THIRTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Mark 5:28
Here is an example of one who comes to Jesus with great faith. It’s a fascinating story, in that we are given the gift of being able to know her thoughts.
This woman had suffered greatly for many years. She tried everything she could to be cured by doctors. She spent all she had. And then, in this desperate state, the woman turned in faith to Jesus.
Perhaps she had had great faith throughout her life; we do not know. What we do know is that in her suffering, she was greatly humbled and was out of options. In this humble condition, she did what any saint would do. She held on to the conviction that Jesus was the answer. When all else failed, Jesus would not let her down. Perhaps she didn’t know if she would be physically healed, but she did know she had to turn to Jesus nonetheless.
There is a great lesson in this story, in that we must have the same depth of trust and the same commitment to turn to Jesus with our life. Even if we have not tried every other option in life, we must all embrace the witness this woman gives.
Turning to Jesus with deep certainty and faith means we know that His will is all that matters. It means that we choose Him above all else and in every circumstance of life. It means we do not only turn to Him with our problems, we also turn to Him with our joys and in our blessings. Everything we do must come from a deep interior conviction that Jesus is the answer to everything in life.
Perhaps that sounds like a bit much. Perhaps we have a habit of turning to Him only when everything else seems to fail us. But it shouldn’t be so. We are called to build a daily habit of seeking to “touch His clothes,” so to speak. This is a way of saying we must turn our heart, mind, will and soul to Him always.
Reflect, today, on how deep your habit is of reaching out to Jesus. Is He the first one you praise in your blessings? And is He the first one you turn to in your fears and struggles? Build this interior habit and you will see miracles of grace in your life.
Lord, help me to always turn to You in all things. Help me to trust You when life seems hard and when things seem to fall apart. Help me to also turn to You in all the many blessings I receive. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wherever God Leads You
Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Matthew 8:19–20
It is unclear from this passage alone why Jesus answered this scribe the way He did. At first, the statement of the scribe seems very devout: “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” But many of the Church Fathers, in their reflections of this conversation between Jesus and the scribe, offer helpful insights.
First of all, note that Jesus neither accepts the proposal of the scribe to be His follower nor rejects it. Rather, Jesus simply makes a statement which clarifies just what is involved in being His follower. Some Church Fathers suggest that this scribe was desirous of following Jesus because he thought there would be great rewards given to him by doing so. After all, Jesus was a miracle worker, was becoming quite popular, and showed potential to be a great leader. Therefore, the interior motivation of this scribe to follow Jesus wherever Jesus went was a questionable motivation. Did he want to follow Jesus because he thought it would benefit him in some worldly way?
Jesus’ response to this scribe does two things. First, it removes all misconceptions of what it means to follow Jesus. If the scribe wanted to follow Jesus, then he had to be prepared to follow Him into poverty and homelessness rather than riches and possessions. Jesus wanted it to be clear to the scribe just what he was choosing. Secondly, Jesus’ response was certainly an invitation to the scribe to follow Him, but only in the light of this new knowledge. In other words, Jesus was saying, “Yes, come follow me. But be aware of what that means. Following me will not result in your earthly riches but in your earthly poverty.”
Why do you follow Jesus? It’s important to consider your motivations at times. Some choose to follow Jesus because this was simply the way they were raised. Others do so because it makes them feel better to do so. And still others do so because they think it will make their lives better in various ways. But what is the ideal motivation for following our Lord? The ideal motivation for following Jesus in a total and unwavering way is very simple. We follow Him because He is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. He came to call us to Himself and has invited us to live in union with Him through faith. So ideally, we will follow Jesus simply because it is the right thing to do. We will not do so because of the so-called benefits. Love, in its purest form, does not love the other because of what we get out of it. Pure love is a gift given to another because they are worthy of our love. And with Jesus, He is worthy of our love and worship simply because of Who He is.
Reflect, today, upon Jesus inviting you to follow Him into poverty, detachment from all, simplicity of life and ultimately the sacrifice of your entire life. Do you understand what it means to be a follower of Christ Jesus? Do you understand that following Jesus cannot be done for selfish reasons? Do you realize that saying “Yes” to our Lord is saying “Yes” to His Cross? Ponder Jesus’ life and reflect upon whether or not you are willing to follow Him to the poverty of the Cross. If you can make the choice to follow our Lord, knowing full well what you are saying “Yes” to, then the end result will also be a glorious sharing in His resurrected life.
My glorious Lord, You walked through this world in poverty, rejection and suffering. You had no earthly home of Your own but now live in the riches of Heaven. Help me to follow You, dear Lord, wherever You lead me in this life. If You lead me to worldly poverty and suffering, I thank You. I thank You and choose to follow You no matter what. Give me the grace I need to follow You purely out of love for You, for You are God and are worthy of all my praise and worship. Jesus, I trust in You.
Pillars of the Church
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:17–19
Saints Peter and Paul are often referred to as two of the great “Pillars of the Church.” They each played an incredibly essential role in the establishment of the early Church. And though each of their roles were essential and foundational, their roles were as different as they were different as persons.
Peter was a family man, a local fisherman, uneducated and quite ordinary. From what we know about him prior to being called by Jesus, there was nothing that made him uniquely qualified to become one of the pillars of the new Church to be established by the Son of God. Jesus simply called him, and he responded. Jesus got into Peter’s boat, ordered him to lower the nets, and produced a huge catch of fish. When Peter saw this miracle, he fell down at Jesus’ feet and acknowledged that he was “a sinful man” who was unworthy of being in Jesus’ presence (See Luke 5:8). But Jesus informed Peter that he would from now on be catching men. Peter immediately left everything behind and followed Jesus.
Paul describes himself as “a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cili′cia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gama′li-el, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day” (Acts 22:3). Paul was well educated in the strictest interpretation of the Jewish law, understood philosophy and was quite zealous as a young man. Recall, also, that prior to becoming a convert to Christianity, he “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). In many ways, Paul would have been seen as the most unlikely person to be chosen to be a pillar of the Church, because he so vigorously opposed it at first. He even supported the killing of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Though each of these men would have been considered by many as very unlikely founders of the Christian Church, this is exactly what they became. Paul, after his conversion, traveled far and wide to preach the Gospel, founding several new Churches throughout Asia Minor and Europe. Eventually he was arrested in Jerusalem, brought to Rome for trial and was beheaded. Over half of the New Testament books are attributed to Paul and half of the Acts of the Apostles detail Paul’s missionary journeys. Paul is especially known for his missionary activity to the gentiles, those who were not Jews.
Peter’s role was truly a unique one. His name was changed from “Simon” to “Peter” by Jesus. Recall Jesus saying, “And I tell you, you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church…(Matthew 16:18). “Peter” in Greek is Petros, meaning a single stone that is movable. However, the Greek word petra means a rock as a solid formation that is fixed, immovable, and enduring. Therefore, Jesus chose to make Peter, this single stone, into a solid foundation of immovable rock on which the Church was to be built.
You, too, have been called by our Lord to a unique mission within the Church that has not been entrusted to another. In your own way, God wants to use you to reach certain people with the Gospel as He did with Saint Paul. And like Saint Peter, God wants to continue to establish His Church upon you and your faith.
Reflect, today, upon these two holy and unique pillars of our Church. As you do, ponder how God may want to use you to continue their mission in this world. Though Saints Peter and Paul are among the greatest and most consequential Christians within our world, their mission must continue, and you are among the instruments that God wants to use. Commit yourself to this mission so that the preaching of the Gospel and the rock foundation of our Church will remain strong within our day and age just as it was of old.
Saint Peter, you were uniquely chosen to be a rock foundation of faith upon which the Church was established. Saint Paul, you went forth to preach this faith far and wide, establishing many new communities of faith. Please use me, dear Lord, to continue the mission of Your Church so that the faith may be firmly planted in the minds and hearts of all Your people throughout the world. Jesus, I trust in You.
Rejoicing in the Goodness of Others
Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district. Matthew 8:33–34
Why would “the whole town” beg Jesus to leave their district as a result of Jesus delivering two of their fellow townsmen from demons? This event took place on the northeast edge of the Sea of Galilee near a town of the Gadarenes who were not of Jewish background, which accounts for the fact that there was such a large herd of swine (the Jewish people did not eat pork). Two of the Gadarenes were possessed by demons, and Scripture reports that “They were so savage that no one could travel by that road.” And when Jesus delivers them from this awful plight, instead of rejoicing in gratitude, the townspeople begged Jesus to leave.
Saint Jerome says that it is possible that the people were actually acting in humility, in that they did not consider themselves worthy to be in the presence of someone as great as Jesus. Like Saint Peter who fell at the feet of Jesus and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8), these townspeople may have been in such awe at what Jesus did for them that they did not see themselves as being worthy of His presence. However, other Church Fathers point out that it is more likely that these townspeople signify those who are stuck in their life of sin and do not want to come face-to-face with the Gospel or with the Person of Jesus. They prefer to close their ears to the truth and to remain in their life of ignorance and sin.
It’s also helpful to reflect upon the relationship between the townspeople and these two demoniacs. Ideally, when the townspeople saw these two men completely freed of the demons who tormented them, they would have rejoiced in a way similar to the way the father of the Prodigal Son rejoiced when his son returned to him. Sadly, in this case, there seems to be a tremendous lack of excitement by their fellow townsmen over the freedom these two demoniacs experienced. This shows a clear lack of love for these two men within the town. Perhaps many of the townspeople took a twisted form of pleasure in their mockery of these two men over the years, and they enjoyed telling stories about how crazy they were. Now, they were faced with these two men who were completely changed, and they may have found it difficult to speak well of them because of their pride.
This negative example set by these townspeople gives us an opportunity to reflect upon how we think about and treat those who have changed their ways and have turned from evil to good. Perhaps you have a family member who has sincerely tried to change. Or perhaps someone at work, a neighbor or some other acquaintance has gone from a life of sin to a life seeking virtue. The real question to ponder is whether you rejoice over the goodness of others, over their ongoing conversion and pursuit of holiness, or whether you struggle with truly expressing joy as you see people you know change for the good. It’s often very easy to criticize but much more difficult to rejoice in the holy transformation of another.
Reflect, today, upon those in your life, those close to you and those with whom you are mere acquaintances, who have been set free by our Lord in some way and have moved from a life of sin toward a life of virtue. How do you react to them? Are you able to sincerely rejoice in the goodness of others? Or do you find yourself struggling with jealousy, anger, envy and the like? As you do see the goodness of God at work in others, try to put on the mentality suggested by Saint Jerome above. Allow yourself to be in awe of God’s action in their lives. As you do, humble yourself before the transforming power of God, admitting that you are not worthy to witness His transforming power but rejoice in gratitude nonetheless.
My all-powerful Lord, You overcame the power of the evil one and cast demons from these two men who suffered through this oppression for many years. Give me the eyes I need to see You at work in our world and to joyfully bear witness to Your transforming action in the lives of others. May I always humble myself before Your saving actions and learn to express true gratitude for all that You do. Jesus, I trust in You.
Priorities in Prayer
Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
After entering a boat, Jesus made the crossing, and came into his own town. And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:1–2
Just prior to this passage, Jesus cast out demons from two men from the town of the Gadarenes. Afterwards, the townspeople told Him to leave their town, so Jesus departed by boat and arrived in Capernaum, which was where He had been living after leaving Nazareth. This encounter with a paralytic on a stretcher is what awaited Him when He disembarked from the boat.
Recall that when Jesus had returned to Nazareth, where He grew up, He was not able to perform any miracles there because of their lack of faith. Their familiarity with Him tempted them to disbelieve that He was someone special. But now, in His new town where He had recently moved to, Jesus was able to perform mighty miracles because the people had manifest faith.
In the passage above, try to enter the scene. Jesus was just rejected by the Gadarenes, He came by boat to Capernaum, He disembarked and was immediately met with a group of people who had clearly been waiting for Him. Try to imagine their conversations while Jesus was away at the other side of the lake. They knew He would return to His new home, they prepared a stretcher for the paralytic, and then they waited, hoped and prayed that Jesus would come and heal the man. It is also clear that Jesus could immediately sense their faith and was deeply touched by it. One of the most important parts of this passage is that Jesus did not simply say “Yes” to the physical healing and leave it at that. Instead, His response to the paralytic was to first forgive his sins. There is an important lesson for us to learn from this which will help us know how best to pray.
Oftentimes when we pray, we pray for this or that favor from our Lord. We pray for what we want Jesus to grant us. But this story shows us that what Jesus wants for us is different. First, He wants to grant us forgiveness for our sins. This is His priority, and it should also be ours. Once the forgiveness of sins takes place with this paralytic, Jesus also heals, as proof of His power to forgive sins. This story should help us to order our priorities in prayer according to Jesus’ priorities. If we make sorrow for sin our first priority, we can be certain that Jesus will answer us. From there, Jesus knows all of our needs. We can present them to Him but only when we are reconciled within our own heart with Him.
Reflect, today, upon the way you pray each day. Try to understand the importance of making a daily examination of your sins. This must become the first and most important part of your daily prayer. Though many people do not like to look at sin, it is much easier to do when the focus is not so much the sin as it is a focus upon the mercy of forgiveness and spiritual healing you need. The more aware you become of your daily sin, the more mercy you will receive. And the more mercy for the forgiveness of your sins you receive, the more our Lord will be able to bless you abundantly in other ways. Always start with the mercy of our Lord and your own need for that mercy every day, and all else will be taken care of by our Lord.
My merciful Lord, You desire reconciliation with me, in the innermost depths of my heart, to be my daily priority in prayer. You desire to forgive and to heal me so that I will grow closer to You. Please do forgive me for my sins, dear Lord, and help me to become more attentive to the ways that I sin against You and others every day. Thank You in advance for this saving grace and mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
Dining with Sinners
Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:12–13
Would you describe yourself as one who is “well” or one who is “sick?” Are you among the “righteous” or the “sinners?” Be careful how you answer this question. Of course, the pride that comes with our fallen human nature often tempts us to claim that we are “well” and “righteous.” But humility will reveal the truth that we are among the “sick” and “sinners.”
This statement of Jesus is a response to the Pharisees who noticed that Jesus was dining at the house of Matthew, the tax collector, whom He had just called to follow Him. Matthew did indeed leave everything behind and followed Jesus, and then he hosted dinner for Jesus at his house. At that dinner, there were “many tax collectors and sinners” who came and sat with Jesus and His disciples, which led the Pharisees to ridicule them all.
Jesus’ response is very important for us to hear. By stating that He came not for those who were well and righteous but for those who were sick and sinners, it tells us two important things. First, it tells us that we are all spiritually sick and sinful. Second, it tells us that if we cannot humbly admit to that, and in our pride claim that we are well and are righteous, then we essentially reject Jesus, the Divine Physician, from our lives. We essentially say, “Lord, I do not need You.”
It’s also helpful to notice that Jesus was not embarrassed to be seen with sinners. He did not hesitate at all and, in fact, clearly stated that they were those whom He came for. For that reason, we should not be afraid or embarrassed to admit we are sinners who are spiritually ill and in need of our Lord. To deny that fact is to deny reality and to deny the very source of the ongoing healing we most certainly need in life. It’s a denial of our need for Christ Jesus Himself.
Do you need our Lord? Do you need interior cleansing, healing, and forgiveness every day? If it’s difficult for you to wholeheartedly say “Yes” to that question, then perhaps you struggle with the pride of the Pharisees more than you know. No matter how holy you become, no matter how deeply you pray and no matter how charitable you are, you will always need the healing and forgiveness of the Divine Physician each and every day.
Reflect, today, upon the need you have in your life today for forgiveness. What sin do you struggle with the most? Interestingly, the holier one becomes, the more clearly they see their daily sins and their need for forgiveness and healing. If you struggle with this at all, spend time examining your conscience. Look for ways to do it more thoroughly and honestly. If you do, you can be certain that our Lord, the Divine Physician, will deeply desire to dine with you today and always.
My forgiving Lord, You are the Divine Physician Who has come to forgive and heal all of our ills. Remove my pride and self-righteousness so that I can be filled with humility and see clearly the sin in my life. As I see my sin, help me to turn to You and to trust in Your abundant mercy. You came for sinners, dear Lord, and I am one of those sinners in need. Jesus, I trust in You.
Rejoicing in the Blessings Given to Others
Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, July 3
“Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:27–29
Thomas the Apostle, in many ways, represents each and every one of us in this exchange with Jesus. We’d like to believe that we always believe and are not unbelieving. But it’s important to admit the humble truth that we may not believe as deeply as we should. And it’s important to reflect upon our own reaction to the blessings that others receive that we do not.
Recall that Thomas was not among the other Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them. Therefore, when Thomas returned and heard that Jesus had appeared and that he missed His appearance, he clearly felt bad. Unfortunately, the sorrow Thomas felt at not being present when the Lord appeared to the others left him with a certain bitterness rather than joy. This is the sin of envy. Envy is a certain sorrow over the blessings others receive that we do not. Ideally, Thomas would have rejoiced at the blessing that the other Apostles received by encountering the risen Lord. But, instead, his sorrow at missing this even left him sad. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Why was Thomas absent from this encounter with our Lord? Perhaps it was by divine providence, in that God wanted Thomas to set for us an example. If so, then one example Thomas set was that we must humbly rejoice in the blessings others receive when we are not also the recipient. Of course, if Thomas were there, then it would have been easier for him to share in the joy. But, in many ways, Thomas’ absence provided him an even greater opportunity. An opportunity that he failed to embrace.
When you see others receive blessings from God, how do you respond? Many people respond by immediately looking at themselves, wishing they were blessed in the same way. They struggle with envy. They think, “I wish I had received that blessing.” This form of envy is not always easy to see. For that reason, Thomas is given to us as a witness of what not to do in this situation.
Of course, Thomas is not a horrible person, which is why Jesus does later appear to him. That time, Thomas spoke words that are traditionally spoken as a devotion by the faithful at Mass when the Consecration occurs. He said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then gently rebukes Thomas by saying, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” But this gentle rebuke was an act of love, in that Jesus wanted Thomas to ponder the reason for his unbelief. Jesus clearly wanted Thomas to examine the unbelief caused by envy, which appears to have led to an intentional lack of faith.
Reflect, today, upon this holy Apostle. Today, Saint Thomas the Apostle is among the great saints in the Kingdom of Heaven. God used him to teach us these important lessons about envy, humility and faith. Let his weakness, from which he fully recovered, help you examine your own struggle with envy over the blessings that others receive that you do not. Learn to rejoice always in the ways that God is at work in our world and learn to grow in humility, so that when others are blessed in ways that you are not, you react as Saint Thomas ultimately did: “My Lord and my God!”
My most generous Lord, You pour forth Your blessings upon others, day and night. As I see those blessings, help me to overcome all temptations toward envy so that I may rejoice in Your grace given to all. You are my Lord and my God, and I thank You for every way that You bless my life and the lives of those around me. Fill me with a deeper gratitude, dear Lord, for every grace and blessing I see every day, especially those graces not given directly to me. Jesus, I trust in You.