Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

The illustration used is “Jesus Is Rejected In His Hometown” 
from UNKNOWN; Illustrator of 
Jerome Nadal's 'Evangelicae Historiae Imagines', 1593
Commentary on Heb 12:4-7, 11-15
St. Paul encourages the Hebrew Christians to look at the persecution they endure, not as a fall from favor, but rather as a means by which the Lord strengthens them as his adopted children.  “This teaching is supported by Proverbs 3:11-12, taken from a long discourse in which a father exhorts his son to acquire true wisdom. In the present passage the father is identified with God and we with the sons whom he is addressing.”[4]
The proverb teaches that divine discipline is inspired by divine love. Without this wisdom, one might mistake the trials of life (such as persecution; Hebrews 10:32-36) for signs of God’s anger hammering down on every fault and failure.  On the contrary, God is a wise and caring Father who desires only to make his children better. It is because he loves them too much to overlook their sins and selfishness that he sends difficulties to train them in righteousness and to raise them to spiritual adulthood.  In point of fact, the sons of God are being forged in the image of God the Son who ‘learned obedience through what he suffered.’ (5:8) (CCC 2825)"[5] He calls them to remain faithful in the face of these trials so that God’s work may continue in them. The passage ends with encouragement to seek the peace of Christ in all things and with everyone.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 103:1-2, 13-14, 17-18a
R. (see 17) The Lord's kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.
Psalm 103 is a hymn of praise (and thanksgiving). It is a simple and beautiful reaction to God’s goodness. Contemplating human mortality, the psalmist reflects on the brevity of life and the goodness God bestows upon us in his eternal blessing of those who follow him and keep his covenant. It continues the analogy used in Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15, speaking to us of the loving and compassionate Father. It goes on to emphasize the omnipresence of God and his eternal nature, knowing us from eternity.
CCC: Ps 103 304
Gospel: Mark 6:1-6
Commentary on Mk 6:1-6
This passage is St. Mark’s account of the Lord returning to his home town. As is his custom, he goes to speak in the synagogue and amazes the people he grew up with. The Lord encounters intense skepticism, born out of the fact that the people knew him before he took up his mission. In St. Luke's version (Luke 4:28ff), reference is made to the feeling that Jesus, in assuming the role of the Messiah, had blasphemed. The resulting attempt on his life is omitted in St. Mark's Gospel, but we still see the Lord’s response to their lack of faith. Non-canonical documents of the early Church Fathers (c. 400) refer to the relationships of the brothers and sisters of Jesus.  See The History of Joseph the Carpenter.
CCC: Mk 6:3 500; Mk 6:5 699; Mk 6:6 2610
In this account of Jesus returning home, we understand something about the Lord’s early years, that period between age 12 when he was presented at the temple the second time and his baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Baptist.  The last we were told following his first presentation was: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2: 40).  That does not tell us much about his interaction with the community in which he grew up.  This exchange, however, hints at what the young Jesus must have been like in those years.
When he came to teach in the Synagogue that sabbath, we are told that those who heard him were “astonished.”  They asked themselves where he had come by the knowledge and wisdom he displayed.  In order for them to react this way, we can only assume that as a young man, Jesus was humble and unassuming.  He did not presume to instruct his elders or even his peers.  He was growing into what he must become, a humble and compassionate man who could weep for those who mourned at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11: 35).
The people of his community would have certainly seen the young Jesus, unassuming, learning the carpenter’s trade at the side of his foster father, St. Joseph He would not have stood out among his peers, with the exception that he never seemed to get into mischief.  He could not take the lead in these early years, except by example. His ultimate role was to be much, much larger.
Is it any wonder then, that when he came home after his remarkable transformation at the Jordan, after going into the desert and confronting his nemesis, the people who knew him before he assumed his Father’s mission would be amazed and then angered?  They were not with him to see the Holy Spirit descending upon him (Luke 3: 22). They were not there when he returned from the desert “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4: 14-5).  They had not heard or believed the rumors about his teaching and healing.
Now, robed as he was in his Father’s mighty mission, we can feel the Lord’s disappointment as the great lack of faith displayed by those friends with whom he had grown up was shown in their petty attacks on him.  Such lack of faith would naturally prevent the full effect of his healing power from being effective with those people.  We are told: “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there” (Mark 6:5).
And what message do we take away from this encounter?  Do we think our friends and families will be kinder to us as we go through our ongoing conversion?  Especially if we are away for a while and come home with great zeal for our faith, we should expect to be received as Christ was; human nature has not changed.  Our hope remains in the Lord, and when we do encounter this kind of response, we rejoice as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews encouraged. For the trials we face for our faith are blessings from God our Father.  In this case – we know we are doing something right.

[1] The illustration used is “Jesus Is Rejected In His Hometown” from UNKNOWN; Illustrator of Jerome Nadal's 'Evangelicae Historiae Imagines', 1593
[4] NAB Footnote for Hebrews 12:18
[5] The Navarre Bible: “Revelation and Hebrews and Catholic Letters”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2003, pp. 262

Monday, January 30, 2017

Memorial of Saint John Bosco, Priest

“St. John Bosco” Artist and Date were not cited
Readings and Commentary:[3]
Reading 1: Hebrews 12:1-4
Commentary on Heb 12:1-4
Speaking to the Hebrews, St. Paul exhorts them to follow the example of witnesses both ancient (from the Old Testament) and contemporary. He uses Christ as the banner of steadfast faith, who, seeing the joys of the Kingdom of Heaven, endured the Cross for the sake of salvation for the people.
The author returns to his principal theme in this selection. He encourages the faithful to redouble their zeal for the faith. It is interesting that the author mentions specifically how the community (cloud of witnesses) strengthens the faith. The reading goes on to place Christ’s passion as a model of steadfastness, encouraging the faithful to resist against all opposition. This resistance, says the author, should include shedding one’s own blood for the faith.
CCC: Heb 12:1-2 165; Heb 12:1 1161, 2683; Heb 12:2 147; Heb 12:3 569, 598
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22:26b-27, 28 and 30, 31-32
R. (see 27b) They will praise you, Lord, who long for you.
Psalm 22 is an individual lament. The psalmist, in unusually passionate terms, describes the devotion of the faithful and the trust that God’s rule over all will be just. The final strophe is a pledge of faithfulness for all generations to come. The psalmist gives the response to God’s covenant. It supports the idea from Hebrews 12:1-4 that this act of worship is done in community by the individual. In fact, the song presumes a communal worship of God. (“Let the coming generation be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown.”)
CCC: Ps 22 304; Ps 22:27 716
Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
Commentary on Mk 5:21-43
This selection from Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus continuing his journey of healing. The passage relates two interwoven examples of the power of faith in healing. First the Synagogue Official’s plea to Jesus to heal his daughter is presented. This is important from the standpoint that it is recognition of Jesus’ status by the local faith community. An official from the Synagogue would only consult with one widely recognized as an authority in spiritual matters.
On the way to the little girl, a woman with a hemorrhage that had been incurable by local physicians pressed in close and touched his cloak. She was cured and it was as if her faith reached out and touched Jesus, unlike the others crowded around, because he felt her touch among all the others. He turned and was able to specifically identify her. The Lord’s words to her were; “…your faith has saved you.”
Arriving at the Synagogue Officials house Jairus’ faith was tested a second time as he was informed his daughter had died. Jesus ignored these reports and proceeded to reward Jairus’ faith by bringing his daughter back from death; a sign of his mission to all mankind.
CCC: Mk 5:21-42 994; Mk 5:25-34 548; Mk 5:28 2616; Mk 5:34 1504; Mk 5:36 1504, 2616
One of the many rewards of faith in a loving and merciful God is the consolation of Christ in times of grief.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI expressed this much better than I could in his encyclical Spe Salvi:
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, ‘consolation’, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude. [4]
In simple language, the grief or sorrow we experience, especially at the loss of a loved one, a friend, or even a relationship, is indeed the feeling of being alone, deprived of the person whose loss we have suffered.  Into this void comes Jesus, his loving hand outstretched, bridging the gap between life and death.  In him we are never alone.  It is his consolation that lifts us out of hopelessness and gives us grace to overcome even the greatest of obstacles.
As the Holy Father said, Christ’s consolation is expressed most visibly though his followers (that would be us).  Our compassion for those who suffer becomes a miracle in itself.  It is not easy to accept another’s suffering, though, is it?  Accepting that burden necessarily means to experience the pain felt by the one who suffers.  That pain, we submit, is quantifiable.  That is, there is only so much to go around and the more who share in that suffering, the less burdensome it becomes to the group within which it is shared.  It is Christ’s (con-solatio) consolation – we are no longer alone.
Today as we think about the grief of Jairus, who briefly was stabbed with the pain of losing a daughter, let us remember those who grieve the loss of those they love: husbands, wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters.  May all those who suffer the loss be blessed with Christ’s steadfast presence, and our offer to share their suffering so it might be lessened though the consolation and mercy of God.

[1] The picture used today is “St. John Bosco” Artist and Date were not cited
[4] Spe Salvi, II, 38.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

“Exorcism at Gerasenes” Artist and Date not cited
Reading 1: Hebrews 11:32-40
Commentary on Heb 11:32-40
The Pauline author tells his audience he did not come to proclaim the prophets, which he describes as righteous and brave. He explains that, while they did what was good in the eyes of God, they did not receive the promise that is made to the followers of Christ. It is only through Christ that resurrection and salvation may be achieved.
CCC: Heb 11:39 147; Heb 11:40 147
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 31:20, 21, 22, 23, 24
R. (25) Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
Commentary on Ps 31:20, 21, 22, 23, 24
The complete psalm is an individual lament. This selection is a song of thankfulness and praise for God whose mercy is boundless and his forgiveness complete. We hear some of the pleading of the psalmist who has endured hardship and thought this was due to God forsaking him.  But the Lord had not forgotten him and returned to comfort him.
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]
Perhaps one of the most important statements we are given today may seem anticlimactic.  The man Jesus had cured asked, even pleaded, with Jesus to stay with him.  Rather than accepting his offer, the Lord sent him back to his own people with the words: “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.
The message we can take from this incident is that, what God does for us, he does out of his great love for us.  We do not earn his mercy or his salvation; it is given to us because God has a special love for us.  We can think of it as we think of what a good parent does for his or her child.  What right do children have to expect all of the good things parents give them?  What effort on the part of children causes the parent to lavish their love upon them?  It is not some merit in the child that causes or entitles the child to this love; rather it is the natural love the parent feels for the life that they, with God’s help and grace, brought into the world.
We have seen children try to do things that please their loving parents.  They are eager to please them, especially when they are young.  Do we not act the same way toward God our father?  Are we not anxious to act in ways that we feel should make that heavenly parent happy?  But think of the reward God promises.  It is not an allowance or a special treat, it is the grace and peace of Christ; it is the resurrection on the last day.  There is nothing we as human beings could do to make ourselves worthy of so great a prize.
Today let us give thanks to God the loving Father, who, through his great love for us, gave his only Son so that we, who are totally unworthy, might enjoy an eternity with him.

[1] The picture is “Exorcism at Gerasenes” Artist and Date not cited
[4] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp.74