“Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by oral statement or by a letter of ours.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15
This first reading encouraged the followers of the Lord in Thessalonia not to be swayed by outside voices. The words have withstood the passage of time and now we, as children of God, must remain firm in our faith and our beliefs. We must not allow our minds to be filled with the lies promulgated by false prophets and lose hope. It is easy to fall prey to these “outside” voices for they are loud and insistent and constantly bombard all our senses through the different modes of media so pervasive in this modern age. During this pandemic, it has become increasingly hard to attend church and gather together with our fellow believers for support. We are faced with trials we have never experienced before. How do we fight an unfamiliar enemy?
“You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew 23:26
In this passage from today’s Gospel, Jesus offers us a way to fight enemies by turning away from the world and focusing inward. We should allow the fear in our hearts to be transformed by the Holy Spirit into hope and let that hope fill our hearts where the Spirit dwells. Although the outside world may seem out of control, we can control ourselves with the help of God in response to it. If we cleanse the inside of our hearts, we can be an example for others in this troubled world, showing it is possible to “stand firm” in the face of all the evils that come from outside the traditions of our faith.
I remember when I was in elementary school and already consumed by the desire for material things. Recess became a competition for everyone to show off the latest and greatest toy. As I grew older, the “toys” turned into the coolest car or phone, and by the time I graduated from high school, there was an all-out battle to gain admission to the best college, then to have the best job that would make the most money. Looking back and thinking about my initial desires for toys, I realize I never needed those toys. My parents made sure I was always taken care of, but I still remember that feeling of true desperation as far as wanting those toys and the “if only” thoughts that my life would be complete if I had them.
As sinful humans we are bound by these thoughts because we live in a material world. We cannot comprehend the wonders of Heaven because we will not see Heaven until our death. Jesus Christ proclaimed, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” We must go to Jesus and ask the same question the disciples asked in the gospel, “Who then can be saved?” Matthew 19:23–30
The truth is that everyone on this earth has cravings; everyone is searching for their desires to be fulfilled, but so many of us do not understand what really satisfies. This makes the way to the kingdom of Heaven very difficult. We see the material goods we desire in our hearts every day, but we need to seek the kingdom of God. The path to wealth and riches is easy when compared to forsaking all our possessions to follow Jesus. Nevertheless, we are blessed because Jesus has promised us wonders beyond what we can imagine in Heaven if we simply follow Him. Jesus asks for our faith and trust; we may not be able to see what awaits us in Heaven, but we need to believe His promise that it will be worth abandoning all earthly pleasures.
A common lament in today’s society is that children are growing up too fast. This opinion is shared by both the Catholic and secular community. Children are faced with several hardships the generations before them never encountered. Children are forced to behave as adults before their physical bodies have matured into adulthood. There are numerous arguments positing why our youth is growing up so quickly, but the problem still remains. Our children are losing their innocence, and even worse, they are losing hope.
When a child has the ability to play and explore his or her world without any preconceived notions of its challenges, that child is free to rest in the Lord. The Gospel today states: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-5. The innocence of a child allows him or her to see the kingdom of heaven more clearly because he or she has not lived in this earthly world long enough to have been effected by its sinfulness.
The time of true innocence is becoming shorter for the children of this world. It is in the grip of the enemy, and he is claiming it; the more our society gives into the fear that the enemy instigates, the more children are lost. The Gospel concludes with Jesus referring to the good shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one that goes astray. “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” Matthew 18:14.
In these times of hardship, it is crucial to remember we are still the Lord’s flock, and Jesus is still the Good Shepherd. Even though it appears that more children grow up too fast, as they lose hope and go astray, Jesus will never stop seeking them and encouraging them to come back to the flock. There is always hope in the Lord.
With each new day, the world appears to be confronted with more disasters, increasing chaos and despair. It is hard to hear God’s voice above the turmoil, let alone keep the faith and remain hopeful. We forget that our Heavenly Father is still talking to us. When the terrors of this world are too powerful, and we lose our ability to discern what the Lord is saying, we can turn to the Bible, the Word of God. Consider the first reading for today, Jeremiah 30: 18-20: “Thus says the Lord: See! I will restore the tents of Jacob,…You shall be my people, and I will be your God.” No matter what horrors and pain we must endure on earth, one truth will never change and that is the Lord’s promise to always be our God who will never abandon His people.
This promise was not meant to guarantee that life will be easy or simple; in fact, just the opposite is implied. The gospel for the day shows how hard life was for the disciples of the Lord. Matthew 14:22-36 tells the story of the apostles in the midst of a frightening storm while fishing. Just as they had lost all hope of survival, they suddenly see someone drawing close to their boat. How is this possible? Who can walk on water? Peter chooses to focus on Jesus and have faith in Him. Peter leaves the boat and walks on the water toward His Lord; it is only when he becomes distracted and overcome by fear of the storm that he sinks into the waves. Even though Peter lost sight of Jesus, Jesus never lost sight of him.
Jesus would not let Peter drown, nor will He let any of us perish. We are all in the boat with the disciples now–fear surrounds us with no sign of conditions changing for the better. Now is the time to let go of all our fears and seek the Lord, instead of seeking worldly solutions. Jesus is with us and He asks us to get out of the boat and come to Him. We cannot allow our doubt to keep us from Him. Once we get out of the boat and place complete faith in our Lord, we can experience miracles like walking on water.