TWENTY-FIRST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
We Have Come to Believe
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66–69
As a result of what? As a result of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” The Eucharist was the deepest and most beautiful teaching Jesus had given, but for some it was more than they could handle. So many left Him. But this passage also reveals the beautiful faith of the Apostles, especially Peter.
First of all, Jesus does not back down in any way from His beautiful and very deep teaching on the Holy Eucharist. What He said He stands behind, namely, that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). He goes on to say, “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55).
From there, Jesus turns to His disciples and gives them the freedom to accept or reject what He just taught. This freedom He gives to them is essential to them entering into authentic faith. If Jesus would have pressured or manipulated the disciples, it would have been hard for them to freely choose to accept Him and all He taught.
The same is true with us. Jesus does not require us to follow Him. He will not force or manipulate us into believing. He will not pressure us. Rather, Jesus offers Himself and His teachings and invites us to believe.
Within this context, Peter makes a profound statement of faith. “Master, to whom shall we go?” In other words, Peter was saying, “Lord, even if the teaching is hard, and even if it is unpopular to follow you, and even if we must suffer, be rejected, be misunderstood…you are the best option.” Think about it. What other option even comes close to the option of accepting the full and deep teachings of Jesus? Is it better to only take part of what He says? Doing that is a form of rejection of Him.
Peter gives us the witness of one who has come to believe that there is only one good option in life. That option is the choice to follow Jesus no matter what. Nothing in life is worth choosing over Christ. We should strive to discover this truth that He is the only one worth choosing.
Reflect, today, upon these words of Peter. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Jesus is God, the Messiah and Savior. He has the words of everlasting life. He is the best “option” to choose. Say those words of Peter and, in saying them, make the choice to choose Him no matter how popular or unpopular that choice is and no matter if others are making it. Going with the flow leads us down the wrong river. Making the right choice sets us on solid ground.
Lord, there is no place for me to go other than You and Your way. You are the Lord of all, and You are the Messiah. I choose You and accept all that You have taught. Jesus, I trust in You.
Unity of Truth and Virtue
Monday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” Matthew 23:13
Today begins Jesus’ “Woe to you…” condemnations of the scribes and Pharisees. He issues seven subsequent condemnations. The one quoted above is His first. At the time, Jesus’ condemnations of these religious leaders fell mostly on deaf ears. They were obstinate and would not listen to what Jesus had to say. But it’s useful to note that these condemnations appear to actually be spoken about the scribes and Pharisees to the disciples and the crowds to whom Jesus was speaking.
Though there are many lessons we can learn from our Lord, let’s consider the first thing He says. He condemns hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is essentially saying one thing and doing another. It’s a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Hypocrisy can also come in the form of trying to present oneself as if one has every virtue under Heaven but in reality cares little for the clear doctrine and moral precepts given us by God. In the scripture passage, the scribes and Pharisees claimed to be leading people to salvation, but they were condemning the very source of salvation. On one hand, some of what they taught was true, but they failed to teach with the virtue that comes from God. On the other hand, some of what they taught was flat-out erroneous, because they were more concerned about their public persona than they were about the truth. Essentially, they were hypocrites, because their words and actions were neither united in the truth nor lived through the virtues given by God.
These two opposing tendencies seem to be a source of much division within our Church today. On the extreme “right,” we have those who preach doctrine but fail to exercise the necessary virtue so as to be effective instruments of those truths. And on the extreme “left” are those who act as if so-called virtue is all that matters. They deemphasize the clear and unambiguous moral and doctrinal truths that were given to us by our Lord, so that others will praise them for appearing kind, accepting and compassionate toward all. The problem is that one cannot exclude truth from virtue or virtue from truth. Compassion is not compassionate if it lacks truth, and the truth is not true if it is not presented with the virtues by which our Lord wants them brought forth. And though the scribes and Pharisees appear to be more focused upon their interpretations of various truths to the exclusion of virtue, their struggle with hypocrisy is just as real for those on both extremes today.
Reflect, today, upon the importance of embracing each and every moral and doctrinal precept given by our Lord. We must embrace everything He says with every fiber of our being. Reflect, also, upon how you express these teachings of Jesus to others. Do you strive to present the full Gospel with the greatest virtue? The deeper the truth, the more necessary is the virtue with which it is presented. And the more virtue you have, the better instrument of the full truth you will be. Strive to overcome every form of hypocrisy within your life by working toward true holiness. Holiness is wholeness. The Truth united to virtue. Only then will you escape from the condemnation of our Lord, but you will also thrive as a pure instrument of His saving grace.
My saving Lord, You desired deeply that the religious leaders of the time be powerful instruments of Your saving Gospel by presenting all truth in pure love. Please free me from every error so that Your holy Word will be alive in me and will be sent forth to others through the manifestation of the many virtues You wish to bestow. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Faith of Bartholomew
Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle, August 24
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:45–46
Nathanael, who also goes by the name Bartholomew, reacted strongly to the news from his friend Philip that they had found the promised Messiah. Why did Nathanael react this way? Most likely because it was common knowledge among the Jews that the promised Messiah would come from Bethlehem, not from Nazareth. So Nathanael immediately raises this doubt because of Jesus’ supposed origin. Of course, Jesus actually was born in Bethlehem and only later moved to Nazareth, but Nathanael did not immediately realize this.
The first lesson to ponder today is that, just like Nathanael, we can easily doubt matters of faith because we do not fully understand. Perhaps if Philip had come and said that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth, then Nathanael may have been more immediately open. But this encounter most likely unfolded as it did, with Nathanael’s initial doubt, because the Holy Spirit, Who inspired these Scriptures, wanted us to learn an important lesson. The lesson we must learn is that we must not close the door on the Truth just because something doesn’t immediately make sense to us. Doubts are never from God. The good news in this Gospel passage is that, even though Nathanael did immediately express a certain doubt, he remained open to what Philip was saying. Philip, in answer to this doubt, said the best thing he could have said. He said, “Come and see.”
What is it in your life that seems confusing to you in regard to your life or in regard to the many truths of our faith? If there is something that you struggle with in this way, then listen to the words of Philip and allow them to be spoken to you: “Come and see.”
Once Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, Nathanael quickly professed his full faith in Jesus as the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel.” Jesus said very little to Nathanael to convince him of these truths. Jesus simply told Nathanael that he had seen him sitting under the fig tree and that He knew that Nathanael was a man without guile. To be without guile means that you are not two-faced; rather, you are a very honest and straightforward person. Nathanael’s immediate realization of the greatness of Jesus could have only come by the gift of grace working in his soul. He came to see Jesus and believed through the interior gift of faith.
The lesson of Nathanael tells us that if we bring our confusion to our Lord in faith and openness, all will be made clear. We will have our temptations to doubt removed, and we will be able to have faith that goes far beyond human reason alone.
Reflect, today, upon the genuineness and openness of the heart of Nathanael. Bring to our Lord any and every question you have with the expectation that you will receive what you need. Faith does not usually come through convincing arguments or detailed deductive reasoning. It normally comes through a pure and simple openness to the Voice of God speaking within our soul. But when the gift of faith is given, it brings with it a holy certainty that cannot be doubted.
My loving Lord, You invite all of us to come to You, to see You and to have faith in You. You truly are the Son of God and the King of all. Please open my mind to all that You wish to say to me so that I may shed my doubts and come to a transforming faith in all things. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Firmness and Strength of Love
Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” Matthew 23:27–28
This would not have been an easy thing for the scribes and Pharisees to hear. It is a hard truth, spoken by our Lord, partly in an attempt to shake them free of their sin. And even though they may not have enjoyed hearing this clear condemnation spoken, since it came from the Savior of the World, we can be sure that these are words of the deepest love and were spoken so that these men would repent and change their ways.
Perhaps each of us, at times, feels like criticizing another. Most often, when we feel this way, it stems from our own personal sin of anger. Perhaps we were hurt by another and that hurt results in a desire for a form of vengeance that comes from anger. But this was not the case with Jesus.
First, these words were spoken by Jesus to his disciples and to the crowds of people, not only to the scribes and Pharisees. So in many ways Jesus spoke this for the good of those who were suffering under the misguided leadership of these religious leaders. But Jesus knew that these leaders would also hear His words, so He spoke them to them. But unlike us, He did it out of perfect virtue so as to care for their souls.
At times, each one of us needs to hear Jesus rebuke us in love. If any of the scribes and Pharisees were open at that time, then Jesus’ words would have first stung them to the heart but then had the powerful effect of challenging them to change. They needed this and so do we. When we become stuck in our sins, especially if obstinacy sets in, then we need to allow Jesus to challenge us firmly. Such a challenge can be rattling, but that rattling is sometimes necessary. Emotion and passion can lead to sin, but it can also lead to repentance and conversion. The passion with which Jesus spoke became an instrument by which their own passions made them sit up and take notice. The result was that they either became more steeped in their sin or they repented. And though most became even more steeped in sin, which ultimately resulted in their persecution and death of Jesus, we can hope that there were some who did repent, such as Nicodemus.
Reflect, today, upon the strength of Jesus’ words to these religious leaders. Though they were supposed to be both “religious” and “leaders,” they were neither. They needed Jesus’ strength, courage and firmness. They needed to be confronted directly and receive the hard and clear truth about their sin. Reflect upon what it is in your own life that Jesus wants to say to you. Is there an area of your life in which our Lord needs to address you with passion, strength, clarity and firmness? Most likely there is. Perhaps not in an area of serious sin like it was with these scribes and Pharisees, but if we are open, Jesus wants to powerfully go after every sin within us. Open yourself to Him and allow Him to help rid you of the sins with which you struggle the most. And be grateful for this grace when He does.
My passionate Lord, You hate sin but love the sinner. You perfectly desire to rid me of all sin and all attachment to sin. Please open my mind and heart to hear Your rebukes of Love so that I may respond to Your invitation to repent with all my heart. I love You dear Lord. Free me from sin so that I may love You more. Jesus, I trust in You.
Gentle Promptings of Grace
Thursday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Matthew 24:42–44
Our Lord contrasts the call to stay awake with those who are asleep. Clearly, by stating “Stay awake!” so emphatically, Jesus is also telling us that it is easy to fall asleep, spiritually speaking. So are you more often awake and attentive to His presence? Or are you most often asleep and therefore unaware of His presence?
First of all, this exhortation must be understood as a reference to our passing from this life. And though most who are younger do not expect to pass suddenly and unprepared, we know that this does happen. It could happen to any one of us at any time, unexpectedly and without warning. Therefore, we must see this passionate exhortation from Jesus to be a clear warning to always be ready to meet Him in our particular judgment upon our passing from this life.
With that said, this passage is also an invitation to become increasingly aware of the countless ways in which Jesus speaks to us each and every day. The goal of the Christian life must be to be continually at prayer. This does not mean that we are necessarily “saying” prayers all day every day. Rather, it means that we form a spiritual habit of becoming continually attentive to the promptings of grace given to us throughout our lives. God wants to lead us always. He wants to inspire us with His grace every day all day. He wants us to have one eye on the things that occupy our day and the other eye upon Him, allowing Him to gently lead us through everything.
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that God is only concerned about the big decisions of life. But the truth is that God is most clearly found in the details of life, even the smallest ones: a short exchange of words with a family member, a smile at a co-worker, a kind gesture to a stranger, and a random prayer offered for an anonymous person in need of that prayer. All of these are but a few examples of the many ways that God wants to commune with us every day throughout the day. And this can only happen if we are continually awake and attentive to His gentle promptings of grace.
How is this accomplished? How do we become attentive to God as He speaks to us and guides us every moment of every day? It is done by forming a spiritual habit of ongoing prayer. We begin by setting aside time for prayer every day, time in which all we do is pray. We set aside all distractions and begin by offering prayers, meditating upon scripture, attending the Mass, speaking from our hearts, etc. But from there, this special time of prayer, set aside exclusively for God, must begin to have an effect upon us throughout the day. And when we get distracted by the things of the world, we stop again, focus exclusively on God, and invite Him to be with us yet again. And then this is done again, and again, and again. Prayer must become a consuming habit by which God becomes present to everything we do. When this happens, we become spiritually “awake” to Him always.
Reflect, today, upon this clear and concise exhortation from our Lord. “Stay awake!” Let those words resonate within you. Hear them as a call to form this holy habit of prayer throughout the day. If you do so, God will slowly take over your life and lead you each and every day into His holy will. And through you, God will be able to extend His love and mercy to many who are in your life and beyond.
My demanding Lord, You desire me to live my day, every day, in such a way that I am continually attentive to You. Please help me to form a holy habit of listening to You and responding to all that You say to me always. My life is Yours, dear Lord. Lead me continually by Your gentle Hand of grace. Jesus, I trust in You.
Being Prepared by Charity
Friday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.” Matthew 25:1–2
The “ten virgins” in this parable refer to the bridesmaids who were following Jewish tradition by going to the home of the bride to await the coming of the groom for a wedding. This parable is one of a few parables Jesus told that emphasizes the importance of being vigilant in our Christian walk. As the parable goes on, we are told that the groom was delayed and that the bridesmaids fell asleep. Upon waking, the foolish ones had no more oil for their lamps and had to leave to get some more. When they returned, they discovered that the groom had already arrived and that the door was locked. They then knocked and said, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But the reply came to them, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” And they missed out on the wedding celebration.
Traditionally, the “oil” has been understood as a reference to charity. The message is simple. As we prepare to meet our Lord in Heaven, it is not enough to make the claim that we are Christians. We must also produce the good fruit of charity by our actions. Faith must result in charity, otherwise it is not true faith at all.
This parable should be taken seriously. We should use it as a regular source of examination of our lives in regard to the charity we have…or do not have. When you look at your life, can you point to regular acts of charity that flow from your love of God and are bestowed upon others? Charity is not based on your preferences in life. It’s not based on what you feel like doing. Charity is always selfless and sacrificial. It always looks toward the good of the other. How much charity is alive in your life? Jesus clearly told this parable because He was aware of many who professed a faith in God but did not live the love of God. It’s very easy to live our lives day in and day out, doing what we do because of our personal likes or dislikes. However, it is very difficult to foster true charity within our souls and to regularly choose to love others because it is good for them.
We must work to foster charity, first, in our thoughts. Critical and condemning thoughts must be eliminated, and we must strive to see others as God sees them. Charity must also direct our words. Our words must be encouraging of others, kind, supportive and merciful. Our actions become charitable when we become generous with our time, go out of our way to serve and are diligent in the ways we express our love of others.
Reflect, today, upon the high calling you have been given to live an active and manifest life of charity. Spend time reflecting upon what charity truly is. Have you allowed yourself to become guided by a more secular and selfish form of “love?” Do you act more out of selfish preferences than out of self-giving and sacrifice? Do you truly build people up and witness the love of God to them? Try to answer these questions seriously. This parable spoken from our Lord is much more than a story. It is truth. And the truth is that some will arrive at the day of judgment without the necessary “oil” for their lamps. Take our Lord seriously and examine your life of charity. Where you are lacking, become fervent in your mission to change. In the end, you will be eternally grateful you did.
My loving Lord, You showed us all that true love is selfless and sacrificial. You came to this world to serve and to give Your sacred life for us all. May I open my life more fully to Your love so that Your love may also affect and direct every relationship I have. Fill me with the gift of charity, dear Lord, so that I will be fully prepared for the day of my particular judgment. Jesus, I trust in You.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Superabundance
Saturday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.’” Matthew 25:20–21
Oftentimes, when we are presented with a story of success versus tragedy, our attention goes to the tragedy first. The parable we are given today, the Parable of the Talents, presents us with three persons. Two of the people display stories of great success. One, however, offers a story that is more tragic. The tragic story ends by the master telling the servant who buried his money that he is a “wicked, lazy servant!” But both of the success stories end with the master saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.” Let’s focus upon these success stories.
Both of the servants who were successful doubled the master’s money. Even from a secular point of view, that is very impressive. If you were investing money with a financial advisor and shortly after investing you were told that your money had doubled, you’d be quite pleased. Such a rate of return is rare. This is the first message we should take from this parable. Doubling the gifts and graces God gives us is very doable. The reason for this is not primarily because of us; rather, it’s because of God. By their very nature, God’s gifts to us are meant to grow. By its very nature, grace flows in superabundance; and, when we cooperate with God’s grace, then it grows in an exponential way.
When you consider your own life, what gifts has God given to you that He wants you to use for His glory? Are there gifts buried away that remain stagnant or, even worse, are used for purposes that are contrary to the divine plan for your life? Some of the more obvious gifts you were given within your very nature are your intellect and will. Additionally, you may be extra-talented in one way or another. These are all gifts given on a natural level. In addition to these, God often bestows supernatural gifts in abundance when we begin to use what we have for His glory and for the salvation of others. For example, if you work to share the truths of our faith with others, God will begin to deepen your supernatural gifts of Counsel, Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding so that you will be able to speak about God and His will. All seven of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are among the clearest examples of supernatural gifts given by God as follows: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord. The prayer that concludes this reflection comes from a traditional novena to the Holy Spirit and not only asks for these gifts but also gives a short description of them for a better understanding.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that what God has given to you, both on a natural and supernatural level, must be devoted to the service of God and others. Do you do this? Do you try to use every talent, every gift, every part of who you are for God’s glory and the eternal good of others? If you don’t, then those gifts dwindle away. If you do, you will see those gifts of God’s grace grow in manifold ways. Strive to understand the gifts you have received and firmly resolve to use them for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. If you do, you will also hear our Lord say to you one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, grant me the Spirit of Wisdom, that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal; the Spirit of Understanding, to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth; the Spirit of Counsel, that I may choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining Heaven; the Spirit of Fortitude, that I may bear my cross with Thee and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation; the Spirit of Knowledge, that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints; the Spirit of Piety, that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable; the Spirit of Fear of the Lord, that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Jesus, I trust in You.