26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
- · Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
- · Quote of the Day
- · Today’s Gospel Reading
- · Gospel Reflection
- · Reflection Prayer
As Catholics, we are to achieve a “unity of life”, letting our faith form our political decisions as we prepare to vote this November:
We, per Jesus’ “Word”, are to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” We are called to work for the common good of society, to obey just laws, and to respect society and government. These responsibilities are what we render unto Caesar.
What we render unto God – – IS FAITH. This means that “we can’t forget about the Church’s teachings and the demands of God’s law. We have to make sure our participation and our contributions ALWAYS reflect the moral and religious values we find in the Scriptures and in the teachings of our Church.
When Catholics go to the voting booth, there are NON-negotiable aspects of Catholic social teaching. Abortion, euthanasia, and marriage between a man and a woman, are among those that are non-negotiable!!
However, many issues ARE, and can be, debatable among Catholics. Such issues include the economy, taxes, government spending, immigration, foreign affairs, and helping the poor and marginalized. All these topics are matters for careful judgment – – careful CHOICE. In such areas, we are always going to have legitimate differences of opinion over how best to apply the Church’s moral principles and teachings among members of our faith community.
So, what is a Catholic to do this November when we go to vote for our future? What is important to remember is that we are always think and act with the mind of Christ and the mind of the Church in voting and in other civic responsibilities.
“We want with all our hearts to love, to BE “love”. When you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them. God sees Christ, His Son, in us and loves us. And so we should see Christ in others.” ~Dorothy Day, “My Wounded Hands“, Pauline Books & Media
Today’s reflection: Jesus teaches that whoever is not against Him – – is FOR Him. Are YOU a fan, or a follower?
(NAB Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48) 38 John said to him, l “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” 39 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. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us. 41 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. 42 “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. 43 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. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. 47 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, 48 where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
Last week we heard Jesus rebuke His disciples for their arguing about who among them was the greatest. Jesus taught them that the greatest among them will be those who serve the least among us. Today, Jesus’ closest disciple, John, questions Jesus about an “unknown exorcist”, driving out demons in Jesus’ name. John’s question to Jesus, in today’s reading, looks to have been motivated by simple jealousy:
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).
I believe John’s question is evidence that Jesus’ disciples have not completely grasped the meaning of Jesus’ “Words”. These twelve extremely close followers of Jesus continue to compare themselves to others, especially others who appear to have greater healing powers than they possess. They DO NOT want to share the power of Jesus’ name with others. John and the other “disciples” even try to stop the man “because he was not following us“.
Jesus’ reply is, in itself, filled with wisdom:
“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“ (Mark 9:39).
Jesus strongly warns against jealousy and intolerance toward others who do not follow in His and our particular ways of faith, and leading to making false judgments. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian’s:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).
Let me ask you all a question: “Are we not like the disciples when we get upset at the good deeds of others who seem to stand out more than us?” I remember as a child being told by the Nuns teaching at my parochial school that ONLY Catholics would go to heaven. All others would go to Hell, purgatory, or the infamous “limbo” (with the un-baptized infants), and going no further towards a full glory found in heaven. Thank God (literally) that our closed-minded misunderstanding of dogma no longer exists in the Catholic faith today.
All of us have to keep in mind that the Catholic Church was established by Christ Himself, at the “Last Supper”, and it has continued without a break in Apostolic Succession to the present day. Yet, this “perfect” Church is filled with imperfect, sinful souls. All can achieve the glorious perfection of heaven through their individual actions in this world, even without ever hearing the “Words” of Christ. Christ knows all of us BY our works:
“I [God] know your works” (Revelations 3:15);
Christ knows all of us BY our faith and HOW we show our faith through our works:
“Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
With this in mind, there are many Catholics walking on the much easier road to Hell than much more difficult path to paradise. These materialistic, jealous, judgmental people think they will be saved simply because they attend Mass when necessary, by sending their children to a parochial school, and by supporting their parish and diocese. At the same time, they cheat, steal, tell lies, look at pornography, and so on.
In today’s more medically advanced society, the “demon possession” described in Mark, might be seen as only a form of mental illness. However, the need for healing, including for those with mental illness, was as real for them in the first-century, as it is for us still today. “Exorcism” was a common practice during Jesus’ time on earth. We know some people had the power to heal the symptoms of possession then, just as priests are able to do so now. One of the strategies used in “driving out demons” was, and is still, by invoking the name of a person or figure believed to have the divine power and authority to heal: e.g., Jesus Christ.
The disciples observed that the “unknown exorcist” invoking Jesus’ name was potentially successful in his healing of others (hot-diggity-dogma!!). This unknown healer recognized the power of Jesus’ name as truly having a divine power in itself, even though this “healer” who was not a member of the clan following of Jesus. Even though this “healer” was an “outsider”, he must have believed in Jesus, by the fact of using His name.
In Jesus’ reply to His disciples, He acknowledges that deeds of faith certainly can – – and DO – – precede the words of faith. Our actions are more powerful than words alone. Jesus continues teaching His disciples that they should not be reluctant to share Jesus’ healing powers with others. In other words, we should “spread the wealth” of His grace and its power!!
In Mark 9:40, Jesus’ axiom truly demonstrates a broad attitude, belief, and tenet found in displaying His divine patience, lenience, and charitable tolerance toward others:
“Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).
Even the smallest of considerations are shown to those who teach in Jesus’ name: – – and they will not go unrewarded!! This axiom, this saying, compels a warning: there is NO position for a “neutral” stance where Jesus is concerned. He Himself states to ALL present that they are either for or against Him – – they are either hot or cold. NO lukewarm faith is allowed in His Kingdom:
“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelations 3:15-16).
Jesus goes on further to speak about the positive effects in works of faith; in other words, those who act their faith in their love for God and others are those who are “hot”:
“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” (Mark 9:41).
Was Jesus’ exaggerating when He urged His followers to use drastic measures to avoid evil and its harmful consequences found in the last half of this reading (Mark 9:42-48)? (I believe not.) The last six verses (Mark 9:42-48) of this Gospel relate to the consequences of sin on one’s life. Tying a heavy stone and being thrown into the sea, cutting your hand or foot off, or plucking your eye out, in order to save yourself from Hell, is an extremely vivid and morbid image to contemplate. These images make me think of the idea of ALL of His children being part of His Church body. If one of us sins, it truly affects ALL of us. If a “sinner” remains unrepentant, they separate themselves from the Church body (Self-excommunication, which means they are out of fellowship with Christ – – until they choose to acknowledge their sin and repent).
Just as a doctor might remove a limb, or some other part of the body, in order to preserve the life of the whole person, so too must we be ready to part with anything causing us to sin, leading to a spiritual death. Jesus warns His disciples of the terrible responsibility of not putting stumbling blocks in the path of another. Jesus warns us to not give offense or bad example, which may lead another to sin. Even the first-century Jews understood that giving offense, or giving a bad example, is sinful since leads another TO sin. If we lead another to sin, that person in turn may lead still another, until a train of sin is set in motion with no foreseeable end – – and with assured devastation occurring – – unless someone harkens to an inspired conscious and grace, then to acknowledge their behavior as sin, and finally, to ask God’s forgiveness and mercy.
Remember: Christ came to heal; He was the first “medic” coming into – – and onto – – the field of battle: the Jewish nation, PLUS, ALL our individual souls, i.e., the whole human race. His salves and bandages are the Holy Sacraments of the Catholic Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. They all heal our wounds of sin and strengthen our moral character. Jesus treats ALL who come to Him (His practice is open 24 hours per day) with a pure love. He expects us to treat people with His healing example of love.
With Jesus, there is no longer a need to cut off, or pluck out, anything to gain entrance to heaven. Instead, we are to put on a great gift which Jesus gave to each and every one of us: the sanctifying grace of Himself and His Spirit!! Through a proper faith in Jesus, we no longer have to worry about eternal misery with Satan. After all, “Gehenna” does not sound like a fun place to be:
“where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).
Ironically, it is interesting the number of people who end up going to Hell, even though they are aware of the consequences to their earthly actions. There is not much, if anything, written about Hell that is positive. So, why do we sin, knowing our action puts us on this road? The answer is “Satan” Satan is always wanting another soul – – NOT – – to go to paradise in heaven, but instead, to come to eternal misery and pain in HIS kingdom. This is his only goal: JEALOUSY – – to take a soul away from GOD!!
The word, “Gehenna” (Mark 9:44, 46), is an interesting word indeed. It refers to a valley just southwest of the city of Jerusalem. To the Hebrew’s, this valley is known as the “Valley of Hinnom” (pronounced “gê-hinnōm”), or the “Valley of the son of Hinnom” (“gê ben-hinnōm”). Gehenna was at one time the center of an idolatrous cult during a monarchy in which children were offered in sacrifice. This specific place is mentioned in two books of Jewish Scripture, our present-day Old Testament:
“The king also defiled Topheth [a place of torment and punishment where the wicked are sent after death] in the Valley of Ben-hinnom, so that there would no longer be any immolation [killing; sacrifices] of sons or daughters by fire in honor of Molech [a Semitic deity]” (2 Kings 23:10);
“In the Valley of Ben-hinnom they go on building the high places of Topheth to sacrifice their sons and daughters by fire, something I never commanded or considered”(Jeremiah 7:31).
The concept of punishing sinners by fire, either after death, or after the final judgment, is found in Jewish apocalyptic literature:
“Seventy shepherds were judged, and found guilty, and they also were thrown into that abyss of fire. And I saw at that time, how a similar abyss was opened in the middle of the Earth which was full of fire, and they brought those blind sheep and they were all judged, and found guilty, and thrown into that abyss of fire and they burned. And that abyss was on the south of that house. (Enoch 90:25-26**)
** (The “Book of Enoch” is an ancient Jewish religious work, traditionally ascribed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. It is not part of the biblical canon as used by Jews, apart from a group known as “Beta Israel”. It is regarded however, as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church, but no other Christian group. ~ From Wikipedia)
“Gehenna” is traditionally used as an image of the invisible reality of the place of eternal punishment written about in the New Testament – – HELL! Saying either Gehenna or Hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”, reminds me of another morbidly vivid description found in the book of Isaiah:
“They shall go out and see the corpses of the people who rebelled against me; For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be extinguished; and they shall be an abhorrence [revulsion] to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).
Per Isaiah, God’s enemies lie dead outside the walls of the “New Jerusalem” – – understood to be heaven. As in the time of Isaiah, Jesus’ time on earth also had huge cemeteries of dead and decaying corpses, filth of every type, and societal/human waste scattered about in this “Valley of Hinnom” – – Gehenna – – JUST outside the city. There still are many of God’s enemies surrounding us today – – the “living dead” who have rejected Jesus Christ.
Jesus teaches us NOT to create obstacles for those who are just beginning to have faith, but to encourage even the smallest signs of faith. In the vivid terms of today’s reading, Jesus teaches His disciples the consequences of putting obstacles before people on their road to faith.
The second part of today’s Gospel (Mark 9:42-48) contains a strong message for those sharing the responsibility of fostering faith in Jesus to others, an AWE-some responsibility. Today’s Gospel reminds us that “FAITH” is a continuous, day-to-day, moment-to-moment, lifelong journey toward happiness – – which is God Himself!! We don’t always understand our journey, or even stay on-track at times. However, we should pray daily for the grace – – His grace – – to acknowledge and build upon even the smallest signs of faith, in ourselves, and in others. This is what “HOPE”IS for Catholic Christians. In today’s world, there are plenty of obstacles preventing the growth of faith in many individuals. Pray you are not contributing to the obstacles, thus hindering another person’s continuously growing faith in Jesus Christ; instead continue to choose to encourage and strengthen that faith in others as well as ourselves.
We have a calling to confront obstacles to faith. In dealing with obstacles confronting you, you may be called upon to use courageous, bold, outspoken word, and unpopular actions in order to surmount and break down that obstacle. Perhaps God is calling YOU to break down that obstacle for another. Saint Francis, a loyal member of the Catholic Church, and a radical challenger to Church of his day, broke down many obstacles in his public ministry, always with a sincere love, and with definite actions of faith and love. Saint Francis routinely said:
“Preach the Gospel, and at times, use words”.
Are you being called for a “challenge”, just as Saint Francis was called? In a little, dilapidated, weathered chapel known as San Damiano, Jesus Christ spoke to him with the following words:
“Francis, rebuild my church”!
What is Christ saying to YOU?!
There are many people and things in our daily lives nurturing our faith, and, also attempting to hinder our faith. Those nurturing our faith include: healthy family relationships and friendships, good literature, EWTN, Healthy Church life, retreats, and so on. Those things that might be obstacles to our faith may include: improper relationships, scandals, bad habits, sin, and so on.
Jesus teaches us, in today’s Gospel, that we are to do everything possible to help another HAVE faith in Jesus Christ. We are also to do everything possible to avoid creating obstacles hindering another’s faith life. Pray that you will be a faith-filled Catholic Christian, helping others grow in faith, that you do not create obstacles for others obtaining or growing in faith. YOU ARE the next “unknown exorcist” to proclaim God’s Word and Plan by your actions, and by passing on your faith to the next generation!
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.