Saturday, January 27, 2018

OT IV [B] Dt 18:15-20; I Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

Antiochus IV, King of Syria, had a great interest in Egypt. He amassed an army and invaded that country in 168 B.C. To his deep humiliation the Romans ordered him home. They did not send an army to oppose him; such was the might of Rome that they did not need to. They sent a senator called Popilius Laena with a small and quite unarmed suite. Popilius and Antiochus met on the boundaries of Egypt. They talked; they both knew Rome and they had been friendly. Then very gently Popilius told Antiochus that Rome did not wish him to proceed with the campaign and wished him to go home. Antiochus said he would consider it. Popilius took the staff he was carrying and drew a circle in the sand round about Antiochus. Quietly he said, "Consider it now; you will give me your decision before you leave that circle." Antiochus thought for a moment and realized that to defy Rome was impossible. "I will go home," he said. It was a shattering humiliation for a king. But that was the power and the authority of the Roman Caesars. (See Daniel 11:29 and following, with the notes).

Authority is a strange thing. A fourteen year-old boy argues about the curfew imposed by his parents. Then the next day in the freshman baseball game, he dutifully lays down a good bunt, forgoing a mighty swing at the fence, because the coach flashed a signal from the bench. Instant obedience to the coach; reluctant submission to mum and dad! On an airliner the captain flashes the seat-belt sign and everybody complies. Four hours later in a rented car, the passenger disregards the seat belt. The irony: for the same distance travelled, the airliner is three times safer.

The common theme of today’s readings is Divine authority exercised by the prophets of the Old Testament in their messages, by the apostles (including St. Paul), in their writings and teaching in the New Testament, and by Jesus in his teaching and healing ministry.
In today’s Gospel, Mark describes one sample Sabbath day of Jesus’ public life.  He joins in public worship in the synagogue as a practicing Jew, he heals the sick, he drives out evil spirits -- and he prays privately.  Since anyone could be invited to explain the Holy Scripture in synagogue worship, Jesus was invited.  People immediately noticed that Jesus spoke with authority and healed with Divine power. The Old Testament prophets had taught using God’s delegated authority, and the scribes and Pharisees taught quoting Moses, the prophets and the great rabbis. But Jesus taught using his own authority and knowledge as God to teach, empower, liberate, and heal others.

A Lutheran professor named David Rhoads points out that in Mark "Jesus wields authority over demons, illnesses (when people have faith), and natural forces (seas, deserts, trees) - nonhuman forces that oppress people. Jesus wields no authority, however, over people. He cannot heal people without faith, make them keep quiet if they wish to speak, or force his disciples to understand his teachings." Jesus has dominion over all aspects of life but not authority to "lord it over" humans - plenty of other religious figures, ancient and contemporary, can do that. Jesus has divine authority to serve people.

There was a local synagogue in every Jewish settlement of more than ten families.  The synagogue was a place of instruction and Sabbath prayers.  The synagogue service consisted of three parts –  prayer, the reading of God's word, and the exposition of it made by anyone who wished to do so. In this chapter Mark tells us that in the local synagogue Jesus taught with authority.  This means that Jesus explained the Scriptures with complete confidence, and when questioned by people he answered with authority.  Jesus spoke relying on no one beyond himself; he cited no supporting human authorities or experts.  Mark also records the impact Jesus had on those who heard him.  We are told how amazed people were at the authority with which he preached.  Jesus also showed his power and authority by curing the sick and granting forgiveness to people.

Jesus shows that He is the Messiah, the Savior, more powerful than the demons. Jesus came to destroy the unclean spirits living inside of us.  That is one of the reasons why Jesus came to earth in the first place and one of the reasons why he continues his presence in our lives.  Jesus came to drive out those unclean spirits within us, to wash them away, to cleanse our lives of them.  Let us put ourselves under his authority and he will liberate us.  The evil spirit in today’s Gospel recognized Jesus as the Messiah and acknowledged him as such.  Jesus commanded the evil spirit harshly, using strong words and tones: "Be quiet! Come out of him!"  This was one of the reasons why Jesus developed a reputation for speaking with authority. Today, we are challenged to believe that Jesus continues to exercise the power to rout evil in all of its ugly disguises and manifestations, viz., in poverty, sickness, greed, hatred, indifference, over-indulgence, etc., using us and our ministry.

Through Word and Sacrament, Jesus brings that power to us and says the same words to the demons in our life, "Be gone!"  -- not just once but as often as we need to hear them, until finally, we are free from these demons entirely. Christ has power over any demon, so whether those demons be addictions, heartaches, secret sins --whatever our chains may be-- Christ can set us free and longs to do so. Let’s ask him to exercise his authority over us today in this sacrament and help us free from the bondages that enslave us.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

OT III [B] Jon 3:1-5, 10; I Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1: 14-20

One of the many amazing things about Christianity is where it starts. There are many religions in the world, and most of them express mankind's search for God. But Christianity is all about God's search for mankind: it starts with God, not with us. That's what happens in today's First Reading, for example.

The people of Nineveh, a metropolis in the ancient Middle East, are living sinful lives: lives full of pleasures and noise, and maybe even full of popularity and great achievements, but empty of meaning and lasting happiness. That’s what always happens when people rebel against God’s plans and the moral law that he built into human nature. And God's heart is moved with pity for those sinful people.
So he sends a prophet, Jonah, to wake them up, to put them back on the path of God's plan for human happiness - the only plan that will truly work. Through Jonah, God went in search of the Ninevites, because he cared so deeply about their happiness. And the same thing happens in today's Gospel passage.
In this passage, St. Mark shows Jesus doing what he came to earth to do: calling people into a personal relationship with God. That’s really the core of what Christianity is all about.
Notice how he calls his first Apostles by name - Peter, Andrew, James, John... He had met all these men before, as we read in John's Gospel, but now he calls them to follow him more closely. He calls them, because he wants to give them more meaning, purpose, and, ultimately, happiness. He wants to bring them into his Kingdom. No matter to what life, work or ministry God calls us, He first calls us to conversion, to reform, to repentance -- to continually becoming new people. 

Real repentance means that a man has come, not only to be sorry for the consequences of his sin, but to hate sin itself.  We often think of repentance as feeling guilty, but it is really a change of mind or direction -- seeing things from a different perspective.  Once we begin to see things rightly, it might follow that we will feel bad about having seen them wrongly for so long.  But repentance starts with the new vision rather than the guilt feelings.  By true repentance we are giving up control of our lives and throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God.  We are inviting God to do what we can't do ourselves -- namely to raise the dead -- to change and recreate us.  This means that repentance must be the ongoing life of the people in the Kingdom. 

Sometimes God calls us to make big changes in our lives, as he did with his first disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This is what happened not too long ago to a man named Marcus Grodi [GROW-die]. He started out his professional life as an engineer. He was a strong Christian, but not a Catholic, and he soon decided to go into the ministry - to become a Presbyterian minister. For years he served various churches, but he kept running into a problem.
Whenever there were different opinions about how to interpret a particular passage of the Bible, or about how to arrange the worship service, or about what stand to take on a particular moral issue, he found that he and his other minister friends would often disagree. Then each one of them would teach his congregation their personal opinion, as if it were the Gospel truth.

For Marcus, that was a strange situation - it seemed as if he was supposed to constantly reinvent the Christian faith instead of actually passing it on. In fact, the different protestant Churches have no single catechism, and no single authority, like we have in the papacy, to preserve the original teachings of Christ and apply them accurately to the changing challenges of history.
Eventually, the anxiety of not knowing whether he was really teaching Christian doctrine forced him to change careers. So he began to pursue a doctorate degree in biology, with an eye towards working in the field of pro-life bio-ethics. This required a long daily commute, which gave him a lot of time to reflect and to pray. Gently, and sometimes surprisingly, God's Providence guided him step by step along a path on which his questions about the Christian faith were finally answered.

God continued calling him, and eventually he not only entered the Catholic Church, but also started a national ministry to help other non-Catholic pastors and ministers who find themselves facing the same difficulty he faced. It’s called The Coming Home Network.
He now has one of EWTN's most popular televisions shows, The Journey Home, and he has helped hundreds, if not thousands, of searching souls to find and follow God's call in their lives. God really is still calling; he has something to say to each one of us, every single day.
The mission of preaching, teaching and healing which Jesus began in Galilee is now the responsibility of the Church.  Our own unique vocation and our relationship with the risen Lord are the same as that of the universal Church.  Be we religious, priests, married or single people, we are all called, and in this call we become what God wants us to be.  The call, of course, begins with our Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. It is strengthened throughout the years with the Eucharist and Reconciliation, healed and consoled by Anointing and made manifest in Matrimony, or Holy Orders.  God is relentless in calling us back to Himself, even when we stray away from Him. 

Let us be shining lights in the world as Christ was and make a personal effort to bring others to the truth and the light, so that they may rejoice with us in the mystical Body of Christ, the invisible Kingdom of God. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

OT II [B]: I Sam 3:3b-10, 19; I Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42

A stranger once asked a teacher, “What’s your profession?” The teacher replied, “Christian,” The stranger continued, “No, that’s not what I mean. What’s your job?” The teacher asserted, once again, “I’m a Christian!” Puzzled, the stranger clarified, “Perhaps I should ask, what you do for a living?” The teacher replied, “Well, I’ve a full-time job as a Christian. But, to support my sick husband and children, I teach in a school.” That teacher had certainly understood the meaning of discipleship summarized by today’s Responsorial Psalm (40): “Here I am, Lord, I come to do Your will.”

Today’s readings remind us of our personal and corporate call to become witnesses for the Lamb of God and to lead lives of holiness and purity.  We are told that each of us, as a Christian, is personally called to discipleship, which demands an ongoing response of commitment.  The first reading describes how Yahweh called Samuel to His service. The boy Samuel responded to God promptly, as instructed by his master and mentor, Eli, saying, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.” Hence, God blessed him in the mission entrusted to him, and Samuel became an illustrious figure, ranking with Moses and David as a man of God. 

In the opening verses of today’s Gospel, John points out to his disciples that the One who is passing by is the “Lamb of God.”  Two of John’s disciples follow Jesus who turns and asks them what they are seeking.  Somewhat confused, they ask Jesus where he is staying.  Jesus does not tell them. Instead, he invites them to “come and see.”  For each of us, belief in Jesus develops in stages, which John appears to be describing.  First, we respond to testimony given by others.  Then, having "seen" where Jesus dwells - within believers, as individuals and as community - we move to commitment based on our own experience of the risen Lord.  Finally, our conversion is completed when we become witnesses for Jesus.  In Andrew's case, his conversion reveals his belief in Jesus as the Messiah.  He then brings his brother Peter to Christ.  Like the missionary call of Samuel and the apostles, we too are called.  Our call is to rebuild broken lives, reconciling them to God's love and justice through Christ Jesus, our Lamb and Lord. 

Being a disciple of Jesus means that we are to grow in faith and become witnesses for him.  Bearing witness to Christ is an active rather than a passive enterprise.  Knowing Jesus is a matter of experience.  One could know the Catechism of the Catholic Church, all 700 pages of it, by heart, and still not know Jesus.  Bearing witness to Christ, then, demands that we should have personal and first-hand experience of Jesus.  1. We get this personal experience of Jesus in our daily lives – through the meditative reading and study of the Bible, through personal and family prayers and through the Sacraments, especially by participation in the Eucharistic celebration. 2. Once we have experienced the personal presence of Jesus in our daily lives, we will start sharing with others the Good News of love, peace, justice, tolerance, mercy and forgiveness preached and lived by Jesus.  The essence of our witness-bearing is to state what we have seen, heard, experienced and believed, and then to invite others to "come and see."  Other people will see Jesus in our lives when we love, forgive and spend time doing good.  A dynamic and living experience of Jesus will also enable us to invite and encourage people to come and participate in our Church activities.  

Two men, who had been business partners for over twenty years, met one Sunday morning as they were leaving a restaurant. One of them asked, "Where are you going this morning?" "I'm going to play golf. What about you?" The first man responded rather apologetically, "I'm going to Church." The other man said, "Why don't you give up that Church stuff?" The first man asked, "What do you mean?" His partner said: "Well, we have been partners for twenty years. We have worked together, attended board meetings together, and had lunch together, and all of these twenty years you have never asked me about going to Church. You have never invited me to go with you. Obviously, it doesn't mean that much to you."
Don't get yourself in that fix. Don't let others think your Faith doesn't matter that much to you.

George Barna, in his book Marketing the Church, writes: "The most effective means of getting people to experience what a Church has to offer is having someone they know who belongs to the Church simply invite them to try it. Call it whatever you wish - word-of-mouth, personal invitation, friendship evangelism - this is indisputably the most effective means of increasing the church rolls." [George Barna, Marketing the Church (NavPress, Colorado Springs, 1988), p. 109.] There are 160 million Americans who are unchurched. If invited to attend Church, 31% said they would be very likely to come - 51% said they would be somewhat likely to come. That means 82% of the people who do not go to Church in America are likely to attend if they are invited - Only 21% of active Church goers ever invite anyone to Church. Only 2% of active Church-goers invite the unchurched.

If we really appreciate our faith, we cannot just keep it to ourselves, we will be forced from within to share it with others. Let this Sunday give us a challenge to examine our faith and urge us to share it with others.