7th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the Lord through Sirach makes a strong case for the benefits of having wisdom in your life. Society today has a tendency to seek immediate results in an immediate way–success, gratification, etc.–but often lacks the most important thing: wisdom. Wisdom is ultimately an insight into the big picture of things and the ability to apply that wisdom to life’s decisions, big and small.

As Sirach describes today, embracing Wisdom paves the way for being blessed by the Lord. He describes bringing wisdom into your life as a process. It can be unsettling, even painful, at first, because wisdom sheds new light on you attitudes and your actions, and part of that process is a realization of the foolishness in your life too. In yesterday’s First Reading Sirach taught us that the Lord is the source of all wisdom. He’s written wisdom into all of his Creation and when we discover that, we discover blessings and happiness.

St. Paul describes Our Lord as the Wisdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 24,30). In Christ we find the Wisdom of God incarnate. Let’s welcome him and his wisdom into our life.

Readings: Sirach 4:11–19; Psalm 119:165, 168, 171–175; Mark 9:38–40. See also 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.


7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Today’s readings remind us that Our Lord has taught us a truly human way of living, giving us an example in his earthly life so that we gradually learn to treat others not necessarily as they treat us, but as how Our Lord would treat them.

In today’s First Reading not-yet-King David is being pursued by King Saul and an army because Saul is envious of David and knows he will deprive him of his throne. David and his men come upon Saul and his army while all are asleep, and he easily sneaks up to Saul himself. This is the second time David had a chance to ambush and kill Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 24). David spared his life to show his loyalty, and Saul acknowledged that he would one day be king and stopped pursuing him. Now Saul was pursuing him again, and David’s servant Abishai was urging him to do what he should have done the first time: slay his enemy while he had the chance.

David kept to a code that was more important than political expediency: if the Lord has not struck down his king, David would not do so either. When he spirits away Saul’s spear and water jug he has every right to gloat, but instead he appeals to Saul to see that David means him no harm and has no pretensions against his rule. David knew, and teaches us, that if we seek justice, we must remember that it is for the Lord to mete it out, not us.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that we have been made in the image and likeness of God and are called to show it. The first pages of Sacred Scripture teach us that Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). Then they Fell. Hard. Even the fallen humanity ushered in by Adam and Eve reflected God, but it also gave him a “bad name” in Creation. Not only was the image and likeness disfigured in them, but they were too wounded and weak to restore it.

Enter the new Adam: Jesus Christ, who not only showed us the true image and likeness of God to which we care called, but filled us with his Spirit so that we were capable of living it through a life of grace, transforming a simply “earthly” life gradually into a “heavenly one.” With the Incarnation of Our Lord we see that image and likeness taking flesh to show us what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. If a transformation in the Spirit is supposed to be taking place within us, then it should be reflected in our actions and attitudes toward others.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel teaches us how we should respond to being mistreated, a response aided by grace and the Spirit, rising above the fallen earthly attitude of just responding in kind. If David in today’s First Reading simply respected King Saul and wished him no harm, Our Lord teaches us more: to love those are enemies to us.

We were all enemies of Our Lord when he died for us (cf. Romans 5:8-11). He was subjected to blows, scourging, spitting, and ridicule and didn’t respond in kind. He was stripped of his clothing and his life was taken from him. He teaches us to “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” but he qualifies that by saying we should not only love those who love us, but also those who hate us.

Do we expect to be loved? If we expect to be loved, why would we expect ourselves to be exempt from loving? What should move us to love instead is the fact that Our Lord and others love us even when we don’t love them in return. Not just as what is due to those who love us, but as the way to truly live in the image and likeness of God.

A serious obstacle to holiness is making enmity with someone a two-way street. Make a list in prayer this week of people who have wronged you or don’t seem to like you, either personally or as a Catholic. Transformation in Christ comes through effort and grace, so pray for each person on the list this week and make a conscious resolution to harbor no ill will toward them.

Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7–9, 12–13, 22–23; Psalm 103:1–4, 8, 10, 12–13; 1 Corinthians 15:45–49; Luke 6:27–38.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Today’s readings remind us that a relationship with Our Lord is not optional in our lives if we truly want a fulfilled and complete life. A life without the Lord is ultimately a life without hope. What he taught, did, and experience in his life has ramifications for ours from here to eternity.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Jeremiah describes the importance of a relationship with the Lord in terms of favorable conditions for growth and unfavorable ones. Jeremiah condemns those who put their trust in human beings and the flesh and turn away from the Lord, but believers are not mistrusting people. What is he trying to say? The example of the barren bush teaches us that trust in human beings and the flesh at the expense of Our Lord is ultimately a withered life that just limps along and subsists as best it can, monotonous and agonizing. It is a dry and arid life, compounded by the fact that human beings and the flesh are ultimately mortal and finite. Even putting your trust exclusively in those things is futile in the end: you’ll be separated from others and from health by death. Putting your trust in the Lord changes your life dramatically: it doesn’t mean you or others won’t follow the earthly course of life and die, but it does mean that you’ll have a new source of life that weathers adversity, even the adversity of physical death, and is not only subsistence living, but thriving in this life and the next.

In today’s Second Reading Paul teaches us that a life without the Lord is ultimately a futile life, because a life with the Lord is a life redeemed and transformed by the Resurrection into a life of hope. Paul is shocked when he hears Christians are denying that the Resurrection happened. He teaches them that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead it would not just be bad news for Our Lord, but for all of us. If Our Lord didn’t rise from the dead, neither would we. If death had the last word, there would be no reason to hope. Why? What does Christ’s Resurrection have to do with us today and every day? Our Lord’s life is so fruitful, like the well-placed plant in today’s First Reading, that it gives life to all of us constantly, even eternally, if we let it. He is the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep: we too, redeemed by him, will rise from the dead. However, that requires turning to him for redemption, and if Christ did not conquer death in the Resurrection, he did not conquer sin either, and we remain in a sinful life that is as finite, fleeting, and arid as the bleak desert bush of today’s First Reading. But Christ has risen from the dead, conquering sin and death not only for himself, but for those who believe in him. We now live a redeemed life hoping that one day he will raise us from the dead too.

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes and the consequences of not only living them, but ignoring them. The well-placed plant in today’s First Reading stays green during heat waves and fruitful during droughts: it draws on a deeper source that is undiminished by adverse conditions. The Christian who draws from hope in Our Lord, hope in the promises he makes in the Beatitudes, draws from something undiminished by poverty, hunger, sorrow, or persecution. He knows that there are bad seasons and good ones in life, but a good harvest will ultimately come. Luke’s account also recalls Our Lord’s warning to those who would put their trust in other things, like the barren plant of today’s First Reading. Those who trust in riches, a full belly, a perpetual good time, and the flattery of others, separated from Our Lord, will find how fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying those things truly are in comparison to what Our Lord offers: a resilient life that thrives and blossoms in eternity.

Even in the spiritual life we can fall into routine and superficiality, but that’s because we stop making an effort to go deeper in our relationship with Our Lord. That enormous source of water described by Jeremiah today is the mystery of God. We can try to plumb its depths, but we never will. It never goes dry or gets stagnant. Dryness can occur in the spiritual life when Our Lord is trying to show us that we must go deeper in our relationship with him than mere sentimentality, than an empty stomach, a diminishing bank account, or sorrow. If we truly place our trust in him he will help us to spiritual grow with profundity.

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5–8; Psalm 1:1–4, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16–20; Luke 6:17, 20–26.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

All three readings today share one common thread: an experience of God’s majesty and power, a call to mission and conversion, and the need for God’s grace and encouragement to change and to accept the invitation.

Isaiah in today’s First Reading experiences a vision of God’s glory and thinks he’s about to die, and die as a sinner. Throughout the Old Testament a basic principle was that anyone who looked upon the Lord would die. The Lord sends the angel to purify him and then invites him to be his prophet. When Our Lord calls you to do something great with your life (and being Christian is something great to do with your life), a natural reaction is to feel your unworthiness, your nothingness in comparison to Who is asking something of you. Isaiah today needed to know that the Lord would “have his back.” Isaiah wouldn’t be working alone and unprepared: the Lord had him purified and would be with him on his mission.

Paul in today’s Second Reading recalls the core of the Gospel: that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and his own close and personal encounter with the Risen Lord. When he recalls his own encounter with the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he also recalls his unworthiness to be commissioned as an apostle, but by God’s grace he’s made capable of carrying out his mission. Paul persecuted Christians and was convinced they were abandoning their religion. Then the Risen Lord appeared to him, struck him blind, and gave him “quiet time” to process what had happened. One of the most humiliating experiences anyone can have is realizing that you were completely wrong about something, compounded by the fact that you know everyone’s going to find out you were wrong. Worse still, Paul received a special revelation that he had actually been hindering Our Lord’s mission and not really embracing the mission Our Lord had sown in his heart. Paul sees his mission of being an apostle as a great work of Our Lord’s grace, not just his own merits.

In today’s Gospel, upon seeing the miraculous catch of fish that makes him go from calling Jesus “Master” to calling him “Lord,” Peter acknowledges his sinfulness and unworthiness for what Our Lord is asking him. Throughout the Gospel we see faith and fear mixed in the man who would become, after Jesus’ Resurrection, the leader of the Apostles and the vicar of Christ on earth. After a long night of fishing an itinerant rabbi asks to use his boat and take advantage of the natural acoustics of being out on the water, also giving his listeners a better view. Was Peter hoping Jesus would give him something? Was he performing an act of charity? The Gospel account isn’t clear, but he let Our Lord into his boat and, in a certain sense, into his world. As Peter soon found out, Jesus expected something much greater from him. We don’t know if he listened to much of Our Lord’s teaching as he sat in his boat, since he was tired after a long night of fishing, but Jesus encouraged him to cast out the nets and Peter responded with trust, even if maybe he was just humoring him. The amazing catch was a response to Peter in a language he could understand. In that moment he realized Our Lord was asking him for far more than a shuttle service, and that he was not just another itinerant rabbi. Suddenly Peter knew that Our Lord understood his world too. Peter knew his weakness, but Our Lord knew it too. In the end, even though it presented a few more hurdles, Peter’s weakness did not prevent either of them from accomplishing their mission.

Our Lord wants to step into your world, just like he stepped into Peter’s boat. He wants to build the bridge between yours and his. However, he expresses this by way of invitation, and, no matter what your anxiety and concerns, accept his invitation and he will help you succeed. It was not easy for Isaiah, Paul, or Peter either, but it will be more fulfilling than you could have ever imagined possible.

Readings: Isaiah 6:1–2a, 3–8; Psalm 138:1–5, 7–8; 1 Corinthians 15:1–11; Luke 5:1–11. See also 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 1st Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that truth and love go hand in hand, and that can sometimes call for a strong love. A weak love fades when things get tough and proves itself to not be love at all.

In the today’s First Reading Jeremiah receives a mission to be a bearer of a message to his own people that they don’t want to hear: an unpleasant truth regarding their immediate political future and military fortunes. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritatem (Charity in Truth) taught “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are … exacting and indispensable forms of charity” (n.1). The Lord encouraged Jeremiah to not to be discouraged and to be firm in proclaiming the truth. Before Jeremiah was even formed in his mother’s womb the Lord had planned for him to be a prophet testifying to the truth. The Kingdom of Judah, due to its infidelities, was going to be conquered by the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was told to deliver that message and to have Judah surrender so that their punishment is more lenient due to their repentance. It wasn’t just his opinion: it was the Lord’s will. Due to his message he was imprisoned, branded a traitor, and threatened with death multiple times. In the end Babylon conquered Judah and suffered all the more for it. It was not just a political and military mistake, but also a turning away from the Lord’s will for them that resulted in their defeat and exile. He wanted them to embrace a hard truth, but they didn’t love him enough to trust him.

In the today’s Second Reading Paul describes love as something that can withstand a lot of punishment. When it doesn’t, there’s a problem. Jeremiah loved the Lord and he loved Judah: the Lord was administering tough love to an obstinate people, and Jeremiah needed to be the messenger of that tough love, despite the hatred he received from his people as a result. A prophet is a spokesperson of the Holy Spirit, an eminently charismatic mission, so it’s no wonder that Paul speaks of the most important spiritual gift of the Holy Spirit: charity. Charity is a theological virtue that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts at Baptism and that grows throughout our life if with practice it and ask the Holy Spirit to help us with his grace. Other charismatic gifts and virtues are only revealed to be gifts from the Holy Spirit if the gift of charity underlies them all. True charity is tough enough to withstand adversity because superficial sentimentality often masquerades as charity until the going gets tough and instead of love we based our actions and attitudes on passing and voluble feelings.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord probably had Jeremiah’s mission in mind when he said a prophet was without honor in his own country. Our Lord’s childhood friends and loved ones wanted a stage show, not the truth. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, they expected a miracle from the Lord that they didn’t deserve. They considered themselves entitled to it. When Jesus’ love gets tough, by drawing from examples of the Lord withholding his favor toward a stubborn and unfaithful people, his former neighbors show the superficiality of their love, but Jesus’ doesn’t diminish a bit. He is telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. They loved the thought of what Our Lord could do for them, not him, and went from speaking highly of him to trying to toss him off a cliff.

Any truth is easier to accept if it is communicated in love. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritatem (Charity in Truth) taught “All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person” (n.1). Today’s readings speak to those on both sides of the conversation: those trying to communicate a hard truth to those they love, and those who spurn that hard truth. Let’s pray to be strong in truth and love when we’re called to share it with those we love. Let’s also accept with humility and love those messengers who help us try to see the truth more clearly as well.

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4–5, 17–19; Psalm 71:1–6, 15, 17; 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21–30.See also 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C,  14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, and Thursday after Epiphany.