YEAR B: HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY TOPIC: ENVY AND SCANDAL
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Message # 335: “With You in Combat”
1. The Marian Message
a. The message of the Blessed Mother is on the occasion of the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, September 29.
b. The Blessed Mother confirms that we are now in the hour of the “terrible spiritual battle” (letter c). As her children, we are members of her army in battle, together with the angels of the Lord. “All the heavenly spirits are luminous and powerful beings and they are very close to God whom they love, serve, defend and glorify” (letter b).
c. Together with the holy angels, we are called to engage in this “battle which is becoming more fierce and terrible” (letter e). While the weapons of the demons are “those of evil, of sin, of hatred, of impurity, of pride and of rebellion against God”, on the other hand, the weapons of the heavenly spirits, “who are at your side to do battle, are those of goodness, of divine grace, of love, of purity, of humility and of docile submission to the will of the Lord.”
d. Not all spiritual beings are called angels. Angels literally means “messengers.” They are those who make announcements or bring messages to mankind. Those who bring very important messages are called archangels. There are nine choirs of angels, and St. Paul mentions all of them. They are: angels, archangels, virtues, powers, principalities, dominions, thrones, cherubim and seraphim. The three Archangels outline the three major roles of the heavenly spirits in their relation with us: protecting, healing and strengthening. Michael means “Who is like unto God?” Gabriel means “God is my strength.” Raphael means “God heals.”
e. St Michael is the Prince of the heavenly host. He is the commander of all the angels of heaven who drove away Satan and his rebellious cohorts from heaven and threw them into the fiery furnace. This is mentioned in the Book of Revelation. He “defends you from all the terrible attacks of Satan” and “he is guiding you in this battle in such a way that each one of you may be able to fulfill the task which has been entrusted to him by the heavenly Mother” (letter i). She urges us to always pray the Prayer of Exorcism against Satan.
f. St. Gabriel is the greatest messenger for he brought to Mary the message of the Incarnation of the Son of God in her womb, and he accepted her “yes” (letter g). “He strengthens you and sustains you; he leads you along the way of courage and of a heroic witness to Jesus and to his Gospel.”
g. St. Raphael, who figured prominently in the Book of Tobit, “gives refreshment to your weakness, pours balm on every painful wound and lifts you up from the weight of your weariness and discouragement, in order to continue the struggle, with the shield of faith and with the armor of love and of holiness” (letter h). h. The angels were sent by God in order to protect us, strengthen us and heal us. On October 02, we will celebrate the Feast of our Holy Guardian Angels. They are the angels who were entrusted to take care and help each individual person. The Blessed Mother urges us to be conscious of the presence of our guardian angels and always cooperate with them for our protection and their invaluable help on the road to salvation.
2. The Sunday Gospel
a. The evangelist, St. Mark, deals with two issues in the Gospel account this Sunday. Immediately, one could identify them: envy and scandal. Apparently, they have no close relation. The disciples learned that there were exorcists who were not members of the group, but they were equally effective in driving out demons invoking the name of Jesus. They tried to stop them, most probably due to envy. And the second point is scandal, that is, any wrongdoing, which leads others to sin.
b. On closer examination, these two points – envy and scandal – are closely related on account of the issue on the outsiders and the insiders. The first paragraph is about the outsiders. The disciples of Jesus (the insiders) were threatened that there are outsiders who also effectively exorcise demons. They tried to stop them, but Jesus told them: “Do not prevent them.” Here we can see that Jesus was intent on expanding his inner circle, welcoming those “non-insiders” so that there will be more workers in his kingdom. He even promised rewards to those who contribute to his work, no matter how petty: “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” (Mk 9:41). Conversely, the disciples were trying to restrict and tighten the circle – they want to exclude others who were not part of their group, and that is why they were preventing these exorcists. They were too myopic in their vision, as when, in last Sunday’s Gospel, they were discussing and arguing who among them is the greatest (Mk 9:33-37).
c. After the issue on the outsiders, the second paragraph talks about the insiders. Jesus calls them “these little ones who believe” (v. 42). The real followers of Jesus, the true “insiders” and genuine members of his flock are those who are like little children – the “greatest” in his kingdom. Jesus protects them with such fervor, knowing how weak and vulnerable they are to the attacks of the devil. So he was very strong and fierce in his warning against scandal: Do not touch them, do not lead them to sin. For anyone who leads them to sin, “it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (v. 42). He also implores on these beloved ones to assiduously protect their eternal welfare, being ready to “cut off” all those attachments to sin just to be free for eternal life: “better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown onto Gehenna” (v. 48).
d. Then Jesus talks about the reality of Hell, and he used the word Gehenna in referring to it: “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (v. 48). Gehenna was a valley outside Jerusalem with an ugly history. In that place, unfaithful Israelites offered little children in sacrifice. There is no detailed information about how they did it – except that it involved fire. (II K 23:10; I Chr 28:3, 33:6; Jer 7:31, 32:33) The prophet Jeremiah cursed the place and Gehenna became a garbage dump. It smoldered with a constant fire and gave off a foul odor.
3. Points for Reflection
a. Faith is a gift from God. Nobody has the monopoly of faith. God gives it to whomsoever He wishes. That is why, in matters of faith, envy is totally out of the picture. In fact, God reveals Himself more visibly in the simple and ordinary persons. The examples of this are too many to ignore: the children of Fatima, St. Juan Diego, St. Francis of Assisi and many other simple men and women. Imagine Mother Teresa giving a lecture to theologians, Bishops and Cardinals in Rome, though she did not study philosophy and theology. And she was well applauded by these theological experts. This is the same case with the exorcists who drove out demons in the name of Jesus. It was their faith in Jesus that made them powerful, even though they do not belong to the group of the disciples. Nowadays, we see more and more ordinary Catholics who know better than many of our priests and bishops, and whose faith is more pure and genuine. Instead of being envious and insecure, we must welcome this phenomenon as a challenge for us to grow and become more mature in our faith, and lead us to praise the heavenly Father and rejoice with Jesus “for what He has hidden from the learned, He has revealed to the little ones.”
b. The word “Catholic” means “universal” – for everybody. So, the Catholic Church is wide open to receive anybody who is willing to embrace the faith in Jesus. The Church is never exclusive, but inclusive. This is shown in the Gospel this Sunday. Jesus widens his inner circle to include others who are outside. On the other hand, the disciples tried to restrict the circle and tended to be more exclusive. This is a natural human tendency, but it is not in line with the universal salvific will of God. We should not feel threatened by outsiders. Jesus assures us: “For whoever is not against us is for us.” Unfortunately, when envy, insecurities, personal ambitions and pride come in, we begin to form our own elite and exclusive groups and act as if we “own” the parish or the Church. We often see this in most parishes – many different groups or associations or confraternities are formed, with their distinctive uniforms and insignias, and instead of working together in harmony, they compete and outdo each other. That is when intrigues, slander and ill feelings are sown and nurtured right within the church. Instead of encouraging outsiders to join, these “active” Catholics are the ones driving others away. This is what the Lord is saying in the Gospel: they give scandal to others, and they would be better thrown into the sea with a big millstone around the neck.
c. What is Hell? The Catechism defines it this way: “state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.” (#1033) The way a person winds up in hell, says the Catechism, is “to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love.” Hell is not only a place, but also a state of being excluded definitively from God – it is the total absence of God. Others may think of this as not frightening enough. They may even say, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad. I just want God and everyone else to leave me alone.” But just remember the picture of Hell in the image of Gehenna – a horrible place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” It is also helpful to remind ourselves that in Hell, physical pain is nothing compared to spiritual pain that the damned endure for eternity. But why would God, who is infinitely merciful and loving, create Hell and send anyone to suffer for eternity? First, God did not create Hell because He enjoys seeing us suffer. Rather, Hell exists when we decide to turn away from God – when we “die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love.” And second, God does not send anyone to Hell. It is the person himself who decides to go there – by willfully rejecting God and His offer of love and conversion. God respects our freedom. He cannot force us to go to heaven if we want to go to hell. The choice belongs to us because we were created by God with the gift of freedom. It is also through freedom that we can choose to love God. Without freedom, we cannot also learn to love. And when we love freely, that is when we become “image and likeness of God.”
d. Heaven is living in the presence of God. In theological parlance, it is called “enjoying the beatific vision of God.” We come face to face with God, and we have no more questions to ask, and nothing more to ask or long for. We come in complete union with God – and that is perfect happiness, which is unknown while we are still on earth. We may use an image to illustrate this. It is like a drop of water falling into the ocean – it loses itself into that limitless body of water where it came from and where it ultimately returns to in order to attain its fullest meaning. But many people think of heaven in the physical and worldly sense. That is why they could not truly appreciate its true significance, and as a result, they are not really keen on attaining it. But for those who, like the saints, realize the true meaning of heaven, they are willing to undergo all kinds of sacrifices and self-denials – as is figuratively described as cutting one’s foot and gouging an eye – just to attain it more surely. In our prayers, let us ask for the gifts of wisdom and knowledge so that we will realize the infinite beauty of heaven, begin to have a healthy detachment from this world and seriously strive for the lasting values of the heavenly kingdom.
4. Closing –
Recite the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Pag-usapan ang tungkol sa impiyerno. Hindi nagbibiro ang Panginoon tungkol dito, subalit hindi na ito gaanong binibigyang-pansin ng mga tao.
2. Pag-usapan din ang tungkol sa langit. Marami ang gustong mapunta sa langit, subalit hindi naman namumuhay nang ayon sa mga nagnanais mapunta doon.
3. Naniniwala ka pa ba sa mga anghel? Magbahaginan ng mga karanasan kaugnay dito.
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