Pastor’s Corner | Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time we hear Jesus tell his disciples about his passion, death and resurrection a second time. It is clear to him that they didn’t understand the first time. He knew that, along the way, they had been arguing about who was the greatest. He gathers the Apostles and says to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

The first reading this week comes from the Book of Ezra, one of the first chroniclers of the post-exile period of Judaism. He is responsible for helping hold the restored people together. We finish the week with brief selections from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, who were prophets during this period. “Consider your ways!” “My spirit continues in your midst; do not fear!”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus urges us to use our gifts: “No one lights a lamp and hides it under a bushel basket.” When his family comes looking for him, Jesus uses the occasion to tell us that we are family to him, if we hear his Word and act on it. He encourages his Apostles to freedom, sending them out to teach and heal, taking nothing with them. Herod is wondering who Jesus really is. Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter replies for them all, “The Christ of God.” Jesus doesn’t want them to announce he’s the type of Messiah they were looking for. Instead, he tells them of his upcoming Passion and death.

This is a great week to be reminded that the call to be a Christian is not a simple path. We are called to serve boldly and without worrying about material needs. This week’s readings have a clear call for us to examine how we share God’s love for us with others.

How do we do such serious reflection when it seems we don’t have time for it? We can be “contemplatives in action” by beginning our day with a desire, letting that desire come to our consciousness throughout the day in the “background” moments, and by giving thanks for what graces we received at the end of the day.

How do we come up with the desire? The first step to finding “intimacy with God in the midst of our daily lives” is to develop the habit of naming a desire for the day, while we are still just getting started with the day, before our concentration becomes preoccupied with the worries of the day. These guides can help by suggesting desires that flow from the readings of the week, but the best desires are in the very needs and anxieties that are deep in our hearts. That is where God is working in us, revealing things we can turn over to the Lord and form into a prayer. It can often be just 45 seconds, when we throw on a robe or slippers, or while in the shower or getting dressed. It is deep prayer if we can just say, “Help me, today, Lord. My day is so full. Give me courage, and let me know you are with me all day.”

We can use the readings of the week in a variety of ways. We can take a day to imagine being part of Jesus’ family, with a desire to hear his word and keep it. We can let Jesus address us one day this week, asking us who we say he is. The words don’t need to be complicated – it’s just starting conversation with God who loves you deeply, then listening.

Gracious God, I ask you to heal me today as you healed so many others. Bless my eyes that I might appreciate all that I see around me; and my mouth that I may not judge others and speak harshly of them. And bless my feet as you send me on this journey of grace in my life each day.

I would be remiss to note that these pastor’s corners are offered in correlation with Creighton University’s Online Ministry Team. As a graduate of the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University, I have the opportunity to use their Weekly Guides for Prayer. I have been using them for so long, when I switched parishes and bulletins, I did not make mention of it. Otherwise, have a great week!

-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear in Mark’s Gospel as Jesus tell his disciples about his passion, death and resurrection to come in Jerusalem. Peter tries to prevent him from going there. Jesus rebukes him and tells the disciples and us that to be a disciple is to follow him, not trying to save one’s life, but by dying to ourselves and losing ourselves for his sake and that of the Gospel. That is the only path to real life.

We continue reading from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy. It begins this week with the great prayer for our leaders. He then says how bishops and deacons should behave. He urges Timothy to be especially caring for the youth. Paul warns Timothy of the troubles of riches. Finally, Paul encourages Timothy to be faithful.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus praises the faith of the Roman centurion who understands Jesus’ power to heal. Jesus then raises from the dead the son of the widow of Nain. In response to constant criticism from religious authorities, Jesus compares the critics to children taunting their playmates. We read of the woman who entered a dinner Jesus was attending and wept over his feet, washing them with her tears, showing what real love is. Luke, who highlights the role of women in his Gospel, tells us of women who accompanied Jesus and his disciples. Finally, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Sower and its interpretation about how temptations and shallow roots can prevent the Word from growing in us or how “the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life” can choke the Word.

Who among us hasn’t wondered about how much is enough? How many times do we need to forgive? How much of the goods of this earth do I need to have? How generous am I able to be? The parables Jesus uses often shock our attention and give us a rich fruit for reflection.

These days, the news stories are centered on war and disasters, and on divisions and conflicts. We are not always aware of the scope of the human tragedy that goes on in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our world. Many people on the earth suffer in so many ways – from dire poverty, from years of wars, and from ecological policies that leave the earth in trouble and people worse off. We can see stories of pain and suffering on the other side of the world and we feel it here. We might be filled with horror and compassion and fear. Insecurity, powerlessness can bring us to our knees and to the Lord. This week’s readings help us with continuing reflection that can guide our integration of a confidence in God’s love and mercy.

One of the great things that any tragedy brings forward is examples of great heroism and generosity. We also know that the human spirit can be tempted to the worst things imaginable. But, when we see people sacrificing their own lives to help others or showing with their generosity and passionate care how deeply they value human life, it lifts our own spirits and helps us be more generous and free.

We could ask the Lord this week to help us assess what we really need. Do riches become a trouble for us? Do anxieties and the pleasures of life choke my reception of the Word? Can we ask for the desire to walk through our days with trust in Jesus’ power to heal, to bring what is dead to life? Each of us can make this daily desire request and reflection very concrete. And, as we prepare for the weekend, we can begin reflecting on how happy I am that God is merciful and generous, even toward those that I don’t think “deserve” it.

As we begin each day with a desire, we can end each day with gratitude for what we received.

Have a great week!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | The Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Isaiah offers comforting words: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus heals a deaf and mute man. The people are astonished and say of Jesus, “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The first part of the week, the first readings are from the Letter to the Colossians. Paul is in prison, encouraging this community to put their trust in Christ, not mystical teachings and powers. He challenges them to live their baptism and to walk in the union they have with and in Jesus. Friday we begin reading Paul’s First Letter to Timothy. On Saturday Paul boldly proclaims that he is the “foremost” among sinners and a sign of God’s mercy.

In the first part of this week, following Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand, on the Sabbath, in front of his religious critics. Then Jesus goes up on a mountain to pray and comes down to name his twelve apostles – all of whom seem to be unknown or questionable at best. When people come to him from all over, he heals them. Jesus announces that the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those hated or excluded or denounced because of him are the blessed. He warns those who are rich, filled, laughing and spoken well of, for their fates will be reversed. Jesus urges us to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. He cautions not to be quick to see the splinter in someone else’s eye when we do not notice the “wooden beam” in our own eyes. Jesus says that we will be known by our fruit. It is only by building our lives upon him, as a firm foundation, can we hope to survive crises.

When we place Jesus at the center of our lives, as Paul calls the Colossians to do, two marvelous graces are given us. We experience God’s love for us in the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. As grateful sinners, we then are able to forgive others.

As we begin each day this week, we can let these two graces be part of our reflection. We can ask our Lord to show us his love. We can fearlessly ask to understand who we are as sinners, in the concrete ways each of us falls short, gets distracted, becomes uncentered and makes very unfree choices. We can ask to be forgiven and healed. We can beg for the grace to forgive others. This journey each day might take us into specific patterns, habits, ruts we’re in. We may even want to prepare to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation this week, as we realize our need for forgiveness, and God’s great love for us as sinners.

We can choose to focus carefully this week on those people we ask for the grace to forgive. To whose faults do I pay most attention? Whom do I judge harshly? From whom do I withhold forgiveness? If we begin each day, asking our Lord to reveal the answers to these questions, throughout our day, our days this week will show us deeper places where the Lord can forgive us and where we can share that mercy.

In this week when we celebrate Mary’s birth, we might ask her to gently guide us to trust her Son’s love and to be more tender in loving those people her Son invites us to forgive and be a source of healing.

Throughout this week, we can also give thanks for the ways we are called to be Jesus’ followers—not because we are extremely talented or because we are perfect, but because he saw in us something that he could heal and then send us to heal others. We can be especially attentive to the ways we are blessed in our poverty and in the ways we sometimes experience rejection as his disciples.

Have a great week!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our week begins as we look to the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. We see a glimpse of the Prophet Jeremiah who understands the pain of following the Lord and decides not to speak the Lord’s name again, “but then it becomes like fire burning in my heart.” Paul’s letter to the Romans encourages those ancient Romans—and us—not to conform to this age but to discern the will of God. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus corrects his disciples’ resistance to his own Passion and death, telling them that if they try to save their lives, they’ll lose them. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians concludes on Tuesday. Wednesday, we begin a week of readings from the Letter to the Colossians, with its gracious salutation and encouragement. The readers are exhorted to see Christ as the “head of the body” noting that all is created “in and through him.”

We now move from Matthew to Luke’s Gospel, which we will read on weekdays from now until Advent begins. We will feel the special way the evangelist will highlight healing, mercy, the poor, women, prayer, the Spirit and a gospel for a new, all inclusive, Israel.

Jesus teaches in the synagogue and reads from Isaiah: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus heals a man with demons. He heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and all the sick they brought him. “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” He calls out to three discouraged fishermen to lower their nets, to show them his power. Peter is overwhelmed and protests he is unworthy. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” At Jesus’ persistence, Peter, James, and John leave their nets to follow Jesus. The week ends with Jesus’ tangling with the Pharisees who challenge the fasting of his disciples. “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” He deflects the criticism by telling them “no one pours new wine into old wineskins.” When his critics note that his disciples were “unlawful” by picking heads of grains to eat, he tells them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

As we get into this pattern of letting the readings interact with the desires of our hearts, one week flows into the next. So, we begin this week continuing to reflect on the purpose of our lives. We can measure our resistance to self-denial for the sake of loving others more and ask for the Lord’s healing and grace.

Our pattern of finding intimacy with our Lord in the unique context of our busy, complicated days begins with a morning moment of focus, the earlier the better. Soon after we wake up, we can pause briefly to give a faith-filled shape to our day. While making coffee, starting a load of wash, taking a shower, getting dressed, we can begin our day with the Lord, begin our day in a relationship. At first, it may take practice to replace what usually goes on in our heads and hearts, with this kind of prayerful desiring. It can quickly become a very natural way to anticipate, plan, and prepare for our day.

Reading this guide over the weekend or early in the week helps, as does reading a daily reflection for the day. But these resources work best when they provide support for our inner conversation with the Lord as we go through the real experiences, relationships, conflicts and challenges of our day. Then the scriptures, the unique details of our lives, and the desires of our hearts simply come together in an ongoing dialogue with the Lord that takes place in the background of our days and shapes our choices and reveals deeper desires.

This week, we might ask Jesus to confront the demons that seem to dominate the upcoming week. We may have many mothers-in-law or friends that need healing that we can entrust to the Lord’s care. We might experience discouragement in our work, with our spouses or parents or in our jobs or ministries. We can take those discouragements and use them as an opportunity to ask the Lord to show us his power there. And, when we are tempted to feel unworthy or to be humbled by the task ahead, we can let Jesus call us again to follow him. Perhaps this week we will feel the call to a real renewal, to not just keep trying to pour new wine into our old wineskins, but to ask the Lord to make us new, and ready for the new calls, new graces he is offering us. With the smallest of efforts, we can find a few moments every evening to look back on these days of connecting with our Lord, and to express our gratitude for his presence and the new freedom and graces we are receiving.

By Saturday, we might find ourselves turning to Mary to ask for the graces we need from our Lord. “I thank God for your life, Mary. Please place me with your Son.”

Have a great week!
-Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, we continue with John’s Gospel and the Bread of Life discussion, with many of the disciples finding Jesus’ call to be nourished on his body and blood as tough to swallow. And they leave him. Peter speaks for the others: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Most of the first readings this week are from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, the oldest book in the New Testament. The letters are affectionate and frank reminders of the humiliation and challenges that Paul met in preaching to this community he loved so much. These readings are a wonderful reminder that the letters of Paul were just that – letters to teach, encourage and support early communities of Christians.

Matthew’s Gospel this week includes stories of Jesus strongly challenging the Pharisees. He saw how they made people’s lives so difficult by their insistence on the rules and appearances while neglecting mercy and good faith. He chides them for paying attention to the extraneous and not the message: “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!” His criticism grows stronger: “On the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” Jesus teaches about preparation: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” In the parable of the ten maidens who go out to meet the bridegroom, many of the women did not prepare for the meeting and do not have enough oil for their lamps and Jesus says again, “Stay awake.” Except for this year’s special readings, Saturday’s gospel is the dramatic story of the three servants who are given resources by their master and rewarded or punished for what they did with the resources they had.

The old Baltimore Catechism defined Prayer as “raising the mind and heart to God.” It reminds us that prayer is not simply saying words to God, or even thinking over religious things in our heads. Real prayer becomes a matter of the heart. We understand prayer best when we think of it as a relationship. Growing in prayer is to grow in love, in intimacy, in a type of communication that is “heart to heart.” So, on the human level, if we have a difficult time receiving love or in surrendering our self-absorption and giving love or if we just haven’t had much experience of being intimate and vulnerable with another human being, then it will be difficult for us to do that with God. Conversely, anything we can do to develop our relationship skills, to de-selfish ourselves and practice accepting love and loving generously will help us grow in our relationship with God. Praying can often become easier, more personal and intimate.

This week, we can go from hearing these wonderful readings to listening to Jesus with our hearts. It is great to begin this week asking for the grace to reflect throughout the day on how we will enter “the narrow gate,” by how we go about our day, interact with people, or return home from work. Then we can reflect on how we can humble ourselves and what that means for our day-to-day choices.

We could ask for the grace to go deeper than the externals and rules and get to the heart of our faith – loving others with the same compassion and love that Jesus shows us. For some of us, it might be extremely helpful this week to take the word “awake” and to carry it all day long. “Help me stay awake, Lord: to be alert and attentive, focused and reflective today. It will be busy, but I ask that you help me be consciously aware that you will be with me all day.” We may want to ask, “Lord, let me be conscious of the many gifts and blessings you have given me. Let me reflect upon how I use each gift gratefully and for others. Let me really see today if there are gifts that I am neglecting, squandering, or simply are afraid to use. Then, give me the courage to give you thanks and to be a good steward of your gifts.”

As we prepare for Sunday, we can begin to reflect upon giving up the honors in our lives. We can begin each day praying, “Lord, help me humble myself today, put myself last in caring for my family, in doing my job with a more selfless sense of service. Help me forgive people who aren’t performing well or behaving well. Help me see the way you give me life in this surrender, in this freedom to spend brief moments today in talking with you, friend-to-friend, in heart-felt connection with you, for others.”

Have a great week!
-Fr. Joe

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the key question the people are asking in John’s Gospel is: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus tells us the eating his flesh and drinking blood is real food and drink. It gives us life, eternal life. We are one with him and he is one with us.

In the first part of the week, we have readings from the Book of Judges. We read of how Israel worshiped other gods and fell into the power of their enemies; how God called Gideon to be a leader of his tribe; of Gideon’s son Abimelech who was unfairly made king and his brother Jotham’s response; and of Jephtha’s promise to God to sacrifice the first person he saw if only he was victorious in battle. After his victory, Jephtha’s only child ran to greet him and he sacrificed her. The Psalm reading for that day reminds us that “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience.” Two days of readings from the Book of Ruth tell the moving story of Naomi and her loving daughter-in-law Ruth. Ruth leaves her own homeland to return with Naomi to Bethlehem, where Ruth remarries and has a child, Obed, who will become the grandfather of the great king, David.

Matthew’s Gospel this week includes some favorite parables, like the rich young man. Jesus says “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God,” and we know he is introducing the counter-cultural idea that riches may make it more difficult to be saved. Those are followed by stories of the Master of the vineyard who leaves us with the phrase “The last will be first and the first, last.” Jesus tells the parable of the landowner who hires workers throughout the day, including the last hours. When he pays them all the same, those who worked all day grumbled. “Are you envious because I am generous?” He offers the parable of the guests who are too busy to attend the wedding feast of the king’s son. Friday, Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Saturday, Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

This week we can be moved by the powerful fidelity of a woman like Ruth. And the familiar gospel stories will guide us through the week, mostly with practical advice and challenging ideas.

It is good to begin by recognizing our own issues with God. For many of us, the graces with which we will be asking God to bless us have to do with our freedom from being so independent. For some of us, it will be to ask to keep our priorities straight this week. It may mean that we let this be a week when we ask what “success” really means for us. It could be a week to try to name more clearly what our purpose, our mission in life is: what is the Lord calling us to do with our lives.

The real grace of finding intimacy with God in the midst of our busy everyday lives is that it helps keep us focused. When we get really busy, it can be like being on a treadmill. We begin our day in the morning, go where the day takes us, and jump off at night. Our desire here is to live with more choice, more freedom. We want to live each day more reflectively.

So, if I know the Gospel is going to ask me to ponder how the lure of having more and more money can become an impediment to my salvation, or how generous and merciful God is, or how my busyness leads me to forget or lose my priorities, then I can choose to let those reflections shape my week. The way I can do that is by beginning each day with focus. What gives focus is recognizing and naming a desire, a grace or gift I ask of God, for that day, conscious of what I will be experiencing, what will challenge me, what opportunities will be offered me. What really makes this effective is to keep talking with Jesus about those desires in the small, quiet moments that are tucked into each day, the “in between times” of the day.

The effect is that more and more of the details of our lives are interacting with the Word of God and the desires which God is inspiring in our hearts. As we move toward the weekend, we can prepare to hear Jesus ask us who we say he is—who he is for us. Connecting with Jesus in our daily lives allows him to become my Savior and the intimate friend who knows me through and through and is helping me come to know myself with great honesty, integrity, freedom and peace.

Have a great week!

-Fr. Joe

The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

For this Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we finish our third Sunday with the Bread of Life readings from the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, meditating on the words of Jesus who reveals that he is the bread of life. Some of his hearers grumble about these shocking words. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Tuesday is the Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr, and Wednesday the Memorial of Saint Clare, Virgin. Saturday is the Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr.

In the first readings this week from Deuteronomy, we hear about the entry into the Promised Land. Moses says farewell to the people. Then we have readings from the Book of Joshua, who was the successor of Moses. The people cross the Jordan, with the Ark of the Covenant clearing a path through the river. Joshua speaks to the people as a prophet and recounts all God has done for them. The people renew their covenant at Shechem.

In the daily readings from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus again warns his disciples about his upcoming passion, death and resurrection, but they are “overwhelmed with grief.” Jesus resolves the temple tax question, as if to say, “it will be given you.” When the disciples are wondering about “who is the greatest,” Jesus points to a child and says the greatest is the one who is humble, like the defenseless child. He tells them to care for each other “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone,” and to pray together for anything they need. When Peter asks Jesus how many times we must forgive, Jesus tells the powerful parable of the servant who is forgiven his debt but doesn’t forgive his debtors. Jesus urges us to forgive from our hearts. Jesus tells his disciples about the sacredness of marriage. The disciples tried to prevent people from bringing children to Jesus and he said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

It is marvelous how each week’s readings offer us new ways to open our hearts to God’s grace. Sometimes, as with a psalm, we feel God’s real presence as we sense God “who filled my soul with fire!” Like Israel, it is good for us to look back from time to time and gratefully remember all God has done for us and to renew our “Amen” to the new covenant God makes with us in Jesus.

Throughout this week, each of us can find the connection between some part of the readings and a desire, a need, a longing in our unique situation. If we begin each day­—at the side of our beds, in the shower, while getting dressed, over a cup of coffee—simply talking with our Lord about our upcoming day, we will have a wonderfully reflective week. It doesn’t have to be long. It just needs to be focused and focusing. That is, we need to keep uncovering something inside of us that we can talk with our Lord about, at various “in between” times during the day. Like a song that keeps playing in the back of our head all day, a desire we express in the morning will focus our day and our relationship with Jesus throughout the day. At night we can pause to give thanks for times of connection with Jesus during the day, and the gifts God gives us.

This week, it might be Jesus’ prediction of his passion, death and resurrection that unsettles us, as we realize he’s calling us to follow him. It might be the battle for being the greatest that the disciples are caught up in, and that I might myself be caught up in, as I compete with and judge others. So, Jesus’ words about our emulating the little, humble child can open our hearts. His call to embrace the child, the defenseless one, might allow us to pray this week about an openness to a particularly defenseless person or to hearing the cry of the poor in our city or in the world. And, who can’t be opened up by the parable of the servant who doesn’t forgive as he’s been forgiven? Each day we might name people we struggle to forgive. We could make a focused effort to thank God for the mercy, compassion, and unconditional love we’ve experienced, as ask for the grace to share that with others. For some of us, it will be important to spend a day or more asking for the grace to be faithful in our marriage­—in all the ways that will call us to die to ourselves and think of the needs of our spouse before our own.

Have a great Week!
Fr. Joe

Pastor’s Corner | The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are in the second of five Sunday gospels from the 6th chapter of John’s gospel and the Bread of Life readings. Jesus tells the crowd, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

We continue the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. This week our readings are from the Book of Numbers for the first several days and from the Book of Deuteronomy on Saturday.

In Matthew’s Gospel this week we hear some marvelous words about faith and discipleship. The “feeding of the 5,000” comes after the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away because they didn’t know how to feed them. Jesus tells them to “give them some food yourselves” and blesses the loaves and fishes. Jesus comes to his disciples across the water in a storm, and invites Peter to come to him, across the water; when Peter comes, he takes his eyes off Jesus and goes down. A persistent Canaanite woman begs Jesus for help for her daughter. When he refuses, she persists and he replies, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But when Peter tries to stop Jesus from talking about the hardships that are ahead, Jesus tells him, “Get behind me, Satan!” He gives his followers a guide for their lives: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The disciples wonder why they could not drive out a demon from a boy, Jesus answers, “Because of your little faith.” Faith “the size of a mustard seed” is enough.

This week we can ask, in the variety of ways, in the situations of our daily lives, that our eyes might be opened to see Jesus as he really is – glorified, with the Father, and ready to renew our faith and trust in him.

As we begin our day, and at brief times throughout our day, we can pull our consciousness together by letting the themes of this week’s reading guide us.

One day, we might ask to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we go through a day full of strong wind and waves. We can ask again and again, as things get tougher and more challenging. Another day, we might focus on what comes out of our mouths. Is there cynicism, judgments, distortions of the truth, divisive and self-serving manipulation, yelling and hurtful put-downs? How do I practice using my voice to give praise to God by affirming others, forgiving them, by telling the truth, by defending the poor and the voiceless, by giving God thanks?

Another day, I might be conscious of those I regard as “dogs,” those I disdain or think of as “the enemy.” I might ask for the grace to open my heart to whatever faith in God they have, however different from mine. I might ask for a sense of solidarity with them, not because it is my desire or inclination, but because it is God’s desire for me. How can I heal and reconcile, at least in my heart, what needs healing: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslimism, fear and hatred of foreigners, hostility against the poor or my harsh judgments about “sinners.”

Later in the week, we can get in touch with the call of Jesus to deny ourselves. This is not self-denial for its own sake. This is the dying of self that comes from loving in the self-sacrificing way that Jesus did. Who in my family, friends, relative, co-workers, members of my parish or congregation needs my self-denying love? How have I focused on “gaining the world” and lost some of my true self in the process? Is there some way this week that I can taste discovering my true self in giving some time, some compassion, some love, some special care to someone who needs this from me?

And throughout the week, perhaps at a special time of powerlessness or some time when I feel that I don’t have the energy or gifts to do the “more,” to move a mountain, I can ask for faith the size of a mustard seed. And, each night I can give thanks to God for being generous to me all week, for this simple focus on our relationship every day.

Have a great week!

Fr. Joe

From Fr. Joe’s Desk | 07.25.2021

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time begins five weeks of Sunday reflections on Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel on Jesus as the Bread of Life, “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.”

This is the third and final week from the Book of Exodus. Moses carries down the Ten Commandments from God but breaks them in a fury when he sees the people worshiping a golden calf. He meets face to face with God in a tent in the desert and invites God to come with them on their journey. Moses’ face is so radiant after meeting with God, it is covered with a veil. Moses builds a movable meeting tent for their journey, and puts the arc of the commandments in it, and in a cloud by day and with fire by night, God was with them. 

The Gospels are from Matthew’s Gospel, with wonderful stories worth pondering and reflecting on. We hear of the tiny mustard seed which grows into a towering bush, the explanation of the parable of the weeds in the field. Then we again hear how the Kingdom is like a treasure or a pearl a merchant makes great sacrifices to obtain. With the story of the fishing net tossed into the sea, we consider how everyone is gathered by God at the end of time to be judged. Jesus comes to his hometown to teach but took offense at him. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” We end the week with the sad story of Herod, not wanting to be embarrassed in front of his guests, ordering John the Baptist beheaded.

This whole week could be a time for each of us to grow in a sense of what we most deeply desire. If we let Sunday’s Gospel open our hearts we might find ourselves asking, begging God for what we need.

And we can let the daily Gospels renew our hope. Have we become cynical and jaded a bit? The world does seem to be like a field someone sowed weeds into. God’s reign in this world doesn’t seem to be growing, and the seeds seem so small. This is a good week to get in touch with what is discouraged in our hearts and to let the courage the Lord is offering us renew us. He promises that even small seeds work and that even a little yeast allows dough to grow. The process is sometimes imperceptible, but that’s why Jesus reminds us to place our trust in him. Our own hearts might be full of weeds, but the Lord doesn’t want us ripping ourselves apart. He is full of mercy and healing reconciliation. Jesus does not want us to be scandalized by the evil we see in the world. God is patient. And, God alone will judge.

So every day this week, we can begin our day, establishing a focus. This might be while standing next to our bed for a brief minute, or while pouring ourselves a cup of coffee, or while in the shower or getting dressed. This is the time that can transform any busy day into a more focused time of connection with our Lord. Using all sorts of background times throughout the day will take no “extra” time for prayer, but will make it possible to let these powerful scriptures interact with the daily events and relationships with which we are involved.

One morning we might begin our day, simply by saying, “Lord, thank you for this day. Help me to pay attention to what and who I’m treasuring today.” Or, “Lord, be others. Help me place my trust in you today.” While in the shower or driving to work I might talk with the Lord about the day ahead, asking for particular help, focus, or a new way of valuing during that difficult 10 am meeting or with the clients or students or patients I will see. While doing the wash or shopping or preparing meals or while taking time with my family or friends in the evening, I can let myself have these 30 second friend-to-friend conversations with the Lord. The readings provide a compass for our daily journey, but it is the continual practice at connecting with our Lord that carries us through the day. Looking back and saying “thank you” every night, if even for 30 seconds, will gradually transform us and give us more courage and hope.

Have a great week, and know that I am very happy to be a part of the Catholic Community of Our Lady!

Fr. Joe