The readings today speak of sacrifices made to God and how he responds to them. I have two brief notes over these readings.
First: God accepts the sacrifice of the just one. It “enriches the altar” and “is most pleasing.” What is it that makes us just in God’s eyes? This is what the readings have been discussing recently, in fact. We should ponder how we behave and show our love for God, in whom love and justice are one. By our authentic and loving sacrifices of time, talent and treasure, we act justly toward God. We must also be just when we offer our sacrifice to God (which is done most perfectly by active participation in the Holy Mass) in order for him to look upon our sacrifices with gladness. One way to do this is to put our sufferings and desires, troubles and successes on the altar (in spirit, we can’t actually put these things on the altar!) every time we go to Mass, and offer them back to God every time we celebrate his Holy Eucharist.
Second: God repays those who offer pleasing sacrifice to him. “Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age’.” And before that, the author of Sirach wrote that “the LORD is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold.” But God knows the difference between an unjust sacrifice and a just sacrifice—one done to earn benefits from God (“offer no bribes, these he does not accept!”) or one done out of love for God.
The readings today encourage us to live good lives while on this earth. The author of Sirach tells us to “turn again to the Most High and away from your sin.” While we are in this world, we have the most incredible ability: the ability to use our minds and our consciences to change our lives. Angels have minds but the cannot change. Animals do not have minds and consciences, so any change for them is a result of instinct. They cannot change in the same way that we do, and they don’t have the everlasting consequences that ours do. When we change, we can affect our immortal souls. We move ourselves closer to or further from God, and thus move closer to eternal happiness or eternal punishment.
The importance of changing in this life is reinforced a few lines later. “Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High in place of the living who offer their praise? … No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived.” Once we die we can no longer change as when we were living. At that point, we have made all of the choices that we will be able to make.
Jesus tells us that living this virtuous life will be a difficult task in today’s Gospel. “For men it is impossible” to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, “but not for God.” God will give us the grace that we need, provided that we do our best to love him and to serve him. Jesus tells us that to serve God, we must follow his laws. Not only that, but we must detach ourselves from all worldly things and trust only in God. God will be our treasure.
Let us do our best to love God and to follow his laws, the laws he gave us in order to help us be happy. In doing so, we have our best chance at entering eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.
We can have only one master. Who is our master? God wants to be our master, but do we let him?
The Gospel today lists many other masters people can have throughout their daily lives: what to eat, what to drink, what to wear. All these things come from the material world. They are things that we think that we can control. We go about thinking that clothing, food, status, wealth are the most important things. They aren’t. Is it important to have adequate food, clothing and money? Yes. But when it becomes the focus of our lives—that’s when we run into problems. Why do we think that these things are important? Perhaps we think that because we can control these things, they are a measure of our self-worth. When we have these things, maybe we think that it shows what kind of job or career that we have: another modern measure of self-worth.
What about other people? Do we try to emulate the right people? Do we want to be like the rich and famous? Why is that life style so attractive? The rich and famous always look happy on the outside, but are they? I think not. The number of celebrity divorces, suicides, and the general malaise around Hollywood is a pretty good indication that something is wrong. But they have everything—why aren’t they happy? They have made power or fame or money or pleasure into their master. And if we want to emulate them, then we will do the same. And we will be unhappy.
There is a better way.
Jesus reminds us to look outside at the world around us. The flowers—what person is clothed so beautifully as a flower? The birds—are they not able to find food? But we worry about all of these things, and we don’t realize that God will work with us to make sure that we have what we need. Jesus asks, “Are not you more important than they?” Indeed, we are. Jesus promises us that if we seek the Kingdom of God, all that we need will be provided. The Lord has not forgotten us, and he never will. The first reading, in just a few sentences tells us that this is impossible!
“Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Is 49:14-15)
The Lord wants to love us, but to do this we must be open to this love. By serving the Lord, we are opening ourselves to his love, because we only truly serve those that we love. We may have a job where we “wait on” or “serve” somebody, but we aren’t really serving those people because we desire to do so. We are serving them for the sake of something else—to provide for ourselves or our families. By following the Lord’s commands and laws, we serve him. By stewarding the gifts that God has given us, we are serving him. God knows when we are serving him and when we are not, St. Paul reminds us that “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.” We cannot trick God, but we can serve him. We can serve him because we desire to love him. When we serve him, we open our hearts to him and allow him to love us.
So let us remember we can only have one true master: God. But he is a loving master, who rewards us endlessly when we serve him.
Today’s Readings: Sir 17:1-15; Ps 103:13-14, 15-16, 17-18; Mk 10:13-16
We get something very special in Sirach today: a creation story! Creation stories are not limited to Genesis; they appear throughout the Bible. This story focuses on the creation of humanity. God “from earth” created us “in his own image.” While we are linked to the material world through our bodies, we are also linked to God because we were created in his image: we have an immaterial and rational soul. The reading states that God “filled them with the discipline of understanding.” He gave us knowledge of the spirit. He filled our hearts with wisdom, and showed us good and evil. He created us with a desire for Him, and says to us, “Avoid all evil.”
This story emphasizes that God created us in a special way. We are not mere animals, but we also aren’t angels. He gave us many gifts: understanding, wisdom, knowledge of good and evil, and a desire for Him. We have these things because God created us in his image and gave us a spirit. All of us have this spirit; all of us were created in God’s image, even the smallest of us. When Jesus saw the disciples hindering the children he rebuked them! The children desired to come to Jesus, to love Him. They were more in touch with the image of God within themselves than many of the disciples, because they could recognize the goodness in Jesus and flocked to him.
Jesus then tells us that we all should embrace the Kingdom of God as these children. What does this mean? It means that we must learn again what many of us have forgotten: to avoid all evil so that we might recognize and pursue God with all of our hearts. Then we are able to follow the greatest commandment: “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Dt 6:5)
So today, let us try to love God with every part of ourselves.
Today’s Readings: Sir 6:5-17; Ps 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34, 35; Mark 10:1-12
The reading from Sirach today tells us to test our friends, and to not be too ready to trust them. It then tells us why: not all people who initially seem to be our friends actually are our friends. But when you find a true friend, we must cherish that friend. “No sum can balance his worth.” St. Aelred of Rievaulx wrote a short book called Spiritual Friendship. In the third part of the book, he outlines just how to do this: we test the trustworthiness of the potential friend slowly and by a progressive revelation of ourselves to him or her.
While this understanding of friendship is much more general than marriage, one of these cherished friendships should be at the heart of every marriage. “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure… A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy…” Spouses become a sturdy shelter under which a family can be built, and in which they can help one another grow. Spouses treasure each other with all that they have, with their treasury of love always growing. Spouses help each other get into heaven—saving the eternal lives of one another.
This bond of friendship is the bedrock upon which a marriage must be built. Mutual love for God and one another allows them to grow in these wonderful ways. The book of Sirach says that one “who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.” By loving God and one another, they become more like God every moment that they are together.
In marriage, this friendship is sealed by God himself in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The man and woman publicly pledge to God and the world that they will stand by one another, and work for the salvation of themselves and their brand new family. They promise to be the best of friends. God joins them together, and nothing may separate them.
Today’s meditation includes quotes from the Office of Readings for St. Polycarp of Smyrna.
The line about salt always confuses me. How does salt lose its flavor? It seems to me that salt would have to change into something completely different to lose its saltiness.
Well… Perhaps that’s the point.
When I’m cooking spaghetti sauce and add too much salt, I have to add more of the other ingredients. There is nothing I can do to get rid of the saltiness except to dilute it with more tomatoes, more herbs, maybe even a little wine.
Jesus says that we are to be “salted with fire.” Fire often refers to testing and temptation in the Gospels. So, we gain our “flavor” by how we react and respond to the challenges God presents to us in our lives. We can lose this flavor by diluting our lives with everything else. By focusing on the wrong things, we become watered down and lose what makes us who we are. Spaghetti sauce needs salt to taste right. We aren’t fully ourselves when we water down ourselves with the wrong things either.
St. Polycarp of Smyrna is a perfect example of this. He never allowed himself to become lax in his faith or to turn from God. He was a man in love with God, and he was willing to die for that love. He was burned at the stake, and when the pyre was lit it did not have to stench from burning human flesh. Instead, it had a fragrance “like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum.” Not only that, but “his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace.”
Whenever we sacrifice for God, our sacrifices smell like sweet incense to God. We become like gold and silver that has been refined through fire. I am reminded of Psalm 51:
“For in sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse, my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.”
On the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the readings teach us about leadership. Peter exhorts the presbyters to oversee the people, but not “by constraint.” They should not be stiff and tyrannical. They are to lead them by persuasion— “willingly.” He tells them not to profit from their position over the people, and that the best way to lead is through example. Leading by example requires the leader to be a good example. If I encourage people to pray, but never pray myself, and in general act like a person who doesn’t pray, it will be hard for them to follow me. If I tell people to eat healthy, and am morbidly obese, they won’t believe me. If I tell people to love, but then do not treat others with love, who will believe me?
Leaders must lead by example, and they must be with those they lead. If they cannot be with them, it is much harder to form the bond of trust needed to effectively be a leader. The bond of trust with the leader is critical, because it helps us know that our leader is on our side. He will not betray. Today’s psalm expresses this well. “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”
The Gospel today shows Peter’s willingness to jump out first. When Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am, Peter is the first (and only, I presume) to reply that he is “Christ, the Son of the living God.” For his faith in Jesus, Peter is called the “rock” upon which Jesus will build his church. He is given the keys to the kingdom.
This imagery and text ties Peter and Jesus’s relationship to the Davidic kingdom of old. David’s son Solomon had 12 ministers, like a presidential cabinet. One of these men was selected as the prime minister. He was given the keys of the kingdom—literally the keys to the city and the palace. Furthermore, when any of the ministers—especially the prime minister—spoke, it was in the name of the king and had the same effect as if the king had said it.
Jesus, by using the language that he did, made the 12 apostles the Davidic ministers of his kingdom, and made Peter his prime minister. Jesus’s kingdom is not just in this world, but extends into the next. While Jesus is enthroned in Heaven, his prime minister rules in his stead: Peter speaks in the name of Jesus on this earth. The Pope, the successor of Peter, must continue to rule by example and shepherd God’s Church through the ages.
May we all be examples to those around us. Even if we are not placed in a leadership position, we can still lead others to God through our good example. When we do this, we become the most important kind of leaders—the sort of leaders who lead people to God!
Today’s reflection is based on the optional Gospel reading for memorial (Jn 15:1-8) and the hagiographical reading from a letter by St. Peter Damian in today’s Office of Readings (PL 144, 473-476).
St. Peter Damian was a Benedictine monk who worked tirelessly for the reform of the church. But his first devotion was always to God. A man who did not totally love God and give himself over to God’s mission would never have been able to achieve what St. Peter Damian did. He reformed the monasteries, the clergy and even aided the popes.
In the Office of Readings today, St. Peter Damian wrote “some words of consolation” to someone he refers to as brother. He encourages the brother to remember that he is a son of God, that he need not fear.
“…for God’s chosen ones there is great comfort; the torment lasts but a short time. Then God bends down, cradles the fallen figure, whispers words of consolation. With hope in his heart, man picks himself up and walks again towards the glory of happiness in heaven.”
In this beautiful quote, Damian writes that while we may encounter trials, God is always there to comfort us. All we must do is remember to ask God for his help and comfort.
This ties in perfectly with the Gospel selected to accompany St. Peter Damian’s memorial. We are the branches on the vine of the Father. We are pruned so that we may grow and bear much fruit, but we are always connected to the Father. When stay close to the Father, and allow his words to remain in us—allowing Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to live and act in our lives—we can ask of anything and it will be done. When we are so intimate with God that we live in him and he lives in us, we will only what God wills, so it would be impossible for us not to receive those gifts for which we ask.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Today’s Readings: Sir 1:1-10; Ps 93:1ab, 1cd-2, 5; Mk 9:14-29
“O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?”
The disciples could not drive the demon out of the boy, because they did not have the faith. Jesus, Peter, James and John are just coming down the mountain from the Transfiguration—an intense experience of prayer for Jesus, and an intense confirmation of faith for Peter, James and John. The other disciples, though, weren’t there. They had faith, but not enough.
Jesus, after casting out the demon, explains to his disciples that prayer is required for this sort of demon to be driven out. But Jesus just said they did not have the faith necessary. Which one is it? Both. Prayer and faith work together. Prayer increases our faith, and faith improves our prayer.
This faith can allow us to do wondrous things, Jesus says it could move mountains, but it also can give us something even great: true understanding—the ability to see things as they are. Seeing things as they are—this is what wisdom is.
When has the story of the wise sage on the mountain ever ended with him telling us to do something in order to fix some problem? The wise sage helps his visitors to see clearly what they already know, what they already have seen in an obscured way.
Faith and prayer helps us to see God, who created all things and gave humanity wisdom. If we have a relationship with Him, properly established through prayer and faith, then we will be able to see other people and the material things of this world as they truly are.
Without humility, we are like tyrants. Without humility, we cannot truly listen to others. Without humility, we cannot endure suffering. Without humility, we cannot grow to be the man or woman who God created us to be. The readings today show us the need for humility.
The first reading tells us not to bear hatred for our brothers and sisters, to take no revenge and hold no grudge, to not incur sin even if we might need to correct them. Without humility, we cannot do this! The golden rule, formulated here in Leviticus as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is a call to humility. This is a challenging command! When I make a mistake, sometimes I am able to realize it, but many times I don’t even realize when I have done it. If I knew about it, I would try my best to correct it. In these cases, the only way that I can grow is for someone to offer me correction. That is why correcting a brother or a sister in Christ is an act of charity!
But without humility, this can become the act of a tyrant. Humility helps us to recognize that we all make mistakes. We all have faults. When someone corrects us, we desire for them to do it out of care and love. When someone corrects me out of anger, spite or a desire for power I can feel it. I do not wish that feeling on others. It is painful! It is hurtful! When we have humility, we can recognize our faults—or at least that we have faults—, and we allow ourselves to be corrected and to correct others in charity and kindness.
As I mentioned, humility allows us to truly hear others. Without humility, we may be tempted to assume that we our always right, and that others are the ones who need to change. Whenever I am driving, I know that I am the best driver on the road. If something doesn’t go my way when I’m driving, it’s never because I made a mistake. It’s the other guy, who obviously never learned how to drive and wants to cause a wreck. Humility, by helping open us to correction, helps us to recognize that maybe, perhaps, I was wrong. Maybe the reason people keep brake-checking me and giving me the “single-finger peace sign” is because I did something wrong while driving. Maybe I should listen when my friend tells me that texting while driving is bad, and that, really, 20 over the speed limit is a bad plan.
Humility helps us to be open to the input of other people in our lives. Paul reminds the Corinthians today that they must be open to others: “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool.” The wise one is the person with all the answers. When we think we have all the answers, we are not open to others.
Finally, without humility we cannot fully accept the gift of suffering. Suffering is not fun, and we should not seek it out for its own sake. But, when suffering is inflicted on us we have to deal with it. How we deal with it makes all the difference. Saint John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter called Salvifici Doloris where he searches for the meaning of suffering. Ultimately, however, why God allows suffering remains a mystery to us. This, in itself, is an experience of humility. We are called to recognize that we cannot and will not know everything in this life.
But we are not left alone in this struggle. We are not alone in seeking humility. God himself gave us the ultimate example of humility by suffering and dying on the cross. God become a human being. Think about this for a moment. The all-powerful and all-knowing God became a weak and defenseless baby, and then allowed other men to kill him. Nobody understood what God was trying to teach us until the Resurrection, when Jesus rose from the dead. God was teaching us that there is life after death—death has no power over us! But we must have the humility to accept that we will not always understand.
We also learn humility through suffering because we often need the help of others to endure our suffering. We depend on others emotionally or physically. We are forced to exit ourselves and become a part of the larger community. The best way in which we can do this is by joining our suffering to Jesus Christ Crucified. The Crucifixion was grotesque, and in addition to the physical suffering, the spiritual and emotional suffering Jesus must have been immense. My most intense experience of suffering and pain was not due to a physical torment, but from emotions. Something had occurred which did not initially seem like a big deal at first, but I felt a betrayed. I did not even realize that this feeling was growing and growing inside of me until it completely overwhelmed me a few days later. I could not focus on anything, and I was very distraught. People who knew me could tell that something was very wrong. After a couple of days, I was finally able to bring it to prayer. I asked God to help me understand what he is trying to teach me, and I did my best to offer it up to him—but this is easier said than done. Eventually, God allowed me recognize that what had occurred was ultimately for my good. It still hurt, but it changed me. For the better.
When we suffer we can join our suffering to Christ’s suffering, and offer it for the salvation of souls—including our own—and the redemption of mankind. In a way, suffering makes us co-workers with Jesus on the Cross in a very special and unique way. Today’s Gospel doesn’t call for us to be crucified—not here at least, but it does call us to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. These aren’t fun, and they often involve a little suffering. But these small experiences of suffering prepare us for the road ahead. They teach us the humility we need for the big suffering that will inevitably come to most of us.
Humility is fundamental to the Christian way of life. It can get us through our suffering. It can help us listen. It can help us be kind and compassionate in dealing with others.