As our Bridegroom, Jesus pursues us and teaches us how to love like Him. Jesus is never outdone in His love, mercy, and generosity. The moon simply reflects the light of the sun to illumine the night sky. By letting God shine through us, we authentically shine brighter.
"For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." (Romans 6:5) As Jesus was dying on the Cross, he was offered wine on a hyssop branch. This symbolized the blood of the Passover Lamb in Exodus. It is the Blood of Christ that will bring us to new life. Every Friday morning, the Church remembers this Good Friday by praying Psalm 51: "Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."
Wherever we may find ourselves in our current season or state in life, we can rest in the truth that God is with us. We can live in the freedom He graciously gives us through His Cross. "In Him, we have communion with the 'truth that makes us free.' The Holy Spirit has been given to us and, as the Apostle teaches, 'Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.' Already we glory in the 'liberty of the children of God.' (CCC 1741)
"To walk toward holiness, you must be free. Free to walk looking at the light, going forward. When we return to the way we lived before encountering Jesus Christ or when we return to the plans of this world, we lose our freedom." -- Pope Francis
In Sacred Marriage: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? Gary Thomas writes:
“The key question is this: Will we approach marriage from a God-centered view or a man-centered view? In a man-centered view, we will maintain our marriage as long as our earthly comforts, desires, and expectations are met. In a God-centered view, we preserve our marriage because it brings glory to God and points a sinful world to a reconciling Creator.”
How are you approaching your life? Your faith? Your relationships?
How can we become more eternally fixed this week so that we may all enter the heavenly wedding banquet in a white garment?