NINETEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
The Jews murmured about Jesus…Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.” John 6:41&43
Jesus was the object of gossip, ridicule, belittlement, etc. They “murmured” about Him. What a silly thing for the people to do.
In the passage above, Jesus was giving one of His most glorious and profound teachings. He was continuing His teaching on the Most Holy Eucharist, the Gift of His Body and Blood as the Bread of Life. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” And upon hearing this teaching, they murmured about Him.
Again, what a silly thing for many to do at that time. But sadly this same thing still happens in a variety of ways today. Every Sunday (and every day if we are able) we are given the opportunity to consume the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Messiah, the King of all Kings, the Savior of the World, the Creator, Omnipotent and Glorious God! Yet, what do so many of us do? We come to Mass disinterested, distracted, and more concerned about what we will be doing later in the day than what we are doing at the Holy Mass.
This is a sad truth that needs to be corrected. “If we but understood the gift of the Holy Mass we would die instantly out of love,” said St. John Vianney. Do you understand the Mass?
Murmuring about Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist does not necessarily have to be only something we say out loud. We “murmur” about Jesus interiorly when we fail to understand, accept and enter into this glorious gift. Murmuring is the same as lacking a complete conviction and embrace of this gift. Perhaps we do not murmur externally with our words, but we may find we murmur interiorly in the sense that we lack interest in this Precious Gift.
Reflect, today, upon whether or not your heart is fully engaged with the Holy Eucharist. When you think about going to Mass, are you overwhelmed with joy and a deep spiritual longing? Or do you look at it as an obligation you need to fulfill? If it is more of an obligation you need to fulfill, then you may have more of an interior “murmuring” than you realize.
Lord, help me to see You in the Holy Mass. Help me to long for You in the Most Holy Eucharist. May I never lack proper faith and devotion. May I always be filled with a deep love for You, present in this Sacred Gift! Jesus, I trust in You.
Miracles of Hope
Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.” Matthew 17:25–27
Prior to this minor miracle, Jesus had just told His disciples for the second time about His coming passion. Again, this was difficult for them to hear. Recall that after the first prediction of Jesus’ coming passion and death, Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain and was Transfigured before them. The Transfiguration was meant, in part, to dispel the fear of the disciples and to give them hope for that which was to come. And now, after Jesus’ second prediction of His passion, another miracle was performed for Peter, personally, to help encourage him and give him hope.
Imagine if you were Peter. Imagine following through with Jesus’ instructions by going to the sea, dropping in a hook, pulling out a fish and then opening its mouth. Peter must have been filled with hope and excitement as he pulled this fish in, wondering if Jesus’ words would come true. And as soon as Peter saw the coin, just as Jesus said, he must have been in awe. Slowly, the fear and anxiety he was experiencing at this second prediction of Jesus’ passion and death would have begun to subside as Peter witnessed yet another incredible sign from his Lord.
God performs miracles in our lives every day. The problem is that we often fail to discern them. Any time His glorious power works within us to strengthen us or fills us with courage, hope, charity and every other virtue, this is a miracle of transforming grace. God always knows what we need in life. He knows our struggles and doubts. At times, He is silent so as to draw us deeper through intentional prayer and acts of faith. And at times, we suddenly find that we receive a new clarity in life that is the result of His grace at work.
Jesus knew that Peter needed this extra grace of this personal miracle so that he could move beyond his fears and struggles and place all of his trust in Jesus. Jesus was trustworthy. This is the conclusion Peter would have arrived at. He was trustworthy. Therefore, everything He said should be believed. What a wonderful conclusion for us all to arrive at.
Reflect, today, upon the ways that God has assured you of His divine presence and action in your life. Though the assuring miracles God has performed in your life may not be physical in their manifestation, God’s workings can be just as convincing if we clearly perceive them. What does God want to assure you of in your life? What struggle or doubt do you struggle with? If you struggle, turn your mind to the ways that God has been present and active in your life. Ponder His intervention and the ways He has cared for you and led you. Be grateful and allow the memory of what God has done to be your strength today and the source of hope when you need it the most.
My miraculous Lord, Your action in my life is truly glorious and amazing. You never fail to provide for me when I am in need. Help me to turn to You whenever I struggle so as to be filled with new hope in You. You are always faithful, dear Lord. I do place all my hope in You. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Loss of All and the Gain of More
Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, August 10
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. John 12:25
This is one of the many powerful and even shocking statements of Jesus. A similar statement by Jesus is found in all four of the Gospels. In this, John’s version, the words “love” and “hate” are used. By loving our lives we lose them, but by hating our lives we preserve them. At first read, one may think that those words “love” and “hate” were accidentally reversed. One might conclude that what Jesus meant to say was, “Whoever hates his life loses it” and “whoever loves his life preserves it.” But that’s not what He said. He did in fact say the opposite.
It must be understood that the words “love” and “hate” here are not used in the way we normally use them. In this passage, Jesus is using the word “love” to refer to selfishness or self-centeredness. And He uses the word “hate” to refer to selflessness or sacrificial self-giving. In other words, whoever is selfish in life will lose everything in the end but the one who is truly selfless and self-giving in life will ultimately gain everything.
This profound teaching of our Lord is difficult to comprehend without the gift of grace. Our human reason alone may struggle with the idea that selfless living is good. It is easy to rationally conclude that it is far better to elevate ourselves before everyone. The rational mind might conclude that happiness and the “good life” is found in obtaining riches, status, power and the respect of all. But this form of selfish self-centered living, though tempting on a purely human level, is actually the path to losing everything that is truly good. On the contrary, it is only when we allow God’s grace to inform our human reason that we will arrive at the conclusion that being selfless rather than selfish is what’s best. To be selfless means our eyes are always turned to the good of the other. It means we do not sit and dwell on ourselves. It means we are fully committed to the service of God and our neighbor no matter the cost to us. We must give everything away in the service and love of God and that is the only way by which God gives back to us more than we could ever hope for.
Saint Lawrence, whom we honor today, was a deacon and martyr in the third century. This great saint literally gave up everything, including his very life, so as to say “Yes” to God. As a deacon in the Cathedral Church in Rome, he was entrusted with the task of distributing alms to the indigent people in need. In August of the year 258, the Emperor issued an edict stating that all clergy were to be put to death. After the pope was killed, they came for Lawrence and, before killing him, asked him to turn over all the riches of the Church. He asked for three days to gather those treasures, and, during those three days, he distributed all he could to the poor. Then, on the third day, he presented himself before the prefect and brought with him not the material wealth of the Church but the true wealth. He brought the poor, crippled, blind and suffering and declared that the Church was truly rich and that the people with him were the Church’s true treasures. The prefect, in anger, sentenced Lawrence to death by fire, to which Lawrence freely submitted.
Reflect, today, upon the high Christian calling you have been given to live a life that is completely selfless and self-giving in every way. If you find that you dwell on yourself most often, then try to change that habit. Turn your eyes to God and the service of others. Try to care more about the needs of those around you than your own concerns. Do so because this is what Jesus calls us to do, and, if He calls us to such a selfless life, then we must know and believe that it is worth it in the end.
My sacrificial Lord, You gave Your precious life away to all out of love. The total self-giving of Your life resulted in the salvation of those who will accept this glorious gift. Help me to not only open myself to this freely given gift of Yours but to also imitate Your selfless life by giving myself in service of You and others. Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr, pray for us. Jesus, I trust in You.
Praying Together with the Son
Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:19–20
This is a bold and awe inspiring promise from our Lord. This passage reveals Jesus’ desire that we pray with others, uniting our prayer as one and offering it to the Father. Jesus says that when we do this in union with His prayer, our prayer will be answered.
The first thing to note is that this passage could easily be misunderstood. For example, is Jesus telling us that if two or more people get together and pray that it rains, then it will happen? Certainly not. The key to understanding this passage is found in the last line: “…there am I in the midst of them.” This means that the goal of gathering together with two or more people in prayer is to unite our unified prayer to the prayer of Jesus. The Father always hears and answers the prayer of the Son. No matter what the Son asks the Father, it is granted. Thus, this passage tells us that the goal of gathering together in prayer with others, that is, with the Church, is to unite ourselves with the one and eternal prayer of God the Son. This is first and foremost fulfilled within the Sacred Liturgy.
When we come together in the Liturgy, our prayer is always heard. Why? Because the Liturgy is first an action of God the Son in which He invites us, the Church, to share. And the prayer that is offered is the one and eternal prayer by which God the Son asks the Father to bring salvation to all those who accept the saving action of His sacrifice on the Cross. When we join in this prayer, it is granted.
What type of prayer is not answered? First, God does not grant that which fails to serve His mission. Second, if we pray for God’s will but fail to do our part, then our prayer cannot be answered. For example, if you pray that you overcome a particular sin but then fail to respond to the grace God gives, then this is not the fault of God. Third, praying for vengeance on those who have hurt us is ineffective. And fourth, praying for the conversion of one who refuses to repent will also be unable to be fulfilled, unless they ultimately repent. These are but a few examples.
What type of prayer is effective? As already mentioned, the prayer of the Liturgy as the one Sacrifice of Christ is always heard when we participate in it. But there are other ways that our united prayer will be fulfilled with certainty. For example, if you gather with others and together pray for the grace of deeper conversion, you can be certain that the grace will be offered. It is then up to you to open your heart to that grace so that it is effective. Or if you pray that God offer His mercy to someone caught in sin, you can be certain that that grace will be offered, even if the person refuses to accept it. And the list could go on. Simply put, if we gather with others and seek to unite our prayer to the one and perfect prayer of God the Son as it is offered to the Father in Heaven, then that prayer of the Son in which we share will be answered. Perhaps the best way to pray together in this way is to pray the “Our Father” prayer with another. This prayer is always heard and answered by the Father, since it is the prayer given to us by the Son.
Reflect, today, upon God the Son praying to the Father. What is His perfect prayer? What does He ask the Father? Look for ways in which you can join with others to unite your own prayer to this prayer of the Son of God. Do this first and foremost in the Sacred Liturgy, but look for other ways in which you can practice this form of prayer. Praying together with others in union with the one prayer of Jesus will always be answered by the Father in Heaven.
My perfect Lord, all that You ask of the Father is granted to You. Please draw me and all the members of Your Church into Your perfect prayer to the Father. May we participate in this prayer especially through the Sacred Liturgy, and also as we gather as two or more. May we pray only with You and in accord with Your perfect will. Jesus, I trust in You.
Always and Forever Forgiving
Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21–22
Saint John Chrysostom, in commenting upon this passage, explains that “seventy-seven times” was a way of saying “always.” In other words, Jesus was not giving a specific number to the times we must forgive, He was saying that forgiveness must be offered forever and always, without limit. This is the depth of forgiveness offered to us.
This passage also shows the contrast between the human tendency towards forgiveness and God’s. Peter, no doubt, must have thought that he was being generous by asking if he should forgive his brother as many as seven times. Perhaps he thought Jesus would be impressed by this apparently generous suggestion. But the infinite mercy of God can never be outdone. There is simply no limit to the mercy of God, and, therefore, there must be no limit to the mercy we offer others.
What is your personal practice when it comes to seeking the forgiveness of God in your life? And what is your practice in regard to offering forgiveness to another? This line quoted above introduces the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In that parable, the servant owed his king a “huge amount.” In mercy, the king forgave the debt just as God is willing to forgive us no matter what. But forgiveness does have one price. The price is that we must also forgive others to the same extent. Thus, when the servant who was forgiven a huge amount later sees one of his servants who owed him a much smaller amount, he demands the debt be paid in full. The result is that the king hears of this and withdraws his mercy, requiring the servant to pay him back in full.
This tells us that forgiveness is not an option unless we are perfect and owe no debt to God. Of course, if anyone thinks that, then they are not living in reality. As we read in the letter to the Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As a result, it is essential that we offer forgiveness always and everywhere, without condition, without limit and without hesitation. How easily do you do this? How fully do you forgive?
One of the hardest persons to forgive is the one who has no sorrow for their sin. When this happens, it is easy to justify our condemnation of them. One thing that might be helpful to reflect upon if you are currently withholding forgiveness from another and remain angry, bitter or hurt, is that your lack of forgiveness does more damage to your own soul than to theirs. By refusing to forgive, you do immeasurable damage to your soul and to your relationship with God. Remaining angry and hurt only leads to more anger and hurt. It leads to vengeful thinking and even acting. And that is a sin for which you will be held accountable.
Reflect, today, upon the infinite depth of mercy and forgiveness you are called to offer to each and every person who has or will hurt you. To forgive is certainly not to excuse. On the contrary, the act of forgiveness acknowledges the sin. But mercy must be offered no matter what. Always, everywhere, unending and without any conditions, it must be offered. If this is difficult to do, do it anyway and do not stop. Doing so will not only help the sinner, it will also open the gates of mercy from God in your life.
My forgiving Lord, Your mercy is infinite and unfathomable. You desire to forgive every sin in my life and to restore me completely to a life of perfect union with You. I accept this gift of forgiveness in my life, dear Lord, and I freely choose to offer this same depth of mercy to everyone who ever has or ever will sin against me. I forgive as completely as I can. Please help me to imitate Your unending mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Love for Holy Living
Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
He answered, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted.” Matthew 19:11
This was Jesus’ response to a lengthy discussion about the indissolubility of marriage. One of the reasons that “Not all can accept this word…” is because marriage, and every other vocation, requires wholehearted sacrifice and selflessness. When this is not present, and when the selfless living that is required of us turns to selfishness, then every conflict becomes a heavy burden. A burden that is unbearable without grace.
What is love? What form of love is required in marriage and every other vocation? What love is required of parents and grandparents? The answer is the same to all of these questions. We must love with complete selflessness and in a sacrificial way. Love, in its truest form, always looks to the good of the other and never focuses upon oneself.
Only grace can enable us to live a life based on true love. Our fallen human nature tends to “navel gaze,” meaning, we tend to go through life thinking about ourselves—“What will make my life better? How will this affect me? This person has hurt me. I don’t want to do this or that, etc.” It is very difficult in life to turn our eyes from ourselves to the love of others. This is why Jesus said that this form of love can only be embraced by “those to whom that is granted.” And those to whom this depth of love is granted are those who are open to God’s transforming grace in their lives.
One reason that it is very difficult to love in a completely selfless way is because it requires us to live by grace. Our feeble human minds cannot arrive at the high calling of charity by itself. It is only by grace that we will understand that selfless living is not only best for those whom we are called to love, but it is also best for us. And in the context of married life, parenting, other vocations and every other situation in life, if our love is always focused upon the good of the other, and if our lives imitate the total sacrifice of Christ, then we will see God do great things through us. As He does, we will also see God do great things in us. The bottom line is that we only become who we were made to be when we live like Christ. And He lived a life that was unconditionally sacrificial and selfless.
Reflect, today, upon the high calling of love that you have been given. Can you accept this teaching of our Lord? Has an understanding of the nature of true love been granted to you by grace? And if so, are you doing all you can to live a life of selfless sacrificial love in union with Christ Jesus? As you examine your life and your relationships, especially with those closest to you, consider how well you act as Christ to them. Consider whether you forgive, turn the other cheek, seek mercy, compassion, understanding, gentleness and every other virtue and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Where you are lacking and find selfishness, do not hesitate to beg our Lord to grant you the grace to not only understand your high calling of love, but to also embrace it in your actions to the fullest degree. Then, and only then, will you be able to live the vocation to which you have been called.
My loving Lord, Your love is beyond all comprehension. It is a love that can only be understood by the gift of Your grace. Please do grant me the grace I need to not only understand and to receive Your love in my life but to also offer Your love to all. May my life become an ongoing instrument of the perfection of love that You lived. Jesus, I trust in You.
All Are Welcome
Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Children were brought to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them…” Matthew 19:13–14
In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which was promulgated by Pope Saint Pius V, this passage is linked with infant baptism. It states, “Besides, it is not to be supposed that Christ the Lord would have withheld the Sacrament and grace of Baptism from children, of whom He said: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me…” (II, 2, 32). This teaching clearly indicates one of the best ways that this passage is fulfilled today. Inviting even infants before they reach the age of reason to receive the Sacrament of Baptism fulfills this loving command of Jesus to “Let the children come to me…”
Young children do not have the ability to rationally understand love in its purest form. That comes with the age of reason, which has traditionally been understood to be around the age of seven. But children, and even infants, are capable of receiving our love and are capable of receiving the love of God, even if they do not yet fully comprehend this gift.
As a child grows, they learn what love means as they witness it and experience it, especially through the mediation of their parents. This helps form their consciences in such a way that they become capable of making their own free choice to love as they mature in age. But if a child is to grow into a loving adult, they need more than just a good example, they need grace. The grace of Baptism is the primary source of that grace in their lives.
It’s easy for many to see Baptism only as a nice ceremony to welcome the newly born child into God’s family. And though that is true, it is so much more. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Baptism bestows an indelible mark which “remains for ever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church” (CCC #1121). In other words, Baptism bestows upon one’s soul a gift that can never be removed and becomes an ongoing source of grace. And when an infant is baptized, it’s as if this Scripture passage above is perpetuated throughout that person’s life. Because of this sacramental grace, Jesus continually says to this baptized soul, “Come to Me.”
In addition to the grace of Baptism, we must all imitate Jesus’ action of welcome and acceptance of not only children but of every child of God. Though the disciples initially tried to prevent the children from coming to our Lord, we must not. We must understand that there is a real temptation within our fallen human nature to both withhold the love of God from others and to even prevent others from coming to God. Anger, pride, envy, jealousy and the like can cause us to object to the conversion of others and to God welcoming them to Himself. When that temptation sets in, we must hear Jesus say to us, “Let the children come to me” and “do not prevent them.”
Reflect, today, upon these gentle and inviting words of Jesus. As you do, try to call to mind anyone who you might try to prevent from coming to our Lord. Do you desire the holiness of all people? Is there anyone in your life whom you find it difficult to encourage to come to Jesus to be embraced and blessed? Take on the heart of Jesus and see it as your duty to embrace others as He embraced these children. The more you become an instrument of the love of Christ, the more you will daily rejoice in God’s blessings as they are bestowed on others.
My tender Lord, You welcome all people to share in Your grace. You welcome every child and every child of God to share in Your loving embrace. Please extend that welcome to me and help me to accept this gift of Your infinite love. And help me to become a better instrument of Your love toward others, never interfering or preventing them from turning to You. Jesus, I trust in You.