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.

January 23, 2018

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Samuel 6:12-15,17-19  +  Mark 3:31-35
January 23, 2018

“For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The heart of today’s Gospel passage is “the will of God”.  Jesus explains that doing the will of God is what forms the bonds of kinship within God’s family.  In doing so, Jesus is not downplaying the significance of His Blessed Mother or any other blood- or legal relatives.  After all, why did God the Father choose the young Mary to be the Mother of God if not because her response at the Annunciation—“Let it be done unto me according to thy word”—is the perfect embodiment of understanding and carrying out the will of God.

When you pray the rosary today and meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries, ask Our Lady for an outpouring of grace from her Son.  Ask her that you might use this strength not for your own desires, but only to accomplish what the Lord deems necessary in your life to draw you and those you love closer to Him.

Day for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children
II Samuel 5:1-7,10  +  Mark 3:22-30
January 22, 2018

“And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

Jesus’ parables most often describe the Kingdom of God.  But today He preaches about the Kingdom by what in theology is called a “via negativa”:  that is, describing someone or something by what he, she or it is not, rather than what he, she or it is.  Jesus today describes what the Kingdom of God is not in rebutting the claims of the scribes.

The chief point of the parables we hear Jesus preach today is that Satan can have no place in the Kingdom of God.  He begins by debunking the scribes’ claim with simple logic.  But Jesus moves by the end of today’s passage to a “via positiva”, in which He points out why Satan can have no place within the Kingdom:  because the Kingdom is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, the new creation in which the Holy Spirit hovers over the face of the Kingdom [see Genesis 1:2].

Still, in our own day we have to put Jesus’ parables in context.  We cannot help but realize that the Kingdom of God which Jesus so often preaches about is not strictly identical with the Church that Jesus founded when He walked this earth.  Would that it were so!  How clearly we can see the sins of members of the Church.  Through these sins, the absence of the Holy Spirit makes itself known.  Our sins can be forgiven, and our charity can point to the Kingdom of God, but both are possible only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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.