4th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

In today’s Gospel Jairus and the woman suffering from a hemorrhage teach us that if we take a risk and believe in Christ, things will exceed our expectations. Jairus risked his reputation as a synagogue official, trusting in a Rabbi with miraculous powers with the hope of healing his dying daughter. The ailing woman risked being the fool when she believed she could touch Our Lord’s cloak and receive healing unseen. Her healing and encounter with Our Lord were just in time to give Jairus the encouragement he needed when news reached him of his daughter’s death. Jairus still believed in Our Lord, even when he realized he was now asking for something much greater.

The mourners for the little girl were scornful and incredulous when Our Lord said the girl was only sleeping. As Christians we know Our Lord was saying something much deeper: death is simply a “falling asleep,” as Paul would later say in his letters, awaiting the Resurrection from the dead. Jairus for his faith didn’t have to wait until the life of the world to come to be with his daughter again.

The hemmorraghic woman didn’t expect she’d have to explain herself in front of the crowds. Jairus didn’t expect that he’d be asking for his girl to return to life. They took a risk and had faith in Our Lord, and he blessed them beyond their expectations. Let’s also take a risk of faith. We won’t be disappointed.

Readings: 2 Samuel 18:9–10, 14b, 24–25a, 30–19:3; Psalm 86:1–6; Mark 5:21–43. See also 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, and 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

In the First Reading, Moses promises the Israelites that someone like him will come. Moses after leading the Israelites out of Egypt and in the desert for 40 years is giving his last will and testament. He knows his time on earth is about to end. The one he promises will come is not just some simple political leader: Joshua is already taking care of that, and many leaders of Israel after him. The one he promises will come is an answer to their prayers on Mt. Horeb. They asked at that mountain to deal with God face to face, without the need for Moses or anyone else, and the experience of the enormity of God and their own inability to respond to him filled them with so much fear at that mountain that they asked that in the future they always had a go-between, a mediator between them and God.

The Lord promises through Moses that a prophet was to come who would speak to Israel on behalf of the Lord, and in the Lord’s name, a prophet from among their own kin. And he reminds them that prophets who don’t come in the Lord’s name or speak his words will die. This is part of something else Moses says in the book of Deuteronomy that we didn’t hear today: Moses offers two choices on behalf of the Lord: a blessing—life by living in the Lord’s ways, or a curse—death for turning to other ways. Each prophet of the Lord in the centuries to come after Moses promised the coming of this big prophet, all the way to John the Baptist. In the Gospel of John, when John the Baptist begins baptizing in the Jordan, the Pharisees, who are now the leaders of the Jews, come and ask him, “are you the Prophet?”: they’re referring to this promise of a prophet that Moses made. And John replies someone greater is coming, and to get ready.

When that prophet comes, it is Jesus of Nazareth, Our Lord, as the Jews find out today in the Gospel of Mark. They’ve waited hundreds of years, prophet after prophet promising them someone greater was to come, and then waiting as scribes and learned men kept trying to help them understand what God was asking them to do in their lives by reading and debating over scripture and the Law that they had received from Moses. However, all these scribes and learned men who interpreted the scripture and the Law had to play it safe: they knew they weren’t prophets of the Lord, and they knew that if they spoke something that came only from them, and not from God, it would mean death, not just for them, but for many.

In this backdrop, Jesus comes into the synagogue and speaks the word of Life, because he is the Word of the life. And the Jews are astonished, because he doesn’t play it safe, like the scribes: he knows he brings the truth, he knows he brings eternal life, so he tells it like it is. The one Moses promised them has come. Even the demons know, and they know that their dominion over the world is about to be seriously undermined, and they start howling, like that man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit. So if the conviction of His words alone was not enough, Jesus gives the Jews a sign: he casts the demon out of the possessed man with a few words, and news starts to spread around Galilee.

These words and events don’t stay confined to their moment in history. Through them God is trying to say something to us right here, right now, through Jesus’ words and actions. Jesus has come into the synagogue of our hearts and lives, and he speaks to us with authority and with power. Even the unclean things swirling around in us, keeping us from heeding His word, are telling us that Jesus is the Holy One of God. The unclean spirit in the synagogue didn’t say, “Oh no, this scribe is intelligent, he’s too eloquent, he must have a degree from the Biblicum or Harvard, he’s too smart for us”; the unclean spirit said, you are the “Holy One of God.” No force of evil can withstand holiness, because holiness is a gift of God, and it comes to us through and thanks to His Son.

Our Lord wants to bring us holiness. In every Baptism he casts out unclean spirits, in every Eucharist he fortifies hearts against evil, in every Reconciliation he reunites sinful man to his Creator, in every Confirmation he strengthens apostles for combat against the forces of evil in the world, and with every Christian Marriage of conferral of Holy Orders, He helps Christians respond to their calling from God and receive help to answer that call through living a holy life. It’s not something automatic; we have to want it, and it’s something we have to fight for every day, in season and out of season, striving to accept these gifts of holiness so that they bear fruit in our life through prayer, sacrifice, and a constant determination for the good of all. It’s not something we accomplish alone; God has sent His Son to help us every step of the way.

The words of St. Paul in the Second Reading today help us all to take stock of how we are responding to Jesus’ invitation to help us. St. Paul presents two categories of Christian, and what they should be focusing their attention on: the unmarried should be focused on the things of the Lord, and how to please Him; the married should focus on the things of the world and how to please their spouse. This advice helps each of us to measure whether we’ve invited Jesus into our hearts and listened to his word.

When St. Paul speaks these words, we examine ourselves. For those who are single, am I anxious about the Lord’s things and pleasing him? For those who are married, am I anxious about the world’s things, and pleasing my spouse? The one thing we shouldn’t be anxious about is ourselves. Our Lord will take care of us, if we let him in our hearts and heed his word, just as he promised.

Let’s answer the words of the responsorial psalm today, by promising not to harden our hearts to the Lord and to the needs of others. Let’s examine ourselves, in the synagogue of our hearts, and ask Our Lord to show us just one thing in ourselves or in the world that He wants us to change by working with Him and His grace. Let’s ask Our Lord for the gift of holiness, which is the gift of his life and love, and to be an instrument of his holiness for others as well.

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15–20; Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9; 1 Corinthians 7:32–35; Mark 1:21–28.


3rd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II

Today’s Gospel has a strong admonition regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. An unforgivable sin should give pause to anyone, but in this case the Evangelist explains what the Lord is condemning: calling the Holy Spirit an “unclean spirit.” Jesus works his miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit, but the scribes claim the demon Beelzebub is powering his works. A clearer blasphemy is not possible. Our Lord refutes their absurd logic: why would demons cast out demons? What would it benefit them? The scribes are so paranoid about Our Lord that their theories are increasingly absurd.

Let’s pray today that everyone receive the gift of faith to see the Holy Spirit at work and acknowledge it.

Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1–7, 10; Psalm 89:20–22, 25–26; Mark 3:22–30. See also 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings teach us that this fleeting world is just a stop on the way to a greater and better one that will last forever. If we get bogged down in the things of this passing world, we’ll pass away with them. The key to avoiding this is spiritual detachment.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Jonah begrudgingly warns the people of Nineveh that if they don’t repent for their sins they’ll be destroyed. The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, which is why Jonah did not want them to be saved, but the Lord did. The Ninevites didn’t even worship the Lord, but they believed he would follow through on his warning. They expressed their sorrow for whatever they had done wrong, and the Lord spared them. Repentance is the first step of conversion. Our Lord at the start of his public ministry, which we recall in today’s Gospel invited people to “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us that if we get stuck on the things of this world we will pass away just like them. Christian life implies a healthy detachment from the things of this world. Detachment is not the same as renunciation. It’s not always about giving things up; rather, it is about using them properly to help you from here to eternity. It means relationships that don’t separate you from your most important relationship: with God. It means not letting sorrow drive you to despair and self-destruction, spiritual or otherwise. It means not being so superficial and goofy in the light of your duties that you let down the Our Lord or anyone else. It means purchasing what you need, not necessarily what you want, resisting the itch of consumerism or keeping up with the neighbors. It means, in short, not treating this world as if it is the be all and end all of things, but as something to help you live happily one day in Heaven.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord begins his ministry with a simple message and recruits four disciples who would soon become his apostles. John the Baptist had preached repentance, like Jonah, and was now under arrest. Our Lord goes beyond Jonah, starting at Galilee: he not only preached repentance, but the Gospel, the Good News able to not just forgive believers, but to transform them and transform the world. He intends that message to reach the whole world. Our Lord presents an opportunity for forgiveness and transformation that should not be passed up: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

The Kingdom is not something that will come at the end of history. It comes with Christ (the King) himself and is meant to spread and grow, transforming the world. With Simon, Andrew, James, and John he took it one step further: he invited them to be his disciples and to help him with his work. It didn’t mean abandoning the talents they had, just using them in a renewed way. Simon and Andrew would now be fishers of men. James and John left behind their family, their business, and their colleagues to follow Our Lord. Ultimately all four apostles laid down their lives to show that Our Lord was the one thing necessary for them. No matter what level of discipleship to which you are called, it always implies leaving something behind for the sake of something greater. It means leaving beside sin as the road to nowhere, but it can also mean leaving aside good things for the sake of more important, spiritual ones.

Detachment implies leaving something behind for the sake of something greater. Here are some practical steps toward greater detachment that you can try this week:

  • Check your drawers, closets, and shelves and give away to the poor those things that you can live without. How long has it been sitting there untouched? If it’s been over a year, donate it. You don’t need it.
  • Do you regret that you haven’t spent quality time with someone in your life, or let a feud isolate you from a friend? Has someone done something you’re having a hard time forgiving? Reconnect and remind someone how much you love them. Forgive. Ask for forgiveness and say you’re sorry.
  • Spend some time reading Scripture instead of surfing the web or watching dumb videos on your phone (emphasis on dumb).
  • Spend some quiet time in prayer to examine your life and see whether the way you are living it would please Our Lord. Ask him to help you see beyond the status quo and strive to improve yourself spiritually.

Readings: Jonah 3:1–5, 10; Psalm 25:4–9; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20.

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings teach us that the Lord not only calls us to help him in his mission, but also calls to something greater.

In today’s First Reading Samuel, with the priest Eli’s help, gradually realizes that the Lord is calling him to be his prophet. Samuel’s mother was so grateful for having him after entreating the Lord to bless her with a child that she entrusts him to the Lord in the Temple. Samuel is precious in the Lord’s eyes too, and the Lord starts calling him, but Samuel is too young and inexperienced to understand what is going on. He turns to the priest Eli and, at first, Eli doesn’t understand what is going on either. We can imagine him groggily sending Samuel away the first time, then perplexed when the boy returns a second time. His advice to Samuel on the second occasion is good advice for any situation: listen for the Lord and tell him his (or her) servant is listening. Today’s readings conclude by saying no word of Samuel’s was “without effect” for the rest of his life. That was because Samuel became the Lord’s prophet. The Word of God has an effect, whether we accept it or not.

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us that, in Christ, we are already part of something greater, and what we do or don’t do influences more than just ourselves. Through Baptism we are joined with Christ and our fellow believers in a communion of life and love. Our sins not only have repercussions on ourselves, but on everyone with whom we are in communion. They hurt Our Lord and they hurt our fellow believers. Is serious enough they can even break that communion. However, on the flip side, the good we do not only helps Our Lord, but others as well. We are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, so what we do is for the good or ill of the entire body. We are also temples of the Holy Spirit. We bear something precious in us that must be cherished and nurtured.

In today’s Gospel two disciples of the prophet John the Baptist, at his encouragement, check out a Rabbi (a.k.a. the Lamb of God) and become not only his disciples, but his friends, and must share the good news. Two disciples of a prophet go looking for a Rabbi and find not only a Rabbi, but a friend and much more. Andrew and the “other disciple,” whom we presume to be John the Evangelist, don’t start grilling Our Lord when they meet him. Rather, they want to hang out with him. They don’t address him as the “Lamb of God” as John the Baptist did, just as “Rabbi,” an expression of respect and an acknowledgment that he has something to teach them.

He doesn’t try to impose any preconceived notions on them in response; he simple says, “come and see.” It is not just learning from him, but living with him. Andrew, as the Gospel recalls, “heard John and followed Jesus.” If he hadn’t listened to John he would not have found Jesus either. In following Jesus Andrew discovers that he has met the Messiah, and that’s not something he can keep to himself, so he shares it with his brother, Simon. The minute Jesus meets Simon he gives him a nickname—Cephas—and from that friendship a great mission would soon be born. Cephas—Peter—would not undertake that mission alone; he would follow Christ and share in his mission.

Take the “Samuel” challenge this week: not just once, but three times, take a few minutes of silent prayer this week and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” then listen. Listening here does not just consist of processing information, but of being ready to do what he tells you, even if it is hard. He may give you an entirely new mission in life, he may simply tell you to get your act together, but he will tell you something. If you think he is trying to tell you something, but don’t quite get it, seek someone who can give you good spiritual advice.

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3b–10, 19; Psalm 40:2, 4, 7–10; 1 Corinthians 6:13c–15a, 17–20; John 1:35–42.