17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

In today’s readings Our Lord reminds us that disciples know they always have something to learn and to pass along the people that they help. Christians never stop being disciples; Our Lord always has something to teach us. In the First Reading Elisha (who was the disciple of the prophet Elijah) learned from his master in the miracle of the multiplication: Elijah once asked a widow for the last bread she had to feed herself and her son (1 Kings 17:8–16), and when she explained her situation Elijah told her the Lord had promised to provide for them all, and so it came to be. Elisha in today’s Gospel was doing something similar, but because the Lord promised to help him, just as the Lord had helped Elijah and the widow, he knew to encourage his servant to begin handing out the bread, and the miracle happened.

The disciples in today’s Gospel are a little more proactive: they know from Our Lord’s question that he wants to feed the people who came to see him and it seems he’s asking them to make it happen. Phillip sees it as impossible even if they had enough money to feed them, due to the size of the crowd. Andrew at least starts asking around, but the resources come up short. They lost sight of the fact that Jesus said “we”: when we feel Our Lord is asking something difficult or impossible, we have to remember that, like in today’s Gospel, he will be with us and help us. We just have to take it one step at a time, even when sometimes it seems difficult or impossible. In the end, through taking things step by step, they helped Our Lord to make the miracle happen.

Have you felt in your heart that Our Lord has been asking you to try to do something difficult or impossible? Don’t think of the end game; ask him to teach you what first step he wants you to take, and then keep taking things one step at a time. You’ll be surprised how much you accomplish working with him.

Readings: 2 Kings 4:42–44; Psalm 145:10–11, 15–18; Ephesians 4:1–6; John 6:1–15.


St. James the Apostle

Today we celebrate the feast of St. James the Apostles, the brother of St. John the Evangelist, one of the Lord’s closest disciples, and the first Apostle to follow Our Lord all the way to martyrdom and beyond. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the moment when James and John sought power and glory alongside Our Lord, and he prepared them for a power and glory that would be nothing like this world had ever seen. When Jesus sounded them out about whether they were willing to drink the same chalice as him, maybe they didn’t know what they were getting into, but they did know that they wanted to follow Our Lord wherever and however he chose. What went through their minds after his Passion? John was there, James was who knows where.

The Acts of the Apostles tell us that James was beheaded on Herod’s orders (see Acts 12:1-4) to score political points with the Jewish authorities. As James went to his death, was he thinking of that “chalice” Our Lord had mentioned? Was he thinking of the teaching Jesus had imparted to all the Apostles when they were incensed about Jame’s and John’s ambition: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you…”? James was at the mercy of a ruler who was the antithesis of how Jesus taught them to be, and acting exactly as Jesus had warned against. He knew how he had to respond: “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His witness to the point of martyrdom echoed, and will continue to echo, throughout history and into eternity.

Are we afraid of having to even sip from Our Lord’s “chalice?” Are we prepared to follow him no matter what? We are called to take up our cross every day, big or small, and follow Christ, not just to suffer something for him and for others, but to give witness that death and suffering don’t have the last word. Let’s ask St. James today to help us sip from Our Lord’s “chalice” and persevere in the path he traces out for us, no matter what crosses it may entail.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7–15; Psalm 126:1b–6; Matthew 20:20–28.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord he tells us about the obstacles that can keep us from having his Word bear fruit in our lives. As we can see, there is a lost of “noise” that can try to drown out his Word, and not all of it is self-generated. As he taught us yesterday, if we don’t understand what he is telling us, his Word stays on the surface and doesn’t penetrate our hearts, and the Evil One can easily sweep it away before it has any effect. We live in a culture today that can be shallow, superficial, and base: all of those things can form a sort of screen on our hearts that prevents God’s word from getting in. It’s also true that there is an active Evil presence out there that would like us to remain shallow and superficial and someday lose eternity with God forever, which is why we always need to watch and pray in moments of temptation and seek to understand God’s Word with profundity.

There’s a moment where an insight into his Word causes sensible consolations and warm feelings, but sentiments are often skin deep and change direction like the wind. If we only listen to feel good, when we start feeling bad we’ll stop listening–enthusiasm only lasts so long. God’s Word wants to be with us and help us in our ups and downs; he always has something to say, so whether we’re exultant about something or despondent, we need to keep listening, harder if needed. Lastly, there can also be a moment where we let our anxiety about something separate us from his Word: we become more concerning with the passing things of this world and not about the Kingdom: we worry about money, power, or pleasure. If we become attached to those things they won’t just drown out God’s Word, but they’ll make us deaf to many other things as well. A bad environment can choke out his Word in our lives, so we need to always consider whether there are certain places we should no longer go, certain people we should no longer see (if we’re too weak to change and to help them), certain things we should no longer do.

Let’s ask Our Lord to help us examine our “soil” today and let the seed of his Word fall on the rich spots, far away from thorns or rocky ground, in order to bear all the fruit we can.

Readings: Exodus 20:1–17; Psalm 19:8–11; Matthew 13:18–23.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

There’s probably been a moment in all of our lives when we wished the Lord would get his message across loud and clear, backed up by all the pyrotechnics we see in today’s First Reading. The Old Testament is full of these moments, and as believers we know that God has spoken to us and the people of Israel in this way throughout history. With the coming of Jesus the moment came to pass from one stage of learning about God and fathoming his almost unfathomable mystery to another: God in the Son took up human nature and revealed himself to us in a human way. Why did he do this, and why does he continue to do so today?

Pyrotechnics and great wonders and signs can attract attention, but for many, they don’t help grow in a robust faith. If the Israelites had grown in faith and an understanding of God we would not have inherited an Old Testament full of cases of infidelity and disbelief, sometimes right after enormous signs of God’s power and presence. Sometimes those signs didn’t go beyond provoking a servile fear, and the minute the signs were absent, people started going back to their own way of thinking and acting. In today’s Gospel Our Lord tells us to see the difference between hearing something and listening, between looking at something and seeing it. The parables present something from daily life, but are also doorways to other spiritual and divine insights about God, the “knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven.” It’s not enough to look at the door: it has to be opened to discover what lies beyond. When we see parables in this way, when we see the Word of God in this way, we see something from which we can draw profound truths regarding ourselves, our world, and Our Lord, not just once, but constantly. But that requires we make an effort in faith to listen and see, an effort to open our hearts and open that door into the greater world Our Lord wants to reveal to us.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us open that door: to open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, and our hearts that we may understand His Word.

Readings: Exodus 19:1–2, 9–11, 16–20b; Daniel 3:52–56; Matthew 13:10–17.

St. Mary Magdalene

If one thing characterizes Saint Mary Magdalene is that she’s been blessed with the grace on multiple occasions to pass from desperation to hope against all odds. The evangelist Luke says in passing that Our Lord had cast out seven demons from Mary (cf. Luke 8:2): Mary was completely at the mercy of evil, at the hands of spiritual beings well beyond her abilities. Anyone who has lived in the grips of sin or the effects of evil can testify that it is one of the most miserable and powerless states imaginable. In that pit of despair Our Lord came into Mary’s life and rescued her. It’s no wonder that afterwards she would be completely devoted to him and become one of his closest disciples.

Today’s Gospel narrates a second occasion where Mary passed from desperation to hope against all odds. She didn’t understand the teaching that Jesus would rise from the dead. For her, he was gone and she was trying to cope as anyone would at the death of a loved one. When you lose someone you love it leaves a hole in your life that nothing can fill, and visiting the tomb of the beloved is a small way of re-connecting and remembering. Mary was deprived of that, and she was resolved to find Jesus’ remains and pay him the honor and respect he was due after so much cruelty. When it seemed that would be impossible once again Our Lord appeared to her and bore her from the point of despair to hope.

We can venture to say that Mary had one last passage at the end of her life: after persevering in hope, waiting for her Lord to call her to himself, she achieved definitive joy–being with him forever–in Heaven. Mary Magdalene teaches us today that if Our Lord’s action seems to disappear from our lives in the face of evil and suffering we have only to wait in hope, knowing he’ll make his presence felt again. Like Mary let’s be witnesses of all those moments when Our Lord came out of nowhere and lifted us up from despair so that others may persevere in hope as well.

Reading: John 20:1-2, 11-18.