January 24 – The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time The first words of Mark’s Gospel make it clear who his subject is: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1) Following a few verses about John the Baptist and his baptism of repentance his baptizing Jesus and the temptation story in the desert, Mark is anxious to begin to tell the story of Son of God. He begins with the call of the first disciples, Simon and Andrew, James and John. The first reading from Jonah and the story of the Ninevites repenting at the urging of the prophet, prepares us for Jesus’ words: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” (1:15) I think it is important to note that Jesus does not say: “Repent and believe the gospel,” as though it were a written document or constitution that calls for our assent. Rather, Jesus says: “Repent and believe the gospel.” Gospel is a way of life, a way that patterns itself after the “good news” that in Jesus, we have forgiveness of our sins. We no longer are burdened by the misdeeds of the past. We no longer need to carry the weight and guilt of the less than virtuous choices we have made, at whatever stage of our lives. No, the gospel tells us that is all in the past. In writing to the Corinthians, Saint Paul tells us that even the present age as we know it is passing away. (1 Cor: 7-31) In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he will tell us that in Christ, who IS the gospel, “Old things have passed away, behold, new things have come.” (5:17)
January 25 – Conversion of Saint Paul We are presented today what I think is the most revelatory questions about the identity of Jesus in all of the New Testament: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 22:7) Saul of Tarsus, schooled in the teachings of the Pharisees, went about his world and with great zeal lead a persecution against the first generation followers of Jesus of Nazareth. In his conversion experience on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians there, Paul had an experience of the Risen Jesus. Jesus did not ask: “Why are you persecuting my followers,” or “Why are you persecuting my church?” He asked: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” So intimate was Jesus’ connection with his followers, that any attach against them, was an attack against him. Jesus and his followers, Jesus and his church, are one. The union Jesus spoke of with his heavenly Father, “The Father and I are one,” (John 10:30) extends to the union Jesus had with his church. “I have given them the glory you gave me so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:22) To embrace Jesus, is to embrace the church; to embrace the church, is to embrace Jesus. Some days that is easier to affirm than others. When the members and leadership of the church sin, when they disappoint, when they fall short of holiness, it can be hard, it can be difficult to appreciate the Church and Christ as one. Our recent history has taught us that well. But in her nature, the church and Jesus are one. Recently, when discussing the scandal enveloping the church, a man of advanced years and experience pointed to Jesus hanging on the crucifix in the front of the church and said: “Father, that is the church at this moment in time.” Truer words were never spoken.
January 26 – Saints Timothy and Titus A day after celebrating the Conversion of Saint Paul, we celebrate two of his companions, Timothy and Titus. We know Paul trusted their leadership – two of his letters are addressed to them as leaders of the church. We read a section of his Letter to Titus at our Christmas liturgy. (2:11-14) We embrace one of Paul’s most loved sayings from his First Letter to Timothy when we need sound medical advice: “Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses!” (5:23) Pope Benedict reminds us that these early leaders in the church embraced a difficult mission as evangelists and missionaries without the administrative support the church is able to provide in our modern world. He said Timothy and Titus “Teach us to serve the Gospel with generosity, realizing that this also entails a service to the Church herself.” (General Audience, December 13, 2006) We are called to that same apostolic zeal. That is why we pray in the Prayer after Communion that the sacrament we have received “Will nourish in us that faith taught by the preaching of the Apostles and kept safe by the labors of Timothy and Titus.”
January 27 – Wednesday of the Third Week in OT Today, Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower and the Seed (Mark 4:1-20) to his Apostles and his closest disciples. He does so after expressing some frustration with their inability to understand. “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables.” The key to understanding the stories of Jesus is embracing the Word of God. “The seed is the word of God,” he tells them. Just as the farmer sows the seed with great abandon, so too, the Word of God is spoken for all with equal generosity. As many times as we hear the parable, we are challenged to ask how we will receive the Word of God. Will I be inattentive and allow the Word to be taken away alike the birds of the field who ate it up? Will I be rocky ground, hard of heart, not allowing the Word to be planted deep within my heart? Will I so clutter my life with distractions that I allow the Word of God to be choked by harmful things? How appropriate are the words we pray silently before hearing the Gospel as we make the sign of the cross on our foreheads, on our lips, and on our hearts. “May your Word, O Lord, be ever on my mind; may it echo forth from the words of my mouth; on my lips; may it find a home within the deepest recesses of my heart.”
January 28 – Thursday of the Third Week in OT; Saint Thomas Aquinas In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples: “Is a lamp brought into be placed under a bushel basket, or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?” (Mark4:21) The lamp burning brightly for us today is , Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), priest and Doctor of the Church. He is, arguably, next to Saint Paul, the most influential theologian in the history of the church. He was able to employ the wisdom and principles of Greek philosophy, in particular the teachings of Aristotle, in service to the development of his theology. Aquinas spent much of his career teaching at the University of Paris, where he engaged in dialogue with scholars of all faiths and philosophical leanings. He believed that there was within each person a search for truth, but that truth needed to be enlightened by divine revelation, by grace. His respectful dialogue enhanced his own theological thinking, and also helped him to ground his teaching in the truth of what was revealed, not by only by human reason, but by God. How we need that honest, respectful dialogue in all aspects of our modern world. Monika Hellwig, long-time professor of theology at Georgetown University said this: “In my journey… as a Catholic scholar, what have I really learned? First of all, that we cannot keep the Holy Spirit out of the church, no matter how much we try to domesticate the whole enterprise. Secondly, that the church is wiser and more faithful when it listens discerningly to many voices, even those from outside its own boundaries.” (Quoted in Give us this Day, September 30, 2020, page 299) I would add: we have nothing to fear from respectful dialogue with others, no matter how radical or disordered we might judge their reasoning to be. When we are grounded in the truth that is Jesus, we will always live in the light of his wisdom and grace.
January 29 – Friday of the Third Week in OT Novelist John Gardner said that there are only two stories to be told: “A man went on a journey, and a stranger came to town.” Today’s first reading, the story of David and Bathsheba suggests a third story: “A man stayed home.” While his army went on campaign against the Ammonites, David remained in Jerusalem, where his roving eyes and lustful heart led him into an affair with Bathsheba, wife of his general Uriah. After learning that Bathsheba was carrying his child, he arranged for Uriah to be placed at the head of the battle, where he was surely to be killed. When confronted by Nathan the prophet about his deed, a story we will read tomorrow, David acknowledges his guilt. Psalm 51, our Responsorial today, is titled “A psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after his affair with Bathsheba.” David’s sin, his tragic flaw, could not repress God’s plan for the salvation of his people. From the union of David and Bathsheba was born Solomon, praised by Jesus for his wisdom (Luke 11:31) We can only bow and proclaim the words of Saint Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33)
January 30 – Saturday of the Third Week in OT All throughout his gospel, Saint Mark is intent on showing the power that Jesus, Son of God, has over the forces of evil, sin and nature. That power is evident in today’s gospel account of Jesus calming the storm at sea (4:35-41) We are told that after being awakened by the disciples in the midst of the storm, “He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ’Quiet! Be stilled!’” Then he said to his disciples: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” The disciples wondered: “Who is this whom even the wind and sea obey?” How could they wonder? Had they not been praying the Psalms all their lives, and read in Psalm 77 “Your ways, O God, are holy, what god is as great as our God? You are the God who works wonders, you showed your power among the peoples…The waters say you, O God, the waters saw you and trembled.” The manifestation of God’s power over the forces of nature throughout salvation history are personified in the person of Jesus. It will take until the moment of his death on the cross that Jesus’ identity as the God of Power is realized, “when the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” and the words of the centurion confessed: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)