Sunday, January 31, 2016

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

“Christ Encounters ‘Legion" 
Artist and Date are UNKNOWN
Recall that Nathan had said that the Lord would put enmity in the House of David for the sins of murder and adultery the king had committed when he took Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:8-12). Following this prediction, the child born to David and Bathsheba died, in spite of David’s contrite attempt to convince God to spare it. In addition, David’s eldest son Amnon was killed by another son Absalom after he (Amnon) had raped Absalom’s sister and then further dishonored her by casting her out.
These actions ultimately led to the situation we hear about in this passage. King David goes to the Mount of Olives, once more to beg for God’s mercy. Even though God has promised that David himself will not be killed, nothing good will come of this, and David is humiliated even further as he goes on his penitential pilgrimage.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
R. (8a) Lord, rise up and save me.
Commentary on Ps 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Psalm 3 is a lament, singing of the plight of one attacked and oppressed by enemies on all sides. These Strophes are clearly an echo of King David’s sorrow, as all that the Lord has given to him seems to be at risk with no sign that God will come to his aid. In spite of this apparent abandonment, the singer has faith that God will continue to defend his servant.
Gospel: Mark 5:1-20
Commentary on Mk 5:1-20
This is St. Mark’s version of Jesus casting out the multitude of demons and sending them into the herd of swine. Swine [pigs] are considered unclean animals under Hebrew dietary laws (Leviticus 11:7-8.  This action not only reinforces Jesus’ universal mission, but adds a dimension of symbolism. It is important to note that this is a pagan region, so what the Lord is doing in helping the man with unclean spirits is ministering to non-Hebrews, indicating the breadth of his mission. Also in this story, the demon addresses him as “Jesus, Son of the Most High God,” a title that identifies him clearly and without equivocation as the Messiah.
“Allegorically (St. Bede, In Marcum): the demoniac represents the Gentile nations saved by Christ. As pagans, they once lived apart from God amid the tombs of dead works, while their sins were performed in service of demons. Through Christ the pagans are at last cleansed and freed from Satan’s domination.”[4]
Those of us who are not mystics (which means probably most of us these days) may have some belief issues with the story of Jesus casting out the unclean spirits described in the Gospel of St. Mark.  Did Jesus really cast out these unclean spirits and cause them to go into swine?  From a purely logical perspective, we see the message from the Gospel in the following way:
First, we understand, as St. Mark did, that Jesus has authority over all of God’s creation.  This authority is constantly being contested by the evil one who himself was cast out of God’s presence.  If we believe that God’s essence manifests itself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; can we not also believe that God’s greatest foe would not also have a spirit of evil that could find entry into the soul of humankind?
When Jesus encounters these manifestations, as he does in this fifth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel, he recognizes it for what it is.  The man “…had been dwelling among the tombs,” in other words, living among the dead and completely out of touch with humanity.  The encounter between this man and Jesus must have seemed surreal to the pagans who inhabited this region.  As we have seen time and again, evil recognizes good.  The spirit of evil recognizes its foe announcing: “’What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’”  Seeing the essence of what he faced, Jesus commanded the spirit of evil to leave its human host.  The evil responds: “Swear by God you will not torture me!” (from the Jerusalem Bible translation)
The next part of the exchange has its roots in ancient lore.  It is presumed from ancient times that in order for one person to have authority over another person or thing they must use the proper name for that individual or item.  We see this from the earliest biblical references, as God gives man authority to name all of his earthly creation (Genesis 2:19-20) but withholds any name for himself (Exodus 3:13-14).  The implication is that man may not command God.  In this instance Jesus asks for the name of the unclean spirit to which he receives the reply: “Legion is my name.  There are many of us.”
The formula is established, Jesus knows the name of the unclean spirits, and that fact is recognized as the spirit pleads with Jesus not to destroy them outright.  The spirits ask that they be sent into the swine that are there.  For the Jewish reader, to whom swine are considered “unclean,” this would make sense, unclean spirits being sent into unclean animals, reinforcing Mosaic Law.  Clearly even the lowly hogs could not stand their presence, since we are told the rushed into the sea and were drowned.
We’ve spent a lot of time dissecting the incident in Gerasene. So, what is the lesson there for us?  First we must come to grips with the notion that there is a spirit of evil that is ready to move into us as soon as we let our guard down.  Second the only protection we have against such attacks is the one who has authority over them, Jesus.  We must have him thoroughly installed so that when we encounter that spirit of evil we can recognize it instantly, and it will of course recognize Jesus, Son of the Most High God, in us.
Our prayer today is that we may grow in faith and love of God to a point where we have the ability to resist evil in all its forms.  We also pray for those who have succumbed to that force and ask that they find the Lord who will wash away all evil.

[2] The picture is “Christ Encounters ‘Legion’”, Artist and Date are UNKNOWN
[4] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp.74

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 436, 1241, 1546: Christ as prophet
CCC 904-907: our participation in Christ’s prophetic office
CCC 103-104: faith, the beginning of eternal life
CCC 1822-1829: charity
CCC 772-773, 953: communion in the Church
CCC 314, 1023, 2519: those in heaven behold God face to face

“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” 
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1630
Commentary on Jer 1:4-5, 17-19
This is the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. It is clear that the author sees the call of the prophet from before his birth (See Isaiah 49:1, 5; Luke 1:15; Galatians 1:15-16. I knew you: I loved you and chose you. I dedicated you: I set you apart to be a prophet.)
The prophet is commanded to proclaim the Lord to the nations. He is given the protection of the Lord who will overcome all obstacles. (“They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”)
CCC: Jer 1:5 2270
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17
R. (cf. 15ab) I will sing of your salvation.
Psalm 71 is an individual lament. In this section we hear a profession of faith in the saving power of God. In the third strophe we also find a link to the call of Jeremiah before his birth. In both cases the servant is known by God and prepared for his service from the womb.
Reading II
Longer Form:
Commentary on 1 Cor 12:31—13:13
St. Paul shifts his focus from the diversity of the different functions within the Body of Christ (which is the Church), to the gifts common to those enlightened by Christ. First among these gifts is love which informs all reason, directing the Christian to the love of Christ.
“In speaking of love, Paul is led by spontaneous association to mention faith and hope as well. They are already a well-known triad (cf 1 Thessalonians 1:3), three interrelated features of Christian life, more fundamental than any particular charism. The greatest . . . is love: love is operative even within the other members of the triad, so that it has a certain primacy among them. Or, if the perspective is temporal, love will remain (cf "never fails,") even when faith has yielded to sight and hope to possession.”[5]
CCC: 1 Cor 12 1988, 2003; 1 Cor 13 735, 800; 1 Cor 13:1-4 1826; 1 Cor 13:4-7 1825; 1 Cor 13:5 953; 1 Cor 13:8 773; 1 Cor 13:12 163, 164, 314, 1023, 1720, 2519; 1 Cor 13:13 1813, 1826, 1841
Shorter Form: 1 Corinthians 13:4-13
Commentary on 1 Cor 13:4-13
This shorter version of St. Paul’s discourse on the characteristics of Christian love (faith and hope) omits the beginning verses, but retains focus on the unselfish and selfless nature of the relationship between members of the community, imitating Christ’s love for the Church.
CCC: 1 Cor 13 735, 800; 1 Cor 13:1-4 1826; 1 Cor 13:4-7 1825; 1 Cor 13:5 953; 1 Cor 13:8 773; 1 Cor 13:12 163, 164, 314, 1023, 1720, 2519; 1 Cor 13:13 1813, 1826, 1841
Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
Commentary on Lk 4:21-30

This Gospel passage places Jesus at his home town speaking in the synagogue. Some of those present, presumably those less familiar with Jesus’ local origins, praised him. Others there were questioning his authority, since they knew him as a child and knew his family. This selection is his response to their questioning his status and authority.
We understand why the people were upset when we consider that, in his analogy explaining why he could accomplish no works from God, he used Elijah going to a widow in Sidon (not Israel) and Elisha curing Naaman (a Syrian not an Israelite). This would have placed Jesus on a par with the great Prophets, blasphemy in the eyes of his old neighbors. Perhaps even more upsetting to the people would have been that their God would not reveal himself to them because of their lack of faith.
CCC: Lk 4:16-22 1286; Lk 4:16-21 436; Lk 4:18-19 695, 714; Lk 4:18 544, 2443; Lk 4:19 1168
I don’t know how many of those present are familiar with the Star Wars movies, but there is an analogy I hope to draw from them today, so bear with me as I explain the part of this science fiction saga to which I am referring.  It takes place in the second of the seven films released (The Empire Strikes Back), which was made back in 1980 (which seems incredible to me).  The hero, Luke Skywalker is sent to complete his training with a Jedi master named Yoda who, with Pennsylvania Dutch syntax, speaks he does. 
Luke is supposedly learning to control the “force,” and is trying to telepathically lift his space craft out of a swamp into which it sank upon his arrival.  He is attempting to levitate the ship.  But when his rational mind sees how big it is, he loses faith in his ability and fails.  The ship, which had started to rise as he applied himself, sinks back into the swamp.
There are other examples of a person’s rational mind stepping in and taking over, confounding faith.  We use this one because it is well known in popular fiction but rings true.  Those of you who are old enough, may remember learning to ride a bicycle for the first time.  Do you recall that you got started those first times you attempted to ride with a parent or an older sibling pushing you and running alongside to get you started?  Then when they let go for the first time, your rational mind took over and you realized that balancing on those two skinny tires was impossible and you fell; right?
The Gospel story tells of Jesus home coming once he has taken up his public ministry.  Rumors would have reached Nazareth about his miraculous cures and the other miracles he performed in Capernaum.  So, there were great expectations among the people.  As the Gospel began in today’s selection, Jesus has just finished reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It is one of the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  Did you notice, he concluded by saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  In saying those words, Jesus told those present that he was the Messiah!  We notice their immediate response was one of amazement.  The Holy Spirit, no doubt, proclaimed inwardly that this was truth!
Then, their rational minds took hold of them. They questioned the thought that had first occurred.  The asked “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” (According to tradition, Joseph would have died some years earlier, before Jesus was baptized by John.) They knew this boy, now a man and prophet.  How could he be the Messiah?  Jesus immediately sees their disbelief and realizes he will not be able to bring faith to those closest to him.
Instead of just letting it pass, the Lord, seeing their expectation tries to explain why he will not give them any signs.  He points first to the Prophet Elijah and the miracle of the bottomless oil and flour jars (1 Kings 17:10-16): How Elijah did not go to a Hebrew widow, but to a widow of Sidon where God’s power was manifested through him.  This would have set the local Jewish congregation on edge.  Then he followed with another example, this time it’s Elijah’s protégé, Elisha, who cures a Syrian, Naaman, of Leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-11); again, not a Hebrew, a Syrian.  These two examples enraged the congregation to a point where they wanted to kill Jesus.
Ask yourselves, why did they get so angry?  Was it because they thought Jesus would not perform miracles for them?  Or was it because he reminded them how many times throughout history God had offered himself to them in the form of the Law and the Prophets, yet they had rejected God’s offer?  Was it not because, by Jesus reminding them of this just after he had told them he was the Messiah and been rejected, they saw the truth and hated him for it?  They had looked back and realized it was impossible to balance on a bike. It was impossible for the foster son of Joseph to be God as well as man.
How important this story is for us!  We come to Mass today with the promise of a miracle taking place, don’t we?  Perhaps it has been promised so often, we sort of expect failure.  When we come forward later, after seeing the bread and wine transubstantiated through our prayers, changed into the essence of Christ’s Body and Blood, can we see the truth of that event?  Does not our heart leap, at least for a moment and then, does our rational mind set in saying: “This is just a wafer of bread. Didn’t we see it put into the vessels to be distributed?”  Does our faith allow us to recognize the gift of life we are being offered?  Or have we looked back and realized it is impossible to balance our bike on two small wheels?
When Jesus came back to Nazareth, where he grew up and where he had been known his whole life, he could not show them signs. The faith of the people was not able to allow it.  It is a warning to us.  When we come to this familiar place and hear the familiar words, do we tune out?  Do we go on autopilot, saying the words without listening to their meaning?  It is a trap we all face, and one we must all work diligently to avoid.
Lent is fast approaching.  Let us make a special effort this coming season to revitalize our faith.  Let us embrace the truth of the Eucharist and once more marvel at the gift God’s Only Begotten Son has left for us.
In other years on this date: Memorial of Saint John Bosco, Priest

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[3] The picture is “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1630
[5] See NAB footnote on 1 Corinthians 13:13

Friday, January 29, 2016

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
On Saturdays in Ordinary Time when there is no obligatory memorial, an optional memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary is allowed.[1] Mass texts may be taken from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from a Votive Mass, or from the special collection of Masses for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

by Pedro Berruguete, c. 1500
Commentary on 2 Sm 12:1-7a, 10-17
Following King David’s sins of adultery and murder, the Prophet Nathan is sent to him. Nathan uses a hypothetical story of injustice which provokes David to pronounce sentence upon the wealthy land owner who had stolen and killed the lamb from the poor man. Nathan’s use of the tenderness and affection the poor man had for the lamb that was slain can be seen as analogous to the Lamb of God, who likewise was taken and slain. However, in this case, for David it would be to show the love God had for Uriah, and the sacred nature of the relationship between Uriah and Bathsheba. David, who is a just king, pronounces a harsh sentence immediately, only to learn that the story was an analogy of his own behavior.
Because David is instantly contrite, God does not take his life. Rather the punishment meted out first was David’s public humiliation for the acts he committed (“You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down”). In addition to the destruction of his house and reputation, the child of David and Bathsheba will also be stricken to demonstrate the injustice of the union between them.
CCC: 2 Sm 12:1-4 2538; 2 Sm 12:4 2538; 2 Sm 12:7-15 1736
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
R. (12a) Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Psalm 51, a personal lament, is the fourth and most famous of the penitential psalms. In these verses the psalmist sings that only God can reverse the awful effects of sin. Through this action, taken by the Holy Spirit, God’s salvation is made manifest in the repentant and their contrite hearts. We are also reminded of Baptism and the purifying effect of that bath.
CCC: Ps 51:12 298, 431
Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
Commentary on Mk 4:35-41
In this passage, Jesus embarks in what is probably a fishing boat with his disciples. A storm comes up and the disciples are afraid. Jesus, with a word (“Quiet! Be still!"), silences the storm and waters, demonstrating the authority of the Messiah over the elements of the created world. The implication of his next statement is that, if the disciples had a mature faith, they could have done the same. The disciples are awed by his power but do not yet have faith to understand its source.
The effects of unreconciled sin impact King David in the first reading.  Following the actions that led directly to the death of Uriah (the lawful husband of the woman David coveted – Bathsheba), God sends Nathan the prophet to accuse David of the crime against God’s commandments and to inform David of his temporal punishment.  While David is contrite, the effects of the sin he has committed impact everyone associated with it, including the child born of that union.  The blood of Uriah stained everything.
We of the modern age see the punishment of the innocent child of David and Bathsheba as an instance where the Old Testament authors misunderstood events.  They presumed that the illness visited upon the child was the result of a just and vengeful God punishing the couple, most directly David, the father.  They could not understand a God of mercy, who would not answer sin with sin.  Rather the sin that was witnessed by those who authored this account in the Second Book of Samuel needed punishment, and they saw the illness of the child as appropriate, given the magnitude of the sin.  It is the same understanding of God we see Jesus encountering during his healing ministry in Galilee, those who were blind, lame, or otherwise physically afflicted (lepers) were seen as being punished by God for unknown sins.
The reality of unreconciled sin is actually much worse.  Where there is no contrition for sins committed, guilt becomes like a cancer that festers.  Indeed, intense guilt will manifest itself outwardly and even physically.  It can cause a person to sink into deep depression, neglecting work, family, and self.  Guilt may cause other defensive responses in the personality of one so afflicted.  That person may become amoral, suppressing any understanding of sinful acts and completely embracing sin; rejecting the one who has the power to take all of that pain away.
When King David had relations with Bathsheba, when he had Uriah sent to a place where he would surely be killed, when he took the dead man’s wife, God was not stepping away from David; David was stepping away from God.  Likewise when we sin, who has moved?  Fortunately for us, in spite of the outward signs of sin, we have an all-powerful Savior who came into the world so that we could understand a loving and merciful God who would not punish a child for the sins of its parents.
Today we are given one more example of why Christ had to come into the world.  He came with power over all things to become the sacrifice that makes us whole.  It was Christ who became the bridge to heaven over which we must travel if we are to find our heavenly home.  Today we pray that we find the strength to offer our sins to Christ, and thereby mitigate the effects of sin in our lives.

[3] The picture is “David” by Pedro Berruguete, c. 1500