Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 4:12-16  +  Mark 2:13-17
January 16, 2021

As He passed by, He saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post.

In today’s Gospel passage from the second chapter of Mark, Jesus lays down part of the foundation for His public ministry.  The events of today’s Gospel took place not long after Jesus’ Baptism, which inaugurated His public ministry.  The last sentence of the passage holds several clues for us about Jesus’ earthly mission.

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”   If we took these words at face value, we might consider “the righteous” to be the Pharisaic scribes who provoked these words from Jesus.  Obviously the scribes considered themselves so.  But like Jesus’ parables and so much else in His preaching, there is a paradox at work.  Jesus turns the popular notions of who is righteous and who is a sinner on their heads.

We could certainly not say that the tax collectors and other “sinners” were made righteous simply by the act of physically dining with Jesus.  But the physical proximity, and the closeness it suggests, make clear that neither Jesus nor the “sinner” shuns the other’s company.  We cannot receive spiritual and moral righteousness from Jesus if we don’t enter His presence and spend time with Him, especially in the sacrificial banquet of the Eucharist.  To shun him there would be to stand like the scribes, aloof and self-righteous.

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 4:1-5,11  +  Mark 2:1-12
January 15, 2021

Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them….

“Which is easier, to say… ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?”  Jesus’ question to the scribes is rhetorical.  Here, at the beginning of only the second chapter of Mark’s gospel account, we see opposition to Jesus.  It’s true that the scribes are keeping their opposition to Jesus to themselves at this point:  they aren’t even whispering secretively to each other.  They’re only speaking within their own minds, saying, “Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming.  Who but God alone can forgive sins?”

Since He is God, though, Jesus can read their minds.  God can read your mind also.  God knows what sort of opposition dwells in our minds, and keeps us from being His instruments.  Certainly Jesus wanted the scribes to embrace the Gospel.  Jesus wanted the scribes to recognize who He was, to follow Him, and with their talents to serve God, and to spread His Kingdom.  But these tiny thoughts of the scribes—“Why does this man speak that way?”—were the seeds that would blossom three years later into the foul fruit, the foul choice to put the Son of Man to death on the Cross.

It’s because of this, because “Jesus immediately knew in His mind what [the scribes] were thinking”, that He heals the paralytic.  The paralytic man is an instrument that Jesus uses to try and heal the scribes.  In all likelihood, if it had not been for the seeds of doubt that were germinating in the minds of the scribes, Jesus would not have worked this miracle.  But because of the sickness in the scribes’ minds, Jesus uses the sickness of the paralytic to try to heal the scribes.

But unfortunately, there is a huge difference between these two types of sickness:  the sickness of the scribes, and the sickness of the paralytic.  The sickness of the scribes—as is the case with the sins of every sinner—is freely chosen, so these sick persons have to ask freely for healing.

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Samuel 3:3-10,19  +  1 Corinthians 6:13-15,17-20  +  John 1:35-42
January 17, 2021

“You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas ….”

In my family growing up—as in most families, I would imagine—when our parents called one of us children, the more names they used, the greater the trouble we were in.  In ordinary conversation, our parents used our nicknames to call our attention.  If they used the proper form of our first names, they were saying to us, “Stop that.”  If they used our first and middle names, they meant it as a reprimand for something that was going to have consequences.  If they used our first, middle, and last names, it was time to call Greyhound and check for the next bus to Mexico.

Our names identify us.  They reflect who we are.  In Sunday’s Gospel Reading we see our Lord calling Simon to follow Him, and He does so by giving him a new name, saying in effect, “You are Simon, but your name shall be Cephas, which means Peter, which means, ‘Rock’.”  On the Rock of Peter Jesus built His Church, a structure that has remained in place for 2000 years.  In a similar way we see the Lord calling Samuel by name, so that Samuel would speak on behalf of the Lord and help establish the monarchy for the nation of Israel.

Like Peter and Samuel, we are called by name when God speaks to us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves, much like our parents who know us and call us by name (or names).  Children often try to deceive themselves and others about what they’ve done, and who they are.  But parents, who give life itself to their children, know their children.  Parents understand their children’s faults, as well as their strengths.  Children often don’t want to work to develop the skills and talents they have, and, trying to convince themselves and others, will say, “I’m just not good at that.  I can’t do it.”

Of course, it’s not only children who think this.  We adults are just as good at running away from something that we don’t want to do, using the handy excuse that we’re “just not able to do it.”  St. Peter did this all the time.  But God, the Father of each one of us, knows us better than we know ourselves.  When He calls us by name, He’s calling us to be honest to the truth about who we now are, and who He wants us to be.

The truth of the matter is that each one of us is called to share fully in the life of Jesus Christ.  This call, for each one of us, begins with the Baptism of the Lord, which the Church celebrated last week.  Of course, each Christian lives out the promises of his or her own baptism in a unique way.  Some are called to die to themselves and give to others through married life, some through the consecrated life, and some through ordained ministry.  Yet no matter what one’s particular vocation may be, it is rooted in the mystery of Baptism.  All of the particular vocations of Christians flow from the waters of Baptism.

But even given the graces of our particular vocations, we cannot live the calling God has given us alone.  We live our vocations well only inasmuch as we accept the help of others, and in turn serve others.  As St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading, our bodies are members of Christ:  of His Mystical Body, the Church.  We cannot live out our vocations as isolated individuals.

We can see this in the examples of the Gospel Reading.  How is it that Andrew heard his call from the Lord?  Through John the Baptist.  Then, after spending one day with the Lord, what is it that Andrew does?  He cries out to his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah!”  The Rock—Peter—upon whom Jesus would build His Church, came to the Lord through His brother.  These are two simple examples of one of the most important principles of the Catholic spiritual life:  the power of intercession for others, not only through prayer, but also through deeds.  The vocations of all of us are bound together, drawing us and others to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 3:7-14  +  Mark 1:40-45
January 14, 2021

…it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.

In today’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus “remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.”  Jesus’ “retreat” is not that of a hermit.  Jesus’ frequent journeys to deserted places was a prudent distancing of himself from those He came into this world to serve.  Jesus wanted at times simply to be in prayerful communion with His Father.

At the same time, perhaps Jesus knew that the people He was sent to serve needed a “breather”.  It’s hard for us to imagine what it was like to hear the Word of God preach the Good News, or work stupendous miracles.  We may imagine that because we’ve seen movies portraying such events, that we have an idea what it was like for those first-century folk.  If so, we underestimate the power of the Word of God made Flesh, and overestimate the power of cinema.

Often implicitly, and sometimes directly, Jesus says that the crowds are misunderstanding Him, even praising Him for the wrong reasons.  Some distance between Him and them, then, was prudent so that the crowds might reflect in their minds and hearts on the mysteries of Christ.  Of course, in the end, the crowds called for His death:  “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  We have cried the same by our sins.  But in the desert of Calvary, Christ offered His life so that throughout all ages to come, people might keep coming to Him from everywhere.

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 2:14-18  +  Mark 1:29-39
January 13, 2021

Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place, where He prayed.

In the light of Simon’s pursuit of Jesus and his informing Jesus that “everyone” is looking for Him, two actions of Jesus stand out.  Both actions show the falsity of Simon’s claim.

The fact that this passage begins with the cure of Simon’s mother-in-law gives us a glimpse into Simon’s way of thinking.  As more persons are cured, and as word spreads, Simon is convinced that “everyone” is looking for Jesus.

But “rising very early before dawn,” Jesus prayed in a deserted place.  In that “desert” He entered into communion with His Father.  To Jesus, His Father is primary in an ultimate manner.  His Father comes before the crowds that Simon calls “everyone”.

When Simon makes his claim to Jesus, He responds by explaining the need to “go on to the nearby villages”.  Simon is parochial in his thinking, while Jesus wants no one excluded.  At this point in His public ministry, Jesus is preaching and healing “throughout the whole of Galilee.”  As those three years continue, the effects of His ministry spread out in waves.  Ultimately, His ministry culminates in His self-sacrifice on Calvary, which He makes for all mankind throughout all of human history.  This is the “everyone” whom Jesus was sent by His Father to serve.

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 2:5-12  +  Mark 1:21-28
January 12, 2021

“What is this?  A new teaching with authority.”

Twice in today’s Gospel passage we hear the word “authority”, both times applied to Jesus.  In both cases, astonishment or surprise is evoked by the fact that Jesus teaches with authority.  Why is there this astonishment, and what does it mean for Jesus to teach with authority?

In the culture that surrounds us, every person believes himself to be his own authority.  In effect, this wide-spread belief means that no real authority exists.  In our society there is a great need for clarity about the meaning and purpose of authority.

At its most literal level, the word “authority” comes from the word “author”.  The author of a novel can create worlds of his own design from his imagination.  Laws of physics need not apply.  Strange creatures can exist, and fantastic events are commonplace.  Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis are all authors in this sense.  They have the authority to create worlds and races of creatures, and to confer life on and take life from individuals.  However, this is merely a fictional form of authority.  In reality, there is only one Author of creation.

Jesus, as God from God and Light from Light, is this divine Author.  Through His divinity He has authority.  He exercises this authority throughout the three years of His public ministry for various persons, and for all mankind on Calvary.  However, in the face of His exercise of divine authority, astonishment arises for varied reasons.

Most cannot believe that a mere man could exercise divine authority.  Jesus, of course, was not merely a man, even though He was fully so.  In our own lives, we should not be astonished by the authority or power of Jesus.  We should root our daily lives in His desire to grant us His grace.

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 1:1-6  +  Mark 1:14-20
January 11, 2021

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Today is a day of beginnings.  Today as we begin the season of Ordinary Time we hear from the beginning of the Gospel account of Saint Mark.  It points us in the direction of God the Father.

Christ sustains all things by his powerful word, whether those things recognize the source of that power or not.  But for those who recognize Christ as the Son of God, He does infinitely more.  For those who are willing to abandon everything in this world—even the earthly fathers who reared them—Christ confers the gift of everlasting life, to be sustained in the life of God the Father forever.

Such men are the apostles Andrew and Simon, James and John.  They leave everything to go off in Jesus’ company, having received a commission from Him to become “fishers of men.”  They are called to share in the life of Christ, and at this point, they have no idea what this will entail.  This is how beginnings always are:  we have no real idea of what is going to transpire in the future.  If these four men had known that each of them would share deeply in the suffering of Christ—three of them, through martyrdom, and Saint John, at the foot of the Cross—it is unlikely they ever would have left their boats.

At the beginning of this season of Ordinary Time, let us pray for the grace to be faithful to the calling which we entered into through Baptism.

Saturday after Epiphany

Saturday after Epiphany
1 John 5:14-21  +  John 3:22-30
January 9, 2021

There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.

On this last weekday of Christmastide, the Beloved Disciple in the First Reading tackles a challenging subject.  What he states follows from what he has proclaimed in passages heard earlier in Christmastide.  Yet he’s more specific here about the demands made of the Christian disciple.

St. John in his biblical writings repeatedly proclaims the Crucifixion of Jesus as God’s clearest revelation of His love for fallen man.  In today’s First Reading, St. John declares that the disciple of Jesus must forgive sinners as Jesus did on the Cross.  In St. John’s exposition, there are several specific points that deserve attention.

First, St. John proclaims that the Christian disciple ought to pray for a sinner, and that God “will give him life.”  This makes clear that God wants Christians to intercede for others in prayer, contrary to what some of our separated brethren claim.  Moreover, God specifically wants the Christian to intercede for a sinner.  While St. John does not state here that the Christian’s intercessory prayer for a sinner will bring the sinner forgiveness, but rather “life”, the principle of a Christian interceding for another sinner is one of the principle underling the Sacrament of Confession.

Second, St. John very clearly distinguishes two types of sin based on the degree of severity.  He states that there “is such a thing as deadly sin”, and shortly thereafter that “there is a sin that is not deadly.”  These two types of sin correspond to the Church’s distinction between “mortal sin” and “venial sin”.  Both types of sin can be forgiven through the Blood of Christ, but the forgiveness of “deadly sin” is reserved to the Church’s Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Friday after Epiphany

Friday after Epiphany
1 John 5:5-13  +  Luke 5:12-16
January 8, 2021

And this is the testimony:  God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

The Beloved Disciple, St. John the Evangelist, uses many words to describe God throughout the course of his Gospel account and three epistles.  Among these words are “life”, “light”, and “love”.  In today’s First Reading St. John considers divine life and how an ordinary human person may share in this life.

One of the more overlooked principles of the Christian spiritual life is that the Christian is not called merely to imitate Jesus.  Jesus is not a mere example for the Christian to follow.  The Christian disciple must live and act “in” Christ, as one member of Christ’s Mystical Body.

It’s within this Body as one of its members that he Christian shares in the life of Christ.  This life is not only the divine life that God the Son shared with the Father from before time began.  This life also includes all the human experiences of God the Son, especially His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  These experiences are the experiences of the Christian disciple.

This life of Christ is the source of strength and inspiration for daily Christian life.  This is one reason that the sacraments are key to Christian growth.  For when the sacraments are devoutly received, their graces deepen one’s share in the life of Christ.  This in turn allow the disciple’s human life more easily to follow the pattern of Christ’s earthly life, if the disciple submits his daily thoughts, words, and actions to Christ’s life.