11th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord directs our attention to the signs of God’s Providence in the present in order to not worry about the future. He could have provided for the oxygen we need to breathe by creating lots of molds and fungi, ugly green splotches, but instead he created magnificent trees, flowers and meadows that receive the sun and rain they need to grow and fulfill their purpose in the grand scheme of things in a beautiful way. Thinking about the future can be a source of anxiety and uncertainty if we lose sight of the signs around us every day of how God has created all things to be good and arranges them to help them achieve good ends and often in a beautiful way. He knows what we need before we even ask.

He has also traced out a path to goodness and beauty for our lives, but, unlike plants and animals, he has given us the gift of freedom and responsibility for our actions. We can work with him to help goodness and beauty grow and endure in a lasting way: not just the necessary needs of life that people sometimes worry about too much, but the sum of all noble dreams and aspirations in God’s loving and saving plan that he calls his Kingdom. Goodness and beauty for humanity are justice and love for all who choose to welcome them and strive for them in their lives.

Let’s not just ask Our Lord today for his Kingdom to come; let’s ask him to show us how we can help him to make it a reality.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 12:1–10; Psalm 34:8–13; Matthew 6:24–34.

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord puts us on guard against treasuring things in our hearts that will not endure and will blind us to the bigger picture: the true worth of things, the ones we love, where we fit in the grand scheme of things, and the primacy of God. Golden ingots and junk bonds both pass away, just at different rates and with different risks, and the true treasure we should be striving for is Heaven, which is not only eternal life, but a life filled with joy at spending eternity with the real treasure: God and the ones we love. When our hearts and gaze are fixed on that, everything else is put into perspective: possessions, situations, and circumstances all become means of investing in a joyful eternal life for ourselves and for others. Living a life of virtue expands our horizon and keeps us focused on doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people out of love for God.

Our Lord puts us on guard today against the alternative to a desire for Heaven and for virtue. When someone is in the grips of vice, we describe them as blinded: blinded by pride, by greed, by ambition, by lust, by hatred, etc. That blinding process begins with a sort of vitiated myopia that fixes the heart on something secondary, blurring everything else in view, distorting our vision and blinding us to the bigger picture. People often in the grips of vice cannot see a way out of their situation: it seems impossible to them to change. The help and example of virtuous people is that ray of sunshine that they need to entertain the thought of a way out of their predicament and start bringing things again into proper focus. If vice narrows our view and our heart, virtue expands them again to all the rich possibilities of life from here to eternity.

Let’s thank Our Lord today for all the examples of virtue we’ve seen in our lives, and ask him to help us broaden our horizons again if we’re suffering from spiritual myopia.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 11:18, 21–30; Psalm 34:2–7; Matthew 6:19–23.

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord puts us on guard against turning our prayer into babble. Babble is a stream of words without any apparent meaning, but when we hear a child babble or a mentally handicapped person babbling we know that we may not understand what they are trying to communicate, but they are trying to communicate. Prayer can become babble because we recite the prayers that were handed along to us, but the words to us lose their meaning and we just recite them out of habit or obligation. Our Lord understands what we’re trying to say as long as we’re trying to communicate: words coming out of our mouths while our lips are on autopilot are borderline babble.

We can console ourselves at least by knowing that when we do pray Our Lord understands what we’re saying, even if we don’t, but that’s not enough. We have to make those words our words, and, if we can’t, we need to pray in our own words as well. Both types of prayer are important: the prayers we’ve received are the prayers of the Church, and we form her voice throughout the centuries. Those words didn’t form in a vacuum: every day in Mass the Church prays the Lord’s Prayer that we remember in today’s Gospel that the prayer Jesus himself taught us. Yet even as he was teaching it he felt the need to explain the last petition. It shouldn’t surprise us that we need the help of others to teach us the meaning of the prayers we say, just as the words of the Gospel would be meaningless to us if no one had translated them for us from their original Greek to a language we could understand.

We also need to be those “translators” into everyday life: by keeping the meaning of our prayers in our hearts, as part of our prayers, not just something somebody gave us to say out loud, we transmit their meaning to others as well. Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us reconnect to the meaning of the words we pray in order to “translate” them into something that others hungering for God can understand.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 11:1–11; Psalm 111:1b–4, 7–8; Matthew 6:7–15.

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday

In today’s First Reading St. Paul encourages us to give bountifully and cheerfully, without sadness or compulsion. Our Lord in today’s Gospel describes the three classic dimensions of Christian life, and the attitude we should have while living them: doing it for God, not for self-promotion. Prayer, fasting, and alms giving can be miserable if we do them in a calculating way, grudgingly, or just to fulfill some social obligation out of peer pressure. When we’re miserly in these things, making sure everyone knows we’re not happy about something we feel forced to do is natural, our glum attitude is simply venting in the face of an unpleasant situation. On the flip side, when we do these things in a flashy way, out of a desire for esteem or self-promotion, the boost to our ego is all we should expect, and that is not much: we’re just turning Christian living into another way to get ahead in a competitive world.

It’s not a question of not doing what we don’t want to do; rather, it is reminding ourselves, as St. Paul does in the First Reading, that a generous and cheerful heart is not only a blessing for those to whom it is giving–God and others–but a source of joy and peace to the giver as well. Instead of a vicious circle it becomes a virtuous cycle: it gives us a sort of spiritual second wind that helps us maintain our effort. We’ll feel the weight of sacrificing something for others, of giving precious time to God, of denying ourselves some comforts in order to win spiritual benefits for others and to grow in self-mastery, but we won’t let that stop us from giving from the heart. Virtue goes deeper than feelings. We experience that on those days when we pray, fast, and give alms even when we are having, by other standards, a rotten day and seemingly no recognition. When we joyfully give, quietly pray, and quietly fast we also ensure that what we are doing is for God, not just for ourselves. Our Lord may not reward us with a lot of public recognition, as we reminds us in today’s Gospel, but he will bless us.

Let’s examine today any glumness in our Christian living and ask Our Lord for the grace to give bountifully, cheerfully, and for his glory and not our own, knowing that he will bless us and others.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 9:6–11; Psalm 112:1b–4, 9; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18.

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday

In today’s First Reading Paul gives the Corinthians a way to measure whether their love is genuine: by their concern for others. As Our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel good people and evil people receive gifts from God so that they can live a good life: the sun warms them, the refreshes them, together they provide the conditions for the food we need, etc. God’s concern is not conditioned by whether someone is a saint or a sinner: he provides for them and gives them the means to be holy. Droughts, natural disasters, and other calamities don’t just target the good or just the wicked. God really doesn’t need to intervene in that way: a sinner’s punishment is largely self-inflicted, and if a sinner doesn’t use God’s blessings wisely, it’ll only get worse, even eternally worse.

When evil stares us in the face, not some nebulous force or Hollywood B movie caricature, but real evil done by real people and to real people, we must combat it for the sake of others, but we must not lose our concern for the people who are on that path to misery and failure by their misdeeds. That is the sign of genuine love, a perfect love, like our Heavenly Father’s love. It’s not a love conditioned by the love we expect in return or have received; otherwise we’d only care about those who care for us. That is the secret to overcoming the damage any lack of love on the part of others may have caused in our lives. Love can triumph if we let it. Society, a difficult family situation, an evil done to us can only conquer our love if we let it.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to strengthen our love by growing in our concern for others and praying for sinners to take up the path of life again.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 8:1–9; Psalm 146:2, 5–9a; Matthew 5:43–48.