18.01.04 Jn 2, 1-11
1. There is a three-fold dynamic in John’s sacramental theology. He works signs for all to see, so that seeing we may believe, and that believing we may have life within us. This is eternal life - a light shining in the dark “that darkness could not overpower” ( Jn 1, 5 ). Thus, salvation for John is not ‘pie in the sky when you die’. It is a power in the heart of the believer here and now - the essence and attraction of Jesus ( cf. Jn 4, 1-42 ) as pure gift to those who will accept him. It is also the driving force behind the fourth Evangelist’s contemplative vision.2. “He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him” ( Jn 2, 11 ). At this most homely and every-day type of occasion, salvation begins to seep into the fabric of this world. He who through whom all things were made ( cf. Jn 1, 2 ), and in whom all things are sustained, began to draw his last and dearest creation - man - into the very life of the godhead. It is a staggering claim. Either Jesus is a total madman or he is God. Yet the very sobriety of John’s simple statement that the disciples believed in him gently insists - the Word has indeed been made flesh ( cf. Jn 1, 14 ).3. Mary is the principal guest at the Wedding Feast of Cana, with Jesus and his disciples invited in a secondary capacity. If this were the launch of a new product like a computer programme or a fizzy drink, the marketing directors would be tearing their hair out. This would not be thought the way to force the product into the forefront of the consumer mind, which needs to be manipulated by every trick of an all-powerful media. But God’s way is not man’s way ( cf. 1Sam 16, 7 ). Salvation is of God, a truth deeper and a life fuller than any adman dare contemplate.
11.01.04 Lk 3, 15-16.21-22
1. Luke’s account is very much the gospel of Jesus at prayer ( cf. Lk 4, 42; 9, 18; 11, 1 ). The baptism of John was only a type of baptism, of which the baptism of Jesus is the archetype. Image gave way to reality, and Luke is concerned to make a clear distinction between John’s baptism of water and that of John’s divine cousin, Jesus, with the Holy Spirit and fire. Only after the baptism of John does the Holy Spirit descend on the Messiah, and then as the fruit of Jesus’ own prayerful communion with the Father ( Lk 3, 21 ), and not as a direct result of the baptism of John.2. John’s baptism signifies a desire for repentance and conversion of life. Jesus’ baptism makes that desire a reality through forgiveness of sins and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Only God can forgive sins, so only the baptism of Jesus eradicates sin and heals our fallen human nature from within. The baptism of fire spoken of by Luke is surely the purifying action of the Spirit throughout our lives, making effective in every day things those baptismal graces won for us by Jesus. By fire we are made light and warm, but also purified and tempered in the Christian life.3. Cleansing from the stain of Original Sin in those who accept Jesus through baptism makes salvation possible for us. It draws us to follow in the footsteps of the Master, even to accepting crosses God’s will allows us in this life. Grace must evoke a response for good or ill, because no-one can be neutral to God. To have received baptism is to have received the grace of faith. This must be nurtured through instruction and example, lest rejection of God in the lifestyle of the baptized set up an internal dichotomy that is the opposite to communion with God.
06.01.04 Mt 2, 1-12
1. Gold denotes a king, frankincense the presence of God, and myrrh the need for burial. Right from the birth and first ‘shining forth’ of the Christ child to the Three Kings, there is a forewarning of the Passion and death of Jesus. The oldest accounts in all four gospels are the Passion narratives, even in the briefer version preferred by Mark ( Mk 14-15 ). Matthew and Luke both witness to the earliest teachings of the Church, seeing an intrinsic link between the birth and death of the Messiah ( cf. Mt 2, 11; Lk 2, 34 ). There can be no salvation without redemption, no resurrection without the cross.2. Herod broods like a dark shadow ( Mt 2, 3 ) amidst the light of the shining star and the delight of the three Wise Men ( Mt 2, 10-11 ). He represents the forces of evil and damaged human nature within our world. Providence allowed the travellers from the East to stop at Herod’s palace - for Our Lord has come that sinners may repent. Even Herod is given the chance to turn from evil and welcome the new-born king. His cunning is matched only by his savagery when thwarted of his ambition to destroy this rival from Bethlehem ( Mt 2, 16-18 ). In this also is the shadow of Cross for Jesus.3. But God’s plan of salvation cannot be withstood or challenged, even by one such as Herod. Nothing can dim the joy of the Wise Men, nor dim the bright shining of the star. All can see this cosmic annunciation of the coming of the Messiah, just as salvation in Jesus will reach to the four corners of the earth and every second of recorded time. This feast is about the arrival of the Heir of all Ages among his own. It is a Mystery both sublime and humble, which embraces the whole universe in the arms of a tiny child.
04.01.04 Jn 1,1-18
1. The evangelist’s magnificent vision of the ‘Word made Flesh’ ( Jn 1, 14 ) comes through contemplation of the Divine Mystery, who is Jesus. Having made a home for Mary in his own house (cf. Jn 19, 27 ), it is hardly surprising that the cosmic significance of the Virgin birth achieves its full impact in the Prologue to John’s own gospel. Christ Jesus, who is eternally begotten of the Father, is begotten in time of the Holy Spirit, and takes on our own flesh and blood “not out of human stock, or urge of the flesh, or will of man, but of God” ( Jn 1, 13 ). Salvation is born of Mary’s co-operation.2. Heaven meets earth in the ‘fiat’ of the Virgin of Nazereth. Because she has dared to say ‘yes’ to God, the heir of the Ages can enter his inheritance, and we can be saved. St Bernard captures the drama of that moment of decision: “ Answer, O Virgin, answer the angel speedily; rather, through the angel, answer your Lord. Speak the word and receive the Word; offer what is yours, and conceive what is of God; give what is temporal, and embrace what is eternal ” ( Bernard of Clairvaux, Homilies in Praise of the Virgin Mother, no. 4 ). Mary’s assent enables John to see the glory of the Word, ‘full of grace and truth’ ( Jn 1, 14 ).3. Our Lady brings to birth Jesus in the hearts of all believers, even that of St. John. In obedience to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word is made flesh in the lives of all faithful Christians as Mary intercedes for the Church. It was impossible for us to know God fully without Our Lady’s co-operation in helping bring about the Incarnation. So it is impossible for us to know God fully now without honouring the Divine Mother. She is not an optional extra because the flesh of Jesus is not an optional extra.
29.12.03 Lk 2, 41-52
1. This account of the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple is unique to Luke’s gospel. It delights us because it offers the rarest of glimpses into the hidden life of Our Lord - those thirty years of quiet before John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan ( cf. Lk 3, 21ff ). The story is unusual, but accessible and easy to imagine. Jesus’ reply to his mother still astounds us, no matter how well we think we can explain his attitude. The truth is that, for all its telling, the hidden quality of this story remains. There are mysteries here that we struggle to fathom.2. “ My child, why have you done this to us?” ( Lk 2,48 ). All Mary’s worry and concern pour out in this gentle, but direct challenge to her child. Jesus’ reply has all the matter-of-fact attitude of precociouspre-adolescent boys. He must have learnt his directness from his mother, for he gives as good as he gets. But there is a higher quality to his words, evidence of the mystical union that he always enjoys with the Father in heaven. As a human being, Jesus would have deepened in his awareness of his relationship with the Father as he developed in his humanity.3. Family life nurtures us all, and is the proper environment for human living and loving. Those who have no family need to be welcomed and allowed to grow in the family of the Church. Yet, given the fact of sin, families can also be places of breakdown and distortion. Divorce and the wholesale rejection of marriage as an unbreakable life-long union, for better or worse, mean that our present society becomes sick from within. Weneed to strive to let the Christ child be born again in our hearts today. As individuals and as a society, only he can restore brokenness.
25.12.03 Jn 1, 1-18
1. Who is this Jesus, that I might know him? John gives a majestic meditation on the person of the Word made flesh ( Jn 1, 14 ). Pre-existence permeates these verses as a theme and preparation for the words and works of Jesus in the gospel. Our Lord exists for time and eternity in the bosom of the Father, whom he took flesh to reveal. There never was a time when the Son was not. The evangelist stresses, “the Word was with God and the Word was God” ( Jn 1, 1 ). This Jesus is God, seeking relationship with his creature so that his life might be in us ( cf. Jn 1, 4-5 ).2. The wonder of the Incarnation is that God should dain to become a vulnerable and struggling child in the manger at Bethlehem. He is a king, but it will be a kingship of Christ crucified, not of this world with allits vanity and power to corrupt. Faith and trust are needed to fathom such an outrageously bizarre claim. And yet it is true, whether we believe it or not. John adds, “to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God” ( Jn 1, 12 ). We need to get a life - a life that will last eternally.3. That life is the person of God, who seeks to meet us in Jesus. Christ is encountered in the tradition and life of the Church, in the Scriptures and in the sacraments (especially Holy Communion). It is the selfsame Lord who walked the earth two thousand years ago; who strove, suffered and died for us. His presence among us in the Eucharist is as physical and real now as it was then, but under the outward appearance of sacramental signs. His love, too, is as real now as it was then.He calls us to believe and taste his life.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT: C
21.12.03 Lk 1, 39-45
1. None made a better preparation for Christmas than Mary: “ Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” ( Lk 1, 45 ). Each of these holy women ministers to the other first, in the joy of the Holy Spirit, before any thought of themselves or the precariousness of their respective positions. Elizabeth was pregnant in old age in primitive conditions, and Mary herself was pregnant before she had come to live with her husband - an offense punishable by stoning in Jewish Law. As the child grows in the Virgin Mother, so she and her cousin grow spiritually.2. The exaltation of the mothers is an outward expression of the joy and communion between the children in their wombs. Elizabeth’s words to Mary burst forth in utter conviction of soul, asshe prophesies and comes to know through the Holy Spirit what would have been known only to Mary and Joseph: “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” ( Lk 1, 43 ). John greets the Messiah, whose presence he is to announce, with his whole being as he leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. Thus he communicates the grace he has received to the mother who bears him.3. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was fond of emphasizing after the solemn profession of her sisters that the first one to recognize Jesus was the unborn child. The scourge of abortion filled her with horror, and she never ceased to do all she could in her simple and direct way to challenge the false notion that an embryo was not a child. Her influence was profound and direct. We need to learn from her to stand upto lies that kill. Pro-life work is for all, if we are to welcome the Christ child into our lives and back into our society.
14.12.03 Lk 3, 10-18
Two Lucan themes arise immediately in this gospel: care for the poor and the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit. Various types of people come to John asking him how they can show their repentance in concrete ways. Each group receives a specific direction, but all the people are required to clothe the naked and feed the poor ( Lk 3, 11 ). This is not an optional extra in the Christian life, for, if we cannot love the neighbour whom we do see, how can we claim to love the God whom we do not? John’s own poverty would have reinforced his message.2. Only the Son can bequeath the Holy Spirit as the proper inheritance of those who accept the preaching and person of the Messiah. The fire of this Holy Spirit convicting the believer of faith in Jesus through a new and supernaturalbaptism is contrasted in no uncertain terms with the unquenchable fires of hell. No-one can be neutral to God, and none can resist the winnowing fan of our Saviour and Redeemer. If the starkness of choices laid down by the Baptist frightens us, we must realize that it is meant to. John preached a real repentance from the heart.3. Like the Master who followed after him, John associates with the sinners and degenerates of society. Tax Collectors were hated as Jewish collaborators with foreign overlords. Supplementing their income through extortion and sharp practice made them even more reviled. Luke highlights the profound reaction that John’s words had on Jewish society by reporting the repentance of this hardened group. Soldiers too were for the most part avoided, and not just fortheir brutality. They would have been Syrian mercenaries conscripted into the Roman army to serve in Israel - a traditional enemy to the Jews and much loathed.
07.12.03 Lk 3, 1-6
Luke’s gospel is characterized by its concern to write history, evoking the style of ancient Greek writers like Thucydides. In a highly dramatic opening to the account of Jesus’ public ministry, Luke orientates and defines his narrative within a specific political and religious context. We are talking about historical events occurring whilst Herod held sway in Galilee during the time of the Emperor Tiberias, when the Jewish High Priesthood was exercised by Annas and Caiaphas. The contemporary readers of Luke, who was himself a Greek doctor, would have been non-Jewish gentile converts to Christianity, eager for accurate instruction.2. The voice of John, son of Zechariah, erupts suddenly into a world governed by powerful people of great decadence. Yet it is a world ripe for thesowing of the seed of the kingdom of God. No time is ever convenient for those who would be deaf to the truth, and John’s cry to prepare a way for the Lord jars discordantly with the comfortable and the self-satisfied among whom he is named. Like the voice of any Israelite prophet , John’s words attack the root of sin in society and preach a salvation in God that will not wait.3. Advent means listening to the call of John the Baptist once more, whether the time is right for us or not. We need to get under the material gloss that so dominates our contemporary build-up to Christmas, and we need to challenge our own sinful ways and attitudes by acknowledging the plain truth of our need for God’s forgiveness. Confession is the sacrament proper to this season of expectation. Unless we canfind it in our hearts to repent and be converted, then there will be no room in the Inn of our souls for the Christ child to be born.
Lk 21, 25-28.34-36
“Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life” (Lk 21,34). We must all be prepared for the Day of Judgement. There is no other wisdom worth listening to. If our souls are not heaven centred through prayer, the sacraments and the life of grace, then we are diminished as human beings. All our actions, no matter how glitzy and thrilling, merely mask the emptiness within. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. This conversion begins now and is fulfilled in the joy and peace of heaven. Advent is all about taking stock of our lives. It is the season of joy awaiting the birth of the Messiah, and of assessing what impact that event will have on our lives. Will we let the Christ child be born in us again this year, making astable for him in our hearts, or will we lose ourselves in the soul-destroying commercial mess of a secular Christmas? Christmas without religion is like swimming without water, so we need to get wise and let the Holy Spirit master us, leading us more deeply into the stillness of the season.
Our attitude to the first coming of Christ is in many ways determined by our attitude to his second coming. Is our liberation at hand at Christmas, or are we indifferent? The second coming of Christ will be in power - we will recognize him then, like it or not (cf. Lk 21,27). By looking to the future, accepting what Our Lord has told us in prophecy, let us stay awake and pray for the grace to stand with confidence before the Son of Man (Lk 21, 36), whether that coming be at Christmas or the end of time.
Jn 18, 33-37
“All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice” (Jn 18,37). Jesus is either God or a madman. This is not the language of compromise. These are either the most sublime words ever spoken, or the ravings of a megalomaniac intent on world domination. Pilate is caught between anvil and hammer, with no escape. He has no competence to judge on these matters, yet his career as governor of Judaea is on the line. No wonder Matthew should report the words of Pilate’s wife: “Have nothing to do with that man” (Mt 27,19). Who is in charge of this interrogation? The supreme irony here is that Pilate shows his poverty and powerlessness before Jesus, despite having the decision of life or death over the condemned man who stands before him. He is used to having men quaking before him, begging fortheir lives. But not this one. Jesus only talks to Pilate to draw him into the truth, not to save his own life. There is no fear in Jesus, despite the pain he has endured and the malice of the crowd. Despite his bravado, Pilate cannot cope with the sublime doctrine he hears.
The kingship of Christ lies in saving the world from sin and death, not in any vain parade of armies. His trial is a triumphal progress. As he mounts the wood of the cross, Jesus ascends the throne of his glory and exalts the kingship of Christ crucified. On earth they crowned him with thorns, but in heaven his crown will be all the souls of the virtuous who have gained entrance into paradise through his cross. Sin and death no longer obtain, and only through taking up our cross and following the Master do we gain everlasting happiness.
Mk 13, 24-32
This text of the eschatological discourse in Mark’s gospel is problematic. Indeed, it was much favoured by the Catholic modernists, Loisy and Tyrrell, as proof of the so-called dubious historicity of the gospels. “I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place” (Mk 13,30) is a clear prophecy about events that have still yet to happen. Indeed, the comment in verse 32
seems to be a gloss that attempts to deal with this problem: “But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it” (Mk 13,32).
Difficulties in Scripture need to be lived with, but there is less need to be alarmed than some might claim. Two events make up the eschatological discourses in the synoptic Gospels: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Coming of Christ. Mark’s Gospel is often dated before the destruction of the Temple (70AD)
because it contains no account of the destruction itself, unlike Matthew or Luke (Mt 24-25, Lk 21). The
unfulfilled prophecy could well refer to the impending Fall of Jerusalem a few years after Mark was writing. The text is difficult, not impossible. If the events Jesus describes here are an appalling prospect, so too was the situation of the early Church. By tradition Mark was close to Peter, who was martyred in 64AD, and if he wrote his gospel to preserve apostolic witness before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, then the period of composition was one of the bloodiest and least stable imaginable. The Jewish Rebellion from 66AD
saw wholesale slaughter in Palestine, as Zealots provoked a bloodbath by withholding taxes from Caesar. Christians needed to hear Mark’s words, “Know that he is near, at the very gates” (Mk 13,29).
Mk 12, 38-44
Of all the sects in Judaism in the early first century AD, Jesus had most in common with the Pharisees. They predominated in the Judean and Galilean provinces, gathering disciples and a reputation for strict observance of the Jewish Law. They believed in spiritual reality and angels, life after death and resurrection, sacrifices offered on behalf of the dead and the power of prayer. They instilled reverence for the Law into their disciples, were learned and often hard working. Their commentaries on the Law were long and painstaking, and they taught the Torah by referring to each other's teaching.
It would have been their tradition that Jesus inherited from the synagogue in Nazareth, although it was also these same Nazarene brothers and sisters who first tried to kill him (cf. Lk 4,28-30). Jesus, who was the fulfilment of the Law himself, saw too the spiritual and moral compromises they allowed in their seemingly virtuous conduct, whilst clinging to man-made traditions which had grown up around the Law like barnacles that weigh down a ship. The Pharisees went to ingenious lengths to maintain a strict outward observance, whilst the demands of justice often went unheeded (cf. Mk 12,38ff).
The juxtaposition of brash outward observance and pride in the Pharisees with the humility, inner devotion and heroic self-sacrifice of the poor widow could not be more striking. Jesus’ attitude recalls the words of God to the prophet Samuel, “God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but Yahweh looks at the heart” (1Sam 16,7). Our Lord looks beyond the small pennies of the widow to the fact that she has put everything she possessed into the Treasury. It is her love and generosity that shine through. She thinks not of herself, only of God.
Mk 12, 28-34
Our Lord adds a phrase to the ‘Shema’ (ie. Dt 6,4-5), which is the holiest text in Judaism and is quoted here to answer the admiring scribe (cf. Mk 12, 28ff). “With all your mind” (Mk 12, 30) does not appear in the original text of the Torah or Pentateuch, and the fact that Jesus should change this is daring and radical in the extreme. Even the Rabbis scrupulously avoided correcting a corrupt text out of reverence for the Word of God (eg. Judg 18,30). Only the God of Israel had authority over the Law of Moses.
Perhaps Jesus wants to take into account the advances of Greek culture, and the consequent influence of Hellenism on Semitic thinking with this addition. Mind and intellect are very much the province of Greek philosophy, and Our Lord is clearly saying that our ability to think and reason should be put at the service of God, along with every other human faculty and talent. He is not detracting from the Law or embellishing it. Rather, he is bringing out its full meaning, using his own authority that both stimulates and repels his audience, according to their pre-disposition towards him.
How we need to see this intimate connection between faith and reason in our own day! The Pope has spoken out bravely against every form of totalitarian fundamentalism, be it religious or secular. Any religion that tends to link religion with violence, denying the God-given necessity of reason in dialogue and thus the ability to accept differences and live in peace, condemns itself as inhuman. Similarly, any use of reason that sees no recourse to the divine, or even any dialogue with religion as necessary, sets itself up as its own god, enslaving the human spirit that seeks God.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
• 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.
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).
Jn 6, 60-69
“It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer” (Jn 6, 63). Jesus is trying to help his audience understand the “intolerable language” (Jn 6, 60) he has been using. The key to understanding is not that Jesus offers us any human flesh, but rather that he offers us his own fles – animated and transformed by his divine spirit. The flesh of itself has nothing to offer, but united to his divine person it becomes the vehicle for our salvation.
Jesus’ authority to teach in this way is also established, as he asserts a personal reality which pre-dates and is beyond the reality of flesh: “What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?”
(Jn 6, 62). Only Peter, groping in the dark as all around him are losing faith in the Lord, is given the grace to perceive the reality of who it is that is teaching such shocking doctrine: “You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6, 68-69).
Clearly, Jesus is either God the Son or he’s mad. There can be no intermediate position, so graphic and all embracing are his claims. Any chink of unbelief or compromise with the Good News in any of his followers is utterly exposed by Jesus’ words. It all becomes too much for Judas, and John clearly locates his fellow apostle’s loss of faith in Jesus from this moment on: “Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him” (Jn 6, 64). Such teaching takes no prisoners.
So why does Judas lose faith and Peter not? Were they not both called to sublime intimacy with God in their separate apostolic callings? Those eyewitnesses to the words and works of the Lord do not tell us, and we can never know for sure. Suffice it to say that Peter never took his eyes off Jesus in the midst of this most challenging of all Jesus’ teachings, whereas it seems that Judas did. Perhaps he thought he knew a better way of bringing in the kingdom of God – more political and away from the vagaries of a mad Rabbi. We may speculate, but we shall never know. May God give us all the grace to follow Jesus wherever he may go.
Gospel: Jn 6, 41-51
This is the most shocking saying of Jesus in the whole gospel: “the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6, 51). John could have used the more abstract Greek term, ‘soma’, when referring to ‘flesh’, but he pointedly uses the most physical expression available, ‘sarx’. This means flesh and blood reality. Giving human flesh to eat is offensive to practically every human culture, let alone to the Jews, whose concern for ritual purity in the preparation of food occupies much of the Torah (Lv 11, 1-47). If this speech were a mere marketing ploy for a new religion, Jesus could not have said anything more fatal to his own interests. Most of his hearers will stop following him after this, and even the apostles are only clinging on to him by the skin of their teeth(Jn 6, 66; Jn 6, 68).
But Jesus is unrepentant and uncompromising. The manna that will sustain and preserve the new Israel in her desert wanderings from one generation of the Church to the next “is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6, 51). This is not cannibalism, which is the eating of dead human flesh, but rather the consuming of the living flesh of the Lord Jesus. Unlike normal food, which we absorb into our systems and which becomes part of us, this heavenly manna will absorb us and allow us to become living parts of the Body of Christ. Like a mother who feeds her child on her own milk, God feeds his people on his own living flesh, so that through physical means divine life might be communicated to us. Only God could think of this: for man it is too controversial.
The point of the Incarnation is to enable human nature to enter heaven. God becomes everything that we are in order that we may in our turn become everything that he is, as co-sharers of the divine nature (2Pet 1, 4). Thus the flesh of Christ becomes the principle of God’s loving action in the world, fitting us for heaven from within. So we must make every effort to receive Holy Communion reverently, constantly reminding ourselves of a reality vastly deeper than ourselves and our limited human
Not even God can give more than himself. It is therefore the least we can do to give ourselves entirely to him.
Gospel: John 6:24-35
Today, our readings remind us that for those have their basic needs met, food is not God as the Lord reminds us in our Gospel: “do not work for the food that cannot last but work for the food that endures to eternal life”. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the good things of life. Indeed, as Catholics we’re not Puritans and it’s good to do so as Hilaire Belloc said: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There's always laughter and good red wine” and thank God for that. We can say ‘yes’ to the world but also need to say ‘no’ to the world. To be fully human, to be fully Christian, we are called to make our higher supernatural needs the focus as it is only these which can make us happy.
Some years ago Queen Elizabeth II visited Ireland for the first time, giving her famous speech in Dublin castle. It was a very historic and much anticipated visit. In her speech she remarked on the relationship between the two countries saying that: “with the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would have done differently or not at all”. Some thought this was brave, others an understatement. Whatever you think of her comments, these carefully crafted words can easily apply to all people and relate to our readings, particularly our second reading which reminds us to “put aside our old self which gets corrupted by following illusory desires”. We all as sinners can stand here today and say there are things that we could do differently and there are things we shouldn’t be doing at all. This is the ‘spiritual revolution’ St. Paul refers to; it is indeed spiritual progress when we can honestly admit this to the Lord. Of course, the sacrament of confession is something we all need. It gives us the means to bring the things we should not have done at all to the Lord, to seek forgiveness and ask for the grace to start again.
As regards things we could do differently, it is certainly true that we are invited in our Gospel today to prioritise the Eucharist, the Lord Jesus truly present, in our lives. As the Church, in the Second Vatican Council, tells us is the “source and summit of the Christian life”. Only Him who is eternal, only God, can fulfil the innate desire for the eternal which is found in every human heart. A focus on food, sex, power, money etc will only lead us looking for more and to be left wanting. Is the Eucharist, the Lord Jesus, the source and summit of my life- do I believe that the purpose of my life is to move closer to Him? If not, we shouldn’t worry, but rather ask Him for the grace to see this more clearly. As the Lord Jesus reminds us in our Gospel: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst”. May in our Eucharist today we partake in St. Paul’s spiritual revolution and, if things aren’t in the right place, let us have the humility to ask for the Lord to change that
Gospel: Jn 6, 1-15
A desert location with no food, and no human means of finding or even affording any is a desperate situation – though one not unknown in Israelite history. Multiplying loaves in the time of Elisha (2Kgs 4, 4244) was a sign of the divine origin of his gift of prophecy, and Jesus’ repeating and bettering Elisha’s feat would have been instantly recognized by the more devout members of his audience. “This really is the prophet who is to come into the world” (Jn 6, 14) is the cry of one who sees fulfilment of prophecy, but does he see the sign?
The irony here is that Jesus is the prophet who is to come into the world, though he is much more. A human prophet can be a human king, or lead an earth-bound rebellion against the Romans, but Jesus is not just human: he is God the Son. His kingdom is not of this world, and only those who believe through seeing the signs he works can receive the life that he gives (cf. Jn 18, 36; 20, 30-31). The people pointedly misunderstand Jesus, and he slips quietly away from them. His divinity shows also in his escape.
We have the Mass, we have the sacraments, we have the Church and the witness of the saints, but still we miss what the poet Francis Thompson calls “the many-splendour’d thing”, which is the action and life of God in our souls. We look to the furthest ends of the earth and into the most thrilling sensations, but we miss the tender knock of the Master at the doors of our own hearts, craving audience. He will go away if through our sins we tell him to, but he will never give up: “Heap me over from this tremendous Lover!” (Francis Thompson in The Hound of Heaven).
Gospel: Mk 6, 30-34
There is real poignancy in this scene. The joy of the apostles at the first fruits of their ministry is matched by the care and concern of Jesus: “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mk 6, 31). Yet Jesus must have felt searing grief and heartbreak at the death of John the Baptist, just reported in the gospel (Mk 6, 17-29). The human need of the apostles to rest after their labours is matched by Jesus’ human need to grieve in quiet for his cousin. Prudence dictates a time apart.
But Our Lord and the apostles are victims of their own success. Divine goodness and healing have only highlighted in people’s hearts their aching need of Jesus. They may not understand who he is fully, or even catch every nuance of his teaching, but the poverty of their hard lives has been matched now by a raging spiritual thirst. All concerns are immediately subordinated to the need to be with Jesus, and they guess through their local knowledge where Jesus’ boat will land in the Galilean wilderness. Not just a few, but whole towns waited for him in anticipation (Mk 6, 33).
This is why Jesus takes pity on them, and puts himself out to teach them at some length (Mk 6, 34). Not because they are hungry and thirsty, poor and needy, but because they long to be with him and he longs for them to be with him. He thirsts for their faith, which will transform them into eternal companions, and he teaches them so that their hearts might thrill and be converted to the
truth that will set them free. We need to learn that no time is inconvenient to approach the Lord. Go to him, be refreshed.
First Reading: Amos 7:12-15
Second reading: Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel: Mk 6, 7-13
Jesus’ principal battle in Mark’s gospel is with the spiritual forces of darkness. In this moment of joyful apostolic activity, only one aspect of it is emphasized: “giving them authority over unclean spirits” (Mk 6, 7). The devil and his angels are active and potent enemies of humanity. Their malice never sleeps and their hatred of humanity knows no bounds. Yet their kingdom is in ruins through the advent of the Messiah who, as a man, breaks their hold over the weakness of men. This divine power can be bequeathed to those apostles chosen for this vital ministry.
It is through apostolic succession that the power to exorcise demons finds its proper place in the Church. Bishops share the fullness of the priestly character of Christ, and it is the Divine Master who conveys this power. Thus, every bishop has the power to exorcise, and is required to appoint a diocesan exorcist to act in his name. Faint faith, sinful lives, structures of sin embedded in society, have all made this ministry more important than ever. Recent studies, especially by Fr Gabriele Amorth, have highlighted a clear, urgent pastoral need for exorcisms in our modern secular culture, as manifested in a wide range of phenomena.
We can make two mistakes about the devil. The first is to believe he does not exist, and the second is to believe he is more powerful than he is. Satan can work much more easily in those who have no strong shield in Jesus Christ. Recourse to soothsaying, tarot cards, new age therapies and the like only use our God-given free will to invite a personal force for evil more powerful than we are to take charge of our lives. But Jesus Christ is in charge of of our lives. In baptism all evil influence was exorcised from us. So if we take our baptismal promises seriously, we need not fear and we do not need any other source of spiritual security.
First Reading: Ezekiel 2:2-5
Second reading: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Gospel: Mark 6, 1-6
“He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mk 6, 6). Miracles are not magic. Just as a gift given cannot be given unless it is received, so Our Lord’s healing attention cannot be effected if it is not received by faith. This is not to diminish the power of God, who holds both believers and unbelievers in being every moment of their lives, but it does underline humanity’s vital need to accept Jesus as God. Our heavenly Father respects human ways of doing things, and will not compel us to join him in paradise. He awaits our response.
How Jesus must have changed. No account of the hidden years of Christ survives, but this text tells us how utterly normal Jesus would have been. Learning a trade from Joseph (Tiberius Caesar was building the town of Sephoris next to Nazareth at the time, and would have needed carpenters), leading the life of a devout Jew in the midst of an extended family (Mk 6, 3), Jesus would have learnt to know and love his neighbours, and vice-versa. His amazement was the shock of rejection by his nearest and dearest. His honour would have been forged among them.
The Nazarenes had seen Jesus’ miracles and experienced his wisdom, yet they refused to believe the evidence of their own eyes (Mk 6, 2). Jesus is not expecting too much of them, steeped as they were in the Law and the Prophets, but his actions are thrown back in his face. We too, as Catholics called to walk in the true Faith, must not become intimates of the Lord, who then reject him out of hand through faint faith and scandalous lives. It is quite possible to come to Mass regularly and be lapsed. Where does our heart lie?
First Reading: Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24
Second reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15
Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
“And he told them to give her something to eat” (Mk 5, 43). This ‘throw away’ remark is one of those unique features of Mark’s gospel that gives his account a true note of authenticity. Only someone present could notice such a detail, and only Mark’s gospel includes Our Lord’s closing command to the parents of the restored child. Accurate reporting is always true to its sources, and Mark here becomes transparent as a writer, as he lets Jesus’ miracle speak for itself. Mark’s style is terse and brief, but in these miracles the words and works of Jesus radiate.
Touch is the most important sense in today’s gospel. Flesh on flesh, as when Jesus takes the dead girl by the hand (Mk 5, 41), or even touching the clothes of Our Lord, as when the woman with a haemorrhage presses though the crowd (Mk 5, 33) communicate divine healing and power. It is a perfect demonstration of the sacramental principle, whereby material things actually effect the grace that they signify. The woman was full of faith and courage, but she needed to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment to be saved and made well again.
If we accept the reality of the flesh of Christ, then we accept the reality of the Church. Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man, but we need him to communicate to us through the flesh if his salvation is to mean anything to us. No human being could see God face to face and live. Only when God stoops down to us by becoming one like us can we become fitted for heaven. If the body of Christ is a vital part of him for our sakes, then the Church cannot either be an optional extra.
First Reading: Job 38:1,8-11
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Gospel: Mk 4, 35-41
All three synoptic gospels contain this incident from the public ministry of Our Lord, but each with a slightly different emphasis. For Mark, unlike Matthew (cf. Mt 8, 23-27), the initiative is with the disciples who take Jesus into the boat, as opposed to being led by him. Their misunderstanding of Jesus and lack of faith comes to the fore in Mark because the Master rebukes the storm first before speaking to the disciples, whereas in Matthew Jesus scolds the disciples first and then performs the miracle to confirm his words. In Mark, it as if no amount of miracle working can penetrate their incredulity.
· The Stilling of the Storm thus shows evidence of editorial adaptation of an historical incident in the life of Jesus to show its relevance and application to the troubled situation of the early Church. Often it is our experience too that the waves of scandal and hatred of God oppress and harry the barque of the Church almost to sinking point. Is the Lord asleep? Does he not care at the mess and dissent that drives holes into the hull of the Church in time of storm? Jesus shows that he is in charge and will not fail us. But will we fail him?
· Power over the elements is invariably a sign of divinity in the bible, especially in the aftermath of the saving events at the Red Sea outlined in the Book of Exodus (Ex 14, 21-30). The disciples are thus filled with awe at the miracle of Jesus, but not with faith. They miss the point of Jesus’ action and teaching and ask the exasperating question, “Who can this be”? (Mk 4, 41). Only at the crucifixion, from the mouth of a pagan centurion, does the truth begin to impinge on the world: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mk 15, 39). In his death is our life.