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Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη

Josephus
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Who was Josephus?
Maps, Graphics
Highlights
Translation

THE JEWISH WAR
War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

THE ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

OTHER WRITINGS
Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2
Autobiog.


Apocrypha
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Introduction

Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Various
Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Tests_12_Patriarchs
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Barnabas
Bartholomew
John
Matthew
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Barnabas
Philip
Pilate
Thaddaeus
Thomas in India

Daily Word 2019

SEASONS of:
Advent
Christmastide
Lent
Eastertide

SUNDAYS, Year A
Sundays, 1-34, A
SUNDAYS, Year B
Sundays, 1-34, B
SUNDAYS, Year C
Sundays, 1-34, C

WEEKDAYS
(Ordinary Time)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 1)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 2)

Wks 12-22 (Year 1)
Wks 12-22 (Year 2)

Wks 23-34 (Year 1)
Wks 23-34 (Year 2)

OTHER
Solemnities
Baptisms
Weddings
Funerals
Saints Days

Patristic
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Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria

Weekdays, Year 1

Weeks 1-11

Week 1

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 2

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 3

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 4

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 5

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 6

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 7

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 8

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 9

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 10

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Week 11

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Biblical Readings for Mass, as listed in the Irish Liturgical Calendar. Text: NRSV. Homilies from the ACP website (section: Liturgy)

Readings for the 1st Week of Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 1

1st Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6

God spoke in many and varied ways, but now through Jesus, his Son and heir

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,
 "You are my Son; today I have begotten you"?
 Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"?
 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
 "Let all God's angels worship him."

Responsorial: Psalm 96:1-2, 6-7, 9

R./: Let all his angels worship him

The Lord is king, let earth rejoice,
  the many coastlands be glad.
Cloud and darkness are his raiment;
  his throne, justice and right.(R./)

The skies proclaim his justice;
  all peoples see his glory.
All you spirits, worship him.
 For you indeed are the Lord
  most high above all the earth. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

Jesus begins his mission and calls his first disciples

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.

BIBLE

Handing on faith

The Scriptures begin where all of us begin, within bonds of human love and family life, with the gradual development of hopes and possibilities. The Bible always manifests a healthy respect for the normal ways of human nature. Even if Hebrews affirms the divine origins of Jesus, its first words acknowledge the long, slow preparation of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Israelite people for the birth of our Lord, "in times past, God spoke in many and varied ways to our ancestors through the prophets." Those words span the centuries from Abraham to Jesus, where the special Jewish sensitivity to God's presence and action in this world was handed on from father and mother to sons and daughters over many generations.

No spirituality that disdains the bonds of flesh and family can properly claim to be Biblical. Still, there are times when God calls people to "Leave your country and your father's house, and go the land that I will show you." So it was for those working fishermen, whom Jesus called to leave their nets and their families, to travel the countryside with him, spreading his message of love and reconciliation. This Gospel leads us into a prayerful spirit. If at times Jesus may seem only vaguely present to us, he is still nearby, calling us to follow him, not in order to deprive us of ordinary human love, but to enrich and transform it. In the providence of God, transformations take place: Those Galilean fishermen were never the same again. And if to us Jesus says, "Follow me," and we keep trying to respond generously, our life's fulfilment will be safe in his guiding hands.


Lifegiving Encounter

Any encounter between two or more people has potential to be a lifegiving moment. The meeting that Peter, Andrew, James and John had with Jesus was such a life-giving moment for those four fishermen, the life-giving power of God was present to them in the person of Jesus. That power of God present in Jesus was the power of love, a love that promised forgiveness, healing, acceptance, a love that gave them a mission in life. The kind of encounter that Peter, Andrew, James and John had with Jesus is offered to each one of us. Jesus is not just a figure of history, belonging to the past. He is the living Lord, still present in his church and in the world, constantly calling out to us and meeting with us in the course of our day to day lives, as he met with Simon, Andrew, James and John while they were going about their work as fishermen.

The Lord meets with us and he speaks to us through the Sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, through the Scriptures, through other people, through nature and from deep within our own hearts. Each time the Lord meets with us we will first hear the good news of God's unconditional love for us, "the kingdom of God is close at hand." We will also hear the call to mission, the call to be good news for others, to be the Lord's body in the world, his feet, his hands, his mouth, his eyes, his ears, "I will make you into fishers of people." This morning we pray for the grace to be as open and response to the Lord's presence and call as Peter, Andrew, James and John were.


Tuesday of Week 1

1st Reading: Hebrews 2:5-12

Jesus, crowned with glory, having been tested through suffering

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honour, subjecting all things under their feet."

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you."

Responsorial: Psalm 8:2, 5-9

R./: You gave your Son authority over all your creation

How great is your name, O Lord our God,
  through all the earth.
What is man that you should keep him in mind,
  mortal man that you care for him? (R./)

Yet you have made him little less than a god;
  with glory and honour you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hand,
  put all things under his feet.(R./)

All of them, sheep and cattle,
  yes, even the savage beasts,
birds of the air and fish
  that make their way through the waters. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

Jesus teaches with authority and even commands unclean spirits

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God."

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him." And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching, with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

BIBLE

 

Who is Jesus, for us?

The onlookers in the Capernaum synagogue wondered about Jesus, impressed by the power of his teaching and his unique authority over evil spirits. But was it really all that new? Others before him had wrestled with devils and evil spirits. We can recall Moses' tryst with the magicians in Egypt and his command over the forces of wickedness and havoc (Exod 7:22; 8:3).

The uniqueness of Jesus is well expressed in the letter to the Hebrews: He is the one who, during his life on earth was made lower than the angels, but is now crowned with glory and honour because of the death he suffered, "so that by the grace of God he tasted death for everyone." He is the pioneer of our salvation, himself perfected by his sacrificial suffering during his Passion. He brings us into a family relationship with God, for now "the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father."

We can take joy from this basic fact: Jesus counts us as his own brothers and sisters. His life's work was to gather us together as God's family, and his intention is clear, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters." This truth summons us to live life actively and prayerfully; to interact with others in promoting the Kingdom of God; to realize that Jesus has shared each of our trials and temptations so that in him we arrive at our full identity as children of God.


Part of the community

In the synagogue of Capernaum Jesus freed a man from possession by an unclean spirit, a madness that had kept him away from his local community and from God. Jesus lived and died to draw people into a sharing of faith, hope and love, and  a personal relationship with God. He did not call people to a holiness that would isolate them from others. Our faith journey to God is a journey that we travel with others.

Putting it another way, our earthly pilgrimage is never a purely private one. We need each other along the way. Each of us has gifts that the Spirit has given us for the benefit of others, and they have gifts to be shared with us.  The Lord calls us to face life's journey together. Our Christian life is a shared experience, bearing each other's burdens.

 


Wednesday of Week 1

1st Reading: Hebrews 2:14-18

Jesus shared our flesh and blood and so is able to help us in our trials

Since the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Responsorial: Psalm 104:1-4, 6-9

R./: The Lord remembers his covenant for ever

Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name,
  make known his deeds among the peoples.
O sing to him, sing his praise;
  tell all his wonderful works. (R./)

Be proud of his holy name,
  let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice.
;Consider the Lord and his strength;
  constantly seek his face. (R./)

O children of Abraham his servant,
  O sons of the Jacob he chose.
He, the Lord, is our God:
  his judgements prevail in all the earth. (R./)

He remembers his covenant for ever,
  his promise for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
  and swore to his son Isaac. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

Jesus cures Peter's mother-in-law, prays, and preaches the good news

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

BIBLE

Like us in everything

Hebrews says that Jesus shared fully in our humanity, even in the experience of loss and death. He explains that to be effective as our merciful high priest Jesus had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way. He was himself tested through life as we are, but remained “without sin” (4:15). Taking this at face value, one could say that there is no temptation, however ugly or strong, that he did not also feel, and it places our own temptations, however embarrassing or persistent, right there within our relationship to our blessed Lord.

The merciful side of our Lord is also seen when Jesus visits the home of Peter’s mother-in-law. How good of him to care about her fever, for he is never present as a mere a spectator to people in trouble. Mark says vividly: Jesus grasped her hand and lifted her up, “and the fever left her.” Then, mirroring the blessing she has received, the mother-in-law looks after the needs of her guests. When the neighbours learn of Jesus’ presence they throng around looking for a blessing. All is hubbub as sick people are laid at the doorstep, and mentally deranged people are brought to be freed of the demons tormenting them. Growing weary of all this stress, early the next morning Jesus went off to a lonely place to think and to pray. And still he is told, “Everyone is looking for you.” This draws him back into ministry mode and he sets off to the neighbouring villages to proclaim the gospel. His life has a clear purpose: “That is what I have come to do.” This mission he would continue right up to his death, and after, through his Spirit, in the life of the church.


Healing and Praying

Two quite different activities of Jesus feature in today’s gospel. The first is his work of healing. He heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law by taking her by the hand and lifting her up, and goes on to heal many sick people who were brought to the door of the house. This healing activity was in public and greatly appreciated by everyone; the whole town came crowding around the door, according to Mark. The second activity is much more private. In the morning, long before dawn, Jesus goes out by himself to a lonely place to pray.

Whereas he was praised for healing the sick, this second, activity of going off to a quiet place to pray alone, is not appreciated by others. Even those closest to him didn’t think much of it. Peter, the leading disciple, rebukes Jesus, “Everybody is looking for you,” as much as to say, “Why are you wasting time out here on your own.” Yet, Jesus knew that the source of his life-giving work was his relationship with God, which finds important expression in his prayer. The activity of prayer was as important to him as his work of healing. Prayer is as important for us as it was for Jesus, indeed, even more important. We need the Lord if we are to live as he desires us to live and if we are to share in some way in the Lord’s work. In prayer we acknowledge and give expression to our dependence on the Lord; we open ourselves to the Lord’s life-giving presence so as to be channels of that presence to others.


Thursday of Week 1

1st Reading: Hebrews 3:7-14

Hearts opened to God, not hardened by sin

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the desert, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, ad I said, 'They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.' As in my anger I swore, 'They will not enter my rest.'"

Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Responsorial: Psalm 94:6-11

R./: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
 let us kneel before the God who made us.
For he is our God and we the people who belong to his pasture,
 the flock that is led by his hand. (R./)

O that today you would listen to his voice.
 'Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
 as on that day at Massah in the desert
 when your fathers put me to the test;
 when they tried me, though they saw my work. (R./)

For forty years I was wearied of these people
 and I said: "Their hearts are astray,
 these people do not know my ways."
Then I took an oath in my anger:
 "Never shall they enter my rest." (R./)

Gospel: Mark 1:40-45

Jesus touches and cures the leper, who proceeds to tell everyone about it

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean." Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

BIBLE

True and false conservatism

"O that today you would listen to his voice." “live today faithfully,” advises the psalmist, whose text is quoted in Hebrews, because we have all the grace and insight we need to live a life of faith, and therefore to enjoy a true spirit of peace. The Bible highlights faith as the way to understand our lives. But this is not so much a dogmatic faith as an openness to God’s guiding spirit. As today’s reading insists, right here and now we must not harden our hearts. We must be open to new impulses, inspired by God’s personal presence in our lives. Faith must be experienced and lived Today, and not as mere fidelity to forms of the past. The externals of our religion, even the most solemn of doctrines and the holiest of objects or sacraments, exist in order to facilitate inner communion with the Lord. Our inmost hearts are the true Ark of the Covenant and the place of encounter with the living God. Sometimes, for whatevef mysterious reasons, the externals on which we tend to rely seem to slump and almost collapse. In many places attendance at our church services has dwindled and religious expressions hallowed by time seem unable to contact today’s Zeitgeist and leave us wondering how to share the faith with our contemporaries. It seems that we must cross this desert as the Israelites once did, to find our God again.

Discerning true from false fidelity is not always easy. We Christians and our leaders must bear our share of blame if agnosticism, superstition and New-Age fads are rampant among our people today, in part due to outmoded ways of presenting our handed-down Catholic faith. Every believer has some role in commending the faith, within our proper field: as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as neighbour or friend. In our interactions we can and do influence others and can help them recover their former strength of faith and a more robust moral vision.

Today’s Scriptures raise questions about governance, for bishops and all church leaders: Do I use my authority to serve my people, or to dominate them in the name of a hidebound system? Do I seek to reflect with others on what our times require, in light of the Gospel and current opinion, as well as listening to guidance from the Vatican? Does my teaching and example help my people be aware of God’s presence? Do I seek ways to bridge the current painful breakdown in communicating the faith?


Touching the leper

Often Jesus healed people by just his spoken word “Be healed!” But in his care for the poor leper, however, Jesus not only spoke to him, but physically touched him. In making physical contact with the man suffering from leprosy, Jesus did what was never done by people in that time and place. For obvious reasons, people kept lepers at a distance, and lepers were expected to keep their distance from others. Yet it was the character of Jesus to contact people and keep nobody at a distance, not even one so ill as this leper. Nobody was beyond his reach; nobody was untouchable. He came to touch our lives in a very tangible way, all of our lives, regardless of our condition. The leper wasn’t sure whether Jesus wanted to heal him, as is clear from his opening words to Jesus, “If you want to, you can cure me.” Jesus showed he wanted to heal him, by touching him. Jesus wants to touch all of our lives, because he wants to bring life to us all. Nothing we do or fail to do, no circumstance in which we find ourselves, need place us beyond his reach. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.” The Lord touches our lives, where we are, as we are. All we need is something of the leper’s initiative in approaching Jesus.


Friday of Week 1

1st Reading: Hebrews 4:1-5, 11

Through faith we shall enter into God's day of rest

While the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "As in my anger I swore, 'They shall not enter my rest,'" though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." And again in this place it says, "They shall not enter my rest." Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day, "today", saying through David much later, in the words already quoted, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."

If Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God's rest also cease from their labours as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

Responsorial: Psalm 77:3-4, 6-8

R./: Do not forget the works of the Lord

The things we have heard and understood,
 the things our fathers have told us
 we will not hide from their children
 but will tell them to the next generation:
 the glories of the Lord and his might
 and the marvellous deeds he has done. (R./)

They too should arise and tell their sons
 that they too should set their hope in God
 and never forget God's deeds
 but keep every one of his commands. (R./)

So that they might not be like their fathers,
 a defiant and rebellious race,
 a race whose heart was fickle,
 whose spirit was unfaithful to God. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 2:1-12

In Capernaum Jesus heals a paralytic after first forgiving his sins

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God alone?" At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins", he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

BIBLE

Getting the balance right

Several details in today’s readings seem to balance each other. Jesus exemplifies at Capernaum how to adapt to dramatic change and yet move steadily onward, towards God’s rest. There is a large gathering at the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, presumably Jesus’ temporary headquarters at Capernaum. We may see it as a symbol of church unity, a reality larger than our Roman Catholic model of church and one that enables all believers to be united with Jesus, and so with each other. From him, in the setting of Peter’s home, comes God’s word to all who would listen.

An unruly scene takes place in that house, showing the ingenuity and determination of the four men who carried their paralysed friend to Jesus. When they cannot get through the crowd, they simply carried the man to the flat roof of the house, made a hole in it and lowered the sick man into the presence of Jesus. The story shows a nice blend of helpfulness and dependency. Without the paralytic those four healthy men would never have gotten this close to Jesus, and without his friends the paralytic was unable to get anywhere.

The supreme moment comes when Jesus renews the work of the Creator, by healing the paralytic and restoring him to health in body and spirit: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk again’?” But to enter into God’s paradise there must be forgiveness, not only from Jesus, but also from each of us. We are all told to forgive our neighbour if we wish to be forgiven by God. Such is the prayer each day in the Our Father. With such forgiveness, we remain united as one people of God and we avoid the excesses of dominance and mutual recrimination. We can be one people, strong in our opposing infidelity and yet never succumbing to power plays, petty rivalry and materialism. We can cross the bridge of change and support one another in the difficulties of changing times, patient with the sins of others, ready to rally round again in a bond of love and hope.


Carrying their friend

The image of the four men carrying the paralytic to Jesus is a very graphic one. They were so determined to get him to Jesus that they opened a hole in the roof above Jesus when their way through the door was blocked because of the crowd. They wanted to get their friend to Jesus because they recognized Jesus as the source of health and life. They were taking their friend to a fuller life. The image of the four men carrying their friend towards the source of life puts me in mind of the many people who are trying to do the same for those still buried under the rubble in Haiti.

This morning we remember those who are the victims of disaster, and we remember those who are working so hard to get to them and to bring them to life and safety. Sometimes we can do very little for ourselves and become completely dependant on others for our recovery and safety. More often we may find ourselves like the four friends in the gospel, in a position to bring others back on their feet, to help them from darkness to light. We need to carry each other’s burdens. When we are faithful to that calling we are following him who said, “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.” The Lord looks to us to help him to carry the burdens of others and to bring them to a greater fullness of life.


Saturday of Week 1

1st Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16

Our merciful high priest has passed into heaven

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Responsorial: Psalm 18:8-10, 15

R./: Your words, Lord, are spirit and life

The law of the Lord is perfect,
 it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
 it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
 they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
 it gives light to the eyes. (R./)

The fear of the Lord is holy,
 abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
 and all of them just. (R./)

May the spoken words of my mouth,
 the thoughts of my heart,
 win favour in your sight,
 O Lord, my rescuer, my rock. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 2:13-17

The call of Levi/ Matthew. Jesus calls sinners, not the self-righteous

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

BIBLE

An unlikely apostle

In selecting a tax-collector, Jesus calls the least likely person to follow him. As a tax collector under the hire of the Roman occupation force, Levi was not permitted to enter a synagogue nor to go up to the temple. He was excommunicated from social contact with faithful, law-abiding Jews. It is not that God chooses riff-raff for religious leadership, but that He whose word penetrates the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, “judges the thoughts of the heart”, recognizes potential in people whom others too quickly discard. There may be many whose growth we have stunted by failing to second their ideas or show trust in their ability. Other people may have seen in Levi/Matthew only the tax-man the non-observant, half-pagan Jew, serving the foreign oppressors, but Jesus recognized someone with a compassionate heart, hopeful towards others, in fact, the very dispositions attributed to God himself as He led the Israelites out of Egypt and prepared for the covenant on Mount Sinai.

When thinking about our hopes for effective leadership in the church, the most basic quality, surely, is a strong desire for sharing faith and love. Leaders ought to recognize and encourage the good qualities in others. Jesus not only calls Matthew but also accepts Matthew’s invitation to dine in his home with all his friends and fellow tax collectors. The training period is underway, friendship is being deepened, relationship being established. As pope Francis memorably said, this would be a pastor in touch with ordinary people “a shepherd with the smell of the sheep on him.” Like our High Priest Jesus who shared the very depths of our human experience, the good church pastor will understand the range of emotions and even temptations experienced by people today. The Scriptures combine a pure insight into ideals and a compassionate view of human nature, two essential qualities for religious leadership.


The company Jesus kept

The devout scribes were shocked by the company Jesus kept. They asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Someone like Jesus, a teacher of religion, was expected to keep better company than that; he should move only in devout circles. However, Jesus clearly did not restrict his company to those who were seen to have measured up in some way. He seemed to mix happily among people who were considered sinners, just as doctors will associate with sick people, at least during their working hours.

This story reminds us that Christ is happy to be in our company, even if we have fallen short of what is expected of us, even when we are far from being all that we can become. Our failings and weaknesses do not drive the Lord away from us. Rather his presence to us in our failings and weaknesses lifts us up. We always come before God in our brokenness and he never drives us away. His table is always set for us and there is always a place for us there, regardless of where we are at in life.



Readings for the 2nd Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 2

1st Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10

Jesus is our Priest, and the source of eternal salvation for all

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you;" as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek."

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Responsorial: Psalm 109:1-4

R./: You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek

The Lord's revelation to my Master:
 'Sit on my right: I will put your foes beneath your feet.' (R./)

The Lord will send from Zion your sceptre of power:
 rule in the midst of all your foes. (R./)

A prince from the day of your birth on the holy mountains;
 from the womb before the daybreak I begot you. (R./)

The Lord has sworn an oath he will not change.
 'You are a priest for ever,
 a priest like Melchizedek of old.' (R./)

Gospel: Mark 2:18-22

With the bridegroom present, don't put new wine into old wine skins

John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came to Jesus and said, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins."

BIBLE

Theology and Common Sense

Jesus differs from the high priests of the old covenant, who first had to make sin offerings for themselves and then for those of the people. Earlier in the same epistle (Hebrews) the author noted how Jesus can sympathize with our weakness because he was “tempted in every way that we are, yet without sinning.” Rather than trying to reflect theologically about the interaction between Jesus’ humanity and his divinity, it may be more fruitful to look at today’s Gospel and then from that vantage point return to this issue.

When accused by some hard-line traditionalists that his disciples do not fast, he does not get trapped into debate about the value of fasting and its tradition in the Scriptures, but reaches for a common-sense parallel when he asks: “What normal person calls for fasting and mourning, so long as the bride and bridegroom are celebrating their marriage?” He then moves the conversation up to another level: New times call for new responses, and you cannot resolve every issue just by appeal to tradition. For this insight too, he draws examples from everyday life: Experience has taught winemakers not to put unfermented wine into old wineskins, or the old, shrunken skins will burst. And one who cares for the family garments will not sew a new piece of leather on an older, shrunken piece, for the new patch will shrink and make a larger hole. His appeal to common sense has a levelling effect: everyone can share in the discussion. Sometimes an unlearned person, untrammeled by layers of tradition, will more quickly find an honest, viable answer to a new issue. The example of Jesus seems to say that unless our theology can stand the test of common sense and blend with the accumulated insights of people today, that theology is suspect. How can it be it a valid theology, or truly God’s word, if it does not fit the religious sense of God’s people?

And so, back to the letter to the Hebrews. Our common-sense theology is confirmed when we find our Saviour, Jesus, “learning obedience” from what he suffered. It is so helpful to experience the close presence of Jesus within our own experience of weakness and temptation. “People who are healthy do not need a doctor; but sick people do,” he said, and then added, “I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous,” (Mk 2:17.) Perhaps today’s Scriptures will help us be humble in our theology and persistent in our common sense.


New wineskins

Wine was vital to a wedding feast, the beginning of a marriage, as was clear from the marriage feast of Cana. Having spoken of himself as the bridegroom, Jesus also compares his presence to that of new wine. The new wine of the Lord’s loving presence and life-giving activity calls for new wineskins, to contain and dispense it. The Lord’s love is a grace but it also makes demands on us, calling on us to keep renewing our lives so that we can truly be moulded by his love. New wine, fresh skins. We have to keep shedding our old skin and grow new skin. We can never fully settle for where we are.


Tuesday of Week 2

1st Reading: Hebrews 6:10-20

Abraham's long-delayed son. A lesson in patience

God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, "I will surely bless you and multiply you." And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute. In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Responsorial: Psalm 110:1-2, 4-5, 9, 10

R./: The Lord will remember his covenant for ever

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
 in the meeting of the just and their assembly.
Great are the works of the Lord;
 to be pondered by all who love them. (R./)

He makes us remember his wonders.
The Lord is compassion and love.
He gives food to those who fear him;
 keeps his covenant ever in mind. (R./)

He has sent deliverance to his people
 and established his covenant for ever.
Holy his name, to be feared.
His praise shall last for ever. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 2:23-28

The sabbath was made for people, not people for sabbath

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the Bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."

BIBLE

Are we ministering life?

Today’s Epistle prompts us to loving service even in the ordinary events of everyday life, and especially to those of our own household. Routine matters, and familiar people whom we meet each day can hold the key to living in peace and holiness in God’s sight. Hebrews puts it plainly, “God, will not forget your work and the love you have shown him by your service, past and present.” Our God notices each action and each thought, so that in His sight, even the hairs on our head are numbered.

The author offers another encouraging piece of imagery derived from the ceremonial veil separating off the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple. Jesus has “entered the inner shrine behind the curtain.” He is our forerunner, who has opened up for us the way to God. Jesus has already reached the goal and is at home within the Holy of Holies. If we continue faithfully we too will pass beyond the veil into paradise. In another text the author extends this image still further. By his death, Jesus has rent open the separating veil so that all have access into the Holy of Holies. The most inevitable human act of all, our death, becomes the means of full union with the divine.

Some questions are raised in today’s readings: 1. Do I put my life actively at the service of others, seriously seeking peace, welfare and justice for them? 2. Am I appreciative of the potential for life in people who are handicapped, and even amid my own disabilities? 3. Am I minister of life, delighting in all its expressions, dedicated to its preservation and handing on?


We are still learners

The Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples for picking ears of corn on the Sabbath and eating them. As far as they were concerned, this was a form of work, and, so, was forbidden on the Sabbath. They were convinced that they understood what God expected of people on the Sabbath. In fact, they did not understand God’s will for the Sabbath. They saw themselves as experts, but in reality they were only learners and they had much to learn from Jesus’ understanding of the Sabbath.

When it comes to the ways of God, the ways of the Lord, we are all only learners. The Lord always has much to teach us. The Lord continues to speak to us and to teach and enlighten us in and through his word. That is why we approach the Scriptures in a spirit of openness and humility. We come before the word not as experts but as learners, inviting the Lord to enlighten us and to lead us further on our voyage of discovery towards the compete truth.


Wednesday of Week 2

1st Reading: Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17

The priesthood of Jesus is mysterious and eternal, like Melchisedek's

King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him; and to him Abraham apportioned one-tenth of everything. His name, in the first place, means "king of righteousness;" next he is also king of Salem, that is, "king of peace." Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

See how great Melchizedek is. Even Abraham the patriarch gave him a tenth of the spoils. And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to collect tithes from the people, that is, from their kindred, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man, who does not belong to their ancestry, collected tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case, tithes are received by those who are mortal; in the other, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood, for the people received the law under this priesthood, what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. Now the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, one who ha become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of him, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek."

Responsorial: Psalm 109:1-4

R./: You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek

The Lord's revelation to my Master: 'Sit on my right:
 I will put your foes beneath your feet.' (R./)

The Lord will send from Zion your sceptre of power;
 rule in the midst of all your foes. (R./)

A prince from the day of your birth on the holy mountains;
 from the womb before the daybreak I begot you. (R./)

The Lord has sworn an oath he will not change.
 'You are a priest for ever,
 a priest like Melchizedek of old.' (R./)

Gospel: Mark 3:1-6

Good can certainly be done on Sundays; Jesus heals the man with the paralysed hand

Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

BIBLE

What to do?

Today’s readings raise the theme of conflict and finding solutions. Melchisedek meets Abraham on his way back from a short military excursion against some local chiefs, and blesses him; then in the Gospel we have the conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, about what is allowed on the Sabbath. He is “deeply grieved” by their insistence that not even a work of healing should be allowed on the day of the Lord.

Notice how even the normally peace-loving Abraham was drawn into action in order to rescue his relative from the violence of marauding local warlords, and is blessed by Melchisedek on his return from this righteous intervention. We need always to remember our Lord’s warning that “those who take the sword shall perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52) and his explicit ruling out of violence, even in self-defence (Mt 5:39). These ideals make it very hard for us to justify any militaristic adventures for the expansion of one’s kingdom or ideas, since the basic Christian call is not to be served, but to serve and give one’s life in this service (Mk 10:45).

The thrust of these texts is for the triumph of life over the forces of death. Hebrews concludes that like the mysterious priest-king Melchisedek, Jesus is a priest forever, with a power of life that cannot be destroyed. And in the debate about what is permissible on the Sabbath, Jesus makes clear that it is above all a day for life-giving activities. He stresses, indeed, the contrast between “good” deeds that preserve life, and “evil” deeds, that destroy it. For God is the Lord of life, not of death; of peace, not of violence; of justice, not of oppression.

The question whether warfare can legitimate is a thorny one, to which we cannot find a definitive answer in the Bible alone, for it offers such a variety of viewpoints on the matter. Throughout the biblical period, wars and soldiering, both local and international, were an accepted part of life. There are some texts that give clear justification for defensive warfare, in the era of the Judges, or to repel the Assyrians, some even favoured a war of invasion, especially the conquest of the Promised Land, while other texts provide support for a fairly radical pacifism. Towards the end of the Old Testament period, the apocalyptic writers maintained that only God himself can legitimately make war on behalf of his chosen people.

Our Bible says, unambiguously, that we should live life fully, and with a sense of justice and compassion towards our neighbour. This can mean speaking out against evil and injustice, even at cost to ourselves. Jesus could have side-stepped the issue of keeping the Sabbath regulations, by healing the sick man in private, but he chose to confront the issue squarely and publicly, and cured the man in full view of all. In all circumstances, genuine compassion must trump convention or regulation.


Doing good on the Sabbath

Jesus declares that works of love and mercy may and should be done on the Lord’s Day. He himself does God’s work on the Sabbath by healing the withered hand of a man in the synagogue. Yet, perversely, some religious and political leaders began to plot together to destroy Jesus, for doing such an unorthodox thing. This is just in the third chapter of Mark’s gospel, and, yet, it points ahead to the end of the gospel story. It was because Jesus was dedicated to doing God’s work among the poor and the marginalised that he was crucified.

Jesus’ life shows clearly that good works do not always bring their proper reward in this life. It is a strange paradox, but one that is often true to life, that good can sometimes provoke an evil response. The goodness of some brings out evil in others. Yet Jesus teaches us that goodness is its own reward. He himself persisted in the good work that God gave him to do, regardless of his hostile reception by the authorities. We try to be faithful to what is right, because it is what God wants of us and not because of any praise it might bring us. We remain faithful to our calling to share in Jesus’ work of bringing healing and life to others, no matter what it may cost.


Thursday of Week 2

1st Reading: Hebrews 7:25-8:6

Jesus our high priest serves in the true tabernacle of heaven

Jesus he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Now the main point is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, "See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain." But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.

Responsorial: Psalm 39:7-10, 17

R./: Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will

You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
 but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
 Instead, here am I. (R./)

In the scroll of the book it stands written
 that I should do your will.
 My God, I delight in your law
 in the depth of my heart. (R./)

Your justice I have proclaimed
 in the great assembly.
 My lips I have not sealed;
 you know it, O Lord. (R./)

O let there be rejoicing and gladness
 for all who seek you.
Let them ever say: 'The Lord is great',
 who love your saving help. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 3:7-12

Jesus teaches the people from a boat

Jesus went off with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, "You are the Son of God." But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

BIBLE

Enthusiasm and Realism

The suspicion of the Pharisees is fanned into hatred when they notice the popularity of Jesus among the crowd. As men and women of faith, we often feel caught in tensions, like those faced by Jesus himself. Our life is a pilgrimage whose destiny lies beyond the horizons of this earth, in those heavenly places where Jesus has already gone “behind the veil.” We are asked to achieve what is beyond our unaided human ability. Each of us is a strange mixture of bonding with Jesus and embarrassment at his demands, or even at times just plain tedium about all religion. While close to our relatives and neighbours, yet we know deep in our heart the seeds of jealousy or resentment that still lie hidden.

It is helpful to recognize the tensions inherent in the life of faith. By faith we accept as real what we cannot prove nor see; we not only accept but even risk our all on the conviction that the goal of life lies beyond the present earthly existence. By faith we are challenged not to succumb to what is often taken for granted, in order to survive on earth. Must I presume that people are liars, that they are always hiding half the truth from me and using me for their own advantage? Faith directs us to a glimpse of Jesus, our high priest, “undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.” Faith insists that our enthusiasm for the goodness of Jesus is not flimsy as the clouds racing across the sky. The enthusiasm of the crowd for Jesus is not a passing excitement. It is an echo of heaven, where people from all nations unite in turning with love and loyalty and gratitude to Jesus.

Tension and conflict bring about a deeper understanding of our complex lives, even a mature wisdom. The Scriptures advise us to look carefully. What we think is real may be only a passing shadow; what we think is strong and effective, like King Saul may only destroy itself. What we think is just the blind excitement of the crowd may be voicing the deepest everlasting instincts of faith. One day we will be with Jesus behind the veil and like Jesus we will be holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. Jesus, our God made human, functions always as our priest, so that our human nature be made like God’s. Jesus is our pledge that this will truly happen, when all the tensions of our life will be resolved.


Drawn to him because..

Those who came to Jesus in the biggest numbers were people who were suffering, who were distressed, who had least going for them in life. They sensed that he had come to bring them life, that he had come in a special way for the suffering, the broken, the lost.

We too come to the Lord with the greatest urgency when we are struggling, when we are in some kind of distress. Like the crowds in the gospel, we reach out to touch the Lord in our brokenness, recognizing him as the source of healing and life. The Lord is as available to us as he was to the crowds of Galilee; he remains strength in our weakness, healing in our brokenness, life in our various experiences of death. We can approach him with the same confidence of being well received as the people in today’s gospel.

ess, healing in our brokenness, life amid our fear of death. We can approach him with the same confidence of being welcomed as the people in the gospel.


Friday of Week 2

1st Reading: Hebrews 8:6-13

Mediator of a new covenant

Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.

God finds fault with them when he says: "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." In speaking of "a new covenant," he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.

Responsorial: Psalm 84:8, 10-14

R./: Kindness and truth shall meet

Let us see, O Lord, your mercy
 and give us your saving help.
His help is near for those who fear him
 and his glory will dwell in our land. (R./)

Mercy and faithfulness have met;
 justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
 and justice look down from heaven. (R./)

The Lord will make us prosper
 and our earth shall yield its fruit.
 Justice shall march before him
 and peace shall follow his steps. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 3:13-19

The twelve appointed apostles

Jesus went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

BIBLE

Called to covenant

Jesus going up the mountain with the twelve chosen to be leaders evokes memories of Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive God's law and covenant. Even if the epistle to the Hebrews sees the Mosaic covenant as obsolete, the early Christians felt a link between the two covenants. When God made a new covenant with the house of Israel it did not empty the Mosaic law of all meaning, for it is often quoted in the Gospels.

What is obsolete is the spirit of rigidity. The letter kills, the spirit gives life. We try to conform our wills to God's will, not as slaves but as children, not for seeking reward but to express love and gratitude, not for external show but for inner peace. Even the smallest demand of the law is fulfilled in essence when a Christian lives in a loving spirit.The covenant is lived amid the vicissitudes of human life.

Jesus went up the mountain to select his leadership team. Mountains were a favourable place for prayer and for locating sanctuaries. To find motivation for living the new covenant, we need to value quiet prayer, to find our one security in the Lord. Luke notes how Jesus spent the entire night in a prayer-vigil before choosing the twelve. That scene evokes awareness of God's presence in our lives, letting Him touch our hearts and motives. This can renew our outlook, and help us to a new covenant, vibrant with the presence of Jesus.


Each is needed

Jesus sent out the twelve he had chosen to share in his work. He sent them out to do what he was doing, to preach the gospel and to heal the sick. He needed the help of others to do the work he had been sent to do.

We are to be his eyes, his ears, his hands, his feet and his voice, continuing his work today. He wants to work in and through us. Each of us has a role to paly. The letter to the Hebrews states that in the church everyone is a first-born child and a citizen of heaven. There are no second class citizens in the church. Each is a vital member of Christ's body uniquely graced by the Lord for his work and mission in the world..


Saturday of Week 2

1st Reading: Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14

Jesus enters the Holy of Holies, so we can serve the living God

A tent was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of the Presence; this is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a tent called the Holy of Holies. In it stood the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which there were a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot speak now in detail.

Such preparations having been made, the priests go continually into the first tent to carry out their ritual duties; but only the high priest goes into the second, and he but once a year, and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right.

But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God.

Responsorial: Psalm 46:2-3, 6-9

R./: God mounts his throne to shouts of joy;
 a blare of trumpets for the Lord. (R./)

All peoples, clap your hands,
 cry to God with shouts of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, we must fear,
 great king over all the earth. (R./)

God goes up with shouts of joy;
 the Lord goes up with trumpet blast.
Sing praise for God, sing praise,
 sing praise to our king, sing praise. (R./)

God is king of all the earth.
Sing praise with all your skill.
God is king over the nations;
God reigns on his holy throne. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 3:20-21

Jesus is mobbed; and his relatives fear he is out of his mind

Jesus went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind."

BIBLE

Total dedication

Jesus was so dedicated to his healing ministry that sometimes he hardly had time to eat. His dealing with the crowds was often so hectic that his relatives thought him out of his mind. They planned to lock him up, thinking him out of his mind. Up to that time at least, they did not sympathise with his aims and activity. But we who are nourished by his life-giving blood are drawn into sharing his ministry. We care for for others as our brothers and sisters, in their search for love, understanding, healing and new life.

Hebrews says that we are united with God through the blood of Jesus. The blood symbol refers to life rather than death, though it was by his death that the veil of the temple was rent in two and Jesus entered into the Father's presence. His death on the cross became the supreme sign of loving dedication to us, to bring us to the Father.



Readings for the 3rd Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 3

1st Reading: Hebrews 9:15, 24-28

Jesus as the mediator of a new covenant

Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Responsorial: Psalm 97:1-6

R./: Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous deeds

Sing a new song to the Lord
 for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
 have brought salvation. (R./)

The Lord has made known his salvation;
 and shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
 for the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth have seen
 the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
 ring out your joy. (R./)

Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp
 with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
 acclaim the King, the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 3:22-30

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand

The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said about Jesus, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin," for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

 


Paying the price of unity

Unity, its cost and its reward, is the central in today’s readings — very suitably, in light of the Octave for Christian Unity. According to Hebrews, Jesus unites and finalizes all the temple sacrifices, even the yearly Yom Kippur ceremony, by his one sacrifice on Calvary and his return to the right hand of the heavenly Father. As we read in Second Samuel, David creates a single kingdom out of the rival and jealous groups, the people of southern Judah and those of northern Israel. Finally, Jesus summarizes our thinking in a very practical way, “A household, divided according to loyalties, cannot survive.” The high cost of unity is particularly evident in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Through the blood of Jesus, poured out on the cross, we are united as one single community of faith and united with God in the heavenly Holy of Holies. Today’s reading returns several times to the subject of death and of blood.

Jesus puts the cost of unity in terms of loyalty to the Holy Spirit and an unswerving rejection of Satan. In fact, Jesus solemnly warns of the one sin which “will never be forgiven,” namely blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Those who sin against the Spirit will “carry the guilt of their sin without end.” Persons who sin against the light, blinding themselves to the evident goodness of others, ascribing the good deeds of others to unworthy motives, closing their heart to the call for compassion and forgiveness — such persons close themselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words, then, there must be a unity and integral wholeness about ourselves: our intellect united with our eyes that see the goodness in others; our intellect united with our memory and so arriving at the solid wisdom of good experience; our intellect united with our flesh and blood and so judging with sympathy and compassion, able to forgive others.

There cannot be a bond of union and trust in a family, community, church or nation, unless each individual first strives to be at peace within himself or herself. We must be possessed by the Holy Spirit and through this Spirit find our inner peace, our sincere and kindly awakening to the world around us. We will not attribute the good deeds of others to Satan even if their actions threaten us in some way and seem difficult to harmonize with some of our own ideas. Once we have achieved inner peace and unity in the Holy Spirit, we are disposed to reach outward and strive for peace and unity in the local world of our family and neighbourhood, and to support good causes that work for peace in the larger world of Church and among nations. Our union with others should reach into the roots of our existence, our bone and our flesh, where no person is better or different than another person. Secondly, union cannot be just for one’s selfish advantage but for the common good and shared happiness of all.

Hebrews envisions the unity of mankind as founded, renewed and sustained by Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. He died to unite us as brothers and sisters in God's worldwide family. His blood is the vital element circulating through us all, making a living bond with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. As at Yom Kippur, when the high priest sprinkled blood upon the Holy of Holies, the blood of our High Priest Jesus unites us with the Father. As in a family, blood is thicker than water, so that love and reconciliation become possible. In the blood of Jesus, by which we are drawn into the Holy of Holies. Through him we can learn to trust, and so reach out to our neighbour in his name.

All serious attempts at Christian unity must be founded, renewed and sustained in Jesus, the “mediator of a new covenant.” Jesus died that we may be united as brothers and sisters in the same family. The blood of Jesus becomes the vital element circulating in the veins in all of us, that brings us into a living bond with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. In fulfillment of the symbolism of Yom Kippur, when the high priest sprinkled blood toward the Holy of Holies, the blood of our High Priest Jesus now flows between us and the Father. In the mystery of this divine life, we become one family, all of us. As in a family, blood is thicker than water and holds its own secrets of love and reconciliation. In the blood of Jesus, by which we are drawn into the Holy of Holies and united with God, there are secrets which we will never understand on earth. Through Jesus we can learn to trust the most basic instincts of life and unity and reach out to our neighbour who is our bone and our flesh.


Tuesday of Week 3

1st Reading: Hebrews 10:1-10

The temple rituals were a type of the new covenant, brought by Jesus for all

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshippers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'See, God, I have come to do your will, O God' (in the scroll of the book it is written of me)."

When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), then he added, "See, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Responsorial: Psalm 39:2, 4, 7-8, 10-11

R./: Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will. (R./)

I waited, I waited for the Lord
 and he stooped down to me;
  he heard my cry.
He put a new song into my mouth,
  praise of our God. (R./)

You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
  but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
  Instead, here am I. (R./)

Your justice I have proclaimed
  in the great assembly.
My lips I have not sealed;
 you know it, O Lord. (R./)

I have not hidden your justice in my heart
  but declared your faithful help.
I have not hidden your love
  and your truth from the great assembly. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 3:31-35

Jesus calls whoever does God's will his own brothers and sisters

The mother of Jesus and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

BIBLE

 

Smaller and Wider Circles

Fidelity to God’s will makes a family of all Christians. Jesus identifies the true disciple not by by rank or position, special privileges of birth, talents and financial resources, but by fidelity in the routines of life. We are asked to undertake all we do as though in the context of family life, regarding others as sister or brother, mother or father to me.

At first reading today’s gospel seems to show Jesus as breaking with family ties rather than as forming a new one for his followers. When his mother Mary and others of his relatives come to him, one might expect him to drop everything else and devote all his attention to them. The words of Jesus startle us. Clearly there are moments when we should embrace our family circle and other moments when we turn outward to be of loving service to outsiders. Jesus gives the example of both these apects: he is conscious of his world family, yet from the cross in his dying moments he provides for his mother Mary (John 19:25-27). Here as elsewhere, Mary is representative of the church, the centre of a praying community (Acts 1:12-14).

If God’s prompting is normally found in both the small events of family life and in sharing of loving concern for others, the message in Hebrews is that we should root our daily intentions in the strength and goodness of Jesus. Repeatedly we need to turn to him, to purify our motives and to form an ever wider circle of love. The attitude of Jesus sanctifies our daily actions: “I have come to do your will, O God.”

The spontaneity of children can teach grown-ups the spirit of the Kingdom of God. Children can flourish in the warm embrace of the family; but they can also run through the neighbourhood and wave at total strangers. They teach us the meaning of Jesus’ words as he embraced people from all parts of the land: “These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is brother and sister and mother to me.”


Part of the family

This is the only passage in Mark’s gospel where the mother of Jesus features, when she comes with other members of the family to “restrain” Jesus, to bring him home, because some people thought he was out of his mind. Mark presents Mary and other family members as acting out of genuine concern for Jesus. However, the fact that we do something out of concern for someone doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do. On this occasion, Jesus kept his distance from his mother and the other members of his family, in spite of their good intentions. When word came to him that his mother and brothers and sisters were outside the house looking for him, he identified those inside the house, his disciples, as his real family. There was an implicit invitation here to his mother and family members to come inside and to be part of his new family.

“Whoever does the will of God,” we are assured, “that person is my brother and sister and mother.” Mary and the other family members had to learn to set aside their own plans for Jesus and surrender to God’s will for him. It is perhaps reassuring to be reminded that even for Our Blessed Lady it was a struggle to live out the implications of the prayer, “thy will be done on earth as in heaven.” It is a daily struggle for all of us to give priority to what God wants, but it is a worthwhile effort; it is the Christian effort and in that struggle we are assured of the help of Jesus and Mary.

 


Wednesday of Week 3

1st Reading: Hebrews 10:11-18

Jesus offers one sacrifice that sets up a new covenant with God

Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Responsorial: Psalm 109:1-4

R./: You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek

The Lord's revelation to my Master:
 'Sit on my right:
 I will put your foes beneath your feet.' (R./)

A prince from the day of your birth
 on the holy mountains;
 from the womb before the daybreak I begot you. (R./)

The Lord has sworn an oath he will not change.
 'You are a priest for ever,
 a priest like Melchizedek of old.' (R./)

Gospel: Mark 4:1-20

Parable of the sower and the mystery of the Kingdom of God

Jesus began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:

"Listen. A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold." And he said, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen."

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; so that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'"

And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, an it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."

BIBLE

God’s Mysterious Ways

God’s promises are present within us, in ways that we must struggle to comprehend. As Hebrews says, “Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins, and by that one sacrifice he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” He who is our hope, our way, truth and life, lives in us as vine and branches are united in one circle of life. The reality of his divine life within us is expressed in another way, “This is the covenant I will make with them after those days: I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds.”

The gospel cites some of the most difficult words of Old Testament prophecy, “They will look and not see, listen and not understand, lest perhaps they repent and be forgiven” (Isa 6:9-10.) That passage ends with hope, for the trunk of the oak remains even when its leaves have fallen. The gospel assures us that hope will blossom in its time; but it insists on the human factor too, the condition of the soil, dealing with the thorns, rocks and obstacles to growth. We are not to wait passively and do nothing, simply waiting for God brings all to fulfillment. While life is often beyond our control and eventually we must leave all into the hands of God, still we are expected to be faithful through difficult times. Salvation is the interaction of God’s mysterious grace and our cooperation. We must achieve what is humanly possible, and then in the end we can say, like Paul, “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, God made it grow”, (1 Cor 3:6.)


The farmer's input

This parable of the sower was originally meant as an encouraging word to his followers. As Mark has been reporting public ministry prior to this parable, Jesus and his disciples have met many difficulties and obstacles. The religious leaders have accused them of breaking the Sabbath. They even have claimed that Jesus heals by the power of Satan. Jesus’ own relatives wanted to confine him to the house because of they feared he had lost the run of himself. That was the context for Jesus talking about the farmer sowing his seed in the field. The Galilean farmer had all kinds of obstacles to deal with, so that many of the seeds he sows never takes root, or never reaches maturity. Yet, in spite of all obstacles and setbacks, the harvest turns out to be great.

The message is, surely, “Look beyond the obstacles, the set-backs, the disappointments; God is at work in my ministry and the harvest will be great in the end.” We can all become absorbed by what is not going well, by the failures, the losses all around us. The parable encourages us to keep hopeful in the midst of loss and failure, because the Lord is always a work in a life-giving way even when failure and loss seem to dominate the landscape.


Thursday of Week 3

1st Reading, Hebrews 10:19-25

We enter the Holy of Holies by the new and living path Jesus has opened for us

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Responsorial: Psalm 23:1-6

R./: Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face

The Lord's is the earth and its fullness,
 the world and all its peoples.
It is he who set it on the seas;
 on the waters he made it firm. (R./)

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
 who desires not worthless things. (R./)

He shall receive blessings from the Lord
 and reward from the God who saves him.
Such are the men who seek him,
 seek the face of the God of Jacob. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 4:21-25

The contrast between those who have and the have-nots

Jesus said to those who were with him, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen."

And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."

BIBLE

Passing through the veil

The life journey of Jesus led him via the cross and on to the heavenly sanctuary. Behind this Hebrews text lies the Old Testament ritual of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when once a year the high priest entered behind the veil into the Holy of Holies. There, amid a smoking cloud of incense, he sprinkled blood towards the place of the Ark of the Covenant. This signified the people’s purification by a flow of new blood, new life, between them and God. This ceremony took on new, poignant meaning on Calvary. Jesus is the high priest, the blood is his own precious blood, the cross is both altar and the place of the Ark. With a slight shift of symbolism, common enough in the Bible, the veil guarding the Holy of Holies is the flesh of Jesus. Both were torn open when Jesus died on the cross. When Jesus “gave up his spirit, suddenly the curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom”, (Mt 27:50-51.)

At the eucharistic table, the lamp is no longer hidden under a basket, and we see new meaning in our lives, particularly when times are difficult. The Eucharist is the tabernacle of God’s special presence with us. If we have this kind of faith, then “to those who have will more be given.” If we do not have this faith, then “what little they have will be taken away” and be lost in a n ultimately meaningless life.

If we give in full measure we will “receive, and more besides.” By uniting our lives with the death of Jesus, the lamp is taken from beneath the bushel basket and placed on a lampstand. To extent this figure of speech in the light of Hebrews, the lamp is placed on its stand in the Holy of Holies and we see the wonderful mystery of God’s love in the torn veil, the sacrificed body of Jesus, and experience a new flow of life and at-one-ment with God.


Take notice of what he says

We need to listen carefully to what he says, “Whoever has ears to hear, listen to this. Take notice of what you are hearing.” We hear many things but we do not always pay attention to or take notice of what we hear. Just as there is often more to someone than meets the eye, so there can be more to what someone says than meets the ear. When we listen attentively we can often hear the more in what someone says that may not be immediately.

What applies to our ordinary conversations applies even more when the Lord’s word is spoken. There is always more to the word of the Lord than first meets the ear. Jesus declares in the gospel that the more carefully we listen, the more we will receive, “the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given, and more besides.” The riches contained within the Lord’s word are plentiful and he is generous with them, but it is our generosity, our generous and attentive listening, that allows those riches to be released into our lives.


Friday of Week 3

1st Reading, Hebrews 10:32-39

Do not abandon hope, but trust in God's promises

Remember those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back." But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

Responsorial: Psalm 36:3-6, 23-24, 39-40

R./: The salvation of the just comes from the Lord

If you trust in the Lord and do good,
 then you will live in the land and be secure.
 If you find your delight in the Lord,
 he will grant your heart's desire. (R./)

Commit your life to the Lord,
 trust in him and he will act,
 so that your justice breaks forth like the light,
 your cause like the noon-day sun. (R./)

The Lord guides the steps of a man
 and makes safe the path of one he loves.
Though he stumble he shall never fall
 for the Lord holds him by the hand. (R./)

The salvation of the just comes from the Lord,
 their stronghold in time of distress.
The Lord helps them and delivers them and saves them:
 for their refuge is in him. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 4:26-34

The seed sprouts and grows mysteriously, to become the largest of shrubs

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."

He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

BIBLE

Seed Of The Future

God's message is like a seed full of promise, which bears fruit only after much patient waiting in the darkness of the earth. There is conflict and change as the seed breaks apart and loses itself for the new sprout to develop and appear on the surface of the earth. We will try linking the parable about the seed sown within the dark earth with today's text from Hebrews.

Hebrews was probably written for converts from Judaism, some of them former priests of the Temple. (Acts 6:7, "many Jewish priests, embraced the faith.") These could easily remember, with nostalgia and regret, their splendid temple ritual in former times, whereas they now had only simple prayer meetings in private house, and eucharist in upper rooms, little ritual and no grandeur. Their family ties had been disrupted and many of their own household now disowned or persecuted them.

Hebrews faces this problem of discouragement within the small Christian community. Today's text admits that they have endured a great contest of suffering; were publicly exposed to insult and the confiscation of their goods. There is the call to persevere: do not surrender, don't give up. This hardship is just for a while, and Christ will not delay to come and be with his faithful ones.

It's nature's mystery how the seed that falls into the ground becomes stalks of wheat to provide our food, or another seed becomes a leafy tree, where the birds of the sky build nests in its shade. Nor can we understand God's ways in the history of his servants. Yet as wheat provides bread and the trees offer shade, so also God does his people. Salvation is a patient process. And we must wait through the long dark hours until the seed developes into what it eventually will become.


The mystery of growth

The seed growing secretly draws our attention to the mystery of growth. The farmer works hard to sow the seed, but then has to wait for it to sprout. In ways he does not fully understand, seeds grow of their own accord. It is only when the seed is fully grown and the crop is ripe that the farmer can set to work again. The wise farmer knows when it is time to reap, and when it is time to wait and let nature to take its course.

Most of us are not farmers, but like the one in the parable we need to get the right balance between making something happen and then letting it happen. The balance between initiative and patience is important for all development, including our own and that of others. The mystery of growth is not something we can fully control. There are certain things we can do to bring it about, but other things only the Lord can do. While cooperating as best we can, we must let the Lord bring the work of his grace to its full flowering in us. Like the wise farmer we are grateful for the mystery of growth.


Saturday of Week 3

1st Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

Divine blessing on Abraham and his descendants

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old, and Sarah herself was barren, because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, "It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you." He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Responsorial: Luke 1:69-75

R./: Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people

God has raised up for us a mighty saviour
 in the house of David his servant,
as he promised by the lips of holy men,
 those who were his prophets from of old. (R./)

A Saviour who would free us from our foes,
 from the hands of all who hate us.
So his love for our fathers is fulfilled
 and his holy covenant remembered. (R./)

He swore to Abraham our father to grant us,
 that free from fear, and saved from the hands of our foes,
we might serve him in holiness and justice
 all the days of our life in his presence. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

Jesus calms the storm

When evening came Jesus said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace. Be still." Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

BIBLE

What assurance have we?

We are human beings, neither angels nor gods; we live on planet earth, not yet in our heavenly home. We deal with uncertain hopes and struggle with opposite tendencies within ourselves. At best, we hold to some noble ideals, implanted by nature and grace, and clarified in the Bible, our book of life. It invites us to reflect on the heroism of great women and men who went before us. These were ordinary folk, with human weakness and temptations, yet who lived with "confident assurance about things we do not see." Hebrews imagines a cloud of witnesses hovering over us and beckoning us also to be men and women of heroic faith.

Ideals are more than phrases in a book, even a book as sacred as the Bible; they go beyond mere doctrines, for God is immediately involved. Abraham, Sarah and the other Old Testament saints are described as living like "strangers and foreigners on the earth", because they experienced a deep longing for their homeland in the presence of the living God.

To his frightened disciples Jesus said, "Do not be afraid." He is with us always, even during stormy times, when we fear the raging wind and are threatened by waves breaking against the boat of our lives. He asks us, as he asked them, "Why are you so afraid? Why so little faith?" He infuses us with new strength and points the way forward. He enables us to be patient, to remain faithful, and to keep putting our ideals to work.


Don't you even care?

What a contrast between the calm of Jesus and his disciples's cries of alarm when the storm breaks over their boat on the lake of Galilee. He was lying in the stern of the boat, asleep, with his head on a cushion. The disciples were in a panic and woke him up to complain, "Master, do you not care? We are going down."

The fact that Jesus could stay asleep even through the noise of the storm shows his great calm. His disciples' panic was normal, but it also showed their lack of trust in God. He asks, "Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?" He wanted them to share his own trust in God even in the howling wind and lashing rain blowing over the stormy lake.

We all face storms of one kind or another in our lives. We have lived through stormy times in our church in recent decades, between scandals, defections and virtual schisms. Yet we trust that God is near us, even in the midst of the most threatening times. We are to share Jesus' own trusting relationship with God, even when the ground seems to shake under us, and the outlook is grim. As Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, he is with us too as individuals and as a church. If we trust him he will bring us safe to the other side, the far shore, after all the storms have blown over.

 

 


Readings for the 4th Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 4

1st Reading: Hebrews 11:32-40

Great past examples of faith and fidelity

Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets -- who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted and tormented -- of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Responsorial: Psalm 30:20-24

Response: Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord. (R./)

How great is the goodness, Lord,
 that you keep for those who fear you,
 that you show to those who trust you in the sight of men. (R./)

You hide them in the shelter of your presence
 from the plotting of men:
 you keep them safe within your tent
 from disputing tongues. (R./)

Blessed be the Lord who has shown me
 the wonders of his love in a fortified city. (R./)

'I am far removed from your sight'
 I said in my alarm.
Yet you heard the voice of my plea
 when I cried for help. (R./)

Love the Lord, all you saints.
He guards the faithful
but the Lord will repay to the full
 those who act with pride. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 5:1-20

Jesus cures the Gerasene demoniac

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit." Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swne was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, "Send us into the swine; let us enter them." So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

BIBLE

Tested on our journey

The Scriptures respect our human situation, yet they also make us realize that while on earth we are engaged in a struggle with evil and are expected to respond heroically. Not that every day of our existence is such a dramatic struggle. If it were, we would collapse under the tension and lose emotional control like the demoniac. Yet at key moments of our life that struggle between good and evil spirits does occur and to survive we must be heroic. At such times the Scriptures call us to homely virtues like patience and hope.

In Hebrews we are coming to the end of one of the most theological documents in the New Testament, composed by a disciple of Paul and John who was able to blend Paul’s insistence on faith with John’s concern for Jesus’ incarnation and earthly life and for the liturgy. The author of Hebrews portrays Jesus’ life as a long pilgrimage through human life, stepping into the footprints of every kind of human existence and even sharing our temptations and discouragement, leading eventually after the struggle against death on the cross into the Holy of Holies. Hebrews has been continually drawing on Old Testament passages, but mostly of a liturgical or highly doctrinal nature. Today, however, it summarizes the earthly pilgrimage of Jesus in another way, by a litany of Old Testament saints, all of whom struggle heroically to be faithful to God’s will in their life.

The heroism of the saints is not intended to set them apart but to unite them with us in the family of God. Even when we are at our best, like the Old Testament saints, we still need others to support and encourage us. Perhaps we can understand this final position of today’s texts by re-reading Paul’s hymn to charity: If I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give everything I have to feed the poor and hand over my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing, . There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:2-3, 13).


Inner peace restored

The Gospel tells a disturbing story about a man possessed by demons. This character is quite out of control, completely alienated from himself and from others. He was more dead than alive, as is shown by his living among the tombs. He was the total outsider. Yet, Jesus engaged with him and as a result of his encounter the man was restored to the community from which he came. Having just calmed a storm at sea, Jesus calmed the storm in this man’s psyche and spirit and sent him out as a messenger of good news to his community.

Hopefully we’ll never be as disturbed as the demoniac was, but we can sometimes find ourselves out of sorts with ourselves and with others, feeling only half alive, tossed and troubled. It is then that we need to come before the Lord as the man in the gospel did. His initial approach to the Lord was quite aggressive; it was full of anger, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” That can be our starting point too when we come before the Lord in prayer. Yet, he is never put off by our disturbance within. If we let him he will pour his peace into our hearts; he will calm us as he calmed the storm, and having done so he will send us out to share his peace and mercy with others, just as he sent out the man in the gospel.


Tuesday of Week 4

1st Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4

Around us a cloud of witnesses, and Jesus himself, to encourage us

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Responsorial: Psalm 21:26-28, 30-32

R./: They will praise you, Lord, who long for you

My vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and shall have their fill.
They shall praise the Lord, those who seek him.
 May their hearts live for ever and ever. (R./)

All the earth shall remember and return to the Lord,
 all families of the nations worship before him.
They shall worship him, all the mighty of the earth;
 before him shall bow all who go down to the dust. (R./)

And my soul shall live for him,
 my children serve him.
They shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come,
 declare his faithfulness to peoples (R./)

Gospel: Mark 5:21-43

Jesus cures the hemorraging woman and revives the daughter of Jairus

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." So he went with him.

A large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and waiing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha kum," which means, "Little girl, get up." And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

BIBLE

Who touched me?

The Lord  asks many questions in the four gospels. It can sometimes be worthwhile to notice the questions he asks and to sit with them. Today the gospel has one of those questions, “Who touched me?” His friends found this a strange thing to ask, “You see the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” They meant, “how can you ask that when so many are touching you?”

Jesus knew that one person touched him in an act of hope, as a last resort. Many were brushing against him, but one took the initiative to make personal contact with him. When Jesus saw who it was, he said  “your faith has restored you to health.” The woman was seeking him out in a more direct way than the others. The Lord is always passing by; he is always among us. Sometimes we hardly notice him. That woman shows the value of a personal and deliberate reaching out to the Lord. This is how we can better experience his life-giving presence in our lives.


Helper in time of need

Two people sought help from Jesus. One was a synagogue official named Jairus, a distinguished man who publicly approached Jesus on behalf of his dying daughter. The other was a nameless woman who was barred from the synagogue because of her condition and who approached Jesus privately on her own behalf, barely touching the hem of his garment.  These two people had something in common. Their need was great, and they approached Jesus in their need. They both trusted in the power of Jesus to bring life and healing.

Trust in the Lord can unite people who otherwise might have very little else in common.  The Gospel also suggests that the Lord wants to engage with each of us in our uniqueness. He wants a personal relationship with each of us. That is why he asked about the woman who touched the hem of his cloak. He needed to look into her eyes, to talk to her, to affirm the faith that led her to him. The woman who wanted to be anonymous found herself called “my daughter.” The Lord calls each of us by name; he relates to us as the unique individuals that we are.


Wednesday of Week 4

1st Reading: Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15

Trials will come but they yield spiritual fruit

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children, "My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts."

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitteness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.

Responsorial: Psalm 102:1-2, 13-14, 17-18

R./: The Lord's kindness is everlasting to those who fear him

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
 all my being, bless his holy name.
 My soul, give thanks to the Lord
 and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

As a father has compassion on his sons,
 the Lord has pity on those who fear him;
 for he knows of what we are made,
 he remembers that we are dust. (R./)

But the love of the Lord is everlasting
 upon those who hold him in fear;
 his justice reaches out to children's children
 when they keep his covenant in truth. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 6:1-6

When the people of Nazareth reject Jesus he is amazed at their unbelief

Jesus left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

BIBLE

Who believes a prophet?

His village neighbours’ response to Jesus was not encouraging. What new message could he have, since he’s someone they’ve known for years? What could he know that they did not already know? They even named some relatives of Jesus, his “brothers and sisters”, implying that like them, he enjoyed no special distinction. So they expected nothing new from Jesus, either. This all-too-common response illustrates the depth of the Incarnation: He became like us in everything, except sin. On the “brothers and sisters,” in light of belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity, at least from the 2nd century the Church has understood them as either “cousins” or “half-siblings”, children of Joseph from an earlier marriage. At the least, they were members of his extended family, and seemed no more disposed to see Jesus as special than were the other villagers.

Apart from the skepticism in the villagers’ questions, there are other vivid, typically Markan, elements in this Gospel story. “They took offence at him.” Far from the admiration shown to Jesus in other episodes, as in the healing of the bleeding woman or the reviving of the daughter of Jairus, the Nazarenes are angry at his self-assurance, his conviction that he has a vision of God’s mercy to spread. Mark comments, He could do no powerful deed there. It is as though their unbelief actually blocked his miraculous power. The Gospels see  a vital link between faith and the ability to be healed.

If one is discouraged by the apparent failure of one’s efforts to share one’s faith and love with others, it is some comfort to know that this was the experience of Jesus too. The Letter to the Hebrews adds its own brand of gruff encouragement when warning the Jewish-Christian readers about the suffering and sacrifice they must bear. Trials are sent by God to test us and make us stronger, he says, so  “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.” If we can only persevere in what God wants from us, we will not fail to obtain the grace of God.


Familiarity breeds contempt

The people of Nazareth should have recognised how God was working through Jesus in a special way. Instead, they sneered and indeed despised him. He was too familiar, too local. They knew his mother and his family. As one of their own, he was too ordinary to take seriously.  It is a classic case of familiarity breeding contempt.

We can fail to recognize the presence of God in the ordinary and the familiar. We don’t have to go long distances or witness miracles to recognise the wisdom and the power of God. It is all around us in the near and the familiar and in the ordinary, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. The Gospel invites us to see the familiar and the ordinary with new eyes. The failure of the people of Nazareth to see in this way inhibited what Jesus could do among them. Our seeing in this way gives the Lord space to work among us in new ways.


Thursday of Week 4

1st Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 21-24

The sacrificial blood of Jesus opens up a new Covenant

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Responsorial: Psalm 47:2-4, 9-11

R./: God, in your temple, we ponder your love

The Lord is great and worthy to be praised
 in the city of our God.
His holy mountain rises in beauty,
 the joy of all the earth. (R./)

Mount Zion, true pole of the earth,
 the Great King's city.
God, in the midst of its citadels,
 has shown himself its stronghold. (R./)

As we have heard, so we have seen
 in the city of our God,
 in the city of the Lord of hosts
 which God upholds for ever. (R./)

O God, we ponder your love within your temple.
Your praise, O God, like your name
 reaches to the ends of the earth.
With justice your right hand is filled. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 6:7-13

Jesus sends out the twelve in pairs, to preach, anoint and heal

Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

BIBLE

Messengers of Faith

Jesus chose twelve men (their names are listed several times, though with some inconsistencies in the names listed (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19-19; Lk 6:14-16; Ac 1:13). Mark tells us that he named them “apostles” (Mk 3:13) and it is clear that special significance was seen in the number twelve, since they are often referred to later as simply “the twelve” (Mt 20:17; 26:14. 20.27; Mk 4:10; 9:35; 10:32; Jn 6:67-71 etc) and when Judas Iscariot dropped out of their number, another had to be chosen in his place, to fill up that sacred number (Ac 1:20ff). St. Peter declared that one of the group who were present during the public ministry of the Lord Jesus “must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” Filling the place of Judas would fulfil a prophesy, and amalgam drawn from Psalm 69:25 (“let there be nobody to dwell in their tents”) and Psalm 109:8 (“may another take his place of leadership”), but the main reason for bringing the number back up to twelve seems to be that it mirrored the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:3). They were clearly to be the leaders of the new community formed by the followers of Jesus.

Over the subsequent centuries the idea of church leadership as apostolic succession has taken various forms, most especially in the episcopate, with the bishops seen as ordained successors to the Twelve. The formal episcopal functions of teaching, ruling and sanctifying are therefore linked in some direct way to the choice of the apostles. But while this structural interpretation is in some sense a valid development, it would surely be wrong to forget what was the original task entrusted to the apostles according to Mark, the earliest of our Gospels and the one most redolent of the living memory of St. Peter who (according to bishop Papias) was Mark’s patron and mentor in Rome. They were to travel around in frugal simplicity as messengers of the Kingdom of Heaven, with words of repentance and of hope and healing, and to preach a message of peace. This would be the kind of apostleship on which bishops should often reflect, along with St. Peter’s own added reflection: each bishop must be with us a “witness to the resurrection of Jesus.”

Inspired and encouraged by such a renewed sense of apostolic mission on the part of our church leaders we might resonate to the bright vision of the church sketched in Hebrews, as Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, .. the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and be gathered around Jesus, mediator of a new covenant, the One who determines our identity as children of God.


His work goes on

Mark shows how early into his ministry Jesus sent out the twelve that he had chosen to share in his work. He sent them out to do what he has been doing, to preach the gospel and to heal the sick. Jesus understood that he needed the help of others to do the work he had been sent to do. Jesus still needs us today to do his work. We are to be his eyes, his ears, his hands, his feet and his voice, his presence wherever we are. He wants to work in and through us.

St Paul understood this very clearly. He saw the church as the body of Christ in the world.  The body of Christ could not be fully functioning unless everyone plays the role they are called and equipped to play through their baptism. Each has a unique contribution to make to the life of the body and, thereby, to the work of the Lord in the world today. Each is indispensable and necessary. The 1st reading from the letter to the Hebrews puts it very simply. In the church everyone is a “firstborn child” and a “citizen of heaven.” There are to be no 2nd class citizens in the church. Each of us is a vital member of Christ’s body uniquely graced by the Lord for his work and mission in the world.


Friday of Week 4

1st Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8

A call to hospitality, contentment, care of prisoners and the persecuted

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?"

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Responsorial: Ps 26:1, 3, 5, 8-9

R./: The Lord is my light and my salvation

The Lord is my light and my help;
 whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
 before whom shall I shrink? (R./)

Though an army encamp against me
 my heart would not fear.
Though war break out against me
 even then would I trust. (R./)

For there he keeps me safe in his tent
 in the day of evil.
He hides me in the shelter of his tent,
 on a rock he sets me safe. (R./)

It is your face, O Lord, that I seek;
 hide not your face.
 Dismiss not your servant in anger;
 you have been my help. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 6:14-29

The martyrdom of John the Baptist

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

BIBLE

Alternative moral codes

The exhortation to “Let mutual love continue… Do not neglect hospitality” is a noble, heartfelt invitation to all that is best in Christianity. What a contrast with the brutal interplay of  lust, resentment, cynicism and callous violence that led to the beheading of John the Baptist.

Herod’s superficial hedonism, which was condemned by the Baptist, led him step by step to this tragic execution. Urged on by the venom of Herodias and the licentious dancing of her daughter Salome, (so named in Josephus, Antiquities Bk 18),  the frivolous king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. What a far cry from the ideals of love, hospitality, faithful marriage and simple dignity, as proposed in the epistle. But even in this moment of dire crisis and in danger of his life, John the Baptist must have renewed his act of faith with that ultimate Psalm of promise, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”


Herod’s banquet

Today’s gospel scene is one that has inspired artists and playwrights over the centuries. The sumptuous banquet in Herod’s palace for his birthday turns out to be a banquet of death. Mark follows this scene with the feeding by Jesus of the multitude in the wilderness. It is as if the evangelist wants to set Herod banquet of death over against Jesus’ banquet of life. John the Baptist is described in the gospel as a “good and holy man.” He courageously spoke God’s truth, God’s way, and that is why he was beheaded. Jesus was crucified for the same reason, because he proclaimed God’s ways, God’s purposess, by what he said and did. We are all called to proclaim the ways of God as revealed to us by Jesus. That will call for courage at times, the courage displayed by John the Baptist and Jesus. One of the traditional seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is courage. Today, more than in the past, we need a courageous faith; we need the courage of the Holy Spirit to witness to the values of the gospel, as John and Jesus did. A courageous faith is not an arrogant faith, but it is a firm faith, an enduring faith, a faith that holds firm when the storms come because its roots are deep. We pray today for the gift of such a faith, the kind of faithfulness that shaped John’s life and death.


Saturday of Week 4

1st Reading: Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21

God raised up Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep

Through him, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing, for that would be harmful to you.

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Responsorial: Psalm 22

R./: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want

The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
 where he gives me repose.
 Near restful waters he leads me,
 to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)

He guides me along the right path;
 he is true to his name.
 If I should walk in the valley of darkness
 no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
 with these you give me comfort. (R./)

You have prepared a banquet for me
 in the sight of my foes.
 My head you have anointed with oil;
 my cup is overflowing. (R./)

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
 all the days of my life.
 In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
 for ever and ever. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34

Jesus takes the apostles aside. The people are as sheep without a shepherd

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, so that they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

BIBLE

What we expect in our bishops

For almost five decades, bishops have been chosen directly by the Holy See, with little or no input from the clergy or laity of the diocese they are to serve. While this process serves to promote uniformity of doctrine and practice, it seriously lessens the sense of co-responsibility on the part of the local clergy. We might reflect on what Bishops are for, in light of today’s readings, both of which highlight Jesus as the true shepherd of God’s flock. While the shepherding power of Jesus is greater than the role of any church leader, a truly pastoral bishop can enhance our experience of being part of God’s People, the Church. In fact, the bishop’s main task is to build and foster among the people both the reality and the perception of communion and personal involvement.

As Jesus looked around on the crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. His loving response was to animate them by his teaching, and then to feed them through the sharing miracle of the loaves and fishes. Responding with love to the people’s deepest needs is the vocation of all who are privileged to have a share in his ministry. On this point, let us hear a few phrases from a recent article: ” What bishops are for” (http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2013/02/opinion-what-bishops-are-for.html) by Martin Brown OSB. A deep sense of communion  “is what will protect a new bishop from becoming too full of himself and too impressed with his status, title or attire. He is to teach and to lead his people as a loving shepherd; to be both father and brother. And he does this most excellently when he presides at the Eucharist, in the midst of the people of the diocese.”

Brown puts it trenchantly: “a diocese is a local Church and not just an administrative unit. A bishop is a representative of Christ and not just a branch manager. They have lost most of the power they used to have, which is no bad thing, but we need to have a renewed sense of who and what exactly bishops are, if they are to foster communion wisely.” For the health and coherence of our beloved Church, we should today pray that the spirit and example of the Good Shepherd will deeply animate the bishops who are now charged with shepherding his flock according to his Gospel message.


When plans go awry

Often our plans do not work out. In the morning we might plan to get something done that day, but somehow it does not work out. On a grander scale, some plan we might have had for our career or our family does not materialize. There are different possible responses to our plans not working out,short of giving up in despair.

Jesus' own plans for himself and his disciples did not work out. He intended taking them away to a lonely place for a time of retreat and reflection, because they had been so busy they hardly had time even to eat. However, when they reached that "lonely place", it had become a crowded place; the crowd had got there ahead of them. Jesus' response to this unexpected intrusion was not anger or indignation. Instead, "he had compassion on them"  and set himself to teach them. His plans had to be changed. Something else happened that served God's purpose. Whenever our own plans go awry, sometimes something better can replace them, if we are flexible and open. God's purpose is always greater than our plans. Whenever we have to let of our plans, the Lord's life-giving purpose for our lives prevails.


Readings for the 5th Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 5

1st Reading: Genesis 1:1-19

God creates light, sky, earth and sun, moon and stars, in the act of creation

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light" and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth." And it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

Responsorial: Psalm 103:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 24, 35

R./: May the Lord be glad in his works

Bless the Lord, my soul.
 Lord God, how great you are,
 clothed in majesty and glory,
 wrapped in light as in a robe. (R./)

You founded the earth on its base,
 to stand firm from age to age.
You wrapped it with the ocean like a cloak:
 the waters stood higher than the mountains. (R./)

You make springs gush forth in the valleys:
 they flow in between the hills.
 On their banks dwell the birds of heaven;
 from the branches they sing their song. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 6:53-56

The sick were brought to Jesus and whoever touched him with faith was healed

Having made the crossing, Jesus and his disciples came came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, the people laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

BIBLE

God's world and ours

Genesis gives a wide-angle view of the universe as the sanctuary or throne for God's majestic presence. All religious ceremonies, whether in the Jerusalem temple or on our church altars must keep contact with the physical world of earth and sky, if they are to be reminders of God's greatness that passes our understanding. But without regular liturgy we can lose sight of  God's mysterious presence in our daily living.

But even in God's good world there are many dark spots, of sickness, disorder, grief and injustice. In today's reading from Mark we see the healing touch of Jesus at work, bringing hope and consolation to those who were sick. He calls his followers, ourselves, to be like himself, instruments of God to cleanse and revive our good world. Our efforts of kindness and love extend the range of Jesus' healing touch; our words of forgiveness and encouragement echo the word of God. We go out as instruments of blessing, at the end of each Eucharistic liturgy, to carry on God's creative work in our real world.


Even the fringe of his cloak

The gospel highlights the great popularity of Jesus among the ordinary people of Galilee. In particular, he attracted the sick and broken, because God’s healing power was so clearly at work through him. People begged him to let him touch even the fringe of his cloak, as the woman had done who was healed of her flow of blood. The Gospel says that people were hurrying to bring the sick to him. The poor and the needy were especially desperate to get to him and to connect with him.

In our own lives too, it is often in our brokenness that we seek out the Lord with the greatest urgency. Something happens to us that brings home to us our vulnerability, our weakness, our inability to manage. In those situations, when we come face to face with our limitations, we can seek out the Lord with a greater energy and an urgency we don’t normally show. It is those experiences, where we come face to face with our frailties, that bring home to us our need of the Lord and our dependence on him. It is often the darker and more painful experiences of life that open us up to the Lord. When Paul was struggling with his “thorn in the flesh,” he heard the risen Lord say to him, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Our various experiences of weakness can be like gateways through which we reach out to the Lord and the Lord comes to us.


Tuesday of Week 5

1st Reading: Genesis 1:20, 2:4

After forming man and woman to the divine likeness, God rested on the seventh day

God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that hehad made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

Responsorial: Psalm 8:4-9

R./: O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth

When I see the heavens,
 the work of your hands,
 the moon and the stars which you arranged,
 what is man that you should keep him in mind,
 mortal man that you care for him? (R./)

Yet you have made him little less than a god;
 with glory and honour you crowned him,
 gave him power over the works of your hand,
 put all things under his feet. (R./)

All of them, sheep and cattle,
 yes, even the savage beasts,
 birds of the air, and fish
 that make their way through the waters. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 7:1-13

Not letting tradition nullify the plain sense of God's word

The Pharisees and some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,'This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

Then he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'honour your father and your mother;' and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, 'Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban' (that is, an offering to God), then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this."

BIBLE

Where God is found

Scripture proclaims the sacredness of the created world, culminating in the creation of human beings in the divine image. As the pinnacle of creation, according to the priestly author in Genesis, God crowns his work by forming humankind. Male and Female, “in the image of God he created them.” While each other stage was “good“, the inspired author says that after creating humankind, God “found it very good.” While exalting the status of human beings as the pinnacle of creation, Genesis suggests that the interplay of the sexes in marriage and the family is a significant image of God’s inner being, and here God must continue to be present.

After this ultimate of all works on the sixth day, God proceeds to “rest from all the work he had done” and so “blessed the seventh day.” This is not a withdrawal from his newly created world in order to rest, but rather God rests in the midst of all its beauty and goodness. The world is God’s true temple and church; the sound of wind and surf, thunder and birdsong are hymns of praise.

This background can throw light on today’s gospel, to understand why Jesus spoke as he did. He blames the Pharisees and [canon] lawyers for artificially setting aside God’s will [that we respect and appreciate the world, as blessed by God] “just for the sake of keeping your traditions.” To wash and clean our food before eating is of course good, but only done in a spirit of respect for others. But if it only leads to arguments and a better-than-thou attitude, it violates God’s will that we form a united human family made in his own likeness. The Bible is continually undermining the barriers we want to raise between one group and another. Jesus could not tolerate separations and class-distinctions that divide and split apart. Any who promote divisiveness need to examine if the warning applies to them: “This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me.”


Not hog- tied by traditions

Jesus accuses his critics of ignoring the commandments of God, while grimly insisting on keeping human regulations. Jesus recognized that the religious traditions of his time did not always correspond to God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures, and as revealed in a much fuller way now by Jesus himself. The church needs to be always alert to ensure that its own traditions conform to God’s word to us, especially as spoken by Jesus. Every so often our church has to renew itself, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to purify its traditions so that they correspond more closely to the true spirit of the gospel. We can understand the Council of Vatican II as a significant attempt to do just that. In our own personal lives too we can get into traditional ways of doing things that are not in keeping with the core of God’s message to us in and through the Scriptures. Our own personal tradition, whether it is our religious tradition, or our tradition in the broader sense, is always in need of reform in the light of the gospel. We need to keep on hearing the word of the Lord afresh, and to invoke the Holy Spirit to help us to do so.


Wednesday of Week 5

1st Reading: Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17

God creates Adam and sets him in the garden to cultivate it

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground, then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

Responsorial: Psalm 103:1-2, 27-30

R./: Bless the Lord, my soul

Bless the Lord my soul.
 Lord God, how great you are,
 clothed in majesty and glory,
 wrapped in light as in a robe. (R./)

All of these look to you
 to give them their food in due season.
You give it, they gather it up:
 you open your hand, they have their fill. (R./)

You take back your spirit, they die,
 returning from the dust from which they came.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
 and you renew the face of the earth. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 7:14-23

What renders us impure is not what enters us from outside but what's in our heart

Jesus called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

BIBLE

Wisdom from above

Genesis describes the garden of Eden with all kinds of delightful things to eat and Adam there to cultivate it. Within the garden was the tree of knowledge of good and evil whose fruit he was not to eat; Adam was expected to exercise self-control and a humble regard for God’s instructions. Jesus developes this traditional idea, that external things are part of God’s good creation. What we eat or drink is clean and healthy, gifts from the God of life. Evil comes from within the human heart, from whose wicked desires flow those crimes and offenses which corrode and corrupt the world about us.

The story-teller of Genesis wants to impress on us how the creation of human life needed a special intervention of God who breathed into man the breath of life; that the garden was not the result of human ingenuity but was prepared in advance by God. The wisdom to make the best use of the world also comes from the Lord, with our intellect illumined by his assisting grace. It is a wisdom that includes a humble attitude to care for the earth and the strength to control our selfish desires. A sensitivity towards God, a remembrance in prayer of God’s gracious acts for us in the past, a joy from offering praise and adoration to our Maker, all this belongs to the wisdom by which good judgment is formed.

Without wisdom, evil can entice us away from the right path. Jesus names some evil tendencies, almost the reverse of the ten commandments: fornication, theft, murder, greed, arrogance, an obtuse spirit. The wisdom we need comes from God’s Holy Spirit.


In the deep heart's core

While the heart is a powerful, traditional symbol for love, Jesus takes a somewhat more nuanced view of what lies hidden in the heart. It can be the seat of evil intentions, intentions that are damaging and destructive of others. The heart is the person's inner core and we know that our heart can hold both light and shade; it can be a reservoir for good and for harm.

One of the great traditional images of our faith has been the Sacred Heart.  This image declares that at God's inner core is a totally selfless love, a love  revealed fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This greater love is powerfully creative and life-giving. Our own hearts should in some sense reflect the Sacred Heart, with an inner core linked to God's inner core. This vision of our potential echoes in a simple prayer that many of us will have learned at some time, "Come Holy Spirit, fill my heart, and kindle in me the fire of your love."


Thursday of Week 5

1st Reading: Genesis 2:18-25

Woman stands equal to man, as they are joined as one flesh

The Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

Responsorial: Psalm 127:1-5

R./: Happy are those who fear the Lord

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
 and walk in his ways.
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper. (R./)

Your wife like a fruitful vine
 in the heart of your house;
 your children like shoots of the olive
 around your table. (R./)

Indeed thus shall be blessed
 the man who fears the Lord.
 May the Lord bless you from Zion
 all the days of your life. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 7:24-30

By persevering faith, a Syro-Phoenician woman gets Jesus to cure her daughter

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile of Syro-phoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." The he said to her, "For saying that, you may go, the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

BIBLE

Generosity between the sexes

Women are centre-stage in today's readings. The first woman, Eve, heals the loneliness of the first man, Adam, corresponding to him in a way that no other creature could, and the two are united as equals, in one flesh. While the Jews knew how women bring joy and fulfilment stability into the life of men, they regarded pagan women as responsible for apostasy in Israel. Then in the gospel a pagan woman surprises Jesus with her faith and humble perseverance.

Today more than in the past we ponder on the rightful relationship between the sexes, in family, friendship, in the workplace and in social situations. Our differences as men and women help us to complement each other and challenge each other to grow. Genesis suggests that either the woman or the man in isolation would be deficient and incomplete. The union by which they complement one another enables the image of God in both of them to flourish. In this way marriage sets the pattern for all human friendship and community.

Many of the women in the Scriptures can be models for men as well as for women, just as men provide examples for both women and men. What is scattered and fragmented must be reunited in Jesus, for as Paul says: "among you it is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28-29). In a radical way, belonging to Jesus heals all fragmentation arising from sex and gender.

Adam exclaimed, "This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." If a spouse needs to leave father and mother and cling to the other, each has a divine mandate to put nothing before one's loyalty to the other. The words of Jesus apply: There is no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13). In times of crisis, spouses may need to remember his other saying: "Whoever tries to preserve their life will lose it; whoever loses it will keep it" (Luke 17:33). Not only do we not put anyone else before our spouse, but we may be called on to sacrifice ourselves for their sake.


Disarmed by humility

Focus on one thing can cause us to neglect another. Even Jesus seems reluctant to divert attention away from his own chosen people, Israel, to attend to the pagan woman. There is no simple way to soften the harsh reply of Jesus, except perhaps that he would not repeat the mistakes of Solomon who was led astray by foreign women.

The words of apparent rejection are disarmed by the woman's humility, perseverance and love for her child. Not for selfish pleasure or personal gain, but for the sake of her daughter, does the woman turn aside Jesus' harsh words by replying: "but even the dogs under the table eat the family's leavings." This answer overcomes his first objections, and Jesus heals the woman's daughter, a splendid example of gentle perseverance rewarded.


Friday of Week 5

1st Reading: Genesis 3:1-8

Woman and man disobey God and try to hide from him in the garden

The serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Responsorial: Psalm 31:1-2, 5-7

R./: Happy are those who sins are forgiven

Happy the man whose offence is forgiven,
 whose sin is remitted.
 O happy the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
in whose spirit is no guile. (R./)

But now I have acknowledged my sins;
 my guilt I did not hide.
 I said: 'I will confess my offence to the Lord.'
 And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin. (R./)

So let every good man pray to you
 in the time of need.
The floods of water may reach high
 but him they shall not reach. (R./)

You are my hiding place, O Lord;
 you save me from distress.
You surround me with cries of deliverance. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 7:31-37

Jesus cures a man who was deaf and dumb

Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

BIBLE

Paradise Lost and Found

Genesis shows Paradise Lost, while the Gospel tells of of paradise regained. Adam and Eve felt the need to cover up, each needing to hide from the other. Fear and mistrust inhibited the open spontaneity of their relationship. The man cured of deafness and dumbness seems to toss inhibition to the wind, dancing, singing, leaping, shouting and proclaiming the good news. While we lose paradise and will, hopefully,re-enter paradise as human beings who are both physical and spiritual, the Bible encourages us to a sense of gratitude to God, source of all our good.

There is a sense of paradise restored in the story of Jesus curing the deaf and dumb man. He put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with saliva, then looked up to heaven with a groan of petition. Jesus’ words and compassion, even his distressed groan over the man’s disability, show how the dumb man was restored to full health. It is likely that Mark intends this scene as paradise regained. The phrase, “he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” is from a sparkling prophecy of Isaiah, that “those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.” The Messianic age is near. “Here is your God, he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared” (Isa 35:5).

In this cure, there is a hint of universal salvation. Just the two paradises, lost and regained. In Genesis, the man and the woman realized that they were naked and felt ashamed. In the gospel, once the man is healed, every other impediment is dropped. With spontaneous joy he forgets the order to tell nobody. Not only the man himself but the whole neighbourhood knows what Jesus has done. The gospel has almost a playful reference to the Messianic Secret, for when Jesus told them not to tell anyone; the more strictly he ordered secrecy, the more they proclaimed it.

On leaving paradise Adam and Eve covered themselves with leaves, each needing a barrier of some kind against the other. Fear and mistrust now spoil their former spontaneity. By contrast, the man who had been deaf and dumb now tosses inhibition to the wind, dancing, singing, shouting and proclaiming the good news. For this sense of Paradise lost and regained, we give thanks to God, source of all our good.

Jesus offers universal salvation, something already observed in yesterday’s story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. We can contrast the two paradises, lost and regained. In Genesis man and woman, once they had sinned, realized that they were naked and felt ashamed. In the gospel, once the man’s hearing and speech are healed, every other impediment is dropped. With joyful spontaneity he forgets the injunction not to tell anyone. Not only the man himself but everyone else announces the good news of what Jesus has acomplished. The gospel has almost a playful interaction here, for when he enjoined them strictly not to tell anyone; the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.


Valuing our senses

We should not take our senses for granted, the fact that we can see, hear, smell, touch and speak. It is only when we lose one of our senses or someone close to us loses one of theirs that we begin to realize how precious those gifts are. Because they are such wonderful gifts we need to keep challenging ourselves, “How am I using these gifts of hearing, sight, speech?”

A deaf man was brought to Jesus with an impediment in his speech. There can be a link between the two; the inability to hear can affect how people speak. Jesus first opened the man’s ears, and then he could speak clearly. For us who have the gifts of both hearing and speech, it is also true that the quality of our speaking is in some way related to the quality of our hearing. The better we are at listening, the better we may be at speaking.

We need to listen to each other if we are to speak well to each other. More fundamentally, we need to listen to the word of the Lord if we are to speak the word of the Lord. It is only in listening to him that he can speak through us.


Saturday of Week 5

1st Reading: Genesis 3:9-24

The Lord sentences the serpent, and Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden

The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate."

The Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel."

To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

And to the man he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, "See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever", therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

Responsorial: Psalm 89:2-6, 12-13

R./: In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge

Before the mountains were born
 or the earth or the world brought forth,
 you are God, without beginning or end. (R./)

You turn men back into dust and say:
 'Go back, sons of men.'
To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone,
 no more than a watch in the night. (R./)

You sweep men away like a dream,
 like grass which springs up in the morning.
 In the morning it springs up and flowers:
 by evening it withers and fades. (R./)

Make us know the shortness of our life
 that we may gain wisdom of heart.
 Lord, relent. Is your anger for ever?
Show pity on your servants. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 8:1-10

Jesus multiplies bread and fish for about four thousand people

A great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples to him and said to them, "I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way, and some of them have come from a great distance." His disciples replied, "How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?"

Jesus asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" They said, "Seven." Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his discipls and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

BIBLE

Sentenced and Reprieved

Our first parents were condemned to return to the earth from which they came. The gospel seems to offer a more livegiving, forward-looking vision. The people who went out into the desert to hear Jesus are so tired and hungry that if he sends them away without food, “they will collapse on the way.” Therefore he multiplies bread and fish, so they can return not to the earth but to their homes with renewed vigour. In the beginning Adam and Eve ate the forbidden food and died; in the gospel their descendants ate the heavenly food and lived.

Earth is not evil, since it provides God with the material for moulding man and woman, and produces the bread and the fish, that Jesus gives as food of new life for the people. The ways that lead to death can entrap us exclusively either in the secular world or in the religious realm. In Genesis we find man and woman giving themselves wholly to their selfish preferences. Driven by pride, a desire to master the world and the ambition to control all things, they sinned, falling into the typical sin of secular society, a refusal to seek the will of God.

The orientation towards life or death is not “out there” but inside ourselves, in how we react to God and to share with others as God has shared, indifferent to personal ambition. It is amazing how quickly and simply today’s gospel text ends. After the magnificent miracle of feeding “about four thousand” from seven loaves of bread and a few small fishes, the story ends abruptly. He dismissed them and got into the boat with his disciples to go to the neighbourhood of Dalmanutha. Acting out of compassion, not ambition, Jesus did not make a living from miracles. The happiness of seeing others restored to life and strength was its own joy.


Readings for the 6th Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 6

1st Reading: Genesis 4:1-15

Cain's jealousy leads to his murder of Abel

Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have produced a man with the help of the Lord." Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."

Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out to the field." And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" He said, I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" And the Lord said, "What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me." Then the Lord said to him, "Not so. Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance." And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.

Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him."

Responsorial: Psalm 49:1, 8, 16-17, 20-21

R./: Offer to God a sacrifice of praise

The God of gods, the Lord,
 has spoken and summoned the earth,
 from the rising of the sun to its setting.
 I find no fault with your sacrifices,
 your offerings are always before me. (R./)

But how can you recite my commandments
 and take my covenant on your lips,
 you who despise my law
 and throw my words to the winds. (R./)

You who sit and malign your brother
 and slander your own mother's son.
You do this, and should I keep silence?
 Do you think that I am like you? (R./)

Gospel: Mark 8:11-13

Jesus refuses to give spectacular signs

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

BIBLE

God’s kingdom, in ordinary things

St Mark refers to the feelings of Jesus more often than any other evangelist. He responds to the Pharisees’ request for a sign from heaven “with a sigh that came straight from the heart.” That sigh led to the question, “Why does this generation demand a sign?” We can almost sense the frustration of Jesus in that sigh, straight from the heart.

Religious people sometimes look for signs from heaven, seeking the extra-ordinary and unusual. In his teaching, Jesus invites us to see signs of  God’s presence in ordinary things, the sower who goes out to sow his field, the woman who looks for her lost coin, the care given to a stranger on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the man who finds unexpected treasure in his field, and so on. It is in the ordinary that the mystery of God’s kingdom is to be found, because all creation is full of God’s glory.


A faith that is tested

If faith is at the centre of biblical religion, what is the real core of faith? From the gospel we learn that faith does not revolve around miracles. When jealous and suspicious people  demand some heavenly sign from Jesus, he sighs about the weakness of their faith. St James urges us to cope with every sort of trial, for “When faith is tested this makes for endurance, so that you may be fully mature.” The core of faith is twofold: fidelity and patience.

Cain might run away from his family but he could not run away from God. “The Lord put a mark on Cain,” a mark of divine protection, a pledge of the Creator’s fidelity to all he has made. When some people responded to Jesus with suspicion and envy, he left them and went off. Such dispositions do not keep Jesus in our midst; he remains only with people of faith, compassion and forgiveness.


Tuesday of Week 6

1st Reading: Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10

The universal flood; the Lord's regret at creating the human race

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created, people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.

Then the Lord said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground." And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth.

Responsorial: Psalm 28:1-4, 9-10

R./: The Lord will bless his people with peace

O give the Lord you sons of God,
 give the Lord glory and power;
 give the Lord the glory of his name.
 Adore the Lord in his holy court. (R./)

The Lord's voice resounding on the waters,
 the Lord on the immensity of the waters;
 the voice of the Lord, full of power,
 the voice of the Lord, full of splendour. (R./)

The God of glory thunders.
 In his temple they all cry: 'Glory.'
The Lord sat enthroned over the flood;
 the Lord sits as king for ever. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 8:14-21

Jesus is amazed at the blindness of his disciples

The disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Then Jesus gave them this warning, "Watch out, beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod." They said to one another, "It is because we have no bread." And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" They said to him, "Twelve." "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" And they said to him, "Seven." Then he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"

BIBLE

From outer to inner

On the surface, today’s texts are about external things. In Genesis, Noah escapes from the flood that covered the earth while in Mark the disciples worry that they have too little bread for their voyage across the Sea of Galilee. Our own reflections, and our theology also, usually begins from what is visible and tangible. It is the sight of the poor and the oppressed that stirs us to wonder what place or purpose suffering may have in the wise providence of God. The misdeeds of the people in Noah’s time provoked regret in God’s heart and that phrase in Genesis raises all sorts of theological problems, such as: How can God regret? Did he see the creation of mankind as a mistake? Is there room for change in the divine mind? Similarly, Jesus’ response to the disciples turns into a volley of questions which evinces surprise on his part that his followers acted as they did: “Do you still not see or comprehend? Are your minds completely blind? Have you eyes but no sight, ears but no hearing? Do you not remember how I broke the five loaves, ?” The gospel ends on the question: “Do you still not understand?”

We begin with the externals but we must probe beneath them. Biblical interpretation must not bog down arguing about externals, as in the case of Noah’s flood. Did it really cover the earth? Could all those animals have been contained within the ark? etc. Even if archaeology suggests that mammoth floods in ancient Mesopotamia gave rise to various flood sagas, these sagas show people struggling with theological issues too. The flood story in Genesis begins with the motives of the human heart. It says that when the Lord saw such wickedness on earth, and how no human desire was even anything but evil, he regretted having made man, “and his heart was grieved.” The Scriptures move back from external actions to human desires and to regret in God’s heart. To benefit from such stories, we need to quietly examine our own motives as well as our behaviour.


A work in progress

 Jesus seems very frustrated with his disciples. In spite of all they've known him to say and do, they do not really understand who he is or what he is about. They do not wonder about the real significance of his deeds, such as his feeding of the multitudes. Worse was to come. They not only misunderstood him but they eventually abandoned him. Mark gives quite a negative portrayal of the disciples. Yet, these are the very ones who passed on the faith.

Mark's original Gospel ended (Mk 16:8) with the words of the young man from the tomb, "Go, tell his disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him, just as he told you." After their failure, Jesus met with them again in Galilee to renew their call. The gospel shows Jesus as faithful to us, even when we are less that faithful to him. He goes ahead of us into all the places we find ourselves in. He is there ahead of us, calling us to begin again. St Paul puts this very simply, "if we are faithless, he remains faithful."


Wednesday of Week 6

1st Reading: Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22

The Lord promises never again to destroy the earth

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.

In the six hundred first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odour, the Lord said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."

Responsorial: Psalm 115:12-15, 18-19

R./: To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise

How can I repay the Lord
 for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
 I will call on the Lord's name. (R./)

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
 before all his people.
 O precious in the eyes of the Lord
 is the death of his faithful. (R./)

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
 before all his people,
 in the courts of the house of the Lord,
 in your midst, O Jerusalem. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 8:22-26

Jesus cures the blind man with spittle and the touch of his hands

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, "Can you see anything?" And the man looked up and said, "I can see people, but they look like trees, walking." Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even go into the village."

BIBLE

Maturing step by step

The gospel suggests that we come to enlightenment by gradual stages. Our text from Genesis tells how the great flood in Noah’s time ran its its full course and that the return to normal existence cannot be rushed. The story about the cure of a blind man has special interest, in that the cure took place in stages. At first the man got back a blurred vision, and he dimly saw “people looking like trees, walking”. This story is told only by Mark. It was not even adapted by Matthew and Luke, even though they both relied heavily on Mark as a source. Maybe they were repelled by the fact that Jesus put his spittle on the blind man’s eyes.

Jesus seems to take people as he finds them. There is a gentleness in his dealing with the blind man’s need. First he took him by the hand and led him outside the village. Then, away from the crowd, he put spittle on his eyes and touching the closed eyelids with his fingers, he bonded with the blind man. This poor man could not see the compassion in Jesus’ eyes at the sight of this disability, but could feel the clasp of his hand and touch of his fingers. Jesus fully adapted himself to the human condition of need.

The stages of the miracle are interesting: at first, the man’s vision was so blurred that people looked like walking trees; then after his cure, he could see everything clearly. These too are the stages of our growth in faith. We may be grateful to Mark for preserving the memory of Jesus working by stages. This applies to our life also and any growth we may make toward holiness. We cannot reach holiness on our own, but must let Jesus take us by the  hand. We too should take the hand of our neighbour in need, and to our surprise the hand that we clasp is leading us to our salvation.

 


Thursday of Week 6

1st Reading: Genesis 9:1-13

The rainbow, a perpetual sign of God's covenant with Noah and the human race

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it."

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth."

Responsorial: Psalm 101:16-21, 29, 22-23

R./: From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth

The nations shall fear the name of the Lord
 and all the earth's kings your glory,
 when the Lord shall build up Zion again
 and appear in all his glory.
Then he will turn to the prayers of the helpless;
 he will not despise their prayers. (R./)

Let this be written for ages to come
 that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord;
 for the Lord leaned down from his sanctuary on high.
He looked down from heaven to the earth
 that he might hear the groans of the prisoners
 and free those condemned to die. (R./)

The sons of your servants shall dwell untroubled
 and their race shall endure before you,
 that the name of the Lord may be proclaimed in Zion
 and his praise in the heart of Jerusalem,
 when peoples and kingdoms are gathered together
 to pay their homage to the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 8:27-33

Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah, and is reprimanded

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

BIBLE

All purified of sin

The two great signs of the covenant between God and the human race are the rainbow and the cross. Each of these signs spans the universe, and the covenant grants all men and women an equal status, since in God’s eyes there is no favouritism. All are God’s beloved children.

The rainbow and the cross symbolize God’s goodwill towards the human family. Each has a vertical and a horizontal span, and implies some measure of purification, while offering a promise of joy and completion. The rainbow appears after the rain has cleansed the sky and it heralds bright sunlight. In Genesis the rainbow announces the end of the flood and the divine promise that such a flood will never again sweep the earth. Despite its beauty, the rainbow will not let us forget the devastating force of the flood, which is now seen as a purifying thing, washing the human race clean of its wickedness.

The same applies to the cross. No one can look at a cross, no matter how ornate it may be, without remembering the excruciating death of Jesus. Yet the cross is lifted high on our churches and is worn as the sign and emblem of our victory over sin and despair, for Jesus’ resurrection is the pledge of our own future life. Both cross and rainbow carry a message of universal salvation. They belong to the world and in fact come to our attention first from the secular sphere of life. The cross was the dreaded Roman form of execution; the rainbow is visible to every human eye, whatever the person’s religion may be.

The cross and the rainbow are beautiful and demanding, hopeful and distressing, dark/grim and open/fragile, deeply personal and fully universal. In their light we can truly answer Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say that l am?”


Questions can throw light

Like Socrates, Jesus delighted to ask questions of the people he encountered. One of his most important questions is found in today's gospel, "Who do you say that I am?" It is a question addressed to each one of us and each of us is asked to answer that question for ourselves. But it is not a question that just asks for information, whose answer could be found in a book. It is a question that addresses our heart as well as our head. Peter's answer to Jesus' question was correct, "you are the Christ."

Peter's answer was not the whole truth about Jesus. Jesus went on to identify himself as the Christ who would also be the suffering Son of Man who would be rejected and put to death. This self-revelation of Jesus was not acceptable to Peter. He had still to learn to accept the whole truth about Jesus, to receive Jesus as he was and not as Peter wanted him to be. Peter had a long way to go before he could answer Jesus' question fully. We are all on that same journey, coming to receive Jesus as he really is and not just as we want him to be or imagine him to be.


Friday of Week 6

1st Reading: Genesis 11:1-9

When people sought independence from God, their language is scrambled

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech." So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Responsorial: Psalm 32:10-15

R./: Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be his own

The Lord frustrates the designs of the nations,
 he defeats the plans of the peoples.
His own designs shall stand for ever,
 the plans of his heart from age to age. (R./)

They are happy, whose God is the Lord,
 the people he has chosen as his own.
From the heavens the Lord looks forth,
 he sees all the children of men. (R./)

From the place where he dwells he gazes
 on all the dwellers on the earth,
 he who shapes the hearts of them all
 and considers all their deeds. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 8:34-9:1

Losing one's life in order to save it

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."

BIBLE

Differing Aspirations

The tower of Babel and the hill of Calvary: two ways of approach to being with God, one deceptively attractive but ultimately wrong, the other forbidding but in the long run good. The contrast is intriguing and enigmatic. We see human the striving to construct the tower of Babel and the reluctance to carry one's cross after Jesus. In building the tower of Babel the proud entrepreneurs destroyed peace and harmony; in the epistle of James, good works become the proof that God is present within us and these works unite us with our neighbour. The gospel contrasts two forms of activity: taking up one's cross or acting for personal aggrandizement. Again the action which threatens to destroy us is the one which adds permanence of our life; the action which seems to affirm and build us up turns on us and destroys us. "Whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."

To act against our selfish inclinations and pious camouflage, to reach out spontaneously with practical help to the neighbour in need, means to take up one's cross. To stand by someone in need and disgrace is to follow the way of Jesus who befriended prostitutes and tax collectors. It means to lose one's life; and in the depth of that faith we will have a glimpse of the true "kingdom of God established in power." Where we seem to have lost everything and to have died, we become fully alive in a way that can never taste death. No one can take that vision from us, the memory of being with Jesus and reaching out, as he did, to those genuinely in need of us. What can equal life such as this, joyful like Abraham's joy in the return of Isaac, with dignity restored, like Rahab the harlot in saving the lives of the messengers.


Going against the grain

Being true to the teaching of Christ, to the values that shaped his life, will often mean having to go against the grain, renouncing ourselves so as to put the Lord 1st in our lives. To others, and sometimes even to ourselves, this will seem like a loss. In our efforts to stay faithful to the Lord's path, we will often have to say "no" to what many are saying "yes" to. Following in the Lord's way is not easy; it often means taking the way of the cross. Being a follower of Jesus can be very demanding, especially in today's culture. But he promises that those who lose their lives for his sake and for the sake of the gospel will save their lives, will be more alive. What seems like a loss at the time will ultimately be a gain. Jesus recognizes the temptation to be ashamed of him and of his words, the temptation to keep our faith in him under cover so as to go with the flow. However, if we are prepared to live our faith publicly even when pressured to do otherwise, then we will come to experience that fullness of life that the Lord desires for all of us.


Saturday of Week 6

1st Reading: Hebrews 11:1-7

By faith we understand that the world is ruled by God's will

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain's. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and "he was not found, because God had taken him." For it was attested before he was taken away that "he had pleased God." And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an eir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.

Responsorial: Psalm 144:2-5, 10-11

R./: I will praise your name for ever, Lord

I will bless you day after day
 and praise your name for ever.
The Lord is great, highly to be praised,
 his greatness cannot be measured. (R./)

Age to age shall proclaim your works,
 shall declare your mighty deeds, s
 hall speak of your splendour and glory,
 tell the tale of your wonderful works. (R./)

All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord,
 and your friends shall repeat their blessing.
They shall speak of the glory of your reign
 and declare your might, O God. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 9:2-13

Jesus' transfiguration, between his fore-runners, Moses and Elijah

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him." Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He said to them, "Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him."

BIBLE

Faith and visions

The need for trusting faith is not removed even if one were granted heavenly visions. The experience of Jesus' transfiguration led to further questions for the disciples. Peter, James and John, who were with Jesus on the mountain, now perceived a new dimension present in him, but they still had to struggle to understand why he predicted a violent death for himself. Even if we have a momentary insight into the divinity that shapes our lives, it can leave us more unsettled than before.

The transfiguration, like his baptism and prayer in Gethsemane, lets us see for a moment the intimate personal relation between Jesus and the Heavenly Father. We see also his close contact with us in his acceptance of death, and the overlapping of future glory with present difficulties in one profound life-force. The transfiguration story shows how close Jesus is to God the Father, but likewise the fearful sense of impending doom is accented. Coming down from the mountain he spoke about his coming death, and in Luke's account he discusses with Elijah and Moses his "exodus" or passing from this world to the next (Luke 9:31).

Jesus felt the profound divine presence during his human life on its various stages towards his inevitable death. Death will be the supreme moment of God's intimate presence to us as it was with Jesus. Only after we have made that passage from life through death into eternal life, will we fully understand our life, just as the fleeting vision of Jesus' transformation on the mountain transformed his disciples' understanding.

The text from Hebrews warns that what we thought we understood is only half of the truth. For this author, "faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see." When we think we see and understand, we should be filled with new questions. The wonder of God is so great that we may be certain that it is far beyond what we understand.


Moments of special brightness

Sometimes we can feel wonderfully happy,  when, like Peter on the mount of transfiguration, we feel exalted in spirit and are inclined to say, “it is good for us to be here.” At other times we sense an unease, a restlessness, a kind of emptiness that is never fully filled.

We have potential for something that this world cannot fully give us. Saint Augustine said our hearts are restless until they rest in God. But already here and now in this earthly life, we can begin to experience the love of God through our relationship with Jesus.


Readings for the 7th Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 7

1st Reading: Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10

All wisdom comes from God and returns to him

All wisdom is from the Lord, and with him it remains forever. The sand of the sea, the drops of rain, and the days of eternity, who can count them? The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth, the abyss, and wisdom, who can search them out?

Wisdom was created before all other things, and prudent understanding from eternity. The root of wisdom, to whom has it been revealed? Her subtleties, who knows them? There is but one who is wise, greatly to be feared, seated upon his throne, the Lord.

It is he who created her; he saw her and took her measure; he poured her out upon all his works, upon all the living according to his gift; he lavished her upon those who love him.

Responsorial: Psalm 92:1-2, 5

R./: The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty

The Lord is king, with majesty enrobed;
 the Lord has robed himself with might,
 he has girded himself with power. (R./)

The world you made firm, not to be moved;
 your throne has stood firm from of old.
From all eternity, O Lord, you are. (R./)

Truly your decrees are to be trusted.
Holiness is fitting to your house, O Lord,
 until the end of time. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 9:14-29

The mute spirit which convulses the boy is driven out by Jesus' prayer

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?" Someone from the crowd answered him, "Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so." He answered them, "You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me." And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; butif you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us." Jesus said to him, "If you are able., All things can be done for the one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief." When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again." After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" He said to them, "This kind can come out only through prayer."

BIBLE

Learning to pray

Three related moments in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration and prayer in the garden, are each followed by struggle: Jesus’ baptism by the Lord’s wrestling with Satan in the desert (Mark 1:12-13); the transfiguration by the disciples’ futile wrestling to drive out a demon from the mute boy; the prayer in the garden where Jesus struggles with the will of the heavenly Father amidst “sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Even though Mark is not characterized like Luke as a gospel of prayer, nonetheless each of these episodes is surrounded or at least concluded by prayer: Jesus spends the forty days in the desert in prayerful seclusion (1:13), caught between heaven and earth, between overwhelming goodness and demonic evil, in the grip of deep contemplative prayer. Today’s episode of the boy under demonic possession ends with the statement, “This can be driven out only by prayer.” In the garden Jesus admonishes his disciples, “Be on guard and pray that you may not be put to the test” 14:38).

We can learn about prayer from  from Sirach. In the last chapter of book, we learn that this elderly gentleman conducted a “house of instruction”, in Hebrew, beit midrash, for the sons of the nobility (Sir 51:23). With a sure touch Sirach spoke about every aspect of human existence, ranging from the home into the business world, from study of the law to the entertainment of guests. Yet he always ended in a spirit of prayer and fear of the Lord. “Extol God with renewed strength, and do not grow weary, though you cannot reach the end… It is the Lord who has made all things, and to those who fear him he gives wisdom (Sir 44:32,35).

Sirach links the fear of the Lord  with wisdom that warms the heart. It is something that God “lavishes on those who love him.” To bring this spirit into our prayer, think of the opening poem in Sirach: God’s wisdom is spread across “heaven’s height and earth’s breadth,” so great that no one can explore them. God “has poured her forth on all his works and on every living thing.” This wonderful wisdom is open to us to explore.

When we review our prayer, we might cry out with the father of the mute and epileptic boy, “I do believe. Help my lack of trust.” It’s good to recall Sirach’s healthy advice, “weary not, though you cannot reach the end.” What we strive for, we already possess in principle. Through Jesus we discover who we are, provided we persevere in prayer and  balance our prayer with reverence, humility and good sense.


The power of prayer

The disciples were trying to heal a seriously disturbed boy; and whereas they failed, Jesus succeeded. In response to their question as to why they could not heal the boy, he answered that “This is the kind that can only be driven out by prayer.” The implication is that the disciples were trying to heal this boy with their own power, but it was only God’s power that could heal him. If they were to be channels of God’s power they needed to pray more. They needed to be in deeper communion with God if God was to work through them in a life-giving way.

In his reply to their question, Jesus points to the power of prayer and the need for prayer if certain kinds of difficulties are to be resolved. Some situations in life are so much bigger than us, that it is only prayer that will get us through them. Perhaps we know that from our own experience. When we are really up against it, we can discover that it is prayer that keeps us going, when all else fails. It is the Lord who keeps us going, and our connection with him through prayer, when every other resource appears inadequate.


Tuesday of Week 7

1st Reading: Sirach 2:1-11

Those who hope in the Lord are not forsaken

My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing.
Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.
 Cling to him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous.
 Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient.
For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not stray, or else you may fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.
 Consider the generations of old and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
 Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken?
 Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of distress.

Responsorial: Psalm 36:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40

R./: Commit your life to the Lord, and he will help you

If you trust in the Lord and do good,
 then you will live in the land and be secure.
 If you find your delight in the Lord,
 he will grant your heart's desire. (R./)

He protects the lives of the upright,
 their heritage will last for ever.
They shall not be put to shame in evil days,
 in time of famine their food shall not fail. (R./)

Then turn away from evil and do good
 and you shall have a home for ever;
 for the Lord loves justice
 and will never forsake his friends. (R./)

The salvation of the just comes from the Lord,
 their stronghold in time of distress.
The Lord helps them and delivers them and saves them:
 for their refuge is in him. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37

Whoever welcomes a child for Jesus' sake welcomes Jesus himself

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

BIBLE

Children point to the future

The call to welcome Jesus as one would welcome a child rounds off today’s gospel. We can find him among the servants and the apparently least important people. Just as children easily find other children and quickly begin enjoy themselves at play, so we ought to gravitate towards the servants and the least. Childhood in this sense is not a matter of age only. One who feels small may also have great potential, waiting for the healing touch of kindness. To welcome Jesus as a child is to open one’s arms to the infinite possibilities that lie before us in life.

Sirach invites us reflect on our ancestors, and imitate their godly lives: “Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?” He beautifully combines fear with confidence: “You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.” As we worry about the dangers ahead for the children of today, with climate change and a robotic bubble looming, we recall today’s advice from Sirach, “My child …. prepare yourself for testing.” But we see our  trials as united with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and we renew our hope because after three days, he rose again.


Make them welcome

With loving care our church prepares children for their first Communion and some years later for Confirmation. In these sacraments we welcome them into the family of adult believers. The value of welcoming and protecting children is strongly stated. Jesus identifies very closely with children. He even says that “anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” By welcoming children we encounter Jesus and his Father.

Elsewhere he allies himself with the most vulnerable, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the imprisoned. Children, by definition, are among the most vulnerable. They are dependent on others for life in all its dimensions. We need not doubt that ministry to children and to young people, whatever form it takes, is a sacred ministry; it is indeed holy ground. While showing care and compassion for women with unwelcome pregnancies, we cannot give in to a culture of treating unborn children as merely clumps of  unwanted matter.

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Wednesday of Week 7

1st Reading: Sirach 4:11-19

Seeking wisdom brings happiness and reveals life's deepest secrets

Wisdom teaches her children
 and gives help to those who seek her.
Whoever loves her loves life,
 and those who seek her from early morning are filled with joy.
Whoever holds her fast inherits glory,
 and the Lord blesses the place she enters.
Those who serve her minister to the Holy One;
 the Lord loves those who love her.
Those who obey her will judge the nations,
and all who listen to her will live secure.
 If they remain faithful, they will inherit her;
 their descendants will also obtain her.

For at first she will walk with them on tortuous paths; she will bring fear and dread upon them, and will torment them by her discipline until she trusts them, and she will test them with her ordinances. Then she will come straight back to them again and gladden them, and will reveal her secrets to them. If they go astray she will forsake them, and hand them over to their ruin.

Responsorial: Psalm 118:165, 168, 171-2, 174-5

R./: O Lord, great peace have they who love your law

The lovers of your law have great peace;
 they never stumble. I obey your precepts and your will;
 all that I do is before you. (R./)

Let my lips proclaim your praise
 because you teach me your statutes.
Let my tongue sing your promise
 for your commands are just. (R./)

Give life to my soul that I may praise you.
Let your decrees give me help.
 Lord, I long for your saving help
 and your law is my delight. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 9:38-40

Jesus corrects the apostles for blocking outsiders from acting in his name

John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.

BIBLE

Wisdom and moderation

While Sirach, the wise old head of a Jerusalem school of practical philosophy, tends towards caution and prudence, the gospel message for today reaches outward almost with abandon, "Anyone who is not against us is with us."

It is generally agreed that wisdom is a quality that is dearly won, and whose acquisition depends on often painful experience, making it seem distant and difficult to master. Sirach recognizes this with poetic flair: "Wisdom walks with us at first as a stranger, and she puts us to the test; Fear and dread she brings on us and tries us with her discipline; With her precepts she puts us to the proof, until our heart is fully with her." He knows that wisdom is not a neat set of ideas and a dictionary of facts; rather it blends and integrates ideas with practice, and enables us to live with and respond to one another as persons. We are not automatons, pushed around by laws; instead, we interact with patience and forebearance, with interest and enthusiasm, with responsibility and self-control. This kind of wisdom has to be grown into, slowly and carefully, so that it becomes totally ourselves. Sirach puts it this way: If we trust wisdom, we will possess her; and our descendants too will inherit her.

As a man of wisdom, Jesus reprimanded his disciples for their envy and fear. Feeling threatened, or at least slighted, by some villager who went about using the name of Jesus to expel demons, they said indignantly to Jesus, "We tried to stop him, because he is not of our company." But his reply was decisive, based on his unique wisdom. He did not inquire about the doctrinal position of the other man but landed on solid, common sense ground. "No one can perform a miracle in my name and at the same time speak ill of me. Anyone who is not against us is with us." Such a response, totally free of envy and fear, totally relaxed with nothing to lose, is not easily learned, but is the fruit of wise reflection. It reflects a person at peace, and therefore strong and secure.

Wise persons are rooted in genuine values, not persons who quickly make their profit and move off somewhere else. If we walk life's path with wisdom, we become relaxed, generous and trustful, and walk along that path with Jesus.


Avoiding "Us-and-Them"

The disciples had a polarised, black and white view of other people. Only those who were "one of us," as they put it, could be trusted to do the Lord's work. Jesus had a much more nuanced view of people than his disciples. He could see that even those whom he had not formally called to become one of his disciples could be doing God's life-giving work. Indeed, he makes the very generous spirited statement, "Anyone who is not against us is for us."

This is a lesson to take to heart in the times in which we live. There are a lot of people who are not explicitly for the church, in the sense of practising their faith in the way we have come to understand that, and, yet, they are not against the church either. The spirit of today's gospel is that we work to build bridges with all those who in some way share the church's mission to bring life where there is death, wholeness where there is brokenness, relief where there is suffering. We can be partners in mission with those who are "not one of us" in the strict sense. In these times we need the vision Jesus displays in today's gospel rather than that displayed by his disciples.


Thursday of Week 7

1st Reading: Sirach 5:1-8

Rely not on your wealth nor on your strength

Do not rely on your wealth, or say, "I have enough."
 Do not follow your inclination and strength in pursuing the desires of your heart.
 Do not say, "Who can have power over me?" for the Lord will surely punish you.
 Do not say, "I sinned, yet what has happened to me?" for the Lord is slow to anger.
 Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.
 Do not say, "His mercy is great, he will forgive the multitude of my sins,"
 for both mercy and wrath are with him, and his anger will rest on sinners.
 Do not delay to turn back to the Lord, and do not postpone it from day to day;
 for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will come upon you,
 and at the time of punishment you will perish.
 Do not depend on dishonest wealth,
 for it will not benefit you on the day of calamity.

Responsorial: Psalm 1:1-4, 6

R./: Happy are they who hope in the Lord

Happy indeed is the person who follows not the counsel of the wicked;
 nor lingers in the way of sinners nor sits in the company of scorners,
 but whose delight is the law of the Lord
 and who ponders his law day and night. (R./)

He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters,
 that yields its fruit in due season
 and whose leaves shall prosper. (R./)

Not so are the wicked, not so.
For they like winnowed chaff
 shall be driven away by the wind.
For the Lord guards the way of the just
 but the way of the wicked leads to doom. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 9:41-50

A drink of water given to a follower of Christ will be rewarded

For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.

And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

"For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

BIBLE

Primacy of the hereafter

Some lurid images in the Gospels cannot be taken literally. In no way does Jesus demand that we disfigure ourselves, or gouge out an eye to avoid unchastity. His words reflect the primacy of the eternal over the temporal, of heavenly over earthly life: “Whoever would save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospels’ will save it” (Mark 8:35). Paraphrasing, one might put it: “If we use our hands, feet, eyes and our other faculties exclusively for selfish pleasure and not for loving service, we will lose everything in the end. But if we lose ourselves for the sake of goodness and for living by the gospel we will be saved for all eternity.” Life is for sharing what we possess with others and forming one body with them. In such a loving lifestyle, even small acts of helpfulness take on a very special meaning: “Anyone who gives you a drink of water because you belong to Christ will not go unrewarded.”

Sirach offers consoling advice, “Rely not on your wealth or strength,” since overconfidence merely adds sin to sin. At the same time, he clearly sees the possibility of personal conversion, which should not be just put off from day to day. This is very much along the lines of the urgent biblical call to make use of the grace of the present moment. “If today you have heard the voice of the Lord, harden not your heart” (Ps 95:7-8).


Stumbling blocks

We have all found ourselves stumbling from time to time, hitting the top of our shoe against a raised kerb, perhaps, and falling forward, sometimes with damaging results. In the gospel today, Jesus speaks about stumbling blocks. He is very critical of those who are a stumbling block to the faith of others, those who undermine and weaken the other people’s faith. He issues a warning against leading others astray, leading them away from God. Part of our baptismal calling is to nurture the faith of one another; to do the opposite is considered by Jesus to be a very serious matter indeed. He moves on from how people can be a stumbling to others in their relationship with God to how we can be a stumbling block to ourselves.

The hand, the foot, the eye can be a stumbling block to our own relationship with the Lord. When Jesus says, “if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out,” he does not intend to be taken literally. It is simply a striking image to bring home the seriousness of what he is saying. The positive calling of the gospel is that every aspect of our embodied existence is to serve and nurture our relationship with the Lord. Our calling is to give our whole selves to the Lord and to his way, to gather up all the elements that go to make us up and point them all in the one direction, the direction of the Lord and his will for our lives. That will not happen all the time but it is worth striving for. When our whole selves point in the direction of the Lord, then one of the beatitudes will come to pass for us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”


Friday of Week 7

1st Reading: Sirach 6:5-17

Let your friends be tried and trusted.A faithful friend is a tonic

Pleasant speech multiplies friends,
 and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies.
Let those who are friendly with you be many,
 but let your advisers be one in a thousand.

When you gain friends, gain them through testing,
 and do not trust them hastily.
For there are friends who are such when it suits them,
 but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.

And there are friends who change into enemies,
 and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace.
 And there are friends who sit at your table,
 but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.

When you are prosperous, they become your second self,
 and lord it over your servants;
 but if you are brought low, they turn against you,
 and hide themselves from you.

Keep away from your enemies,
 and be on guard with your friends.

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
 whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price;
 no amount can balance their worth.

Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
 and those who fear the Lord will find them.
Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,
 for as they are, so are their neighbours also.

Responsorial: Psalm 118:12, 16, 18, 27, 34-35

R./: Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands

Blessed are you, O Lord;
 teach me your statutes.
 I take delight in your statutes;
 I will not forget your word. (R./)

Open my eyes that I may consider
 the wonders of your law.
 Make me grasp the way of your precepts
 and I will muse on your wonders. (R./)

Train me to observe your law,
 to keep it with my heart.
Guide me in the path of your commands
 for there is my delight. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 10:1-12

Jesus' condemnation of divorce and remarriage

Jesus left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

BIBLE

Marriage and Friendship

Though we be friendly with many, only one in a thousand should be our close confidant, or our partner in life. A quality of either friendship or marriage highlighted in today’s scripture is the need to persevere in it. Sirach opens his mini-essay on friendship with this advice: A kind mouth multiplies friends, and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings. We begin with a smile; our first communication, imparted intuitively, is one of interior joy and peace, showing that we are at peace with ourselves and with God. His well tested wisdom is put to the service of the students in his Jerusalem school, who “take up lodging in the house of instruction” (Sir 51:23). His guidance is both peaceful and cautious, for he counsels: “When you gain a friend, first test him, and don’t be too ready to trust him.” He proceeds to give the positive qualities of a true friend, who will be like “your other self; a treasure beyond price; a sturdy shelter a life-saving remedy.”

For most people, the true friend, the “treasure… beyond price,” is one’s spouse, since moving on from friendship to marriage is part of most people’s life-plan. Much can be lost by simply giving up, and abandoning a love we have pledged. Such a break can be called “adultery,” and is not what God intended as the ideal of marriage. “The two shall become as one… let nobody separate what God has joined.” Just as Sirach advised not to commit too quickly to a friendship, so our Gospel urges spouses to sustain the union that God has blessed.


The elixir of life

Sirach has some lovely things to say about friendship, the elixir of life. "A faithful friend is the elixir of life." He believes that those who fear the Lord will find a faithful friend. In other words, when we relate well to the Lord we will find faithful friends. When our relationship with the Lord is right it helps us to form good human relationships, marked by faithfulness and self-giving.

Jesus speaks of a special kind of friendship, the relationship between a husband and wife in marriage. His vision of marriage corresponds with the vision of friendship in the Sirach reading, two people, man and woman, faithful to each other for life to the point where they become no longer two but one. Whether married or single, we are all called to experience faithful friendships through which we come to experience the Lord's faithful love in others and in turn reveal to others that faithful love of the Lord.


Saturday of Week 7

1st Reading: Sirach 17:1-15

God made us in the divine image, and looks with favour on us

The Lord created human beings out of earth,
 and makes them return to it again.
He gave them a fixed number of days,
 but granted them authority over everything on the earth.

He endowed them with strength like his own,
 and made them in his own image.
He put the fear of them in all living beings,
 and gave them dominion over beasts and birds.

Discretion and tongue and eyes,
 ears and a mind for thinking he gave them.
He filled them with knowledge and understanding,
 and showed them good and evil.

He put the fear of him into their hearts
 to show them the majesty of his works.
 And they will praise his holy name,
 to proclaim the grandeur of his works.

He bestowed knowledge upon them,
 and allotted to them the law of life.
 
 and revealed to them his decrees.

Their eyes saw his glorious majesty,
 and their ears heard the glory of his voice.
He said to them, "Beware of all evil"
 and gave command to each of them concerning the neighbour.

Their ways are always known to him;
 they will not be hidden from his eyes.

Responsorial: Psalm 102:13-18

R./: The Lord's kindness is everlasting to those who fear him

As a father has compassion on his children,
 the Lord has pity on those who fear him;
 for he knows of what we are made,
 he remembers that we are dust. (R./)

As for man, his days are like grass;
 he flowers like the flower of the field.
The wind blows and he is gone
 and his place never sees him again. (R./)

But the love of the Lord is everlasting
 upon those who hold him in fear;
 his justice reaches out to children's children
 when they keep his covenant in truth. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 10:13-16

Jesus embraces and blesses the children who come to him

People were bringing little children to him so that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

BIBLE

Young and old in the community

The human family is viewed from several angles in today's texts. Sirach makes a grand sweeping reflection, to include all the families and communities of earth, while Mark has Jesus turn attention to the children. From Sirach we have the impression that families and communities cannot survive without close bonds of loyalty, love and obedience; James shows our need of the advice, prayers and blessing of the elders; and then Mark teaches how children model for us the correct attitude for belonging to the Kingdom of God.

It is good to begin with Sirach where the dignity of human nature and of family relationships is stated with absolute certainty, "The Lord created humankind from the earth and made us to the divine image." Even if the material substance is earthly, our shape, form and way of acting and thinking image the divine. Sirach reaches into the details of our bodily existence: He God forms the human tongues and eyes and ears and imparts to them an understanding heart.

Our tongues, eyes and ears are simply instruments by which we communicate the desires and impressions of our heart. It is in our ways of interacting with one another that the divine way of life is most perfectly manifested.

God has no material body. Therefore, our imaging the divine life must be in our actions with one another, our bonds of love and loyalty, our creativity and fruitfulness, our planting of marvellous mysteries at the heart of our actions. When God "looks with favour on our hearts," the divine image becomes apparent to others. "He shows his glorious works." Sirach sees the need of honesty and integrity; he recognizes the evil of sham and make-believe. Our "ways are ever known to him; they cannot be hidden from his eyes." Last of all, Sirach reaches outward to the world family of nations. He confesses the special choice of Israel, who is "the Lord's own portion." That unique choice is available to all men and women through faith in Jesus. Here is the most complete blessing on family and the most perfect of all that God has made.

Our gospel today highlights the children within the family. About them Jesus makes a statement to inscribe in our memory: It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.


Do not prevent them

The parents who brought their children to Jesus were like those who bring their children for baptism in the present day. The contrast between  the disciples’ gruffness and how Jesus responded to  this request is very striking. The disciples wanted to turn them away, as a nuisance and a distraction, whereas Jesus lets the children come to him and  wants his church to do likewise.

We must do what we can to bring children into a relationship with Jesus. Along with teaching the children we have a lot to learn from them too. We have to learn to welcome the kingdom of God as children do. Children are very receptive to good things, to gifts, including the gift of the kingdom of God, the gift of the Lord. They are open to that gift; they are very receptive to it. We can easily loose that receptiveness, the openness to the Lord, as we grow older. As adults we have to keep on recovering it, we need to keep learning to become like children so that we can welcome the gift of the Lord as openly as they do.


Readings for the 8th Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 8

1st Reading: Sirach 17:24-29

Repent from sin while you are still alive. The dead cannot praise God

Turn to the Lord, plead before his face and lessen your offence.
To those who repent God permits return,
 and he encourages those who were losing hope.

Return to the Lord and leave sin behind,
 plead before his face and lessen your offence.
 Come back to the Most High and turn away from iniquity,
 and hold in abhorrence all that is foul.

Who will praise the Most High in Sheol,
 if the living do not do so by giving glory to him?
To the dead, as to those who do not exist, praise is unknown,
 only those with life and health can praise the Lord.
How great is the mercy of the Lord,
 his pardon on all those who turn towards him!

Responsorial: Psalm 31:1-2, 5-7

R./: Let the just exult and rejoice in the Lord

Happy the person whose offence is forgiven,
 whose sin is remitted.
 O happy the one to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
 in whose spirit is no guile. (R./)

But now I have acknowledged my sins;
 my guilt I did not hide.
 I said: 'I will confess my offence to the Lord.'
 And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin. (R./)

So let every good person pray to you
 in the time of need.
The floods of water may reach high
 but him they shall not reach. (R./)

You are my hiding place, O Lord;
 you save me from distress.
You surround me with cries of deliverance. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 10:17-27

Jesus invites the rich young man to give away his money and be a disciple

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God." And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

BIBLE

Gaining by Losing

Tradition says that Mark was Saint Peter’s disciple and helper in Rome. The paradox of losing something in order to gain something else appears both in Peter’s writing and in Mark’s, and is a hallmark of Markan (and of Petrine) theology. This paradox has practical applications outside the religious sphere too. The gambler knows that she or he stands to lose the wagered amount, but risks it just the same, in hope of a big win, whether at the card-table, the racetrack or the stock-market. The farmer knows what must first be spent on seed, fodder and fertilizer, make a profit. And doctors often urge their patients to lose weight, to improve their health.

This austere paradox is echoed in today’s Gospel, where Jesus expresses the no pain, no gain philosophy. “It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The rich young man was ready to be a disciple in every other way: the learning, the travelling, the companionship, but not the renunciation of ownership. The goods of this life can hold us captive unless they are enjoyed in a spirit of service and of sharing with our neighbour. This calls to mind another haunting statement of Jesus: “Whoever loses his life will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Whilst the First Letter of Peter is among the most life-affirming documents in the New Testament, it also affirms the world-renouncing principle. Peter sees the glory of the Risen Jesus transforming us from within, we who have been reborn by baptism into an imperishable inheritance. It looks as if this epistle took shape as a baptismal homily, possibly in Rome, at a time when joining the outlawed early church carried a real risk of martyrdom. This risk to one’s life and freedom is background to what Peter says about the life-enhancement of baptism. Through it we begin a new life, the glorious life of Jesus, a source of extraordinary joy and strength now, a pledge of what is “to be revealed in the last days.”


An answer harder than the question

It is often easier to ask a question than to come to terms with the answer. That is the case with the rich man who came to Jesus and asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ When invited to go beyond keeping the Ten Commandments, and to sell all he owned and follow Jesus along the way, it turned him right off. We are told that he walked away sad. Not everybody was asked to sell everything in order to join with Jesus, but it was asked of this particular young man. This was his particular calling, and he turned it down. Like him, we can find ourselves faced with a call to do something extra, outside our comfort zone. The temptation is to walk away from the challenge, even though to say ‘yes’ to it could open up a fuller life for us.

The Lord can call any one of us beyond where we are; he can call on us to grow in our relationship with him, to be more generous in our response to his presence. We may not be able to answer that call in our own strength, but we will be able to answer it with the Lord's strength. In the gospel reading, Jesus declares that 'everything is possible for God.' When Mary was called to become the mother of Jesus and she hesitated, that was the message she heard. The angel declared to her 'Nothing will be impossible with God.' It is the message we too will hear whenever we seek to answer the Lord's call to us.


Tuesday of Week 8

1st Reading: Sirach 35:1-12

The wise person is generous to the poor and abhors extortion

The one who keeps the law makes many offerings;
 one who heeds the commandments makes an offering of well-being.
The one who returns a kindness offers choice flour,
 and one who gives alms sacrifices a thank offering.
To keep from wickedness is pleasing to the Lord,
 and to forsake unrighteousness is an atonement.

Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed,
 for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the commandment.
The offering of the righteous enriches the altar,
 and its pleasing odour rises before the Most High.
The sacrifice of the righteous is acceptable,
 and it will never be forgotten.

Be generous when you worship the Lord,
 and do not stint the first fruits of your hands.
With every gift show a cheerful face,
 and dedicate your tithe with gladness.
Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
 and as generously as you can afford.

Responsorial: Psalm 49:5-8, 14, 23

R./: To the upright I will show the saving power of God

Summon before me my people
 who made covenant with me by sacrifice.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
 for he, God, is the judge. (R./)

'Listen, my people, I will speak;
 Israel, I will testify against you, for I am God your God.
 I find no fault with your sacrifices,
 your offerings are always before me. (R./)

'Pay your sacrifice of thanksgiving to God
 and render him your votive offerings.
 A sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me
 and I will show God's salvation to the upright.' (R./)

Gospel: Mark 10:28-31

Repaid a hundred times over for anything we have given up for Jesus' sake

Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age, houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

BIBLE

Remember the Poor

When Sirach joined in the temple liturgy, he was filled with joy. His exuberance pours out while praising “the glory of his people, Simon the high priest” (Sir 50). What a contrast to the prophets who often excoriated the temple priesthood for their laxity and self-serving ambition. The words of Hosea capture this: “With you is my grievances, O High Priest. My people perish for want of knowledge. Since you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you as my priest.” (Hos 4:4).

The prophets called out passionately for social justice and kindness towards the poor. Isaiah reduced the entire law to hearing the orphan’s plea and defending the widow (Isa 1:16). In a less fiery mode Sirach shares this concern for the poor, stating that works of charity are equivalent to offerings of fine flour on the altar. He agrees that to refrain from evil and to avoid injustice is the best kind of sacrifice. To worship God properly, we must be concerned for social justice.

Sirach bids us never forget the poor, even in the midst of elegant ritual with its pomp and circumstance. If we will not listen to the gentle voice of this wise teacher, the prophets will fling their threats at our conscience. At moments of prayer, when we are closest to God, we must not forget the poor, for all of us in our deepest need, turn out to be God’s poor ones.


What’s to become of us?

Peter asked the candid question, “What about us? We have left everything and followed you.” He and his colleagues had given up much to be followers of Jesus. They may have wondered if it was really worth it all. We too have responded to God’s call, maybe not in such a radical way as the apostles who left their livelihood and family for a very uncertain future. Perhaps on our off-days we might be tempted to ask like Peter; “Is it worthwhile to stay in the church, trying to live by the values of the gospel day in and day out.” The answer is “Yes, in the long run it is worth the effort.”

Jesus promises that when we give of ourselves for his sake, we will receive much more than we give up. In particular, we will gain a new experience of family, far beyond the confines of our blood family. We will find ourselves co-travellers with others who are trying to take the same path as ourselves; we will experience the richness of the church, as the communion of saints. That community embraces not only those of us still on our pilgrim way, but all who have passed beyond this life, including the saints, that “great cloud of witnesses.”


Wednesday of Week 8

1st Reading: Sirach 36:1, 4-5, 10-17

Faithful to His promises, God will reveal his salvation to the ends of the earth

The nations have acknowledged that there is no God but you.
Have mercy on us, Master, Lord of all, and look on us,
 cast the fear of yourself over every nation.
Let them acknowledge you,
 just as we have acknowledged that there is no God but you, Lord.
Send new portents, do fresh wonders,
 win glory for your hand and your right arm.

Gather together all the tribes of Jacob,
 restore them their inheritance as in the beginning.
Have mercy, Lord, on the people who have invoked your name,
 on Israel whom you have treated as a first-born.
Show compassion on your holy city,
 on Jerusalem the place of your rest.
Fill Zion with songs of your praise,
 and your sanctuary with your glory.

Bear witness to those you created in the beginning,
 and fulfil the prophesies spoken in your name.
Give those who wait for you their reward,
 and let your prophets be proved worthy of belief.
Grant, Lord, the prayer of your servants,
 according to Aaron's blessing on your people,
 so that all the earth's inhabitants may acknowledge
 that you are the Lord, the everlasting God.

Responsorial: Psalm 78:8-9, 11, 13

R./: Show us, O Lord, the light of your kindness

Do not hold the guilt of our fathers against us.
Let your compassion hasten to meet us
 for we are in the depths of distress. (R./)

O God our saviour, come to our help,
 come for the sake of the glory of your name.
 O Lord our God, forgive us our sins;
 rescue us for the sake of your name. (R./)

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
 let your strong arm reprieve those condemned to die.
But we, your people, the flock of your pasture,
 will give you thanks for ever and ever.
We will tell your praise from age to age. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 10:32-45

There will be no rank or titles in God's kingdom

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again." ServiceJames and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able. Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

BIBLE

Respect the dignity of others

Sirach insists on the respect we must show towards the gifts of others. Absorbed in what God can do for his chosen people, he prays that foreign nations too will fear God. He lived and conducted his school in Jerusalem during a time of peace, just before the great troubles that pulse through Daniel and the books of Maccabees burst upon Israel. Yet not content with the serenity of peaceful times, he begs God not to let his people be dulled into complacency and compromise. Unlike other sapiential writers (like Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes) Sirach delights in the temple liturgy. He shows respect for the talents and gifts of others and encourages them.

The gospel describes the disciples dismay, on the road to Jerusalem, as they hear Jesus speak about his coming Passion. He foretells that "the Son of Man will be handed over; and they will mock him and spit at him, flog him, and finally kill him. But three days later he will rise." God's promises are so amazing that before the event there is no way of understanding them. Even though Jesus' enemies will do away with him, God will turn their political contriving into a loving sacrifice, leading to an outpouring of life. "This is my body to be given for you… my blood which will be shed for you."

In contrast with this exalted theology of hope and life, of self-giving martyrdom and total love for others, the ambition of Zebedee's sons, James and John, seems petty and even detestable. How can they jostle for privileged places in the kingdom, seeking to outrank the other disciples, when Jesus has announced the giving of his life for everyone? Jesus' answer was very simple, "Whoever aspires to greatness must serve the rest." This is the mind of Jesus, the mind that must also be in us (Phil 2:5).


Different wavelengths

There are several clashes between Jesus and his disciples in Mark's gospel, as they make their way to Jerusalem, where Jesus will be crucified. They are clearly on different wavelengths, which finds expression in the very different questions they ask of each other. James and John ask Jesus for glory, honour, status. What he asks of them focuses on the experience of rejection and suffering that he himself must face, "Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?" He was referring to the cup of suffering and the baptism of fire. The question of James and John showed their interest in self-promotion. The question of Jesus showed his interest in self-giving. At the heart of being his disciple is self-giving love, becoming the servant of others, and this will often mean taking the way of the cross, as Jesus knew from his own experience. James and John, and all of us, are being called to follow the one who did not come to be served but to serve, whose purpose in life was not to promote himself but to empty himself for others. It is only in following this way that we will receive that share in Jesus' glory that was the focus of James and John's request.


Thursday of Week 8

1st Reading: Sirach 42:15-25

God fills the universe with an infinite variety of life, strange and marvellous

In his majesty he gives the clouds their strength,
 and the hailstones are broken in pieces.
The voice of his thunder rebukes the earth;
 when he appears, the mountains shake.

At his will the south wind blows;
 so do the storm from the north and the whirlwind.
He scatters the snow like birds flying down,
 and its descent is like locusts alighting.
The eye is dazzled by the beauty of its whiteness,
 and the mind is amazed as it falls.

He pours frost over the earth like salt,
 and icicles form like pointed thorns.
The cold north wind blows,
 and ice freezes on the water;
 it settles on every pool of water,
 and the water puts it on like a breastplate.
He consumes the mountains and burns up the desert,
 and withers the tender grass like fire.

A mist quickly heals all things;
 the falling dew gives refreshment from the heat.
By his plan he stilled the deep
 and planted islands in it.
Those who sail the sea tell of its dangers,
 and we marvel at what we hear.
 In it are strange and marvelous creatures,
 all kinds of living things, and huge sea-monsters.

Responsorial: Psalm 32:2-9

R./: By the word of the Lord the heavens were made

Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp,
 with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs.
 O sing him a song that is new,
 play loudly, with all your skill. (R./)

For the word of the Lord is faithful
 and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
 and fills the earth with his love. (R./)

By his word the heavens were made,
 by the breath of his mouth all the stars.
He collects the waves of the ocean;
 he stores up the depths of the sea. (R./)

Let all the earth fear the Lord,
 all who live in the world revere him.
He spoke; and it came to be.
He commanded; it sprang into being. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Jesus heals Bartimaeus of blindness because of his faith

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me." Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

BIBLE

Reborn in spirit

Sirach moves from outward things to inner mysteries, from the beauty of nature to the depths of the human heart where emotions vibrate and reasons may clash. "God plumbs the depths and penetrates the heart, and understands their inmost being. How beautiful are all his works… to meet each need, each creature is preserved." Following Sirach's advice, our life of faith too should follow the quick spontaneity of the child that reaches towards its mother's breast for "the pure milk of the spirit."


Blind but vigorous

A lovely stained-glass window in a nearby church depicts today's scene, the healing of the man born blind.. At the bottom of the picture is written the exchange between Jesus and the man, "What do you want me to do for you?," "Lord, let me see again." Apparently this man almost did not get close enough to Jesus to really talk with him. When he first cried out, from his place by the roadside, "Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me," some friends of Jesus scolded the man and told him to keep quiet.

Jesus was critical of those who prevented others from coming to believe in him. He reproved his disciples for preventing children being brought for his blessing. He ignored those who tried to prevent blind Bartimaeus from making contact with him. Rather than shutting doors in people's faces, Jesus wants his followers to open up the kingdom of heaven to others. We are to lead each other to the Lord, reveal the Lord to each other, and, in so doing, to support one another on our journey towards God. We can only admire the efforts made by pope Francis in this direction.

Jesus stopped his walk and told those who were insisting that the man keep quiet that, instead, they call him to come over. These well-meaning followers of Jesus were preventing this man from relating to Jesus, much to Jesus' annoyance. Our calling is to do the very opposite; it is to help each other meet the Lord, to bring each other to the Lord in some way, to support one another in our efforts to follow the Lord along the road.


Friday of Week 8

1st Reading: Sirach 44:1, 9-13

Remembering our ancestors with respect

Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
 our ancestors in their generations.
 But of others there is no memory;
 they have perished as though they had never existed;
 they have become as though they had never been born,
 they and their children after them.
But these also were godly men,
 whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
 their wealth will remain with their descendants,
 and their inheritance with their children's children.
Their descendants stand by the covenants;
 their children also, for their sake.
Their offspring will continue forever,
 and their glory will never be blotted out.

Responsorial: Psalm 149:1-6, 9

R./: The Lord takes delight in his people

Sing a new song to the Lord,
 his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker,
 let Zion's sons exult in their king. (R./)

Let them praise his name with dancing
 and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation. (R./)

Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
 shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips; (R./)

Gospel: Mark 11:11-26

The barren fig-tree withers away

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not let anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer or all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look. The fig tree that you cursed has withered." Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you your trespasses."

BIBLE

An end and a beginning

Mark's gospel sets Jesus' cleansing the temple in some association with his cursing the fig tree and its withering, since the story of the fig tree envelops the other incident, a style quite common in Mark. Jesus was doing more than cleansing the temple, for his words, drawn from the Old Testament, announce a new type of temple: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people."

In those days, non-Jews were forbidden under pain of death to advance beyond the outer court of the gentiles, and the Roman authorities ratified this prescription. But Jesus draws from an Old Testament passage (Isaiah, 56) from a tradition which was not dominant in the life of Israel, though the words give an understanding of God's plans for the future of his people. Clearly, he wants them to live more prayerfully and more generously towards others, and let outsiders to share in the Jewish prayerful awareness of God's presence.


A house of prayer

Mark often links two stories together that he feels have something in common. Today he links the story of Jesus in the temple with the story of Jesus and the fig tree. Jesus could not find any fruit on the fig tree, and he declared that the tree had no future. Mark is implying that when Jesus entered the temple he found that it was not bearing the fruit it was meant to bear. Instead of being a house of prayer it had become a robber's den. Like the fig tree, it too had no future.

At the end of our gospel text, Jesus again speaks about prayer. The temple will be replaced by a new house of prayer, a new praying community, the community of those who do the will of God as Jesus has revealed it, the community of Jesus' brothers and sisters, what came to be called the church. The church is to be a prayerful community. It is also to be a community that is marked by forgiveness. When Jesus speaks about prayer at the end of that gospel reading, he links it to forgiveness. 'When you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.' The readiness to forgive as we have been forgiven is one of the primary fruits that God would expect to find among this new community of prayer.


Saturday of Week 8

1st Reading: Sirach 51:12-20

In praise of Wisdom

You of Lord saved me from destruction
 and rescued me in time of trouble.
For this reason I thank you and praise you,
 and I bless the name of the Lord.

While I was still young, before I went on my travels,
 I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.
 Before the temple I asked for her,
 and I will search for her until the end.
 From the first blossom to the ripening grape
 my heart delighted in her;
 my foot walked on the straight path;
 from my youth I followed her steps.
 I inclined my ear a little and received her,
 and I found for myself much instruction.

I made progress in her;
 to him who gives wisdom I will give glory.
For I resolved to live according to wisdom,
 and I was zealous for the good,
 and I shall never be disappointed.
 My soul grappled with wisdom,
 and in my conduct I was strict;
 I spread out my hands to the heavens,
 and lamented my ignorance of her.
 I directed my soul to her,
 and in purity I found her.

Responsorial: Psalm 18:8-11

R./: The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart

The law of the Lord is perfect,
 it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
 it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
 they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
 it gives light to the eyes. (R./)

The fear of the Lord is holy,
 abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
 and all of them just. (R./)

They are more to be desired than gold,
 than the purest of gold,
 and sweeter are they than honey,
 than honey from the comb. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 11:27-33

Jesus will explain his authority if others will state their judgment on John's ministry

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, "By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?" Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me." They argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But shall we say, 'Of human origin'?", they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

BIBLE

Willing to Grow

The writer we call Ben-Sirach is calm and confident. His fidelity over the years to the ancestral wisdom of his people has brought its own kind of peace, and a joyful feeling within his heart. In this way wisdom offers us life in its fullness. But we must be honest with ourselves and with others, and let God to set the agenda and the questions. Our God works within reality, and it requires honesty to relate to Him. Unless we recognize reality, he cannot interact with us, for dishonesty sets up a higher barrier to God's presence with us than any other sin. All can be forgiven by God's excelling mercy, but only if we honestly admit what needs to be forgiven.

Jesus makes a similar demand, when religious leaders feel that their monopoly of truth and holiness dispenses them from ordinary justice. To protect their status they are prepared to be devious. In the early church, some people felt so spiritually sanctified that they could ignore normal discipline in their lives, particularly in acts such as eating or physical expressions of love. They neglected the integral unity between body and soul, the physical and the spiritual.

Sirach writes from Old Testament times before the Holy Trinity was revealed. Yet the same approach to faith is found in both Testaments. From our Wisdom readings these past two weeks we have seen this teacher as practical and down to earth, while every so often flashes of profound mysticism shine through his lines. He says, "I will cultivate her until the end," meaning this wisdom that is God's gift. "I became preoccupied with her, never weary of extolling her." If the text asks us to meditate today on honesty before God and before our neighbour, we are not only led along the path of reality, with our feet firmly on this earth, but we are also being guided into a heavenly mystery, a mystery of transcendent wonder, kindness and eternal life. If we are honest, we pursue this journey with Jesus, who will then answer every one of our questions.


By what authority?

Today's gospel comes just after Jesus cleansed the temple, which was a very daring thing to do. There were people in charge of the temple and Jesus certainly had not been authorized by them to do what he did. The question the religious authorities responsible for the temple put to Jesus is very understandable, "What authority have you for acting like this? Who gave you this authority? This happened towards the end of Jesus' ministry. By contrast, at the start of his ministry, according to Mark, the ordinary people of Galilee were struck by the authority with which Jesus spoke and acted. Far from being disturbed by his authority, as the religious leaders were, they were greatly impressed by it. They were all amazed, Mark says, and kept asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching, with authority."

Our Lord spoke and acted with the authority of God. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, it was a liberating authority. We all need an authority of some sort as a reference point in life. The real issue is who or what will we take as our authority. The gospels assure is that Jesus embodies the authentic authority of God, an authority that empowers us to become fully human and fully alive


Readings for the 9th Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 9

1st Reading: Tobit (1:3; 2:1-8

In exile far from home, Tobit still cares for his neighbours

I, Tobit, walked in the ways of truth and righteousness all the days of my life. I performed many acts of charity for my kindred and my people who had gone with me in exile to Nineveh in the land of the Assyrians.

During the reign of Esar-haddon I returned home, and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me. At our festival of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I reclined to eat. When the table was set for me and an abundance of food placed before me, I said to my son Tobias, "Go, my child, and bring whatever poor person you may find of our people among the exiles in Nineveh, who is wholeheartedly mindful of God, and he shall eat together with me. I will wait for you, until you come back." So Tobias went to look for some poor person of our people. When he had returned he said, "Father." And I replied, "Here I am, my child." Then he went on to say, "Look, father, one of our own people has been murdered and thrown into the market place, and now he lies there strangled." Then I sprang up, left the dinner before even tasting it, and removed the body from the square and laid it in one of the rooms until sunset when I might bury it. When I returned, I washed mysel and ate my food in sorrow. Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said against Bethel, "Your festivals shall be turned into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation." And I wept.

When the sun had set, I went and dug a grave and buried him. And my neighbours laughed and said, "Is he still not afraid? He has already been hunted down to be put to death for doing this, and he ran away; yet here he is again burying the dead."

Responsorial: Psalm 111:1-6

R./: Happy are those who fear the Lord

Happy the man who fears the Lord,
 who takes delight in his commands.
His sons will be powerful on earth;
 the children of the upright are blessed. (R./)

Riches and wealth are in his house;
 his justice stands firm for ever.
He is a light in the darkness for the upright:
 he is generous, merciful and just. (R./)

The good man takes pity and lends,
 he conducts his affairs with honour.
The just man will never waver:
 he will be remembered for ever. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 12:1-12

The wicked tenants kill the vineyard-owner's son, but justice is restored

Then he began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyrd to others. Have you not read this scripture: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'?"

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

BIBLE

Surviving in a new environment

A slender thread links Tobit with the gospel parable for today: how to survive in a changed situation, when the cultural and moral markers one has relied upon seem to have diluted or disappeared. In today's gospel, brutish people grow recklessly selfish way because of God's apparent absence. In an age of shifting cultural values we need the commonsense message of the book of Tobit, which integrates religion with everyday life, and deeply-held family values are revived to provide a foothold of meaning. In the story, God responds to Tobit's sense of fidelity. This book can be read as a religious novel, whose message is clearly relevant for today. The inspired author used a lively story form, figures of speech, the setting of the Assyrian exile, lines from the prophets and from the Book of Proverbs, to make one major point: even the tragic and baffling turns of life can lead to a happy ending.

Today's gospel also wrestles with the problem of failure and the sense of loss. The vineyard owner seems to have vanished, so the tenant farmers behave recklessly, even killing the owner's son to seize control of the property. When Jesus told this parable, he surely had in mind the familiar text: "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." (Ps 118:22). This principle of reversal holds that God is always faithful to th ose who trust Him, and can draw new life from the worst of situations. Christians later applied this text to the spread of the faith to the gentile world after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 66-70.

The story of Tobit, as intriguing as a short novel, invites us to admire the person who risks his own security and peace in order to give a decent burial to his murdered fellow-exile. The gospel's message too is fundamentally optimistic: out of disaster good can come. Jesus, the stone rejected by the builders, is the bedrock and keystone of our lives. If we are founded and rooted in him, God will build us a peaceful home on earth and our eternal dwelling hereafter.


Rejection and acceptance

The parable in today's gospel is about rejection. A vineyard owner sent his servants to collect his share of the fruits of the vineyard; all of them were rejected out of hand. He then sent his son who was not only rejected but brutally murdered. At the end of the story comes a complete reversal. Jesus promises that the stone rejected by the builders will become the keystone, the most important stone in a building. The is a veiled reference to what had been done to the prophets in former times and what would soon happen to Jesus himself. He would be rejected and put to death, but God would raise him uo and make him the keystone of a new spiritual building, the church.

To suffer rejection is a common enough human experience. People can feel themselves rejected by others, often by significant others, at various stages of their lives. Jesus who knew the pain of rejection identifies with us in our own moments of rejection. He also assures us that there can be life and love beyond rejection; the rejected stone can become the keystone. God can work in a life-giving way in and through all the various painful experiences that we struggle with in life. Experiences that we might judge to be completely negative can turn out to be foundational for our lives. The Lord's power often manifests itself in surprising ways in our moments of greatest weakness.


Tuesday of Week 9

1st Reading: Tobit (2:9-14

Even though he was blind Tobit did not turn against God

That night I washed myself and went into my courtyard and slept by the wall of the courtyard; and my face was uncovered because of the heat. I did not know that there were sparrows on the wall; their fresh droppings fell into my eyes and produced white films. I went to physicians to be healed, but the more they treated me with ointments the more my vision was obscured by the white films, until I became completely blind. For four years I remained unable to see. All my kindred were sorry for me, and Ahikar took care of me for two years before he went to Elymais.

At that time, also, my wife Anna earned money at women's work. She used to send what she made to the owners and they would pay wages to her. One day, the seventh of Dystrus, when she cut off a piece she had woven and sent it to the owners, they paid her full wages and also gave her a young goat for a meal. When she returned to me, the goat began to bleat. So I called her and said, "Where did you get this goat? It is surely not stolen, is it? Return it to the owners; for we have no right to eat anything stolen." But she said to me, "It was given to me as a gift in addition to my wages." But I did not believe her, and told her to return it to the owners. I became flushed with anger against her over this. Then she replied to me, "Where are your acts of charity? Where are your righteous deeds? These things are known about you."

Responsorial: Psalm 111:1-2, 7-9

R./: The hearts of the just are secure, trusting in the Lord

Happy the man who fears the Lord,
 who takes delight in his commands.
His sons will be powerful on earth;
 the children of the upright are blessed. (R./)

He has no fear of evil news:
 with a firm heart he trusts in the Lord.
With a steadfast heart he will not fear;
 he will see the downfall of his foes. (R./)

Open-handed, he gives to the poor;
 his justice stands firm for ever.
His head will be raised in glory. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 12:13-17

Pharisees try to trap Jesus

They sent to Jesus some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it."

BIBLE

Coping with domestic and social conflicts

It is good to find our daily life issues mirrored in the Scriptures. We must keep an awareness of God, even amid our quarrels and banter. The virtue being taught in the first reading is perseverance, at whose heart there should be love, leavened with humor. Tobit's wife feels that her husband's piety goes a bit too far. When he doubts her honesty over the gift of a young goat, she can take it no longer, "Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are all your virtuous acts?" she demands. It may seem strange that today's reading ends with Tobit's wife's exasperation with her husband and poor, blind Tobit himself rendered speechless.

The gospel also ends with no clear answer, only an enigmatic, general principle, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's but to God what is God's." When religion and politics clash today, as, for instance, in Ireland; whether we should legislate further in the direction of a permissive society, we might wish that the Lord had explained exactly what belongs to Caesar as distinct from what belongs to God. Jesus does not spell out where the boundary lies, but he always promotes honesty, compassion and forgiveness. The critics who questioned him were not seeking an honest answer; so, knowing their hypocrisy, Jesus looked at them, and began his reply with the question, "Why are you trying to trip me up?"

If we were to follow the homely example of Tobit, and are sincere and open in our faith, we will accomplish what is within our power, and the Holy Spirit can do with us more than we imagine, towards building up the Kingdom of God on earth.


A tricky question

The question put to Jesus was meant to get him into trouble. If he should answer, "Yes, pay your taxes to Caesar," he would lose the esteem of patriotic Jews who resented the Roman presence. If instead he says, "No, do not pay your taxes to Caesar" he could be arrested by the Romans for promoting revolution against the Roman system. Jesus was asked many awkward questions in the course of his public ministry and when the question came from a heart that was genuinely searching he took it very seriously. But on this occasion the questioners were simply out to get him.

After a pause, Jesus gave his answer to this question that was meant to trap him. In a succinct, enigmatic fashion he declares that we should return to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give back to God what belongs to God. The coin can be given to Caesar because his image is stampted on it, but what is to be given to God is something much more fundamental. Later in that same chapter he will spell out what is due to God: We are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. God is to be our first and greatest love, our primary commitment. That certainly can never be said of any human authority, political or otherwise. No Caesar, no political institution, no human institution can ever take the place of God in our lives.


Wednesday of Week 9

1st Reading: Tobit (3:1-17

Tobit and Sarah pray to God in deepest anguish; they beg God to let them die

Then with much grief and anguish of heart I wept, and with groaning began to pray: "You are righteous, O Lord, and all your deeds are just; all your ways are mercy and truth; you judge the world. And now, O Lord, remember me and look favourably upon me. Do not punish me for my sins and for my unwitting offenses and those that my ancestors committed before you. They sinned against you, and disobeyed your commandments. So you gave us over to plunder, exile, and death, to become the talk, the byword, and an object of reproach among all the nations among whom you have dispersed us. And now your many judgments are true in exacting penalty from me for my sins. For we have not kept your commandments and have not walked in accordance with truth before you. So now deal with me as you will; command my spirit to be taken from me, so that I may be released from the face of the earth and become dust. For it is better for me to die than to live, because I have had to listen to undeserved insults, and great is the sorrow wihin me.

Command, O Lord, that I be released from this distress; release me to go to the eternal home, and do not, O Lord, turn your face away from me. For it is better for me to die than to see so much distress in my life and to listen to insults."

On the same day, at Ecbatana in Media, it also happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, was reproached by one of her father's maids. For she had been married to seven husbands, and the wicked demon Asmodeus had killed each of them before they had been with her as is customary for wives. So the maid said to her, "You are the one who kills your husbands. See, you have already been married to seven husbands and have not borne the name of a single one of them. Why do you beat us? Because your husbands are dead? Go with them. May we never see a son or daughter of yours."

On that day she was grieved in spirit and wept. When she had gone up to her father's upper room, she intended to hang herself. But she thought it over and said, "Never shall they reproach my father, saying to him, "You had only one beloved daughter but she hanged herself because of her distress.' And I shall bring my father in his old age down in sorrow to Hades. It is better for me not to hang myself, but to pray the Lord that I may die and not listen to these reproaches anymore."

At that same time, with hands outstretched toward the window, she prayed and said, "Blessed are you, merciful God. Blessed is your name forever; let all your works praise you forever. And now, Lord, I turn my face to you, and raise my eyes toward you. Command that I be released from the earth and not listen to such reproaches any more. You know, O Master, that I am innocent of any defilement with a man, and that I have not disgraced my name or the name of my father in the land of my exile. I am my father's only child; he has no other child to be his heir; and he has no close relative or other kindred for whom I should keep myself as wife. Already seven husbands of mine have died. Why should I still live? But if it is not pleasing to you, O Lord, to take my life, hear me in my disgrace."

At that very moment, the prayers of both of them were heard in the glorious presence of God. So Raphael was sent to heal both of them: Tobit, by removing the white films from his eyes, so that he might see God's light with his eyes; and Sarah,

Responsorial: Psalm 24:2-9

R./: To you, O Lord, I lift my soul

I trust you, let me not be disappointed;
 do not let my enemies triumph.
Those who hope in you shall not be disappointed,
 but only those who wantonly break faith. (R./)

Lord, make me know your ways.
 Lord, teach me your paths.
 Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:
 for you are God my saviour. (R./)

In you I hope all the day long
 because of your goodness, O Lord.
 Remember your mercy, Lord,
 and the love you have shown from of old.
 Do not remember the sins of my youth.
 In your love remember me. (R./)

The Lord is good and upright.
He shows the path to those who stray.
He guides the humble in the right path;
 he teaches his way to the poor. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 12:18-27

In the resurrection, they will not marry. God of the living, not of the dead

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that 'if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.' There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her."

Jesus said to them, "Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong."

BIBLE

Marriage and Family

Jesus' provocative remarks about marriage are followed by his promise that heaven awaits those who are faithful. We will rise but we will be radically changed, and so will the entire earth be radically new. Marriage and family will be transformed, too, but hardly destroyed. Love will be the determining factor. Our future destiny is decided on such works of mercy as: whether or not we feed the hungry, help the thirsty, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, visit prisoners, and so on (Mt 25:40). If love for others is so remembered and rewarded, surely the love and self-sacrifice in marriage and family life will be too.

Tobit's story points to prayer being answered in the marriage of Tobias to Sarah. This was the providential result of Tobit's becoming blind and his son's subsequent search for a cure for him. The young man's journey not only has him find a cure for his father's blindness, but enables the old man to see his grandchildren and to die in peace. This story speaks of the profound link between marriage and family, loyalty and mutual support.

The gospel declares that patience will have its reward. Jesus defends belief in the resurrection of the body, in a transformed state. But affirming belief in the resurrection of individuals would hardly win the argument unless his listeners already had a deep trust in God's love and compassion. Faith in the value of life and love, and in God as bountifully generous, makes all the difference. We will not be raised up to half-life or half-love. What that fullness of life and love will be remains God's secret, but it is our highest destiny.


Wondering about the afterlife

Whether human beings have any prospect of an afterlife is a question that has intrigued people for millenia. In today's gospel, Jesus is approached by the members of a party in Judaism, the Sadducees, who saw no prospect of a life after death. They recognized as Sacred Scripture only the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, and found no evidence there to suggest any hope of life beyond this earthly, bodily existence. They challenge Jesus as one whom they know has a different view on this issue. The scenario they put to Jesus indicates a view of the afterlife as simply and extension of this earthly life. But Jesus proposes another scenario: "When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven."

In Christian belief, the life that awaits us in heaven is not just a continuation of life on earth; it is qualitatively different. Writing to the Corinthians St Paul speaks about this life beyond death in terms of transformation. "We shall all be changed," he says (1 Cor 15:50). In that same letter he states that love does not fade away; love endures into eternity. Our love for the Lord and for each other will be perfected in heaven, even though it will be expressed in a very different way to how it is expressed on earth. We can be sure, therefore, that because of the transformation that awaits us we will be more like the person God wills us to be and always intended us to be.


Thursday of Week 9

1st Reading: Tobit (6-8 (passim

The marriage celebration of Tobias and Sarah, and their devout partnership

When he entered Media and was approaching Ecbatana, Raphael said to the young man, "Brother Tobias." "Here I am," he answered. Then Raphael said to him, "We must stay this night in the home of Raguel. He is your relative, and he has a daughter named Sarah. Now when they entered Ecbatana, Tobias said to him, "Brother Azariah, take me straight to our brother Raguel." So he took him to Raguel's house, where they found him sitting beside the courtyard door. They greeted him first, and he replied, "Joyous greetings, brothers; welcome and good health." Then he brought them into his house. Then Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock and received them very warmly.

When they had bathed and washed themselves and had reclined to dine, Tobias said to Raphael, "Brother Azariah, ask Raguel to give me my kinswoman Sarah." But Raguel overheard it and said to the lad, "Eat and drink, and be merry tonight. For no one except you, brother, has the right to marry my daughter Sarah. Likewise I am not at liberty to give her to any other man than yourself, because you are my nearest relative. But let me explain to you the true situation more fully, my child. I have given her to seven men of our kinsmen, and all died on the night when they went in to her. But now, my child, eat and drink, and the Lord will act on behalf of you both." But Tobias said, "I will neither eat nor drink anything until you settle the things that pertain to me." So Raguel said, "I will do so. She is given to you in accordance with the decree in the book of Moses, and it has been decreed from heaven that she be given to you. Take your kinswoman; from now on you are her brother and she is your sister. She is give to you from today and forever. May the Lord of heaven, my child, guide and prosper you both this night and grant you mercy and peace." Then Raguel summoned his daughter Sarah. When she came to him he took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias, saying, "Take her to be your wife in accordance with the law and decree written in the book of Moses. Take her and bring her safely to your father. And may the God of heaven prosper your journey with his peace." Then he called her mother and told her to bring writing material; and he wrote out a copy of a marriage contract, to the effect that he gave her to him as wife according to the decree of the law of Moses. Then they began to eat and drink.

Raguel called his wife Edna and said to her, "Sister, get the other room ready, and take her there." So she went and made the bed in the room as he had told her, and brought Sarah there. She wept for her daughter. Then, wiping away the tears, she said to her, "Take courage, my daughter; the Lord of heaven grant you joy in place of your sorrow. Take courage, my daughter." Then she went out.

When the parents had gone out and shut the door of the room, Tobias got out of bed and said to Sarah, "Sister, get up, and let us pray and implore our Lord that he grant us mercy and safety." So she got up, and they began to pray and implore that they might be kept safe. Tobias began by saying, "Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors, and blessed is your name in all generations forever. Let the heavens and the whole creation bless you forever. You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two of them the human race has sprung. You said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.' I now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old together." And they both said, "Amen, Amen." Then they went to sleep for the night.

Responsorial: Psalm 127:1-5

R./: Happy are those who fear the Lord

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
 and walk in his ways.
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper. (R./)

Your wife like a fruitful vine
 in the heart of your house;
 your children like shoots of the olive,
 around your table. (R./)

Indeed thus shall be blessed
 the man who fears the Lord.
 May the Lord bless you from Zion
 all the days of your life. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 12:28-34

Love of God and love of neighbour excel all ritual sacrifice

One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, 'Which is the first of all the commandments?' Jesus replied, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other;' and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,', this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.

BIBLE

A noble, worthy kind of love

Some of the finest biblical glimpses of marriage and family life appear in the Book of Tobit. The bride's father, Raguel, expresses a noble view of marriage when he tells young Tobias, "Sarah is yours according to the rules laid down by Moses. Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven. From now on she is your beloved." This sense of God's blessing continues in the prayer of newly married husband: "Blessed are you, O Lord of our ancestors, who said, It is not good for the man to be alone. I take this wife not because of lust, but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her, and let us live together to a happy old age." After blessing God and receiving a blessing, the newly-weds went to bed for their first night together. The ideal of pre-marital chastity is a given, in this culture.

The gospel links love and commandment. Normally we do not think of love as a law but as a spontaneous response of one person to another. Yet how easily what is called love can be a cloak for lust, in contrast to the noble purpose of Tobias and Sarah in their marriage. True love is a giving of self, "with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." It reaches out to others and loves them for themselves, to "love your neighbour as yourself." Such love is "worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice." Without love everything else loses in value, while with it we are "not far from the reign of God."

The trials of love can chasten and purify the heart. Between the elderly couple, Tobit and Anna, divine providence worked to make the good better, the faithful heart all the more tenacious. The psalmist says of God's word, "The promises of the Lord are sure, like tried silver, freed from dross, sevenfold refined" (Ps 12:7). Silver ore was placed in a burning cauldron. With strong heat the slack was burnt off and the pure substance remained. Such is the way of true love. It requires a lifetime to become pure and strong, ready for eternal life.


Our relationship with God

Jesus is asked a number of questions that are vital to our relationship with God. One of these is at the beginning of today's gospel. A Jewish scribe comes up to Jesus and asks him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" There were a lot of rules and regulations in the Jewish religion at that time. He wanted to know which one was the most important. In his answer Jesus gave more that he was asked for. He was asked for the first commandment; he gave the first and second commandment, the first being to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second being to love our neighbour as ourselves. In that way Jesus was showing that these two commandments are inseparable.

We cannot love God without loving our neighbour, and in loving our neighbour we are, at the same time, loving God. Yet, the two commandments are not on the same level, one is first and one is second. It is the love of God which is to be the primary love in our lives. We owe the greatest devotion to God. As Jesus says in one of the other gospels, "Seek first the kingdom of God." God as revealed in Jesus is to be our greatest love. If we are caught up into a loving relationship with God, it will overflow into a love of all those whom God loves, and our various human loves for other people will reflect something of God's love for them.


Friday of Week 9

1st Reading: Tobit (11:5-17

The joyful reunion of Tobias and his parents

Anna was sitting, watching the road by which her son, would come. She was sure at once it must be he and said to the father, 'Here comes your son, with his companion.'

Raphael said to Tobias, before he reached his father, "I know that his eyes will be opened. Smear the gall of the fish on his eyes; the medicine will make the white films shrink and peel off from his eyes, and your father will regain his sight and see the light."

Then Anna ran up to her son and threw her arms around him, saying, "Now that I have seen you, my child, I am ready to die." And she wept. Then Tobit got up and came stumbling out through the courtyard door. Tobias went up to him, with the gall of the fish in his hand, and holding him firmly, he blew into his eyes, saying, "Take courage, father." With this he applied the medicine on his eyes, and it made them smart. Next, with both his hands he peeled off the white films from the corners of his eyes. Then Tobit saw his son and threw his arms around him, and he wept and said to him, "I see you, my son, the light of my eyes." Then he said,

"Blessed be God, and blessed be his great name, and blessed be all his holy angels. May his holy name be blessed throughout all the ages. Though he afflicted me, he has had mercy upon me. Now I see my son Tobias." So Tobit went in rejoicing and praising God at the top of his voice. Tobias reported to his father that his journey had been successful, that he had brought the money, that he had married Raguel's daughter Sarah, and that she was, indeed, on her way there, very near to the gate of Nineveh.

Then Tobit, rejoicing and praising God, went out to meet his daughter-in-law at the gate of Nineveh. When the people of Nineveh saw him coming, walking along in full vigor and with no one leading him, they were amazed. Before them all, Tobit acknowledged that God had been merciful to him and had restored his sight. When Tobit met Sarah the wife of his son Tobias, he blessed her saying, "Come in, my daughter, and welcome. Blessed be your God who has brought you to us, my daughter. Blessed be your father and your mother, blessed be my son Tobias, and blessed be you, my daughter. Come in now to your home, and welcome, with blessing and joy. Come in, my daughter." So on that day there was rejoicing among all the Jews who were in Nineveh.

Responsorial: from Psalm 145

R./: Praise the Lord, my soul

My soul, give praise to the Lord;
 I will praise the Lord all my days,
 make music to my God while I live. (R./)

It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever,
 who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
 the Lord, who sets prisoners free. (R./)

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
 who raises up those who are bowed down,
 the Lord, who protects the stranger
 and upholds the widow and orphan. (R./)

It is the Lord who loves the just
 but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
 Zion's God, from age to age. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 12:35-37

Jesus explains that David was not the Messiah

While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet." ' David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?" And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.

BIBLE

Nurtured at home

All that one needs to interpret the story of Tobit is an appreciation of family. This is first formed at home and then within one's circle of friends, later echoed by our membership of the church. Paul refers to this family background when writing to Timothy, "From your infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures." Earlier he refers to the sincere faith "which belonged to your grandmother Lois and to your mother Eunice." A good home prepared Timothy for his apostolic ministry.

Such a home setting ought to be reflected in our churches. The Jerusalem temple was called the "house of God." In its Hebrew origins during their exodus from Egypt, their shrine for God was a simple nomad's tent providing a roof for the entire family. Tent-dwelling fostered intimacy, trust and a common sharing of sorrow or joys. The ark of the covenant was first housed in such a tent. David was blocked from building a house of cedar and mighty stones, because, God says, "from the day I led the Israelites out of Egypt to the present… I have been going about in a tent" (2 Samuel 7:6). The family home provides a norm for church and temple, and offers a guideline for our interpreting Scripture.

When we turn to today's gospel, we see an instance of religion turned into a business and the temple into a place for controversy. How easily this can happen if church people put more stress on esoteric questions instead of on the elementary virtues of love, patience, forgiveness, generosity, and prayer. Jesus refuses to answer the question about the messianic age on the grounds set by the questioners. We may recall another time when, on being asked when the reign of God would come, he replied, "It is not it a matter of reporting that it is 'here' or 'there.' The reign of God is already in your midst" (Luke 17:21).


Son of David

In today's gospel, there is an argument between Jesus and the Jewish scribes about the identity of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Jesus is confronting the teaching of the scribes according to which the Messiah will be the son of David. He quotes from one of the psalms to show that Messiah was to be not simply David's son but David's Lord. Although a descendant of David, Jesus, as Messiah, is declaring himself to be David's Lord. In other words, there is more to Israel's Messiah than the scribes appreciate. As the long awaited Messiah, Jesus is Lord, Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of David, Lord of all. One of the great confessions of the early church was, "Jesus is Lord." That was a very striking confession in a Jewish context, because up until the time of Jesus, the title "Lord" was given only to God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God of Israel. Today's responsorial psalm, a Jewish prayer, declares "My soul, give praise to the Lord", to God. Jesus is Lord of Israel's greatest king, David; he is our Lord, Lord of each one of us, Lord of the church. Our calling is to live our lives under his Lordship, or, to put it in another way, to live as his servants, placing ourselves at the service of his purpose for our world.


Saturday of Week 9

1st Reading: Tobit (12:1, 5-15 etc

The wedding of Tobias and Sarah

When the wedding celebration was ended, Tobit called his son Tobias and said to him, "My child, see to paying the wages of the man who went with you, and give him a bonus as well." So Tobias called him and said, "Take for your wages half of all that you brought back, and farewell."

Then Raphael called the two of them privately and said to them, "Bless God and acknowledge him in the presence of all the living for the good things he has done for you. Bless and sing praise to his name. With fitting honour declare to all people the deeds of God. Do not be slow to acknowledge him. It is good to conceal the secret of a king, but to acknowledge and reveal the works of God, and with fitting honour to acknowledge him. Do good and evil will not overtake you. Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies.

"I will now declare the whole truth to you and will conceal nothing from you. Already I have declared it to you when I said, "It is good to conceal the secret of a king, but to reveal with due honour the works of God.' So now when you and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought and read the record of your prayer before the glory of the Lord, and likewise whenever you would bury the dead. And that time when you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner to go and bury the dead, I was sent to you to test you. And at the same time God sent me to heal you and Sarah your daughter-in-law. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord."

So now get up from the ground, and acknowledge God. See, I am ascending to him who sent me. Write down all these things that have happened to you." And he ascended. Then they stood up, and could see him no more. Then Tobit said: "Blessed be God who lives forever, because his kingdom lasts throughout all ages. For he afflicts, and he shows mercy; he leads down to Hades in the lowest regions of the earth, and he brings up from the great abyss, and there is nothing that can escape his hand."

Responsorial: Tobit 13:2, 6-8

R./: Blessed be God, who lives for ever

By turns he punishes and pardons;
 he sends men down to the depths of the underworld
 and draws them up from supreme destruction;
 no one can escape his hand. (R./)

If you return to him with all your heart and all your soul,
 behaving honestly towards him,
 then he will return to you
 and hide his face from you no longer. (R./)

Consider how well he has treated you;
 loudly give him thanks.
Bless the Lord of justice
 and extol the King of the ages. (R./)

I for my part sing his praise
 in the country of my exile;
 I make his power and greatness known
 to a nation that has sinned. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 12:38-44

This poor widow has given more than all others

In his teaching Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

BIBLE

Little Things Mean a Lot

Religion loses meaning if its leaders focus upon splendid vestments, guaranteed front seats in synagogues and churches, places of honour at banquets, long prayers. To correct such a distortion of religion, Jesus warmly praises the old woman putting her two small copper coins, worth about a couple of cents, into the collection box. In her intent, she contributed more than all the others; for they gave from their surplus while she gave from her dire need. This is another way of arriving at the end of the journey and of finishing the race. The widow gave herself totally to the Lord.


The widow's mite

The phrase widow's mite has made its way into the English language. It often refers to something small which, nonetheless, displays a tremendous generosity of spirit. The widow gave a very small amount of money to the temple treasure, but in giving that very little, she was giving everything she had to live on. Jesus identifies her to his own disciples as an example of a wonderful generosity of spirit. Jesus often encouraged his disciples to learn from people who were not his disciples. At this point in the gospel Jesus is in the Jerusalem, about to face into his passion. This woman who gave everything was a figure of Jesus who was soon to give everything on the cross. This seemingly insignificant widow who seemed to give next to nothing was, in reality, a living witness of divine generosity. The widow reminds us that there are saints in our midst that we don't often notice. A wonderful generosity of spirit can reveal itself in gestures that appear very ordinary and even insignificant to those observing. There can be times in our lives when we appear to have very little, in all kinds of ways, but if we give generously out of the little we have, we are rich in the eyes of the Lord.


Readings for the 10th Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 10

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7

God comforts us in our troubles so we may comfort others

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

Responsorial: Psalm 33:2-9

R./: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord

I will bless the Lord at all times,
 his praise always on my lips;
 in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad. (R./)

Glorify the Lord with me;
 together let us praise his name.
 I sought the Lord and he answered me;
 from all my terrors he set me free. (R./)

Look towards him and be radiant;
 let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called; the Lord heard him
 and rescued him from all his distress. (R./)

The angel of the Lord is encamped
 around those who revere him, to rescue them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
They are happy who seek refuge in him. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes as our principles for living

When he saw the crowds, Jesus went up the mountain; and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

BIBLE

Principles to live by

People who are more poor and neglected are not necessarily holier or more spiritual. Poverty is not in itself a biblical ideal, but sometimes it brings out the finest qualities in a disciple. Paul makes a connection between our need and God's gracious help; and then the gift of being able to console others. But poverty can just as easily lead to vice, to stealing, disregard for the property and even the lives of others. Of course these vices are also found among the wealthy, only under more sophisticated forms of greed, dominance or arrogance. Without money or rank, we are forced to rely on basic human resources.

Notably, the first of the beatitudes is spoken to the "poor in spirit", a kind of humility based upon dependence on God rather than on fame and fortune. It is linked to the patience and compassion which mark people as true disciples of Jesus. Poverty and mildness of spirit can be the school of compassion as well as purity of heart. More people are attracted to the faith by the compassion of its religious leaders than by any other virtue; more are turned away from religion by arrogance and dominance than by all other faults of those in charge of others, whether parents, teachers, priests or ministers. Today's texts are a call to merciful spirit of servant-leadership and point to the good results to be achieved. Such leadership from our bishops and priests fosters a strong, caring Catholic community, a persevering community and foreshadows the kingdome of God. In such a community, those who have shared the suffering of Christ will richly share in his consolation. When we are poor in spirit, we let God accomplish the beatitudes in us, and then through us for others.


Portraying God

Portrait painting is a very specialized skill. When I am in London I love to visit the portrait gallery just off Trafalgar Square. There are wonderful portraits there of all kinds of people from the present time back through the centuries. People like to have their portraits painted. If you are ever in Rome and you go to Piazza Navona you will find people sitting to have their portraits pained by local artists. I like to think of the beatitudes as painting a portrait. When Jesus spoke those beatitudes he was painting a portrait of himself. He is poor in spirit, in that he depends on God for everything; he is gentle and humble of heart; he mourns because God's will is not being done on earth as in heaven; he hungers and thirst for what is right, for what God wants, and is prepared to suffer to bring that about; he is merciful to the broken and the sinner; he has a purity of intention, wanting only what God wants; he works to make peace between God and humanity and among human beings. In painting a portrait of himself, Jesus was also painting a portrait of his followers. It is our portrait, and we are called to try and fit that portrait. We cannot become the person of the beatitudes on our own; we need the help of the Holy Spirit who works within us to mould us into the image and likeness of Christ.


Tuesday of Week 10

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

God has reconciled us and given us the ministry of reconciliation

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away. Look, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Responsorial: Psalm 118:129-133, 135

R./: Lord, let your face shine on me

Your will is wonderful indeed;
 therefore I obey it.
The unfolding of your word gives light
 and teaches the simple. (R./)

I open my mouth and I sigh
 as I yearn for your commands.
Turn and show me your mercy;
 show justice to your friends. (R./)

Let my steps be guided by your promise;
 let no evil rule me.
Let your face shine on your servant
 and teach me your decrees. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 8:18-27

Jesus calms the storm. "Why were ye so afraid?"

Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Another of his disciples said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us. We are perishing." And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?"

BIBLE

The instructive power of the storm

Saint John Chrysostom's Homilies on Matthew were preached in Antioch and show his engagement with details of the text. His main objective was promoting morality, so that in dealing with any passage he concludes with an exhortation to some special virtue. Here is part of what he says about today's Gospel. The citation is long, but it is full of keen insights: "Behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, so that the ship was covered with the waves, but he was asleep." Jesus took them with him, not by chance but in order to make them spectators of the miracle that was to take place. For like an excellent trainer, he was anointing them with a view to both objects; as well to be undismayed in dangers, a to be modest in honours. Having sent away the rest, he kept them and lets them be tossed with the tempest; at once correcting this, and disciplining them to bear trials nobly. For while the former miracles were great indeed, this one contained also in it a major kind of teaching, and was a sign like that of old. For this reason he takes with him only the disciples. For as when there was a display of miracles, he also lets the people be present; so when trial and terrors were rising up against him, he takes with him none but the champions of the whole world, whom he was to train. While Matthew merely mentioned that "he was asleep," Luke says that it was "on a pillow;" meaning both his freedom from pride, and to teach us hereby a high degree of austerity."

Chrysostom goes on to moralise about the disciples' fear: "When the tempest was at its height and the sea raging, they awoke him, saying, "Lord, save us: we perish." But he rebuked them before he rebuked the sea, because as I said, these things were permitted for training purposes and they were an image of the trials that would come to them later. Yes, for after these things again, he often let them fall into serious tempests of misfortune; and Paul also said, "I would not have you ignorant that we were pressed beyond our strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life;" and again, "Who delivered us from so great a death." Indeed their very alarm was a valuable occurrence, that the miracle seemed all the greater and their remembrance of the event be made lasting. Having first expected to be lost, they were saved, and having acknowledged the danger, they learned the greatness of the miracle. So that is why he sleeps: for had he been awake when it happened, they would not have been fearful, or they would not have begged him. Therefore he sleeps, to give occasion for their timidity and make clearer their perception of what was happening."

He concludes by saying that Jesus "stretched out no rod, as Moses did, neither did he stretch forth his hands to Heaven, nor did he need any prayer, but as for a master commanding his handmaid, or a Creator his creature, so did he quiet and curb it by word and command only; and all the surge was immediately at an end, and no trace of the disturbance remained. This the evangelist declared saying, "And there was a great calm." And that which had been spoken in praise of the Father, he showed forth again by his works. For it says, "he spoke and the stormy wind ceased." So here likewise, he spoke, and "there was a great calm." And the multitudes who wondered at him; would not have marvelled, had he done it in such manner as did Moses."


Stormy waters

Inf Matthew's time the story of the storm at sea would have resonated with the readers' own experience. They would often have found themselves praying the prayer of the disciples in the boat, "Save us, Lord, we are going down." We may have prayed a version of that prayer ourselves, either in relation to our own personal lives or in relation to the life of the church as a whole. Jesus addresses his fearful disciples as people of "little faith." They are somewhere between no faith and full faith. Many of us can find ourselves in that in-between place, people of little faith, especially when the storms threaten to engulf us. We can easily identify with the prayer of the man in the gospels, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." Jesus, who had been asleep in the storm, brought the fragile boat with its fearful disciples through the storm into a place of calm. In stormy times that expose our vulnerability and frailty, the Lord remains with the church and with each of us as individuals, keeping us steady and guiding us to our destination. This passage would have reassured Matthew's church and can reassure us today that the Lord is always stronger than the storm which threatens to overwhelm us.


Wednesday of Week 10

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

The new covenant of grace is based not on some written law but on the Spirit

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses' face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory. Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory.

Responsorial: Psalm 98:5-9

R./: Holy is the Lord our God

Exalt the Lord our God;
 bow down before Zion, his footstool.
He the Lord is holy. (R./)

Among his priests were Aaron and Moses,
 among those who invoked his name was Samuel.
They invoked the Lord and he answered. (R./)

To them he spoke in the pillar of cloud.
They did his will; they kept the law,
 which he, the Lord, had given. (R./)

O Lord our God, you answered them.
For them you were a God who forgives;
 yet you punished all their offences. (R./)

Exalt the Lord our God;
 bow down before his holy mountain;
 for the Lord our God is holy. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19

It’s not enough to keep the letter of the law; we must seek and do the will of God

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

BIBLE

Conservative in changing times

If St. Paul's epistle reflects serious tensions, today's Gospel seeks harmony and enlightenment. As a wise man wrote, "There is a time for everything. A time to tear, and a time to sow. A time for war, and a time for peace." How well that idea of "a time to plant and a time to uproot" fits with our Lord's words today. In order to fulfil the Law and the Prophets he must uproot whatever is old and obsolete, to help us embrace the new. We are not to follow a dead code of law that has lost its meaing but a new living law of the Spirit. Paul calls us, like the Corinthians, to make a clear decision to move ahead.

Still, Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. We need to discern which old things are not yet obsolete, such as the ten commandments. This applies to many aspects of Church life, where some want to conserve traditions of the past which others consider overdue for renewal or outright discarding. Wiithout yielding to mere whims or short-term decisions, our Church needs to take on board some values, mainly democratic and participative, of our modern society, in order to share Christ's mind with our contemporaries. But Jesus and Paul tell us that it is the Spirit who gives life, so we must not be rigidly bound by rules which made sense to our Church in the past but which no longer offer hope for the future. With this outlook we can have mature discussion about the way forward in presenting the Gospel in ways required by the time in which we live. We must rely on prayer, dialogue and the guidance of the Holy Spirit who has called us to share in the responsibility of helping to build the Kingdom of God.


Not total abolition

As a devout Jew, Jesus was respectful of his own Jewish tradition. Matthew has him say, "don't imagine that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets." But he also declares that he has come to complete the Law and the Prophets, to bring their true intention to fulfilment. Jesus valued the good in his religious tradition, but was also open to renewal, since God was always prompting people forward. We too are called to respect the real values in our own religious tradition, while facing up to the shadow side to that tradition and being open and receptive to ways that can make that tradition intelligible for today. God is like the potter who reshapes what is there and make it better. The Spirit is always at work; our task is to keep up with what God is trying to do.


Thursday of Week 10

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:15-4:1, 3-6

God has shone in our minds to radiate the light of God's glory

My brethren, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Responsorial: Psalm 84:9-14

R./: The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land

I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
 a voice that speaks of peace.
His help is near for those who fear him
 and his glory will dwell in our land. (R./)

Mercy and faithfulness have met,
 justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
 and justice look down from heaven. (R./)

The Lord will make us prosper
 and our earth shall yield its fruit.
 Justice shall march before him
 and peace shall follow his steps. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:20-26

Whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be judged for it

Jesus said to his disciples: 'If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

BIBLE

Mountain Encounters

Our holy Scriptures suggest that mountains are a priveleged place where human beings can encounter God, and be transformed. St Paul refers to Mount Sinai, where Moses stayed with the Lord for forty days and he wrote the words of the covenant on the tablets of stone. Amazingly, as he came down from Mount Sinai, the skin of the face of Moses had become so radiant he had to veil his face ever afterwards (Exod 34:28-29). St Paul sees this as a profound spiritual encounter in which we also can take part. Like Moses on the Holy Mountain, we now enter into the immediate presence of Jesus. We enter behind the veil, opened up by Jesus' death on the cross (see Mt 27:51) and it is there that our full potential is revealed. Paul develops this idea of encounter with God as something open to everyone. All of us gazing on the Lord's glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed ever more fully into the image of God.

Three significant mountains feature in the Gospels: 1. The Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. 2. Mount Calvary, where the saving blood of Christ was shed for us. 3. The mount of the Ascension, where his final promise was given: "I am with you always, even to the end of time."

Today's Gospel teaching is from the Sermon on the Mount, spoken to the crowds on a hillside overlooking the Lake of Galilee. Jesus invites us to grow into a deeper level of virtue, so as to be transformed and be like him: "Do not grow angry, do not use abusive language, do not offer a gift on the altar without first being reconciled with neighbour." This advice may seem too elementary, ever to place us on the road to mystical experiences like Moses or Elijah or Jesus. Yet, it is charity, patience and forgiveness that draws us to Mount Calvary where Jesus died, that tore open the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that enables us like Moses to converse with God.


Going beyond the law

Jesus calls for a virtue that goes beyond what is called for by the Old Testament, or indeed by our own civil laws. The ideal of virtue he proposes is at the level of attitude and feeling and not simply at the level of action. The ten commandments relate to actions which are to be done or to be avoided. Jesus quotes one of the commandments at the beginning of our gospel reading, "You shall not kill." He goes on to prohibit not just the act of killing but attitudes and emotions that can lead people to kill each other. He warns against anger and the scorning of others that leads us to call them fools.

Most of us would regard the commandment, "Do not kill," as not applying to us because we are unlikely ever to want to kill someone else. But it comes to the level of feelings, attitudes and prejudices, we cannot escape so easily. We have all experienced anger and recognized its potentially destructive power. We have all judged others in ways that led us to speak of them disrespectfully. Even though we are not criminal at the level of action, we may fail at that underlying level of anger and resentment that Jesus talks about. If we are to reach this deeper virtue taught by Jesus, we know it can only be with God's help, with the help of the Holy Spirit, whose power at work within us can begin to shape all we do and how and why we do it.


Friday of Week 10

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

He who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us with him in our turn

Brothers and sisters, we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.  For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.

 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture - "I believed, and so I spoke" - we also believe, and so we speak,  because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.  Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Responsorial: Psalm 115:10-11, 15-18

R./: To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise

I trusted, even when I said:
 'I am sorely afflicted,'
 and when I said in my alarm:
 'No man can be trusted.' (R./)

O precious in the eyes of the Lord
 is the death of his faithful.
Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
 you have loosed my bonds. (R./)

A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
 I will call on the Lord's name.
 My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
 before all his people. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:27-32

Perfect fidelity includes right mental attitudes and motives

Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

BIBLE

Treasure in earthen vessels

Two phrases shine out in today's readings, "treasure in earthen vessels"; "whoever looks lustfully at another". In Paul's words, we are only "clay jars," not immune to suffering or temptation. He adds his eloquent statement about living in hope, in spite of whatever may happen in our lives. "Afflicted in every way but not crushed; full of doubts, but not despairing; persecuted, but not destroyed." His final words make good sense to both mystic and Christian activist: "we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus also may be revealed."

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proposes genuine ideals, but often in the language of hyperbole. It would be wrong to gouge out one's right eye or to hack off one's right hand, just because they have led us into temptation. There is a shock treatment in his mode of address, like his other words about "hating" father and mother in order to love God (Matthew 10:37). What Jesus says about adultery, whether in the heart only, by lusting after another person or in action, by breaking up a happy marriage, must be taken seriously, as an ideal. He sets up ideals for us, and although we are tempted, undergo doubts and confusion, and at times falter and sin and need forgiveness, they remain a precious guideline for us, for as long as we live in our "earthen vessels."


Taken seriously, but not literally

How could Jesus say, "If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away"? Clearly this is an exaggerated expression, designed to shock; he does not intend his words to be taken literally. This image of tearing out our right eye links back to his view of adultery not just as a physical act but as an intention or a desire, "whoever looks at a woman lustfully." He is inviting us to consider the roots of wicked actions, arising from the passions of our human heart. This is the deeper virtue that he referred to a few verses earlier.

What the Lord wants of us is not just a change of behaviour but a change of heart, a purifying of desire and intention. This interior transformation is understood elsewhere in the Scriptures to be the work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who renews the human heart. It is above all in prayer that we open ourselves to the Spirit of God. It is above all in silence that we seek the Lord's face, in the words of today's responsorial psalm, and open ourselves to the coming of the Lord's Spirit, who works within us to create in us a heart that reflects the heart of Jesus.


Saturday of Week 10

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14ff.

The old order gives place to the new. God has given us the ministry of reconciliation

From now on, brethren, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Responsorial: Psalm 102:1-4, 8-9, 11-12

R./: The Lord is kind and merciful

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
 all my being, bless his holy name.
 My soul, give thanks to the Lord
 and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
 who heals every one of your ills,
 who redeems your life from the grave,
 who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)

The Lord is compassion and love,
 slow to anger and rich in mercy.
His wrath will come to an end;
 he will not be angry for ever. (R./)

For as the heavens are high above the earth
 so strong is his love for those who fear him.
 As far as the east is from the west
 so far does he remove our sins. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:33ff.

Swear no oaths, but speak with a simple "Yes" or "No." Anything stronger is from the evil one

Jesus said to his disciples, "Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

BIBLE

Growing up in Christ

Some statements in today's readings suggest that we are already saved, in a way that prevents us ever sliding back into sinful or selfish ways. St Paul wants us to project our thoughts forward to imagine the kingdom of God as fully realised on the earth. He writes that, "Since one died for all, all have died." "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old order has passed away; now all is new."

The kingdom of God is a wonderful idea and glorious dream, but we still wonder how much of Jesus' teachings could really be applied in this world of ours? Admittedly, some Christians try to follow them literally, and keep their speech simple and exact, as honest as the blue sky on a spring morning. Most people, however, feel the need to say more than a crisp "Yes" or an absolute "No." We consider it fair to have our ID card checked out, our driver's license verified, and are willing in court to swear on the Bible that our words are true. We and our world are not yet fully there, in kingdom mode.

Yes, somehow we are already sealed and anointed by the Spirit who is the pledge of eternal life. By the grace of God we are part of that new creation, but we also need God to be patient and forgiving as we stumble on our pilgrim way towards the Kingdom. It is helpful to consider ourselves as still growing up in Christ. We are wounded healers, and God has not finished with us yet.

 


What's wrong with oaths?

Jesus rejects the taking of oaths, the kind of swearing that seeks to control God for one's own purposes, swearing by heaven, God's throne, or by earth, God's footstool, or by Jerusalem, the city of God. The wrongness of taking the name of God in a trivial way was recognised in Jewish tradition, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain".

What's wrong with swearing an oath or making a vow? First, he is not saying we should refuse to make an oath if we are asked to do so in court. (In fact, Jesus himself replied under oath at his trial in Jerusalem – Matt 26:64). And the wedding ceremony would be much poorer if spouses were not allowed make vows of fidelity to each other! What Jesus means is that Christians should be totally trustworthy and completely honest, whatever the circumstances. We should hardly ever need to swear an oath or make a vow, because we should be people who always speak the truth.

Jesus wants his followers to be people whose YES always means YES and whose NO means NO. To be reliable characters who always keep their word, that is, people of total integrity. If we are people like that, then there will be simply no need for us to swear oaths. No need to supplement our statements with things like: "Scout's honour", "On my mother's life" or "cross my heart and hope to die!" - and still less with "I swear to God!"

 

 


Readings for the 11th Week, Ordinary Time (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 11

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Paradox of the apostolate: a poor man who enriches many

As we work together with Jesus, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation. We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see, we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothin, and yet possessing everything.

Responsorial: Psalm 97:1-4

R./: The Lord has made known his salvation

Sing a new song to the Lord
 for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
 have brought salvation. (R./)

The Lord has made known his salvation;
 has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
 for the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth
 have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
 ring out your joy. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:38-42

The challenge to offer the other cheek and go the extra mile

Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

BIBLE

Paul's tenacity

Among the great phrases in today’s first Reading are: “We work together with Jesus.” “Nw is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” What an inspirational character and role-model we have in St Paul.

Today we get some idea of Paul’s heroic perseverance for the sake of the Gospel. At a time when some were criticising Paul  for not coming again visit to them, he says them he has often been criticised like this. “We are called imposters, and yet we are truthful; nobodies but in fact are well known; considered dead, yet here we are alive; punished, but not put to death; sorrowful, though always rejoicing; poor, yet enriching many; seeming to have nothing, yet everything is ours.” He could stand firm for his convictions, very aware of the grace of God supporting him. His unswerving fidelity eventually found him numbered among the pillars of the Church. He truly was “poor, yet enriching many; called an imposter, yet truthful.” If we know people like that within our family of faith, thank God for their inspiration.

Jesus’ ideals in the Sermon on the Mount are dramatically exemplified by Paul’s apostolate, in his huge generosity of spirit, willingness to going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, metaphorically, and his gifts with others. The lives of such saints demonstrate the hidden potential in each of us to be givers more than takers, up-builders rather than critics, contributors to love in our world.


Overcome evil with good

Jesus wants his disciples not to repay evil with evil, but to respond to evil with goodness. The worst instinct in human nature is to respond with malice to goodness, as instanced by the rejection and crucifixion of the one who “went about doing good; for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). The best instinct of human nature is to overcome evil with good. This could be termed the divine impulse, God’s own impulse. It was the main characteristic of Jesus. He overcame the evil that was done to him with good. In the very moment when he was wrongly rejected he revealed his love most fully. He lived and died to overcome evil with good.

It is the hardest challenge to remain good in the face of evil, to remain loving in the face of hostility, to be faithful even if one is betrayed, to be peacemakers in a hostile world. We simply could not do it by our own strength alone. We need God’s strength, God’s resources, God’s Spirit – but this strength and grace is promised to us. St Paul calls on us “not to neglect the grace of God you have received.” God is always gracing us and if we rely on his grace we can keep working towards that ideal of overcoming evil with good.


Tuesday of Week 11

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

Those who generously helped to finance Paul's mission were richly blessed

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints, and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had alrady made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you.

Now as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you, so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Responsorial: Psalm 145:2, 5-9

R./: Praise the Lord, my soul

I will praise the Lord all my days,
 make music to my God while I live. (R./)

He is happy who is helped by Jacob's God,
 whose hope is in the Lord his God,
 who alone made heaven and earth,
 the seas and all they contain. (R./)

It is he who keeps faith for ever,
 who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
 the Lord, who sets prisoners free. (R./)

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
 who raises up those who are bowed down,
 the Lord, who protects the stranger
 and upholds the widow and orphan. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48

Love your enemies and so be perfect, just like your heavenly Father

Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

BIBLE

Pardoning

The ideal of loving our enemies and even praying for persecutors seems remote and unreal, until we remember Jesus’ own heroic example, praying for his executioners, as he was dyingon the cross (Luke 22:34). St Paul echoes this self-giving love when telling his Christians in Corinth about the outstanding generosity shown by the churches of Macedonia. He was on a goodwill campaign, with the aim of collecting alms from the better-off Christians in Greece, to help the struggling church at Jerusalem. In this he was trying to be reconciled with the conservatives in Jerusalem, who had rejected him, blocked his apostolic work for the gentiles and even questioned his right to call himself a Christian.

Both readings put a high value on forgiveness and reconciliation. We are advised to swallow our pride and turn away from too harsh a judgment of others. If we can repent, it shows how others can change. No matter how justified our anger or how eloquent our condemnation, we need to be forgiving and grow to be perfect as our Father is perfect.


Dealing with enemies

It's not enough for us not to take revenge. Jesus goes further and requires us to love our enemies. It is a very extreme demand, for who else is left to love, after one has loved the enemy? Love like this is not just a feeling but a basic attitude of mind and will, to be expressed in acts of kindness. We might think of the parable of the good Samaritan, where this foreigner gives loving service to a badly injured Jew on the roadside. By long established convention, Jews would have been regarded by most Samaritans as enemies, to be hated and avoided.

The unconditional love proposed by Jesus would lead us to actually pray for our enemy, as when Jesus prayed forgiveness for those who were responsible for his crucifixion. The human tendency is to limit our goodwill to those for whom we have feelings of warmth and affection. This is natural love, and its value is clear to everyone. But it is not exceptional; and Jesus wants his friends to stretch their love beyond those whom they would naturally embrace. This is a challenge that stretches us. We are meant to reveal, when relating to others, the God whose love reaches out to all. He causes the sun to rise on bad people as well as good, and the rain to fall on honest and dishonest alike. This ideal is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives among us and within us.


Wednesday of Week 11

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Reaping what we sow

Brothers and sisters, here is the point: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.

Responsorial: Psalm 111:1-4, 9

R./: Happy are those who fear the Lord

Happy the man who fears the Lord,
 who takes delight in his commands.
His sons will be powerful on earth;
 the children of the upright are blessed. (R./)

Riches and wealth are in his house;
 his justice stands firm for ever.
He is a light in the darkness for the upright:
 he is generous, merciful and just. (R./)

Open-handed, he gives to the poor;
 his justice stands firm for ever.
His head will be raised in glory. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Beware of practicing your piety in public

Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

BIBLE

Giving cheerfully

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works..” (Mt 5:16) and “Beware of practicing your piety before others…. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:1; 18). It’s not easy to find the right balance between those two sayings.

Ideally, we should practice generosity because it’s right, rather than merely in order to be loved or praised, or remembered by posterity. Jesus suggests, “let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (i.e. stay anonymous rather than seek to be celebrities.) On the other hand, it’s very hard to consistently live up noble standards without getting good example from others. In our turn, we need to give some good example in return. There is value in remembering God’s deeds in the lives of his saints. Paul ventures to claim that the more we give to others, the more we ourselves will have. “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously.” Here he echoes the maxim of Proverbs (11:24-25), “Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.”

To need constant approval is not psychologically or spiritually healthy. Such people are insecure about their own worth. If we are so taken up with seeking praise and recognition, we will have little time for others. In turn, even our friends may drop off and keep their distance. Jesus uses a graphic image to promote anonymous benevolence, “Do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets, looking for applause.” He proposes a low-key approach to almsgiving, so that we do it anonymously, “not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” The real motive for acts of mercy should be that they are what human decency requires, and not needing any other reward than that, “your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Whenever we are in a position to help them, whether our contribution is material or spiritual, we must respect both our own dignity and their’s. Anonymous giving is praised, where the only witness is God “who sees in secret.” Another way, Paul suggests, is to give so cheerfully that we find joy in giving, just as the other has in receiving our gift. If gifts are given with love, we are happy in seeing others happy, because we all belong to the one family of God.


Not preening but shining

Jesus says, "Be careful not to parade your good deeds before others to attract their notice." But earlier in the same sermon, he seems to have said the very opposite, "Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven." There seems to be a tension between these sayings. Yet, there is truth in both. We are not to hide the light of our faith, or hid it under a basket. Rather, we are to publicly proclaim our faith by our lifestyle, by what we actually do.

On the other hand, it’s misguided to be merely self-promoters, trying to draw attention to ourselves, seeking praise or reputation. Rather, our living of our faith is because that is what God wants of us. It may be helpful to wonder, “Who is honoured by my self-publicising? Is it myself or is it God?” Alternatively, “Who am I trying to serve by my good deeds? Is it myself or is it the Lord?” When we pray “Hallowed by your name, your kingdom come” we remember that our main task in life is to give glory to God.


Thursday of Week 11

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 11:1-11

Paul asks for their patience; he will not be a financial burden to them

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me. I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you.

Did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I proclaimed God's good news to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends who came from Macedonia. So I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boast of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do.

Responsorial: Psalm 110:1-4, 7-8)

R./: I will thank the Lord with all my heart

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
 in the meeting of the just and their assembly.
Great are the works of the Lord;
 to be pondered by all who love them. (R./)

Majestic and glorious his work,
 his justice stands firm for ever.
He makes us remember his wonders.
The Lord is compassion and love. (R./)

His works are justice and truth:
 his precepts are all of them sure,
 standing firm for ever and ever:
 they are made in uprightness and truth. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 6:7-15

Our prayer must not be too wordy and must include a spirit of forgiveness

Jesus said, "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

"Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

BIBLE

Clearing the air

Some critics in the Corinthian church accused Paul of merely “rattling” words, seeing him as just a talker, not a doer. They felt he should be more tolerant in practice, and more learned an eloquent in his sermons. It seems that he did not fit their exalted expectation of what an apostle should be like. Paul does not back down in the face of their criticism but claims the right and privilege of speaking frankly to them, as their founding apostle. He blames them for welcoming roving preachers who undermined their loyalty to Paul himself and promoted a different vision of Jesus. He calls those preachers troublemakers, “super-apostles,” and implies that these so-called apostles were fooling the people, and exploiting the ministry as a profitable career. By contrast, he and Barnabas worked manually for their living (1 Cor 9) so that the gospel message was not preached for personal gain and could be accepted as God’s pure word.

This plain speaking seems to have cleared the air between Paul and his Corinthians. He calls on them to make their language “Yea” and “Nay” (2 Cor 1:18) and to re-dedicate their lives to Christ. Here is genuine forgiveness, wiping the slate clean so that their relationship can blossom again, with more wisdom and maturity. Using an Old Testament image, he compares them to a chaste bride coming to her marriage, with joyful enthusiasm to be united with Christ. This image from the prophet Hosea (Hos 2:16), was later used by Jeremiah (Jer 2:2), Isaiah (Isa 54:5) and the Song of Songs.

Paul’s words had a sobering effect on his readers and brought at least some of them back to their first loyalty, as a “chaste virgin” devoted to Christ. By forgiving one another we announce the coming of God’s kingdom and both receive and distribute the “daily bread” that God gives us.


The Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer is found in two gospels, Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, Jesus begins by teaching them not to use many words, not to "babble" when praying to God, as the pagans do. This refers to the pagan practice of bombarding the gods with wordy, unintelligible formulae, to get them to act favourably to mankind. The disciples of Jesus are not to relate to his heavenly Father in that way. God is cannot be manipulated by our many words. Rather, as the Lord's Prayer suggests, we begin by surrendering ourselves to whatever God may want to do with us and with our world.

What basically matters is God's name, God's kingdom, God's will. We don't try to insist on what we ourselves want; we surrender to what God wants. Then we acknowledge our dependence on God, for our basic needs, for food for the day, for forgiveness, for strength when our faith is put to the test. The Lord's Prayer is powerful in its simplicity. It is not simply one prayer among many; it remains the fundamental teaching on how to pray.


Friday of Week 11

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30

Paul boasts about his hardships in carrying out his ministry

My brethren, since many others boast according to human standards, I will also boast. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that.

But whatever anyone dares to boast of, I am speaking as a fool, I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman, I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the desert, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not eak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Responsorial: Psalm 33:2-7

R./: From all their afflictions God will deliver the just

I will bless the Lord at all times,
 his praise always on my lips;
 in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad. (R./)

Glorify the Lord with me;
 together let us praise his name.
 I sought the Lord and he answered me;
 from all my terrors he set me free. (R./)

Look towards him and be radiant;
 let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called; the Lord heard him
 and rescued him from all his distress. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 6:19-23

Do not lay up earthly treasure where moths and rust corrode

Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness."

BIBLE

Where boasting has a place

Sometimes the Sermon on the Mount clashes with something in the letters of St Paul, and in particular with Paul’s occasional tendency to boast about what he has achieved. Whereas Jesus says, “Do not parade your good deeds before others,” we might get the uneasy feeling that in the epistles St Paul speaks too much about himself and what he has done as an apostle.

Writing to Corinth, poor Paul gets caught up in a confusing whirlwind of boasting. “Since many are bragging, I too will boast,” he says, with evident embarassment. We need to see Paul’s boasting in context. He was trying to answer wounding criticisms made about him in Corinth, where he had planted the church some years earlier. Oddly enough, the “boasting” he offers in reply is mostly about the failures, disappointments and rejections he has suffered. When drawn into the boasting game, he can list only the sufferings he endured when trying to spread the Gospel. Paul’s eloquent bragging is not really an attempt to lay up earthly treasures, for he hopes to direct his readers to the source of any real strength that we have. His way of handling the false claims of others has a delicate balance that is hard to imitate. But it enables us to reconstruct his personal biography and to have a fuller insight into his personality.

Other words of Jesus provide more practical advice. He advises us to have a “good eye,” filled with light and so able to see goodness and light in the actions and hearts of others. Rather than be annoyed by their faults and idiosyncrasies, our “good eye” can recognize their good side. We should commend them for their virtues, not condemn them for their vices, and not imitate them in bragging or boasting. But if we must brag, let it be about the grace of God that helps us in whatever are our weaknesses, failures or moments of rejection.


What to treasure

St Paul boasts of experiences that most people would consider misfortunes, only to be mentioned in hushed tones. He speaks of beatings, imprisonments, floggings, stoning, shipwreck and much more. If he “boasts” of all these negative experiences it is because they came to him in the service of Christ. It was because of his preaching the gospel that all this suffering and misfortune came his way. They demonstrate where his true treasure lay. Paul valued Jesus Christ above everything else in life., As he says to the Philippians, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

When Jesus invites us to store up for ourselves true treasures in heaven, he is calling on us to take him as our one and only Saviour. In the language of the parables, Jesus is the pearl of great price. The Eucharist gives us an opportunity to treasure his priceless presence in our lives.


Saturday of Week 11

1st Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

A thorn in the flesh forced Paul to seek new strength from Christ

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person, whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows, was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it ould leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Responsorial: Psalm 33:8-13

R./: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord

The angel of the Lord is encamped
 around those who revere him, to rescue them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
He is happy who seeks refuge in him. (R./)

Revere the Lord, you his saints.
They lack nothing, those who revere him.
Strong lions suffer want and go hungry
 but those who seek the Lord lack no blessing. (R./)

Come, children, and hear me
 that I may teach you the fear of the Lord.
Who is he who longs for life and many days,
 to enjoy his prosperity? (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

We cannot serve two masters. Do not be anxious for tomorrow

Jesus said to his disciples, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first or the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.

BIBLE

A thorn in the flesh

In a provocative turn of phrase, Paul writes, "I must go on boasting, however useless it may be." Even if he had been priveleged with visions and revelations of the Lord and in a vision was caught up to Paradise itself, he feels the foolishness of talking about it and says he will boast no more except about his weakness, which God helps him to bear. The passage becomes more intelligible if we remember that Paul dictated his epistles (and then to prove the authenticity of the letter signed it in his own handwriting, (1 Cor 16:21). When Paul asked his secretary to re-read that part of the letter to him, he probably added "no more boasting."

As he frankly admits, Paul was seriously bothered by “a thorn in the flesh.” Many have tried to guess what is meant by this intriguing “thorn.” Was it an ugly appearance, a recurrent sickness, failing eyesight, a tendency to intemperately blunt speech? Was it some unfulfilled instinct for physical intimacy, having set aside the natural desire to marry? All we know is that this “thorn in the flesh,” whatever it was, prompted him to turn repeatedly to God for help. Paul records that in answer to his prayer the Lord replied, “My grace is enough for you, for power comes to perfection in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Knowing his weakness led Paul to discover a source of strength beyond any gift and talent of his own. His weakness led him deeper into prayer and dependence on God, as expressed in Jesus’ words, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Your heavenly Father knows all that you need.”

“Enough for the day, let tomorrow take care of itself.” It is more vital to live today than to worry about tomorrow. Life is more important than food, the body more valuable than clothes. It is not fair to the environment, much less Christian, to consume to excess, in our throwaway culture. We need to review our values and goals, “Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?” Selfish desires lead to all sorts of trouble, but as Paul points out, weakness turns into strength when it brings us to prayer and trust in God and the memory of God’s goodness. This lesson can put our values back into order, for God can change our “thorns” into occasions of grace.


Why worry?

We all worry from time to time. Worrying is part of the human condition. Parents are anxious about their children’s future. Family members worry about each other. Young people worry about their exams, and later their careers. Jesus must have sometimes worried about his disciples, about their lack of understanding, about the rejection of his message by many of his hearers, about many things. In today’s gospel Jesus is not saying “don’t ever worry about anything.” They are not to be anxious about food, drink and clothing; for it is the pagans who set their hearts on such things.

Not to set our hearts on trivial things. It is really about getting our priorities right, getting in tune with God’s priorities. This is clear when he says, “Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first, and on his righteousness.” Don’t spend so much time thinking about food, drink and clothing that there is no room in your heart for what God expects of us. The first phrases of the Lord’s Prayer give what might be termed God’s priorities, “Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” These were Jesus’ priorities and we need to make them our own as well.