Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 11:32-40  +  Mark 5:1-20
February 1, 2021

… 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.

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19  +  Mark 4:35-41
January 30, 2021

“‘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.

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 10:32-39  +  Mark 4:26-34
January 29, 2021

With many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.

Jesus today proclaims two parables about the Kingdom of God.  With St. John Paul adding the Mysteries of Light to the Rosary, we meditate in the Third Luminous Mystery upon Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  St. John Paul did not go into great detail about the meaning of each of the new Luminous Mysteries, but—to me at least—that third mystery is the most mysterious of the Luminous Mysteries.  After all, it’s very clear how, for example, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist or the Transfiguration shed light upon—illuminate—who Jesus is.  But how does Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God do so?  We’re forced to meditate upon what exactly the connection is between Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Jesus never directly addresses this question.  His parables are meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive.  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.  Each of these three have a clear relation to Jesus:  the reality of Heaven, the life of the Church, and the nature of the Christian 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.

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Deuteronomy 18:15-20  +  1 Corinthians 7:32-35  +  Mark 1:21-28

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

+     +     +

references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 547-550: Jesus accompanies words with miracles
CCC 447, 438, 550: Jesus’ power over demons
CCC 64, 762, 2595: the role of the prophet
CCC 922, 1618-1620: virginity for the sake of the Kingdom

+     +     +

Every baptized Christian, by virtue of his or her baptism, is called to be a prophet.  Prophecy is not just for large, dramatic figures such as Moses.  Nor is it limited to the mystic past, as in ancient Israel.  Each one of you is called to be a prophet in the midst of your ordinary life.  But what is a prophet?

Biblical prophecy usually concerns the past.  The job of the prophet is to remind God’s People of what He had told them in the past about how to live their lives.  He is not a fortune teller.

When the prophet does speak about the future, he usually relates the future to the past, as in this Sunday’s First Reading.  The prophet says to God’s People something like:  “What you are now doing does not reflect what God asked you in the past to do, and therefore here are the consequences that will happen if you do not change course.”

In a single word, the prophet calls God’s People to integrity.  The prophet sets before God’s People the truth that their lives today must reflect the promises they made to God in the past so that they can enjoy God’s Presence in the future.

Unfortunately, there are many currents in popular culture today that suggest that we don’t need to worry about that.  They tell us that everyone goes to Heaven.  This is why Christians hear very few sermons about sin today, much less about mortal sin.  Such sermons are irrelevant if everyone is going to Heaven.  If everyone is going to Heaven, then the role of prophecy is meaningless.  But of course, that’s not true, and God reveals in today’s Scriptures why not.

As you likely know from experience, people don’t like to be told that they’re making a mistake.  It’s a lot easier just to leave people alone than to risk alienating them.  Conversely, it’s easy to be popular by always telling people what they want to hear.

Anyone who’s a parent knows about this.  Often, a parent has a choice between on the one hand being popular, and on the other hand being faithful to the responsibility of pointing out not only current problems, but also problems that are coming down the pike.

In addition to this responsibility, parents also know of a second important fact about leading their children:  that actions can be just as powerful, if not more powerful, than words.

Parents know instinctively how much their children watch them.  One of the reasons why children watch their parents is to learn how to accomplish things:  how to fish, how to ride a bike, how to sew.  But the other side of this coin is that children learn to understand their parents very well, including their mistakes.  How often, when parents tell their children how to act, do the children reply with, “But you don’t do that!”?  Teaching by example, rather than by words, prevents this.

So when it comes to teaching their children, many parents fear their children calling them hypocrites.  The fear of this single word—hypocrite—does more than anything else to tie the tongues of parents:  to prevent them from carrying out the prophetic office that God calls them to as parents.

This fear is related to another fear:  that children will rebel by saying, “How can you tell me not to do this, when I know that this is what you did when you were my age?”

However, it is not hypocrisy for parents to tell their children not to do something, even when the parents themselves did that very thing when they were young, provided that parents are not doing so now.  It would only be hypocrisy if parents were to tell their children not to do something that the parents were currently doing.  To tell your children not to do something that you once did, but no longer do, is simply teaching based on what you’ve learned from your mistakes, and that’s one form of wisdom, not hypocrisy.  Just as parents want their children to be better off materially than they were growing up, so parents are right to want their children to be better off morally than they were.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest & Doctor of the Church

St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest & Doctor of the Church
Hebrews 10:19-25  +  Mark 4:21-25
January 28, 2021

“The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you ….”

Jesus proclaims two truths for reflection today.  Both might at first hearing seem to discourage the virtue of humility.  But each prepares us for greater service.

When Jesus in today’s Gospel passage notes that a lamp is meant to be “placed on a lampstand”, He does not specifically refer to His disciples here as “the light of the world”, as He does in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:14-16].  Nonetheless, Mark’s text makes the inference clear.  Disciples are not meant to hide themselves, their belief, or Christ from others in the world.  On the contrary, they are called to share the Good News!  This clearly stands in conflict with a culture dominated by moral and religious relativism.

Also, when Jesus in today’s Gospel passage notes that to “the one who has, more will be given” and “from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away”, some might accuse Jesus of being unfair.  But what God gives, He gives for others:  if He gives me a grace or charism, it is for others.  Only in being faithful to serving others with what I have may I hope someday to reach Heaven.  So in someone being given more, he is commanded to greater service of God and His people.

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:1-20

“The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you.”

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 include in his Gospel account.  We might, then, consider the parables Mark includes as his “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), this parable’s size belies its potency.  To choose one simple facet of today’s parable:  who is the sower?  There are at least two answers.  We can consider the sower to be either God the Father, or you as an individual.  Consider the former possibility.

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 tend it as needed to allow the word to take root there.

Sts. Timothy & Titus, Bishops

Sts. Timothy & Titus, Bishops
2 Timothy 1:1-8 [or Titus 1:1-5]  + Mark 3:31-35
January 26, 2021

“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.

The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle

The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
Acts 22:3-16 [or Acts 9:1-22]  +  Mark 16:15-18
January 25, 2021

“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:  a member of Israel’s priestly line.  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 has those new members lay prostrate in the sanctuary of the abbey church.  Then they are covered by 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, and which is merely 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.

Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 9:2-3,11-14  +  Mark 3:20-21
January 23, 2021

“He is out of His mind.”

Today’s Gospel passage is only two verses long.  But what it lacks in length, it makes up for with punch!  Jesus’ relatives “set out to seize Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’”

What were these relatives thinking, and who exactly were they?  We cannot imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary doing and saying such things.  But Jesus of course was from a large extended family, a fact made clear by the Gospel narrative of the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple.  Being related by blood to Jesus clearly was no guarantee of understanding His identity.

Then again, most of those whom Jesus chose to be His Apostles abandoned Jesus in disbelief during Holy Week, after having followed Jesus for three years, witnessing His miracles and hearing His preaching of the Gospel.  So perhaps we need to cut His relatives some slack.  We might, then, realize that while you and I may not exactly be in “good” company when we ignore Jesus’ Lordship over our lives, we at least can point to a biblical precedent, and give thanks for Jesus’ patience with the failures of even those closest to Him.