TWENTIETH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
The Assumption of the Mother of God
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name.” Luke 1:46–49
Today we celebrate one of seventeen different memorials, feasts and solemnities in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary that are found on the Roman Liturgical Calendar. Today’s celebration is one of the four great Solemnities by which our Blessed Mother is honored. Obviously, no other person other than our Lord is honored and celebrated with as much solemnity as the Mother of God.
The Solemnity of the Assumption honors the fact that when the Blessed Virgin Mary completed her life on earth, she never experienced death. Instead, at that glorious moment, she was singly privileged to be taken body and soul into Heaven to be with her resurrected Son so as to adore the Most Holy Trinity forever. It’s an amazing fact to consider that she is the only person, other than Jesus, who retains her body and soul, united as one in Heaven, in anticipation of that glorious day when the new Heavens and Earth will be created and when all the faithful will rise so as to live in a new bodily form forever with God.
Though this dogma of our faith had been held and believed by the faithful from the earliest times of our Church, especially since it was witnessed by those closest to our Blessed Mother at the time of her glorious Assumption, it wasn’t until November 1, 1950, that Pope Pius XII solemnly proclaimed it to be so, raising this teaching of our faith to the level of a dogma, meaning, it must be held and believed by all. In part, the Holy Father declared, “…we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
This Dogma of the Assumption reveals to us many things worth prayerfully pondering. First and foremost, Mary’s Assumption was a result of her Immaculate Conception and the fact that she remained sinless throughout her life. That Dogma was also believed throughout the centuries and was solemnly defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. The Assumption follows from the Immaculate Conception because death follows from sin. It was not the original plan of God that we experience the death of our bodies and the separation of our bodies and souls. Again, this is a consequence of sin. But since the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all sin from the moment of her conception by the future grace won by her Son on the Cross, and because she freely remained free from sin throughout her life by her ongoing cooperation with that grace, then she not only did not experience death, she could not. Death had no power over one who was without sin.
The Gospel passage quoted above comes from the beginning of Mary’s song of praise, her Magnificat, by which she not only gives the greatest glory to God but also reveals who she is. She is the one whom “all generations” will call “blessed.” She is the one for whom “the Almighty has done great things.” She is the one who will eternally proclaim “the greatness of the Lord” and whose spirit will forever rejoice in God her Savior. And she is that lowliest of servants whom God has raised up to the greatest glory.
Reflect, today, with the whole Church, upon the Most Glorious Ever-Virgin Mary who was conceived without sin, remained sinless throughout her life, never experienced death, and was taken body and soul into Heaven where she now adores the Most Holy Trinity and intercedes for you and for the whole Church. This is a Solemnity of great rejoicing! Share in this joy with the whole Church and with all the saints in Heaven!
Most glorious and Ever-Virgin Mary, I rejoice today with you and with the whole Church for the most glorious things that God has done for you. You are beauty beyond beauty, Immaculate in every way, and worthy of our deepest love. As you now share body and soul in the glories of Heaven, please pray for me and for all your dear children on earth. Cover us with your mantle of love and pour forth the mercy of God upon us always. Mother Mary, assumed into Heaven, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:21–22
This is the conclusion to the conversation that Jesus had with a rich young man who came to Him and asked, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus went on to tell him to keep the commandments. The young man said he has done so from his youth and wanted to know what else he could do. So Jesus answered his question. But the answer was more than the young man could accept.
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Do you want to be perfect? If so, then Jesus has set a high bar for such a goal. It seems that many followers of Christ are okay with simply being okay. In other words, it seems that it is rare to find a person who is wholeheartedly committed to perfection. Many may have good intentions, but it seems that there are few who fully commit themselves to all it takes to truly obtain the perfection to which we are all called.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus’ initial response to this rich young man explained the requirements for entering eternal life, that is, the minimal requirement for obtaining Heaven. Simply put, Jesus said that if you refrain from serious sin by keeping the commandments, then you will inherit eternal life. Of course, that also presumes that you have the gift of faith and are thus open to the gift of salvation. So is that what you are content with? Are you satisfied with doing the minimum it takes to get to Heaven?
The idea of perfection can appear to be beyond us. Too often we can think, “I’m only human.” But as a human who is called by God, we are invited to work toward the obtainable goal of greater holiness. Though we will always fall short, we must strive to become as holy as we can, holding nothing back.
Though the invitation given to this young man to “go, sell what you have and give to the poor” is not a requirement that our Lord places on everyone, He does call some to do this literally. But for everyone else, the invitation still remains—but in a spiritual sense rather than a literal sense. This is the spiritual call to interior poverty of spirit. Everyone of us is called to be interiorly detached from the things of this world in a complete way, even though we retain our possessions. We must have as our single possession the love of God and the service of His will. This depth of spiritual detachment means that God and His holy will is all we desire in life. And if He ever were to call us to literally give everything up, we would do it without hesitation. And though that may seem extreme, it is, in fact, exactly what will benefit us the most. It is the only way to become fully human and fully the person we were meant to be. And the end reward is not only the attainment of Heaven but an incomprehensible amount of glory in Heaven. The holier we become here on earth, the greater will our eternal reward be in Heaven. Do not hesitate to do all you can to build up that treasure that will be with you forever.
Reflect, today, upon the high calling to perfection given to you by God. Ask yourself in a very sincere way whether or not you are simply okay with being okay or if you want so much more. Do you want the greatest riches in Heaven? Do you want your eternity to be one in which the spiritual treasures you build up now are with you forever? Do not hesitate to accept this high calling from Jesus. Allow His invitation to this rich young man to echo within your heart as His personal invitation to you, also. Say “Yes” to Him and know that you will be eternally grateful you did.
My loving Lord, You invited the rich young man to strive for perfection. You also invite me and all Your children to this holy and high calling. Give me the grace I need to detach from all that hinders this goal so that I can make You and Your holy will the central and only goal of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Eye of a Needle
Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:24–26
According to one tradition, the “eye of the needle” referred to a gate in the wall of Jerusalem. During the day, there was a large gate that was open through which a camel could easily pass. But at night, the larger gate was closed and there was a smaller opening in the center of the gate that allowed people to pass through. A camel, however, could not pass through that smaller opening unless it got down on its knees, had its load removed from its back, and then crawled through. In referencing this story, Saint Anselm states that “the rich should not be able to pass along the narrow way that leads to life, till he had put off the burden of sin, and of riches, that is, by ceasing to love them” (Catena Aurea). So is it possible for a camel to enter through the “eye of the needle” and, therefore, a rich man to enter into Heaven? Yes. But only under the condition of being on their knees, humbling themselves, and ridding themselves of the “baggage” of their riches.
For those who are truly rich in the things of this world, this Gospel passage may be difficult to read and reflect upon. It was spoken in reference to the rich young man who asked Jesus how he can enter into eternal life. Jesus’ answer was “go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” At that, the rich young man went away sad because he was clearly attached to his wealth.
Jesus’ explanation above, however, should give hope to anyone who struggles with this high expectation. The disciples were truly troubled by what Jesus said, and that is why Jesus followed up by saying, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” For God all things are possible! This statement of fact should be carefully pondered and believed by anyone who struggles with being overly attached to material riches. It should also be noted that one can be attached to riches even if they do not have riches. The desire for more is the attachment that needs to be cleansed, not the actual possession of riches. In fact, it is possible to have many possessions and not be attached to them at all. This is the beatitude of poverty of spirit. But be careful not to presume that you have perfected this beatitude too quickly. Jesus’ statement above was said out of love for those who are overly attached to the things of this world. So if this is you, be merciful to yourself and pay close attention to Jesus’ words and your own interior struggle with this.
Reflect, today, upon this clear and unambiguous statement of Jesus. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Do you believe this? Can you accept this? Is Jesus speaking to you through this passage? Again, even if you are materially poor, is your desire for riches strong? If so, this passage equally applies to you. Allow this passage to sit within your heart in a prayerful way and try to be as honest as you can with yourself as you read it. Do not hesitate to choose the true riches of Heaven over the passing things of this world. In the end, the value of spiritual wealth infinitely outweighs anything you possess for your short time here on earth.
Lord of true riches, You desire that each of us be filled with spiritual wealth that is infinitely greater than anything we could obtain in this world. Please free me from my attachment to material wealth so that I can live free from that burden. Help me to see the value of the treasures of Your grace and mercy and to make this true wealth the single focus of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They answered, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You too go into my vineyard.” Matthew 20:6–7
These are very generous words spoken by the landowner. As the parable explains, this landowner hired workers for his vineyard early in the morning, and then again at nine o’clock, noon, three o’clock and finally at five o’clock. But at the end of the day, he paid them all the same daily wage as if they had all been working since early morning. The ones hired first were upset thinking it was unfair that those who worked just an hour were paid the same wage as they were. But the landowner concludes, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” God, in His mercy, is generous beyond comprehension. But we, as fallen humans, are constantly examining whether we are getting our fair share and comparing ourselves to others. We tend to want more and more and easily become envious when we see others succeed or receive blessings that we do not have. For example, if someone is more popular than us on social media, or drives a nicer car, or has a bigger home, or goes on an expensive vacation, we often tend to notice with a sort of sorrow that we do not have what they do. And that is envy.
The cure for envy is wholehearted generosity. Not just generosity with our money but generosity with our affections and our ability to rejoice in the blessings that others receive. For example, if someone were to tell you that they were going on a nice vacation next month to a place you always wanted to go, how would you react? You might jokingly say, “Wow, I’m jealous!” Jealousy can quickly turn into envy, which is a form of sorrow over the blessings another has that you do not. And that sorrow over the blessings of another can subsequently turn to anger.
These workers in the vineyard who worked all day and received the same amount as those who worked only one hour could have responded by congratulating the later workers and could have even jokingly said, “Lucky you, I wish I would have shown up at five o’clock!” But instead, they grumbled and tried to interfere with the generosity of the landowner saying, “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” Again, this is envy, in that their sorrow over the generosity of the landowner led them to try to interfere with the blessing the others received.
Whenever you notice this form of unholy sorrow within you, take notice. It means that you lack a selfless generosity toward others. And if you see God blessing another in spiritual riches, try to generously rejoice in that. Offer praise and thanks to God for His goodness. Don’t dwell on yourself and dismiss every temptation to compare. In many ways, everyone of us is represented by those who worked only one hour and received the full daily wage. This is because we could never earn the grace of salvation. The one and only reason we are able to receive the gift of eternal salvation and every other grace given to us by God is because God is infinitely generous. Therefore, the goodness and generosity of God must be our constant focus, and we must rejoice in that generosity when it is given to us and when it is also given to others.
Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have toward envy. Think about the blessings that others have been given that you have not. Sincerely look at your interior reaction to that and pray that God will grant you the gift of being able to be generous in your rejoicing in those blessings. Every blessing given by God must be the cause of our joy, no matter if those blessings are bestowed upon us or upon others.
My most generous Lord, You bestow Your blessings upon all in superabundance. When I witness the ways that others are blessed by You, help me to foster a sincere gratitude for all that they have received. Help me truly rejoice in the many ways You bless all Your people. Free me from envy, dear Lord, so that I am not burdened down by that ugly sin. Jesus, I trust in You.
An Invitation From the Father
Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.” Matthew 22:2–3
The king in this parable is God the Father, and the wedding is the marriage between Christ and the Church. The Father invites each one of us to be a member of the Church and to enter into divine union with His Son Jesus, thus entering into the life of the Holy Trinity. But we see right away in the parable that the invited guests “refused to come.” As the parable goes on, the king tried even harder to invite the guests, but they all responded in one of two ways. “Some ignored the invitation and went away…” and “The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” Clearly, this was not the response hoped for by the generous king.
We see in these two responses two levels of rejection of the Gospel that are present in our world today, just as it was at the time of Jesus. The first level of rejection is indifference. Many people are very busy today. We easily become occupied with many things that matter little in the end. Many are consumed by their smartphones, computers and tablets. Many spend countless hours watching television. Others become workaholics, spending most of their time at their occupation and leaving little time for that which is most important, such as family, prayer and service. As a result, it is very easy to become indifferent to the matters of faith and easy to fail to pray every day so as to seek out and fulfill God’s will. This indifference is quite serious.
There is also a rejection of the faith in our world through a growing hostility toward the Church and morality. There are many ways in which the secular world continues to promote a culture that is contrary to the Gospel. And when Christians speak out and oppose these new cultural tendencies, they are condemned and often characterized as being prejudiced or judgmental. Such malice was displayed by the guests in this parable who “laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” Hostility toward the Church, the faith and clear moral principles laid down by God appears to be growing every year. This form of rejection of the Gospel is even more damaging than the simple indifference mentioned above. In this parable for today, Jesus says that in response to those who were indifferent and hostile, the king “sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.”
This parable should not be read in such a way that we look at others and condemn them as if we were the king and had the right to do so. We do not have that right. Only God does. Instead, this parable should be read from the perspective of your own life. Hopefully you are not one of those who are hostile to the Gospel. But perhaps you and many other Christians struggle with the first form of rejection: indifference. We can easily become indifferent in many various ways and on many different levels. The opposite of being indifferent is to care and to care deeply about going to the wedding feast when invited.
Reflect, today, upon the Wedding Feast to which you are invited. You are invited to enter into the glorious celebration of becoming one with the Savior of the World. You are invited to surrender your life to Him without reserve. You are invited to holiness, moral integrity, unwavering fidelity to God, service of others, charity that knows no bounds and so much more. To enter the Wedding Feast of the Lamb is something that must take place every day and every moment of your day for the rest of your life. God is inviting you. Will you say “Yes” with every fiber of your being?
My inviting Lord, You desire that all people fully accept the invitation You have given to become one with You through spiritual marriage. You call us to the glorious Wedding Feast and eternal rejoicing. May I never be indifferent to Your invitation and always make my response with all my heart. I love You, dear Lord. Help me to love You all the more. Jesus, I trust in You.
Loving in Difficult Situations
Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37–39
We are very familiar with this passage above. It is Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees who came to test Jesus. Prior to this, a group of Sadducees tried to trap Jesus and failed. So now it was the Pharisees who gave it their best shot to trap our Lord. Of course, Jesus’ answer was perfect. And upon the conclusion of this answer, Jesus returned the favor by asking the Pharisees some questions that they could not answer, and they dared not ask Him any further questions at that time.
Sometimes, being challenged by another in matters of faith helps us, in that it allows us to clarify what we actually believe. Though Jesus did not need clarity for His own sake, He did offer this clarity in the face of trickery so as to help both the Pharisees as well as His followers who were listening attentively.
Have you ever been challenged by another about matters of faith? If so, what was your response? Were you able to respond by the inspiration and clarity given by the Holy Spirit? Or did you walk away confused and unable to respond? Having our faith challenged by another will either result in our own confusion or in our deeper understanding.
By answering this question in the way that Jesus did, He presented the entire Law given by Moses in the Ten Commandments in a new and summarized way. The first three of the Ten Commandments have to do with love of God, and the last seven have to do with love of neighbor. The second commandment Jesus gives, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is a consequence of the first commandment. How do you “love yourself?” You do so by fulfilling the first commandment Jesus gave: “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” When God is loved above all, then loving your neighbor simply means that you love God Who dwells within your neighbor in accord with the way God loves them.
It is also helpful to note that it is possible to “love” our neighbor in such a way that is contrary to the love of God. For example, if our love of neighbor is expressed in such a way that is contrary to the Love of God, then this is not true love. Let’s say that your neighbor has chosen a gravely immoral lifestyle. How do you love them with the love of God? You don’t say to them “I support you in your immoral living.” Doing so is not love of God; it’s a selfish form of love that cares more about how the person will respond back to you than caring for their eternal soul. The right form of love for one who has gone astray in an objectively immoral way is to let them know you love them but do not support the choices they are making. And though they may respond negatively to this, caring for their eternal salvation must supersede every desire to simply get along with them.
Love of neighbor, at times, especially when the “neighbor” is a family member who has turned from God, can be challenging. But when it is, think about the way that the Sadducees and Pharisees tried to constantly trap Jesus. He always gave the perfect response of love and never allowed their misguided conversation to leave confusion. So with us, we must rely upon the wisdom and love of God when loving another is difficult. God must guide our every conversation in that case so that the other knows they are loved and so that our love does not deviate from the pure love of God.
Reflect, today, upon the high calling you have been given to love God above all and to love your neighbor with that same love that you have for God. If you find loving someone is difficult, pray for the wisdom you need to remain faithful to them in God’s love alone. And if you find your love challenged, rely upon our Lord to lead you and to give you the words you need when you need them the most.
My loving Lord, You love all people with a perfect love, and You call us all to love You with our whole heart, soul and mind. And You call us to love others with the love You have for them. Fill my heart with love of You and all people, especially those who are most difficult to love. Give me wisdom, dear Lord, to know how to love others in You so that they will experience Your perfect love in their lives. Jesus, I trust in You!
Humility…the Path to Greatness
Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11–12
If you were to plan out the ideal future for yourself, what would it look like? Imagine if you were not constrained by budget or resources. Imagine if you could pick to do anything you wanted, to go anywhere you wanted, and enjoy any activity that you wanted. Imagine the greatest experience you could possibly have. What would that be? Most people would immediately think about indulging in the greatest pleasures imaginable. A life of the most luxurious accommodations, the best food, the most beautiful scenery and the most relaxing and enjoyable time possible. But would that truly be the “ideal future for yourself?”
The Gospel passage above is very clear. Greatness is found in servanthood. Exaltation is enjoyed only through humility. Is the ideal lifestyle one that is filled with indulgence, entertainment, luxury, and the like? Certainly not. The ideal life, the greatest life, the most exalted life is the life of the most humble service of others as possible. That’s essentially what Jesus tells us in this passage. Do you believe that?
Note that Jesus uses the words “greatest” and “must” in the same sentence. These two words are both quite definitive. There is no one greater than the “greatest,” and the path to that greatness requires, without exception, that the greatest be a servant of everyone else. In many ways, this truth defies most human conceptions of greatness. Most often, if someone is considered “great,” then they are served and treated with an honor and respect not given to most. For example, if you had someone of great importance over to your home for dinner, you would most likely wait on them. Of course, service in this context is much more than waiting on tables or providing a meal. Though that is a blessed way to serve others and to express love, Jesus’ concept of service goes far beyond this. How do we serve as one who is truly great? We do so especially by humbling ourselves. Humility is the greatest form of service we can render another.
Jesus was, without question, the humblest person to ever live. Only His mother shared perfectly in this holy virtue. Humility enables a person to break out of every selfish tendency and turn their love to the good of the other. Jesus did this first by becoming Incarnate in the womb of His dear mother. The Eternal Son of God did not become man because it somehow benefited Him in a self-centered way. He did it because He loved us and His Incarnation benefited us. The Son of God did not allow others to mock Him, ridicule Him and ultimately murder Him because it somehow benefitted Him. He did it so that He could enter death and destroy it so that we could rise with Him. He did it for us. And we could go through every passage of the Gospels and see that everything Jesus did was done for others and never done out of a selfish desire. This self-giving service our Lord offered every day was a fruit of the incredible humility that He lived. Jesus did everything He did out of His love for others and with humility so as to bring salvation and transformation to their eternal souls.
In our lives, we need to make a fundamental choice. Am I going to live for myself? Or am I going to live for others? It seems as though very few people live fully for others. It is difficult to take our eyes off ourselves and turn them only to the good of others. But if we realize that living for others is also the path to our own greatness and ultimate exaltation, then it becomes much easier. Serving others, especially in a spiritual way by which you do all you can to help them grow closer to God, is what will make you great. Nothing else can do so. Believe that and live it.
Reflect, today, upon a life of true greatness. Reflect, especially, upon how you can live such a life. How can you more completely serve others? How can you make their holiness your primary goal? How can you help others grow in their love of God? Humble yourself and turn your eyes from yourself to others. Doing so will make an eternal difference for others and also for yourself.
My exalted Lord, You are exalted far above all others. You are Greatness Itself. The life You lived, dear Lord, was one of the greatest humility. But it was in this humility that You accomplished the salvation of the world. Help me to imitate Your greatness by making the service of others my most central mission in life. I love you, my Lord. May I love and serve others with You. Jesus, I trust in You.