22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord, by explaining that the prophecy of Isaiah that he had just read for them refers to him, tells his family and friends in the synagogue of his home town that he is the Christ (which literally means “the anointed one”). They weren’t just impressed by his eloquence; they were amazed, and they had heard of the signs that he had performed away from home. In the end they wanted to rely on seeing a miracle to really believe it: they remembered that he is Joseph’s son, therefore descended from the line of David (an important characteristic of the Messiah), but, as the Gospel of John recalls, people were also confused that the Messiah should come from Nazareth instead of Bethlehem (see John 7:42). They didn’t seek to understand and take Jesus’ words on faith; they wanted some flashy proof, or maybe just something to gossip about.

Jesus, using the model with which they were the most familiar, explains in terms of the prophets. He mentions two of the most flashy prophets in terms of miracles–Elijah and Elisha–but he also reminds them that those prophets worked their miracles far from home, when Israel was in dire need and also being punished for its sins. Gauging from their reaction they interpreted Jesus’ words as saying that they weren’t entitled to a miracle, that they weren’t in bad enough a shape to deserve it, and possibly that they needed to repent if they really wanted to improve their situation. As the account goes, they were not happy.

Our Lord reminds us today that faith is always the first step. He is free to affirm our faith however he wishes, because he reveals himself when and how he wishes. Let’s not get locked into expecting a certain thing from him in order to believe; rather, let’s listen in faith to whatever he wants to reveal to us and be grateful that he has revealed himself.

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; Psalm 96:1, 3–5, 11–13; Luke 4:16–30. See also 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s First Reading reminds us that the purpose of the Law is to enable us to grow closer to God and to show our intelligence and wisdom. In Jesus’ time the Pharisees had derived over six hundred rules and regulations from the Law, but had lost sight of the fundamentals: love for God and neighbor, not just ritual cleanliness. As St. James describes it in the Second Reading, in order to please God we should strive “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The world today believes that if something feels good, you should do it, but the world is also witness to how much destructive behavior comes from following that principle. We are wounded by original sin and our own sins; not everything as a result feels good that is good–addicts destroy themselves by trying to feel good. Lots of behavior turns into compulsive behavior that we can’t control: this is a stained heart that Our Lord wants to make clean again through love and mercy.

The Pharisees were focused on externals and had lost sigh of the bigger picture. Our Lord reminds in Today’s Gospel that defilement comes from hearts and endangers other hearts, and we should strive to maintain purity of heart, not just cleanliness. He gives a long list of things that come from defiled hearts and endanger other hearts, and they can all be traced back to someone going overboard in trying to feel “good” and dragging others into their behavior, even through their bad example. St. James in the Second Reading may have spoken of charity toward widows and orphans, but acting in this disordered way is also a lack of charity toward others, since it can lead them to spiritually ruin themselves.

Let’s ask Our Lord to practice charity with all our heart, not only caring for others, but treating them with purity of heart and encouraging them to do the same. In that way we’ll please God and remain close to him.

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8; Psalm 15:2–5; James 1:17–18, 21b–22, 27; Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23.

Passion of St. John the Baptist

Every prophet is a forerunner of the Messiah; he exhorts his listeners to repentance and conversion, but he also points to the future. St. John the Bapist was the last and greatest Forerunner to the Messiah, and in his suffering and death, his passion, he is a forerunner to the Passion of Our Lord for the sake of his people.

In John’s death we see sentence pronounced on many people without the Baptist having to say a word. For criticizing Herod for treating his sister-in-law as his wife John was imprisoned. He died over a girl’s dance, but also due to Herod’s fear of being embarassed in front of his peers. In dying for the truth John revealed the truth of Herodias’ wickedness, her daughter’s manipulation of her uncle, and Herod’s rashness and weakness, even though he was supposedly in charge. Should John have remained silent in the first place? He knew his mission and carried it out.

The example of St. John the Baptist today reminds us that we should not be shy about testifying to the truth. Sometimes that witness is not given in words, but it must always be given by example. It may not result in death, but it can result in character assassination or social isolation. Let’s ask Our Lord for the courage to give witness to the truth.

Readings: Mark 6:17–29.

21st Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that vigilance is not enough to be ready for that definitive encounter with him some day. Preparation is also needed to be ready for what can be a long wait. While in today’s parable preparation is necessary due to a prolonged delay, we can also see the need to simply be prepared. In the case of the foolish virgins the lack of vigilance along with a lack of preparation prevented them from doing what was expected of them when the moment came. Perhaps if they’d been more vigilant they’d have seen in time that they needed to get more oil for their lamps when the bridegroom was delayed; their initial mistake of not being prepared for a long wait would have been corrected.

Many people today have a minimalist idea of their duties toward God and toward others. They see prayer, sacramental life, and works of charity and spreading the Gospel as someone else’s job. They ask others for prayers, which is good, since we all need to pray for each other, but the parable teaches today that we have to be prepared and do our part as well. We need to pray. We need to have a sacramental life. We need to do works of charity. We need to spread the Gospel, and no one else can take our place. How much is too much? Jesus teaches us today that the real question should not be how much should we do, but how much can we do.

Let’s ask Our Lord to help us be vigilant and prepared for our definitive encounter with him one day through living a holy and generous life.

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8; Psalm 97:1, 2b, 5–6, 10–12; Matthew 25:1–13.

21st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord concludes his criticism of the Pharisees with a call to vigilance in the service of God. The example of the master returning to evaluate his servant’s stewardship can not only be applied to when Our Lord returns in glory at the end of time, but also to when we are judged by him at the end of our earthly life. We are stewards of everything we have received, and we have received everything, even life itself: not only material possessions, but relationships, the time given us, and the talents we have received. We are stewards of these gifts and Our Lord has great expectations for us.

Like the faithful servant we will be rewarded for responsible stewardship. However, there are consequences if we are not responsible stewards of the possessions, relationships, time, and talents that we have received. These passing things can enslave us and make us forget our obligations, and part of the pain that results from making them the end instead of the means is being separated from them forever due to our irresponsibility, like and addict deprived of his drugs. Jesus today encourages the disciples to be faithful stewards of the gifts he’s bestowing on them, not like the Pharisees who have squandered those gifts for their own conceited benefit and will have them taken away.

Let’s take stock of life today and see what gifts Our Lord has bestowed upon us and how he would feel if today he came and asked us to make an account for how we’ve used them.

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 3:7–13; Psalm 90:3–5a, 12–14, 17; Matthew 24:42–51.