Discerning the Will of God  January 16, 2021


Saturday of the First Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed Jesus. Mark 2:14

How do you know the will of God for your life? In his spiritual classic, The Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola presented three ways in which we come to know the will of God. (See mycatholic.life/ignatius for more.) The first way is the clearest and most definitive way. It is a time in which the person experiences a “clarity beyond doubting” as a result of a special grace of God. In describing this experience, Saint Ignatius mentions the passage quoted above as an illustration of this experience.

There is little said about this call of Levi in the Gospel of Mark, which is also recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 9:9). Levi, who is also known as Matthew, was going about his occupation of collecting taxes at his customs post. It appears that Jesus spoke only these two simple words to Levi: “Follow me.” As a result of these two words, Levi abandons his former life and becomes a follower of Jesus. Why would Levi do such a thing? What was it that convinced him to follow Jesus? Clearly there was much more than just a two-word invitation from Jesus that convinced him to respond.

That which convinced Levi was a special grace of God which produced within his soul a “clarity beyond doubting.” Somehow Levi just knew that God was calling him to abandon his former life and embrace this new life. There was no long discussion, no weighing of the pros and cons, no prolonged thinking about it. Levi just knew, and he responded.

Though this form of clarity in life is rare, it’s important to be aware of the fact that sometimes God does act this way. Sometimes God speaks with such clarity that our conviction is certain and we know we must act. This is a great gift when it happens! And though this depth of instant clarity is not always the way God speaks to us, it’s important to acknowledge that God does speak to us this way at times.

Reflect, today, upon this call of Levi. Ponder this inner certitude he was given in that moment. Try to imagine what he experienced and what others may have thought of his choice to follow Jesus. Be open to this same grace; and if you ever feel as if God speaks to you with such clarity, be ready and willing to respond without hesitation.

My dear Lord, thank You for calling us all to follow You without hesitation. Thank You for the joy of being Your disciple. Give me the grace to always know Your will for my life and help me to respond to You with total abandonment and trust. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Featured image above: The Calling of Saint Matthew By Giovanni Paolo Panini

An Act of the Greatest Charity  January 15, 2021


Friday of the First Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. Mark 2:3–4

This paralytic is a symbol of certain people in our lives who seem to be incapable of turning to our Lord by their own effort. It’s clear that the paralytic wanted healing, but he was unable to come to our Lord by his own effort. Therefore, the friends of this paralytic carried him to Jesus, opened the roof (since there was such a large crowd), and lowered the man down before Jesus.

The paralysis of this man is a symbol of a certain type of sin. It’s a sin that someone desires forgiveness for but is incapable of turning to our Lord by their own effort. For example, a serious addiction is something that can so dominate a person’s life that they cannot overcome this addiction by their own effort. They need the help of others to even be able to turn to our Lord for help.

We each must see ourselves as the friends of this paralytic. Too often when we see someone who is trapped in a life of sin, we simply judge them and turn away from them. But one of the greatest acts of charity we can offer another is to help provide them with the means they need to overcome their sin. This can be done by our counsel, our unwavering compassion, a listening ear, and by any act of fidelity to that person during their time of need and despair.

How do you treat people who are caught in the cycle of manifest sin? Do you roll your eyes at them and turn away? Or do you firmly determine to be there for them to give them hope and to assist them when they have little or no hope in life to overcome their sin? One of the greatest gifts you can give to another is the gift of hope by being there for them to help them turn fully to our Lord.

Reflect, today, upon a person you know who seems to be not only caught in the cycle of sin but has also lost hope to overcome that sin. Prayerfully surrender yourself over to our Lord and commit yourself to the charitable act of doing anything and everything you can so as to help them fully turn to our divine Lord.

My precious Jesus, fill my heart with charity toward those who need You the most but seem incapable of overcoming the sin in their lives that keep them from You. May my unwavering commitment to them be an act of charity that gives them the hope they need to surrender their life to You. Use me, dear Lord, my life is in Your hands. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Featured image above: The sick of the palsy is let down before Jesus

Be Made Clean January 14, 2021


Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Mark 1:40–41

If we come to our divine Lord with faith, kneel down before Him and present our need to Him, then we also will receive the same response given to this leper: “I do will it. Be made clean.” These words should give us hope in the midst of any and every challenge in life.

What is it that our Lord wills for you? And what is it that He desires to make clean in your life? This story of the leper coming to Jesus does not mean that our Lord will grant any and every request we bring to Him. Instead, it reveals that He wills to make us clean of that which afflicts us the most. Leprosy in this story should be seen as a symbol of the spiritual ills that afflict your soul. First and foremost, it should be seen as a symbol of the sin in your life that has become habitual and slowly does great damage to your soul.

At that time, leprosy not only caused grave physical damage to a person, but it also had the effect of isolating them from the community. They had to live apart from others who did not have the disease; and if they came near others, they had to show they were lepers by certain external signs so that people would not come in contact with them. Thus, leprosy had both personal and communal ramifications.

The same is true with many habitual sins. Sin does damage to our souls, but it also affects our relationships. For example, a person who is habitually harsh, judgmental, sarcastic or the like will experience the ill effects of these sins on their relationships.

Returning to the statement of Jesus above, consider that sin which not only affects your soul the most but also your relationships. To that sin, Jesus wishes to say to you, “Be made clean.” He wants to strengthen your relationship by cleansing the sin within your soul. And all it takes for Him to do that is for you to turn to Him on your knees and to present your sin to Him. This is especially true within the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Reflect, today, upon your closest relationships in life. And then consider which of your sins most directly hurts those relationships. Whatever comes to mind, you can be certain that Jesus wants to rid you of that spiritual leprosy within your soul.

My divine Lord, help me to see that which is within me that most harms my relationships with others. Help me to see that which causes isolation and hurt. Give me the humility to see this and the trust I need to turn to You to confess it and seek Your healing. You and You alone can free me from my sin, so I turn to You in confidence and surrender. With faith, I also await Your healing words, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Jesus, I trust in You. 

 

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Featured image above: Christ cleans leper man By Sibeaster

More Demons Driven Out  January 13, 2021


Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor—Optional Memorial

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.  Mark 1:32–34

Today we read that Jesus once again “drove out many demons…” The passage then adds, “…not permitting them to speak because they knew him.”

Why would Jesus not permit these demons to speak? Many of the early Church fathers explain that even though the demons had an understanding that Jesus was the promised Messiah, they did not understand fully what that meant and how He would accomplish His ultimate victory. Therefore, Jesus did not want them to speak only half-truths about Him, as the evil one often does, thus misleading the people. So Jesus always forbade these demons from speaking about Him publicly.

It’s important to understand that all of the demonic spirits failed to understand the full truth that it would be Jesus’ death that ultimately destroys death itself and sets all people free. For that reason, we see that these diabolical forces continually conspired against Jesus and tried to attack Him throughout His life. They stirred up Herod when Jesus was a baby, which forced Him into exile in Egypt. Satan himself tempted Jesus just prior to the beginning of His public ministry so as to try to dissuade Jesus from His mission. There were many diabolical forces who continually attacked Jesus throughout His public ministry, especially through the ongoing hostility of the religious leaders at the time. And it can be presumed that these demons may have initially thought they won the battle when they accomplished their goal of having Jesus crucified.

The truth, however, is that Jesus’ wisdom continually confounded these demons and ultimately transformed their evil act of having Him crucified into an ultimate victory over sin and death itself by rising from the dead. Satan and his demons are real, but compared to the truth and wisdom of God, these diabolical forces reveal their complete foolishness and weakness. Just like Jesus, we need to rebuke these tempters in our lives and command that they be silent. Too often we allow their half truths to mislead us and confuse us.

Reflect, today, upon the importance of confidently rebuking the evil one and the many lies he tempts us to believe. Rebuke him with the truth and authority of Christ and pay no attention to what he says.

My precious and all-powerful Lord, I turn to You and You alone as the source of all Truth and the fullness of Truth. May I listen to Your voice alone and reject the many deceptions of the evil one and his demons. In Your precious name, Jesus, I rebuke satan and all evil spirits, their lies and their temptations. I send these spirits to the foot of Your Cross, dear Lord, and open my mind and heart only to You. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Featured image above: The Blind and Mute Man Possessed by Devils By James Tissot

Confronting the Evil One January 12, 2021


Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet!  Come out of him!” Mark 1:23–25

There were numerous times when Jesus directly confronted demons in the Scriptures. Each time He rebuked them and exercised His authority over them. The passage above illustrates one such case.

The fact that the devil shows himself over and over in the Gospels tells us that the evil one is real and needs to be dealt with appropriately. And the appropriate way to deal with the evil one and his fellow demons is to rebuke them with the authority of Christ Jesus Himself in a calm but definitive and authoritative way.

It’s very rare that the evil one makes himself fully manifest to us in the way that he did in the passage above to Jesus. The demon speaks directly through this man, which indicates that the man was fully possessed. And though we do not see this form of manifestation often, it doesn’t mean that the evil one is any less active today. Instead, it shows that the authority of Christ is not being exercised by the Christian faithful to the extent that is necessary to combat the evil one. Instead, we often cower in the face of evil and fail to confidently and charitably stand our ground with Christ.

Why did this demon manifest himself in such a visible way? Because this demon was directly confronted with the authority of Jesus. The devil usually prefers to remain hidden and deceptive, presenting himself as an angel of light so that his evil ways are not known clearly. Those whom he controls often do not even know how much they are influenced by the evil one. But when the evil one is confronted with the pure presence of Christ, with the Truth of the Gospel that sets us free, and with Jesus’ authority, this confrontation often forces the evil one to react by manifesting his evil.

Reflect, today, upon the fact that the evil one is constantly at work all around us. Consider the people and circumstances in your life where the pure and holy Truth of God is attacked and rejected. It is in those situations, more than any other, that Jesus wants to bestow upon you His divine authority to confront evil, rebuke it and take authority over it. This is primarily done through prayer and deep trust in the power of God. Don’t be afraid to allow God to use you to confront the activity of the evil one in this world.

Lord, give me courage and wisdom when I face the activity of the evil one in this world. Give me wisdom to discern his hand at work and give me courage to confront and rebuke him with Your love and authority. May Your authority be alive in my life, Lord Jesus, and may I daily become a better instrument of the coming of Your Kingdom as I confront the evil present in this world. Jesus, I trust in You.

 

 

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Featured image above: The Possessed Man in the Synagogue By James Tissot

A Time to Repent and Believe January 11, 2021


Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Today

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Mark 1:14–15

We have now completed our Advent and Christmas Seasons and begin the liturgical season of “Ordinary Time.” Ordinary Time must be lived in our lives in both an ordinaryand extraordinary way.

First of all, we begin this liturgical season with an extraordinary calling from God. In the Gospel passage above, Jesus begins His public ministry by proclaiming that “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” But He then goes on to state that, as a result of the new presence of the Kingdom of God, we must “repent” and “believe.”

It’s important to understand that the Incarnation, which we especially celebrated in Advent and Christmas, changed the world forever. Now that God had united Himself with human nature in the Person of Jesus Christ, God’s new Kingdom of grace and mercy was at hand. Our world and our lives are changed because of what God did. And as Jesus began His public ministry, He begins to inform us through His preaching of this new reality.

The public ministry of Jesus, as it is transmitted to us through the inspired Word of the Gospels, presents to us the very Person of God and the foundation of His new Kingdom of grace and mercy. It presents us with the extraordinary calling of holiness of life and an unwavering and radical commitment to following Christ. Thus, as we begin Ordinary Time, it’s good to be reminded of our duty to immerse ourselves in the message of the Gospel and to respond to it without reserve.

But this calling to an extraordinary way of life must ultimately become ordinary. In other words, our radical calling to follow Christ must become who we are. We must see the “extraordinary” as our “ordinary” duty in life.

Reflect, today, upon the beginning of this new liturgical season. Use it as an opportunity to remind yourself of the importance of daily studying and prayerfully pondering the public ministry of Jesus and all He taught. Recommit yourself to a faithful reading of the Gospel so that it becomes an ordinary part of your daily life.

My precious Jesus, I thank You for all You have spoken and revealed to us through Your public ministry. Strengthen me during this new liturgical season of Ordinary Time to devote myself to the reading of Your holy Word so that all that You have taught us becomes an ordinary part of my daily life. Jesus, I trust in You.

 

 

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Featured image above: Sermon on the Mount By Carl Bloch

“You are My Beloved Son” Sunday, January 10, 2021

 

Baptism of the Lord—Feast

Readings for Today

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:9–11 (Year B)

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord concludes for us the Christmas Season and transitions us into the beginning of Ordinary Time. From a Scriptural point of view, this event in Jesus’ life is also a transitional moment from His hidden life in Nazareth to the beginning of His public ministry. As we commemorate this glorious event, it’s important to ponder a simple question: Why was Jesus baptized? Recall that John’s baptism was one of repentance, an act by which he invited his followers to turn from sin and to turn to God. But Jesus was sinless, so what was the reason for His Baptism?

First of all, we see in the quoted passage above that Jesus’ true identity was made manifest through His humble act of baptism. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” spoke the voice of the Father in Heaven. Furthermore, we are told that the Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. Thus, Jesus’ baptism is in part a public declaration of Who He is. He is the Son of God, a divine Person Who is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This public testimony is an “epiphany,” a manifestation of His true identity for all to see as He prepares to begin His public ministry.

Second, by His baptism, Jesus’ incredible humility is made manifest. He is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, but He allows Himself to become identified with sinners. By sharing in an act that was focused upon repentance, Jesus speaks volumes through His action of baptism. He came to unite Himself with us sinners, to enter our sin and to enter into our death. By entering the water, He symbolically enters into death itself, which is the result of our sin, and rises triumphantly, allowing us to also rise with Him to new life. For this reason, Jesus’ baptism was a way of Him “baptizing” the waters, so to speak, so that water itself, from that moment onward, would be endowed with His divine presence and could be communicated to all who are baptized after Him. Therefore, sinful humanity is now able to meet divinity through baptism.

Lastly, when we share in this new baptism, through water that has now been sanctified by our divine Lord, we see in Jesus’ baptism a revelation of who we become in Him. Just as the Father spoke and declared Him as His Son, and just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, so also in our baptism we become the adopted children of the Father and are filled with the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus’ baptism gives clarity as to whom we become in Christian baptism.

Lord, I thank You for Your humble act of baptism by which You opened the Heavens to all who are sinners. May I open my heart to the unfathomable grace of my own baptism each and every day and more fully live with You as a child of the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

 

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Featured image above: Baptism of Christ By Pietro Perugino

Fulfilling Only Our Role January 9, 2021


Saturday after Epiphany
Readings for Today

“Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.” John 3:26 

John the Baptist had amassed quite a following. People kept coming to Him to be baptized, and many wanted his ministry to grow. However, once Jesus began His own public ministry, some of the followers of John became jealous. But John gave the right answer to them. He explained to them that his life and mission was to prepare people for Jesus. Now that Jesus had begun His ministry, John joyfully said, “So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:29–30).

This humility of John is a great lesson, especially for those who are actively engaged in the apostolic mission of the Church. Too often when we get involved with some apostolate and another’s “ministry” seems to grow faster than ours, jealousy can set in. But the key to understanding our role in the apostolic mission of Christ’s Church is that we must seek to fulfill our role and our role alone. We must never see ourselves in competition with others within the Church. We must know when we are to act in accord with God’s will, and we must know when we are to step back and allow others to fulfill God’s will. We must do the will of God, nothing more, nothing less and nothing other.

Additionally, that last statement from John must always resound within our hearts when we are called to actively engage in the apostolate. “He must increase; I must decrease.” This is an ideal model for everyone who serves Christ and others within the Church.

Reflect, today, upon those holy words of the Baptist. Apply them to your mission within your family, among your friends and especially if you are involved in some apostolic service within the Church. Everything you do must point to Christ. This will only happen if you, like Saint John the Baptist, understand the unique role that God has given to you and you embrace that role alone.

Lord, I give myself to You for Your service and glory. Use me as You will. As You use me, please give me the humility I need to always remember that I serve You and Your will alone. Free me from jealousy and envy and help me to rejoice in the numerous ways that You act through others in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Featured image above: Jesus and John the Baptist meet in their youth By Matteo Rosselli

Preaching by Example January 8, 2021


Friday after Epiphany
Readings for Today

The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray. Luke 5:15–16

This line concludes the beautiful and powerful story of a man who was full of leprosy and who came to Jesus, fell prostrate before Him and pleaded with Jesus to heal Him if it was His will. Jesus’ response was simple: “I do will it. Be made clean.” And then Jesus did the unthinkable. He touched the man. The man, of course, was immediately healed of his leprosy, and Jesus sent him to show himself to the priest. But word of this miracle spread fast, and many people kept coming to see Jesus as a result.

It’s easy to imagine the scene of people talking about this miracle, thinking of their own ailments and those of their loved ones, and wanting to be healed by this miracle worker. But in the passage above, we see Jesus do something very interesting and prophetic. Just as the great crowds gathered and just as there was much excitement about Jesus, He withdrew from them to a deserted place to pray. Why would He do this?

Jesus’s mission was to teach His followers the truth and to lead them to Heaven. He did this not only by His miracles and teachings but also by setting an example of prayer. By going off to pray to His Father alone, Jesus teaches all of these excited followers what is most important in life. Physical miracles are not what is most important. Prayer and communion with the Father in Heaven is what’s most important.

If you have established a healthy life of daily prayer, one way you can share the Gospel with others is by allowing others to witness your commitment to prayer. Not so as to receive their praise, but to let them know what you find most important in life. When you commit yourself to daily Mass, going to church for adoration, or simply taking time alone in your room to pray, others will notice and will be drawn into a holy curiosity which may also lead them to a life of prayer.

Reflect, today, upon your mission to evangelize others by the simple act of allowing your life of prayer and devotion to be known by them. Let them see you pray, and if they ask, share with them the fruits of your prayer. Allow your love of our Lord to shine forth so that others will receive the blessing of your holy witness.

Lord, help me to be committed to a life of true prayer and devotion each and every day. Help me to be faithful to this life of prayer and to continually be drawn deeper in my love of You. As I learn to pray, use me to be a witness to others so that those who need You the most will be changed by my love of You. Jesus, I trust in You.

 

 

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Featured image above: Healing of the Lepers at Capernaum By James Tissot

Good News Travels Fast  January 7, 2021


Thursday after Epiphany
Readings for Today

Saint Raymond of Penyafort, Priest—Optional Memorial

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.  Luke 4:21–22a

Jesus had just spent forty days in the desert, fasting and praying prior to beginning His public ministry. His first stop was Galilee, where He entered the Synagogue and read from the Prophet Isaiah. However, soon after His words were spoken in the Synagogue, He was driven out of the town, and the people tried to throw him over the hill to kill Him.

What a shocking contrast. At first Jesus was “praised by all,” as we see in the passage above. Word of Him spread like wildfire throughout the towns. They had heard of His baptism and the Voice of the Father speaking from Heaven, and many were curious and excited about Him. But as soon as Jesus began to preach the pure Gospel message and when He began to address their hardness of heart, they turned on Him and sought His life.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that the Gospel will always have the effect of drawing people together as one. Of course, this is one of the central goals of the Gospel: to unite us in the Truth as the one people of God. But the key to unity is that unity is only possible when we all accept the saving Truth of the Gospel. All of it. And that means we must change our hearts, turn from the stubbornness of our sins, and open our minds to Christ. Sadly, some do not want to change, and the result is division.

If you find that there are aspects of Jesus’ teaching that are hard to accept, reflect upon the passage above. Return to this initial reaction of the townspeople when they were all talking about Jesus and praised Him. That is the right response. Our difficulties with what Jesus says and what He calls us to repent of should never have the effect of leading us to disbelief rather than to praise Him in all things.

Reflect, today, on the most difficult teaching of Jesus you have struggled with. Everything He says and everything He has taught is for your good. Praise Him no matter what and allow your heart of praise to give you the wisdom you need to understand all that Jesus asks of you. Especially those teachings that are most difficult to accept.

Lord, I accept all that You have taught, and I choose to change those parts of my life that do not conform to Your most holy will. Give me wisdom to see the thing from which I must repent and soften my heart so that I will always remain open to You. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Featured image above: Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue By James Tissot