The Mass readings during the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time focus on two movements of the heart: humility and preservation. The reading from the Book of Numbers is about the coming of the Spirit of God. Moses, in distress, cried out for help. God answers his plea as the Spirit of God descended into the meeting tent. There, the gathered elders, who were with Moses, stood in the glory cloud, received the Spirit of God and vocalized in praise. In addition, two others, on the list but outside the tent, received the same gift with the same outcome. Those who were in the tent were surprised that these two had received the same power of the Spirit and were prophesying in the camp, apparently ahead of all the others. How could that be? They were not there? Are those who were in the tent given a higher privilege or gift? Moses, appreciative of the wonder of God also knew the unlimited ways of God. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all” (Nm 11:29). God allows people with various experiences be given similar gifts with just as much zeal and passion. The Holy Spirit moves in many places and on all levels.

Similarly, in the Gospel, Jesus defends a man who is performing miracles in his name. Jesus is not bothered by this, for only in God’s name are demons cast out. Jesus reminds the apostles, “For whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk 9:40). Even small things done in the name of Jesus (i.e. sharing a cup of water) are powerful witnesses of his glory. The example he shares is of a little one (child). He stated the gravity and repercussions of sin committed if it causes this little one to sin. It is interesting the timing of this reading. The Holy Spirit is indeed moving swiftly, in fact, the Spirit is blowing the winds of justice.

Life_Giving Faith.pdf

How do we respond to the temptations we face? If by removing bodily appendages we experience exterior preservation from sin, how can one preserve the interior movement of the will to avoid sin? The movement of the body is a response to what is happening within. Filling the senses of that which is good, true and from God will in turn be manifested in acts of virtue. Avoiding temptations implies avoiding any person, place, event, addiction, experience, media, worldly goods, etc. that places one in danger of sin. Jesus says straight out, “Cut it off” (Mk 9: 43, 45). It is by our relationship with God, that being a “child of God,” by which we are called to turn to God with total trust and surrender. He opens the path of mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation and strengthens us most perfectly in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We are called to “cut out” what destroys and embrace what gives life. The sacraments enable us to do so.

Out of a rib

The Mass readings of the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time unveil the depths of complementarily. The sacrament of marriage is a visible sign of the love of God. “At last” are the words spoken by Adam upon seeing Eve, built up from his rib. It’s interesting that the place from which came forth Eve is that part of the body which protects the lungs and heart. These perform main functions of two complimentary systems that are life-giving: circulatory and respiratory. The heart sustains the rhythm while the lungs bring in oxygen and rid the body of dangerous gas. Their complimentary functions ultimately sustain life. Similarly, when seeking a suitable partner for Adam, God did not clone Adam. Rather, he created one that would protect the heart of man and together share in the breath of the mystical body of Christ, so that by their union life comes into being. The two become one and from them comes a person.

The Gospel passage tells of yet another moment when the Pharisees are testing Jesus, as they ask him the legality of divorce. Historically, the only reason divorce was allowed in Moses’ time was to battle the actions of men who desired to leave a wife, meaning he would leave her in the desert to die. To battle this Moses permitted divorce “because of the hardness of their hearts” (Mk 10:5). “To bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage is one of the most precious and most urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time” (John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 20).

As Catholics many of us have experienced or have known others who are divorced or thinking about one. When couples suffer, the entire church suffers. How are we called to help those who are in need during this most difficult time? Who can I turn to when all seems hopeless? How can people recognize the gift of their spouse in front of them each day? What happens when the person married and the person later are not the same? How can we work this out? All these questions have been asked over and over. There are numerous ways to heal a hurting marriage. It is never too late. The first step is prayer. The second is to seek help starting with your pastor, a spiritual director and the Office of Marriage and Family of your local church or the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Healing is a start.

If indeed, a marriage ends with a divorce, then for the couple, a new path should begin with the healing of an annulment. The journey of an annulment is one of self-introspection, recommitment to God and an opening the doors of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not a trial nor condemnation. Rather it is yet another way the church offers empathy and guidance for her people, an invitation to restored life.

Finally, the second part of the Gospel and the Letter to the Hebrews bookend the message of the readings focusing on humility. Just as Jesus humbled himself to taste suffering and death, so too are we called, as a child of God, to look upon the cross as a sign of love, humility and victory. God walks with us in our joyful moments and our most painful moments. As a child holds the hand of their parent, so also we should place our hand with trust and surrender into the hand of our loving father. To die to self and rise with Christ is a life long journey. But be reminded that at the center of the cross is Jesus’ heart and from there flows water and blood: life and mercy itself. Trust. Believe. Receive. Behold.

Dow is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.