Gospel Meditation for Mark 7:1-23 for Sunday August 30th, 2015

tissot-the-pharisees-question-jesus

Gospel of Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 NAB

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

Meditation Reflection:

I often hear parents describe their kids to me with such phrases as, “he’s a good kid – he gets good grades, plays sports, and has a lot of friends.” It’s tempting for us as parents to judge our kids by exterior standards such as grades, activities, and popularity. It’s not completely unfounded either. A person has to work hard to earn good grades and have self-discipline and ambition to strive in sports or music.  We’re happy to hear other kids find ours fun to be with and usually it means our child is kind or other-centered enough to form relationships. At the same time, we can make the mistake Jesus so often criticizes the Pharisees for – assuming the external conformities automatically equate to internal virtues. For example, I recently saw a news report about a robbery committed by a high school student who had just graduated valedictorian of her class. Some excellent athletes have committed crimes too and popular kids can be leaders or bullies.

As a mother I try to step back periodically and evaluate the external v. internal obedience of my children as it relates to discipline and forming good habits in them. It can be tempting to be complacent about their spiritual life if they are doing well in school and staying out of trouble.  On the flip side, days when I feel frustrated by my teenage boy’s relentless messiness and disorganization I have to step back and appreciate the positive internal qualities he has and remind myself, “but he has a good heart.” Even if remembering to turn in homework is a struggle, even if I find a pile of smelly dirty socks under his bed, even if I find pop cans and food scraps in the living room; he is a kind, caring, compassionate, and loving son. I have to remember to look interiorly and not get so caught up in the exterior. On a particularly frustrating day, I stopped, hugged my son, and said “I love you, even when you are difficult.” He hugged me back and said, “I love you too, even when you are difficult.” This struck me and made me appreciate the deeper love and relationship we had which had been overshadowed that day by the superficial discord. We had a good laugh together and I thanked God for that moment. Now when I tell people about my kids, I try not to describe their achievements but rather their character and personality.

As Catholics we can misjudge exterior practices for interior holiness as well. If a person goes to Mass, volunteers at Church, and is financially generous, we assume that they must be holy; or at least if we do those things we will be sufficiently holy. However, authentic goodness and genuine holiness proceed from inner virtue and love. This does not mean we should abandon exterior practices of devotion but we must continually strive for authenticity by harmonizing our interior motives with our exterior practices and vice versa.

St. Francis de Sales, in his spiritual classic Introduction to the Devout Life, challenges us to evaluate our spiritual life in context of the whole Gospel to guard against doing what is easy and appears holy while neglecting that which God might be calling us to in the moment or might transform our hearts at a deeper level. He writes,

One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart is full of bitterness;—and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbor’s blood, through slander and detraction. Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited or insulting speeches among his family and neighbors. This man freely opens his purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving feelings towards those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready enough to forgive his enemies, but will never pay his rightful debts save under pressure. Meanwhile all these people are conventionally called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really devout.

De Sales goes on to define true devotion as simply love of God which “not only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly.” It rests on spiritual receptivity to God’s will and a desire to please Him in every action of our day. Jesus says essentially the same thing to the Pharisees. The external observance of the Law demonstrates obedience and was originally intended to train the Israelites in virtue and relationship with God. The Pharisees in this passage seem to have lost the connection at some point, opting for an easier external obedience that excused or covered up an internal disobedience.

Whether it’s our kids, spouse, friends, colleagues, or ourselves, Christ urges us this week to take some time for introspection and gain perspective about the real state of our hearts and those we love.

Consider:

  • Which practices in the spiritual life come naturally for you? (e.g. giving financially, making time for prayer, kindness toward others, volunteering, fasting, learning the faith…)
  • Which practices do you find difficult or less appealing?
  • Read the quote by St. Francis de Sales again. Can you identify a disconnect in your own life? How might you remedy it?
  • What inner qualities do you want for your children? How might you nurture or develop those qualities? (e.g. deep faith, prayerfulness, compassion, enthusiasm, respectfulness, joy, gentleness, self-control…)

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Identify one vice you cover up or rationalize away the most. Practice the opposite virtue this week. Each day determine specifically how you will do so. (For example – if you gossip or complain about a particular person in your life – resolve to say something kind and affirming to that person if you will see them that day; make a list of five good qualities they possess; consider whether you are being fair in your frustration toward them; do something kind for them; offer up a prayer for them such as an Our Father or a rosary.)
  • Intentionally affirm someone in your daily life – your kids, spouse, friends, colleague… Tell them an inner quality you appreciate about them and the external way you see them display it.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015

* These Sunday meditations are intended to engage the heart and imagination in prayer and include a practical application (resolutions) to your daily life. In our presentation on prayer I offer a more detailed discussion of ways to pray with Scripture that can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour and vary in depth depending on your time-frame and prayer goals.  
Advertisements

Gospel Meditation for John 6:60-69 for Sunday August 23rd, 2015

by Angela Lambert

Eucharist and cross

August 23rd, 2015; 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 6:60-69 NAB

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Meditation Reflection:

The psalmist exhorts us to “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 34). He does not say, “see then taste”. Rather than requiring scientific evidence to support the miracle of the Eucharist before receiving it, Christ pleads with us to believe in Him and receive the Eucharist after which we will see its power to give life. Belief in the Eucharist should not be predicated upon whether it satisfies our natural reason or whether or not we feel like it. Instead, Christ’s word alone, His teaching as Lord and Savior of the world forms the basis for belief in the supernatural miracle of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Because of its supernatural quality, it necessarily exceeds our natural experience and reasoning. This makes it difficult for any person to believe in such a transformation based on merely human experience.

The Catechism discusses this common problem, writing:

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ (Jn 6:60) The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. ‘Will you also go away?’ (Jn 6:61): The Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only He has ‘the words of eternal life’ (Jn 6:68) and that to receive in faith the gift of His Eucharist is to receive the Lord Himself.”

In this passage the followers of Christ divide between those who “returned to their former way of life” where their faith wasn’t challenged and those who, with Peter, can only say “We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy one of God.” The passage seems to indicate that everyone present experienced confusion and found Christ’s teaching difficult to accept. Many of us share this same experience. We follow Christ and marvel at His actions in our life. Then we come to a point where one of His teachings, whether in Scripture or through His Church, seems too difficult. We are tempted to rationalize that no one could really believe it and then go on living as we were. Christ challenges us to respond instead like Peter by putting our trust in Him. If we are convinced that Jesus is the Christ, then we should be convinced that everything He says and promises is true.

Consider:

  • What makes you convinced that Jesus is God and Savior? Are you convinced?
  • What teaching of Christ do you struggle with the most? Do you follow Christ always or only when it makes sense to your natural reason?
  • Which is more reliable – Christ’s wisdom or your own? Why?
  • Do you find it hard to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? If yes, why? If no, why not? If you have a deep belief in the Eucharist, consider how you might share that belief with someone else. Pray for a providential moment.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Faith is a gift. Pray each day this week for an increase in the gift of faith. You could share the prayer of the man in Mark 9:24 who said to Christ, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
  • Make an effort to deepen your belief in the Eucharist. Spend time praying at Church or adoration, go to a daily Mass, read about the Eucharist in the Catechism (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm), read John 6 again, read about Eucharistic miracles. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind and heart.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015

* These Sunday meditations are intended to engage the heart and imagination in prayer and include a practical application (resolutions) to your daily life. In our presentation on prayer I offer a more detailed discussion of ways to pray with Scripture that can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour and vary in depth depending on your time-frame and prayer goals.  

 

The Mass – Both A Meal and an Encounter…Gospel Meditation for John 6:51-58 for Sunday August 16th, 2015

by Angela Lambert

Last Supper

August 16th, 2015; 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 6:51-58 NAB

Jesus said to the crowds: “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.” The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Meditation Reflection:

When I have old friends over for dinner, it is never merely a meal. It’s always an anticipated event, an encounter with people I dearly love at a deep level. It’s an exchange of conversation flavored by our shared history, values, and mutual respect. When I have new friends over for dinner, it’s never merely a meal either. It too is an encounter, a sharing of ourselves and opening up to discover common values as well as the excitement of hearing a person’s different perspective or experiences which can open up new horizons.

The great modern theologian, Fr. Romano Guardini (1885-1968), makes the beautiful insight that the Mass too is both a meal and an encounter (from his book Meditations before Mass). He asserts that Christ makes this connection when He talks about Himself in the passage above as both “bread” (meal) but also as “come down from heaven” (encounter). In the Mass Christ invites us to a dinner He has prepared that we might both be nourished by the food and refreshed in spirit by the personal encounter with Him either as a new or old friend.

Deep friendship is one of the greatest pleasures one can experience in life. Even the philosopher Aristotle considered it one of the highest virtues. To find someone who shares the same “vision of the Truth” as C.S. Lewis puts it, is a real joy. Scripture reminds us that “Faithful friends are beyond price” (Sirach 6:15) and we all know that for something to be expensive it must be rare. To spend time with that friend in person is even more delightful. To have that kind of friendship in marriage can result in an exchange of love and unity at the very depths of our humanness.

Christ desires this kind of friendship and union with each of us. That is why the image of a wedding feast is used to represent the culmination of the Christian life. Christ the bridegroom and the Church His bride are united body and soul in the Eucharist. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper presents the opportunity to encounter Christ at every level, from the surprises of a new friendship to the deepest and most intimate of relationships. The more dinners, the more the friendship can develop.

Consider:

  • Who is your closest friend? How did the friendship develop?
  • How would you describe your friendship with Christ? How has it developed?
  • Consider the role of meals in developing friendships. Whether it is as simple as coffee, drinks, lemonade, cookies, grilling, eating out, or cooking a full meal, or family dinners. How does food somehow enrich the experience and open people up to each other?
  • Consider why Christ would desire to be present to you in Person, in the flesh, in the context of a meal. Consider how personal it is and bonding. Also consider the addition of other people – how does eating with others add to the experience?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Next Mass, approach the Lord’s Supper the way you would a dinner with a close friend. Prepare yourself for the encounter and treat it with the same attention and respect you would give your dinner guest or host.
  • On the way up the aisle to receive the Eucharist try to push away any distracting thoughts. Reflect on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. After receiving Christ, try to remain silent and focus on Him for a few minutes before talking, singing, or thinking of anything else.
  • Offer hospitality to someone. Make them dinner, or take them out for coffee and treat them as if they were Christ Himself visiting with you.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015

* These Sunday meditations are intended to engage the heart and imagination in prayer and include a practical application (resolutions) to your daily life. In our presentation on prayer I offer a more detailed discussion of ways to pray with Scripture that can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour and vary in depth depending on your time-frame and prayer goals.  

 

 

Gospel Meditation for John 6: 41-51 for Sunday August 9th, 2015

by Angela Lambert

Eucharist

August 9th, 2015; 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of John 6:41-51 NAB

The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say,‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 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.”

Meditation Reflection:

During times of stress, anxiety, or packed schedules, we often do not feel like eating. Like the angel who ordered a weary and despairing Elijah to “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you” (1Kings 19), good friends will make sure we do anyway urging that we will need it to “keep up our strength.”   Obeying the angel’s command and eating the food God provided, Elijah was enabled to “walk forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God.” In this chapter of John, Christ pleads with us to eat the living bread (whether or not we feel like it) that we may eat it and live forever.

Unfortunately we tend to give the Eucharist only a superficial glance. Like the Jews in this passage who murmur “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? …Then how can He say “I have come down from heaven’?”, we think to ourselves, “it really just looks like bread, it’s a wafer, and not even a tasty one at that.” Other times we may say, “I believe it is Christ but I have a busy day. How much of a difference will it really make for me to go to a daily Mass, or how bad would it really be if I did something else today instead of going to Sunday Mass.” In the first example we judge by appearances, in the second we underestimate the transforming power of union with God incarnate.

To say going to Mass won’t add much to your day or week is to say that seeing your dearest friend or spouse wouldn’t improve your day any either. I too sometimes struggle with these thoughts about Mass, especially when it requires getting up early, but from what I have “tasted and seen,” I can confidently say that my day is remarkably different based on whether or not I have received the Eucharist. I receive so much strength and peace in Christ and find it easier to feel close to God or practice the virtues (especially patience!). We all get much more out of time spent with real friends than with acquaintances. Friendships take time to develop though and an investment of oneself. The more you invest in your friendship with Christ, the more you come to Him in the union of the Eucharist, the more you will taste the delight of His love and see transformation in your life. Consider these words of Fr. Lagrange from The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life:

“The reception of the Eucharist is called Communion, or the intimate union of the heart of God with the heart of man.”

Consider:

  • Have you ever had a powerful experience of God after receiving the Eucharist?
  • How could you be more fervent in your prayer at Mass? What would help you be more present to Christ and less distracted?
  • Reflect on the humility and love of Christ that He gives Himself to you in such an intimate way.
    • What does this say about His love for you?
    • How does sin cheapen this encounter?
  • Reflect on the lives of the saints – all of them centered their spiritual life on the Eucharist. What do they have to say about communion and Mass? What is the fruit of their love for the Eucharist?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray to the Holy Spirit to prepare your heart to receive Christ. Pray for greater fervor and passion for Christ in the Eucharist.
  • Read about Eucharistic miracles.
  • Attend one daily Mass this week.
  • Go to confession if you have committed a serious sin.
  • Treat the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist with the same reverence and respect as you would your spouse in marital union.
  • Try to increase your awareness of any growth in virtue that you experience from frequent reception of the Eucharist. Although the transformation will take time, note what improvements you notice.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2015

* These Sunday meditations are intended to engage the heart and imagination in prayer and include a practical application (resolutions) to your daily life. In our presentation on prayer I offer a more detailed discussion of ways to pray with Scripture that can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour and vary in depth depending on your time-frame and prayer goals.