Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

The High Call of Holiness in All Things

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Matthew 5:4

The Beatitudes offer us an invitation to the highest calling of holiness we can obtain.  They are not mere commands forbidding us to sin; rather, they are invitations to live on a level higher than humanly possible.  They are callings to authentic sanctity.

The Beatitude quoted above is a great example of our high calling in Christ.  Jesus states that the one who mourns is blessed.  At first this may not make much sense.  Why would it be a good thing to mourn, to be sorrowful?

Christian sorrow, or mourning, is the appropriate and healthy response to many situations in life.  In particular, holy sorrow is the correct response we should have to sin, tragedy and hurt.  An empathetic heart is one that sees the sin or hurt of another and enters into that hurt with true love and compassion.

One is “blessed” when this form of holy sorrow is present because it is this sorrow that motivates us to love.  True mourning is a form of mercy and concern shown toward another.  The result of this form of sorrow is the personal holiness of the person who is mourning.

Reflect, today, upon your own ability to have a truly empathetic heart.  Reflect upon your sincere reaction toward others.  When you see someone caught in a life of sin, for example, how do you react?  Do you simply judge and condemn?  Or do you foster compassion and mercy in your heart?  Allow yourself, this day, to grow in holy sorrow, and the end result will be an increase in sanctity.  As you grow in personal sanctity, you will see abundant blessings bestowed upon you.

My most blessed Lord, I pray that I may embrace all of the Beatitudes that You have taught us.  I pray, especially, that my heart may grow in empathy for those who are hurting, confused and caught in a life of sin.  As I grow in holy sorrow for them, I thank You for the blessings You will bestow upon me.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Jesus Rebukes the Unclean Spirit

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.  Mark 1:25-26

This passage from Mark’s Gospel could be the scene from a horror movie.  Well, at least if Hollywood were producing the film.  In truth, it’s the scene of an act of great love and mercy and reveals the power and authority of Jesus!  

It’s the story of a man with an unclean spirit, a demon.  The demon is tormenting him.  So, Jesus looks at him with great love and compassion and expels the evil spirit, setting him free.  This truly is an act of love.

But one question this clearly brings up is the role of the evil spirits in our world and their ability to control, manipulate, or at least tempt us.  They are powerful spiritual beings created by God with free will and they exercised that free will to turn away from God.  One of their primary duties, granted them at the moment of their creation, was to care for humanity.  Those spirits who fell from grace by their pride and sin still retain their natural spiritual power.  But because of their fall, they now only have hatred for mankind and seek to destroy us.  This is real.  And this is something we should be keenly aware of.

But there is no reason to lose hope or to give in to fear.  These beings are, of course, ultimately subject to the power and authority of God.  They can do nothing without God permitting it and, in the end, they can have no power over our lives.

But for now we need to be aware of their natural spiritual power and influence.  We need to understand that they can and will try to wreak havoc in our lives.  When we let fear weaken our faith, and lack trust in God’s almighty power, we slowly allow them to have more influence over us.  But when we allow the grace and mercy of God to overshadow their evil influence, we hear Jesus rebuke them and order them to cease.

Reflect, today, upon the fact that the spiritual battle is a real one.  However, the victory is assured if we only humble ourselves before God and trust in His power and authority.  Humility is the key to this spiritual battle.  It’s the key to overcoming the attacks and temptations of the evil one.  So humble yourself before God when you feel oppressed or tempted.  Humble yourself by admitting your weaknesses.  Acknowledge that only God has the authority to strengthen you.  Put your trust in Him.  He will not let you down!

All-powerful Lord, I am weak and nothing without You.  Help me to know and believe that.  Help me to humble myself before You and to be strengthened in that humility to overcome the temptations and influences of the evil one.  Jesus, I trust in You!

Preaching to Your Family

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”  Luke 4:24

Sharing the Gospel with your family is not always as easy as sharing it with a stranger.  Conversely, listening to the Gospel message from a family member is not always as easy as hearing it from someone else.  Why is that?  

It may be that familiarity with another, such as the familiarity we have with family members, can tempt us to lack a certain confidence in their convictions and in their Christian witness.  Though this is certainly not true of every relationship we have, it can be the case with some.  Children, at times, will not put as much confidence in the words of a parent as they may another.  Siblings may not be as open to advice from each other as they are from other people.  

Perhaps one of the reasons for this experience is that we are often far more critical of those we know well than those we do not know.  It’s easy to allow our long history of personal experience to hinder our openness toward family members.  This is especially the case with the negative experiences we have had over the years.  So often, we hold onto negative experiences and hurts from year to year and we allow those experiences to become a filter for anything that a family member says or does.

This statement from Jesus, that “no prophet is accepted in his own native place,” should challenge us to make sure we do not fall into this tendency.  We should do what we can to make sure that we do accept the prophetic witness shared with us from our own family members.  

The best way to do this is to make sure that we regularly strive to purge any “baggage” we carry in those relationships.  Very often, we carry the baggage of hurt, anger and resentment without even realizing it.  We also easily focus in on the weaknesses of family members since we easily witness their weaknesses as a result of being close to them.  

Reflect, today, upon your family.  Reflect, especially, upon whether you allow yourself to look beyond their weaknesses and sins so as to see the goodness of God at work in their lives.  There is much that God wants to say to you through them.  Make sure you have not closed that door and are willing to accept them as a messenger of the Gospel.

Dearest Lord, I thank You for my family.  I thank You for the gift that they have been in my life.  Help me to daily show mercy and forgiveness to them as needed.  Help me to daily be open to Your voice speaking through them.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Total Transformation

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind.  And they were seized with fear.  Mark 5:15

This short passage comes after a very dramatic story.  A young man, who lived out among the tombs, was fully possessed by many demons.  The demons identified themselves as “Legion” stating that there were many of them.  It’s clear from the story that this man was wild, out of his mind, and fully under the control of these demons.  

As the story goes on, Jesus addressed the demons, rebuked them, and cast them out, sending them into a herd of swine.  The swine went running down a slope and drowned in the lake.  Afterwards, the man was totally transformed as he sat there conversing with others.

One interesting thing to note in this story is that, when the townspeople came out and saw this man sitting there “in his right mind,” they were shocked and “seized with fear.”  They did not know what to think about this situation.  Why is that?

Perhaps there are a number of reasons.  Let’s look at one of them.  This young man was so dysfunctional, being possessed by a legion of demons, that the townspeople had written him off.  They gave up on him and most likely wanted nothing to do with him.  They were afraid of him.  But when they saw this man completely transformed, sitting there looking normal and rational, the people didn’t know what to think.  They were shocked.  And their shock took on a form of fear in that they were afraid of what they did not understand.

This reveals something interesting to us.  It reveals that, if we fail to understand the power of God, we will actually find ourselves fearful of His power when confronted by it.  The townspeople should have been filled with great joy and excitement at the total transformation of this man.  However, instead of great joy and excitement, they were fearful.  They were fearful because they did not understand God’s almighty power.

Reflect, today, upon the power and glory of God.  He desires to do great things and to bring total transformation to your life.  He desires to cast out the evil one lurking within our world, bringing instead His mercy and peace.  As you reflect upon God’s power, allow yourself to more clearly understand Him.  If you understand Him, you will be more fully ready to rejoice in His good works.

Most powerful and glorious God, I rejoice in Your almighty power.  I rejoice in Your greatness and glory.  Help me to see the many ways that You are at work in our world and in the lives of those around me.  As I see Your transforming power at work, fill my heart with gratitude for all that You do.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Extraordinary Faith 

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

“If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.  Mark 5:28-29

These are the thoughts and experience of the woman who had suffered greatly for twelve years with hemorrhages.  She sought out many doctors and had spent all she had in an attempt to be healed.  Sadly, nothing worked.

It’s possible that God permitted her suffering to continue all those years so that she would be given this particular opportunity to manifest her faith for all to see.  It’s interesting that this passage actually reveals her interior thinking as she approaches Jesus.  “If I but touch his clothes…”  This interior thinking is a beautiful illustration of faith.

How would she have known that she would be healed?  What was it that led her to believe this with such clarity and conviction?  Why, after spending twelve years working with every doctor she could come by, would she suddenly realize that all she needed to do is to touch Jesus’ clothes in order to be healed?  The answer is simple.  Because she was given the gift of faith.

This illustration of her faith reveals that faith is a supernatural knowledge of something that only God can reveal.  In other words, she knew she would be healed, and her knowledge of this healing came to her as a gift imparted by God.  Once imparted, she had to act on this knowledge and, in so doing, she gave a wonderful witness to all who would read her story. 

Her life, and in particular this experience, should challenge us all to realize that God also speaks profound truths to us, if we only listen.  He is constantly speaking and revealing the depth of His love to us, calling us to enter into a life of manifest faith.  He wants our own faith to not only be the foundation of our lives, but also to be a powerful witness to others.  

Reflect, today, upon the interior conviction of faith that this woman had.  She knew God would heal her because she allowed herself to hear Him speak.  Reflect upon your own interior attentiveness to the voice of God and try to be open to the same depth of faith witnessed by this holy woman.

My compassionate Lord, I love You and I desire to know You and to hear You speak to me each and every day.  Please increase my faith so that I may know You and Your will for my life.  Please use me as You wish to be a witness of faith for others.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Calling of a Hidden Life

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

“Where did this man get all this?  What kind of wisdom has been given him?  What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!”  Mark 6:2

The people who knew Jesus from His youth were suddenly astonished at His wisdom and mighty deeds.  They were amazed at all He said and did.  They were familiar with Him as He grew up, knew His parents and other relatives, and as a result had a hard time understanding how this neighbor of theirs was suddenly so impressive in His words and deeds.

One thing this reveals is that while Jesus grew up, He apparently lived a very hidden life.  It’s clear that the people of His own town were unaware of the fact that He was someone special.  This is clear because once Jesus began His public ministry of preaching and performing mighty deeds, the people of His own town were confused and even astonished.  They never expected all of “this” from Jesus of Nazareth.  Therefore, it’s clear that during His first thirty years, He lived a normal and ordinary daily life.

What can we take from this insight?  First, it reveals that, at times, God’s will for us is to live a very “normal” and ordinary life.  It’s easy to think that we should be doing “great” things for God.  Yes, that’s true.  But the great things He calls us to are at times simply living normal daily life well.  There is no doubt that during Jesus’ hidden life He lived a life of perfect virtue.  But many in His own town did not recognize this virtue.  It was not yet the will of the Father that His virtue be made manifest for all to see.  

Secondly, we see that there was indeed a time when His mission changed.  The will of the Father, at one moment in His life, was that He suddenly be cast into the public eye.  And when this happened, people noticed.

These same realities are true for you.  Most are called to live day in and day out in a somewhat hidden way.  Know that these are the moments when you are called to grow in virtue, do small hidden things well, and enjoy the quiet rhythm of ordinary living.  But you should also be aware of the possibility that God may, from time to time, call you to step out of your comfort zone and act in a more public way.  The key is to be ready and attentive to His will and plan for you.  Be ready and willing to let Him use you in a new way if it be His divine will.

Reflect, today, upon the will of God for your life right now.  What is it He wants of you?  Is He calling you out of your comfort zone to live a more public life?  Or is He calling you, at this time, to live a more hidden life while you grow in virtue?  Be grateful for whatever His will is for you and embrace it with your whole heart.

My virtuous Lord, I thank You for Your perfect plan for my life.  I thank You for the many ways that call me to serve You.  Help me to always be open to Your will and to daily say “Yes” to You no matter what You ask.  Jesus, I trust in You.

A Three-Step Process

Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  Mark 6:7

The first thing that is worth pointing out in this passage is that Jesus “summoned” the Twelve.  This means He brought them to Himself.  Sure, we can read this as simply meaning that He, in a sense, called a meeting with them.  But we should look deeper.  We should see in this summoning the fact that Jesus was not only calling a meeting, but rather, He was drawing them to His very person.  In this act of summoning, the Apostles were personally encountering Jesus, receiving His grace and power, and being changed themselves.

From there He sent them out two by two.  This is also significant.  Jesus knows our human weakness.  He knows that by ourselves we will most likely fail, but with the Christian support of another we are greatly strengthened.  This is because Jesus’ mission is not only something we do ourselves, it’s something that is communal as well.  We are each one piece in His mission. However, to fulfill that mission, we need the love and support of others.  We need to go two by two into the battle.

So what about this authority that Jesus gave them?  It’s often not appreciated for what it is.  Jesus very much does want to give us authority over the evil one and his minions since they are far more powerful than us.  So, if we are to have a chance in the battle, we need Jesus’ authority.  This is not only some supernatural power to cast out demons; rather, it’s much more extensive.  So what is this authority and how do we exercise it?

First, it’s the power of true Christian charity.  Charity, or love, overwhelms the evil one and renders him powerless in our lives.  Selflessness, sacrifice, humility, faith, truth, etc., are among the most powerful weapons in our battle.  The evil one does not know what to do with these.  We do not necessarily have to engage in some sort of dramatic spiritual warfare to do battle.  Simply love God and live that love in your daily life and you will, in a sense, be casting out demons left and right!  We will have the victory in our Christian living because God will take care of all the rest.  It’s His mission and He is the one summoning and sending us.  So do not be afraid to follow His lead!

Reflect, today, upon this three step process that Jesus initiates with His Apostles and know that He desires the same with you:  1) He summons you, daily, to Himself; 2) He sends you forth to bring His love to others; 3) He gives you the authority and power you need to fulfill His will.  Be open to this process and our Lord will use you abundantly.

My summoning Lord, give me the love, courage and strength I need to live out Your divine plan.  I hear You summoning me and I choose to respond with generosity.  I willingly accept the authority of that grace into my life so that You can accomplish all that You desire.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Effects of a Guilty Conscience

Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.” Mark 6:16

Jesus’ fame had become widespread among the people and many were talking about Him.  Some thought He was John the Baptist raised from the dead, others thought He was Elijah the prophet, others simply thought He was a new prophet.  They were all trying to figure out who this incredible man was who spoke with such wisdom and authority.

It’s interesting to note that Herod, who had beheaded John the Baptist, immediately concluded that Jesus must be John raised from the dead.  He speaks this conviction not so much as only a hunch, but as if he knew it to be a fact.  This is his definitive conclusion about Jesus.  Why does Herod arrive at this mistaken conviction?

Of course we do not know for certain why Herod arrived at this conviction, but we can speculate and arrive at a likely conclusion.  It appears that Herod felt very guilty about beheading John the Baptist and this guilt led him to this conclusion.

Oftentimes, when someone sins, as Herod did, and feels deep guilt without repenting of that sin, there arises various unhealthy effects such as a certain paranoid thinking process.  Herod is most likely paranoid, and he most likely is so as a result of his sin and his refusal to repent of his sin.

We can see this same tendency within all of us.  The refusal to repent of our sins often causes many other problems in our lives.  Unrepented sin can cause paranoid thinking, anger, self-justification and many other emotional and psychological issues.  Sin, though spiritual in nature, has an effect upon our whole person which is what we have a glimpse of in the person of Herod.  This is a good lesson for all of us.

Reflect, today, upon any similar tendencies you have in your life.  Do you find yourself getting paranoid about what others say or do?  Do you enter into a self-justification of your actions?  Do you get angry and project that anger on others who do not deserve it?  Reflect upon any of these tendencies you see and then look deeper at the source of them.  If you see that the root cause of these unhealthy tendencies is some unrepented sin in your own life, then repent of it honestly and completely so that our Lord can free you of the effects of sin.

Most gentle Lord, I do repent of all sin.  I pray that I may see my sin honestly and sincerely.  And as I see my sin, help me to confess it to You so that I may be free not only of the burden of my sin, but also of the effects of that burden.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Heart of Jesus

Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.  Mark 6:34

It’s important to see the heart of Jesus.  In this passage, Jesus and His disciples had taken a moment to get away from the vast crowds so that they could be alone and rest for a while.  But the crowds are aware of their departure by boat and they quickly make it to the other side of the lake, arriving before Jesus and the disciples so as to meet them as they do arrive.

What is Jesus’ reaction?  Does He look at them with frustration?  Does He think to Himself, “Oh my, these people do not leave me alone even for a little while?”  Most certainly not.  His response is one of heartfelt mercy and compassion.  He is moved with pity for them and He continues to teach them many things.

This happened for a number of reasons. First, it happened as a result of the deep longing that so many people felt.  They were drawn to Jesus, to listen to Him and to learn from Him.  Secondly, it happened because Jesus also had a deep longing to be with His people.  He desired to share His heart with them and to shepherd them, leading them into the many truths He came to reveal.  Jesus was a true Shepherd who loved His sheep and welcomed them continually.

The same must be true for each one of us.  We must all seek to be with Him, love Him and follow His commands.  We must diligently and tirelessly seek Him out no matter how difficult that may be.  We have a duty, in love, to seek and find our Lord.  And Jesus, for His part, will fulfill His duty toward us to shepherd us and teach us many things.  He will allow His heart to be moved with mercy and compassion toward us and He will draw us close to Himself.

Reflect, today, upon the merciful heart of Jesus.  See His heart, long for Him and go to Him.  Know of His burning love for you and accept Him as your Shepherd.

My loving Lord, I do love You and I give my life to You.  I pray that You will always fill me with a burning desire to seek You out, each and every day.  I thank You for Your mercy and for Your shepherd’s heart.  May I rest close to Your heart every day.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

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