Prayers for a Stronger Faith

Mark 9: 14-29
Sir 1:1-10 / Psa 93

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:24)

Should evil keep my soul in chains,
Where else to turn to for relief?
In You alone my hope remains,
Lord, help me with my unbelief.

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the scribes arguing with them. As soon as the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him. “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” Jesus replied, “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” He answered, “From childhood. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “What do you mean, ‘If you can’? Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” He said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:14-29)

Reflection

The apostles had been successful in exorcizing evil spirits before, when Jesus sent them out in pairs to preach repentance and heal the sick (Mk.6:7). So why couldn’t they drive out the dumb demon this time? It was simply because the father of the possessed boy did not believe that they had the power to do it. The apostles had been empowered to cast out evil spirits before, so in their self-assurance, they probably forgot to pray to God to give them that power again. True faith is the humility of recognizing our lack of it, and believing that only God can increase its fervor in our heart. It is only when we turn to God in prayer, and acknowledge to Him our weakness that the healing power of His Holy Spirit comes to bear.

Jesus shows us once again that having faith is more important than being healed. And possessing a gift from the Holy Spirit (like healing) does not necessarily mean that we have a strong faith either. In all instances, we must turn to God in prayer, whether to ask for somebody’s healing or to be exorcised of an evil influence. When a brother in our community sent a text message asking for help to secure blood platelets for their son who was stricken with dengue fever, I prayed for the Lord’s help, and sent out requests for prayers to many other members of our community. I was afraid that the Red Cross blood center might be out of stock of platelets as often happens whenever incidents of dengue fever are on the rise. The batting average of answered prayers by a community of believers praying as one is high. Our prayers were immediately answered, as the father of the boy stricken with dengue fever was able to secure the needed three units of platelets that morning. We praised and thanked the Lord!

Father God, you know our hearts, though we are always besieged by the spirit of doubt; please cure us of our unbelief, so that our faith may grow, and we may become closer to You. Amen.

Empowerment from the Father

Mark 9: 2-13
Heb 11:1-7 / Ps 145

This is My Beloved Son. Listen to Him.
(Mark 9:7)

Lead me Lord to Your heights sublime,
And there behold Your radiant face;
In Your presence bide for a time
To be empowered by Your grace.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:2-13)

Reflection

What a terrifying moment it must have been for Sts. Peter, James and John when they heard the voice of God thundering from the clouds atop Mt. Hebron. And yet, how good it must have felt to be so near to heaven. So much so that Peter wanted to stay there longer, as he urged the Master to allow them to build three tents for Him, Moses and Elijah. But Jesus had not brought them to this peaceful place to escape, or to take a short vacation from the madding crowd below. He had come here to be recharged, as the time of His mission’s culmination drew near. He needed this transfiguration before His crucifixion. He needed to hear His Father’s voice for reassurance, that He was pleased with Him, and that He loved Him. Coming down from the mountain, our Lord was ready to face His tormentors and the jaws of death in another mountain. Moses and Elijah, God’s greatest prophet and greatest leader had been sent to reassure Him of the glory that awaited Him upon the completion of His mission. But the best reassurance and empowerment had come from the loving voice of the Father Himself, Who was pleased with His Son. Now He was ready.

As a young boy, there was nothing more fulfilling for me than doing what I believed was pleasing to my father. As a war veteran and former chief of police, he was a disciplinarian his eleven children regarded with great fear and reverence. His word was law, and most of the things he taught us have remained indelible in our lives. My trust in his word was so absolute that I could set out to accomplish whatever he ordered or even merely suggested. As a 13-year old weakling, stricken with asthma, sinusitis and migraine, my father told me I needed to build up muscles to support my weak physical structure. In just a few days, I was able to build my own backyard gym, consisting of a chinning pole, parallel bars, abdominal board, and a crude barbell made out of tin cans with poured cement. After a few months of working out in my personal gym, I had built up enough muscles to scare the neighborhood bully.

We all need to spend quiet moments of meditation with our heavenly Father for our inspiration and spiritual development. We need to hear His voice in our prayer time and in His Word, the Holy Bible. Nothing is impossible when we believe that what we are doing is according to His will. As the Book of Wisdom assures us: Those who trust in God shall understand truth, and shall abide with Him in love: because grace and mercy are with His holy ones, and His care is with His elect (Wis.3:9). We also have complete trust in the words of Psalm 91: You have the Lord for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold. No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. Whoever clings to Me I will deliver; whoever knows My Name I will set on high. I will satisfy them and show them My saving power (Ps.91:9-16).

Father God, grant that I may hear Your voice in quiet moments with You, reassuring me of Your love, so that nothing will be impossible for me to do for Your glory. Amen.

An Agreement Made in Heaven

Mark 8:34-– 9:1
Gen 11:1-9 / Psa 33

. . . whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
(Mark 8:35)

The values on which we now depend
Will determine life’s final goal.
What profit is there to gain, my friend,
If in the end I lose my soul?

Jesus called to Himself the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

And He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 8:34-– 9:1)

Reflection

Jim Elliot, an American missionary martyr, once wrote, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” In his memory, poet Scott Wesley Brown wrote:

“Obedience and servanthood are traits I’ve rarely shown

And the fellowship of His sufferings is a joy I’ve barely known

There are riches in surrendering that can’t be gained for free

God will share all heaven’s wonders but the price He asks is me.”

Think about it. This is a contract stacked in our favor. What is the value of my life among the billions of individuals living in this planet? Almost nothing, mathematically speaking. And yet, if I surrender its value to Jesus, what do I get in return? Something more precious than gaining the whole world, according to Him Who never lied, the Word of God Who walked His talk, and showed us the way through His cross. For this broken, wounded, sinful self, God offers His perfect kingdom for all eternity.

Unfortunately, so many do not realize that this is the most important investment that they can ever make in their life. They deny the truth of His Word and refuse to take up their cross, taking instead the wide and easy road that eventually leads to ruin. Yes, the road that leads to eternal life is not easy, and only a few find it (Mt.7:14). But just as the riches of this world are won by only a few who are willing to work hard and endure many sacrifices, so also must the treasure of heaven be only for those who are willing to persevere, take up their cross, and surrender everything for the sake of that Pearl of great prize.

What did Jesus mean when He said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation”? He was directing these words to those who would not get involved in the mission of proclaiming His Good News of salvation to others for fear of being shamed, ostracized or persecuted. We can never claim His fellowship if we do not do our share in bringing others to the life of Jesus Christ.

Lord, what value are these material things to me if they do not help me find my way to Your kingdom? Help me to unburden myself of all worldly attachments and be willing to take up my cross instead to follow my Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Who is Jesus to Me?

Mark 8: 27-33
Gen 9: 1-13 / Psa 102

You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.
(Mark 8:33)

How we always fail to discern
That our Lord’s plans are more sublime.
Why not trust that His main concern
Is our Life for eternal time?

Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. Along the way He asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Then He said, “How about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.< He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke him. At this Jesus turned around and looking at His disciples, rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” He said. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mark 8:27-33)/blockquote>

Reflection

Today’s Gospel gives us an insight into the human nature of St. Peter, which is quite typical among many of us who claim to be followers (or even leaders) of Jesus Christ. We blow hot, we blow cold, and the words we speak can get us into trouble. In one moment, we can be so inspired by the Holy Spirit that we come up with the right answer, but in the next moment, we can be so filled with ourselves that we blurt out the dumbest things like St. Peter’s that earned the sternest rebuke from the Master.

In one momentous incident, in the heights of Caesaria Philippi, the Holy Spirit came upon St. Peter, and he answered Jesus’ question perfectly: “You are the Messiah.” In the version of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus commended him, saying “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my heavenly Father.” (Mt.16:17) And yet, when Jesus started to lay out the Father’s plan for Him in the days ahead, Peter reverted to his human instincts, and refused to accept what seemed to him such a foolhardy course to take. He had the Spirit’s inspiration, but he still lacked the personal faith that Jesus demanded from him.

There are important lessons that we can learn in today’s Gospel. First, our human knowledge is inadequate to discern spiritual truth; only God’s indwelling Spirit can give that wisdom. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (Jn. 6:63) Second, we must put our full trust in God, no matter how unreasonable His terms may seem to be. We must strive for the faith of Abraham as our model. He obeyed God to kill his only son Isaac as a sacrifice, even if he was already too old to sire another child. Jesus knew the terrible suffering and death that He would have to go through to fulfill His mission, but He trusted the Father that He would rise again in victory over sin. He wants us to trust Him as well when we take up our own cross to follow Him. Finally, who Jesus Christ is in our life will determine the kind of person that we want to become. If we accept Him as our Life here and now, then He will be our ultimate destination. If we make Him the Ideal of what we want to be, then His Divine Entity will occupy our minds and hearts, and will be the core of our being for all time.

Father God, you have given us a clear picture of Your purpose for us, which is to receive Jesus as our Savior. Through Your Holy Spirit, our hearts and minds have been illumined to receive His Truth, which has given our life its purpose. Amen.

The Blind Man of Bethsaida

Mark 8: 22-26
Gen 8: 6-13,20-22 / Psa 116

He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes He laid His hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?”
(Mark 8:23)


Asking instant healing to appear,
Our faith does not amount to much;
But if in prayers we persevere,
Our God will grant “the final touch.”

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When He had spit on the man’s eyes and put His hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22-26)

Reflection

The Gospel of Mark is the only one that relates this miracle in our Lord’s life. And this appears to be the only miracle performed by Jesus that did not happen instantly. It seems our Lord had a purpose in performing this healing in stages, and it was for the benefit of His apostles.

When they first arrived in Bethsaida, some people brought the blind man to Jesus, and “begged Him to touch him.” The crowd had heard about Jesus and only wanted to witness a miracle. We recall how Jesus felt about these people in Bethsaida: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!” (Mt.12:21) They had such little faith, and Jesus would not let them make a spectacle of the blind man’s healing. Instead, He led him out of the village, away from the crowd, and when he was healed, told him not to go back to the village. Jesus taught His apostles that His work of charity was not for show. But why the two-step, process of healing? One explanation could be that a gradual process of seeing for the first time was preferable than a sudden visual experience that could traumatize the once blind man. Seeing people upright for the first time was for him like “seeing trees walking.” But more importantly, the reason Jesus used this gradual process of healing was to show His apostles how like their discernment was still in the process of growing — they still couldn’t ‘see’ clearly because of their weak faith, even after they had witnessed a number of miracles beforehand. Just before they landed in Bethsaida, He had told them, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” (Mk.8:17-18)

God is more interested in developing our faith than in healing our physical ailments. He helps us go through a process of spiritual formation until we are able to mature as His spiritual leaders and be a blessing to others. A couple in our brotherhood are always in the forefront in providing assistance to the needy and sight-impaired whenever we hold medical missions of mercy. They have given away hundreds of reading glasses, and helped in the cataract operations of some indigent patients. Because of their generosity, they have helped hundreds of poor people see the beauty of life and God’s wonderful creation. May the Lord bless their kind and increase their bounty for the sake of the more than 500,000 blind and sight-impaired people in our country.

Father, help us to see beyond our temporal difficulties, for although we have faith in You, our vision still lacks clarity. Lead us closer to the light of Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Leaven of Petty Concerns

Mark 8: 14-21
Gen 6:5-8;7:1-5,10/Psa 29

Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?
(Mark 8:16-17)

How does one fathom God’s kingdom?
Its mysteries who can perceive?
Let’s pray for the Spirit’s wisdom,
To open our hearts and believe.

They had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And He cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:14-21)

Reflection

First, the Pharisees wanted proof of His divinity, asking for signs and wonders (Mk.8:11); now His own apostles were discussing among themselves about not having brought enough food along with them in the boat — as if they had no eyes to see that Jesus had multiplied a few pieces of bread to feed thousands of people. Jesus must have felt so exasperated with their lack of faith and shallow perception. Instead of setting their minds on the plans and mission of the Messiah, they were more concerned about trivial things like food.

It was precisely because of these trivial concerns that Jesus warned them to “Watch out against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” The “leaven of the Pharisees” was their pretense for moral uprightness and their knowledge of the law, which they imposed like a heavy burden on the Jews. The “leaven of Herod” referred to the Herodians, a political group who supported Herod and the Romans, and who were an even heavier burden on the people for the taxes they imposed. The “legalese” of the Pharisees, and the political influence of the Herodians were leading the Jews away from their covenant with God and the teachings of the prophets. The Jews were forgetting their reliance on God, and their privileged status as God’s Chosen People.

It is no different in the situation our country is in today. For so long our apathy had allowed the graft and corruption in our government to become an institutional evil. The present dispensation’s avowed determination to “clean up its ranks of corruption (especially among the police force), is hardly credible, with the continuous unresolved killings still happening all over the country, and its support for the imposition of the death penalty. Life here seems to have become so cheap. Perhaps it would be better if the whole country turned to God in prayer, and let His will prevail in the governance of our nation. Who knows what miracle this faith and confidence in Him may bring about? In spite of everything happening in our country today, let us not forget that we are still the only Catholic country in Asia, and may be the reason why we are still God’s favored people, democratic and free. Scripture reminds us, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Forgive us, Father, when we forget our blessings whenever we are faced with problems and difficulties, that are actually insignificant compared to those of other people. Remind us that it is not our abilities and capabilities that have made us what we are today, but Your love and grace, because as Christians, we are privileged indeed to be Your chosen people. Amen.