8 July. 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Ezek 2:2-5. God will not leave his chosen people ignorant of their sins. He sends the stern prophet Ezekiel to call them to repent.
2 Co 12:7-10. Paul’s mysterious “thorn in the flesh” does not unduly depress him, because “power is made perfect in weakness.”
Mk 6:1-6. True to the proverb that no prophet is honoured among his own people, Jesus is rejected by his neighbours in Nazareth.
Making Change Possible
(by Jack Finnegan)
Each of the readings in today’s liturgy of the word raises serious issues for the person who wishes to follow Jesus along the way. A few phrases have struck me in a particular fashion and I would like to reflect on these with you against the background of God’s call in Christ to all of us to live according to His way of love, justice and compassion. Ezekiel says that the Spirit of God “set him on his feet.” This reminds me that without the Holy Spirit, without grace, without the energy that is God’s gracious gift, faith-life is not possible, transformation is not possible, change is not possible, the movement into the wholeness that Yahweh-Shalom offers is not possible.
In saying this I remind myself that it is easier to do nothing than to do something, it is easier to be negative than positive, easier to be destructive than creative, and that I am an amalgam of these contradictory tendencies. That is why I have so often been stiff-necked, stubborn and rebellious, even cynical – because free-wheeling refusal to be responsible takes little effort and less understanding. To live the covenant, however, demands awareness; it calls for a commitment to be conscious of grace and of the practical implications of grace that must find expression in real, practical, reconciling, forgiving, growth oriented patterns of life and relationship.
Above all, if the gospel today means anything, I must confront my own tendency to judge others, take hurt and offence from them, reject them, and make the scapegoats of my own unrecognised, unaccepted aversions and resentments. I must become acutely aware of the ways in which I perpetuate negativity in my house, among my friends at work – or wherever – lest I become a Pharisee, a Herodian, one of Jesus’ own people who thought that reality was how they saw it and so readily rejected him. I must become aware of how easy it is to confuse reality with my own perception of it, blinding myself with my biases and prejudices and preferred viewpoints from the other side that every story, every person has.
With St Paul I need to acknowledge my own “thorn,” my own complex, shadow, inferior function, potential for neurotic behaviour; call it what you will, each of us has it! If I really want to be disciple I must learn to rebuild the centre of my existence on God’s terms lest I scatter myself and lose myself because I have no ground of coherent meaning on which to base my relationship with reality. This is spirituality, this is what psychology so often discovers we need. May we remember God’s grace, may we remember that it precedes us along the way, may we allow it to set us on our feet and make us courageous. May we permit it to energise us for the next few steps on the perilous, wonderful, bright, dark journey to abundant life.
Hope, Escapism, Reality
(by Anthony O’Leary)
Focusing mainly on the second reading one can accentuate the theme of Christian hope and bring in the other elements easily. In the Gospel and First Reading, reality and escapism come more to the fore but leave a great way forward to deal with hope also. These notes will outline these two possible approaches.
In starting off with the famous thorn in the flesh of Paul, one could open up the implicit meanings of the words chosen by Paul to describe this problem. A thorn, is sharp; it cuts into the flesh; it draws blood, it cannot be ignored; any movement aggravates the wound. Yet a thorn can be pulled out normally, even though this operation may be painful. Whatever we do the thorn demands our attention and we have to deal with it in some way. Using this picture the celebrant may wish to proceed to give examples of various thorns which people carry through life, a difficult temperament, a mixed-up relationship, a nagging hurt, a paralysing fear. The experience of the homilist will furnish other examples which will speak more clearly to himself and consequently be more true in his presentation to his community.
Having set the scene or raised the difficulty he can then show how Paul in fact faced his difficulty. He accepted his problem, whatever it was. However he did not publicise it to everyone. Even here, where he is sharing his difficulties and his graces with the Corinthians he never describes his problem. In prayer he faced this hurt and looked at it in the light of God’s loving presence. Like so many of us, Paul did not get a ready answer. He had to implore the Lord a number of times and then he was told that all this was to give him true hope, a hope that was centred on God’s goodness and power. From this experience of Paul the homilist could draw a parallel example from his own ministry or life and show how God’s way is often to lead us to an awareness and acceptance of our own weakness so that we can receive his goodness. We have to learn to open our hands to take the gift that God wants to give. This image of opening the hands can be used in moving to the second theme of reality-escapism. The picture of a child clutching a toy and holding on to it can be a powerful image to illustrate the fact that we can cling to something worthless and put all our hope and trust in it, while incapacitating ourselves to receive reality, the really Real, who is the Lord.
The first approach outlined may be too abstract for a parish liturgy, but some elements of it may be helpful. A second approach would be to take the instance of Jesus coming to his own people and their non acceptance of him as a wonder-worker and man with a mission. The big block that they had was that they knew him too well. They were friends of his family. Their physical closeness made it more difficult for them to see the truth of his person. God came to Nazareth in the form of one of the villages and the others could not take it. The celebrant could draw out this basic point by pointing to examples of sickness, accident, disappointment, trouble that eventually led people to find God. Also the day to day routine that can wear us down can be God’s channel for getting to us. A possible picture in this area is that of the Eucharist. It is through ordinary bread and wine that God comes to our lives. We pray before the Consecration that the Spirit might descend upon these everyday elements and transform them. What we do not notice so much, is the prayer after the consecration that the Spirit might fill our lives and make us the Body of Christ. Our everyday lives are the elements that the Lord uses to make himself present and active. One could exhort folk to accept the reality of their lives and move away from escapes. God is the here and now, not in the “if only.” One could encourage people to hope in the value of their lives, humdrum as they may seem.
Use it or lose it
(by Pat Donnellan; with kind permission from The Furrow, July 2012)
The last line of the Gospel is fairly stark. ‘He was amazed at their lack of faith.’ Many would suggest that if Jesus was to come among us again he would be amazed at how Ireland has changed. People living in fear of being attacked in their homes. Violence and murder a daily occurrence. Suicide on the increase. A few months back Bill Clinton spoke about the need to return to core values in the journey to economic recovery. He said that Ireland’s economic difficulties were not the end of the world but the beginning of another chapter in our history. ‘We need to help our friends not just to recover but to keep their heads on straight while recovering’.
If everyone had thirty lucid minutes before dying nobody would use them to think how great it was when we got rich. We would think about who we liked and how the flowers smelled in Summer. People would remember what it was like when your children were born or when you gave your daughter away at the Altar.
Times change but values last. ‘The spirit came into me and made me stand up and I heard the Lord speaking to me’ (Ezekiel). We Catholics will have to stand up and be counted. Stand up for values and principles we hold dear. Prophets may or may not be accepted among their own people but silence is not always the answer. We need to speak the truth. We must keep the Faith.
My seven year old Godson has started playing rugby. He was explaining to me that when his team get the ball you have to ‘use it or lose it’. With faith or talent or any God-given gift the choice is simple too – ‘use it or lose it’. Anything worth preserving takes time and effort. You know the story of the young musician who dreamed of playing in Carnegie Hall New York. She was called to audition in the world renowned theatre but was unsure which way to turn when she got off the bus. She saw an old man and asked: ‘How do I get to Carnegie Hall ?’. He smiled and said: ‘Practice my friend. Practice. That’s how you get to Carnegie Hall’. It’s how we become good Christians. It’s how we become more sensitive to the needs and hurts of those around us. It is the secret of nurturing the faith we treasure. ‘Practice my friend. Practice.’
First Reading: Book of Ezekiel 2:2-5
And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. Their descendants are impudent and stubborn.
I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.
Second Reading: Second Epistle to the Corinthians 12:7-10
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
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 honor, 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. Then he went about among the villages teaching.