Sunday, January 24, 2021

 

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

(Jonah 3: 1-5.10; I Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20)

One day towards the end of this year we will turn to our neighbors at Mass to shake their hands. We will take the Blood of Christ from the cup. And we will see the smiles on the faces of the children in church. The Corona-19 virus will be arrested. We will be able to rejoice in the Lord. In the gospel we hear of the arrest of John launching another chain of good news.

John is treated in this Gospel of Mark as the last prophet of Israel. Like Isaiah and Amos, John has preached justice to great and humble alike. He even he faced King Herod with inconvenient truth. His arrest means the end of ancient times. Jesus says in truth: "'The time has been fulfilled.'" The new age introduces the Kingdom of God. In other words, the love of God the Father will no longer remain as a memory. It won't just be the story of the victory over Pharaoh or the exploits of David. Rather, it will be as palpable as the warmth of a fireplace when temperatures drop to zero. God will caress all men and women because we are created in his image. Like the one-time popular song said: "He has you and me, brother, in his hands ... he has the whole world in his hands."

We can rest safe now because God has come. But before we rest we have to fulfill Jesus' command: "'Repent and believe the gospel.' In other words, we have to leave selfishness and greed behind to take care of others. We have to protect the dignity of each person, particularly the most vulnerable. A nun tells of her father who was a gynecologist. One day the daughter asked her father if he had ever performed an abortion. He replied, "Yes." "How many?" she asked again. “At least a dozen when I was in my residency - he said - then something happened that made me stop. After doing an abortion one day, I went to tell the patient's sister that the surgery was over. Before I could leave, she asked me if it was alive. I knew that if I answered "no," it would have been a lie and if I answered "yes," I just killed someone. It was the last abortion I ever did”.

Eventually the physician became a Catholic and discerned the call to treat his patients according to the teachings of the Church. He went to train in a city far from his place of origin. The change meant a drastic reduction in income, but it seemed like God's will. He was like the fisherman brothers in the gospel. Simón and Andrés and Santiago and Juan receive a call from Jesus that means great sacrifices. Simón and Andrés leave their nets behind -- their livelihood. Santiago and Juan leave their own father in the boat.

Jesus tells the fishermen that they will be "’ fishers of men. " He is going to teach them how to call others to the kingdom of God. He does not stop calling with the apostles but calls us today. Could it be that we are called to tell others about God's love? Why not? The world needs to hear that God's love reaches every human person. The scope includes aborted fetuses and also their mothers. Somehow we have to convey to women who have had abortions that God still loves them. We have to inform them that if they recognize abortion as a mistake, God will forgive them so that they have peace.

Abortion divides political parties and increasingly religions. It's not leaving anytime soon. As disciples of Jesus, we have to defend human life from conception to natural death. But we don't want to alienate anyone. Rather, we want to be fishermen and women of others by extending the spirit of reconciliation. Yes, it is difficult, but we have Jesus as our teacher.

 

Friday, January 22, 2021

 

Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 24:3-21; Mark 3:13-19)

The man sat down.  He said that he had five children -- four of them still living.  He said one died in childbirth.  Then he named that unforgettable, dead child.  In a sense, he resembled Jesus in today’s gospel choosing his apostles.

 Jesus is setting apart twelve of his growing number of disciples to be his apostles.  He gives special names to three of the troupe.  He calls Simon “Peter” or “Rock” because of the latter’s steadfastness.  He names James and John “Boanerges” because of their impetuosity.  Not all of the twelve will play a memorable part in the history of the Church.  But all have names; all are important.

Today we pray for the scores of millions of babies who have been aborted since the infamous Supreme Court decision.  We cannot give each an individual name because one or both of their parents considered them unimportant.  But we can name the crime that blithely allowed them to be killed.  Let’s call it “irresponsible individualism.”  By doing so, we are saying that their right to life has been denied out of a desire to escape the responsibility of caring for them.  But perhaps we should not condemn those parents too quickly.  They are part of a society which condones sexual permissiveness and cherishes convenience.  Let us then include society in our prayer today.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

 Memorial of Saint, Agnes, virgin and martyr

(Hebrews 7:25-8:6; Mark 3:7-12)

Christians are accustomed to thinking of Jesus as the “Son of God.”  When we say this, we usually have in mind the concept of the Council of Nicea.  In that epic event Jesus was identified as having both a divine and human nature.  He was the Son because of his being eternally begotten by the Father.  The evangelists, writing 250 before Nicea, were not thinking so philosophically.  What did they mean when they called Jesus “the Son”?

In today’s gospel Jesus is said to rebuke evil spirits who call him “the Son of God.”  It should be remembered that at his Baptism a voice from heaven calls him, “my beloved Son.”  In the Gospel of Mark these words are directed to Jesus alone. The voice speaks again at Jesus’ transfiguration, but only the three specially chosen disciples hear it along with Jesus.  Finally at the crucifixion the Roman centurion says openly, “’Truly this man was the Son of God!’”  Only now, when Jesus has given his life, could people understand what being “Son of God” means.  It is not a nametag for a privileged reception, but an identification of one who loves like God.  As a human, this means the willingness to give up one’s whole life for the benefit of others.

We too are “son and daughters of God.”  We have joined ourselves to Jesus who has brought us into his Father’s household.  We have been made into those who love with whole heart and soul.  Loving in this way, we become like St. Agnes, who gave up her life rather than betray God, her Father.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

 Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 7:1-3.15-17; Mark 3:1-6)

A retired police officer recounts his first days in the service.  As a learning exercise, his partner, a veteran, was going to watch him stop and lecture a driver for a minor infraction. When the police officer approached the driver, however, the veteran interrupted the process. He apologized to the driver and allowed him to leave. He then explained to the young policeman that it was not time to reproach the driver because his son was in the car.  He continued that since no one wants to be embarrassed before his children, the man might have reacted irresponsibly. The young officer thanked the veteran for the lesson on the subtleties of good policing. This story may help us understand the drama in the gospel today.

Jesus' question of whether it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil contains a lesson for the Pharisees.  It is the Sabbath, and Jesus is about to do a good deed for a person in considerable need.  On the other hand, the Pharisees are about to do evil in plotting Jesus’ demise.  Unfortunately, the Pharisees, unlike the young policeman in our story, cannot see Jesus’ point.  There zealotry for religious dominance has clouded their judgment.

As the Pharisees, our judgment is often compromised by the force of our egos.  We do what is wrong thinking that we are doing something good.  We might pray to the Holy Spirit for discernment. Also, conferring with a wise friend may help us avoid this pitfall.  We, who listen to the word of God daily, should take care not to act like the Pharisees of this gospel passage.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

 Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 6:10-20; Mark 2:23-28)

A young man was criticizing the Church’s emphasis on eternal life.  He thought that it would not bring many of his generation to practice their faith.  Better, he said, to stress community and social action.  These latter pursuits form parts of the Catholic agenda.  But the Church can hardly prioritize them over eternal life.  The latter rises from the depths of our souls and gives meaning to God’s love for us.  Today’s reading from Hebrews keeps eternal life first and foremost on the Christian agenda.

The author begins by exhorting the addressees to cherish the promise of eternal life.  He then argues biblically that God will bestow eternal life on those who believe until the end.  He also calls the hope of eternal life an “anchor” or mainstay to keep believers on track.  Finally, he sees Jesus as both a model and an instrument of the Christian’s gaining eternal life.

Eternal life sounds to many like “pie in the sky.”  They see other purposes for religion like identity and social solidarity.  These latter pursuits deserve attention since they form part of the reality that is the Church.  However, eternal life is the deepest truth of faith that biblical religion has taught.  Hope of it has resulted in unparalleled accomplishments for the Church.  First, the Church has existed – despite persecution and corruption – for almost two thousand years.  Second, the Church has created an understanding of reality that is as profound as it is comprehensive. And, most of all, the Church has nurtured countless men and women to live wonderfully good lives.