A time of change

In our passage today from the Gospel of Mark, we might ask if Jesus was having a bad day. As a rule, Jesus exhorts His followers to live and He models for them the great virtues of compassion, gentleness, patience and tenderness. However, Our Lord is quite fervent in His speech today. Perhaps He had an exhausting evening the night before and was not His usual self?

No, not at all. Today's issue consistently led Jesus to be firm and uncharacteristically tough. It is the issue of scandal.

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea."

Scandal greatly tore at Jesus' heart. When people of influence (priests, other church leaders, teachers, coaches, police officers, etc.) lead others to sin by their own sinful actions and attitudes, Jesus saw this as a grave sin.

Jesus regularly directs the concern of scandal at the religious leaders of His day. As a priest, I shake in my boots when I think of this. As a person with a very public role in the church, I shudder to think of how my sins could lead others astray. I fear that my poor example in weak moments has led family members, church members or young people to make excuses for doing similar or other sins: "Well, if Uncle/Father Jack can do that, then I can do this." I ask God for mercy for the times that I have been a poor example to others.

This is another reason that the Gospel from Mass on Friday of Week 23 needs to be heeded: "How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,' when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye'?"

Jesus is quite passionate about a second issue in the Gospel today. While He loves us just the way we are, He loves us enough to make sure we don't stay there. Jesus wants to see us grow in charity and become more like Him. Consequently, Jesus wants us to be very dedicated to wipe out sin out in our lives.

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut if off … If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." Jesus, of course, is using a literary form of exaggeration to make a very serious point. As Christians, our great love for God should drive us to root out sins, including sinful habits and tendencies, in order to live in a deeper union with Christ. He does not really want Christians to cut off hands or pluck out eyes, but He does want us to diligently strive to avoid sin and grow in virtue. He does not want us to be lukewarm about our efforts to live Christ-like lives.

Take an hour and stop by a church. Better yet, sign up for a day or weekend retreat. Spend some quality time with Jesus in prayer and ask Him what sins or sinful tendencies He wants you to focus on surrendering to Him at this moment in your life. Pray for guidance, strength and perseverance as you strive to pluck out sins from your life.

The fall season is a time of change. The days get shorter, the leaves change colors, the new school year gets under way and we start opening our windows again in Virginia. What changes might God be asking you to make in your life in order to better love Him and your neighbor?

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington and director of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015