Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
“Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” Mark 7:34b
These are powerful words. Why are they powerful? They are powerful because they are more than words. They are words that actually accomplish what they say. These words are spoken by Jesus after the deaf man is brought to Him with the request for healing. By saying the command “Be opened!”, the deaf man’s ears are opened and his speech impediment is removed.
When Jesus speaks, His word changes things. This is true in this story, but it is also true in our lives. We all are deaf and struggle with a speech impediment in the sense that we do not always hear the voice of God and we do not always speak His word and words of charity. For that reason, these words of Jesus must be spoken to us. We must let Him take us off to a quiet place alone and speak to us. We must let Him say those words to us. “Ephphatha!–Be opened!”
What is it that you are not hearing properly? What is it God has been saying to you for a long time that you refuse to hear? What is it you have allowed yourself to become deaf to? Let our Lord open the “ears” of your heart so that you can hear all that He wishes to say to you. Once that happens, Jesus will also help you speak His words of truth and love.
Reflect, today, upon how open you are to hearing the voice of God. We all struggle at times with listening, and we especially may struggle listening to God. Spend some time alone with our Lord and let Him heal you so that you can hear and understand all that He is saying to you.
Monday, September 6, 2021
Perceiving the Intentions of Others
Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him. But he realized their intentions… Luke 6:6–8
Jesus had a gift. Of course, He had every good gift to perfection. But in today’s Gospel, we see one of Jesus’ gifts made manifest. Namely, Jesus was able to realize the intentions of those He daily encountered.
Normally, we can only know another’s intentions if they were to tell us their intentions. We cannot read minds and hearts. But our Lord could. He had the divine ability to read every soul and know every heart. For that reason, when someone came to Him with great faith, He knew it. And when someone came to Him with evil intent, He knew it.
When Jesus perceived the ill intentions of the scribes and Pharisees, He used that knowledge to manifest their intentions. They intended to find a reason to accuse Jesus, so He gave them one. Jesus cured a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, and the scribes and Pharisees “became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.” They thought miracles were violations of the law of Sabbath rest. Jesus knew they would apply their twisted logic to this miraculous healing, and He knew they would become enraged at Him on account of their envy. So, in a sense, Jesus provoked them so that that which was in their hearts would come forth for them to see.
All of our interior intentions and thoughts are known by God and must become manifest to us in the presence of God. By provoking the scribes and Pharisees in charity, Jesus forces them to face that which was within them. They had to choose to either continue down the path of envy or to realize the foolishness of their interior thoughts. Sadly, for the scribes and Pharisees, it appears that many of them became more hardened in their sin. But this was a choice only they could make.
Reflect, today, upon your own interior intentions and thoughts. Why do you do the things you do? What hidden motivations are in your heart? Is there some person, or a certain situation you find yourself in that causes you to obsess in anger interiorly? Or is it true charity that resides within you and is the source of your actions? Is there a profound faith? A supernatural hope? Or is it primarily some sin with which you struggle? Know that Jesus knows your heart, and He wants you also to see clearly those things hidden in your heart. He wants you to see your intentions as clearly as He sees them. Allow Him to reveal the depths of your heart to you so that you can turn away from the sins you find and rejoice in the virtues by which you live.
My glorious Lord, you know all thoughts and probe the depths of every heart. You know me, Lord, through and through. Please open my eyes to see that which is within me so that I can discern the ill intentions I have and rejoice in the virtues given to me by You. May I always be attentive to You, dear Lord, so that I become aware of all that You wish to reveal to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
Hearing and Healing
Tuesday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all. Luke 6:17–19
The Gospel of Luke presents us with what is traditionally known as the “Sermon on the Plain.” Almost everything Luke includes in this sermon is also found in Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount.” Matthew, however, adds some teachings not found in Luke. Matthew’s sermon has three chapters while Luke’s has only one.
In this, the introduction to this “Sermon on the Plain,” from which we will be reading all week, Luke points out that large numbers of people came from far and wide to listen to Jesus. This crowd included many Jews but also included many people from the pagan territory of Tyre and Sidon. And what was it that drew so many of them? They came to “hear” Jesus preach and “to be healed.” They wanted to hear the words of Jesus since He spoke with great authority and in a way that was changing lives. And they were especially amazed by the healing power that Jesus manifested. The last line of the passage above gives great emphasis to this desire for healing. “Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.”
It’s interesting that Jesus performed so many powerful miracles as He went about His public ministry. This was especially the case as He began His ministry. He became a sort of instant celebrity to many and was the talk of the many surrounding towns. But it’s also interesting to note that, as time went on, Jesus gave more emphasis to His teaching than He did to the miracles.
What is it that draws you to our Lord? Perhaps if there were numerous manifest miracles performed today by God, many people would be amazed. But physical miracles are not the greatest work of our Lord and, therefore, should not be the primary focus of our relationship with Him. The primary reason we should be drawn to our Lord is because His holy Word sinks in deeply, changes us and draws us into communion with Him. This is clearly seen by the fact that now that the Gospel message has been deeply established and the Church formed, physical miracles are rare. They do happen, but not in the same way that they did as Jesus first established His public ministry.
Reflect, today, upon the primary reason you find yourself drawn to our Lord. Seek out His living Word, spoken within the depths of your heart. The most important miracle that takes place today is that of interior transformation. When a person hears God speak, responds to that Word, and allows Him to change their life, this is among the most important miracles of grace that we could ever encounter. And this is the central reason we should be drawn to Him, seek Him out and follow Him wherever He leads.
My miraculous Lord, please draw me to Yourself, teaching in the wilderness of my interior life of silence and solitude. Help me to seek You out so that I can hear Your Word, spoken to me to give me new life. May I always listen to You so that Your holy Word will transform me more fully, making me into the new creation You desire me to be. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
The Birth of the Mother of God
Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 8
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20–21
Today we celebrate one of the most consequential birthdays in the history of the world! Certainly, the only birthday more important is that of our divine Lord Himself. But today we honor His mother, and our mother, too.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was born into our world without the stain of original sin. She was preserved from experiencing fallen human nature through the gift of her Immaculate Conception. Thus, she was the first to be born in the perfection of human nature after the fall, and she continued to experience this grace throughout her life, responding to God with her free will every step of the way.
All of us enjoy celebrating our birthdays. Children especially love it, but most everyone looks forward to that special day each year when family and friends honor them and celebrate them in a special way. For that reason, we can be assured that even our Blessed Mother loved her birthday while here on earth and continues to enjoy this special celebration in Heaven. Of course, she did not enjoy her birthday because she wanted to be pampered or given special attention. She, perhaps more than anyone other than her divine Son, rejoiced on her birthday because of the deep spiritual gratitude she had to God for all that He did in her life.
Try to ponder the heart and soul of our Blessed Mother from her perspective. She would have been intimately united to each person of the Most Holy Trinity throughout her life. She would have known God, living in her soul, and would have been in awe of what God had done to her. She would have pondered these graces with deep humility and exceptional gratitude. She would have seen her soul and mission from the perspective of God, keenly aware of all that He had done for her.
As we honor the birthday of our Blessed Mother, it’s also an important opportunity for each of us to ponder the incredible blessings that God has bestowed upon each one of us. No, we are not Immaculate as Mother Mary was. We were each born into original sin and have sinned throughout our lives. But the blessings of grace, given to each one of us, is exceptionally real. We only need to work to have the eyes to see these graces. Baptism, for example, bestows upon the soul an eternal transformation. Though our sin may cloud that transformation at times, the transformation is eternal. Our souls are changed. We are made new. Grace is poured into our hearts, and we become children of God. And for the soul who is able to perceive the countless other ways that God bestows blessings, gratitude is the only appropriate response.
Reflect, today, upon the glorious celebration of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Begin by trying to rejoice in her life through her eyes. Try to imagine what she saw as she looked into her own graced soul. From there, try to rejoice, also, in your soul. Be grateful for all that God has done for you. Work to have eyes that see these countless graces and allow yourself to rejoice in God’s blessings with our Blessed Mother.
My dearest Mother, happy birthday! Today I rejoice in the incredible gift that God gave to you in your Immaculate Conception and birth into our world. I pray that I may honor you in a fitting way this day and to especially understand more clearly the beauty of your graced soul. Pray for me that I may also rejoice in the countless graces bestowed upon me by our merciful God. I love you, dear Mother. Precious Jesus, through the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I trust in You!
Thursday, September 9, 2021
The Most Important Thing in Life
Thursday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Luke 6:29–30
This must have been shocking to Jesus’ first disciples. First of all, recall that Jesus taught these words with a spiritual authority that left those with an open heart with a conviction that what Jesus taught was truth. Also recall that Jesus taught these deep spiritual lessons within the context of performing numerous miracles. So, for these reasons, His new followers would have known that what Jesus taught was true. But how could they fully accept such teachings?
Though many commentators will try to point to the deeper spiritual principles that Jesus was teaching, try to first take His words on face value. He really said that you must offer the other cheek to someone who strikes you, to give your tunic to one who steals your cloak, and to give to everyone who asks of you, never demanding back that which someone takes from you. These are not easy lessons to accept!
One thing that these powerful lessons teach us is that there is something far more important in life than the humiliation of being struck on the cheek and having your possessions stolen. What is that more important thing? It’s the salvation of souls.
If we were to go through life demanding earthly justice and retribution for wrongs received, we would not be able to focus upon that which is most important. We would not be able to focus upon the salvation of those who have wronged us. It’s easy to love those who are kind to us. But our love must extend to everyone, and sometimes the form of love we must offer another is the free acceptance of injustices they commit against us. There is great power in this act of love. But we will only be able to love another this way if our deep desire is for their eternal salvation. If all we want is earthly justice and satisfaction for wrongs committed, we may achieve that. But it may come at the expense of their salvation.
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that every wrong must be righted here and now. But that’s clearly not what Jesus taught. His wisdom is so much deeper. He knew that a profound act of mercy and forgiveness to another, especially when they have hurt us deeply, is one of the greatest gifts we can give. And it’s one of the most transformative actions we can also do for our own souls. When love hurts, in the sense that it costs us our earthly pride, especially by completely letting go of injustice, then our act of love for that person has great power to change them. And if that act changes them, then this will be the cause of your joy for eternity.
Reflect, today, upon any way that this hard teaching of Jesus is difficult for you. Who comes to mind as you ponder this teaching? Do your passions revolt against this command of love from Jesus? If so, then you have discovered the specific area where God wants you to grow. Think about anyone with whom you have a grievance and ponder whether you desire their eternal salvation. Know that God can use you for this mission of love if you will love in the way our Lord commands.
My merciful Lord, Your love is beyond my own ability to comprehend. Your love is absolute and always seeks the good of the other. Give me grace, dear Lord, to love with Your heart and to forgive to the extent that You have forgiven. Use me, especially, to be an instrument of salvation and mercy to those who need it most in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday, September 10, 2021
Seeing Through the Eyes of God
Friday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” Luke 6:41
Saint Teresa of Ávila, one of the greatest spiritual writers and doctors of the Church, explains in her spiritual masterpiece “Interior Castles,” that one of the first steps on the path to holiness is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge produces humility, because humility is simply having a true opinion about yourself. When a person fails to know themself from the true perspective of the mind of God, then they open themselves up to many errors of judgment. One such error is that they can easily become fixated upon their perceived sins of others.
The Gospel passage quoted above depicts a person who gravely lacks self-knowledge. Why? Because they “do not perceive the wooden beam” in their own eye, meaning, they do not see their own sin. As a result, Jesus explains that this person also becomes fixated upon the “splinter” in their brother’s eye.
When you consider your own thoughts, what do you dwell upon the most all day long? Do you honestly look inward, seeking to know yourself as God knows you? Or do you spend excessive time thinking about others, analyzing and judging their actions? This is an important question to ask yourself and to answer with honesty.
The best way to know yourself is to gaze upon Jesus. When He becomes the focus of your attention throughout the day, you will not only come to know Him, but you will also come to know yourself more honestly. Gazing at the beauty and perfection of our Lord will have the double effect of knowing Him and knowing yourself through His eyes. It will also help you to know others as He sees them.
How does Jesus look at those around you? He looks at them with perpetual mercy. True, at the end of every life, when we pass from this world to the next, we will encounter our particular judgment from our Lord. But while here on earth, God continually gazes upon us with mercy. For that reason, mercy must become our daily mission, and we must build a habit of gazing upon everyone in our life with the eyes of mercy.
Reflect, today, upon our Lord. Look at Him, gaze upon Him, seek to know Him and make Him the focus of your attention. As you do, try to dismiss from your thinking process your own perceived judgments of others. Allow your gaze upon our Lord to help you to not only see Him but to also see others through His eyes. Build this habit and you will be on the fast track to the path to holiness.
My merciful Jesus, may I build a humble and true habit of gazing upon You in Your splendor and beauty. As I see You, day in and day out, please also help me to see myself through Your eyes of mercy so that I will also grow in humility. Please remove all judgment from my heart so that I will be free to know and love all people as You know and love them. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday, September 11, 2021
The Path You are On
Saturday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.” Luke 6:43–44
What a great way to examine the direction of your life! This Gospel passage gets to the heart of how we can best discern whether or not we are truly fulfilling the will of God. Oftentimes we may struggle with knowing clearly if we are doing that which God wants of us. There are many directions in life that we can be pulled toward and many goals we can come up with on our own. For that reason, it is useful from time to time to stop and do an honest inventory of our lives.
When you look at the past year of your life, what do you see? Specifically, do you see good fruit being born? Such an examination is helpful to do from time to time. It is useful to make such an examination not only for the past year but for different time periods. Perhaps start by looking at the big picture by looking at all the times in your life that were most fruitful for the glory of God. From there, try to look at your life decade by decade, year by year and then even month by month over this past year. Look for the most blessed moments in your life as well as the most challenging moments.
When we examine our lives in this way, it’s important to understand what to look for. For example, there may be moments when all went well in one way or another and then other times that were painful and very difficult. What’s important to know, from a divine perspective, is that just because something “went well” at one point, or just because something was “painful and very difficult” at another point in our lives, this doesn’t mean that the former was the most fruitful for the Kingdom of God or the latter the least fruitful. In fact, heavy crosses and difficulties in life can often be the most fruitful times for us, spiritually speaking. Just look at Jesus’ life. Of course, everything He did was fruitful for the glory of the Father in Heaven, but we can easily point to the most painful moment of His life as the most fruitful. His Crucifixion brought forth the greatest good ever known.
So it is with our lives. The fruitfulness of our lives is not best discerned by looking at those moments when all was easy, fun, memorable and the like. Though those may also be graced moments, we need to look at spiritual fruitfulness from the divine perspective. We need to look for the moments in our lives, be they easy or difficult, when God was clearly present and when we made choices that gave Him the greatest glory.
Reflect, today, upon your life being like a tree that bears spiritual fruit. What times of your life, decisions you made, or activities that you were engaged in produced the most virtue in your life? When was your prayer life the deepest? When was your charity the strongest? When was your faith and hope the most evident? Return to those moments, savor them, learn from them and use them as the best building blocks for the glorious future our Lord desires for you.
My glorious Lord, Your life bore fruit of infinite value. You continually chose to fulfill the will of the Father in Heaven, and, as a result, You lived every virtue to perfection. Help me to regularly pause in life so as to examine the direction in which I am going. May I learn from my errors and rejoice in those moments that were most fruitful for Your Kingdom. I love You, Lord. Help me to bear the greatest fruit for Your glory. Jesus, I trust in You.