Mass Readings for January 2014
Mass Readings for January 2014
1st January. Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Num 6:22ff. The solemn priestly blessing, a prayer that God would bless and protect us and be gracious to us, is especially apt at the beginning of a new year.
Gal 4:4ff. Through the Incarnation, the distance between God and man has been bridged and now we can call God “Abba! Father!”
Lk 2:16ff. The visit of the shepherds on the first Christmas night. The closing verse, about Jesus’ circumcision eight days later, makes it an apt reading for the octave day of Christmas.
Theme: We grow attached to our religion by tasting its stories and images. One of the most powerful is the Christmas story, that introduces Mary, the virgin Mother of God.
First Reading: Book of Numbers 6:22-27
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Reflection: Splendour in Simplicity
At the Council of Ephesus in 451, the mother of Jesus was solemnly proclaimed as “Mother of God” or “Theotokos” — as an additional statement of faith in the Godhead of her Son, Jesus Christ. Under that title she is still reverenced by most Christians around the world, and today’s feast gives us an opportunity to place our hopes and plans for the new-starting year under her motherly care.
The most common reaction of those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus was one of amazement. For example, at the Transfiguration, when his face shone like the sun, Peter was overcome with reverence and said, “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here.” Such reverence was deeply ingrained in Mary, our Mother in the faith, the first to believe in Christ. Many of the faithful think of her in the manner of the three Apostles gazing on the transfigured Christ. Too often we imagine her as a Christmas card Madonna, serene and seated against a golden background glistening with snow, with hovering angels. Such a figure is simply not true to her life. For the real Mary from Nazareth knew no triumph in her lifetime. No one has ever lived, suffered and died in such simplicity, sharing in the dignity of the poor.
We know this through a few short sayings in the gospels. In her own eyes, Mary was the handmaid, the lowly servant of the Lord, depending entirely on Providence and sustained by the goodness of God. The bishops at Vatican II told us that Mary stands out among the poor and the humble of the Lord, who confidently await salvation from God (Lum. Gent. 55). In the Church’s first four centuries, writers emphasised the faith of Mary at the Annunciation rather than her divine motherhood. The Virgin believed, and in her faith conceived, or as Augustine put it, “She conceived Jesus in her heart before conceiving him in her womb.” Mary, who is also venerated as Mother of Good Counsel, can be our guide and counsellor in the area of faith. She wants to beget faith in us, to be our Mother in faith. That is why, in the gospel of St John, she is present at the beginning and the end of Christ’s public life.
John is the only gospel to record the presence of Mary at Calvary, in the terse statement, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his Mother” (Jn 19:25). When all the signs and wonders performed by Jesus seemed to many to have been a delusion, his Mother was still there to his last breath, still believing. Her faith in her Son did not need astounding miracles, but rested on childlike trust in the mysterious ways of God our Father. Nor did her role as mother cease then, for in his dying hour Jesus gave it new life when he said to John, “Behold your Mother.” The mother of Jesus will henceforth be the mother of all his disciples, including you and me.
2nd January. Thursday before the Epiphany
Memorial of Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, doctors of the Church
1 Jn 2:22ff. The anointing of the Holy Spirit, received from Jesus, teaches you about all things.
Jn 1:19ff. John the Baptist describes himself as the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.
First Reading: 1 John 2:22-28
Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.
I write these things to you concerning those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.
Gospel: John 1:19-28
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him,
“Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Reflection: John’s Challenging Demands
John the Baptist was called by God to prepare the way for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. In the Greek church tradition, John is given the title “prodromos“, and in the Western, Latin church he is “precursor” (forerunner), to honour his unique role in the story of our salvation. In order to prepare himself to be the spiritual guide for others, he was led by the Holy Spirit to an austere and contemplative lifestyle in the wilderness, from his youth until his early manhood, about thirty years of age.
At that stage he began his public mission as a preacher of repentance and renewal to his Jewish people. Clothed in a rough penitential garb of camel-skin, be announced the grace of God to all who came to him in search of repentance, and who went down into the waters of baptism for the washing away of their sins. He showed them simple ordinary ways to serve God in their daily lives, and proclaimed the imminent coming of the Messiah, who would pour out God’s Spirit more richly upon them.
Many of the people — especially those whom the Temple authorities regarded as marginal Jews (such as tax collectors and prostitutes) received John as the true herald of God, and his words were heard as those of a true prophet. To the official leaders of Judaism, the Priests and the Pharisees, John seemed more a threat than a blessing. Their resistance to a message requiring moral and spiritual renewal made them unable to hear the divine guidance latent in his words. Today’s Gospel is a sober reminder to all of us, but especially to church leaders, to listen to what the Holy Spirit says through the voices of awkward prophecy.
3rd January. Friday before the Epiphany
Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus
1 Jn 2:29ff . We are God’s children now; when he is revealed, we will be like him.
Jn 1:29ff. The Baptist bears witness to Jesus, “who ranks ahead of me.”
First Reading: 1 John 2:29–3:6
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.
Gospel: John 1:29-34
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Reflection: Taking the lower place
St. Augustine in a sermon on John the Baptist presents this contrast between John and Jesus, highlighting the humility of John, whose role was to prepare the way of the Lord:
“John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever. Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.
When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.
Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offence to the word. .. “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him.”
If he had said, “I am the Christ”, how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself. He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.”
4th January. Saturday before the Epiphany
1 Jn 3:7-10. How and why we have been born as children of God.
Jn 1:35-42. “What are you looking for?” “Come and see.” Call of Jesus’ first disciples.
First Reading: 1 John 3:7-10.
Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.
Gospel: John 1:35-42
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he 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 see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him an said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Reflection: What are we looking for?
The vocational stories told by John in his first chapter combine a lovely simplicity with challenging depth. They may be compared and contrasted to the call of the fishermen by the lake-shore — but they bring out extra dimensions in the call to follow Jesus. On the one side we see the influence of others, in this case, John the Baptist, pointing towards Jesus, inviting us to see and admire what he has to offer. On the other side, our own desires and questions come into it too. Jesus invites them to express their deepest hopes and aspirations in a deep question: “What are you looking for?” There is no religious vocation without that inner quest which demands satisfaction.
“What are you looking for?” Their first reply is superficial, not really naming their purpose. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Well, it’s a start; they want to relate to him in some way; to follow up on their first encounter with him. Then comes his invitation, which calls them into a meeting that will last not just an hour but a whole lifetime: “Come, and you will see.” Here we see that wonderful way in which the fourth Evangelist manages to combine a definite, concrete episode or meeting (“Come to my house this afternoon, and we can talk.”) with an open-ended challenge to a constant religious experience (“Come and be with me — and you will see what life can mean.”) St John achieves a similar effect in each of the later stories in his Gospel. What happened once, in the encounter of some individuals with Jesus, continues to happen for his disciples in every subsequent time and place.
Along with the role of John the Baptist, we see how the early Christians drew one another to Christ. In Simon’s case it was his brother Andrew who excitedly tells his brother “We have found the Messiah!” This was the occasion, in St. John’s account, when Jesus renamed Simon as Cephas or Peter. Not quite the same as in Matthew (16:16ff), but just as valid a way of telling us that it is only in Jesus that we find our full, God-given vocation.
5th January. Second Sunday of Christmas
Sir 24:1ff. Lyrical praise of the wisdom God has revealed to us.
Eph 1:3ff. We are God’s adopted children, through his only Son, Jesus.
Jn 1:1ff. The eternal Son of God has become human for our sakes, full of grace and truth.
Theme: The more our standard of living improves, the less we seem to practice the virtue of hospitality. But this virtue is not an optional extra for whoever values our Christian identity.
First Reading: Book of Sirach 24:1-2, 8-12
Wisdom praises herself,
and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, “Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.”
Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
In the holy tent I ministered before him,
and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
and in Jerusalem was my domain.
I took root in an honored people,
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.
Gospel: John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Reflection: The Word Became Flesh
Tommy Lane writes:
In 1850 John Millais (1829-1896) painted a picture of Jesus working in Joseph’s carpentry workshop, entitled Christ in the House of His Parents. Jesus had given himself a bad gash in his finger and blood streamed down onto his feet. Mary was there comforting him. Although only an imaginary incident, it portrays well what John means in his Gospel today, The Word became flesh.
In the first line of his Gospel, John makes us jump in at the deep end by beginning immediately with his description of God, In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. But because the Word became flesh we would expect Jesus to have the same emotions as us, and he did. ) He loved other people, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, his disciple John and the rich young man. He even cried at times of severe personal stress; when his friend Lazarus died and before entering Jerusalem when he knew that the city would not accept him as the Messiah. He enjoyed social occasions. We read of Jesus attending various dinners, so often that a mocking rhyme was made up, calling him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus felt pity for people when he saw them suffering, so when they were hungry he multiplied the loaves and fish. He got angry when people used the Temple for the wrong purpose. He needed companionship, so he took Peter, James and John into his confidence on many occasions and John was his close friend. At the end of a long day Jesus fell asleep in the boat, he was tired like all of us. He felt fear before his passion, “Father let his cup pass me by” and openly admitted, “now my soul is troubled.” Imagine, Jesus saying how his soul was troubled. When John says the Word became flesh, he really means it, deeply.
The Word dwelt among us. Jesus didn’t just become flesh and live a quiet life. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He was a man of the people. That’s why they said of him, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. When curing the lepers he touched them. Lepers were not supposed to come near towns and according to Jewish Law Jesus would be impure after touching a leper and could not enter the Temple or synagogue until after washing. But Jesus was a man of the people, he dwelt among them, and so Law or no Law, when a leper wanted healing he touched him. Because Jesus was a man of the people he concentrated much of his ministry among those who really needed him most, the sinners. They knew they were welcome in his company, he was known as a friend of sinners.
This Word, Jesus, became flesh, and dwelt among us, and made the Father known to us. The last line of our Gospel today says, No one has ever seen God, it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Fathers heart, who has made him known. John is saying the reason why the Word became flesh was so that we would get to know the Father. Jesus is the Fathers Word to us. Jesus is the revelation of God the Father. How do we get to know the Father? By getting to know Jesus. Jesus says I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. When Philip asked, Lord, show us the Father — and then we shall be satisfied, Jesus answered “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Do you not believe that I’m in the Father and the Father is in me?” He himself, the Word made flesh, is the way to the Father. If we want to know the Father, we must get to know Jesus. How do we get to know Jesus? By spending time together with him, when we pray to him and think about him, and when we read the Gospels. We cannot say that it is too difficult to get to know God. He has revealed himself to us in his Son Jesus.
6th January. The Epiphany of the Lord
Theme: The Wise Men followed a star to discover the birth of God’s Son in Bethlehem. If there is to be epiphany in our lives, like them we must use our heads as well as our hearts in our search for Christ.
First Reading: Book of Isaiah 60:1-6
(In the age to come, the Messiah, the Saviour King, will reveal his glory to all the nations.)
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6
(The salvation revealed in Christ is for everyone. There can be no exclusivness or racial distinction.)
Surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
(The visit of the Magi fulfils of the prophecy that the glory of the Messiah would be seen by all the nations.)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Reflection: Follow your Star
Few scholars dispute that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But dating his birth is quite another matter. Historians have never been able to agree on the year Jesus was born and there is even less certainty about the day or the month. Oddly enough, a clue may lie in today’s story about the star that led the way to him. The part of the Infancy Narrative one might be most tempted to discard as fairy-tale can also be highly meaningful. Whatever else has changed since Christ was born, the sky at night remains the same. Star-gazers today can follow the same star the Wise Men followed.
Western tradition has chosen three as the number of the Wise Men and even found exotic names for them, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. We may imagine that they travelled from Persia or South Arabia, though Matthew simply indicates that they came from the East. The gospel leaves no doubt that they were men of conviction, with enquiring minds and adventuresome spirit; in a word, intellectuals.
The point should not be overlooked. The church has not often shown such welcome to intellectuals as its founder did. No church or religion can flourish if it does not cherish specially its poets, its writers and its thinkers. The true church in the world is an island of saints and scholars. Stars reveal their secrets to dreamers.
The searching of the Wise Men is a fine illustration of the Latin adage intelligentia quaerens fidem (intelligence seeking faith). The message for us is clear: if there is to be any epiphany in our lives we will need our heads as well as our hearts. We can ill-afford to ignore the insights of questing intellectuals.
7th January. Tuesday after the Epiphany
Memorial of Saint Raymond of Penafort, priest
First Reading: 1 John 3:22–4:6
(Distinguishing the spirit of truth from the spirit of error. )
Beloved, we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Gospel: Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25
(Jesus went about the country villages, teaching and healing.)
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And he went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Reflection: Those who sat in darkness
It is often said that Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses, guiding us like Israel’s great lawgiver and shaping the New Covenant with an inner, even more demanding code of conduct than the Old. While the parallel of Jesus with Moses features in Matthew’s composition, even more important is today’s message of a salvation going way beyond the confines of Abraham’s descendants. Matthew sees great significance in Jesus’ move to Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s at the heart of what he calls “Galilee of the Gentiles” and foretells how all nations will see great light through Jesus — that is, they will be called into God’s own family and be saved.
He goes on to show Jesus teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and sickness among the people. It was his concern with healing people, enhancing the lives of the marginalised, that drew such crowds to him. The dynamic that drove his ministry and urged him to travel the country on foot, making himself available to all kinds of outsiders, was love. Yes, he calls on people to “repent” — to reconsider their ambitions, priorities and lifestyle — but it is in order that they may have the fullness of life. Therefore Matthew can sum up the impact of all Jesus’ activities in the lovely phrase: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light!”
8th January. Wednesday after the Epiphany
First Reading: First Epistle of St. John 4:7-10
(A profound reflection on love, its origin and its influence on our lives.)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Gospel: Mark 6:34-44
(Jesus feeds the hungry crowd with a handful of loaves and fishes.)
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages, and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Reflection: Loaves and fishes
This key miracle-story is told in various ways in all four Gospels. Clearly it made a deep impression not just on those who were there but on later generations of Christians. It is easy to see the importance of this story in those early days. In a peasant, agricultural society that was politically and economically oppressed by the occupying Romans, having enough food to eat when resources were scarce was a daily challenge almost beyond our understanding today. For later generations in more prosperous times, it encapsulates the life-enhancing core of Jesus’ work, and his call to people to share what they have with others.
Each of the Gospels tells of many people gathering from the surrounding countryside to listen to Jesus, so that at the end of a long day, five thousand people are in need of food and lodging. The disciples sensibly suggest that he should send the crowd away to fend for themselves. But he knows that the food ready to hand will be enough, even though they can only find five barley loaves and two fish — remember, they were not far from the lake of Galilee. He blesses this apparently meager meal and asks his followers to distribute it — and to their amazement everyone had enough to eat, so much so that the leftovers filled twelve baskets. Many today would want to receive a blessing of such abundance, when times are tough. Perhaps it can be achieved still, if the sharing message of Jesus gets into our hearts, and into our governance, as Pope Francis is calling for. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is a colourful background to the call made by Jesus and so well captured in today’s epistle, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.”
9th January. Thursday after the Epiphany
First Reading: First Epistle of John 4:11-18
(God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God )
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
Gospel: Mark 6:45-52
(Jesus walks on the water and calms the wind.)
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Reflection: When the wind died down
1. Voyage: Life can be viewed as journey (Pilgrim’s progress; Exodus; Odyssey), or still better as voyage (because driven by forces more powerful than ourselves, like wind and wave.) We sail upon a rippling surface of events, feeling the joy of movement, being alive and going somewhere. When things go well, we feel the contentment of those experienced sailors, the apostles on their way home across the quiet lake of Galilee.
2. Waves: A gale blew up, changing their mood. Danger and fear of drowning. Our own life-voyage has its share of storms too, anxieties, problems and pressures of various kinds. How often a sudden turn of events can rob us of inner peace. Are we on a charted course, or just drifting along without any determined direction? Many find it hard enough to stay afloat, pressurised by the bewilderingly changing times, ill-at-ease in their relationships with others, discontented and insecure in themselves. That’s exactly what the frightened apostles in the storm mean for us today: we are those sailors, tossing about in the waves.
3. Remedies: Many prescriptions are suggested, to ease the upsets of our voyage. Like different brands of medication for sea-sickness! A long quiet rest, a change of occupation, psychiatric help or counselling, a course of Yoga or Transcendental Meditation, Contemplative or Charismatic Prayer. Doubtless, every remedy has its own advantages, but what better support can be found in times of stress than an understanding friend? Today’s gospel suggests that our first and most constant recourse should be to none other than, Christ himself.
4. Hidden Presence: God is present where we least expect him, although it is a hidden, unseen presence, not always easy to discover. It takes faith nearer than the door.” So the apostles were amazed to see Christ coming to them in the middle of the storm, for (at that stage) they were men of little faith. Elijah, that lonely refugee, faithful to his God despite cruel persecution by Jezebel, discovered the mysterious presence of God in the still, small voice of his own soul. Standing at the mouth of a cave, on the slopes of the holy mountain, he got strength and comfort from the Living God. Where God is, there is peace. But his presence is everywhere, for those who learn to discern it.
5. Safe Harbour: We do not expect to be immune from the hardships and problems faced by all the other voyagers through this life. Indeed, Christ himself shared fully in all of these anxieties, being tested as we are. If the Church be seen as a boat (in which there are no idle passengers, but all are needed to row!), then we have as destination the safe harbour of eternal life. With the compass of faith, and Christ himself as unseen captain of the ship, that harbour will surely be reached. In the meantime, though tossed about by circumstances, he tells us: “Courage! Do not be afraid, men of little faith!’
10th January. Friday after the Epiphany
First Reading: First Epistle of St. John 4:19–5:4
(Whoever loves God should love Jesus, and all of our fellow-Christians. )
Beloved, we love God because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a sister or brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Gospel: Luke 4:14-22
(In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus proclaims the Isaiah prophecy fulfilled.)
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
Reflection: What Jesus Wanted To Achieve
Nowhere else — except perhaps in his conversation during the Last Supper — does Jesus express his purpose in life so clearly as in his Scripture-based talk to his fellow villagers in the Nazareth synagogue. When called to the rostrum to read from the holy Scripture and say some words of inspiration and guidance, he chose a key text from Isaiah that summed up exactly what he himself wanted to achieve, as a preacher and healer.
He must have known this passage well, for Luke remarks that Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written. We may well imagine that he had heard it read before, often perhaps, and had made it his own by frequent meditation. In many ways it conveys the same deep, hope-filled spirituality found in Our Lady’s Magnificat about joy and liberty, and the divine power that can set free all who are oppressed. And what a gracious God is there portrayed, a God who anoints with the Spirit the one who is to bring joy and fullness of life to the poor, the captives and the blind. No wonder the villagers were impressed and delighted, to think that this new day of salvation had dawned.
The way can be long and arduous, from hatching an idealistic programme to achieving it in the real world. So it was for Jesus. Soon after applauding him, his audience in Nazareth turned against him and drove him from their village. This prepares us for the opposition he will meet from Scribes, Pharisees and the Jerusalem priesthood as he tries to spread his message. His ideals of liberation, sharing and fraternity, and of loosening the chains of a legalistic, hierarchical structures were anathema to the priveleged few. In the end, of course, they led to his rejection and execution in the darkness of the hill of Calvary.
But even on Calvary, more than ever — as Luke will show (Lk 23:43,45) — the Spirit of the Lord was still with Jesus, giving sight to the blind and letting the oppressed go free. His life’s mission, announced in the Nazareth Synagogue and carried out in many places over the next three years, reached its climax of completion in his sacrificial death, about which each of us can say “He loved me, and gave himself for me!” (Gal 2:20)
11th January. Saturday after the Epiphany
1 Jn 5:5ff. God has testified to his Son, Jesus, who grants victory over this world
Lk 5:12ff. Jesus heals the man covered in leprosy, and sends him to the priest, to witness it.
First Reading: First Epistle of St. John 5:5-13
Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and Blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three who testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.
If we accept human testimony,
the testimony of God is surely greater.
Now the testimony of God is this,
that he has testified on behalf of his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God
has this testimony within himself.
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar
by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son.
And this is the testimony:
God gave us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son.
Whoever possesses the Son has life;
whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.
Gospel Luke 5:12-16
It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was;
and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately.
Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but
“Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing
what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
The report about him spread all the more,
and great crowds assembled to listen to him
and to be cured of their ailments,
but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.
Reflection: Touching the Leper
It is worth dwelling on some details in today’s Gospel story. After calling fishermen to follow him, Jesus showed them what it means to be fishers of men. The people he set out to “catch” or engage with his message were not the rich and the influential, but primarily the poor and the neglected. Tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, and thieves were drawn to Jesus, for they experienced him as encouraging their dignity and not condemning them. In today’s story, Jesus reaches out one of the most rejected groups of all—people suffering from the awful disease of leprosy. This account is meant to show us how the mission of Jesus was carried out. He wanted to do exactly what he had said in the Synagogue in Nazareth, to heal, mend, restore, and set free.
“In one of the towns” – Luke does not specify where, but presumably in Galilee, he meets someone who should not be there, for a man full of leprosy should have stayed far away from other people. To avoid infecting others, lepers had to live outside the town, and cry “Unclean! Unclean!” if approached by people (Lev 13:45). They were “untouchables” in every sense of the word, despised, forsaken, judged and condemned.
Maybe the man came searching for Jesus, and when he saw him he fell down, with the touching request, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” How did he recognize Jesus? Perhaps, as the crowds gave way before the leper, Jesus did not move out of the way, but let the diseased man come right up to him. He never doubted the ability of Jesus to heal him. His request is similar to that of Naaman who asked the prophet Elijah to cleanse him of his leprosy.
Before replying, Jesus put out his hand and touched him. This would have shocked both the leper and the disciples, for rabbis and priests in particular must carefully avoid lepers, so as not to become ceremonially unclean. But such a shocking action was necessary for Jesus to show his acceptance and compassion to one who had not received such love in a long time. This kind of “pastoral” risk-taking shows what is needed to be a fisher of men.
12th January. The Baptism of the Lord
Is 42:ff. A servant of God, a chosen one, will courageously serve God and help others to salvation – like Jesus, this servant “fulfils all righteousness.”
Acts 10:34ff. The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan was an “anointing with the Holy Spirit” after which he went about doing good. Baptism gives us, too, the power to do good.
Mt 3:13ff. Although baptised by John, Jesus was not personally a sinner. His mission was to show whatever sinful man had to do in order to be restored to friendship with God.
First Reading: Book of Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Second Reading: Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom am well pleased.”
Reflection: A Purpose in Life
I have had the privilege of leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on several occasions. One of the highlights was an immersion in the river Jordan, when each person renewed the promises of baptism. It was a moving moment, and one could envision the Spirit descending, and the Father confirming each of us as his son or daughter. Many of those who experienced it remember that moment with great emotion, and with a sense of renewed commitment.
The baptism of Jesus is a moment of special grace in our story of salvation. Not only did he join us in our sinful state, but the Father and the Spirit are seen and heard to be there with him. The gospel uses the simple phrase that “the heavens were opened,” but it is a powerful statement. Later on, when Jesus completed his life-journey on Calvary, we read how “the veil of the Temple was rent in two.” Now at last we were free to enter the Holy of Holies. Today’s gospel is the beginning of a journey, which, through our own baptism, each of us is asked to travel. It is a journey full of purpose.
Each of us needs a sense of purpose and pattern to our Christian living. When I set out on a journey I need to have a definite idea of where I intend going, and how to make the journey. Peter summarised the purpose and pattern of Christ’s life when he said, “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” We are invited to make his purpose our own.
A man was down the country travelling along by-roads where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, unsure of his directions, he decided to ask the first person he saw. When he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking he stopped the car and asked if he was on the right road to Mallow. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the Mallow road. The driver thanked him and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a nonchalant way, “You’re on the right road, but you’re going in the wrong direction!’
13th January. Monday in the First Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of Saint Hilary of Poitiers, doctor of the Church
First Reading. 1 Samuel 1:1-8
(Hannah is pitied for being childless, and her husband tries to comfort her.)
There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
(Jesus begins proclaiming the reign of God and calling his first disciples.)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.
Reflection: Handing on the Faith
The Scriptures begin where we all begin, within the bonds of family life, with the development of hopes and planning for the future. The story of the prophet Samuel’s vocation began with his devout parents, as shown in today’s reading. The Bible shows a healthy respect for the normal ways of human nature. No spirituality that disdains the bonds of family can claim to be truly Biblical.
Still, there are times when God calls people to “Leave your country and your father’s house, and go the land that I will show you.” So it was for those working fishermen, whom Jesus called to leave their nets and their families, to travel the countryside with him, spreading his message of love and reconciliation. This Gospel leads us into a prayerful spirit. If at times Jesus may seem only vaguely present to us, he is still nearby, calling us to follow him, not in order to deprive us of ordinary human love, but to enrich and transform it. In the providence of God, transformations take place: Those Galilean fishermen were never the same again. And if to us Jesus says, “Follow me,” and we keep trying to respond generously, our life’s fulfilment will be safe in his guiding hands.
14th January. Tuesday in the First Week
1 Sam 1:9ff. Eli promises an answer to Hannah’s prayer; and she gives birth to a son.
Mk 1:21ff. Jesus teaches with authority and drives out unclean spirits. People are spellbound.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 1:9-20
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favour in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time, Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Reflection: A new Power in the Land
As the people were spellbound about Jesus, we too are invited to be impressed by his “new teaching” and his unique “spirit of authority.” He brought new life to those who were sitting in darkness, in need of a vision.
In the reading, Hannah shows how to behave with dignity in time of trouble. It was under stress and under a barrage of doubt from others, that she gives her patient response to the high priest who accused her of being drunk. “I am an unhappy woman. I have had drunk neither wine nor liquor; I am only pouring out my troubles to the Lord.” What else could Eli reply to such anguished sincerity but “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
This delighted mother decides to consecrate her new child as a Nazirite. John would be dedicated to the Lord in a special way and manifest that consecration by never drinking wine and strong drink, never shaving the beard nor cutting the hair on his head.
As the Old Testament often describes people’s heroism — the long, persevering wait of Hannah for a child; the exacting demands of the Nazirite; Israel’s flight from Egypt and trek through the desert towards the promised land — so these struggles are compressed into the drama of Jesus driving out devils and speaking with authority. Today’s texts summon us to respond to the deep, creative grace at the root of our existence; to wait patiently and prayerfully; to pour out our soul to God; to be ready for personal struggles with evil through moments of “nazirite” simplicity; to realize that Jesus has experienced all our trials in his own person so that in him we arrive at our true glory and honour as children of God.
15th January. Wednesday in the First Week
Memorial of Saint Ita, virgin.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20
(From the sanctuary of the ark, God calls Samuel, and sends him as a prophet. )
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
(Jesus cures Peter’s mother-in-law, withdraws to solitude, and preaches the good news.)
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Reflection: Commited to our Calling
The young Samuel ran anxiously to the old priest and said, “Here I am. You called me!” This happened three times, and each time old Eli responded patiently, to calm the anxious youth: “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.” The Hebrew sounds quiet and mellow, like a whispering play on words: Lo’ kerati beni; shub shahab. Finally, old priest advises the young man to reply if God should call again, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” In such a simple way Samuel became a prophet who changed the course of Israel’s history. We may be personally afraid that God might lead us to an intense decision and the subsequent struggles entailed in priesthood or the religious life; or even of the vocation to lifelong marriage. Samuel’s tranquil home life at the sanctuary at Shiloh is about to be disrupted by the summons placed on him to come forward as God’s prophet.
There are some echoes of the disruptive vocation of a prophet in today’s gospel. After preaching in the synagogue, Jesus retires quietly to Peter’s home in Capernaum and finds Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. How normal it was for Jesus to notice her illness; yet he is never present just as a spectator. He went over to her and grasped her hand and helped her up, “and the fever left her.” Then, noticing the needs of her guests, the recovering mother-in-law offers them hospitality. Then the crowds gather, the sick are laid at the doorstep, and mentally deranged people are freed of the demon within them.
All this may have been too much even for Our Lord. Early the next morning, he went off to a lonely place where he was absorbed in prayer. But word had gone out andJesus was tracked down by Simon and his companions who said, “Everyone is looking for you.” Life can never be the same again. He had to move on to the neighbouring villages to preach. “for that is what I have come to do.” Like Samuel, Jesus was sent to do God’s work. And God expects us also to be faithful to our calling; to take decisions that can be reached only by prayer and reflection. In our own wat, we are never too distant from Jesus’ own experience of life.
16th January. Thursday in the First Week
First Reading: 1 Samuel 4:1-11
(Despite having the Ark on their side, Israel loses the battle.)
And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the Ark of the Covenant of God.
When the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth reounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.” They also said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
(Jesus touches and cures the leper, who tells everyone else.)
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.
Reflection: Touching the Leper
In his story about the healing of the leper, Mark stresses the supremacy of faith.
Even today our heart must be open to new graces and most of all to God’s personal presence. The externals of religion, even the most sacred dogmas and holiest objects, are meant to facilitate our interior communion with the Lord. Our hearts, when silence prevails and distraction is absent — our hearts that seem like “desert places” — are the true Ark of the Covenant and place of miracle. For his own reasons, God sometimes allows the externals on which we rely seemingly to collapse. The Ark will be captured by the enemy. The tried and true of religious practice suddenly seems inadequate to our needs and leaves us lonely and helpless. We must traverse this desert to find Jesus.
Discerning true from false religiosity is not always easy. The common folk are hardly to blame for rallying around traditional centres of religion — the Ark of the Covenant and the miraculous power of God. Who then is to blame? It seems that religious leaders carry the burden of fault. Earlier in First Samuel, in a section not mentioned in the liturgy, Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas were guilty of serious wrongdoing. They were reserving the best part of the people’s sacrifices for themselves and offering to God only the remnants; there were other scandalous actions. Religious leaders bear the brunt of blame if superstition and selfishness are rampant among the people — or if the people cannot distinguish true from false forms of religion.
Each one of us has religious influence in one way or another: as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as neighbour or friend. In all of these capacities we influence others and are responsible for the moral attitude and strength of faith in others. The Scriptures question us: Do I use my position of authority to dominate others or to acquire personal benefits or to further personal career? Do I seek not to be the centre of attention, so that my words and actions lead others to prayer and recollection in God’s presence?
17th January Friday in the First Week
Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22
(When the people demand it, Samuel appoints a king, but points out the shadow side of monarchy. )
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your locks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”
Gospel: Mark 2:1-12
(A crowd gathers at Jesus’home in Capernaum; he heals a paralytic and forgives his sins.)
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Reflection: What kind of authority?
Our texts today focus on the theme of authority. In Samuel’s days, Israel’s very existence was threatened by the Philistines. Since the traditional tribal structure inherited from Moses was unable to meet the united threat of the Philistines, the Israelites felt they could not survive as separated tribes, loosely united under prophet-priests at various religious sanctuaries. Ambiguously, God directs Samuel to name a king for Israel. Now as in the past God works through human means within imperfect situations. He had shaped Israel’s past in the land of the Pharaohs, then by the chastening years in the desert and in their drive to wrestle control of the Promised Land from the Canaanite kings. God is not bound to any single form of government; so Samuel is told to anoint their first king.
Any political system, not excepting Israel’s, was bound to lead to excesses in the wielding of power and prestige, and therefore to new forms of oppression. Yet in God’s providence the monarchy offered hope and promise in the beginning. It was an open invitation to enter into a phase of peace. The ideal monarchy would give an example to guide us and our society, whether the state or the church.
The Gospel episode shows both the authority of Jesus and a creative helpfulness and interdependency among the firends of the sick man. Without the paralytic the healthy friends would never have gotten so close to Jesus, and without his friends the paralytic was unable to get anywhere. The supreme moment comes when Jesus shows full authority as a healer of body and spirit: Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk again’? To enter into God’s own joy there must be forgiveness — not only from Jesus, but also from each of us to each other. With such forgiveness, we can be a united people, strong in our opposition to any “Philistine” — whether of sensuality or excessive materialism. We can cross the bridge of change and support one another in changing times, patient and forgiving, capable of rallying round, in a bond of love and hope.
18th January. Saturday in the First Week
First Reading: 1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1
(A fine young man, Saul, is anointed king at God’s inspiration. )
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys.” He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them.
When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people.” Then Saul approached Samuel inside the gate, and said, “Tell me, please, where is the house of the seer?” Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer; go up before me to the shrine, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind.
Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, “The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around. Now this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you ruler over his heritage.”
Gospel: Mark 2:13-17
(Jesus calls a tax collector to be a disciple, and dines with him.)
Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples – for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Reflection: Who is fit to lead?
Each of us is called to exercise leadership of one kind or another, by the grace of God. We are meant to inspire other people by our kindness and our love for truth and justice — precisely those virtues to which God calls us. Today’s readings describing the vocations of king Saul and of the apostle Matthew, invite us to reflect on the types of people God calls and the different kinds of leadership they provide.
In king Saul we see the most likely person, and in Matthew the least likely person, called into positions of responsibility. Saul was a tall young man, we are told, standing head and shoulders above his people, royal in stature. in constrast Matthew, as a tax collector under the hated Roman occupiers, was an outcast, barred from synagogue and Temple. He was barred from all contact, even at table, with law-abiding fellow-Jews. It is not that Jesus chooses only the riff-raff for religious leadership, but rather that He whose word penetrates between soul and spirit, sees the value and potential in people whom others too quickly discard. Others may see in the tax-man Matthew only a half-pagan, friendly with the foreign oppressors, but Jesus recognizes him as a man of compassionate heart, optimistic and kind to others. He was also aware of Matthew’s faults, and in explaining his choice to the grumbling Pharisees, said, “I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous.”
Of all the norms for leadership, the most basic is a desire to share our gifts by leading. Leaders ought to recognize and support the good qualities in others. After calling Matthew into his little circle, Jesus also dines in Matthew’s home with his friends and colleagues. Matthew’s training is already underway, friendship is being deepened, confidence being established. What a model of leadership to be followed by all in the Church, but above all by the bishops and the pope.
19th January Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
(During the Exile, the prophet prepares for a liberator who will be a light for all nations.)
The Lord said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength- he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 1:1-3
(Paul’s greeting to his Christian converts in Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints.)
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sos’thenes, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Gospel: John 1:29-34
(John the Baptist announces the Lamb of God, who will baptise us with the Holy Spirit.)
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Reflection: Taking stock of ourselves
Two thoughts dominate the readings: first, John’s dramatic call to behold the Lamb of God; second, that we do a good personal stock-taking during this first month of the new year, look where we are going, and make the practical resolutions that might raise the quality of our lives. The Baptist urges us to ask what are we fundamentally about and then seek to reset our lives. And St Paul reminds us that we are “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
An honest stock-taking of our spirituality may unvail the ego-centric way we usually conduct our lives. To rise above this we need to recognise something outside of and larger than ourselves, the God who cares for us and for the whole human community among whom we live. Can we listen to John’s call to restore what is broken, and Jesus’ call, to bring light to the world? Do we see that it is with our cooperation that the Lamb can remove the “sin of the world?”
Facing such truths is always difficult; it calls us to not just drift along with this world’s evil, always taking the line of least resistance. Discipleship is urgent and costly, but it is also possible and is the way towards the deeper joy and fulfilment that our soul is longing for. If we properly hear the Baptist as he witnesses to Christ, our response will be a stock-taking that goes to the root of our being. It may even reveal to us the truth that sets us free.
20th January. Monday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of Saints Fabian and Sebastian, martyrs.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 15:16-23
(Because Saul disobeyed the prophet Samuel, he is deposed as king. )
Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” He replied, “Speak.” Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction,to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”
Gospel: Mark 2:18-22
(The joy and novelty of the Messianic age. No one puts new wine into old wine skins.)
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Reflection: Theology and common sense
At first reading, today’s OT text raises too many problems to be helpful in any way for today. The command to destroy the Amalekites is baffling and scandalous. By command of Samuel, Saul felt compelled to exterminate this neighbouring tribe, hostile towards Israel. We are aghast when King Saul is deposed for not destroying the Amalekites to the last man. The problem in the gospel is not as taxing to our moral sense, yet we are a bit surprised that Jesus’ disciples do not appear as devout as those of John the Baptist and the Pharisees.
Rather than trying to justify the idea of exterminating enemies, we may more profitably reflect on the Lord’s answer about fasting. Jesus does not let himself be trapped into a theological debate about the purpose of fasting but appeals to everyday imagery and asks: “What normal person calls for fasting so long as the bride and bridegroom are celebrating their marriage?” Of course, he is referring to his own presence and message, as a honeymoon period for mankind.
Jesus’ appeal to common sense has a levelling effect: everyone can now share in the discussion. After a time when open dialogue has been repressed in our Church, it’s worth remembering that on some issues the less learned a person is, the fewer the hindrances to finding a workable, honest answer. Jesus is advising all of us: unless theology stands the test of common sense and blends with the accumulated wisdom of good, decent people, that theology is suspect. Theology and common sense must support each other — on the basis that God is one. We do not worship a remote, transcendent God, who calls for impossible things. At the heart of all good theology is the doctrine that God created the universe and saw “how good it was” (Gen 1:12). We must hope and pray that the forthcoming Synod on the Family will be enriched and kept realistic by the honestly shared views of married couples.
21st January. Tuesday in the Second Week
Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
(Samuel went to Bethlehem and there anointed Jesse’s youngest son, David, as king.)
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably! I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord sid to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Gospel: Mark 2:23-28
(Jesus defends them for eating on the Sabbath, for the Sabbath was made for us, not we for the Sabbath.)
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the Bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for human beings, and not humans for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Reflection: Are we ministering life?
The Scriptures alert us to possibilities that lie hidden within the most ordinary events. Routine encounters with the family and friends we regularly meet, may seem humdrum to us. Yet they can hold the key to our peace and holiness in God’s sight. It was not David’s older, stronger brothers that God chose; it was the young lad himself, because of what God saw in him. For “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Some questions about life-enhancement are raised by today’s readings. Do I put my life actively at the service of others, seriously seeking to serve them? Am I appreciative of the potential in people, and of my own, despite my limitations? Am I minister of life, delighted in all of its expressions, dedicated to its preservation and extension? How well do I incarnate the positive principle state by Jesus, when interpreting tradition: “The Sabbath was made for human beings, and not humans for the Sabbath.”? Such questions were raised by pope Francis in his message about a Gospel of Joy, and they invite us (priests especially) to ponder, are we ministering life?
22nd January. Wednesday in the Second Week
Memorial of Saint Vincent, deacon and martyr.
First Reading: 1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51
(In hand-to-hand combat, David kills Goliath, and saves his people.)
David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”
Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in apparance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.
Gospel: Mark 3:1-6
(Good work certainly can be done on the Sabbath; Jesus heals the paralysed hand.)
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Reflection: When is a conflict just ?
The fight to the death between David and Goliath is told in detail, and the Gospel tells of a conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, about what is proper on the Sabbath. He is “deeply grieved” by their insistence that not even a work of healing should be allowed on the day of the Lord. It invites us to think about the rights and wrongs of conflict in our lives and in our world. The more militaristic a nation is, the more do its citizens need to form a mature view on the nature of war and the limits to be placed on weapons of destruction.
David is absolutely convinced about the outcome of the proposed single-handed conflict: “The Lord will keep me safe from the Philistine’s hands!” The question of whether or when warfare is legitimate is a thorny one, to which we cannot find a definitive answer in the Bible, since it offers such a variety of viewpoints on the matter. What it does say, unambiguously, is that we should live our lives responsibly, with justice and compassion. This can mean speaking out against evil and injustice, even at some cost to ourselves.
Jesus could have side-stepped the issue of how to keep the Sabbath, by healing the sick man in private, but he chose to confront the issue squarely and publicly, performing the cure in full view of all. In the debate about what is proper on the Sabbath, he puts his view very clearly: it is a day for life-giving activities above all. He stresses the contrast between “good” deeds that preserve life, and “evil” deeds, that destroy it. For God is Lord of life, not death; of peace, not violence; of justice, not oppression.
We need to remember our Lord’s warning that “those who take the sword shall perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52) and his explicit ruling out of violence, even in self-defence (Mt 5:39). These ideals make it very hard for us to justify militaristic adventures for the expansion of one’s kingdom or ideas, since the basic Christian call isnot to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45) and give one’s life in this service.
23rd January. Thursday in the Second Week
First Reading: 1 Samuel 18:6-9; 19:1-7
(Saul jealousy threatens David, but Jonathan helps to reconcile them. )
As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they made merry, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Saul was very angry, for this saying displeasd him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?” So Saul eyed David from that day on.
Saul spoke with his son Jonathan and with all his servants about killing David. But Saul’s son Jonathan took great delight in David. Jonathan told David, “My father Saul is trying to kill you; therefore be on guard tomorrow morning; stay in a secret place and hide yourself. I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; if I learn anything I will tell you.” Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, “The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; for he took his life in his hand when he attacked the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against an innocent person by killing David without cause?” Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” So Jonathan called David and related all these things to him. Jonathan then brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
Gospel: Mark 3:7-12
(Great crowds press around Jesus. Unclean spirits cry out in his presence.)
Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
Reflection: Fervour and Realism
Despite a reconciliation between Saul and David, and despite the enthusiasm of the crowd pressing on Jesus, peace is threatened on all sides. The pact between Saul and David fails to remove the jealousy and irrational fear in Saul’s heart. The suspicion of the Pharisees is fanned to hatred by the crowd’s enthusiasm for Jesus.
As men and women of faith, our life is a pilgrimage whose destiny lies beyond the horizons of this earth, in those heavenly places where Jesus has gone ahead, “behind the veil”. We are asked to achieve what is beyond unaided human ability. We experience a deep bonding with Jesus and yet are sometimes embarrassed by his demands, or may even feel some tedium about all religion. While close to our relatives and friends, yet we can feel deep in our heart the seeds of jealousy or resentment that still lie hidden.
It is good to recognize the tensions inherent in the life of faith. In faith we accept as real what we cannot prove or see; we rely on faith that the goal of life lies beyond the present earthly existence. Tension and conflict can lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves, even to mature wisdom. The Scriptures advise us to discern carefully. What we think is strong and effective (like King Saul) may prove to be only a passing shadow. What seems to be the blind excitement of the crowd may be the sound instinct of faith. One day we will be with Jesus behind the veil and like him we will know, even as we are known by him.
24th January. Friday in the Second Week
Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church
First Reading: 1 Samuel 24:3-21
(David refrains from killing Saul, and gains the moral high ground. )
He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.'” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. Afterward David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David scolded his men severely and did not permit them to attack aul. Then Saul got up and left the cave, and went on his way.
Afterwards David also rose up and went out of the cave and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of those who say, ‘David seeks to do you harm’? This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave; and some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, see the corner of your cloak in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the corner of your cloak, and did not kill you, you may know for certain that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life. May the Lord judge between me and you! May the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the ancient proverb says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you. Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A single flea? May the Lord therefore be judge, and give sentence between me and you. May he see to it, and plead my cause, and vindicate me against you.”
When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. Today you have explained how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy safely away? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. Now I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Swear to me therefore by he Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not wipe out my name from my father’s house.”
Gospel: Mark 3:13-19
(On a mountain, Jesus commissions the twelve to preach the good news.)
He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Reflection: The higher view
As Jesus goes up the mountain to summon the men he had chosen it evokes memories of Moses who went up Mount Sinai to receive God’s law (Ex 19). But Jesus’ message will go well beyond keeping the letter of the law. The deeper law is written in our hearts. This helps us interpret David’s clemency toward Saul. The letter of the law would allow David, in defense of his life, to attack Saul and even kill him. Self-defense, under oppression, is permitted in the Bible. The episode reveals David’s reverence for his king when he shouts out to Saul, “I will not raise a hand against my Lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.” Then Saul, realizing David’s magnanimity, “wept aloud.” There is a flavour of “nobless oblige” in this story.
Jesus goes up the mountain and summons those whom he had chosen. Throughout the Bible mountains are priveleged places for prayer and for building temples and sanctuaries. Here is an excellent example of combining the external symbol of strength with the interior spirit of love. In order to share the spirit of the new covenant of love, we need to ascend the mountain — to be often alone in prayer, to find our security in the Lord. So important is this attitude that Jesus spent the entire night in prayer before calling the twelve. The mountain scene calls us to be alone in prayer, alone with God’s sovereign majesty over our lives. This spirit raises our life to a new level, our old covenant new and vibrant with the presence of Jesus.
25th January. The Conversion of St Paul, Apostle
First Reading: Acts 22:3-16
(Paul’s account of his conversion, to his fellow-Jews, on the steps of the Temple)
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.
“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’ Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.
“A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there, came to me; and standing beside me, he said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ In that very hour I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’
Gospel: Mark 16:15-18
(What missionary apostles will achieve and endure, in the name of Christ.)
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Reflection: A Man Transformed
Here are some of the points made by the late Fr. Jerome Murphy O’Connor o.p., about the background to and meaning of Paul’s conversion, in his stimulating book: Paul, a Critical Life. He shows what a reversal of values took place in the mind of Paul the Pharisee, once he recognises the divine mandate and authority of the risen Christ. As a young scholar in Jerusalem, Saul/Paul must have already known some of the facts about Jesus.
“It is inconceivable that he should have persecuted Christians without learning something about the founder of the movement. He certainly was in a position to discover as much as Josephus did. Thus we can safely assume that Paul knew, that Jesus had been a teacher to whom wonders were ascribed; that he had been crucified under Pontius Pilat; and that his followers thought of him as the Messiah. It is unlikely that he would have been content with such bare bones. Pharisaic interests would have driven him to flesh them out.”
The Pharisaic version of Jesus’ activities differed from that of Jesus’ followers. His attitude of unperturbed authority, however, would have hinted at an attitude towards the Law embodying a personal claim that made closer attention to his teaching imperative. Paul would have known that “Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah empowered to articulate God’s will; the Law was no longer the sole or final authority.”
While there may be some hesitancy in determining what Paul knew of Jesus while still a Pharisee, there can be no doubt as to what he thought of Christian claims. To his way of thinking it was ridiculous to maintain that God had intervened to raise from the dead a false teacher whose blasphemous claim to be the Messiah went hand in hand with deliberate subversion of the authority of the Law. The reason why Paul tried to turn Christians from their beliefs was that in his view they had been disastrously misled. Jesus, Paul was convinced, had died a fitting death, and all that remained was the return of his supporters to the fold of authentic Judaism.
Paul explicitly reports that Jesus took the initiative in the encounter that led to his conversion; there had been no preparation on his own part.
How did Paul recognise Jesus, whom he had never seen in his life? “By definition, he could not have recognized Jesus on the same basis as those who had come with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. We can be sure, however, that Paul had a mental image of Jesus…. What actually happened must remain a mystery unless we are prepared to invoke the vivid details of Luke’s accounts, in each of which, incidentally, Jesus has to identify himself, Acts 9:5; 22:8; 26:15. In any event, the reality and the mental image fused and Paul’s world was turned upside down.”
“Paul now knew with the inescapable conviction of direct experience that the Jesus who had been crucified under Pontius Pilate was alive. The resurrection which he had contemptuously dismissed was a fact, as undeniable as his own reality. He knew that Jesus now existed on another plane. This recognition is all that was necessary to his conversion, because it completely transformed his value system. No longer were the claims of Jesus the blasphemous pretensions of a madman, but utter truth. Jesus, therefore, must be precisely what he implicitly, and his disciples explicitly, claimed he was, namely, the Messiah.”
“Only when it is conceded that Paul’s conversion consisted essentially in the revaluation of ideas which he already possessed does it become possible to understand how he can write, ‘For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel preached by me is not according to man, for I did not receive it from man nor was I taught it but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.’ This embodies a slight deviation from the absolute truth which is excused by the polemic context. No one convinced of the truth of Jesus had taught Paul about Christ or Christianity. He had never studied them in the way that he had studied the Law.
His encounter with Christ revealed the truth of what he had once taken as falsehood by forcing a new assessment of what would become the core of his gospel. Christ was the new Adam, the embodiment of authentic humanity. The Law was no longer an obstacle to the salvation of Gentiles; they could be saved without becoming Jews. And according to Paul, his conversion was for the sake of the Gentiles, ‘But when he who had set me apart from my mother’s womb, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his son to me, in order that I might preach him among the nations.’
On this feast of Paul’s conversion, we can pray that his great admirer, Jerome Murphy O’Connor, is now in fuller possession of the details of the great Apostle’s life, about whom he has written with so much daring and insight.
26th January. Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
First Reading: Book of Isaiah 9:1-3
(Isaiah foretells the coming of a Saviour to Galilee of the nations, to the people who walked in darkness. )
In the former time God brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
(Even in the early Church there was disunity and the dangers of rivalry and schism. )
I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apol’los,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
(Jesus calls for repentance and invites his first followers to leave everything behind to follow him.)
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles- the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John , in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Reflection: “Give up your old sins!”
Today’s gospel marks the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. John had been arrested, so that was the end of his input. The gospel tells us that instead of going to Nazareth (in other words, instead of going home), Jesus went to Capernaum. The show was on the road, as it were. Aren’t the words used by the prophet powerful to describe what happens when Jesus began his ministry,”The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who lived in the land where death cast its shadow, a light has shone.” Jesus would later refer to himself as the light of the world; and, in commissioning his apostles, he would tell them that they, too, were to be light to the world.
The message of Jesus is a simple one. “Turn from your sins, and turn to God, because the kingdom of heaven is near.” When I was growing up the word “vocation” was highjacked by priests and religious. It has been given back to the laity, and more and more baptised people are actually experiencing themselves as being called. There is nothing dramatic about this. It just means that I don’t just stumble into the Christian way by default, but that God has chosen me: “I have called you by name; you are mine.” “You didn’t choose me; no, I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that would remain.” If the gospel is now, and I am every person in the gospel, then, through the gospel of today, I am being called again.
“Turn from your sins, and turn to God, because the kingdom of God is near.” There is a story told about Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper. Leonardo searched far and wide for what he considered to be an ideal model for each person in the scene. He began with a fine-looking young man, full of vitality, and chose him as a perfect model for Jesus. He followed with other models for each of the apostles, and the work took quite a while. He left Judas till last, not knowing who could represent him. Finally, he came across a tramp sleeping rough, whom he thought that would probably sell his soul for money. Leonardo persuaded him to come to his studio. While the work was in progress, both of them came to the same realisation. This man had been in the same studio before, representing Jesus; but he had gone astray, lost his way, and was now on Skid Row. It was a shock to de Vinci, and a moment of deep conversion for the man.
27th January. Monday in the Third Week
Memorial of Saint Angela Merici, virgin.
First Reading: 2 Samuel 5:1-7, 10
(David is anointed and establishes Jerusalem as capital of both north and south, of Israel and Judah. )
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.
The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back” – thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of avid. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.
Gospel: Mark 3:22-30
(Jesus does not cast out devils by the power of Satan. Only sins against the Spirit cannot be forgiven.)
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Reflection: The way to Unity
Unity, its high cost and its great reward, is a central value in today’s readings. As we read in Second Samuel, David creates a single kingdom out of the rival and jealous groups, the people of southern Judah and those of northern Israel. Finally, Jesus summarizes our thinking in a very practical way, “A household, divided according to loyalties, cannot survive.” We need to remember that David came from the southern tribe of Judah, an area seldom to the forefront of biblical attention up to this point; Mosaic leadership and tradition had been concentrated in the northern region of Israel. To build unity required a strong theological accord as well as political expertise. These are especially relevant values to reflect on during church unity week.
In the gospel Jesus emphasises loyalty to the Holy Spirit and an unswerving rejection of Satan. In fact, he solemnly warns of the one sin which “will never be forgiven,” namely blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. We need to reverence the Holy Spirit and let ourselves see the goodness in others; and so judging with sympathy and compassion, be able to forgive others as they forgive us, so as to forge with them a reunited Church.
Guided by the Holy Spirit we will not attribute the good deeds of others to Satan even if their actions threaten us in some way and seem difficult to harmonize with some of our own ideas. The first reading provides hints about this pursuit of peace. When the elders of the northern tribes come to David to sue for peace in the brief civil war that flared up after Saul’s death, their appeal was to the common bonds of humanity, “Here we are, your own flesh and bone.” They cut through all kinds of arguments, justifications and disputations, to the basic union of the family of faith. In turn, David chose for the capital of the united kingdom a neutral city where each group would be equally represented. Our union with others should be based on genuine mutual accomodation, not on a demand for unilateral surrender. Christian unity is sought not for selfish advantage or the dominance of one polity over another, but for the shared benefit of all.
28th January. Tuesday in the Third Week
Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, doctor of the Church.
First Reading: 2 Samuel 6:12-15, 17-19
(David dances before the ark being brought into Jerusalem. The celebration ends with a sacred banquet. )
It was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, an with the sound of the trumpet.
They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
Gospel: Mark 3:31-35
(Turning to the crowd, Jesus declares:”whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister”)
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Reflection: The smaller and wider family
Fidelity to the will of God, says today’s gospel, makes us family to Jesus. He identified the true disciple, not by by rank or position, talents or financial resources — only by fidelity in the day by day routine of life. Jesus asks us to undertake all we do as though in the context of a worldwide family, with my neighbour as sister or brother, mother or father to me.
This story seems to show Jesus as superceding traditional family ties in favour of the new unity of his followers with him. When his mother and others of his relatives come to him, one might expect him to drop everything else and devote full attention to them. Evidently, there are moments when we should be with our natural family circle and other moments when we turn outward to share our love with outsiders. Jesus gives example of both these moments. Here he is more conscious of his world family; later from the cross in his dying moments he provides for his mother Mary (John 19:25-27). Yet even this last concern for Mary is linked to his relationship with the entire church. Here as elsewhere in the gospels, Mary is representative of the church, the centre of a praying community (Acts 1:12-14).
God summons us at times to loud celebration, as when David, wearing only a liturgical loincloth came dancing before the Lord with abandon, when he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. The spontaneity of children can teach grown-ups that such is the Kingdom of God. Children like to be embraced in the close family circle; they can also run through the neighbourhood and wave at total strangers. They are teaching us the meaning of Jesus’ words as he looked out at the wide circle of people from all parts of the land: These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.
29th January. Wednesday in the Third Week.
First Reading: 2 Samuel 7:4-17
(Samuel hears God’s promise to build up the house of David.)
That very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
Gospel: Mark 4:1-20
(The parable of the sower and the seed)
Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'”
And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, an it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
Reflection: God’s Mysterious Ways
God’s promises are present within us, in ways that we must struggle to comprehend. The parable of the Sower links the mysterious working of grace both to the inner life-force of the seed (the Word of God) and to the potential of the soil – whether rocky, shallow or naturally arable. But of course free choice comes into it too. Since God has breathed his own Spirit into us, we humans are no more inanimate clods of earth than we are inert clay for the potter to mould. Somehow, our free response to God’s grace makes us both arable and mouldable!
In the middle of the story come some of the most difficult words of Holy Scripture, “They will look and not see, listen and not understand, lest perhaps they repent and be forgiven” (quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10.) But the passage ends with hope — for the trunk of the oak remains even when its leaves have fallen. The gospel assures us that hope will blossom in its time; but it insists on the human factor too, the condition of the soil, dealing with the thorns, rocks and obstacles to growth. We are not to wait passively and do nothing, simply waiting for God brings all to fulfillment. While life is often beyond our control and eventually we leave all to God, still we are expected to be faithful through difficult times. Salvation is the interaction of God’s mystery and our dedication. We must achieve what is humanly possible, and then in the end we can say, like Paul, “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, God made it grow”, (1 Cor 3:6.)
30th January. Thursday in the Third Week
First Reading: 2 Samuel 7:18-19, 24-29
(David prays gratefully for the everlasting promises made to his descendants. )
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God; you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come. May this be instruction for the people, O Lord God! And you established your people Israel for yourself to be your people forever; and you, O Lord, became their God. And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it forever; do as you have promised. Thus your name will be magnified forever in the saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel’; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”
Gospel: Mark 4:21-25
(To those who have more will be given; from the have-nots, the little they have will be taken away.)
He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
Reflection: A promise fulfilled
We have heard David’s prayer thanking God for the promises of kingship confided to his family. Little did he realize that these promises would find their deepest meaning when Jesus through death and resurrection took his place at the right hand of the Father. In a way that could not have been understood by David a thousand years before the Gospel words were fulfilled “the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
Only by giving in full measure — knowing that we do not fully understand yet continuing to trust that God is straightening the crooked lines of history and of life — will we “receive, and more besides.” By uniting our destiny with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the lamp is taken from beneath the bushel basket and placed on a stand. If we can apply the figure of speech according to the symbolism of Hebrews, the lamp is placed on a stand in the Holy of Holies and we sense the wonderful mystery of God’s love for us.
31st January. Friday in the Third Week
Memorial of Saint John Bosco, priest.
First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:1-4a, 5-10, 13-17
(David’s adultery and his “executive murder” of Uriah.)
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; and he instructed the messenger, “When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting, then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, ‘Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’ then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
Gospel: Mark 4:26-34
(The seed grows mysteriously and becomes the largest of shrubs.)
He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
The seed of the future
The work of God is full of promise, but comes to fulfillment only after much time, like a seed patiently waiting in the darkness of the earth. There is suffering as the seed breaks apart and loses itself for the new sprout to develop and appear on the surface of the earth. We could try linking Jesus’ parable about the seed sown within the dark earth with the reading from 2 Samuel .
While it is not interpretation to take an incidental detail of a parable as a major element of explanation, it may be allowed here. The element of “earth” where the seed nestles, breaks apart and begins its new life is foreshadowed in the account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, where the king first tried to make Uriah go home and sleep with his wife, and then treacherously has Uriah killed in battle. How the word of God seems to dissolve in the dark earth of human misery. This treachery is just the first of a long series of murders, sexual excesses and revolts within the household of David. We are at a loss for an adequate explanation why God should use such a dark and tangled family ti fulfil of his promises about an everlasting dynasty. The ones through whom the promises were handed on turned out to be Bathsheba and her future son Solomon.
We cannot explain how the seed which falls into the ground becomes stalks of wheat providing grain and bread or the largest of all shrubs so that the birds build nests in its shade, any more that we understand God’s ways in the history of David. Yet just as wheat provides bread and the mustard tree shade, so also the story of David consoles us secretly and says: God does not give up on us or lose patience with us. We can be restored as David was, and God will do what he has promised to us. The seed of the future is in us right now.
Salvation is a patient interaction between God and ourselves. And we must encourage the salvation of each other, by showing patience and confidence in members of our family, community and neighbourhood, through the long dark hours when the seed is in the earth, breaking apart and showing little or no sign of what it can, and eventually will, become.