Thursday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning’s readings give us a sense, I think, of the urgency of repentance and the real need for discipleship. The first reading from the book of Sirach reminds us that God’s patience should not be mistaken for acceptance of our sins. Just because God does not strike us down on the spot for a transgression does not mean that it our transgressions are not offensive to God. In fact, they are incredibly offensive, which is why the price of our sins was so great.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus encourages us disciples to rid ourselves of everything that serves as an obstacle to living our call. If even some member of our body causes us to sin, we should part with it! That’s an incomprehensible directive, and it serves to illustrate the focus that we disciples have to have.

The Psalmist sings “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” Amen to that. As we turn up the fire in our spiritual lives as we approach the season of Lent, it would be well for us to remember that our repentance and discipleship are not optional, that they cannot wait for a more opportune time, that we can’t let anything get in the way of our relationship with God. Blessed are we who hope in the Lord!

Monday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So the disciples are waiting for Jesus to come down the mountain after the Transfiguration.  They have attempted to cure a man’s son from the hold of a demon, but they were apparently unable to do so.  This seems to have led to an argument between them and the scribes.  You can almost feel Jesus’ exasperation.  Both the disciples and the scribes should have been able to do something for the boy, but they couldn’t.  Why?  Because instead of praying, they argued about it.  “This kind can only come out through prayer,” Jesus tells the disciples when they ask why they were ineffective.

I often wonder, with more than a little fear, how many demons I could have cast out – in myself and in others – if I had a little more faith, if I prayed a little more than I do.  There are, of course, all sorts of demons: demons of illness, demons of cyclical sin, demons of impure attachments, demons of homelessness, poverty, and marginalization, and so many more.  Think of all the demons we could cast out if we just had more faith, if we prayed more fervently.

Sometimes, when we are trying to overcome some problem, the last thing we think to do is pray, when it should absolutely be the first.  The disciples were guilty of it, the scribes were, and we are too sometimes, if we’re honest.  And all of us should know better.  I know that I myself can think of a number of problems I’ve tried to solve all by myself, when it would have been so much more effective to first turn them over to our Lord.  We can’t just cut God out of the picture and rely on our own strength; that never works – our own strength is so fiercely limited.  We have to turn to the tools we have been given: faith and prayer.  And we can start by saying with the boy’s father: “I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the apostle. This is a feast that commemorates Jesus giving the servant authority of the Church to Saint Peter, as we heard in today’s Gospel. This is a special day of prayer for the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter among us.

It’s important to remember that Saint Peter was not chosen because he was perfect, but instead because he was faithful. Even after he denied Jesus, he turned back and three times professed his love. That’s an important lesson for us, because we too may have failed our Lord time and time again, but he always gives us the opportunity to turn back, to be forgiven, to profess our love, and to be part of his mission once again.

In today’s Scripture, Saint Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the One who comes in God’s name. Making that proclamation is the task of the Church in every place, and in every age. We disciples are called to faithfulness, just as Peter was; we are called to conversion, just as Peter was; and we are called to witness to the authority of Christ in every situation: in our Church, yes, but also in our workplaces and in our homes. With the Lord as our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want in any situation.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In the aftermath of the great flood, what’s left is what God wants us to know is important: life. Life is the way we participate in the essence of our Creator God. And that life is so important that absolutely nothing could completely blot it out – not even the waters of the flood. What humankind had done to bring on the flood was not enough for God to allow that deed to completely blot out all life from the face of the earth. Indeed, God preserved life in the Ark so that, even in its impure and imperfect state, it could be brought to perfection in these last days.

These last days came about through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. What the flood could not wash away was cleansed completely by the blood of the Lamb. Unfortunately, Peter and the Apostles did not yet understand that. Jesus rebuked Peter not just because he was slow to get the message, but more because his kind of thinking was an obstacle to the mission. The mission is about life – eternal life – and nothing must interfere with it.

We are the recipients of the command to be fertile and multiply. This command is not just about procreation of life, but also about life in the Kingdom of God. It was always God’s plan that we would not only populate the earth, but populate heaven as well. That’s what we were created for, and that’s why God would sooner allow his Son to die on the cross than live without us. That’s what that rainbow sign of the covenant was about – when we see one, may we remember the love of God.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We’re still in the opening chapters of human history in our first reading, and in these opening chapters we see some of the less beautiful parts of human nature. The first reading reads like an exposition of deadly sins, and these sins have continued to plague humanity ever since.

We start with envy, as Cain laments that his offering was not accepted with the same favor as was his brother, Abel’s. We move from envy to murder, with Cain committing the very first fratricide, killing his very own brother. From there, we go to apathy, as Cain rejects the call to be his brother’s keeper. And then we meet false witness, as he lies about the murder that he committed. And if all of that isn’t enough, Cain then complains about his punishment as if it was something he didn’t deserve. If he’d only tried repentance, or expressed sorrow for his sins, or even accepted responsibility for what he’d done, maybe things would have turned out differently.

But, in this opening act of human history, we also see God’s mercy. Because of justice, God does not remit the entirety of Cain’s punishment, but he does decree that even his death would be unacceptable. Maybe we should think about that in regard to the death penalty: if even God doesn’t condone the murder of a murderer, then who are we to do that? So God marks Cain, as we all are marked with God’s presence at our baptism. So even in this very early story of our history, we can see that baptism was always intended for our salvation.

The Psalmist this morning says that we absolutely cannot profess God’s commandments and sing his praises, without also accepting God’s discipline and following God’s word. A sacrifice of praise is a life lived with integrity, and that is the sacrifice that God wants of us in every moment.

Monday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s readings speak to us about the wonderful, spiritual quality of goodness.  We have the creation story, or at least the beginning of it, in which God is not only creating the world and everything in it, but also creating it in goodness.  And I think that we can relate to that in some way, because we find created things good all the time.  Think about a vacation or road trip you’ve taken and found some beautiful countryside.  Maybe you’ve seen mountains, or the vast ocean, or hiked some incredible trails through rich forested countryside.  When you’ve been there, looking at all that wonderful creation, perhaps stood there as the sun was setting or rising, maybe you’ve even said a prayer of thanks to God for creating such wonders and allowing you to see them.  You too see that it is very good.

But there’s even more than that in it for us.  When we behold such wonders, such things that are very good, we can also see in them the One who is Goodness itself.  We see God in his creative genius, imparting some of his own Goodness into our world so that we might find goodness too.  In the mountains, we see God’s strength and might; in the forests, his embrace; in the waters, his refreshing mercy.  Our Good God has painted the world with his Goodness, so that we might desire the Good and come at last to Him.

Goodness is all around us, because God created the world to be good.  Today, we can look around to see the good we might otherwise miss: good in people and good in creation – all of it bringing us back to our God who is Goodness itself.  The psalmist leads us today in the prayer that we are moved to pray when we are in the presence of such Good:

How manifold are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you have wrought them all—
the earth is full of your creatures;
Bless the LORD, O my soul! Alleluia.

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter in today’s Gospel reading is a nice story, but I think it goes deeper than that. In this encounter, we see five very important principles of the life of a disciple. So I would like to reflect on these principles because we always need to grow in our discipleship, and conversion is an ongoing thing for all of us.

So let’s dive into these five principles. The first principle of the disciple’s life is that we don’t choose God; God chooses us. Simon Peter didn’t put out an invitation to Jesus to join him in the boat. He probably didn’t even want the company, to be honest. He was washing his nets and cleaning up the boat after a very long, and very unproductive night of fishing. They’d been up all night, they were frustrated, and they probably just wanted to be left alone. But Jesus gets into Simon’s boat without even asking if he can come aboard, sits down, and tells him to put out a short distance from shore so he can teach the people from that boat-pulpit. If we think we are all here today because we chose to be here, chose to be God’s people, then we’ve gotten it all wrong. God chose us to be here, and we might not even know why, but God does, and he will reveal it in his own time.

The second principle of the disciple’s life is that it’s not about what we can do. As I’ve pointed out, Simon and his co-workers had a very unproductive night. And that’s horrible for them because this is their livelihood. They weren’t out for a relaxing night of fishing, they were out for fish to sell at market to feed their families, and they’ve caught nothing. It wasn’t just that they caught very little; we are told that they’ve caught nothing – zero fish, or at least nothing they could sell or eat. And that’s not unusual. Whenever you see Peter and the others fishing in the Gospel, they are always catching nothing when they are on their own. Try it – go through the Gospel and look for those stores, you’ll see. So it might seem strange that Jesus would call fishermen to be his Apostles, but it almost seems like fiduciary misconduct to pick fishermen who were such complete failures at their craft. In fact we are told that the only really qualified guy he chose was Judas Iscariot, and we all know what became of him, don’t we? It’s not about what we can do, how successful we are, what personal gifts we have. God has something special in mind for us, and he can call anyone he wants. And he does.

The third principle follows from the second, and that is that it is always God who does the really great things that we seem to accomplish. For Peter and the others, we see it very simply … Jesus tells them to put out into the deep water, and despite their utter exhaustion and their better judgment, they do so, they lower the nets, and they can hardly bring the huge catch of fish in to land. They are extremely successful, but only because they have relied on God’s grace for their success. If we are serious about our success, either in our business or in our discipleship, then we too have to be ready to give it over to God’s grace. It’s hard because that involves letting go, giving God control, taking the good with the bad, constantly seeking God’s will. But that is our calling, fellow disciples, that’s what we do.

The fourth principle is extremely important for us to get, because this is so insidious. This principle tells us that we are completely unworthy of such grace in the face of how awesome God is. And it’s true, none of us is worthy of the calling we have received. I’m not worthy to be a priest, you may not be worthy to be a parent, perhaps you’re not worthy of the work you’ve been called to do. But God has called us to do all of this anyway. Yes, we’re sinful, and perhaps like Peter we’d like to say “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” or woman. Perhaps like Isaiah in our first reading, we find that we are men or women of unclean lips living among people of unclean lips. Who are we to proclaim the Gospel? Who are we to lead others? Satan throws this kind of thing in our faces all the time: he would love for us to give in to it. Because if we are caught up in our unworthiness, we can never be used to accomplish God’s will. But, unworthy as we are, it’s not about us, it’s about God and what God can do in us, so we have to seek forgiveness, pursue conversion, and then do what God asks of us. We must remember that forgiveness and conversion, like every other gift, is never meant just for us, it’s meant for us to share, and the way that we share that is to do God’s work in whatever way He’s called us to do it.

And the fifth principle is that God always sees better stuff in us than we see in ourselves. Jesus saw past Peter’s inadequacies as a fisherman and saw that he would be really great as an Apostle to bring people to the kingdom. He saw past Isaiah’s vulgarity to know that he would be just the person to speak his word. God knows that our sins do not define who we are; having created us, he alone knows of what we are capable, and he gives us a commission that goes beyond what we think we can do. He asks just one thing of us: “Do not be afraid.” This means we can do anything God calls us to do. Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.

Lent is coming. Lent is a call to conversion, re-conversion, and growth in discipleship. We would do well to remind ourselves yet again this Lent that it is God who chooses us, that it’s not about what we can do, that it’s always God who gives us the grace to do truly great things, that our unworthiness does not define us in the eyes of God, and that God knows of what we are capable and sees great things in us. Maybe Lent can find us putting aside whatever fears keep us from answering God’s call and instead allow ourselves to be truly changed, truly used by God to do great things. Do not be afraid.

Saint Agatha, Virgin Martyr

Today’s readings

As is true for many, or perhaps most, of the virgin martyrs, we know almost nothing about Saint Agatha, other than the fact that she was martyred in Sicily during the persecution of Decius in the third century. Legend has it that Agatha was arrested as a Christian, tortured and sent to a house of prostitution to be mistreated. She was preserved from being violated, and was later put to death. When Agatha was arrested, the legend says, she prayed: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all things! You see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am—you alone. I am your sheep; make me worthy to overcome the devil.” And in prison, she said: “Lord, my creator, you have protected me since I was in the cradle. You have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Now receive my spirit.”

The stories of the early virgin martyrs like Saint Agatha do two things. First, they remind us of the unsurpassed greatness of a relationship with Christ. If they could witness to Christ when it would have been so much easier—and life-saving—to turn away, then how can we turn away from God in the trying moments of our own lives, those trials which pale in comparison to the martyrdom they suffered? But even those relatively minor sufferings which we may bear can be the source of our salvation. We should look to the saints like Agatha to intercede for us that we may patiently bear our sufferings and so give honor and glory to God. Second, these stories always point to Christ. Even though we could get caught up in honoring a saint who stood fast for the faith to death, still that same saint would have us instead be caught up in honoring Christ, the one who was their hope and salvation.

Saint Agatha’s life is a participation in our Lord’s call to take up our cross. She was joined inseparably to Christ in both her virginity and her martyrdom. Her example calls us to join ourselves to Christ inseparably as well, in whatever way we may be called upon to do it. May our prayer in good times and bad always be the same as that of Saint Agatha: “Possess all that I am—you alone.”

Monday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We could look at today’s Gospel reading as an interesting miracle story of Jesus casting a demon out of a long-possessed man. But I think we should dig a little deeper than that this morning. Because many of us, I think, have to tangle with the unclean spirit from the tombs that infests us from time to time. If you’ve been in that situation, you probably can relate to having chained that spirit down with mighty strong chains, only to have them smashed to pieces. Then that unclean spirit starts crying out once again and injuring us in the process.

For some, that demon is some kind of addiction. Or perhaps it’s a pattern of sin. Maybe it’s an unhealthy relationship. Whatever it is, there is nothing we can do to stop it all on our own. None of us is strong enough to subdue it. It is instructive that, when Jesus asks the demon what his name is, the demon responds in the plural: “we are Legion.” Indeed, legion are the demons that can torment us, legion are the past hurts and resentments, legion are the sins, legion are the broken relationships. 

When we find ourselves in that state of affairs, we have to know that human power is useless to subdue our demons. We have to do the only thing that works, which is to beg Jesus to cast those demons out. I often tell people in Confession that it’s okay to pray for yourself and that God doesn’t expect us to subdue our demons on our own. Jesus is longing to cast out our legion demons, all we have to do is ask. The voice of the psalmist today sums up the peace that can come from this Gospel: “Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.

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