Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Samuel 18:9-10,14,24-25,30—19:3  +  Mark 5:21-43
February 1, 2022

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

In today’s Gospel passage are two people who see how God wants to be in their lives in time of need.  Each of you, no doubt, fields petition from those whom you serve.  So many people turn to Christ in need.  If it weren’t for petitionary prayer, the prayer lives of many Christians would never get off the ground!  But it’s a start.  God is content to listen to all the prayers of petition that His children wish to make.

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 each time He says “No” to us, and learning through those experiences of “No” to trust His providential Will more deeply.

OT 04-2

St. John Bosco, Priest

St. John Bosco, Priest
II Samuel 15:13-14,30;16:5-13  +  Mark 5:1-20
January 31, 2022

… 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 reflects what we see in modern Western culture.  We know that evil exists, but we tend to think of it existing only “out there”.

When evil shows itself plainly in our own towns, our own homes, and our own lives, we express disbelief at how such violence could possibly happen “here”.  The sad truth is that sin, violence and death is everywhere, and in every human life.  After all, if it could exist in the earthly lives of Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother, why should we think of ourselves—who are sinners—as exempt from its power?  While each of us needs to practice prudence to deter suffering, we should have no illusions of escaping it.  In the midst of such illusions, Christ has no place.

OT 04-1

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Samuel 12:1-7,10-17  +  Mark 4:35-41
January 29, 2022

“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.

OT 03-6

St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest & Doctor of the Church

St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest & Doctor of the Church
II Samuel 11:1-4,5-10,13-17  +  Mark 4:26-34
January 28, 2022

“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God ….”

Jesus today proclaims two parables about the Kingdom of God.  In wanting to understand these parables, we might wonder what exactly the Kingdom of God is.  Is the Kingdom of God the realm of Heaven, or is it the Church, some measure of both, or something else entirely, such as the individual Christian’s soul?

Jesus never directly addresses this question.  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.

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.  Or as the Church prays to the Father in one of the prefaces for martyrs at Holy Mass:  by “your marvelous works” “in our weakness you perfect your power / and on the feeble bestow strength to bear you witness ….”

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19  +  1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13 [or 1 Cor 13:4-13]  +  Luke 4:21-30
January 30, 2022

But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

While the Scripture readings of any given Sunday’s Mass generally build up to the passage from the Gospel, this Sunday the Second Reading is more likely to grab our attention.  This passage of Saint Paul has much to teach us if we resist the tendency to interpret it according to our own standards.  Instead, we need to allow it to lead us to the heart of the Gospel, where God’s standard is far greater:  more demanding, but also more fulfilling.

In our success-oriented society, we set goals for ourselves and strive with all we’ve got to accomplish them.  If we don’t succeed, we ask what’s wrong with ourselves.  Parents fault themselves over mistakes made by their grown children.  When investments made for one’s future dissolve, it’s easy to feel as if one’s own personal value has dissolved.

Yet in truth, the only fact that finally has meaning in my life is that I am loved by others, not the fact of what I myself accomplish.  Work can be a great good, and is necessary in this world.  But love is a greater good and is necessary for this world as well as the next.  Our lives as Christians are meant to be dedicated to pursuing this greater good that St. Paul preaches about in the Second Reading.

Sometimes “love” is made into something abstract or vague, but today’s Scripture readings help us see God’s love as something very concrete.  Every one of us as a baptized Christian needs to be able to see this love as the goal of our lives.  It is our goal in two senses.  In the second and deeper sense, this love is what those in Heaven experience:  the Presence of God’s eternal love.  Yet in a primary sense, God deigns to allow us a share in this love here and now, if only fleetingly.

Most often, we experience love in the midst of a family.  Yet whether you consider the family that you grew up in, or the family that you chose and created through marriage, or the extended family into which you married, love among human beings is often very fragile.

Regarding this love that Saint Paul preaches about in 1 Corinthians 13, perhaps the most important thing for us to keep in mind is that it calls us beyond ourselves.  That is to say, this love calls us to self-transcendence.  We see the perfect example of this love on Calvary.  This “real love” is, in fact, God’s very essence—Saint John tells us in his first letter that God is love—and therefore this real love is infinite, beyond our capacity to exhaust.

The person who truly loves does not rest in the past, and does not live only for the future.  This person lives rooted in the present, even when this means living amidst distress, as Jesus is in today’s Gospel passage.  We do not seek to exhaust God’s love.  We simply seek to live within it, knowing that in its power we can survive any danger, even if we are carried by love beyond the standards we want to set for ourselves.

According to the world, every person is free to love as he or she sees fit.  But Christ and His Church teach us that there is only one real type of love, and that only this “real love” is strong enough to bind two together, whether in marriage, or in the union between a human person and God.

To live in real love is always to love by God’s standards:  that is, to seek to understand what He wants for us, and then to be willing to do what it takes to make that a reality.  This is difficult because we can so often fool ourselves into thinking that God’s Will and our own so conveniently match.

Only in consistent prayer can a person ask over and over if something is God’s will.  The more important a decision in a person’s life, the more times God should be asked about it in prayer.  The more important a decision in a person’s life, the more one should carry out some sort of penance such as fasting in order to purify one’s own mind and heart of selfish wants and desires, to purify them so that God’s Word can be recognized, be received, and take flesh in one’s life.

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:21-25

“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 to our Lord.

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.  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.

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 sounding like Wall Street tycoons.  Jesus just doesn’t sound fair.  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.

OT 03-4

Sts. Timothy & Titus, Bishops

Sts. Timothy & Titus, Bishops
2 Timothy 1:1-8 [or Titus 1:1-5]  + Mark 4:1-20
January 26, 2022

“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.

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, 2022

“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.

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
II Samuel 5:1-7,10  +  Mark 3:22-30
January 24, 2022

“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.

Ot 03-1