• St. Peter the Fisherman

June 4, 2020

Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Opening Prayer: I know you are with me, Lord, as I come before you in prayer. I offer this time to you, because you deserve my praise, and I need your grace. I want to know you more clearly, to love you more dearly, to follow you more nearly (St. Richard of Chichester) today and every day. Enlighten and strengthen me, Lord. Help me to discover and accept what you want to give me today, and be pleased with the offering of my heart and mind to you through this prayer.

Encountering Christ:

1. Sincerely Questioning the Lord: Unlike the Sadducees and Pharisees who have been questioning Jesus in the Gospel passages of the last few days, the scribe who comes to Jesus asks a sincere question. Scribes were experts in Jewish law, in the biblical commandments, and all the many norms and customs that had been derived from those commandments over the centuries. And there were hundreds of those commandments, customs, rules, and norms. A popular topic for debate among scribes had to do with which of those many commandments was the most important one. Knowing which was most important could make following God a lot simpler, a lot more focused. The scribe came to Jesus to test his wisdom, to see how Jesus would answer the question about the most important commandment. And the scribe responds to Jesus’s answer by showing that he understood the Lord’s wisdom and accepted it. We can see Jesus smile as he complements this inquirer on his humility, prudence , and sincerity: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” What question is on my heart today? What question do I want to ask Jesus today? What question am I sincerely seeking an answer to? Ask it now, and hear the Lord’s response.

2. God’s Commandments as the Path to Life: From the biblical perspective, God’s commandments are not arbitrary laws set up as a kind of obstacle course to test people’s devotion to God. Rather, God’s commandments are a revelation of his wisdom and goodness; they unveil the path that will lead us to the fulfillment and fruitfulness we all yearn for in life. As today’s Psalm puts it: “All the paths of the Lord are kindness and constancy toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees” (Psalms 25:10, today’s psalm). When Jesus points out the two most important commandments, therefore, he is actually placing in our hands the secret to happiness. How many self-help books are published every single year claiming to have discovered that secret! And yet, those books keep getting published, and people keep seeking that elusive happiness that we all long for. Jesus’s answer remains the sure path, if only we would follow it. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength means putting God in the center of our lives. It means giving top priority to spending time with God, getting to know him, and following his will by living lovingly the moral law, the teachings of the Church, and the duties of our state in life. And loving our neighbors as ourselves is a natural outpouring of loving God—this is why Jesus links these two commandments so closely. As St. John puts it in his first letter to all Christians: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21). Learning to love God with our whole selves and to love others as ourselves is our great task in life, and nothing else–nothing else–will satisfy our hearts.

3. Healthy Self-Love?: One aspect of this discourse often overlooked is the how Jesus instructs us to love our neighbors: as ourselves. This means that there is a healthy way to love ourselves, and that is the model for how we should love our neighbors. There is also an unhealthy kind of self-love. We call that selfishness, self-centeredness, or self-absorption. The healthy kind of self-love is part of the virtue of humility. Humility recognizes that, as human beings, we all have basic needs and built-in limitations. Accepting our limitations and taking reasonable care of our needs is a way of acknowledging that we are not gods, that we are not self-sufficient. Many times, when we find it difficult to be patient with others, to forgive others, to be generous to others, the root of that difficulty can be found in a lack of humility. In a certain sense, then, we will only learn to accept, love, and value others (and thus treat them with Christ-like patience, mercy, and generosity) to the extent that we learn to accept, love, and value ourselves. As we learn to see ourselves through God’s eyes, our blindness will subside and we will also learn to see others through God’s eyes.

Conversing with Christ: Thank you for coming into this world and conversing with those of us who have questions, like the scribe in today’s Gospel. Thank you for caring enough about us to walk with us, to patiently instruct us. Thank you for giving us your commandments, and for giving us the grace to follow them. I want to learn more and more deeply how to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. And I want to learn to love my neighbor as myself. I know that learning to love is not something I will ever be able to check off my to-do list. I know that learning to love as you love is the great adventure of my life. Be my teacher, Lord, and my guide, and my inspiration: “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior” (Psalms 25:4-5).

Resolution: Lord, today, by your grace, I will live out this Gospel passage by doing three things: 1) I will offer you some sort of gift as a sign of my love for you; 2) I will give something to myself that expresses a healthy awareness and acceptance of my own needs and limitations; 3) I will give some sort of a gift to a neighbor, not looking for anything in return but just looking to love that person as I love myself.

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  • St. Peter the Fisherman

June 3, 2020

Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and his Companions, Martyrs

Mark 12:18-27

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and put this question to him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers. The first married a woman and died, leaving no descendants. So the second brother married her and died, leaving no descendants, and the third likewise. And the seven left no descendants. Last of all the woman also died. At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be? For all seven had been married to her.” Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven. As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.”

Opening Prayer: On a day when we remember the suffering of the Ugandan martyrs, I come to you humbly and in my weakness and my need: Enlighten my heart, Lord, and strengthen me for the battle of faith in all the ways it shows up in my daily life. I know that at times my battles are small and apparently inconsequential, but I also know that your love for me is infinite, personal, and real, and so even my smallest battles matter immensely to you. I believe in you, Lord: increase my faith, nourish my hope, and teach me to love as you love.

Encountering Christ:

1. Jesus Absorbs More Attack: Once again, we are presented today with the spectacle of religious leaders–Jewish leaders at the time of Christ–challenging Jesus, trying to trick him, to trap him, to humiliate and discredit him. In this case, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, present Our Lord with one of their clever arguments. Supposedly, they base their disbelief on an Old Testament passage about widows. But Jesus points out, once again, their blind spots. But he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t stop by showing why their argument is wrong. He goes a step further. He actually opens up another level of theological understanding by showing how one of the most repeated Old Testament phrases–when God calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–reveals the truth about everlasting life: Those who die in friendship with God will continue to enjoy that friendship even after their earthly lives come to an end. Jesus wants the Sadducees to accept his revelation. And so he corrects them, and then he instructs them. Jesus also wants us to accept his revelation, and so he often corrects us, but he also instructs us. How is the Holy Spirit correcting me in this season of my life, and how is he instructing me? And how am I responding—stubbornly, like the Sadducees, or humbly, docilely, and joyfully?

2. The Faithful Witness of Today’s Martyrs: It is interesting to connect Jesus’s discourse about eternal life with the martyrs we celebrate on today’s memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions, known as the Martyrs of Uganda, who gave their lives for Christ in 1886. They, like all Christian martyrs through the centuries, believed so firmly in Christ’s promise of eternal life and resurrection that they refused to give up their faith in Christ even when they were faced with death. Here is their story… The first Catholic missionaries to enter Central Africa were the White Fathers (they dressed in white cassocks, which distinguished them in the eyes of the native peoples from the Protestant missionaries, who wore black), who started their work in 1879. Things went well at first, but when a new local chieftain assumed power, martyrdom was soon to follow. Converts to the faith reprimanded the local ruler, Mwanga, for his crue lty and his vicious sexual habits. Recently baptized Christians who were members of the ruling household spread the faith through their words and examples, such that the young boys who were Mwanga’s favorite victims began to refuse his demands. Egged on by officials who resented the Christian encroachment on power, Mwanga arranged for a general round-up of the Christians. On the eve of their “trial,” St. Charles Lwanga finished instructing a group of young pages (he had been protecting many of them from the king’s wicked advances) and baptized them. The following day, the entire household was lined up in front of the king and the Christians were asked to step forward. Led by Lwanga, fifteen young men (all under the age of twenty-five) boldly did so, inspiring two of the guards to join them. When they pronounced their intention to remain Christians until death, Mwanga responded by sentencing them to be imprisoned and tortured for seven days, after which they w ere burned alive.

3. Staying Strong in the Lord: Just like St. Paul in today’s first reading–who refers to his own sufferings and imprisonment as he writes his encouraging letter to Timothy–the Ugandan Martyrs ended up suffering because of their Christian faith. In a fallen world where the spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil continues to rage on, every single one of us will experience opposition and difficulty–in some form or other–if we strive to be faithful to our friendship with Christ and follow and defend his teaching. As difficult as our Christian journey may be at times, we can always find the strength we need in Christ. We may have to dig deep within our souls to “stir into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6, today’s first reading) we received in baptism and confirmation in order to access that strength, but the effort will be worth it. Because, as St. Paul explained to Timothy, Jesus “saved us and ca lled us to a holy life” (2 Timothy 1:9), and “holiness” is the Bible’s word for the only true and lasting fulfillment we can experience here on earth and forever in heaven.

Conversing with Christ: Lord, thank you for coming into this sin-darkened world and enlightening us with the truth about your plan for us. Thank you for continuing to instruct me through your Word and the wisdom and guidance of your Church. I want to live in and from your truth and your love. I want to believe more and more firmly in all that you have revealed about the true purpose of our lives. I want to learn to “lift up my eyes” (Psalms 123:1, today’s psalm) to you, Lord, in all circumstances, especially the ones that cause me pain and frustration. Teach me and guide me, Lord, on the path of your wisdom and life.

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will pause at different times throughout the day to “lift my eyes” to the Lord. I will ask for the grace I need to grow in wisdom and faithfulness. And I will make a visit to a chapel or at least to a sacred image somewhere and pray for all Christians who are suffering persecution.

For Further Reflection: Excerpt from St. Paul VI’s homily for the canonization of the Uganda martyrs:

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  • St. Peter the Fisherman

June 2, 2020

Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Mark 12:13-17

Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech. They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?” Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” They brought one to him and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They replied to him, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were utterly amazed at him.

Opening Prayer: Lord, I know that as today’s Psalm says, “Before the mountains were begotten, you are God…In every age you have been our refuge.” I believe that you are here present with me now, eagerly and lovingly wanting to give me your light and grace. I need that light—it is so hard to see my way, sometimes. I need that grace—on my own, I can do so little. I open my mind and heart to you, Lord: Bless this time together for your glory, for the good of my soul, and for the progress of your eternal Kingdom.

Encountering Christ:

1. Resistance to Jesus: From the Jewish perspective at the time of Jesus, Roman rule over Israel was an unlawful rule. The Roman occupiers were a hostile, conquering force. And so paying Caesar’s tax was, in a certain sense, collaborating with the enemy and betraying the Jewish nation. By asking Jesus about this thorny issue, the Jewish leaders were setting a trap for him: if he told them to pay the tax, he would lose his status as an authentic religious leader for the Jewish people, so his popularity would decline; if he told them not to pay the tax, he would become a political revolutionary subject to Roman legal punishments. Either way, Our Lord’s enemies thought Jesus’s influence would be severely damaged. How often we fallen human beings set traps for each other! How blind we can be!

2. Jesus’s Shocking Wisdom: But Jesus avoids their snares. He pointed out the fallacy underlying their whole mentality. For the Pharisees and Herodians, only one citizenship was possible: You were either an Israelite or a Roman. They had too worldly a view of their spiritual identity. Jesus pointed out a fundamental difference between kingdoms of this world and his eternal Kingdom when he told his attackers to “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” As Christians, we can be joyful, constructive citizens of this passing world, and at the same time have our true and lasting citizenship in heaven. Jesus shows us that our lives here on earth are passing; we are pilgrims on our way to our true home in heaven. We don’t have to try and create heaven on earth. We can accept the limitations and challenges of earthly life as the providential pathway towards growth in grace while we, as St. Peter puts it in the first r eading, “await the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). What a gift Jesus has given us by revealing that through our friendship with him we have a destination that transcends this world! How much peace that truth can bring to our hearts, if only we truly absorb it!

3. The Clash of Two Kingdoms: At times, earthly kingdoms (or earthly rulers) become jealous of Jesus and his eternal Kingdom. When that happens, the Caesars of this world pass unjust laws, refusing to accept the natural moral law that God built into human nature. They try to reinvent moral or religious truth. Totalitarian regimes do this by denying certain races or groups their fundamental rights. Our post-Christian society is doing it by trying to redefine basic realities like human dignity and the nature of marriage. Ancient Rome did it by requiring all citizens to participate in pagan worship. When Christians refused to do that, they were imprisoned, enslaved, or executed as enemies of the State. That’s what happened to the martyrs commemorated by the Church today, saints Marcellinus and Peter. Marcellinus was a priest in Rome and Peter was an exorcist there. They were rounded up during the famous persecution under the emperor Diocletian. In prison awaiti ng their trial, they strengthened the faith of other Christians fearing for their lives, and even converted the jail keeper. Refusing to worship any gods but the true God, Jesus, they were condemned and beheaded as traitors to Rome. They exhibited so much peace and courage, and even joy, throughout their ordeal that their executioner was deeply moved and eventually became a Christian himself. Yes, as Christians we are dual citizens, having citizenship here on earth and also in heaven. But our primary citizenship is the heavenly one because only that Kingdom will last forever. If ever earthly rulers overstep their bounds and try to coerce us into compromising our loyalty to that Kingdom, God will strengthen us to be as faithful to him as he has been to us.

Conversing with Christ: Lord, I want to treasure the gift you have given me by my baptism, that gift of being a true child of God, your friend, and brother, with a home in the Father’s house in heaven. I firmly believe that my life here on earth is just a pilgrimage leading there. I want to live this earthly life well, honorably, virtuously, responsibly—but please never let me become so attached to earthly glory and comfort that I abandon you. I want to be faithful to your teaching, to the faith I have received through the heroic witness of my older brothers and sisters like saints Marcellinus and Peter. Strengthen me, Lord, as you strengthened them, and make my life a powerful witness to the truth of your goodness, wisdom, and grace.

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will be calm and confident if my faith is challenged. I will not be afraid to speak out about the teachings of the Church, the teachings that lead us along the path of everlasting life. And I will not be surprised when being faithful is demanding or costly in some way. I will never hide the fact that I belong to Christ, that I am a Christian.

For Further Reflection: Pray the Prayer of Dedication of the Human Race to Christ the King (

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