Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 3:13-18  +  Mark 9:14-29
February 21, 2022

… 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.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 3:1-10  +  Mark 9:2-13
February 19, 2022

Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.

St. Peter’s ignorance is on display when he exclaims to Jesus:  “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!  Let us make three tents:  one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Peter’s suggestion is so simple that we might overlook what he means.  Tents means something different to us today than they did to people in the day of Jesus.  Tents to us mean camping, recreation, relaxation in the great outdoors.  Tents in ancient days—when many persons and extended families were nomadic—meant putting down roots, staking a claim, and not moving on.  So tents to Peter meant permanence, and meant having arrived.

The problem for Peter was that Jesus had no plans to rest.  Jesus had a journey to make.  He didn’t come into this world for rest and comfort.  So Peter, likely reluctantly, followed Jesus back down the mountain, knowing that He had to stay with Jesus if he ever wanted to see such brilliance, beauty and glory again.

At this point in their journey, Jesus planted that seed in the apostles’ minds, and it began to germinate during the remainder of Jesus’ public ministry.  Whenever in their memories they saw the sight of the Transfigured Jesus, they also must have heard that strange phrase:  “rising from the dead”.  Jesus helped them always to link these two:  “rising”, and “death”.  In other words, there is no Resurrection without death.  There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.  There is no empty tomb, without the tomb.

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 2:14-24,26  +  Mark 8:34—9:1
February 18, 2022

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

In the Gospel today we hear Jesus say, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Do you, who call yourselves Christians, hear what the Word made Flesh is saying to you?  Or do you want to turn your back on the words spoken by Jesus Christ?

Christ died because death is the only way to destroy death’s power.  On the Cross, Christ destroyed the power of death by dying Himself.  When God Himself died, death split in two.  Christ separated the death of the body from the death of the soul, so that the one would not inevitably follow the other.  Christ didn’t die so that you wouldn’t have to.  Christ died so that the death that you will inevitably face—the death of the body—will not be an eternal one:  the death of the soul.

There are two types of death, the death of the body, and the death of the soul.  One is much worse than the other.  Many people spend a lot of time avoiding the one, but not the other, which is strange.  This is strange because the death of the body is unavoidable, while the death of the soul is completely avoidable.  The death they try so hard to avoid is the door that Christ has made the gateway to eternal life, while the death they don’t worry much about is a death that never ends:  a death that is eternal.

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The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
I Samuel 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23  +  1 Corinthians 15:45-49  +  Luke 6:27-38
February 20, 2022

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Today’s Scripture passages consider one of the paradoxes about the church that Jesus founded:  its rank and file members are both saints and sinners.  The Church is indeed the Body of Christ, but that body’s members are weak human beings.  In other words, while the Church is a divine institution, it’s also a human institution.

In today’s Second Reading, Saint Paul makes clear to the members of the Church in Corinth that Christians are both saints and sinners.  But in making this point, Saint Paul is careful to avoid the pitfall that is so easy to fall into spiritually:  that is, to look at the members of the Church and to begin labeling them, saying that this person is a sinner, while that person is a saint.

It’s easy in our minds to divvy up the Church into these two groups:  the saints on this side, and the sinners on that side.  But if the Church is the Body of Christ, it cannot simply have all the sinners on one side and all the saints on the other, like some sort of person with a split personality.  Instead, the truth is more complex.

Each and every member of the Church’s Body—with the exception, of course, of the Blessed Virgin Mary—is both a saint and a sinner.  Every member of the Body of Christ has within himself or herself this pull between one’s desire to sin and one’s call to be holy.  Likewise, every member of the Body of Christ experiences the conflict between one’s own sins and God’s grace.  The Christian must decide which of these two to give oneself over to.

St. Paul in the Second Reading is preaching the truth that, just as the Christian resembles the man from earth, so the Christian also is called to bear the likeness of the man from Heaven.  We humans are by our fallen nature sinners.  But by God’s call we are Christians, called to share in the life of God.  Though this truth of the spiritual life is complex, we must constantly keep it in mind, not only in regard to others, but first of all in regard to ourselves.

Yet today’s First Reading seems to speak not about the rank-and-file members of the Church, but about those in authority.  Those in authority within the Church are members of the Head of the Church’s Mystical Body.  Here also, we have to realize that those in authority are sinners at the same time that they are called to be holy.

The person of faith, like David in the First Reading, understands that the holiness of a man’s office should inspire respect within us as long as that individual holds office.  Just as David would not harm the head of his enemy Saul because Saul had been anointed by God to lead His people, so we must respect those who have authority over us, even when we find their personal actions lacking, and possibly at times sinful.  The refusal of many people to bear such respect is, without a doubt, one clear reason for our society’s decay.

We must remember, though, that all respect begins with the respect that children owe their parents.  This is so because the “domestic church”—the family—is the most foundational building block of both civil societies and the societies within the Church (for example, parishes and dioceses).

Unfortunately, just as we witness the institution of marriage being mocked in the media and in the lives of many members of our society, so also is the institution of parenthood mocked.  Television shows that call themselves comedies portray parents as idiots and their children as the only persons with common sense.

Certainly, there may be in our day a clearer and more open understanding that parents are human beings:  that they make mistakes in what they try to do for their children.  Nonetheless, the parent who does not demand respect from his children in both language and action is doing a grave disservice to his children.  This respect grows more easily within the home where prayer and forgiveness are part and parcel of daily life.  What a difference we would see in the world if each member of each family would each day proclaim the words of St. Paul:  “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” [Eph 3:14-15].

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 2:1-9  +  Mark 8:27-33
February 17, 2022

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected ….

Asking the right question is extremely important in many situations that we face in life.  It’s also important to ask the right type of question.  For instance, there are questions that ask “How?”, calling for technological answers.  On the other hand, “Why?” questions deal with meaning:  they call for deeper answers.

We find Jesus Christ in today’s Gospel account asking his disciples to tell Him who they think He really is.

Jesus had two reasons for asking His question.  One was to have His disciples give some serious thought to just who they thought they were following.  The other was to take the opportunity to teach them about what was going to happen to Him.  In other words, where was He going?  By extension, where would they end up if they kept following Him?

Is Jesus an interesting historical figure?  Is He, as the Muslims say, a great prophet?  Is he one among many in a long line of Jewish rabbis?

Or is He unique?  Is Christ Jesus God in the Flesh, in order that we can see Him, know Him, and love Him as one of us:  in other words, God so that He can save us, and man so that we can receive His divinity through His humanity?  Christ Jesus is God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, made incarnate, made human flesh and blood for us.  It is, then, His suffering greatly and being rejected that makes possible this “great exchange”:  our sinfulness for God’s own divine life.

Flemish School; Christ Rebuking or Calling Saint Peter

Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 1:19-27  +  Mark 8:22-26
February 16, 2022

Then He laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly ….

An obvious question leaps out from today’s Gospel narrative.  Why did Jesus have to lay hands upon the blind man twice for him to see clearly?  Doesn’t the fact that He did reveal some weakness or impotence on the part of Jesus?

There is an assumption within this latter question:  that Jesus could not have healed the blind man by a single laying on of hands.  But if Jesus could have done this, why did He not?

This question (neither Jesus Himself nor the evangelist specifies why Jesus laid hands upon the blind man twice) points to a general theological principle about God:  that is, that God does not always effect His Providential Will in the most direct manner possible.  In other words, God does not always choose to manifest His power in the briefest, most direct and most “efficient” manner possible.

This principle does not answer the question of why God acts as He does.  But the truth behind this principle is related to another, that God sometimes chooses as the agents of His Will not the strongest, brightest, or best qualified.  God has a love for the poor, the simple, and the feeble.

To return again to today’s Gospel narrative:  perhaps Jesus wanted to foster perseverance within the blind man.  Perhaps Jesus wanted the blind man to desire healing more deeply.  Perhaps Jesus wanted the blind man to appreciate fully the gift he was being given.  Regardless, the unfolding of God’s Providential Will, whether or not it takes the form we think it should, reveals God’s love to us even in the manner in which it’s revealed.

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Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 1:12-18  +  Mark 8:14-21
February 15, 2022

“Do you still not understand?”

Frustration in and of itself must not be a sin, or Jesus—according to the portraits painted by the evangelists—would not be divine.  Today’s Gospel passage ends with a question from Jesus.  While we can be sure that Jesus’ next action involved compassion, we might instead back up and reflect on this passage in terms of our selves, inasmuch as we often imitate the disciples in this passage.

There are two things lacking in these disciples.  First, they “had forgotten to bring bread”.  This is a practical omission on their part, and surely each of us can relate to it.  But this is not Jesus’ real concern.

Instead, when Jesus enjoins the disciples to “guard against the leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod, the disciples take Jesus’ words literalistically rather than in the analogical manner in which He meant them.  In other words, the disciples were so concerned with physical hunger that they couldn’t see past it.  They couldn’t see that Jesus was speaking about something far more important:  the spiritual means by which the Pharisees and Herod, on the one hand, and Jesus on the other, considered spiritual growth to take place.  Pray today that your very real practical concerns about life might never obscure the even more important spiritual needs that require your tending today.

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Sts. Cyril, Monk & Methodius, Bishop

Sts. Cyril, Monk & Methodius, Bishop
James 1:1-11  +  Mark 8:11-13
February 14, 2022

“Why does this generation seek a sign?”

Do we search for heavenly signs as assurance that we are on the right path in life?  Today’s Gospel passage, brief and to the point, ought to make us realize how pointless such a search is.  Jesus’ sigh—“from the depth of His Spirit”—speaks volumes.  His departure from the midst of the Pharisees does in fact serve as a sober sign of His recognition that even His divine words do nothing for one unwilling to listen to Him in faith.  Christ asks us to dedicate each day to him in faith.

A life which is not dedicated to God ends up being a selfish life, a life that excludes both God and one’s brothers and sisters.  This sort of life is opposed to the very practical counsel that Saint James offer throughout the course of the epistle that we begin today to hear at daily Mass.  This sort of life leads to one being a “man of two minds, unstable in all his ways”, as St. James writes in today’s First Reading.  Today we begin hearing at weekday Mass from the letter of St. James.  This is letter is full of practical wisdom, and pulls no punches about the fate awaiting the “man of two minds”.

That fate will be ours unless we are willing to cooperate with God’s grace to conquer the power of sin.  Sin is conquered first through faith, and perfectly through charity.  We are invited to share in this perfect love of God through the Mass.  When we are dismissed from Mass, we take and offer this same love to our brothers and sisters within our daily lives.

Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 8:1-10

Then, taking the seven loaves He gave thanks ….

That the miracle described in today’s Gospel account foreshadows the Sacrament of the Eucharist is clear.  What could get overlooked, however, is an action of Jesus only briefly described in the midst of this miracle.  The evangelist explains that “taking the seven loaves [Jesus] gave thanks, broke them, and gave them”.

Jesus’ act of giving thanks here is described by the evangelist with the Greek verb “eucharisteo”.  It’s from this word that the English word “Eucharist” derives.  Likely we think of the act of thanksgiving as being part of what the Eucharist is about, but it’s another thing to recognize that this most blessed of the seven sacraments is named after the very act of giving thanks.

In contrasting the four basic types of vocal prayer—petition, thanksgiving, contrition and adoration—thanksgiving is not the most selfless.  Adoration focuses more solely on God in His own goodness.  Thanksgiving regards what God has done for me, not purely for His own glory.  Nonetheless, without thanksgiving, we cannot advance to prayer of adoration.  Giving thanks for what God has done for one allows one to grow in the humility needed to adore God authentically.

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