Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

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The Light of the World

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:14–16 

We’ve all experienced a time when the lights went out and we were in darkness. In this case, if you were to light a candle and place it in the center of the room, its light would make quite a difference. One candle in a darkened room transforms that room, making it a more comfortable dwelling place.

Using that image, consider the first line in Jesus’ metaphor above. “You are the light of the world.” Try to see yourself as that single candle in the darkness. That is your mission. Just as a single candle can give light to an entire room, so you are capable of being a source of light for many others.

One of the primary missions we have all received in life is to allow the light of God’s grace to “shine before others.” The result of fulfilling this mission is that others will see our good deeds that were inspired by God, and they will, in turn, glorify the Father in Heaven. Thus, your mission of radiating the light of Christ for others results in God being praised and glorified.

This full statement of Jesus is especially helpful to consider when we struggle with pride. Pride is a way of pointing to ourselves. It’s an act of selfishness by which we place ourselves in the spotlight as a way of trying to become the object of others’ praise. But what Jesus tells us is that when we properly fulfill our role of being the light of the world, when we radiate the Light of Christ, others will be inspired not to praise us but rather to glorify God as He acts through us. This is quite a difference.

With that being said, the beautiful thing about God being glorified is that God often wants us to share in that glory. That means that if you were to do an act of charity for another, and they were deeply grateful to you and thanked you, their “thank you” is an act of glorifying God when it is understood that you acted out of a love of God. God is praised when we, His children, give and receive love and honor between each other on account of our faith.

Reflect, today, upon two things. First, think about those upon whom God has called you to shine His light. Who is it in your life who needs an act of love, charity, mercy, forgiveness or compassion? Commit yourself to becoming God’s light for them in their darkness. Second, think about those who have shone the Light of Christ upon you. When this has happened, how did you respond? Hopefully your response was one of a gratitude that not only returns love to the other but also glorifies God through your gratitude. Be the light of the world to a world in need and seek out that light as it shines brightly through others. This is the only way to step out of the darkness that constantly tries to pervade us.

Lord, You are the true Light Who dispels every darkness in life. You are the Light of my life and shine brightly for all to see. Help me to see Your light as it shines on others and to glorify You for that gift. And help me to be an instrument of Your light to those who need it the most. Jesus, I trust in You.

Enthralled by Jesus

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Mark 1:32–34 

Jesus was in the home of Simon Peter whose mother-in-law He had just cured. “The whole town gathered at the door” when evening came. This was Jesus’ first time being in Capernaum after beginning His public ministry, and already people were flocking to Him in droves. The next morning, Jesus got up before dawn and went away alone to pray. Soon, some of the disciples found Him and told Him that, once again, the whole town was looking for Him.

The excitement was great. So many were amazed. And their amazement at Jesus was not simply a form of curiosity. It was an amazement fueled by faith, which is why Jesus was able to perform so many miracles there. The people quickly realized that Jesus was the One of Whom the prophets of old had spoken. He was the Messiah, and the people gave Him their full attention.

This is a good image for us to ponder. As you think of the crowds and their unwavering desire to be near our Lord, consider your own desires pertaining to God. Do you regularly find yourself consumed with a desire to find our Lord, to be with Him, to listen to Him and to receive His grace and mercy? Or are you tempted to see Jesus and the practice of your faith as boring and uninteresting? One of the unfortunate effects of modern technology is that we easily become fascinated by and intrigued with many superficial things. Perhaps it’s the latest short video on a mobile app, or the latest episode of a favorite television series, or a new post by a friend on social media. There are many things today that compete for our attention, intrigue us and even amaze us. Is Jesus one of those things in your life?

In our modern world of constant stimulation and entertainment, we need to understand the difference between being amazed at the latest pop trend and being amazed by the grace and divine actions of our Lord. When we come face-to-face with the power of God in our lives, we will be amazed in a way that fulfills and satisfies us on the deepest level. It will be a spiritual amazement, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. And the satisfaction we receive from this form of amazement is transforming, deep and sustaining. But when we turn to lesser and more sensory “amazements” common within our world today, we will find that they last only for a moment, and we are quickly left dry and wanting for more.

Reflect, today, upon the people in today’s Gospel who were so enthralled by Jesus that they continually sought Him out. Consider their excitement, their hope and their genuine joy at their discovery of the Messiah. As you think about them, consider whether you share in their excitement about Jesus. If that excitement is lacking, recommit yourself to seeking out our Lord. And where you see that excitement present, rejoice and give glory to God.

Most glorious Lord, Your love and mercy are truly amazing. Please help me to continually see this in my life and to continually become enthralled by Your presence in my life. May I run to You always, giving You my full attention and love. Jesus, I trust in You.

Overcoming Discouragement

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. Luke 5:4–6 

Jesus had just cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law as one of His first miracles. As a result of this and other miracles, Peter’s entire hometown of Capernaum, as well as many of the surrounding towns, were quickly coming to faith in Jesus. Today’s Gospel takes place during this initial excitement over our Lord. In it, Jesus personally invites Peter to become an Apostle, promising to make him a fisher of men.

There is much symbolism in this passage worth pondering. First, notice that Jesus uses something very familiar to Peter to invite Him to become one of the Twelve Apostles. He used his trade of fishing. This is similar to the way God used a star to draw the Magi, who were astrologers, to Bethlehem.

Another symbolic action Jesus uses is that of putting out “into deep water.” It was not enough to simply go a short distance from shore. Instead, the deep water was to symbolize the fact that the Gospel was to go forth to the ends of the earth, just as the fishermen were to fish in the depths of the sea.

Finally, the fact that they “caught a great number of fish” symbolizes the superabundance that would come forth through Peter’s apostolic ministry. And the fact that the “nets were tearing” points to the fullness that everyone will experience when they embark upon the mission of Christ.

Though the symbolic aspects of this Gospel passage are worth much prayerful pondering, there is another line within the Gospel that might speak to you just as powerfully. Peter had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. The fact that he relates this to Jesus suggests that he was tired and perhaps even discouraged. Any fisherman could relate to this. But the important lesson Peter teaches us is that he does not give in to that discouragement. And the reason he doesn’t give in to discouragement is because it was Jesus Who commanded him to lower the nets.

In our own lives, we can all get discouraged at times. But the real test of our fidelity to God is whether or not we continue to listen to His commands of love and respond generously, dispelling any temptations to discouragement when things do not seem to be going our way. If we can do this, it is especially in these moments that God often uses us in powerful ways.

Reflect, today, upon the voice of God in your life. What is it that you sense Him calling you to do? What is that “deep water” to which He is calling you? As you ponder this, reflect especially upon the words of Peter, “Master…at your command I will lower the nets.” Say “Yes” to the command of our Lord. Do so even if it is difficult, and especially if you do not feel like doing what He asks of you. If you do, you will find that in this act of fidelity, God will bring forth an abundance of good fruit.

My miraculous Lord, You gave a command of love to Saint Peter, and he obeyed You with generosity. As a result, You brought forth an abundant catch. Please give me the strength of will to obey all that You speak to me, so that You will bring forth an abundance of good fruit in my life also. Jesus, I trust in You.

Seeking Healing

Monday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed. Mark 6:56

It would have been truly awe-inspiring to witness Jesus healing the sick. The people who witnessed this clearly had never seen anything like it before. For those who were sick, or whose loved ones were sick, each healing would have had a powerful effect upon them and upon their whole family.

Today, modern science, with its ability to treat so many illnesses, has lessened the fear and anxiety over getting sick. But in Jesus’ time, serious illness was of far greater concern. For that reason, the desire of so many people to bring their sick to Jesus so that they could be healed was very strong. This desire drove them to Jesus so that “they might touch only the tassel on his cloak” and be healed. And Jesus didn’t disappoint.

Though Jesus’ physical healings were unquestionably an act of charity given to those who were sick and to their families, they obviously weren’t the most important thing Jesus did. And it’s important for us to remind ourselves of that fact. Jesus’ healings were primarily for the purpose of preparing the people to listen to His Word and to ultimately receive the spiritual healing of the forgiveness of their sins.

In your own life, if you were seriously ill and were given the option to receive either a physical healing or to receive the spiritual healing of the forgiveness of your sins, which would you choose? Clearly, the spiritual healing of the forgiveness of your sins is of infinitely greater value. It will affect your soul for all eternity. The truth is that this far greater healing is available to us all, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In that Sacrament, we are invited to “touch the tassel on his cloak,” so to speak, and be spiritually healed. For that reason, we should have a much deeper desire to seek out Jesus in the confessional than the people of Jesus’ day had for physical healing. And yet, too often we ignore the priceless gift of God’s mercy and healing offered so freely to us.

Reflect, today, upon the desire in the hearts of the people in this Gospel story. Think, especially, about those who were seriously ill and about their burning desire to come to Jesus for healing. Compare that desire in their hearts to the desire, or lack of desire, in your heart to run to our Lord for the spiritual healings your soul so desperately needs. Seek to foster a greater desire for this healing, especially as it comes to you through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

My healing Lord, I thank You for the spiritual healing You continually offer me, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I thank You for the forgiveness of my sins on account of You suffering on the Cross. Fill my heart with a greater desire to come to You so as to receive the greatest gift I could ever receive: the forgiveness of my sins. Jesus, I trust in You.

Worship From the Heart

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. Mark 7:6–8

It seems quite clear that Jesus’ instant fame led these religious leaders to jealousy and envy, and they wanted to find fault with Him. As a result, they carefully observed Jesus and His disciples, and they noticed that Jesus’ disciples were not following the traditions of the elders. So the leaders began questioning Jesus about this fact. Jesus’ response was one of severe criticism of them. He quoted Isaiah the prophet who said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.”

Jesus strongly criticized them because their hearts were lacking true worship. The various traditions of the elders were not necessarily bad, such as the careful ceremonial washing of one’s hands before eating. But these traditions were empty if they were not motivated by a deep faith and love of God. The external following of human traditions was not truly an act of divine worship, and that’s what Jesus wanted for them. He wanted their hearts to be set ablaze with a love of God and with true divine worship.

What our Lord wants of each one of us is worship. Pure, heartfelt, sincere worship. He wants us to love God with a deep interior devotion. He wants us to pray, to listen to Him, and to serve His holy will with all the powers of our soul. And this is only possible when we engage in authentic worship.

As Catholics, our life of prayer and worship is grounded in the holy Liturgy. The Liturgy incorporates many traditions and practices that reflect our faith and become a vehicle of the grace of God. And though the Liturgy itself is far different from the mere “tradition of the elders” that Jesus was criticizing, it’s useful to remind ourselves that the many Liturgies of our Church must move from the external actions to interior worship. Going through the motions alone is pointless. We must allow God to act on us and within us as we engage in the external celebration of the Sacraments.

Reflect, today, upon the burning desire in the heart of our Lord to draw you into worship. Reflect upon how well you allow yourself to be drawn into this worship every time you attend the holy Mass. Seek to make your participation not only an exterior one but, first and foremost, an interior one. Doing so will help ensure that the rebuke of our Lord upon the scribes and Pharisees does not also fall upon you.

My divine Lord, You and You alone are worthy of all worship, adoration and praise. You and You alone deserve the worship I offer You from the depths of my heart. Help me and Your entire Church to always interiorize our exterior acts of worship so as to give You the glory that is due Your holy name. Jesus, I trust in You.

That Which is Within

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Mark 7:14–15

What is within you? What is in your heart? Today’s Gospel concludes with a list of vices that sadly come from within: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” Of course, none of these vices are desirable when looked at objectively. They are all quite repulsive. And yet too often they are sins that people deal with on a regular basis to one extent or another.

Take greed, for example. When understood clearly, no one wants to be known as one who is greedy. It’s a shameful attribute to have. But when greed is not looked at as greed, it’s easy to fall into the trap of living it. One who is greedy desires an excessive amount of this or that. More money, a better house, a nicer car, more luxurious vacations, etc. Thus, when a person is acting in a greedy way, greed does not seem undesirable. It’s only when greed is looked at in an objective way that it is understood for what it is.

In this Gospel, by naming this long list of vices, Jesus does us an incredible act of mercy. He rattles us and calls us to step back and look at sin for what it is. Jesus also makes it clear that when you live one or more of these vices, you become defiled. You become greedy, a liar, cruel, a gossip, hateful, arrogant, etc. Objectively speaking, no one wants this.

What is it in that list of vices that you struggle with the most? What do you see within your own heart? Be honest with yourself before God. Jesus desires that your heart be pure and holy, freed from these and every filth. But unless you are able to look at your own heart with honesty, it will be difficult to reject the sin with which you struggle.

Reflect, today, upon this list of sins identified by our Lord. Consider each one and allow yourself to see each sin for what it truly is. Allow yourself to despise these sins with a holy wrath and then turn your eyes to that sin with which you struggle the most. Know that as you consciously see that sin and reject it, our Lord will begin to strengthen you and purify your heart so that you become freed from that defilement and become, instead, the beautiful child of God you were made to be.

My merciful Lord, help me to see sin for what it is. Help me, especially, to see my own sin—that sin within my own heart that defiles me as Your dear child. As I see my sin, give me the grace I need to reject it and to turn to You with all my heart so that I can become a new creation in Your grace and mercy. Jesus, I trust in You!

A Gentile’s Faith

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Mark 7:25–26

A parent’s love is powerful. And the woman in this story clearly loves her daughter. It is that love that drives this mother to seek out Jesus in the hope that He will free her daughter from the demon who possessed her. Interestingly, this woman was not of the Jewish faith. She was a Gentile, a foreigner, but her faith was very real and very deep.

When Jesus first encountered this woman, she begged Him to free her daughter from the demon. Jesus’ response was at first surprising. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, Jesus was saying that His mission was first to the people of Israel, the chosen people of the Jewish faith. They were the “children” of whom Jesus was speaking, and the Gentiles, such as this woman, were the ones referred to as “the dogs.” Jesus spoke this way to this woman not out of rudeness but because He could see her deep faith, and He wanted to give her an opportunity to manifest that faith for all to see. And so she did.

The woman responded to Jesus, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Her words were not only exceptionally humble but were also based on deep faith and a deep love for her daughter. As a result, Jesus responds with generosity and immediately frees her daughter from the demon.

In our own lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we deserve the mercy of God. We can think that we have a right to God’s grace. And even though Jesus deeply desires to pour forth His grace and mercy in superabundance on our lives, it is essential that we fully understand our unworthiness before Him. The disposition of this woman’s heart sets for us a perfect example of how we must come to our Lord.

Reflect, today, upon the beautiful example of this woman of deep faith. Prayerfully read her words over and over. Try to understand her humility, her hope, and her love for her daughter. As you do, pray that you will be able to imitate her goodness so as to share in the blessings she and her daughter received.

My merciful Lord, I trust in Your perfect love for me and for all peoples. I pray especially for those who carry heavy burdens and for those whose lives are deeply intertwined with evil. Please set them free, dear Lord, and welcome them into Your family so that they become true children of Your Father. May I have the humility and faith I need to help bring forth this abundance of grace for others. Jesus, I trust in You.

Hearing and Speaking the Word of God

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:37

This line is the conclusion to the story of Jesus healing a deaf man who also had a speech impediment. The man was brought to Jesus, Jesus took him off by himself, cried out “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”), and the man was cured. And though this was an incredible gift to this man and an act of great mercy toward him, it also reveals that God wants to use us to draw others to Himself.

On a natural level, we all lack the ability to hear the voice of God when He speaks. We need the gift of grace for this. As a result, on a natural level, we are also incapable of speaking the many truths that God wants us to speak. This story teaches us that God also desires to heal our ears so as to hear His gentle voice and to loosen our tongues so that we can become His mouthpiece.

But this story is not only about God speaking to each one of us; it also reveals our duty to bring others to Christ who do not know Him. The friends of this man brought him to Jesus. And Jesus took the man off by himself. This gives us insight into how we help others to come to know our Lord’s voice. Oftentimes when we want to share the Gospel with another, we tend to talk to them and try to rationally convince them to turn their lives to Christ. And though this can bear good fruit at times, the real goal we must have is to help them to go off with our Lord by themselves for a while so that Jesus can do the healing.

If your ears have truly been opened by our Lord, then your tongue will also be loosened. And only if your tongue is loosened will God be able to draw others to Himself through you. Otherwise your act of evangelizing will only be based on your effort alone. Therefore, if you have people in your life who do not appear to be listening to the voice of God and following His holy will, then first and foremost commit yourself to listening to our Lord yourself. Let your ears hear Him. And when you do hear Him, it will be His voice that, in turn, speaks through you in the way He desires to reach out to others.

Reflect, today, upon this Gospel scene. Ponder, especially, the friends of this man as they are inspired to bring him to Jesus. Ask our Lord to use you in a similar way. Prayerfully ponder those in your life whom God wants to call to Himself through your mediation and place yourself at the service of our Lord so that His voice can speak through you in the way He chooses.

My good Jesus, please open my ears to hear all that You wish to say to me and please loosen my tongue so that I will become a mouthpiece of Your holy word to others. I offer myself to You for Your glory and pray that You will use me in accord with Your holy will. Jesus, I fully trust in You.

First Things First

Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance.”  Mark 8:2–3

Jesus’ primary mission was a spiritual one. He came to set us free from the effects of sin so that we could enter the glories of Heaven for all eternity. His life, death and resurrection destroyed death itself and opened the way for all who turn to Him to be saved. But Jesus’ love for the people was so complete that He was also attentive to their physical needs.

First of all, ponder the first line of this statement of our Lord above: “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd…” Jesus’ divine love was intertwined with His humanity. He loved the entire person, body and soul. In this Gospel story, the people were with Him for three days and they were hungry, but they were showing no signs of leaving. They had become so amazed by our Lord that they didn’t want to leave. Jesus pointed out that their hunger was serious. If He sent them away, He feared that they would “collapse on the way.” Thus, these facts are the basis for His miracle.

One lesson we can learn from this story is that of our priorities in life. Oftentimes, we may tend to have our priorities reversed. Of course, taking care of the necessities of life is important. We need food, shelter, clothing and the like. We need to care for our families and provide for their basic needs. But too often we elevate these basic necessities in life over our spiritual need to love and serve Christ, as if the two were opposed to each other. But that’s not the case.

In this Gospel, the people who were with Jesus chose to put their faith first. They chose to remain with Jesus despite the fact that they did not have food to eat. Perhaps some people had left a day or two earlier, deciding that the necessity of food took precedence. But those who may have done this missed out on the incredible gift of this miracle in which the entire crowd was fed to the point of being completely satisfied. Of course, our Lord does not want us to be irresponsible, especially if we have a duty to care for others. But this story does tell us that our spiritual need to be fed by the Word of God should always be our greatest concern. When we put Christ first, all other needs are met in accord with His providence.

Reflect, today, upon your own priorities in life. What’s more important to you? Your next good meal? Or your life of faith? Though these do not have to be opposed to each other, it’s important to always put your love of God first in life. Ponder this vast crowd of people who spent three days with Jesus in the wilderness without food and try to see yourself with them. Make their choice to remain with Jesus your choice also, so that your love of God becomes the primary focus of your life.

My providential Lord, You know my every need and are concerned for every aspect of my life. Help me to trust You so completely that I always put my love of You as my first priority in life. I do believe that if I can keep You and Your will as the most important part of my life, all other necessities in life will fall in place. Jesus, I trust in You.

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