Are we willing to follow Jesus to greater heights?

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him (Mk 3:13).
Through the centuries mountains have been sites where people have gone to rise above their daily experiences, to rise above the clouds, where the air is crisper, cleaner. It is a means of gaining a new perspective, transcending the human to touch the spiritual, and possibly hearing the voice of God. When one of the Gospel writers inserts the detail that Jesus is present on a mountain, we can be prepared that something significant is going to happen.
In today’s Gospel of Mark, the good news revealed to us is that Jesus calls to himself the Twelve, the Apostles, to preach and cast out demons. They are to continue the ministry of Jesus. These are not perfect men, but each will have a part to play in salvation history. Jesus will entrust them with the deposit of faith that they are to protect, yes, but more so to proclaim. Apostle means one who is sent.
Jesus will continue to call the Twelve to himself, to teach, mentor, model, and empower them so they will continue his mission to call people to repent and believe in the Gospel. Even though, especially through the Gospel of Mark, it often looks as if Jesus may have made a mistake in his choice. The Twelve do not ever grasp who Jesus really is, and when Jesus needs them most, Judas will turn him over to the Temple guards, the others flee at his arrest, and Peter will publicly deny him three times. It will not be until after the Resurrection and Ascension that the seeds that Jesus had sowed in them would begin to germinate and bear fruit.
Just as Jesus called the Twelve, he calls us as well. Each generation must experience and embrace the deposit of faith that has been given to us and pass it on to the next. Are we perfect, no. Do we have doubts, fears, weaknesses, yes. Does God call us and love us anyway? Yes. Like each Apostle, we are to go out and proclaim the good news that Jesus is our Lord! We do this daily with our words, faces, and actions. We think, look, speak, and act in ways that are kind, empowering, uplifting, and convicting while at the same time resisting the temptation to fix others. We are to strive to bear witness, be present, accompany and guide one another.
We all have much on our plate, some of us to overflowing. We may be thinking I cannot possibly do one more thing. Start small by bringing God with us into whatever we are already doing. He will give us the tools and accompany us as we seek to fulfill his will. As did the Apostles, we will make mistakes, make false starts, trip, fall, sin, and deny opportunities to reach out to be a witness. When we commit any or all of the above, we must resist beating ourselves up and instead learn from the experience, lean into Jesus, and with him prepare better for the next apostolic opportunity.
Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he would send. Are we worthy of this same call? Probably not, for all of us fall short of the glory of God. Are we willing? That is a question for each of us to answer today and each day hereafter.

Photo: Hiking to the heights, Mohawk Trail, MA., around 1983-84
Link for today’s Mass readings for Friday, January 22, 2021

We find our meaning and source in our relationship with Jesus.

Mark details in his account that many from all over the region came to Jesus to be healed. Among the crowd, unclean spirits threw those they possessed down before Jesus. This did not slow the gathering of people who pressed in on Jesus, just to touch him. The crowd grew to a point that it was getting out of control so Jesus “told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him” (Mk 3:9).
People wanted to be healed, to be cured, to be exorcised, and brought others to experience the same. Yet they were missing the deeper point of who Jesus is. He was not just a miracle worker, not just someone that brought about physical healing. Healing accounts were heard and known about in the ancient world.  The unclean spirits got it, they recognized Jesus before the people did, “for, whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God'” (Mk 3:11).
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, we will read about how the crowds, disciples, and even the apostles, all struggle to understand who Jesus is. The people closed in on Jesus seeking to be healed, but missing the deeper hunger within their souls that St Augustine, the fourth-century bishop of Hippo, so eloquently described on the first page of his autobiography: “[Y]ou have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in you” (Augustine 1963, 17). Jesus is the Son of God, not just a miracle worker, but God Incarnate.
The only way we will be fully satisfied, find fulfillment, find meaning, and be at peace within our own skin, is by developing an ongoing, developing, and deepening relationship and communion with our Creator. God is infinite and cannot be exhausted. We as finite beings are left wanting even when we have the best of material things. We always hunger and want for more, because in the depths of our very being, whether we recognize it or not, we want God.
We need to make time each day to discern which experiences leave us feeling flat, let down, or deflated. Then look at what experiences open us up to joy, ways in which we feel inspired, empowered, where we encounter a foretaste of heaven, the divine in our midst. When we slow down and make the time to see where we do not, and do, experience God in our everyday experience, we can better choose actions that will support a deeper relationship, deeper intimacy, and union that we all hunger and thirst for.
Jesus offers us today his good news: Christianity is not just a philosophy or even a theology, we are not just a people of the Book. Christianity is an encounter with the living God who has opened up heaven for us in the humanity he has assumed. Jesus conquered death and freed us to abide in an authentic love expressed at a deeper, more intimate level than we can ever imagine. Jesus satisfies our deepest hunger as he invites us to be drawn into his grace-filled embrace so as to be healed, renewed, shaped, and conformed to his heart, mind, and will. When we come to this place of encounter, reconciliation, and relationship, we come to know our mission and in serving through that mission we come to know who we are.
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Drawing by: Jesus and the Lamb by Katherine F. Brown
St Augustine. The Confessions of St Augustine. Translated by Rex Warner. New York: New American Library, 1963.
Link for the Mass reading for Thursday, January 21, 2021

Are we to do evil or good?

In today’s Gospel scene, Jesus enters the synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand. The eyes of the Pharisees are on him to see if, yet again, Jesus will heal on the Sabbath. Jesus is clear in his mind what he is going to do, though before doing so, he calls the man up and asks the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it” (Mk 3:4)?
Jesus here is giving them a no-brainer of a question. Of course, one is to do good rather than evil on the Sabbath, to save life rather than destroy it! Yet, the Pharisees remain silent. Jesus expresses anger and grief “at their hardness of heart”. Imagine yourself present in the synagogue and witnessing Jesus looking at the Pharisees and the Pharisees looking back at him. I am sure you can recall a time when being present in a similar scene and there was dead silence. Can you imagine what was going through the mind of the guy standing in between them with the withered hand?
The anger rising in Jesus may have to do with the unwillingness of the Pharisees to show any compassion, their outright refusal to acknowledge the need of this man. That they would hold so tightly to their self-righteous stance to refuse to even have a discussion about the matter. Not even to say in effect, “Yes, Jesus of course, it is lawful to do good, to save a life but what you are doing is unorthodox.” No. They refuse to dialogue. Their faces are set like flint, they are digging in their heels, and even though Jesus is inviting them to move toward compassion, they instead harden their hearts. In their silence, they are choosing evil over good, destroying life rather than saving it. Pride has reared its grotesque head yet again.
Jesus breaks the silence as he says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
The man is healed, but instead of rejoicing, and sharing the good news as Andrew did with his brother Simon, the Pharisees leave immediately to find the Herodians and begin to plot to not only undo Jesus but plot how “to put him to death.”
We have witnessed in today’s Gospel the evil of pride. We have witnessed the mercy of God presented and rejected. As is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit” (1864). That is what Jesus is angry about. Not only do the Pharisees resist any move in the slightest direction toward compassion, or their own repentance, they further separate themselves from the love of God. They start with a principle of defending the law, and walk out seething with a premeditated intent to kill Jesus, and on the Sabbath!
With each choice of putting self over another, pride grows. Its appetite is insatiable. Pride is known as the mother of all sins because of its disordered focus on self at the expense of all others and all else. The attention sought is sole to oneself. The height of which is in direct opposition to God. We have witnessed its effects in today’s Gospel.
Let us begin this day together in prayer. Jesus, I surrender my will to you this day. Reveal the darkness that dwells within me and grant me the humility to call it out for what it is. Grant me the courage to repent and the willingness to receive the healing touch of the Holy Spirit such that I might be transformed in your image and likeness, so to know you and your Father more. May I reject evil and choose good, reject pride and choose love, reject death and choose life. With each person I encounter today, may I reject the temptation to withdraw or scowl and instead offer a smile and a hand of welcome.
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Painting by James Tissot.
Catholic Church. “Article 8: Sin,” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
Link for today’s Mass readings for Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Let us follow the lead of the Lord of the Sabbath.

“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mk 2:27-28).
In making the above statement, Jesus was not discrediting or devaluing the observance of the Sabbath. He was weighing in on one of the common debates that Jewish people engaged in about what was considered work, and thus what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. Jesus went deeper to address the origin of the Sabbath observance in that it, “commemorates God’s creative and saving action for humanity, and alleviating hunger might be an example” (Donahue and Harrington, 112).
God created us, formed us, and breathed life into us. God seeks intimacy and closeness between himself and us his created beings, his children. God is our source and we are interconnected in our relationship with him and with one another. God continues to deal with us in a personal way. The Torah, the Law or the Teachings, is meant to enhance the intimacy and closeness of that relationship with God and one another, to provide boundaries and definition so that we can resist going astray.
Jesus has come to fulfill the Law, to restore it from distortion, while at the same time bring it to a higher level of love. When asked what commandment is the greatest, Jesus announced that we are to Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Mk:29-31). To live out this commandment then, we need to foster our relationship with God if we are to experience his love, mercy, and forgiveness, to fill up to overflowing, so to share with others what we have received, otherwise, we have nothing to give.
With or without a relationship with God we can experience emptiness, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. Without a relationship with God, and the community of the Church, we are more vulnerable to the temptations to satiate our hunger with the material, finite, and false goods, that are readily available, and hungering more and more, fall deeper into the lures of power, pride, prestige, ego, and addiction. We then seek to protect that false sense of self at all costs, and react defensively, as we feed our fear and pride. We buffer ourselves off from the very one we have been created for, and those we consider as other.
May we pray and seek opportunities to help those who do not recognize the dignity of life in the womb. We do this best by respecting the dignity of life at all stages and acknowledging the dignity of all people by engaging in respectful dialogue even when we do not agree. May we align ourselves with Pope Francis who said in his homily in 2018 that: “Having doubts and fears is not a sin. The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection. The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbor when this is, in fact, a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord.”
May we resist the fear of those we may perceive as different, but seek instead to encounter, accompany, and work to empower and provide means of access for one another, especially, the most vulnerable among us. May the scales of prejudice and racism fall from our eyes such that we may see each person as God sees us, as human beings endowed with dignity, worth, potential, and diverse gifts, created in his image and likeness from the moment of conception through each stage of life until natural death.
Let us align ourselves with the Lord of the Sabbath, who walked with his disciples among a field of wheat one day, and who is now our Bread of Life this day. As his followers, we are to commit to allowing no evil talk to pass our lips and to say only the good things that people need to hear (cf. Ephesians 4:29). We need to have the courage to stand up, call out and hold accountable those who delegitimize, degrade, and dehumanize others in word and deed, while at the same time resist attacking the person. We are to love, to will their good, even those who speak and act with hate. As with Dr. King, whose memorial we celebrated yesterday, we must be instruments of the light that dispels the darkness and the love that transforms hate.
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Photo accessed from http://www.pexels.com
Donahue, S.J., John R., and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. The Gospel of Mark in Sacra in Sacra Pagina Series, vol. 2. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002.
Pope Francis full text of homily at Mass on World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Sunday, January 14, 2018: http://saltandlighttv.org/blogfeed/getpost.php?id=79091
Link for readings for Mass readings for Tuesday, January 19, 2021

2021 – a year to regain balance in our lives

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day” (Mk 2:19-20).
The conflict that Jesus is responding to is that Jesus is witnessed eating and drinking, practicing table fellowship with his disciples, as well as tax collectors and sinners. There is no evidence that he and his disciples practice fasting. Jesus’ response utilizes the image of a wedding banquet, which for the people of his time would often last at least a week.
Devout Jews could fast one to two days per week, but during a wedding feast, there was an exemption from fasting. Now that Jesus has begun his public ministry, it is a time of celebration, because Jesus has been proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand, the bridegroom is with his people. As Donahue and Harrington write: “People are summoned to hear the good news of the victory of God over evil, illness, and sin. Even those thought to be habitually outside the pale of God’s forgiveness are welcomed to the banquet” (Donahue 2002, 108). This is indeed a time to rejoice for heaven and earth have been wedded!
People are being healed of chronic conditions, having demons exorcised from them, are able to see, to hear, and be restored to the community that they had been separated from. These are causes of celebration, why wouldn’t those receiving the gift of new life not celebrate? We have and will continue to see Jesus preaching, healing, and inviting those in his midst to participate in God’s kingdom played out in our daily readings. That is one of the gifts of reading the Gospels.
Jesus also references his death, when he will be taken away, and the people will fast on that day. This day will be his crucifixion. So we, like the community of Mark, live in between the time when Jesus walked the earth and proclaimed his message of the good news, and after his Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, until the time when he will return. We are living in a time of both/and. If we look at the course of a week as a model, we may contemplate the opportunity to fast on Fridays in remembrance of the day he gave his life for us, and to feast on Sundays, the Lord’s Day, when we celebrate his Resurrection.
The course of our lives follow an ebb and flow of sorrow and joy, sickness and healing, conflict and resolution, sin, and reconciliation. In the midst of our everyday experiences, Jesus, the one who is fully human and fully divine, invites us to yoke our lives to his, and seek to live a life of balance. Let us resist the temptations of overindulgence and gluttony while at the same time resisting the polar opposite of hyper asceticism. We are a unity of soul and body, so we need to attend to and take care of both our spiritual and physical needs.
I invite you to make a list of three things you can do for yourself this week to take care of yourself. Three things to take care of the spirit, such as go to Mass or gather in the community of your faith practice, spend five minutes a day in quiet prayer, read from the Gospel of Mark, a spiritual book, meditate in silence, and/or listen to some music. Three things to take care of the physical, such as plan your meals so they are a little healthier, fast with smaller meals on Friday, and invite family and friends to gather this Sunday for a meal and fellowship together, spend some quiet time reading, add some exercises that include a combination of stretching, cardio, and weight-bearing, take a walk outside, breath in some fresh clean air.
Life goes too fast, let us not take the gift of our life for granted, and commit this week to better take care of ourselves and each other, to celebrate the victory we have received in Christ, the wedding of heaven and earth, the human and divine.
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Photo: Playing hockey (around 1982) and reading the Bible, an ideal balance of body and spirit!
Donahue, S.J., John R., and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. The Gospel of Mark in Sacra in Sacra Pagina Series, vol. 2. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002.
Link for today’s Mass readings for Monday, January 18, 2021

Are we also willing to “Come and see”?

In our Gospel reading for today, we get a glimpse of a blueprint for discipleship: invitation, encounter, invitation.
Invitation: “John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:35). John points out Jesus to Andrew and the other disciple and they answer his invitation to follow Jesus.
Encounter: The two disciples of John catch up to Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —, “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them the question, “What are you looking for?” They are asking for his location of habitation, recognizing that is where he would gather his followers to teach. Their intent, once finding his whereabouts, may have also been to visit him at another time. Jesus though invites them to: “Come, and you will see.” From this initial encounter, both are willing to follow Jesus and spend the day with him.
Invitation: Andrew, having encountered and spent the day with Jesus, upon leaving went and “found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —. Then he brought him to Jesus. Having encountered and experienced Jesus, he went to share the good news with his brother. Andrew, who had earlier in the day been invited, now became the inviter.
This pattern is the same for us. We are invited to encounter Christ and experience him in a unique, intimate, and personal way. Do we hear the invitation? If we do hear it, do we dismiss or allow other priorities or distractions to keep us from doing so. Or do we accept the invitation, and like Andrew follow, encounter, and experience Jesus the Messiah, the Christ?
When we do encounter and experience Jesus we are to invite others to come and see the living Son of God in our midst. A few examples of how we can do this is to share a story of how Jesus has touched our life, share a Bible passage that has moved us, a book that has transformed our life, a cd or youtube video that has touched us. Invite another to worship with you at Mass, to share in a ministry you are involved in, to join a small group you might be involved in, make time to communicate each other’s needs and pray together, accompany another in their need.
If you aren’t engaged in any of the above, I invite you to give one or two an opportunity, and as you encounter Jesus, then like Andrew go out and invite another. Ultimately, we need to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, for he will lead us in ways of invitation and encounter that we can experience and then share. The key is having a heart, mind, and soul open to encounter Jesus and one another, then be willing to let go, and be willing to allow God to happen.

Photo: Join us for Mass at St Peter Catholic Church in person or online – stpeterjupiter.com

Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, January 17, 2021

Be contrite, repent, and rejoice!

Tax collectors were disliked, even despised by many in ancient Palestine because they were considered unclean, as were lepers and sinners. They were cast in this net because there were those who abused their position. A tax collector had a responsibility to pay a fixed amount to the occupying power of Rome but then could keep as a commission anything he collected over and above that fixed amount. The majority of the population, already just getting by, paying a temple tax, and the Roman tax, then finding out their local tax collector was taking more than their fair share, did not make for feelings of endearment.
Jesus surprises all who had come to hear him teach when he not only invites Levi, also known as Matthew, to follow him but then they have dinner together. We are witnessing yet again another healing miracle. Jesus provides an opportunity of bridging divides by inviting someone to his inner circle, to turn away from one way of life to begin anew, to: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (cf. Mk 1:15). The Pharisees question his choice of table fellowship companions. It is not clear if the Pharisees are eating with them or are on the outside looking in. The other curious point is that the Pharisees are conversing with Jesus’ disciples. So both groups are together witnessing the communal exchange.
Whichever is the case, that they were engaged in the meal together or observing from afar, not quite sure if they were wanting to participate, they could not have been at too great a distance because Jesus could hear their concerns and responded to them: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk 2:17). The Pharisees, and possibly some of his disciples, were not a part of the intimacy of this communion because of their own unwillingness to accept those that Jesus invited to share a meal, to accept that they too were sinners also in need of healing.
Jesus forgives and offers mercy to all who are willing to be aware of his invitation to fellowship. In surrendering our finite freedom over to his divine freedom, we receive healing and transformation, then develop a relationship of intimacy and communion with the one who is ushering in the kingdom of God. Our relationship continues to grow and deepen as we accept the love and light of Jesus in our life, which helps us to be more aware of our fear, pride, and sinfulness. In our turning away and letting go of our self-absorbed posture, we are further healed, experience his joy, and come into the fullness of who God calls us to be, so to share the invitation of blessing, healing, and joy.
As with many Gospel passages, this one offers a wonderful opportunity to place ourselves in the scene. Mark presents Jesus teaching the people though he does not tell us anything about what Jesus shared. Knowing what follows, we might ask ourselves, “What might Jesus have taught about before going directly to Levi at the custom’s post?” Could he have been talking, as Matthew adds in his parallel account, about how Amos preached that God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Mt 9:12)?
Let us sit with the opening line for a time and see what Jesus shares. Then as Jesus moves to the custom post, follow him and the others. What is our reaction to Jesus calling the tax collector Levi to follow him as one of his Apostles? Are there sins that others commit that we find easy to forgive, others that we find hard to forgive? Do we accept the invitation to table fellowship with this motley crew, stay at a distance, or walk away? With the gift of these readings that we have been graced with, it is important that we take the time to ponder them, to invite Jesus into our reading, and to encounter him as did those we read about. This is a wonderful spiritual practice that can bring us much joy and bring us into communion with the Physician. No RSVP needed, just come, open up your Bible, and join the feast!
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Photo: Enjoying time together! Resist taking any moment for granted, time goes too fast.
Link for today’s Mass reading for Saturday, January 16, 2021

Resist the idolatry of Caesar. Jesus is our Lord.

When it was known that Jesus was in the vicinity, people came. They came to hear him teach because he taught with authority, he taught in ways that were practical as well as demanding, he confirmed the foundational principles of Judaism, while at the same time, Jesus called out abuses in leadership. Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. That meant that he did not water down the message of God, but raised the standards even higher than they had been before under the leadership and legacy of Moses. Unlike some of the Pharisees though, Jesus did not just add heavy burdens to leave the people to carry on their own, Jesus accompanied those he challenged, he carried the weight of their sin, all the way to Calvary. Jesus also healed and cast out demons.
If Jesus had a business card to hand out as people gathered around him, it would have had written on it his first words recorded by Mark in his Gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). The time of fulfillment is indeed at hand in the presence of the Son of God made flesh. The entrance to that kingdom is measured by a willingness to turn away from self and turn back to God. Those who are open to the love of God, willing to be shaped and transformed by his love, who are in touch with their hunger and yearning to be one with the Father, recognizing that there is more to life than what they experience in the here and now are drawn to Jesus. This is why his house in Capernaum was full to overflowing.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them (Mk 2:1-2).
It is clear that there is a movement afoot in just these first two chapters of Mark. Another key verse from Mark is the very first line of his Gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]” (Mk 1:1). This is an amazing line, unless we read the words only, missing its proper contextual background. Those reading or hearing these words in the first and early second century would have grasped Mark’s intent immediately. There are two words in that verse that would have leaped off the pages or the lips of the reader; gospel and Christ.
The geopolitical powerhouse lording over Israel at the time of the life of Jesus was Rome. The house of Caesar was its head. Augustus Caesar was emperor at the time of the birth of Jesus. Tiberius Caesar reigned during most of the adolescence and adult life of Jesus. The term gospel, euangelion in Greek, meant good news. This gospel was spread throughout the Roman empire by messengers especially on two occasions, at the behest of the emperor; on his birthday and after great military victories. Christ, or Christos in Greek, meant the anointed one. The only ones who were anointed were emperors, kings, and priests.
Mark was making a very clear point with this opening verse, the proclamation of the good news: Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, not Caesar. It is not Kaiser Kyrios, Casaer is Lord, but Iēsous Kyrios, Jesus is Lord! This verse is treasonous in the face of Caesar and a subversive rallying cry for the followers of Jesus then and today. Yet Mark was not calling for a military coup, or a power play.
Jesus the Christ is our Lord. He is the one to whom we bow when we hear his name, not an emperor, president, prime minister, or political party. We are not called to take up arms but to repent, to turn back to God, to resist the path of self-centeredness, and instead, we are called to love – to will the good of others. We are to surrender our ego to the Son of God, so to be transformed from the darkness of revenge, hatred, pride, and division, and instead be conformed to the Body of Jesus, with the purpose of upholding the dignity of our brothers and sisters through our acts of mercy, love, caring and unity.
Iēsous Kyrios! This is good news!
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Photo: a 6th-century icon of Jesus
Link for the Mass reading for Friday, January 15, 2021

Are we too willing to build bridges of encounter and accompaniment?

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mk 1:40).
The term leprosy, used during the time of Jesus, was a more general way to describe various issues pertaining to the skin such as open wounds, sores, skin flaking, as well as much more severe and chronic conditions. Today we use it more specifically to refer to Hansen’s disease, a chronic infectious disease caused by a rod-like bacterium named Mycobacterium leprae (PubMed Health).
Those dealing with such skin conditions were deemed unclean. They were to live outside of their village, town, or city; wear ragged clothes, their hair needed to be unkempt. If anyone came close to them, they were to yell out that they were unclean, so there would be no chance of human contact. Lepers were exempt from any communal religious practice and the common opinion held was that those in this situation deserved it because of some sin that they committed. Those with chronic or recurring conditions could be in a state of exile for the entirety of their life. The experience was like a living death because they were isolated from all societal interaction.
When Jesus comes near to the leper, both were well aware of the cultural and societal requirements dictating that each one was to keep their distance. The leper does not follow the societal norms. Instead of warding off Jesus and urging him to stay away, he approaches Jesus and kneels before him. Jesus does not reprimand him, and he, like the leper, does not follow social protocol: “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean'” (Mk 1:41).
The leper is healed at the moment of contact, his death sentence is commuted, his opportunity for worship and communal life is restored. This simple act of healing the leper in today’s Gospel is, in fact, a microcosm of Jesus’ ministry and mission. The Son of God, in embracing our human condition, provides the opportunity for restoring us also from our exile, our separation, from God and one another.
Jesus the carpenter in the humanity he assumed, became a bridge, a stairway to heaven, that provides us a way to cross the wide chasm separating us from his Father. In his willingness to touch the leper, Jesus became a living icon showing how he as the Son of God was willing to draw close to us as well. He was willing to walk among us, accompany us, experience our pain, suffering, and separation, becoming one with us in our humanity so that he could offer us forgiveness, reconciliation, and communion so we can become one with him in his divinity and become instruments of healing for one another.
We are to not shun those on the peripheries, nor, God forbid, are we to support social prejudices, injustices, and structures that isolate and exile others. We are called by Jesus to be open to walking in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. We need to be aware of the ones that are socially kept at arm’s length, those we force into positions of shouting, “Unclean!” when we come near. What bridges can we build in our families, schools, work, and communities? Jesus is inviting us to risk, to go out to the margins, and in the words of Pope Francis to go with “a spirit of profound solidarity and compassion.”
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Photo: by Zen Chung from Pexels
PubMed Health. “Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy).” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0027942/
Link for Mass readings for Thursday, January 14, 2021

There are many ways Jesus can heal through us.

There is a danger when we read a comment from Scripture such as when Jesus, “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons” (Mk 1:34). The danger is that we may not believe we are capable of healing as Jesus did, so we don’t do anything active with our faith. We also might think that Jesus is divine, so of course, there is no way we can measure up to what he has done. An even less helpful line of thought would be to disbelieve that the healings of Jesus happened at all, they were all made up, and that they never really happened.
Another challenge can be pride. We may want to heal like Jesus, for the purpose of our own aggrandizement, so people look at us, not God. That was the sin of Simon the magician, who saw the Apostles healing, just as Jesus had, and offered payment to them for the power to accomplish the same (cf. Acts 8:9-25). Along the same line is wanting to do something grandiose, something beyond our own unique gift and charism, again so the focus is placed on us.
What we need to keep in perspective is that Jesus had a specific mission to accomplish, and yes he is divine, but as I have shared often, Jesus is also fully human. He had a specific mission from his Father, he gave a specific mission to his Apostles, and his Father has a specific mission for each and every one of us as well. Jesus himself proclaimed: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12). Not only does Jesus say we can do works such as these but even greater ones! Jesus knows the plan God has for our life, the part we are to play, and he will share it with us and empower us with that which we need to accomplish it.
We all have the capacity to provide God’s healing presence to others. God works through us when we embrace the love of the Holy Spirit and are conformed by it such that we come to know how God wants us to love others. There is some way for all of us to contribute. Throughout the Bible there are accounts of how God invites others to service, each in very small and humble ways – Jesus himself began his days on this earth wrapped in swaddling clothes in a feeding trough, as vulnerable and humble a beginning as there can be. He then lived the next thirty years in obscurity until his public ministry began.
We need to resist the temptation to limit and define Jesus, but instead embrace the gift of a “sitting theology” in which we allow ourselves to look at Jesus, take him in, for he is “infinite Love incarnate” (Barron). We just need to place ourselves before Jesus and allow him to expand us so that we can receive his revelation and guidance so to know the mission our loving God and Father has planned for us. We also need to be willing to allow his Spirit to work through us.
Then as we go about our lives each day, we can become contemplatives in action, open to the experiences that come before us, the opportunities and interruptions that arise in which we can be present to another with a smile, an active listening ear, and a helping hand. In each small act, we say yes to God’s invitation to be present to others and accompany them by our willingness to love as he has loved us, by willing the good of each other. Through these actions, healing happens.
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Photo: Happy Birthday, January 13, to my heart, JoAnn, who was a constant caring and healing presence and continued to teach me how to love.
The thought of a sitting theology comes from Bishop Robert Barron Lesson 5 lecture that he gave on Hans Urs von Balthasar from his Word on Fire Institute. To learn more about the WOFI and what it offers, type the following link into your web browser: https://wordonfire.institute
Link to Mass readings for Wednesday, January 13, 2021