February 1, 2018

Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 2:1-4,10-12  +  Mark 6:7-13
February 1, 2018

[Jesus] summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two.

The meaning of Jesus’ two-fold action of summoning and sending in today’s Gospel passage is based on the literal meaning of the word “apostle”, which is “one who is sent”.  But today’s summoning and sending, in chapter 6 of St. Mark’s Gospel account, is different from a second apostolic mission on which these men will be sent.  That latter mission occurs in the final chapter, where in fact only eleven apostles remain.

The key distinction is what the Twelve here are sent to do.  This is a preparatory mission:  to preach repentance, drive out demons, and anoint and cure the sick.  Here the Twelve turn people around from the negative, to prepare them to receive the positive.  Their mission here is something akin to the vocation of St. John the Baptist:  to prepare for something—Someone—greater.

In Mark’s final chapter, the apostles are sent to accomplish something radically different.  They are sent not just to the sick, but to “the whole world”.  They are sent not just within the Holy Land, but “to the whole world”.  They are sent not to preach repentance, but to “proclaim the Gospel” [16:15].  For each of us, in the on-going conversion of our lives to Christ, we need to listen and be receptive to the works of both of these missions:  turning away from our sins, so that we within our own vocations can proclaim the Gospel by living the Gospel.

St. John Bosco

St. John Bosco, Priest
II Samuel 24:2,9-17  +  Mark 6:1-6
January 31, 2018

He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Today’s Gospel passage, from the sixth chapter of Mark, doesn’t really end on a high note.   In His native place, Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deed, apart from curing a few sick people.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Why did they lack faith?  Why do we lack faith?  Why do we focus on the less important things in life:  the less important types of freedom?  St. Mark begins his Gospel account by answering this question.  The first recorded words of Jesus are proclaimed immediately after He spends forty days in the desert, tempted by Satan.  He emerges from the desert, and the first words He speaks frame the entire Gospel.  Jesus proclaims, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” 

Repent, and believe in the Gospel.  We might say that these two demands of Jesus sum up the entire Christian faith.  They lead us to faith.  They lead to true freedom, and require us to exercise our freedom in its deepest sense:  in our relationship with God.

True repentance means to turn oneself around 180°:  to turn oneself away from sin, and towards God, not simply towards ourselves, and what we think we want.  This is the highest type of freedom:  to be able to do things for others, or in other words, to give our very self to another, whether to another human person, or to God.

January 30, 2018

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Samuel 18:9-10,14,24-25,30—19:3  +  Mark 5:21-43
January 30, 2018

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

In today’s Gospel passage are two people who see how God wants to be in their lives in time of need.  So many people turn to Christ in need.  When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we would like to ask Christ’s help for so many things in our own lives.  It’s true that petitionary prayer—in which we ask for something from God—is not as selfless a form of prayer as adoration.  But God wants us to present our petitions to Him.

Consider the woman in the Gospel, who had suffered for so many years.  She interrupts Christ in the midst of His trying to help someone else.  We should make that woman’s faith our own:  not simply her faith in Christ’s power, but also her faith in His patience and compassion.  There is no true need in our lives that we should not offer to God.

Is every petition answered as we wish, as are the petitions of this woman and the official?  Some Christians stop offering their petitions to God—or even stop believing in God—when He doesn’t provide the response they want.  Growth in prayer includes the experience of accepting God’s “No”’s, and learning through them to trust His providential Will more deeply.

Sermon 1 of 3:  The Word of God, Scripture & the Eucharist

Sermon Series—The Word of God, the Gospel, and St. Mark
Sermon One of Three:  The Word of God, Scripture & the Eucharist
Septuagesima Sunday—January 28, 2018

Sometimes you’ll hear the claim that we Catholics are not very grounded in the Bible.  But that’s not a fair statement.  It’s true that we don’t approach the Bible in the same way as other Christians, and it’s certainly true that we Catholics don’t always take enough time every year to study the Bible.  But Catholics who go to Holy Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, and who listen attentively to the Scriptures being proclaimed, and the homily being preached, know the Bible better than other Christians give them credit for.

This morning, reflect on three points about the Word of God.

*****

First, we have to answer a question.  What is the Word of God?  If we get the answer to this question wrong, then every other question about our Christian Faith will go wrong also.  What is the Word of God?

Some of our fellow Christians would be very quick to answer.  “The Bible”, they would boldly reply.  “The Word of God is the Bible.”  Unfortunately, like a great deal of what our separated brethren believe, the problem lies in what is missing.  Or to put it a different way:  “What lies behind the Bible?”  “What is the Bible’s foundation?”  “What does the Bible rest upon?”

Ultimately, the chief answer to all those questions is “the Word of God”.  The Word of God lies behind the Bible.  The Word of God is the Bible’s foundation.  The Bible rests upon the Word of God.

“But wait a minute,” some of our separated brethren might ask, “how can those things be true if the Word of God is the Bible?”  Maybe even some Catholics would wonder the same thing.  Is there a difference between the Word of God and the Bible?

The answer to that question is found in one of the key truths of the Christian Faith.  Unfortunately, many Christians—whether Catholic or Protestant—aren’t aware of this truth, or of how it shapes our Christian Faith.

Here is this key truth of the Christian Faith.  “The Word of God is a Person, not a thing.”  The Word of God is a divine Person, not a material thing.  Those who believe that the Word of God is nothing more than paper, ink and a leather cover overlook God’s purpose in revealing the Word of God to fallen man.

“The Word of God is a Person, not a thing.”  In Sacred Scripture, St. John the Evangelist proclaims this truth in the prologue to his Gospel account.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”[1]

The Word of God is a Person:  the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  The Word of God is God the Son:  the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  St. John the Evangelist proclaims this further in his prologue:  “And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us”.[2]  The Word of God is a divine Person, not a material thing made of paper, ink and leather.  This divine Word in the Flesh is the Person who speaks to each of us through the Bible.  This Word of God became Flesh and dwelt among us.  In the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the divine Word of God became Flesh.

*****

But why?  Why did God the Father send God the Son from Heaven to earth, to become Flesh and dwell among us?  This is the second point we need to reflect upon.  Why did the divine Word become Flesh and dwell among us?  What could the Word do in the Flesh that he could not do from Heaven without taking on our Flesh and Blood?  Did the Word become Flesh in order to preach the Word of God?  Did the Word made Flesh dwell among us in order to preach?

Jesus did preach, of course.  All four of the Gospel accounts record His sermons, His sayings, and His parables, preached during the three years of His public ministry.  But even the greatest of His preaching was a preparation.  Every word that the Word of God preached during His public ministry was to prepare His followers for something infinitely greater.[3]

During His public ministry, the Word of God in the flesh preached many different words.  Those many words, however, had a single, solitary aim:  Calvary.  By His preaching, Jesus worked to move those around Him to turn their lives around—off the path of sin—so that they could follow Him on the path to Calvary.

And not just to follow Him there, but to join Him there:  that is in fact, to enter into His act of Self-sacrifice on Calvary.  You could put it this way.  Just as Holy Mass has two main parts—the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist—so Jesus’ public ministry had two main parts.  The first and longer part of Jesus’ public ministry was the years of His preaching and miracles.  But all of that was a preparation:  not preparing Himself, but preparing His disciples for what came next.  Those years were meant to prepare His disciples for Calvary, in order for them to enter into His Self-sacrifice there.

So it is with Holy Mass.  The Liturgy of the Word prepares us to enter into the Liturgy of the Word made Flesh.  So it is with the Bible.  Through the many different words of the Bible, the divine Person of the Word of God speaks to each of us, to lead us to the source and summit of the Christian life, where we can enter into the life of God.

*****

When you die, and are taken before the Pearly Gates, what will you be asked?  Here’s the third and final point.  Will you be asked to recite from memory the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 12, verse 8?  Will you be asked how many books are in the Bible?  Will you be asked to name the tribes of Israel?

In fact, the Bible tells us that when you die and are taken before the Pearly Gates, you will not be asked any questions, because then—at the hour of your death—the time for questions has passed.  You will simply be led by the Son of Man in one of two directions.  Hopefully you will be led to His Right Hand.  Hopefully you will hear Him say to you:  “‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”[4]

In the newer English translation of the Mass, one of the forms of dismissal that the priest can say at the end of Mass is:  “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  St. Francis of Assisi might add:  “…and if necessary, use words.”  During most of our lives on this earth, we’re called to announce the Gospel by our actions:  actions of self-sacrifice like feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, instructing the ignorant, and praying for the dead.

The Word of God is not to be thumped as if it were its own end.  The Word of God is a divine Person who wants to lead us to His Father.  The path to the Father is our living out of Jesus’ preaching during our own earthly pilgrimage:  here and now, today and every day of this week.  The divine Person of the Word of God wants to live His life through yours.  The Word of God wants to offer Himself in sacrifice this week through your daily sacrifices.  That’s often difficult, but the strength needed is offered to you here and at every Mass in the Liturgy of the Word made Flesh.


[1] John 1:1-3.

[2] John 1:14.

[3] You might put it this way:  Jesus’ preaching was a sign pointing towards the sacrament of Calvary.

[4] Matthew 25:34-36.

January 29, 2018

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Samuel 15:13-14,30;16:5-13  +  Mark 5:1-20
January 29, 2018

…they began to beg [Jesus] to leave their district.

Demonic possession is an extremely serious matter.  While some today dismiss it, suggesting that all reported cases of possession are in fact psychological disorders, the Church takes today’s Gospel passage at its word.

One striking point in this narrative is the reaction of people to the swineherds’ report:  “they began to beg [Jesus] to leave their district.”  Why do the people react this way?  One might expect the people to express gratitude to Jesus, and invite Him to stay as their protector.

Perhaps the people were in shock, never before imagining that demons might dwell among them.  However, demonic possession in the Holy Land was not uncommon in Jesus’ day.  Perhaps the reaction of the people reflected what today is described by the acronym “NIMBY”:  “Not In My BackYard”.  When terrible violence erupts in a metropolis, many people on hearing the news shake their heads, say a prayer for those affected, and then turn the channel.

But if such violence erupts in their own hamlet, they express disbelief at how such violence could happen “here”.  Sin, violence and death are here, there and everywhere.  While each of us needs to practice prudence to deter them, we should have no illusions of escaping them.  In the midst of such illusions, Christ has no place.

The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Deut 18:15-20  +  1 Cor 7:32-35  +  Mk 1:21-28
January 28, 2018

…He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

The people in today’s Gospel passage are astonished at Jesus’ teaching, “for He taught them as one having authority”.  Towards the passage’s end, all are amazed at this “new teaching with authority”.  This “authority” is worth our reflection.

In ordinary use, the word “authority” has a meaning much weaker than the way it’s used in today’s passage.  A police office has authority to make an arrest within his jurisdiction.  A judge has the authority to pass sentence in her courtroom.  A colonel has authority to issue commands within the range of his commission.  But in each case, this authority has been handed down from a higher authority:  the chief of police, the governor, or the colonel’s commanding officers.  Yet those higher authorities themselves report to others, within chains of commands that reach upwards.

By contrast, the amazement in the Gospel passage is that Jesus is leap-frogging over all human forms and chains of authority.  This is testified to by the novelty of his teaching.  His teaching doesn’t seem to have been “handed down” from anyone.  It just appears seemingly out of nowhere.

Perhaps part of the amazement at Jesus’ teaching is the contrast between Him and Judaism’s long tradition of prophets.  In today’s First Reading, we hear the first Jewish prophet, Moses, prophesy about the fulfillment of a strange request from the Jewish people:  “‘Let us not again hear the voice of the Lord, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.’”  Apparently, God’s self-revelation was too much for them to accept.  Perhaps they thought that that same revelation when handed down to them by prophets would be more palatable, or at least watered-down.  In any case, Moses explains that God will indeed fulfill their request.  Yet one ought to be careful about what one requests from God.

Jesus Christ is more than only a prophet, of course, but He does fulfill the role of prophecy that began with Moses.  It was Him of whom Moses prophesied in today’s First Reading.  Why, then, are the Jewish people so surprised at Jesus’ teaching?  Wasn’t Jesus’ teaching in line with that of Moses?  Wouldn’t those listening to Jesus have heard Him echoing the prophecy laid down by Moses in the first five books of Scripture?

We might consider two reasons for the confusion caused by Jesus’ teaching.

First, so many centuries after Moses prophesied, his teaching was clouded by the legislation taught by the scribes.  The Jews could no longer see the Law for the laws.  St. Mark the Evangelist points specifically to this contrast:  Jesus “taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”  So if the revelation originally given Moses had become obscured, it’s not surprising that one who fulfills Moses’ prophecy would also seem obscure.  The scribes, for one, weren’t wanting what Jesus had to offer.

Second, even those such as the Pharisee Nicodemus, who perceived in Jesus someone well worth listening to, had difficulty grasping the fullness of Jesus’ words.  Even for those persons who had a clear belief in Moses’ prophecy, something seemed out of order in Jesus’ teaching.

With the hindsight of 2000 years of the Church’s history, we can see what even faithful Jews like Nicodemus could not:  namely, the order of Jesus and Moses.  It wasn’t that Jesus echoed Moses, but that Moses had echoed Jesus.  Before Moses was, Jesus is.  Jesus’ authority comes from the simple fact that He Is Who Is:  He is the eternal God who authored all of creation in the beginning.  Jesus does not come to us, though, in thundering voice or in great fire on Mt. Sinai, but in the silence of Mt. Calvary and the fire of the Upper Room on Pentecost.

January 27, 2018

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Samuel 12:1-7,10-17  +  Mark 4:35-41
January 27, 2018

“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

Is today’s lesson not to wake Jesus?  The miracle in today’s Gospel passage seems to be Jesus rebuking the wind and sea, resulting in “great calm”.  However, it’s not only the wind and sea that Jesus rebukes.  Perhaps more important is Jesus’ rebuke of His disciples.

Jesus chooses not to calm the disturbance in His disciples’ souls in the same manner that He calms the sea and wind.  But He does challenge them:  “Do you not yet have faith?”  His rebuke of the elements and of His disciples seems to have a meritorious effect on them.  “They were filled with awe” at His power over the elements.  But is this the faith He demanded of them?

It’s only natural to be impressed at the power of nature, and of God’s power over nature.  It’s something supernatural, however, to allow God to have power over oneself.  This is the sort of faith Jesus is asking for from His disciples.  Faith is a gift freely given, but it’s also a gift that must be freely accepted.  Jesus will not calm our souls without our consent, or rather, our faith in His power to do so.  The disciples marvel at Jesus as one “whom even wind and sea obey”.  Even more marvelous, however, is a disciple who obeys Jesus as His Lord.

Sts. Timothy & Titus

Saints Timothy & Titus, Bishops
2 Timothy 1:1-8  +  Mark 4:26-34
January 26, 2018

“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God….”

Jesus today proclaims two parables about the Kingdom of God.  In wanting to understand these parables, we might wonder what exactly the Kingdom of God is.  Is the Kingdom of God the realm of Heaven, or is it the Church?  Is it some measure of both, or something else entirely, such as the individual Christian’s soul?

Jesus never directly addresses this question.  But even without defining “the Kingdom of God”, we can say that the kernel of each “Kingdom parable” describes in some way the reality of Heaven, and/or the Church, and/or the Christian’s soul.

Take Jesus’ second parable in today’s Gospel passage.  The change from the “smallest of all the seeds” to “the largest of plants” seems more easily applied to the Church and the Christian soul than to Heaven.  Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”, a phrase through which we can see how this parable applies to the Church.  With God, all things are possible:  from a natural death, springs supernatural life.  Or as the Church prays to the Father in one of the prefaces for martyrs at Holy Mass:  by “your marvelous works” “in our weakness you perfect your power / and on the feeble bestow strength to bear you witness, through Christ our Lord.”

The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle

The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
Acts 22:3-16  +  Mark 16:15-18
January 25, 2018

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

The Conversion of St. Paul might seem difficult for us to relate to, especially if we are cradle Catholics.  St. Paul’s conversion was from a strict Pharisaical form of Judaism to a living faith in Jesus Christ.  But we could expand on this by saying that Paul’s conversion was from one understanding of sacrifice to another.  Saul was not a Levite, but his concept of sacrifice as a faithful Jew would have been based on temple sacrifices.

Christian sacrifice, however, is not of exterior things, but of what is most interior and personal.  It’s a sacrifice not of animals, but of one’s very self, and of one’s whole self:  body, soul and spirit.  We might say that when you convert to Christ, your life is over; you live no more, but Christ lives in you [see Galatians 2:20].  This is exemplified impressively in the Order of Saint Benedict, which at religious professions have their newly professed lay prostrate in the sanctuary of their church, and cover the newly professed in a large funeral pall.

What all three readings today (including the Responsorial Psalm) profess is the link between conversion and mission.  “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”  One of the worst afflictions within the Church today is a privatization of the Faith:  that is, believing that one’s faith should only be a personal matter, something best kept to oneself, for the sake of getting oneself to Heaven.  There are countless forms in which a baptized Christian might evangelize others, but every baptized Christian is called to evangelize those without faith.

St. Francis de Sales

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
II Samuel 7:4-17  +  Mark 4:1-20
January 24, 2018

“But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit….”

Given that Saint Mark’s Gospel account—the shortest of the four—focuses more on Jesus’ actions than His preaching, we ought to take special note of the preaching that Mark does choose for inclusion in his Gospel account.  We might consider the parables Mark includes as a “best of…” list.

Today’s Gospel passage has three parts.  The first and the last are Jesus’ proclamation of a parable, and the parable’s explanation.  In between, Jesus briefly explains His general purpose in preaching through parables.  Most of the fourth chapter of Mark consists of parables, and today’s Gospel passage consists of the first twenty verses of Mark 4, so today’s parable is of primary importance.

The Parable of the Sower, Mark’s telling of which is a mere six verses, has inspired dissertations hundreds of pages long.  Like the mustard seed (to allude to a different parable), its size belies its potential.  To choose one simple facet of today’s parable:  who is the sower?  There are at least two answers.  The parable can be thought of in terms of the sower being either God the Father, or you as an individual.  Here consider the former scenario.

The sower is God the Father.  He sows His Word (God the Son) prodigally.  What seems like foolishness or imprudence in His manner of sowing is in fact a measure of His love’s depth.  He offers His Word even to those of us whose souls are rocky or otherwise inhospitable.  The challenge here is for each individual to till the soil of the soul, or otherwise clear and tend it as needed to allow the word to take root there.