The Price Of Righteousness: Mark 6:14-30


King Herod heard about it, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah”; still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.” But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.” Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’s own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore (many things) to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught.

I’ve often thought, would I have become a Christian, if I’d known what all it entailed? The short answer is yes, because I haven’t renounced my faith or turned away from God. But there are times (like now) when I seriously think of throwing in the towel for the seeming injustices in my life, yet Peter’s words hauntingly return to me, “To whom shall we go?” [Jn. 6:68]

John the Baptist followed God. He did and said all that God had given him to say and do. He was the first to recognize Jesus for who He was, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn. 1:29) With all the righteousness and truth in his life, he suffered the death of a criminal.

It seems John had not only been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk. 1:4). He pointed out the specific sin of Herod and Herodias, “It is not lawful for you to have your brothers wife.

You can not tell the story of Christianity without recounting the deaths of those who told the truth….. and died.

God gives us His Spirit for strength in this journey, I know that, and yet I feel abandoned, though I know I’m not.

When John the Baptist was in prison we see that he sent some of his disciples to Jesus, to ask Him, “Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?

We all have bouts with doubts in our faith, but this is starting to take a toll on me. Please pray for me my brothers and sisters.

Keep the faith.

Amen.

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The Unforgivable Sin: Mark 3:20-30


He came home. Again (the) crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Jesus is again confronted; by the scribes this time. It’s not about doing good “works” on the sabbath, no not this time. It’s not about what  He is doing but, about who  He is!

First we see, that He has come back home, and that His relatives are ready to seize Him. Why? …for they said, “He is out of His mind.” Evidently, they had been listening to the scribes who came down from Jerusalem, for they were the ones saying Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul, and that by the prince of demons he drives out demons. All this, sets the stage for Jesus’ teaching on the unforgivable sin .

There are a few interpretations of these verses that merit deeper study. They explain on different levels this blasphemy, and it’s affects on us.

The most common interpretation of this text today, is that this unforgivable sin  is the total rejection of Jesus Christ as Savior. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

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“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.

We see from the text itself though, that this unforgivable sin  is connected with something a little bit different – for St. Mark adds; For they [scribes] had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Thus this verse can also be interpreted as attributing the power of God, to the power of Satan. This is the charge that Jesus responds to in the last part of the parable[s].

But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.

But, the main point of this text may be lost, if we simply glance at  it and not dig into  it. Division is opposed to unity. Even Satan’s house, in it’s evilness, could not remain without unity. For, if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. This brings us to an interpretation by St. Augustine, from Book IV, Sermon XXI, [LXXI.BEN] in paragraph 35.

“Not that this is a blasphemy which shall not be forgiven, forasmuch as even this shall be forgiven, if a right repentance follow it; but because, as I have said, there arose hence a cause for that sentence to be delivered by the Lord, since mention had been made of the unclean spirit whom the Lord shows to be divided against Himself, because of the Holy Spirit who is not only not divided against Himself, but who also makes those whom He gathers together undivided, by forgiving those sins which are divided against themselves, and by inhabiting those who are cleansed, that it may be with them, as it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul,” (Acts 4:32).”

An affront to the Triune God who is prefectly united, is the disunity of His people. St. Augustine goes on to explain in paragraph 36:

“But in this passage according to Matthew (12:32), the Lord far more plainly explained what He intended to be understood here; namely that he who speaks a word against the Holy Spirit, who with an impenitent heart resist the Unity of the Church, where in the Holy Spirit is given the remission of sins. For this Spirit they have not, as has been said already, who even though they bear and handle the sacraments of Christ, are seperated from His congregation.”

So indeed, a house divided against itself, as Jesus said, shall surely fall. Yet, there was only the Catholic Church in St. Augustine’s day. What about today? There are tens of thousands of denominations that indeed call themselves Christian, yet are seperated from the Catholic Church. What about them?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this perplexing question this way:

“Outside the Church there is no salvation”
 
 
 
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How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

    Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
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This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.
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“Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
Often misunderstood by Protestants and Catholics alike is this: The Church is the messenger of the Gospel of Christ. Whether you heard and responded to the Gospel in a Baptist church, a Lutheran church or the Catholic Church, this Gospel was delivered by Christ to the Apostles for the Church to proclaim. So all (true Christian) churches proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ; born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, died, and was burried, and on the third day, rose again conqurering death and sin.

So in this vein, let us realize our unity. That even within our differences, God can and will unite what man in his sin has strained, or even ruptured. For the Church is a Divine institution, as well as a human one and within whichever ecclesial communion we are placed, their should be unity. Again the Catechism of the Catholic Church understands this, and therefore states:

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“The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”

So this week, let us think about unity, and how we as believers, can demonstrate to one another, not to mention a lost world, the power of unity with the Holy Spirit. Let’s be instruments for our churches to work together for the betterment of society (as in the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy) as well as in our families. Fathers working in unity with their wives, and vice versa. Children with their parents and parents with their children, working together in love to live in the truth of Christ’s calling.

Can you think of other ways we could be showing the unity of Christ? I would love to hear them, and I’m sure others would, too. Now, let us go and serve our  Lord!

Amen.

“You Are The Son Of God”: Mark 3: 7-12


Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people (followed) from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him.  And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” He warned them sternly not to make him known.

After His last confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. The only problem was a large number of people (followed). It’s really hard to withdraw when people are following you! And if that wasn’t enough, others heard what he was doing and even more were showing up – from all over. Seven different towns and/or areas are named in this text. Again I will say, it’s hard to withdraw when people are following you.

Two other withdrawal moments come to mind;

  1. His forty days in the wilderness (1:12)
  2. His quiet time in the morning      (1:35)

We see, that during these times, great prayer and preparation to accomplish the will of the Father was the purpose of these withdrawals. Given the context of this scripture, and the one we studied last week, He may have been withdrawing, this time, for a couple of different reasons;

  1. To escape the persecution of the Pharisees and the Herodians
  2. To preserve His secret

What secret? The proclamation of the unclean spirits;  whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” I find it fascinating that these purely evil spirits could more easily identify the Son of God than the people could. Have you ever wondered why that was?

First, we must realize that these unclean spirits were from the beginning. One third of heavens angels joined Lucifer in his rebellion against God. You can read about this incident in the Old Testament books, Ezekiel 28:12-19 and Isaiah 14:12-14 also Daniel 8:10 and in the New Testament in Revelation 12:4

Being present with the Holy Trinity from the beginning explains how they identify Him. Yet when we think of identifying someone, we think of seeing….recognizing by sight. Jesus was without a physical body before His Incarnation, so it was probably not His physical appearance they recognized, but His Holiness. Have you ever been in the presence of a truly godly person? How you could just sense that the Spirit was God was indeed, with them? Given that we [people] are inclined toward evil, how much more does purely evil spirits sense the presence of the Son of God?

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains;

II. The Fall of the Angels
 
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Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil.” The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”
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Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies.”
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It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”
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Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls “a murderer from the beginning,” who would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from his Father. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” In its consequences the gravest of these works was the mendacious seduction that led man to disobey God.
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 And also;

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          The coming of God’s kingdom means the defeat of Satan’s: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus’ exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus’ great victory over “the ruler of this world.” The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ’s cross: “God reigned from the wood.”

It also teaches;

  “But Deliver Us from Evil”

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The last petition to our Father is also included in Jesus’ prayer: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” It touches each of us personally, but it is always “we” who pray, in communion with the whole Church, for the deliverance of the whole human family. The Lord’s Prayer continually opens us to the range of God’s economy of salvation. Our interdependence in the drama of sin and death is turned into solidarity in the Body of Christ, the “communion of saints.”
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In this petition, evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who “throws himself across” God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ.
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“A murderer from the beginning, . . . a liar and the father of lies,” Satan is “the deceiver of the whole world.” Through him sin and death entered the world and by his definitive defeat all creation will be “freed from the corruption of sin and death.” Now “we know that anyone born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one.”

The Lord who has taken away your sin and pardoned your faults also protects you and keeps you from the wiles of your adversary the devil, so that the enemy, who is accustomed to leading into sin, may not surprise you. One who entrusts himself to God does not dread the devil. “If God is for us, who is against us?

 

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        The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries—of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature—to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”

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Victory over the “prince of this world” was won once for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave himself up to death to give us his life. This is the judgment of this world, and the prince of this world is “cast out.” “He pursued the woman” but had no hold on her: the new Eve, “full of grace” of the Holy Spirit, is preserved from sin and the corruption of death (the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary, ever virgin). “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring.” Therefore the Spirit and the Church pray: “Come, Lord Jesus,” since his coming will deliver us from the Evil One.
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When we ask to be delivered from the Evil One, we pray as well to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future, of which he is the author or instigator. In this final petition, the Church brings before the Father all the distress of the world. Along with deliverance from the evils that overwhelm humanity, she implores the precious gift of peace and the grace of perseverance in expectation of Christ’s return. By praying in this way, she anticipates in humility of faith the gathering together of everyone and everything in him who has “the keys of Death and Hades,” who “is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

 Deliver us, Lord, we beseech you, from every evil and grant us peace in our day, so that aided by your mercy we might be ever free from sin and protected from all anxiety, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

As we reflect back on our Scripture text for this week, let’s see how we can apply what we’ve learned.

There are many times in our faith journey when we will need to withdraw. There will also be times when we will want to withdraw, but not allowed to by our circumstances. We need not feel over-whelmed, for Jesus is with us (He’s been there, done that). He will empower us to continue in the work He started, until He comes again in Glory!

Amen.

Happy Birthday Humanae Vitae


Pope Paul VI’s encyclical turns forty today!

If you’ve never read it check out the link. It’s an insightful and prohpetical letter.

Here is the opening:

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

The fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings.

Enjoy! 

God said, “No.”


                                by Claudia Minden Weisz

I asked God to take away my pride, and God said “No.” He said it was not for Him to take away, but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole, and God said “No.” He said that her spirit was whole: her body is only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience, and God said “No.” He said that patience is a by-product of tribulation, and it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness, and God said “No.” He said that He gives blessings; happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain, and God said “No.” He said, “Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to Me.”

I asked God to make my spirit grow, and God said “No.” He said I must grow on my own, but He will prune me to make me fruitful.

I asked God whether He loves me, and God said, “Yes.” He said He gave His only Son to die for me, and I will be in heaven someday because I believe in Him.

I asked God to help me love others as much as He loves me. And God said, “Now you have the idea.”

Vatican declares Knights of Columbus founder “venerable”


New Haven, CT – March 16, 2008   Pope Benedict XVI Saturday approved a decree recognizing the heroic virtue of Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. The pope’s declaration significantly advances the priest’s process toward sainthood and gives the parish priest the distinction of “Venerable Servant of God.” If canonized, Fr. McGivney would be the first American born priest to be so honored.

“All of us who are members of the Knights of Columbus are profoundly grateful for this recognition of the holiness of our founder,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “The strength of the Knights of Columbus today is a testament to his timeless vision, his holiness and his ideals.”

Worried about the religious faith and financial stability of immigrant families, Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus with the help of several men of St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven in 1882 to help strengthen the faith of the men of his parish and to provide financial assistance in the event of their death to the widows and orphans they left behind. He was also known for his tireless work among his parishioners.

Born in Waterbury, Conn., Aug. 12, 1852, Michael Joseph McGivney, was the first of Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney’s 13 children, six of whom died in infancy or early childhood. His parents, natives of Ireland, had immigrated to the United States during the 19th century. Patrick was a molder in a Waterbury brass mill, where Michael himself worked for a brief time as a child to help support his family.

From an early age, however, he realized a calling to the Catholic priesthood. After studying in several seminaries, he was ordained in that Baltimore’s historic Cathedral by Cardinal James Gibbons Dec. 22, 1877. He took up his first assignment, as curate at St. Mary’s Church, New Haven, Conn., Jan. 2, 1878. Father McGivney was named pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Conn. in 1884. He became seriously ill with pneumonia in January 1890, and died Aug. 14, 1890 at age 38.

The cause, or process, for Father McGivney’s sainthood, was opened by Hartford Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin, in December 1997. The cause was presented to the Vatican in 2000, where it has been under review by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. With the pope’s recent decree, and the authentication of a miracle at Father McGivney’s intercession, the priest could be beatified. A second miracle would be required for canonization.

Still maintaining its headquarters in New Haven, the Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic Fraternal Organization with more than 1.7 million members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean islands, the Philippines, Guam and, most recently, Poland.

The Christian Mind-set:I Peter 4:1-11


Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same attitude (for whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin), so as not to spend what remains of one’s life in the flesh on human desires, but on the will of God. For the time that has passed is sufficient for doing what the Gentiles like to do: living in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and wanton idolatry. They are surprised that you do not plunge into the same swamp of profligacy, and they vilify you; but they will give an account to Him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead that, though condemned in the flesh in human estimation, they might live in the spirit in the estimation of God.  The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 

As Peter continues his apostolic teaching through sacred scripture, he exhorts us to arm [y]ourselves also with the same attitude of Christ. What was Christ’s attitude? He willinglysuffered. What may seem a forfeiture of our “rights” we, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, are called to do this; For the time that has passed is sufficient for doing what the Gentiles like to do. As we can see by the following list of sins [living in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and wanton idolatry] these are contrary to the fruits of the Holy Spirit that we are called to live by [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control]. Those who engage in a lifestyle such as the Gentiles will render to Christ an account for He stands ready to judge the living and the dead.

The preaching of the gospel demands a response! It requires a decision! Will we give up our “fleshly” desires, in order to live the spiritual life? Or will we reject the spiritual and cling to the flesh? Peter tells us that this is why the gospel was preached, that even though the flesh may die the spirit shall live in the estimation of God.

The end of all things is at hand. This  is a recurring theme in the New Testament. The Apostles themselves were expecting Jesus to come back before they died. Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven it’s been “the last days.” Yet, his message for us is the same as it was for the first century church; be serious and sober for prayers. These aren’t “gimmie” prayers, these prayers are intended to be the support of your love for one another which is to be intense. Intense? Our love for one another is supposed to be intense? I’ve heard of church business meetings being described as intense (not in a loving way I assure you) but never Christian love. This should be a real concern for the church today, for if our love is not intense for one another, how will love cover a multitude of sins? Jesus’ intense love for us, shown on the cross, is the love we should have [and show] for others.

Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Yes, this is possible and it is not optional!

We must also use our gifts to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. In doing so, we are serving God. All ministry, all vocations should be directed toward others that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

And lastly, when we preach let it be with the words of God.These words of God come to us through two distinct ways. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraphs 81 and 82:

Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.””And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.”
 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”

Also, whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies. Since it is the Spirit that gives life, we should realize that it is the Spirit that gives us the strength to love as God loves-which is “to  serve and not be served” (Matt. 20:28).

So this week, let us give up our pursuit of the things of the flesh and pursue the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let us also intensely love one another; in our prayers and our ministries and in our teaching and our service, so that “all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Amen.