Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Honesty and Integrity

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Let your “Yes” mean “Yes,” and your “No” mean “No.” Anything more is from the evil one.  Mt. 5:37

This teaching from our Lord comes after a series of new and deeper teachings from our Lord on the Commandments of old.  Jesus mentions the Old Testament teachings that we ought not kill, commit adultery, or lie.  He then follows up each of these commandments with a deeper insight.  In the New Law of Jesus’ teaching, “Thou shall not kill” is deepened to mean that we ought to avoid all anger in our hearts.  “Do not commit adultery” is deepened to mean we ought not have lust in our heart.  And “Do not lie” is deepened and presented in a new way in the above quoted Scripture.

The first thing to note is the more general fact that Jesus’ life and teaching brings us to a new depth of morality.  No longer are we to simply avoid seriously sinful actions, we are now called to avoid even interior tendencies toward these actions.  Not only must we purify our external actions, we must also purify our hearts.

This particular passage, that our “Yes” must mean “Yes,” and our “No” must mean “No,” is Jesus’ way of saying that the words we speak must flow from the honesty and integrity of our hearts.  In other words, what we say, exteriorly, must be spoken from the depths of our being.  Our words must flow from that which is in our hearts.

What a profound lesson for us.  It’s so very easy, in life, to live in a two-faced way.  It’s easy to say only that which we believe benefits us the most, makes us look good, or makes a particular situation easier.  It’s a common tendency to say what we believe others want to hear or to say that which paints our lives in the best light. 

True honesty and integrity requires that we speak only from the truth that resides within our hearts.  No, we do not have a moral duty to reveal every truth of our hearts publicly.  Some things are to be reserved only for God or for confession.  But when we do feel compelled to speak, it’s essential that our words carry the integrity of truth in every way.  Otherwise, they are meaningless, deceptive and, ultimately, destructive.

Reflect, today, upon your own honesty and integrity.  When you speak to others, do your words flow from the truth alive within your heart?  When God hears your words, does He see honesty?  After a conversation, can you return to prayer and face your Lord in peace and with a clear conscience?  If you struggle with honesty, know that it is honesty that produces integrity.  Seek the goodness of integrity in your life and our Lord will help you to achieve it by becoming a person of truth who speaks from the heart.

My most honest Lord, please make me pure of heart.  Help me to be a person of honesty and integrity.  May the truth that You place in my heart be the basis of my actions and my words.  May I speak with a clear conscience always speaking what You give me to speak.  Jesus, I trust in You.

I Do Will It!

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Mark 1:40-41

“I do will it.”  These four little words are worth digging into and pondering.  At first, we may read these words quickly and miss their depth and significance.  We may simply jump to that which Jesus wills and miss the fact of His willing itself.  But His act of willing is significant.  Sure, that which He willed is significant also.  The fact that He cured a leper has great meaning and significance.  Certainly it shows us His authority over nature.  It shows His almighty power.  It shows that Jesus can heal all wounds that are analogized by leprosy.  But don’t miss those four words: “I do will it.”

First of all, the two words “I do” are sacred words used at various times in our liturgies and are used to profess faith and commitment.  They are used in marriages to establish an unbreakable spiritual union, they are used in baptisms and other sacraments to renew our faith publicly, and they are also used in the ordination rite of priests as he makes his solemn promises.  To say “I do” is what one may call “action words.”  They are words that are also an act, a choice, a commitment, a decision.  They are words that have an effect on who we are and what we choose to become.

Jesus also adds “…will it.”  So Jesus is not just making a personal choice here or a personal commitment about His own life and convictions; rather, His words are an action that is effective and makes a difference for another.  The mere fact that He wills something, and then sets that will into motion by His words, means something happened.  Something changed.  An act of God was accomplished.

It would be of great benefit to us to sit with those words and ponder what sort of significance they have in our lives.  When Jesus speaks those words to us, what is He willing?  What is the “it” He is referring to?  He definitely has a particular will for our lives and He is definitely willing to enact it in our lives if we are willing to hear those words.

In this Gospel passage, the leper was completely disposed to Jesus’ words.  He was on his knees before Him as a sign of complete trust and complete submission.  He was ready to have Jesus act in his life and it is this openness, more than anything else, that evokes these action words from Jesus.

The leprosy is a clear sign of our own weaknesses and sin.  It’s a clear sign of our fallen human nature and weakness.  It’s a clear sign that we cannot heal ourselves.  It’s a clear sign that we need the Divine Healer.  When we acknowledge all of these realities and truths, we will be in a position, just like this leper, to turn to Jesus, on our knees, and beg His action in our lives.

Reflect, today, upon Jesus’ words and listen to what He is saying to you through them.  Jesus wills it.  Do you?  And if you do, are you willing to turn to Him and ask Him to act?  Are you willing to ask for and receive His will? 

Divine Healer, I do will it, I do.  I acknowledge Your divine will in my life.  But sometimes my will is weak and insufficient.  Help me to deepen my resolve to daily turn to You, the Divine Healer, so that I may encounter Your healing power.  Help me to be open to whatever Your will includes for my life.  Help me to be ready and willing to accept Your action in my life.  Jesus, I do trust in You.

It Takes a Lot of Faith!

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”  Luke 6:22-23

It takes a lot of faith to “rejoice and leap for joy” after experiencing hatred and persecution from another.  Even when one is persecuted on account of his/her faith in Christ, it takes a lot of faith and a lot of love to sincerely rejoice. 

But with that said, this level of faith and love is possible!  If it were not, our Lord would not have given this teaching.  It is a teaching to live the highest ideal.  It’s a calling to live in Beatitude.

Though it would be worth it to spend time on each and every one of the Beatitudes and to try to apply them to our lives, it’s also helpful to look at the more general fact that Jesus does not call us to mediocrity; rather, He calls us to the heights of perfection.  It is within those heights that our souls find the greatest reward.

Reflect, today, upon this Beatitude.  Perhaps you have never experienced persecution and hatred as a result of following Jesus.  But even if you haven’t, try to put yourself into this situation and try to honestly discover how you would react.  Would you be able to allow persecution to “roll off your back” so to speak?  Would you be able to accept injustice in your life without allowing it to disturb your interior peace?  Or would you turn bitter and angry as a result of the hurt you would feel?

Try to put your eyes upon the ideals of the Christian life.  If you aim for anything less, you run the risk of actually attaining that lower goal.  But if you put your eyes upon the high calling of the Beatitudes, then you will find that our Lord will continually draw you closer to His heart, cleansing you, strengthening you, filling you with more faith, hope and love, and bringing you to an increasingly blessed level of holiness.  It’s worth it to aim for the ideal!

Lord of perfection, please make me holy.  Help me to keep my eyes upon You and upon the virtues and Beatitudes that You call me to live.  May I never settle for a mediocre life.  Instead, may I strive only for a life of perfection and holiness making You the center of all I long for.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Jesus Sighed…Deeply

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”  Mark 8:11-12

Jesus “sighed from the depth of His spirit.”  It is clear this was no ordinary sigh.  It was a sigh that was more than emotion.  It was from the “depth of His spirit.”  What was going on with Jesus?

This sigh reveals a pain and suffering in Jesus that was spiritual in nature.  It was a pain and suffering that came as a result of being rejected by others.  But it wasn’t just that He was hurt or offended, because He wasn’t.  The suffering He felt was from His love.  It came as a result of Him loving the Pharisees deeply and realizing that they were rejecting the grace He wanted to offer them.  This hurt not because Jesus was sensitive to being hurt; rather, it hurt because of His boundless love for them.

It’s interesting that we rarely think of Jesus’ love for the Pharisees.  Often, we only think of Him being harsh to them and condemning them.  But every strong word He directed toward them was aimed at converting them out of love.  It was an attempt, on His part, to shake them out of their indifference and rejection of grace.  It was an act of love.

Reflect, today, upon the “Pharisees” in your life.  Perhaps you do not encounter those who are proud or haughty, or maybe you do.  The Pharisees in your life are those who reject the free gift of love you try to offer.  They are those who are so hurt, confused or bitter that they find it very hard to let love in.  They throw up every sort of defense there is to avoid letting your love in.  And when you see this rejection, it hurts.  It may then tempt you to have anger or condemnation.

But how should you react?  You should do as Jesus did!  You should sigh, and “sigh deeply.”  You should feel the hurt of their rejection and feel holy sorrow for them.  At times, you may need to confront them as Jesus did.  But never out of your wounded pride.  You should confront only because you judge that it’s the best way to win them over.  You will know that this is an act of love when you feel that deep sigh within your spirit.

Loving Lord, help me to love with a pure and holy love.  Help me to feel a holy sorrow over my sins and the sins of others when I encounter their sins.  Let that holy sorrow compel me to love more deeply.  Jesus, I trust in You.

What’s Your Leaven?

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”  Mark 8:15

What is this “leaven” Jesus is speaking of?  After giving this warning to His disciples, Jesus then gives an explanation to them of what He means and what He doesn’t mean.  But even the explanation seems to be over their heads.  So He concludes by saying, “Do you still not understand?”  To this day, Jesus is still asking this question to each one of us.

This was certainly Jesus trying to get them to think, to listen and to look deeper.  He was warning them, “Watch out!”  Watch out for this leaven.  It’s a warning of love to help them see and understand a very real danger.

Everyone who bakes bread knows the effect of just a little leaven (such as yeast) in the dough.  Add just a little bit and it affects the whole loaf.  If a child is helping with the baking, this child may return several times, watching the dough rise little by little.  It can become a fascinating thing to watch.  And it all resulted from just this little yeast.

So what is this leaven of the Pharisees and Herod?  It’s the evil words, evil intent and errors that they spread.  For the Pharisees, it may be that it’s just a little misconception or misrepresentation of what Jesus said or did.  They may twist His words or may simply give non-verbal opinions to others.  This is contagious and has potential to affect everyone.  Little by little their small seeds of doubt and dissent take a toll on others.

We may tend to be thinking about all of “those” people we know who do this.  But we’d miss an important opportunity for growth if we failed to first look at ourselves.  Do I do this sometimes?  Do I say things that mislead in small or subtle ways?  Or do I mislead others by my non-verbal negative attitudes?  Am I a “negative person” sometimes?

No need to feel guilty or get down on ourselves if we feel convicted.  Rather, we should look at this little lesson of Jesus to realize the great power of our words.  The smallest of words can do great harm over time.  

But that’s not all we should focus on.  It’s just as important to realize that the small loving words we say also have potential to make a huge difference over time.  Perhaps it’s just that small smile we give or a kind action that we think goes unnoticed.  These little actions and words are the leaven of the Gospel.  They do make a difference and they can become contagious, also.  

Reflect, today, upon the small things in life.  Know that these small sins and small acts of love make a huge difference in the end.

My attentive Lord, help me to be honest and see what sort of leaven I sow each and every day.  Help me to be purged of the bad and filled with the good.  May You inspire me to be that good leaven in all the many daily interactions I have.  Jesus, I trust in You.

One Step at a Time

Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?”   Looking up the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.”  Then he laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.  Mark 8:23-25

This story is very unique for one reason.  It’s unique because the first time Jesus tried to cure the blind man it only worked half way.  He could see after Jesus’ first attempt to heal his blindness, but what he saw were “people looking like trees and walking.”  It took Jesus laying His hands on the man’s eyes a second time for him to be fully cured.  Why is that?

Consistently, throughout the Gospels, when Jesus cures someone it is done as a result of the faith they have and manifest.  It’s not that Jesus couldn’t heal someone without faith; rather, it’s that this is what He chose to do.  He made healing contingent upon complete faith.

In this miracle story, it appears that the blind man has some faith, but not much.  As a result, Jesus does something very telling.  He allows the man to be healed only part way so as to illustrate his lack of faith.  But He also reveals to us that a little faith can lead to more faith.  The man, once he could see a little, clearly began to believe some more.  And once his faith grew, Jesus laid hands on him again, bringing his healing to completion.

What a great illustration for us!  Some people may have complete faith in God in all things.  If that is you, then you are truly blessed.  But this passage is especially for those who have faith, but struggle nonetheless.  To those who fall into this category, Jesus is offering much hope.  The action of healing the man twice in a row tells us that Jesus is patient and merciful and will take the little we have, and the little we offer, and use it the best He can.  He will work to transform our little faith so that we can then take another step closer to God and grow in faith.

The same could be said of sin.  Sometimes we have imperfect sorrow for sin and sometimes we sin and have no sorrow for it, even though we know it’s wrong.  If that is you, then try to take at least one small step forward toward the healing of forgiveness.  Try, at very least, to desire that you will grow in a desire to be sorry.  That may be the bare minimum, but Jesus will work with it.

Reflect, today, upon this blind man.  Ponder this twofold healing and twofold conversion the man undergoes.  Know that this is you and that Jesus wants to take you one step further in your faith and in your repentance of sin.

Lord of mercy, I thank You for the incredible patience You have with me.  I know my faith in You is weak and must increase.  I know my sorrow for my sins must also increase.  Please do take the little faith I have and the little sorrow I have for my sins and use them to draw me one step closer to You and Your merciful heart.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Freedom From Fear

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus began to teach the Apostles that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.  He spoke this openly.  Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  Mark 8:31-32

Why would Peter take Jesus aside and rebuke Him?  Was it a rebuke of anger at Jesus?  No, it was most likely a rebuke based in the fear that Peter was experiencing in his heart.

This passage says that Jesus “began to teach” the Apostles that He would soon suffer greatly, be rejected and killed.  This would have been difficult for the Apostles to accept and understand.  At first, they would have experienced all the emotions and thoughts that we all go through as we are processing some difficult news.  We may start with denial, then become angry, look for a way out, panic, be confused, etc.  Going through stages of grief and acceptance are normal and it appears that this is what Peter was experiencing.

Out of his interior struggle in coming to an acceptance of what Jesus was starting to reveal to them, Peter tried to put up a block.  In Matthew’s account of this story we hear the actual words of Peter, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mt. 16:22). 

Peter’s words were certainly words of concern for Jesus, but it’s important to note that, just because Peter was concerned about Jesus, this doesn’t mean that his words were helpful.

As the story continues, Jesus rebukes Peter sternly, but it’s done out of love for Peter to help rid him of his fear and confusion.  It’s understandable that Peter is fearful of the prediction of the Cross.  It’s understandable when any one of us experiences fear in the face of some grave cross or hardship.  The key here is to know that Jesus does not want us to sit in fear.  He does not want us to run from the crosses we are given based on our human weakness.  Instead, He wants us to turn to Him and try to think as He thinks, to act as He acts, and to face our hardships as He did by embracing His Cross.

Reflect, today, upon your own reaction to the difficult things God calls you to do.  Yes, you can be certain that He does daily call you to actions that require great sacrifice and great love.  This can be experienced as painful.  But you should never allow the pain of any cross to deter you from carrying it.  Pray that you have courage to face your crosses and, if needed, be open to the loving rebuke of Jesus when you find that you need a rebuke to set you on the path to freedom from fear.

Lord of strength, I know that You courageously and fearlessly faced the holy sacrifice of Your glorious Cross.  As I am invited to follow in Your footsteps, I find that fear can overwhelm me as it did Peter.  Please strengthen me in those times and give me the grace I need to say “Yes” to You no matter what You ask.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The True Depths of Christian Love

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Mark 8:34

The first most fundamental question posed to us through this Scripture is this: Do you wish to come after Jesus?  Unless this question is answered first, the rest of what Jesus says will have no effect upon us.  So let’s look at that question.

Intellectually speaking, everyone reading this has most likely answered that question in the affirmative numerous times.  Each time you go to Mass, spend time praying, or read the Scriptures you are, in one way or another, saying, “Yes, I want to come after You, Lord.”  Most likely, we have all even said specific prayers by which we make the conscious choice to follow Christ.  But we should see much more than the need to simply make an intellectual choice in this passage.

The phrase, “Whoever wishes” seems to reveal even more than a decision, it also reveals a desire.  It reveals that a desire to follow Christ is not usually the first step in the process, it’s the last.  The first step is to come to an understanding of the truth and to profess it.  Secondly, we must will what we have chosen.  Thirdly, once grace begins to work on us to transform us, we begin to “wish” or “desire” all that Jesus wants of us and all that He calls us to embrace. 

So what will we find ourselves “wishing” if we are following Christ with our whole being?  We will find that we desire what Jesus reveals next; namely, we will desire to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Do you desire that?

It’s easy to desire to love and be loved, at least on a more superficial level.  Hopefully, we all enjoy kind and caring words, both giving them and receiving them.  But the true love of Christ, following His example of love, requires a desire for selfless and sacrificial love.  This is the perfection of love!  We are called, ultimately, to love without even considering the cost or the demands that Christian love places upon us.  Or, to take it even further, we are called to love even that which is painful and difficult when it is the will of God.  His will most certainly includes acts of sacrifice.  True love, ultimately, desires even this.

Reflect, today, upon this most fundamental question.  Do you wish to come after Jesus and, therefore, are you ready and willing to embrace and even desire all that this entails?  You make the choice; God will place the desire in your heart.  Say “Yes” to Him and His Cross.  In the end, you will be eternally grateful you did.

My sacrificial Lord, I want to desire Your Cross.  I want to come to a level of love through which I desire to give myself completely to You, without counting the cost, and even desiring those acts which require great sacrifice.  You embraced Your Cross without reserve out of love for us.  Help me to imitate Your perfect example.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Road to Virtue – Living Between the Extremes

Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.  Mark 9:5-6

This passage comes in the midst of the glorious event of the Transfiguration.  Peter, James and John went up a high mountain with Jesus, and Jesus was suddenly transfigured before them.  He was radiant white with light shining forth and He was speaking with Moses and Elijah. 

These three Apostles witness this miraculous event and they are so overwhelmed and excited that Peter says something that seems a bit silly.  As the Scripture points out, “He hardly knew what to say.”  But, nonetheless, he suggests that they build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.  Of course, Jesus doesn’t respond to this offer, because He knew Peter was so excited that he couldn’t think straight.  Moses and Elijah certainly did not need tents. 

One subtle truth of the spiritual life to take from this passage is that, at times, when we have a powerful experience of the presence of God, we can be tempted to go to what we may call a “holy extreme.”  Peter was instantly so excited that he wanted to stay right there on the mountain.  Of course, this was not practical and not rational.  It wasn’t a big deal that he had this reaction, but it is worth noting and learning from.

At times, we can find ourselves feeling very close to God and deeply inspired in one way or another.  When this happens, we may find that the emotional response we have is, in a sense, to go overboard.  Not overboard in our love of God, that’s not possible, but overboard in a zeal that is more based in our emotions than it is in the will of God.  This is the classical example of having a “spiritual high.”  Yes, we must strive to be deeply intimate with our Lord, but we must always make sure that even good emotions do not lead us down the road of our own will rather than the will of God.

Reflect, today, upon any tendency you may have in this regard.  The goal of a virtuous life is true balance between the extremes.  Though we must be 100% committed to God and His will, we must make sure that we are not drawn to one side of the road or the other.  Pray that our Lord will keep you firmly on the path that leads to Him and His holy will.

Lord of perfect virtue, I do desire to be totally Yours in every way.  I desire to love You and serve You with my whole mind, heart, soul and strength.  Help me to always follow Your will and Your will alone.  Help me to never be deterred from the path You have set before me.  May I live between the extremes I am drawn to so that I may live a true life of virtue.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

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