“Fight strongly for me and overcome these wicked beasts, I mean to say alluring concupiscenses, so that peace may be obtained by Your power, and Your praise may resound copiously in Your holy temple, that is, a pure conscience.” (IC 3,23,8) | “Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good.” (Is 1:16b-17a)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXIII: ”Four Things Which Bring Great Peace” (second entry)

In Kempis’s disciple’s prayer for enlightenment, he realizes that it is only with the Lord’s help that he can overcome his fallen nature; only divine intervention in the form of grace can calm the “winds and storms” of temptation as Jesus calmed the raging sea in his boat trip with the apostles (see Mk 4:35-41) so that some of the light of Truth can enlighten and penetrate his troubled mind.

|Today’s first reading: Is 1:10-17

Isaiah, writing in the latter half of the seventh century before Christ, warns of trouble for Jerusalem (the likening of it to Sodom and Gomorrah should have made his listeners’ blood run cold considering the grievous wickedness of those cities and the end to which they were fated [see Gen 19:1-29]). The faithlessness and immorality of the people, despite outward signs of piety, is very displeasing to God, whom they claim to serve. Sacrifices and rituals are of no value if their internal dispositions run counter to the Lord. Evil must turn to good, injustice to justice.

|Reflection

In Isaish’s lifetime, the Temple of Solomon still stood (it would not be destroyed until 587 B.C.). The people were defiling it due to the fact that they came to worship but did not have love of God or neighbor in their hearts. Kempis, in turn, speaks to Christ of “Your holy temple,” that is our own consciences, that we individually defile. Conscience is a gift from God. We have a responsibility to form our own and others’ consciences according to the truths of the Catholic Faith safeguarded by the Church.

So-called “Catholic guilt” gets a lot of undeserved acrimony, almost exclusively from fallen-away or ex-Catholics, but it is a safeguard that our Maker has “installed” to keep us on the straight and narrow or at least compel us to return to the path to life. Temptation comes; sometimes we fall. The Lord’s message to us is the same one He proclaimed to the Judeans through Isaiah: “cease doing evil; learn to do good.” We are not alone in this effort, thank God, because we know we can’t do it alone — ask any honest sinner. The Divine Mercy is always ready to be poured out on those who seek it with a sincere and open heart.

Our body is the temple of our spirit | by George W. Romney R… | Flickr

“Pour forth your grace from above, water my heart with the dew of Heaven; send down the waters of devotion to irrigate the face of the earth, so that it may bring forth good and perfect fruit.” (IC 3,23,9) | “But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Mt 13:8)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXIII: ”Four Things Which Bring Great Peace” (first entry)

The “four things” mentioned in the title of this chapter are: do the will of another; choose to have less rather than more; seek the last place, being subject to everyone; pray to perfectly fulfill the will of God. The disciple thanks Christ for this teaching and then composes prayers against evil thoughts and for enlightenment. The sentence above comes near the end of the chapter, with the disciple recognizing the need for abundant grace in order to fulfill the Lord’s commands and to thus attain great peace.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 13:1-23

This lengthy reading begins with the Parable of the Sower, followed by an explanation by Jesus of His use of parables, then how the disciples are privileged to gain insight from Jesus regarding parables, and finally an explanation of the parable just shared. The parable has a sower spreading seed that falls on four types of ground: a path, rock-filled, thorny, fertile. A path has no depth of soil so birds eat the seed quickly; rocks contain little soil so a quick spurt followed by withering is the result; thorns choke the sprout; rich soil allows for stability and growth. The disciples eventually are given the meaning of the parable: those on the path do not understand the Word and thus it quickly goes away; those on rocky ground receive the word joyfully but tribulations and persecutions cause a falling away; thorns of worldly cares choke off the initial enthusiasm of God’s word; but fertile soil is ripe for hearing the word and bearing fruit.

|Reflection

Left unsaid in the Gospel is that not only does Jesus provide the seed of the word but He also tills and nurtures the ground (that is, us) and rains down grace in order to grow our faith and give merit to our good works so that they will bear fruit for the benefit of others. Kempis asks the Lord to “bring down the waters of devotion” on His disciples. This is a vital component of the spiritual life. We show our devotion (or lack thereof) in the way we live our lives. But we should not neglect formal devotions as well. At least one of the rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, a novena, the Divine Mercy chaplet; consecrations, and more, should have a place in our daily routines. These are great gifts that God has supplied to us through His Church to make our lives richer and to grow closer to Him through frequent reminders of the Source of life and goodness. These are nutrients that help keep our souls fertile ground for the water of grace the Spirit desires to pour upon us.

How to Live the Bible — Good Seed, Good Soil - Bible Gateway Blog

“Your will and the love of Your glory should be regarded above all” (IC 3,22,5) | “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Mt 10:32-33)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXII: ”Remembrance of the Innumerable Benefits of God” (third entry)

The closing paragraph of this chapter drives home the point, made so often in this book, that God’s will and glory trump all other considerations in life. Keeping this straight allows everything else to fall in place. “Love, and do what thou wilt,” St Augustine said.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 10:24-33

Jesus continues His lesson on discipleship in this passage. Do not worry about insults — Jesus suffered the worst (the Son of God being called a demon). Be bold in proclaiming the Gospel forthrightly and widely. Be not afraid, even of bodily death for the sake of the Name. Rather, defend Jesus and do not deny Him — one’s eternal fate depends on it.

|Reflection

It is certainly the case that by endeavoring to do God’s will in all circumstances, we will stand in good stead on the day of our judgment. Prayer (especially The Lord’s Prayer: “thy will be done”), spiritual direction, Scripture, and catechesis all assist in discerning the Lord’s will for us and then acting on it appropriately. When God comes first, others come second, and we come last, we have the order correct. And if we have the right order how possibly would we not as a matter of course be able to acknowledge God? We should never be reluctant to praise God in prayer and to others for the benefits we have received. Who knows, we may get a friend or stranger to consider his relationship with the Almighty in doing so. Just the name of Jesus (“God saves”) is a powerful evangelical tool — don’t be sparing in using it reverently and excitedly with others.

Photo courtesy of St. Paul Street Evangelization.

“Nothing…ought to give such great joy to him who loves you and knows your benefits, as…[to] be as willingly despicable and neglected and of no name and repute in this world” (IC 3,22,5) | “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXII: ”Remembrance of the Innumerable Benefits of God” (second entry)

Kempis, following Christ’s promise of encountering suffering and persecution for the devout Christian, continues to urge the disciple to “great joy” in accomplishing God’s will, especially when counted least, last, despicable, and neglected. We are to please the Lord above all things, without counting the cost.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 10:16-23

Jesus continues to advise His closest collaborators, the apostles, on what they can expect to encounter for His sake: hatred, arrest, scourging, persecution, even death due to the betrayal of a loved one. This is the price of Christian witness. But the Spirit will speak through them if they persevere, so they need not worry. Endurance through all these trials means salvation.

|Reflection

I don’t think there are many folks that wish to be hated. Yet this is what Jesus promises to His most ardent followers. But what a reward for the steadfast: eternal bliss with the Blessed Trinity! No wonder Kempis speaks of the “great joy” of being considered despicable and finding oneself neglected. I am reminded of the opening of James’s letter:

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2-4)

In these most troubling times, when the vindictiveness and immorality of the culture is reaching a fever pitch, persevere in the Truth — may we not allow anything or anyone disturb us or cause us to move from the Rock, the firm foundation of “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). It is our salvation.

On the New Martyrs of the Middle East: An Orthodox Christian View ...

“[Your apostles] were even glad to suffer affronts and reproaches for Your Name; and that which the world abhors, they used to embrace with great love.” (IC 3,22,4) | “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words — go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (Mt 10:14)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXII: ”Remembrance of the Innumerable Benefits of God” (first entry)

Kempis urges us disciples to constantly bring to mind that any good that we have has been received from God. We do not have any reason to glory in ourselves when we appreciate our gifts; we only can thank God and realize how far short we fall in appreciating and using these benefits. And when we are rejected for sharing those gifts, in this we should also rejoice, as the apostles did, as alluded to above.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 10:7-15

Continuing yesterday’s exhortation, Jesus speaks further about the apostles’ mission. Heal, exorcise, raise the dead freely as these powers were given freely. Carry no money or luggage but rely on those to whom you minister to take care of your physical needs. Send your peace upon the houses/towns you enter; if the place rejects this gesture, leave and “shake the dust from your feet” in judgment.

|Reflection

We know that Christ’s early missionaries had rousing success in their ministry (see Lk 10:17-20), but one wonders how often they met with disinterest, derision, insults, even bodily harm. This certainly would have been disappointing, maybe to the point of frustration, even discouragement, if there were a string of these reactions in place after place. We know that, at least eventually, they rejoiced in rejection (see Acts 5:41).

I recall Mother Teresa’s wise words, “We are not called to be successful, but faithful.” There is much encouragement for us in this statement. But who doesn’t like to receive affirmation from others in his good work for the Lord? It is certainly heartening to see others come closer to the Lord in our ministry. At what point do we “shake the dust” on a project, initiative, or interaction that does not yield fruit? We see the precedence for this from Jesus Himself above. Are we being directed elsewhere by the Spirit? A determination here requires patience, discernment, and much prayer. But always we must “embrace with great love” God’s will and our neighbor.

Shake the Dust Off Your Feet – In Medio Ecclesiae

“I am ready to renounce all things for Your love. Because You were the first to stir me up to seek You.” (IC 3,21,7) | “Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus…’As you go, make this proclamation: “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”‘” (Mt 10:5,7)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXI: ”How We are to Rest in God above All Goods and Gifts” (third entry)

The disciple utters these words after hearing from Christ, whom he invoked, that He was coming to him. The disciple desperately wants to renounce worldly things to do the Lord’s will. But he recognizes that it is God who always makes the first move, that our desire to please Him is itself the stirrings of grace within him.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 9:32-38

The mission of the twelve apostles is given to them by Jesus: to heal the sick and to exorcise demons. Here the apostles names are listed. Then comes the commission: stay among the Chosen People declaring “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

|Reflection

The Twelve renounced all things for the love of Jesus (with the notable exception of Judas whose greed and, ultimately, his lack of faith, led to his destruction). They dropped what they were doing, the careers they had built, and became special friends and servants of the Messiah (and, in the end, the first bishops of His Church).

Apostle means “sent.” But in order to be sent they first were called. Jesus sought them out. This is a vitally important precept to understand in the spiritual life. The Lord calls us to vocation — He initiates. Hopefully, this call is compelling, but it is not forced. Jesus proposes, not imposes. He desires our whole-hearted cooperation with this grace. Knowing what is best for us, He provides to us what will fulfill us most in this life and what will prepare us optimally for the next life.

Yesterday’s Gospel ended with these words from Jesus: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Mt 9:38); this passage immediately preceded today’s reading. Jesus had already prayed about and for the apostles who were currently in His fold. Undoubtedly, in talking about additional laborers, He hoped that the mission He speaks of in today’s Gospel will yield immediate fruit. But in speaking to these future bishops, and to all those to come, He also anticipated the need for proclaimers of the Kingdom until the end of time.

Let us pray fervently for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and encourage consideration of this life to those we know who seem worthwhile candidates. And let us also ask the Spirit for promptings in our own lives on how we best can advance the Kingdom in our own sphere of influence.

Vocation of the Apostles (1481-82), a fresco in the Sistine Chapel by Domenico Ghirlandaio

“Let my sighs and desolations upon this earth move You to pity.” (IC 3,21,3) | “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9:36)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXI: ”How We are to Rest in God above All Goods and Gifts” (second entry)

What “sighs and desolations”? Kempis explains in the lead up to this exclamation: “I encounter many evils which…disturb…afflict…cast a cloud…hinder…distract…allure.” Kempis often appeals to the Lord for relief from the challenges and temptations of this earthly life. What else can a disciple do but ask for Christ’s pity for we who wish to be close to Him but encounter so many obstacles in this life to this worthy desire.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 9:32-38

Today’s excerpt begins with Jesus performing an exorcism that amazes the crowd but causes the Pharisees to accuse Him of being in league with the devil. It goes on to tell of Jesus visiting towns and villages, preaching and healing. In His ministry, the Lord notes the sad disposition of the people who gather around Him (see the headline). This leads Him to tell the disciples to pray for more help in tending to this pitiful flock.

|Reflection

“Sighs and desolations,” spoken and unspoken, conscious and unconscious, must have been the state of so many of the folks who clamored around Jesus. Their pathetic leadership in the religious realm is highlighted directly in today’s Gospel passage (the people were “troubled and abandoned” by these accusers of Jesus). What sort of guidance could they expect to get from these corrupt and worldly men? Is it any wonder that Jesus was such a popular figure? He spoke with authority. He healed widely and indiscriminately as regards to ethnicity. He exorcised demons with a word or a gesture. He forgave sins — even the most grievous) of the repentant (how glorious to hear the words straight from the mouth of the God-Man!).

Lest we think that these encounters with Christ and the blessings provided be the province of those who walked the earth with Him, know that all these benefits can be ours today. We have Jesus words in Scripture and in the official teaching of His Church (read the Bible and the Catechism!). He wants to heal us in mind, body, and spirit (just ask!). Those demons that afflict us — temptations, habitual sins, addictions — are right up His alley (pray for the grace to overcome and have frequent recourse to the sacraments!). And forgiveness? Well, the God whose name is Mercy, forever waits for the prodigal son, the lost sheep, to return (go to Confession!).

We are pitiful. But the Lord of the harvest, the Good Shepherd, is always ready to lead us home.

Sheep Without a Shepherd – The Publicans

“Behold, here I am. Behold, I come to you, because you invoked Me. Your tears and the desire of your soul, your humility and the contrition of your heart, have inclined Me and led Me to you.” (IC 3,21,6) | “While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward, knelt down before him, and said, ‘My daughter has just died. But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.” (Mt 9:18-19)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXI: ”How We are to Rest in God above All Goods and Gifts” (first entry)

The words above are the only ones Kempis has Christ utter in this uplifting chapter. The disciple cannot stop praising the Lord and extolling all His wonders, finding in Him his only true repose. Jesus interrupts by saying that He hears the cry of the disciple and is ever ready to meet the one who is humble and contrite.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 9:18-26

The headline contains the first two verses of today’s Gospel. Our Lord is approached by a man whose daughter has just died but who is filled with confidence that Jesus can bring her back to life. As He sets out per the man’s request, Jesus is touched by the hemorrhagic woman who is healed and who He then commends for her strong faith. Finally, Jesus gets to the man’s house, puts out the mourners, and raises the girl, causing His fame to spread.

|Reflection

Do you think that the meek, repentant, and faithful person will ever be abandoned by the Lord? Look to the Jewish religious official who came to Jesus filled with faith. I can imagine he got a lot of push back from relatives and friends: Why bother Jesus about a dead girl? (see Mk 5:35) But he would not be deterred. There was no question in his mind that Jesus could do it. What the love of a father and faith in God can do! If Jesus can raise the dead, what can He not do for us? Whether on our death bed, dead in sin, or suffering the little deaths that we encounter in our lives, let us turn with complete trust to the Lord who is “the resurrection and the life” (see Jn 11:25).

(For one of my favorite Catholic folk songs on this theme listen here.)

Today's Gospel in Art - The little girl is not dead | ICN
Raising of Jairus’ Daughter (1871) by Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov

“They…who perfectly despise the world and study to live for God under a holy discipline, experience then divine sweetness which is promised to those who truly renounce all, and they see with greater clearness how grievously the world is mistaken and in how many ways it is deceived.” (IC 3,20,5) | “[I]f you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:13)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XX: ”The Confession of Our Own Weakness, and the Miseries of this Life” (third entry)

The closing words of this chapter (above) serve us well in encapsulating this chapter and, in a very real way, the entire book. Detachment from sin and immoderate sensual pleasure is the key to growing in our relationship with Almighty God. This distancing from the world gives us a clear-eyed view of the fallenness of creatures and a longing for the Creator.

|Today’s second reading: Rm 8:9,11-13

The closing words of Paul’s discourse on “the flesh and the spirit” are recorded in the headline. We are meant for greater things. To settle for the base impulses of the flesh over the Spirit of God in us through Baptism (absent mortal sin) defies Jesus’ frequent call to consider things above rather than to be focused on things below.

|Reflection

It is quite a discipline to live only for God, perfectly despising (not simply avoiding) all that distances us from the Lord. Are we able to do it alone? Not a chance. The good news is that we have the Holy Spirit to help us, who we invite to dwell in us, and who we beg for the gratuitous graces to make it — not easy — but possible to live according to God’s plan for us.

In the closing of today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” It doesn’t seem that way always does it? But just imagine what our challenges would be like without Him? Maybe you’ve experienced the desolation of not having Jesus in your life when things have gone south. Well, He is always there if we just let Him in. Let us beg the Spirit to possess us so that we may “see with greater clearness how grievously the world is mistaken and in how many ways it is deceived” that “by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body” so that “you will live.”

“Alas! what kind of life is this, where there is nothing but afflictions and miseries; where all is full of snares and of enemies.” (IC 3,20,3) | “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Mt 9:15b)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XX: ”The Confession of Our Own Weakness, and the Miseries of this Life” (second entry)

Kempis’s disciple tells Christ in this chapter how difficult it is to resist the temptations of this life and their associated trials. This leads him to exclaim the words above. He really wants to be detached from the world, not to love the world for its illicit pleasures.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 9:14-17

This reading is Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s disciples who wonder why Jesus’ disciples do not fast as they do. Jesus, calling Himself the Bridegroom, says they are not to fast while He is with them, but the time will come when He no longer is with them and then they will have cause to fast. He ends with the comparison to pouring old wine (the Old Covenant) into new wine-skins (the New Covenant); the promise of the Old has been fulfilled in Jesus — the outmoded rituals of the past no longer apply.

|Reflection

Surely, this life has plenty of “afflictions and miseries” and is “full of snares and of enemies.” But what match are these to the power of the Lord when He is on our side? If and when we take Jesus out of the picture, such troubles are insurmountable. If it is the case that we no longer have the Lord in our lives, then fasting is certainly a good way to begin inviting Him back into our lives. And if the Lord simply is not sensibly present and no consolations are forthcoming, fasting is a beautiful way to honor Him. Fasting is an expectation of the Christian, in any case (“When you fast…” — Mt 6:16-17). A detachment from earthly goods helps to keep this life in proper perspective by keeping us focused on God and others so that we keep the Great Commandments (see Mt 22:36-40) now in the blessed hope of entering eternal beatitude later..

What does Jesus mean by 'new wineskins'? | Psephizo