A True Friend
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.” Mark 9:42–43
Seriously? Does Jesus really mean this literally? Should we really cut off our hand if it causes us to sin? He goes on to say that we should also cut off our foot and pluck out our eye if it causes us to sin.
Some of the early Church Fathers see this Scripture as a reference to our intimate friends. The context of this passage is that we ought not lead others into scandal and sin. In fact, it would be better if we had “a great millstone” put around our neck and were thrown into the sea than to cause another to sin.
Friends, especially close friends, are a blessing most of the time. But they can also be a cause for sin. If a good friend were to intentionally try to convince another friend to sin, this is a grave issue and is the heart of what Jesus is addressing. What He’s saying is that if we have close friends who are intentionally and maliciously tempting us to turn from God, it’s better that we let go of that “friend” and cut him/her off. The hand, foot or eye is a symbol of those friends who work hard to draw us to sin. It’s better that these friendships end than to be drawn into Hell with them. And if we are the “friend” drawing others to sin, it’s better for us to cut our friendship off with those we are tempting.
One thing this passage reveals is the powerful natural bond of friendship. Friendship is a good thing. And when you have a close friend, you find great consolation in knowing your friend is deeply committed to you and will always be there for you. But every friendship must be continually evaluated in the light of faith and truth. Sometimes friendships can get in the way of our faith in God and can be a powerful influence upon us in a negative way. Of course, the opposite is also true.
Reflect, today, upon your friendships. If you have a close and intimate friend in your life, reflect upon how you influence that person or how he/she influences you. Make sure that Christ is the center and that faith always prevails in this natural bond.
Lord, I thank You for all friendships in my life. I thank You for giving me people who care. Help me to always be a good friend and to always examine my friendships in the light of faith. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday, September 27, 2021
Attentive to the Details of Grace
Monday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” Luke 9:48
This conversation between Jesus and His disciples took place shortly after three events. First, it took place after the disciples returned from the first mission on which Jesus had sent them. Second, it was after Peter made his profession of faith stating that Jesus was “The Messiah of God.” Third, it occurred after the Transfiguration in which Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain to reveal His glory. After these three events, it appears that a certain rivalry began to manifest itself among the disciples. Perhaps there was jealousy of Peter’s profession of faith, or perhaps the disciples who were not taken up the mountain of the Transfiguration were a bit envious. But whatever the cause, Jesus addresses what is the beginning of a desire for vainglory among the disciples.
In commenting on this passage, Saint Cyril of Alexandria notes that in the spiritual battle, the devil’s first tactic is to stir up fleshly desires within our souls to keep us bound by the desire for those pleasures. However, when a person is able to escape these more base and fleshly desires, then the devil stirs up a spiritual sin; namely, a selfishness and vainglory. It is this desire for vainglory, the desire to be perceived as the greatest, with which the disciples were struggling.
Our Lord addresses the disciples after He “realized the intention of their hearts.” This is a very important line. Essentially, Jesus noticed that the desire for vainglory was just beginning. By analogy, when a weed begins to grow, it is easily pulled up by the roots. But if it is left to grow for a while, then the roots are more difficult to pull up, and doing so often affects the other plants and ground around the weed. So it is with sin. By gently bringing a child into their midst and stating that “the one who is least among you is the one who is the greatest,” Jesus was helping them to remove this “weed” of the sin of vainglory before it took deep root in their lives. As Jesus continues His conversation with the disciples, He continues to act with gentleness, addressing their slight error in their reasoning.
This is important to understand, because our Lord always desires to address our sin the very moment it begins. If we are open to His subtle promptings of grace, gently redirecting our actions the moment we begin to go astray, then our attentiveness to His loving rebuke will help keep us from becoming more deeply rooted in our error, whatever it may be. Establishing a practice of constant self-reflection greatly helps with this. Establishing this habit means we do not see our Lord as a harsh and critical Judge; rather, we see Him in His gentleness and care. This image of Jesus gently bringing a child before the disciples so as to teach them about true greatness should help us to realize that we should never fear these gentle promptings of grace.
Reflect, today, upon our Lord appearing before you, gently addressing the small sins with which you are struggling. Of course, all serious sins must be firmly dealt with first. But once all serious sin is rooted out of your life, be attentive to the gentle and merciful promptings of grace by which Jesus wants to root out every small sin at its beginning and even every spiritual imperfection. Attentiveness to these graces is the surest way to grow in holiness and to allow our Lord to lead you into His glorious will, making you truly great within His Kingdom.
My most merciful and gentle Jesus, I thank You for the many ways in which You come to me, revealing Your love and grace. Please help me to see clearly the ways that I must change, so that even the beginnings of the smallest sin in my life may be rooted out. I love You, my Lord. Help me to love You with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Courage to Conquer Fear
Tuesday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. Luke 9:51–52
Shortly after Jesus spoke to His disciples about His pending suffering, death and resurrection, we read that Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” There is much to reflect upon in that short statement.
First of all, Jerusalem was the place of the Temple where the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament took place as a prefiguration of the one and ultimate sacrifice to come. Jesus came into this world as the Lamb of God, the Sacrificial Victim Who would die for our sins. He knew His ultimate end in this world, and He knew it would require much suffering. This knowledge of His future suffering is the foundational context of this passage today.
As Jesus’ suffering and death drew close, He became more and more determined in His human will to fulfill the will of the Father by laying down His life. Of course, Jesus always fulfilled the will of the Father, but little by little the human manifestation of Jesus’s determination became more and more pronounced. The specific human virtue that slowly became manifest was courage. Spiritual courage is the supernatural ability to embrace the will of the Father when His will leads a person into a life of sacrifice. Within our fallen human nature, we tend to avoid sacrifice. We often work to avoid conflict and suffering and to embrace the easy way in life. Therefore, to come face-to-face with some future suffering brings forth a temptation to fear—and that fear requires courage to overcome it. As His suffering drew closer, the temptation to fear grew stronger and, as a result, His perfect virtue of courage became more manifest. Note that Jesus not only decided to go to Jerusalem to offer His life sacrificially, He “resolutely determined” to do so. There was no wavering, no doubting the Father’s will, no hesitancy, no fear. His perfect sacrificial love slowly became manifest for all to see.
Another reason Jesus became resolute in His determination to travel to Jerusalem was to witness His love to His disciples. They needed courage themselves. So, as they listened to Jesus speak about what was coming in Jerusalem and as they witnessed His unwavering determination, they were also encouraged and were strengthened to overcome the temptations to fear. Of course, they only perfected that virtue later in their lives when they also followed in the footsteps of our Lord, laying down their own lives as martyrs.
Reflect, today, upon that which causes fear and anxiety in your own life. If that suffering is of your own making, then seek to rectify it. But if that suffering is a cross that our Lord is calling you to embrace with love, then do so sacrificially and with much determination. Do not be cowed by the heaviness of the cross you are given in life. The crosses we are called to embrace are always able to be transformed into grace. Allow courage to grow within you and allow the witness of our Lord to encourage you as you seek to imitate His sacrificial love.
My courageous Lord, You faced Your suffering with much courage, strength, surrender and hope. You saw the value of Your free embrace of Your suffering and chose it with all the power of your soul. Give me the grace I need, dear Lord, to also resolutely determine to journey toward the cross I am called to embrace in life, so that my free embrace of my cross will unite me more fully with You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
The Celestial Hosts of Heaven
Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels, September 29
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:51
In Heaven, we will see all things as God sees them. That full perspective will be beyond glorious. And among the many things that will amaze us from the perspective of Heaven is the incredibly powerful ways that the celestial beings participate in the bringing forth of the Kingdom of God. The Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Guardian Angels all cooperate with God’s grace in ways similar to how every member of an orchestra works together to produce a single piece of beautiful music. God is the conductor, but these celestial beings participate in the grand fulfillment of the will of God, acting as living instruments of His divine grace.
Today’s feast honors three of the great archangels mentioned in Scripture: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. The Archangel Michael is described as a protector in the Old Testament Book of Daniel and as one who does battle with satan in the Books of Revelation and Jude. In Revelation, Michael casts satan out of Heaven along with the other fallen angels. The Archangel Gabriel is spoken of also in the Book of Daniel as one who interprets Daniel’s vision. In the New Testament, he is identified as the one who appears to the high priest Zechariah while Zechariah is offering sacrifice in the temple. In that appearance, Gabriel revealed to Zechariah that his wife would have a child, even though she was advanced in years. Gabriel is perhaps best known as the one sent to the Blessed Virgin Mary to reveal to her that she will become the mother of the Savior of the World. Lastly, the Archangel Raphael is referred to in the Old Testament Book of Tobit and is said to have been sent to bring healing to Tobit’s eyes.
As we honor these three archangels, we can be certain that they are three of a countless number of other angelic beings who cooperate with God, bringing forth His grace and His will into our world. Try to imagine that profound truth. Some angelic beings build up the Kingdom of God by devoting their existence to the perpetual worship of God before His throne. The highest of these are the Seraphim. Other angelic beings build up the Kingdom by bringing forth God’s grace and truth to us, intervening in our lives in accord with God’s will. These are especially the guardian angels. The archangels, three of whom we honor today, especially have the task of communicating to us the most important messages and graces from God.
Reflect, today, upon the glorious reality of the whole host of the celestial beings. Specifically call upon the mediation of these three celestial beings whose names we know, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, as well as upon the mediation of our guardian angels and all others celestial beings. By doing this, we not only entrust ourselves to their loving care, but we also make an act of faith in God by expressing our belief that God has chosen to use these celestial beings to bring forth His Kingdom. By themselves, angels are powerless to act. But since they act only in unison with the will of God, their mediation is as powerful as the grace of God, since it is God Who works through them. Acknowledge them today, call upon their mediation and profess your faith in the glorious work that they do to build up God’s Kingdom.
Most glorious Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, please do come to my aid. I entrust myself, my family, our Church and the entire world to your loving mediation. Please bring forth God’s grace into our lives, communicate God’s Word and His holy Will, protect us from all harm and bring healing to those in need. Angels of God, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday, September 30, 2021
Protected by the Good Shepherd
Thursday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” Luke 10:1–3
Why would our Lord send His disciples out like lambs among wolves? At first, this might be concerning and cause us to wonder if our Lord were sending them into a situation in which they would encounter harm. Saint Ambrose, in commenting on this, explains that there is no reason for these disciples to fear, since Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who always protects His sheep. It’s helpful to reflect upon what sort of danger these disciples would encounter on this mission and all future missions and to contrast that danger with the only form of danger we should fear.
The “wolves” in this situation are especially some of the cruel religious and civil leaders of that time, as well as those who would reject the disciples and their teaching. When looking at the worldly danger that our Lord encountered, as well as His disciples, we see that it was a danger of persecution. But is that a “danger” that one should fear? Clearly not, since Jesus never cowered in the face of it. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see how this same fate of persecution befell Jesus’ followers. But in the divine perspective, true “danger” is only that which has the potential to do eternal damage to one’s soul: sin.
Sin and sin alone has the potential to do true damage, not persecution or even death. So when Jesus sent His disciples out “like lambs among wolves,” He was fully aware of the persecution they would receive in this world. But He exhorted them and sent them, because He knew that even if they were to eventually suffer persecution and death, their faith and courage in the midst of it would gain them merit in eternal life and would become an instrument of grace for others in their life of faith. As was commonly said in the early Church, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” For that reason, as Jesus sent these sheep out among wolves, He also accompanied their souls as the Good Shepherd, protecting their virtue, strengthening them in their witness to the faith, and keeping them from fear and from sin. He did not want them to fear the death of their body or their worldly reputation—rather, only the death of their souls which He, as the Good Shepherd, vigorously defended.
Reflect, today, upon the glorious truth that our Lord also sends you forth to be like a lamb among wolves. The fulfillment of the will of God in your life will take fortitude and courage as you trust that our Lord will keep you free from the countless temptations of sin. As you go forth, do not be surprised if you encounter harshness from others in the world, judgment and even persecution in various forms. When you do, respond with virtue. Keep faith, hope and charity alive in your life and do not fear those who can harm you in ways that are not eternal. Instead, stay firmly grounded in your mission to love and to share the mercy and truth of God in our world, no matter the consequences. Doing so will bring with it countless interior blessings of grace and will enable God to use you as an instrument of His grace in ways beyond that which you can ever conceive.
My courageous Lord, You came face-to-face with a harshness and cruelty in this world that ultimately enabled You to give witness to Your divine love by freely laying down Your life. Please send me forth on Your mission and strengthen me with every divine virtue so that I will not fear any form of persecution but always remain steadfast in my love of You, overcoming all fear through the gift of faith. My life is Yours, dear Lord. Do with me as You will. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, October 1, 2021
Friday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” Luke 10:13
Have you ever sat in sackcloth and ashes? In the Gospel passage above, Jesus gives clear indication that doing so is a holy sign of responding to His preaching. He states that the pagan towns of Tyre and Sidon would have certainly sat in sackcloth and ashes if they would have been privileged to witness the mighty deeds done in the Jewish towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida.
“Sackcloth and ashes” were a common sign used to indicate interior repentance and sorrow for sin. There are many times throughout the Old Testament when this happened. Recall, for example, that when Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, everyone from the king down to the common citizen responded by expressing their repentance in this way (Jonah 3:5–7). Sackcloth was a rough and uncomfortable material usually made out of black goats hair, symbolizing the rejection of the false consolation of sin. Ashes symbolized desolation and destruction resulting from purifying fire. Of course, all of us do sit in ashes every Ash Wednesday as an external manifestation of our desire to repent. And though putting on actual sackcloth for clothing today may not be our literal practice, it is good to see the spiritual fruitfulness of these actions and to consider ways in which these actions can still be performed in our day and age. How might you sit in sackcloth and ashes today? What practical action can you take to publicly manifest your desire to turn from sin and toward the Gospel?
First of all, to properly answer this question, it’s important to recognize the fact that turning from sin should not only be a personal and interior act, it must also be exterior and manifest for others to see. Sin not only does harm to us individually, but it also damages others in varying degrees. Therefore, if your sin has done clear harm to others, it’s important to realize that you not only need to repent to God but that you must also repent in such a way that others see your repentance and sorrow.
So how might you repent in sackcloth and ashes today? There are many ways to do this. The essential quality present in such an act will be that it is clear to others that you are sorry for your sin and that you are attempting to change. If the sin you have committed toward another is grave, then your interior repentance must match the seriousness of your sin, and the exterior manifestation of that repentance must also measure up.
Reflect, today, upon some practical ways in which God is calling you to publicly manifest your “sitting in sackcloth and ashes” as a sign of your sorrow toward those against whom you have sinned. For example, if your sin is that of anger and you have regularly harmed another by that sin, then don’t only repent to God, look also for external ways to manifest your sorrow to them. Perhaps do some form of manifest service for them. Or engage in a public act of penance, such as fasting, as a way of showing them you are sorry. Manifest charitable good works, service, prayer, public penance and the like are all ways that you can spiritually and practically sit “in sackcloth and ashes” today.
My merciful Lord, You call me to daily repent of my sin and to do so through the manifest signs of sitting “in sackcloth and ashes.” Give me the grace of true sorrow for my sins and help me to sincerely repent as I trust in Your mercy. As I do, please also guide me so that I may humble myself and express my sorrow in manifest ways toward those against whom I have sinned. May this humble act bring healing and unity in You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, October 2, 2021
Your Protector and Guide
Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels, October 2
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Matthew 18:10
The reality of angels is fascinating to most people, especially to children. The Guardian Angels, in particular, are often pictured in sacred art as walking hand-in-hand with children. And though this is true, they also walk hand-in-hand with each one of us throughout our lives. This is their sacred duty given to them by God. In quoting Saint Basil, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the existence of Guardian Angels by saying: “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life’” (#336).
Imagine, in an earthly sense, that you had a personal bodyguard to look after you day and night throughout your life. Perhaps this evokes two different sentiments. First, it would most certainly comfort you when there is imminent danger around. You would know you are not alone and that you would be kept safe from physical harm. Another sentiment it may invoke is that of a loss of personal privacy. If someone were watching over you, day and night, you would always be aware of their watchful eye. Everything you said and did would be noticed. For some, this may not always be welcome. Why? Because this means they see all you do, including your sin. Fear of judgment, the loss of personal privacy and the like may be difficult to accept.
But now imagine that this “bodyguard” is one who offers no judgment, acts with perfect love for you, keeps confidentiality with perfection and cares only for your well-being. Though it may be hard to imagine that such a person could exist, that person does exist in the person of your guardian angel.
Your guardian angel is real, has a keen and powerful intellect, has a will perfectly united with the will of God, and was created for the single purpose of protecting you and leading you into the fulfillment of God’s will. When you sin and stray, your guardian angel’s only concern is to guide you back to God. When you are fearful or in trouble, your guardian angel’s only care is to protect you and fill you with God’s peace and courage. And though God could have provided you with all of these graces directly, without the mediation of an angel, He chose to do so through the mediation of your personal guardian angel. Only in Heaven will we fully understand the profound depth of love, protection, and care given to us by these angelic beings.
Reflect, today, upon the intimate knowledge that your guardian angel has of you. As you ponder this reality, rejoice that someone knows you so well and loves you with a perfect love. This angel of yours not only loves you perfectly but also has been entrusted with great power from God to protect you and shepherd you to the fulfillment of your life mission. Prayerfully acknowledge the great gift that your guardian angel is to you and entrust yourself more fully to this angelic mediation.
Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen. Guardian angel, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.