29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel James and John want glory, and Our Lord wants to show them the path they did not expect would achieve it: suffering for the sake of others. Our true glory comes from the degree in which we give ourselves to others, just like Our Lord.

Today’s First Reading speaks of the Suffering Servant and the fruits of his suffering for himself and for others. The Suffering Servant is a prophecy of Our Lord, and the “cup” to which he refers in today’s Gospel is the suffering he knows he must endure for us. Suffering has a purpose in this case: through Christ’s suffering, his “descendants” will receive a long life, the Lord’s will is accomplished, and many are justified. Our Lord too shall “see the light in its fullness”: the light of eternal glory. No one likes needless suffering. We seek to alleviate it, but it is not needless if it has a purpose.

In today’s Second Reading we see the glory that Our Lord received for drinking the cup of suffering: he became our High Priest by sacrificing himself. Although not mentioned in today’s passage, the Letter to the Hebrews explains that Our Lord, in sacrificing himself, is consecrated a priest. A priest mediates between God and others and offers sacrifice to God on their behalf. In imitation of Christ, a priest also sacrifices himself for others, the greatest sacrifice. Suffering and trials are the path to glory for a disciple of Christ, but not senselessly: through suffering and trials we too serve others and give our lives for them to be “ransomed” from sin.

In today’s Gospel James and John are seeking glory, but they don’t entirely understand the path to it or the kind of glory to be won. Our Lord works with them; he doesn’t simply tell them they’re being ambitious and should focus on other things. Followers of Christ will be glorified if they persevere in the faith, but it’s the Lord who sets the terms as to what that glory consists of and how to get there.

We can contemplate earthly glories and they pale in comparison to what awaits us in eternity. James and John think they know exactly what they want, but it is a vision of glory tainted by their ignorance and by visions of earthly glory. Yet they are eager. When Our Lord asks them if they’re prepared to do what it takes to achieve glory, he speaks of a cup to drink and a baptism to receive: both refer to his Passion.

James and John were bold in seeking glory, and we have an advantage over them: we have seen the path to glory that Our Lord has traced out for us. Let’s seek the glory that not only benefits us, but others as well: a glory only won through suffering and trials for the sake of others in imitation of Christ.

As the other Apostles started to complain about James and John’s ambition, Our Lord taught them that they should serve and give their lives in ransom for many. All believers are called to do this. Through our service and sacrifice we help others. Make an extra effort this week to serve others.

Readings: Isaiah 53:10–11; Psalm 33:4–5, 18–20, 22; Hebrews 4:14–16; Mark 10:35–45. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.


28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel Our Lord gazes upon the Rich Young Man with love before he asks something of him that he knew would be difficult. The Second Reading today reminds us that God’s word has the sharpness of a sword, and, we can add, the precision of a scalpel: it finds exactly where the tumor is, knows where to make the necessary incision that makes our delusions fall away, but we must choose to go under the knife.

We too need to contemplate the words of today’s First Reading. The Wisdom of God is what we need; everything else is an investment in that for which we’re truly searching. The Wisdom of God is described like discovering the love of your life; everything else pales in comparison. Wisdom is more valuable than political power. Wisdom is more valuable than material wealth. Wisdom is more valuable than physical health or beauty. Wisdom is the true path to success.

In today’s Second Reading the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that nothing is hidden to the eyes of the Lord, and he can reveal things within us to which even we are blind. If the Wisdom of God in the First Reading is described as a splendor with which light itself can’t compare, the Word of God in the Second is described as a sharp sword that cuts through any pretensions or illusions we may have about ourselves or others. The Word of God is always meant to reveal something, expressing the Wisdom of God so that we see ourselves, the world, and others in its light.

Our Lord doesn’t see himself offering the Rich Young Man in today’s Gospel pain and sacrifice; he is offering him the path to a deeper love for God in exchange for the love he’s already received and shown. When the Rich Young Man tries to flatter Our Lord a little Jesus is quick to chide him about his motives for such praise, and redirects his thoughts to God. Our Lord is telling him that it doesn’t matter how rich he is, or whether he is good or bad; God’s love for him is constant.

If success and moral living don’t help us grow in our love for God, they don’t go far enough; they will not satisfy us. If the Rich Young Man had taken today’s First Reading (which did exist in his time) and replaced the expressions “prudence” and “Wisdom” with “the love of God,” everything would have snapped into clarity. The wisdom he was truly seeking from Jesus was an awareness of the love God had for him, in which every other good thing would pale.

He may have seen Our Lord as asking a costly sacrifice, but Jesus was asking him to invest the fruits of his success and goodness into something greater and for something greater. Our Lord looks upon us with love no matter what we do, but he also invites us to follow him, draw closer to him, and love him more. Many times we see that through a filter of losing something, sacrificing something. We too need to contemplate the words of today’s First Reading. The Wisdom of God is what we need; everything else is an investment in that for which we’re truly searching.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that if we try to please God and seek eternal life a moment will come when we ask a potentially scary question, like the Rich Young Man did today, “What do I still lack?” If the spiritual life is easy, it’s a moment to ask, like the young man, what we are lacking. We know Our Lord teaches us that we must lose our life in order to save it, and to take up our cross every day and follow him. The cross implies that tough choices for the sake of Our Lord must be made. If something separates us from God, it separates us from eternal life and any true happiness we could have achieved. Under the weight of this idolatry it’s no wonder that the Rich Young Man went off sad when he didn’t opt for Christ: deep down he knew eternal life was at stake, and he blew it.

Don’t be afraid to ask Our Lord the question today in your own spiritual life: “Lord, what do I lack?” No matter how costly it appears, it will lead to eternal happiness for you and for others. Take the next step and trust in Our Lord’s help.

Readings: Wisdom 7:7–11; Psalm 90:12–17; Hebrews 4:12–13; Mark 10:17–30. See also 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 8th Week of Ordinary Time, Monday8th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, and 20th Week in Ordinary Time,Tuesday.


27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings remind us that men and women are called to leave their parents, marry, and become one flesh. This image of a married couple as one flesh has captured the imagination and the spiritual convictions of believers from the dawn of creation.

In the Old Testament and the New, when a man and a woman come together in marriage they become “one flesh”: each becomes a part of the other. Eve is fashioned from the side of Adam to teach this profound mystery in today’s First Reading. When a man and a woman come together in a love of total mutual self-giving, it reflects the inter-Personal love within the Most Holy Trinity: when Adam sees Eve for the first time he recognizes a part of himself, someone without whom he would be incomplete, someone who was missing in his life. For those called to marriage God has blessed two people with someone out there with whom they can be complete, be whole. The Lord respects their freedom to enter into the marriage covenant with each other, and, for believers, promises to help them with the spiritual graces of the sacrament of matrimony. It is a big step not to be taken lightly, requiring preparation, but when that step is taken it will be a life-changing blessing for the couple and for everyone they love. Their parents wish them well as they start their new life together and, God-willing, become parents themselves. The beauty of marital love is why marriages in difficulty are so dramatic and tragic: something that is now “one flesh” is trying to pull itself apart. In the difficult moments it is important to remember not just the emotions of first love, but the fact that God has joined man and woman, and God will help them remain united; they just have to keep striving to seek each other’s good.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us about marriage in response to some sticky questions posed by the Pharisees about divorce to trip him up. Marriage was a complex issue back then, and it has not grown any easier in today’s society. This is one of the few Gospel passages where Our Lord sees the need to correct an interpretation that Mosaic law made; usually Our Lord exhorts a more profound observance of the Law, not a correction to it. He teaches in today’s Gospel that marriage is something established between a man and a woman, but it is also bond forged by God. As a bond forged by God the married man and woman also receive spiritual help in remaining faithful to each other. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were debating whether divorce was allowed for either a serious reason or a less serious reasons, as two Rabbinical schools at the time were contending, trying to interpret Mosaic law’s concession of divorce in some cases. Jesus responded that neither school was correct: divorce was not part of God’s plan “from the beginning.”

Let’s pray today for all marriages. Especially for those spouses who are suffering from a separation, and that marriages experiencing difficulty may receive the grace, counseling, and insight they need in order to resolve their differences and be faithful to the bond God has forged between them until death do them part. If you’re married, pray the prayer of Tobit and Sarah with your spouse before turning in for the evening (Tobit 8:5–9).

Readings: Genesis 2:18–24; Psalm 128:1–6; Hebrews 2:9–11; Mark 10:2–16. See also 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that sin is like a weight that just pulls us down, but charity, even in the smallest details, buoys us up and liberates us from those sinful attachments that threaten to drown us for good.

Just as the Lord poured out his Spirit abundantly on the elders in today’s First Reading, so he wants to pour out a Spirit of charity on all believers. The Holy Spirit is not easy to track by radar at times. He’s seen in what believers do when inspired by him. The two elders who decided to “skip” the meeting where also chosen to help Moses lead the people in the desert, so the Spirit of the Lord descended on them too. This reading was chosen today because it alludes to the first part of today’s Gospel, when someone not directly in Jesus’ immediate group of disciples is casting out demons in his name. Our Lord knows that someone is trying to help him, not hinder him. Any good done in his name will lead others to him.

St. James in the Second Reading warns those who’ve profited at the expense of others that any gain at the expense of charity is the deepest loss for them. The “millstone” for the unjust wealthy in the Second Reading is the wealth they accumulated and hoarded at the expense of others. The Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is a period of final purification from earthly attachments before a soul passes into the glory of Heaven (see Catechism 1472). The unjust wealthy will die unable to detach themselves from the very riches and lifestyle that is decaying and passing away before their eyes. If they’d used their wealth for the good of others they’d have done a far greater good for themselves in the bargain. That’s just good “business.” What they saw as gain was really their deepest loss.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us about the power of charity and the gravity of sin. Something as simple as offering a cup of water in acknowledgement of Christ is pleasing and powerful in his eyes. This should re-dimension the power of charity in our own lives. It doesn’t mean being minimalist—just sticking with a refreshments table—but being generous, aware of the power of charity on a greater scale to move hardened hearts, jaded cultures, and a cynical society. Charity provides enough “buoyancy” to keep us afloat and more: it lifts us up and breaks the chains of sin in our lives. Our Lord also warns us about the gravity of sin. Sin puts a spiritual millstone around our necks that one day will drown us in our bankrupt lifestyle unless we seek his help to liberate us. When we find ourselves in a situation of spiritual life and death a radical response is necessary to survive: it may feel like we’re hacking away a part of ourselves, but in that moment that piece of us to which we’re attached could cost us our spiritual life, because we want to hang onto it at the expense of our soul. Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us make a radical response in the face of our sins and return to the path of charity in order to unleash its power for others.

If the Mafia is infamous fitting people for “cement overshoes,” it’s even more tragic to realize that our sinful attachments are like putting on those shoes ourselves, pouring in the cement, and jumping off a pier all by ourselves. The Spirit inspires us to take little steps to divest ourselves of those things that spiritually weigh us down. Our Lord doesn’t just leave us to try and strip off all this dead weight, especially if we’re drowning. He buoys us up with his grace and mercy. Ditch the dead weight before you start drowning.

Readings: Numbers 11:25–29; Psalm 19:8, 10, 12–14; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48.

life preserver

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites the apostles, and us, to revisit what we consider to be the path to greatness.

Today’s First Reading imagines the resentment of the wicked when faced with someone who follows the path of wisdom and tries to share it, a path they don’t follow. The wicked have decided to break with tradition and head out in a different direction, but the wise man teaches them that they haven’t taken a different path, but, rather, gone off the right path. In today’s culture we speak of respecting other outlooks and life styles, but that doesn’t mean not telling someone they’re about to walk off a cliff or ruin their life. However, we also experience, when we do try to intervene, or simple show a different way of living, the same attitude as the wicked in today’s First Reading: jealously, resentment, and a desire to teach a lesson and show them who’s really right.

St. James reminds us in today’s Second Reading that jealously and selfish ambition only lead to discord. James teaches us that outer conflicts stem from inner ones. Wars rarely remain within the confines of where they broke out; they always strive to spread and conquer new terrain in order to fuel their ambitions. Similarly, our selfish ambitions don’t just remain in our hearts or in our living rooms; they put us on a path to clashing with others pursuing their own selfish goals. As St. James reminds us today, that path only leads to frustration, because seeking vain things is seeking empty things, and if those things can never satisfy us, we will always be at conflict within ourselves and with others. It’s a recipe for endless conflict with no end in sight. Loving the world to the exclusion of God is a road to nowhere; if we set our sights on the world, we set our sights on something that ultimately will fade away.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel describes the path to greatness today as one of service, and not just any service: the humble service willing to lay down your life for the benefit of another. Even an ambitious person can seek to perform some service to achieve his ends. When Our Lord gives the example of serving a child, it’s like a cold bucket of water dumped on the disciples’ selfish ambitions. Babysitting is not high in anyone’s book in terms of a career, nor nanny, and, sadly, even in some circles of society the vocation to be a parent is avoided. But God reveals himself in terms of family relationships, and Our Lord tells us today to serve that child in his name in order to serve not only him, but Our Heavenly Father who sent him. No matter how great we become in the eyes of society we can never neglect even the least members of it, because our only ambition should be to serve. Nor can we forget that if we achieved anything in our life it was thanks to our parents.

In olden times when you met someone for the first time you’d introduce yourself with your names and the words, “At your service.” That seems to have disappeared from modern vocabulary unless you’re hired to do it. Why not do some small act of service this week for someone from whom you’ll get nothing material or self-interested out of it at all? Good friendships often start with disinterested love.

Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17–20; Psalm 54:3–8; James 3:16–4:3; Mark 9:30–37. See also 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.