May 24, 2013 - Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 6.5-17
Psalm 119.12,16,18,27,34,35
Mark 10.1-12

It is important to note two points about Jesus’ teaching today. First, his prohibition against divorce is based on remarriage. He is telling us that once a marriage has been created, only death will end it. “’Til death do us part” is not just romantic language but a reality. Even if, sometimes for very good reasons, two people stop living together, never see each other again, even get a judge to split up the property in a civil divorce, they are still married. Such a person may have done nothing wrong, particularly if they are seeing to the care of their children, but they are not able to marry another person. They are still married.

The second point Jesus mentions in another place: this does not apply to unlawful marriages. In other words, if a marriage never actually got started, then a person is not bound to what does not really exist. The classic case of this is the shotgun marriage, where two people are forced into marriage against their will. No one can be forced to get married. They might say all the words and sign in all the right places, but marriage requires two people entering the life of their own free will. It is for such cases that the Church has annulments. In an annulment, the Church investigates the wedding and makes sure that nothing happened which prevented the marriage from ever existing. An annulment never dissolves a marriage that is a sacrament.

When two people are married, they make a decision, but how that decision is understood is at the heart of many difficulties in our modern age. Marriage is not a non-binding contract. Jesus says, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” When two people agree to be married, they are asking God to join them in an indissoluble contract. As part of the benefits of the union, God will give them the grace to live together, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, to live together and serve each other when a human agreement would not be enough. To give up one’s freedom and be bound to another, that is marriage. It is far more romantic. In the modern idea of marriage, nothing is sacrificed, nothing changes. In the true idea of marriage, the two become one flesh, the individuals no longer remain individual, a miracle only God can accomplish.

May 23, 2013 - Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 5:1-8
Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Mark 9:41-50

Jesus suggests a kind of surgery that is repulsive to us, and not us alone. The words of Jesus today, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” are probably those which have less often been followed literally than any other. The historical examples of people maiming themselves in hopes of greater holiness are few and not admired. Our eyes do not cause us to sin. Our hands do not cause us to sin. It seems cruel that we should attack a part of our bodies when the cause of the sin lies elsewhere.

If the examples that Jesus gives here are nauseous, the principle is absolutely solid. We should look at our lives and find the causes of sin. We are naïve if we think that we can leave the causes of sin lying around and avoid sin nevertheless. Jesus is saying that even if the cause of sin is as beloved to us as our own right hand, we should cut it off, even if the removal would be as painful as plucking out an eye, we should not hesitate.

If a person is causing you to sin, cut them off. Better to enter heaven alone than to go to hell with friends. If your television is causing you to sin, pluck it out of your home. Better to enter heaven without knowing how the show ended than to enter hell having watched everything. If the internet or a kind of website is causing you to sin, sever the connection. Better to enter heaven crippled in this digital world than to enter hell well-informed.

Surely the removal of these or many other causes of sin would be hard, but not as painful as plucking out your eye. To live without television or internet in this modern age would be a serious disability, but not as bad as having a foot cut off. In other words, even if we are severe with ourselves, we will never exceed the examples that Jesus gave. If we need any encouragement in all this plucking and cutting off, our first reading from Sirach provides the words we need: “Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day.” We do not exist for the sake of entertainment or sin! What are we here for except to follow the Lord? Do not put it off. Begin today. Begin again today. Every day. Begin again.

May 22, 2013 - Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 4:11-19
Psalm 119:165, 168, 171-172, 174-175
Mark 9:38-40

We have just repeated in the psalm, “O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.” The psalmist is speaking of the peace which is the foundation of peace in our society: peace within ourselves. This internal peace is founded on the law of God. Until we love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves, we cannot be at peace, and until we are at peace, our society cannot be at peace. Our popular society blames fundamentalism for violence, which is to say that they blame strongly held beliefs for violence. If everyone would calm down, we are led to believe, and be willing to accept that they will not always get their way, we would have peace.

This is not true. Most of the violence in this world comes not from fundamentalism but from selfishness. Behind theft, rape, nearly every murder, and all the other crimes which disturb our peace, lie a selfish motive. We concentrate on the violence that comes from those who claim to be fighting for an ideal, but that is such a minuscule part of the violence in the world. Some people speak as if the elimination of fundamentalism would lead to perfect peace, but they must be ignoring the vast majority of the crimes against peace to believe this. A popular claim by modern atheists is that the elimination of religion would mean a flowering of peace. This is false. Religion, even religions that are deficient in their understanding of the truth, are the greatest contributors to peace in this world. Most religions make a person try to be good, and no one is more peaceful than a good person. Some atheists may brag that they are good without God, but many people, without the morality of a religion, would commit whatever violence or theft that they thought they might get away with.

If we could only make every person in the world be good, then we could deal with the philosophical questions like whether and when it is ever good to use violence. There is a way to have this world peace, but we must begin with peace within ourselves, which comes only from following the law of God: love. Until we love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves, we will not be at peace, and until we are at peace, it is sort of foolish to hope for world peace.

May 21, 2013 - Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 2:1-11
Psalm 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40
Mark 9:30-37

Sirach advises us, “When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.” How true this is! As St. Theresa of Avila said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!” When we make a serious attempt to follow God, we come up against resistance. People who accuse us of being strange and hypocritical and “holier than thou”, because we would dare to be serious about the commandments of God. Who do we think we are, telling them how to live? (Though we never did tell them how to live.) We merely tried to live a certain way ourselves. But to try to be good is an accusation against everyone who has given up or never tried. That is how they feel. How many people have given up serving the Lord because it offended others? How many people would not dare pray in public, or even in church, because it offends others? When I refuse to chit-chat in church, people act like I am rude. I have stood at the tabernacle, returning the Body of our Lord to the place of reposition, and someone wanted to have a conversation right then and there, and was angry when I ignored them. How then is it possible out in the world to ignore profane conversations and vulgar entertainment and gossip and immodesty?

Of course, when we come to serve the Lord, the trials will not merely come from others. The harder trials come from within. We want to do good, but we cannot. We fail again and again. How many people give up the fight against sin simply because they learn that it is impossible to always win? When the other people call us hypocrites for trying to be saints, we know they are right. We are sinners, and this is the severest trial. When we come to serve the Lord, we discover how weak we are, how incapable of accomplishing what we have set our mind to.

Following Jesus is not the way to live an easy life in this world. It will not make us rich. It will not be comfortable. We will lose friends and offend strangers, and the more progress we make toward God, the stranger we are to rest of the world. And after years of hard effort we will often be amazed at how little progress we have made. But what else is really worth doing?

May 20, 2013 - Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 1:1-10
Psalm 93:1-2, 5
Mark 9:14-29

“Why could we not drive the spirit out?”, the disciples asked Jesus. If they had asked us, they would have gotten a different answer. If someone had asked us why this boy could not be healed, we could have spoken about the meaning of suffering in this world. We could explain how God’s will is not our will and his ways are not our ways. We could say that there is a time for everything. Our only problem is that standing against us, disagreeing with us, is Jesus.

It is not only in this passage that Jesus says things that are embarrassing for us Christians. Here he says, “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” In another place he says, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” In another place he says, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” These and other quotes are embarrassing for Christians because we know that they are not true. We ask and do not receive. We believe that God will help us, and then he does not. If we Christians really had the kind of power that Jesus suggests we should have, we would be a lot more convincing to the world.

What is the problem? Is God unable to fulfill his promises? No, he can do all things. Was Jesus mistaken about how prayer would work for his disciples? No. Jesus is never mistaken. The problem must be ours. Something must be standing in the way of miracles. Jesus calls it a lack of faith, but this faith must not be simply confidence. There is no shortage of arrogant confidence in this world. The faith that Jesus is talking about is a humble faith, a gift from God, inseparable from hope and love. Every sin is a sin against faith because every sin doubts God in some way. It is popular to think that some act can only be a sin if it is hurting somebody, but if every sin is blocking our way to God, than every one of our sins is hurting people because our sins are preventing us from working miracles. We will never be totally free from sin on this earth. The prayer of the boy’s father is a good example for how we should pray, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” We stand always with some faith but in need of more.