Reflection for the Sixth Wednesday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 8:6-13, 20-22; Ps 116:12-13, 14-15, 18-19; Mk 8:22-26

Today we heard about Noah waiting for the land to dry out so that he could exit the ark. Just before our reading starts, the Genesis account tells us that the ark had come to rest on the top of Mount Ararat and that the tops of the mountains were visible. Yet, Noah could not yet leave the ark. He sent out a raven. It flew around until the was some dry land where it could perch—there was enough land for the raven to rest! Then he sent out a dove, but it came back—there wasn’t enough land for the dove to find food. He tried again after a week, and the dove returned with an olive branch—plants were growing again! The third time he sent out the dove, it did not return. The dove was able to find a home for itself! Only after all of this waiting was Noah allowed to exit the ark.

In the healing of the blind man today, something similar is happening. Jesus places his hands on the man twice before his blindness is fully healed. Why is this? Why could Jesus not simply touch the man once and heal him?

There are many reasons we can come up with, but the first I think part of the lesson in these readings is to teach us about patience. Noah had been in the ark for months, the ark was resting on the top of a mountain, and he still had to wait before leaving. The blind man encountered Jesus with faith, and knew he would be healed, but it still took some time before he was fully healed.

Everything in our lives takes time. Even waking up takes time! Like the blind man regaining his sight, we only see shapes and blobs at first, until later when we see things clearly. Trying to grow in good habits takes time, weeks and months even. One of the hardest things for me to do is to stick with a healthy diet. Until I have the patience and the strength to stick with it, it simply won’t change. When I see some delicious thing to eat, I have to remind myself that I don’t have to eat it right now. I imagine that Noah, his sons and their wives all wanted out of the ark as soon as possible—it had to have smelled like a zoo in there! —but they had to wait and persevere just a little bit longer, so that they could fully flourish when they left the ark.

Let us be like Noah and the blind man that Jesus healed, having enough faith in God that we can be patient and persevere through difficult things, knowing that God has a plan for us.

Reflection for Sts. Cyril and Methodius on Valentine’s Day

Today’s Readings: Gn 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 10; Ps 29:1a & 2, 3ac-4, 3b & 9c-10; Mk 8:14-21

The Gospel today is a little strange. Jesus is talking about leaven in bread. There doesn’t seem to be any context around this. The disciples appear confused as well. They assume he must be speaking of the fact that there is only one loaf of bread on a boat with 13 men. Jesus, however, rebukes them for thinking in this way. He reminds them of the two major feeding miracles that he had just performed. What, then, is Jesus trying to tell us when he said “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod?”

Leaven is the rising agent in bread. A little bit of yeast, and an entire loaf of bread rises. It is a tiny ingredient that has an enormous effect on the outcome of the loaf of bread. Without it, it will not come out correctly, it won’t taste correct—it won’t be good bread! If we see the bread as our lives, then the leaven are the tiny things we believe that we take for granted. We don’t know exactly what these would have been for the Pharisees or for Herod, but we can see what they are for us.

Today is Valentine’s Day in the USA. The feast of St. Valentine has morphed into a generic celebration of love. A modern “leaven” is the idea that love is just a feeling that comes and goes. It does not involve a deep, lasting commitment. This belief is at the center of so much of modern life, and it corrupts us! When there is no deep commitment in love, we cannot relate to each other properly and we cannot see each other as worthy of love. We are built to love. When we corrupt the meaning of love into something lower than it is, we lose part of what makes us human.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius (and the real St. Valentine, too!) show us a path out of this. Cyril and Methodius loved God and their neighbors so much that they created the Cyrillic alphabet so that the people could communicate with one another and so that they could read scripture. This was no simple task, and I’m sure that there were days when the saints wanted to give up, but they stuck with it until the end. True love is desiring the good for another, and the highest good is union with God. These men devoted their entire lives to bringing the un-evangelized people of Eastern Europe to God. It was difficult, and they were often criticized, but they persevered out of true love.

Reflection for the Sixth Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 4:1-15, 25; Ps 50:1 & 8, 16bc-17, 20-21; Mk 8:11-13

In the first reading, God prefers Abel’s sacrifice. A close reading shows that Cain eventually brought some of the fruits of his labor, while Abel immediately brought the best of his labor to sacrifice to the Lord. Cain is jealous. God asks Cain “Why are you so resentful and crestfallen?” God tells Cain that he must try harder and his sacrifice will be accepted, otherwise evil will overtake him. Cain decides to take option two, and kills Abel. God condemns Cain’s action, and further condemns anyone who might attempt to kill Cain. Already in the fourth chapter of Genesis, we are learning that God is a God of Life—not of death!

Today’s psalm ties in to the Genesis reading very wonderfully. The Israelites do not understand that God does not desire disingenuous sacrifice. We must offer our sacrifices to God because we love Him. The final verse of the psalm is, perhaps, the most poignant. “You sit speaking against your brother; against your mother’s son you spread rumors. When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? …” This strongly echoes the first reading, where Abel’s blood “cries out” to God, except in this case it is not even physical death. Attacks on a person’s reputation are condemned. Our words matter, and a verbal attack can be just as strong or as painful as a physical attack.

So let us be like Abel, offering our best to God out of love, and trusting in God to provide for us.

Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A

Today’s Mass Readings: Sir 15:15-20; Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37

The readings today are all held together by God’s law. The first three readings keep talking about how God has given us his commandments. In Sirach, we learn that man is given the choice to follow this law, and God never commands us to do something unjustly. The psalm tells us that those who follow God’s law are blessed. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that we must speak Wisdom, and that the Holy Spirit will teach us this wisdom, which is the law and the Mysteries of the Kingdom. But what is the law? The first three readings, for me, never told me what the law is, just to get ready for it.

The Gospel reading, finally, answers this question. Jesus tells us all about the law. We must follow the commandments, but not only that—Jesus challenges us to go further! Not only are we not to kill, but we must not even be angry with each other! We must be reconciled to one another in order to enter the kingdom. Jesus gives adultery, divorce, and oaths the same treatment: adultery is possible even by looking at another with an impure mind, divorce is not permissible as it causes adultery, and we must let our “yes” mean “yes and our “no” mean “no.”

Jesus spends more time on the topics of purity than any individual topic in the Gospel. Purity is essential for any practice of virtue, yet it is attacked more than almost any other. Only those who are pure in body and mind are capable of focusing on the things that truly matter. They are capable of seeing what things are good and bad, because they can see the true nature of the thing more clearly than anyone else. The beatitudes tell us that the pure in heart shall see God, so we should all strive for this purity.

Modern culture makes this nearly impossible. With the prevalence of pornography, “hooking up” and casual sex, divorce and infidelity, so many negative and evil influences pull us away from purity. It is a huge challenge to remain pure in today’s society. But it is worth it. When we are pure, when we can see things as they truly are, and when we can truly see God, only then will we be truly happy. Even better: when we are pure in heart: all the other commandments become easy. Our yes will always mean yes, our no will always mean no, we will be able to love our neighbor and to forgive those who offend us, and we will be able to see others as children of God.

Not only does purity bring happiness, but it allows us to more easily practice other virtues which bring even more happiness.

Reflection for the Fifth Saturday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Mass Readings: Gn 3:9-24; Ps 90:2, 3-4abc, 5-6, 12-13; Mk 8:1-10

I noticed two things while reflecting on today’s readings. The first is about the family of humanity, and the second about clothes.

God tells Adam and Eve that there will be enmity between Eve’s offspring and the snake from now on. Later, we find that Eve is to become the mother of all the living. The battle between evil and Eve’s offspring, therefore, includes all of us. In the Gospel, Jesus performs a mass feeding miracle. But this miracle happens outside of Israel. This is significant. Jesus is going out to the nations, and allowing them to share in the same meal as the Jews. By doing this, Jesus—the offspring of Eve—is beginning the process of reuniting all of Eve’s offspring into one Eucharistic family in the Church.

Later in the Genesis reading, we read that “for the man and his wife the Lord God made leather garments, with which he clothed them.” God himself made clothes for Adam and Eve. I’m reminded of a line in the Gospels where we are told not to overly concern ourselves with the future, for not even kings are clothed as beautifully as the flowers of the field. The passage is reminding us that God will provide for our needs. In Genesis, however, God is directly providing for the physical needs of Adam and Eve. God Himself is performing one of the corporal works of mercy—to clothe the naked! This is fascinating, and it also reminds me how important it is to do these things. It is almost built in to us to do the corporal works of mercy. We simply know that we should try and help the poor, the hungry, the naked, the dying. It is built in to us. Perhaps the reason that these things are built into us is because they are built in to God. We are built in the image of God. If God does these things, it should not surprise us that we desire to do them also.

love the sinner, hate the sin

Introduction

I recently attended a Catholic Men’s Conference, and one of the topics was love. In today’s society, it is not seen as a manly trait to consider topics such as love. In today’s society it unfortunately seems that to be manly requires one to be a womanizing philanderer with little to no moral compass. Hedonism and relativism seem to rule the perception of manliness.

This got me thinking about a variety of topics, but one phrase that kept coming back was “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I’ve never personally liked that phrase. My parents always told me not to hate anything. Therefore, I am hesitant to truly hate anything.

After thinking about the phrase some more, I’ve realized that there is a lot to unpack in it. In that simple 6 word phrase, you can actually learn everything you need to know about how to treat your fellow man.

In this series, I will present three primary topics: “What is love?”, “I am called to love?” and “I am my brother’s keeper?”

While my point of view is undoubtedly Catholic and I lean on St. Thomas Aquinas’ heavily, I have done my best to incorporate non-Catholic philosophers below. For example, I have found that Aristotle’s writings on several of these topics are most excellent.

What is love?

No, really, what is it?

Aristotle writes that to love is “wishing for [them] what you believe to be good things, not for your own sake but for [that person’s].” (Rhetoric ii, 4) Technically he calls this philia, which can be translated in a number of ways. In Greek, philia is a broad term of friendship, and includes love. Aristotle later writes:

[Love] has various forms—comradeship, intimacy, kinship, and so on.

Things that cause [love] are: doing kindness; doing them unasked; and not proclaiming the fact when they are done, which shows that they were done for our own sake and not for some other reason.

According to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

Combined with the writings of Aristotle, we see that love is not about the giver—it is receiver. Love often requires sacrifice from the giver to the receiver. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It becomes apparent that love will at some point require one to freely sacrifice for the sake of another. Love, however, is not just sacrifice. To truly love is to wish and to do good things for another person, not taking into account one’s own desires. Furthermore, all true friendships are based in love.

What is good?

If love is wishing and doing good things for another person, it would help to know what is good. Contrary to what many would have you believe: not everything that feels good is good for them, and not everything that feels bad is bad them.

I must start with the basis that it is possible to know the truth about things. Aristotle takes this as a given when he writes that “we have to start with the known, and ‘known’ has two meanings: there are things known to us, and things known absolutely.” (Ethics i, 4) Furthermore, he states that: “it is our duty to give first place to truth.” (Ethics i, 6) I may write an article on truth later, but for now it must wait.

There are two definitions of good. The first, most commonly used definition, states that it is plain and obvious what is good. Good brings pleasure, wealth, honor, etc. The problem with this definition is that it changes. When a person is under stress, they will change their definition to include stability. Some people think that being constantly entertained and not having to think is good. Some people think that good health is the only good. A better definition is needed. A person cannot wish good things for someone if what is good constantly changes!

The second definition of good is that which brings us closer to our final goal. It is not easy to always define what is good, because many people do not realize what their final goal is. Mankind does have a final goal, to be with our Creator after our earthly life is complete. (That sentence alone can probably spawn half a dozen articles.) The tricky part is determining what we must do to be with our Creator. Luckily, because we are able to determine the truth, we can figure this out.

This is where the Catholic Church comes into the picture—it has done a lot of this work for us. The church has had a lot of people with a lot of time to think. The church says that to be with our Creator, we must become like our Creator. We can do this by living the virtuous life, because “the goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” (CCC 1803) The four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. (1805) They are the basis for morally good acts (1804) We can strengthen virtue through education, good acts and perseverance through hardship. (1839) The three other virtues—faith, hope and charity—are theological virtues. These are virtues that we use to relate to God and inform us on how to live morally. (1813)

Summary

To sum it all up: to love is to wish and to do good things for others. Good things and actions are those which lead to a life strong in the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope and charity.

In two weeks: I am called to love?

Bibliography

The following sources were consulted but not directly referenced while writing this article.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3 “Life in Christ”, Section 1 “Man’s Vocation: Life in the Spirit”, Chapter 1 “The Dignity of the Human Person”:

· Article 5 “The Morality of the Passions”

· Article 7 “The Virtues”

Common Nonsense: 25 Fallacies About Life … Refuted, Rev. Cliff Ermatinger, L.C.

Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas, I-II, 18; 26, 4. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2.htm