Third Week in Ordinary Time

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A New Era of Hope

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

In Matthew’s Gospel, from which we read today, we hear the first words spoken by our Lord as He begins His public ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 

Up until this point, Matthew’s Gospel presented us with Jesus’ genealogy, His birth, the story of the Magi, the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, Jesus’ baptism, the preaching of Saint John the Baptist and Jesus’ forty days in the desert. Now, after these introductory stories of Jesus’ life, we enter into His public ministry.

Recall that John had just been imprisoned, thus concluding his public ministry. Therefore, the time for the preaching and ministry of the Son of God had arrived. And though Jesus continues the theme of repentance started by John, Jesus takes John’s words further. Jesus adds something that John could not: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Since we are still at the beginning of the season of Ordinary Time, it’s important to understand this transition from the Old Testament prophets, of which John was the last, to the New Testament preaching of our Lord. The difference is that all that had been prophesied and pointed to in the Old Testament had now arrived. Saint Jerome, in commenting upon this passage, says that as the Old Testament Law ceased, the Gospel commenced. And, of course, the fulfillment of this new era of the Gospel was only a few short years away when our Lord would offer up His life for the salvation of many.

As Jesus begins His preaching, His words are challenging but also very hopeful. By saying that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus stirs interest and holy curiosity among His first listeners. His call to repentance was softened by His new proclamation about the Kingdom.

One helpful insight we can take from these first words of Jesus’ public ministry is that this is the best way to share the Gospel with those who do not yet follow Christ. Oftentimes, when we see someone living in serious sin, we want to judge and condemn. But usually what they need the most is hope—hope that there is something much greater that comes from repentance. Certainly we need to speak against sin. But one of the most effective ways to do so is by initially offering the listener hope of something much better than the sin with which they struggle—specifically, the hope of the Kingdom of God.

Reflect, today, upon the newness of the ministry of Jesus, the newness of the first proclamation of the Gospel. As you do, try to imagine the holy curiosity that many would have had as they first listened to Jesus preach. Soon He would follow up His preaching with many signs and wonders that would confirm His message. But at first, Jesus simply instilled a hope in His hearers. As you ponder this, think about those in your life who also need this initial sense of hope and holy curiosity about the Gospel and pray that God will inspire you and use you to be an instrument of this merciful message.

Lord, as You began Your public ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven, You instilled hope and a holy curiosity in the minds and hearts of Your first hearers. Please continue this good work and use me as You will to be an instrument of this hope in those I encounter every day. Jesus, I trust in You.

True Fulfillment

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14–15

Jesus begins His public ministry immediately after being tempted by the devil while in the desert for forty days. As He begins His ministry, He declares: “This is the time of fulfillment.” First, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was, historically speaking, the “time of fulfillment,” in that the new era of the Gospel and grace had just begun. But the “time of fulfillment” of which Jesus speaks also refers to each and every time that we hear the Gospel and respond. We do this by sincerely repenting of our sins and by becoming a fuller member of God’s Kingdom. But ponder for a moment the specific word “fulfillment.” What does this mean?

The word “fulfilled” can be contrasted with its opposite “unfulfilled.” To be unfulfilled is always undesirable. In this world, many people find themselves unfulfilled and try to fill this void with many things. Interestingly, the three temptations that Jesus had just experienced in the desert are among the temptations that so many people give into during their search for fulfillment in life.

First, Jesus was hungry, and the devil tempted Him to turn stones into bread to satiate that hunger. This is a temptation to fleshly fulfillment. Second, the devil tempted Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple to prove He was the Son of God. This is a temptation to fulfillment by pride—pride to convince another of one’s importance and identity. Third, the devil showed Jesus all the nations of the world and promised them to our Lord if Jesus worshiped him. This is a temptation to fulfillment by obtaining earthly wealth and power. Of course, Jesus rejected all three temptations as a way of showing that none of these truly fulfill us. And He did this just prior to the beginning of His public ministry so as to then go forth preaching the true message of fulfillment. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

True fulfillment is only found in the Gospel, the message of Truth that Jesus shared during His three years of public ministry and then brought to completion by His sacrificial death and resurrection. Only those who heed His words and open themselves to the grace poured forth from the Cross are able to find the fulfillment that they seek.

Reflect, today, upon your own interior desire for fulfillment in life. How do you try to satiate this desire? Do you allow the evil one to trick you into thinking that fleshly desires, pride or wealth are the answer? Reject those temptations with our Lord and then immerse yourself in His Gospel message, which is the only source of fulfillment in life.

Lord of true fulfillment, You and You alone are the source of the fullness of life. I believe that with all my heart. Please give me the grace I need to reject all temptations in life and to cling only to Your holy Word and the grace given to all who follow You. Jesus, I trust in You.

Enthused by the Gospel

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. Luke 4:14–15

This Gospel passage reveals to us the very beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry. He began His public ministry immediately after spending forty days in the desert being tempted by the devil. As He began, He went to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit.” Many people heard about Him and welcomed Him with much enthusiasm.

Though Jesus was initially welcomed with praise, we know that things quickly changed. Some eventually became so hostile that they put Jesus to death, but it’s useful to ponder the initial response He received. This initial response is one that must become continuously new in our lives. The initial response was that He “was praised by all.”

Jesus would later teach about this initial experience many would have toward the Gospel when He taught the Parable of the Sower. Recall that the seed that was sown on rocky ground, that fell among thorns, and that was sown in good soil all began to grow. Only that which was sown on the path failed to grow, because the birds came and ate it up. This latter case describes those who are completely indifferent to the Gospel. But in today’s Gospel, the “all” are those who at least paid attention and initially responded with enthusiasm. The seed began to grow in these three scenarios—but, of course, in only one of those cases did the seed ultimately bear good fruit.

Another way to look at this initial encounter with the Gospel is to consider a child. In almost every case, when a child is presented with the Gospel, they will begin to respond and even find excitement in the faith. But, as many parents have seen, this initial welcome is sometimes followed by a rejection of the Gospel later in life.

When did you initially encounter the Gospel? For some it was during childhood. For others, there was a powerful experience of conversion later in life. Think of that initial encounter you had and the ways that you were excited by your newfound faith. Has that experience continued and grown in your life? Or has your initial praise of God and enthusiasm dwindled or even died?

Reflect, today, upon the fact that God wants us to continuously experience the Gospel as something new and transforming. The newness of the life of grace must never wear off. Ponder this experience in your life and try to see yourself as one of the people in today’s Gospel who heard Jesus for the first time. Ponder their enthusiasm and join in their praise of our Lord so that you will be motivated to let God and the preaching of His holy Word continuously transform you.

Glorious Word of God, You have come to set us free by revealing to us Your love and mercy and by bestowing that grace upon us. Please open my mind and heart to Your holy Word so that I will be driven by a holy love to serve and follow You all the days of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.

Daily Humble Repentance

Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” Mark 3:22

By this time, Jesus was fully engaged in His public ministry. He had healed the sick and lame, cast out many demons, called the Twelve Apostles and given them authority over evil spirits, and preached the Good News to many. Just prior to this Gospel passage, some of Jesus’ own extended family had criticized Him, claiming that Jesus was out of His mind. Then the scribes began their public condemnation of our Lord.

The scribes were faced with a dilemma. They saw Jesus cast out demons from those who were possessed, so they needed to come up with an explanation. They concluded that Jesus was able to cast out demons by the power of the prince of demons. Jesus goes on to address the scribes’ criticism by identifying their condemnation as a sin against the Holy Spirit. Jesus explains that every sin can be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Spirit. He says that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” Why is that?

In this case, the sin against the Holy Spirit is not only the false condemnation spoken by the scribes against Jesus. First and foremost, their sin is one of obstinacy. They spoke falsely about our Lord, which is a grave sin, but what’s worse is that they did so in such a way that they remained firmly grounded in their error. They refused to humble themselves and reconsider their error. And it is this stubbornness that leaves them with an “everlasting sin.”

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from this passage is that we must avoid remaining stuck in our pride in an obstinate way. We must always be humble and be ready and willing to reexamine our actions. Humility will help us to perpetually remember that we can easily become misled in life. And though this will happen from time to time in various ways, if we remain humble and open to change, then we can always receive the mercy of God and find forgiveness. But if we are prideful and continually refuse to admit our errors, then we are also potentially guilty of a sin against the Holy Spirit.

Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have in your life to be stubborn. Stubbornness can be a virtue when the stubbornness is an unwavering commitment to the Gospel and to the will of God. However, you must always intentionally reexamine the path you are on so that you can change when that path begins to deviate from the Truth of God. Humble yourself this day and allow God’s voice to lead you back from any errors with which you now struggle.

My merciful Jesus, I sin every day and will continue to fail to follow You with perfection. For this reason, I thank You for Your abundant mercy. Please help me to always be open to that mercy by regularly re-examining my decisions in life. Give me humility, dear Lord, to always repent and to turn back to You when I stray. Jesus, I trust in You.

Doing the Will of God

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

“Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  Mark 3:34–35

Jesus said many things that caused people to pause and think. Today’s Gospel passage is one of those times. Just prior to the passage quoted above, Jesus was told that His mother and brothers were outside looking for Him. After hearing this, instead of going to greet them, He asked those around Him, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then He looked around and answered His own question with the above quoted Scripture.

What may have caused some people to pause and think at that time, and even now when this passage is read, is that Jesus’ comments can easily be misunderstood. Some will conclude that He was distancing Himself from His own family and that He was even disowning them to a certain extent. But nothing could be further from the truth.

First of all, we know that Jesus had a perfect love for His dear mother Mary and that she loved Jesus with a perfect reciprocal love. As for His “brothers,” it was common to refer to one’s extended family (such as cousins) as brothers and sisters. Therefore, these brothers who were coming to see Jesus were relatives to one degree or another. And though our Blessed Mother, the mother of Jesus, was perfect in every way, Jesus’ extended family was not. Recall that some of them thought Jesus was out of his mind and tried to prevent His public ministry.

But back to our question: Was Jesus disowning His family members in some way? Certainly not. Instead, He was establishing a deeper context for His new family in grace. Though biological bonds are a gift and must be respected and cherished, the spiritual bonds established by our joint conformity to the will of God is of much greater importance. Jesus simply pointed to this fact, elevating the spiritual family bond over the purely natural. Of course, it’s also important to point out that Jesus’ mother was first and foremost His mother, not only because she gave physical birth to Jesus, but primarily because she was in perfect conformity to the will of God with Him and, thus, the most intimate member of His family by grace. And the same can be true for all of us. When we conform our wills to the will of God, we become Jesus’ “mother” in the sense that He enters our world through us. And we become His “brothers and sisters” in that we become intimate members of His eternal family and enjoy a profound and spiritual union with Him.

Reflect, today, upon the fact that you are called to be so much more than just a physical brother or sister of Christ Jesus. You are called to the most intimate and transforming familial union imaginable. And this union is more fully accomplished when you seek to fulfill the will of God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

My dear Lord, I desire deeply to become more fully a member of Your most intimate family in grace. Help me to always dedicate myself to the complete fulfillment of the will of our Father in Heaven. And as I conform my will more fully with that of the Father’s, draw me deeper and deeper into union with You. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Deepest Desire of Your Heart

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

“Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.” Mark 4:20

This description from the Parable of the Sower seems to describe a growing number of people in our world today. The first grouping of people mentioned in this parable have little to no faith and are represented by the seed sown on the path which is quickly consumed by satan. The second group of people have a little initial faith and are represented by seed sown on rocky ground. The passage above represents the third grouping of people who are like seeds sown in good soil but are also among thorns. The fourth are those who are like rich soil and the Word of God grows deeply in their lives. Let’s consider the third grouping of people in more detail. 

There are three evils that choke off the Word of God in our lives: “worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things.” In our day and age, there are many who encounter various types of anxieties, are consumed with a desire for material wealth and find themselves craving many other things. In all three cases, these interior temptations have the effect of overwhelming the pure Truth of the Word of God in their lives.

Anxiety is a common problem today. And though this is a psychological struggle much of the time, it also can have spiritual roots. Anxiety is the struggle of worrying excessively, nervousness about many aspects of life and an uneasiness about the future. In this case, when the Person of Jesus and the Truth of the Gospel message does not consume and direct our lives, we are left on our own to “figure it out.” And this loneliness will almost always lead us into a loss of hope, fear and lack of deep peace.

Most people who struggle with anxiety will constantly look for a cure. And one place they often look is the deceptive consolation of material wealth or the “craving for other things.” Imagine if you won a tremendous amount of money. Would this resolve your worries in life? Though you may be tempted to think it would, deep down we all know that this is a lie. Material wealth is never a reliable source of satisfaction in life. The same is true with almost everything else we “crave” in life. One thing and one thing alone can satisfy. And that one thing is God.

Reflect, today, upon those things in your life that seem to occupy your mental energy. What do you worry about, hope for, deeply desire? What do you falsely believe will relieve your interior struggles? What do you crave? Take time today to remind yourself of the irrefutable truth that God, His holy will and all that He has revealed as True is the only source of satisfaction. Seek to let that Truth sink in deeply in your heart so that the Truths of God will grow and bear the abundant good fruit you so deeply desire.

My merciful Lord, help me to be open fully to Your holy Word so that the seed of Your Word will be planted deeply in my heart. May I always reject the many lies and deceptions of the world so that I can be freed of the anxieties and fleeting pleasures of life. May I seek only the deep and sustaining delights that come from a life fully given over to You so that I will live in the peace and grace of Your holy will. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Manifestation of Your Soul to All

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

“For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” Mark 4:22

What a fascinating little line in the Gospel for today! What does this line mean? Though many have offered various commentaries upon the meaning of this line, let’s turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for some insight:

In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life… (CCC #1039).

This passage comes from the section on “The Last Judgment” rather than “The Particular Judgment.” The Particular Judgment will come for all of us at the moment of our passing from this world. It will be an accounting of our sins and virtues before God in a personal and private way. But the Last Judgment will come at the end of time and should be seen as a universal judgment upon all in a very definitive and public way. Thus, this line from the Catechism seems to suggest that both our good actions and evil ones will be revealed for all to see.

If the Scripture passage above, as well as the passage from the Catechism, are properly interpreted to mean that during the Last Judgment even our deepest sins, including those that have been forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession, will be made manifest for all to see, this idea can, at first, be a bit frightening. But it shouldn’t be. It should be liberating.

If every action of our lives, both good and bad, will be made manifest for all to see at The Last Judgment, then this will result in one thing and one thing alone for those who are in Heaven: the glory of God and much rejoicing! In other words, if God reveals every sin we have committed, then He will also reveal our repentance from those sins, the purification we endured, and the forgiveness we received. Therefore, those who make up the Communion of Saints will not look upon us with judgment; rather, they will glorify God in the same way we glorify God and thank Him for His abundant mercy and forgiveness. We must always remember His forgiveness and continually rejoice in that fact. Therefore, if all truly is made manifest, then it will be so that we can all rejoice together in the incredible mercy of God and can look at each other with gratitude for all that God had done for the other.

Reflect, today, upon the possibility of that glorious moment. Imagine the freedom you will experience by allowing God to share the deepest sins and the deepest virtues of your life with all who share Heaven with you. Shame will be gone. Judgment will be gone. Rejoicing and gratitude alone will remain. What a glorious moment that will be!

My glorious Judge, I thank You for Your mercy and forgiveness in my life. I thank You for freeing me from all sin. Please continue to purify my soul and free me from even the attachment to all sin. May I never forget all that You have done for me, and may Your mercy become the cause of my eternal rejoicing and Your eternal glory. Jesus, I trust in You.

Transformation in God’s Grace

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.  Mark 4:26–27

It’s beautiful to reflect upon how the Word of God changes people’s lives. This short passage above analogizes the sharing of the Word of God with the planting of seed. The sower goes forth and scatters seed into the ground and then observes how that seed grows into a fruitful plant. The mysterious line states “he knows not how.”

So it is with the Word of God. When that Word is received by another, we are blessed to be able to stand back and watch as that Word takes root and transforms their lives. Of course, at times we may sow the Word and it doesn’t take root. This is on account of either the hardness of another’s heart or on account of the way in which we sow. But when the seed of God’s Word does take root, we should be in awe of how God works in that soul.

Think about this reality in your own life. How did you first receive the good seed of God’s word? Perhaps it was through a sermon, a retreat, the reading of Scripture, a book or the witness of another. Think about how you first received God’s Word into your life and what effect it had upon you.

Once God’s Word has taken root in a soul, it is a holy practice to “rise night and day” so as to observe this seed as it grows. Specifically, we must allow ourselves to be amazed at the mysterious way that a life is changed, be it your own life or the life of another. It’s inspiring to observe the soul of a person as it begins to root out sin, to seek virtue, to establish a life of prayer and to grow in the love of God.

If this is something to which you find it hard to relate, then perhaps it’s time to either allow that seed of God’s Word to fall gently and deeply into the fertile ground of your own soul or to prayerfully look for ways in which God wants to use you to sow that seed into the heart of another. Doing the latter takes much openness to the working of the Holy Spirit. It requires that we allow God to inspire us so as to know how we can cooperate with His hand in evangelization.

Reflect, today, upon the “mystery” of a soul who goes through this process of change and spiritual growth. If you find it difficult to find such an example to ponder, then turn to the lives of the saints. The saints are among the greatest witnesses of those who allowed God’s Word to sink deeply into their lives so that they became new creations, transformed by God’s grace. Ponder this transforming witness and allow yourself to be drawn into gratitude and amazement as you do.

My transforming Lord, I thank You for the way that You have sown the seed of Your holy Word into my own life. I thank You for the way in which You have changed me, freed me from sin and set me on the path to holiness. Use me, dear Lord, to sow that seed in the lives of others and fill me with wonder and awe as I witness Your merciful hand at work. Jesus, I trust in You.

Faith During the Storms of Life

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. Mark 4:36–38

Throughout our lives, we can be assured that at some point we will encounter a storm. Not just a physical storm but a spiritual one. It may come in the form of a tragic event, a deep wound inflicted by another, the effects of our own sin or some other painful experience. And for many people, this will happen more than once.

When such a “storm” is encountered in life, it may seem as if Jesus is “asleep” and not readily available to help us through. When this happens, the message of the Gospel above is very helpful to prayerfully ponder.

As this Gospel passage continues, we read that the disciples, in a panic, woke up Jesus and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus got up, addressed the storm and said, “Quiet! Be still!” and all was calm. He then said to the disciples, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” The disciples were left in amazement and wonder.

The key is faith. When we face a storm in life, we must have faith. But what does that mean? It means that we must know, with a deep certitude, that Jesus is in fact always with us. We must know, with a deep certitude, that if we place all our trust and hope in Him, He will never abandon us. We must know, with a deep certitude, that every storm will ultimately pass and that peace and calm will ensue.

Facing the storms in life with faith is transforming. And often Jesus appears to be asleep for a reason. The reason is that He wants us to trust. Too often we turn our eyes to the storm itself and allow fear and anxiety to dominate our lives. But every storm we encounter is an opportunity to trust Him on a new and deeper level. If life were always easy and consoling then we would have little reason to trust deeply. Therefore, every storm must be seen as an opportunity for tremendous grace as we place all our trust in Jesus, despite how things immediately appear.

Reflect, today, upon how deep and sustaining your own faith in Christ truly is. Do you trust Him no matter what? Are you able to trust Him when all seems lost, when life is difficult and when confusion tempts you? Prepare, now, for the next such storm you may face and resolve to use that opportunity as a moment in which your faith is made manifest and becomes the stabilizing force of your life.

My sleeping Lord, help me to always place all my trust in You, no matter what the circumstances are in my life at every moment. Strengthen my faith, especially during those times when I face challenges and temptations. May I never doubt that You are there with me, leading me and keeping me close to Your merciful Heart. Jesus, I trust in You.

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