Gospel Meditation for Mark 9:38-48 for Sunday September 27th, 2015

by Angela Lambert

tree by its fruit

September 27th, 2015, 2015; 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 NAB

At that time, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

Meditation Reflection:

Jesus says in Matthew 7:16 “You will know them by their fruits.” Hearts open to God bear good fruit. The apostles were upset that others were casting out demons but Jesus reminds them once again that in His kingdom we do not have to compete against one another for position. Everyone is called to union with God and this union always produces charitable works. Christ could tell these men were authentic because of the fruit they were bearing. St. Teresa of Avila used this as a litmus test for the authenticity of prayer as well. She did not base her estimation of prayer on her feelings or experiences but rather on the virtue it produced afterward.

God and sin are incompatible. Sin, by definition, is a rejection of God and God keeps His promise to respect the free will He bestowed on us at our creation. Our union with God therefore depends entirely upon our will. Those areas of our heart that we open up to God He fills, and those areas we keep closed off He respects. This may be why many describe it as feeling like a hole in their heart. Most of us are a mixed bag with some areas filled with Christ and other areas we keep closed off.

The joy of heaven however stems from a heart filled completely with God, total union. My all-time favorite book portraying the interior drama we experience as we wrestle with desire for God and attachment to sins is C.S. Lewis’ work The Great Divorce. Lewis imaginatively illustrates the complete divorce of Heaven and Hell/ the incompatibility between God and sin. He opens with a quote by George MacDonald which echoes the words of Christ in this Sunday’s Gospel. He writes:

No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little of hell in it, no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather.

Lewis goes on to illustrate the way in which we rationalize our attachments and how if we become too stubborn in them, we can find ourselves rejecting heaven altogether to maintain one sin. Jesus uses strong language when He says to cut off whatever is causing you to sin. The truth is, there are some attachments and some sins that we nurse along rationalizing that it’s not that big of deal. Yet, each sin we hold on to prevents full union with God.

St. Augustine articulated it well in his account of his own conversion. In his book Confessions, he tells of when he had accepted Christ’s Truth intellectually, but wasn’t yet ready to live by Christ’s precepts. He remembers with humble honesty his prayer, “Grant me chastity and continency, but not yet.” He wanted to follow Christ, but he didn’t want to give up indulging his lust. After hearing of the heroic acts of the lives of the saints as well as of contemporary martyrs, Augustine was ashamed of his weakness. To add to the humiliation, after breaking up with his concubine, (whom he had a son with), she vowed to remain celibate out of love for him and kept that vow. Augustine however caved to his lust and felt his slavery when he could not keep the same promise. He finally begged God truly to free him and in that moment of willful surrender God healed him. Augustine received the grace to detach from lust and could then experience the fullness of love.

In his homily to religious in Philadelphia, Pope Francis reflected on St. Katharine Drexel’s response to Christ’s call and the need for each of us to share that same vision:

“One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world.”

We all have a mission from Christ. Like St. Augustine, we must surrender those holes in our hearts to the Lord to heal with His grace, that we too might follow Him and bear great fruit.

 Consider:

  • Most sins fall under one of three categories: A vice we love and don’t want to give up, an attachment to something other than God that we rationalize, or a blind spot we don’t see about ourselves. Reflect on what is preventing you from full union with God in each of these categories. How does it undermine or hinder your ability to live the mission Christ has given you?
  • Consider the fruit of taking time for prayer, attending Mass, or going to Confession. Do you see a difference in your ability to be more kind, patient, understanding, strong, or persevere that day? How might making prayer a regular habit enrich your relationship with others better?
  • Ask Christ what His mission is for you. Try to listen openly. He has a mission for each person in every state of life.
    • Christ loves every human person, who are the people in your life that you can be Christ to?
    • Consider this quote from Mother Teresa: “It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray for Christ to heal you of a sin you are struggling with. Pray that He will give you the strength to overcome it and to detach you from a desire for it. (note: detachment from sin is also a sacramental grace of Confession and the Eucharist)
  • Every time I have asked God to show me one of my blind spots He has answered with a “yes”. I have now learned to pray that He at least just show me one at a time! If you are courageous enough, ask Christ to reveal one of your blind spots to you.
    • (I also like to ask for the grace to receive that knowledge with humility, hope, and trust in God’s grace so I won’t be discouraged.)
  • Read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. It’s unforgettable!

~ 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.  

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Gospel Meditation for Mark 9:30-37 for Sunday September 20th, 2015

by Angela Lambert

pope-francis-hugging-disabled-childpope-selfie

September 20th, 2015; Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 9:30-37 NAB

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Meditation Reflection:

This week, a student of mine asked me why a woman cannot be the pope. This question, and its underlying one – why a woman can’t be a priest, gets asked every year. I myself wrestled with this question when I was in college. I’m glad I pursued the answered because there are beautiful theological reasons. Oftentimes however, what we are really asking is why a woman can’t hold what seems to be the highest and most powerful position in the Church. This seems sexist, unfair, and therefore not Christ-like. The apostles in today’s passage viewed leadership in Christ’s kingdom in a similar way. They were arguing along the way about who would have the highest position, the most power and prestige. If Christ’s kingdom resembled worldly kingdoms that would have been an appropriate question. Jesus corrects them in a pointed way. As God says in Isaiah 55:8 “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” Jesus had just taught the apostles that the Son of Man, the Messiah, would have to suffer and be killed. Rather than considering that they might be called to follow in His footsteps they wonder who will take leadership afterward. Jesus clarifies what He means by His kingdom. His words would have been surprising to the apostles and they are still surprising to us today.

It’s hard to truly believe Jesus when He teaches that “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” We would rather believe that discipleship means visible worldly greatness. The world looks at the papacy and sees position and power. However, beginning with Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, the title the pope has used for himself has been “the servant of the servants of God.” Discipleship of Christ means following the path of humility and self-sacrifice, the same path Christ took. What can be more humble and self-sacrificing than caring for a small child, especially if you are its mother or father. This path of humility is open to all with equal opportunity. Some might even say that women have an unequal and greater opportunity since we alone have the ability to carry in our wombs new life at its most vulnerable stage.

Every Christian can become a saint if he or she cooperates with the grace of Christ. The Second Vatican Council used the phrase “the universal call to holiness” to describe the doctrine that God desires everyone to have perfect union with Him. The opportunity is equal, it’s or response which is unequal. Teresa of Avila said that what prevents individuals from experiencing greater depths of prayer and union with God is a lack of generosity, courage, and humility.

I wasn’t asked by Christ to be pope, but I was asked to be a mother and a teacher. In the world’s eyes there is nothing notable about my position except that I maybe “wasted” some of my talents or opportunities for wealth and power. My eyes are on a different prize though. I don’t want to be the one in power, I want to be His disciple. All I ask is that He say to me one day, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” I may not be the servant of the servants of God, but I accept being the servant of those He “put His arm around” and placed in my care.

Consider:

  • Who has God placed in your care? How has this made you grow in humility?
  • When do you feel tempted by worldly prestige?
  • Consider how you prioritize your life. How might Christ re-order your priorities? Ask for His help and grace.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Write out your priorities – look at where you spend your time and money. Pray about it each day this week and ask Christ to show you where you are doing well and where you need to change.
  • Pope Francis is visiting the U.S. this week for the world meeting of families. Read one of his speeches or homilies while he is here. Consider how he shares Christ’s values as it pertains to family and discipleship. [A couple of my favorite sources: vatican.va (vatican website) and zenit.org (Catholic news agency)]

~ 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 Mark 8:27-35 for Sunday September 13th, 2015

by Angela Lambert

jesus-peter

September 13th, 2015; 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 8:27-35 NAB

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to Him in reply, “You are the Christ.” Then He warned them not to tell anyone about Him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke him. At this He turned around and, looking at His disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” He summoned the crowd with His disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Meditation Reflection:

“I just want you to be happy.” What do we mean by this phrase? Usually, it means “I don’t want to see you suffer.” Peter cared deeply for Jesus. He believed in Jesus’ greatness and identified Him accurately as the long-awaited Christ promised by God. Peter would do anything to help the Christ in His mission and to achieve success. However, when Jesus told the disciples that the Son of Man would have to suffer, be humiliated and rejected, and be killed Peter did not feel he could get behind that. He demonstrated a natural human reaction as a friend. His “rebuke” to Jesus probably sounded similar to rebukes you or I have made to friends. Something like “don’t say things like that, everything’s going to be fine;” or “I won’t let that happen to you, it can’t be God’s will that you suffer;” or “there must be another way, I don’t want to see you hurt.” He could have also rebuked Jesus that for such a thing to happen would in fact be contrary to the Scriptural prophecy regarding the Son of Man. This title, which Jesus uses in reference to Himself 81 times in the four Gospels comes from the book of Daniel. In Daniel’s prophetic vision, after the appearance of four beasts – we read in chapter 7:13:

“I beheld therefore in the vision of the night, and lo, one like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and he came even to the Ancient of days: and they presented him before him. And he gave him power, and glory, and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes, and tongues shall serve him: his power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away: and his kingdom shall not be destroyed.”

From a worldly point of view, Jesus’ teaching about the Son of Man seems contrary to Scripture’s and natural human sense. However, Jesus teaches that God’s truth goes above our understanding and can seem paradoxical. To save our lives, we may have to lose it. To find happiness, we may have to suffer pain. Power may appear as weakness.

Sometimes our seemingly encouraging words to our friends can be accurate but this Gospel challenges us to consider whether that is always the case. It’s possible that we sometimes avoid supporting or challenging our friend to carry a difficult cross by rationalizing that “we just want them to be happy.”  Jesus uses strong words toward Peter when he thinks this way. He sees it as a temptation from Satan; something that could undermine Jesus’ courage. Happiness defined as the easy and less painful path is worldly happiness. Christian happiness, Jesus reveals, means denying oneself, carrying one’s cross, and following Him. This is a hard choice for one’s own life and sometimes even more difficult to support a friend or child through. I find it harder to watch my children have to carry crosses than carrying one myself. Yet, I know that to remove every suffering from their path would stunt their growth as persons, and possibly even worse, to undermine their ability to follow Christ.

True happiness does not come from never suffering. Jesus challenges us that when we are tempted to be weak and enable a friend’s sin or avoidance of a cross, we are not in fact wishing them true happiness. It’s the easy road for them and also for us. The road to the fullness of joy is tough and requires self-denial. True friends encourage one another to carry their crosses, cheering them on, helping them when possible, praying for grace, helping to keep their eyes on Christ and the supernatural life – happiness beyond our human imagination.

Consider:

  • If you were Peter, would you have rebuked Jesus too? What might you have said after hearing Jesus teach about His mission being one of suffering?
  • What does the phrase “I just want you to be happy” really imply? What kind of happiness do you want for those you love? How can you help them find that happiness?
  • Jesus teaches that if we want to save our lives we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him. Ask Christ if there is something He is calling you to detach from. What cross does He want you to carry? Pray for the grace to see it, the courage to say yes, and the strength to carry it.
  • In light of today’s Gospel, reflect on who is your truest friend. Who sees your Christian calling the clearest and encourages you the most – even when it’s difficult.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • After reflecting on who is your truest friend, make time this week to reach out to him or her. Call, schedule a time to get together, or send a card. Do something to thank him or her and make time to nurture that friendship.
  • Identify one thing you could “deny yourself” which would enable you to follow Christ more closely. Make a goal just for this week. It could be something as simple as denying yourself 15-30 minutes of sleep or tv to read the Bible or a spiritual book; putting limits on a work project to make time for your family or friends; going to adoration one evening instead of out with friends; fasting from foods or drinks that are damaging your health or draining your energy; giving someone a compliment when you feel like criticizing them…

~ 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 Mark 7:31-37 for Sunday September 6th, 2015

by Angela Lambert

Jesus heals two blind men, an apostle behind him. Mosaic (6th)

September 6th, 2015; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 7:31-37 NAB

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, to the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Meditation Reflection:

People brought to Him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged Him to lay His hand on him.” To have begged Christ, they must have loved the man dearly. Begging implies a kind of poverty and desperation. It can be hard enough to ask for help sometimes, but to beg can seem too humiliating to do. Jesus responds with such personal attention and care that it seems He too shares their concern that the man’s speech and hearing be restored. This passage underscores the centrality of our relational nature – both our relationship with others and with God. Relationship depends upon communication. Clearly the people in this passage had communicated their love to the man through their actions and their expressions. However, they begged Christ to remove the barrier of deafness and the speech impediment so that they might share words with the man and receive them in return. Truthful words can communicate our inner thoughts and feelings, a sharing of ourselves that can only be known if we choose to share it with others. Christ healed the man by restoring his ability to communicate and therefore enabling him to enjoy more freedom to relate to those he loved. Jesus went even further by connecting the man to God Himself. He took the man aside, physically touched him, and opened his ears to hear and his tongue to speak – both bodily and spiritually. Jesus, the Word of God, became man that we might have relationship with God. We can only know God’s inner thoughts and feelings if He chooses to share them with us verbally. Jesus is God’s incarnate communication. He desires to restore all of us to relationship with Him and with others. If we humble ourselves to beg Him to open our ears and free our tongues, He gives us hope in this passage that He will unite us at a deeper level than we can imagine to God and those we love.

If God is a dialogical unity, a being in relation, the highest creature made in his image and likeness reflects this constitution; thus he is called to fulfill himself in dialogue, in conversation, in encounter.” — Benedict XVI, Trinity Sunday, Genoa, May 18, 2008.

Consider:

  • Jesus healed the man by touching him and praying for him. Consider the power of human touch, words, and prayer.
  • Do you struggle with either hearing God or with speaking to God? Do you offer general prayers or do you really communicate with the Lord? How might you open yourself up to deeper communication with God?
  • Is there a person you struggle communicating with? Why do you think that is? How might you repair the relationship and soften the communications?
  • Consider the power of words to build up or break down a relationship. When was a time that someone’s words made a significant and positive difference in your life?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Which Scripture passage do you love the most? Write it down and post it where you will see it every day.
  • Read one psalm a day. They are God’s words to you and beautiful words of prayer back to God.
  • If there is someone you struggle with, place the relationship before God and beg Him to bless it.
  • Intentionally think about the words you use each day this week. Ask Christ for self-control to guard against harsh, critical words. Ask the Holy Spirit to provide you with the right words to say to each person you meet in your day.

~ 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.