Loving Those in Need
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Mark 9:36–37
What is it about the image of a child that helps Jesus illustrate an important point? The answer to this question must be understood as a contrast between one who is like a child and one who holds a worldly view of greatness.
A child is one who is poor, dependent, humble and in need. A child cannot take care of his/her own needs. Rather, a child needs the care of parents. So it is with us in our relationship with God.
We are not considered great by being independent, powerful, well respected, successful, etc. This is a worldly view of greatness. The Apostles, in this passage, were arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus, in pointing to a child, shows that greatness is not about what you accomplish or the like; rather, greatness is found in becoming dependent upon Christ. Additionally, it is found in seeking out those who are in need (as a child is in need of care) and offering the love and care others need. It’s a call to compassion and concern for the poor and needy among us.
Reflect, today, upon whether you are ready and willing to reach out to those in need among you. Who are they? What is their need? Do you seek them out and offer love and support? Doing this is what will make you truly great in the eyes of God.
Monday, September 20, 2021
Growth in Understanding
Monday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
“Take care, then, how you hear. To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.” Luke 8:18
Do you have much? Or little? According to Jesus’ words, if you have much, then you will receive much more; but if you have little, then you will lose even what you have. Does this seem fair?
Of course, our Lord is not speaking in worldly terms. He’s not saying that if you have much money, then you will gain more, or if you are poor, then you will become poorer. Instead, Jesus is speaking about the grace that comes from understanding His holy Word. Notice that the passage above begins by saying, “Take care, then, how you hear.”
To “hear” the Word of God implies that you truly receive what Jesus teaches. Hearing is not just hearing the words spoken with your ears. One early Church Father, Saint Bede, explains that truly hearing the Word of God with our minds leads us to love that Word, and loving the Word leads to understanding. This is not accomplished by an intellectual exercise alone, as if our natural gifts are the primary means by which we comprehend all that Jesus teaches. Rather, it comes through spiritual insight gained by the supernatural gift of the Spirit Who teaches us all things.
If you want “more” understanding of the mysteries of God, then commit yourself to engaging the holy Scriptures with your mind. Read the Scriptures, ponder them and pray with them. It’s easy to forget that the Word of God is a Living Word. This means that when we prayerfully immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, we are prayerfully encountering God Himself. God is alive in His holy Word. We meet Him, personally, and this happens only by a special grace that we must be open to receive.
The beautiful aspect of this teaching of Jesus is that the more we understand His Word by this grace, the more we will immerse ourselves in it, and it will continue to grow within us. If, however, we devote little time to engaging the Word of God in prayer, we will begin to “forget,” so to speak, the spiritual depths of the wisdom of God. We will lose the little understanding we have and when this happens, we will be prone to engaging and accepting the many confusions and deceptions alive in our world.
Reflect, today, upon your practice of prayerfully meditating upon the Scriptures. If this is not your current practice, resolve to make it so. Perhaps start with one of the Gospels and commit yourself to prayerfully reading it little by little every day. The goal is not to get through the books of the Bible. The goal is to enter into each book. Every chapter and every line provides us with a depth of spiritual insight and understanding just waiting to be given and received. Commit yourself to this holy practice, and you will be amazed at the spiritual riches our Lord bestows upon you.
Living Word of God, my Lord and my King, I thank You for the way in which You come to me and all Your children through Your written Word. Fill me with a love for that Word so that I will daily engage my mind in the deep truths revealed within it. May I meet You, dear Lord, and grow in an understanding of Who You are and what You wish to reveal to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Seeking True Satisfaction
Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, September 21
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:11–13
Just prior to this passage quoted above, Jesus saw Matthew, a tax collector, sitting at his custom post collecting taxes. Jesus walked up to him and said two simple words: “Follow me.” What did Matthew do? He got up and followed Jesus and invited Him to his home for a meal. When the Pharisees saw this, they acted with judgment and cruelty. They said, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Their reaction and Jesus’ subsequent response to them says much about the goodness of our Lord.
When Jesus said that He “did not come to call the righteous but sinners,” He was not speaking of the truly righteous. For example, the most righteous person alive at that time, other than Jesus, was His dear mother. And we can be certain that not only did Jesus call her but that she always responded with her whole heart. However, Jesus was speaking of those who were “self-righteous.” A self-righteous person is one who thinks highly of themself, ignoring the truth of God but choosing, instead, to elevate their own image in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. Simply put, to be self-righteous is to believe a lie and, in fact, to believe the worst of lies. It’s the worst of lies because this sin has the effect of causing a person to remain obstinate and stuck in their sin. The self-righteous person does not see any need for repentance or change in their life. Therefore, they are not open to the Word of God and to allowing that Word to transform them.
Saint Matthew, whom we honor today, was different. He was a sinner indeed. Most likely he was greedy and overly attached to his money. Tax collectors were not highly regarded at that time because they were Jews who worked for the Romans and were, therefore, seen as traitors to their own people. Additionally, they were seen as thieves, because they often extorted more than they should receive so that they could pocket some of the money. For this reason, many Jews also feared the tax collectors because they knew the tax collectors had Rome’s support in this illicit activity.
What’s amazing is that Jesus approached Matthew, the sinner and tax collector, and confidently called him to be a follower. Most likely, Jesus could see into his heart. He knew Matthew was not happy with his life and was searching for more. Therefore, as soon as Jesus called him to follow Him, it is clear that something took place within Matthew’s soul. The fact that he got up and followed our Lord shows that the spiritual draw to Jesus was far more powerful than his desire for earthly wealth.
This same truth applies to each and every one of us. No matter what we find ourselves drawn to and no matter how we seek satisfaction in life, the supernatural truth is that there is only one thing that will satisfy. We could have all the money in the world, all earthly power and prestige, and still, in the depths of our souls, we will not find peace until we turn to Jesus and follow Him. Some people learn this truth early in life, some later in life, and some never discover it at all.
Reflect, today, upon how satisfied you are with your life. Is there something missing? If so, look at your goals and priorities in life. What do you spend most of your time thinking about, talking about and daydreaming about? If it is not our Lord Who occupies your mind, heart and every desire, then you can expect that you will experience discontentment in life. In that case, look to the witness of Saint Matthew. He is a saint today because he responded to Jesus’ invitation to abandon his life of sin and greed so as to follow Him in poverty. But in that worldly poverty and abandonment of earthly things, Saint Matthew became abundantly rich and will remain so forever in Heaven.
Lord of all satisfaction, You call all Your people to follow You. Please open my mind and heart to that call so that I can not only hear You but also respond with all my heart. Please help me to detach from the things of this world that keep me from You, so that I can follow You wherever You lead. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Authority Over demons
Wednesday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Luke 9:1–2
This is the first time that Jesus sends His Apostles out on a mission. On this mission, He is preparing them for their ultimate mission, which will come at the time of Pentecost, after Jesus dies, rises and ascends to Heaven. But for now, Jesus commissions these Apostles to do three things: to cast out demons, heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Just like the Apostles, we are called to combat the devil and his demons. They are fallen angels who retain their natural powers, and they use those natural powers to try to deceive us, oppress us and, in some cases, even possess us. But demons are powerless in the face of God, and God gives us spiritual authority over them. And though there are some who are given the unique ministry of exorcism within the Church, all of us do have spiritual authority over demons, especially over their natural spiritual attacks of temptations.
We combat demons primarily by revealing their lies and bringing them to light. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his spiritual classic The Spiritual Exercises, explains to us some of the ordinary tactics these demons use and how we overcome them. He says that for those steeped in a life of serious sin, the demons continually place before their mind the lie that their sins are enjoyable and rewarding, so that they will continue to choose them. And for those who are striving for holiness, these demons try to discourage them in their deepening conversion. They “bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on” (Rule 2). The way to overcome these temptations is by turning to the truth. First, by realizing that the false “pleasures” of sin are just that: false, fleeting and ultimately demeaning. Furthermore, we overcome these temptations by receiving from God “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles.” In other words, we overcome the demons by allowing God to strengthen us, clear our thinking, dispel all false obstacles on the road to holiness and by receiving the abundant consolations that God bestows as help on the journey.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that our Lord wants to minister to you in this threefold way. If you can work to overcome the obstacles put in your path by these demons, then you are in a good position to share in the other two missions given to the Apostles. You will be able to experience mental, emotional and spiritual healing in your life, and you will be able to allow the Kingdom of God to grow strong and powerful within your own soul. From there, you will be sent on a mission by our Lord to bring these graces to others in need.
My all-powerful Lord, You have authority over evil, the power to heal and offer all the gifts of eternal salvation. Help me to be open to the ways that You desire to come to me. Please free me from the attacks of the evil one, bring healing and hope, and bring forth the abundance of Your glorious Kingdom in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday, September 23, 2021
Courage to Change
Thursday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, “John has been raised from the dead”; others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”; still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen.” Luke 9:7–8
Herod the tetrarch, also known as Herod Antipas, ruled the Jews of Galilee for some forty-two years. He began his reign in 2 BC and continued to reign until he was exiled by the Roman Emperor in 37 AD. During his reign, he spent much time in Tiberias, one of the main cities on the western edge of the Sea of Galilee. Most of Jesus’ ministry took place within the region of Herod’s domain, all of Galilee, so Herod was very aware of the many stories about Jesus.
Today’s Gospel concludes by saying that Herod kept trying to see Jesus. Of course, Herod, just like anyone living in that region, could have traveled to where Jesus was preaching so as to listen to Him at any time. But he didn’t do that. Instead, he continued to receive reports about Jesus and remained curious about Him, trying to find a way to figure out Who Jesus was.
Try to imagine what would have happened if Herod would have traveled to where Jesus was preaching so as to listen to Him with an open heart. If he would have done that, and truly listened, Herod would have received one of the greatest gifts imaginable. He would have received the gift of faith and conversion and would have begun down the road toward eternal salvation. But Herod was living an immoral life. He was known to be a cruel leader and also an unrepentant adulterer. He loved his power and was quite jealous of it. Herod most likely knew, at least in the back of his mind, that if he were to listen to Jesus, he would have to change. And he most likely didn’t want to change.
This presents us all with a powerful lesson. Each one of us can easily dismiss various communications and invitations from our Lord, because, deep down, we do not want to change. God is speaking to us all day long, every day of our lives. He is constantly offering us His message of the full Gospel. And though you may be open to much of what God says, there are most likely parts of His divine message that you either knowingly or unknowingly do not listen to. The key to being able to hear everything that God wants to speak to you is to be disposed to completely change in any and every way that God wants you to change.
Reflect, today, upon Herod. First, reflect upon his curiosity about Jesus. This is a good quality, in that it’s much better than being indifferent. From there, think also about the fact that Herod never went to Jesus to listen to Him. His first meeting with Jesus was on the night of His arrest, when he interrogated our Lord and made fun of Him. As you consider Herod’s obstinacy, use it as an examination of your own life. Where you see any small reflection of obstinacy, fear of change or a closed heart, seek to remedy that by turning to our Lord telling Him you are open to all He wishes to say and that you are ready and willing to change in any way He calls you to do so. Do not fear the change our Lord wants of you. Embracing that change will land you on the quick and narrow road toward true holiness of life.
My ever-present Lord, You call to me day and night, inviting me to change as I listen to Your holy Word. I thank You for these constant promptings of grace and commit myself to remain open to all that You ask of me. I choose You, my Lord. And as I turn to You, I pray that I will have the courage I need to respond wholeheartedly to Your call. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, September 24, 2021
The Deepest Human Satisfaction
Friday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Luke 9:18
It’s interesting that Jesus was both “praying in solitude” and that “the disciples were with him.” Saint Bede explains this apparent contradiction by stating that “the Son alone is able to penetrate the incomprehensible secrets of the Father’s will.” Therefore, our Lord was always alone with the Father in the sense that only Jesus knew the Father fully and intimately. This is because He is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Eternal Son of the Father.
With that fact clearly understood, it’s also important to understand that as Jesus prayed to the Father within His human nature, something new took place. Though Jesus was eternally with the Father, His human nature was not eternally with the Father. Therefore, as the Eternal Son of God communed with the Eternal Father while living in human flesh, human nature was suddenly elevated to a height that it had never been before. Not only was the Eternal Son living in perfect union with the Father, but now the Eternal Son, fully human, brought His human nature into this oneness.
Though this may seem a bit philosophical to some, it points to a very important reality that affects us all. Through our Lord’s human prayer to the Father, we are all invited to join with Jesus and share in this divine oneness. The Son of God, as a human being, made it possible for us as humans to share in the elevation of our very lives to oneness with God the Father. And though the Son of God will always retain a unique union with the Father, we are, nonetheless, by participation, invited to share in their life.
So why is this important? One reason is that there is no greater human fulfillment we could ever achieve than to share in the prayer of the Son to the Father. Throughout our lives, we are constantly looking for fulfillment in one form or another. We want to be happy. We want enjoyment in life. We have a natural desire for happiness that we are constantly seeking to fulfill. What’s important to understand is that the greatest happiness comes by sharing in the deep human prayer of the Son to the Father. Prayer, true prayer, is the answer to our deepest desire.
Reflect, today, upon whether or not you regularly engage in deep prayer. Can you point to times when you, like our Lord, were alone with God, communing with Him in the depths of your human soul, being drawn to Him through prayer? There are many levels of prayer, as is attested to by many saints. Make the choice to deepen your prayer. Go before our Lord today and pour out your heart to Him, asking Him to draw you into the holy solitude of His prayer to the Father. Doing so will bring forth in you the deepest human satisfaction possible in life.
My praying Lord, as You spent time alone with the Father, You united Your human nature with Him, thus elevating our nature to a glorious degree. Please draw me to You, dear Lord, so that I may know You and the Father through true, deep and sustaining prayer. May this oneness with You be the cause of my deepest fulfillment in life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, September 25, 2021
A Well Ordered Soul
Saturday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
“Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying. Luke 9:44–45
This is the second time that Jesus predicts His coming passion to His Apostles. After telling them that He will be handed over, the Gospel relates that “they did not understand this saying.” It also states that “they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” Why did they not understand, and why were they afraid to ask Jesus about His coming passion?
The Apostles were deeply attached to our Lord, both on a spiritual level and also through their affections. And this is good. But sometimes our affections can cloud our thinking and make it difficult to understand the deeper spiritual realities in life. Though our affections are natural, they must always be directed by the will of God. For example, if we were to try to understand Jesus’ affections, we’d have to conclude that He both spiritually and affectionately desired to lay down His life for the salvation of souls in accord with the will of the Father. He not only chose this with His will, but He also desired it in His affections, because His affections were perfectly ordered.
The Apostles, however, were unable to understand that Jesus had to lay down His life, be rejected, suffer and die, in part because they were very attached to Jesus in an emotional and affectionate way. So in this instance, their human love and attachment to Jesus hindered their ability to understand the greater spiritual good of Jesus laying down His life.
Consider, also, our Blessed Mother. How would she have reacted to Jesus saying that He had to be handed over, be rejected, suffer and die? Though this would have grieved her with a holy sorrow, the perfection of her human nature would have led her to not only understand and accept this deep spiritual truth, but she would have also desired this to happen within her affections because she perfectly desired the fulfillment of the will of the Father. There would have been no conflict within her between the will of the Father and what she desired.
In our own lives, we will often tend to struggle in the same way that the Apostles struggled. When faced with some challenging cross in life, a cross that the Father calls us to embrace freely, we will often find that our affections resist. When this happens, we become confused and even fearful of the future. Thus, the only way to conquer fear is to work to surrender every emotion, every affection and every human attachment over to the will of the Father so that His will is all we desire with every power of our soul.
Reflect, today, upon the interior struggle of these Apostles as they came face-to-face with this the second time Jesus began to prepare them to accept, understand, choose and desire His passion. Consider the interior struggle they went through at that time and even as they saw this unfold. Eventually they understood. Eventually all fear vanished. And eventually they affectionately rejoiced in Jesus’ sacrifice. But it took much time and much surrender. Reflect upon those ways our Lord is inviting you to choose His Cross in your life. Where you see your affections resisting, try to surrender, pray for understanding and seek the courage you need to desire His Cross with all your soul.
My revealing Lord, You opened Your divine heart to Your Apostles and invited them to understand and choose Your suffering and death. And though they hesitated and struggled, You continued to invite them to embrace the Father’s will. Give me the grace I need, dear Lord, to embrace every spiritual truth first and foremost and to allow that Truth to free me from fear and fill me with the gift of understanding. Jesus, I trust in You.