St. Agatha

St. Agatha, Virgin Martyr
I Kings 8:1-7,9-13  +  Mark 6:53-56
February 5, 2018

Lord, go up to the place of your rest!

Today’s Responsorial Psalm comes from the first half of Psalm 132.  The refrain is, “Lord, go up to the place of your rest!”  In itself this sounds like a strange thing to say to the Almighty.  Why does the Lord need us to tell Him where to go?  Why does the Lord need to go to a place of rest?  What is the broader context for this refrain?

Within the setting of the Old Testament, we could imagine this refrain verse being spoken during the Exodus or one of the exiles from the Holy Land.  In these settings, the place of the Lord’s rest would refer to His final “resting place” on earth:  the Temple in Jerusalem.  It’s there that the priests enter to offer right worship to the Lord, according to the dictates of His Law.  Within this setting we can certainly interpret Psalm 132 according to the original meaning of the human author.

In a further sense, however, we listen to Psalm 132 in terms of its fulfillment in Christ.  The Lord is Jesus, who entered our fallen world for us men and our salvation.  This psalm, then, speaks to the Ascension of the Lord as the completion of the Incarnate Word’s earthly mission.  Our own share in this rest is what we await beyond death, although even now in the sanctuary of the Living God, in the right worship of the Eucharist we may share in the rest of His Real Presence.

The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Job 7:1-4,6-7  +  1 Cor 9:16-19,22-23  +  Mk 1:29-39
February 4, 2018

“For this purpose have I come.”

In today’s Gospel passage, the people around Jesus seem to believe that the cures He’s working are the “good news” of the Gospel.  We have to remember that the word “gospel” literally means “good news”, and that Jesus had gone around Palestine for some time preaching that he had a message of “good news” for them.

But there was a common misunderstanding among those who heard Jesus.  They didn’t exactly understand what Jesus’ “good news” concerned.  Was it good financial news?  News of good weather for the crops for the next hundred years?  Was it news of Israel’s freedom from its slavery to the Roman Empire?  The people in today’s Gospel passage think that Jesus has “good news” for them about the physical suffering that afflicts them.

Now we, as Catholics living in modern times, know that the meaning of the Gospel is that we are freed from slavery to sin, not simply that we are freed from the slavery of our bodies to disease.  The people in Palestine, however, were so caught up in the wonder of Jesus’ physical cures that they couldn’t understand that Jesus was simply using these cures as signs.  They were healings of the body that foreshadowed the more radical healing of the soul.

We shouldn’t fault these people in the Gospel.  After all, who among us, when faced with disease, doesn’t find it easy to get caught up in the misery and suffering it brings about?  All you want is for the suffering to be over.  “Life on earth is a drudgery,” as Job says in the First Reading.  Suffering seems to consume your life.

So it’s easy to see why a person in the first century, suddenly and dramatically freed from serious sickness, would look upon Jesus as his Messiah for that very reason.  Nonetheless, Jesus’ purpose in working these cures is to point our attention beyond them to something infinitely greater.

By putting our faith in Jesus—that is, by believing that through His holy Cross He has redeemed the world—we are freed from the slavery of our souls to sin.  But the larger question that Jesus points to in this Gospel passage is not, “What are you a slave to?” (the correct answer being, “Sin”).  The larger question that Jesus points to is, “Who is it who has enslaved you to sin?”  This isn’t a question that the people in the Gospel were ready to hear, but we as Catholics ought to consider this question seriously.  “Who has enslaved you to sin?”

The answer is:  “you have.”  Practically speaking, this is one of the hardest teachings of the Church.  It’s a teaching that often derails a Christian’s efforts at spiritual direction.  We might take it for granted that we are responsible for our actions.  But if we look closely at our actions, we might be surprised how often we deceive ourselves.

Like our first parents, Adam and Eve, there is a constant tendency within us to shift the blame.  “Who ate the apple?  Well, I did, but she made me do it.”  We may not even shift the blame to another person, but rather to the circumstances in which we find ourselves in life.  “If only I didn’t have to be around that person so much, I wouldn’t bother her,” or “only if I didn’t have to finish that work by next week, I would do a better job on it.”

There is no denying that we are influenced by others, even at times perhaps by the Devil himself. Nonetheless, each person must accept responsibility for his or her sinful actions.  When we recognize how powerless we are to do good on our own, and when we accept the fact that it is through God’s grace that we can both be saved and do good works, then we are moving in the direction that Jesus points in today’s Gospel passage.  He is pointing us, through His Cross, towards the very source of all good:  namely, Jesus’ own eternal Father, who, as the priest names Him in the confessional when giving absolution, is “God, the Father of mercies.”

St. Blaise

St. Blaise, Bishop & Martyr
I Kings 3:4-13  +  Mark 6:30-34
February 3, 2018

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

In listening to the words of today’s Gospel passage and applying them to our lives, perhaps we have not listened as carefully—or as fully—as we should have.  In this passage Jesus says to us what Jesus says to His apostles:  “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  He invites them by His words to imitate Him:  He calls them to follow Him to a deserted place.

Jesus leads the apostles there, but when they arrive at the place, Jesus sees a vast crowd.  What does he do?  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, begins feeding the flock with His teaching.  Again Jesus is speaking to His apostles, but this time He invites them by His actions to imitate Him:  He calls them to follow Him into the midst of the crowd.

Jesus’ life in this passage teaches us the meaning of the words of Saint Francis of Assisi:  “O Divine Master / grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console / to be understood as to understand / to be loved as to love.  / For it is in giving that we receive….”

These words of Saint Francis lead us back again to the scene of the Gospel.  Can we see that Jesus is teaching us that to be a faithful shepherd is to be a faithful steward, to offer everything to God, both our work and our rest?  Nothing, not a thing, is ours, not even the rest that we enjoy in the midst of a busy day, for even the rest we are granted prepares us only to serve both God and others more fully.

The Presentation of the Lord

The Presentation of the Lord
Mal 3:1-4  +  Heb 2:14-18  +  Lk 2:22-40
February 2, 2018

“… for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples….”

Today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple might seem a little off kilter.  After all, the Church’s season of Christmas ended some weeks ago, but today we celebrate another mystery of Jesus’ early life.  February 2nd falls forty days after Christmas Day, creating an obvious parallel to the Resurrection and Ascension.  Nonetheless, no matter how long Christmas lasts, today’s feast points our attention towards the giving of presents.

Just as the name of today’s feast is the “presentation” of the Lord, the meaning of the feast shows that the Lord is a present to be given to others.  On the one hand, God the Father gave His only Son as a present to the human family.  But on this feast of the Presentation, we see humans giving this present of Jesus to others, both back to God and to other humans.

For Joseph and Mary this presentation was what we in our day might call a supreme act of stewardship:  they recognized that not only were their time, talent, and treasure from God, but their first-born son as well.  The gift of human life, like a marriage between a man and a woman, only exists through the grace of God.  As an act of stewardship, then, Mary and Joseph present their new-born son back to God, recognizing that God is the ultimate Father of Jesus.

Joseph and Mary’s presentation of Jesus to God the Father was a sacrifice not offered only once.  Joseph and Mary continually offered this sacrifice as Jesus continued to grow.  When Jesus was twelve and Joseph and Mary lost and then found Jesus in the Temple teaching the scribes, Jesus expressed little concern about their worry.  He asked them, “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”  This was not callousness on the part of Jesus, but a call for Mary and Joseph to recognize that as parents, they were not the ultimate meaning of their child’s life.

But even that event of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, as much as it may have initially shaken Mary and Joseph, was almost nothing in comparison to the event that would take place on the Cross on Calvary some twenty years later.  It is there, on Calvary, that the greatest presentation took place:  one to which we join our own selves through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.