Prayer and Humility
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” Mark 12:38–40
It’s important to note here that Jesus says, “They will receive a very severe condemnation.” These words are spoken from Him who is the source of mercy and grace. His heart is full of kindness and compassion, He is gentle and forgiving, and He wants nothing other than our eternal salvation. And yet Jesus is clear that the scribes will be severely condemned.
The first thing we should think is that we do not want to be like the scribes! We do not want to receive similar condemnation. Thus, we should avoid their state of sin. So that begs the question, “What sin of the scribes earned them this severe condemnation?”
The bottom line is that they were frauds. They were consumed with a desire for “places of honor.” They clearly treated others poorly: “They devour the houses of widows.” What’s worse, they presented themselves as people of prayer when they clearly were not. As a result, Jesus severely condemned them.
So what do we learn from their errors? We should learn at least the following two lessons:
1) The true “place of honor” is the place of the greatest humility. True honor, in the eyes of God, is found when we serve without notice and give without recognition. In this way, our giving and serving are done purely out of a motivation of love and not self-serving intentions. The humble person does not seek to be praised and honored for the love they give. The act of giving and serving is itself the gift they receive.
2) Reciting lengthy prayers is not the same as praying. Prayer is about one thing. It’s about entering into communion with God. It’s about establishing a relationship with Him in a deep, beautiful and abiding way. It’s about love. Prayer is not for show or to gain the admiration of others.
Reflect, today, upon the harsh judgment Jesus issued toward the scribes. Know that this is done, in part, to teach us what to avoid in life. Avoid all selfish pride. Seek humility and true prayer and you will be greatly blessed.
Monday, November 8, 2021
Loving Every Sinner
Monday of the Thirty-Second Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” Luke 17:1–2
Having a millstone placed around your neck and thrown into the sea is very descriptive. Jesus is using very evocative language. A millstone was a large round stone with a hole in the center. If it were placed around someone’s neck and they were thrown into the sea, they would obviously sink to the bottom and die. Thus, Jesus is clearly stating that this awful fate is actually better than the fate of those who cause “one of these little ones to sin.”
First of all, it should be clarified that no one can actually cause us to sin. Sin is our own free choice, and we, and we alone, will be held accountable for our own sin. One thing that Jesus is pointing out here is that even though every person must take responsibility for their own actions and their own sins, we must also take responsibility for the ways that we act as tempters of others. We are all sinners. Therefore, by our sin, we will all tempt others to sin also. Sometimes we will tempt people to sin by provoking them to anger. At other times we will tempt others to sin by setting a poor example. And on the contrary, we also have the ability to “tempt” people to virtue. Or more properly speaking, to inspire and encourage them.
With that said, Jesus explains that the fate of those who act as tempters of others, especially the “little ones,” will suffer consequences graver than an untimely death. The little ones of which Jesus speaks should be understood as those who are weak in faith, overly sensitive, particularly vulnerable at that time in their life, and susceptible to outside influence. This could be a child, or it could be someone who is currently teetering on the edge of despair, confusion, anger, or any serious sin. When you encounter people like this, how do you treat them? Jesus has a deep heart of compassion for these people and wants us to have the same depth of compassion. But sometimes we fail. We may be negligent in our duty to reach out to them. Even this negligence could be a form of causing “one of these little ones to sin.” Of course, it is even far worse if we were to actively agitate them, harshly judge them, provoke their anger, draw them into some sin of weakness and false consolation by our temptation, etc. The simple truth is that Jesus loves those who are weak, vulnerable and sinful, and He wants us to love them with His heart. When we fail to do so, Jesus will hold us accountable for their further fall from grace.
Reflect, today, upon the person or persons in your life that appear especially vulnerable, sinful, confused and lost at this time. Who is it that struggles with anger, or an addiction or some sinful lifestyle? Ponder your attitude toward them. Are you judgmental, condemning, belittling and the like? Do you tempt them to fall further into any sins of weakness they commit in a vulnerable state, thus leading them into further sin? Or, when you encounter someone who is greatly struggling, do you turn to them with the deepest compassion and mercy, forgiving any ways that they may sin against you, and work hard only to be there for them in their need, no matter how hard it is on you? Commit yourself to a profound love of all of God’s “little ones” and seek to serve them with the heart of Christ so that one day they will eternally rejoice with you in Heaven.
My most compassionate Lord, You love the sinner and deeply desire that they turn to You in their need. Please give me Your heart of compassion so that I will be free to love them as You love them. May I never become an instrument of temptation for them to fall further away from You but, instead, become an instrument of Your unfailing mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, November 9, 2021
Being Shocked by Our Lord
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, November 9
Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. John 2:19–21
We celebrate, today, the Lateran Basilica in Rome, the mother church of the entire Roman Catholic Church. It was given to the Bishop of Rome in the fourth century and remained the pope’s primary residence until the building of St. Peter’s Basilica, at a time when the Lateran Basilica was falling into ruins. However, the Lateran Basilica to this day remains the most important Church in the world, since it is officially the Cathedral Church of Rome.
As we honor this church, we honor more than a building. The Lateran Basilica is a symbol of the one true Church of Jesus Christ. It’s interior is beautiful and awe-inspiring so as to point us to the unimaginable beauty of the Church Herself, which is the Mystical Body of Christ.
Today’s Gospel depicts Jesus entering the Temple and driving the money changers out with a whip and the animals they were selling for profit. As He did so, He cried out, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Psalm 69 is then quoted: Zeal for your house will consume me.
Jesus loves His Church as His own Body—because that is what it is. As His Body, the members of His Church are called and sent to act as His instruments, members of His saving action. Much more than a church building, today we honor the Church Herself—which means we honor you, insofar as you are a member of the Body of Christ. And in light of this Gospel passage for today’s Feast, we are reminded of the zeal that our Lord has for the cleansing of His Church.
How is the Church purified? It is purified by the cleansing of Her members. That means that Jesus desires, with perfect zeal, to drive out every sin from your soul, cleansing the filth that keeps you from fulfilling your essential role as a member of His Body.
Sometimes we become slack in our own commitment to be purified. We can easily become comfortable with the sins we commit, and we can form habits that are hard to break. When this happens, it is useful to ponder this story of the cleansing of the Temple and see it as Jesus’ desire to cleanse our own soul. At times, we need to be shaken up, challenged, confronted and encouraged with the unwavering zeal in the heart of our Lord.
Reflect, today, upon this powerful image of Jesus cleansing the Temple. As you do, apply it to your own life. The people selling and buying in the Temple must have been shocked at Jesus’ zeal and actions. If you have become complacent with your sins, try to allow this holy shock to also wake you up. Allow our Lord’s zeal to affect you, and know that His purifying actions are acts of love by which He desires to free you to become a more fully functioning member of His holy Church.
My zealous Lord, Your heart burns with a deep desire to cleanse me and all Your children from sin. Your zeal reveals Your deep love and Your willingness to do all that You can to make me a fuller member of Your Body, the Church. Open my mind and will, dear Lord, to all that You wish to say to me and give me the grace to respond to Your purifying action in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
Thank You, My Lord
Wednesday of the Thirty-Second Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Luke 17:17–19
This reply from our Lord came in response to the one leper who returned to Jesus to thank Him. Ten lepers had come to Jesus, stood at a distance, cried out, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And with that, Jesus healed them all. But the heart of this healing is not as much the healing itself as it is the gratitude expressed by only one of the ten.
This Gospel relates to us that this one leper did five things to profoundly express his gratitude. He returned, glorified God, did so in a loud voice, fell at the feet of Jesus, and thanked him. What a wonderful witness for us all!
By analogy, children often take the loving care of their parents for granted. That’s why many good parents regularly remind their children to say “thank you.” In our relationship with God, we can also easily take God’s saving actions for granted. We can easily see all the grace we receive as something we deserve rather than as an infinitely merciful gift. When that happens, we become more like the other nine who failed to properly express their gratitude to Jesus.
First of all, it must be noted that expressing gratitude to God is not done because God needs these accolades. He does not depend upon our gratitude to affirm His self-worth. This is obvious. God is God, and He does not need our praise in any way. However, giving profound praise and glory to God is essential. It is essential because we need this virtue of gratitude so as to daily be reminded that all we receive from God is an unmerited gift. We cannot earn His love and grace. We do not deserve it. But He chooses to bestow it anyway out of mercy. And the only appropriate response to mercy is gratitude. Profound gratitude.
Gratitude is essential because it is the truth. We should always return to our Lord after He has graced us. We should glorify Him with much fervor, crying out to Him with passion. We should, literally and interiorly, fall on our face before Him, at His feet, and thank Him, over and over and over again. Doing so will always help us to remember the truth that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God. An unmerited and undeserved gift of grace.
Reflect, today, upon the depth of gratitude in your own heart. Do you often act more like a spoiled and selfish child, or do you regularly perceive the graciousness of God? If you lack in any way this fullness of gratitude, then ponder this one leper. His gratitude, expressed with the fullness of passion, is the most important part of this story. In the end, he was graced far more than the other nine because his healing produced faith; and it was that faith that saved not only his body but his soul. Seek to save your soul by imitating the faith of this one holy and healed leper.
My gracious Lord, You bestow Your mercy upon me in superabundance. Without You, Jesus, I have nothing; but with You, I receive everything. May I always know and understand my need for Your grace. And as I am gifted with it, may I respond with the deepest gratitude, thus, saving my soul through faith. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday, November 11, 2021
Perceiving the Kingdom of God
Thursday of the Thirty-Second Week in Ordinary Time
Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said in reply, “The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” Luke 17:20–21
Why did the Pharisees ask Jesus this question? Why did they want to know when the Kingdom of God would come? To answer this question, we must first look at the full context of the various communications between Jesus and the Pharisees. When we do this and see the many ways that the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus in speech and the times in which our Lord firmly rebuked the Pharisees, it seems clear that the Pharisees did not ask Jesus this question in innocence and openness. Instead, they once again were trying to trap Him. They posed a question by which they gave the appearance of believing Jesus’ teachings that the Kingdom of God was coming, but they asked not in faith but in mockery and in an attempt to trip Jesus up in His answer.
Jesus’ answer is mysterious. It leaves little room for the Pharisees to use Jesus’ speech against Him. Perhaps the Pharisees were hoping that Jesus would say that the Kingdom was coming soon, or next month, or within the year. But Jesus’ answer leaves them with confusion in the face of this mystery that “the Kingdom of God is among you.”
Much of what Jesus says can only be fully understood through faith. He often speaks in veiled language intentionally, because the only way to lift the veil to perceive the meaning of His teachings is to rely upon the inspired gift of faith. Faith is like a key to unlock the secrets of the mysteries of God. Faith becomes a lens through which every parable, every figure of speech, and every mystery taught by our Lord is understood. But without this inspired gift of faith, Jesus’ teachings remain mysterious and incomprehensible.
When you ponder these words that “the Kingdom of God is among you,” what do you understand? Are you able to use the gift of faith to unlock the meaning of this sacred teaching? Interestingly, reading Jesus’ words, spoken in a veiled way, offer us the opportunity to test our own faith. If we read His words and are left in confusion, then this is a clear sign that we need to pray for and be open to the gift of faith. But if we do read Jesus’ mysterious teachings and the light of understanding is given to us, then this is a clear reason to rejoice, since this comprehension is only possible through the gift of faith.
Reflect, today, upon this sacred teaching of our Lord: “The Kingdom of God is among you.” Meditate on those words and pray for insight and understanding. Jesus’ words are true. His Kingdom truly is everywhere, all around us and within us. It is alive and well. Do you see it? Do you perceive it? Do you see your role in building it? Use these questions as a test of your own level of faith and know that God wants to reveal to you these mysteries that are only able to be comprehended by His grace.
My mysterious Lord, Your Kingdom is everywhere, all around us and within us. I do believe. Give me the eyes of faith so that I may continually perceive Your hand at work. May I always be attentive to all that You wish to reveal to me and open to the deep meaning of the mysteries You do reveal. Increase my faith, dear Lord, so that I may know You and join in the upbuilding of Your glorious Kingdom. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, November 12, 2021
Embracing the Present Moment
Friday of the Thirty-Second Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:26–27
As we enter into the final weeks of the liturgical year, we begin to turn our attention to the final coming of Christ. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the example of Noah and Lot. In both of their stories, people were eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting and building up, until the very day that the floods came to destroy the earth at the time of Noah and fire rained down from the sky at the time of Lot. Both Noah and Lot were saved, but many others alive at that time met with sudden and unexpected destruction.
Jesus says that the “days of the Son of Man” will be similar to these previous two events. At an unexpected time, Jesus will return to earth, and the Final Judgment will ensue. So His message is clear: Be ready at all times.
Though we are familiar with this teaching of our Lord, spoken many times and in various ways in the Gospels, many people do not heed the message. It is easy to believe that you always have tomorrow to change, and so you give into temptation today. And then tomorrow comes, and the temptation is once again embraced with the thought that you will work on it tomorrow, and henceforth. We can easily go about perpetuating our sins and embracing our temptations while we have the ongoing good intention of changing tomorrow. This is a mistake for two reasons.
First of all, it always remains a possibility that our Lord will indeed come today and that today truly will be the end of the world. Or, it always remains a distinct possibility that your life will come to an end today, suddenly and unexpectedly. If that were to happen, would you be fully ready to stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Most people would not, at least not fully ready. Thus, this should be motivation enough to work tirelessly today to be ready now and every moment hereafter.
But we should also see this prophecy of our Lord as applying to every present moment of every day. Jesus is always coming to us, suddenly and without warning, inviting us to serve Him by grace. This Gospel passage states that “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.” That applies to the end of our lives and to the end of the world, but it also applies to every present moment of every day. If we continually seek to lose our lives, meaning, to choose the Heavenly realities over the temporal earthly indulgences we are daily tempted with, then we will also daily experience the grace of salvation, here and now, in every present moment of our lives.
Reflect, today, upon whether or not you regularly seek to lose your life for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Do you continually choose grace, mercy, Heaven, obedience, love, self-sacrifice, compassion, forgiveness and the like, every moment of every day of your life? If so, then our Lord will continually bestow the gift of His saving grace upon you here and now, preparing you for the ultimate moment of judgment. If not, then you will be more like the people of Noah’s and Lot’s time who met with sudden destruction when they least expected it. Live for God now, today, in this moment, and you will be eternally grateful you did.
My ever-present Lord, You come to me always, suddenly and unexpectedly, and so often I do not hear You or perceive Your presence. Please help me to live continually for You and by Your grace, choosing Heavenly realities over temporary indulgences. May I live this way always, meeting You every moment of my life and anticipating that glorious final meeting with You at the time of judgment. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, November 13, 2021
Praying for the Will of God
Saturday of the Thirty-Second Week in Ordinary Time
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” Luke 18:6–8
It’s interesting that Jesus uses the example of a dishonest judge to illustrate the importance of praying to God, calling out to Him day and night for justice. As the parable goes, this judge cared little about a widow in his town who continually came to him asking for a just decision. He felt as though she was continually bothering him. Because she was so persistent, the judge thought to himself, “…because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.” Jesus’ conclusion from this parable is quoted above.
The simple lesson we ought to learn from this parable is that we must be persistent in prayer. God will always answer our prayers, seeing to it that “justice is done” speedily. But many people have prayed and prayed and prayed for some situation, prayed even for justice, and it appeared that God did not answer their prayer. Thus, some may question the promise of Jesus that persistent prayer will always be answered and justice always be rendered.
If this is your experience, it is essential that you remind yourself of two things. First, Jesus’ words are true. When we persevere in prayer and trust in God, He hears us and answers. This is our Lord’s unwavering promise. But secondly, the “justice” that God delivers may often be different than the justice we expect. It may be that we want someone to pay for a wrong they did to us, but after praying fervently, our expectation is not met by our Lord. For this reason, it is essential that we know that God answers every prayer we pray, but in accord with His perfect will and wisdom. Therefore, God’s view of justice at times may be very different than ours. At times, His justice is satisfied by His invitation to us to show mercy in abundance. True mercy always satisfies justice.
Take, for example, the case of someone speaking in a rude manner to you. If you offer that situation to our Lord, He will enter in and provide His grace for you to deal with it in accord with His will. Perhaps He will soften the other person’s heart so that they apologize, or perhaps, if they don’t apologize and their heart is not softened, then God’s answer to your prayer will be to give you the grace of humility so that you can love that person despite their unrepentance. Regardless of the way our Lord intervenes, the fact remains that He will intervene and enable you to fulfill His perfect will. If, however, your prayer is that the person be held accountable and condemned, then you are trying to tell God what to do, and He will not accede to your request. All of our prayer must ultimately be for the fulfillment of God’s perfect will in accord with His wisdom.
Reflect, today, upon how completely you trust in God. Do you know, with certainty, that He will answer every prayer that you fervently pray with faith in accord with His divine will? Believing this is freeing and enables you to live more fully in union with Him. If there is some issue with which you struggle right now, even some apparent injustice, then entrust it to our Lord, day and night without ceasing, and know that His grace will guide you as He answers you in accord with His will.
My all-wise Lord, Your will is perfect in all things, and You always bestow Your grace upon me when I pray without ceasing. Please give me a trusting Heart, dear Lord, so that I will never waver in my hope that You will always answer my prayers in accord with Your will. Jesus, I trust in You.