Newness of Life
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas”—which is translated Peter. John 1:42
In this passage, the Apostle Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus after telling Simon that he has found the Messiah. Jesus immediately receives them both as Apostles and then reveals to Simon that his identity will now be changed. He will now be called Cephas. “Cephas” is an Aramaic word that means “Rock.” In English, this name is usually translated as “Peter.”
When someone is given a new name, this often means that they are also given a new mission and new vocation in life. For example, in the Christian tradition, we receive new names at Baptism or Confirmation. Additionally, when a man or woman becomes a monk or a nun, they often are given a new name to signify the new life they are called to live.
Simon is given the new name of “Rock” because Jesus intends to make him the foundation of His future Church. This change in name reveals that Simon must become a new creation in Christ in order to fulfill his high calling.
So it is with each one of us. No, we may not be called to be the next pope or a bishop, but we are each called to become new creations in Christ and live new lives fulfilling new missions. And, in a sense, this newness of life must happen each and every day. We must daily strive to fulfill the mission that Jesus gives us in a new way every day.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that God invites you to live a new life of grace in Him. He has some new mission for you to daily fulfill, and He promises to give you all you need to live it. Say “Yes” to the call He gives you, and you will see incredible things happen in your life.
Lord Jesus, I do say “Yes” to You and to the calling that You have given to me. I accept the new life of grace that You have prepared for me, and I willingly accept Your gracious invitation. Help me, dear Lord, to daily answer the glorious vocation to the life of grace I have been given. Jesus, I trust in You.
To Fast or Not to Fast
Monday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time
“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. Mark 2:19–20
The passage above reveals Jesus’ response to the disciples of John the Baptist and some Pharisees who question Jesus about fasting. They point out that the disciples of John and the Pharisees follow the Jewish laws on fasting, but Jesus’ disciples do not. Jesus’ answer goes to the heart of the new law on fasting.
Fasting is a wonderful spiritual practice. It helps to strengthen the will against disordered fleshly temptations and helps to bring purity to one’s soul. But it needs to be pointed out that fasting is not an eternal reality. One day, when we are face-to-face with God in Heaven, there will no longer be any need to fast or do any form of penance. But while on earth, we will struggle and fall and lose our way, and one of the best spiritual practices to help us return to Christ is prayer and fasting combined.
Fasting becomes necessary “when the bridegroom is taken away.” In other words, fasting is necessary when we sin and our union with Christ begins to fade. It is then that the personal sacrifice of fasting helps open our hearts once again to our Lord. This is especially true when habits of sin form and become deeply ingrained. Fasting adds much power to our prayer and stretches our souls so as to be able to receive the “new wine” of God’s grace where we need it the most.
Reflect, today, upon your approach to fasting and other penitential practices. Do you fast? Do you make regular sacrifices so as to strengthen your will and help you to turn more fully to Christ? Or has this healthy spiritual practice been somewhat neglected in your life? Renew your commitment to this holy endeavor today and God will work powerfully in your life.
Lord, I open my heart to the new wine of grace that You wish to pour forth upon me. Help me to be properly disposed to this grace and to use every means necessary to become more open to You. Help me, especially, to commit to the wonderful spiritual practice of fasting. May this act of mortification in my life bear abundant fruit for Your Kingdom. Jesus, I trust in You.
Keeping Holy the Sabbath
Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Mark 2:23–24
The Pharisees were greatly concerned about many things that were distortions of the law of God. The Third Commandment calls us to “Keep holy the Sabbath Day.” Furthermore, we read in Exodus 20:8–10 that we are not to do any work on the Sabbath but are to use that day for rest. From this Commandment, the Pharisees developed extensive commentary on what was permitted and what was forbidden to do on the Sabbath. They determined that picking the heads of grain was one of the forbidden actions.
In many countries today, the Sabbath rest has all but disappeared. Sadly, Sunday is rarely set aside any longer for a day of worship and rest with family and friends. For that reason, this hypercritical condemnation of the disciples by the Pharisees is hard to relate to. The deeper spiritual issue seems to be the hyper “nitpicky” approach taken by the Pharisees. They were not so much concerned about honoring God on the Sabbath as they were interested in being judgmental and condemning. And though it may be rare today to find people overly scrupulous and nitpicky about the Sabbath rest, it’s often easy to find ourselves becoming nitpicky about many other things in life.
Consider your family and those who are closest to you. Are there things they do and habits they have formed that leave you constantly criticizing them? Sometimes we criticize others for actions that are clearly contrary to the laws of God. At different times, we criticize others on account of some exaggeration of fact on our part. Though it is important to speak charitably against violations of the external law of God, we must be very careful not to set ourselves up as the judge and jury of others, especially when our criticism is based on a distortion of the truth or an exaggeration of something minor. In other words, we must be careful not to become nitpicky ourselves.
Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have in your relationships with those closest to you toward being excessive and distorted in your criticism. Do you find yourself obsessing over the apparent minor faults of others on a regular basis? Try to step back from criticism today and renew, instead, your practice of mercy toward all. If you do, you may actually discover that your judgments of others do not fully reflect the truth of God’s law.
My merciful Judge, give me a heart of compassion and mercy toward all. Remove from my heart all judgmentalness and criticalness. I leave all judgment to You, dear Lord, and seek only to be an instrument of Your love and mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
Grieved at the Hardness of Heart
Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
Then he said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. Mark 3:4–5
Sin damages our relationship with God. But hardness of heart is even more damaging because it perpetuates the damage done by sin. And the harder one’s heart, the more permanent the damage.
In the passage above, Jesus was angry with the Pharisees. Oftentimes the passion of anger is sinful, resulting from impatience and a lack of charity. But at other times, the passion of anger can be good when it is motivated by love of others and hatred for their sin. In this case, Jesus was grieved by the hardness of heart of the Pharisees, and that grief motivated His holy anger. His “holy” anger did not cause irrational criticism; rather, it drove Jesus to cure this man in the presence of the Pharisees so that they would soften their hearts and believe in Jesus. Sadly, it didn’t work. The very next line of the Gospel says, “The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death” (Mark 3:6).
Hardness of heart should be greatly avoided. The problem is that those who are hard of heart are usually not open to the fact that they are hard of heart. They are obstinate and stubborn, and oftentimes self-righteous. Therefore, when people suffer from this spiritual ailment, it is difficult for them to change, especially when confronted.
This Gospel passage offers you an important opportunity to look into your own heart with honesty. Only you and God need to be part of that interior introspection and conversation. Begin by reflecting upon the Pharisees and the poor example they set. From there, try to look at yourself with great honesty. Are you obstinate? Are you hardened in your convictions to the point that you are unwilling to even consider that you may be wrong at times? Are there people in your life with whom you have entered into a conflict that still remains? If any of this rings true, then you may indeed suffer from the spiritual ill of a hardened heart.
Reflect, today, upon your own soul and your relationships with others with as much honesty as possible. Do not hesitate to let your guard down and be open to what God may want to say to you. And if you detect even the slightest tendency toward a hardened and stubborn heart, beg our Lord to enter in to soften it. Change like this is difficult, but the rewards of such a change are incalculable. Do not hesitate and do not wait. Change is worth it in the end.
My loving Lord, this day I open myself to an examination of my own heart and pray that You will help me to always be open to change when necessary. Help me, especially, to see any hardness I may have within my heart. Help me to overcome any obstinacy, stubbornness and self-righteousness. Give me the gift of humility, dear Lord, so that my heart can become more like Yours. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thursday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time
He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. Mark 3:9–10
It’s fascinating to ponder the enthusiasm that so many people had toward Jesus. In the passage above, we see Jesus asked His disciples to have a boat ready for Him so that He would not be crushed as He taught the crowd. He had been curing many who were sick, and the crowd was pressing upon Him to try to simply touch Him.
This scene provides us with an illustration of what must happen within our interior lives regarding our Lord. The people can be said to have been single-minded in their devotion to Jesus and fervent in their desire for Him. Granted, their desire may have been somewhat selfishly motivated by the desire for physical cures of their ailments and those of their loved ones, but nonetheless, their attraction was real and powerful, driving them to put their complete focus upon our Lord.
Jesus’ choice to get into a boat and distance Himself a bit from the crowd was also an act of love. Why? Because this act allowed Jesus to help them refocus upon His deeper mission. Though He did miracles out of compassion and so as to manifest His almighty power, His primary focus was to teach people and to lead them into the full Truth of the message He was preaching. Therefore, by separating Himself from them, they were invited to listen to Him rather than just try to touch Him for the sake of a physical miracle. For Jesus, the spiritual wholeness He desired to give the crowd was of much greater significance than any physical healing He also gave.
In our own lives, Jesus may “separate” Himself from us in somewhat superficial ways so that we will be more open to the deeper and more transforming purpose of His life. For example, He may remove certain feelings of consolation or permit us to encounter some trial through which He seems to be less present to us. But when this happens, it is always so that we will turn to Him on a deeper level of trust and openness so as to be drawn more deeply into a relationship of love.
Reflect, today, upon how single-minded your devotion is to our Lord. From there, ponder, also, if you are more attached to the good feelings and consolations you seek or if your devotion is deeper, focused more on the transforming message our Lord wants to preach to you. See yourself on that shore, listening to Jesus speak, and allow His holy words to transform your life more deeply.
My saving God, I turn to You, this day, and seek to be single-minded in my love and devotion to You. Help me, first and foremost, to listen to Your transforming Word and to allow that Word to become the central focus of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Confronting Evil with the Gospel
Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. Mark 3:14–15
The Twelve Apostles were first called by Jesus and then sent to preach with authority. The authority they were given was for the purpose of driving out demons. But how did they do that? It’s interesting to note that the authority they were given over demons was, in part, associated with their commission to preach. And though there are some recorded instances in the Scriptures of the Apostles driving out demons directly by command, it should also be understood that the preaching of the Gospel with the authority of Christ has a direct effect of driving out demons.
Demons are fallen angels. But even in their fallen state, they retain the natural powers they have, such as the power of influence and suggestion. They seek to communicate with us to deceive us and draw us away from Christ. The good angels, of course, also exercise this same natural power for our good. Our guardian angels, for example, constantly seek to communicate to us the truths of God and His grace. The angelic battle for good and evil is real, and as Christians we must be aware of this reality.
One of the greatest ways to confront satan and his demons is to listen to the Truth and to proclaim it with the authority of Christ. Though the Apostles were given a special authority for their preaching, every Christian, by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, is entrusted with the message of the Gospel to proclaim in various ways. And with that authority, we must constantly strive to bring forth the Kingdom of God. Doing so will have a direct impact on the diminishment of the kingdom of satan.
Reflect, today, upon your duty to share the Gospel with others. Sometimes this is done by an explicit sharing of the message of Jesus Christ, and at other times the message is shared more by our actions and virtue. But every Christian is entrusted with this mission and must learn to fulfill that mission with true authority, knowing that as that authority from Christ is exercised, the Kingdom of God increases and the activity of the evil one is overcome.
My all-powerful Lord, I thank You for the grace You have given me to proclaim the truth of Your saving message to those whom I encounter every day. Help me to fulfill my mission to preach in both word and deed and to do so with the gentle yet powerful authority given me by You. I offer myself to Your service, dear Lord. Do with me as You will. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:20-21
When you consider the sufferings of Jesus, most likely your thoughts first turn to the crucifixion. From there, you may think about His scourging at the pillar, the carrying of the Cross and the other events that took place from the time of His arrest until His death. However, there were many other human sufferings that our Lord endured for our good and the good of all. The Gospel passage above presents us with one such experience.
Though physical pain is quite undesirable, there are other sufferings that can be just as difficult to endure, if not more difficult. One such suffering is being misunderstood and treated by your own family as if you were out of your mind. In Jesus’ case, it appears as if many of His extended family, not including His own mother of course, were quite vocally critical of Jesus. Perhaps they were jealous of Him and had some form of envy, or perhaps they were embarrassed by all the attention He was getting. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that Jesus’ own relatives tried to prevent Him from ministering to the people who deeply longed to be with Him. Some of His extended family members made up the story that Jesus was “out of his mind” and sought to put an end to His popularity.
Family life should be a community of love, but for some it becomes a source of sorrow and hurt. Why did Jesus allow Himself to endure this form of suffering? In part, to be able to relate with any and every suffering you endure as a result of your own family. Additionally, His endurance of it also redeemed this form of suffering, making it possible for your family hurt to share in that redemption and grace. Thus, when you turn to God in prayer with your family struggles, you will be consoled to know that the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, understands your suffering from His own human experience. He knows the pain so many family members feel from first-hand experience. And He is able to look at every family suffering with the utmost compassion so as to give each person who asks the grace they need to not only endure that suffering but also to use it for good and for God’s glory.
Reflect, today, upon any way that you need to surrender some hurt within your own family over to God. Turn to our Lord Who fully understands your struggles and invite His powerful and compassionate presence into your life so that He can transform all that you endure into His grace and mercy.
My compassionate Lord, You endured much in this world, including the rejection and ridicule of those in Your own family. I offer to You my own family and especially the hurt that has been present. Please come and redeem all family struggles and bring healing and hope to me and to all those who need it the most. Jesus, I trust in You.