Years ago, there was an elderly Jesuit brother in my community named John. He baked marvelous chocolate chip cookies. One day, I overheard the superior asking him to make some cookies for the Jesuits. John responded with irritation, “Why should I bother? They’ll only get eaten right away!”
God sent Jonah to convert the Ninevites lest God destroy their city. They responded better than any prophet could have hoped. But instead of being happy about it, Jonah grows angry. The reason is unclear. Perhaps God’s mercy violated Jonah’s own sense of justice. Or perhaps Jonah felt that the lack of fire and brimstone called his credibility into question. Either way, Jonah’s preoccupation with himself caused him to forget the very reason for his mission.
St. Ignatius Loyola liked to remind Christians that they should strive, to the extent that they can, to do something solely from the motive of serving God’s greater glory. He called this “pure intention.”
In the two verses we read in today’s Gospel, Mark captures quite a bit about family dynamics. Though it is still early in his ministry, Jesus has been teaching and healing crowds of people. When his relatives find out what is going on, they try to restrain him because, to their minds, he must be crazy. After all, they know him as a carpenter, the son of Mary and Joseph, who grew up as a devout Jew in Nazareth. Who is he to think he can preach or cast out demons? His relatives are not bad people, they are just working off of the information they have, and their assumptions about what Jesus should or should not be doing.
How often in our lives do we let other people’s perceptions of us shape our actions? Fortunately, Jesus did not let the concerns of a few people stop him from fulfilling his mission. Are there people in your life who are making it more difficult for you to respond to God’s invitation to you? How can you, like Jesus, continue to respond affirmatively to God?
—The Jesuit Prayer team
How tempting it must have been for David to dehumanize Saul. This hunt we read about today is not the first time Saul seeks David’s head, nor will it be the last. Had David succumbed to the temptation to kill an unarmed and unprotected Saul, he likely would have had a reasonable claim for self-defense—a just killing, if there is such a thing. But when God directs David to “do to[your enemy] as it seems good to you,” David disciplines Saul with love and understanding, not violence. The stated reason for David’s mercy is Saul’s anointed status, but it really has to do with Saul’s human dignity. The truly just action is not to kill but to renew life. Justice is, by definition, merciful.
As humans, we each have a special dignity, which is confirmed both in sacramental anointing and in loving relationships. To be just, we ought to follow young David’s example and rehumanize not only our loved ones, but those we’ve come to view as enemies, too.
The disciples in today’s Gospel were present for some extreme events. They witness a crowd so large and enthusiastic that Jesus fears being crushed. They see people being healed of diseases and unclean spirits leaving people.
What were the disciples thinking and feeling today? Awe, excitement, fear? How could this day ‘sink in’ for them to realize that they were witnessing the Son of Man?
What amazing gifts from God do we see today? Perhaps it is the determined Cristo Rey student, the incredible faith of a homeless person, the gift of a family member, or the Spirit of God in me.
Jesus perfectly shows his humanity in today’s Gospel. You may have had a similar experience: someone provokes you and stands ready to call your mistake. Our emotional response to such people may be anger, grief, and frustration at their “hardness of heart.” It feels like there is no appropriate response. But lucky for us, Jesus shows us a response to those feelings.
It can be tempting to correct or condemn the people that frustrate us. But often, our words fall on deaf ears, and we end up fostering our own anger instead of diminishing theirs. Jesus’ response is courageous action that demonstrates his loving stance which serves as an example of the spirit of the law.
There are plenty of ways we too can courageously demonstrate the spirit of the Gospel. Who in your life needs your example of compassion, love, and hope, more than your words?
—Rachel Forton is the Marketing & Retreat Coordinator for Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL.
Needing to eat is one of the most fundamental aspects of being human. In today’s Gospel we are reminded that Jesus is well aware of this fact of life. It’s beautiful and astounding to think how Jesus made this fact the very center of the Eucharist; tying our need for spiritual nourishment and physical nourishment into one divine sacrament.
St. Ignatius designed the Spiritual Exercises primarily to develop people’s spiritual lives. However, Ignatius had the wisdom to include guidelines with regard to eating. Although the focus is largely on how to avoid excess, it also includes caution against falling into sickness. Spiritual directors of the Exercises usually lead each day’s meeting with questions regarding the retreatants health, diet, and overall physical well-being. To be human is to be part of this world, and it’s incredible to think that, through the incarnation, our God really gets that.
In today’s first reading we hear Samuel admonishing Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord?” Samuel is essentially saying, “Look, God is much more about relationship than about these trivial sacrifices. You cannot earn God’s love with sacrifices.” It is not about what we can give to God; rather, it is about how we can be in relationship with God. That is an important distinction, for it speaks to a different aspect of God. We love a God who desperately wants to know us and to love us. What a gift! Moreover, Samuel indicates that God desires “obedience.” In the New Testament, Jesus is the manifestation of this reality as we see that obedience to God takes the form of compassion, love, care for the poor, and a willingness to suffer for the greater good. This is a love that is freely given, without conditions.
—Matt Kemper is the Director of Community Service at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati.Prayer
Eli and John the Baptist were remarkable men. Both had prestigious responsibilities that made them a center of attention. Eli was tasked with tending the Ark of the Covenant, and the only person allowed to enter the Holy of Holies where dwelled the presence of God. John attracted hundreds of followers by proclaiming a message of hope and repentance.
But when the time came, both men had the freedom to step aside in order to let someone else shine. When Eli realized that God was speaking to a young boy in his charge, Eli did not grow jealous and say, “Lord, why Samuel and not me?” And in today’s Gospel (Jn 1:35-42), when John saw Jesus walking by, he said, “here is the Lamb of God,” knowing that his own disciples would leave him to follow Jesus.
True Christian humility means a willingness to step down—or to step up—in response to whatever will serve the greater glory of God.
Today’s Gospel is the first of a series of encounters in which the Pharisees question Jesus’s loyalty to the Jewish law. His call to a tax collector caused quite a stir, but his willingness to dine with tax collectors and sinners, those who were the outcasts in their society, put him at odds with those who insisted on rigid adherence to the law. Jesus didn’t ignore the law because he didn’t care about it, he simply focused his attention on the person or people in front of him, and offered them what they needed at that time.
Who are the people in our lives who need our companionship rather than our judgement? How can we consider what they need from us, rather than focusing on what we think they deserve? Who is Jesus inviting us to gather with around the table?
—The Jesuit Prayer team
Imagine being at a party, looking up, and seeing a man is being lowered through the roof. How would you react?
You could react one of two ways. First, you could react as the scribes do, by saying: “Is this right?” “Who does this man think he is?” They have a contemptuous response for what they are witnessing. Or you could react as Jesus did.
Too often I am like the doubting scribes, asking myself: “Is my faith okay?” or “Am I praying the right way?”
And too often I am not like Jesus. Jesus sees (not hears) the man’s faith and immediately reassures him of his forgiveness and grace.
Today I will strive to be more like Jesus.