Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

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Freedom From Anxiety

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Jesus said to his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24

It’s helpful to understand that this introductory statement from Jesus is followed by Him gently encouraging the people not to worry or to be anxious in life. He directly addresses worries and anxieties four times in a row in the rest of today’s Gospel. Though His introduction quoted above could seem critical of those who overly rely upon money, it’s clear from the rest of the passage that Jesus’ primary concern is to help free us from the heavy burdens that come from trusting more in money than in Him.

Where does your ultimate trust reside? As we go through life and are faced with various material needs, increasing expenses and the like, many will find themselves anxious and worried about providing for themselves and their families. And for those who have more than enough, or even an excess, the worries often take on another form. Their anxiety often comes in the form of either fearing the loss of what they have or in the form of a desire for more. They think that the more they can attain in life, the more peace and comfort they will have. And though material wealth does offer a certain form of temporal stability, it cannot come close to comparing with the stability and peace of mind that come from completely trusting in God’s providence in all things.

Relying on God’s providence is very difficult for one simple reason: it requires trust. Though we must always act in a responsible way regarding our money and everything else in life, the most responsible thing we can do is to place all of our trust in God. Trust means that we ultimately depend more upon God than upon ourselves. Making that choice is an act of the utmost wisdom. And failing to make that choice is an act of foolishness.

Do you trust in the providence of God? If this is your struggle, read through the entire Gospel for today. Listen not only to the content of what Jesus says, but also to the tone in which He says it. A lack of trust is easy to fall into but creates a heavy burden. Trust, on the other hand, may be difficult at first but results in peace of mind and freedom. The simple truth that must be believed is that God is trustworthy and will be faithful in caring for your every need when you make the choice to completely rely upon His providential care. He will guide you in wisdom and will provide for you in ways that you could never do on your own. And His providence will reach far beyond material concerns, reaching into the far more important spiritual, mental, emotional and relational needs you have.

Reflect, today, upon whether or not you see God as trustworthy with every concern you have in life. This is such an essential question to ponder. Seek the wisdom that leads you to make a complete act of trust in God’s providential care and you will find that all you need in life, and much more, are lavished upon you by God’s goodness and generosity.

God of all providence, You and You alone are worthy of my complete trust in all things. Please fill me with the spiritual gift of wisdom so that I will see clearly to surrender over to You every anxiety and worry I carry. Please free me from these burdens and fill me with the peace that comes by trusting in You. Jesus, I trust in You.

Fasting for Grace

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to him and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Mark 2:18

The goal of fasting in Old Testament times had a different goal from the practice of fasting in New Testament times. Its goal was as different as the Old Testament is from the New. In the Old Testament, God governed His people by the teaching of the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Morality was based primarily on external observance. Therefore, when fasting was practiced during Old Testament times, it had as its goal a return to fidelity to the Law and the Prophets.

Then the Messiah arrived. He was present in human form and was with His disciples day in and day out. As Jesus walked with them, and began to bestow upon them a new gift of grace, His disciples had no need to fast in the way people fasted in the Old Testament. The New Law of grace had arrived. And for a time, as long as our Lord was with them, it was a time of rejoicing, not fasting, for the Bridegroom was with them.

“But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.” Jesus was the Bridegroom, and the disciples were the wedding guests. Jesus acknowledged that a time was coming soon when He would ascend into Heaven and be present to them only by grace. When that time came, and when His followers would turn from Him and lose His new gift of grace in their lives, they would need to fast—but with a new goal. The new goal was the restoration of this New Law of grace.

“No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak,” and “no one pours new wine into old wineskins.” New Testament fasting needed to have as its goal the interior restoration of the grace that Jesus instituted. The “unshrunken cloth” and the “new wine” refer to this grace won by our Lord’s death and resurrection. Therefore, when that grace was lost by personal sin, this new form of fasting would be one of the means by which that grace was restored.

Reflect, today, upon the importance of this new form of fasting and mortification. By it, you become more fully open to the grace and mercy given to you by our Savior. Reflect, especially, upon any sins you struggle with that have the effect of robbing you of God’s grace. Fasting is not a burden by which we pay for our past sins. That was accomplished by the Cross. Rather, fasting is a means by which our souls are set free from an unhealthy attachment to the sins that keep us from being open to God’s grace. Seek that freedom and embrace every act of mortification necessary to obtain it.

Lord of grace, You came to make all things new and to transform us by Your New Law of grace. When I see sin in my life, give me the wisdom and courage I need to mortify my flesh and appetites so as to be freed of these burdens and become more fully open to all that You wish to bestow. Jesus, I trust in You.

Fully Trained

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Jesus told his disciples a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” Luke 6:39–40

Are you “fully trained?” What does it mean to be fully trained? Jesus makes it clear that those who are fully trained will be like their teacher. Of course, we must become like our Lord, who is the one and only Teacher. So are you like Him in every way?

Being fully trained as a Christian is different than being fully trained in an occupation. For example, a doctor is fully trained when all the necessary lessons are learned and the practical aspects of medicine are put into practice. That is why that person becomes a doctor, just like the doctors who were their teachers. But the Christian life is not something we master by learning many teachings of the faith so that, by our expertise, we can then put them into practice using our natural talents. For a Christian to be fully trained, it is necessary that the Divine Physician fully possess them, live within them, and act through them. Thus, Christian training is the practice of allowing God to become one with you so that it is God Who acts in and through you.

This form of “training” first takes on the goal of freeing us from spiritual blindness. We must see Christ and come to know Him. Again, this is not a matter of simply learning various truths about God in an intellectual way. It’s a matter of coming to know the Truth Himself. We must see and know the Person Who is Christ Jesus. This is true sight. Blindness, however, can always set in again when we take the eyes of our soul off the Savior.

Seeing Christ, however, is not enough. Seeing must be followed by doing. That is why our Lord goes on to say in today’s Gospel that “every tree is known by its own fruit” and that a “good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good.” Seeing Christ Himself, within your soul, will produce that “store of goodness,” and this will make you more “fully trained.” Only then can you produce good fruit, for it will be Christ Himself producing the good fruit in and through you.

So back to our original question: “Are you fully trained?” Do you daily keep your eyes on a Person, Jesus Himself? And if so, do You allow Him to act in your life and, through you, in the lives of others? If you cannot answer these questions with a confident “Yes,” then you might have more blindness in the spiritual life than you realize.

Reflect, today, upon your mission to become a fully trained soldier of Christ. God wants to use you, to live within you, and to act through you. He wants you to be like Him in every way. This is only possible when you admit the blindness with which you struggle, turn your eyes to Him, and allow Him to become one with you. Start by turning to Him as He dwells within you. Search for Him, seek Him, and love Him. If you keep your eyes upon Him, He will carefully take care of the rest, leading you to a fully trained and fruitful life.

My divine Teacher, I turn to You, the Lord of all, and seek to fix my gaze upon You. As I see You, please remove my blindness and confusion. In place of these, give me wisdom so that I will always allow You to live in me and act through me, bearing an abundance of good fruit. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Path to Perfection

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments…” Mark 10:17–19

Jesus addresses different people in different ways. He chastised the proud and arrogant who came to trap Him. He was exceptionally gentle and kind to the repentant sinner who came in tears. He spoke in parables and figures of speech to those who were curious but had little faith. And to those who came with openness, sincerely seeking the truth, He spoke clearly, lovingly and directly.

Today’s Gospel presents us with the familiar story of the Rich Young Man. Notice how this young man came to Jesus. First, he “ran up” to Jesus. This suggests he was very desirous to speak with our Lord. He also knelt down before Jesus, which points to his humility and reverence. Then he asked Jesus a  direct and important question. He didn’t ask Jesus to heal someone. He wasn’t looking for a miracle or a personal favor. Instead, this young man asked the question we should all ask Jesus every day. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Is this a question that you ponder and ask our Lord?

As the story unfolds, Jesus gives two answers. First, He gives the young man the fundamental answer to his question. Eternal life is obtained by keeping away from serious sin, out of love and obedience to the will of God. But after the young man inquires further, Jesus gives him a much deeper answer. This second answer was one based on a deep love for this young man because it presented the key to perfection. “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Many people go through life fulfilling the most fundamental precepts of holiness. They avoid serious sin so as to remain in a state of grace. And this is good. But Jesus wants so much more: He wants perfection. When we sincerely seek out perfection, Jesus will answer us as He answered the Rich Young Man. Perfection requires the deepest purification from our unhealthy attachments. Most people have many attachments that hinder perfection. Those attachments might not be mortal sins, but they are venial sins, or spiritual imperfections. Therefore, it’s important to know that if you want perfection, and if you humble yourself before our Lord and sincerely ask how to obtain it, He will lovingly invite you to detach from everything but God and His holy will for your life. What that means practically for you must be prayerfully discerned.

Reflect, today, upon whether or not you could join this rich young man in his humble questions posed to Jesus. Do you want to know how to be perfect? If so, are you ready to respond to Jesus’ answer? Are you willing to abandon everything that is a hindrance to the will of God so that you can follow Him and fulfill His perfect will? Ponder this question and commit yourself to the full embrace of Jesus’ answer and you will become richer in what matters than you could ever imagine.

My generous Lord, You call me to perfection. You call me to turn from everything that hinders my perfect love of You and my full embrace of Your will. Please help me to sincerely turn to You every day, seeking only Your full will in all things. As I do, please set me free from all that keeps me from the life of perfection to which I am called. Jesus, I trust in You.

An Exchange of Gifts

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more…” Mark 10:29–30

Jesus’ statement above is in response to Peter who said to Him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” It was as if Peter were patting himself on the back, attempting to highlight just how much he and the other disciples had sacrificed to follow Jesus. And it was true, they did give up everything of their former life. They left home, their occupation, their relationships and everything that had been part of their daily established life in response to the call of Jesus. They were truly all in.

In hearing this statement from Peter, Jesus does not give the expected response. He doesn’t say to Peter, “Yes, you have, that’s very impressive Peter. Good job and thank you!” Instead, Jesus immediately explains to Peter that the sacrifice he and the others have made is worth it. Their unwavering commitment to follow Jesus would be repaid with gifts beyond their imagination. Thus, Jesus was saying that the gifts that He would bestow upon them would be exponentially greater than every sacrifice they made.

This was not a belittling of Peter’s self-sacrifice; rather, it was a form of encouragement by Jesus. He was encouraging Peter, and the other disciples, to have full confidence in their decision to follow Him. Their sacrifice would yield a hundredfold return. That is truly a good investment.

It can be tempting for us all, at times, to feel as though God asks too much of us. It’s true that God asks much of us. He asks everything from us. He asks for the complete and total gift of our lives to Him. He calls us to abandon all selfishness and to dedicate ourselves to His holy will without exception. But if we understand the reward of our self-giving, then the sacrifices we make will pale in comparison to the reward.

Reflect, today, upon whether or not you can say those words of the Apostle, Saint Peter: “Lord, I have given up everything to follow You.” Have you truly given your life completely to Christ Jesus? Are there things that you still hold back, not wanting to “sacrifice” for our Lord? Ponder those words of Peter and allow yourself to see the areas of your life you still need to surrender over to Jesus. And as you do so, allow the reward promised by our Lord to motivate you to the point that you truly hold nothing back and truly have given up everything to follow His holy will.

My generous Lord, You ask everything of me. You ask me to abandon everything in my pursuit of Your perfect will. Give me the grace I need to answer Your call and to live sacrificially for You without counting the cost. You are generous beyond description, dear Lord, and I trust that following You will produce an abundance of good fruit. Jesus, I trust in You.

Greatness in Holy Servitude

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, ‘What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Mark 10:35–37

James and John were feeling quite bold. Their boldness may have come, in part, from the fact that they had become very familiar with the goodness of Jesus. He was unlike any other, and His genuineness was very evident to them. Therefore, they allowed themselves to slip into the trap of taking Jesus’ goodness for granted by seeking a selfish favor from our Lord. Jesus’ response is gentle and thoughtful, and, in the end, James and John are somewhat humbled by their attempt to obtain this selfish favor when the other disciples become “indignant” at their request.

Jesus summarizes His response to these disciples this way: “…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Jesus, of course, was especially speaking about Himself. He was the greatest and the first among them. And for that reason, Jesus humbled Himself as their servant and the “slave of all.” Normally, the idea of being a slave has very negative connotations. Slavery is an abuse of the dignity of another. It’s a way of discarding the dignity of the person. But, nonetheless, Jesus says that the ideal way to be truly great is to become a slave of all.

When literal slavery is imposed upon another, this is a grave abuse. But there is another form of holy slavery of which Jesus is speaking. For Jesus, a holy slavery is one in which we give ourselves to another in a sacrificial way out of love. And this is what Jesus did to perfection. His death on the Cross was a true physical death. It was a sacrifice of His earthly life, but it was done freely and for the purpose of setting others free. In referring to Himself, Jesus explains His holy “slavery” when He says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus’ greatness is first found in the simple fact that He is God. But His greatness is made most manifest in His human nature when He gives His life “as a ransom for many.” It is the Cross that becomes the greatest act of loving service ever known. The fruit of His selfless sacrifice is the salvation of all who turn to Him. Thus, Jesus turns slavery and death into the greatest act of love ever known.

Reflect, today, upon your own calling to live a life of holy slavery. How is God calling you to sacrificially give yourself to others out of love? From a purely human point of view, the idea of sacrifice, servitude and even holy slavery is hard to comprehend. But when we use Jesus as the model, it becomes much clearer. Look for ways in which you can give yourself to others selflessly and know that the more you can imitate our Lord in this holy endeavor, the greater your life will be.

Lord of all holiness, Your greatness was made manifest in Your human nature by Your act of perfect servitude when You freely chose to die for the sins of those who turn to You for redemption. You humbled Yourself, taking on the form of a slave, so that all could be set free. Help me to always trust in Your great love and to continually open myself to the gift of redemption You offer. Jesus, I trust in You.

Crying Out to Jesus

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Mark 10:46–47

How do you pray? Do you ever “cry out” to Jesus with deep conviction and intensity? This blind man, Bartimaeus, sets for us a wonderful example of how we should pray to our Lord. First of all, the blind man was in a state of need. His blindness symbolizes every weakness and need you have in life. So what is it that you struggle with the most in life? What is your greatest habitual sin? Or what causes you the most grief?

Seeing our weakness is the first step. Once we are aware of our greatest needs, we must also “cry out” to our Lord just as Bartimaeus did. Upon hearing that it was Jesus, Bartimaeus somehow sensed within his soul that Jesus wanted to cure him. How did he sense this? He listened to the voice of God within. Yes, he heard the commotion of many speaking about Jesus as He walked by. But this alone could not have compelled him to cry out and to know that Jesus was the source of the mercy he needed. That which compelled him was the clear voice of God, a prompting from the Holy Spirit, within his soul, revealing to him that he needed Jesus and that Jesus wanted to cure him.

At first, those around him rebuked Bartimaeus and told him to be quiet. And if Bartimaeus would have been weak in faith, he may have listened to the crowd and, in despair, remained silent. But it is quite clear that he not only ignored the rebukes of others, he “kept calling out all the more.”

Bartimaeus gives us here a double witness of how we must turn to our Lord. First, we must sense His gentle but clear presence within our soul. We must recognize His voice and His promptings of grace. He wants to heal us, and His presence in our lives must be sensed within. Secondly, we must become intensely fixed upon that voice within. The crowds who rebuked Bartimaeus are symbolic of the many “voices” and temptations we experience in life that try to keep us from faithfully and fervently crying out to the God who speaks to us. Nothing should deter us from our wholehearted determination to call to Jesus with our need.

Reflect, today, upon Bartimaeus being an image of yourself. See yourself in desperate need of our Lord and listen for His clear voice. Do you hear Him? Do you sense Him walking by? As you do, cry out to Him with fervor, intensity, and conviction. And if you find that there are temptations that try to silence your prayer and faith, increase your intensity and cry out “all the more” to our Lord. He will hear you, call you to Himself and give you that grace which He desires to bestow.

My merciful Jesus, You are constantly passing by, drawing me to Yourself by Your divine presence. Give me the grace I need in order to see my need and to call out to You with all my heart. May I never be deterred from this fervent prayer, dear Lord, and when temptation sets in, may I call out all the more. Jesus, I trust in You.

A Rebuke by Jesus

Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!” And his disciples heard it. Mark 11:12–14

This is a very unique and interesting story. The first thing this tells us is that Jesus was fully human. As a man, He was hungry. But this story tells us much more than the simple fact that Jesus was hungry. He would have known that it was not the season for figs to grow, but He decided to look for a fig anyway. And when He found none, He cursed the fig tree and, as we read later in this chapter, the tree withered and died. This was a symbolic action for the sake of His disciples, in that His disciples heard Him curse the tree and later saw that the tree had withered.

Saint Bede, an early Church Father, tells us that this action of Jesus had an allegorical purpose. The tree is symbolic of the many people Jesus encountered, and continues to encounter today, who failed to bear good fruit in their lives. They were the Pharisees and others who practiced their faith only in an external way. The leaves, Saint Bede tells us, were symbolic of the externals of the faith, and the lack of fruit was a symbol of the missing interior fruit of holiness and good works. This lesson tells us that Jesus is very demanding. He is determined to discover good fruit in our lives. He wants us to become authentically holy. And when He finds only the externals, He will rebuke us in love, taking even the externals away.

What good fruit does our Lord want to find in your life? How does He want you to manifestly grow in holiness? Do you go through the motions, attend Mass, say some prayers, but fail to produce an abundance of virtue, compassion, mercy and goodness? Do you say you believe in our Lord but then fail to preach the holy Gospel with both your words and your actions? If our Lord were to come to you, as He came to this fig tree, what would He find?

Being a Christian is not something that is exclusively between you and God. Being a Christian requires that you be so given over to the service of God and others that God is able to do incredible things through you. The Christian faith must produce good fruit in your life and through you in the lives of others. And it must do so in an abundant way.

Reflect, today, upon the holy image of Jesus walking over to this fig tree, inspecting it for a fig. See this tree as an image of your soul and see the hunger in the heart of our Lord. As He looks at you and your life, will He be satiated? Will He find holiness and manifest good works? Or will He find little to nothing other than external claims that you are a Christian? Commit yourself to an abundance of authentic and manifest holiness and our Lord’s hunger will be satiated.

My demanding Lord, You call all Your followers to a holiness that is lived, transforming, manifest and fruitful for Your Kingdom. Help me to be a Christian not only in name but especially in action. May my life truly bear the good fruit of holiness and may that holiness become a means by which You feed the spiritual hunger of Your people. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Danger of Obstinacy

Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

“I shall ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?  Answer me.” Mark 11:29–30

This is Jesus’ response to the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders when they approached Jesus in the Temple area and asked Him by what authority He did the things He did. And what was it that Jesus did? The day before, Jesus had been in the Temple and drove the money changers out, telling them, “Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’? But you have made it a den of thieves.” This outraged the religious leaders, and they immediately began to discuss how they could put Jesus to death.

Consider, first, the tension in the air. They literally were plotting to put Jesus, the Son of God, to death. They were filled with hatred and jealousy and refused to believe in Him. Jesus saw their hardness of heart and put them on the spot to first answer His question before He would answer theirs. Why would Jesus do this?

The question Jesus asked them was actually an act of great mercy on His part. He gave them an opportunity to repent. If they had only answered His question with humble faith and honesty, they could have saved their lives. Instead, they discussed among themselves His question and gave the politically correct answer. If they had said John’s baptism was of human origin, and not from God, they were afraid that the people would turn on them. So they simply said, “We do not know.” But imagine if they would have given the right answer. What if they had discussed it among themselves and concluded that John’s baptism truly was from God and that they should have believed in him? If they would have only humbled themselves, admitted that they had gravely erred in regard to John, then Jesus would have answered their question, and their life of true faith could have begun. But they didn’t. They remained obstinate. They could not admit they were wrong.

Obstinacy is among the most dangerous of sins. It’s a sin that cannot be forgiven, because, in essence, it’s a refusal to change. And when a person refuses to admit their sin, and refuses to change, then God cannot help them. They remain lost in their sin and suffer the consequences.

Do you struggle with obstinacy in your life? Do you find it difficult to admit when you are wrong? Do you find it difficult to apologize to another and seek to change?

Reflect, today, upon anything you remain obstinate about. Are there matters of faith that you refuse to believe? Are there broken relationships that you refuse to humbly restore? Do you justify your sin and refuse to admit your guilt and need to change? Pray to our Lord for the gift of a humble heart. Humility, in many ways, is nothing other than being completely honest with yourself and others before God. Do not follow the example of these religious leaders. Humbly seek to remove all obstinacy from your heart so that Our Lord can enter in and bring His mercy into your life.

My unwavering Jesus, You confront those who are proud, arrogant and obstinate with much strength and love. You do so to help them overcome their stubbornness of heart. Give me the grace of humility, dear Lord, so that I will always be able to admit my sin and turn to You in love. Jesus, I trust in You.

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