Sunday by Sunday

FAITH Magazine September-October 2006

B 03.09.06, Mk 7 1-8.14-15.21-23

• For Catholics, the morality of an act lies principally in the object of an action, but also in the intention and the consequences, insofar as they can be known. Thus, it is always wrong to commit adultery or take innocent human life, whatever the circumstances, because such an act is in itself morally wrong. This is not to judge the person who may be caught up in some terrible moral or psychological dilemma, but rather to be utterly clear that such actions can never be justified, even if in some circumstances they can be understood. Compassion only works with moral principles.

• For an act to be moral, all three considerations need to be held in balance - the act itself has to be objectively good, the intention has to be pure, and the consequences not harmful, insofar as they can be known. Intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action. The end is the first goal of the intention and indicates the purpose pursued in the action. The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from the action undertaken. (cf. CCC 1752ff). • But a bad intention makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (CCC 1753): “This people honours me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me” (Mk 7, 6 quoting Is 29, 13). Putting aside the commandments of Godto cling to human traditions shows an evil intention, where a self-made human righteousness displaces the righteousness that comes only from God’s grace. The demands of the Law can never be subverted without terrible consequences: “It is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice” (Mk 7, 22).

10.09.06, Mk 7,31-37

• It is the sacred humanity of Jesus that saves us, insists St Teresa of Avila. In this gospel we see a practical application of an important truth. We are matter as well as souls, physical as well as spiritual. Our bodies are not a mere drag upon our souls, but an integral and irreducible part of who and what we are. After all, we believe in the resurrection of the body at the end of time. As we are now, so we will be then, though in some sense transformed after the model of the physical resurrection of Jesus. • Spittle and fingers are the vehicles for divine grace here. Jesus could have cured without touching the deaf and dumb man and at a distance, as he had done in the healing of the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7, 30). But his sacred humanity is always at the service ofhis divinity, and Jesus delights in a humanity that reaches out to others, touching them so that divine healing may be effected in them. The glory of God is man fully alive, and there is a joy in Jesus’ work that stuns his audience, provoking unbounded admiration.

• Jesus is not the victim of false modesty when he commands the people to be silent over the miracles he has wrought (Mk 7, 36). They only see a leader who will free them from the Romans. Jesus sees the whole picture, and sees his priority as a victory over the spiritual forces of darkness, which enthral mankind in the grip of sin and death. “Then looking up to heaven he sighed” (Mk 7, 35). Jesus’ battle wearies his humanity, and silence would ensure that his kingdom replaces the rule of Satan more effectively in the lives of men.

17.09.06, Mk 8, 27-35

• “Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s” (Mk 8, 33). Strong words for the first Pope, and a severe lesson. It was not as an individual that Peter had challenged Our Lord about the cross, but as leader of the disciples: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter” (Mk 8, 33). The force of the Greek word for ‘turning’ makes it quite clear that Jesus rounded on Peter. Bold and impetuous though Peter was, he must never have been so blatantly confronted. Jesus beats him at his own game.

• But Jesus is not playing games. This is the pivot around which the whole of Mark’s gospel swings. For once the disciples have recognized Jesus for who he is, in the person of bold Peter: “You are the Christ” (Mk 8, 29). Up until this time Jesus’ public ministry has been a stunning success in outward terms, with people flocking to him to be cured: “And wherever he went, to village, or town, or farm, they laid down the sick in the open spaces, begging him to let them touch even the fringe of his cloak” (Mk 6, 56).

• Now Jesus tries to begin to reveal his inner mission: how he must suffer and die, and rise again on the third day (Mk 8, 31). Peter is appalled, but Jesus has taken them all completely into his confidence, because Peter has acknowledged his true identity. Peter thinks what Jesus’ says is an affront to all their messianic expectations, but the Lord is in fact paying them the greatest of compliments by revealing the true heart of his work. From now on, Jesus becomes steadily less acceptable to the people as the shadow of the cross begins to loom.

24.09.06, Mk 9, 30-37

• Coping with disability in a child requires heroic levels of patience, perseverance and sheer love. Yet the grace of God can be more visibly present and tangibly felt in such circumstances than in other more benign situations. In many cases, outside agencies often prove unreliable or even downright hostile. In the end, only grace suffices. The only constant is a friendship with Our Lord, which grows all the more as other services fail: “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me” (Mk 9, 37). We need to pray for families who struggle with disability.
• Many people say that a child should not be baptised until old enough to make its own decisions. This sounds responsible, but is really the exact opposite. True enough, a child must make its own choices in adulthood, but we don’t just feed and clothe babies when they apply for it. We naturally care for our children and make loving decisions on their behalf as part of our duty as parents. Not to do so would amount to neglect. If this is true for the physical needs of the child, how much more for his or her spiritual welfare?

• Children in this gospel symbolize the weaker members of society, whom we tend to overlook. Jesus is not advocating a wholesale return to childhood, but is rather pointing out that the true Christian leader will embrace and serve those who are weak. In doing so, that leader will welcome Christ directly, not indirectly. Jesus goes out of his way to identify himself with the poor and marginalized. We are led to realize that we will be judged on the content and quality of our loving, not the content of our bank accounts or the quality of our superior knowledge.

B 01.10.06, Mk 9, 38-43.45.47-48

• Bl Marmaduke Bowes of York obeyed the word of God literally, as reported in the gospel here (v
41). He chanced on a gentlemen sitting outside a pub near York, quite exhausted by his travels. Marmaduke fetched him a glass of water, just before he was arrested for being a Catholic priest. Bowes was appalled at this and followed the crowd to court, where he so robustly defended the gentleman before the judge that he himself was condemned for harbouring a priest. The sentence was carried out instantly, and Bowes was still wearing spurs when they strung him up.
• Not all of us aspire to heaven as quickly and completely as that holy man, but Our Lord does insist on the absolute priority of letting nothing come between us and our salvation. Elsewhere Jesus warns of the dangers of over attachment to family (Mt 10, 37ff). Here he leaves no doubt as to the grave consequences of our personal sins (v 43), especially if they cause us to lead others astray (v 42). This last is one of Jesus harshest sayings - our fall will be like the fall of a man with a millstone round his neck.

• Many priests working with mentally ill people dread this gospel. Too many will find in it a divine excuse to self harm, rather than allow for Our Lord’s use of Hebraisms to emphasize the radicality of the requirements of the Kingdom. Sin can play no part in the plan of God, and there can be left no stain of sin in the hearts of any who enjoy the Beatific Vision. But the purgation is God’s, not ours. We must never forget that one injunction in the gospel can never gainsay another. We must always love our neighbour as ourself.

08.10.06, Mk 10, 2-16

• It is interesting that St Mark links the account of Jesus’ teaching outlawing divorce with his love for children: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs” (Mk 10, 14). Critics may debate whether these two incidents were originally separate, but the Holy Spirit, using the heart and mind of the evangelist, assures us they should be taken together. For the sanctity of marriage and procreation of children are inextricably linked. The wiliness of the Pharisees contrasts with the innocence of the children. • The ends of marriage are offspring, furthering the Catholic faith and the sacrament itself. Each must be earnestly desired by the couple if a marriage is to come about in the eyes of God. Thus, if a couple have nointention of having children, or despise the Faith, or hold the notion of a sacrament in contempt, then no marriage can possibly take place, no matter how grand and meaningful the wedding. It is the couple who convect the sacrament between themselves, or not. We pray for a great increase in reverence for such a sacred institution. • Our Lord takes his authority for challenging the Law of Moses back to the creation of man. This shows us at the very least that marriage is not external to human nature, but integral to human living together, human happiness and social integration. Male and female are made for each other in a bond before God that gives them the freedom of the Garden of Eden. This is not just an earthly paradise, but a heavenly one too: the place where mankind communes with hisMaker and finds delight in his partner. Sin corrupts this, but Christ restores it.

15.10.06, Mk 10, 17-30

• Avarice is a sin that grows by stealth. Like gradually heating a frog in water, it does feel the danger until the water boils and it dies. Our Lord wages constant war on those who would substitute or tone down the demands of the Kingdom for the sake of bodily comforts or social prestige. Most shocking of all is his flat rejection of any necessary link between the possession of riches and the blessing of God. For Jews, wealth appeared a self-evident blessing from God, and even the disciples are appalled by what Jesus has to say. But Jesus goes further.
• Not only are riches not a sign of blessing, they are also a substantial hindrance to entering the Kingdom of God. Part of Our Lord’s argument with the Pharisees was that they loved wealth at the expense of righteousness, and made void the spirit of the Law with a welter of manmade traditions (Mk 7, 7ff; Lk 11, 37ff). There can be no real power in one’s love for God or neighbour if our real treasure is not the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Riches will choke the word of God in us. Only in God is life.

• It is easy to outdo the Pharisees in self-righteousness by becoming smug about their sins without reflecting on our own. Jesus loved the Pharisees, although he saw through them and disliked much of what they stood for. Jesus loves us too. So what is our excuse for not doing what he asks us? Maybe we do not want to listen when we feel he’s calling us not to buy a new car, book another holiday or upgrade our wardrobe? Riches are morally neutral, but what they do to us is more deadly than we realise. Now is the hour to change. Wisdom lies in generous actions, not in beautiful intentions.

22.10.06, Mk 10, 35-45

• We should never pray if we do not want God to answer us. James and John want God to acquiesce to their extravagant demands, but Jesus uses their enquiry to make clear that the road to paradise is hard. Ironically, they are guaranteed the martyr’s crown from the lips of Our Lord, but at the expense of all the vainglory they no doubt entertained when trying to establish their claim: “Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all” (Mk 10, 44).

• Jesus is about to be immersed in suffering through his passion and death. James and John have no idea what they are talking about, but the Lord does ask them to be baptized in the same way (‘baptizein’ is Greek for ‘immerse’). They accept his challenge, but their minds are only fixed on a vainglorious prize and not on the means of achieving it. They do not realise what they have agreed to. James will be the first apostle to die for the Lord, John the last. The sons of thunder must submit to executioners for Jesus’ sake before they gain paradise.

• The apostles’ reaction to the brothers shows how similar they are to their colleagues (Mk 10, 41), and how far from the demands of the Gospel. With his Passion looming, one wonders how Jesus ever put up with them. They are about as much comfort as a woollen overcoat in the desert! Yet he does love them, and opens their eyes to the radical demands of humility (Mk 10, 44).
Only the joy in store for humanity at being ransomed from sin and death spurs on the exhausted Messiah.

29.10.06, Mk 10, 46-52

• “Master, let me see again” (Mk 10, 51). How many times have we repented of our sins, only to fall back into them again through weakness, habit, or sheer hardness of heart? Cardinal Newman once remarked that the English are possessed of a profound self-contemplation, which leads them to be wretched over their sins and not repentant. We are the heirs of Pelagius when we kick ourselves and say, ‘How could I have let myself down so?’ Rather, we should be like blind Bartimaeus and brook no delay or opposition in throwing ourselves at the feet of Our Lord.

• Repentance is a gift, the heart of which lies in grief at the offence done to Jesus by our bad behaviour and contempt for his person and teaching. It involves guilt at the violation of our conscience, but does not rest there. We must journey back to the one we have offended and apologise, overcoming a proud reluctance to humble ourselves and admit our need of forgiveness. This can be a slow process, requiring grace. Our contrition is rarely perfect, though it should be. Only when we admit our creatureliness do we find our true place within the universe. • Confession is the greatest mercy God has ever provided for us, given the fallen state of human nature. In essence very simple, requiring confession, contrition and satisfaction on behalf of the penitent before a Catholic priest withfaculties from his bishop, confession is the practical difference between heaven and hell. None of us gains heaven by our own efforts; only submission to the loving embrace of Jesus crucified and risen fits us for so unmerited a glory. Our own efforts lead us to hell, where ignorance will be no excuse. May the courage of Bartimaeus live in our hearts.

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