Monday, February 1, 2021

 Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 11:32-40; Mark 5:1-20)

A young monk was having great difficulty.  He could not pray but kept thinking of women.  He went to an old monk for help.  He told the veteran that he wanted to leave the monastery.  The old monk encouraged him to stay.  Then he took the youth to the roof of the monastery and told him to look at the western sky.  When the young monk raised his eyes, he saw hundreds and hundreds of warriors in a war dance.  The elder said that they were devils ready to launch an attack on people.  Then he directed the young monk to look at the eastern sky.  When he did, he saw a throng of thousands preparing a defense.  The old monk said that these were angels of Christ preparing to come to the young monk’s aid.  They the old monk told the young monk to go back to his cell and call upon the Lord.  The young monk did so assured that he could overcome temptations.

The story parallels today’s gospel.  A legion, which is roughly five or six thousand soldiers, of devils pit themselves against Jesus.  They are powerful but really no match for the Lord.  Jesus makes them reveal their identity and then directs them to a herd of swine where they are vanquished. 

Jesus can help us when we feel unable to overcome some difficulty.  This may be the desire to look at pornography or perhaps resistance to do some necessary task.  We have to call upon him and ask him, like we might a doctor, to assist us.  He will not refuse our request.

Sunday, January 31, 2021


(Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; I Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28)

The other day there was a review of a science book in the newspaper. The reviewer praised the author as exceptional. He said that the author can explain complicated ideas like dark matter. Also, the reviewer went on, the author’s Nobel prize makes him a proven authority. This author seems similar to Jesus in the gospel today.

It is Saturday, the day dedicated to the Lord. Jews come to the synagogue to learn about God and give Him praise. Jesus enters the place. It is not said whether he is a regular teacher or comes as a guest. Anyway, he starts teaching. As if he had a doctorate from Oxford, his words catch everyone's attention.

Then the cry of a demon interrupts Jesus' instruction. We hear many references to demons in the Gospels. They seem like leftovers from ancient times. But the presence of demons in the gospels is not without meaning to us. Here the demon represents lack of education. The demon that the master Jesus orders out of the man is ignorance, foolishness, and superstition.

Before leaving the man, the devil reveals who Jesus is. He is not an ordinary teacher but "the Holy One of God." To appreciate what this phrase means, we should turn to the first reading. According to Deuteronomy God has promised Israel a prophet who will speak for him. He will have God's own words in his mouth. The "Holy One of God", Jesus, is the prophet promised to Moses many centuries earlier.

The words of Jesus burn in the hearts of the people. They resonate with the hard truth that catches our attention as well. Take what he says about lust.  Is it not true: "'Whoever looks at a woman with lust, has already committed adultery with her in his heart'"? Jesus also speaks plainly without lengthy explanations and multiple Scripture citations. In fact, on different occasions, the words of Jesus run against the Old Testament. He says, for example: “’ There is nothing outside of a person that by entering him can contaminate him; rather, what comes from inside a person is what contaminates him.’" Like the people in the Capernaum synagogue, we have to say that he speaks with his own authority.

Today the same thing can be said of the Church. The Church teaches with authority because it interprets what Jesus says in the gospel.  In many cases, the Church speaks against worldly trends.  We all know about her unpopular teachings on abortion and contraceptives. Pope Francis has been assertive with social doctrine as well. He says in the title of his most recent encyclical letter that we are all brothers and sisters: " Fratelli Tutti." Inside the letter the pope explains what Jesus would have us do for immigrants. He says that Jesus obliges us to make friends with immigrants. Francis continues that Jesus wants us to reach out to help immigrants start a new life free of harassment. The Pope is not inciting disorder.  He insists that there are tolerable means within our reach to alleviate the suffering of many immigrants.

Human migration presents rich countries with a great challenge. The walls they build and the devices they use to stop migration are of little practical use. Immigration will continue. Instead of resisting it at great cost to life both physically and spiritually, we have to accommodate it. Pope Francis teaches us that immigrants are our brothers and sisters. Somehow, we have to accommodate them in our midst.

Friday, January 29, 2021

 Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:32-39; Mark 4:26-34)

Every year for the last forty-seven years, thousands of demonstrators come to Washington for the March for Life.  The demonstration proposes “to end abortion by uniting, educating, and mobilizing pro-life people.”  The magnitude of the march has varied through the years, but the tendency is to have increasing numbers.  Demonstrators have a sense of joy and comradeship.  It exemplifies the kingdom of God which Jesus parabolizes in today’s gospel.

Jesus says that the kingdom begins as something small like a seed of grain.  Once planted, however, it grows giving sustenance like wheat or comfort like a mustard tree.  The kingdom is God’s presence that both touches and satisfies us.  Corporately, the kingdom brings peace and joy. Individually, it blossoms into eternal life.

We might see Jesus himself as the kingdom.  He offers his friendship to us through the sacraments.  He makes our life easier because he helps us to do what is right.  He makes death a joy, once we get beyond the dying.  Then he will welcome us into eternal life.

Thursday, January 28, 2021


Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

(Hebrews 10;19-25, Mark 4:21-25)

Of all the theologians in history few have left a mark quite as indelible as St. Thomas Aquinas.  He is like the lampstand that Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel.  Set on him, Jesus, the light of the world, is made visible to guide the people.

Thomas was born into a noble Italian family.  There was little doubt that he would become a priest.  But he left behind family influence which would have him become a Benedictine abbot.  He followed the Lord’s calling into the Dominican Order.  There he was tutored by St. Albert the Great. Surpassing the brilliance of his mentor, Thomas became a master teacher in Paris.  His opus magnus, the Summa Theologiae, synthesizes Aristotle and Augustine and other prominent thinkers.  But its first and foremost sourcebook is the Scriptures.  Thomas interprets the Scriptures thoroughly, consistently, and perceptively.

Unfortunately, reading Thomas presents a challenge.  Although his Latin is not intricate, the words in his time often have different meanings than in the classical period or today.  Also, the scholastic format seems redundant and abstract.  But taking pains to read Thomas gives the reader an exalted appreciation of both faith and whom faith reveals, the Lord God.

 Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:11-18; Mark 4:1-20)

Artists in New Mexico for many years have featured the story-teller.  This motif shows a woman sitting down with children not just around her but hanging from her.  She is the popular story-teller who can lift listeners’ hopes to new heights.  In today’s gospel Jesus is presented as a popular story teller.

The people crowd about him.  Evidently he has already achieved fame not just as a healer but also a preacher.  He can make the people cry with joy and shake with fear.  In today’s passage they wonder about what kind of ground they have become. They ask themselves, “Am I hard, weedy, or rocky soil? How am I impeding the word of God from growing in me?” Some of them, however, are properly tilled.  They take time for prayer so that they remember God’s goodness and other persons’ difficulties.  They weed out excessive desire by avoiding provocative stimulation.  They form good habits that crush the clods of pride and sloth. 

Jesus still speaks to us with his challenging stories.  But the most meaningful story of them all is not the one he told but the one he lived.  He allowed himself to be tortured and killed so that our sins may not ruin us.  As the reading from Hebrews intimates, he died on the cross so that we might live glorious lives in him.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

 Memorial of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus, bishops

(II Timothy 1:1-8; Mark 3:22-30)

St. Paul worked incessantly for the gospel.  But he also counted on assistance of collaborators.  The saints whom the Church commemorates today helped Paul as both companions and ambassadors.  St. Timothy accompanied Paul the second time the apostle set forth from Antioch to evangelize.  Paul sent him to Thessalonica where Christian converts were being persecuted.  Paul wrote Timothy two letters intimating a father-son relationship although their authenticity is questioned.  It is said that Timothy was martyred in Ephesus.

Titus too traveled with and for Paul.  He was sent to Corinth to find out how Paul’s letter to the community there was received.  Later Paul ordained Titus as bishop of Crete.  Titus serves as an example of Paul’s regard for Judaism.  Because he was not born a Jew, Paul did not want him circumcised since that would imply need of the law for salvation.   It is said that Titus died of natural causes at an old age.

These two saints mostly magnify the greatness of Paul.  No doubt for that reason they are celebrated the day after the feast of Paul’s conversion.  They also show us that humble service of a great cause is itself worthy of praise. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

 Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle

(Acts 22:3-16; Mark 16:15-18)

Ending the Week of Christian Unity on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul may give the impression that Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic Christians hope to convert one another.  But this, of course, is not at issue in the ecumenical project.  The occasion is nevertheless appropriate because all people must undergo continual conversion if they are to become holy.  The Shaker song “Tis a Gift to Be Simple” expresses this necessity well: “… by turning, turning we come round right.”

Paul’s life underwent various conversions.  The most dramatic turning is recorded in today’s first reading where Paul is changed from a zealous Jew to a follower of Christ.  Another turning point comes with the attempt to preach logically to the Athenians at the Areopagus.  Rebuffed, he decides that from then on, he will preach only Christ crucified.  Perhaps another conversion takes place as Paul stops preaching to Jews in synagogues and starts talking to pagan clients as he plies his tent-making trade.

Most of us would do well to attempt the following simple conversion.  Rather than refrain from talking about religion with others because of the differences it arouses, we should declare what God has done in our lives.  We might also ask our associates to tell about their faith experiences.  Also, sharing prayer as we break bread and perhaps again at the end of an evening will weave webs of mutual respect.  In these ways and, of course, with God’s grace, eventual unity will take place.

Sunday, January 24, 2021



(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. 

Monday, January 18, 2021


Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 5:1-105; Mark 2:18-22)

Today Americans celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The civil rights leader articulated the hopes of African Americans and indeed of Black people everywhere.  He declared that his people were tired of being dismissed as inferiors.  He asserted that each person be judged individually by character and not generally by skin color.  In his day Jesus’ preaching had such dynamic force.

In today’s gospel Jesus gives the basis for Christians not following Jewish dietary and liturgical customs.  He tells the people that the freshness of his teaching requires new practices.  Most likely Jesus himself did not advocate eating pork or worshipping on the first day of the week.  But he did see their possibility as he talked of the need of a new cloak and new wineskins.

As we follow Jesus, we should see his perspective reflected in the preaching of Dr. King.  Both advocated compassion and demanded justice.  Both envisioned a society based on what Pope Francis calls “social friendship.”  Both recognized that their common message will cause opposition.  And both had the courage to continue voicing it out of love.

Sunday, January 17, 2021


(I Samuel 3: 3-10.19; I Corinthians 6: 13-15.17-20; John 1:35-42)

The spiritual journey is said to begin with the question, "What are you looking for in life?" It should come as no surprise that everyone responds in the same way. Everyone seeks happiness. But what does happiness consist of? This seems to be the purpose of Jesus' question in the gospel today.

Jesus asks John's disciples: "'What are you looking for?'" Different people want different things. In the second reading, Saint Paul reproaches the Corinthians for seeking physical pleasure. He says that the fornicator desecrates his own body because he unifies with a foreigner what has been dedicated to the Lord. It would be akin to turning a temple into a discotheque. Others desire power or prestige or money in their pursuit of happiness. The problem is that even if one indulges in these pursuits, happiness in time will vanish like snow on a warm day.

Andrew and his companion have another objective in mind as they search for happiness. They want a close relationship with God. Therefore, they answer Jesus' question by saying that they want to see where he lives. John has told them that Jesus is the "'Lamb of God'". Where he is then, his Shepherd will be. In the first reading the boy Samuel hears the voice of God emitted from the Ark. To this Samuel responds: “’Speak, Lord; your servant listens to you.'" The word "listen" indicates obedience. For to obey is derived from the Latin words ob and audire meaning to hear. The disciples try to serve the Lord by heeding his words.

Once a religious sister described the call of God that she had as a young woman. She said that she had struggled a lot with the idea of ​​a religious vocation. She wondered if she had not been like Mary when the angel told her that she was going to be the mother of God. As Mary responded, "’How can it be?,’" the sister could not believe that God was calling her to religious life. However, she eventually surrendered, in her words, "to the goodness and love of God."

The call to religious life, the priesthood, and the diaconate is not found every day. It demands a particular courage because the one who has been called has to go against the drift. Most people have families of their own that give them enormous meaning. In contrast, the religious and the priest have the community of faith.  This brings them both respect and indifference. Yes, people love nuns and priests. But in almost all cases the affection does not last long due to changes of assignments.

The Lord's call extends to the laity as well. Like the religious, the laity must pray regularly and serve the Lord. The Second Vatican Council insisted on the layperson's call to holiness. We all know examples of committed lay persons. An obituary appeared in the newspaper the other day describing the life of a certain layman called to holiness. It said the man was a successful farmer who also helped African Americans in their struggle for civil rights. He served in his parish as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and an instructor of the Bible. Asked how he wanted to be remembered, he replied: "As a Christian who believed in the brotherhood of man and tried to live that truth with his family, friends, and community."

Is it possible to live as a Christian without being called to a life close to Jesus? Can one be a true Christian if after attending Mass on Sunday he does whatever he wants on Monday? Or can a person be a Christian who does not pray, but regularly does charitable works? We have to answer "no" to these questions because the disciple of Christ must always follow him. However, we must admit that we are all in the process of conversion. The Lord has called everyone. For one reason or another some take longer to respond.

Some bishops are at pains when talking about vocations. They know that everyone has a call from God, be it to religious life, the sacrament of Holy Orders, or the committed laity. But bishops today are in enormous need of priests and religious. This is not a win and lose game. May more lay people respond to the call of Jesus. So as the grains of wheat spring from shoots, there will be more women and men with the courage to go against the drift.

Friday, January 15, 2021

 Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 4:1-5.11, Mark 2:1-12)

Americans have been confused about their founding principles.  Some have come to believe that the root principles of America are economic.  They now say that greed motivated slavery which enabled America’s prosperity.  A truer understanding of the country’s foundation will give priority to biblical religion.  The original settlers and participants of the American Revolution believed that God entrusted this great land to them.  They were not to exploit the native people or one another.  They were to build a society based on righteousness.  To be sure, many were blind to the evil of slavery, but at their best they created a just system.  The first reading today insists that Hebrew Christians maintain the biblical faith as well.

The so-called letter to the Hebrews reads more like an exhortative sermon.  The author pleads with Christians of Jewish descent not to forget God’s promise to Abraham and fulfilled in Christ.  Evidently, these Christians, as so many in the first century, were being persecuted.  Some were forsaking their baptismal promises.  The author tells them in today’s section that if they abandon Christ, they will lose eternal life.

We may not be moved by the revisionists finding an alternative basis for American society.  But we may be tempted to give up biblical religion.  We may make money our god or think that science has the answers to life’s mysteries.  We need to recommit ourselves to Christianity by repenting of covetousness.  In this way not only will America recover its true purpose, but also Americans may regain the road to eternal life.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

 Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 3:7-14; Mark 1:40-45)

Most have heard that leprosy in the Bible is not to be equated with modern, disastrous leprosy.  In Scripture leprosy is a mild, infectious skin ailment.  Yet lepers in Scripture are isolated and their officially attested before reintegration.  Interestingly, Jesus does not fear confronting the disease in today’s gospel.

Mark describes Jesus as fearless as the leper imposes himself on him.  The leper comes up to him.  Jesus then touches the leper to remedy his infection.  Now Jesus is contaminated while the leper is cured.  Mark does not say that Jesus has contracted the disease, but he does note that Jesus becomes isolated.  News of the cure confines him to “deserted places.”  But the people don’t care.  More cogent than the need to avoid contamination is their desire to see this divine messenger. 

This past year has been a long lesson on infectious diseases and how to prevent their spreading.  We know that we should keep apart from anyone with whom we do not live.  Jesus’ touching the leper should not move us to defy this convention.  But it should inspire us to go to Jesus with our ailments.  Mentally of physically troubled, we will find in Jesus a resolution to our problem.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021


Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 2:14-18: Mark 1:29-39))

In the 1940’s and 1950’s several priests in France set out early in the morning to work in factories.  Seeing that many laborers had stopped coming to church, these “worker-priests” decided to bring the gospel to them.  It became a contentious experiment, however.  Worker-priests supported union organizing which was opposed by managers, who did go to church.  Eventually, the worker-priests were told by the hierarchy to leave their jobs.

The worker-priest movement might have found its inspiration in today’s first reading.  As Jesus Christ experienced the human condition, worker-priests worked side-by-side with laborers.  The reading is quite explicit.  Jesus was tried by suffering so that he might help others who suffer.  No doubt, worker-priests suffered as well.  They went to work before dawn when they might have slept until the hour of daily mass.  They also had to face rejection for their attempt to preach the gospel.

Suffering is part of every human life, but especially the Christian life.  Jesus tells his disciples to take up their cross and follow him.  He means that we are not to shun but to embrace suffering as a way of serving him.  When we are sick, we can bear with the discomfort as an offering to God for others’ sake.  When we are well but find it distasteful to visit the sick, we should not shirk that service. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

 Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 2:5-12; Mark 1:21-28)

Suffering is ambivalent.  It breaks some.  They become bitter, insensitive, and wicked.  It ennobles others.  Under proper tutelage suffering strengthens many to resist evil, sensitizes them to others’ pain, and moves them to call upon God.  During the great depression the experience of want catalyzed stinginess in some and sharing in others.  Today’s first reading claims that Jesus was perfected through suffering.

The author of the letter has Jesus’ passion and death in mind.  Crucifixion has been called the severest of tortures.  Jesus’ torment was magnified by anticipation of the pain.  Knowing that he would suffer for others did not necessarily lighten the load.  When Jesus looked on his disciples sleeping in the garden, he might have wondered if his ordeal was worth it.  To his advantage, however, Jesus had the Holy Spirit as his guide.  The Spirit turned the evil of the disciples into Jesus’ springboard of generosity.

The Holy Spirit, who is God, will use secondary causes to achieve its ends.  We might attribute growth in suffering to the example of parents or the wisdom of a friend.  But ultimately it is the Spirit who brings about good.  We should pray to the Holy Spirit when we cope with suffering with a trial.  The Spirit will arrange that the suffering accrue to our benefit.


Monday, January 11, 2021

 Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 1:1-6; Mark 1:14-20)

The four gospels are read almost entirely at mass on weekdays every year.  Today’s gospel begins the reading of the Gospel according to Mark.  When it is finished sometime in late spring, Matthew’s gospel will be started.  Finally, Luke’s gospel is read for most of the fall.  John’s gospel is reserved for the Easter season.  Selections from all four gospels are read during Lent, Advent, and Christmas. 

In today’s gospel Jesus is seen preaching, “’Repent, and believe in the Gospel.’” This sounds like a relatively easy command to fulfill.  It isn’t.  Mark will illustrate what it means in the very next scene.  Jesus calls first Peter and Andrew and then James and John to follow him.  They must suddenly leave livelihood in the first case and family in the second to “’believe in the Gospel.’”

Men hear such a radical call today when they know that it is time to stop looking at pornography.  Women sense the same call when they realize that they should stop dressing seductively.  These are hard commands to follow.  Something inside our brains tells us that salacious pictures and promiscuous dress will satisfy our needs.  But the Lord knows better than where our true interests lie.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

(Isaiah 55: 1-11; I John 5: 1-9; Mark 1: 7-11)

We can see "ofertas” or “offers" on the streets of any Latin American city. These are bargains to buy meats, clothes, soaps, and almost anything. However, we cannot take advantage of all of them. We have a limited amount of money. We want to buy only what is worth the most to us. For this reason, the offer in the first reading interests us.

The prophet Isaiah presents the new covenant that God makes with his people as a street offer. God will grant us what we need to live truly well. He says the benefits of the covenant are more desirable than "rich fare." He describes these benefits as if they were bread, wine, and milk. But they are really spiritual helps: His love, His protection, and His Holy Spirit.  Best of all, they won't cost us anything. It is an offer that we should not overlook.

We will not have to pay money, but we will have to repent of prejudices and forbidden secrets. Through the pandemic of this past year, God has left us traces of these faults. The difficulty of staying home has taught us how we have distanced ourselves from our families. The spread of the virus by associating freely has shown us the risk of our independence. Perhaps the hardest lesson has been the proximity of death. We may not have as much time as we thought to reconcile ourselves with both God and neighbor.

We find it difficult to fulfill the terms of this covenant until we consider its greatest asset. God will send us His own Son to enlighten our minds and strengthen our wills. The second reading lists three testimonies to his presence. First, his baptism in water has taught us that he has really come as a human. His attention to the poor will guide our way to justice. Second, his bloody crucifixion has gained for us forgiveness of sins. There is no reason to worry about past misdeeds since they are abolished. Finally, the Holy Spirit has been released to us through his resurrection. Aided by the Spirit, Christians perform works of mercy testifying to Christ’s presence in his Body, the Church.

The baptism of Euphemius, a boy who lived in the fifth century, can help us understand the new covenant.  It is the morning of Easter before dawn. Euphemius and other catechumens are in the vestibule of the baptistery. Although it is cold, they are told to undress. Then Euphemius and his companions are directed to face the west where darkness consumes the sunlight. Each one says forcefully that he denounces the king of shadows and death. Then they turn to the rising sun. Each professes their acceptance of Christ, the king of light and life, whose resurrection has conquered death. After being covered with oil, they enter the interior of the baptistery. They look up at the mosaic of Jesus standing in the Jordan with John pouring water over him. The mosaic shows the hand of God the Father pointing to the dove-like Holy Spirit hovering over Jesus. Seeing this, Euphemius and his companions realize that they are being formed in the living image of this mosaic.

Each one individually gets into the warm water. The bishop asks the one standing in the water if he believes first in the Father, then in the Son, and finally in the Holy Spirit. Each time the person answers “yes,” the deacon pushes him backward into the water. After the three immersions, the baptized person comes out of the water and fragrant oil is lavishly poured over his head. He is then dressed in a white tunic and waits for the others to finish the rite. When everyone finishes, the baptized enter the church together. People are singing: “Christ is risen from the dead. By his death he has crushed death and has given life to those who lay in the tomb.” None of the baptized could deny these words because they have just felt the force of their reality.

Today our baptisms are not as dramatic as that of Euphemius and companions. But the reality is the same. Baptism forms us in the likeness of Christ so that we may reflect his love in the world. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Friday after Epiphany

(I John 5:5-13; Luke 5:12-16)

It is no longer fashionable and much less considered necessary to believe in Jesus today.  In most societies Christianity is an option for taking or leaving.  Few are going to be denied a job, a loan, or a scholarship because they have not made a profession of faith.  Then why believe, some may ask?  The simple answer is that we believe because of the promises that faith makes.  However, there are also testimonies on behalf of faith.  Todays’ first reading mentions three.

The author writes of three that testify: water, blood, and the Spirit.  Water refers to Jesus’ baptism which inaugurated his ministry.  Certainly Jesus’ many marvelous deeds and his wisdom testify that he is the Son of God.  But Jesus was more than Socrates, for example, another wise man condemned to death.  Jesus’ crucifixion cross showed him to be the sacrificial lamb whose death expiated human sin.  His blood, therefore, testified to his being God’s Son.  Finally, the author posits the Spirit as giving testimony.  Here the testimony is made by his followers, the “body of Christ.”  Proportioned the Spirit with Jesus’ death, they testify by martyrdom and by charity.

There will always be a tension between faith and testimony.  Although we believe and testify by our actions to Jesus as Lord, we look for support for our faith.  We need not worry as doubts arise.  Faith by definition is not scientific certainty.  It still is solid ground.  It will lead us with integrity through life and bring us to the threshold of our promised goal.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Thursday after Epiphany

(I John 4:19-5:4; Luke 4:14-22)

In two weeks the world will focus on Joe Biden.   People everywhere will watch him swear to faithfully fulfill the office of President of the United States.  Then they will tune their ears to his inaugural address.  They will try to discern his priorities as chief executive.  Will he criticize China?  Will he have reconciling words for Republicans?  Today’s gospel presents an analogous situation.  Jesus is making what amounts to an inaugural speech in the synagogue of Nazareth.

Jesus does not show any interest in reforming Jewish liturgical practices.  Rather, he emphasizes care for the marginalized.  He will preach to the poor, free the oppressed, and give sight to the blind.   The people like what they hear.  They are tired of injustice and want relief for the suffering.  The course that Jesus will follow will alienate some of these current backers.  He courts only God’s favor.  He will demand that the people repent of selfishness and assist the needy.

We might see ourselves in an inaugural situation.  With vaccinations we be making a fresh start after a hard year.  We are wise to discern the lessons learned in 2020.  It is important that we consider how our actions may affect the vulnerable.  We want to care for the elderly and assure that the poor are treated fairly.  We should make Jesus’ proposals our own.  They will guide us to his glory.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021


Wednesday after Epiphany

(I John 4:11-18; Mark 6:45-52)

Americans have been said to gain on the average a pound of body weight over the holiday season.  That may not sound too bad, but a problem emerges when the added pound accumulates over years.  Yet as great a threat as obesity presents to health, there is still a greater danger in holiday feasting.  Like the disciples in the gospel today, we may not understand what the abundance of food means.


We share our food during Christmas as a means of anticipating the eternal feast in heaven. At the Incarnation we receive in our midst the one with the place of honor at the eternal banquet.  Of course, this image of a heavenly feast is speculative.  Since we do not know what eternity is like, we imagine it in terms of a wonderful communal experience.  We say it is like a banquet with the best of company and of food.  Scripture often projects this image of a banquet table for the fulfillment of God’s plan. St. Paul, however, is more discreet in describing heaven.  Citing Isaiah, he writes, ‘“…eye has not seen, and ear has not heard…what God has prepared for those who love him.’”


Feasting, of course, does not continue throughout the year.  Most days we exert ourselves carrying out the mandates Christ has given us.  On some days we fast to show our love for God.  In these ways we also guard against the threat of obesity.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

 Memorial of Saint John Neumann, bishop

(I John 4:7-10; Mark 6:34-44)

The story of Jesus’ feeding of the is told in all four gospels.  It is also proclaimed at mass throughout the year.  The narrative is central to the Catholic understanding of the identity and mission of Jesus.  It shows Jesus as the bread of life who has come to bestow eternal life to believers in him.

In today’s first reading the author says that God shows His love for humans by sending us His Son.  It was not just a “once and for all” event.  Rather God sends His Son to us all the time in the Eucharist.  The Son Jesus Christ does not only become part of us.  Paradoxically, by eating His body and drinking his blood, we become more part of him.  We become more loving and truthful as we secure a place for ourselves in his body, the Church.

Today, especially the Church in the United States remembers St. John Neumann.  He immigrated to the United States from Bohemia.  Once here, he presided over the Eucharist thousands of times as a priest and then as a bishop.  Naturalized a citizen, he became the first saint of the United States.

Monday, January 4, 2021

 Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious

(I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17.23-25)

As a new year takes hold, the gospel today pictures Jesus’ new, vigorous ministry.  People come to him from all over for healing.  His popularity will last only a short time.  Soon the Pharisees will begin to oppose him, and the people will lose faith.

Opposition sets the tone of the first reading.  The author takes to task former members of his community who follow another “spirit” or belief.  Evidently, the opposition believes that Jesus did not come “in the flesh” but was a purely spiritual being. Such a belief has enticing corollaries. One is that the body is unimportant and may be treated in any way one likes.  Sexual promiscuity would even be possible with such an ideology.

Today the Church remembers Elizabeth Ann Seton, a person for whom the body was very important.  This American Catholic convert saint suffered much grief with the loss of loved ones.  She also worked tirelessly to build up a religious congregation to educate Catholic children.  In following Jesus, she serves as a model of courageous witness and good deeds.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

 THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD, January 3, 2021

(Isaiah 60: 1-6; Ephesians 3: 2-3.5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

Who are the magi? They are not kings even though they carry exquisite gifts. Nor are they magicians. They are researchers. They study the heavens and the earth in search of truth. We can consider them wisemen since they are looking for more than knowledge of physical reality.  They also want to know the meaning behind the reality.

The magicians focus on the star. It represents nature in all its complexity and the extent of existence. Through nature we can know something about God. At least it can be concluded that God exists as the creator of the universe. We can also deduce from nature that God expects justice from humans. Everyone has a conscience to distinguish between good and bad. We know that it is bad to murder one’s neighbor and good to give alms to the poor.

However, we cannot know God through nature. We could not say that God is loving and merciful without His help. For this reason the magicians have to consult the Jews for the whereabouts of the "king of the Jews." The Jews have the self-revelation of God Himself. They know where the “ruler, who to shepherd… Israel,” will be born.

Curiously, the Jews do not want to accompany the magi in their search for truth. In fact, when hearing of the newborn "king of the Jews," Herod, their leader, becomes jealous. In time he will devise a plot to kill him. Certainly not everyone seeks truth. Some have other goals in life. Instead of seeking truth, they want pleasure, money, or power.

These people could not appreciate the glory of God in Jesus Christ if they found him. They think of sacrifice as insanity, simplicity as lack of success, and humility as personal flaw. In contrast, the magi rejoice when they find Jesus. He who is going to sacrifice himself to redeem the world is met as the infant son of a carpenter. He does not live in a palace but an ordinary house. Like Simeon in the Gospel according to Saint Luke, the Magi see the light to all nations in the face of the child Jesus.

Many young people today consider themselves seekers. They do not want to declare themselves as practicing any religion. They dismiss Catholicism as petrified with ancient rules and customs. They want beliefs in accordance with the truth of the self, the environment, and the equality of all people. We believe that if they investigate reality at its roots like the magi, they will find this truth in Jesus Christ. He no longer lives in a house in Bethlehem but in the church that he founded. It is up to us, members of that church, to show young people that rules and customs are not impediments but links. They connect us with the magi of the first century and the saints throughout history. More to the point, they put us in touch with Jesus Christ, King of the Jews and Redeemer of the world.