Thursday, January 31, 2008

Memorial of Saint John Bosco


Additional Information about St. John Bosco, Pirest[1]

Readings for Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible (for the Memorial of St. John Bosco)


Today marks the second anniversary of the beginning of this Blog. If you are interested in seeing that very first post it can be found at

Reading 1 2 Samuel 7:18-19, 24-29

Nathan’s oracle has been communicated to David, that the Lord has established the Davidic dynasty. In this passage from 2 Samuel, David now goes to the tent where the Ark of the Covenant is kept (“King David went in and sat before the Lord”) and prays that all God has promised will be fulfilled. The prayer is in the form of a response to a covenant proposed; if you do this… I will do that….

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 132:1-2, 3-5, 11, 12, 13-14
R. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.

Psalm 132 is a song of thanksgiving song by the community as they remember the establishment of God’s salvation expressed in the Davidic dynasty. The promise of God is fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah, who comes from the house of David to rule forever.

Gospel Mark 4:21-25

Jesus continues his private talk with his disciples, explaining the parables he had used when speaking to the crowds from the boat. The description of the lamp placed high so that all can benefit from the light continues the description of the seed that fell on fertile ground in the parable of the “Sower.” It therefore takes the character of a description of the duties of those who hear the word and have it take root in them.

The second part of the reading that speaks of “The measure” again refers to his disciples who are given the gift of the word. In them the word will grow. Yet he seems to understand that one of their number will fall “…from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."


We picture the scene once more. Jesus is sitting on the shore with his disciples after having spent much of the day teaching from a boat so the people could hear. His disciples are gathered around him, listening intently as the Lord explains the parts of his parables that were difficult for them to understand. He had used the parable of the “Sower” and had just finished his explanation that the seed that fell on fertile ground represented those who heard his word and had it take root in them. We pray we are among that number, don’t we.

He continues his explanation now, telling his disciples that what they are giving is not private or secret knowledge. He has not given it to them so they alone can find peace and happiness in their own salvation. No, he asks them the rhetorical question; "Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?” Their duty is to take their understanding into the world – to give it away. There is a resonance in this action. The more they give away their knowledge of the Kingdom of God, the love the father has for us, the greater that knowledge and understanding grows in them. He tells them to listen closely “Take care what you hear.” Each word from the Lord’s lips is precious, it carries life and hope.

Give it away, he tells them, like light from the lamp, let it illuminate all dark places. And the wonder of it, the light will be reflected back and grow and become brighter until it lights up the whole world. And even as he tells them how they will be filled up, perhaps his eyes rest ever so briefly on Judas Iscariot, the Zealot, and he is reminded that not all who hear will understand and even the little wisdom that is imparted will be taken away.

For us, we who have heard the word of love poured out from the Father through his Son, the injunction of Jesus comes to us clearly. We, like his disciples, have been given the gift of faith. Our faith is not a private thing. It is not a secret to be kept or a gift to be hidden. It is for the world, this Word we are given. Today we are reminded once more that we must live that word and speak that word so that all who hear us are bathed in the light of it. This is our great mission and we are also reminded that as we give away what we have, it will come back to us magnified and fill us up as well.


[1] The photograph used today is “St. John Bosco” artist and date are UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 2 Samuel 7:4-17

Following King David’s final battles when all was a peace, David consulted Nathan, “the prophet”. It is clear that the King wishes to build a permanent structure to house the Ark of the Covenant. Nathan’s first answer is; do what you wish, but our reading today tells the story of his vision that evening.

In addition to providing reassurance to David this vision is given again in poetic form in Psalm 89 cited below. It is the basis for the Jewish expectation of the Messiah, a son of David. The prophecy was fulfilled in a transcendent way by Jesus.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 89:4-5, 27-28, 29-30
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.

Psalm 89 is a communal lament sung after the defeat of the Davidic King. Because it calls into question God’s promise made in the strophes cited here where in God promised David’s throne to stand forever, the community asks God to remember his promise.

Gospel Mark 4:1-20

St. Mark’s Gospel begins a section of teachings on the Kingdom of God through parables. We note that Jesus is teaching from a boat which would provide a natural amphitheater with the ground sloping to the shore. Here the Lord presents the parable of the “Sower”. As in St. Matthew’s Gospel he follows the unvarnished parable with a deeper explanation to the Disciples.


“…to those outside everything comes in parables,”

When Jesus says these words to the Disciples, he does so just before he has one of those wonderful teaching sessions with them. We envision them sitting around an open fire later that evening when the crowds have faded away and they finally have time to be alone. St. Mark’s portrait of the Disciples makes them very human for us. They don’t instantly grasp everything the Lord tells them and in this way we, who are also very human, get the benefit of the Lord’s more intimate contact with them.

We have all heard the parable of the Sower before and it has been reflected upon in detail in posts
here last summer. What catches our eye today is the statement with which this reflection began; “…to those outside everything comes in parables”. Who are those “outside” and what is meant by the statement “everything comes in parables”?

There is the quote in the Gospel immediately following this phrase that gives us an idea of who the Lord is speaking of when he says “those outside”: “…they may look and see but not perceive,
and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven
.” The selection is in italic because the Lord is quoting part of the Old Testament. Here are the words of Isaiah “And he replied: Go and say to this people: Listen carefully, but you shall not understand! Look intently, but you shall know nothing!” (
Isaiah 6:9ff) If we take the time to look at this particular passage we note that just before it is the verse remembered in song: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me!’"

We must gather from the context of what Jesus is saying that those on the “outside” are those who will not or cannot listen to the promise, to the offer of salvation. As difficult as it is for us to understand, there are those who cannot understand that God’s love is so intense that he gave us His Only Son so that we might be saved. Instead, as they look at the proofs of that very promise, all they see is the surface, as a person looking at a lake on a sunny day. They see but a reflection of the sky above and perhaps a piece of the shore with its trees and rocks. They cannot see into the depths and to the wonders of God’s creation that lay beneath the surface.

When we encounter people like these, on the “outside”, we frequently think of them as having heard and rejected the invitation. We generally think they do not want to embrace the Son of God because they would have to turn from the lives they lead and follow a more difficult and disciplined path. We must revise our thoughts, mustn’t we? They do not understand, or cannot understand the meaning of what they see; “everything comes in parables.”

Today we thank God that he has provided us with a faith that allows us to see the promise and understand. Today we feel, as the Disciples did, sitting by the fire with the Lord, that there is an immense job for us to do, reaching out to the world so that they might finally see, understand, and find salvation in Christ.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Field is the World”, by UNKNOWN artist, c. 1892

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 2 Samuel 6:12b-15, 17-19

From a historical perspective, King David has now defeated all his rivals and enemies. The civil war between his forces and those of Saul is over and the Philistines finally defeated. Now he assembles the people of Israel and brings the Ark of the Covenant to celebrate with the people the unity and peace to which God has lead them.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 24:7, 8, 9, 10
R. Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord!

Psalm 24 is a song of thanksgiving and praise. This second section of the song praises God as the true King of the people who leads them to victory over their foes.

Gospel Mark 3:31-35

The first part of this reading from St. Mark’s Gospel is somewhat controversial in that many of the Protestant and Evangelical apologists take the term “and his brothers” to mean his familial or biological brothers. The Church teaches that Mary bore only one child – Jesus. Responding to this scripture, Catholic scripture scholars teach that “…in Semitic usage, the terms "brother," "sister" are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters; cf
Genesis 14:16; 29:15; Leviticus 10:4.”

The Lord, in hearing of the arrival of his mother and relatives uses the announcement as a teaching moment telling those gathered that “…whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.


“…whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

With these words the Lord, who has called us to follow him, pronounces our adoption as long as we follow the will of God. But that is the hard part isn’t it! Just exactly what is the will of God for us and how do we know if we are doing it?

Having given this some thought, we find that the question posed is one of the most difficult ones we will ever be forced to answer for ourselves. In another part of Holy Scripture Jesus is quoted as saying “No one can know the Father except the Son and to whomever the Son chooses to reveal Him.” So ultimately the only real way we can hope to understand if we are doing God’s will is if Jesus himself leads us. OK, so how do we know if we are truly following Jesus? There is a test for that as well. His greatest commandment provides the key.

Christ told the Scribes, when asked which of God’s Commandments is the greatest, that the first was “'Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with al1 your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' “(
Mark 12:29-31)

This is our litmus test. When we want to make sure that we are doing “God’s will” and not our own (even unconsciously or rationalized), we need to ask ourselves just two short questions. First, am I following the course of action that expresses God’s love for those involved? This is not an easy question in some cases because God does have rules and even though those rules were meant to be applied with mercy, they are none the less, straight forward. God’s Law, like any good parent’s rules, are meant to keep His children safe from harm. That means the basic law, the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments are applied without any varnish. Those laws have been interpreted and applied by the Teaching Magesterium of the Church so once we make sure that we’re petty sure God’s Law is satisfied with our actions, we make sure that we are also doing as Church Law requires. (Oh, and make sure that it is Church Law not a local tradition that is being applied.)

Having done this diligent reflection on our purpose and intent, insuring that it is for God’s benefit we do what we do, we must ask ourselves the second question, again with no rationalization or spin as they call it these days. Am I doing this out of love for those involved? Just so we are all on the same page, love does not always mean making the other person happy. Sometimes loving someone can be the most difficult thing for one person to do to another. Look at Christ’s example; he loved us to his death. His example is our benchmark. The old adage “WWJD” or “What would Jesus do?” is not enough. Better is; how would Jesus love?

If we prayerfully take the time to ask these two questions will we always be doing God’s will? Probably not – our human nature can trick us into believing that what we do is in accordance with God’s will, but in the darkest recesses of mind there is still selfishness, greed, envy, and all of the ignoble impulses that make up a human being. But, we will be doing better than those who do not ask those questions at all but give full reign to those human feelings.

Our prayer today is an obvious one. Today we pray that God gives us the strength and understanding to do His will. Our desire is to become what Jesus has offered when he said; “…whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” We depend on the Holy Spirit to guide as we attempt to do so.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Triumph of David” by Nicolas Poussin, 1627-30

Monday, January 28, 2008

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Priest and Doctor of the Church

Additional Information about St. Thomas Aquinas[1]

Readings for Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible (for the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas)


Reading 1 2 Samuel 5:1-7, 10

David is anointed King, this time by the people of Judea (following the collapse of Saul’s line). He immediately he launches a campaign against the Jebusites who hold Israel, specifically Jerusalem. In spite of their resistance David was victorious and God continued to bless his efforts to lead the people of Judea and Israel (for forty more years).

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 89:20, 21-22, 25-26
R. My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him.

Psalm 89 is a song of thanksgiving. In these verses it celebrates the call of King David and recalls his anointing at Hebron (see
2 Samuel 5:1-4).

Gospel Mark 3:22-30

The conflict between Jesus and the Scribes has come out into the open. They are now openly calling him “prince of the demons”. The Lord calls them before himself and demonstrates with parables the foolishness of their claim. He first asks the ironic question that could be paraphrased “If I, who destroy unclean spirits, am from the originator of those spirits, were in league with him, he has destroyed himself.” He continues an analogy about the strong man protecting his house. In this case he, Jesus would represent the defender of the house (of Israel) and those attacking him, attempting to tie him up.

He concludes this passage with an important theological understanding. The Son of God came into the world so that sings might be forgiven (“…all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them.”) He then defines the Holy Spirit and Himself as one in the same (essence) by saying the whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit (as the scribes had just done in calling Jesus an emissary of Satan) would be guilty of an everlasting sin (would never be forgiven).


The Holy Trinity is implicitly defined in today’s Gospel. For those of us who have wondered where it is written Sacred Scripture that God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same essence, this is one of the most direct passages. Book mark it.

This passage also files in the face of a more prevalent idea call in some circles “
Universalism”. That term us used to say that when Jesus came all sins were forgiven and there could be no lasting stain on anyone. It does not matter what translation is studied, verses 28 and 29 say clearly that anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has committed and unforgivable act. In this specific case, Jesus is called evil and an instrument of Satan. This act, un-repented, earns the perpetrator a place of eternal damnation.

This same sentiment is presented in the Gospel of St. Matthew (
see Matthew 12:30ff). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says of this action (interestingly it is presented in the discussion of the fallen angles):

393 It is the irrevocable character of their choice” (Fallen Angels)”, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels' sin unforgivable. "There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death."[3]

In our modern age, we sometimes fall into this kind of Universalism trap, thinking that it does not matter what we do, the Divine Mercy so characteristic of God, will keep us from that eternal anguish. Here, we see, is Satan’s trap revealed. For if we are weak and in our pain lash out at God, we risk, to be quite blunt about it, taking a “dirt nap” with Satan himself.

Just as the Lord provides us a path to salvation that is sometimes very difficult to walk, Satan, eternally fallen, makes it very easy to fall into is kingdom. We have seen it often enough. It usually begins with an injured person becoming angry with God (usually for a choice either made by themselves or by the person they are mourning). They say, “How could God have let this happen?” It is an easy next step to say that God himself is evil or that His Son, because he did not create man incapable of sin, did not intervene.

We pray for those souls today who through their ignorance or through their fallen nature have committed this sin against God. We also pray for those who have been misguided and all those who are still being perfected in the process of Purgatory. We also thank God for the gift of great minds such as the one we celebrate today in St. Thomas Aquinas. They have made clear the path we follow toward salvation.


[1] The picture used today is “Vision of St Thomas Aquinas” by Santi Di Tito, 1593
[2] After Links Expire
[3] St. John Damascene, De Fide orth. 2,4: PG 94,877.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 Isaiah 8:23-9:3

This prophetic selection is quoted in St. Matthew’s Gospel (below) by Jesus. It is part of the section of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah known as the “Immanuel Prophecies” in which the oracle of Isaiah addresses the coming of Christ, the Messiah. In this instance it deals with redemption of the pagan territory near the road to Damascus.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Psalm 27 is an individual lament. Here the signer expresses faith in God who is the refuge of the faithful, longing to find the ultimate safety and bounty of God’s heavenly kingdom. This passage from the psalm captures the two major themes of the song, hope in God’s mercy and complete trust in his goodness.

Reading II 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

This selection follows the introduction to the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. St. Paul address the first problem in his list, that of the community being divided in loyalties. Although modern scholarship has not been able to completely reconstruct the situation in Corinth, it is clear that some of the members of the faith communities had developed allegiances to the various teachers who helped found the community (e.g. Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (Peter, “the Rock” apparently passed through)). The statement “I am for Christ” was probably used ironically since his intent is to remind the community that it is in Christ they are all baptized.

Gospel Matthew 4:12-23

The events in this Gospel passage take place just following Jesus’ trial in the desert. St. John the Baptist has accomplished his mission in Baptizing Jesus and has been arrested. Jesus now takes up his mission, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The key elements of the mission are laid out as he reveals God’s love.

Following the statement of the Mission, the Gospel takes up the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John, all fishermen. Three of these four are considered to be very close to the Lord throughout his ministry. Their response is instructive in that they must give up family and their former way of live to follow the Lord. They go forward from the call teaching, proclaiming the gospel, and healing. The summary provided serves as an introduction to the Sermon on the Mount which follows in the next section.

Matthew 4:12-17

This shorter version of the Gospel omits the call of the first four disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John (Zebedee’s sons). With this omission, the focus of the Gospel is tightened from one of call and response to call to repentance.


We are invited once more to turn away from the things of this world that demand our attention and look once more to Christ’s mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God. We are reminded once more that this singular calling must take precedence over the other tasks we are called to fulfill – this is more important. We are shown today that in this call, we are all equal, called from our Baptism to the same Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We imagine what the Kingdom of God, established on earth, would be like. If we all behaved as Christ taught us, if we all practiced completely and perfectly what we profess to believe, the commandments of God and Jesus, what would the world be like?

First we think of our personal relationships. Those of us who are single would have close friends in the community of faith and those friends could be trusted completely. Because they have that filial love for us, they would share completely in our joys and sorrows and our joy would be amplified, it would become praise for God who is the author of our joy. Our sorrows would be remarkably softened as the consolation of Christ’s mercy was expressed through our friends as well. For those of us called to share the Sacrament of Matrimony, this sharing would be even more complete as two become constantly one in Christ. They would truly be beacons of love as they exemplify to everyone the love Christ has for His bride, the Church.

We think what it would be like to have a vocation, a job in such a community where each day all our efforts whether menial or intellectual would be accomplished for the greater glory of God and that the greatest satisfaction we could derive from our days work would be, not a paycheck, but that the Lord was praised as what he accomplished through us was celebrated. We would rejoice, especially in those menial tasks, because our minds and lips would be free to give praise and glory constantly.

Our lives would be stress free because all the obstacles we encounter would be immediately given over to the Lord and while we used the gifts he gave us to overcome them, we would know that he was with us, supporting us, and guiding us through his Holy Spirit.

Finally we think about what our time of solitude would be like. It would be a continuation of the praise that had been on our lips all day but more intense as we opened our silence to hear God’s voice. And there we would hear echoed the love we had been experiencing from our brothers and sisters through their words and actions through out our day.

Yes, the place described is utopian, the dream of an idealist. But is that not what all Christ’s disciples should be, idealists? Is not the kind of world, the Kingdom of God on earth, exactly what we should be working toward each day?

Today we marvel once more at the great love God has for us in his Son. We hear in his call to Peter, Andrew, James, and John the Lord’s voice calling us to become “fishers of men.” We pray for the strength to answer that call and the discipline to work toward the Kingdom of God on earth.


[1] After Links to Reading Expire
[2] The Picture used today is “Calling St. Peter” by Hans Süss von Kulmbach, 1514-16

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus


Biographical Information about St. Timothy[1]
Biographical Information about St. Titus[2]

Readings for the Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus[3]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Things are somewhat confusing with regard to the selection of readings for today. The USCCB site and the Ordo for the dioceses of the United States have presented the first reading, an option, and the responsorial psalm from the options for the Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus but the Gospel from the readings for Saturday of the Second week in Ordinary Time. I am doing my commentary on the readings for the Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus. If you wish to read the readings in their proper order, please go to the
Supplemental Bench for today. I have placed both sets of readings there as well as the usual information about the saints being memorialized.

Reading 1 2 Timothy 1:1-8

St. Paul writes to one of his key disciples, St. Timothy, from Rome where he is a prisoner. It is clear that the affection between the two of them is strong as Paul reminds him of his installation as Bishop (‘…the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands”). Paul encourages Timothy to remain strong and faithful to the Gospel, even in the face of opposition.

Titus 1:1-5

This selection is the introduction to St. Paul’s letter to Titus. In the second paragraph he lets us know what Titus’ mission is – to form the Church on Crete (which according to the best scholarship, Paul himself never visited.).

Responsorial Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.

“Announce his salvation, day after day.” This song of praise to the Lord invites all humanity to participate in God’s salvation.

Gospel Mark 3:20-21

This short passage provides a sense of the challenges Jesus faces in his mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. His fame had clearly spread as a consequence of his teaching, his natural charisma, and his miraculous healing power. The disbelief of even his relatives is a barrier to be overcome.

Luke 10:1-9

It is only in the Gospel of St. Luke that we hear the story of Jesus sending the seventy (two). This event is supported by other non-biblical writings (see
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-c. 340) Church History, Book. 1). The instructions given to those sent out are very similar to the instructions given to the Twelve, as was the message they were sent to proclaim.


When we come to the stories and feast days like the ones we see today on the Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus we begin to appreciate how lucky we are that those who went before us were made of stern stuff. It is very clear in the Gospel of St. Mark that, in spite of the reasonably common acceptance of Christ’s divinity today, it has not always been so. That statement is probably an understatement based upon the comment that Jesus’ relatives (I’m guessing St. Joseph’s kin) thought he was “…out of his mind.”

Granted that the early saints of the Church, like Titus and Timothy, had the benefit of close encounters with the original Apostles (Paul is counted as one even though, as we saw yesterday, he encountered Christ only after the Lord had risen.). These brave people went into a clearly hostile environment. They were the pioneers, breaking ground in territory where people, when approached in the evangelical mission, would respond “Jesus who?”

We can only imagine what it must have been like to try to convince a pagan that the tradition they had followed their whole lives was misguided and false. Those were not gentile times and the closest modern analogy we can think of would be modern Afghanistan. There, apostasy from the Muslim Faith is punishable by death and the same is true for people who attempt to promulgate any other religion but Islam.

Those days, for the most part, are behind us. Most of the world, thanks to the early missionaries, is at least aware of the Savior and his message of peace. There is still much to be done. The faith we share is hard. It requires discipline and there are rules. Many of these rules prohibit activities that those who have no hope feel they need, the hedonistic pleasures of the flesh, the pursuit of wealth to satisfy greed. When a person is not aware that Christ came so they could have a life of light and love beyond this one, they are forced to be selfish in this short life. They are constantly looking at that looming horizon of death with fear and clawing desperately to place it behind them, all the time knowing that it is inevitable.

It is these people living among us that we reach out to today, in the tradition of Timothy and Titus. They desperately need to hear the message of Christ’s consolation so they can know that they do not need to be alone, they do not need to fear. As we celebrate the memorial of these early leaders of our faith, let us thank God for Saint Timothy, Saint Titus and their willingness to break ground for us in the face of what must have been horrific opposition. We accept the gauntlet they threw down and carry the Word of God forward to those who need to experience the His mercy.


[1] The second picture is “St. Timothy Meditating” by Charles Joseph Stanland, c. 1838 - 1916
[2] The first image is “St. Paul and St. Titus,St. Simon and the prophet Ezekiel” by an UNKNOWN illuminator of sacred scripture from the 15th Century.
[3] After Links to Readings Expire

Friday, January 25, 2008

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Additional Information about the Feast of the Conversion
of St. Paul[1]

Readings for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 Acts 22:3-16

This is the second account given in Acts of Paul’s conversion experience. In this account Paul himself recalls his role in the Hebrew Temple as an enforcer. The reason related for his trip to Damascus was the persecution of Christians whom he was to return to Jerusalem in Chains. By this miraculous event, Saul who is renamed to Paul, becomes a witness to the resurrected Christ and an Apostle.

Acts 9:1-22

This selection is the first the three accounts of Paul’s conversion. In this passage we are given more details about the events leading up to Saul’s actual experience adding the mind set of Ananias and his fear of approaching Saul because of is reputation. We are also given a little Hebrew numerology as we hear that Saul neither ate nor drank for three days, the same period Jesus was in the Tomb, prior to his conversion.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 117:1bc, 2
R. (Mark 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

The footnote from the NAB is a good summary here: “This shortest of hymns calls on the nations to acknowledge God's supremacy. The supremacy of Israel's God has been demonstrated to them by the people's secure existence, which is owed entirely to God's gracious fidelity.”

Gospel Mark 16:15-18

In this passage we are given St. Mark’s version of Jesus’ final commissioning of the Apostles. This Gospel account is the final recorded meeting between Jesus and the Apostles. Given to us as it is, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, it is important because it supports the mission Paul is given in his time of conversion; “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” This mission was shared by Paul.


The Church finds the conversion of St. Paul to be so central to its purpose it has dedicated a Feast in its honor. On this Feast we ask ourselves a question’ why are we celebrating this event and what relevance does it have for me?

Yes, it was a spectacular intervention by Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the life of the Church. Saul, who is Paul, was given the task of taking the faith in Jesus, the “Way” as it was called by the early Christians, to the Gentiles. Without his acceptance of that mission we know the name of Christ would have taken much longer to reach the known world.

It does show us once more the mystery of God’s plan. The Lord could have taken any of his existing converts and assigned that task to them. Instead he picks not just a member of the Pharisaic Community, but one of the most zealous, prone to violence against the early converts. In addition to his stated purpose for the mission to Damascus of bringing those who had come to believe in Christ (people he called heretics and blasphemers) back in chains to face the Sanhedrin, Paul is thought to be the same Saul that authorized the stoning of our first martyr, the Deacon, St. Stephen. No, the Lord did not pick and easy target, he chose a passionate person who was misguided.

Jesus looked into Saul’s heart and saw there the overwhelming desire to do God’s will. Paul admits in the account from Acts that he was trained in Mosaic Law (“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law”) All the Lord needed to do to gain an effective servant was to give Saul that last piece of understanding, that the very person Saul was persecuting was the Son of the God he served.

We have answered the first part of our question; why do we celebrate this conversion event? But what is its relevance for us? We see in Saul, to some degree, ourselves. Part of us is always fighting the Lord. It is easier not to love one another, to allow our natural selves be guided by the evil one on a course that leads to our destruction. We see in the converted St. Paul what we wish to become.

We see in St. Paul, through his conversion, how our internal conflict should be resolved. We see in the Apostle’s example of zealous love for the Lord, the way we want to be. We have answered the question. St. Paul’s conversion should be echoed by our own ongoing conversion. Even though we might say “But I do not need conversion, I am already a Christian.” We recall that St. Paul was already in love with the Father as well. Just as he needed to come to a complete understanding of what God was calling him to be, we must daily look deeper into our own call to holiness. Our prayer today is that our eyes might be as completely opened as were St. Paul’s and that we too might become the “Way “for others to follow.


[1] The Picture used today is “The Conversion of St. Paul” by Caravaggio, 1600
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales

Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Additional Information about St. Francis de Sales[1]

Readings for Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible (for the Feast of St Francis de Sales)


Reading 1 1 Samuel 18:6-9; 19:1-7

Following David’s defeat of Goliath, Saul, now deprived of the Lord since he failed to do as God commanded through Samuel, becomes jealous of David because the Lord is clearly with him. Saul’s plot to kill David is thwarted through the intervention of his son Jonathan. Although Saul swears that David will not be killed, the spirit of evil has entered Saul where the Lord had left and this promise is short lived.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 56:2-3, 9-10a, 10b-11, 12-13
R. In God I trust; I shall not fear.

Psalm 56 is a lament in which the psalmist is being pressed by enemies but has faith that God will be with them. They further pledge continuing faithfulness in thanksgiving for the Lord’s help.

Gospel Mark 3:7-12

This passage from St. Mark’s Gospel gives a summary of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. His rising popularity is a testament to the power of what he teaches and the signs he performs are a prelude to the universal spread of the Gospel message. The encounter with unclean spirits is met, as earlier, with attempts to ward off his power over them using his title “You are the Son of God”.


As we continue to reflect upon the fullness of Christ’s revelation to us during this brief interlude between Christmas and Lent, we are given scripture that shows us that following Christ and acting in accordance with God’s will is not an instant recipe for a care free life.

We have been following the exploits of young King David in the First Book of Samuel. Yesterday we heard the story of how, with God’s help, he slew the great Philistine, Goliath, against all odds. We would think that this deed, coupled with the clear indication that God was with him would set him on an easy course and little would slow his growth into the great role he was to assume. We are told, however, the spirit of evil was upon Saul, David’s predecessor, and that even though David had been loyal to him; Saul was jealous of David and was trying to kill him. An easy path for David? We don’t think so.

Next we see the Lord ministering to the crowds in Galilee in St. Mark’s Gospel. The people love him. They are pressing in on him as his charisma draws all people to him. But, we have already seen that his rise in stature among the people has caused those in religious power in the region, the powerful Scribes and Pharisees, to begin to plot against him. We are also told that the evil one lurks among those who come to him for help. An easy time for Jesus, the Son of God? We know it won’t be.

Oh, and lest we forget, today we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis de Sales. Look at his long suffering work and see what an easy life he had once he found his call and followed God’s will.

As we see these three examples of upright and courageous faith in God we are challenged in our own motives. If we think that because we are being faithful to God’s will and following his commandments that we will walk unmolested through life, we are mistaken. Scripture forces us to understand that our righteous actions will be met with resistance in this secular world. If we are following the Lord because we think that path will always provide happiness and peace, we are mistaken.

Why then, we may ask, since the path will be difficult, should we follow in Christ’s footsteps? What benefit is there for us if all it gains us is this resistance? The short answer must come from deep within us. The short answer is that it is the “right” thing to do and the right thing is usually not the easy thing. We might as well ask; why should police officers perform their duties, or why would anyone volunteer for the military to protect the rights and freedoms of the country. To a lesser degree, the answers to these questions are the same as the one we ask ourselves.

In our case there is an even more compelling reason. Not only is it the right thing to do, but there are rewards to faithfulness – they were promised by the Lord. And we must also remember there is a punishment for following the dark path – also promised and irrevocable. Oh, and the path of faith does have its benefits. The Holy Spirit provides inner peace in situations that destroy others. The Lord provides consolation in our difficulties because He is with us always. So the answer is easy after all.


[1] The picture today is “St. Francis de Sales” artist and date UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51

We are presented with one of the more famous bible stories from the Old Testament in the first reading as Samuel relates the defeat of Goliath by David. In this somewhat condensed version an alternative account of how David came to undertake the combat is omitted (
1 Sam 17:12-31). What is important for salvation history is that David had the support of God which gave him strength and courage to conquer a foe against great odds. This event demonstrates how in preparation, David is faith-filled giving him courage and in victory, praises God; his motives were morally sound.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 144:1b, 2, 9-10
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!

Psalm 144 is a song of thanksgiving and praise. In these strophes we find David’s faith provides the courage needed to be victorious in battle. We see the response as ironic if not humorous given the story it follows.

Gospel Mark 3:1-6

Jesus is again shown in contention with the Pharisees over their laws on the observance of the Sabbath. The NAB footnote on this reading is a good summary: “Here Jesus is again depicted in conflict with his adversaries over the question of sabbath-day observance. His opponents were already ill disposed toward him because they regarded Jesus as a violator of the sabbath. Jesus' question Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil? places the matter in the broader theological context outside the casuistry of the scribes. The answer is obvious. Jesus heals the man with the withered hand in the sight of all and reduces his opponents to silence; cf
John 5:17-18.”


The Gospel does a good job of reminding us that yesterday we pledged to be genuine in our praise of the Lord and sincere in our intent as we worship him. We are drawn, however, to the story of David and Goliath. The image of the young shepherd boy, full of zeal and outrage because the blood enemies of the Jewish people, the Philistines, had insulted their God is one we can identify with.

David, the one anointed by Samuel (unbeknown to Saul) comes seeking his older brothers who are out with the army (doing manly things). He over hears the bantering insults cast at the army of Israel by their enemy in the person of the giant Goliath and immediately wants to redeem the insult. As the anointed one, he took that insult personally.

We can envision the faces of the soldiers as this handsome young man comes before Saul and says “Let your majesty not lose courage. I am at your service to go and fight this Philistine.”
There would have been barely hidden smiles and chuckles. What could this youngster do; cause Goliath to die of laughter? The king says to the boy in a kindly way what those around him are thinking, telling him he does not have the skill to defeat the mighty warrior. Perhaps to the king’s surprise, the boy describes his exploits as a shepherd in killing wild animals that attack his flocks and how he overcame them (the full account is not given in today’s reading but is found in the full text).

The king, possibly out of awe at the boy or perhaps to shame his soldiers, not only grants the boy permission to challenge the Philistine’s champion but loans the boy his armor. In the full account we smile as David tries to wear the heavy and cumbersome accoutrements of battle, according to scripture “Then Saul clothed David in his own tunic, putting a bronze helmet on his head and arming him with a coat of mail. David also girded himself with Saul's sword over the tunic. He walked with difficulty, however, since he had never tried armor before (
1 Samuel 17 38-39).” How like a young boy we see the future King.

In the end, David takes off the armor and goes out to face Goliath armed with his faith in God, a staff, a sling and five small stones. His foe is insulted by the champion sent to meet him by the Israelites. While Goliath curses David with customary “smack talk”, we see David retort with faith and justified rage not at the insult cast against himself, but at the insult to God. Then the first time readers of the story would hold their breath as the mismatched pair close for battle.

With one stone from his bag, David topples the giant soldier “embedding the stone in his brow.” Then, with Old Testament gruesomeness, David uses Goliath’s own sword to finish him off and then cut off his head. There would be no doubt in the minds of the Philistines watching from a distance that their great hero was dead. The insult to God was wiped away; right conquered might, and all is well.

The story, while compelling also provides us with a moral for our spiritual development. This is one more example of God calling the unlikely hero and providing an unlooked for victory. Each time we feel that the task of responding to God’s call is too great for us to handle, we should think of David and Goliath; the unlikely hero who became King of Israel and provided the lineage for the Messiah, the most unlikely and greatest hero of all time.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is “David with the Head of Goliath” by Domenico Feti, 1620

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Saint Vincent, Deacon, Martyr

Additional information about St. Vincent of Saragossa[1]

Readings for Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 1 Samuel 16:1-13

As the story of Samuel the Seer continues (we are still not calling him a prophet), we find him deeply troubled over God’s decision to remove Saul as King of Israel. God sends Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint the next king whom God has now found.

After going through all of Jesse’s sons the Lord finally instructs Samuel to anoint the youngest, David, who is not present but tending the sheep. This anointing is the first of three David will receive. The other two will come after the death of Saul.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 89:20, 21-22, 27-28
R. I have found David, my servant.

Psalm 89 is a hymn of praise celebrating the identification of King David as king of Israel. The song alludes to his future role as a champion in battle.

Gospel Mark 2:23-28

In this passage from St. Mark’s Gospel the Lord has another conflict with the Pharisees over laws they have implemented. In this case the laws are about doing no work on the Sabbath. The disciples of Jesus were hungry and as a result gathered and ate grain on the Sabbath. Strictly speaking this was labor and that is what the Pharisees were objecting to.

Jesus responded by reminding them (the Pharisees) about a story form the first book of Samuel (
1 Sam 21:2-7) in which restrictions not included in Mosaic Law but established by men were relaxed at need. The example can be seen as a link between Jesus’ own genealogy (coming from the line of David) and the mission as Savior, the Anointed One, the Messiah. It also teaches a more pragmatic lesson about the Sabbath being created for man and not as the rules of Pharisaic law had restricted it.


The Gospel draws a line for us today. It is one of those lines that is frequently being challenged from one side or the other. Jesus is once more confronted by the Pharisees over something that he allows his disciples to do that conflict with their rules. We must understand that Pharisaic Law had literally thousands of rules. There was great pride among them with regard to how closely they could follow all of them. It was a contest of sorts, to see how strictly they could be observed. The winner was the one who could still function as a person while following all of them.

There is an attraction to this kind of discipline. Some groups have always found the ability to truly express their love of God through this type of asceticism. A great example of this is some of the “Rules” for religious orders. The difference is that in religious orders, people voluntarily submit themselves to the rules as an expression of their devotion to God as opposed to what is happening in the Gospel. In the Gospel the Pharisees who have their set of rules governing what constitutes “labor” on the Sabbath have decided that picking grain, as Jesus’ disciples did, was a clear violation of those rules. Since Jesus was a Rabbi, a teacher, the Pharisees took him to task for his laxity.

The Lord’s response draws the line. He does not tell the Pharisees their rules are foolish; that they should not have such rules. Rather he tells them that they do not apply universally. He uses the example of the companions of David (the use of David’s companions is loaded with symbolic meaning as well but we will just look at the surface story). David’s companions had been consecrated to a task and because of that temple rules were suspended for them. Those familiar with the details of the story, as St. Mark’s original audience would have been, would have seen the Lord’s statement as a huge statement about who he was and what his mission was.

The message we take from this selection of scripture is that there is a need for discipline in our worship. God has seen fit to provide us with commandments which direct us and the Church, through her Magesterium has provided a framework in which those commandments are reinforced and followed. There is a point, however, when we must examine what we do and make sure that it is for God’s greater glory and not just out of habit or tradition. Our intention must be pure and not rationalized and we certainly should not judge others as the Pharisees did. The Lord teaches us love and compassion and this is the standard to which we are all called.


[1] The picture used today is “St. Vincent” by Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina, 1410
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Monday, January 21, 2008

Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

Additional information about St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr[1]

Readings for Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Reading from the Jerusalem Bible (for the Feast of St. Agnes)

On the Readings for Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Reading 1 1 Samuel 15:16-23

Saul had been sent by God through Samuel to destroy utterly the Amalekites. However, Saul did not do so, rather his forces did not wish to destroy the wealth and slaves they might take and so despoiled the Amalekites and spared the life of King Agag. In doing this Saul committed the sin of “divination” (predicting the will of God without authority).

As a consequence of this disobedience (and in spite of Saul’s apparent repentance) God decrees that he is to be rejected as ruler and king of Israel. This opens the way for the appointment of King David and the messianic dynasty.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Psalm 50 is didactic in explaining that God does not want sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice or praise that is just lip service. Rather he wants genuine obedience and sincere praise. He rebukes the hypocritical worshiper. Placed behind the reading from 1 Samuel, we can see this as a pronouncement against Saul’s rationalization about the will of God.

Gospel Mark 2:18-22

Jesus is confronted by “some of the people” about why his disciples do not fast as the disciples of St. John and the Pharisees do. Ritual fasting is done as a sign of mourning or repentance which is why Jesus makes the remarks he does – the time for mourning has not yet come.

Jesus announces, with the parables that follow, that he brings a new understanding and with it new traditions. One does not patch an old cloth with new material, they are incompatible. The same is true with new wine on old wineskins.


Scripture today carries a double edged message. The first important point is emphasized in the reading from 1 Samuel and punctuated by the Psalm. God expects us to follow his commandments out of authentic devotion to him. We can see in the story of Saul that he was weak in this regard. Samuel had brought him instructions that he was to utterly destroy another kingdom. Instead, Saul’s soldiers objected to destroying that which they thought was good and those things by which they could profit. Saul saw their point and as a consequence he rationalized that destroying all this good “stuff” would not make God happy (it certainly did not make him happy). Because he was presumptuous and falsely interpreted God’s clear instructions, God sent Samuel to tell him that he was going to be removed as King of the Israelites.

We now move forward to St. Mark’s Gospel and the conflict arising out of Jesus disciples not fasting in accordance with Pharisaic Law like St. John the Baptist’s disciples did. This leads us back to that clarification the Psalm places on the First Samuel story – God wants authentic praise and worship. Praise and worship because we truly love God and want what we do to be pleasing to him. Saul certainly did not. He presumed that God’s will was a suggestion and he could interpret it to his own profit. Not so says the psalmist “Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”

Jesus, in his classic symbolic language, tells those who criticize his disciples that the rules set up by the Pharisees for fasting do so out of mourning. They seek atonement for sins through their penitence. Jesus’ disciples have the bridegroom, God’s own Son and the time for mourning will come only after he has left them. He then uses two parables, the old and new cloth and the new wine in old skins, to dramatize the fact that he brings something new and they cannot attach the old traditions to what he brings.

For us this scripture brings and exhortation and a caution. The exhortation is to rejoice that the bridegroom has brought us a new hope and in it we see the gates of salvation flung open. We are also cautioned not to become complacent in our worship of the one who offers us this great gift. Our worship and praise must come from the heart not just from memory. And this is our prayer today; that all we do is for God’s greater glory and our worship may reflect genuine love for the one who loves us.


[1] The picture used today is “St. Agnes” by Domenichino, c. 1620
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 Isaiah 49:3, 5-6

The Prophet Isaiah proclaims his mission to call the people of Israel, the “House of Jacob” back to God. He goes even further as the Lord’s plan unfolds in him; he announces that all the world will be called to worship God (“I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”)

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
R. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

While Psalm 40 is a song of thanksgiving, it is also combined with a lament. The initial waiting is satisfied by favor shown by God to one who is faithful in service to Him. In these strophes is sung the thanksgiving of those who hear the voice of God and obey his words. This obedience is loved by God above ritual sacrifices. The Lord especially loves those who follow His law. Once heard, the good news is proclaimed to all the people.

Reading II 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

In this introduction to his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul establishes the theme of his letter. He first reminds them that he is called by God to do what he does, not by his own volition or for his own purpose. He then reminds them that in their conversion they were sanctified, set apart for God.

Gospel John 1:29-34

St. John the Baptist professes the identity of the Jesus as the Messiah, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The author’s theological understanding of the eternal nature of Christ is expressed in the Baptist’s words “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’

After stating the connection between Jesus the Christ and the Baptist’s mission, the author follows the tradition of the synoptic Gospels as he describes Jesus emerging from his baptism in the Jordan and the decent of the Holy Spirit. St. John concludes this testimony by St. John the Baptist with a solid affirmation that Jesus is the Son of God.


If the Gospel passage sounds very familiar it is because it was proclaimed just a few weeks ago at the
Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. We are now celebrating the fullness of Christ’s revelation to us as we enter Ordinary Time and in this different setting and accompanied by other parts of sacred scripture the Gospel brings new emphasis.

St. John’s Gospel provides the wonderful profession of faith by St. John the Baptist. He announces to the crowd that is always with him “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The timing of the remark brings an instant understanding to the title he gives the Lord.

Here comes Jesus of Nazareth to be baptized. He comes without fanfare, unaccompanied. We have not heard anything about him since he was a youth, brought to the Temple in accordance with Jewish Law. What passed in the interim is not recorded in sacred literature. His miraculous birth certainly prepared us for what was to follow. But once his father Joseph was warned about the plot by Herod and the Holy Family fled to Egypt, not much was heard until this moment.

Jesus comes to the Jordan with humility and must hear that statement by John with dread. “Lamb of God,” those words would have had significance to Jesus. The lamb was the traditional sacrificial animal killed and offered to God in atonement for sins. Not just any lamb was used. It must be an unblemished male lamb and further, none of its bones could be broken in the sacrificial process (“So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs”
John 19: 32-33).

“…who takes away the sin of the world.” The Baptist understands what Isaiah was saying when he said; “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” This would be no ordinary “Sin Offering”, the Lord would expiate the fallen nature of man and all the sin that arose from that state for all time. (“A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’”)

In this one short phrase comes the hope of all of us who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. And in that hope we are saved because the hope we have in the promise of the Lamb of God is also our faith and our faith drives our actions and our actions revitalize our faith. It is all interconnected and summarized in that one statement.

Today we give thanks and praise to God for the gift of the Lamb who takes away our sins and the sins of the whole world. We thank him especially for the prophets like Isaiah and St. John the Baptist who pointed to the coming of God’s great promise. In our faith we rejoice in that promise fulfilled.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “St. John the Baptist” by Bartolomé González Y Serrano, 1621

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Readings for Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible


Reading 1 1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1

We are introduced in this passage to Saul. Saul, while on a journey of three days to try to recover livestock that went missing from his home, encounters Samuel who is called Seer as opposed to Prophet at this point in history. Samuel is told by God that this is the person he is to appoint as King of Israel. He invites Saul to dine with him and the next day anoints his head with oil as a sign that he is commander over the heritage given to the Jewish people by God.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.

Psalm 21 is a song of thanksgiving. The thanks being offered is by the king who was first given the position by God’s authority and rules at his pleasure. All accomplishments of the king are to God’s glory. There is a clear linkage here between the psalm and the call and anointing of Saul as king of Israel.

Gospel Mark 2:13-17

This passage from St. Mark’s Gospel documents the call of Matthew, here named Levi. The Gospel of St. Matthew renames him to Matthew so this tax collector, whose call is given special notice, will be included with the special status of the call of the first four disciples.

We also note that the conflict with the Scribes and Pharisees continues as they see in Jesus’ association with “tax collectors and sinners” actions which threaten his status as teacher. The Lord uses the famous analogy of a doctor not being needed by those who are well in response.


Holy Scripture tells the stories of the call of two men in two different ages. It is the contrast in these stories that we reflect upon today. We hear first about the call of Saul to be king of Israel. Saul is a likely choice. We are told he is tall and handsome; “There was no other child of Israel more handsome than Saul; he stood head and shoulders above the people.”

Samuel anoints his head with oil when the young man is directed to him. His anointing is significant in that it is through the will of God that he is set apart. In the same way we are set apart at our baptism, our heads anointed with Chrism, the sanctifying oil. One might think that because he is now anointed that he will fill the role for which God has chosen him nobly and with great renown. Alas, as we will see in the coming week, this is not the case. Even with the gift of the spirit to guide him, Saul falls prey to temptation and disobeys God’s commands. The God of Justice demands justice.

On this same day we are told about the call of Levi (Matthew) the tax collector. He is as unlikely a candidate for a chosen servant of God as Saul was likely. Matthew is in the business of collecting taxes and as such is seen as a puppet of the Romans and a thief by many. His position is one considered by his contemporaries as “institutionalized graft”. Yet here comes Jesus and his entourage. Jesus calls to him; “Follow me.” in St. Mark’s story, and he leaves his post and follows the Lord. Of course when Jesus has dinner with Matthew and his associates the Scribes and Pharisees have a hay day. We can almost hear them talking to his followers outside where Jesus is, telling his admirers “See what kind of people your teacher is consorting with! How can he be considered a prophet of God when he sits with sinners?” We can see the seeds of doubt being cast among those who are just following him because he has cured the sick and done some pretty spectacular things. They have to wonder now whose side he’s on.

The response Jesus gives probably confuses the weak minded and chastises the “Holier than thou” Pharisees. He tells them “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” We understand what is going on, but to those expecting a Royal Messiah; this still must have been disappointing.

And what does this marked (pun intended) contrast in call and response tell us? That God’s call and gifts cannot be taken casually. Just because we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit and been called by God, set aside for God, does not mean the evil one is not able to push us in wrong directions. The best person can fall into the desperate trap and the worst person can rise above that same temptation to become a saint.

We pray today that we have the strength and courage of St. Matthew and that our call will be answered with faithfulness to the glory of God whose Son is our Savior and Lord.


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Calling of Matthew” by Marinus van Reymerswaele, 1536