Sunday, January 31, 2010

Faith, Hope, Love Remain; But The Greatest Of These Is Love.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
But do you gird your loins;
stand up and tell them
all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account,
as though I would leave you crushed before them;
for it is I this day
who have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
against Judah’s kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 71

I will sing of your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O Lord;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
I will sing of your salvation.
+++ +++ +++ +++

Reading II
1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.

But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:21-30

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying:
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say,
‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’”
And he said, “Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Today’s gospel begins where last Sunday’s gospel ended. Jesus, at the beginning of his public life, delivered what today we would call his “mission statement”, using the words of the prophet Isaiah, concluding with these words, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

At first, the crowd is amazed by his eloquence, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph? He speaks such gracious words for a carpenter’s boy!” Jesus knows their thoughts, and answers them, “Surely, you’re about to ask me ‘Why don’t you do here in your home town the wonderful things we’ve heard you were going in Capharnaum?” Jesus is well aware that prophets are not normally accepted in their native place. He gives two striking examples from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from Elijah and the other from Elisha, prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah.

Elijah was sent by God to help a poor woman in Sidon and her son during a famine caused by three and a half years of drought. Why did the prophet go to her, when there were many Jewish widows in the same plight? There were many lepers in Israel when Elisha was sent to Naaman the Syrian. Then, as now, Israel and Syria were bitter enemies. And Naaman was not only a gentile; he was a general in the Syrian army!

Why was Jesus telling such provocative stories? There are two reasons.

Since the people of Nazareth know Jesus’ family so well, they are not ready to accept him, or his message about his true identity and mission. This is a good example of the proverb, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Because Joseph and his family had been living among them since the boy was a babe in arms, they thought they knew who he was, and what he would become when he grew up. After all, rabbis’ sons become rabbis, and carpenters’ sons become carpenters. That’s just the way it is.

Further, Jesus was able to do very little healing in Nazareth, because the people refused to believe in him. The gospels make it clear that Jesus’ healing power came only to those who put true faith in him. “Go in peace; your faith has made you whole.”

Of course, the response of the people on this occasion was merely a foretaste of the total rejection of Jesus by the leaders of the people (Pharisees, Scribes, Teachers of the Law) later on, when the son of Joseph went to Jerusalem and started preaching and healing in the Temple. The congregation in the synagogue of Nazareth was amazed the one of their own could speak with such grace, such eloquence – and in particular, such authority. But it was something else again to put themselves in his hands. When they heard him speak about the poor reception the prophets of old had received from their own people, the Nazarenes were worked up into a blind and hateful rage. They wanted to push Jesus over the edge of the cliff on which the town was built. But, says Luke, Jesus passed through their midst, and went away.

Let us pray that such a thing might never happen to us: that Jesus might walk right by, and we don’t acknowledge his presence. [This typically happens when we fail to see him in the people around us.] Worse yet, that we recognize him, and reject him, so that he goes on his way without us, leaving us behind. He will never abandon us, but neither will he force himself upon us. He opens his arms, as a loving, gentle big brother; but we must come to him. Some come with arms open to embrace him, like a three year old; some with eyes lowered and head bowed, like a somewhat older child who got caught with a hand in the cookie jar. Either way works!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Create A Clean Heart In Me, O God.

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Reading 1
2 Samuel 12:1-7a, 10-17
The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him,
Nathan said: “Judge this case for me!
In a certain town there were two men,
one rich, the other poor.
The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers.
But the poor man had nothing at all
except one little ewe lamb that he had bought.
He nourished her, and she grew up
with him and his children.
She shared the little food he had
and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom.
She was like a daughter to him.
Now, the rich man received a visitor,
but he would not take from his own flocks and herds
to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him.
Instead he took the poor man’s ewe lamb
and made a meal of it for his visitor.”
David grew very angry with that man and said to him:
“As the LORD lives,
the man who has done this merits death!
He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold
because he has done this and has had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man!
Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘The sword shall never depart from your house,
because you have despised me
and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’
Thus says the LORD:
‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house.
I will take your wives while you live to see it,
and will give them to your neighbor.
He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.
You have done this deed in secret,
but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel,
and with the sun looking down.’”

Then David said to Nathan,
“I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan answered David:
“The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die. But since you have utterly
spurned the LORD by this deed,
the child born to you must surely die.”
Then Nathan returned to his house.

The LORD struck the child
that the wife of Uriah had borne to David,
and it became desperately ill.
David besought God for the child.
He kept a fast, retiring for the night
to lie on the ground clothed in sackcloth.
The elders of his house stood beside him
urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not,
nor would he take food with them.

If David thought he could get away with the terrible crimes he committed, he was deeply mistaken.

Hardly had Bathsheba given birth to the boy when David is confronted by the prophet Nathan. “The Lord sent Nathan to David.” Prophets are people who bring messages from God. We met Nathan before when David complained to him about his discomfort of living in a house of cedar while the Ark of the Covenant was still in a tent (2 Sam 7:2). Here the prophet comes to proclaim God’s judgment against the king he had set over his own people.

The message is uttered through one of the most striking parables to be found in the Old Testament.

Nathan tells David about a rich man, the owner of large herds, who takes for his own table not one of his own many sheep but the single ewe lamb of a poor peasant in order to entertain a visitor. Not only was this the only sheep the farmer owned but "she was like a daughter to him" and shared the little food that he had.

On hearing the story, David was filled with indignation and declared that the rich man deserved to be executed. "He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold because he has done this and has had no pity." Repaying four times was a requirement of the Law (cf. Exodus 22:1). It reminds us of what the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, said to Jesus after their encounter: “If I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:8)

Nathan then quietly says to David: “You are the man!” Nothing more need be said. What David had done was, in fact, many times worse than taking a lamb from a poor man. He had stolen a man’s wife and then cold-bloodedly had him killed.

Nathan then goes on (not part of our reading) to list some of the things that David had received from the Lord, including the wives and harem of his predecessor, Saul. “I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own.” In spite of being surrounded by so many women, he goes and steals another man’s wife and then has Uriah killed by the Ammonites, the enemy they were fighting. But it was really David who had killed Uriah; he was no tragic victim of battle.

Speaking in God’s name Nathan spells out David’s punishment: violence and death will come to his own family: three of his sons, Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah will all die violent deaths. “I will bring evil on you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.” All this took place during the rebellion of David’s son Absalom, when David was forced to flee his palace but left behind ten concubines. David’s wives would be taken just as he had taken the wife of Uriah.

Finally, what David thought he had done in secret becomes public knowledge.
In a spirit of deep remorse and repentance, David totally acknowledges his sin. His feelings are beautifully expressed in Psalm 51, part of which forms today’s Responsorial Psalm.

My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

But Nathan tells David that his sin is forgiven. He will not die for it (as the law demanded) but he will lose the child of his adultery. The boy fell sick and David was devastated, refusing to eat and sleeping on the ground wearing sackcloth, the sign of repentance. Despite the urging of his courtiers he refused to get up from the ground nor would he eat. He was heartbroken not just because of the death of his son but because of the circumstances in which the child had been born in the first place. This was the price of his sin.

It is not our sins which condemn us in God’s eyes but our refusal to repent and change our ways. Once we genuinely express our sorrow and show it by a "conversion", God’s mercy is there and waiting. Jesus spelt this out so clearly in the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son.
God does not desire the death of a sinner but that he should have life. "I have not come to condemn the world… I have come that they may have life, life in greater abundance."
Let me look at my own life. First, let me openly acknowledge my sinful acts, especially those where I have hurt others, and take full responsibility for them. Then let me turn to my God and ask for his healing that I may be made a whole person again.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 51
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God;
then my tongue shall revel in your justice.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
+++ +++ +++ +++

Mark 4:35-41
On that day, as evening drew on,
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd,
they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up
and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.

They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind,
and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them,
“Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe
and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

The Twelve came back from their mission full of excitement at all they had done and taught. Jesus now told them to withdraw for a while for reflection and rest. This is what Jesus himself used to do. Large crowds were still mobbing Jesus and perhaps some of the apostles too so that they did not even have time to eat. This could have been a real time of temptation as the apostles began to glory in their new-found power and the resultant fame and popularity.

We also see here once more the balance in Jesus’ life. He was so available to all those in need, the poor, the sick, the outcasts but there was a limit to his availability. He knew when he needed to get away, to renew contact with his Father, to recharge his batteries (cf. Mk 1:35-37).

Some people are too self-centered and have a very poor awareness of other people’s needs and do not bother to meet them. On the other hand, there are those who need to be needed, their need is to have people looking constantly for them but the result can often be "burnout" or breakdowns. There are times when we have to learn to be able to say No without feeling guilty.

So Jesus and his disciples take off in a boat to a solitary place where they will be left to themselves. Or so they thought. But the people saw them leaving and had a good idea where they were headed. While Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake in a boat, the people hurried along the lakeshore. When Jesus stepped out of the boat, he was faced by a huge crowd.

Jesus quickly decides that this is a time for availability. He is deeply moved by the people’s need, they were like lost sheep in need of a shepherd’s guidance. The people coming out to a desert place echoes the people of Israel in their wanderings. Here Jesus is the Shepherd of the New Israel. So he begins to teach them. Their first hunger was spiritual. They needed to understand what Jesus stood for and why he did the things he did. There is a Eucharistic connection here and in what follows (the multiplication of loaves) and the teaching corresponds to what we now call the Liturgy of the Word during the Eucharist.

The story illustrates well the balance in Jesus’ life. As he did himself, he urges his disciples to retire and reflect on the meaning of what they are doing. Otherwise they may become active for activity’s sake or for other less worthy motives. At the same time, in this particular situation, Jesus sees that a response is called for. The day of reflection is abandoned and the people in their great need are served. Let us learn, through careful discernment, to do the right thing at the right time.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

Friday, January 29, 2010

Be Merciful, O Lord, For We Have Sinned.

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Reading 1
2 Samuel 11:1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17
At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign,
David sent out Joab along with his officers
and the army of Israel,
and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.
David, however, remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David rose from his siesta
and strolled about on the roof of the palace.
From the roof he saw a woman bathing,
who was very beautiful.
David had inquiries made about the woman and was told,
“She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam,
and wife of Joab’s armor bearer Uriah the Hittite.”
Then David sent messengers and took her.
When she came to him, he had relations with her.
She then returned to her house.
But the woman had conceived,
and sent the information to David, “I am with child.”
David therefore sent a message to Joab,
“Send me Uriah the Hittite.”
So Joab sent Uriah to David.
When he came, David questioned him about Joab,
the soldiers, and how the war was going,
and Uriah answered that all was well.
David then said to Uriah,
“Go down to your house and bathe your feet.”
Uriah left the palace,
and a portion was sent out after him from the king’s table.
But Uriah slept at the entrance of the royal palace
with the other officers of his lord, and did not go down
to his own house.
David was told that Uriah had not gone home.
On the day following, David summoned him,
and he ate and drank with David, who made him drunk.
But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his bed
among his lord’s servants,
and did not go down to his home.
The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab
which he sent by Uriah.
In it he directed:
“Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce.
Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.”
So while Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah
to a place where he knew the defenders were strong.
When the men of the city made a sortie against Joab,
some officers of David’s army fell,
and among them Uriah the Hittite died.

Although David is unquestionably one of the outstanding characters of the Old Testament and a key figure in salvation history leading to the appearance of Jesus as Messiah, King and Savior, one must admire the honesty with which David’s weaknesses are described. It is difficult to think of any other Old Testament leader who is given such warts-and-all treatment (although some of the patriarchs come pretty close!). But it is what makes David such an attractive personality. It is very easy to identify with him.

And, in fact, it is through the very weakness of David – as in the case of Paul – that God’s power and wisdom are revealed.

The story begins by telling us that David had sent his army out under Joab. They attacked their enemies, the Ammonites, and laid siege to Rabbah, the Ammonite capital. It would now be about 10 years since David established himself in Jerusalem. It was also the time of year "when kings go out on campaign", directly after the grain harvest in April or May. However, while David’s army was out in the field fighting the nation’s battles, David decided to stay at home.

One afternoon as he walked on the flat roof of his palace, after his afternoon rest, he caught sight of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the armor-bearer of Joab, David’s leading general, bathing. He found her very beautiful. On making enquiries about her identity he was told that she was Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam. Later in 2 Samuel there is mention of an Eliam, who was a member of David’s personal bodyguard and a son of his adviser, Ahithophel. Bathsheba was a Hittite. The Hittites were a people from Asia Minor but the term was used of non-Semitic people living in Palestine. (Her not being an Israelite further increases the seriousness of what is going to happen between her and the king.)

Filled with desire for her, David sent for her to be brought to his house, had sexual relations with her and, as she soon told him, made her pregnant. They both knew that, according to the law, they could be condemned to death for their act. That was David’s first sin: lust followed by adultery. However, there is no indication that Bathsheba was an unwilling partner in the affair.
The comment that she was “just purified after her monthly period” is significant. She had just become ceremonially clean after the seven-day period of monthly impurity following menstruation. This makes it clear that she could not have been pregnant by her own husband when David took her. The child was unquestionably David’s.

In letting David know that she was pregnant, she left the next step up to him. The law prescribed the death penalty for both of them but then, of course, he was the king.

Now comes David’s second serious sin. He tried to cover up what he had done. (Was this due to a sensitive awareness of wrongdoing or just to keep himself free from the application of the Law?) He summoned Uriah from the battlefield back to Jerusalem on the pretext of finding out how the fighting was going on. Uriah reported that the fighting was going very well.

David then, in an apparent show of deep consideration, urged Uriah to go down to his house and relax for a while. What he does not say specifically is what is most important, and well understood by Uriah. Clearly, he hoped that Uriah would also sleep with his wife.

The king also sent a portion from the king’s table. David wanted Uriah and Bathsheba to have a really enjoyable evening together with more implications of what that would mean.
The next two verses in the original text are omitted in our reading. In them, Uriah, who clearly understands all that David is hinting at, asks how he could go home, eat with his wife and have sexual relations with her, when Joab and the army and even the ark of the Lord are out in the battlefields. It was also a religious obligation for soldiers in war to practice continence. He refuses point blank. David’s actions are looking even worse than ever. Even the Lord is out in the battlefield while David is at home indulging in behavior for which he should be deprived of his life. David’s plan had failed miserably.

But David had not yet given up. He persuaded Uriah to stay over at least for another day. On the following day, Uriah was again invited to share David’s table. There was a lot of wine and David managed to get Uriah drunk, obviously hoping that, in that condition, he would fall into his wife’s bed. But, instead of going home as expected, Uriah slept with the servants in the king’s palace. Failure of Plan B.

David now played his last and most terrible card. He sent Uriah back to the battlefield and told Joab to put Uriah where the fighting was fiercest. At the critical moment, the soldiers were to be pulled back, leaving Uriah exposed to the enemy. This plan worked and Uriah was killed. Having failed to make it look as if Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s child, he got rid of Uriah altogether and could now enter a quick marriage with Bathsheba. It is difficult to think of a more reprehensible way of behaving.

David is guilty of adultery, deception and finally murder. It is a sad record for a man who was chosen by God and anointed three times to be king and leader of God’s people and to be the founder of a dynasty that would never end. It is another example of how good can emerge from the most evil actions. For David is the direct ancestor of Jesus, the Son of God. Bathsheba will soon be the mother of Solomon from whom the rest of the Davidic line would continue. Hence she is also an ancestor of Jesus.

Before we condemn David, we need first, to read the rest of the story and then to look at our own lives. We could recall Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone." In our time, especially, we seem to be so quick to condemn people’s wrongdoings, especially public figures. We use them as scapegoats to cover our own shortcomings.

Did God condemn David for what he did? Let us wait and see as the story unfolds.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 51

Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
I have done such evil in your sight
that you are just in your sentence,
blameless when you condemn.
True, I was born guilty,
a sinner, even as my mother conceived me.
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness;
the bones you have crushed shall rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins,
and blot out all my guilt.
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
+++ +++ +++ +++

Mark 4:26-34
Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”

He said,
“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up
and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Jesus was now becoming well known over a wide area. There was much speculation as to who he was (a major theme of Mark's gospel). Some were suggesting that he was John the Baptist (who had by this time been executed) come to life again, or that he was the prophet Elijah, who was expected to return just before the coming of the Messiah, or that he was a prophet in his own right, "like the prophets we used to have". We know, of course, that all those speculations were wrong. The answer will emerge very soon.

King Herod, steeped in superstition and full of fear and guilt was convinced that Jesus was a re-incarnation of John the Baptist whom he had beheaded. We then get the story as to how this happened.

Herod Antipas, also known as Herod the Tetrarch, was the son of Herod the Great, who was king when Jesus was born. When the older Herod died his kingdom was divided among his three surviving sons. Archelaus received half of the territory; Herod Antipas became ruler of Galilee and Perea, while Philip was the ruler of the northern territory on the east side of the Jordan. The title ‘Tetrarch’ indicates that he was ruler of one quarter of the whole territory.

It is clear that Herod had great respect for John as he would also have for Jesus later on. The problem arose because of John had denounced Herod’s taking the wife of his half-brother Herod Boethus, as his wife. This was in clear violation of Jewish law. The historian Josephus also says that Herod feared that John, so popular with the people, might instigate a riot against him.
It was this woman, Herodias, who now wanted to be rid of John but could not do so because of Herod's respect for John. Herod had gone as far as arresting John but even when John was in prison, Herod loved to listen to him even though he was puzzled by John’s preaching.

Herodias saw her opportunity when Herod threw a party for his court to celebrate his birthday. She knew her husband's weaknesses. Herodias's daughter was brought in to dance and utterly captivated Herod. Deep in his cups, he made a rash promise. He would give her anything, even half of the territory he governed. Under the prompting of the mother, the girl makes the gruesome request for John's head on a dish.

Herod was aghast but because of his oath and the presence of his guests, he dared not renege on his promise. John was beheaded and the head given to the mother. John's disciples then take the body and give it a decent burial.

We might notice some similarities between this story and the passion of Jesus:
Both Herod and Pilate recognized in John and Jesus respectively people of obvious goodness of life, wisdom and integrity. The hatred of Herodias for John parallels the hatred of the Jewish leaders for Jesus – both called for execution by the ruler (Herod in one case, Pilate in the other). After the deaths of John and Jesus, disciples asked and received permission for a decent burial.
John is the precursor of Jesus not only in announcing the coming of Jesus but also in giving his life for the integrity of his beliefs and in bringing God's message to the people.

We are called to do the same. To prepare the way for Jesus and his message must become an integral part of every Christian’s life. Without our cooperation, without our going ahead of Jesus, his message will not be heard.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Measure With Which You Measure Will Be Measured Out To You.

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

Reading 1
2 Samuel  7:18-19, 24-29
After Nathan had spoken to King David,
the king went in and sat before the LORD and said,
“Who am I, Lord GOD, and who are the members of my house,
that you have brought me to this point?
Yet even this you see as too little, Lord GOD;
you have also spoken of the house of your servant
for a long time to come:
this too you have shown to man, Lord GOD!
“You have established for yourself your people Israel as yours forever,
and you, LORD, have become their God.
And now, LORD God, confirm for all time the prophecy you have made
concerning your servant and his house,
and do as you have promised.
Your name will be forever great, when men say,
‘The LORD of hosts is God of Israel,’
and the house of your servant David stands firm before you.
It is you, LORD of hosts, God of Israel,
who said in a revelation to your servant,
‘I will build a house for you.’
Therefore your servant now finds the courage to make this prayer to you.
And now, Lord GOD, you are God and your words are truth;
you have made this generous promise to your servant.
Do, then, bless the house of your servant
that it may be before you forever;
for you, Lord GOD, have promised,
and by your blessing the house of your servant
shall be blessed forever.”
A prayer of David.
David immediately responds to the word of God which has come to him through the prophet Nathan and which was the reading for yesterday. Today’s reading does not contain the whole prayer (vv.18-29).

It is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving made for the promises to establish an everlasting dynasty through David. It expresses wonder that God could make such commitments to him and his descendants. But he also acknowledges that what God had pledged to him was for Israel’s sake, its purpose is the fulfilment of God’s covenanted promise to his people – and that its ultimate effect will be the honour and praise of God throughout the world now and for always.

David “went in and sat before the Lord”. This presumably means that he went into the tent where the ark was kept. And the ark was the symbol of God’s presence among his people. Very much as we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, the real and sacramental presence of Jesus among us.

In a way David is alarmed by his new calling. “Who am I, Lord God, and who are the members of my house that you have brought me to this point?”

David, deeply aware of his own inadequacies (soon to be made very evident), begs God to make sure that what he has foretold will be realised. "Confirm for all time the prophecy you have made concerning your servant and his house – and do as you have promised." David is fully aware that the fulfilment of God’s promise will depend entirely on God and that he, David, is a very fragile instrument in the process.

Again and again, we will see this beautiful characteristic of David – his humility and acknowledgment of his weakness. But, as Paul will point out later, it is precisely in and through our weaknesses that God’s work is carried out. And David is confident because the Lord has made his solemn promise: “I will build you a House.”

So he prays: "Do, then, bless the house of your servant that it may be before you forever; for you, Lord God, have promised, and by your blessing the house [i.e. the dynasty] of your servant shall be blessed forever."

God continues to build his Kingdom through the cooperation of our feeble efforts. Let us realise that it is precisely in our weakest moments that he can achieve the most in us and through us. As Paul will say, “I can do everything in him who gives me strength.”

+++    +++    +++    +++   
Psalm 132
The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
LORD, remember David
and all his anxious care;
How he swore an oath to the LORD,
vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob.
The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
“I will not enter the house where I live,
nor lie on the couch where I sleep;
I will give my eyes no sleep,
my eyelids no rest,
Till I find a home for the LORD,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
The LORD swore an oath to David
a firm promise from which he will not withdraw:
“Your own offspring
I will set upon your throne.”
The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
“If your sons keep my covenant,
and the decrees which I shall teach them,
Their sons, too, forever
shall sit upon your throne.”
The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
For the LORD has chosen Zion,
he prefers her for his dwelling:
“Zion is my resting place forever;
in her I will dwell, for I prefer her.”
The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.
+++    +++     +++    +++   

Mark 4:21-25
Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket
or under a bed,
and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except to come to light.
Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”
He also told them, “Take care what you hear.
The measure with which you measure
will be measured out to you,
and still more will be given to you.
To the one who has, more will be given;
from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.”
No one lights a lamp and then covers it up. Our Christian faith is a light for the world; it is not to be kept hidden. Our message is not meant to be kept secret but to be broadcast. The faith we have received is not to be kept to ourselves. How many know that we are Christians? How many see us practise our faith openly? How many are influenced by our living according to the Christian vision? Our faith, our knowledge of Jesus and his Gospel, is not something to kept to ourselves. A "good" Catholic is not just one who keeps all the Commandments, goes often to Mass, stays in the "state of grace" but, rather, one who radiates his or her faith, shares it generously with others, is as much concerned with others having the experience of loving and being loved by God that he or she has. If we are not SEEN to be Christians we have somehow failed, no matter how good our inner lives may be. To be a Christian is not just to be a good person but an apostle, an evangeliser, a sharer of faith by word and action.

What we give out to others is what we will ourselves receive – and even more. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” That is what happened to the man who buried his master’s money in the ground so as not to lose it. Those who invested it, got even more in return. In the Christian life, we gain by giving, not be getting. It is only when we give that we can get. "The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you.  To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Will Be A Father To Him, And He Shall Be A Son To Me.

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

2 Samuel 7:4-17
That night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in?
I have not dwelt in a house
from the day on which I led the children of Israel
out of Egypt to the present,
but I have been going about in a tent under cloth.
In all my wanderings everywhere

among the children of Israel,
did I ever utter a word to any one of the judges
whom I charged to tend my people Israel, to ask:
Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’
“Now then, speak thus to my servant David,
‘The LORD of hosts has this to say:
It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous

like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them

so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue

to afflict them as they did of old,
since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.
I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you that

he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes

and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his Kingdom firm.
It is he who shall build a house for my name.
And I will make his royal throne firm forever.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
And if he does wrong,
I will correct him with the rod of men
and with human chastisements;
but I will not withdraw my favor from him
as I withdrew it from your predecessor Saul,
whom I removed from my presence.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.’”
Nathan reported all these words and this entire vision to David.


David is now comfortably set up in his new palace in Jerusalem and there is relative peace as his enemies are, for the time being, lying low. It is in this situation that David begins to think of the ark of the Lord. He approaches the prophet Nathan and says: “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” Nathan seems to agree and tells David to go ahead and do whatever he has in mind because the Lord is with him. In this, the prophet is not quite right because that very night the Lord had a prophetic message for Nathan to pass on to David.

The prophecy is built round a contrast – David is not to build a house (a temple) for God, rather he is to build a House, that is, a dynasty. The essence of the prophecy is the perpetuity of the Davidic house and this is how David understands it. And that is reflected in the Responsorial Psalm for today.

Up to this point, every experience David has had points clearly to a special calling to be the shepherd of his people. He has led his people to victory over their enemies. All this is part of establishing David as head of a dynasty giving security to his people for generations to come.

The prophecy, then, stretches beyond Solomon, David’s immediate successor, to whom it is applied a little later in the passage and in other OT texts. It also points to a very special descendant who will enjoy God’s special favor, namely, the Messiah Jesus. And the Acts of the Apostles explicitly applies the text to Jesus: (Peter is addressing the crowds on the day of Pentecost) “I must speak to you plainly about our famous ancestor King David… He was a prophet, and he knew what God had promised him: God had made a vow that he would make one of David’s descendants a king, just as David was” (Acts 2:29-30).

First, in his message to Nathan, God questions whether David should be the one to build a house for the ark and second, since the days when the Israelites left Egypt the Lord has never had a house and has always lived in a tent. And never once in all those years did the Lord ever ask why his people had never built him a proper house. Of course, David’s intentions were commendable but God had other tasks for him. His gift and his mission was to fight the Lord’s battles until Israel was securely at rest in its land.

David misunderstood the Lord’s priorities. He was reflecting the pagan notion that the gods were mainly interested in human beings only as builders and maintainers of their temples and as practitioners of their cult. Instead, the Lord had raised up rulers in Israel to shepherd his people and that is why David the shepherd boy was brought from one kind of pasture to one of a much more important kind.

The Lord, through his prophet, implies that the main priority is to set up God’s people in security. “I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance… I will give you rest from all your enemies.” And, instead of David making a house for the Lord, it is the Lord who is going to make a House for David. In fact, God has been building up Israel ever since the days of Abraham, and now he commits himself to build David’s royal house so that the promise to Israel may be fulfilled – secure rest in the promised land.

It is God’s work that brings about David’s kingdom. Like those made with Noah, Abram and Phinehas, this covenant with David is unconditional, grounded only in God’s firm and gracious will. It will find its ultimate fulfilment in the kingship of Christ, who was born of the tribe of Judah and the house of David.

After David’s death, a son (Solomon) will be his heir and the beginning of a secure dynasty that will last forever. It is Solomon too “who shall build a house for my name”. It is when Israel is at rest and David’s dynasty in the person of his son is secure that the ark will find a deserving resting place, the great and magnificent temple that Solomon built.

And God will act towards Solomon as a father to a son. If he does wrong, the son will be chastised but, unlike the case of Saul, God will never withdraw his favor from him or his successors. In Jesus Christ this promise will find its ultimate fulfillment.

And then there is the final promise: “Your [David’s] house and your kingdom will endure forever before me: your throne shall stand firm forever.” The promise of an everlasting kingdom for the house of David became the focal point for many later prophecies and powerfully influenced the development of the Messianic hope in Israel. In the years following, there would be many ups and downs, much good and much evil down the centuries but the promise held good with its culmination in the coming of Jesus, the Son of David.

In fact, through Jesus, the descendant of David, the House of David continues and will continue to the end of time.

Looking at this reading, we can also reflect on the place of our church building in our Christian life. In the early Church there were, paradoxically no church buildings but many churches, in the sense of Christ-centered communities.

We need always to remember that, although our church buildings have a very important symbolic and sacramental meaning, the real presence of Christ is in his Body, in his people. For us Christians, our Temple is the temple of our own bodies, individually and collectively.
As we mentioned earlier, if the city of Rome and all in it were to be obliterated by a massive earthquake, it would not made a bit of difference to the continuing existence of the Church. The same can be said for our own parishes. And, in fact, we see parishes being closed down and new ones being established all the time.

Another point for reflection might be our understanding of what God wants from us. David was sure that he should build a house as a dwelling place for God but the Lord had very different ideas. Do I really know what God wants me to be doing? Are my plans the same as his? Perhaps we should spend a little time today thinking about this.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Psalm 89

For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
I will make your dynasty stand forever
and establish your throne through all ages.”
For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“He shall cry to me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock that brings me victory!’
I myself make him firstborn,
Most High over the kings of the earth.”
For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“Forever I will maintain my love for him;
my covenant with him stands firm.
I will establish his dynasty forever,
his throne as the days of the heavens.”
For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Mark 4:1-20
On another occasion, Jesus began to teach by the sea.
A very large crowd gathered around him
so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down.
And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land.
And he taught them at length in parables,
and in the course of his instruction he said to them,
“Hear this! 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 had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.
And when the sun rose, it was scorched

and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns,

and the thorns grew up and choked it
and it produced no grain.
And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.
It came up and grew and yielded

thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

And when he was alone,
those present along with the Twelve
questioned him about the parables.
He answered them,
“The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you.
But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that
they may look and see but not perceive,
and hear and listen but not understand,
in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”

Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?
Then how will you understand any of the parables?
The sower sows the word.
These are the ones on the path where the word is sown.
As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once
and takes away the word sown in them.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who,
when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy.
But they have no roots; they last only for a time.
Then when tribulation or persecution comes

because of the word, they quickly fall away.
Those sown among thorns are another sort.
They are the people who hear the word,
but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches,
and the craving for other things

intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.
But those sown on rich soil

are the ones who hear the word and accept it
and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”


Jesus returns to his home town in the company of his disciples. On the sabbath day, as was his right, he began teaching in the synagogue. His listeners, who all knew him since he was a child, are staggered at the way he speaks. "Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him and these miracles that are worked through him?" He had no more education than any of his fellow-villagers. But the point is that they do recognise his wisdom and his power to perform miracles. Yet, he is “only” a carpenter, the son of Mary and related to James and Joset and Jude and Simon and with “sisters” as well.

And, because they knew him so well, they could not accept him. They deliberately chose not to see what was happening before their eyes. This, of course, is the irony of the whole situation. They did not know him at all. They were blinded by a superficial familiarity. So Jesus says, "A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations, and in his own house." A saying known in other cultures and an experience all too often repeated in our own day. In comparing himself to the Hebrew prophets who went before him, Jesus foreshadows his ultimate rejection by many of his own people. We have already seen his problems with his own family and now with his townspeople. It is not the end.

The trap of familiarity is one we can all fall into very easily. How many times have we failed to recognise the voice of Jesus speaking to us because the person is someone we meet every day, a person we may not like or despise? But God can and does talk to us through all kinds of people, Catholic or not, relative, friend, colleague, our own children, total stranger, educated, uneducated…

As a result, we are told, Jesus not only did not but “could not” work any miracles there, except for a few sick people who were cured by the laying of hands. But he could not help those who had no faith in him. Jesus works only when we cooperate and open ourselves to him. Mark often says how amazed the people are at Jesus’ teaching. Now it is Jesus' turn to be amazed at his home town’s lack of faith and trust in him.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Anyone Who Does The Will Of God Is My Brother And Sister And Mother.

Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, bishops

Reading I             
either : 2 Timothy 1:1-8 
Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
for the promise of life in Christ Jesus,
to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father
and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am grateful to God,
whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did,
as I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day.
I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears,
so that I may be filled with joy,
as I recall your sincere faith
that first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and that I am confident lives also in you.

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.
Timothy was born at Lystra in the province of Pisidia (modern Turkey). He was the son of a Greek father and his mother, Eunice, was a convert from Judaism. When Paul preached at Lystra during his first missionary journey in the area, Timothy joined him and replaced Barnabas, with whom Paul had some differences over Barnabas’ cousin, Mark. Timothy soon became a close friend, confidant and partner of Paul in his missionary apostolate. In order to placate the Jewish Christians, Paul agreed to Timothy being circumcised. This was because Timothy’s mother had been Jewish and, for the Jews, it was the religion of the mother which was decisive. Timothy then accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-18:22). When Paul was forced to flee Berea, in northern Greece, because of the hostility of the local Jews, Timothy stayed on (Acts 17:13), but soon after he was sent to nearby Thessalonica to report on the condition of the Christians there and to encourage them under persecution. This report led to Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians when he joined Timothy at Corinth in southern Greece. In the year 58 Timothy was sent with Erastus north to Macedonia but then went south to Corinth to remind the Corinthians of Paul’s teaching. He then accompanied Paul into Macedonia and Achaia. Timothy was probably with Paul when he was imprisoned at Caesarea and later in Rome. He was himself imprisoned but then freed. According to tradition, Timothy went to Ephesus in western Turkey, became its first bishop, and was stoned to death there when he opposed the pagan festival in honor of the goddess Diana. There are two letters reputedly written by Paul to Timothy, one written about 65 from Macedonia and the second from Rome, while Paul was in prison awaiting execution. Commentators today doubt, on the basis of style and content, that Paul could have written these letters. Nevertheless, they do reflect his teaching.
+++    +++    +++    +++  
or   Titus 1:1-5
Paul, a slave of God and Apostle of Jesus Christ
for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones
and the recognition of religious truth,
in the hope of eternal life
that God, who does not lie, promised before time began,
who indeed at the proper time revealed his word
in the proclamation with which I was entrusted
by the command of God our savior,
to Titus, my true child in our common faith:
grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.

For this reason I left you in Crete
so that you might set right what remains to be done
and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you.
Titus was a disciple and companion of Paul. One of Paul’s letters is addressed to him, although modern commentators doubt if Paul was really the author. (It was common in those days for writings to carry the name of a well-known person as the author.) Although not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, Titus is mentioned in the Letter to the Galatians (2:1 and 3) where Paul writes of going to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus. He was then sent off to Corinth in southern Greece, where he successfully restored harmony between the Christian community there and Paul, its founder, who had some differences with them. Titus was later left on the island of Crete to help organize the Church there, although he soon went to Dalmatia, in Croatia. According to Eusebius of Caesarea in the Ecclesiastical History, Titus served as the first Bishop of Crete. He was buried in Cortyna (Gortyna), Crete. His head was later transferred to Venice at the time of the Saracen invasion of Crete in 832 and enshrined in St. Mark’s Church there.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Responsorial            Psalm 96
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all you lands.
Sing to the Lord; bless his name.
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Give to the Lord, you families of nations,
give to the Lord glory and praise;
give to the Lord the glory due his name!
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Say among the nations: The Lord is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
+++    +++    +++    +++  
Gospel                    Mark 3:31-35
The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house.
Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him.
A crowd seated around him told him,
“Your mother and your brothers and your sisters
are outside asking for you.”
But he said to them in reply,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”
We know that many of Jesus’ family already thought he was mad and he had become an embarrassment to them. Now they come to the house where Jesus is teaching and, standing outside, send in a message asking for him. Do they want to talk with him or to remove him from what he is doing?

The message is sent in: “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” To which Jesus replies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And pointing to those sitting at his feet listening to his teaching, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers." And he clarifies that further by adding, “Anyone who does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

We should note that Jesus’ family members are described twice as being on the “outside”. They are “outsiders”. By implication, those sitting in a circle with Jesus are on the “inside”; they are the “insiders”.

What Jesus is clearly saying is that being on the “inside” is not just a question of location but of relationship. That relationship is not by blood but by identification with the Way of Jesus. To be a Christian is to enter into a new family, with stronger ties than those of blood and where everyone is seen as a brother of a sister. The “insider” is defined simply as “anyone who does the will of God”. So it can include those who are not Christian at all.

A disturbing question that might arise from this passage is the status of Jesus’ mother, Mary. Was she also on the “outside”? The answer is an unequivocal ‘No’. We know from Luke’s gospel that, when invited by the angel to be the mother of Jesus, Mary gave an unconditional ‘Yes’. “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” This was her total surrender to the will of God and it was something that she never withdrew through all the difficulties she experienced and, most of all, when the “sword of sorrow” pierced her heart as she saw her own Son’s heart pierced on the Cross. She was with him to the very end and finally would share his joy in the Resurrection.

On another occasion (Luke 11:27-28), when Mary was praised as blessed and privileged for having a Son like Jesus, Jesus replied, "No, blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it." Mary is on the "inside", not because she was the mother of Jesus but because of her total identifying with his mission and being with him to the very end.

May we be able to say the same.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Go Out To All The World And Tell The Good News!

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
Reading I Acts 22:3-16
Paul addressed the people in these words:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly
in our ancestral law and was zealous for God,
just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death,
binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders
can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.
“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky
suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me,
‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.’
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.’”

There are two accounts of the conversion of Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles: 9:1-22 is Luke's objective narrative of the event; 22:3-16 is the account Paul gives many years later, when he is arrested for disturbing the peace of Jerusalem by preaching in the name of Jesus. Both tell the same story.

As the story opens, Saul of Tarsus goes to the high priest to obtain letters authorizing him to go to the synagogues in Damascus, and, if he found any “followers of the Way” (Christians), to bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. As he approached the city, there was a brilliant flash of light and Saul fell to the ground. He heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Quite puzzled, he replied: “Who are you, sir?” The answer came: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This must have been news to him. To attack the followers of Jesus was to attack Jesus himself. “As often as you do it to even the least of my followers, you do it to me.” It is significant that when Saul got to his feet, he was blind. But it was not just a physical blindness; he had not been able to see Jesus as the Word of God. He would stay like this for three days and during that time he took neither food nor drink.

Then a Christian called Ananias was told to go and baptize Saul. Not surprisingly, Ananias was not keen on going to see a man who was going all out to get rid of Jesus’ followers. But he was reassured that this was what God wanted. “This man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles, kings and Israelites.” Ananias, presumably with some trepidation, then went to Saul and told him that the Lord had sent him so that Saul could regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. He laid hands on Saul’s head. Immediately scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. But what he could see was now very different from what he saw before his blindness. He was ready for baptism.

The rest, as they say, is history. Almost immediately, Saul began to go to the synagogues of Damascus proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of God. It was an extraordinary transformation. Later, his name will be changed to Paul. From then on, he will launch on an extraordinary career of bringing the Gospel to both Jewish and Gentile communities in what is now Turkey, in Greece and ultimately in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. This is reflected in the words of the Gospel where Jesus, before his ascension, tells his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Each one of us has been baptized, most of us at a very early age. But becoming a Christian is not just a once for all event. The process of conversion to a deeper following of Christ is something that can and should continue right through our lives. It is also important to realize that, like Paul, every one of us is called not just to take care of our own spiritual wellbeing but that our following of Christ is something that calls on us to share that message with people around us, “to proclaim the Gospel to every creature”.
+++ +++ +++ +++

Responsorial Psalm 117
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
Praise the Lord, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever.
Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
+++ +++ +++ +++

Gospel Mark 16:15-18
Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Today's Gospel reading is from the end of Mark’s gospel, from what is sometimes referred to as the “longer ending” to distinguish it from a “shorter” one. Both of these texts are thought not to be from the original version of Mark but were inserted to round off the ending of this gospel which ends rather abruptly with the women on Easter Sunday fleeing from the empty tomb “bewildered and trembling” and, because of their great fear, “they said nothing to anyone”.

Today’s reading includes instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples before leaving them for the last time. They are words which apply very much to Paul. They begin with the instructions to proclaim the Good News to the whole of creation. This is exactly what Paul was doing as he reached out to Gentile communities all the way from what is now modern Turkey, through Greece and Macedonia and on to Rome.

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." Paul was second to none in his belief in Christ. He would be able to say later on, “I live, no, it is not I, but Christ lives in me.” An expression of total union with his Lord.

Jesus then indicates some of the signs that will accompany those who profess their faith. Again, Paul was capable of many of these – like escaping great dangers and bringing healing and wholeness into people’s lives.

Conversion is not something that happens only once in a lifetime. It is something that can happen to us several times in the course of our life. Let us be ready to answer whenever the Lord calls us to something greater.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Lord Has Sent Me To Bring Glad Tidings To The Poor.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I                 Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,
which consisted of men, women,
and those children old enough to understand.
Standing at one end of the open place
that was before the Water Gate,
he read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform
that had been made for the occasion.
He opened the scroll
so that all the people might see it
— for he was standing higher up than any of the people —;
and, as he opened it, all the people rose.
Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God,
and all the people, their hands raised high, answered,
“Amen, amen!”
Then they bowed down
and prostrated themselves before the LORD,
their faces to the ground.
Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God,
interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.
Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe
and the Levites who were instructing the people
said to all the people:
“Today is holy to the LORD your God.
Do not be sad, and do not weep”—
for all the people were weeping
as they heard the words of the law.
He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks,
and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared;
for today is holy to our LORD.
Do not be saddened this day,
for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Responsorial          Psalm 19

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Reading II               1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Brothers and sisters:
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If a foot should say,
“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, “
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
Or if an ear should say,
“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body, “
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God placed the parts,
each one of them, in the body as he intended.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you, “
nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable
we surround with greater honor,
and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,
whereas our more presentable parts do not need this.
But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.
Some people God has designated in the church
to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers;
then, mighty deeds;
then gifts of healing, assistance, administration,
and varieties of tongues.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
+++    +++    +++    +++  
Gospel                   Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events
that have been fulfilled among us,
just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning
and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,
I too have decided,
after investigating everything accurately anew,
to write it down in an orderly sequence for you,
most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings
you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,
and news of him spread throughout the whole region.
He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

IN THIS THIRD YEAR of the Sunday Scripture cycle we begin today to read the Gospel according to Luke. During the Ordinary Sundays of this year it is Luke’s story about Christ that we will be following.

Today’s Gospel passage is in two distinct parts. It begins with the opening paragraph of Luke’s account. It is addressed to a friend, Theophilus [‘beloved of God’]. Luke implies that Theophilus has already been instructed orally in the message of Jesus but Luke will now present him with an accurate and orderly account of Jesus’ life and teaching.

Luke clearly acknowledges that he himself never saw Jesus. His gospel was written at least 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet he wants to assure his friend that what he writes is accurate and is based on the experiences of people who did know Jesus personally.

At the same time, it is important to remember that Luke, like the other evangelists who have differing versions of the same events, is not writing a biography. His first purpose – as we see in the second part of today’s passage – is to tell us the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for our personal lives and why we should accept and follow Jesus as our King and Lord.

Preparation for his work

The second part of today’s passage involves a jump in the text. We leapfrog from the opening paragraph of Luke’s gospel to Jesus’ first public appearance in his hometown of Nazareth. In between are the story of the Annunciation, Zachary and Elizabeth, the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus, the baptism of Jesus and the temptations in the desert. We have, in other words, jumped from chapter 1 to chapter 4 in the gospel text.

All that has been described before is really a preparation for today’s scene. For what we are seeing here is the solemn inauguration of Jesus’ public life and mission.

Immediately before this he had been down at the River Jordan with his cousin, John the Baptist, and, following his baptism, he had his strange experience in the desert [to be discussed on the First Sunday of Lent]. So the Gospel says that Jesus “with the power of the Spirit in him” (arising from his Baptism and his triumph over the Evil One) “returned to Galilee”. Galilee is the northern province of Israel to which Jesus belonged. And he went back to Nazareth “where he had been brought up”.

A purposeful journey

Luke very deliberately has Jesus start his work here. His public life will be a single, direct journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, the focal point of the story told by Luke in his gospel and in the Acts. Unlike the other accounts, there will be no going back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem. And it is in Jerusalem, the city of peace, that Jesus will suffer and die. It is here that he will rise to life and become our Lord and Savior. And it is from here too that his disciples will go forth to every corner of the world with the Good News.

So it is that on this first day he goes into the synagogue “according to his custom” on the Sabbath day. (Jesus was an observant Jew. His attacks were never on the Law as such but on its interpretation and abuses. He came, as he said, not to destroy, or replace, the Law but to fulfil it.)

There were no priests in the synagogue, which was simply a prayer hall. The priests were in the Temple, the only place where sacrifice was held. Every male Jew had a right to read the Scriptures and to speak to the assembly.

Mission statement

As Jesus stood up to read, a passage from the prophet Isaiah was given to him. It was a passage about the coming Messiah. What happens now, of course, is that Jesus is announcing that he himself is that Messiah. He applies the words of the prophet to himself. “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me [at his baptism], for he has anointed me.”

“He has anointed me.” That is a way of saying “I am a king”. A king was proclaimed by anointing. We remember the prophet Samuel anointing David as king. The Greek for Messiah is “Christos” which means “the anointed one”. Savior King, Messiah, Christ – they here all mean the same thing. Jesus Christ means Jesus King. “Christ” is an explanatory title; it is not a name.

And what kind of king is Jesus going to be? There immediately follows a proclamation, a program or manifesto of what we can expect from him. Today we might call it a ‘mission statement’. The words are to be taken both literally and symbolically.

Good news for the disadvantaged

They are addressed directly to the materially poor, those in prison, the physically blind, the oppressed and exploited of the world. While Matthew speaks of “the poor in spirit”, Luke addresses the beatitude directly to “you who are poor, weep, are hungry and oppressed”. The message for them is one of hope, of healing and of liberation. This will come about not by some miracle but by the transformation of those who, aligning themselves with Jesus, can put an end to these things.

But the message is surely to be understood symbolically as well, so as to include all of us. For wherever a society includes both rich and poor, powerful and weak, oppressors and oppressed, all are in equal need of liberation.

So, in addition to the materially poor, there are those who are emotionally underdeveloped, those who are lonely or rejected, those who are crushed by their need to be surrounded by material plenty… all are poor, really poor. And they include all of us at some time.

The unfree

In addition to those held in captivity, especially those who are unjustly in prison but also those who, guilty of some crime, need conversion and reconciliation, there are many, many who are far from free. Very few people indeed are truly free and many actually fear true freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. True freedom is something for all of us to pray for.

“Give sight to the blind.” There is a kind of instinct that makes people in some cultures consult the blind as sources of a special insight. Physical blindness is far less disabling than the blindness that comes from prejudice, ignorance, jealousy and other emotional blocks.

Most people, said a writer, “lead lives of quiet desperation”. Societies which often boast of their freedom create sometimes unbearable pressures on people. We need to become aware, here in our own society, to what extent we are living under pressures we could well do without.

A shared life

How do Jesus’ words reach us today? The answer, I believe, is in today’s Second Reading. The problem with our Christian living is that it is so individualistic. We try to manage things on our own. And that is even true of the way we try to live our Christian lives. But it is not the picture that Paul describes here. He sees the multiplicity of Christians as living members of one Body. Each member interacts in a constant giving and receiving. And each member gets the same respect. In fact, it is the “weakest” and “least honorable” parts which receive greater attention. That is how the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel become living realities. For it is in mutual giving and receiving as one Body that we enable each other to experience the enrichment (overcoming our poverty), the vision (banishing our blindness), and the freedom (removing the oppressions and addictions) which Jesus wishes us to have.

Finally, we cannot help noticing the contrast between the proclamation of the Law in the First Reading and that of Jesus in the Gospel. The Law was essential for dignity, human rights and freedom but there is a new ingredient in what Jesus gives – compassion. That’s what makes the difference.

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The Irish Jesuits

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Grieve For You, Jonathan My Brother! Most Dear Have You Been To Me.

Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I                2 Samuel 1:1-4, 11-12, 19, 23-27
David returned from his defeat of the Amalekites
and spent two days in Ziklag.
On the third day a man came from Saul’s camp,
with his clothes torn and dirt on his head.
Going to David, he fell to the ground in homage.
David asked him, “Where do you come from?”
He replied, “I have escaped from the camp
of the children of Israel.”
“Tell me what happened,” David bade him.
He answered that many of the soldiers had fled the battle
and that many of them had fallen and were dead,
among them Saul and his son Jonathan.

David seized his garments and rent them,
and all the men who were with him did likewise.
They mourned and wept and fasted until evening
for Saul and his son Jonathan,
and for the soldiers of the LORD of the clans of Israel,
because they had fallen by the sword.

“Alas! the glory of Israel, Saul,
slain upon your heights;
how can the warriors have fallen!

“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished,
separated neither in life nor in death,
swifter than eagles, stronger than lions!

Women of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and in finery,
who decked your attire with ornaments of gold.

“How can the warriors have fallen–
in the thick of the battle,
slain upon your heights!

“I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother!
most dear have you been to me;
more precious have I held love for you than love for women.

“How can the warriors have fallen,
the weapons of war have perished!”

Today we begin reading the Second Book of Samuel, which takes up immediately where the previous book finished. Originally, there was only one book. As it opens, in a passage full of deep emotion, we again see the extraordinary generosity and noble spirit of David. At the end of the previous chapter (the last in 1 Samuel), we are told that the Israelites under Saul had been badly defeated by the Philistines. Saul had been wounded in the abdomen by an arrow. Rather than be captured by “uncircumcised” enemies he asked his armour-bearer to put an end to his life. The armor-bearer was too afraid to do such a thing to his king, so Saul took his sword and fell on it. The armor-bearer then killed himself too. In addition, the three sons of Saul also perished.

As our reading opens, a man with his clothes in tatters says he has escaped from the Israelite camp. He has news that the army had fled Saul and his son Jonathan and both been killed in the battle.

However (and this is not contained in today’s reading), when asked how he knew about all this, the young man said he had come across the wounded Saul leaning on his spear. He begged the young man to kill him as he was in great pain. The young man, knowing that the king would not survive his wound, put an end to the king’s life. He brought back the king’s crown and armlet, expecting to get a reward from David, who, he expected, would be happy at the news.

Our reading continues by describing the effect of the news on David. He is overcome with grief and, in the way of the times, tears his garments as did all his followers. He mourned and wept and fasted from food because of the death of Saul, of Jonathan and so did many of the soldiers. Though Saul had tried so often to kill David, David remembers only the good things that Saul had done and his courage in battle.

Then (and it is omitted from our reading), the young man who brought the news was himself executed by David for having killed the Lord’s anointed. He was especially guilty because he was not a circumcised Israelite but an Amalekite, whose people had just been routed in battle by David.

The last part of our reading consists of part of a funeral elegy which David chanted for Saul and Jonathan. Following the tradition that David was a musician, he expresses his grief in a song. Saul is called “the glory of Israel”. For all his shortcomings, he had been chosen by God as leader of his people and had won many significant victories over Israel’s enemies. “How the mighty have fallen!” or, perhaps more accurately, “How could the mighty have fallen?” - a much-quoted phrase and which forms a kind of refrain for this song, repeated twice more in the elegy. David’s words contain no suggestion of bitterness towards Saul, who had tried more than once to be rid of him, but rather recall the good qualities and accomplishments of Saul and Jonathan.

There is genuine grief in his words: Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished, separated neither in life nor in death, swifter than eagles, stronger than lions!

Even though Jonathan opposed his father’s treatment of David and came to David’s defence more than once, he still gave his life beside his father in defense of Israel.
But it is particularly Jonathan’s death which pains David most deeply.

“I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother!
most dear have you been to me;
more precious have I held love for you than love for women."

In describing the intensity of his love for Jonathan, David is not suggesting that married love is inferior to that of friendship between two men, nor should any homosexual implications be read into his remarks. Such an interpretation would fly in the face of David’s very obvious interest in women and, given the biblical opposition to homosexual behaviour, would not be likely to appear in the context of such a paragon as David. David is simply calling attention to Jonathan’s commitment to his friend, a commitment arising from his conviction that it was David who would succeed to his father’s throne rather than himself (see 1 Sam 20:13-16). David is obviously deeply touched by such selflessness and the love which inspires it.

Today’s reading then is about love and friendship and the pain of loss when friends are taken away from us. Let us too remember those people who were part of our lives and have died. They include: those who have wanted to do us harm and those who have added a beautiful dimension to our lives. They both need our prayers - in one case, our love and, in the other, our forgiveness.

+++    +++     +++    +++
Responsorial         Psalm 80
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
O guide of the flock of Joseph!
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
O LORD of hosts, how long will you burn with anger
while your people pray?
You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in ample measure.
You have left us to be fought over by our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
+++    +++    +++   +++   

Gospel                    Mark 3:20-21
Jesus came with his disciples into the house.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Today we are told that “Jesus came home”. Yet, at another time he will say that he has nowhere to lay his head. One, of course, can say that anywhere can be the home of Jesus or that home is where Jesus is. We have seen references already to the ‘house’ or the ‘home’ indicating any house where Jesus is gathered with his disciples, with those who listen attentively to what he says.

At the same time, so many people came looking for him that he did not even have time to eat. This is in strong contrast with what is going to follow. One might think such popularity would be welcomed especially by his family; a kind of reflected glory. On the contrary, he is an embarrassment to them. They think he is mad. He must be mad because he is in conflict with the religious leaders, with the Pharisees and the Scribes. (It reminds one of the parents of the man born blind who did not want to have anything to do with their son because of his relationships with his healer, Jesus.) He must be mad because a genuine rabbi would never be seen happily in the company of sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and outcasts.

Similarly, teachers of the Law who had come all the way from Jerusalem (news of Jesus must now be reaching that far) were saying that he must be possessed by the prince of demons and that it was by the power of the prince of demons that he drove out other demons.

From the experience that Jesus had, any of his followers must not expect, simply because he bases his life on truth and brotherly love, that he will be admired, respected and loved in return. From Jesus down, every true follower of Christ has faced misunderstanding, opposition and even verbal and physical violence. And this sometimes from within his own community.

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The Irish Jesuits