December 21, 2020
Sundays and Festivals
Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God
1 January 2021 • Mary T. O’Brien, P.B.V.M.
Introduction to the Mass
The Lord invites the Christian community to gather on this special day for many reasons. Even though it is not a Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland, it has been traditionally so observed in most parishes. Christians somehow need to assemble to celebrate the dawning of another year and to ask God’s blessing on family, self and world. All of this still holds, as we look back of the year that has been, with its toll of pain and suffering and uncertainty and sorrow, and hope for better things in the New Year just beginning.
But we have a few other reasons for celebrating today. It is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, one of the great Marian Feasts in the church’s calendar. And it is World Day of Peace. So today, we have many reasons to celebrate. Let us take some moments to gather our thoughts and bring ourselves wholly to this celebration.
As always, we pause to acknowledge our unworthiness and to ask for mercy.
Lord Jesus, you welcome all who turn to you in faith. Lord, have mercy.
You came to call sinners. Christ, have mercy,
You challenge us to face the future with confidence. Lord, have mercy.
Headings for Readings
First Reading • (Num 6:22-27). A magnificent prayer of blessing suitable for any occasion! Moses directs Aaron to bless the generations that follow.
Second Reading • (Gal 4:4-7). St Paul summarises the great mystery of the Incarnation for the fledgling Galatian community. Strangely, in our biblical records, Paul does not speak of Mary. Here is as close as we get: ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman’.
Gospel • (Lk 2:16-21). The focus here is Mary ‘pondering in her heart’ all that has happened. The shepherds are briefly re-introduced as first human visitors to Bethlehem. The second part of today’s gospel is devoted to the Jewish circumcision ceremony which takes place a week after the birth of a male child. This is also the naming ceremony for the baby. Jesus is given the name assigned to him before he was born.
Prayer of the Faithful
President • On this first day of 2021, we pray for the needs of the world and of people everywhere.
Readers • For the Church, that it may continue to bring the Christian message of cooperation and joy to the world.
For peace in our world, and for world leaders, that they may govern with wisdom and fairness.
For scientists, medical teams and all who seek answers to the Covid pandemic, and for the healing and renewal of our world.
For new hope for all who have lost business and livelihoods during the past year, that recovery may be in sight for them.
For comfort and consolation for the sick and for all who suffer, and for blessings on all medical staff and carers who daily serve the sick.
For new life in God’s Kingdom for those who have died.
President • Loving God of blessing and of grace, you make all things new and you abide for ever the same: grant us to begin this year in your faith and to continue it in your favour; that, guided in all our doings and guarded in all our days, we may spend our days serving you, and finally, by your grace, attain the glory of everlasting life: through Jesus Christ our Lord.
At the Sign of Peace
Printed copies of The Blessing of Aaron (First Reading) may be distributed to the congregation. This is a time when we pray a blessing on one another. It could effectively be done in church (deacons and altar servers could play a significant role). Some families will treasure a printed copy as a keepsake, or perhaps frame it in their homes.
Commentary and Reflections
First Reading • (Num 6:22-27). There is little to be said by way of commentary on this beautiful prayer of blessing. The challenge to the Presider is to engage a group of parishioners or liturgy enthusiasts and invite them to find ways of ‘bringing this blessing home’ in the community. Artists, calligraphers, students, musicians would cherish the opportunity. Note there are several musical versions of this Blessing Prayer available on YouTube.
Second Reading • (Gal 4:4-7). Paul was having a hard time preaching the gospel in Galatia. Judaizers (those who insisted on becoming Jews and observing the Law before committing to Christ) were stalking him and thwarting his efforts. So, he pulls no punches. He gives the essence of God’s plan in a few sentences. He summarises God’s great plan of salvation: ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman…’. Nobody is excluded from God’s loving plan.
Gospel • (Lk 2:16-21). We all like to reminisce on the good and positive experiences in our lives. Re-living them can give us new energy. Recalling that special vacation, meeting a life’s partner, even winning an All-Ireland game or being chosen to represent your school in drama or sport or science, can be refreshing, and a positive use of our human gift of memory. I think that today’s gospel, especially Lk 2: 16-20, gives us a picture of Mary reminiscing on the events of the year gone by. What a year it has been for her! The angel’s message earlier that she was about to engage in a divine enterprise, her visit with her cousin Elizabeth which carried extraordinary predictions about the Child to be born; then Bethlehem, the humble birth in an unworthy animal bed and, most importantly, the message brought by shepherds from the hills!
It is this message from the shepherds that seems to engage Mary’s memory as she recalls their message ‘of great joy, a joy to be shared with the whole world’. We are told that she ‘pondered these things in her heart’. She sure had experience to ponder! So, on this New Year’s Day we may be invited to review with Mary the year that has gone by, to reflect on her experience and on our own and to ponder some precious things in our heart.
Reflections towards a Homily
2021: Let This be a Year of Good Wishes! Praying a blessing on our family, friends, environment and on the world! This may take many forms: A simple family prayer: ‘God bless N … [current examples will come to mind]’. The amazing spirit of generosity and care for neighbour which was provoked by Covid in 2020 and evident in every part of our country must not be allowed to fade away. An Irish Book of Blessings may be helpful in keeping this lovely tradition alive We have a wonderful Irish tradition of invoking God’s blessing on farms and animals and the most ordinary things in daily life. Why not try to revive at least some blessings like: ‘God bless you!?
2021 is Year of World Peace. Our war-torn world needs an end to wars and conflict. We support and laud our Irish peace-keeping forces, wherever they serve in the world and are grateful to their families and dear ones for making great sacrifices in the cause of peace. Poverty and wars are twin sisters. Anything we can do to alleviate poverty in the poorest part of the world can be a barrier against internecine conflict. Our parish bulletins and websites can be useful tools in keeping the community alert to this special year of World Peace.
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Because, to a degree, we have lost some of the importance given to other celebrations of Mary (like 15 August and 8 December), today may be a day for recovery of the place of Mary, Mother of God, in God’s plan of salvation and in our daily living. Today’s gospel opens up many possibilities of doing just that. As Mary ponders the mystery of salvation in her heart, a congregation will not fail to grasp the importance of such pondering. What did those shepherds say to her that is so important that Luke tells the story twice? What exactly had these shepherds ‘heard and seen’? All worth a sermon! A prolific one on Mary!
Healing: The Year That Has Been Most congregations would be expecting a word about the year that has been, the shocks, the sorrows, the bereavements, the anxiety, the loss. Even if satisfactory vaccines will have been discovered and in circulation by early New Year, there are still serious issues of concern to people. One positive way of addressing this would be to focus on healing – on the healing ministry of Jesus and on the wonderful continuation of that healing work being continued by front-line workers, medical teams, researchers, and companies as well as world governments. The response to this is gratitude and hope for recovery in its many forms. A homily on healing may be out of order on New Year’s Day, but a creative homilist will find ways of keeping it in the frame!
Second Sunday after Christmas
3 January 2021 • Bernard Treacy, O.P.
We are still celebrating the many glorious aspects of the coming of the eternal Word of God among us – we have been blessed with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Invitation to Repentance
We have been chosen in Christ ‘to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence’. Mindful of our shortcomings in living up to this mission, let us ask God’s pardon for our failures.
Lord Jesus, the true light come into the world: Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh: Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, the only Son who is nearest to the Father’s heart: Lord, have mercy.
First Reading • (Ecclus 24:1-2, 8-12). Divine wisdom is personified here, and glories in herself. By God’s command Israel is wisdom’s special dwelling place. A privileged people, wisdom has taken root in them.
Second Reading • (Eph 1:3-6, 15-18): The Ephesians, both Jew and Gentile, were predestined to become God’s adopted sons and daughters through Jesus Christ.
Gospel • (Jn 1:1-18). This great poem presents to us the figure of Jesus – the eternal Word made flesh, who calls on us to accept him as the way, the truth and the life.
President • Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the way, the truth and the life. Mindful of this, let us turn to him in prayer for the needs of the Church and for our own particular needs.
Readers • For peace throughout the world and especially in the Holy Land – that the Lord touch the hearts of all men and women ‘who live and move and have their being’ in that sacred land and direct their steps into the way of peace.
For all in positions of authority in the Church – that the Lord may inspire them to imbue his people with the love that knows no bounds.
For grace to be mindful of our being blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, and of the dignity of every human being.
For grace to accept the Word who is the true light that enlightens all, as the light of our lives.
For all who suffer, remembering in particular those whose lives are blighted by Covid-19.
For those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
President • Father of grace, before the world was made you adopted us for your own kind purposes. As we trust you to accept our prayers, we ask you also to give us a spirit and perception of what is revealed through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer
To all who did accept him Jesus gave power to become the children of God. As children of the Father, with full confidence let us pray.
Introduction to the Sign of Peace
From Jesus’ fullness we have all received. May too we receive his peace; and may those we pray for, receive it in abundance.
Commentary – Seán P. Kealy, C.S.Sp.
First Reading • (Ecclus 24:1‑2.8‑12). When Ecclesiasticus was being written many Jews were wondering whether their old traditions and culture could survive in a cultivated environment of sophisticated thinking and living. The author claimed that true wisdom dwelt in Israel and could be identified with the law of Moses. Thus the writer takes the personification of Wisdom found in Proverbs a step further: finally, after much searching, Wisdom pitches her tent in Jerusalem. Allusions to this poetic personification can be seen in John’s Prologue, where the Word present with God from the beginning and involved in creation ‘pitched its tent among us’ (Jn 1:1‑14).
Second Reading • (Eph 1:3‑6.15‑18). The blessing of God which we have here, not unlike the Jewish berakah, is full of images probably drawn from the liturgy and its hymns in particular. Many scholars suggest that much of our passage is baptismal in reference. Paul proclaims the role of Christ and his those who belong to Christ in God’s plan for the unity, in Christ, of everything in heaven and on earth. Even before creation, God, in love, had destined Christians for ‘sonship’ in Jesus Christ.
Our second selection (vv. 5‑18) is a lovely use of the three virtues of faith, love, and hope. It is an insight into Paul’s own prayer style and a model approach for any minister. He ‘gives thanks for [the people], remembering [them] in my prayers,’ praying for wisdom and revela-tion resulting in commitment to Christ that ‘you may know the hope that belongs to his call.’ No wonder some scholars see Ephesians as the crown of Paulism (C.H. Dodd), exercising, with Romans, the most influence on Christian spirituality. Particularly relevant in our ecumenical times is the marvellous description of Christian unity and the Church Catholic and Universal and the high spiritual view of mar-riage.
Gospel • (Jn 1:1‑18). Among hymns reaching back before creation, there is no more sustained or profound exposition of the significance of Jesus than John’s Prologue. Today there is greater appreciation of the opening lines of the synoptic Gospels also. Mark reaches back to the prophets and the Baptist’s activity. Matthew goes further back to Abraham while Luke reaches to Adam. John, ‘the spiritual Gospel’, reaches before creation itself. His opening is like a lens through which he intends his readers to view what follows and in particular the struggles of people to accept or reject Jesus. His Prologue functions somewhat like the Greek choral opening to a play. As with great poetry, its riches can never be adequately fathomed as it ranges over nearly all the themes of the Gospel. St Augustine, in his influential Tractates on John 36:1), compares John to the eagle:
In the four Gospels, or rather the four books of the one Gospel, St John the apostle, not unworthy in respect of spiritual intelligence compared to the eagle, has taken a higher flight, and soared in his preaching more sublimely than the other three, and in the lifting up thereof, would have our hearts lifted up likewise.
The Prologue speaks of the deepening immersion of the divine in the human world until its final presence in 1:12-13. The end is not a departed Christ, but a Christ the eternal companion, still vitally involved, particularly in the reborn to eternal life in him.
Our three hymnic readings try to penetrate, as perhaps no other readings, the mystery of life and the wisdom involved. Ecclesiasticus opens a window into a community not unlike our own, struggling with its identity at the crossroads of its traditions and a materialistic culture which threatened to overwhelm their religious identity. While remaining loyal to the essentials of its tradition it did see the need for a creative adaptation and the use of imagination to enkindle pride, especially in the youth who badly needed heroes. The author’s new view that true satisfying wisdom comes from the Lord involves a declaration of war against Hellenism and other ‘enlightenment’ thinking where wisdom tends to be a human achievement.
Paul is concerned to propound a vision of faith, love, and hope and the richness of the wisdom of God which is graciously lavished on his adopted children. It is a summons beyond a superficial view of the present with its limitations, failures, and temptations to the deeper reality where all are in the hands of a caring father. Paul himself had seen some of his own darkest hours in Ephesus. Yet this letter is one of the most hope‑filled of all of his writings. The same hope is needed today as the Church celebrates the reality of salvation being already achieved. This truth may not be easy to assimilate in the midst of sufferings and alarms we are experiencing in 2020 – and are likely to continue to know well into 2021. In a time when many families are in crisis Paul advises them to take courage in serving one another in love.
For John, the incarnation involves much mystery and cannot be reduced to superficial explanations or naive solutions. As the poet John Donne once said: ‘Twas much, that man was made like God before, / but that God should be made like man, much more.’
John does not tell us how the Word became flesh or came on the human scene. He is content to insist that he did so. He challenges Christians to examine the very assumptions which see success and human fulfilment coming through a mindset which extols efficiency, utility, and pragmatism as the chief virtues. In his study, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, R.E. Brown reminds us:
In this day when Catholics quarrel about how much respective authority pope, bishop, priest and lay person should have, and when Christians quarrel about whether a woman should be an ordained minister of the Eucharist, John’s voice cries out in warning. The greatest dignity to be striven for is neither papal, episcopal, n priestly; the greatest dignity is that of belonging to the community of the beloved disciples of Jesus Christ. (p. 64)
Epiphany of the Lord
6 January 2021 • Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
Christmas seems over! The decorations if they have not been taken down are looking very tired! But just as on Christmas Day we recalled that the birth of Jesus was an event of great joy for the shepherds watching their flocks by night – and who stand for all the faithful of Israel. So, today, on what is for us the edge of Christmas time, we recall that it is an event of great joy for all peoples. The Prince of Peace comes into our world, and in our joy at this manifestation of God’s love to us, we want to present our gifts to him. What gifts have we got? As disciples, we have the gift of our energy, the gift of our skills, and the gift of our generosity towards others.
Rite of Penance
Lord Jesus, you received the tribute of gold showing us that you are our king; forgive us those times when we have used our resources badly or unjustly. Lord, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you received the gift of incense showing us that you are our priest; forgive us those times when we have failed to offer you our worship or failed to pray. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you received an offering of sweet myrrh showing us that you are our healing saviour; forgive us those times when we caused suffering or bitterness. Lord, have mercy.
First Reading • (Isa 60:1-6 and Ps 71). All the nations will seek out the Lord when he comes.
Second Reading • (Eph 3:2-3. 5-6). The goodness of God is now manifested to all humanity in Jesus; we Christians live in the Age of the Epiphany.
Gospel • (Mt 2:1-12). All humanity is invited to discover their deepest desires in the wonder of the Christ.
President • Friends, today the nations came and fell down before the Christ, for through him our prayers are brought before the Father; we too are in the presence of the Lord Jesus, so through him let us make our petitions to the Father.
Readers • On this day when the magi fell down and worshipped the Lord’s Anointed, may we and all Christians renew our dedication to Christ’s service and to prayer.
On this day when our great Prophet was pointed out to the nations through a star, we pray that God may send a light to all who seek meaning in their lives, all who seek the ways of justice, and all who seek to fathom the mystery of existence.
On this day when wise men placed their treasures at the service of the Word made flesh, we pray that each of us in this church will have the generosity to put our talents and treasures at the service of the Good News in the coming year.
On this day when our High Priest received the gift of incense, we pray that this community as God’s priestly people may engage more deeply in our liturgy with our minds and hearts and bodies during the coming year.
On this day when our great Healer and Saviour received the gift of myrrh, we pray that this community may be the bringer of joy and sweetness to all who are suffering or lonely or afraid, and may bring help and comfort to all who are sick or in need of healing.
On this day when our King received the tribute of gold, let us pray that we will have the wisdom to use our economic resources wisely, justly, and in the service of the poor and needy.
On this day when we rejoice in the gathering of all nations around Emmanuel, let us pray that all who have died in the peace of Christ and all the dead whose faith is known to God alone may be gathered together in heaven.
President • Father, this day is one of joy for us for your Spirit has revealed to us the mystery of your Word made flesh, look on us with love and grant us our needs for we make them through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Preparation of the Gifts
Given the more informal style of much contemporary liturgy, the use of incense at the Eucharist has all but disappeared even on major feasts. However, this is the day when you should make an exception in even the most relaxed of liturgical settings. Given that one of the gifts of the magi was incense it seems a missed opportunity not to offer this gift of precious smelling perfume as part of our worship today. First incense the gifts, and then have the thurifer incense the whole congregation. This incensing shows that we are collectively a priesthood – an image based in the early Christian memory of those who could offer incense in the temple (cf. Lk 1:9) – who can stand and offer praise to God. So instead of the formalist incensation of the people from one point in the building (the former practice was for the congregation to receive three separate double-swings from the entrance of the ‘sanctuary’), the thurifer should move through the people incensing them and making this a very obvious, and special, part of today’s liturgy.
Invitation to the Our Father
The Christ was manifested to the nations so that people from every place under heaven could call on the Father in prayer, and so we say:
Invitation to the Sign of Peace
The Son of God came with the message of peace to all the nations and peoples; let us pray for the peace of the world as we offer each other the sign of the peace that is amongst us.
Invitation to Holy Communion
Behold the Word made flesh, behold him before whom the wise men came and fell down and worshipped; happy are we who today are in his presence.
This is, in effect, the last ‘day of Christmas’ for this year, so it is the last possible day when a Christmas Carol is appropriate. Some of these works are the jolly vessels of quite rich theology and, indeed, some are appropriate as communion reflections. A case in point for this day is the carol ‘The first Noel’; all the verses of which, apart from the first, are focused on the arrival of the wise men.
First Reading • (Isa 60:1-6 and Ps 71). This oracle opens the section of Third-Isaiah that describes the glories of the New Zion of the time of redemption. Israel is no longer a puny kingdom that is regularly overrun by its neighbours because it is at the junction of Egypt and Mesopotamia – in effect, a wilderness cross-roads – but is the very centre of the world: now all look to it, and come to it, rather than just trample over it in passing.
It is this passage, with its reference to kings offering tribute of gold and incense, along with today’s Psalm, both read by the Church as prophecies fulfilled in Jesus that gave rise to the belief that the three magi mentioned in Matthew 2, were actually three kings. In reading this passage, today’s psalm, and today’s gospel in combination – with the result that we see in the statues of the three kings in our cribs – we are engaging in the kind of reading of scripture that has characterized the church’s use of scripture throughout most of its history.
Second Reading • (Eph 3:2-3. 5-6). The Letter to the Ephesians was most probably written between 70 and 95 AD by someone who was a disciple of Paul; hence it comes form the same period as Matthew’s Gospel, and reflects the same level of development within the Church’s theology with regard to the universal significance of Jesus. The Church now preaches the mystery that was hidden in the past, and indeed that mystery is now made manifest to the nations. The Church therefore can be said to live, through the work of the Spirit, in the ‘Age of the Epiphany’.
In the Jerusalem Bible lectionary the word ‘pagans’ has been used instead of ‘the nations’ (ta ethné) and so a link to the first reading/psalm, and a key theme of the whole liturgy today, is lost.
Gospel • (Mt 2:1-12). This is one more facet of a single reality in the gospel: the infancy narrative which runs from 1:1 to 2:23. When read today as a discreet ‘historical event’ that unity is disfigured, but such a reading is almost inevitable given the way that this feast has developed in the West. However, when we note how Isaiah 60:1-6 was read in combination with this gospel passage by the Church to produce the ‘three kings’, we should note that this was not arbitrary combination of texts; because when Matthew wrote he implicitly quoted those verses of Isaiah with its images of light coming in darkness, nations turning to this new day, the world’s rulers coming and doing homage, bringing with them royal gifts and then the travellers knowing real joy.
When reading the passage the point to try to keep in mind is that this is a story to tell us something of the inner identity of Jesus: it is Christology rather than interesting reminiscence. And the sort of questions to avoid is those astronomical ones: was it a comet or a star or a conjunction? Such questions may provoke curiosities from astronomers-turned-autodidact-exegetes, but they miss the point of the gospel completely.
1. This feast cannot escape the links with the colourful exotic figures in the crib and their gifts, however, the task of the preacher is to draw attention to those aspects of the mystery of the incarnation that Matthew wished to highlight by introducing the story of the eastern visitors into his infancy narrative.
2. In a nutshell, the infancy narratives in both Luke and Matthew should be seen as ‘identity cards’: they tell us about who Jesus is, before we hear anything about what he did. But they approach the question of identity using the forms of historical narrative rather than abstract theological categories. Once this is stated then each of the episodes within these narratives, such as the visit of the magi, must be seen as expressing various aspects of the mysterious identity of the Anointed One. So, what does this story tell us about Jesus and our faith in him?
3. That Jesus was the one for whom Israel waited over the generations of promise was established by Matthew at the very beginning of his gospel in the genealogy. However, there was also a strand of messianic faith that the Christ would not only bring salvation to Israel, but to all ‘the nations’, the whole of humanity. We find this faith in the oracle in Zechariah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you”’ (8:23). Now with the arrival of these magi, representatives of the nations, this prophecy is fulfilled and one more aspect of the nature of Jesus is revealed. Jesus is the one who is awaited by all nations.
4. The message of the Christians is that God has sent us his Son in Jesus Christ, today we rejoice that this mystery of God-with-us is not something that is confined to a select few, but something that is for all humanity.
5. Matthew is careful to show that while God reveals the Anointed One’s coming by a star, it is also something that comes through the magi’s own deep searching. In this Matthew’s gospel is very different from Luke’s gospel where the angel tells the shepherds who has come and what it means and what to do, and then they do it. In Matthew we have professional searchers who realize that there is a greater mystery beyond their present conditions and then set out to find it. They follow the evidence, they at first come to the wrong conclusion when they go to Herod’s court, and the truth only becomes clear when they find themselves in the presence of Jesus. The Christ, and his gospel, is thus seen as the fulfillment of human longings and of the human search for the truth – not as something imposed on humanity from outside that is destructive of human desires and creativity. Alas, we Christians often present the gospel in just such a negative way.
6. To celebrate this feast is to rejoice that God’s love has become available to us and that that love invites a response from us: to offer to Truth himself all our human talents.
Baptism of the Lord
10 January 2021 • Thomas O’Loughlin
Today marks the beginning of the public life and ministry of Jesus as he set out to do the Father’s will and announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The beginning of this work of is marked by his baptism in the Jordan. He is acclaimed on earth by the prophet John and links himself to John by being baptized by him. He is acclaimed from heaven by the voice of the Father and the presence of the Spirit. As the people who have heard his preaching and accepted his call, who have confessed him as the Christ, and set out to follow his way, let us pause and consider the words addressed to Jesus: ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’
Blessing with Water
The Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling with Holy Water links the beginning of our journey as disciples (Baptism) with the beginning of the journey of Jesus (this feast).
First Reading • (Isa 55:1-11). This is a prophecy of the new world that will be ushered in when the messiah, the Holy One of Israel, comes among God’s people; we believe that this time of the Lord began with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.
Second Reading • (1 Jn 5:1-9). We hear an answer to the question what does it mean to call Jesus ‘the Christ’: Jesus is the one sent by the Father and he sends the Holy Spirit into our lives. One can use the option for Year B, the passage suggested here, but Acts 10:34-38 [the reading for Year A] is to be preferred because is the only passage in the New Testament outside the gospels that mentions today’s feast.)
Gospel • (Mk 1:7-11). The Father addresses Jesus: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
President • My friends, today we recall that Jesus is the Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, and because he has come and shared our humanity we can stand now with him and ask the Father for all we need.
Readers • On this day when Jesus began his ministry we pray that his body the church will be faithful to the gospel he entrusted to it.
On this day when Jesus was baptized by John we pray that people everywhere will recognize him as the Lord’s anointed.
On this day when Jesus was manifested to his people we pray that the People of God will have the courage to manifest him in our world.
On this day when the Spirit descended on Jesus we pray that the Spirit will descend on all who are in darkness or who are despairing.
On this day when Jesus heard the voice of the Father, we pray that all who have died may be called to be beloved sons and daughters.
President • Father, we have been made your children of adoption in baptism; so as you look upon your beloved Son, look also on us, and grant our needs for we pray to you in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The beloved Son of the Father made us his sisters and brothers, and so we can pray.
The messiah announced the new relationship of peace when he welcomed people to his table, let us celebrate this new relationship now in the sign of peace.
This is the Beloved of the Father, who now invites us to share his life at his table.
The hymn given in the Liturgy of the Hours, ‘When Jesus comes to be baptized’ (vol. 1, p. 371), for Evening Prayer 1 of this feast is appropriate as a reflection today.
First Reading • (Isa 55:1-11). This reading is the concluding prophecy of Deutero-Isaiah’s book. It began with the cry ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God’ (Isa 40:1); now it ends with this solemn statement that the Lord is in full control of the destiny of his people. As it is read within the Church it is the announcement that the time of the messiah has now begun; that is the reign of the Christ which begins with the baptism in the Jordan.
Responsorial Psalm • (Is 12:2-6). This text has so many psalm-echoes that one could easily forget that it is not found within the Psalter. It is a hymn of thanksgiving that was composed after the time of [First-] Isaiah and inserted as a finale to chapters 2-12. The original meaning of the phrase ‘you [plural] will draw water from the wells of salvation’ is obscure, but has become fixed in the memory of the Church as a prophecy of Christian baptism and it is, presumably, for that reason it was chosen for use here.
Second Reading • (1 Jn 5:1-9). This text can be seen as adding another early witness to the Trinitarian theology found in the Gospel. Like many sections of this letter, today’s reading is a very well-developed piece of catechesis on the identity of Jesus and his mission. The significant feature is the manner in which the beliefs of the community are inseparable from its life as the community of the baptized. The whole passage with its short phrases and careful use of repetition is likely to have been a text that was intended to be committed to memory; and given the references to baptism in the passage it may be that this was part of a baptismal catechesis.
Gospel • (Mk 1:7-11). This presentation of the baptism scene is earlier than that in Matthew, but it is one of those passages in the Synoptics where all three have similar perspectives. One point to remember, however, is that here in Mark the baptism scene is the far more stark opening to the whole gospel than in either Matthew or Luke where there are already the manifestations of the identity of Jesus that form part of the infancy narrative. In Mark the baptism scene is far more obviously the answer to the question who is this Jesus whose gospel we are beginning to hear: he is the one who is uniquely the Son of the Father and the bearer of the Spirit.
1. Today is a day of celebrating beginnings in the liturgy: the beginning of the preaching and the public ministry of Jesus which is announced with the great cry from heaven of the Father’s joy in the work of his beloved Son. Yet Mark expects that as you hear this opening blaze of heavenly light and glory, you know and remember that his story will end in the darkened Friday of the crucifixion. We also are now at a beginning: the beginning of a year. The initial excitement of New Year is over, the champagne has been corked and drunk; so we can now stop and reflect that a new period of our lives in the world is beginning.
2. The public ministry of Jesus today is that which is carried out by you and me, the individuals that go to make up the Body of Christ, the Church. Preaching the truth, doing the truth in love, bearing witness to the Father, caring for the poor, being attentive to the Spirit, recognizing the presence of God in respecting the environment, seeking justice and peace, offering thanksgiving to the Father in the liturgy – all these are the public works of the Son carried out by his people. Now is the time to take stock and ask are we being attentive to this public ministry with which we are charged.
3. There is no end to the variety of public ministry to which we are called in imitation of Christ, to do the will of the Father, being empowered by the Spirit. However, let us take three examples.
4. Bearing witness to the truth. We live much of our lives being buffeted by propaganda of one sort or another: whether it is formal propaganda intended to create great lies that oppress people, to advertising, to manipulating numbers to prove a point, to putting a spin on a story. There is even the realization that if you repeat an idea often enough, people will become so familiar with it that they will assume it is some basic fact. Do we simply acquiesce with this, or do we seek to get behind the bald headlines, strap-lines, and tags? Do we confront the part we may be playing in the propagation of falsehoods out of selfishness or the desire for power? Honesty is the obedience that we owe to the structure of the creation, doing the truth is a holy activity because God is the source of all truth. The lie, big or small, is the witness to all that is not of God and has no place in the kingdom; as we see in just three words in the name Jesus gave Satan: ‘The Father of Lies’ (Jn 8:44).
5. Caring for those who suffer oppression. The oppressed are all those who are in need and cannot escape from that situation by their own exertions: be it illness, or poverty, or ignorance, or as a result of injustice. We believe in a God who forgives and gives us chance after chance, and who challenges us to do to others as we would have them do unto us. To acknowledge the goodness of God to us is to accept that we have an obligation to show that same goodness. This care is not something ‘added on’ to being a Christian, but what make us a holy people. God is holy in his action towards us: he loves us in our needs; we act in a holy way in imitation of God when we seek to act with love to those in need. Thus a holy people can pray: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
6. Respecting the creation. Because the environment in which we live is material does not mean that we can look on it with indifference or as something simply to be used and discarded. We believe that the whole of the creation is God’s gift and that all that was made was made through the Word: it is ‘shot through’ with the character of the Word who in the fullness of time took on our humanity for our salvation. But if the world is God’s gift and bears the traces of the Creator within it, then we must respect it and use it with care conscious that it is here to sustain life not just for us but for all the generations to come. We live in world where we march through the creation like vandals, but this is incompatible with acknowledging the Father, or calling ourselves disciples of the Son, or claiming that the Spirit enlightens us.
7. In all of these it is often quite acceptable ‘to mouth the truth’: to talk for example of being less exploitative or less consumerist, but when this starts to become actual in deeds it starts to become painful. It is one thing to say one abhors falsehoods; it is another thing to actually point it out. It is easy to fret over care for the elderly or the poor, another thing to actually visit an elderly relative or give enough money to groups that work with the homeless. Here Christianity confronts us with the reality of the Cross. Ours is not a polished philosophy of rhetoric and good intentions: the public witness to the Father’s will ended for Jesus in his death, his humble obedience right to the bitter end. It is the willingness to embrace this reality of the pain inherent in doing the good in the midst of a sinful world that sets us apart. It is only in grasping this reality that the true and the good cost, and building the kingdom makes demands on us, that we become the beloved daughters and sons of the Father.
8. To recall the scene of the baptism of Jesus is to resolve anew to being his public witnesses in the world.
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
17 January 2021 • Bernard Treacy, O.P.
In today’s First Reading, we meet two people – noticeably different from one another, but belonging together in the sanctuary of the Lord. Like them, we assemble from a range of backgrounds, we all have our own interests, all at different stages of life. Yet we belong in this assembly to receive together what the Lord wants us to hear.
Like Samuel in the First Reading, and Andrew and Peter in the Gospel, we all have been called by God who has a purpose for each of us. We acknowledge humbly our failings in being true to that call, and we trust the Lord who calls us to make us worthy of this Celebration.
Lord Jesus, in Baptism you made us members of your extended family, Lord, have mercy.
You call us to be aware of your continual loving presence. Christ, have mercy.
You give us grace to be always mindful of your care and attention in our daily lives. Lord, have mercy.
First Reading • (1 Sam 3:3b-10,19). The boy Samuel hears voices in the night. Though at first neither of them understands what is happening, the old priest guides him to accept God’s way for him.
Second Reading • (1 Cor 6:13b-15a,17-20). Paul addresses the problem of casual sex. He insists that, because of Christ’s resurrection, the body is important and has moral value. For Paul, the bodies of Christians continue Jesus’ saving mission.
Gospel • (Jn 1:35-42). This passage is John’s account of the call of the first disciples. The stay with Jesus leads them to a deeper insight as to who Jesus really is. Owing to Andrew’s invitation, Simon Peter also begins the process of realizing who Jesus really is.
President • God’s call to individual believers and to the Church presents both opportunities and challenges. We pray that we may be alert to the opportunities and courageous in meeting the challenges.
Readers • That all Christians may support one another in their callings.
That all Christians might appreciate the gifts of God given for the betterment of the world.
That those in government may use their power and influence to bring about just and lasting peace.
That our society might foster the gifts of the young and enable them to develop to their full potential.
That the sick and lonely might find consolation and encouragement in the presence of those who care for them.
That there would come a speedy end to the pandemic and its associated problems.
That all our beloved dead may know the delight and peace of God.
President • From our earliest days, O God, you call us by name. Make our ears attentive to your voice, our spirits eager to respond, that, having heard you in Jesus your anointed one, we may draw others to be his disciples. We ask this through the same Christ our Lord.
Like Andrew and Simon in the Gospel, we are followers of the Lord in faith. As he instructed the apostles and instructs us, so we pray.
First Reading • (1 Sam 3:3b-10,19). This passage is a prophetic call narrative. It establishes Samuel’s authority and looks to the passing of power from Eli to Samuel. While sleeping in the shrine at Shiloh, Samuel receives a revelation from the Lord that constitutes him a prophet. The repetition of Samuel’s going to Eli builds up tension and stresses the reality of Samuel’s experience. Samuel’s not knowing the Lord indicates that the unique relationship that Samuel is to enjoy has not yet been established. At the third encounter Eli realizes that the Lord is speaking to Samuel and thereupon informs him of the proper response. Verse 10 shows that the Lord actually comes to Samuel and stands beside him. The final verse notes that Samuel continues to enjoy the Lord’s presence and, as a result, all his words are effective.
Responsorial Psalm • (Ps 40). ‘Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will’, sums up the whole of Samuel’s life, and is a clarion call to any person called to a specific function within the people of God. This psalm was probably used in the sanctuary by the Davidic king. It takes up an ancient strand of teaching about the greater importance of following the divine will over any ritual sacrifice. We recall the word of Samuel: ‘Surely to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams’ (see 1 Sam 15:22).
Second Reading • (1 Cor 6:13 15.17 20). Saint Paul is writing to the Christian community of a Greek city with an international reputation for low standards of sexual morality. He opposes a viewpoint which divides the spirit from the activity of a body doomed to destruction. He quotes: ‘All things are lawful for me’, and retorts: ‘but not all things are beneficial’. The liberal view would hold that we can eat and fornicate at will, since all our bodily activities are matters of indifference from a religious point of view. The apostle contrasts this with the standpoint of a Christian person who understands that God’s work of salvation involves the whole person, body and spirit. Fornication is a sin against the body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit, bought with the price of the cross. We should, then, glorify God in our bodies.
Gospel • (Jn 1:35-42). In the Fourth Gospel, John is always presented as a ‘witness to the light, so that all might believe through him’. In this passage he points Jesus out as the person to be followed to two of his disciples. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The symbol is a combination of two images: that of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (52:13 53:12) who is led to the slaughter as a lamb (53:7) and who has borne our infirmities (53:4); and the image of the death of Jesus being that of the Passover lamb (Jn 19:36). This image had already been used by Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians: ‘For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed’ (5:7). It was on Jesus that John saw the Spirit descending like a dove and remaining on him.
A stay with Jesus leads the two disciples to a deeper insight into who he really is. Andrew, speaking with his brother, refers to Jesus as the Messiah. Unlike Matthew 16:16-18 that relates the change of Simon’s name to Peter much later in the ministry, John places the scene right in the very beginning. John merely states that the basis for the change is Jesus’ looking at Peter. Peter thus begins the process of an ever deeper realization of the person of Jesus.
The readings for today present a perfect opportunity to address the question of the Christian vocation, keeping in mind a key statement from the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican II:
All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fulness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God’s Spirit and, obeying the Father’s voice and adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth, follow Christ, poor, humble and cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory. Each one, however, according to his own gifts and duties must steadfastly advance along the way of a living faith, which arouses hope and works through love (nn. 40-41).
In the Gospel, the words of John the Baptist mobilise the energies of his own disciples, bringing them to turn and to follow Jesus. Something in them has been awakened to a sense of enthusiasm when they meet Jesus. It enables them to set out on a journey without a clearly predictable outcome – just an assurance from someone they trust that this Jesus holds a key place in God’s plan for humanity. Jesus does not entice them with a policy or a mission statement; nor does he present himself as figure of wisdom. Instead, he poses questions for which the disciples of John don’t have answers. This action encourages them to continue the quest by trusting him and following him. From the comment Andrew made to Simon, it is clear that they were seeking the Messiah. But they found a man who did no more than invite them to trust him. And that was enough for them.
The preacher might suggest that this can be pattern for any vocation within the Christian calling. There is always an element of setting out in trust, of recognising that even within the noblest undertaking there can be challenges or disappointments. Remembering that many in the congregation may have suffered setbacks, it would be good that the preacher offer the encouragement of pointing out that Jesus did not offer pre-packaged answers. Instead, he assured those who might follow him that he and they shared the road, however bumpy. Even if there is darkness or struggle or uncertainty, the Lord leads his people through.
The dynamic of the call of Samuel (First Reading) also provides guidance. He had a neatly structured life serving the Lord’s sanctuary at Shiloh. God’s word intervened in this sedate arrangement, in a way that, at first, was frustratingly puzzling. The mysterious night-time voice needed the long experience of the old priest and patient waiting to unravel what was at stake. The outcome was that Samuel became a prophet. He would be instrumental in installing a new method of rule, involving kings. He would foretell that the holy place which, as a boy, he had served would be totally destroyed and the holiest of all God’s symbols (the Ark of the Covenant) would be forgotten and abandoned for years. God plan was bigger than human hopes, however holy their aspirations. In Samuel’s the great adventure of following God’s call started with a misunderstanding: he thought no more was happening than a call from an old man during the night. God’s plans can be revealed through the neediness of ordinary situations.
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
24 January 2021 • Seamus Tuohy, O.P.
Pope Francis has laid down that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God.
Today, through the Scriptures, Christ proclaims for us again ‘the Good News from God.’ As we gather for this Sunday Eucharist, he offers us the opportune moment, the kairos, the right time to hear his call and respond with our whole hearts to welcome the reign of God into our lives.
Jesus calls on us to repent and believe; to make a real turnabout in our lives, to review our commitment and make ourselves more available in his service.
Lord Jesus, who announce the kingdom of God and call all people to repentance, Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, who invite us to believe in the Good News, the Word of truth and life, Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, who show the way to those who go astray and guide the humble in the right path, Lord, have mercy.
First Reading • (Jon 3:1-5,10). The Jonah story is about a pagan people who turn to God, and how God used a reluctant prophet to bring this about. The Lord is God of all peoples, the Gentiles too, and he can evoke repentance even from the most unlikely people. In this story, we ponder God’s merciful response to the Ninevites, to all who repent and turn back to him.
Second Reading • (2 Cor 7:29-31). St Paul challenges the Christian community in Corinth to live out the reality of the Word of God that he has preached to them. He teaches them, and us, that from now on, even our most important worldly concerns – family relations, occupations, and possessions – must be judged in light of the gospel.
Gospel • (Mk 1:14-20). Over the Sundays of ordinary time this year, we read consecutive passages from the Gospel of Mark. In today’s passage, Jesus calls several disciples, who follow him immediately. As Jonah was sent to the people of Nineveh demanding that they make a radical change in their manner of living, Jesus calls on us to ‘Repent and believe in the gospel.’
After the homily, those to be commissioned (or re-commissioned) as parish readers are presented to the people assembled in these or similar words:
President • Brothers and sisters, our readers are given the great privilege of proclaiming God’s Word in our liturgical assemblies. Through them, God speaks to us, his people, of the salvation and redemption won for us by the Lord Jesus, so that, nourished by this word, we may grow in the love and the knowledge of God.
The president pauses and then addresses the candidates
You have been called to proclaim the Word of God in the assembled community of God’s people, and in so doing you are sharing in the Church’s mission to preach the Good News to all peoples. May God’s Word be living and active in your lives, that you may worship the living God in spirit and in truth. In proclaiming God’s word to others, accept it yourself in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Meditate on it constantly, so that each day you will have a deeper love for the Scriptures, and in all you say and do, show forth to the world our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The candidates stand before the president who asks them these questions:
Are you willing to serve as a Minister of the Word and to proclaim God’s word to the people assembled in this church? (I am)
Are you willing to prepare each proclaiming of God’s word by study and prayer? (I am)
The president then hands a Lectionary or Bible to a representative of (or to all the readers)
Receive the Sacred Scriptures and joyfully read, announce, and bear witness to the word of God.
Then he invites the assembly to pray
Let us pray to God our loving Father and ask him to bless our brothers and sisters chosen to proclaim his Word: (pause)
God our Father, you have given our brothers and sisters faith in you and in your living word. We ask you to help them grow in that faith as they meditate on your word, so that they may worthily proclaim the word to the assembly, and by the manner of their lives. Through Christ our Lord.
President • Gathered as the people of God, sustained by the Word of God, and called to be disciples of Christ, together let us pray:
Readers • For the Church: that rooted in the Word of God, we may continue to build up the Body of Christ and promote the common good.
For Christian leaders: that they may always walk in the ways of the Lord and encourage others to do the same.
For healing between Christian churches and communities: that God will free us from past rivalries and wounds, so that all Christians may work together in serving Christ who calls us to be one.
For our loved ones who remain far from God: that they will find compassion when they turn to God and hope and strength in his love.
For peace among nations: that God would inspire light to shine on all parts of our world that know the darkness of division and war.
For all who teach and preach the Word of God: that their words may renew the faith of those who listen and encourage them to trust in the promise of God.
For all who participate in the Eucharist today: that they may come to recognise the gifts that God bestows and draw strength and courage in obedience to his will.
For this community: that we may have an ever-greater openness to the Word of God and allow it to enlighten the darkness of our hearts and free us to follow Jesus evermore faithfully.
President • Everlasting God, when he read in the synagogue at Nazareth, your Son proclaimed the good news of salvation for which he would give up his life. As our readers proclaim your words of life to us, strengthen their faith that they may read with conviction and boldness, and put into practice what they read. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
May Almighty God drive far away from you every evil and grant you the gifts of his blessing. Amen.
May he make your hearts always attentive to his word that you may walk in the way of his commands. Amen.
May he help you to discern what is good and just, that you may become co-heirs of the eternal city. Amen.
And may the blessing of almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit come down upon you and remain with you forever. Amen.
Imitating those first disciples, let us go from here to follow the Lord without hesitation and bring his message to all whom we meet. The Mass is ended, go now in peace to love and to serve the Lord.
First Reading • (Jonah 3:1-5,10). This is the only occasion in which we read from the book of Jonah in the Sunday Lectionary. The book is unique in the prophetic literature in that it is a story about a prophet rather than a collection of his oracles, and while some other prophetic books do contain biography, in none – with this quite radical exception of Jonah – does it make up more than a fraction of the book. In this case the book consists of an extended historical narrative about the prophet’s mission to Nineveh and its aftermath, recording only one prophetic oracle, a mere half-verse in length (Jonah 3:4b). Moreover, throughout the book the prophet himself is the subject of stinging satire and is clearly presented as the anti-hero of the story. This is not the way in which prophets, unless they are deemed to be false, were normally portrayed. Nevertheless, the story of Jonah has always captured the popular imagination because of the fantastic account of the prophet being swallowed by a great fish and subsequently vomited up alive. The fish, however, is merely incidental, a fanciful supplement to the main theological thrust of the book, which concerns God’s grace and forgiveness toward the Gentiles, that is, toward all of humanity.
The narrative seems to reflect a saga that had grown up around the historical figure of the prophet Jonah mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 who prophesied the expansion of the northern kingdom back to its boundaries at the time of king Solomon. From this, Jonah came to be identified with a narrow form of nationalism that re-emerged in the post-exilic period when the book was written in this form. The story of Jonah, sent, against his inclinations, to preach repentance to Israel’s great Assyrian enemy (Nineveh) was written to provoke a strong negative reaction in such nationalistic circles and to rebuke their limited view of God, who has care for all other peoples and nations as well as their own.
The prophet thought that God could not possibly care for such Gentiles as the Ninevites were! Indeed, throughout the book we find Jonah contrasted with the Gentiles in their response to God. From the start, the Israelite prophet defies God’s express will by setting sail for Tarshish (southern Spain) to avoid his mission rather than journey east to Nineveh. By contrast, in the ensuing storm, the Gentile sailors actively seek to discern the divine will, and awaken Jonah from sleep, urging him to invoke the assistance his god. When they discover that he has thoughtlessly endangered the crew and cargo by making them complicit in his defiance against his god, the sailors still exhibit a humanitarian concern for Jonah’s welfare and attempt to row ashore to save the cursed man’s life. Only with great reluctance do they cast him overboard, and then they piously offer sacrifice to the God of Israel in gratitude for their salvation. They are presented as God’s instrument, the God who refuses to let the prophet run away from his mission. He is rescued at sea in order to preach.
In today’s reading also, from chapter three of the book, the Ninevites respond in a similar manner to the sailors. Jonah’s reluctant preaching, a straightforward and blatant statement of imminent destruction, offers them no hope for salvation: ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed!’ Nevertheless, just one day into Jonah’s preaching the people engage in a united expression of repentance, the like of which was scarcely ever seen in Israel itself. While the prophet himself becomes enraged with God and pleads for death, the people of Nineveh throw themselves at the mercy of the God of Israel. Ironically, they are upheld as examples of the kind of immediate repentance that is appropriate when we hear the word of God. Everyone, from the greatest to the least repents, … including God himself who, we are told, ‘repented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.’
The central theological message of the book, then, is that ‘the Lord’ is God of the Gentiles too. Throughout the narrative, the Lord demonstrates his sovereignty over nature as well as over human affairs, both within and outside the land of Israel. Moreover, human beings far outside of Israel – pagan sailors and Assyrian civilians – are shown to respond to the Lord’s word with repentance and worship. The themes of repentance, forgiveness of sin, and the conversion of the Gentiles are appropriate to this Sunday’s liturgy of the word, setting up a parallel for us with the opening of Jesus’ preaching mission in the gospel reading. Jonah is presented in today’s liturgy as a type of Christ in his preaching of the kingdom. Yet, while they share a prophetic role and their message elicits repentance, there is contrast too, in that Jonah delivered a threat of destruction, but Jesus invites his hearers to hear ‘good news,’ to enter into the ‘kingdom of God.’ He calls the apostles to follow him, that they too may be sent to the Gentiles … to become ‘fishers of human beings.’
Responsorial Psalm • (Ps 24 :4-5; 6-7; 8-9). Psalm 24 (25) is primarily a lament in which David cries out to God for salvation, yet we also find expressions of praise and confidence, as well as reflections on the rewards of covenant faithfulness. In the context of today’s liturgy, the message of this section of the psalm is that those who are humble are guided and taught by God. Such was the attitude of the pagan fishermen and the civilians of Nineveh in the first reading, simple common people willing to listen to God’s word and be instructed.
Jonah, and Jesus in today’s gospel, are both presented as preachers of repentance. Repentance, however, must he followed up with a resolve to obey God’s will, a point which was not developed in the Jonah story (nothing is recounted of the subsequent behaviour of the Ninevites) but which is strongly emphasized in the gospel, where Jesus’ preaching of repentance is followed by the call of the disciples.
Second Reading • (2 Cor 7:29-31). Paul tells the Corinthians to live in total freedom and detachment, reminding them that nothing they have, whether things or personal attachments, are permanent and can disappear at a moment’s notice. Whether life is good or bad: nothing lasts except the fundamental values of truth and love, of freedom and justice. It is what we are, not what we have, that counts. Paul urges detachment, then, from the preoccupations of the world: we cannot be controlled by our relationships, our emotions, or our possessions. The importance of all these things is radically relativized by our relationship with God, and the revelation that this world is not eternal. Heeding the call of God on our lives – in whatever form that may take – takes priority over all our other commitments, occupations, and distractions.
Gospel • (Mk 1:14-20). In all three years of the Sunday lectionary, the gospel reading for Sunday of Week Two in Ordinary Time comes from the Gospel of John (1:29-34; 1:35-42; 2:1-12), with the peculiarly Johannine accounts of the days after Jesus’ baptism near Bethany; the witness of John the Baptist, the encounter with the first disciples, and the first sign at Cana in Galilee.
Now, with Sunday of Week Three in Ordinary Time, the lectionary commences the continuous reading of the synoptic gospel assigned to the particular year, starting from the beginning of Jesus public life and mission. In Year B, we take up Mark’s narrative after Jesus’ fasting and his temptation in the wilderness. We are ready to join his account of Jesus’ return to Galilee and hear his first public words.
In Mark’s vivid and pacey style, Jesus quickly inaugurates his mission to call others to repentance and to believe in the Good News from God. ‘Good News’ is the characterisation that Mark gives to Jesus’ entire work (see Mark 1:1), which includes his journey to the cross and, beyond that, his resurrection. It is in this whole story that the kingdom or reign of God draws near and is inaugurated and will be consummated. Here Jesus announces that ‘the time has come’ … the kairos, the time of fulfilment is now unfolding. This phrase essentially describes the appearance of Jesus as that for which the whole of the Old Testament has been preparing and leading up to. The event to which the Old Testament looked forward is now beginning to happen in Jesus. In him the presence and reign of God are at hand, and God’s ruling power is ready to reconfigure the human condition through metanoia.
This ‘kingdom’ is not a place, then, but a relationship of love, a response to the free gift of God’s own life offered to all people through his beloved Son, in whom he is well-pleased (Mark 1:11), and through the work of the Spirit, his appeal to repent will come to echo in the deep recesses of believers’ hearts in every generation, in every place. The challenge to repent means much more than sorrow for one’s individual sins. The Greek word for ‘to repent’ is metanoiein, which literally means ‘to change one’s mind’ but Jesus must surely have used the Hebrew shûbh, or its Aramaic equivalent, meaning to make a complete turnabout, one hundred and eighty degrees, to reorient one’s whole attitude toward God in the light of his coming kingdom. It is to invest one’s whole self in his service.
Then, the call of the first disciples is quickly recounted. We know from the other gospels (for example John’s account last Sunday) that there was a little more background to Jesus’ relationship with the four fishermen by the sea of Galilee. This was not the first time they had laid eyes on the teacher from Nazareth. Mark’s point, however, is to emphasize the readiness of their response: when the time came, these four lost no time in throwing in their lot with Jesus, in responding to the call to cooperate in his mission. They were to become ‘fishers of human beings’… drawing people forth to a new way of living in the daylight of truth and justice and love.
The call of the disciples also serves to illustrate what it means to repent and believe in the gospel. Simon and Andrew ‘left their nets,’ while James and John left ‘their father Zebedee in the boat.’ They gave up their profession and family relationships to follow Jesus, something which in Judaism was unthinkable to do, except to devote oneself to the study of the Law, to the service of God. Of course, for many of us, following Jesus may faithfully mean just doing a better job at our present occupation or caring more deeply for our family. So, the point is not that professions or family relationships can be disregarded in our response. It’s that nothing can take priority over our obedience to God. The call of Jesus is not time-bound, and today remains the time of fulfilment: now, we are the ones called to collaborate with Jesus to complete his mission. All of us need to be ready to do that and even our most important worldly concerns must be judged in light of the gospel
In the Word of God addressed to us today, two types of response to the Lord’s call emerge from the readings. First, there is the response of Jonah, the reluctant prophet sent to preach conversion to the far distant and pagan citizens of Nineveh, the capital city of Israel’s dominant invaders. Jonah turns his back on that calling and runs, taking a boat from Jaffa in the opposite direction altogether. He is reluctant to heed God’s call and avoids the mission, he flees from the God who is searching for him and sending him. This response is contrasted with the response of trust and repentance on the part of the Ninevites, pagans who had no previous knowledge of Jonah’s God, but who immediately turned to believe in him and did penance. This response is reflected in the gospel, in the immediate and positive response of the two pairs of brothers, the fishermen by the lake of Galilee – Andrew and Simon, James and John – who readily responded to the call of Jesus as he passed by. There is a face to face encounter, a call and response, … there is openness, decisiveness, and readiness to take responsibility in following Jesus in his mission.
For St. Paul, in the Second Reading, ‘the time’ that he talks about, the time that is growing short … is not time that we measure in minutes and hours on our watches and calendars, or deadlines that we have to meet, to pay our taxes or our bills. No, for Paul, as indeed for Jesus, the time that is running out, that is being consumed, is more like a doorway, a door that is opening out onto a more ample perspective on life itself. So, rather than any anguish at a loss that is coming our way, as Christians we prefer to see in this time the advent of a precious opportunity that is opening for us. So, Paul recommends that we do not flatten out or collapse our whole existence onto our present situation, but that we allow it to open out our perspective towards the presence of God, just as the first disciples did, and as Paul himself on the road to Damascus, when the call of Jesus came to them – ‘Follow me!’ They understood that, yes, ‘our time is growing short’ and that it was necessary, urgent even, to make a choice … the boats and the nets, the tools of their livelihood up to then, were now laid aside, and their family ties and commitments, were somehow now less binding. They were open and ready to take that great step into the unknown, on the basis of a ‘Word’ that had conquered their hearts and souls.
We have a message here for our own calling to the faith. To be Christian believers is always, of course, a great gift, a grace, and not a conquest that we make ourselves. That gift requires a generous response on our part, like that of the first disciples, to answer the call and if necessary to leave everything we have known up to now in order to follow the Lord into his kingdom. ‘To leave everything’ as disciples, does not imply that everyone Jesus calls is supposed to drop everything, give up their profession, their possessions or their commitments and relationships, but simply that all that ‘we are,’ all that we have and commit to must be oriented now in a new way, with a new direction … leading us to be with Jesus in the service of God’s kingdom. This calling gives new sense and meaning to how we live, no longer in any fragmented, confused or restless manner, no longer self-centred or isolated or lonely in ourselves. How we live, whatever we do, all that occupies our interest and time and energies, must not remain an end in itself, must not block us or harden us, forcing the Lord to pass on by, declining his invitation. We must not allow ourselves to become so entangled in the nets of our own preoccupations, and interests, and commitments … and lose out on the opportunity to follow the way to true life.
So, if indeed ‘the time is growing short’, then, we must also ask, ‘what must we do?’ … What is Jesus calling on me to abandon or cut back on in order to follow him more freely in this coming week? It may mean dropping that hobby or interest that seems to dominate my thoughts and consume my time, keeping me from prayer and from giving myself in service to others. It may mean ending a relationship that is not healthy and is not leading toward Christ, or it may mean a general change of behaviour in regard to others. It requires discernment, guidance perhaps, and a whole lot of humility to recognise where we have been sinful, where we have resisted what we know to be God’s will, what we hear as God’s word in our lives.
Today, we have this opportunity to hear again, to welcome this opening call of Jesus in the Gospel, the beginning of his public life and message. This is it! The right time has come: ‘the kingdom of God is close at hand … Repent and believe the Good News.’ He offers us the opportunity to be saved. This is God’s initiative, his stretching out a hand to us … he is taking the first step, and we have the opportunity to take advantage of this moment, to return the gesture. This is no backward step, or regression … rather, it is a reaching out to grasp the outstretched hand, to act on this critical moment, the opportunity of salvation, a breathing life into our faith.
Jesus is passing still today … he passes among us now with that same word, ‘Follow me!’ He is calling to each of us, and he asks for our attention. He calls on us to continue along the path of repentance – striving daily to pattern our lives after his.
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
31 January 2021 • John F. Craghan
In light of today’s First Reading and the gospel the accent falls on the prophetic role of believers. Such a prophetic role does not envision predicting the future. Rather it focuses on the ministry of concern for others. Essentially to be prophetic means to be involved.
We must frankly admit that all too often we tend to concentrate on our own needs and concerns and thereby disregard the pain and anguish of others. Aware of these failures, we humbly approach both our God and our community for forgiveness.
Lord Jesus, you are the one who call us to find your image in the concerns of others. Lord, have mercy,
You empower us to speak and act by reaching out to help others. Christ, have mercy.
You urge us to employ our gifts and talents to benefit others. Lord, have mercy.
First Reading • (Deut 18:15-20). The author speaks of a succession of prophets who will share God’s message with the people. The message spoken by the prophet is God’s Word, not the personal thought of the spokesperson.
Second Reading • (1 Cor 7:32-35). Paul addresses the anxieties of his Corinthian community. He seeks to promote their best interests so that the Lord is the proper focus of their attention.
Gospel • (Mk 1:21b-28). Here Mark develops Jesus’ unique authority and invites the reader to observe the crowd’s reaction. His manner is prophetic it is a new message backed up by authority.
President • Realizing that through Baptism we have a prophetic mission, we address these petitions to the Father through the Son.
Readers • For all religious and civil leaders. May they exercise their office by speaking God’s word in their ministry of concern for all their charges.
For all the members of our local community. May we always express God’s message to one another by addressing mutual problems and needs.
For all those, both living and dead, who pronounced God’s Word on our behalf by offering comfort in times of pain and hope in periods of anxiety.
For all who worship God in different ways. May we learn from them that to be involved in the concerns and problems of others is to exercise a prophetic office.
President • Gracious and loving God, in Baptism you conferred on us a prophetic dignity. Through your grace kindly enable us to demonstrate that dignity by our willingness to offer comfort and hope in our daily lives. Enable us to realize that we exist for others, not only ourselves. We ask that we may imitate your Son by speaking his message by our love and concern for others. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Invitation to the Lord’s Prayer
In this prayer we ask our Father to advance the arrival of the kingdom. We thus acknowledge that we are involved in this enterprise. In our willingness to serve others we thereby announce the coming of that kingdom. Kingdom arrival and prophetic ministry go hand in hand. By addressing the problems of our community through meaningful actions we reveal that we are worthy members of the family.
By sharing a sign of peace we demonstrate our membership in God’s family wherein we are all God’s children and sisters and brothers of Jesus. The sign expresses our willingness to acknowledge these relationships by speaking God’s Word in action when despair is rampant and hope recedes. To share a sign of peace fundamentally means to promote peace.
In 1 Corinthians 11:26 Paul tells his community that, when they assemble for Eucharist, they proclaim the death of the Lord. By this phrase Paul refers to the self-giving of Jesus through death. It is this stance that modern believers must emulate, Through their prophetic ministry of service they demonstrate this self-giving. Eucharist is both the sustenance and the challenge to live prophetically.
First Reading • (Deut 18:15-20). This passage is the Deuteronomic section dealing with prophecy. As opposed to all pagan forms of divine communication, the prophet is Israel’s unique spokesperson. The author is thinking of a succession of prophets rather than a final eschatological prophet. (The latter was true in later Judaism – see Jn 1:21; 6:14; 7:40.) Since the author has no direct saying from the Lord for the establishment of the prophetic office, he reinterprets the Sinai tradition (Ex 20:19-21). Since the Lord cannot speak to the people directly, he must have intermediaries. The prophet’s message is not his own. The Lord puts his Word in the prophet’s mouth and the prophet is thereby charged to communicate it to the people (see Jer 1:7, 9). Whoever disregards the prophet’s word disregards the Lord’s Word and is thus held accountable. However, if the prophet utters a false message in the Lord’s name or dares to speak in the name of another god, he is guilty of apostasy and is to be put to death.
Second Reading • (1 Cor 7:32-35). Against the background of the expectation of an imminent parousia and in view of specific problems in Corinth, Paul discourages a change in marital status, especially from single to married. Paul’s anxieties probably refer to the attacks of the so-called ascetics in Corinth who urged married couples to practice continence and engaged couples to practice celibacy. ‘The affairs of the world’ (vv. 33, 34) may refer to the criticisms of such ascetics. Husband and wife have a primary claim on each other’s love but they must still remain open, not excluding others from that love. Paul realized the difficulties of the newly married couple and the complexities of life. However, unlike the Corinthian ascetics, Paul did not seek to impose his own restrictions. Rather, he intended to promote their best interests so that the Lord would be the proper focus of their attention.
Gospel • (Mk 1:21b-28). Together with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (1:29-31) and the healings at evening (1:32-34), this episode consisting of teaching and exorcism is intended as a typical picture of Jesus’ early ministry. Mark develops Jesus’ divine authority and invites the reader to observe the crowd’s reaction. The crowd is astonished but does not yet perceive the full import of his action.
Mark shows Jesus teaching in the synagogue (he probably delivers the homily). However, his manner of teaching is decidedly different from that of the lay experts, the scribes, in that he does not quote the various experts. Rather his manner is prophetic – it is a new teaching supported by his own authority.
‘A man with an unclean spirit’ (v 23) implies illness, often mental illness that was thought to be due to the influence of demons. Jesus’ exorcism is a frontal attack on the realm of such demons, against everything that oppresses and depresses the human spirit. The unclean spirit acknowledges such a frontal attack by asking whether Jesus has come to destroy this realm. The demon also seeks to overpower Jesus by recognizing him as ‘the Holy One of God’ (v 24). The unclean spirit is thus more perceptive than the crowd. Eschewing the more elaborate rites of contemporary exorcists, Jesus simply issues a command and the unclean spirit obeys. In Mark’s presentation Jesus has now begun to disclose his real self.
Perhaps this theme will appeal to the homilist: to be prophetic is to be concerned. At this point it is worth analyzing our initial reactions to such a theme. For example, in Baptism we are called to speak God’s Word to and for others, but we tend to limit that Word to ourselves. At Eucharist we hear God’s Word but are prone to let it die in church. In our vocations we are asked to share that Word with our partners or charges, but we are more likely to be silent than to speak. We thus cease to be prophetic, because to be prophetic is to be concerned.
In the First Reading prophets are in the tradition of Moses on Sinai. They experience God and his world of concerns. But the experience is ultimately for the people of God. Prophets cut through the barriers of non-communication and make God’s Word relevant and contemporary. In that process they are called upon, like Moses, to intercede for the people and to suffer (see Deut 4:21-22; 9:19-21, 25-26). To speak God’s Word means to be embroiled in the lives of others. To be prophetic is to be concerned.
Unlike the scribes who merely recite the tradition, Jesus speaks with authority. He is a prophetic figure who is shocked by everything that oppresses and depresses the human spirit. In Mark Jesus teaches and exorcizes. Both the word of the teaching and the word of the exorcism are prophetic words. Jesus takes upon himself the ignorance and pain of his audience and proceeds to meet their needs. For Mark, Jesus is not an uninvolved communicator of pious platitudes. Rather he is God’s Son involved in the world of human pain and frustration. For Mark, to be prophetic is to be involved.
The homilist may now think it apropos to consider the audience. For example, those who habitually opt for the needs of the poor speak a prophetic word. Those who habitually labour to defend the rights of the disenfranchised utter a prophetic message. Those who regularly look to the problems of the marginalized pronounce a prophetic oracle. Those who continue to labour for the rightful place of women in the Church communicate a prophetic saying. These and all similar people are caught up in the pain and frustration of others. To be prophetic is to be concerned.
The homilist may finally opt to reflect on the Eucharist. For example, Eucharist captures a concerned Jesus who offers his community a symbolic prophetic action. The bread and the wine bespeak Jesus’ prophetic concern for the community. In turn, Eucharist challenges the present community to share Jesus’ perception with others by becoming their bread and their wine. Eucharist also insists that to be prophetic is to be concerned.
Christmastide and Epiphany
2-9 January 2021 • Tom Gillen
Saturday, 2 January
First Reading • (1 Jn 2:22‑28). John uses strong language about anyone who had left the community during the recent dissension, naming that person an Antichrist. He is anxious that those who remain shouldn’t follow such example.
The writer clearly felt passionately that an essential truth about who Jesus is, was endangered by the standpoint of the dissidents. That truth bears on the relationship between the Father and the Son which is the essence of the Christian revelation. Our author exhorts his readers to hold to what they have been taught ‘from the beginning’ as the way to eternal life. Eventually, he softens his language by acknowledging that the ‘anointing’ (by the Holy Spirit) which those who are his readers have received will protect them from losing faith.
Gospel • (Jn 1:9‑28). The Gospel of John is written ‘so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.’ (Jn 20:31) Jesus reveals who God is by revealing, in his life, death and resurrection, who he is. The purpose of this Gospel is to show various individuals and groups confronted with the question of who Jesus is and how they respond to this question.
The Prologue (Jn 1:1‑18) has already let the reader in on the secret: Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The first group in the Gospel to confront the issue are the priests and levites from Jerusalem who come to John’s baptisms. In telling them that the One to come already stands among them, John reveals both his own authentic faith and the fact that this One is unknown to those who should know, the religious leaders of the people.
2 January: Sts Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen, bishops and doctors of the church • Basil and Gregory were contemporaries (A. D. 329-379; 330‑390 respectively) and good friends of one another. Both were dedicated to learning (secular and sacred) and to having the Christian religion enter into dialogue with the age in which they lived. Before coming bishop, Basil lived as a monk and reformed monastic life so that it would not become divorced from human affairs but rather could influence society. He advocated frequent, even daily, Holy Communion. His influence on monasticism ex-tended to the west, Ireland and lona included. Gregory was also a monk. He stressed the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian life.
Monday, 4 January
First Reading • (1 Jn 3:7‑10). John continues his attack on sinful life as incompatible with a life in God, and does so in terms of the opposition of the children of God and the children of the devil. Again, his expression is judg-mental in a way that we today would be uncomfortable with.
In our world today, as in the time of the writer of the Letter, Christians are often challenged to choose between values Jesus puts before us in the Gospel and values of our world incompatible with those of the Gospel.
Gospel • (Jn 1:35‑42). Jesus comes on the scene, again to be pointed out by John as the Lamb of God. The Baptist’s disciples move ‘away’ from John ‘towards’ Jesus to become ‘followers’ of Jesus. They politely address him as ‘Rabbi’ even though John has told them that he is much more than this.
One of these disciples, Andrew, takes his brother Simon to Jesus, explaining to him that ‘we have found the Messiah’. However wonder-ful, the assertion falls short of the correct recognition of Jesus which the reader has known from the Prologue and has now had re‑expressed by John the Baptist. They claim they ‘had found’ the Messiah. In fact, the initiative for their presence with Jesus does not lie with them.
The pregnant words which Jesus addresses to Simon show there is more to an understanding of Jesus than the finding of this rabbi of their messianic expectations. The disciples’ appreciation of the real nature of Jesus is a slow development. Is it not the same with us?
Tuesday, 5 January
First Reading • (1 Jn 3:11-21). It is only those whose love of others is real and active, after the example of Jesus, that can be said to have passed out of death and into life.
Gospel • (Jn 1:43-51). Philip’s persistent witness brings the sceptical Nathanael to Jesus. As Nathanael begins to see, Jesus assures him that he will see even greater things. He is only at the beginning of his journey.
Reflection • Nathanael’s initial assessment of Jesus was negative, ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ Yet, this was not to be his final assessment. By the end of the passage he exclaims, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel’. Nathanael needed time to see that there was more to Jesus than met the eye, that, in reality, there was a unique goodness in Jesus. Unlike Nathanael’s initial assessment of Jesus, Jesus’ initial assessment of Nathanael was positive, in spite of Nathanael’s earlier dismissive comment. Jesus did not need time to see the good in Nathanael; he saw it immediately.
The Lord is more attuned to the goodness in us and in others than we are. Realizing that is both consoling and challenging. It is consoling to know that the Lord recognizes the goodness in us that others may not recognize and that we may not even recognize in ourselves. It is challenging in that we are called to see others with the Lord’s eyes, to recognise the good qualities that are there, even though they may not be obvious or expected. (Martin Hogan)
Epiphany of the Lord See p. 12.
Wednesday, 6 January Where Epiphany was celebrated on Sunday 3 January
First Reading • (1 Jn 5:5-13). The ‘water’ and ‘blood’ may be a reference to the blood and water that flowed from the side of the crucified Jesus in the Gospel of John. The death of Jesus testifies to God’s love for the world, as does the Spirit whom Jesus gave to all humanity when he was lifted up, on the cross and in glory.
Gospel • (Lk 5:12-16). The programme that Jesus announced in Nazareth is now put into effect. The year of the Lord’s favour becomes a reality for a leper, who is restored to himself and to the community from which he had been excluded,
Reflection • Making choices is something that we do every day. We try to choose well, to make the best choice possible, the choice that the Lord would want us to make. We don’t always succeed in choosing well. In the Gospel reading, a leper comes up to Jesus and says, ‘If you want to – if you choose – you can cure me’. The leper could not presume that Jesus would choose to heal him, because lepers were not supposed to approach others; they were meant to kept out of the way for fear they would contaminate others. However, in reply, Jesus said to him, ‘Of course I want to! Be cured’. Jesus chose to do what nobody else would have chosen to do; he reached out and touched the leper and his leprosy was healed. In the Gospels, Jesus is consistently portrayed as choosing to make contact with those who are broken in body, mind or spirit, and who are not part of the mainstream. The risen Lord continues to connect with each of us in our own brokenness; he is a healing and life-giving presence in our lives. He asks us to be the same for each other, to choose as he chooses. (Martin Hogan)
7 January | Monday after Epiphany
First Reading • (1 Jn 3:22‑4.6). God’s commandments which the Letter exhorts us to keep are believing in the Son of God and loving one another. We may regard this as John’s way of saying what the Synoptic Gospels say when they speak of the love of God and our neighbour as the greatest command-ments.
This passage again contains sharp language characterising the opponents as having the spirit of Antichrist, part of the Letter’s contrast of the spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. The test of truth is whether we confess Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh not a Jesus who is pure spirit only, as the opponents appear to claim, but Jesus who is known as really human and divine also. This remains central to our faith in Jesus Christ today.
Gospel • (Mt 4:12‑17.23‑25). Galilee is the place where the public ministry of Jesus began. Matthew has followed Mark’s account in describing the beginning of the ministry but has added the quotation from Isaiah to show that Jesus’ return to Nazareth after the arrest of John the Baptist was in accordance with God’s will. The passage retains the theme of the close association be-tween Jesus and John, indicating here the relationship between the preaching and the destiny of both.
The summary description of Jesus’ early mission leads up to the Sermon on the Mount in the next section of Matthew’s Gospel. The mention of place-names – Syria, Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and Transjordania – draws attention to the historical circumstances of Jesus’ ministry: Christian faith is not a body of abstract principles but a faith based on persons and events.
8 January | Friday after Epiphany
First Reading • (1 Jn 4:7‑10). The passages set for today’s and tomorrow’s readings are, together with Paul’s encomium on love (1 Cor 13), the finest New Testament statements on divine love. John opens up for us the truly wonderful insight that God’s nature itself is love. How this has been revealed to us is through the extraordinary life and death of Jesus and his resurrection. And since love is God’s own nature, we are exhorted to love in our turn.
Gospel • (Mk 6:34‑44). This passage follows on the description of Herod’s banquet during which John the Baptist was executed. The juxtaposition of the two is powerful: at Herod’s banquet there is pride, arrogance, scheming and even murder; at Jesus’ banquet there is healing, trust and sharing.
The miracle consisted in providing abundant food in the wilderness, precisely what God had done in rescuing his people from Egypt. John 6 picks up this connection explicitly. The biblical model for the feeding of the multitude appears in 2 Kings 4 where the great prophet Elisha performed a miracle which, though on a smaller scale, was strikingly like this one. Thus Jesus is the One sent by God to usher in the ultimate salvation to which the law and the prophets had pointed forward.
The actions of Jesus are the same as his actions at the Last Supper and to the early Christians the story would have been reminiscent of their eucharistic worship. It also anticipated the heavenly banquet in God’s Kingdom (Is 25).
Attempts have been made in modern times to rationalise the story, but such rationalisations can be no more than unsupported guesses. However, taking the account as a perfect reproduction of what actually took place can lead the reader to miss the rich symbolism.
9 January | Saturday after Epiphany
First Reading • (1 Jn 4:11‑18). No one has seen God but God’s love for us is brought to fulfilment in us in our love for one another. The spirit in which we do this is indeed God’s own Spirit which he has shared with us and which is a sign of his living within us. So too is our acknowledgment of Jesus as the Son of God. This fulfilment of God’s love in relationships with one another means that we do not need to fear for the ultimate future: that is, we do not have to fear God’s judgment. In fact, in our relationship with God, there should he no fear for love itself casts out fear.
Gospel • (Mk 6:45‑52). The Old Testament frequently spoke of God’s mastery over the sea in terms of the power to walk on, or through, the waters (e.g., Job 9:8, Ps 77:19, Is 43:16). There may have been an original version of this story in which that was the whole point. In the story as Mark has it, the action of Jesus becomes an act of rescue. This is even clearer in the Gospel of Matthew where Peter attempts to walk to Jesus on the water.
Mark wrote his Gospel at Rome in a time of persecution. To a Church possibly bereft of its leaders and confronting a hostile government, it may have appeared that ‘the wind was contrary’ and faint hearts may have begun to wonder if the Lord himself had not abandoned them. This story can assure its readers that they are not forsaken and that the Lord himself will come for their salvation, even ‘in the fourth watch of the night’. Surely a message for Christians in adversity at all times.
First Week in Ordinary Time
11-16 January 2021 • William L. Haslett
Preliminary Note • The Letter to the Hebrews is probably one of the least familiar writings of the New Testament. The amount of space it devotes to Jewish ritual, animal sacrifice and priestly practice, while important for its original readers can seem to be excessive and irrelevant as an answer to present day concerns. However Hebrews is one of the most important books of the New Testament for giving a proper understanding of the importance of the work of Christ. It is also a timely manifesto for our own day.
It has been generally agreed that The Gospel of Mark was written before Matthew and Luke at around 65 A.D. in Rome shortly after the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. The writer was possibly John Mark son of the Mary (Acts 12:12) at whose house in Jerusalem the first Christians used to meet, and who became a trainee missionary with Paul on his first tour, and until that apostle’s death was to remain with him from time to time. Tradition tells us that Mark was Peter’s interpreter, and that he wrote down the account of the life and death of Jesus based upon what he had been told by the chief apostle himself. Thus the narrative contains clear evidence of eye-witness reporting and is permeated with a sense of urgency.
Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 1:1-6). The letter begins with a glorious affirmation of the significance of Jesus. In Old Testament times the prophets grasped one aspect or another of the nature and purpose of God, but now at the decisive moment of history God’s own Son has come among us to express in what he did and said, all that we need to know or can know about God’s will for us and for the world. It is this Son, the fulfilment of all the hopes and promises of Israel, the creative power that shaped the universe, the human embodiment of the essential being of God, who has made us at one with God by his offering of himself, and has now taken his rightful place as Lord.
Gospel • (Mk 1:14-20). The keynote of Jesus’ preaching when he returned to Galilee after the imprisonment of John the Baptist was that ‘the time is fulfilled’, the decisive hour of history, the supreme intervention of God to bring humanity back to himself, had arrived. Throughout the Gospels Jesus claimed that in his own person God had entered human life in a new and distinctive way to call people to repentance, and to heal their bodies as well as their minds. Wherever they responded to his call the ‘Kingdom of God’, his sovereign rule over the whole of life, had already come into being. However as long as the world remained with all its imperfections God’s perfect rule would not be fully realised. Only in a new dimension beyond space and time would the Kingdom fully come and God’s purpose be completed. Jesus himself embodied that Kingdom, and all who became his followers, like the four fishermen whom he called from their nets on the lake of Galilee, would become part of it and of him.
Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 2:5-12). When the Psalmist said that man, who was “for a short while made lower than the angels” is now lord of creation (Ps 8), he could only have meant the Son of Man, since it is clearly not true that ordinary mortal men and women are masters of their fate. They have not attained their God-given destiny but Jesus has achieved it for them, and through his suffering and death and crowning with glory and honour has opened the way through death to glory for everyone.
Gospel • (Mk 1:21-28). Unlike the normal expositions of the rabbis, Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue was marked by “authority”. While the normal practice of the scribes in expounding the law was to quote the views of the various legal experts on its proper interpretation, he spoke as one who was his own authority, even more amazing than that of the prophets who had prefaced their proclamations by saying, ‘Thus says the Lord’. His curing of the mentally ill man showed that his authority also extended over disease. In the Incarnation God became man at a particular time in a particular place. In the gospels physical and mental illnesses were thought to be the work of demons, unclean spirits in constant opposition to the Kingdom of God. As a child of is time Jesus seems to have accepted this, and in his Messianic mission regarded the bringing of wholeness of mind and body to people as of equal importance with his teaching.
Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 2:14-18). Jesus who is now Lord of all endured incarnation, humiliation, and death, so that, having shared and triumphed over suffering and mortality, he might take the sting out of death, and through that experience lead his people to God with understanding and sympathy. Sharing human nature in every respect in order to become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God he made reparation for the sins of the people. So in his final word God has spoken in a Son, Jesus the great high priest of the universe who has entered into human experience when most needed.
Gospel • (Mk 1:29-39). The story of Peter’s mother-in-law may suggest that her home in Capemaum was the base from which Jesus worked at this early stage of his ministry. It is a story of sudden illness followed by his healing touch – clearly an unforgettable day in Peter’s life. The earlier display of authority over the demon-world in the synagogue was enough to establish Jesus’ reputation as a healer. Consequently when the Sabbath had ended a crowd of sufferers was brought to him by their friends to be cured. Early the following morning he sought the solitude of the hillside to regain in prayer the strength that came from his Father before continuing a similar pattern of preaching in the synagogues, and healing in the towns and villages of Galilee.
Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 3:7-14). With Christ as leader and deliverer a new Exodus has begun whose goal is the promised land of life in God’s presence. So warnings about Israel’s failure during the first Exodus (Ps 95: 7-11; Exodus 17:1-7, Num 13-14) when through lack of faith the Israelites were punished by not being allowed to enter Canaan, which for them was the promised land, must be heeded.. God’s people should not to lose heart but always trust God’s providence.
Gospel • (Mk 1:40-45). Leprosy took various forms some of which were curable, yet in each case the law prescribed stringent rules to prevent infection, and insisted on certification by a priest before the sufferer could return to society. One such man, although forbidden by the law to do so, approached Jesus who clearly was angry with him. It is unclear why this should have been so. Nevertheless Jesus touched the untouchable and healed him. Perhaps the best the law could do was to certify someone after he had been cured, but Jesus himself could effect the cure.
Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 4.1:5, 11). Canaan could not have been the Israelites’ ultimate goal because for God’s people that goal, – the full communion with God, the ‘rest’ of which the worship of the Sabbath is a foretaste, still lay ahead. To turn back from this great pilgrimage through lack of courage or faith would endanger the chance of reaching that final objective. God’s ‘rest’ being what it is, his people should make their entrance into it their constant unwavering purpose.
Gospel • (Mk 2:1-12) This story would possibly have been used by Christian missionaries to show that the healing of the man’s body was a sacramental symbol of the healing of the whole person, and indeed of the whole nation, including the forgiveness of sin by the power of Christ. Such incidents were expanded for purposes of instruction in the synagogue, and it may have been that Mark first heard it in this form. It is told here to indicate one cause of the resentment of the religious authorities at Jesus assuming an authority which they believed belonged only to God.
Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 4:12-16). The whole purpose of the Old Testament practice of sacrifice, and the function of the priesthood which was meant to restore the broken relationship between God and humanity as a result of sin, had utterly failed. Many early Jewish Christians would have been perplexed by the loss of the good offices of their High Priest on the Day of Atonement. However since Christ as the supreme High Priest could achieve everything that the Temple with its priesthood and ritual had been striving unsuccessfully to accomplish, people everywhere could be confident that through him they would find mercy and grace to help in time of need.
Gospel • (Mk 2:13-17). Jesus’ call of Levi, a collector of taxes on behalf of Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, caused great offence to the religious authorities. Such man as Levi would have been unpopular anyway, but to the orthodox Jews there was the added scandal that his job required him to associate with Gentiles. Since tax-gatherers in the service of the Roman government were also known to be dishonest, they were ranked with sinners. Jesus’ further offence was to deliberately mix with Levi and his friends in his house. The Scribes, the professional expositors of the Law who belonged to the conservative Pharisaic party, vehemently condemned his action. In his defence Jesus quoting a proverb to the effect that just as a doctor would not hesitate to go wherever there was illness, so the healer of souls must be found wherever ordinary sinful people would assemble. He obviously did not mean that there were some ‘righteous’ who did not need to repent.
Second Week in Ordinary Time
18-23 January 2021 • William L. Haslett
Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 5:1-10). Jewish high priests had to be ordinary fallible mortals so that they could enter sympathetically into the experience of the people they represented before God. Their office was not of their own choice, but depended on their priestly caste, in accordance with God’s appointment of Aaron and his descendants. Jesus however fulfilled those conditions more adequately than any high priest could ever do. He was appointed directly by God as his divine representative on earth, and his priestly office of Messiah was of a higher order than that of Aaron. Supremely by his experience of human suffering, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane and at Calvary, he learned the cost of perfect obedience and the price which must be paid by those committed to God’s service.
Gospel • (Mk 2:18-22). Another point of contention between Jesus and the religious authorities was the question of fasting, John the Baptist and the Pharisees fasted but Jesus and his disciples did not. Jesus compared his ministry and message to the merriment and happiness of a wedding feast. The good news of salvation should bring not gloom but joy. While the bridegroom was present the guests should rejoice, but the day would come when he would be taken away from them. That would be the time for fasting. Whether or not Jesus was foretelling his death is questionable, but the general sense of the narrative is that the new Christian faith must create its own forms of worship and practice and not be bound to past Jewish ritual. Patches of new unshrunk cloth cannot be fitted into an old garment without tearing it, and new unfermented wine must be put into new goatskins.
Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 6:10-20). The author having expressed his hope for his people encourages them never to grow careless or lack enthusiasm for their task. They had God’s pledge in scripture that the whole world would be brought back to his obedience giving them a firm anchor in heaven. That is the goal towards which the whole Church must strive, confident that the way has been pioneered by Christ, himself the eternal High Priest who leads us into the Presence of God.
Gospel • (Mk 2:23-28). Jesus appeals here to the spirit rather than the letter of the law. It was permissible to pluck corn in a neighbour’s field provided a sickle was not used (Deut 23:25). There was no reason according to the Law why the fact that this was done on the Sabbath should make any difference, unless the obligation to regard it as a day of rest was broken. However the narrower type of Pharisee interpreted the law of Sabbath rest to make it an offence to do much more than draw breath. According to them the disciples were ‘reaping’ and therefore engaging in forbidden activity. Jesus’ reply was to set human need on a higher level than such legal trivia. His illustration from the Old Testament was based on a story as told in the synagogues rather than on the incident in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. His final illuminating comment that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath has still not been understood in fanatical sabbatarian circles.
Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 7:1-3,15-17). In what might seem a very far-fetched argument the priesthood of Jesus is shown to be superior to that of the Jerusalem Temple. The Genesis story of Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham (Gen 14:18-20) shows that his priestly status was higher than that of the levitical priesthood, since both Levi and Aaron were descendents of Abraham and were therefore in principle blessed by Melchizedek. Much later the Messiah was heralded as a priest of the type of Melchizedek (Ps 110.:4), indicating that when the Messiah came the existing priesthood and the Law that ordained it would be superseded.
Gospel • (Mk 3:1-6). The Pharisees maintained that it would have been permissible for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath only if a life was in danger. This man could have waited until the next day as he had nothing more wrong with him than a paralysed hand. Jesus again maintained that human need at any time must take precedence over pseudo-piety and ecclesiastical hair-splitting. Was it a greater sin in the sight of God either to heal, or as the Pharisees were doing to plot the death of the healer, on the Sabbath?
Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 7.:25–8:6). With the coming of Christ the old Law and priesthood, and indeed the old covenant-relationship between God and his people, have been declared insufficient. Thus as opposed to a priesthood of fallen mortal men constantly engaged in trying to bridge the gulf between guilty people and God by the day to day sacrificial ritual, a Priest has come who is himself sinless and eternal, who has made the one perfect sacrifice of his own obedience, and who alone can make us at one with God.
Gospel • (Mk 3:7:12). The popularity of Jesus among the common people of Palestine was steadily increasing. They came to Galilee from all parts of the country in such numbers that the local synagogues were too small to contain them. So Jesus began a ministry on the lakeside from a boat, when masses of sick and mental cases crowded round him to be cured. The words ‘pressed upon him ‘ (v. 10) literally mean ‘fell upon him’.
His illustration from the Old Testament was based on a story as told in the synagogues rather than on the incident in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. His final illuminating comment that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath has still not been understood in fanatical sabbatarian circles.
Thursday 21 January: St Agnes • Martyred in Rome ca 350, Agnes is one of the women saints commemorated in the Roman Canon. Aged only 13, she refused marriage because of her dedication to Christ. Commemorated in both East and West, she has been venerated in many countries.
Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 8:6-13). Under divine inspiration the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) clearly condemned as inadequate the old relationship of the first covenant based on the Law of Moses. God was promising that in the future salvation would depend on a direct knowledge of God and acceptance of forgiveness of sin freely offered, rather than the observance of outmoded written codes.
Gospel • (Mk 3:13-19). Jesus purposely chose twelve and not eleven or thirteen as his disciples. As Messiah he was building the foundations of the new community, the new Israel which was to undertake the task which the old Israel had failed to accomplish, of bringing the world back to God; but it was still the Israel of faith, inheritors of the Old Testament promises Accordingly the twelve apostles would represent Israel’s twelve tribes.
Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 9:2-3. 11-14). Under the old dispensation the people had to approach God through the elaborate ministrations of the priesthood, especially on the Day of Atonement once a year when the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, symbolically God’s dwelling-place in the innermost sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple. However under the new dispensation Christ has come as the authentic High Priest who not only holds out the hope of forgiveness but imparts it. He has entered once and for all God’s true dwelling-place with the offering of his own life, thus restoring the broken relationship, creating atonement between God and humanity. If the involuntary sacrifice of mere animals was meant to get rid of superficial offences, the effect of Christ’s voluntary offering of his own sinless life to God is immeasurable.
Gospel • (Mk 3:20-21). Underlining the blindness of the Jews to the true character of Jesus’ ministry his family anxiously travelled from Nazareth to take him back home as they feared he had gone out of his mind, possibly under demonic possession. The full poignancy of their situation is that they were showing how far they were from recognizing that in his own person he was doing the work of God himself.
Third Week in Ordinary Time
25-30 January 2021 • William Haslett
Monday , 25 January: The Conversion of St Paul
This feast celebrates a decisive turning point in the early history of the Christian movement. When Paul decided to contribute his remarkable scholarship and energy to preaching the Good News of Jesus, the turn to the Gentiles became an assured new direction for the Church. Equally importantly, this feast celebrates a dramatic manifestation of God’s grace.
First Reading • (Acts 22:3-16; or Acts 9:1-22). These two accounts tell a story of great drama and great import. They differ in that chapter 9 stresses the conversion of Saul, the feared persecutor of the followers of Jesus, while Paul’s own telling of that event (chapter 22) introduces the notion of vocation. That stress is understandable in that Paul is making a speech at a moment of controversy. It was important for him to establish the bona fides of extending the preaching of the Good News to pagan peoples. In both texts, it is noticeable that Paul submitted to the community in having both the conversion and the vocation to proclaim the faith, authenticated.
Gospel • (Mk 16:15-18). This addition to the Gospel according to Mark makes it clear that the commission of the Eleven was not confined to Jewish circles. They are told to ‘proclaim the Good News to all creation.’ This is a mandate Paul accepted with admirable vigour.
Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 9:15. 24-28). In the New Covenant Christ unites God and humanity. In the earlier dispensation on the ritual of the Day of Atonement the high priest symbolically cleansed the sanctuary with the blood of sacrificial animals. But nothing less than Christ’s offering of himself once and for all can sweep away the cloud of human sin that created a barrier between earth and heaven. And as the high priest, having effected the atonement in the sanctuary reappeared before the people, so Christ at the end of time will appear once more to reign supreme for ever.
Gospel • (Mk 3:22-30). Jesus’ skilful reply to the charge of casting out devils at the behest of Beelzebul the prince of devils, that evil cannot destroy evil, was unanswerable. The devil cannot destroy his own power by healing the disease and insanity he had caused. Only the strong power of God can defeat the devil’s work. His infinite mercy can forgive all sins, even the sin of blasphemy against himself. However there can be no forgiveness for the sin against the Holy Spirit, the sin of calling good evil and evil good, of refusing to recognise goodness because of prejudice or malice.
Tuesday, 26 January: Sts Timothy and Titus
The First Reading (2 Tim 1:1-8, or Tit 1:1-5), proper to this memorial, gives an instructive insight into the relationship between the apostles and the generation of Christian leaders that immediately succeeded them. There is helpful appreciation of the place of personal relationships in passing on the faith and in choosing new leaders.
Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 10:1-10). If people had felt that under the old dispensation that the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement and other ritual acts could lift the burden of sin from their minds they would have long ago stopped repeating them. The best that these ceremonies could have accomplished was to remind them that they were sinners separated from God. It was thus God’s purpose to provide the perfect mediator by sending his Son to live as a man in utter obedience to him.
Gospel • (Mk 3:31-35). The family of Jesus, his mother and brothers, Joseph most probably being dead, called to him from the back of the crowd around Peter’s house, and Jesus used their presence to make one of his most startling pronouncements, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who do the will of God’. As the Messiah had dedicated himself to the care of all God’s children the claims of his own family must take second place.
Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 10:11-18). By Christ’s perfect offering of himself not only were all the earlier imperfect attempts to get right with God superseded, but a new status of sonship has been won for all who identify themselves with him by which they are forgiven, free, and at one with God. Since his sacrifice was perfect nothing remains to be added to it. The serene and exalted Christ with his work of reconciliation accomplished awaits now his final triumph.
Gospel • (Mk 4:1-20). The parable of the Sower, the longest and best known of a series of ingenious stories told by Jesus represents the discouragements and consolations of his own ministry. Like Israel’s prophets he recognised that most of his hearers were unresponsive, yet where the seed had fallen on good soil the yield was out of all proportion to what was sown. Those who had ears to hear could not have avoided seeing themselves among the hardened listeners on whom the word of God had fallen as on the rough paths that divided the fields of Galilee, or among those whose faith was as shallow as the thin layer of soil that covered the rocky outcrop of the Palestine hillside, or among those whose good intentions had been choked by the briers of selfish anxiety, greed, or envy. Some might have prayed that they could occasionally be found among those who made even a five-fold return.
Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 10:19-25). By his sacrifice Christ has opened a new and living way so that those conscious of their failure and the guilt of society could become the people they know they ought to be. Christ’s death was necessary so that his redemptive blood might be available as the effective sacrifice. Those who had repented and committed themselves to his service by baptism must be involved in works of mutual service and encouragement.
Gospel • (Mk 4:21-25). The light of God’s revelation in Christ must be allowed to light everyone to the truth, and even if it is not now fully understood it will be in time to come. The more willingly people respond to God’s summons the more they will understand and benefit from its message.
Thursday, 28 January: St Thomas Aquinas • It was worth remembering that, shortly after his death in 1274, the writings of this doctor of the Church were treated with deep suspicion. This was because of his willingness to enter into conversation with new systems of thought, recognising that it had to be possible to express the faith using concepts found in Aristotle and Averroes. Integrating faith and cultural developments remains a challenge for every generation.
Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 10:32-39). Those who have suffered humiliation, imprisonment loss of property, as well as a fairly wide range of troubles over a lengthy period, and who may also have been facing persecution, are offered encouragement and urged not to admit defeat but to keep the faith as they have done in the past. The exhortation is enforced with the same scriptural quotation in its original meaning of faithfulness (Habakkuk 2:2-4 ) which Paul used (Rom 17; Gal 3:11) meaning faith as opposed to a righteousness of works.
Gospel • (Mk 4:26-34). God’s reign is in his gift alone, like a farmer sowing seed in a field. We cannot hasten its arrival but the seed keeps growing secretly. Similarly God’s purpose has been maturing through the long story of Israel, and the time is now ripe for harvest. He has come in the person of his Messiah to gather men and women into the new community of his people whose life, now tiny like a grain of mustard seed, will grow and spread until it covers the whole earth.
Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
First Reading • (Heb 11:1-2, 8-19). Faith, which helps us to believe the universe is controlled by God, means trusting in God regardless of the consequences. A recital of the saints and martyrs of the Old Testament demonstrates that it was only faith in the unseen purposes of God despite all the evidence to the contrary, that enabled Abraham, Moses, and all the other great heroes of the past to be called God’s people.
Gospel • (Mk 4:35-41). For Mark, this act of Jesus was not a violation of natural law but a sign that the Messiah is Lord of the sea and all created things. The detailed description of the storm on the lake suggests an eye-witness recollection, showing that the disciples’ fear was caused by lack of faith. Since their Master was with them in the boat they should have had no anxiety. Christ’s presence brings peace to troubled minds. However we should, like the disciples always have a wholesome ‘fear’ or awe of his divine power.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
May 08, 2020
April 11, 2020
September 16, 2019
Sign up to our Newsletter