6th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the Lord make a second covenant with Noah and all living beings after the waters of the Flood subside, a covenant marked forever by the rainbow, symbolizing that the Lord has hung up his bow (and arrow, so to speak) and will no longer wage war on the living via flood. Even today the dove, the olive branch, and the rainbow are symbols for peace, all images taken from Genesis.

The Lord reminds us today that all plants and animals are given to us as sustenance, but also that we must use and treat them responsibly. Shedding blood simply for its own sake is an abuse of life, and the Lord says we’ll be accountable for it. Food is a gift to us from God. Like Noah, we should acknowledge that with thanksgiving. The Lord also puts the blood of mankind on a different level: mankind has been made in the image of God, therefore striking down man is an offense to God as well as man.

Let’s say grace at meals today with a renewed spirit of Thanksgiving for the gift of sustenance.

Readings: Genesis 9:1–13; Psalm 102:16–23, 29; Mark 8:27–33. See also 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C.

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

Today’s Gospel recalls a miracle, but with a bit of a yuck factor. Why does Our Lord have to put spittle in the eyes of the blind man in order to heal him? In that moment of history the spittle of a holy man was believed to have healing properties. It shouldn’t shock us that healing sometimes requires distasteful things: visiting a doctor’s office or a hospital when you’re ailing is rarely fun.

The path to spiritual healing also often involves distasteful things. We have to be nice to unpleasant people. We have to ask forgiveness. We have to cut down on the things we enjoy that are coming between us and our loved ones. We have to be more caring and concerned for everyone. We have to make more time for Our Lord. Like the blind man in today’s Gospel these things open our eyes, little by little, to the bigger picture and help us see that they’re means to an end. Things are not as distasteful if we see them as having a purpose: they can be a medicine for our soul.

The cure is not worse that the disease. Let’s embrace the cure Our Lord offers for whatever spiritually ails us.

Readings: Genesis 8:6–13, 20–22; Psalm 116:12–15, 18–19; Mark 8:22–26.

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year I

In today’s First Reading the Lord looks upon his creation and sees that it is almost completely polluted by sin. It renders his creation so ugly that he wonders if it would have been better to not have created it at all. Sin is like pollution and toxic waste; it seems containable at first, but with neglect it grows to such proportions that it becomes more of a question of containment than eradication. Yet it started small.

The Lord decides that it is easier to contain the last unstained elements of his creation in order to protect them and start anew. The Ark is to protect them from the evil that has overcome the land. However, he does not just seek containment; like a car wash at a gas station, it’s windows up and closed while the Lord washes away the muck of sin. The flood is considered a pre-configuration of Baptism; just as the flood washed away the sin and its pollution from the earth, Baptism washes away all the filth in us due to Original Sin and our own sins.

We were born into a polluted world. Our Lord has the remedy. Once we’ve cleansed ourselves through his grace, let’s keep it clean.

Readings: Genesis 6:5–8, 7:1–5, 10; Psalm 29:1a, 2, 3ac, 9c–10; Mark 8:14–21. 

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year I

Last Friday we recalled the sad moment when sin entered into the world, and with today’s First Reading we recall when death entered into the world for the first time. It was about as unnatural a death as you can imagine, an older brother killing his younger brother out of envy and anger. Abel had done nothing other than be pleasing to God. Cain was more complicated; he didn’t give the best of what he had to God, and God called him out on it. Yet he didn’t blame God; he blamed Abel for making him look bad. The Lord tried to explain to him that the true cause of his resentment and gloom was that he didn’t do a good job. It was not too late to change for the better, and Cain was in spiritual danger if he didn’t.

Cain failed on so many levels. An older brother should watch over his younger brother, and he killed him instead. Cain owed the Lord the best of everything, and he gave him second best. The Lord gave him good advice, and he ignored it. This was the second time in salvation history, but it wouldn’t be the last. The deep sigh today of Our Lord in today’s Gospel is the sigh of a big brother who does want his brothers and sisters to do the best, and to help them do it, even when they don’t.

Let’s turn to our big brother today knowing he will always watch out for us, and with his advice, we’ll never let him down or our Father.

Readings: Genesis 4:1–15, 25; Psalm 50:1, 8, 16b–17, 20–21; Mark 8:11–13.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s First Reading Sirach reminds us that our life, from here to eternity, is built on our choices. The Lord created us as free beings, but with freedom comes responsibility. We always have to “own” what we have done and what we have failed to do, which is why we make a Penitential Act at the start of every celebration of the Eucharist. Sirach doesn’t just remind us today that we’re free to choose; he encourages us to make the right choices. God’s commandments reflect God’s wisdom, and that not only makes them good choices, but the best choices, even if sometimes in the uncertainty of faith we have to trust in God in making his choices our choices.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that our choices shouldn’t be done just out of obligation, but out of love. They have to be choices made from the heart or they’ll never achieve their full potential.The world has a wisdom to it, but its surface has to be scratched to realize how superficial that wisdom can be. Sometimes scratching below the surface reveals “wisdom” to be folly. The best attitude of a wise man is to acknowledge how much he doesn’t know. That’s what makes him always continue to seek wisdom. Wisdom is not just an accumulation of information; it is an insight into the big picture. God not only has the big picture, he “painted” it, and he unveils it little by little if we pay attention and seek to learn. However, Paul gives us a shortcut to getting the big picture: love. We’ve been created by God out of love and all he wants in return is our love. He wants it, but love is incredible in that you can’t make someone love you: it’s the greatest and freest choice you can make. A hint of coercion and it’s not love. Nobody who has chosen not to love is every truly happy.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that all the commandments have a purpose and reflect a wisdom that can shape our lives for the better if we choose to observe them from the heart. In his discourse he is also calling out those who observe the commandments superficially and without heart. God doesn’t do anything pointless; everything is part of his loving plan for us. He hasn’t come to simply discard the old covenant, the “law and the prophets,” as never having had any purpose at all. Rather, he puts the old covenant’s purpose into context. In his own words he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them.

A common recurring defense today for a watered down life ethic is, “hey, at least I’m not killing anybody.” Our Lord reminds us that not killing anybody is good, but we have to go way beyond that if we don’t want to be Pharisaical. When we can say, “hey, at least I don’t hate anybody,” we’re getting closer to the mark. In a violent world maybe sometimes we look the other way in the face of a lack of kindness, but Our Lord today reminds us to go the distance and not only not kill anybody, but to actually be kind to everybody. When tempers flare and rash words are said the best thing to do, as Our Lord teaches, is to try to make amends as soon as possible and simply apologize. If we live a life of cruel and cold justice, focusing especially on the justice due to us, we’ll be in for a surprise when the eternal Judge brings us to “court” by the same harsh standards to which we held others. As Our Lord’s prayer reminds us, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Our Lord teaches us that chastity starts in the heart. The eyes are the windows to our soul, and if we start ogling and fantasizing a radical response is needed if we are to preserve our chastity and keep our hearts pure, since no one can intervene regarding the hidden desires of the heart except ourselves.

Our Lord reminds us that making a promise or giving testimony is a powerful thing. The promises we make give witness to who we are, and the witness we give is a testimony to how seriously we take our promises. We’ve all experienced how unedifying it is when someone swears something to be true, promises to deliver on something, and then is revealed to have lied or fails to deliver, and not just because of circumstances beyond their control.

When something is as simple as “Yes” or “No,” as Our Lord teaches us today, there’s no room for spin, for sophistry, for fine print, or for establishing little grey areas in our conscience instead of admitting we can or can’t deliver on something or whether we know or don’t know something. Our Lord gives a laundry list of things the people of his day were using as collateral to show how serious they were about the oaths they made. He also puts his finger on the problem: that collateral is not theirs, nor is it under their control. It’s not as common today, but when someone swears “on my life,” or any other number of things or people, we are put on a guard, exactly because they are swearing on something over which they have no control or ownership and usually as a way of convincing others of their sincerity.

A good choice is a wise choice. Let the wisdom of Our Lord shape all your decisions and your life will be a blessing.

Readings: Sirach 15:15–20; Psalm 119:1–2, 4–5, 17–18, 33–34; 1 Corinthians 2:6–10; Matthew 5:17–37. See also 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday10th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday10th Week of Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II10th Week of Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II, and 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.