Thursday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 7:25—8:6  +  Mark 3:7-12
January 19, 2023

He warned them sternly not to make Him known.

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 fact He commands others—both friend and foe—not to reveal.  This warning/command comes from the nature of Jesus’ mission on earth.  How is this so?

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 folly of the Cross turned away many whom Jesus came to save.

If Jesus revealed His identity, it was only to advance His mission.  If Jesus was to advance His mission, He must 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 whom He wished to save.  The purpose of the “Messianic Secret”, then, is the prudential progression of His self-revelation.  That is, the purpose seeks 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.

Wednesday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 7:1-3,15-17  +  Mark 3:1-6
January 18, 2023

But they remained silent.

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.  In this we see that the Cross was Jesus’ vocation.

The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Ash Wednesday is February 22nd.

The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 8:23—9:3  +  1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17  +  Matthew 4:12-23 [or 4:12-17]
Catechism Link: CCC 541
January 22, 2023

… so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.

The Word of God became Flesh and dwelt among us [John 1:14].  Yet He dwelt among us so that He could die for us.  On Calvary on Good Friday, the Word sacrificed Himself—Flesh and Blood, soul and divinity—to God the Father.  The meaning of this singular act of self-sacrifice is two-fold:  first, that sinners might be reconciled to God, so that God might then make them His adopted children.  Christians are adopted children of God by sharing in the sonship of God’s only-begotten, as members of that Son’s Mystical Body.

The Word of God is a Person.  This truth is often obscured in regard to preaching.  Preaching, of course, is essential to the Word of God’s ministry.  Nonetheless, the preaching of the Word of God is a means to a far greater end, just as the divine Son in all things leads us to the divine Father.

The ultimate end of all preaching is communion with God the Father, through God the Son, in God the Holy Spirit.  Yet in His divine Providence, God chose to accomplish this communion through the cross of Christ.  All of Jesus’ words and works on earth lead to Calvary.  The cross of Christ is the earthly end—the proximate end—of our discipleship.

This Sunday’s Scripture passages focus our attention upon the Word of God.  The Gospel Reading is from only the fourth of the 28 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel account.  The first two chapters, of course, focus on the advent and infancy of Jesus.  So today’s Gospel Reading takes place early in Jesus’ public ministry, and focuses on the basics.

That’s fitting for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The beginning of the Church year, of course, focused on the advent and infancy of Jesus.  So today’s Gospel Reading during the early part of Ordinary Time focuses on the basics of following Jesus.

After Jesus calls two sets of brothers to become “fishers of men”, He labors at three works of public ministry amidst “all of Galilee”.  Jesus teaches, preaches, and cures the sick.  Yet the fact that the short form of today’s Gospel Reading ends by focusing upon Jesus’ preaching suggests how central preaching is to His public ministry.

In fact, the only words that we hear Jesus preaching in today’s Gospel Reading are:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Repentance is the first word of Jesus’ preaching the Word of God.  From the perspective of those who hear the Word of God, repentance is the first word of following Jesus.  When Jesus later commands His disciples to take up their crosses each day [Luke 9:23], this command includes the embrace of daily repentance.

Saint Paul in today’s Second Reading draws our attention to the link between preaching and the cross of Christ.  It’s telling that the occasion for Paul writing this is divisions among the Corinthians.  Paul’s remedy for divisions within the Church is the cross of Christ.  He even speaks to one of the pitfalls that he, as a preacher, has to work to avoid.  This pitfall is the “human eloquence” that captivates in the short term but can bear no lasting fruit, and in fact does lasting harm by creating an expectation and desire within Christians for what is shallow.

The depth of the Word of God is only found finally in the cross of Christ.  Every word of the Old Testament is fulfilled in the cross of Christ on Calvary on Good Friday, just as each word and work during Jesus’ public ministry was so fulfilled.  Every word and work of Jesus after His Resurrection, as every word in the New Testament books that follow the four Gospel accounts, and as every work of the Church in her sacraments, flows from the power of the cross of Christ.  Of no sacrament is this more true than the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, where the Word made Flesh offers Himself in sacrifice, so that we can join sacramentally in His singular act of salvation.

By embracing Jesus’ cross, we can come to communion with the divine Person of Jesus Christ Himself.  Only through this Cross can the Christian enter the life of the Son, and through the Son enter the embrace of the Father.  In the order of salvation, this is the providential role of the Word of God.

St. Anthony of Egypt, Abbot

St. Anthony of Egypt, Abbot
Hebrews 6:10-20  +  Mark 2:23-28
January 17, 2023

“That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

This year, in these first weeks in Ordinary Time, we are hearing at weekday Mass from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews.  This letter is unique in the whole of the Bible in how it bridges the two Testaments.  Early in the history of the Church a heresy existed called Marcionism, whose believers rejected the entire Old Testament.  They did not believe the Old Testament books to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes Christians even today reject every aspect of Jewish belief and thought.  The Letter to the Hebrews beautifully helps us to appreciate our Jewish heritage as members of Christ’s Body.

One of the more common themes of Hebrews is Jesus as our great High Priest.  Many Christians reject the belief that Jesus means for there to be an ordained priesthood within His Church.  Hebrews helps us to see how and why men are called by ordination to share in Jesus’ priesthood.

In today’s First Reading we hear about Abraham, who himself foreshadows the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  The reading specifically mentions the virtues of faith and patience by which Abraham carried out the priesthood he had received from God.  The sacrifice called for from priests—whether those who live out the baptismal priesthood or the ordained priesthood—seems taxing at times.  Yet priestly sacrifice always need to be carried out in light of “the promise” of which we hear in today’s passage.  “And so, after patient waiting, Abraham obtained the promise.”  Keeping in mind God’s promise to us not only gives us hope in the midst of sacrifice.  It helps us offer sacrifice rightly.

Monday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 5:1-10  +  Mark 2:18-22
January 16, 2023

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?”

Today’s Gospel passage might seem confusing to those who wish to be devout Christians.  Along with the contrast between Jesus and John, there is a contrast between feasting and fasting.  Jesus’ disciples in this passage do not fast because He is with them.  Should Christians today, then, take part in the discipline of fasting?  Or would fasting imply a denial of Jesus’ presence and power in our lives?

Jesus gives us the key to applying this contrast to our own lives as 21st century disciples.  He explains, “the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”  But what exactly is “that day”?  In one sense, we could consider “that day” to refer to Good Friday, when Jesus offered His life.

But in a broader sense, you and I need to understand “that day” as referring to the lives of all members of the Body of Christ here below in this vale of tears:  all of us who are members of the Church Militant here on earth.  Although through Baptism and the other sacraments we worthily receive Christ so that He dwells in our souls, as wayfaring pilgrims on earth, we are called to fast.  We fast because our share in Christ’s life is not full.  Only in Heaven may we feast fully on the life of God as members of the Church Triumphant.

Saturday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 4:12-16  +  Mark 2:13-17
January 14, 2023

As He passed by, He saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post.

In today’s Gospel passage from the second chapter of Mark, Jesus lays down part of the foundation for His public ministry.  The events of today’s Gospel took place not long after Jesus’ Baptism, which inaugurated His public ministry.  The last sentence of the passage holds several clues for us about Jesus’ earthly mission.

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”   If we took these words at face value, we might consider “the righteous” to be the Pharisaic scribes who provoked these words from Jesus.  Obviously the scribes considered themselves so.  But like Jesus’ parables and so much else in His preaching, there is a paradox at work.  Jesus turns the popular notions of who is righteous and who is a sinner on their heads.

We could certainly not say that the tax collectors and other “sinners” were made righteous simply by the act of physically dining with Jesus.  But the physical proximity, and the closeness it suggests, make clear that neither Jesus nor the “sinner” shuns the other’s company.  We cannot receive spiritual and moral righteousness from Jesus if we don’t enter His presence and spend time with Him, especially in the sacrificial banquet of the Eucharist.  To shun him there would be to stand like the scribes, aloof and self-righteous.

Friday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 4:1-5,11  +  Mark 2:1-12
January 13, 2023

Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them ….

“Which is easier, to say… ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?”  Jesus’ question to the scribes is rhetorical.  Here, at the beginning of only the second chapter of Mark’s gospel account, we see opposition to Jesus.  It’s true that the scribes are keeping their opposition to Jesus to themselves at this point:  they aren’t even whispering secretively to each other.  They’re only speaking within their own minds, saying, “Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming.  Who but God alone can forgive sins?”

Since He is God, though, Jesus can read their minds.  God can read your mind also.  God knows what sort of opposition dwells in our minds, and keeps us from being His instruments.  Certainly Jesus wanted the scribes to embrace the Gospel.  Jesus wanted the scribes to recognize who He was, to follow Him, and with their talents to serve God, and to spread His Kingdom.  But these tiny thoughts of the scribes—“Why does this man speak that way?”—were the seeds that would blossom three years later into the foul fruit, the foul choice to put the Son of Man to death on the Cross.

It’s because of this, because “Jesus immediately knew in His mind what [the scribes] were thinking”, that He heals the paralytic.  The paralytic man is an instrument that Jesus uses to try and heal the scribes.  In all likelihood, if it had not been for the seeds of doubt that were germinating in the minds of the scribes, Jesus would not have worked this miracle.  But because of the sickness in the scribes’ minds, Jesus uses the sickness of the paralytic to try to heal the scribes.

But unfortunately, there is a huge difference between these two types of sickness:  the sickness of the scribes, and the sickness of the paralytic.  The sickness of the scribes—as is the case with the sins of every sinner—is freely chosen, so these sick persons have to ask freely for healing.

Thursday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 3:7-14  +  Mark 1:40-45
January 12, 2023

… it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.

In today’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus “remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.”  Jesus’ “retreat” is not that of a hermit.  Jesus’ frequent journeys to deserted places was a prudent distancing of himself from those He came into this world to serve.  Jesus wanted at times simply to be in prayerful communion with His Father.

At the same time, perhaps Jesus knew that the people He was sent to serve needed a “breather”.  It’s hard for us to imagine what it was like to hear the Word of God preach the Good News, or work stupendous miracles.  We may imagine that because we’ve seen movies portraying such events, that we have an idea what it was like for those first-century folk.  If so, we underestimate the power of the Word of God made Flesh, and overestimate the power of cinema.

Often implicitly, and sometimes directly, Jesus says that the crowds are misunderstanding Him, even praising Him for the wrong reasons.  Some distance between Him and them, then, was prudent so that the crowds might reflect in their minds and hearts on the mysteries of Christ.  Of course, in the end, the crowds called for His death:  “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  We have cried the same by our sins.  But in the desert of Calvary, Christ offered His life so that throughout all ages to come, people might keep coming to Him from everywhere.

Wednesday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Hebrews 2:14-18  +  Mark 1:29-39
January 11, 2023

Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place, where He prayed.

In the light of Simon’s pursuit of Jesus and his informing Jesus that “everyone” is looking for Him, two actions of Jesus stand out.  Both actions show the falsity of Simon’s claim.

The fact that this passage begins with the cure of Simon’s mother-in-law gives us a glimpse into Simon’s way of thinking.  As more persons are cured, and as word spreads, Simon is convinced that “everyone” is looking for Jesus.

But “rising very early before dawn,” Jesus prayed in a deserted place.  In that “desert” He entered into communion with His Father.  To Jesus, His Father is primary in an ultimate manner.  His Father comes before the crowds that Simon calls “everyone”.

When Simon makes his claim to Jesus, He responds by explaining the need to “go on to the nearby villages”.  Simon is parochial in his thinking, while Jesus wants no one excluded.  At this point in His public ministry, Jesus is preaching and healing “throughout the whole of Galilee.”  As those three years continue, the effects of His ministry spread out in waves.  Ultimately, His ministry culminates in His self-sacrifice on Calvary, which He makes for all mankind throughout all of human history.  This is the “everyone” whom Jesus was sent by His Father to serve.