Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

Overcoming the Fear of Suffering

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

[Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  Matthew 16:23

This was Jesus’ response to Peter after Peter said to Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).  Peter was referring to the coming persecution and death that Jesus had just predicted in his presence.  Peter was shocked and concerned and couldn’t accept what Jesus was saying.  He couldn’t accept that Jesus would soon “go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).  Thus, Peter expressed his concern and it was met with a strong rebuke from Jesus.

If this were spoken by anyone other than our Lord, it might be immediately concluded that Jesus’ words were too much.  Why would Jesus refer to Peter as “Satan” for expressing his concern about Jesus’ well-being?  Though this may be hard to accept, it does reveal that the thinking of God is far above our own.

The fact is that Jesus’ pending suffering and death was the greatest act of love ever known.  From a divine perspective, His willing embrace of suffering and death was the most awesome gift God could give to the world.  Therefore, when Peter pulled Jesus aside and said, “God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you,” Peter was actually allowing his fear and human weakness to interfere with the divine choice of the Savior to lay His life down for the salvation of the world. 

Jesus’ words to Peter would have produced a “holy shock.”  This shock was an act of love that had the effect of helping Peter to overcome his fear and to accept the glorious fate and mission of Jesus.

Reflect, today, upon any way that you find yourself resisting the call to sacrificial love.  Love is not always easy and often times may demand great sacrifice and courage on your part.  Are you ready and willing to embrace the crosses of love in your life?  Furthermore, are you willing to walk with others, encouraging them along the way, when they, too, are called to embrace the crosses of life?  Seek strength and wisdom this day and strive to live by the divine perspective in all things, especially suffering.

Lord, I love You and pray that I may always love You in a sacrificial way.  May I never fear the crosses I have been given and may I never dissuade others from following in Your steps of selfless sacrifice.  Jesus, I trust in  You.


That Which is Within

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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

Jesus speaks this passage after calling the Pharisees “hypocrites.”  He rebukes them for being obsessively concerned about the externals and failing to be attentive to the internals.  Jesus makes it clear that evil comes from within and that the heart should be our true concern.

The thing that sparked Jesus’ strong rebuke of the Pharisees was the fact that they criticized the disciples for not washing their hands and, thus, they ate their meal with “unclean hands.”  What’s sad is that the Pharisees seem to make a huge deal about this fact.  What this reveals is that the Pharisees seemed to think that holiness is something that you obtain by scrupulous external observance of the laws and customs of the times.  But they failed to see the importance of what was within.

St. Teresa of Ávila has a couple of beautiful quotes that speak of the importance of that which is within.  “Within you dwells your God. Enter within, look at Him, talk to Him, listen to Him and stay with Him in your heart.”  And, “Indeed, we have heaven within ourselves for the Lord of Heaven is there.”

Jesus also points out the types of  evil that come from within. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile”  Mark 7: 21-23.

So what’s in your heart?  When you spend time alone and quietly look at your life, what do you see?  What is it that makes up your interior life?

Reflect, today, upon that which is within.  Know that any sin in your heart must be acknowledged, confessed and purged.  Only when that is done can you meet God who dwells within.  Only then can you allow God to transform your exterior from His presence in your soul.

Lord, please do come into my heart.  Set my heart on fire with love for You.  Purge my heart of all sin and allow Your divine presence to shine forth for all to see.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Attentiveness to Jesus

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.  Luke 14:1

What an interesting line.  This line should not be overlooked in that it reveals a common reaction that some have to Jesus.  What is the reaction?  It’s the tendency to observe Jesus carefully from a distance.

Look at the context of this statement.  Jesus was invited to the home of a leading Pharisee and many other people were present.  Those who were there would have been considered the “movers and shakers” of that time.  They were the influential, wealthy, educated, and prestigious of the community.  Many would have been quite concerned about their reputation and quite curious about Jesus since He was growing in such popularity with the people.  So, as a result, they were all “observing him carefully.”

Notice the implication present in this description of their reaction to Jesus.  Unlike the manifest sinners of that time, theydid not come to Him, falling at His feet, begging for mercy.  Rather, they appear to be quite interested in how Jesus will be accepted by others, what He will say and what they should think about Him.  Even though it is unfortunate that they do not all completely turn to Jesus in faith, it’s at least good that they are attentive to Jesus and realize He is unique. 

This curiosity on their part is not all bad.  In fact, it may lead some of them to salvation.  By observing Jesus, they are clearly pondering Him, His words and His actions.  This is good if and only if it results in each one of them turning to Him in faith and choosing to embrace our Lord regardless of what others think.  This is a risk for those consumed with their own public image.  But it’s a risk that is worth taking.  For those who are willing to humbly allow their observations to turn into true faith, their lives will change.  But in order to do so, they must let go of any fear they have of what others may think.

Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have to only “observe” Jesus and His will from a distance.  If you find you are curious and interested in the presence of God around you, do not hesitate to act on this curiosity, allowing His words and presence to change your life.  Do not let yourself become concerned about what others may think.  Give your life to Him without hesitation and you will be eternally grateful you did.

Lord, when I perceive Your presence in my life, give me the courage I need to respond.  May I never let societal pressures or pride to interfere with my turning to You.  I love You, dear Lord.  Help me to love You without reserve.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Meeting Christ in Others

Monday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

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

Do you ever feel that it’s easier to talk about Jesus with a stranger than with those closest to you?  Why is that?  Sometimes it is hard to share your faith with those closest to you, and it can be even harder to let yourself be inspired by the faith of someone close to you.

Jesus makes this statement above after He had just read from the Prophet Isaiah in the presence of His kinfolk.  They listened to Him, were somewhat impressed at first, but quickly came to the conclusion that He was nothing special.  In the end, they were filled with fury at Jesus, drove Him out of the town and almost killed Him right then and there.  But it wasn’t His time.

If the Son of God had a hard time being accepted as a prophet by His own kin, so also will we have a hard time sharing the Gospel with those close to us.  But what is far more important for us to consider is the way we do or do not see Christ in those closest to us.  Are we among those who refuse to see Christ present in our family and those we are close to?  Do we tend, instead, to be critical and judgmental to those around us?

The truth is that it’s much easier for us to see the faults of those closest to us than their virtue.  It’s much easier to see their sins than the presence of God in their lives.  But it is not our job to focus in on their sin.  It’s our job to see God in them.

Each and every person we are close to will, no doubt, have goodness in them.  They will reflect the presence of God if we are willing to see that.  Our goal must be to not only see it, but to seek it out.  And the closer we are to them the more we must focus in on the presence of God in their lives.

Reflect, today, upon whether or not YOU are willing to accept the prophetic voice of Christ in the people all around you.  Are you willing to see Him, acknowledge Him and love Him in them?  If not, you are guilty of Jesus’ words above.

Lord, may I see You in all those with whom I relate each and every day.  May I constantly seek You out in their lives.  And as I discover You, may I love You in them.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Demons are For Real

Tuesday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”  Luke 4:34-36

Yes, it’s a frightening thought.  Demons are for real.  Or is it frightening?  If we look at the whole scene here we find that Jesus is clearly victorious over the demon and casts him out without allowing him to do the man any harm.  So, truth be told, this passage is far more frightening for the demons than it should be for us!

But what it does tell us is that demons are real, they hate us and they desire deeply to destroy us.  So, if that’s not frightening it should at least make us sit up and pay attention.

Demons are fallen angels who retain their natural powers.  Though they turned from God and acted in complete selfishness, God does not strip away their natural powers unless they misuse them and we turn to Him for help.  So what is it that demons are capable of?  As with the holy angels, demons have natural powers of communication and influence upon us and upon our world.  The angels are given the care of the world and our lives.  Those angels that fell from grace now try to use their power over the world and their power to influence us and communicate with us for evil.  They have turned from God and now they want to turn us.

One thing this tells us is that we must constantly act in a discerning way.  It’s easy to be tempted and led astray by a lying demon.  In the case above, this poor man had so cooperated with this demon that it took full possession of his life.  Though that level of influence and control upon us is quite rare, it can happen.  What’s most important, however, is that we simply understand and believe that demons are real and they constantly try to lead us astray.

But the good news is that Jesus has all power over them and easily confronts them and overpowers them if we but seek His grace to do so. 

Reflect, today, upon the reality of evil and the reality of demonic temptations in our world.  We’ve all experienced them.  They are nothing to be overly frightened about.  And they should not be seen in an overly dramatic light.  Demons are powerful, but the power of God easily triumphs if we let Him take control.  So as you reflect upon the reality of evil and demonic temptations, reflect also on God’s desire to enter in and render them powerless.  Allow God to take command and trust that God will conquer. 

Lord, when I am tempted and confused, please come to me.  Help me to discern the evil one and his lies.  May I turn to You the All-Powerful One in all things, and may I rely upon the powerful intercession of the holy angels You have entrusted to me.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Desiring Jesus Always

Wednesday of the Twenty-Second Week of Ordinary Time

At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place. The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him, they tried to prevent him from leaving them.  Luke 4:42

What a beautiful act of affection and love for Jesus.  Here, Jesus was with the crowds at sunset and spent the entire night with the people curing them and preaching to them.  Perhaps they all got some sleep at some point but it may have happened that Jesus was up with them all night. 

In this passage above, Jesus went away to be alone at daybreak just as the sun was rising.  He went to pray and simply be present to His Father in Heaven.  And what happened?  Even though Jesus had dedicated the entire last evening and night to the people, they wanted to be with Him some more.  He was gone for a short time to pray and they immediately went searching for Him.  And when they found Jesus, they begged Him to stay longer.

Though Jesus had to move on and preach to other towns, it is clear that He made quite an impression with these people.  Their hearts were touched deeply and they wanted Jesus to stay.

T
he good news is that Jesus can now stay with us 24/7 today.  At that time, He had not yet ascended to Heaven and therefore was limited to being in one place at a time.  But now that He is in Heaven, Jesus can live in all places at all times. 

So what we see in this passage above is the desire that we should all have.  We should desire that Jesus remains with us 24/7 just as these good people desired.  We should go to sleep with Him on our minds, wake praying to Him and allow Him to accompany us throughout every day.  We should foster the same love and affection for Jesus that the people had in this passage above.  Fostering that desire is the first step to allowing His presence to accompany us all day every day.

Reflect, today, upon your desire or lack of desire to be with Jesus always.  Are there times when you prefer He not be there?  Or have you allowed yourself to have this same affection for Jesus seeking His presence in your life always?

Lord, I desire that You be present in my life all day long every day.  May I always seek You and always be attentive to Your presence in my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Put Out Into the Deep

Thursday of the Twenty-Second Week of Ordinary Time

After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caughtnothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.  Luke 5:4-6

“Put out into deep water…”  There is great meaning to this little line.

First of all, it’s important to note that the Apostles had fished all night long with no success.  They were most likely disappointed at their lack of fish and were not all that ready to fish some more.  But Jesus directs Simon to do so and he does it.  The result is that they caught more fish than they thought they could handle.

But the one piece of symbolic meaning we should not miss is that Jesus tells Simon to put out into the “deep” water.  What does that mean?

This passage is not only about the physical miracle of catching fish; rather, it’s much more about the mission of evangelizing souls and accomplishing the mission of God.  And the symbolism of putting out into the deep water tells us that we must be all in and fully committed if we are to evangelize and spread the Word of God as we are called to do.

When we listen to God and act on His word, committing ourselves to His will in a radical and deep way, He will produce an abundant catch of souls.  This “catch” will come in an unexpected way at an unexpected time and will clearly be the work of God. 

But think about what would have happened if Simon would have laughed and told Jesus, “Sorry, Lord, I’m done fishing for the day.  Maybe tomorrow.”  If Simon would have acted this way he would never have been blessed with this abundant catch.  The same is true with us.  If we fail to listen to the voice of God in our lives, and fail to heed His radical commands, we will not be used in the way He desires to use us.

Reflect, today, upon your willingness to act upon the voice of the Savior.  Are you willing to say “Yes” to Him in all things?  Are you willing to radically follow the direction He gives?  If so, you also will be amazed at what He does in your life.

Lord, I desire to put out into the deep water and to radically evangelize in the way to which You call me.  Help me to say “Yes” to you in all things.  Jesus, I trust in You.


New Wine into New Wineskins

Friday of the Twenty-Second Weekof Ordinary Time

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.”  Luke 5:37

What is this new wine?  And what are the old wineskins? The new wine is the new life of grace we have been blessed with in abundance and the old wineskins are our old fallen natures and the old law.  What Jesus is telling us is that if we wish to receive His grace and mercy in our lives we must allow Him to transform our old selves into new creations and embrace the new law of grace. 

Have you become a new creation?  Have you allowed your former self to die so that the new person can rise again?  What does it mean to become a new creation in Christ so that the new wine of grace can be poured into your life?

Becoming a new creation in Christ means that we live on a whole new level and no longer cling to our former ways.  It means that God does powerful things in our lives far beyond anything we could ever do by ourselves.  It means we have become a new and fit “wineskin” for God to be poured into.  And it means that this new “wine” is the Holy Spirit taking hold of and possessing our lives.

Practically speaking, if we are made a new creation in Christ then we are properly prepared to receive the grace of the Sacraments and all that comes our way through daily prayer and worship.  But the first goal must be to become those new wineskins.  So how do we do this?

We do it by Baptism and then by intentionally choosing to turn from sin and embrace the Gospel.  But this general command from God, to turn from sin and embrace the Gospel, must be very intentional and lived daily.  As we make daily practical and intentional decisions to turn to Christ in all things, we will discover that the Holy Spirit suddenly, powerfully and immediately pours the new wine of grace into our lives.  We will discover a new peace and joy that fills us and we will have strength beyond our own ability. 

Reflect, today, upon whether or not you are truly a new creation in Christ.  Have you turned from your former way and shed the shackles that bound you?  Have you embraced the new full Gospel and do you daily allow God to pour forth the Holy Spirit in your life? 

Lord, please do make me a new creation.  Transform me and renew me completely.  May my new life in You be one that continually receives the full outpouring of Your grace and mercy.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Scrupulosity

Saturday of the Twenty-Second Week of Ordinary Time

While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.  Some Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”  Luke 6:1-2

Talk about being petty!  Here the disciples were hungry, they most likely had been walking for some time with Jesus and came upon some wheat and picked it to eat as they walked.  And they were condemned by the Pharisees for doing this very normal action.  Did they really break the law and offend God by picking and eating this grain?

Jesus’ response makes it clear that the Pharisees are quite confused and that the disciples did nothing wrong.  But this passage does give us an opportunity to reflect upon one spiritual danger that some fall into at times.  It’s the danger of scrupulosity. 

Now, if you are one who tends to be scrupulous you are probably already beginning to be scrupulous right now about being scrupulous.  And the more you read on you may be tempted to feel scrupulous about feeling scrupulous about being scrupulous.  And the cycle can go on and on with this struggle.

We do not know if this is the case, but if one or more of the disciples struggled with scrupulosity and then heard the Pharisees condemn them for eating the grain, they may have felt immediate remorse and guilt over their actions.  They would have started to fear that they were guilty of breaking God’s command to keep holy the Sabbath.  But their scrupulosity has to be seen for what it is and they have to recognize the trigger that tempted them toward scrupulosity.

The “trigger” that tempted them toward scrupulosity is an extreme and erroneous view of the law of God as presented by the Pharisees.  Yes, God’s law is perfect and must always be followed down to the last letter of the law.  But for those who struggle with scrupulosity, the law of God can easily become distorted and exaggerated.  Human laws and human misrepresentations of the law of God can cause confusion.  And, in the Scripture above, the trigger was the arrogance and harshness of the Pharisees.  God was not offended in any way by the disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees, therefore, were attempting to impose a burden on the disciples that was not from God.

We, too, can be tempted to look at God’s law and will in a scrupulous way.  Though many people do the opposite (are too lax), some do struggle with worrying about offending God when He is not offended at all.

Reflect, today, upon your own struggle with scrupulosity.  If this is you, know that God wants to free you from these burdens.

Lord, help me to see Your law and will in the light of truth.  Help me to shed all misconceptions and misrepresentations of Your law in exchange for the truths of Your perfect love and mercy.  May I cling to that mercy and love in all things and above all things.  Jesus, I trust in You.