Gospel Reflections

GOSPEL REFLECTION:  Matt 8: 5 – 13

Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Matthew 8:8–9

These are words spoken by a man who is very familiar with the exercise of authority. He is a Roman centurion, and he states that he himself is “a man subject to authority” and that he also has soldiers who are subject to him. Thus, his daily life consists of following orders and giving orders that are to be obeyed.

When authority is exercised properly, it is a gift that helps to order society, family life, the life of the Church and even our personal lives. Of course, when authority is exercised improperly, in an oppressive and abusive way, it causes much damage. But the exercise of authority is, in and of itself, an act that has the potential to do much good.

Jesus Himself is quite impressed with the Roman centurion in the Gospel passage quoted above. Of him, Jesus states, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” Imagine having the Son of God say that about you! Jesus is impressed, in part, because the centurion acknowledges that he is not worthy to have Jesus come to his house. This is humility, in that the centurion clearly perceives his unworthiness. But Jesus is also impressed because the man manifests a clear and certain faith in Jesus’ authority to heal his servant from a distance. He does not hesitate to profess his belief in this authority of our Lord.

In our own lives, we are often lacking in this area. We face a difficulty (such as the illness this centurion’s servant was enduring), and instead of turning to God with full and unwavering confidence, we turn in on ourselves. We become anxious, fearful, doubtful, confused and sometimes even angry. When any of these qualities are present, it is not because of the difficult situation we face; rather, it is because of our lack of faith and our lack of confidence in the all-powerful authority of our Lord.

In the case of the Roman centurion’s servant, it was the will of God that Jesus physically heal, and so He did. But in the countless daily challenges we face in life, God’s answers might be varied. One unwavering quality we must always have is a certain conviction that God desires to exercise His loving authority in our lives, in the way He chooses, if we trust Him and invite Him to take control.

 

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Matt. 6: 22—34

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.  Matthew 6:34 

If we could only heed these words!  Do not worry about…  The three dots after that phrase should be filled in by you.  What is it that you worry about?

The entire passage from today’s Gospel offers a list of things we worry about that we shouldn’t.  It especially points to concerns about our material well-being.  Jesus is very direct in saying that we should not worry about money and all that money provides.  He cares more for us than the birds of the sky or flowers of the field, yet He takes perfect care of them.  Will He not also take care of us?  He certainly will.

In this Gospel, Jesus directly states that you cannot serve both God and money.  In other words, you cannot make both of them the object of your desire and longing.

Making money a central focus in life deters us from trust in the providence of God.  We certainly should not go about life carefree in regard to providing for ourselves and our loved ones.  We have a duty to work and earn a living and provide for ourselves and our family.  But it’s one thing to be diligent and responsible in accord with the will of God.  It’s another thing to worry excessively or to make money the central focus of our lives.

The simple answer to being worry free in regard to money is trust.  Trust God enough to take care of you.  Pray, listen to Him, let Him show you His will in regard to the way you will earn a living, and then confidently do what you hear Him calling you to do.  At times, money may be tight.  These moments can either be a cause for worry and anxiety, or a cause for greater trust and surrender to God.

God certainly does not promise to make you rich in material things.  This may or may not happen and, in fact, it matters little to God.  The key is that, rich or poor, you trust God and entrust your finances to Him.  If you have much, make sure that it is daily given over to God and that you daily ask Him to direct you in the use of your wealth.  If you have little, do not give in to fear but trust that the Lord knows your needs and will show you how to meet those needs.

GOSPEL REFLECTION:  Matthew 4: 18-23

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Matthew 4:18–19

 Andrew and his brother Peter were fishermen who would soon take on a new form of fishing.  They would soon become “fishers of men,” as Jesus said. But prior to being sent on this mission by our Lord, they had to become His followers. And this happened as our Lord was first the fisher of these men.

Notice that in this Gospel, Jesus was simply walking by and “saw” these two brothers working hard at their occupation. First, Jesus “saw” them, and then He called them. This gaze of our Lord is worth pondering.

Imagine the profound truth that our Lord is continually gazing at you with divine love, looking for the moment that you turn your attention to Him. His gaze is perpetual and deep. His gaze is one that yearns for you to follow Him, to abandon all else so as to hear His gentle invitation not only to follow Him but to then go forth and invite others on the journey of faith.

We, too,  must allow the call of Andrew and Peter to also become our own calling. We must allow ourselves to notice Jesus as He looks at us, sees who we are, is aware of everything about us, and then speaks a word of invitation. He says to you, “Come after me…”  This is an invitation that must permeate every aspect of your life. To “come after” Jesus is to leave all else behind and to make the act of following our Lord the single purpose of your life.

Sadly, many people pay little attention to this calling in their lives. Few people hear Him speak and fewer respond, and even fewer respond with complete abandonment of their lives.

 

Reflect, today, upon Jesus speaking these words to you. First, ponder the question of whether you have said “Yes” to Him with all the powers of your soul. Second, reflect upon those whom our Lord wants you to invite on the journey. To whom is Jesus sending you to invite? Who, in your life, is open to His call? Who does Jesus want to draw to Himself through you? Imitate these Apostles as they said “Yes” to our Lord, even though they did not immediately understand all that this would entail. Say “Yes” today and be ready and willing to do whatever comes next on this glorious journey of faith.

 

GOSPEL REFLECTION: Matt. 10:32-33, 37-38, 19: 27-30

Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37-38

Jesus explains an interesting consequence of choosing to love family members more than God. The result of loving a family member more than God is that one is not worthy of God. This is a strong statement meant to evoke serious self-reflection.  First, we should realize that the only way to authentically love one’s mother or father, son or daughter, is to first love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength. Love of one’s family and others must flow from this pure and total love of God. For that reason, we should see Jesus’ warning as a call to make sure we are not only loving Him fully, but also a call to make sure we fully love our family by allowing our love of God to become the source of our love of others. How is it that we may violate this command of our Lord? How would we love others more than Jesus? We act in this sinful way when we allow others, even family members, to take us away from our faith. For example, on a Sunday morning while you are getting ready to go to church, a family member tries to convince you to skip Liturgy for some other activity. If you concede so as to appease them, then you are “loving” them more than God. Of course, in the end, this is not an authentic love of the family member since a decision was made contrary to the will of God.

 

“Whoever acknowledges Me before men I will acknowledge before My Father in heaven

Whoever disowns Me before men I will disown before My Father in heaven.”

 

 

 

 

 

THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

TODAY is the “Birthday” of the Church, Pentecost Sunday.  Among Byzantine Catholics it is sometimes called “Zelenyj Svjat” (the Green Holy Day) because it is the only time in the year that the priest wears green vestments and because the church is decorated with branches of trees that have just sprouted their new green leaves for Spring…..the tender new green leaves being the sign of new life which comes forth from barren branches which seemed so brittle and “dead” during the winter months.   The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word meaning “fifty.” It is the 50th day after Easter, and that day when the Holy Spirit came down in the form of fiery tongues and descended upon Mary and the Apostles. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were able to begin a new life with strength and vigor to fulfill the command our Lord gave them to go and teach all nations. The Holy Spirit dwelt within them and gave them a certain charism which enabled them to do things which they could never do before. People do not ordinarily think of themselves as “Temples of God” or as “churches” in which God dwells. Yet that is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. St. Paul spoke of this. He wrote to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are….” It is clear from these words of the Holy Bible that a pious, believing person can have the Spirit dwell in him.

Christ had something to say about this also. At the Last Supper, when He opened His heart to His beloved friends, Jesus said: “If You love Me, keep My commandments…..and I will ask the Father and He will send you the Holy Spirit….you know Him for He dwells with you and will be in you….” Now, if the Holy Spirit dwells in you, you are a temple of God. When the Father did send the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day, He came with certain outward signs, tongues of fire and a rushing wind. But these were visible signs which soon disappeared. Where was the Spirit? Of course, He took up His abode in the souls of the Christians assembled there. And what a tremendous change His coming made on the 12 people! The Holy Spirit still comes, still dwells in the humble, the pious, the believing. We say “God is with us,” and it’s true. He dwells in us, if we but want Him.

Today each of us is filled with and anointed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is powerful, life-changing and energetic. We pray that each of us will be refreshed and renewed by the Holy Spirit.

GOSPEL REFLECTION: John 17: 1-13
“This is eternal life, that they know the Father the only true God”

John’s Gospel, Chapter 17, is referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer.  It’s a long and beautiful prayer that would be worth reading in its entirety for reflection. 

Jesus begins by speaking to the Father that “the hour has come.”  His hour of suffering and death is upon Him.  But He sees it as an opportunity for His glorification.  This is an important revelation within John’s Gospel and especially within this prayer.  The Cross is horrible from a human perspective alone.  But from the divine perspective or the will of the Father and the salvation of the world, it is glorious and the moment in which Jesus takes up His throne of the Cross.  It is glorious because He perfectly fulfills the will of the Father through His freely embraced suffering.

From there, Jesus prays for the Apostles in particular.  He prays for their mission so that they will have the grace they need to also embrace the will of the Father and continue the work of Jesus.  He knows that it is only by embracing their crosses, in accord with the will of the Father, that they will be able to be glorified.

GOSPEL REFLECTION: John 9: 1-38

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. John 9:35–38

We begin with the detail that this man has been blind since birth. It was a common misconception at that time that such a birth defect might have been caused by the sins of the parents.  Jesus makes it clear that this was not the case; this man’s blindness was a result of the natural disorder experienced by humanity as a result of original sin.  If humanity had never been cast out of the Garden of Eden, disease and natural disorders would have never existed.  For this reason, we should understand that we are all “blind” in the sense of being born into the state of original sin and are, therefore, in need of the grace of spiritual sight.

The healing of this man is done purely on Jesus’ initiative. This shows that God’s healing action in our lives is always His initiative. But Jesus clearly offered this man healing because He knew the man would eventually come to faith in Him, which is the far more important healing that took place in this story.

After the man is healed, a very interesting drama unfolds. The Pharisees hear of the healing and begin to interrogate the man. Afterwards, they also interrogate the man’s parents and then the man for a second time. Throughout their interrogations, two things happen. First, the Pharisees slowly become more agitated, more irrational and end by completely rejecting both this miraculous sign and Jesus Himself. The man, however, begins with what appears to be a bit of ignorance about Jesus, but as he is interrogated and challenged to explain his healing, he deepens and clarifies his convictions, ending in the deepest faith when he cries out to Jesus, “I do believe, Lord.” Then we are told that the man worshiped Jesus.

The dramatic unfolding of this story teaches us that when we are given the grace of God by hearing His holy Word spoken and witnessing His mighty hand at work, we must make a choice. Either we will respond in faith and slowly be drawn deeper into that faith, or we will rationalize it away and reject God’s saving action in our lives. It is not possible to simply remain indifferent to the Gospel when we hear it spoken or when we see its effects changing us or others.

GOSPEL REFLECTION: John 4: 5-42

This is the story of a woman who encountered Jesus at the well.  She comes to the well in the middle of the noonday heat so as to avoid the other women of her town for fear of encountering their judgment upon her, for she was a sinful woman.  At the well she encounters Jesus. Jesus speaks with her for a while and she is deeply touched by this casual but transforming conversation.

The first thing to note is that the very fact of Jesus speaking to her touched her.  She was a Samaritan woman and Jesus was a Jewish man.  Jewish men did not speak to Samaritan women.  But there was something more that Jesus said that deeply affected her.  As the woman herself tells us, He “told me everything I have done.” 

She wasn’t only impressed that Jesus knew all about her past as if He were a mind reader or magician.  There is more to this encounter than the simple fact that Jesus told her all about her past sins. What truly seemed to touch her was that within the context of Jesus knowing all about her, all the sins of her past life and her broken relationships, He still treated her with the greatest respect and dignity.  This was a new experience for her!

We can be certain that she would have daily experienced a sort of community shame.  The way she lived in the past and the way she was living at the present was not an acceptable lifestyle.  And she felt the shame of it which, as mentioned above, was the reason she came to the well in the middle of the day.  She was avoiding others.

But here was Jesus.  He knew all about her but wanted to give her Living Water nonetheless.  He wanted to satiate the thirst that she was feeling in her soul.  As He spoke to her, and as she experienced His gentleness and acceptance, that thirst began to be quenched.  It began to be quenched because what she really needed, what we all need, is this perfect love and acceptance that Jesus offers.  He offered it to her, and He offers it to us.

Interestingly, the woman went away and “left her water jar” by the well.  She never actually got the water she came for.  Or did she?  Symbolically, this act of leaving the water jar at the well is a sign that her thirst was quenched by this encounter with Jesus.  She was no longer thirsty, at least spiritually speaking.  Jesus, the Living Water, satiated.

GOSPEL REFLECTION:  John 5: 1-15

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?”

John 5:5–6

Only those who have been crippled for many years could understand what this man endured in life. He was crippled and unable to walk for thirty-eight years. The pool he was laying next to was believed to have the power of healing. Therefore, many who were sick and crippled would sit by the pool and try to be the first to enter it when the waters were stirred up. From time to time, that person was said to have received healing.

Jesus sees this man and clearly perceives his desire for healing after so many years. Most likely, his desire for healing was the dominant desire in his life. Without the ability to walk, he could not work and provide for himself. He would have had to rely upon begging and the generosity of others. Thinking about this man, his sufferings and his ongoing attempts for healing from this pool should move any heart to compassion. And since Jesus’ heart was one that was full of compassion, He was moved to offer this man not only the healing he so deeply desired but so much more.

One virtue in the heart of this man that would have especially moved Jesus to compassion is the virtue of patient endurance. This virtue is an ability to have hope in the midst of some ongoing and lengthy trial. It is also referred to as “longsuffering”.   Usually, when one faces a difficulty, the immediate reaction is to look for a way out. As time moves on and that difficulty is not removed, it’s easy to fall into discouragement and even despair. Patient endurance is the cure for this temptation. When one can patiently endure anything and everything they suffer in life, there is a spiritual strength within them that benefits them in numerous ways. Other little challenges are more easily endured. Hope is born within them to a powerful degree. Even joy comes with this virtue despite the ongoing struggle.

When Jesus saw this virtue alive in this man, He was moved to reach out and heal him. And the primary reason Jesus healed this man was not just to help him physically but so that the man would come to believe in Jesus and follow Him.