February 25—March 2, 2019

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 1:1-10  +  Mark 9:14-29
February 25, 2019

…they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them.

Today’s Gospel scene takes place immediately after the Transfiguration.  There on Mount Tabor Peter had wanted to stay, saying, “Master, it is good for us to be here.  Let us make three booths….”  But Jesus teaches Peter that it was not for transfiguration that He came into this world.  In today’s Gospel passage Jesus descends the mountain and enters into conflict between His disciples and the scribes, resuming the ministry for which He became Flesh and dwelt among us.

To His disciples, who were unable to drive out the mute spirit, He expresses disappointment at their lack of faith and rhetorically asks, “How long will I be with you?  How long will I endure you?”  But Jesus’ criticism on this occasion is not limited to His own disciples.  When the father of the possessed son says to Jesus, “If you can do anything… help us.”  To this, the Lord cries out, “If you can!”

Then Jesus speaks to the heart of the matter:  the lack of faith.  He had moments before described His disciples as a “faithless generation”.  Now He says to the father, “Everything is possible to one who has faith.”  But to this, the father offers an intriguing rejoinder:  “I do believe, help my unbelief.”  Jesus must have thought him sincere since He did help him.  But perhaps today we could pray over this father’s words, make them our own in prayer, and root all of the petitions that we make today in these words.  This father recognizes that in this fallen world, faith is always needed.  One cannot outgrow the need for faith.

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Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 2:1-11  +  Mark 9:30-37
February 26, 2019

For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.

Today’s Gospel passage points our attention back to one of the first lessons of the liturgical year.  This lesson is expressed in the saying, “The wood of the crib is the wood of the cross.”  Another way of expressing the same truth is to say that “the only reason Jesus was born into this world was to die to this world”, or perhaps rather, “for this world”.  We might be tempted at Christmastime to think only of the innocence of the infant Christ, without connecting this innocence to the purity of the Lamb who was slain on Calvary.

It might seem strange for today’s Gospel passage to meander from Jesus’ prediction of His Passion and Death at the passage’s beginning to His holding up a child for emulation at its end.  But this beginning and end are connected by Jesus Himself.  It’s because Jesus, as a divine person, is completely innocent (indeed more so than any child) that He becomes a fitting sacrifice on Calvary.  We may think of innocence as a goal of our spiritual life because it prepares us to be fit for Heaven.  Perhaps greater spiritual growth might come from seeing innocence as preparing us for a share in Jesus’ Passion during our earthly life.

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Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 4:11-19  +  Mark 9:38-40
February 27, 2019

Fear and dread she brings upon him and tries him with her discipline….

Today’s First Reading returns to a meditation on wisdom.  This passage does not so much define wisdom as it describes the relationship that the believer has with her (that is, wisdom).

The first sentence of this passage describes wisdom in maternal terms.  Following verses suggest an intimate relationship between wisdom and the Lord, as those “who serve [wisdom] serve the Holy One; those who love her the Lord loves.”

Yet despite all this intimacy, the relationship between the believer and wisdom is bound to bear difficulties.  Wisdom does not promise an easy life to the one who follows her.  Wisdom “tries [the believer] with her discipline, a phrase reminiscent of Hebrews 12:7:  “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons.  For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?”

It is wise to accept discipline that comes from a just one.  Give thanks for such discipline and take it to heart and prayer.

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Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 5:1-8  +  Mark 9:41-50
February 28, 2019

Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day.

Following the past several days’ meditations on accepting the discipline of wisdom and the mercy of the Lord, today’s First Reading is negative in tone.  That is, Sirach exhorts us seven times what not to do as we nurture our relationship with wisdom and the Lord.  Any one of these seven could nourish our prayer for the entire day today.

Consider the sixth exhortation.  “Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day.  For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed.  Like most of these seven exhortations, this one has two parts:  a direct negative command, and a reason for not doing so.

We might consider Sirach’s reason for this sixth exhortation to be harsh and punitive, like so much else in the Old Testament.  We might consider such a warning as meaningless in the light of the mercy that Jesus reveals to us.  Nonetheless, our image of Jesus is two-dimensional if we think that He didn’t take seriously the possibility of eternal punishment for sin.  There is a time and place for reflection on the real possibility of Hell.  With the First Reading of today’s Mass, the Church has chosen today as that time.

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Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 6:5-17  +  Mark 10:1-12
March 1, 2019

“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”

The narrative in today’s Gospel passage, inasmuch as it corresponds to Matthew 19:1-9, is the springboard from which Saint John Paul II began his series of reflections titled “Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body”.  This revolutionary series is often commented upon, but rarely read.  Even less often read are the words of Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel passage.

Divorce is commonplace in our society.  Many claim that it’s a “necessary evil”, while others see it as a positively good choice or option.  However, Jesus is very clear.  Divorce and remarriage is morally equivalent to adultery, with the difference being that while adultery is a mortally sinful act, divorce and remarriage is a mortally sinful state.

Nonetheless, Jesus puts this condemnation within a positive context.  He explains why marriage cannot be dissolved by any human person.  To claim the power to dissolve a marriage is to claim power over God.  To claim this power is to deny the essence of marriage:  that two have—through God’s design and power—become “one flesh.”

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Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 17:1-15  +  Mark 10:13-16
March 2, 2019

“…for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Today’s Gospel passage immediately follows yesterday’s in Mark.  In yesterday’s passage Jesus spoke the truth that marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power, because through God’s power, husband and wife “are no longer two but one flesh” [Mark 10:8].  In today’s passage Jesus becomes indignant and declares:  “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Is it a coincidence that this passage immediately follows Jesus’ teaching about the sacred integrity of Marriage?  The Church has taught for some two thousand years that the begetting and rearing of children is integral to God’s design of marriage:  the willed exclusion of this goal prevents the integrity of a marriage.

Some might say that these two Scripture passages should not be linked.  Some might say that the point of today’s passage is that each Christian is called to be “child-like”.  In any case, marriage between two persons truly in love with each other and with God will bear the innocence and love for life seen in the child-like.

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