17Jan 17 January, 2013. Thursday of Week 1 in Ordinary Time

Hbr 3:7ff. Our hearts are to be open towards God, not hardened and complaining.

Mk 1:40ff. Jesus touches and cures the leper, who proceeds to tell everyone about it.

First Reading: Hebrews 3:7-14

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, ad I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.'”

Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Gospel: Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

True and false religious fidelity

“Value today,” advises the psalmist, whose text is quoted in Hebrews, because right here and now God provides the new graces and insights we need to live a life of faith, and therefore to enjoy a true spirit of peace. The Bible highlights faith in order to interpret the events of our lives. But this is not so much a dogmatic faith as an openness to God’s guiding spirit. As today’s reading insists, right here and now we must not harden our hearts. We must be open to new impulses, inspired by God’s personal presence in our lives. Faith must be experienced and lived Today – and not as mere fidelity to forms of the past. The externals of our religion, even the most solemn of doctrines and the holiest of objects or sacraments, exist in order to facilitate inner communion with the Lord. Our inmost hearts are the true Ark of the Covenant and the place of encounter with the living God. Sometimes, for whatevef mysterious reasons, the externals on which we tend to rely seem to slump and almost collapse. In many places attendance at our church services has dwindled and religious expressions hallowed by time seem unable to contact today’s Zeitgeist and leave us wondering how to share the faith with our contemporaries. It seems that we must cross this desert as the Israelites once did, to find our God again.

Discerning true from false fidelity is not always easy. We Christians and our leaders must bear our share of blame if agnosticism, superstition and New-Age fads are rampant among our people today, in part due to outmoded ways of presenting our handed-down Catholic faith. Every believer has some role in commending the faith, within our proper field: as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as neighbour or friend. In our interactions we can and do influence others and can help them recover their former strength of faith and a more robust moral vision.

Today’s Scriptures raise questions for bishops and all church leaders: Do I use my authority to serve my people, or to dominate them in the name of a hidebound system? Do I seek to reflect with others on what our times require, in light of the Gospel and current opinion, as well as listening to guidance from the Vatican? Does my teaching and example help my people be aware of God’s presence? Do I seek ways to bridge the current painful breakdown in communicating the faith?