Suffering from the Divine Perspective
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Jesus began to teach the Apostles that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Mark 8:31–33
This was most likely not the reply that Peter was expecting from Jesus. Peter was struggling with fear as Jesus explained that He would be entering into much suffering and death at the hands of the religious leaders of the time. Peter loved Jesus and was fearful and anxious about the thought of his Master suffering and being killed. So Peter, motivated by fear and confusion, tried to “talk some sense” into Jesus.
The result? Peter was rebuked in the presence of the other Apostles by Jesus. Jesus went so far as to say, “Get behind me, Satan.” That must have hurt.
To understand this properly, we must start with the obvious conclusion that Jesus’ words were words of great love. Jesus is not capable of anything other than love. Therefore, we must seek to understand how these strong words from Jesus were loving and holy.
The key to understanding this is the second thing Jesus said. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus had just revealed to the Apostles the deepest mystery of His life’s mission. Namely, He just revealed that His mission was to accept unjust persecution and death at the hands of the religious leaders. But in revealing this, it is also clear that He intended to bring good out of this suffering. He would not have allowed this suffering if it were not for some greater good. The hard part is that, in order to understand this great mystery of suffering, one needs a deep faith. The Apostles were being challenged to see this situation from the divine perspective. Peter was having a hard time doing so, and that is why Jesus had to challenge him so directly.
Jesus’ rebuke was a rebuke of love, helping Peter break free of his fear and limited vision so as to enter into this profound mystery of Jesus’ loving sacrifice.
Reflect, today, upon your own struggle with the Cross of Christ. His sufferings continue to be made present in our world through the love and sacrifices of His sons and daughters. When Christians suffer on account of their faith, we must see this from the eyes of God, not the eyes of men. We must see the divine blessings that accompany such sufferings and we must accept them in accord with the great mystery of God’s plan.
Lord, I too lack the necessary faith to see the blessings that accompany Your Cross, as well as the many crosses I am given in life. Help me to be purified in my faith so that I can see Your hand at work in all things, even suffering, injustice and persecution. May I see life from Your perspective alone. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday, September 13, 2021
The Humility of Intercession
Monday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed.” Luke 7:6–7
What’s interesting is that these humble words, spoken by a Roman centurion, were not actually spoken by the centurion to Jesus. This is because the centurion did not believe he was even worthy of going to Jesus himself. Therefore, he sent some of his friends to speak these words to Jesus on his behalf. In a real way, the friends of this centurion acted as intercessors before Jesus. Jesus’ response was to express amazement at the centurion’s faith. Jesus said to the crowd who was with Him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And at that point, the servant was healed by Jesus from a distance.
Most of the time, if we have an important request to make of another, we do so in person. We go to the person and speak face-to-face. And though we certainly can go to our Lord in prayer, face-to-face, person to Person, there is something very humble about bringing our needs to our Lord through the intercession of another. Specifically, there is something very humble about asking for the intercession of the saints.
Seeking the intercession of the saints before our Lord is not done because we are afraid of our Lord or because He would be offended by us going directly to Him. It is ideally done as an act of the utmost humility. By entrusting our prayer to those who are in Heaven, gazing upon the face of God, we do entrust our prayer to God. But relying upon the intercession of the saints is also a way of acknowledging that we are not worthy, by our own merits, to stand before the Lord and bring Him our request. This humility can be difficult to understand at times, but it’s important to try.
What is it that you need to pray for in your life right now? As you call that to mind, pick a saint to act as your friend and intercessor before God. Turn to that saint in humility and say a prayer to that saint, admitting that you are not worthy of going to our Lord on your own. Then entrust your petition to that saint and ask him or her to present that prayer to our Lord on your behalf. Praying to our Lord, through the intercession of a saint, is a way of also saying that you know Jesus’ response to you is pure mercy on His part. And the good news is that Jesus deeply desires to shower His mercy when we humble ourselves before Him, especially by coming to Him through the mediation of the saints.
Reflect, today, upon the humility of this well-respected Roman centurion. Try to understand the power of his humble approach by which he sent his friends to Jesus on his behalf. As you do, pick a saint in Heaven and ask them to go to our Lord on your behalf and request that our Lord grant you the same humility and faith as this centurion. Doing so will lead our Lord to be amazed at your faith and humility also.
Saints of God, please offer to Jesus my humble request that I grow more in humility and faith. My precious Lord, I do bring this and all my prayers to You. As I do, I acknowledge that I am not worthy of Your Divine Mercy. But through the mediation of the saints in Heaven, if it be Your will that You bestow Your mercy upon me, then I humbly make this request of You through them. Mother Mary, I especially entrust all my prayers to Your holy intercession. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
The Transforming Power of the Cross
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16–17
If Jesus would never have given His life on a cross for the salvation of the world, then a cross would never have been seen in “exultation.” A cross, in and of itself, is an instrument of death, a horrific and violent death. It’s also an instrument of humiliation and torture. Yet, today, the Cross is seen as a holy and blessed object. We hang crosses in our homes, wear them around our neck, keep them in our pocket on the end of the rosary, and spend time in prayer before them. The Cross is now an exalted image by which we turn to God in prayer and surrender. But that is only the case because it was on a cross that we were saved and brought to eternal life.
If you step back and consider the amazing truth that one of the worst instruments of torture and death is now seen as one of the holiest of images on earth, it should be awe inspiring. Comprehending this fact should lead us to the realization that God can do anything and everything. God can use the worst and transform it into the best. He can use death to bring forth life.
Though our celebration today, the “Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross,” is first and foremost a feast by which we give glory to the Father for what He did in the Person of His divine Son, it is also a feast by which we must humbly understand that God can “exalt” every cross we endure in life and bring forth much grace through them.
What is your heaviest cross? What is the source of your greatest suffering? Most likely, as you call this to mind, it is painful to you. Most often, our crosses and sufferings are things we seek to rid ourselves of. We easily point to crosses in life and blame them for a lack of happiness. We can easily think that if only this or that were to change or be removed, then our life would be better. So what is that cross in your life?
The truth is that whatever your heaviest cross is, there is extraordinary potential for that cross to become an actual source of grace in your life and in the world. But this is only possible if you embrace that cross in faith and hope so that our Lord can unite it to His and so that your crosses can also share in the exaltation of Christ’s Cross. Though this is a profoundly deep mystery of faith, it is also a profoundly deep truth of our faith.
Reflect, today, upon your own crosses. As you do, try not to see them as a burden. Instead, realize the potential within those crosses. Prayerfully look at your crosses as invitations to share in Christ’s Cross. Say “Yes” to your crosses. Choose them freely. Unite them to Christ’s Cross. As you do, have hope that God’s glory will come forth in your life and in the world through your free embrace of them. Know that these “burdens” will be transformed and become a source of exaltation in your life by the transforming power of God.
My exalted Lord, I turn to You in my need and with the utmost faith in Your divine power to save. Please give me the grace I need to fully embrace every cross in my life with hope and faith in You. Please transform my crosses so that You will be exalted through them and so that they will become an instrument of Your glory and grace. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Mother Mary’s Sorrowful Heart
Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. John 19:25
Our Blessed Mother, the Mother of the Son of God, loved her Son with a perfect love. She enfleshed every virtue to perfection. Her love for her Son was a love that was beyond what we could ever imagine. She conceived Him miraculously, bore Him in her womb, gave birth to Him, nursed Him, raised Him and loved Him throughout His life. It’s difficult to even imagine the depth and beauty of the love she had for Jesus. Generally speaking, a mother’s love is powerful, unwavering, deep and filled with tenderness. Try to imagine the Immaculate Heart of Mother Mary and the amazing depth of love alive in her heart.
Imagine also the scene depicted in the Gospel passage quoted above. This loving mother stood at the foot of the Cross, gazing upon her crucified Son, continuing to exude every motherly virtue. And because it’s hard to fathom the depth of her love for her Son, it’s also very hard to imagine the depth of sorrow and interior suffering she endured as she watched the cruelty toward Jesus unfold. All she could do in that moment was stand by Him and with Him in this moment of extreme agony. Her love was expressed, in that moment, by her fidelity to Him.
What’s beautiful to know is that love, sorrow, compassion and suffering were united as one within her Immaculate Heart. Within the beauty of her heart was every human emotion, fueled by God’s grace, enabling her to give to her Son the greatest gift she had: her motherhood. She was a true mother throughout her life, and, in this moment, as her Son hung on the Cross, her motherhood culminated in a perfect human expression.
We all long to be loved by another. To give and receive love is the greatest gift that we can give and receive. Love is what we were made for and is the source of our fulfillment in life. We can be certain that as Mother Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, her human heart experienced the greatest fulfillment ever known. Her heart was fulfilled because she exercised her motherly love to perfection.
Gaze upon the image of the Mother of God this day. Ponder, especially, all that she would have experienced within her human heart. Though theologians could write volumes on this meditation, the best way to understand her heart of love is through prayerful meditation. Ask our Blessed Mother to reveal her heart to you today. Find some time to sit in silent adoration of this holy image of perfect motherly love. As you do, know two things. First, know that Mother Mary has this same depth of love for you. Do not doubt it. Her heart burns with compassion as she gazes upon you, even in your sin. Second, know that our Blessed Mother’s love must also fill your heart and overflow into the lives of others. We all must allow her compassion, concern, fidelity and mercy to flow through our hearts. Who do you need to love with the heart of our Blessed Mother? Seek to receive the love in the heart of the Mother of God and seek to give that love. Receive it in and then allow it to flow forth. There is truly nothing in this world more beautiful and awe inspiring than the holy image of this love.
My Immaculate and Sorrowful Mother, you stood at the foot of the Cross of your Son with the perfection of a mother’s love. Your heart was filled with a sorrow that was mixed with every holy virtue. Pray for me that I may understand this love more fully, so that I may also open up my own heart to your love. As I do, I pray that I will become an instrument of the love in your heart toward those in my life who suffer and are in most need of tender compassion and mercy. Sorrowful Heart of Mary, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Awe at the Forgiveness of Sins
Thursday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:48–50
These loving words from Jesus were spoken to a sinful woman who showed up unannounced at a dinner Jesus was having at the house of a Pharisee. The Pharisee looked down upon her in judgment, but she didn’t care. In sorrow for her sins, she anointed Jesus’ feet and humbled herself before Him, bathing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.
The conversation ends with Jesus looking at her and telling her “Your sins are forgiven.” Note the reaction of those who were at the table. We are given an insight into their interior thoughts. They said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Those who have been born and raised within the faith have always understood that God forgives. We were taught this from an early age, learned much about it in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and have heard this message throughout our lives in one form or another. But imagine never hearing about or experiencing the forgiveness of God throughout your life, and then suddenly one day you do. Imagine what these people must have been experiencing as they encountered the forgiveness of sins for the first time in the Person of Jesus as He forgave this sinful woman. They may have been a bit confused by this, but, perhaps more than anything else, they would have experienced a holy awe and amazement at what God had done. They saw this sinful woman come in, they sensed the judgment and demeaning attitude of the Pharisees, they saw her express sorrow and humiliation, and then they saw Jesus forgive her.
Are you amazed at the gift of the forgiveness of your sins and the sins of others? Or do you take forgiveness for granted? The wonder and awe that the people manifested at the forgiveness of the sins of this woman should help us to examine our own attitude toward God’s mercy and forgiveness. We need to continually foster within ourselves the same amazement at God’s mercy that these people had. We must work to never take forgiveness for granted or to see it as just one more normal part of life. Rather, we must see it as extraordinary, ever new, ever glorious and forever awe inspiring.
Reflect, today, upon the awe-inspired words of these first followers of Jesus: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” As you do, let God fill you with the deepest gratitude for the forgiveness He has offered you. Renew your appreciation for this unmerited gift from God and allow that gratitude to become the source of your ongoing amazement at the mercy of God.
My forgiving Lord, Your mercy and compassion for the sinner is truly awe-inspiring. Thank You for loving me and all Your followers with a love so deep. Please fill my heart with a holy awe at Your incredible mercy. May I always be amazed at Your forgiveness and always be filled with the deepest gratitude as I experience it in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, September 17, 2021
Friday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities… Luke 8:1–2
Our Lord was on a mission. He traveled on foot from one town to another, “preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.” His message truly was “good news.” He healed the sick, cast out demons and, most importantly, He forgave sins. As a result, many began to follow Him. Not only did His followers consist of the Twelve whom Jesus personally called and who He would eventually send forth as His Apostles, but others followed Him also. Today’s Gospel also mentions three women by name: Mary of Magdala, Joanna and Susanna. These are but a few of the people who were deeply touched by our Lord, who in turn left all to follow Him.
The choice of these first followers to abandon all and follow Jesus invites us to examine the extent to which we have committed our lives to following Him also. Among the many people who heard Jesus preach, there were undoubtedly various responses. Some rejected Him, others were intrigued by Him, others believed in Him but were not willing to become His disciple, and some did commit themselves wholeheartedly to Jesus and His mission of proclaiming good news. For the latter, the good news they heard changed their lives.
What is your response to our Lord? One good way to properly answer this question is to examine the amount of time and energy you have committed to our Lord and His message of good news. How much time have you spent reading His holy Word, praying to Him, speaking about Him and learning the faith that He has taught? How much does His message affect the decisions you make in life? Being a Christian is not something we can compartmentalize. We cannot have our “faith time” a few moments of each week and then spend the rest of our time on other activities. True, our days will be filled with many activities that are simply normal parts of our lives. We all have duties and responsibilities that occupy much of our days. But being “all in,” so to speak, means that Jesus and His message permeates everything we do. Even our ordinary daily activities such as work, chores, and the like must be done for God’s glory and in accord with His divine will.
For Jesus’ first followers, though they traveled with Him from town to town and radically changed the course of their daily lives, they still would have engaged in many ordinary activities. But those ordinary activities were ultimately done so as to help them and others fulfill their ultimate mission of listening to and responding to the Word of God.
Reflect, today, upon the extent that you have consecrated every part of your life to our Lord and His mission. Doing so does not necessarily require that you become a public evangelist, spend all day at Church or the like. It simply means that Jesus and His mission are invited into everything you do every day all day. We can never serve our Lord fully enough. As you examine your daily activity, look for ways to bring our Lord into everything you do. Doing so will truly make you one of His faithful disciples who are all in with your life.
My divine Lord, You are on a mission to save souls and to build up Your glorious Kingdom. I thank You for inviting me to not only become transformed by Your holy Word but to help spread that Word to others. My life is Yours, dear Lord. Please enter into every part of my daily life and use me for Your glory. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, September 18, 2021
Bearing Abundant Good Fruit
Saturday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
“Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” Luke 8:8
This short line is, in a sense, a summary of the Parable of the Sower. This parable presents us with four different ways in which the Word of God is received. The seed that is sown is the Word of God. The four different categories of people are compared to seed sown on a path, rocky ground, among thorns and in good soil.
Jesus explains that the seed sown on the path are those “who have heard, but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts.” The seed sown on rocky ground are those who “receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of temptation.” The seed sown among thorns are those who have heard the Word and received it, but over time they are “choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit.” Finally, those who are like rich soil are those who heard the Word and “embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”
As you look at those categories of people, where do you fall? Most likely, for those who pray daily and try to follow our Lord, one of the last two categories is where they fall. Note that for those who are like seed sown in the thorns and those sown in rich soil, fruit is born from the Word of God. In other words, their lives do change and they do make a difference in the world on account of God’s holy Word and presence in their lives. The difference, however, is that those who struggle with “the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life” will fail to produce “mature fruit.” This is a good teaching for faithful Christians to ponder.
When you look at your life, what sort of fruit do you see? The “fruit” of which our Lord speaks can be identified with the fruits of the Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, forbearance, gentleness, faith, modesty, self-control, and chastity. Thus, if you want to discern whether you are more like one who bears mature fruit vs. immature fruit, look at those holy qualities carefully. How “mature” are each of these fruits of the Spirit alive in your life? They make a wonderful examination of conscience for those looking to go deeper than just the Ten Commandments or Seven Capital Sins. If these good fruits are born from your life in a truly mature way, you should be able to see how they affect others through you. For example, how has your kindness, patience, faith and self-control helped others in their Christian walk?
Reflect, today, upon the fruits of the Spirit. Review them carefully and prayerfully as you examine your own life. Where you see them in abundance, rejoice and give thanks, and work to foster their growth. Where you see them lacking, rejoice also in that insight and consider the reason they are lacking. Are there worldly anxieties, desires for riches or pleasures that hinder their growth? Seek to be that truly rich soil, and our Lord will indeed bring forth much good fruit in you and through you.
My divine Sower, You sow the perfect seeds of Your Word in abundance. Please help me to open my heart to receive that Word so that an abundance of good fruit can be born. Please free me from the anxieties and deceptions of life so that I can hear clearly Your holy Word and nurture that Word in my heart. I rejoice, dear Lord, in all that You have and continue to do in and through me. Jesus, I trust in You.