SIXTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Alone With Jesus
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31a
This is an invitation we may need to hear far more than we realize. And it’s an invitation that many find hard to accept from Jesus. But take it as a direct invitation offered to you from our Lord. Hear Him say this to you: “You, my child, please do come away by yourself to a deserted place and rest for a while.”
There is something very healing and helpful that comes from silence and moments of solitude. There is something about silence and solitude that enables us to get refocused. So often in life we are overwhelmed by busyness. “Busyness” is often a way for the evil one to wear us down and get us off track. It keeps us from the gentle, clear and refreshing voice of God. So how is it that God is inviting you to come away by yourself and rest?
At the heart of this invitation is a longing in Jesus’ heart that we rest from those burdens which weigh us down unnecessarily. It’s true that there are many good things God calls us to do that can exhaust us. But this “holy exhaustion” is not a bad thing. In fact, being “exhausted” by the will of God actually deepens our faith and fills us with joy. And that joy lightens our burden.
The main reason for our need to “come away” and “rest” is that there are many things in life that are not part of God’s will. These are burdens we impose upon ourselves unnecessarily. These burdens, more than anything else, are what we need to rest from.
Coming away, alone, with Jesus, is a way of getting refocused and clearing out the clutter of life. It’s a way of escaping from our impulses and habits that draw us away from the joyful will of God. So think about this invitation. Think about it practically. Can you find at least ten minutes today to go find silence so as to rest in the arms of Jesus?
Reflect, today, upon how ready and willing you are to accept the invitation from Jesus to come and rest with and in Him. Commit yourself to doing just that. Make the choice, today, to find time to be alone. From that time of solitude, seek the still, small and silent voice of God. Let the quiet and the peace of God’s presence bring clarity and focus to your busy life.
Lord, help me to hear You call me to a time of rest and peace. Help me to seek You and to accept Your gentle invitation. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Pursuit of God’s Wisdom
Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.” Matthew 12:42
In this passage, Jesus refers to the Queen of Sheba who traveled about 1,400 miles from Southern Arabia, which was most likely located in either modern-day Yemen or Ethiopia, to meet King Solomon. The queen had heard much about Solomon, about his wealth and wisdom, and wanted to find out if all that she heard was true. So she made the long journey and stayed with him for about six months according to tradition. After spending time with him, she was greatly impressed and bestowed upon him gifts of gold, spices and precious stones. She said to him, “I did not believe the report until I came and saw with my own eyes that not even the half had been told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard” (1Kings 10:7).
This foreign queen was deeply impressed with Solomon. Her journey, gifts and words illustrate her deep respect for him and her admiration. Jesus uses this story to illustrate the simple fact that Jesus Himself is much greater than Solomon and that He should be treated in a way that far surpasses the way the queen treated Solomon. But Jesus also makes it clear that, at the Final Judgment, this queen will rise and condemn the scribes and Pharisees because they failed to see the wisdom and kingship of Jesus. Instead, they came to Jesus seeking signs and proof of Who He was.
In our own lives, the witness of the Queen of Sheba should be a source of true inspiration. She was someone who was powerful and wealthy herself, and yet she wanted to learn from Solomon and to benefit from his great wisdom which was given him by God. She should inspire us to do all we can to daily turn to our Lord and to seek His wisdom.
Jesus’s wisdom flows to us in many ways. The Gospels are especially important as a source of the most important lessons for life. Personal prayer, reading about the lives of the saints, and study of the teachings of our Church are also essential ways in which we receive the wisdom given to us by God. As you think about the many ways that are available to you to grow in the wisdom of God, try to use the Queen of Sheba as an inspiration. Do you have her same zeal? Are you willing to devote much time and effort to the pursuit of holy learning? Do you desire to journey to Jesus in the way that she desired to journey to Solomon?
One of the greatest hindrances to this pursuit of holy wisdom is sloth, or laziness. It is becoming increasingly easy to engage our minds in mindless pursuits. Many people can easily spend many hours in front of the television, computer or mobile devices and waste precious time and energy. Zeal for God and the pursuit of the many truths of faith must become the cure for sloth in our lives. We must want to know. And we must do all we can to increase that holy desire within us.
Reflect, today, upon the long journey made by this queen in pursuit of the wisdom of Solomon. As you do, examine whether you exhibit the same zeal that she had and how devoted you are to the pursuit of the wisdom of God. Where you are lacking, let her witness inspire you. Jesus is infinitely greater and wiser than Solomon, and we have been given full access to Him through prayer and holy learning. If you will make that holy journey to our Lord, with much determination, then unlike the scribes and Pharisees, your day of judgment will be a glorious one.
My Lord of all Wisdom, You are infinitely greater than the wisest of kings and more glorious than anything I can imagine. Please fill me with zeal, dear Lord, so that I will fervently pursue You and daily journey to You. Please guide my prayer and my study so that Your wisdom and Your very Self will be bestowed upon me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Obedience to the Father
Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Matthew 12:48–50
These questions of Jesus were posed by Him to a crowd of people who were inside a house where He was teaching. His mother and brothers arrived outside asking to speak to Him. First of all, it should be noted that the word “brothers” in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and other languages did not necessarily mean siblings. The same word was used to refer to anyone within the same extended family, such as cousins. Therefore, it is clear that Jesus’ mother and some other male relatives were coming to see Him.
Jesus uses that opportunity to continue teaching the crowd about the family of God. He clearly states that we become a member of His family simply by obeying the will of the Father in Heaven. Thus, Jesus’ definition of family exceeds blood relationships to include everyone who is spiritually united to Him through the unity of their wills with that of the Father.
One reason this is so helpful to understand is because it reveals to us our identity. God wants us to belong. He wants us to understand who we are called to be. We are called to be children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ, and even mothers and fathers of our Lord in a spiritual sense. We become His mothers and fathers in the sense that we bring Him into this world through our obedience to the will of the Father.
Children, from the earliest ages, want to belong. They want friends, they want to be included, they want to have relationships with others. This innate desire is placed within us from the moment of our creation and is central to who we are. And that desire can only be completely fulfilled through our spiritual membership within the family of God.
Think, for a moment, about your own desire for friendship. Oftentimes when two people are the closest of friends they refer to each other as a brother or sister. The bond of friendship is deeply fulfilling because this is what we are made for. But true friendship, true spiritual family bonds, are only fulfilling in the most pure form when they are relationships that result from our unity with the will of the Father. When you are united with the will of the Father and when another is also united to the will of the Father, then this creates a family bond that fulfills on the deepest level. And that bond not only unites us with other Christians, it also deeply unites us with Jesus, as He mentions in this Gospel passage.
Reflect, today, upon these words of Jesus as if they were a form of invitation given to you. He is inviting you into His family. He wants you to belong. He wants you to take your identity in Him. As you seek to enter into full obedience to the will of the Father, consider also the effect that that has on your relationships with others who are also seeking to live the will of the Father. Rejoice in the bond that your mutual obedience to God creates and savor those bonds with much gratitude.
My loving Lord, You have established the human family for unity and love. You invite all people to share in Your family in love. I accept Your holy invitation, dear Lord, and pledge my wholehearted obedience to the will of the Father in Heaven. As I do, I rejoice in the reward of a deepening relationship with You and with all who are united to You. Jesus, I trust in You.
Speaking in Parables
Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables… Matthew 13:1–3
Why did Jesus speak in parables? In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes on to teach the familiar “Parable of the Sower.” Immediately after that parable in today’s Gospel, the disciples do ask Jesus this question. They ask, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus responds to them, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.” So why is that?
First of all, a story is easy to listen to. It keeps our attention and is easily remembered. In the “Parable of the Sower” that we hear today, Jesus explains that the seed sown by the sower falls either on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, or on rich soil. This is a very visible description that will lead people to conclusions right away. Everyone knows that the ideal place for seed to be sown is rich soil. And everyone knows that the seed sown on the path, rocky ground and among thorns has little hope of producing fruit. Therefore, this parable easily draws the listener in so as to understand some basic lessons.
With that said, this story will only become a parable if the deeper lesson is learned. Clearly, Jesus wanted the crowd to understand that they will only understand the mysteries He is teaching them if they are like the rich soil. And He also wanted them to understand that much of what He was teaching them was not falling on rich soil in their hearts.
This parable, as well as all of Jesus’ parables, has the effect of causing the listener to think. Thinking leads to what we may term a holy curiosity. And this holy curiosity will begin to produce the rich soil that was needed within them so as to open the door to the deeper mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.
How does Jesus speak to you? Are you able to listen to Jesus speak directly to you, in prayer, so as to reveal to you the deepest mysteries of Heaven? When God speaks to you, in prayer and meditation, does the seed of His Word take root in your very soul? Does His gentle, quiet, but transforming Voice communicate to you Who He is and what His will is for your life? If not, then parables are for you. And knowing that is an important discovery.
Reflect, today, upon the desire of God to speak to you. If you do struggle with hearing the clear and profound Voice of God resonate within your soul, then do not be afraid to spend time with the many parables that Jesus told. Try to place yourself within the scene. See yourself as a participant. In today’s parable, see your inner self as the field. Think about those things in your life that keep your soul from being rich soil. Allow this story of Jesus to speak to you. As you do, be attentive to God’s Voice. Listen for Him and listen to Him. And as you do hear Him, know that the seed He has scattered has begun to reach that rich soil of your heart.
My teaching Lord, You desire to speak to me and to reveal to me all that You are. Help me to hear Your Voice so that I will come to know You more. Make my heart truly fertile soil in which the seed of Your Word is sown, so that You can produce within me an abundance of good fruit. Jesus, I trust in You.
Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, July 22
Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. John 20:11–12
Early in His ministry, Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary of Magdala. As a result, she became an exceptionally faithful follower of Jesus. She was most likely one of His followers who provided for Jesus and the disciples out of her own resources as they traveled. She listened to His teachings, witnessed His miracles, was present when He was condemned, stood at the foot of the Cross with Jesus’ mother, helped to prepare His body for burial and was the first person recorded in Scripture to whom Jesus appeared after His Resurrection.
The Gospel for today’s Mass tells the story of Mary going to the tomb early Sunday morning to complete the anointing of Jesus’ dead body as He laid in the tomb. But much to her surprise, the tomb was empty. Therefore, she ran to tell the Apostles, which makes Mary Magdalene the first of His followers to witness to the Resurrection. After telling the Apostles, she returned to the tomb with Peter and John; and, after Peter and John left, she remained outside the tomb weeping, as is mentioned in the Gospel passage quoted above.
Mary’s tears are beautiful. They are an expression of her deep devotion to her Lord. She did not yet understand that He had risen, but her fidelity to Jesus is a testimony to her love. Jesus had restored her dignity. He freed her from the seven demons who tormented her. She most likely had been a sinful woman in the past, but now she was singly devoted to the Savior of the World.
The witness of Mary of Magdala is one that should inspire us all. Though few people are possessed by seven demons, we are all tormented in one way or another. We all sin. We all are weak. We all have a past we regret. And we all are invited to do better. Mary’s “better” was a life that was given to Jesus with the utmost fidelity. She didn’t care if the authorities saw her at the foot of the Cross. If they were to persecute her as a result, it did not matter. She was faithful. She didn’t care if the soldiers would have harassed her when she went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus—she only thought of that last act of love she could offer Him. And when she saw Jesus risen and thought He was the gardener, she didn’t care if He saw her heartbroken and in tears—she only wanted to see the body of her Lord.
As a result of her unwavering fidelity, Jesus gave her a gift beyond imagination. He appeared to her, after being resurrected from the dead, and sent her to be an apostle to the Apostles. He sent her to go to the Apostles to tell them that Jesus had risen and that He was preparing to go to His Father in Heaven.
Reflect, today, upon the holy soul of this woman. She was a repentant sinner who turned her whole life around. She devoted everything to Jesus and, in return, received even more. In Heaven, Mary Magdalene will forever cling to Jesus and adore His Sacred Heart. May we all strive to imitate her by turning from our own life of sin and becoming unwaveringly faithful to our Lord.
My resurrected Lord, You appeared first to Mary of Magdala after Your Resurrection. You now invite her to share in Your glorious life in Heaven. Help me to learn from her by turning away from all sin and becoming deeply devoted to You. May my fidelity to You, dear Lord, be absolute and unwavering, so that I, too, will one day share in the glory of Your Resurrection. Jesus, I trust in You.
Bearing Good Fruit One Hundredfold
Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” Matthew 13:22–23
Today, Jesus clarifies for His disciples the meaning of His parable told to the crowds. He explains the meaning of the seed sown on the path, on the rocky ground, among the thorns and on the rich soil. Quoted above are the last two of those explanations. When we look carefully at the meaning of the seed sown into the rich soil, we see that these are those who hear, understand and bear fruit. And the fruit that is born is in varying degrees. One thing that this parable tells us is that hearing and even understanding the Word of God is not enough. There are many temptations we will face that will hinder God’s Word in our lives. Let’s briefly consider each.
First, there are many people who have been blessed to hear the Word of God. There are many who have been to religious education classes, have been taught by parents and others, have attended Church services but have failed to allow what they have heard to penetrate deeply to the point that they understand. To hear the Word of God is very different from understanding the Word of God. One reason for this is that the pure Word of God, when heard and understood, challenges us to the core of our being. If one truly understands God’s Word, then that person cannot remain indifferent. They must change. And they must change in a complete way. Failure to do so means that it is impossible for good fruit to be born in their life to the degree God wants.
But understanding and changing is not even enough. This is because the enemies of our soul, traditionally spoken of as the world, the flesh, and the devil, will powerfully attack any person who receives the Word of God and decides to abide by that Word. For example, if you were to fully accept the teachings of Jesus regarding forgiveness of others, as soon as you make the choice to forgive, there would most likely be numerous temptations to abandon that practice. Pride, anger, hurt, the lies of the evil one and the world will all try to deter you from an act of complete forgiveness of others. Or take, for example, the call to live completely detached from “riches.” Jesus’ teachings on true spiritual poverty versus true spiritual riches require a depth of conversion that is difficult to obtain. Thus, the “lure of riches” is very hard to overcome.
In the end, if your soul is truly fertile ground and if you allow the most pure and complete teaching of the Gospel to penetrate your soul so as to change you in every way God wants to change you, then this means that you have overcome each and every temptation thrown at you. You have rejected the temptations that come from greed, pride, anger and the like. You have embraced humility, rejected worldly esteem, dismissed anxiety and worry and are directed only by the powerful, gentle, holy, and clear Voice of God in your life. This requires much prayer, much interior purification, total dedication and unwavering obedience to the Word of God spoken to you both through the Gospels and in the depths of your conscience. And even among those who achieve this level of holiness, the fruit born in their lives is dependent upon how fully and habitually they live by the guiding Word of God.
Reflect, today, upon this high calling from our Lord. Achieving the goal of having exceptionally rich soil in your heart for the Word of God requires unyielding commitment and determination. There are numerous temptations that will fight against the creation of a fertile heart. Try to look at your own heart today. Be honest. How fertile is it? Does the Word of God grow there? And if so, does it grow to superabundance? Commit yourself to the goal of becoming that rich soil in which the Word of God is sown that not only bears good fruit but bears good fruit that is a hundredfold.
My demanding Lord, You desire that every soul of every person You have created become the most pure and most fertile ground in which the seed of Your Word can grow and produce fruit in superabundance. Please help me to commit myself to this radical depth of holiness, dear Lord. My life is Yours. Please purify me, change me, mold me and produce in me an abundance of good fruit. Jesus, I trust in You.
Vigilance with the Gospel
Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.” Matthew 13:24–25
This parable begins in a very good way. It states that good seed was sown. In other words, the pure Gospel was preached into good soil. This should be understood as any situation where the preacher is truly effective and where the Gospel reaches many ears and is planted in many hearts. This is worth rejoicing over. But this parable quickly points out that those responsible for guarding the good soil in which the Word of God was planted, failed in their duty to protect it. As a result, the “enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat.” In other words, the evil one also had sown his lies into the hearts of those who heard the Word of God, and those lies took root and began to grow.
This is a clear description of the world we live in today. First, it’s a description of the hearts of many Christians who have heard the Word of God and have responded, only to also struggle with doubts, confusions and lies sown by the evil one. But it is also a clear description of the world as a whole and even of the Church on earth. There are many divisions within societies and even within the Church. There are many competing voices. And among those whose hearts are good soil, it can be hard to distinguish between that which is from God and that which is a subtle deception from the evil one.
The weed referred to in this parable is called cockle. Cockle was a weed that, as it grew, looked much like wheat. It was very difficult to distinguish from wheat until the grain began to appear. But when the grain did begin to appear, it was clearly distinguishable. And if the cockle were to accidentally be ground in with the wheat, it would cause nausea when eaten.
The parable is quite clear. The lies that the evil one sows in the hearts of the faithful, those with fertile hearts, are very subtle, especially at first. It is easy for those subtle lies to confuse us. The evil one rarely succeeds in misleading the faithful through grave and obvious errors. Therefore, he deceives with small errors. As a result, the error is often not understood until much later as the fruit is born. The result is division, confusion, conflict and the like. Conflict within our own souls, within our world and even within our Church.
What is the solution? Vigilance. We, as followers of Christ, must be exceptionally vigilant in regard to that which we allow our hearts to receive. Just because something sounds good at first doesn’t make it good. This is why we have the Scripture, the Magisterium of the Church and the teachings of the saints. We must constantly examine all that we allow into our hearts, our families, our world and our churches in the light of the pure and consistent teachings of our faith. And when we see divisions, this is a clear sign of some subtle error that has crept in. In the end, at the harvest time, when we all face Christ our Lord at our judgments, He will separate the good from the bad. But for our part, vigilance is essential so that only the pure seed of God’s Word is received by us and sown by us.
Reflect, today, on your own soul as fertile ground. What “seed” is sown there? What do you allow to penetrate your heart and take root? Are you vigilant, remaining attentive to the ways that the evil one tries to mislead you through subtle lies and errors? Ponder these questions honestly, and if you find conflict and confusion in your life, look more deeply at the source of these troubles. If there are lies that you have allowed into your own life, then turn them over to our Lord so that He can remove them at the proper time.
Most holy Word of God, You are the living Word who sows seed upon the fertile ground of our Hearts. You plant Yourself in the hearts of those who believe so that Your life can bear good fruit in the faithful. Please sow the seed of Your Word in my own heart, dear Lord, and protect me from the deceptions of the evil one. As You do, I pray that You bring forth an abundance of good fruit through me. Jesus, I trust in You.