The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Jon 3:1-5,10  +  1 Cor 7:29-31  +  Mk 1:14-20
January 21, 2018

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Consider this thought experiment.  Three men are standing side-by-side.  The one in the center is a married Catholic layman.  The one to the right is a Catholic priest.  The one to the left is a married man who doesn’t believe in God.  The $64,000 question is:  which two men are more alike?

If you tried to answer that question by watching their every move for a week (let’s imagine you had DVD’s of their lives, like a reality show), you might conclude that the two married men have the most in common.  After all, when each of these husbands returns home from work, he gives his wife a kiss.  Each of them shares with his wife the chores of their home, and each of them shares the responsibilities of rearing their children.

However, granting all these similarities, there’s still an argument to be made that the priest and Catholic married man have the most in common. Although the actions that the two husbands carry out look the same, beneath the surface of each human action—in the human heart, mind, and soul—lies the human motive.

In ethics, the word “motive” refers to motion, just as it implies in the word “automotive”.  The human motive is what gets the ball rolling. It moves the abstract idea out of the human mind and into the world through the work of the will. So ultimately, the motive that brings about a particular action has more significance than the appearance of that action.  Both are important, but the motive is primary.  This is why the priest and the Catholic married man have the potential to be more alike than the two husbands.

Put it this way:  because of his Baptism, the Catholic person’s motive can be—if he allows it—elevated by grace.  The Catholic person can search for his motive in the Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, while the motive of the atheist, when he does good, is still connected to God at least by virtue of his human nature, he doesn’t recognize it as such.  He bears limited fruit.

But the person who wants his will to cooperate with the Holy Spirit can bear limitless fruit.  He may appear to do the same actions as an unbeliever, but the love he is receiving from God and the love he has for God in his heart are the driving force behind these actions, and so they benefit not only his soul but the souls of the entire Body of Christ.  Not only this, but eventually even the appearance of his actions will change and reveal more clearly the work of the Holy Spirit.  The motive of love will become more obvious because the limitless nature of the love of God will reveal itself visibly in his actions.  He might start attending daily Mass, or decide to take his family on a mission trip, or perhaps start sharing about his faith at his place of work.

God told Jonah, in our First Reading, to “set out for the great city of Ninevah, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” He walked through this “enormously large city”, announcing to them that it would be destroyed in forty days.  We know his motives were pure, because to outward appearances, this would seem crazy.  In the Gospel passage, Jesus called the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James, and John:  “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  They left everything—boats, nets, fish, family—and followed Him immediately.  Again, this would not seem to a worldly man to be a well thought out, sane action.  But consider what motivated them.  God in the souls of Jonah and the first apostles moved them to action.

It’s within Jesus—that is, within His Mystical Body—that the Holy Spirit most powerfully works in the world.  Within the Church the Holy Spirit calls and empowers us who are members of this Body.  Through the Church we know that the Psalmist’s call will be fulfilled when we ourselves sing, “Teach me your ways, O Lord.”  Through the Church the Holy Spirit will enlighten and inspire each of us who is willing to allow God to motivate us for the sake of accomplishing His divine will.

January 20, 2018

Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Samuel 1:1-4,11-12,19,23-27  +  Mark 3:20-21
January 20, 2018

Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.

The refrain from today’s Responsorial Psalm is so familiar to Christians that we probably don’t think twice about it.  Of course, that’s exactly the problem.  We take for granted the profundity of this verse from Psalm 80.  In fact, this sentence is used as a refrain within Psalm 80 itself, there being sung thrice.

But what do the words of this refrain mean?  How could one possibly see the face of the Lord?  Isn’t God pure Spirit?  There is no material aspect or dimension to God as God.  Besides, in Scripture the Lord declares that no man may see Him and live [Exodus 33:20].

Then we must conclude that the Psalmist is speaking of:  (a) seeing God as something other than God; (b) seeing in a non-material manner; or (c) seeing the Lord in a life beyond this world and the inevitable death one experiences here.

However, the meaning of the refrain needs to be explored in light of another question as well.  The refrain seems to imply a causal connection between seeing the Lord’s Face and being saved.  Why would seeing the Lord’s Face bring about salvation?  Or is the refrain equating the two:  saying that to see the Lord’s Face is in fact what salvation consists of?  Is the psalmist describing in poetic terms what Catholic theology calls the Beatific Vision?

In the midst of all these questions, we may ponder the goodness of a God who invites us into such salvation.

January 19, 2018

Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 24:3-21  +  Mark 3:13-19
January 19, 2018

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom He wanted….

The Gospel account of Saint Mark the Evangelist is by far the shortest of the four Gospel accounts.  The brevity of Mark’s account is complemented by its fervor.  Jesus in this account appears as a man of action.  Consider today’s Gospel passage in this context.

From the third of Mark’s 16 chapters, we hear today of Jesus calling His Twelve.  They are meant to be men of action.  Jesus names them “Apostles, that they might be with Him and He might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”

There are two points one might note in this sentence.  Given that the word “apostle” literally means “one who is sent”, the evangelist describes the type of mission these twelve will have.  But more primary than this being sent forth is the One who sends them.  Their “apostleship” is rooted not only in the person of Christ, but in their being “with Him”.  In our own manner, each of us as a baptized member of the Church is called to serve, but is called first to be “with Him” each day.

January 18, 2018

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 18:6-9;19:1-7  +  Mark 3:7-12
January 18, 2018

A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea.

At the end of today’s Gospel passage, after healing many persons, Jesus “warned [the unclean spirits] not to make Him known.”  Why does Jesus issue this warning?  “The Messianic Secret” is a phrase sometimes used to refer to the identity of Jesus, which He commands others—both friend and foe—not to reveal.  This warning or command comes from the nature of Jesus’ mission on earth.

God the Son was sent into our sinful world to become man, so that man might share in divine life.  In itself, this mission is not scandalous, even if it seems incredible.  However, the means by which God the Son would accomplish this mission did scandalize most of His friends and foes.  The seeming folly of the Cross caused many whom Jesus came to save to turn away from Him.

Whenever Jesus revealed His identity, it was to advance His mission.  If Jesus was to advance His mission, He needed to reveal the glory of the Cross.  In this sense, Jesus’ identity and mission were bound up together during His earthly life.  To reveal one was to reveal the other.  But to reveal His mission was to risk driving away persons He wished to save.  The purpose of the “Messianic Secret”, then, is the prudential progression of His self-revelation:  to save as many as possible from their own self-delusions of grandeur:  delusions by which man believes that he can save himself, and that salvation comes from any source other than carrying one’s cross in union with the crucified Christ.

St. Anthony the Abbot

St. Anthony, Abbot
I Samuel 17:32-33,37,40-51  +  Mark 3:1-6
January 17, 2018

They watched Jesus closely to see if He would cure him on the Sabbath….

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”  His question is rhetorical.  The Pharisees understand Jesus’ question, and are very sure of His answer.  What they seem unsure of is whether Jesus would practice what He preached.

Keep in mind that today’s Gospel passage is from the third chapter of Mark.  In terms of the entire Gospel account, today’s Gospel passage is significant in that it’s Jesus’ first step towards Calvary.  There were three scenes in the second chapter where Jesus’ ministry provoked opposition.  But the last sentence of this passage is plain in announcing the plan of the Pharisees and Herodians “to put him to death.”

Jesus knew this, of course.  But He didn’t just accept the Cross as the price for practicing what He preached.  For us to think so would be putting the cart before the horse.  The Cross was Jesus’ vocation, the purpose for His descent from Heaven into our world of sin and death.  We can consider His three years of public ministry to be the prologue to or preparation for Holy Week.  We can consider those three years to be time during which Jesus invited others, by His words and deeds, to follow Him to Calvary.  But we need to be clear that the Cross was Jesus’ vocation.

January 16, 2018

Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 16:1-13  +  Mark 2:23-28
January 16, 2018

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”

Today’s Gospel passage focuses on “‘the Son of Man [who] is lord even of the Sabbath.’ ”  To say that this Son of Man is lord “even” of the Sabbath is to point out that the meaning of this lordship stretches back to God’s creation of the universe.  The origin of the Sabbath is not the Third Commandment, but the events described in the first chapters of Genesis.  Jesus as the Son of Man is a lord who is divine and human.

But today’s First Reading and Responsorial speak of the human lord, King David.  David, like all the rightful kings of God’s People, ruled through the anointing that came from the Lord God.  Both the First Reading and the Responsorial speak of this anointing.  The First Reading links this anointing to the Power of the Holy Spirit:  the scriptural author notes that “from that day [of David’s anointing] on, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.”

In the ministry of the Old Testament kings, it was through the Holy Spirit that they acted as lords.  In the Nicene Creed we profess belief in the Holy Spirit, “who has spoken through the prophets.”  We might well also profess that this Holy Spirit has acted through the kings.  So also does He act in our own day:  ruling the Church through her ordained ministers, and ruling throughout the world in the daily lives of the lay faithful through their fidelity to their baptismal promises.

January 15, 2018

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 15:16-23  +  Mark 2:18-22          
January 15, 2018

“…the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them….”

Today’s Gospel passage might seem confusing to those who wish to be devout Christians.  Along with the contrast between Jesus and John, there is a contrast between feasting and fasting.  Jesus’ disciples in this passage do not fast because He is with them.  Should Christians today, then, take part in the discipline of fasting?  Or would fasting imply a denial of Jesus’ presence in our lives?

Jesus gives us the key to applying this contrast to our own lives as 21st century disciples.  He explains, “the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”  But what exactly is “that day”?  In one sense, we could consider “that day” to be Good Friday, when Jesus offered His life to death.

But in a broader sense, you and I need to understand “that day” as referring to the lives of all members of the Body of Christ here below in this vale of tears:  all of us who are members of the Church Militant here on earth.  It’s true that through Baptism and the other sacraments which we worthily receive, Christ dwells in our souls.  Through these sacraments He conforms us as members of His Mystical Body.  Yet as wayfaring pilgrims on earth, we are called to fast.  We fast because our share in Christ’s life is not full.  Only in Heaven may we feast fully on the life of God as members of the Church Triumphant.

The 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Sam 3:3-10,19  +  1 Cor 6:13-15,17-20  +  Jn 1:35-42
January 14, 2018

“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 of our names that 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 the Gospel 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 in the life of Jesus Christ.  This call, for each one of us, begins with the Baptism of the Lord, which the Church celebrated this past Monday.  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.  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 towards the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

January 13, 2018

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 9:1-4,17-19; 10:1  +  Mark 2:13-17
January 13, 2018

All the crowd came to Him and He taught them.

In today’s Gospel passage from the second chapter of Mark, Jesus lays part of the foundation for his public ministry.  The events of today’s Gospel passage 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 righteous.  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, symbolize that neither Jesus nor the “sinner” shuns the other’s company.  We cannot receive spiritual and moral righteousness from Jesus if we don’t spend time with Him, especially in the banquet of the Eucharist.  To shun him there would be to stand like the scribes, aloof and self-righteous.

January 12, 2018

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 8:4-7,10-22  +  Mark 2:1-12
January 12, 2018

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

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus has many followers.  “Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them”.  This might seem to make Jesus a popular person, successful in ministry.  But within today’s Gospel passage there is a confusion of aims.  The aim of the friends of the paralytic was his physical healing.  Jesus does not dismiss their effort, but he sub-ordinates it to a higher aim:  the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus could have spent His three years of public ministry only working physical cures and raising people from the dead.  Had he stuck to these aims alone, He would have remained popular.  There’s no telling how successful He might have become in the eyes of the world!  But it was not for fifteen minutes of fame that Jesus came into our world of sin and death.  It was to die that He dwelt among us.  Give thanks that Jesus shows us how to put our mission above popularity, and how to put the aim of death before that of earthly life.