Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 31st, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was the great prophet whom the Lord raised up during a terrifying time in the history of the Israelites. The once mighty Kingdom of David was tottering on the brink of total collapse and all would soon be lost. Jeremiah understood this catastrophe as a consequence of the Israelite’s rejection of the one, true God. Idolatry had consumed the Israelites, a rapacious desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors, which had made them numb to the needs of the poor and to the righteousness that comes from adhering to the commandments of God.

A deep moral and spiritual corruption set in that manifested itself in political intrigues and a cultural malaise. Attempts to forestall the cultural decline were sought in political arrangements and economic imperative. New and ever stranger gods were invoked and superstition flourished while the authentic religion of the Israelites was reduced to little more than a perfunctory custom.

Jeremiah was called by God to speak his word of truth, and through that word to provoke conversion, a change of mind and heart which would lead to a change in the Israelite way of life.

Today’s scripture evokes the call of the prophet Jeremiah. By “call” is meant his realization of his life’s purpose, and therefore his mission in life. Jeremiah discerns that the Lord had intended him to be a prophet from even before he was born.

This highlights an important truth of our faith as Christians- no one is here by accident and no one is created by God without a purpose. And further, the purpose for which we have been created is not self-determined, but God-determined. God has a plan for every person and meaning and purpose for our lives only unfolds in relation to his plan.

What I have just described to you is what the Church calls the mystery of vocation. A vocation is God’s choice for your life, a decision he has made in terms of who he wants you to be and what he wants you to do. Discernment of your vocation is crucial, for without knowing and accepting your vocation, meaning and purpose for your life becomes frustrating and elusive.

God knows our vocation and as such cultivating a relationship with God through prayer is a necessity. Perhaps one of the most important prayers that must rise from the depths of our souls is to ask what God what vocation he intends for us to accept.

Jeremiah is honest about his God-given vocation- it is not easy, and no vocation ever is. But despite the difficulties of a person’s God-given vocation, there is meaning and purpose in it, and this makes any hardship not only bearable, but also suffused with creative and redemptive possibilities- both for ourselves and for others.

Have you truly and really discerned your God-given vocation?

The Church’s second scripture for today is one of the most beloved texts of the New Testament- St. Paul’s poetic treatise concerning love.

This text is often chosen to be proclaimed at weddings, and as such, the love that St. Paul identifies is often identified with romance, a beautiful and lofty ideal, that we might cherish as an idea or feeling, rather than accepting as a raw fact for a real way of life.

The fact of the matter is that St. Paul wrote this elegant treatise, not for weddings, but in response to a Christian community in the midst of a crisis- a community that had divided itself into factions and rivalries.

These factions and rivalries had been fomented by Christians who through eloquent, though cunning arguments, or claims to mystical intuitions or prophecies or through the appearance of intense asceticism, brought division into the community- setting Christian against Christian.

With Christians so divided the Church was faltering and failing in her mission.

To counter the influence of those who fomented divisions, St. Paul appeals to the priority and primacy of love as the true sign of a Christian leader. Yes, indeed, there are leaders who are eloquent, or who are mystics, or who are heroic in their sacrifices, but without love that looks like Christ’s love, these gifts can easily be used to manipulate or to subvert the mission of the Church.

The love that St. Paul describes is the love of God in Christ, not an ideal or an emotion, but a gift that comes into the world in Christ himself. We learn from the Lord Jesus the love he bears into the world and he intends that we practice his love as a way of life.

When Christians love Christians in the manner that St. Paul describes we become Christ-like in our words and actions, and when this happens the Church will flourish and grow. When Christian love others who are not Christians in the manner that St. Paul describes, people come to know Christ and understand the Church, not as an institution or private club or political movement or a social service agency, but as the real, living presence of the Lord Jesus in the world.

What St. Paul described to us today is not meant to be understood as a romantic ideal or limited to romantic affection, but as a densely textured description of God in Christ’s love, and also the kind of love that should be evident in the unique, Christian way of life.

Can we learn to love one another with the Christ-like love that St. Paul describes?

Today’s Gospel can only be appreciated and understood in relation to a mysterious figure that the Old Testament describes as the Messiah. The Messiah was presented by the prophets of Israel as a person of extraordinary power who would be sent by God to rescue the Israelites from their enemies and restore the glories of the Kingdom of David.

One of the primary purposes of the Gospels, indeed the New Testament is to testify as to how the Lord Jesus is the Messiah foreseen by the Old Testament prophets.

In last week’s Gospel the Lord Jesus proclaimed an Old Testament scripture in the synagogue located in his hometown of Nazareth. He cited a text from Isaiah, which would have been understood by those who heard it as a reference to the Messiah. When Christ declared last week and as he declares this week, “today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” what he is announcing that the Messiah has now come, and those listening would have made the connection- that the Messiah the Lord Jesus had proclaimed as coming was meant to be understood as himself.

Today we hear that while those who listened to Christ’s proclamation were initially impressed by his claim, they were quickly turned off and became so angry at the Lord Jesus that they sought to do him bodily harm.

Why the change? What the anger? Why did people who one moment, it seems, were impressed by Christ, suddenly turn so violently against him?

Today’s Gospel gives us the reason as Christ cites another Old Testament scripture, a story from the Book of Kings, which describes the adventures of the prophet Elijah. In these stories, the prophet Elijah acts (and therefore God acts) on behalf of people who were not Israelites and in doing so demonstrates that the mere fact that one is born as an Israelite is not some automatic guarantee of divine privileges and favor. The Lord Jesus is saying that he, the Messiah, has come, not just for the sake of the Israelites, but even for those perceived to be the enemies of the Israelites, indeed for the whole world.

The divine favor, the divine gifts that the Messiah bears into the world will be made available as possibilities for whomever God in Christ chooses.

This is what seems to have angered some, who interpreted Christ’s testimony as a kind of betrayal. For these folks, the Messiah should be a manifestation of God’s wrath towards outsiders and enemies that they held in contempt.

Whatever benefits the Messiah had to offer should be limited to those that they deemed worthy. God, they believed would come, not for the many, but for an exclusive few, and would come as a punishment for most. Christ resists this and as a result, some people resist Christ.

What does this have to do with us?

We are all the beneficiaries of God in Christ’s generosity. The Church is not our exclusive club, but it is the new Israel that God in Christ, the Messiah creates. And God in Christ creates the new Israel, the Church, as a means of sharing his gifts with the world. We come into the Church on Christ’s terms, not our own, but all are invited to know Christ in his Church and through the Church, become new Israelites for a new Israel.

Some still recoil in anger at this, insisting that the Church should only accept into herself those with the correct ideological perspective, be it the left or the right, or even worse than this, that the Church is realm meant only for the perfect, rather than as a refuge for sinners.

In the midst of our protests, Christ the Lord is serene. The Church is Christ’s, not ours to do with what we want. Christ creates the Church for his purposes and in accord with his plan. Christ gives the Church her mission. Christ the Messiah cannot be leveraged to re-make his Church in accord with norms and conditions that we think are acceptable for us for membership. There is only one cause that the Church is about and this cause is the cause of Christ.

We are Christ’s disciples, not his masters.

Some are angered by this- let this not be said of us. For we are not a people made Christ-like in our anger, but in our will to love.

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Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church (January 28th, 2016)

Today the Church commemorates one of the heroes of our Faith- St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas Aquinas was born in the year 1225 into a wealthy and influential family.

Much to his parent’s chagrin, he expressed that it was his intention to enter what at the time seemed to many to be a radical, if not revolutionary religious movement- the Dominicans, a community dedicated to serve the Church through preaching and teaching.

Members of the Dominican Order would surrender everything for the cause of advancing the Church’s mission, embracing a life of self-sacrifice that expressed itself in vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Thomas’ family, had hoped that the piety of their son could be leveraged to further advance the fortunes of the family. After all, through their network of connections they could position him to be a great man- an abbot of a prosperous monastery or even a bishop. Thomas had no interest in any of this.

And so young Thomas, at the age of 19, abandoned all prospects of wealth, pleasure, power and honors and entered the Dominican Order.

It was apparent to his teachers that Thomas was a prodigy, and he would become one of the great intellectuals of his age. So great were his gifts that he is acknowledged as one of the most important intellectual figures to have ever lived. But for us Christians, he is more than this- Thomas is a Saint of the Church and his wisdom endures as a resource that engages our own spiritual aspirations and his legacy of preaching and teaching continues to direct and influence the life of the Church.

Not only a teacher and preacher, but also a poet and mystic, he is truly one of the greatest masters of the Christian life.

St. Thomas died in the year 1274.

What lesson does the witness of St. Thomas Aquinas offer to us?

We live in an age of the Church’s life in which there has been a tragic devaluation of the importance of the life of the mind in relation to the Christian way of life. Thinking about the faith is seen as a distraction from practical and emotional matters. Creative and inspired scholarship is needed and sorely lacking.

Some, embracing philosophical and ideological trends construe scholarship in the Church as project of debunking the Church’s beliefs or as a means used to make sure that the practices of the Christian life serve secular conceits. The legacy of Christian witness if presented at all, is presented so as to be dismissed.

Others, see scholarship in the Church as merely akin to the conservation of a museum piece, not appreciating the Church’s intellectual inheritance as something living and vital.   The Faith becomes an archaism, rather than a way of life.

And there are those who see little need for the Church to think at all, preferring the solace of emotions and sentiment alone without recourse to reason or so fearful of the unpredictability of life, preferring the retreat from reason into credulity that becomes the terrors of fundamentalism.

St. Thomas Aquinas invites us to abandon a faith that is content with little, if any, understanding or thinks the life of the mind inhibits sanctity, rather than enhancing it.

The Church needs a new generation of scholars who like St. Thomas Aquinas, will take seriously the life of the mind and that mature faith always seeks to understand what the Church believes and practices and why.

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Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time (January 27th, 2016)

The Old Testament Book of Samuel details how the tribes of Israel were united into a single Kingdom. This transition was not easy, in fact, the condition for the possibility of a united Israelite Kingdom was a crucible of violence.

Israelites fought to clear the land of enemy tribes and rival kingdoms.

Israelites fought Israelites for the sake of power and glory.

When the battles were all fought and the dust cleared, David was the King.

With the warlike days over, David set about establishing a legacy for himself. David the warrior became David the builder and today we hear of his plans to construct a temple for the God of the Israelites, a fitting house for worship that would also serve as testimony to David for generations.

We learn that David’s plans to build a temple are frustrated the Lord God himself- it is not the Lord’s desire that David build a temple, but that the Son of David build a temple.

David’s son, Solomon, would build a magnificent temple, but this is only a foreshadowing of the temple that the Son of David would create. The real temple, the true temple, would be built by Christ the Lord, the one whom the Gospel acclaims to be the Son of David- and the temple Christ the Son of David would create would not be a monument of stone, but of flesh and blood. The true temple is the Body of Christ’s human nature.

The true temple is Christ the Lord himself.

The temple of Christ Body is made present to us in the Church, for the Church is the Incarnation of Christ extended in space and time. The worship of the temple of Christ’s temple is the Mass, and it is in the Mass that we enter into the sanctuary of Christ’s temple and once there, in his sanctuary, we share Holy Communion with his Body and his Blood.

Thus the promise of the Lord to David recalled today by the Church in our reading from the Book of Samuel, is fulfilled here, in this Mass, and in every Mass the Church offers.

All this signals to us that there is much more going on in the Scriptures than the merely literal and that there is much more going on in the Sacraments than what the senses perceive. To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus is to open oneself to ways of seeing and understanding that takes us beyond the limitations of our prosaic experience and into a deep mysticism.

The deep mysticism of which I speak is not limited to our experiences of the Scriptures or the Sacraments, but it is the Scriptures and the Sacraments that give order and are essential to making sense of the mysteries that God discloses. The Scriptures call us to the temple of Christ while the Sacraments take us within the temple of Christ.

The Lord doesn’t want us lingering outside the temple he has created for us, he wants us to dwell within his temple.

Our lives are revealed in Jesus Christ to be suffused with his divine life and presence. God has united himself to us in Christ in all things, and thus all the events and experiences of life, even the raw facts of our sufferings and our grief, can serve as routes of access to him.

Thus, a disciple of the Lord Jesus will inevitably become a mystic for the disciple recognizes, as all mystics do, that the one, true God who transcends the world also makes the world his home and as such we are invited to encounter him, as he presents himself to us, in real space and real time, in real history, and in the Real Presence of his Body and his Blood.

This is the deep mysticism that Scriptures evoke and the Sacraments deliver- the deep mysticism of an encounter with God in Christ, not simply in heaven far away, but right here and right now, in the Blessed Sacrament he invites us to receive.

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 17th, 2016)

 

Today’s Gospel is an excerpt from the Gospel of John, one of the most beautiful of all the biblical texts, indeed of all the literary texts of the world.

The Gospel of John presents testimony to the Lord Jesus- testimony to Christ’s identity and mission.

The testimony of the Gospel of John presents 7 great signs, each of which reveals something extraordinary about the Lord Jesus. The first of these seven signs is presented in the Gospel text you heard today- the transformation of water into wine that takes place at a wedding feast in the town of Cana.

The wedding feast is about to become a total disaster, when it happens that the hosts of the wedding banquet run out of wine. Saving the whole event from being remembered as the worst wedding ever, the Mother of the Lord Jesus intervenes and requests that her Son rectify the situation, which he does in a display of divine power- he transforms water into wine, and not just any wine, but the best wine.

What does this mean?

On a literal level, the testimony to this extraordinary event directs our attention to the truth that the Lord Jesus is speaking and acting in the person of God. Christ does things that only God can do- he effects the material world in ways that are absolutely extraordinary, in this particular case, transforming water into wine.

Testimony to the divinity of the Lord Jesus is what the Gospel of John, indeed all four of the canonical Gospels are all about. The revelation of the Gospels is not “here is an interesting teaching about ethics or a new theory about religion”. Nor do the Gospels present a self-help manual. Instead they provide the testimony of eyewitnesses to the extraordinary person, whom people came to believe, is God, who had in Christ, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.

While the literal meaning of this Gospel directs our attention towards the revelation of the Lord Jesus as God, it should not be reduced to this meaning alone.

The merely literal is always an incomplete explanation for the meaning the Scriptures. The literal is always intended to disclose a deeper meaning, a more significant truth than what appears to be obvious.

In the case of this Gospel, the deeper meaning is revealed when we consider whose wedding it is that took place in Cana- who was the bridegroom and who was the bride?

The answer is that whosever wedding it was, it was gesturing towards a wedding celebration that was heavenly, rather than earthly.

The bridegroom is God and the bride is his people Israel.

The understanding of the relationship of God and Israel as being like a marriage is referenced throughout the Old Testament. God’s relationship with his people is most like the relationship of husband and wife (and a very passionate and stormy relationship at that!).

Christ is acting to save a wedding celebration from disaster is signaling that God is acting in Christ to save his own wedding, indeed his marriage with his people from disaster.

I know this sounds deeply mysterious, but if you are impatient with mystery, you will never understand the testimony of the Gospels. The Gospels present the uncanny, the strange and the confounding, for this is how God’s revelation usually appears in our world. God is not just a bigger and better version of ourselves, but God is other than what we are and that is why his revelation is always mysterious.

 

Christ is the most mysterious of God’s revelations, and the most important, because he reveals God in a way that should be impossible, but nevertheless, God makes possible. God shouldn’t be able to accept a human nature and live a real, human life, but this is precisely what God does in Christ.

Through his human nature God makes himself accessible to us, but he in doing so he doesn’t make himself easy to understand, but all the more mysterious. Thus, while the Lord Jesus will always be receptive to us, and we can come to love him as one love’s a friend, there will always be a reality of our experience of the Lord Jesus that will be strange, off-putting, even at times frightening.

Christ the Lord is holy mystery through and through.

The relationship of God and his people, Israel, comes to its fulfillment in the relationship of Christ and his Church.

The relationship of Christ and his Church is best understood in this way as deeply personal as the relationship of bridegroom and bride, and husband and wife.

Christ is a living, divine person. He relates to his Church in the manner that a husband relates to his wife. He is not merely an idea or a feeling. Being in a relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church is not the same thing as belonging to a club that might honor him as a significant historical figure, someone who is dead, and who endures only in our memories.

Instead, Christ is alive (he is the living and true God) and being in a relationship with him is best understood as being in relationship with a person.

Today’s Gospel is in its own mysterious ways, gesturing towards all of this- how to best understand the Christ’s relationship with his Church. And the best way to do this is to understand the relationship of Christ and his Church who as a bridegroom and a bride, a husband and a wife. And Christ the Bridegroom will act in extraordinary ways to save his relationship with his Church from disaster.

We experience Christ’s intervention in our own lives in the Mass, where Christ effects a transformation that is far more mysterious and wonderful than his transformation of water into wine.

At the high point of the Mass, Christ effects a transformation- the bread and wine we present to him, he transforms into his Body and his Blood. This is what our Holy Communion really and truly is- we receive what Christ has transformed, bread and wine into his divine life and his divine presence.

Once this happens, he invites us to take his Body and his Blood, his divine life and divine presence into ourselves, consuming what he has transformed as food and drink.

When we do this, when we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we are opening ourselves up to be transformed by what we have received. The purpose of our Holy Communion is meant to make us ever more like what we receive.

Becoming ever more like Christ is what Holy Communion is all about. We receive him so as to become like him. What he is, we hope to be.

Thus, receiving Holy Communion is always a bold and risky decision. What we are offered in the Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ, but the means by which we become like Christ. Anyone who receives the Blessed Sacrament faces a test of their sincerity- if you receive this, you are professing before Christ and the Church, that you want to be like him, that you want Jesus Christ to make you like him.

You are saying that you want Jesus Christ to change you, to transform you and re-make you, not more and more like yourself, but more and more like him.

The test of your sincerity is to ask yourself is becoming like Jesus Christ really what you want? Do you want to be like him? And further, if you are willing to receive him, while having no intention of letting him change you, then what you are doing amounts to what is called perjury.

You are telling a lie- to Christ.

Christ transformed water into wine, and through his Blessed Sacrament, he wants to transform you so you can be like him.

You see Christians, if we just remain like ourselves, resisting transformation in Christ, resisting becoming like him, we become like water that was supposed to be transformed into wine.

And in our resistance to being changed, being transformed, experiencing what the Gospel calls conversion, then we risk ruining the wedding feast of the Bridegroom and his Bride, the wedding feast of Christ and his Church.

But if we let him change us, transform us, what a wedding celebration we will have!

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Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time (January 14th, 2016)

One of the sad aspects (and great mover of the events) of the Book of Samuel is the pernicious problem of the corruption of Israelite religion.

Wicked priests abuse the trust of faithful Israelites and the influence of these wicked priests corrupts the Israelite religion. This has a catastrophic effect on the Israelites as corruption of cult inevitably leads to a corruption of culture.

Two priests are singled out in a particular way as representing corruption- the sons of Eli, Hophmi and Phinehas. Eli, though not corrupt in the same manner as his sons, exhibits his own particular kind of corruption by what seems to be a refusal to correct his sons, or protect the people from them. Evil grows not simply because wicked people do bad things, but because good people allow wicked people to do bad things. By ignoring evil we makes ourselves complicit in evil.

This all comes to its fulfillment in the events described in today’s excerpt from the Book of Samuel. The wicked priests Hophni and Phinehas remove the great Ark of God from the sanctuary at Shiloh, believing that God’s hand will be forced to protect the Ark and therefore assure the armies of the Israelites as they do battle.

But God is not manipulated and whatever protection Hophni and Phinehas had presumed is not given, and the Israelites are utterly defeated.

The lesson here is a subtle one and can be taken to mean that our religion cannot be used as a kind of amulet, a talisman, or a means of forcing God’s hand. Instead, our religion is a way of life through which seek to observe God’s commandments, and in doing so, live in such a way that our lives bring honor to God. Our religion is not meant as something we use as a false front, a mask of virtue, when in reality what lurks behind the mask are lives filled with vice. The lesson of Hophni and Phinehas is shows us the outcome of using religion as a strategy of deception, rather than as a means of coming to terms with the truth.

Corruption in the priesthood or corruption of religion can be the cause of a culture’s corruption. As I noted, corruption of cult leads inevitably to a corruption of culture. But it can also be symptomatic of a broader and more systemic moral corruption. Priests do not fall from the heavens, but are drawn from the people, and sometimes water drawn from its source is corrupted by its source and cannot sustain life.

Christ provides certain anti-bodies against the disease of priestly corruption by re-founding the priesthood and giving it as its source and identity his own person and mission. This means that our culture, or our politics, or our ideologies are not the source for what the Church’s priesthood will be about, but instead it is Christ himself. The people will always have a reference point to discern a good priest from a bad priest, and that will be how a priest seeks to conform himself to Christ. But if the Church is to have priests that are conformed to Christ, then the people must conform themselves to Christ as well, or corruption will most assuredly take hold.

If priests are to be holy, then the people whom they minister too must help them, and if the people are to be holy, then the priests must help them. If this reciprocity breaks down, the result is the terrible situation described in the Book of Samuel- or worse.

In today’s Gospel the Lord Jesus delivers a man from a terrible affliction- leprosy a disease that was particularly feared by the Israelites, not just because it was presupposed to be highly contagious, but because it was understood as a sign that a person has been abandoned by God.

Lepers were very sick people who were often treated with fear and contempt and forced to the margins of society. They were the poorest of the poor.

Christ delivered people from this affliction and not only that permitted himself to touch and be touched by lepers, a gesture that indicated that these poor people were not abandoned by God or beyond his power to save.   As Christ did, so we must do.

But also, we must consider that Christ sends the lepers to the priests, a gesture that indicates, contrary to some, that it was not intention of the Lord Jesus to destroy the forms of Israelite religious life, such as the priesthood, the temple, and such, but to give all this new meaning and purpose and effect their transformation.

Christ did not come with a mission to destroy, but to transform. Yes, he delivers us from forms of religion that have been corrupted, but he comes to restore religion to its true purpose and intention.

This restored priesthood is gestured towards or indicated in his healing of the leper- it is a priesthood that has as its purpose to forgive and receive those, who like the leper, had thought themselves abandoned by God or beyond his power to save, but had found in Jesus Christ a Savior and a Friend.

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Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time (January 13th, 2016)

Remember that this week the Church will present excerpts from the Old Testament Book of Samuel as the first reading for daily Mass. The Book of Samuel is the story of how the Israelite tribes were united and became a mighty kingdom. This great story starts with the story of a man of authority and power named Samuel.

Yesterday, we learned that Samuel was the only child of a woman named Hannah and her husband Elkanah. Hannah and Elkanah were faithful in their practice of the Israelite religion, and since Hannah understood her son Samuel to be a gift from God, she dedicated her son to service to God, leaving him when he was a young boy in the care of the Israelite priests who ministered at the Lord’s sanctuary in the city of Shiloh.

Today, young Samuel is called by God and given his mission. In other words, God reveals to Samuel the purpose of his life and what he must do for this purpose to be fulfilled. As I mentioned yesterday, no one comes into this world as an accident or is unnecessary and no one is expendable. God sends us into this world with a purpose, and our life is given meaning when we fulfill our God-given purpose.

Samuel’s purpose would prove to be historically significant. God worked through Samuel to achieve great and mighty deeds that would ultimately lead to the Israelites becoming a united kingdom and it would Samuel who would anoint David as the king of the Israelites, and as we know, it is from the family of David that Christ the Lord will reveal himself to the world.

Perhaps our purpose seems less dramatic than that of Samuel, but no one who accomplishes God’s purpose for their life accomplishes something insignificant. The world is changed for the better, not by those who command nations, or those who accumulate wealth, or those who achieve fame and celebrity, but by those who in the immediacy of the circumstances of their lives honor God and fulfill the demand of love.

Being great or powerful or rich or famous, all mean nothing and accomplish nothing of lasting importance if in our pursuit or attainment of these things we fail to keep God’s commandments, or harm others, or live selfishly or fail to fulfill the demand of love.

For the disciple of the Lord Jesus, the highest priority and value is not determined by worldly standards of success, but our willingness to achieve our life’s purpose through acts of faith, hope and love.

In the Gospel for yesterday, Christ the Lord liberated a man who had been overtaken by dark and malevolent powers. This testimony to Christ’s power indicated that the power of evil is no match for the power of God in Christ. Christ has come to liberate us from our fear and the oppressive powers of sin, death and the devil.

Today, Christ the Lord acts to liberate Simon’s mother in law from a fever that has immobilized her, frustrating her ability to serve Christ and his mission.

Freed from this fever, she is ready, willing and able to serve.

We can interpret this story spiritually, understanding that while we might not be afflicted by an actual fever, there is likely in all of us an unwillingness to serve Christ- his invitation to serve is met by refusal, qualification, equivocation. Or we are initially filled with enthusiasm for mission, but faced with its reality, we become anxious, and that anxiety leads to indolence, rather than to action. Or maybe we want to serve, but only on our terms and if these terms are not met, we become frustrated and combative.

Christ the Lord can liberate us from these hindrances to mission, but we must let him. Are we willing to let him? Or do we prefer the infirmity of our refusals rather than the vigorous, life-giving mission to serve?

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Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time (January 11th, 2016)

The first scripture readings for Mass for the next few days will be excerpts from the Old Testament Book of Samuel.

The Book of Samuel is the story of how the tribes of the Israelites were united to become a great and powerful kingdom. This all began with a man of authority and insight by the name of Samuel. Samuel’s mother was a woman named Hannah, and she was for many years unable to conceive a child and it was presumed by others that she would never know the joy of having a child of her own. This grieved her deeply and she gave herself over to prayer, petitioning God to grant her a child, and eventually, she did have a child, Samuel, whom she considered to be a gift from God.

Each child conceived in the womb and born into the world is a gift from God. As Pope Benedict once testified, “each of us is necessary”, which means no one is here by accident and no one is expendable. God has a plan and a purpose for everyone. Sometimes this plan or purpose is not easy for us to discern, and in this case, we should imitate Hannah, and give ourselves over to prayer, begging God for answers that are not easy to accept or insights in regards to things that are just too hard for us to comprehend.

Prayer is not simply about getting what we want, but if our prayer is authentic and sincere, it will help us to discern what it is that God would like for us to do. It is in discerning what God wants and accepting his will that we can find not only purpose, but peace.

The Gospel of Mark presents a frightening scene today in which the Lord Jesus is confronted by an “unclean spirit”, and by this is meant a spiritual power that is opposed to God. These spiritual powers are called devils or demons.

Most people are curious about such things, but the point of today’s Gospel is not simply to provoke curiosity about devils or demons, but to demonstrate to us that the Lord Jesus has power over such things and has come to rescue us from their influence.

There are many things in life that are frightening, things visible and invisible, natural and supernatural. Heaven and earth are full of powers that are greater than our selves. Christ the Lord reveals that though we should be rightly cautious, even fearful of such things, we can also have courage, inasmuch as he is the all powerful God who is also our friend and who fights on our behalf and has come to rescue us from not only dark powers, but also from being overcome by fear.

In the midst of all the dangerous facts and troubling situations of life, Christ insists that he will be with us, and as such, we need not be overcome with fear, but we can face the challenges of each and every day with a sense of courage.

Indeed, as the Apostle Paul testifies- we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us.

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