Beyond Good Intentions
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17
This story starts out looking quite good. Here is a young man who is quite wealthy who comes to Jesus with a question grounded in faith. By asking Jesus what He must do to inherit eternal life, this man most likely believed that Jesus had the answer. And in his excitement, he wanted direction from Jesus.
Jesus tells him that he must keep the Commandments, to which the young man responds that he has observed them from his youth. But then Jesus says something that this young man never expected Him to say. He says, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Ouch! This must have stung this rich young man in the heart. The passage continues by stating that this young man walked away sad as a result of what Jesus said.
The young man started with good intentions, that is clear. But good intentions are not enough. Following Jesus and gaining eternal life is an all-consuming and radical commitment of every part of our lives. It’s not enough to tell Jesus that we will keep the Commandments but that’s all. Sure, that may get us into Purgatory, but what we should desire is Heaven! So how do we obtain Heaven?
We only obtain Heaven through a life of perfection. Yes, it’s true. If we want Heaven, we must ultimately become perfect in every way. Every worldly attachment must disappear, and every sin must be overcome. Our good intentions must turn into a radical and total gift of self to Jesus, seeking Him and only Him.
The rich young man walked away sad because he failed to realize that Jesus’ invitation to him to give everything away was actually an act of love. He did not understand that he would find happiness in this radical commitment to follow Christ.
Reflect, today, upon the radical call of Jesus in your life. He wants every part of your life. You may have good intentions of trying to be good, but are you willing to go all the way following Christ in a full and unlimited way?
Lord, I love You, and I want to love You more. I want to love You with my whole being. Help me to realize that following You requires a radical and complete gift of myself to You. May I be ready and willing to let go of any attachment in life that keeps me from following You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday, October 11, 2021
A Sign From God
Monday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
“This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” Luke 11:29–30
Do you ever find yourself looking for signs from God? Often when we go through life, navigating through the ups and downs we all experience, we can easily find ourselves looking for signs from God about what we should do about this or that. And though God certainly communicates to us at times through special graces that are signs from Heaven, the passage above gives clarity to what sign we must be most attentive to.
The simple message in this Gospel passage from our Lord is that we must discover the meaning of the most profound sign ever given and use that as the foundation of all our decisions in life. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were not only the source of eternal life, they are also the clearest sign we need as we make all of our decisions in life.
A sign is some action that reveals a deep and hidden mystery. One mystery that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reveals is that if we are to share in the new life won for us by His Cross, then we must follow the example He set by living a life of selfless sacrifice, laying down our lives for others, so that they will discover and embrace the new life of Christ’s Resurrection. Practically speaking, if you find yourself looking for answers in life, seeking signs from God about what you should do at times, then turn your eyes to the life of Christ and ponder ways in which you can more fully imitate His life in every daily practical decision you make. This is true whether you are discerning some important decision in life or some small practical decision.
It is common to engage in such a discernment by looking at ourselves in a more selfish way. It’s difficult to move away from this line of thinking, but if we are to use the “sign” of the Son of Man, then we will discern our life decisions very differently. When we use the life, death and resurrection of our Lord as the source of our discernment and decision making in life, then we will end up making decisions that imitate His selfless sacrifice of love. So if you are faced with a decision, you will not ponder what is easier or what you prefer; rather, you will ponder what is more selfless and best for others. What is it that best imitates the sacrificial love of Jesus?
Reflect, today, upon any decision you are trying to make. Then reflect upon how you are going about this decision. Do you use the witness Jesus gave to us as the foundation of your discernment? Do you reflect upon how you can lay your life down as a sacrificial gift for others? Do you look at love from the point of view of the Cross of our Lord and strive to imitate His glorious and selfless dedication to the salvation of those whom He loves? Seek to imitate our Lord, using the witness of His actions as the foundation of all of your discernment and decisions in life, and you will have discovered the only true sign you need to navigate the challenges of life.
My perfect Lord, every decision You made in life was made out of love and was in accord with the perfect will of the Father. Give me the grace I need to make every decision in life in imitation of Your perfect example. May my life imitate You as You laid down Your life for others. I choose You and Your glorious sacrificial life as the sign by which I am directed in life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
Tuesday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
After Jesus had spoken, a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal. The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools!” Luke 11:37–40
It’s hard to imagine Jesus calling someone a fool. But that’s exactly what He did. This Pharisee had just finished listening to Jesus give a series of teachings and then invited our Lord to His home for dinner in an apparent gesture of kindness. But as the passage unfolds, it’s clear that this Pharisee is no friend of Jesus. Instead, his hospitality and kindness are a cloak for the evil within his soul.
Why does Jesus respond so fiercely, calling the Pharisee a fool? Because this Pharisee is filled with hypocrisy. His exterior actions do not flow from a heart filled with charity and faith. Instead, his exterior actions are a show. He is a fraud. He, like many of the Pharisees, was very concerned with various external rituals, such as scrupulously washing his hands before he ate. He believed that doing so was a sign of his holiness and closeness to God. But it wasn’t. His heart was one that was filled with judgment and self-righteousness. He looked down on others and elevated himself. In doing so, he deceived others and even deceived himself.
The central message we must take from this is that we must diligently focus upon that which is in our hearts. Our hearts, our interior life, must be blooming with love of God and others. We must place all of our efforts on cultivating a sincere life of virtue within. This is done by prayer and humility. Humility will open our eyes to see the truth of who we are. Prayer will strengthen us to change as we see that which needs to be changed within. Only then, when we see clearly the truth of who we are and prayerfully rely upon grace obtained by prayer, will we be able to become people of true integrity and holiness. And only then will our interior holiness be made manifest externally in our actions.
Reflect, today, upon these powerful words of Jesus: “You fools!” Don’t be offended by these words; they are words of love from our Lord. They are His fierce attempt to wake this Pharisee up and lead him away from his hypocrisy. Listen to these words as if they were also spoken to you. Every one of us can humbly benefit from this loving chastisement from Jesus. Every one of us needs to humbly be transformed more fully interiorly. Let Jesus’ words speak to you and reveal to you the ways that you need to change. Perhaps your pride has led you to an interior practice of judgment of others. Perhaps it has blinded you to sins that you need to confess. If you can listen to these words as if they were spoken to you, then Jesus’ fervor will reach you, and your eyes will be opened to that which is in your soul that needs to be changed. Do not turn a blind eye to this. Be open, be humble and listen.
My fervent Lord, You spoke words of love in many ways. At times You were gentle and at times You were firm. Please give me the grace and humility I need to be open to Your firm rebukes of love. Help me to sincerely see the ways in which I need to change my life so that Your grace will transform my interior life, flowing over into my actions. I love You, dear Lord. Help me to love You more. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
A Pricked Conscience
Wednesday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply, “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.” And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” Luke 11:45–46
This scholar of the law had been listening to Jesus firmly rebuke the Pharisees. As he listened, his own conscience was pricked, and he challenged our Lord. What does Jesus do? He quickly and firmly rebukes the scholar of the law, pointing out that the scholar uses the law to impose heavy burdens on people. Jesus did not back down in this rebuke of love. Instead, He directed it to the very place that His rebuke was bearing fruit: in the conscience of this scholar of the law.
This experience of the scholar of the law teaches us two important lessons. First, we learn from him the importance of paying attention to our conscience when it is “pricked.” Second, it teaches us that when this happens, it is very easy to become defensive.
What is it that pricks your own conscience? Think back over the past month and reflect upon anything that you became defensive about. Did something someone said bother you? If so, pay attention to this. Sometimes we are bothered for reasons other than our own sin. But oftentimes, what actually bothers us is that we come face-to-face with some sin with which we struggle, and we do not want to admit it.
What if this scholar of the law would have listened to Jesus and, instead of being offended, became grateful for Jesus’ words? What if he would have humbly looked at his own life and realized that he was also guilty of the very things that Jesus was condemning the Pharisees for? If he would have done that, he would have been put in a position to sincerely examine his actions and begin a process of change. But this is hard to do.
Reflect, today, upon anything that has recently offended you. Be honest and admit that it is often the case that when God presents you with your sin through some means such as the loving rebuke of another, you must work diligently to overcome any pride. And when you feel defensive, you must immediately see that as an indication that there is something in your life that you need to change. A pricked conscience is a gift from God. Rejoice when that happens, rather than being offended, and you will discover one of the best ways by which you can grow in holiness of life by becoming free of the very sin our Lord is presenting to you.
My challenging Lord, You are constantly speaking to me in various ways. Sometimes You are gentle, and at other times You lovingly rebuke me. Please help me to see my sin. As I do, I pray that I will not become defensive or dismissive, rationalizing my erroneous actions. May I learn to rejoice in all that You say to me, especially when You speak Your rebukes of love. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Thursday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
When Jesus left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say. Luke 11:53–54
Over the past few days, we have been reading Saint Luke’s version of Jesus’ “Woe to you” rebukes of the scribes, Pharisees and the scholars of the law. Today’s Gospel concludes these rebukes of love by pointing out that these religious leaders did not convert. Instead, they began plotting against Jesus so as to “catch him at something he might say.” This is what happens when people use God’s holy law as a weapon to attack.
Normally, we take inspiration from the Holy Scriptures in a positive way, meaning, by reflecting upon Jesus’ words and actions and applying them to our lives. However, we can also learn from the evil others commit and allow their actions to inspire us to avoid their sin. In today’s Gospel, we are invited to ponder the obsessive plotting of these religious leaders so as to consider whether we also are guilty of their sin.
First, note that at the conclusion of Jesus’ rebukes, these religious leaders “began to act with hostility” toward Jesus. Normally, when we act with hostility toward another, it is done with the mindframe that we are right and they have done something wrong. We justify our hostility by pointing to their perceived sin. However, it must be understood that every act of hostility on our part is a clear indication that we have started down the road of sin and are not justified in our obsession.
Notice also that these religious leaders exercised their hostility toward Jesus by interrogating Him. In other words, in their anger, they kept asking Him questions so as to find some fault with Him. They tried to trick Him and trap Him with their speech using God’s very Law handed down through Moses and the prophets. But they manipulated that Law so as to justify their hostility and, out of pride, to falsely accuse Jesus.
Think about any times in your life in which you found yourself somewhat obsessed with what you judged to be the sin of another. Hostility in this case can even be passive, meaning you may present a kind disposition on the surface, but interiorly you are obsessively thinking about how you can condemn the person. Often when this happens, we can feel justified in that we convince ourselves that justice must be done and that we are the dispensers of that justice. But if God is in control of our lives, He will not call us to obsessive plotting in regard to another. Instead, when we are following the will of God, we will sense Him inspiring us to act with immediacy, calm, joy, kindness, honesty, and freedom from all anger and obsession.
Reflect, today, upon any way that you have seen this misguided tendency within your own life. If you can identify a time when you struggled with hostility toward another, look at the fruit it bore. Was God glorified through your actions? Did this leave you at peace or agitated? Were you fully objective in your thinking? Be honest with these questions and you will begin to discover the road to freedom from such obsessive thinking. God wants you to be at peace. If there is injustice, trust that our Lord will sort it out. You, for your part, must continually work to forgive, act with charity, and direct your attention to the will of God as it is gently presented to you.
My patient and kind Lord, You were falsely accused and condemned by many of the religious leaders of Your time because You spoke the pure truth with love, clarity and boldness. When I act with hostility and anger toward another, help me to turn from these sins so that I will never condemn, never judge and never manipulate Your divine Law for my own purposes. Fill me with Your peace and charity alone, dear Lord. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, October 15, 2021
Sincerity and Integrity
Friday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.” Luke 12:2–3
Immediately prior to this passage quoted above, Jesus told His disciples: “Beware of the leaven—that is, the hypocrisy—of the Pharisees.” This comes after Jesus gives a long and very direct series of condemnations of these leaders in the previous chapter. Jesus is quite serious about their destructive actions. So, after directly confronting them, He then turns to His disciples to warn them of the consequences of these hypocritical leaders.
A hypocrite is one who pretends to have some moral virtues but, in truth, is only deceiving himself and attempting to deceive others. For that reason, Jesus assists His disciples by sharing with them the fact that all truth will eventually come to light. Thus, every good deed will eventually be seen by all for its goodness, and every evil intent, no matter how hidden, will eventually come to light.
Though the immediate temptation for many in hearing this passage will be to think about others who they think fall into the sin of hypocrisy, it may be far more useful to ponder these truths for oneself. The simple message that Jesus preaches is that we must be people who are truthful in every way. We must be honest with ourselves and make sure that we are fully aware of our inner life, seeing ourselves only in the way that God sees us. This act of honesty and integrity is one of the best ways by which we prepare ourselves for eternal life. How sad it would be if we went through life pretending, on the surface, to be something we were not, only to have the full truth divulged at our final judgment when it is too late to change.
Being honest with ourselves can be difficult. It’s normal for us to want to be good, to want to be holy, and to want others to think this way about us. For that reason, it is very common for us to put forth only the best image of ourselves, hiding many other things that may embarrass us and even humiliate us. And though we do not have any moral obligation to tell everyone about every sin we struggle with interiorly, it is morally essential that we face it ourselves and do so with the grace of God.
One practical way to do this is to ponder the above Scripture passage. Jesus makes it clear that at some time, in some way, everything within us in our hearts and minds will come to light. For some this will happen, by God’s grace, during this life as a way for them to change. For others, these secrets will only come to light at their final judgment. The truth, however, is that all that we are, all that we think, and all that we do in a hidden way will come to light. And if that frightens you in some way, that is good. Sometimes we need a holy fear to encourage us to look inward and to deal with all that we keep hidden from others.
Reflect, today, upon the importance of striving for a life of true transparency and integrity. The best way to do this is to live every day as if everything within your heart were visible for all to see. If that means you need to change in some way so as to be at peace with what will eventually come to light, then work diligently on making that change here and now. The opposite of hypocrisy, for which the Pharisees were firmly condemned, is honesty and sincerity. Spend time reflecting upon these beautiful virtues and pray that the Lord will gift you with them so that you can live a life of true integrity here and now in preparation for that glorious day of judgment, when all will be “known” and “proclaimed on the housetops.”
My revealing Lord, You see all things. You know my heart in every way. Please grace me with the ability to see myself as You see me and to know my inner heart as You know me. As the deepest truths of who I am come to light for me to see, I pray that I will also have the grace to sincerely change so that I may truly glorify You with my actions and become a source of authentic inspiration to all. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, October 16, 2021
Peace in the Face of Judgment
Saturday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.” Luke 12:11–12
Jesus lived this Gospel passage in His own life to perfection. He was arrested, interrogated, falsely condemned and questioned by the Chief Priest, Herod and Pontius Pilate. During His interrogations, sometimes He spoke and at other times He remained silent. In preparation for these interrogations, Jesus did not study each ruler ahead of time, trying to figure out what He should say and not say. He did not prepare a defense but relied upon His perfect union with the Holy Spirit and with the Father to be led at every moment in His human nature.
Though it may be unlikely that you will be arrested for your faith and put on trial for being Christian by the civil authorities, it is possible that you will experience various other forms of interrogation and condemnation at times during which you are challenged to respond. And more likely, if you are judged by another, you may be tempted to defend yourself in anger, attacking back.
This Gospel passage, when clearly understood and lived, should have the effect of calming you and reassuring you during any and every experience of judgment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (# 2478). And though you must always strive to do this yourself, there will most likely be times when others do not act in this careful and truthful way toward you. Thus, if you are judged by another, even if what they say has truth to it, it is important that you not react with defensiveness and anger, unless the Holy Spirit has unmistakably led you to do so. The key message Jesus gives is that you must trust that the Holy Spirit will always lead you as you humbly and continually seek to follow His every prompting. This is only possible if you have built a firm habit of attentiveness to the Voice of God within your conscience.
Because the experience of rash judgment, detraction, calumny and the like are painful to encounter, you must prepare your defense ahead of time by learning to only rely upon the Holy Spirit in all things. Jesus exhorts us to do so! Therefore, if you daily and humbly seek to fulfill God’s will, hear His voice, and respond with generosity, then you can be certain that when the time comes and you experience these forms of judgment, you will be ready. The Holy Spirit will speak to you, inspire you, console you and give you every grace you need to respond in accord with God’s will. Do not doubt this. Have faith and confidence in these words and this promise of our Lord.
Reflect, today, upon the ways that you have responded in the past to the judgment of another. Try to call to mind specific moments when this has happened. Did you respond with similar judgments? Were you filled with anger? Did you brood over injury? Did you lose your peace of heart? If you have fallen into these temptations, then commit yourself in faith to believe what Jesus says today. Trust Him. Trust that He will be with you in those difficult moments in the future and pray that you will be graced to respond only as the Holy Spirit directs you.
My innocent Lord, You were put on trial, judged and falsely condemned. Yet in all of that, You were the Innocent Lamb Who always loved and spoke truth with perfection. When I experience judgment in my life, please fill me with peace of heart and trust in Your promise that the Holy Spirit will be with me, inspiring me and leading me in accord with Your perfect will. Holy Spirit, I abandon myself to You now and always. Jesus, I trust in You.