Reflection for the Seventh Saturday of Ordinary Time

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.

Reflection for the Seventh Friday of Ordinary Time / Year I

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.

Reflection for the Memorial of St. Polycarp

Today’s Readings: Sir 5:1-8; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6; Mk 9:41-50

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.”

Reflection for the Seventh Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

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.

Reflection for the Sixth Saturday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Heb 11:1-7; Ps 145:2-3, 4-5, 10-11; Mk 9:2-13

Faith is at the core of everything. The Letter to the Hebrews goes through of creation, showing what we know by faith: that God created and ordered the universe, that we can offer fitting sacrifice to God, that there is an afterlife and that we are invited to share that with God. What do we have if we do not have faith?

Peter, James and John witness the Transfiguration in the Gospel. They are frightened. The voice coming from above tells them “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Why do they have any reason to heed this voice? It is precisely because they have faith—perhaps in the voice, but even more likely in Jesus himself. Then Jesus told them not to reveal what had occurred until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Why would Jesus not want them to reveal the incredible miracle of seeing Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus? I think it is because that sort of miracle can build faith in those who are ready, but it can also stifle faith in some ways. Instead of slowly growing in faith, understanding the deeper realities behind Jesus and his ministries, the Transfiguration would have given an almost supernatural faith. This is a faith to which few people can relate. The disciples had to grow in their faith—slowly and painfully—just like we do today.

Let us never lose our faith, and try to grow it little by little every day. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain: imagine what we could do if we let it grow!

Reflection for the Sixth Friday of Ordinary Time / Year I

The optional memorial celebrating the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order may be celebrated today.

Today’s Readings: Gn 11:1-9; Ps 33:10-11, 12-13, 14-15; Mk 8:34-9:1

We must not presume on our salvation. By building the Tower of Babel, the people of the Shinar valley were presuming to be greater than God. In the English translation, we do not see some of the subtleties in this story. The people say that they will build this tower to “make a name for themselves.” The Hebrew word for “name” is the same as the name Shem. Shem was one of Noah’s sons, and was a righteous man. He was the father of the Semitic peoples, and his descendants were their rightful leaders. Jew and Christians—as late as the 16th century—have understood the old testament priest Melchizedek to actually be Shem.

By “making a name for themselves” the people of the Shinar valley were intending to throw off the leadership of Shem and to take control of their own destiny. They presumed that they knew better than Shem’s line, and ultimately that they knew better than God. By confusing their language, God was doing the people a favor, because he shattered this presumption. They could no longer even communicate from one another. They would, thus, be able to accept the guidance of others.

We see a similar theme in today’s Gospel. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” We cannot presume to be in God’s favor simply because of our worldly successes. In fact, these often lead us to act against God and his plan for our happiness. Instead, we must lay down our very lives in service of God: we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus.

When we do this, we take up our true mantle as citizens of the Kingdom of God, which is present on this earth. Jesus promised that the Kingdom would come into power before all of his disciples perished, and it did. The Catholic Church, established by Jesus Christ, led by the apostles, and handed down through the ages by their successors, is the Kingdom of God. Christ gave his apostles extraordinary powers to forgive sin and distribute grace in his name. When we participate in God’s Church, when we fully become citizens of the kingdom, then we can call ourselves friends of God.

So let us take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus, so that we may all be friends of God, and participate in the eternal joy of his Kingdom.

Reflection for the Sixth Thursday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 9:1-13; Ps 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 & 22-23; Mk 8:27-33

God makes a covenant with Noah and his sons. But the parties to the covenant are not just Noah and his family—all of creation is party to the covenant. This is a theme that appears later on through the Bible: humanity acts as a priest of creation. By our works, we can sanctify and make holy all of God’s creation. No other creature can do this. This is something uniquely human. Even angels are only referred to as “ministers” in the Bible.

Humanity is in a unique place in creation. We are material: we have bodies; however, we are also spiritual: we have souls. It is because of this very fact that we can act as the priests of creation. We can make ourselves holy, and we can shape the material world around so that it too gives glory to God.

In the Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples to make a new covenant. It starts with the disciples seeming that they maybe finally get it. Peter replies “You are the Christ!” But this hope is quickly dashed. Jesus tells his disciples that he will have to suffer and die, but Peter rebukes him. He is not ready to accept that Christ’s death and resurrection might fundamentally transform humanity in a new way.

As humanity acts as the priest of creation, so Christ acts as the ultimate priest of humanity—most especially in the Passion, Death and Resurrection. By dying and rising, he destroyed death and allowed us to rise again. This is why what we do in this life is so critical. Our decisions don’t simply have an effect on us now, but when we die they will continue to affect us: every day we make choices that have consequences on our eternal souls. Because we are the priests of creation, the ones who are supposed to take all of the gifts that God has given us and use them to make all things holy, our decisions also affect the entire universe. Every sin that we commit, every good deed that we do, changes everything.

Our choices matter. They matter a lot. This cannot paralyze us, but we must always remember that each and every person has a unique role to play for all of reality. We should do our best to ensure this is a positive role! We also must make sure that every person who is conceived is allowed to be born, to grow, and to take on their unique role in the universe.

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 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.