1st February. Wednesday of Week 4
Also: Feast of St. Brigid, Patroness Of Ireland. (See Medition below, after the readings)
2 Samuel 24:2ff. Finding that he has sinned by counting the people, David prays that the punishment may fall on himself.
Mark 6:1ff. The people of Nazareth reject Jesus and he could work very few cures there.
Why is the Bible so severe on such “ordinary” faults as stubbornness, pride and jealousy? We take them for granted in ourselves and others, and presume they belong to the normal inconveniences of life, like headaches or the common cold. Much of the power of Scripture is in its unwillingness to take mediocrity of life for granted, but it combines a continual dedication to ideals with a practical sense of living on planet earth. The Bible reflects the perception that most people are more often hurt by such day-to-day sins as pride, stubbornness and envy than they are by the heinous sins of murder, bribery and adultery.
A painful level of envy is manifested by the frequency with which people repeat Jesus’ words, “No prophet is without honour except in his or her native place, among his or her relatives, and in his or her own house.” If the phrase “his or her” bores us by its repetition, it also insists that no person is exempt from envy, man or woman, Jew or Gentile, wealthy or poor. And envy hurts most the person who surrenders to it.
We have been following the career of Saul and David, and have seen how Saul became moody, unreliable, fearful and finally driven to suicide. David on the contrary seems to possess an extraordinary reservoir of energy, a clarity of judgment, a love that charmed all opposition and extended even to the son in revolt. We read, already in 1 Samuel 18:9, “From that day on, Saul was jealous of David”; and like a man infected by the plague, Saul was destroyed by his own envy.
The people most lost sight of in the gospel are the people of Nazareth. Even Jesus could work no miracle there, apart from curing a few who were sick, so much did their lack of faith distress him, and made the rounds of the neighbouring villages instead. What a sad commentary on envy: Jesus made the rounds of the neighbouring villages while Nazareth was left behind in silence. Envy is an incurable disease – so that “he could work no miracle there.”
Today’s text from Samuel warns against pride and an excessive desire to control others. It is not condemning a census of the people as such; the first part of the Book of Numbers records the results of another census, undertaken with God’s blessing. It must have been David’s motive that spoiled this census in God’s eyes. Yet, as mentioned already, it was an understandable fault. Why shouldn’t a ruler be proud of the nation he has built, and whom he intends to tax? Yet we see also how a census can lead to government control, heavier taxation and affluence at the top. The plague is halted by David’s prayer, a prayer in which he accepts the blame and begs God to be merciful to the sheep of the flock, who have not done wrong. It is this prayer of love and loyalty that brings the solution and that heals the disease.
First Reading: 2 Samuel 24:2, 9-17
So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know how many there are.” Joab reported to the king the number of those who had been recorded: in Israel there were eight hundred thousand soldiers able to draw the sword, and those of Judah were five hundred thousand.
But afterward, David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.” When David rose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David: Thus says the Lord: Three things I offer you; choose one of them, and I will do it to you.” So Gad came to David and told him; he asked him, “Shall three years of famine come to you on your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to the one who sent me.” Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands.”
So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from that morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand of the people died, from Dan to Beer-sheba. But when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented concerning the evil, and said to the angel who was bringing destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was destroying the people, he said to the Lord, “I alone have sinned, and I alone have doe wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”
Gospel: Mark 6:1-6
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Medition on St. Brigid, Patroness Of Ireland.
(from The Lives of the Irish Saints, by the Rev. Canon John O’Hanlon,
ST. Brigid, one of the first of our saints, and the queen of our virgins, shed a lustre and a purity on the ancient Church of Ireland. Innocent like Eve in the garden before her fall, animated with strength and fortitude such as Judith had when God nerved her arm and made her the protection of Israel, endowed with the greatest perfections like the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the refuge of all sinners and the mother of many virtues, St. Brigid was the light and glory of the infant Church, and contributed in no small degree to the spread of the faith, and to the observance of virtue among the people.
What St. Patrick was to the whole Church generally, St. Brigid was to those of her own sex in particular, instructing and infusing into them the spirit of true religion, and leaving them the example of perfect virtue. Though St. Patrick was the great founder and apostle of the Church in this country— though his labours were great and unceasing—though his missionaries went on all sides, and he himself “exulted like a giant to run his race” still it was impossible for him to do everything required. The special need which the Church then had, the Almighty God supplied by raising up St. Brigid, who not only greatly contributed to the conversion of the people, and to the practice of piety amongst them, but also infused into many of the women of Ireland the love of the religious life, and the devotion to the virtues and perfections of the cloister, which have never since passed away. This was the flame which St. Brigid lighted up in faithful hearts, which was symbolised by that perpetual fire burning for many agesat her shrine, which has survived the change of manners and the lapse of time, and the spirit of which is to-day as rife among the people as when St. Brigid laboured at her noble mission with so much success, when God spoke through the wonders of her power, and through the works of her hands.
1. Her virtues and her miracles.
Consider and admire the inscrutable ways of that God who is ” wonderful in his saints” and who chose a weak woman to be a tower of strength and a prodigy of virtue. No flesh should glory in his sight, for he has made the weak to confound the strong, he has selected a poor virgin, who was an outcast and a wanderer, not only to be an example of the greatest perfection by the subjugation of her passions, and to reflect in her life the virtues of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also to exercise a wonderful influence in leading souls to God, and in bringing them to the observance of the counsels of the Gospel, and to the highest practice of religious discipline.
St. Brigid not only excelled in the ordinary Christian virtues in an uncommon degree, but God gave her gifts and powers which are bestowed on few. St. Brigid had great humility; she had a heart full of kindness and compassion; she had the open and melting hand of charity. Her purity shone above all her other virtues, shunning and flying from anything which could wound it in the slightest degree. In this she most resembled the Blessed Virgin Mary, and hence was she truly called “Muire na nGael” – the Mary of Erin – because of the perfection of her divine love.
This holy soul, so full of God’s grace and such a vessel of election, God did not suffer to pass her tranquil years in the quiet and innocence of her cloister life, and in the strict observance of holy discipline. God had other designs, and for their accomplishment in his Church he gave to St. Brigid extraordinary gifts, and mysterious power. Accordingly, like her Divine Saviour she went about in signs and wonders. Wherever she went she left the evidence of her merciful compassion, and she spread around her the gifts and the blessings of God. She made the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the dead she restored to life, until all confessed that God spoke through the mouth of his servant, and that his power was in her hands.
As our Divine Saviour went through Palestine, visiting different places, so St. Brigid went about doing good in different parts of Ireland. She passed her early youth and made the vows of her religious life at Ussny, under the care of St. Maccaille. She visited the sainted prelate of Ardagh—St. Mel, who was rich in faith and in many virtues. St. Patrick, who was her great and sainted friend, she saw on his death bed, hearing his last prayer, and receiving his last sigh. Many years of her life she passed in the South, founding, wherever she went, houses of religion, and maintaining in them the observance of discipline and the practice of virtue, but it was on the vast plain of Kildare, by the Cell of the Oak, that she fixed her permanent home, and at the foot of that tower which even now exists, and which is the memorial of the ancient days and the mystery of our own, she lighted up the fire of true religion, and spread around far and near the faith and the love of Jesus Christ in the hearts of the people.
2. Her special mission.
Consider also the noble work and special mission which God called on her to fulfil. Even at that early period of the conversion of the island, the Christian religion took such hold, and made such progress in the hearts of many, that they not only observed the precepts of the Gospel, but they were also anxious to practise and to observe the evangelical counsels. Men and women with holy enthusiasm went to the altar, to give their lives to God as a perpetual sacrifice, and it was in the religious life, which regulates and sustains this divine ardour, that they found the fullest gratification of their hopes and wishes.
Inspired by God, St. Brigid continued, if she did not commence, the conventual institution in Ireland, and brought it, even in her own time, to a most happy issue, and made it produce the most wonderful results. Communities of holy virgins, overcoming the weakness of their sex, and the temptations of the world, sprung up under the hand of St. Brigid, and living under the rule which she prescribed, served God in holiness and fear, and made their lives the practice of the perfection and of the praise of God. This was the seed which St. Brigid sowed in Ireland, which even in the worst of times has produced the most happy fruits, and which, thanks be to the Almighty God, the Father of mercies and the giver of every good gift, is reviving to-day with a strength and power which are worthy of the best and most noble ages of the faith.
O holy St. Brigid, who are the light, the ornament, and the glory of the Church of the Irish, be the heavenly patron of our people, and be the special friend and protector of the priests of the sanctuary. Let those who offer sacrifice to the name of God, be worthy of their sacred duties. Show forth in their lives the perfection of charity and cover them with the robe of holiness. Let them love justice and hate iniquity. Let their prayer be like incense in the sight of heaven. Let their doctrine be saving and salutary to the people, and let the odour of their lives be the delight of the Church of God.