Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

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Loving Even Your Enemies

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5:43–45

Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say that we should hate our enemies. Note that Jesus did not say “It has been written…” Instead, He says, “You have heard that it was said…” So who said this? Some traditions among the scribes and Pharisees held this erroneous belief. Because some held that position, Jesus addressed it.

In this passage and in many others, Jesus calls us to a new depth of love that many thought impossible. In fact, even Jesus Himself acknowledged the height of His teaching when, at the conclusion of this passage, He says, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Too often in life we settle for everything other than perfection. And though we may never achieve that level of holiness in this life, it must be our constant goal. In regard to our “enemies,” perfect love for them must become our daily mission.

So who is your “enemy?” Though Jesus does not define this for us, we should consider it to be anyone with whom there is some form of tension or discord. Perhaps there is someone who hates or dislikes you and speaks ill of you or treats you poorly. Or perhaps there is someone whom you dislike and find yourself angry at or even judgmental toward. So begin by trying to identify anyone with whom you have a lack of perfect affection. In truth, there might be many more people on that list than on the list of those you “love.”

Once you identify those who fall into the category of enemy to one extent or another, consider whether you love them. One Church Father says that we love our enemy “when we are not sorrowful at his success, or rejoice in his fall.” This is a very helpful definition to consider. Ultimately, this is the definition of envy.

If someone whom you dislike succeeds in something praiseworthy, how do you react interiorly? If there is an immediate visceral reaction or if you find yourself trying to figure out why they should be congratulated, then you might struggle with this sin. Or consider what you think, say or feel if you hear that someone you dislike has some problem, gets into some trouble, or encounters some misfortune. The ideal response is empathy and a desire for their well-being. If this is not the response within you, then pay attention to that.

Jesus concludes His teaching by saying that His Father “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” In other words, God bestows His perfect love and mercy upon everyone equally. The only difference is that some people choose to accept that mercy and others reject it. As for ourselves, just like our loving God, we must offer love and mercy to everyone equally and as completely as we can. And though some may reject that love, just as they reject the love of God, it must always be offered and never rescinded. This is love of neighbor and also love of our enemies.

Reflect, today, upon those with whom you struggle to love to perfection. Perhaps that list is long. Start with those you encounter most often or those to whom you have a strong negative reaction. As you call them to mind, pray for them, for their good and for God’s blessings upon them. Try to see some goodness in them. Try to thank God for them, and try to remove any disordered feelings or thoughts you might have about them. This is the first step in your mission to fulfill Jesus’ new command of love.

My loving Lord, You love and bestow Your unlimited mercy upon all people, the good and bad alike. I pray that I may always be open to that love and receive it deeply into my own life. I pray also that Your love may shine through me into the lives of those who need it the most. Jesus, I trust in You.

Spiritually Hungry

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. Mark 2:1–2

Today’s Gospel comes at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He began His ministry in the Synagogue of Capernaum, cured many of their sick, traveled throughout Galilee preaching and performing miracles, and then returned to His new home base of Capernaum. The passage above sets the context for Jesus’ next miracle of healing the paralytic who was lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching. But these two introductory lines to that miracle give us much upon which to reflect.

First of all, consider the conversations and excitement in that town from the time Jesus left until He returned. During His previous visit, the crowds also gathered to such an extent around the door of the house He was in that there was not room for everyone. The next morning, Jesus departed alone, and everyone was looking for Him. But He took His disciples and left for a time to visit other towns. Then, upon His return to Capernaum, Jesus had the same encounter. The crowds were massive, and everyone wanted to see and hear Him.

Why did Jesus depart from the town of Capernaum? There was so much excitement that people were surprised at His sudden departure. But He did depart, returning only after going far and wide to preach and heal within many towns. Perhaps the reasons He left were twofold. One, He simply wanted to reach many other people, so He traveled, preached and healed. Two, it is also likely that Jesus saw value in leaving the people of that town spiritually hungry for a while. The seed had been planted, and now He discerned that it was better for Him to leave so that the people could spend time pondering their initial experience with Him. Thus, when He returned, the people had had sufficient time to reflect upon and internalize Jesus’ first miracles and teachings, and, therefore, had an opportunity to either accept Him in faith or reject Him interiorly. Upon His return, those whose faith became strong through their pondering returned for more.

In many ways, this is how our Lord treats us in our spiritual lives. At times, we may have a powerful experience of His divine action in our life. We may powerfully encounter Him through some preaching, a retreat, a book, the Scriptures or during a time of prayer. When that happens, we often want more right away. But what often happens is that the initial experience and consolation begins to fade, and we might find ourselves wondering where the God Who gave us this personal experience went. The truth is that when this happens, God is not far away at all. Instead, His felt spiritual absence is a way for Him to deepen that initial consoling experience and transform it into a lived and sustaining faith. We are left spiritually hungry so that we can later feast on His mercy.

Reflect, today, upon any way that you have previously encountered the presence of our Lord in your life. Did that consolation last? Or did it fade away? If it faded away for a time, how did you react? Did you get discouraged? Or did you use it as an opportunity to deepen your faith, change your life and seek our Lord in a new way? God knows what we need, when we need it. Trust Him and allow Him to lead you on your spiritual journey in a way that only He can do.

My consoling Lord, You feed me with Your mercy and, at times, allow me to become spiritually hungry for more. During those times when You seem distant, help me to know that You are very near, stretching my soul so that I can receive even more fully Your abundance of mercy and love. Jesus, I trust in You.

Kindness Toward All

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

“But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:35–36

It is certainly difficult to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” But doing so is exactly what our Lord commanded us to do. And His command is not a command in the sense of being a burden. On the contrary, it’s a command that frees us from the ingratitude and wickedness we encounter.

Oftentimes, when we encounter ingratitude from another, or any other form of wickedness, we tend to react in kind. Our fallen human nature lures us into cruelty when faced with cruelty. We criticize, condemn, attack and get angry. But Jesus is very clear that this is not how the “Most High” acts toward the wicked. And it is not how He acts toward us. In the end, the wicked who fail to repent will endure the consequences of their rejection of God’s mercy. But until that final judgment, hope of conversion must always be present. And for that reason, we must never give up on another, no matter how difficult. Kindness shown to everyone, in every circumstance, goes to the heart of the mission we have received as children of God.

Think about the person in your life who seems unworthy of your kindness and generosity. Why are they undeserving? Are they truly undeserving? The truth, according to our Lord’s teaching, is that these are not questions we should even ask ourselves. Instead, we must fully commit ourselves to loving everyone who appears to be our enemy, and do good to them and to everyone whom we encounter. Though this is difficult, it won’t be if we understand the goodness that God has shown to us.

God has shone us perfect goodness, not because He expected anything back, but simply because He has willed to love us. If we want to be children of God the Most High, then we must reciprocate the love given to us. That’s the nature of God’s love. It cannot be contained. It cannot be selfishly received without also allowing it to pour forth from our lives. When we understand this, we will understand the reason Jesus instructed us to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” It is simply because this is how God has treated us.

Reflect, today, upon the unlimited love God has for you. It is beyond what you could ever comprehend. Reflect, also, upon the great benefit there is in opening yourself to God’s perfect love, kindness, generosity and mercy. The benefit is that you are able to be filled with that which you receive. And as you receive this love of God, it necessarily overflows into the lives of everyone you encounter, the good and the wicked. Everyone must always be offered this love. Do not hesitate, for God does not hesitate with you.

Most merciful Lord, You bestow Your abundant goodness upon all people, the good and bad alike. You never cease offering Your love and mercy. May I always be counted among those who fully open themselves to Your grace, and may I always offer this same depth of love to all. Jesus, I trust in You.

Moving Forward

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

As Jesus came down from the mountain with Peter, James, John and approached the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them. Mark 9:14

This line, from the beginning of today’s Gospel, reveals a transition from an experience of incredible glory to one that is very sad. On the mountain, Jesus was transfigured before three of His disciples, and a small glimpse of His divine essence was revealed to them. The three disciples were overwhelmed with joy and amazement. But as they came down the mountain, they immediately encountered an argument between the scribes and the people.

The argument had to do with a man who brought his son to Jesus’ disciples for healing. The boy had been possessed by a mute and deaf spirit from childhood, and the disciples were unable to cast the demon out. What’s more, the scribes appear to be critical of the whole situation, and the father appears to lack faith. Jesus’ response to them all was, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?  Bring him to me.” After the boy was brought to Jesus, Jesus did two things for the boy. First, He commanded the demon to “come out of him.” Second, He told the demon to “never enter him again.”

Though there is much we can learn from this passage, it’s worth pondering this twofold command of Jesus. Certainly, to set the boy free from the possession of this demon was significant and life-changing. But this act of mercy would have ultimately ended in tragedy if the demon were to reenter the boy after Jesus left. Therefore, the second command, forbidding the demon to ever enter him again, is also an act of great mercy.

One thing this should teach us is that overcoming evil is not enough. This is because the temptations and oppressions that come from the legion of fallen angels are continuous and relentless. It often happens that once a person finds freedom from some diabolical influence and from some sin, they later fall back into that sin as they become lax. Therefore, we must always remember that once we overcome some sin, temptation or oppression, we must perpetually remain vigilant so that we do not fall back into these evils. Ongoing vigilance is essential if we are to remain firmly grounded on the road to virtue and holiness.

Reflect, today, upon any temptation you have endured and overcome, only to later fall into it again. Reflect, especially, upon the importance of the vigilance that is necessary so as to not only refrain from returning to your former sins but to also move forward in holiness and virtue. The evil one never relents, but God is even more relentless in His compassion and grace. Keep moving forward in the spiritual life so that you never slip and fall back into previous sin.

Most glorious Lord, I turn to You in confidence and beg that You not only free me from the sins with which I struggle, but that You also keep me from ever turning back to them once I am free. May I always move forward toward You and never become lax in my journey of faith. Jesus, I trust in You.

Alone with Jesus

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” Mark 9:30–31

Why would Jesus wish that no one know that He and His disciples were traveling through Galilee at that time? It appears the reason was that Jesus was intently focused upon teaching His disciples about His coming passion, death and resurrection. Today’s Gospel presents us with three moments in which Jesus taught His disciples privately, directly and clearly: first, while they were journeying; second, when they arrived in Capernaum and entered a house; and third, when Jesus called a child over. Though the content of what Jesus taught His disciples is significant, it is also helpful to first reflect upon the simple fact that Jesus spent time alone with the disciples teaching them.

In many ways, our Lord does the same with us. Jesus is constantly calling us to various forms of solitude with Him so that we can listen to all that He wants to teach us. This is difficult for many today. So many people are constantly bombarded with the various noises of the world, are constantly distracted by momentary and passing experiences, and find it difficult to go off with our Lord alone so that He can teach them the most important lessons of life.

As you consider your weekly activities, how much time do you devote to being alone with our Lord? How much time do you spend in prayer, in the reading of Scripture and in silent meditation away from other distractions? For many, this is a challenge.

It is also useful to consider the content of what Jesus taught His disciples in private. He spoke to them about His coming passion, death and resurrection. This was the central purpose of His life and was clearly something that Jesus wanted to communicate to His disciples. Notice also that Jesus spoke very directly and without any figure of speech as He explained this. Contrast that with the many parables He told to the crowds. It appears that when Jesus was able to be alone with those who had dedicated their lives to following Him in faith, Jesus was able to speak His saving message more clearly and directly.

Reflect, today, upon the fact that our Lord wants to draw you into silence and solitude from time to time. He wants to spend time with you alone. This is especially the case for those who have chosen to fully devote their lives to Him and His mission. If that is you, then seek out these moments of solitude in which our Lord can speak more clearly and directly to you so that your faith will deepen and your understanding and knowledge will grow by leaps and bounds.

Lord, You have so much to say, so much to teach and so much to reveal. As I choose to follow You and devote my entire life to You, I pray that You will continuously draw me into greater silence and solitude so that I can receive from You the deep, clear and direct messages that I need to hear, understand and believe. Jesus, I trust in You.

Mutual Support

Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him…” Mark 9:38–39

Why would John and the other disciples try to stop someone from driving out demons? To understand this, imagine the scene. John and the other disciples had come to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of God. They witnessed Him perform many miracles and change many lives. As a result, they no doubt wanted everyone to discover Who Jesus was and come to faith in Him. But then they encountered someone they did not know, who was driving out demons in Jesus’ name, and they tried to stop him.

Just prior to this passage, we read the story of a man who had brought his possessed son to Jesus’ disciples and asked them to cure the boy, but they were unable to do so. Perhaps the disciples were a bit humbled by their inability to cast out the demon, and then they witnessed another person, not of their company, who was able to cast out demons in Jesus’ name. This might have added to their feelings of weakness and humiliation, and perhaps that is part of their motivation for trying to stop the man from exercising authority in Jesus’ name.

One common temptation that the evil one issues upon the members of the Church is that of internal division. As followers of Christ, we are all entrusted with the same mission, in different ways. We are called to become instruments of God’s grace for the salvation of souls and the glory of God. But sometimes we fail to act in unison and, instead, see our co-workers as our opponents.

Within our Church today, there are plenty of internal divisions that must cease. Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is to make it a priority to focus upon mutual support. Instead of allowing pride to create jealousy toward those who perform “mighty deeds” by the grace of God, we must work to rejoice in every good that we see. This seems like an obvious statement, but pride and feelings of inadequacy are real temptations that lead us to look down upon those who accomplish the will of God in powerful ways. When we see someone doing something good, we often immediately think about ourselves, wishing we were the ones doing the good work. And when God uses another in a powerful way, we can easily be tempted to see our own inadequacies and failings, rather than glorifying God for the good deeds done by another.

Reflect, today, upon the simple truth that every Christian is on the same spiritual team. We are all called to work toward the goals of the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Try to humbly think about those in your life who do this well and consider your attitude toward them. If you see any form of jealousy, envy or criticism, commit to dispel those attitudes. Instead, seek to have gratitude as you rejoice in the many ways that God uses others for His purpose.

Lord of power and might, You accomplish countless good through the generosity and fidelity of Your people. You constantly use all who follow You to bring forth Your will. Please use me, dear Lord, as an instrument as You will, and help me to always rejoice in the ways that You bring Your grace forth through others. Jesus, I trust in You.

Mercy for the Weak

Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42

St. Bede, an early Church Father, states that “he who is great, whatever he may suffer, departs not from the faith; but he who is little and weak in mind looks out for occasions of stumbling.” In other words, the “little ones” here could be understood to be those who are weak in faith and are constantly looking for reasons to depart from the faith.

Consider who might struggle with this tendency in your own life. Perhaps there is a family member who continually questions the practice of the faith, perhaps someone you know considers himself or herself a “fallen away Catholic.” According to St. Bede, these are the “little ones” of whom Jesus is speaking.

When dealing with someone who appears to lack faith, expresses doubts and disagreements, is caught in a life of manifest sin, or has begun to walk away from the practice of the faith, there can be a temptation to criticize, argue or condemn. If this is a temptation you struggle with, then listen closely to Jesus’ words: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin…” We cause those who are weak in faith to sin when we fail to show an abundance of virtue toward them during their struggles. Deep down, most people who are struggling with a life of sin or a weakness of faith do, in fact, have some faith. They do believe in God. But their faith is often easily shaken, and they can be easily pushed further away from God if we fail to exercise the necessary virtues of patience, compassion and mercy they need.

With that said, we also have to avoid offering a “compassion” that is not grounded in the truth. On this point, St. Gregory states: “If a stumbling block is laid before men in what concerns the truth, it is better to allow the offense to arise, than that the truth should be abandoned.” In other words, it is not compassionate or merciful to show support for another in their error so as to make them feel good. The truth of the Gospel must never be abandoned; instead, that truth must always be offered with the greatest of charity, especially toward those “little ones” who are weak in faith.

Reflect, today, upon the important balance that is necessary in the apostolic life. “Balance” does not mean compromise. Rather, it means that we seek to continually bring forth the full truth of the Gospel while also seeking to exercise the fullness of every virtue in the process. Do not become a stumbling block to others in the faith. Seek, instead, to lavish God’s grace and mercy upon those in your life who need it the most. If you do, then many of those little ones will one day become truly strong in the grace and truth of our loving God.

Most merciful Lord, You desire that all of Your children come to the full revelation of Your truth and mercy. Please use me as You choose to reach out to those who struggle with their faith and need to be treated with the utmost care. May I never be a stumbling block to them but always be a bridge to You and Your abundance of grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

Resolving Conflict

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom, he again taught them. The Pharisees approached him and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. Mark 10:1–2

Notice the contrast above. The crowds gathered around Jesus to listen to Him. Clearly, they were coming to faith. But the Pharisees came to Jesus to test Him. They did not come in faith; they came with jealousy and envy and were already seeking to trap Him. The question they proposed was a trick question, not an honest attempt at communication with our Lord. They presumed that however Jesus answered the question, some people would be offended. The Pharisees were ready to stir things up, since so many were flocking to Jesus. Also, the Pharisees wanted to find fault with Jesus’ answer so as to show that He opposed the Law of Moses. But Jesus’ answer was perfect.

Much could be said about the content of Jesus’ answer. He clearly supports the indissolubility of marriage. He states that “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” He adds: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” For those who have suffered through a divorce, it is important to prayerfully ponder this teaching from our Lord. It is also important to work with the Church Tribunal to examine the marriage in the light of truth so that a determination can be made about the validity or invalidity of the marriage bond. With that said, the approach that both the crowds and the Pharisees took toward Jesus also teaches us an important lesson about communication, not only with God but also with one another. This is a lesson that is especially important for married couples to learn.

Think about your own approach to communication. When you struggle with conflict with another, how do you resolve it? How do you bring your questions and concerns to your spouse? The crowds came to Jesus to listen and understand. The reward was the gift of faith in that they received a deeper knowledge of Who Jesus was. The Pharisees, however, came to Jesus with the intent of finding fault with Him. And though it is obviously foolish to take this approach with our Lord, it is also foolish to do so with another, especially a spouse.

Use the above approaches of the crowds and the Pharisees to think about how you come to others with your questions and concerns. When there is some conflict or misunderstanding, do you come with an open mind and heart, seeking to understand and resolve the question? Or do you come with a loaded question so as to trap and find fault with the other? So many conflicts in life with others, especially among spouses, could be resolved if the goal of any conversation was simply to understand the other person, not trap them or find fault with them. This is hard for many people to do and requires much humility and openness.

Reflect, today, upon any relationship with which you are currently struggling. Reflect, especially, upon whether your approach to communication with that person is more like the crowds or more like the Pharisees. Commit yourself to the approach of seeking open and honest communication and you will find that this commitment brings true resolution, peace and unity.

Lord of all truth, You desire that I always come to You with sincerity, honesty and humility, seeking resolution to every internal question and conflict I face. You call me to approach others with this same depth of communication. Give me the grace to always seek the unity and truth that result in peace of mind and heart. Jesus, I trust in You.

Dependence Upon God

Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:13–14

Simplicity, trust, purity of intent, transparency, and resiliency are all qualities that children often have by nature. They are not yet capable of evil intent. They are quick to forgive and reconcile when conflicts arise. And they have an unwavering confidence in the care of their parents. These are among the qualities that we need to imitate in our relationship with God.

It seems that as we age and as our human reason develops, we can lose some of the important qualities we had as children. But when it comes to our relationships with our loving God, we must never lose the important childlike qualities that lead us to be completely trusting and dependent upon God’s providence and care.

Children are also weak in the sense that they are not able to care for themselves. They rely completely upon the care of others, especially parents. For that reason, a child is an ideal image of how we must approach God. We must see our weakness and dependence. We must know, with deep conviction, that we are incapable of caring for ourselves. And though we may achieve a certain independence as we age, being able to provide for ourselves materially, we will never be able to provide for the interior spiritual needs we have. For our spiritual needs, we remain completely dependent upon the mercy of God. We must never forget that, at our core, we are spiritual beings who long for true spiritual satisfaction. Material or fleshly satisfactions that we can obtain by ourselves will never suffice to fulfill us at the deepest level of who we are. God and God alone is capable of this form of fulfillment.

Think about your own approach to life. Do you seek to find fulfillment and satisfaction in life through your own efforts? Have you attempted to take complete control of your present and future happiness? Though it is essential that we act responsibly in life, it must be understood that the most responsible way we can act is by willfully turning over complete control of our lives to God’s providence and care. As a child depends upon a parent, so we must depend upon the grace of God.

Reflect, today, upon a child. Ponder, especially, how a child is dependent upon others. As you do, see yourself similarly as one who must become completely dependent upon God for all that is important in life and for all that ultimately fulfills who you are. Trust in God’s providence and mercy, and allow that childlike trust to place you firmly in the arms of your Father in Heaven.

Loving Father, I turn to You in complete trust as a small child turns to a loving parent. May I never become so self-sufficient that I fool myself into thinking I am capable of finding my own fulfillment in life. Instead, may I always see You as the one and only source of true fulfillment and always trust in You alone. Jesus, I trust in You.

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