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“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.

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“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.

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“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?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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“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 store

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world_meeting_of_familisAs 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.
 
1. The Francis Effect
One of the reasons this visit is so exciting is the profound effect Pope Francis has had on the Church and the world in the short time since his election. His voice has resonated around the globe, with Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as he calls us to truly live the Gospel. There is a recent documentary, “The Francis Effect,’’ on that very topic. Arrange a viewing of the film as a family or a parish. Engage in a discussion about how to answer the pope’s call as an individual or a group.
 
2. Read All About It!
Many people are wondering what the Pope might say when he addresses Congress and the United Nations. One of the best ways to learn about Pope Francis is to read his writings. If you haven’t already, take time to read The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the New Evangelization, or his encyclical on ecology, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’). Engage children and teenagers in the excitement by creating a trivia game from what you learn about the papacy and Pope Francis.
 
3. Get Social
Share your excitement about the pope’s visit on social media. The Catholic Extension Society has created “Flat Francis,” a simple cutout figure of the Holy Father, and has started the hashtag #FlatFrancis on Twitter and Instagram. You can download and print the image, then take a photo to share on social media. Whether you use it with your family, your parish, or your school, it is a fun way to show your excitement for the upcoming visit.
 
4. A Family Affair
The Holy Father has arranged his visit to coincide with the World Meeting of Families taking place in Philadelphia. There is a special World Meeting of Families Prayer for the success of the event and for family intentions. There is also a hymn written for the event, “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom.” Ask your parish music director to teach the hymn to the congregation and include it in the liturgies leading up to the visit and the meeting. You can also check out resources for the World Meeting of Families from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
 
5. Throw a Party
Host a Welcome Day in your diocese or parish, inviting the wider community to learn more about our Church, sharing the joy of the Gospel with all who are interested. When the days of the visit arrive there will be extensive media coverage. The USCCB will be livestreaming coverage of the events as well. Set up a viewing party for your parish. Listen to Pope Francis’ message together and pray that it will not only be heard but taken to heart by faithful around the world.
 
Jennifer Bober is a RENEW Marketing Associate with both non-profit and publishing experience. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.

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