Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 11:32-40 + Mark 5:1-20
February 4, 2019
…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 Back Yard”. 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 to SportsCenter.
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.
St. Agatha, Virgin Martyr
Hebrews 12:1-4 + Mark 5:21-43
February 5, 2019
She said, “If I but touch His clothes, I shall be cured.”
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 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 in them to trust more deeply His providential Will.
St. Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs
Hebrews 12:4-7,11-15 + Mark 6:1-6
February 6, 2019
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 they require us to exercise our freedom in its deepest sense: that is, 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 (another human person, or God).
Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 12:18-19,21-24 + Mark 6:7-13
February 7, 2019
[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.
Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 13:1-8 + Mark 6:14-29
February 8, 2019
When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Today’s Gospel passage presents a long flashback to the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. It’s notable that St. Mark the Evangelist, so concerned with brevity in his Gospel account, gives so much attention to this narrative. St. John was obviously a figure of importance in relating the Good News to early Christians, even in regard to his death.
What distinguishes St. John the Baptist as a saint? We might say that it’s his particular combination of humility and courage. Sometimes humility (and also meekness) are seen in opposition to courage. In this false light, humility is a form of weakness and submission, involving an inability to stand up for oneself.
In one sense, humility truly is a form of submission. Humility truly means not seeing oneself as the center of the universe, or the king of the hill. In turn, humility truly means recognizing one’s true place in life. This truth tenders a capacity for strength that doesn’t consider earthly life as one’s purpose in life. This truth leads to a courage willing to forfeit one’s earthly life for eternal life. St. John the Baptist witnessed to Christ in his penitence, in his preaching, in his knowing that Jesus must increase and he must decrease, and in his acceptance of the gift of martyrdom.
Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 13:15-17,20-21 + Mark 6:30-34
February 9, 2019
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
In listening to the words of the 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 sometimes attributed to 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 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.