Monday, May 24, 2021
Your Heavenly Mother
Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church—Monday after Pentecost
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. John 19:25–27
The memorial we celebrate today, which was added to the Roman Liturgical Calendar in 2018 by Pope Francis, highlights the truth that the Blessed Virgin Mary is not only the Mother of the Person of Christ, and, therefore, the Mother of God, she is also the Mother of the Church, that is, the Mother of all the faithful. The Blessed Virgin Mary is your mother. And as your mother, she is truly tender, compassionate, caring and merciful, bestowing upon you everything that a perfect mother desires to bestow. She is the fiercest of mothers who will stop at nothing to protect her children. She is a mother wholly devoted to you, her dear child.
The Gospel passage chosen for this memorial depicts our Blessed Mother standing at the foot of the Cross. She would have been no other place than directly beneath her Son as He endured His last agony. She did not flee in fear. She was not overwhelmed by grief. She did not sulk in self-pity. No, she stood by her Son with the perfect love and strength of a devoted, caring, compassionate and faithful mother.
As she stood by her Son in His hour of suffering and death, Jesus turned to her and entrusted the Apostle John to her maternal care. From the early Church Fathers until the most recent teachings of the Church today, this act of entrusting John to Mary and Mary to John by Jesus has been understood as an entrustment of all the faithful to the maternal care of Mother Mary. Mother Mary is, therefore, not only the Mother of the Redeemer, Christ Himself, she also becomes the Mother of all the redeemed, the mother of us all, the Mother of the Church.
Consider the spiritual mother you have in Heaven. A mother is one who gives life. Your mother in Heaven is entrusted with the task of bestowing upon you the new life of grace won by the Cross. And as your mother, she will not withhold anything from you that is to your benefit. A mother is also one who is tender with her children. The Immaculate Heart of our mother in Heaven is one that is filled with the greatest tenderness toward you. Though her caresses are not physical, they are much deeper. She caresses with the tenderness of grace which she imparts to you as you pray and turn to her in your need. She gives you the grace of her Son, poured out upon the Cross as the blood and water sprung forth as a font of mercy. Mother Mary pours that mercy upon you as a tender and devoted mother would. She holds nothing back.
If you are unaware of the love in the heart of our Blessed Mother for you, use this memorial as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of her role in your life. Many children take their mothers for granted, not fully understanding the depth of their love. So it is with our Mother in Heaven. We will never fully comprehend her love and her constant motherly workings in our life until we join her in Heaven face to face.
Reflect, today, upon Mother Mary standing by you in every moment of your life. See her there in your joys and in your sorrows, during your moments of temptation and struggles, in your moments of confusion and clarity. See her there by your side, bestowing every good spiritual gift upon you when you need it the most. She is a true mother, and she is worthy of your love and gratitude.
My dearest Mother, you stood by your Son with unwavering fidelity and love. You cared for Him, nurtured Him, and never left His side. I also am your dear child. I thank you for your loving fidelity toward me and open my heart to the grace of your Son that you bestow upon me throughout life. Help me to be more attentive to your motherly care and to daily grow in gratitude for your presence in my life. Mother Mary, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
An Exchange of Gifts
Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more…” Mark 10:29–30
Jesus’ statement above is in response to Peter who said to Him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” It was as if Peter were patting himself on the back, attempting to highlight just how much he and the other disciples had sacrificed to follow Jesus. And it was true, they did give up everything of their former life. They left home, their occupation, their relationships and everything that had been part of their daily established life in response to the call of Jesus. They were truly all in.
In hearing this statement from Peter, Jesus does not give the expected response. He doesn’t say to Peter, “Yes, you have, that’s very impressive Peter. Good job and thank you!” Instead, Jesus immediately explains to Peter that the sacrifice he and the others have made is worth it. Their unwavering commitment to follow Jesus would be repaid with gifts beyond their imagination. Thus, Jesus was saying that the gifts that He would bestow upon them would be exponentially greater than every sacrifice they made.
This was not a belittling of Peter’s self-sacrifice; rather, it was a form of encouragement by Jesus. He was encouraging Peter, and the other disciples, to have full confidence in their decision to follow Him. Their sacrifice would yield a hundred-fold return. That is truly a good investment.
It can be tempting for us all, at times, to feel as though God asks too much of us. It’s true that God asks much of us. He asks everything from us. He asks for the complete and total gift of our lives to Him. He calls us to abandon all selfishness and to dedicate ourselves to His holy will without exception. But if we understand the reward of our self-giving, then the sacrifices we make will pale in comparison to the reward.
Reflect, today, upon whether or not you can say those words of the Apostle, Saint Peter: “Lord, I have given up everything to follow You.” Have you truly given your life completely to Christ Jesus? Are there things that you still hold back, not wanting to “sacrifice” for our Lord? Ponder those words of Peter and allow yourself to see the areas of your life you still need to surrender over to Jesus. And as you do so, allow the reward promised by our Lord to motivate you to the point that you truly hold nothing back and truly have given up everything to follow His holy will.
My generous Lord, You ask everything of me. You ask me to abandon everything in my pursuit of Your perfect will. Give me the grace I need to answer Your call and to live sacrificially for You without counting the cost. You are generous beyond description, dear Lord, and I trust that following You will produce an abundance of good fruit. Jesus, I trust in You.
Greatness in Holy Servitude
Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, ‘What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Mark 10:35–37
James and John were feeling quite bold. Their boldness may have come, in part, from the fact that they had become very familiar with the goodness of Jesus. He was unlike any other, and His genuineness was very evident to them. Therefore, they allowed themselves to slip into the trap of taking Jesus’ goodness for granted by seeking a selfish favor from our Lord. Jesus’ response is gentle and thoughtful, and, in the end, James and John are somewhat humbled by their attempt to obtain this selfish favor when the other disciples become “indignant” at their request.
Jesus summarizes His response to these disciples this way: “…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Jesus, of course, was especially speaking about Himself. He was the greatest and the first among them. And for that reason, Jesus humbled Himself as their servant and the “slave of all.” Normally, the idea of being a slave has very negative connotations. Slavery is an abuse of the dignity of another. It’s a way of discarding the dignity of the person. But, nonetheless, Jesus says that the ideal way to be truly great is to become a slave of all.
When literal slavery is imposed upon another, this is a grave abuse. But there is another form of holy slavery of which Jesus is speaking. For Jesus, a holy slavery is one in which we give ourselves to another in a sacrificial way out of love. And this is what Jesus did to perfection. His death on the Cross was a true physical death. It was a sacrifice of His earthly life, but it was done freely and for the purpose of setting others free. In referring to Himself, Jesus explains His holy “slavery” when He says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus’ greatness is first found in the simple fact that He is God. But His greatness is made most manifest in His human nature when He gives His life “as a ransom for many.” It is the Cross that becomes the greatest act of loving service ever known. The fruit of His selfless sacrifice is the salvation of all who turn to Him. Thus, Jesus turns slavery and death into the greatest act of love ever known.
Reflect, today, upon your own calling to live a life of holy slavery. How is God calling you to sacrificially give yourself to others out of love? From a purely human point of view, the idea of sacrifice, servitude and even holy slavery is hard to comprehend. But when we use Jesus as the model, it becomes much clearer. Look for ways in which you can give yourself to others selflessly and know that the more you can imitate our Lord in this holy endeavor, the greater your life will be.
Lord of all holiness, Your greatness was made manifest in Your human nature by Your act of perfect servitude when You freely chose to die for the sins of those who turn to You for redemption. You humbled Yourself, taking on the form of a slave, so that all could be set free. Help me to always trust in Your great love and to continually open myself to the gift of redemption You offer. Jesus, I trust in You
Crying Out to Jesus
Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Mark 10:46–47
How do you pray? Do you ever “cry out” to Jesus with deep conviction and intensity? This blind man, Bartimaeus, sets for us a wonderful example of how we should pray to our Lord. First of all, the blind man was in a state of need. His blindness symbolizes every weakness and need you have in life. So what is it that you struggle with the most in life? What is your greatest habitual sin? Or what causes you the most grief?
Seeing our weakness is the first step. Once we are aware of our greatest needs, we must also “cry out” to our Lord just as Bartimaeus did. Upon hearing that it was Jesus, Bartimaeus somehow sensed within his soul that Jesus wanted to cure him. How did he sense this? He listened to the voice of God within. Yes, he heard the commotion of many speaking about Jesus as He walked by. But this alone could not have compelled him to cry out and to know that Jesus was the source of the mercy he needed. That which compelled him was the clear voice of God, a prompting from the Holy Spirit, within his soul, revealing to him that he needed Jesus and that Jesus wanted to cure him.
At first, those around him rebuked Bartimaeus and told him to be quiet. And if Bartimaeus would have been weak in faith, he may have listened to the crowd and, in despair, remained silent. But it is quite clear that he not only ignored the rebukes of others, he “kept calling out all the more.”
Bartimaeus gives us here a double witness of how we must turn to our Lord. First, we must sense His gentle but clear presence within our soul. We must recognize His voice and His promptings of grace. He wants to heal us, and His presence in our lives must be sensed within. Secondly, we must become intensely fixed upon that voice within. The crowds who rebuked Bartimaeus are symbolic of the many “voices” and temptations we experience in life that try to keep us from faithfully and fervently crying out to the God who speaks to us. Nothing should deter us from our wholehearted determination to call to Jesus with our need.
Reflect, today, upon Bartimaeus being an image of yourself. See yourself in desperate need of our Lord and listen for His clear voice. Do you hear Him? Do you sense Him walking by? As you do, cry out to Him with fervor, intensity, and conviction. And if you find that there are temptations that try to silence your prayer and faith, increase your intensity and cry out “all the more” to our Lord. He will hear you, call you to Himself and give you that grace which He desires to bestow.
My merciful Jesus, You are constantly passing by, drawing me to Yourself by Your divine presence. Give me the grace I need in order to see my need and to call out to You with all my heart. May I never be deterred from this fervent prayer, dear Lord, and when temptation sets in, may I call out all the more. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Rebuke by Jesus
Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!” And his disciples heard it. Mark 11:12–14
This is a very unique and interesting story. The first thing this tells us is that Jesus was fully human. As a man, He was hungry. But this story tells us much more than the simple fact that Jesus was hungry. He would have known that it was not the season for figs to grow, but He decided to look for a fig anyway. And when He found none, He cursed the fig tree and, as we read later in this chapter, the tree withered and died. This was a symbolic action for the sake of His disciples, in that His disciples heard Him curse the tree and later saw that the tree had withered.
Saint Bede, an early Church Father, tells us that this action of Jesus had an allegorical purpose. The tree is symbolic of the many people Jesus encountered, and continues to encounter today, who failed to bear good fruit in their lives. They were the Pharisees and others who practiced their faith only in an external way. The leaves, Saint Bede tells us, were symbolic of the externals of the faith, and the lack of fruit was a symbol of the missing interior fruit of holiness and good works. This lesson tells us that Jesus is very demanding. He is determined to discover good fruit in our lives. He wants us to become authentically holy. And when He finds only the externals, He will rebuke us in love, taking even the externals away.
What good fruit does our Lord want to find in your life? How does He want you to manifestly grow in holiness? Do you go through the motions, attend Mass, say some prayers, but fail to produce an abundance of virtue, compassion, mercy and goodness? Do you say you believe in our Lord but then fail to preach the holy Gospel with both your words and your actions? If our Lord were to come to you, as He came to this fig tree, what would He find?
Being a Christian is not something that is exclusively between you and God. Being a Christian requires that you be so given over to the service of God and others that God is able to do incredible things through you. The Christian faith must produce good fruit in your life and through you in the lives of others. And it must do so in an abundant way.
Reflect, today, upon the holy image of Jesus walking over to this fig tree inspecting it for a fig. See this tree as an image of your soul and see the hunger in the heart of our Lord. As He looks at you and your life, will He be satiated? Will He find holiness and manifest good works? Or will He find little to nothing other than external claims that you are a Christian? Commit yourself to an abundance of authentic and manifest holiness and our Lord’s hunger will be satiated.
My demanding Lord, You call all Your followers to a holiness that is lived, transforming, manifest and fruitful for Your Kingdom. Help me to be a Christian not only in name but especially in action. May my life truly bear the good fruit of holiness and may that holiness become a means by which You feed the spiritual hunger of Your people. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Danger of Obstinacy
Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
“I shall ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.” Mark 11:29–30
This is Jesus’ response to the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders when they approached Jesus in the Temple area and asked Him by what authority He did the things He did. And what was it that Jesus did? The day before, Jesus had been in the Temple and drove the money changers out telling them, “Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’? But you have made it a den of thieves.” This outraged the religious leaders, and they immediately began to discuss how they could put Jesus to death.
Consider, first, the tension in the air. They literally were plotting to put Jesus, the Son of God, to death. They were filled with hatred and jealousy and refused to believe in Him. Jesus saw their hardness of heart and put them on the spot to first answer His question before He would answer theirs. Why would Jesus do this?
The question Jesus asked them was actually an act of great mercy on His part. He gave them an opportunity to repent. If they had only answered His question with humble faith and honesty, they could have saved their lives. Instead, they discussed among themselves His question and gave the politically correct answer. If they had said John’s baptism was of human origin, and not from God, they were afraid that the people would turn on them. So they simply said, “We do not know.” But imagine if they would have given the right answer. What if they had discussed it among themselves and concluded that John’s baptism truly was from God and that they should have believed in him? If they would have only humbled themselves, admitted that they had gravely erred in regard to John, then Jesus would have answered their question, and their life of true faith could have begun. But they didn’t. They remained obstinate. They could not admit they were wrong.
Obstinacy is among the most dangerous of sins. It’s a sin that cannot be forgiven, because, in essence, it’s a refusal to change. And when a person refuses to admit their sin, and refuses to change, then God cannot help them. They remain lost in their sin and suffer the consequences.
Do you struggle with obstinacy in your life? Do you find it difficult to admit when you are wrong? Do you find it difficult to apologize to another and seek to change?
Reflect, today, upon anything you remain obstinate about. Are there matters of faith that you refuse to believe? Are there broken relationships that you refuse to humbly restore? Do you justify your sin and refuse to admit your guilt and need to change? Pray to our Lord for the gift of a humble heart. Humility, in many ways, is nothing other than being completely honest with yourself and others before God. Do not follow the example of these religious leaders. Humbly seek to remove all obstinacy from your heart so that Our Lord can enter in and bring His mercy into your life.
My unwavering Jesus, You confront those who are proud, arrogant and obstinate with much strength and love. You do so to help them overcome their stubbornness of heart. Give me the grace of humility, dear Lord, so that I will always be able to admit my sin and turn to You in love. Jesus, I trust in You.