Engaging the Gospel – Mark 4:35-41

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Mark 4:35-41

Jesus notes the lack of faith on the part of the disciples, who were terrified in the storm-tossed boat. We can identify with that feeling of being overwhelmed, without a tangible sense of God’s help and support.

“Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil” (Catechism paragraph 272).

Yet we know that the Lord is in fact sustaining us by His gracious will at every moment. Whatever trials or tragedies we may endure, God is bearing us up in the midst of them. He still carries us through every breath, every beat of our hearts, and desires to bring us into eternal blessedness with Him in heaven. In the perspective of eternity, we will one day see how God has ordered everything to our spiritual good, even overcoming and transforming the evil that others commit against us.

“Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power” (273), and reveal to us that “in everything God works for good for those who love Him. The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth” (313).

As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich wrote,

Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith…and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord showed in this time – that “all manner (of) thing shall be well.”

— quoted in 313.

Question for reflection: When have I felt that my faith was being tested?

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Engaging the Gospel – Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Year B): Gospel – Mark 14:1-15:47

“My own sin was present in that terrifying chalice.”

So writes Benedict XVI in his reflection on the Lord’s Passion in Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2 (p. 156).

The Pope Emeritus teaches us that Sunday’s Gospel is not simply a recitation of what occurred in a certain week in Jerusalem. Rather, it unfolds the entire drama of our salvation, and mystically encompasses all of human history:

Palm Sunday was not a thing of the past. Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine.

— ibid., p. 10.

This is why we proclaim the “Hosanna” at Mass, as we prepare to welcome the Lord in the Eucharist.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was marked by Messianic imagery (pp. 3-7), but only through the Cross did He inaugurate His kingdom. His agony was not just a natural aversion to pain.

Because Jesus is God, “He sees with total clarity the whole foul flood of evil,” every sin ever committed. He suffers immensely when “the full power of destruction, evil, and enmity with God” is “unleashed upon Him…All this He must take into Himself” (p. 155).

Through this contact, the filth of the world is truly absorbed, wiped out, and transformed in the pain of infinite love…God Himself drinks the cup of every horror to the dregs and thereby restores justice through the greatness of His love.

— ibid., pp. 231-32.

Question for reflection: Which person in the Passion narrative do I identify with most?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

Jesus exercises His power to rebuke and cast out unclean spirits

As the Catechism explains, “evil is not an abstraction” (paragraph 2851). There are malevolent spiritual beings, fallen angels who oppose God, at work in the world.

By their own free choice, “these created spirits…radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign” (392), and “they try to associate man in their revolt against God” (414).

The word “devil” comes from the Greek dia-bolos, referring to the fact that he “‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and His work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (2851).

One of the great documents of Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, reiterates that this spiritual warfare involves each one of us:

The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield, man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.

— quoted in Catechism paragraph 409.

“Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and His kingdom in Christ Jesus,” his power is limited, and he “cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign” (395). Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil” (394), and victory was achieved “once and for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave Himself up to death to give us His life” (2853).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord helped me with a spiritual struggle?

Deliver Us From Evil

The final petition of the “Our Father” builds upon the previous one about not falling prey to temptation.

The tempter, the one who hates us and wants to destroy our relationship with God, is Satan. This fallen angel is literally our enemy, for Satan comes from the Hebrew for “adversary” or “accuser.”

Having rebelled against God, the Evil One is bound for eternal damnation, and like a supernatural serial killer, he is out to bring as many people down to hell with him as possible. Satan tricked our first parents into sin, thus unleashing suffering, death, and corruption into God’s originally pristine creation. The Evil One has continued to make war against God – and His people – ever since.

As a result, we are engaged in a spiritual battle for our immortal souls.

This is not to terrify us, for Christ has utterly and irrevocably conquered through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and His victory will be made manifest at the end of time. We are safe as long as we remain in His protecting arms.

But at the same time, we must be aware that the devil is looking for opportunities to tear us away from God. Never open a door to evil; dabbling in the occult leads to real spiritual harm.

Let us pray as Jesus taught us, that we may be delivered from evil – from the Evil One, and from all of the tragedies, injustices, and disasters that beset our fallen world.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2850-54.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

God never tempts us, nor does He mount a “sting operation” to catch us, just waiting to condemn our every lapse.

Although the English translation of this petition could be misunderstood, the underlying Greek text actually means “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation” (Catechism paragraph 2846).

Far from trying to trip us up, God so ardently wants to free us from sin that He became man to save us from its thrall. Christ, Who Himself conquered temptation in His earthly life, teaches us that we can only resist through vigilant prayer in union with Him.

By asking God for help in our struggles to live a moral life, we recognize our weakness and frailty, our tendency to give in to sin. Such humility, grounded in the truth about ourselves, draws down God’s grace upon us – the very grace that He is eager to give us, if we just open our hearts to receive it.

With the light of the Holy Spirit, we can see temptation for what it truly is: evil masquerading as something good. But however attractive a temptation may be on the surface, we know that it’s an illusion, for sin ultimately hurts us.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2846-49.

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 13:24-43

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 13:24-43

The parable of the wheat and the weeds describes the problem of evil in the world, a reality that the Catechism explores in several passages.

The devil is the “one who ‘throws himself across’ (diabolos) God’s plan…Through him sin and death entered the world” (paragraphs 2851-52).

God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because He respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it…

From the greatest moral evil ever committed – the rejection and murder of God’s only Son, caused by the sins of all men – God brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption (311-12).

…We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of His providence are often unknown to us (314).

Only at the Last Judgment will we “know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation” and see how “God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by His creatures” (1040).

In the meantime, “in everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel” (827).

St. John Paul II, in Tertio Millennio Adveniente, commented on this aspect of the Church on earth.

At times her members have “indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal” (33), but nevertheless, the Church herself is like the mustard seed in the Gospel: “she has grown and become a great tree, able to cover the whole of humanity with her branches” (56).

Question for reflection: How has God been patient with me?

Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Gospel – John 10:1-10

Good Shepherd Sunday

While the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is comforting, the Lord cautions us that the shepherd is not the only one who calls to the sheep – strangers, thieves, and robbers likewise call out to us, seeking to lure us away to our own harm.

How well do we recognize these voices, and distinguish them from the authentic voice of the Lord?

St. John Paul II has exhorted us to form our consciences according to the Lord’s truth, not according to the false ways of our contemporary culture:

Why do so many acquiesce in attitudes and behavior which offend human dignity and disfigure the image of God in us? …Is it because conscience itself is losing the ability to distinguish good from evil?

In a culture which holds that no universally valid truths are possible, nothing is absolute…Good comes to mean what is pleasing or useful at a particular moment. Evil means what contradicts our subjective wishes…

Do not give in to this widespread false morality…

Only by listening to the voice of God in your most intimate being, and by acting in accordance with its directions, will you reach the freedom you yearn for…

A re-birth of conscience must come from two sources: first, the effort to know objective truth with certainty, including the truth about God; and secondly, the light of faith in Jesus Christ, who alone has the words of Life…

Against all the forces of death, in spite of all the false teachers, Jesus Christ continues to offer humanity the only true and realistic hope. He is the world’s true Shepherd.

Address during Prayer Vigil, August 14, 1993.

Question for reflection: What “other voices” try to pull me away from the Lord’s fold?