“The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He said to them in reply, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They replied, ‘Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.’ But Jesus told them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate’” (Mark 10:2-9).
Some of the Pharisees approached Jesus to “test” both his understanding of and his faithfulness to the Law of Moses. Jesus turned the question back to them, challenging them to look beyond the words of the law and instead to the underlying spirit of the law. Jesus referred to the Book of Genesis to affirm that men and women alike were created in God’s image, and therefore they both have value in God’s eyes.
The foundation of the Law is the love that God has for us: a love that begins from the moment of our creation in the image and likeness of God.
If we believe that we are created in God’s image and likeness, we must also believe in the dignity of each human person. We must be willing to reach out to others, who are just as much the image and likeness of God as we are. We must always do what is within our power to help others.
Jesus promotes an inclusive community of faith. Who are the people in the margins of your community? In what ways can you positively affect them?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Bible, Catholic, Catholic Church, catholic RENEW program, Christ, Church, community, created in God's image, creation, dignity of each person, divorce, faith, faith community, Genesis, God has joined together, Good News, Gospel, Gospel According to Mark, helping others, inclusive community of faith, Jesus, likeness of God, Mark 10, Mass, no human being must separate, no longer two but one flesh, pharisees, prayer, reach out to others, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Scripture, spirit of the law, Sunday Gospel, Word of God
“At that time, John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ 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. For whoever is not against us is for us. 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 9:38-41).
We are presented in this gospel reading with a contrast between “with Jesus” and “against Jesus.” The passage refers to followers of Christ, people doing works in his name, who were not a part of the inner circle. Jesus responded to his disciples’ doubts by speaking with encouragement of what those “outsiders” were doing.
How often do we become indignant when things aren’t being done the way we would do them or would like them done? Jesus’ statement that it is impossible to both do good deeds in his name and speak ill of God demonstrates how the good fruit of our works reflects the source of that goodness—God.
This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of the importance of our fundamental shared belief in Jesus as the Christ. Jesus’ image of giving and receiving a cup of water in this context is a challenge to ask how we can be more receptive toward other Christians, and how we can be proactive in extending our hand in friendship and sincere dialog to other believers.
In what ways can you be more tolerant of those whose religious beliefs may differ from your own?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Catholic, Catholic Church, catholic RENEW program, Christ, Church, community, differing religious beliefs, disciples, extending our hand in friendship, faith, god as the source of all goodness, God's love, Good News, Gospel, Gospel According to Mark, john, Mass, prayer, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, religious beliefs, renew catholic program, RENEW International, shared belief in jesus, source of all goodness, Sunday Gospel, Word of God
“He was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me’” (Mark 9:31-37).
In our busy lives, we can easily become too caught up in our own concerns and goals. We may face the pressure to be the “greatest” in whatever we do. When we fall short of what we hope to accomplish, we can become disheartened.
This week’s Gospel reading begins with Jesus making a foreboding statement about his future that left his disciples confused and speechless. They seemed to have learned from Peter’s outburst described in last week’s Gospel reading and offered no challenge to this terrible announcement.
But just how little they understood Jesus’ real meaning soon becomes obvious as they started arguing about which of them was the greatest. They got caught up in the idea of being a disciple without having a sense of what true discipleship really means.
Jesus knew the disciples had the capacity to refocus their energy and concern on what was really important instead of promoting themselves as the “greatest” above everyone.
Our accomplishments and accolades, as great as they might be, do not exemplify discipleship. Rather, it’s our ability to be of service to others—to receive and attend to the most vulnerable in our society—that makes us good disciples.
This is a fairly simple message but so difficult to put into practice!
By our selfless giving and sharing of our gifts without expectation of anything in return, we are freed from the trappings of prestige and the need to be “the greatest.”
We can trust that God has called us to discipleship, and that means serving even the “littlest” members of our communities, knowing that being of service to others is what really matters.
When have you reached out to the most vulnerable in your community? How did that encounter change you?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, being the best, being the greatest, call to discipleship, catholic RENEW program, Christ, Church, community, first shall be last, Good News, Gospel, Gospel According to Mark, Mark 9, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Scripture, serving the littlest, Son of Man, Sunday Gospel, true discipleship, twelve disciples, wishes to be first, Word of God
“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’ He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it’” (Mark 8:31-35).
The disciples were sincere about wanting to follow Jesus, but they failed to understand both who Jesus was and what the demands of being a disciple were, which ultimately meant a willingness to undergo suffering just as Jesus would.
Peter had no problem proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, but he did not seem to understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was called to be. How could his beloved leader have to suffer and die?
This passage serves as a reminder of how our understanding of God can’t be limited by our own imaginations. Even if we do recognize that we can’t know the mind of God, we often miss the point by trying to make our lives and others’ conform to our own unrealistic expectations. When do this with respect to God by making God too much in our own image, we put human constraints on God’s work in our lives.
Jesus’ command to deny ourselves is a challenge. While things such as money, food, success, or power may be good in and of themselves, they have the potential to overtake us if we let them dictate how we live. They can prevent us from living the freedom that a life in Christ offers.
We can take assurance from Jesus’ words that by letting go of the attachments we have to our own ways we will gain a better understanding of ourselves, others, and how God is calling us to live.
How has your image of God changed over time? What past experiences or images of God do you need to put aside in order to free you to have a better understanding of who God is?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International."get behind me Satan", a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, being a disciple, beloved leader, Bible, Catholic Church, catholic RENEW program, Christ, Church, community, disciple peter, faith, freedom, Good News, Gospel, Gospel According to Mark, Jesus, Jesus as Messiah, Jesus Christ, letting go of attachments, life in christ, Mark 8:35, Mass, Messiah, Peter, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Scripture, Son of Man, Sunday Gospel, take up his cross, Word of God
“And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’” (Mark 7:35-37).
Imagine yourself in this scene. Filled with expectation, and maybe even some fear, you watch Jesus take this man aside and heal him. Think about the emotions you would feel. Most likely, you would want to share this good news with everyone you encountered, despite Jesus’ order not to do so. Such a miracle would make anyone believe in the power of Jesus, right? Then why would Jesus ask everyone to keep it a secret?
Jesus was teaching the crowd a deeper lesson. By telling them to say nothing, Jesus encouraged them (as well as us) to see beyond outside appearances. He didn’t want people to think he was simply a miracle worker. Rather, Jesus wanted the miracles to be signs of who he truly was. Jesus did not want to draw so much attention to his works that the crowd would not be able to understand his true identity as the one who would undergo suffering and death and then rise again.
Just as the crowd asked for healing, we, too, make requests in prayer for certain things: the health of a relative, the mending of a broken relationship, a job opportunity or promotion. Petitions are an important part of our prayer life, but they are not the only part. If this is the only way we communicate with God, we risk reducing God’s status to simply that of a “miracle worker.”
We are invited to look beyond how our petitions may change our situation to how they can change us, whether or not we receive our hoped-for answer.
This story teaches us that moments of experiencing God’s presence, although powerful and joy-filled, should not be ends in themselves. Rather, these moments possess the power to break open our hearts, allowing us to become vessels of healing for others.
When have you experienced healing in your life, or been a witness to someone else’s healing? How did it impact your understanding of the power of God?a reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Bible, Catholic, Catholic Church, catholic RENEW program, Christ, Church, communicate with God, community, experience god's presence, Good News, Gospel, Gospel According to Mark, healing, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Mark 7, Mass, miracle worker, miracles, power of God, prayer, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, renew catholic program, RENEW International, signs, suffer death and rise again, Sunday Gospel, vessel of healing, witness to healing, Word of God
“So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, ‘Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?’ He responded, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.’
He summoned the crowd again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile’” (Mark 7:5-8, 14-15).
The “tradition of the elders” refers to a set of practices by which Pharisaic teachers meant to help the observant Jew fulfill the law as perfectly as humanly possible. For some, these practices took on the same importance as the law itself, which, in effect, equated these human traditions with the Law that God gave on Mt. Sinai. Jesus’ strong rebuke of the religious leaders served to return the emphasis to God’s Law and refocused the question on inward dispositions and not external practices.
This Gospel challenges us to take a long, hard look at how our actions are connected to what we believe. We attend Sunday Mass, we receive the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, we say the rosary, etc. Sometimes, these practices can become routine. Where are our hearts when we do these things? What is our attitude as we do them? How do we treat our families or neighbors after we pass through the church doors into the outside world?
Jesus reminds us that remembering why we do what we do and to do it with a heart turned toward God are more important than performing all the correct rituals without conviction and intention.
How does this Gospel challenge you?
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International storea reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Catholic, Catholic Church, catholic RENEW program, Christ, Church, community, fulfill the law, God's law, Gospel According to Mark, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Mark 7, Mass, Mt. Sinai, pharisees, PrayerTime, reconciliation, renew catholic program, RENEW International, rituals, rosary, scribes, Scripture, Sunday Gospel, Sunday Mass, tradition of the elders, treating family, Word of God
As the time for Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States approaches, excitement is building for Catholics around the country. However, not all of us can travel to Washington, New York, or Philadelphia to join in the events scheduled there. So how do we participate in this historic visit from our own homes and parishes? Here are five ways that you can become a part of Pope Francis’ visit no matter where you are.
Does the thought of spontaneous prayer terrify you? The leader of a small group may at times want or find it necessary to offer a spontaneous prayer, perhaps to open or close the prayer portion of a session or to open or close the meeting itself. A practice that can make this experience go smoothly involves remembering four words that represent familiar elements in prayer. The words are “you,” “who,” “do,” and “through.”
A prophetic and popular pope, the first ever from Latin America, will visit Washington, New York, and Philadelphia September 22-27. Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention through his warm gestures, simplicity, humility, message of mercy, and clear preference for those on the peripheries. He will go to the White House, Congress, and the United Nations, and he will make other important stops that highlight his vision for the Church—“a poor Church for the poor.” He will visit the homeless in Washington, immigrant children in a Catholic school in Harlem, and prisoners in Philadelphia. The Church, Francis proclaims, “has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much to those who are secure and comfortable, but to the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked.”
“Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, ‘Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’ As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6: 60-69).
Over the past four Sundays, John’s Gospel portrays Jesus saying some difficult things that were not well received. In this Sunday’s Gospel, the disciples’ murmuring drew Jesus’ attention. They were incredulous, even a bit irritated when Jesus spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) Their whole way of thinking and believing had been turned upside down.
In response, Jesus asked two very important questions. The first was “Does this shock you?” (John 6:61) Today, we have two thousand years of faith and tradition to help us understand what Jesus said. Accepting Jesus as the bread from heaven may not be as much of a burning issue for us as it was for the first disciples.
The second question, “Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67), shows Jesus’ vulnerability with the Twelve. He had just explained to them who he was, where he came from, why he had come, and how to remain in relationship with him and the Father. Some left because it was too hard to bear. Peter met Jesus’ vulnerability with his own. Peter knew there was no place else to turn. God had marked them; to turn away was unthinkable.
We too are confronted with these questions in our daily lives. How we address any issue that shakes our faith is strongly influenced by our connection to the Living Bread.
Recall an experience when you felt your faith shaken. How did you make it through that difficult time?
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International storea reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Bible, bread from heaven, Catholic, Catholic Church, catholic RENEW program, Christ, Church, community, connection to the living bread, eating his flesh and drinking his blood, eternal life, Eucharist, Good News, Gospel, Gospel according to John, Holy One of God, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus' disciples, John 6, John 6:60, living bread, Mass, prayer, questions of faith, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Scripture, shaking of faith, Simon Peter, Sunday Gospel, This saying is hard; who can accept it?, Word of God
“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever’” (John 6:52-58).
This passage is part of an interesting progression in this chapter of the Gospel according to John. The multitude were fed, the crowd followed Jesus and the disciples, the crowd questioned Jesus about giving them a sign, and then Jesus told them that he was the true bread sent down from heaven. The ones who were fed by him just the day before, and had asked to receive this bread (John 6:34), were now grumbling about what Jesus said.
This could be a familiar pattern in our own spiritual lives. Things may be in a state of relative calm, or we may be growing in our faith and having new experiences. And then a situation develops in which we hear things that present a challenge to us. Sometimes when it’s not something we want to hear, we resist. Maybe we’re being called to a deeper level of faith, trust, or commitment, and we don’t feel capable of or willing to respond. At times like those, our comfort level is being stretched.
This section of John’s Gospel is about the nourishment the Father gives us through Jesus, providing a unique and special way to be connected to Jesus through his body and blood. This is the mystery that has been central to our Catholic tradition for over two thousand years. The Eucharist is the nourishment that we need when we are being stretched beyond our “comfort zone.” The life of Jesus in the Word and in the consecrated bread and wine will keep us centered during those times.
What role does the Eucharist play in your life, especially when you’re experiencing growth that feels uncomfortable?
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International storea reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Bible, body and blood of Christ, bread from heaven, called to deeper level of faith, Catholic, Catholic Church, catholic RENEW program, Catholic tradition, Christ, Church, consecrated bread and wine, Eucharist, Good News, Gospel, Gospel according to John, John 6, John 6:34, live forever, nourishment through Jesus, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Scripture, Sunday Gospel, testing faith, Word of God
Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), challenges all of us to turn the global issues surrounding environmental degradation into a personal call to action. The pope writes:
“The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven,’ and they said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, “I have come down from heaven?”’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me’” (John 6: 41 – 45).
The people John writes about in this Gospel passage would not hear what Jesus proclaimed, because they knew his family, where he grew up, and how he grew up. Certainly God’s Messiah could not come from among them, from a poor family. He could not be a mere tradesman.
Think of last week’s Gospel. The people asked Jesus what they must do to accomplish the work of God. Jesus simply said that they must “believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29). Here, the people judged Jesus because he did not fit the appearance of the messenger they were expecting. By refusing to believe and listen to Jesus, they closed themselves off to the possibility of something greater happening in their lives.
God is greater than our expectations and imaginations and will use whomever he chooses to bring about his reign here on earth.
Can you think of a situation in which you chose to believe or disbelieve someone’s words based solely on the speaker’s appearance or what you thought you knew about that person?
Although classes are not in session, Pope Francis’ call for a more sustainable future, sounded in On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), resonates on college campuses this summer. Colleges and universities by nature tend to take the long view—both in their mission to educate citizens and in their desire to sustain thriving institutions. The vision of environmental sustainability fits well with these priorities.
“And when they found him across the sea they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ Jesus answered them and said, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.’ So they said to him, ‘What can we do to accomplish the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent’ (John 6:25-29).
It’s easy to see why the crowds followed Jesus. He was attentive to their physical needs and performed miracles. In this Gospel, however, it is clear that the people “don’t get it.” They searched for Jesus and wanted another sign – they wanted to be fed again to fullness and be dazzled. What was Jesus’ response? “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). And what was his answer to their question of how to accomplish the works of God? “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29).
What do we ask for when we ask for a “sign” God’s blessings? A bigger house? More money? Greater job status? None of these are intrinsically bad, but it is easy to lose sight of the fact they these aren’t life’s most important things. They will not endure. They will not fill the hunger that goes beyond our physical needs. They easily can become distractions from what is our true work, having faith in the One sent by God.
Faith is hard work. We don’t really think about that until something challenges us in our effort to keep our faith – the illness or death of a loved one, unemployment, a natural disaster. Just as the “good things” in life can be distracting, so are the difficulties and harsh realities of living in this world. During times like these, keeping faith is work.
Jesus’ answer to the crowd when they asked about material and tangible things called them, as it calls us, to see things differently. Jesus is the only “sign” necessary. While the crowd wanted the bread that satisfied their physical hunger, he wanted them to understand that he was the bread that satisfies all hunger.
When have you asked God for a sign? What was it, and what were the circumstances?
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