Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 6:1-6

He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Today’s Gospel passage, from the sixth chapter of Mark, doesn’t really end on a high note.   In His native place, Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deed, apart from curing a few sick people.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Why did they lack faith?  Why do we lack faith?  Why do we focus on the less important things in life:  the less important types of freedom?  St. Mark begins his Gospel account by answering this question.  The first recorded words of Jesus are proclaimed immediately after He spends forty days in the desert, tempted by Satan.  He emerges from the desert, and the first words He speaks frame the entire Gospel.  Jesus proclaims, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” 

Repent, and believe in the Gospel.  We might say that these two demands of Jesus sum up the entire Christian faith.  They lead us to faith.  They lead to true freedom.  And they require us to exercise our freedom in its deepest sense:  that is, in our relationship with God.

True repentance means to turn oneself around 180°:  to turn oneself away from sin, and towards God, not simply towards ourselves, and what we think we want.  This is the highest type of freedom:  to be able to do things for others, or in other words, to give our very self to another (another human person, or God).

The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 58:7-10  +  1 Corinthians 2:1-5  +  Matthew 5:13-16
Catechism Link: CCC 782
February 5, 2023

… your light shall break forth like the dawn ….

“God is light”, we hear in Sacred Scripture [1 John 1:5].  But in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus declares to His disciples:  “You are the light of the world.”  To help you live out this calling faithfully, and to carry out the “good deeds” that are the heart of this calling, today’s First and Second Readings prepare you for the Gospel Reading.

The First Reading, from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, is very practical.  It’s down to earth.  The prophet Isaiah is calling God’s People to carry out the sort of actions that in the Catholic Faith are called “the corporal works of mercy”:  to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

All seven of these corporal works of mercy—as well as the seven spiritual works of mercy—are very practical ways to live out your Catholic Faith.  Each of us carries out these works of mercy because God commands us to do so.  But of course, God only ever commands what is best for us.  When we follow the Lord’s commands, we grow in the likeness of God.

It follows that each of us carries out these works of mercy in order to love our God and our neighbor.  So God’s command and the desire to love—which are really two sides of the same coin—make for two sound motives for carrying out these works of mercy.

Yet the prophet Isaiah gives a third motive.  He prophesies to those who would carry them out:  “if you bestow your bread on the hungry… then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”  The Old Testament promise was that God, who is light, would shine on those who carry out good deeds.

But the Gospel of Jesus promises something even greater.  In effect, the Gospel provides a fourth motive.  The Gospel promises that those who live the Gospel become light, and that God shines through them.

Today’s Gospel Reading, along with the following Gospel Readings that we’ll hear on the upcoming Sundays before Ash Wednesday, are taken from the Sermon on the Mount.  In St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel, this lengthy sermon (taking up chapters 5-7 of Matthew) might be considered Jesus’ “inaugural address”.

Immediately after the Beatitudes (which we heard Jesus proclaim last Sunday) comes today’s Gospel Reading, in which Jesus calls His followers “salt” and “light”.  Jesus is calling you to be “the light of the world.”  But what does that mean in practical terms?

Jesus’ last sentence sheds light on what He means.  It’s basically a command, but it has three parts.  Jesus commands you when He declares:  “your light must shine before others, / [so] that they may see your good deeds / and [so that they may] glorify your heavenly Father.”  But why would others glorify your Father if it’s your good deeds that they see?

St. Paul in the Second Reading, in preaching to the Corinthians, offers us the skeleton key that unlocks the meaning of Jesus’ words.  St. Paul says, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling … so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.”  What is this “power of God”?  St. Paul answers this question for us, also.  This power is “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified”.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, destroyed the power of death by His own suffering and death.

When God asks us to do something for Him, our reflex often is to spell out for God all the reasons why we cannot help Him with His request.  Generally at the top of the list is our explanation to God that we “just can’t do that”.  Pastors often hear this when they ask parishioners to take up certain works of stewardship.  Christians believe that certain good works are simply not within their power.

But maybe that’s God’s point.  Maybe God wants to use a weak instrument such as yourself so that His power shines more clearly.  Maybe when you imitate Jesus Christ crucified by allowing your weakness to be the vessel of God’s power, people will see your good deeds and glorify the Father who loves you enough to ask you to serve Him through your weakness.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 5:21-43

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

In today’s Gospel passage are two people who see how God wants to be in their lives in time of need.  You yourself, no doubt, field petitions from those whom you serve in your vocation.  So many people turn to Christ in need.  If it weren’t for petitionary prayer, the prayer lives of many Christians would never get off the ground!  But it’s a start.  God is content to listen to all the prayers of petition that His children wish to make.

Consider the woman in the Gospel, who had suffered for so many years.  She interrupts Christ in the midst of His trying to help someone else.  We should make that woman’s faith our own:  not simply her faith in Christ’s power, but also her faith in His patience and compassion.  There is no true need in our lives that we should not offer to God.

Is every petition answered as we wish, as are the petitions of this woman and the official?  Some Christians stop offering their petitions to God—or even stop believing in God—when He doesn’t provide the response they want.  Growth in prayer includes the experience of accepting God each time He says “No” to us, and learning through those experiences of “No” to trust His providential Will more deeply.

OT 04-2

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 5:1-20

… they began to beg [Jesus] to leave their district.

Demonic possession is an extremely serious matter.  While some today dismiss it, suggesting that all reported cases of possession are in fact psychological disorders, the Church takes today’s Gospel passage at its word.

One striking point in this narrative is the reaction of people to the swineherds’ report:  “they began to beg [Jesus] to leave their district.”  Why do the people react this way?  One might expect the people to express gratitude to Jesus, and invite Him to stay as their protector.

Perhaps the people were in shock, never before imagining that demons might dwell among them.  However, demonic possession in the Holy Land was not uncommon in Jesus’ day.  Perhaps the reaction of the people reflected what today is described by the acronym “NIMBY”:  “Not In My Back Yard”.  When terrible violence erupts in a metropolis, many people on hearing the news shake their heads, say a prayer for those affected, and then turn the channel to SportsCenter.

But if such violence erupts in their own hamlet, they express disbelief at how such violence could happen “here”.  Sin, violence and death are here, there and everywhere.  While each of us needs to practice prudence to deter them, we should have no illusions of escaping them.  In the midst of such illusions, Christ has no place.

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:35-41

“‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’”

Is today’s lesson not to wake Jesus?  The miracle in today’s Gospel passage seems to be Jesus rebuking the wind and sea, resulting in “great calm”.  However, it’s not only the wind and sea that Jesus rebukes.  Perhaps more important is Jesus’ rebuke of His disciples.

Jesus chooses not to calm the disturbance in His disciples’ souls in the same manner that He calms the sea and wind.  But He does challenge them:  “Do you not yet have faith?”  His rebuke of the elements and of His disciples seems to have a meritorious effect on them.  “They were filled with awe” at His power over the elements.  But is this the faith He demanded of them?

It’s only natural to be impressed at the power of nature, and of God’s power over nature.  It’s something supernatural, however, to allow God to have power over oneself.  This is the sort of faith Jesus is asking for from His disciples.  Faith is a gift freely given, but it’s also a gift that must be freely accepted.  Jesus will not calm our souls without our consent, or rather, our faith in His power to do so.  The disciples marvel at Jesus as one “whom even wind and sea obey”.  Even more marvelous, however, is a disciple who obeys Jesus as His Lord.

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:26-34

With many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.

Jesus today proclaims two parables about the Kingdom of God.  With St. John Paul adding the Mysteries of Light to the Rosary, we meditate in the Third Luminous Mystery upon Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  St. John Paul did not go into great detail about the meaning of each of the new Luminous Mysteries, but—to me at least—that third mystery is the most mysterious of the Luminous Mysteries.  After all, it’s very clear how, for example, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist or the Transfiguration shed light upon—illuminate—who Jesus is.  But how does Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God do so?  We’re forced to meditate upon what exactly the connection is between Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Jesus never directly addresses this question.  His parables are meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive.  But even without defining “the Kingdom of God”, we can say that the kernel of each “Kingdom parable” describes in some way the reality of Heaven, and/or the Church, and/or the Christian’s soul.  Each of these three have a clear relation to Jesus:  the reality of Heaven, the life of the Church, and the nature of the Christian soul.

Take Jesus’ second parable in today’s Gospel passage.  The change from the “smallest of all the seeds” to “the largest of plants” seems more easily applied to the Church and the Christian soul than to Heaven.  Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”, a phrase through which we can see how this parable applies to the Church.  With God, all things are possible:  from a natural death, springs supernatural life.

Sts. Timothy & Titus, Bishops

Sts. Timothy & Titus, Bishops
2 Timothy 1:1-8 [or Titus 1:1-5]  + Mark 4:21-25
January 26, 2023

“The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you ….”

Jesus proclaims two truths for reflection today.  Both might at first hearing seem to discourage the virtue of humility.  But each prepares us for greater service.

When Jesus in today’s Gospel passage notes that a lamp is meant to be “placed on a lampstand”, He does not specifically refer to His disciples here as “the light of the world”, as He does in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:14-16].  Nonetheless, Mark’s text makes the inference clear.  Disciples are not meant to hide themselves, their belief, or Christ from others in the world.  On the contrary, they are called to share the Good News!  This clearly stands in conflict with a culture dominated by moral and religious relativism.

Also, when Jesus in today’s Gospel passage notes that to “the one who has, more will be given” and “from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away”, some might accuse Jesus of being unfair.  But what God gives, He gives for others:  if He gives me a grace or charism, it is for others.  Only in being faithful to serving others with what I have may I hope someday to reach Heaven.  So in someone being given more, he is commanded to greater service of God and His people.

The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle

The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
Acts 22:3-16 [or Acts 9:1-22]  +  Mark 16:15-18
January 25, 2023

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

The Conversion of St. Paul might seem difficult for us to relate to, especially if we are cradle Catholics.  St. Paul’s conversion was from a strict Pharisaical form of Judaism to a living faith in Jesus Christ.  But we could expand on this by saying that Paul’s conversion was from one understanding of sacrifice to another.  Saul was not a Levite:  a member of Israel’s priestly line.  But his concept of sacrifice as a faithful Jew would have been based on temple sacrifices.

Christian sacrifice, however, is not of exterior things, but of what is most interior and personal.  It’s a sacrifice not of animals, but of one’s very self, and of one’s whole self:  body, soul and spirit.  We might say that when you convert to Christ, your life is over.  You live no more, but Christ lives in you [see Galatians 2:20].  This is exemplified impressively in the Order of Saint Benedict, which at religious professions has those new members lay prostrate in the sanctuary of the abbey church.  Then they are covered by a large funeral pall.

What all three readings today (including the Responsorial Psalm) profess is the link between conversion and mission.  “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”  One of the worst afflictions within the Church today is a privatization of the Faith:  that is, believing that one’s faith should only be a personal matter, something best kept to oneself, and which is merely for the sake of getting oneself to Heaven.  There are countless forms in which a baptized Christian might evangelize others, but every baptized Christian is called to evangelize those without faith.

The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Zephaniah 2:3;3:12-13  +  1 Corinthians 1:26-31  +  Matthew 5:1-12
Catechism Link: CCC 1716
January 29, 2023

“He began to teach them, saying:  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit ….’”

Today’s Gospel passage is the first twelve verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew:  the start of the Sermon on the Mount.  In our own day, preachers often start a sermon with a story or a joke.  Jesus decided to begin His Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes.

However, before he starts giving us Jesus’ sermon, St. Matthew the Evangelist mentions a few interesting details about Jesus.  The evangelist relates to us that when “Jesus saw the crowds, He went up the mountain, and after He had sat down, His disciples came to Him.”  Consider just two points here:  that Jesus went up the mountain, and that He sat down there.

Why did Jesus have to go up a mountain in order to preach a sermon?  Obviously, He didn’t have to.  Jesus preached many other sermons during the three years of His public ministry, and most of them were preached in other settings.  But in St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ first sermon, so Jesus is teaching us here not only by His words, but also by the setting that He chose, and by choosing to sit down.

Why did Jesus choose a mountain to be the site of His first sermon?  St. Matthew clarifies this throughout the course of his Gospel account.  Through the way he structures his Gospel account, St. Matthew portrays Jesus as a New Moses.  Both the mountain setting and act of sitting to reach His disciples reflect this.  One reason for portraying Jesus as the New Moses is that unlike many other New Testament books, Matthew’s Gospel account was written for converts from Judaism.

Moses was, for the Jewish people, the Prophet without peer.  In the last chapter of the last book of the Jewish Law—Deuteronomy Chapter 34—following the description of Moses’ death, the Bible says that “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, … and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel” [Deut 34:10-12].

Yet even more important than all the signs and wonders and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses worked was the fact that the Lord chose him—Moses—to bear the Ten Commandments to His People.  During the course of their Exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, God’s People stopped at Mount Sinai.  There, while the rest of God’s People remained below, Moses alone ascended Sinai to receive from God His Ten Commandments.  Moses then had to descend the mountain to give to God’s People this Law, the means by which His People might keep right with God.

But here in St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel, it’s not only Jesus who ascends the mountain.  Jesus draws His disciples up with Him.  In turn, it’s not a voice from the heavens that speaks there to a prophet.  Instead, the New Moses, God in the Flesh, speaks to His people face to face.  Jesus gives to us, His people, not ten commandments, but nine beatitudes.

There is a wealth of spiritual riches within the beatitudes.  But keep in mind that Jesus put the Beatitudes at the start of the Sermon on the Mount because a good teacher puts the most important lesson first.  Likewise, then, we ought to consider the first of the nine beatitudes as being first for a reason.

Maybe as you ponder all nine of the Beatitudes, another of them—not the first—will strike you.  Meditate on that beatitude during the week.  But meditate nonetheless on the first beatitude:  first to fall from Our Lord’s lips because He wants it first to shape our hearts.

The Lord has given us everything we need for the journey to Heaven.  He’s given us life, grace to strengthen us for the journey, and the journey’s roadmap in these nine beatitudes.  The first, upon which all the others rest, is humility:  poverty of spirit.  The Lord has even helped us to acquire humility.  We do so by gazing upon the humility He shows in His compassion, His Divine Mercy, and His self-sacrifice on the Cross.