17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s readings Our Lord reminds us that disciples know they always have something to learn and to pass along to the people that they help. Christians never stop being disciples; Our Lord always has something to teach us and is always there to help us.

In the First Reading Elisha, who was the disciple of the prophet Elijah, learned the miracle of the multiplication from his master. Elijah once asked a widow for the last bread she had to feed herself and her son (1 Kings 17:8-16), and when she explained her situation Elijah told her the Lord had promised to provide for them all, and so it came to be. Elisha in today’s First Reading was doing something similar, but because the Lord promised to help him. The Lord said a miracle would happen, and it did. Just as the Lord had helped Elijah and the widow, Elisha knew to encourage his servant to begin handing out the bread, and the miracle happened. Prophets of the Lord, just like his disciples, know they are working with the Lord, not alone, helping him to do something for souls.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that in caring for others, as Elias learned from Elijah and the Apostles learned from Our Lord, we’re showing ourselves to be good disciples who listen and learn. We have to stop once in a while and remember how blessed we are to have been chosen by Our Lord to be his disciples. Our Lord not only teaches us how to treat others; he also teaches us how to treat each other. He’s always been quick to address and correct disciples that argue about who was the greatest or seek positions of privilege. We’re called to a lifestyle that can be challenging, but he’s empowered us to live it through his grace and the sacraments: humility, gentleness, patience, and faith.

The disciples in today’s Gospel are proactive: they know from Our Lord’s question that he wants to feed the people who came to see him, and it seems he’s asking them to make it happen. Phillip sees it as impossible, even if they had enough money to feed them, due to the size of the crowd. Andrew at least starts asking around, but the resources come up short.

Both lost sight of the fact that Jesus said “we.” When we feel Our Lord is asking something difficult or impossible, we must remember that, like in today’s Gospel, he will be with us and help us. We never stop being disciples, so the Master never abandons us to our mission. We just have to take it one step at a time, even when sometimes it seems difficult or impossible. In the end, through taking things step by step and following his guidance, they helped Our Lord to make the miracle happen.

Have you felt in your heart that Our Lord has been asking you to try to do something difficult or impossible? Don’t think of the end game; ask him to teach you what first step he wants you to take, and then keep taking things one step at a time. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish working with him. As disciples he never leaves us alone.

Readings: 2 Kings 4:42–44; Psalm 145:10–11, 15–18; Ephesians 4:1–6; John 6:1–15.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel the Good Shepherd not only goes in search of the lost sheep, but they go looking for him: they know they are lost and Our Lord will care for them.

The First Reading reminds us that the Lord promised to personally shepherd his people after certain shepherds had mislead them, mistreated them, and scattered them. Israel’s kings had not shepherded the Lord’s sheep as they were called to do. When Our Lord sees the crowds seeking him out everywhere, he feels that same compassion, wanting to care for them and lead them to those pastures Jeremiah speaks about. Jesus is Lord and Good Shepherd.

Our Lord doesn’t walk the earth anymore as he did, but people still seek him. Why? The Second Reading tells us that the blood of Christ has drawn together people from near and far. Through Our Lord’s sacrifice we feel the call in our hearts to be united through him. Anything that separates us can be overcome through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross: we are reconciled with him and reconciled with each other.

Our Lord still works to gather his sheep and lead them to greener pastures, aided by the shepherds he has appointed. After Jesus’ Ascension the people would be seeking out the Apostles taught by Jesus in order to be united into the flock that always remains the Lord’s, as they do today through bishops and priests.

Today’s Gospel reminds us why Our Lord came down from Heaven. The compassionate gaze of Our Lord is the same as the one he had from Heaven when he saw his creation lost and disoriented by sin, hungering for meaning in their lives.

Even now, back at the Father’s right hand, he directs that same compassionate gaze toward us. Maybe we don’t see him seated before us and teaching us, speaking quietly to his disciples and asking them to take care of us too, but in every celebration of the Eucharist the same thing happens.

In parishes and chapels throughout the world we all form small groups of believers, but all those groups are gathered around Christ, who through the Blessed Sacrament can be with all of us.

The Word of God is read and its meaning explained by bishops, priests, and deacons who’ve been entrusted with continuing Our Lord’s mission to preach the Gospel and to care for his flock. Simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Life that eventually will end all hunger in us and satisfies our deepest needs. Let’s show our gratitude for Our Lord’s compassion by being his instruments of compassion to those we know who are in spiritual or material need.

Organizations with volunteers speak of the 90%/10% rule: among every ten people the organization serves, one of them volunteers. Do the math on the ratio between pastors and faithful and you’ll get the idea.

Every pastor is a shepherd who is laying down his life for you. Pray for our pastors and support them, whether at the parish itself, with a meal or treat, or a simple “thank you, Father.” As pastors we appreciate your prayers and support.

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6; Psalm 23:1–6; Ephesians 2:13–18; Mark 6:30–34.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that we, like the apostles and prophets, have been chosen and sent into the world to share the Gospel. One way in which we share the Gospel is through spiritual poverty, which puts the goods of this world into perspective.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Amos is accused by the priest in charge of the shrine at Bethel of prophesying as a scam to get some food. Amos responds that he owned a flock and sycamore trees: he had property and possessions and was not a beggar being creative in order to get some food. Amos was a prophet because the Lord chose him and sent him to prophesy, and, like the Twelve in the Gospel today, being a prophet doesn’t involve being well equipped or focused on making a living. Amos was chosen to be a prophet and leave his possessions behind. He may have been mistakable for a beggar, but he had everything he needed to accomplish his mission.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches us that we were not chosen to become rich in the material sense of the term, but to be holy and without blameless before God the Father, thanks to Our Lord. Only a worldly person sees a holy person as poor just because they are not swayed or burdened by material well-being. The Lord lavishes spiritual treasures upon the holy: the second chance of the Redemption after the Fall, the call to become his adopted children, forgiveness for our sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In choosing us he has also revealed his plan of salvation and our part in it. When we accept his calling we receive all these treasures and the opportunity to help others to receive them too.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches the Twelve that to be an apostle means to give a Gospel example in order to foster a more effective proclamation. One example is poverty. Today he tells them to take what they need, but to keep it simple. Our testimony of Gospel simplicity in the things we use is also a way we evangelize. We live this poverty in order to fulfill our mission as apostles.

This Gospel poverty also helps us to see the true treasure we possess, a treasure so eloquently expressed today in the Second Reading by St. Paul. Holiness is the ultimate happiness, even if it seems tough at times, and a great peace comes from having our sins forgiven, making us blameless before Our Heavenly Father. Let’s thank Our Lord today for all the spiritual wealth he has lavished upon us, and ask him to show us, in the light of those spiritual treasures, what things we really need, what things we don’t, and how we can best share them with others.

We can easily get bogged down by our creature comforts, if we let them. What’s something you could give up for a few hours, a day, or a week to practice voluntary Gospel poverty? Consider the one material thing you think you couldn’t live without and try living without it for as long as your resilience permits. Our sacrifices are just as fruitful as our prayers.

Readings: Amos 7:12–15; Psalm 85:9–14; Ephesians 1:3–14; Mark 6:7–13. See also 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

The dogmatic constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, reminds us that as believers we’re all called to exercise a prophetic role in our state of life, in imitation of Our Lord: “The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name” (n.12). As today’s readings remind us, this mission is not without difficulty, so we must carry it out with zeal and enthusiasm.

In today’s First Reading the Lord prepares the prophet Ezekiel for a tough mission: to be the Lord’s spokesperson to a rebellious people not disposed to listen. Ezekiel called out Israel, at the Lord’s command, for its infidelity and corruption in the period leading up to, and then following, the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C. The Spirit set Ezekiel on his feet. It spurred him to action, not just his own frustration and disgust with what was befalling his people. The Holy Spirit is very active in helping the prophet carry out his mission, and the Spirit wants to put us on our feet as well.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that me may not feel up to the mission, due to our limitations, but Our Lord makes his power shine through our weakness. The Church Fathers have had all sorts of opinions on what the “thorn” hindering Paul in doing his job was. John Chrysostom saw it as referring to the persecution and trials he suffered. Augustine saw it as some physical debilitating illness that was chronic. Gregory the Great thought it might have been temptations to concupiscence. The Spirit of the Lord spread and conquered hearts, just as it does today. All of these reasons are valid, even today, for discouragement, but St. Paul tells us today what Our Lord told him: you have all the help you need. Our “thorns” make our mission even more fruitful, and Our Lord will not let our mission fail because of them. We just have to keep trying and not get discouraged when it seems there are no results.

In today’s Gospel Mark describes the reception of Jesus’ message in his home town as like that of a prophet: unwelcome. In Jesus we find the mission of priest, prophet, and king combined. As prophet he is the bearer of God’s message; in fact, he, as the Word, is the message of God himself. In sharing the faith we as Christians also have a mission to bear God’s message and make it known. That happens through sharing our faith, through teaching the faith, but also by the very fact of being Christian.

It’s important to keep in mind something that’s fundamental to being a prophet: God is sending a message that people don’t want to hear. In being a prophet we can sometimes question whether if we’d said something more eloquently or done something better that message would have been welcomed more warmly. Today’s readings remind us that even if we do everything perfectly, as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, there’ll still be incredulous people. Let’s ask Our Lord today to be bearers of his message in our words and our example, and to help us not get discouraged in our mission of sharing his Word with everyone we meet, especially the ones we love.

If you’re shy about sharing your faith because you’re afraid of coming across weird: own it. Prophets are weird and counter cultural, because they’re bearing a message people need and probably don’t want to hear. Examine your life this week and see whether you’re just being “weird” at your parish or letting that weirdness shape your life everywhere. People, strangely enough, seem a little attracted by the weird. Help them experience Gospel “weirdness.”

Readings: Ezekiel 2:2–5; Psalm 123:1–4; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; Mark 6:1–6.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that in desperate situations even a drop of faith in Our Lord is enough to make the outcome exceed our expectations.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that death may be something we expected, but it was not something Our Lord wanted. The Lord created everything as good, something that would help us to grow and thrive. Death is a lack of something, so we can’t pin death on the Lord. Sin entered the world because the devil, already fallen, couldn’t stand that anyone wasn’t. Envy is best summarized as seeing someone’s gain as your loss. Sin introduced a destructive element into Creation, and that destruction led to death. Physical death is a consequence of the spiritual death cause by Original Sin and by mortal sin. If physical death is terrifying and horrible, spiritual death is far worse.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Our Lord did the exact opposite of the devil, and his response to sin and death exceeded everyone’s expectations. When we basically spit in the Lord’s face due to our sin he was gracious enough to forgive us and give us another chance. However, he didn’t stop there. He took the consequences of sin and death upon himself to destroy them. If envy is seeing someone’s gain as your loss, Our Lord saw our loss as his loss and left aside all the riches he enjoyed in Heaven and took death upon himself so that we could regain life. Paul talks about helping others when we’re enjoying abundance. Our Lord always has an abundance to share, if we believe in him.

In today’s Gospel we see two acts of desperation mixed with faith that need a little encouragement. Jairus, despite his position in the synagogue, is not afraid to throw himself at Our Lord’s feet to beg the healing of his daughter. The hemorrhagic woman has tried everything and decides to take a risk on Our Lord being able to help her, but without exposing herself. Our Lord permits circumstances that help them close the gap between what they want–healing–and what they need to get it: faith.

The hemorrhagic woman wants something good, and she received it, but she didn’t entirely go about it the right way. Touching a rabbi in her state was considered under Mosaic Law a ritual defilement of Jesus. She sought healing from Jesus but wanted it on the sly: she didn’t want to be his disciple. Imagine her fear and shock when Jesus knew that someone had touched him and received healing from him. She couldn’t remain anonymous; God is not an ATM, and we shouldn’t treat him like one.

In this case, being open about her need and the miracle had another purpose: Jairus’ hopes had been dashed by the news that his daughter had died. Seeing what the hemorrhagic woman had received with little effort and, after a little coaxing, great courage, helped Jairus to have the faith and courage he needed for Jesus to work the miracle for his daughter as well in the face of an impossible situation.

Desperate times are supposed to call for desperate measures but turning to Our Lord in faith should not be an act of desperation; rather, it should be par for the course. That involves taking a risk at times. 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. The hemorrhagic 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: Wisdom 1:13–15, 2:23–24; Psalm 30:2, 4–6, 11–13; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13–15; Mark 5:21–43. See also 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.