Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God (Lk 13:1013).
In reading this Gospel passage, we see again the compassion and mercy of Jesus. He was aware and saw the need of the crippled woman, called her to himself, she came, and through his words and the laying on of his hands, the woman was healed. He did so without hesitation, knowing that since he was healing on the sabbath this would bring further scrutiny and criticism. Yet, Jesus did not think of himself, he thought of the woman in need and made himself present to her.
Jesus is not only a model of service but also the very power as the Son of God that brings about healing. In today’s Gospel, Jesus was aware of the woman’s need. The first step in building a culture of life is to respect the dignity of each person we encounter and to be aware of their need. It is much easier to be unaware of or to operate from a position of – they brought the issue upon themselves. We can react with indifference, impatience, and/or contempt because we would rather not be bothered by another’s issues.
The next step is an invitation. Once Jesus becomes aware of the woman, he did not impose his will, even for her healing. Instead, Jesus invited her to come. We need to respect another’s option to say no to help and allow them to come on their own time and when they are ready. Though there are times, such as for those who are dealing with addiction, when there may be a need for more direct intervention and yet, healing will only begin when they are willing.
We need to resist being stumbling blocks to others in need of the healing presence of Jesus. We are all capable of accepting another where they are and as they are, we can will their good, and we can be a healing, understanding, and supportive presence. We can be a means of healing as were the four men who brought their crippled friend to Jesus and being undeterred from not having access by letting him down through a roof (see Mark 2:1-12 and Matthew 9:1-8). We are all called to bring the love and mercy of Christ to others and we also need to remember to be kinder and more gentle with ourselves. When there is awareness, invitation, acceptance of the invitation of Jesus, there can be healing.
Photo: from freebibleimages.org
In 2012, 28 were killed, twenty children from 6-7 years of age at Sandy Hook Elementary School. in 2015, 9 people were gunned down in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a prayer service. In 2016, 49 were murdered and 58 injured at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando. In 2017, 58 died and over 851 were wounded in the Las Vegas shooting. February 14, 2018, 17 students were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS. In October of 2018, 11 died and 6 were wounded at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania. August 3, 2019, 23 people were shot and killed and another 23 were injured. In a USA article from February 26, 2021 it was reported that mass shootings hit a recored high in 2020. “In 2020, the United States reported 611 mass shooting events that resulted in 513 deaths and 2,543 injuries.”
These are the facts and figures that have made the headlines, but more importantly, these numbers represent real people, human beings, family members, friends, classmates and colleagues. So many die violent deaths each day, including the unborn, in our country and throughout our world. How are we to respond? In the Gospel today Jesus sheds some light on the darkness that beleaguers not only our country but our world.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. (Mk 10:47-48).
Though Bartimaeus is blind, he seems to “see” better and know who Jesus is. He does not just call out the name of Jesus, but “Jesus, Son of David.” This is not merely a genetic marker, but a Messianic title. Bartimaeus may have physical blindness, but he is one of the few in the Gospel of Mark to recognize Jesus is the Messiah. The disciples and the crowd walking with him, the many who “rebuked him”, showed their spiritual blindness, in that they prevented the blind man from coming to Jesus.
When we take time to read and meditate on this scriptural account, who are we? Are we like those in the crowd who follow and identify with Jesus, yet rebuke others seeking to come to Jesus? Do we foster a posture of a fear of the other, embrace tribalism, nationalism, and contribute to and foster division, polarization, and prejudice? If we do, we then are suffering from the very spiritual blindness that Jesus has come to heal.
We need to start by making an assessment of ourselves. Each thought we ponder and action we take ripples out from us and touches everyone. In what way do we contribute to the violence? Do we gossip, spread false reports knowingly about others only to degrade and belittle? Do we pass dehumanizing images and memes on social media? Do we talk over or at people, do we impose our views not even willing to listen to another? The smallest act of indignity shown to another, whether it be a snide remark, a racial, ethnic, or sexist epithet, or any manner of disrespect contributes to the horrific reports I began this post with.
We need to allow Jesus to convict us in the depths of our souls. In so doing, we are better able to counter the impulse to build walls that promote division, hate, and violence, and instead build bridges of forgiveness, unity, and love. We are called to shine a light in our present darkness as Jesus did by embracing one another as human beings, brothers and sisters created in the image and likeness of God. We begin by being present to those within our realm of influence with understanding, compassion, and empathy. Darkness only wins if we embrace it and become the darkness, let us be light. Hate only wins if we feed hate, let us feed love. The following story may be helpful:
An old grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice.
“Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy to die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.”
He continued, “It is as if I there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside of me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”
Both wolves are trying to dominate the spirit of our country, which one will you feed?
Let us have the humility to recognize our interconnectedness with one another, that we cannot get through this life on our own. We, like Bartimaeus, need to be healed and made new. We need the Son of David in our lives, we need a savior, a healer, and we need each other. When we acknowledge this reality, we may better be able to resist the temptation to be indifferent to or dehumanize others, but instead be more willing to notice, recognize, pray for and act to provide aide for others. Jesus calls us to arise from our defensive posture and to open our arms wide to love, to will the good of each other as other.
“Grandfather Tells” or “Two Wolves Within” Cherokee Legend, this and another version can be found at: http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html
Photo: The two wolves are Wolfie and Rastafar the Dancing Bear. Two wolves I had the fortune of caring for and helping to spread wolf education for the Sharon Audubon Center in the late 80’s.
In today’s Gospel, we read about two accounts of horrific deaths. The first is at the hands of Pontius Pilate, who has not only ordered the execution of Jesus’ fellow Galileans but had their blood mixed with “the blood of their sacrifices.” In the second incident, Jesus brought up the tragic accident in which eighteen people died “when the tower of Siloam fell on them.”
In both cases, Jesus rejected the common notion of the time that these incidents were caused by God’s punishment and focused instead on the importance of repentance. Jesus stated quite emphatically, that, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did” (cf. Lk 13:1-5)!
Jesus was emphatic about helping his followers understand the purpose of his coming. Jesus provided meaning and fulfillment in this life as well as being the way to the truth of eternal life in the next. Yet, to experience the benefits of his invitation, people needed to repent from their focus on self, misunderstandings of God, and the false substitutions that the world offered by having a change of mind and turning back to God, the very source of their being. This is just as true for us today.
Jesus accompanies us through our trials, pain, and desolation, just as he is present in the midst of our achievements, joys, and consolations. To repent and surrender to him is not some submissive posture to a tyrant but an acceptance of the aid offered by the divine gardener. Our repentance gives permission to Jesus to cultivate our ground to rid us of that which sickens us and instead allow him to fertilize us in such a way that we are renewed. Jesus tends to our growth such that we can be more aligned with the will of his Father and the love of the Holy Spirit. In these ways, we are healed and mature so that we will bear fruit that will last. We will become more patient, kind, loving, understanding, forgiving, present, and joyful in our encounters with one another.
We live in uncertain times as did those of the first century. We still live in a fallen world. We do not know the time or the hour, and sometimes we do not understand the rhyme or the reason why someone’s life here ends. The death of my wife, JoAnn, still makes no sense. She was proactive and took good care of herself and I remember her doctors saying that except for the pancreatic cancer she was in perfect health. What made our last months together in this world more bearable was not fighting the inevitable and the many people who were praying for us. Those months together seemed then like forever and today looking back like the blink of an eye.
We often do not want to think about our death, yet, we need to ponder it from time to time. By doing so we just might live the one life we have been given a little bit better. Each day we wake up is a gift from God. Please don’t take it for granted. Repent, turn back to the God who loves us more than we can ever imagine or mess up. The time to appreciate our life and the lives of those that we hold close to our hearts is now.
Photo: Each day with JoAnn was a gift.
“You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time” (Lk 12:56).
Reading this verse brought two memories from my childhood. The first one is from when my friend Steve and I as kids were interested in reading the natural signs and weather patterns, and we enjoyed watching our local weatherman, Hilton Kaderli, forecasting the weather each night. Another memory was with my cousin Danny. We were at my Uncle Pierre and Aunt Claudette’s house one afternoon and we saw a storm rising. We headed to the road and started running as fast as we could in the opposite direction to see how far we could get before the storm caught us, and when it did we walked home, sucking in air, being pelted by the rain, and enjoyed a good soaking. Steve, Danny, and I read the signs of the earth and the sky, but we didn’t pay all that much attention to the things of the spirit at that time.
Not only through his teachings, but also through his public actions, Jesus revealed some powerful signs that God was in their midst. Jesus taught and preached on his own authority, he cast out demons, forgave sins, healed people, met and ate with sinners and women. These were amazing signs that the Messiah came to dwell among them, yet some did not or would not see, rationalized away that he could not be who he showed himself to be.
Some did see and believe and some two thousand years later because of their faithfulness, Jesus speaks to us again today. The stories and encounters of Jesus have been preserved, passed on generation after generation. They are not just a dead letter, nor is the sacred deposit of our faith some inanimate object passed on blindly generation after generation. We are invited time and again to be aware, to look for how Jesus still works in our lives today.
Do we see coincidences or God-incidents? Do we see God’s presence working in our lives? If not, could it be because our lives are so busy and fast-paced? If so, we need to schedule some time each day to stop and reflect, even if for only five to ten minutes to take some deep breaths, and ask God to help us review the past twenty-four hours with the express purpose of noticing how he has been involved and engaged in our lives.
It is often by reflecting and looking back over the course of a day, a week, or a month, that we will recall some God-incidents no matter how small. Being thankful for this growing awareness and asking God for greater insight each day will help us to grow in our awareness of how much he has been accompanying us all along in our daily experiences.
For those times that we have refused or failed to recognize this closeness to Jesus, especially in his presence coming to us through others seeking our help, we can ask for forgiveness and for Jesus to assist us in being more aware and more intentional in following the stirring of the Holy Spirit going forward. Opening our hearts and minds to God will help us to better read the signs that the kingdom of heaven is indeed at hand, in our very midst. Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear?
A moment of rest, enjoying family time and God’s creation, Christmas 2010 – Photo credit: Jack McKee
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Lk 12:49)!
What has been burned does not remain the same. What fire touches, it transforms. Jesus wants us to be consumed so as to be transformed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Encountering Jesus effects a change in us. When we are open to allow the Holy Spirit to breathe on the embers in the depths of our souls they are fanned like tinder and ignite. We continue to fuel the fire by getting in touch with what God has called us to do in our place and in our time.
We are not to be a Christian in name alone but in thought, word, and deed. Pope Francis, in his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, wrote: “THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept this offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness” (Francis 2013, 9). Joy is a gift, a holy flame, that is given to us by the Holy Spirit and it wells up within. It is different than pleasure which arises when the stimulation of the senses is aroused but fades once the external stimulus has ended.
Happiness is also external and fleeting. It lasts longer than pleasure in that the memory of the experience will linger on but it too will also dissipate. Joy wells up from within, as it is imparted to us by God and can be present even when the external experiences are stressful or chaotic. I experienced this when I was still teaching 5th and 6th Grade Religion and acting as the dean of students at Rosarian Academy. At the same time, I was also immersed in family and parish life, as well as my studies and formation activities for the permanent diaconate.
One particular morning I woke up exhausted. When the alarm went off my first response was to skip my morning prayer and hit the snooze button to get an extra twenty minutes before getting up to go to school. Instead, I literally crawled to my small chapel area, lit the candles, and opened my breviary. When I read the words in Psalm 42: “Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God”, something ignited within the depths of my being. I felt an energy well up within me that I cannot to this day describe. I felt an inexpressible joy. Not only did the experience carry me into the day but lasted throughout the whole week.
God comes to us and seeks to transform us with the fire of his Love, and even when we are at our lowest as if we were just cooling embers, we need to resist the temptations of indifference and complacency and remember to turn to Jesus. Instead of brooding over what we don’t have, we will encounter him in being thankful for that which he has given. We will experience him in his Word, in prayer and worship, and in serving one another. Keep showing up, even if sometimes we have to crawl to get there, and allow God to fan the embers within our soul to set us ablaze.
Photo by moein moradi from Pexels
Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel. Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2013.
“That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely” (Lk 12:47).
Jesus, as did the prophets, spoke in ways that can be jarring. The purpose was to shake his listeners out of a dull stupor and to make clear his point. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus addressed Peter’s question: “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone” (Lk 12:41)? Jesus was most likely speaking to Peter and the Twelve. They are the ones he entrusted with continuing his mission. And just as he had been clear to point out those Pharisees who had abused their positions, he was being clear with Peter and the apostles. Jesus wanted to make sure that his successors were not to continue on with business as usual. What Jesus required of them was not just for themselves, but those whose care they had been entrusted with and beyond them to all the nations. His parable was for both the Twelve first and foremost and then to everyone.
Unfortunately, we have witnessed those in Church leadership who have in effect, “beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk” (Lk 12:45) on their own power. Those who have: abused children, covered abuse, skimmed off the top of the donations from the blood, sweat, and tears of their parishioners’ donations, limited access to positions within the leadership of the Church to only male or clergy, been unmerciful confessors, held up the sin of one group or groups while turning a blind eye to others. These and other forms of hypocrisy do irreparable damage.
The world has been darkened by sin and so has the Church. Even though all of us have been wounded we have not been destroyed by sin. The Son of God entered into the condition of our fallen nature, became one of us, one with us, and overcame the darkness of sin. Even when those in his name have participated in and perpetuated in that which Jesus warned his Apostles against, we are not to lose heart nor hope. I agree with Bishop Robert Barron that we are called out of “the realm of hatred, racism, sexism, violence, oppression, imperialism, what Augustine termed the libido dominandi (the lust to dominate).”
We are called out of this darkness to be children of the light. There have been many throughout the ages as well as up to and including our own present time who have done just that. They have embraced the light of Christ allowing it to reveal to them their sins. With humility and contrition, they confessed their weaknesses and failures and from this place of surrender, they were healed and transformed. They have become an empty cup able to be filled to overflowing with the love of Jesus. We too are to be open to opportunities to share the purifying light, the healing salve of the Father’s Love that we have received so also to spill over into the lives of those in our realm of influence.
Photo: Crucifix front entrance of St Peter Catholic Church, Jupiter, FL
Barron, Robert. Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith. NY: Image, 2011.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks” (Lk 12: 35-36).
As disciples, we need to be ready for the coming of Jesus. Yes for when he comes again at the end of time and just as importantly, to be prepared for his coming each day in the midst of our lives. If we do not prepare to encounter him daily, the likelihood of us being prepared for his coming again will be slimmer, and only the Father knows the time or the hour.
To plan something means that we outline all that needs to be done down to the last detail. This can be an advantage especially when we are dealing with blueprints for a home or building. By having detailed plans we can be sure we have the proper materials and tools, an estimated budget, and hire the help needed to accomplish the goal. There are many areas in our life where planning has its advantages. Planning our spiritual life is important, deciding when and how we are to pray, meditate, study, engage in Bible and spiritual reading and/or which service we are going to attend, establishing a routine of spiritual direction, time for fellowship and small groups, and how, when and where we can serve others. These are all plusses for planning.
The challenge with planning pops up when we become too attached to the plan and we leave no room for the Holy Spirit, no awareness for the knock at the door because we are so focused on finishing the plan. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are on the horizon. How many times have we experienced planning a dinner with guests, gotten stressed when things did not go exactly as planned and spent more time adhering to the plan and its execution such that we missed engaging with those we were working so hard to provide hospitality for?
Preparing is akin to planning, in that we get ready but are more flexible to other options not governed by our mind and control alone. Jesus calls us to be prepared to receive him at any moment. Are we prepared to encounter and be present to a classmate, colleague, family member, or neighbor who asks for help at an inopportune time, the homeless person in need, the undocumented immigrant, migrant, or refugee looking for safety and security, the unborn striving to actualize his or her potential, the coworker that has not been the most pleasant, the person that we perceive as somehow different from us – who we keep at arm’s length?
How about planning and preparing for those traumatic events in life that appear all of a sudden? When we heard of JoAnn’s diagnosis we went into planning mode, and anyone who has spent any time with JoAnn knows that she is in her element when there is something to plan for. There were many items we could plan out and for the most part, they came together as JoAnn planned. There were other experiences where we needed to be flexible and adjust the plans, sometimes on minimal notice. Since we were open to the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit, as well as support and prayers coming through family, friends, and those God sent our way, we were blessed during a tremendously challenging time.
JoAnn often said that life is hard, even before her diagnosis. She saw many people suffering and couldn’t understand why people couldn’t be kinder to one another. St. Oscar Romero wrote, “It would be beautiful if people saw that their flourishing and the attainment of their highest ideals are based on their ability to give themselves to others.”
Can we better prepare ourselves to be more open to those closest to us, even in the most challenging of times, as well as being present to whomever we meet today as human beings, as brothers and sisters, created in the image and likeness of God? Yes, even in our current political climate. Are we willing to see and serve Jesus, who is present in each person we encounter, for: “whatever you did for one of these least brothers [or sisters] of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Photo: JoAnn and my last spring break together in CA.
The Lord Jesus appointed seventy-two disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit (Lk 10:1).
Jesus sent out disciples ahead of him. He sends us out as well. Just as Mary conceived Jesus through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, she went in haste to assist Elizabeth who also was to give birth. What happened when Mary came upon Elizabeth? No sooner had Mary’s greeting reached Elizabeth John leaped in her womb with gladness. This is the model of evangelization, sharing the joy of Christ that we experience in coming together. Jesus does not tell us to define and judge people but instead to encounter and build relationships with them.
Yes, we are a people of the book like our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, but we are primarily a faith tradition grounded in the encounter of a person, Jesus the Christ. Our pastor from St Peter Catholic Church, Fr. Don, has shared with us a simple image to represent the path of discipleship and that is the image of the cross. The vertical part of the cross represents how we develop our personal relationship with Jesus, through our regular practice and discipline of prayer, meditation, contemplation, and study. The horizontal represents our encountering Jesus in each other through fellowship, small group study, worship, and service. If we only have the vertical, the one on one relationship with Jesus, we just have a stick. If we just serve others without encountering Jesus, we just have a stick. Put them together and we have the cross which is embodied by our love for God and love of neighbor.
Christianity is the way of the cross, not the way of the stick. We are to be contemplatives in action by experiencing the joy of encountering Jesus, personally, and in our interactions with one another. We do not need to go to some faraway land. All we need to do is open our minds and hearts to allow God to happen in our everyday experiences amd with those around us. We are to love others as Jesus loves us and unconditionally share the inexpressible joy of that love.
Jesus sent seventy-two off to encounter one person at a time and build one relationship at a time. I agree with Gerhard Lohfink in his piece, “What Does the Love Commandment Mean?”, that love is not a pious universal that we love all humanity in some vague removed or remote way. The love that Jesus expressed in the Gospels and imparts upon us today is something tangible, corporal. It is hands-on: “This love constantly breaks out of the individual communities to embrace non-Christians, guests, strangers, the suffering (obviously including those in other countries) but it is always tied to the concrete experience of common life in the individual community” (Lohfink 2014, 72).
Jesus, please move us to be more open to experience you in others. Lead us to experience, “the surrender of life for the sake of others” (Lohfink 2014, 73), especially for those to whom we may have kept at arm’s length. Help us with each encounter to be more hospitable, respectful, and joyful. When we catch the eyes of another, shine your love through our smile. So in that simple, genuine expression, someone may feel today that they matter, that they have worth, dignity, and value. If someone asks you how you are, instead of saying, “Fine.” Say instead, “Better since you asked. Thank you for caring.” There are many ways to bear the cross and surrender ourselves to others through kind and loving acts. We just need to be willing to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and let God happen in our encounters!
Photo: from parroquiamadridejos at cathopic.com
Lohfink, Gerhard. “What Does the Love Commandment Mean?” In No Irrelevant Jesus: On Jesus and the Church Today, translated by Linda M. Maloney, 64-74. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45).
As fully God and fully man, Jesus taught and modeled for his disciples a contrarian view of how to live in our world. He rejected the pursuit of worldly honor, power, pleasure, and wealth during the time of his earthly ministry. Jesus redirected any attention drawn himself to his Father. He epitomized the exact opposite of the cult of personality by emphasizing what is most important is developing a relationship with God and following his will by serving the needs of others, even to the point of suffering and dying to open up access to heaven for us.
On our own, we cannot achieve this freedom of service. James and John showed that they did not understand Jesus’ call to service. Instead, they were looking for seats of honor and power. Though they had experienced, studied, and were mentored by Jesus, it was not until experiencing his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and in remaining true and faithful despite their own failures, that they came to a place of transformation through their openness to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They came to understand that Jesus called them to serve and not be served. They then fulfilled what Jesus first saw when he called them to leave their boats and follow him.
This is true for us as well. Jesus sees not just our impulsiveness, pride, and selfishness, our woundedness, and our sins, but our potential yet to be actualized. Jesus calls us to a way of life that embraces serving as he served, yet in the unique way and charism that our loving God and Father has planted in us. He has sent the Holy Spirit to meet us in our present condition, to guide and empower us with his love, so as to draw us deeper into the Mystery of God.
May we allow ourselves to receive and experience the love of God so as to resist the temptation of building our own cult of personality and self aggrandizement by supporting our ego. As Fr. Gabriel Ghanoum shared with us on our retreat this weekend, the E.G.O stands for edging God out. Instead, by inviting God in, we will better be able to love and take care of ourselves. By entertaining healthier thoughts, making time for meditation, prayer, worship, study, healthier eating, exercising, and engaging in virtuous activities and by being loved by God and loving him in return, we will properly love ourselves, so as to better serve Jesus as we are present to and serve one another.
Photo: A new day for us to love God, love ourselves, and love others. Sunrise Saturday morning at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center. Come for retreat: https://www.ourladyofflorida.org/