6th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II

Today’s readings teach us the right things to ask from Our Lord, and the right way to ask them, as well as the wrong ones. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel are arguing with Our Lord and demanding a sign to test him. Mark says in the face of this that Our Lord “sighed from the depth of his spirit.” They could have studied his teachings. The could have taken the many miracles he had already performed as signs. Instead they demanded a sign from him on their terms. In short, they didn’t believe in Our Lord, what he was doing, or what he was teaching.

James in today’s First Reading teaches us what we should ask for and how: we should ask for wisdom, an insight into the bigger picture that helps us understand, in the light of God, the world, man, and ourselves. We always need wisdom, and Our Lord is happy to give it if we ask in faith. The Pharisees demanded a sign and showed neither wisdom nor faith. James also teaches the wisdom Our Lord wants to share: to help the poor see how blessed and loved they are, and to help the rich to see how fleeting their pursuits can be if they are not in the service of God.

Our Lord is willing to share all the wisdom we could ever want or need, if we believe in him. Let’s humbly turn to him in faith and ask for just that.

Readings: James 1:1–11; Psalm 119:67–68, 71–72, 75–76; Mark 8:11–13.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings remind us that if God grants us something we should show our gratitude by glorifying him and doing his will, not running off and ignoring his wishes.

In today’s First Reading the spiritual and social consequences of being diagnosed with leprosy are laid out for the people of Israel. Even today when ill people show outward symptoms, regardless of how contagious the disease is, they are often avoided by people who don’t want to be infected. We have hand sanitizers at entrances to public buildings, and some people wear surgical masks in public. Some people even today see someone down on their luck (health issues, financial issues, family troubles, etc.) as being punished by the Lord for something they did. In the Old Testament leprosy was not just a question of public health and avoiding the spread of a contagious disease. The Lord punished sinners from time to time with leprosy (such as Moses’ sister Miriam when she questioned God—see Numbers 12:1-15). In the Old Testament mentality, a mentality still present at the time of Our Lord’s earthly ministry, sin and malady were linked, with the malady being punishment for sin. When a leper declared himself “unclean” so people wouldn’t draw near he wasn’t just saying he had a contagious disease. He was cursed by the Lord.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that we should do everything for the glory of God, or else we run the risk of working against him. You can glorify God in everything you do if you strive to do his will in everything you do. Not everything we do glorifies God. For example, breaking the Ten Commandments does not glorify God. Our Lord in the New Testament made it even simpler: love one another as he has loved us. Paul insists today that Christianity is not a social clique: we should show love and respect for everyone, Christian and non-Christian. We should act not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of others, in imitation of Christ and the Saints.

In today’s Gospel the leper received a miracle, but then turned around and did exactly the opposite of what Our Lord told him to do. He was healed and did not glorify God as he was instructed to do, despite Our Lord’s clear instructions. As a result he ended up hindering Our Lord’s work instead of helping it. Leprosy is really an apt metaphor for how ugly and detestable sin is. That man was avoided and rejected by everyone. It took courage for him to approach a holy man and ask to be healed. Touching a leper was ritual contamination. We can only wonder if Our Lord knew the leper would go out and ignore his instructions out of misguided enthusiasm. When he is stern it is usually because he already reads something in the soul with which he is dealing and is trying to get through to them (for example, the scribes and Pharisees). Word of Our Lord’s miraculous healing abilities starts to spread despite his efforts, and now even when he goes off to a deserted place, people come looking. Many are not looking for a savior or friend, but for a miracle worker. The leper was ecstatic over being healed, but did not work with Our Lord, and, inadvertently, worked against him.

We forget sometimes that the Lord doesn’t just work flashy miraculous things in our lives: he gives us our existence, our daily bread, help against the evil in the world, and the truth that will set us free. Our Lord knows those people in today’s Gospel have a deeper need that they are not addressing by just seeking the band aid solution of a miracle worker: they need friendship and communion with God to be truly healed and whole. Our Lord heals those who come to him, but he also knows that for many it will only be a band aid for something deeper to be addressed and changed in their lives, something he has come to address and to fix definitively. The leper by his actions showed he had only accepted a band-aid solution and not addressed a deeper problem: his friendship with God. Friends help their friends to do good, not hinder them. Our Lord doesn’t want to just be a miracle worker in our life; he wants to be our brother and friend.

Paul gives some great advice this week: do everything for the glory of God. Is there anything in your life that does not glorify God, habitually or otherwise? Make a conscious effort this week to take stock of whether you are glorifying God in everything you do.

Readings: Leviticus 13:1–2, 44–46; Psalm 32:1–2, 5, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1; Mark 1:40–45.

6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

On the Sixth Sunday of Easter we’re reminded not only of all the reasons for our hope, but the need to share those reasons with others as well. The Easter season has two weeks to go, and just as Our Lord ascended and left his disciples to continue his work, we have to be ready for the return to Ordinary Time that should be no less characterized by hope.

In today’s First Reading Philip is one of the Christians scattered by the persecution that arose after the martyrdom of St. Stephen, but that did not deter him or the Apostles from evangelizing. Philip may have had to leave Jerusalem, but there was plenty of work in Samaria. Like Our Lord, he preached and performed signs, and people welcomed his message. He cast out unclean spirits and paved the way for his listeners to be baptized. The Apostles had remained in Jerusalem, despite the persecution, but when they heard of the work Philip had been doing in Samaria they knew they had something to give as well: the Holy Spirit. Even today we don’t just receive Baptism; we receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confirmation. Baptism expels evil from us and distances us from evil influences, and Confirmation strengthens us to go out and share the Gospel with others.

In today’s Second Reading St. Peter reminds us that we must always be ready to share the reasons for our hope with others. We have received new life in Christ. It’s our duty to give others the opportunity to receive new life in Christ as well. This doesn’t just mean giving reasons, but showing in our lifestyle that hope has transformed us and sustained us. It is thanks to hope that we sanctify Christ in our hearts. It is thanks to hope that we don’t shy away from explaining the reasons for our hope to everyone who asks, whether they’re curious or skeptical. It is not just what we explain, but how we explain it that lends credence to our message: gentleness and reverence. Brusque and jaded Christians undermine the main reason for our hope: the love of God. If we’re mistreated as a result we are consoled by the fact that we’re imitating Christ in suffering for the sake of good.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord prepares the disciples, and us, for Pentecost. He may be ascending soon, but the Holy Spirit is coming in force. The Lord after the Ascension is only within view of those who have faith. The world had its chance, but without faith it was only a matter of time before they lost sight of Our Lord. After Calvary, as far as they were concerned, Jesus was gone. The Risen Christ appeared to those who believed in him. The Holy Spirit didn’t just come to us at Pentecost. Today’s words, spoken in the Last Supper, reminded the first disciples, and us, that the Spirit is always with us. Thanks to the Spirit we are never alone and even now, through the Spirit, we maintain communion with the Father and the Son. The love of God is the greatest reason for our hope, and the greatest way we can reciprocate that love is to obey Christ out of love.

Readings: Acts 8:5–8, 14–17; Psalm 66:1–7, 16, 20; 1 Peter 3:15–18; John 14:15–21.

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I

The first verse of today’s First Reading is a definition of faith that Pope Benedict XVI considered in his encyclical Spe Salvi on the virtue of hope (nn. 7-8):”Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” A realization is when something dawns on you, but it can also mean that something has been brought about. Pope Benedict sees this “realization” of faith, connected to hope, as some that occurred when the Lord had worked something in your soul, a first deposit on the eternal goods to come, which is why it also fosters hope.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews presents a simple thing to believe: that God exists and rewards those who seek him. If you don’t believe in God at all you’re certainly not going to seek him, and if you believe he’s indifferent regarding you, you’re not going to seek him either. Faith comes through realization: God reveals himself to us and invites us to believe in him, to believe even in the things he teaches and promises that have not yet fully come about, and in faith we believe him and that impacts our lives and decisions.

Many people today, if they believe at all, go through the motions of faith, but it has never really dawned on them that God exists and takes them into account. However strong or weak your faith is, ask Our Lord today to reveal himself to you. You will not be disappointed.

Readings: Hebrews 11:1–7; Psalm 145:2–5, 10–11; Mark 9:2–13. See also 2nd Week of Advent, SaturdayTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle CTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle B, and 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C.

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I

The story of the Tower of Babel teaches us in today’s First Reading that communication leads to communion, and where there is a lack of one, the other is soon to disappear. The people constructing the tower today shared the same language, but, ultimately, their plans reflected pride and egotism: they wanted to make a name for themselves. No society built on pride and egotism will last, because it never truly sets aside an unhealthy individualism as the expensive of others. The people at Babel had communication, but they didn’t truly have communion, and the world, plagued by the effects of Original Sin, had lost communion with its deepest source: God.

We can learn from this in today’s world, still wounded by sin, that communion is necessary for true progress, and communication is needed for that. It’s no coincidence that at Pentecost the Apostles receive the gift of tongues: it was a reversal of the disharmony brought at Babel. The Church seeks to unite humanity with its true source and foundation: God.

This teaching doesn’t just hold true on the macro-level of society and humanity; it holds true on the micro-level of family and friends. Let’s take stock of any Babel in our life today in order to restore communication and communion with the Holy Spirit’s help.

Readings: Genesis 11:1–9; Psalm 33:10–15; Mark 8:34–9:1. See also Thursday after Ash Wednesday, 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II18th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.