Issuu on Google+

Sunday Homilies Series I YEAR B

Mark Link, S.J.

Allen, Texas


IMPRIMI POTEST: Robert A. Wild, S.J. NIHIL OBSTAT: Msgr. Joseph Pollard, S.T.D., V.F. Censor Deputatus IMPRIMATUR: † Most Reverend Roger M. Mahony, D.D. Archbishop of Los Angeles March 25, 1988 The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are official declarations that the work contains nothing contrary to Faith and Morals. It is not implied thereby that those granting the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions, or statements expressed.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from or based on the Good News Bible, the Bible in Today’s English Version. Copyright © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976. Used by permission.

Copyright © 1988 Mark Link, S.J. All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information or retrieval system, without written permission from the Publisher. Send all inquiries to: RCL Benziger 200 East Bethany Drive Allen, Texas 75002 To order: Toll free: 877-275-4725 Fax: 800-688-8356 972-390-6620 (International) Customer Service e-mail: cservice@RCLBenziger.com Web site: www.RCLBenziger.com

25380 ISBN 978-0-89505-573-6 (Sunday Homilies, Series I, Year B) 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 • 14 13 12 11 10 09


About the Homilies This volume of Sunday Homilies (Year B) is the first of a threevolume, three-year series that covers the A, B, and C Lectionary cycles. Thus, a total of nine volumes of Sunday homilies are now available. Instead of suggesting what might be done with the Sunday Scripture readings, Father Mark shares with you what he does with them. He hopes that his own approach will serve as a seed from which your own creative thoughts will develop and grow. Sunday Homilies (Year B) follows the Lectionary and fits every year B. The movable Sundays are included.

About the Author For the first seventeen years of his priestly ministry, Mark Link, S.J., taught at the high-school, college, and seminary levels. For the past twenty years, he has been active in parish preaching, writing, and mentoring priests. He has written over sixty books, including the high-school textbooks, Path Through Scripture and Path Through Catholicism and his daily Scripture meditation books in the Vision series, primarily Vision, Mission, and Action.


SUNDAY HOMILIES—YEAR B SCHEDULE ADVENT

CHRISTMAS

LENT

EASTER

ORDINARY TIME

1st Sunday of Advent

5

6th Sunday of the Year

63

2nd Sunday of Advent

7

7th Sunday of the Year

65

Immaculate Conception

9

8th Sunday of the Year

67

3rd Sunday of Advent

11

Trinity Sunday

69

4th Sunday of Advent

13

Body and Blood of Christ

71

9th Sunday of the Year

73

Christmas

15

10th Sunday of the Year

75

Holy Family

17

11th Sunday of the Year

77

Mother of God

19

12th Sunday of the Year

79

Epiphany

21

13th Sunday of the Year

81

14th Sunday of the Year

83

1st Sunday of Lent

23

15th Sunday of the Year

85

2nd Sunday of Lent

25

16th Sunday of the Year

87

3rd Sunday of Lent

27

17th Sunday of the Year

89

4th Sunday of Lent

29

18th Sunday of the Year

91

5th Sunday of Lent

31

19th Sunday of the Year

93

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

33

Assumption

95

20th Sunday of the Year

97

Easter Sunday

35

21st Sunday of the Year

99

2nd Sunday of Easter

37

22nd Sunday of the Year

101

3rd Sunday of Easter

39

23rd Sunday of the Year

103

4th Sunday of Easter

41

24th Sunday of the Year

105

5th Sunday of Easter

43

25th Sunday of the Year

107

6th Sunday of Easter

45

26th Sunday of the Year

109

Ascension

47

27th Sunday of the Year

111

7th Sunday of Easter

49

28th Sunday of the Year

113

Pentecost

51

29th Sunday of the Year

115

30th Sunday of the Year

117

31st Sunday of the Year

119

All Saints

121

Baptism of the Lord (1st Sunday)

53

2nd Sunday of the Year

55

32nd Sunday of the Year

123

3rd Sunday of the Year

57

33rd Sunday of the Year

125

4th Sunday of the Year

59

5th Sunday of the Year

61

34th Sunday of the Year127 (Christ the King)


1st Sunday of Advent Isaiah 63:16–17; 64:2–7; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:33–37

Be on Guard! “You do not know when the master of the home is coming.”

ne December day 16-year-old Gary Schneider and two friends set out on a four-day climb up Mt. Hood.

O

Nine thousand feet up, a blinding snowstorm engulfed the three boys. Soon the snow was drifting over their heads. They tunneled into a snowbank to get out of the driving wind and to wait out the blizzard. Eleven days later the blizzard continued to rage. The boys’ sleeping bags grew wet and lumpy. Their food supply dwindled to a daily ration of two spoonfuls of pancake batter apiece. Their sole comfort was a small Bible one of the boys had packed in his gear. The boys took turns reading it, eight hours a day. It was an eerie scene: three teenage boys propped up on elbows in sleeping bags in a five-foot square cave of snow. The only light was a spooky, reflected light coming from the cave’s tiny opening. There the three boys remained huddled together hour after hour, day after day, listening to the Word of God against a background of howling wind. The Book of Psalms seemed to speak best to the boys’ situation. David wrote some of them while trapped in situations not unlike theirs— hungry, lonely, not knowing what was ahead, trusting in God. Year B

If rescue came, it would have to come from God. Waiting like this was not easy. All the boys could do was pray, hoping the blizzard would blow itself out and help would come. Finally on the 16th day, the weather cleared and the boys crawled out of their snow cave. They were weak from the ordeal and could manage only a few steps at a time. Later that day they caught sight of a rescue part. Their long ordeal of waiting was finally ended. he story of the boys— huddled together in the cave, waiting for the storm to end— is a good image of Advent.

T

The season of Advent recalls Israel’s long period of waiting for the Messiah. Israel could do nothing to hasten his coming. All they could do was wait and pray, as the boys did on Mt. Hood. All they could do was trust that God would come to their rescue. One of the psalms the three boys prayed over and over on Mt. Hood was Psalm 130. A portion of it reads: “I wait eagerly for the LORD’s help. and in his word I trust. I wait for the Lord more eagerly than sentries wait for the dawn.” Psalm 130:5–6 Had the boys not had the Word of God to strengthen them, they could have easily lost hope. It was the same way with Israel as they waited for the Messiah. Had they not had the Word of God to comfort them, they could have easily lost hope. Lectionary 2

4

Advent

5


ut Advent is not just a time when we recall and relive Israel’s waiting for the Messiah, Jesus. It is much more than that.

B

Advent is also a time when we recall that Jesus will return at the end of history— at a time we least expect. That’s why Mark tells us in today’s gospel: “Be on watch, be alert, . . . If [Jesus] comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep. What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch!” Mark 13:33, 36–37 his brings us to the second point about Advent. You and I live in the important interval between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming.

T

Our job is not to sit piously and stare at the sky, recalling Jesus’ first coming and anticipating his second coming. Our job is to complete the work he gave us to do. Before returning to his Father, Jesus told his followers: “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19–21

hrist had died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Until he does, we must be about the work he gave us to do.

C

We must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, work for peace, and love one another as Jesus loved us. This is the message of today’s readings. It tells us that the same Jesus who lived on earth 2,000 years ago will return at the end of time— at an hour we least expect. When he returns, he will judge each one of us, individually, on how well we completed the work he gave us to do. et us close with a prayer, asking Jesus to help us persevere in the work he gave us to do:

L

Jesus, give us your strength, For sometimes things get tough, and we want to quit. Jesus, give us your love, For sometimes people reject us, and we are tempted to hate. Jesus, give us your eyes. For sometimes life gets cloudy and dark, and we love our way. Jesus, give us yourself. Our hearts were made for you, and they will not rest until they rest in you.

Advent is a time when we check on how well we are doing this. Advent is a time when we call to mind, in a special way, that when Jesus returns he will judge us on how well we worked to spread God’s kingdom on earth. 6

Advent

4

Lectionary 2

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


2nd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 40:1–5, 9–11; 2 Peter 3:8–14; Mark 1:1–8

Prepare the Way Advent is a time to return to the basics and to put Jesus Christ first in our lives.

who were so far removed from his world of pain and deformity? Cordell said in a loving way: “You may hit three-fifty for a lifetime and be paid a million dollars a year, but when the day comes that they close the lid on that box, you won’t be any different than I am. That’s one time when we’ll be the same.

n his book The Power within You, Pat Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers tells a remarkable story.

I don’t need what you have in life, but one thing’s for sure: You need what I have, and that’s Jesus Christ.”

It was a hot Sunday afternoon in 1980. A young cerebral palsy victim named Cordell Brown was walking through the clubhouse of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

I

I

Cordell walks with great difficulty. He talks with great difficulty. Feeding himself is a very difficult task. When people see Cordell coming, they usually turn the other way or pretend not to see him. That’s what some the Phillies were doing as Cordell made his way through the clubhouse. What was Cordell doing in the Phil’s clubhouse? He had been invited there to speak to the players in a pregame chapel service. What could Cordell possibly say to stars like Steve Carleton and Mike Schmit, who were far removed from his world of pain and deformity? Some of the Phillies were asking the same thing when they sat down to listen to him. Cordell began by putting the players at ease. He said, “I know I’m different.” Then, quoting 1 Corinthians 15:10, he added, “But by God’s grace I am what I am. . . .” For the next 20 minutes Cordell Brown talked about the goodness of God in his life. He concluded by answering the question, What could he say to famous superstars like Steve Carleton and Mike Schmit, Year B

like that story for two reasons.

First, it speaks to us about the season of Advent. It invites us to return to the basics. It invites us to ask ourselves, What is really important to us? It invites us to look at our priorities in life. Above all, it asks us if Jesus Christ is the number one priority in our lives. And this brings us to the second point about the story of Cordell Brown. It speaks to us about today’s Scripture readings. All three readings talk about the need to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. All three readings tell us that if our lives are not what they should be, then we should do something about it. It other words, if we have strayed from the basics, then today’s readings invite us to return to them. If we have placed our work ahead of our families, then today’s readings invite us to correct this situation. If we have placed success ahead of our personal relationship with God, then today’s readings invite us to change this. Lectionary 5

4

Advent

7


n Westminster Abbey in London, there’s a small chapel called St. George’s Chapel. It was built as a memorial to the Londoners who lost their lives during the air raids of World War II.

I

Inside the chapel are four large books. These books contain the names of over 60,000 air raid victims. One book lies open and on it shines a light illuminating the page of names. Each day the page is turned, revealing a new set of names. As you stare at the long column of names and read them, you have no way of knowing whether the person whose name you are reading was rich or poor, black, white, or brown, Christian, Jew, or atheist, young or old, handsome or ugly. Nor does this really make any difference. All that matters now is what each person became in the course of his or her life on earth. he story of Cordell Brown and the story of St. George’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey make us ask ourselves a question.

T

What should we do if we find that our lives are not being lived as they should be? What should we do if we find that Jesus does not really occupy first place in our lives? What should we do if we find that we are not prepared for death— or for the Second Coming of Jesus— whichever comes first? The answer is, of course, that we should do exactly what John the Baptist advised the people of his time to do. We should repent. 8

Advent

4

Lectionary 5

We should seek God’s forgiveness for our sins. We should turn over a new leaf and begin a new life. This is what Advent is all about. It is a time when we take inventory of our lives and make whatever changes in them that seem to be necessary. And this brings us back to the remarkable story of Cordell Brown, and the question posed in that story. What could Cordell possibly say to superstars like Steve Carleton and Mike Schmit, who were so far removed from his world of pain and deformity? What could Cordell possibly have to say to you and me? Cordell gave the answer to that question in a loving way: “You may hit three-fifty for a lifetime and be paid a million dollars a year, but when the day comes that they close the lid on that box, you won’t be any different than I am. That’s one time when we’ll be the same. “I don’t need what you have in life, but one thing’s for sure: You need what I have, and that’s Jesus Christ.” et’s close by paraphrasing an old poem. It talks about how quickly life passes and what is important in the end:

L

“When I was a child, I laughed and wept. Then, time crept. “When I was a youth, I became more bold. Then, I strolled. “When I grew up, I became a man. Then, time ran. “Finally, into a ripe, old age I grew. Then, time flew. “Soon I shall be passing on. Then, time will be gone. “O Jesus, when death comes, nothing will matter—but you.” Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Immaculate Conception Genesis 3:9–15, 20; Ephesians 1:3–6, 11–12; Luke 1:26–38

Free from Sin Mary was sinless from the moment of conception.

any of us have heard of The Song of Bernadette. This remarkable, true story was made into a movie a number of years ago.

M

The story took place in 1858. It centered around a 14-year-old French girl who reported apparitions of the mother of Jesus at a hillside outside the village of Lourdes. As a result, sick people began to visit the site and were cured.

“I am not a believer, and I must be honest and say so. But in my extreme need, on the chance that I could be wrong about God, I ask him for help for me and my wife. “See us safely to the United States and I promise to write the story of this place for all the world to read.” Werfel returned to the village. He told a friend later that he experienced a peace of mind after that prayer that he had never experienced before in his entire life. Within days, Werfel and his wife found a way to cross over into Spain. Shortly after, they were safely on board ship, sailing to the United States.

Today, over 1,200 documented cures are on file with the Medical Bureau of Lourdes. These cures have been certified by a distinguished international team of 20 physicians and surgeons of various faiths from various nations.

The first thing the Jewish writer did in the United States was to write the story of Lourdes, calling it The Song of Bernadette.

But if many people are familiar with The Song of Bernadette, few people are familiar with the story behind the writing of this book.

T

It goes back to World War II. A well-known Jewish writer, Franz Werfel, and his wife had just slipped across the German border. They were fleeing from the Nazis, who were pursuing them. Working their way down through France, they hoped to cross into Spain and set sail to the United States. But Spanish border guards turned them back. The couple sought shelter in nearby Lourdes, where the famous shrine of Our Lady is located. That night Franz Werfel went to the shrine. Standing alone in the darkness, he spoke words to this effect: Year B

oday we celebrate the great feast of Mary, called the Immaculate Conception.

This doctrine was defined by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, four years before the apparitions of Mary at Lourdes. Belief in Mary’s immaculate conception dates back to the dawn of Christianity. It holds that Mary was untouched by sin from the moment of her conception. In other words, Mary was born free from original sin and remained free from all sin for the rest of her life. The teaching of the Immaculate Conception accords with the teaching of Scripture. For example, in today’s first reading God speaks these words to Satan: Lectionary 689

4

Immaculate Conception

9


“I will make you and the woman hate each other; her offspring and yours will always be enemies.” Genesis 3:15 Catholics have always viewed the woman here to refer ultimate as Mary and her offspring to refer ultimately to Jesus. Mary and Jesus stand at one end of the spectrum, and Satan stands at the opposite end. And in today’s gospel reading, the angel addresses these words to Mary: “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” Luke 1:28 This passage speaks for itself. Mary is in a class apart from all other women. t’s not surprising that God should have shielded Mary from sin. After all, she was to be the mother of God’s Son. Is it not fitting that the Son of God should be born of a sinless mother?

I

We American Catholics have always had a special devotion to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. It was to Mary, under this title, that we dedicated our country in the early days of our nation’s history.

So if our lives aren’t what they should be, or if something seems to be missing from them, perhaps today’s feast holds a special message for us. Perhaps it is inviting us to do what Franz Werfel did in his time of need. He turned to Mary in prayer. So let’s now turn to Mary in prayer. Pray along with me, in silence, the beautiful prayer to Our Lady composed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux over 800 years ago: “Remember, O most loving Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. “Inspired with this confidence, we turn to you, O Virgin of virgins, our Mother. To you we come, before you we stand, sinful and sorrowful. “O Mother of the Word Incarnate, do not turn from our petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer us. “Amen.”

And so today we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with special joy and special gratitude. It is, in a special way, “our” feast. he story of Lourdes in The Song of Bernadette and the story behind the writing of this book remind us that Mary is not only the mother of Jesus but our spiritual mother as well.

T

And like all mothers, she wants to help us in our needs, whatever they may be.

10

Immaculate Conception

4

Lectionary 689

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 61:1–2, 10–11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28

Are You the Messiah? John is the Messiah’s “advance man.” Get ready! The Messiah’s coming!

im Bishop wrote a book called The Day Christ Died. Bishop’s book contains a beautiful passage describing how Jews felt about the coming of the Messiah. The passage goes something like this:

J

“The coming of the Messiah was a sweet national obsession. It was joy beyond imagining, happiness beyond belief. It was comfort for the weary farmer’s bones as he lay in bed at night with his family, waiting for sleep. “It was the dream of every gray-haired person. It was the thing a small child looked to a mountain of white clouds to see. It was the hope of Judea in chains. The Messiah was always the promise of tomorrow morning.”

A

nd so when John the Baptizer showed up at the Jordan river, people got excited.

The place where John began his mission was a shallow spot, not far from the Dead Sea. It was a popular crossing for caravans and travelers from all over the world. It was a perfect place for people to meet and to exchange world news. And so it was an ideal place for John to begin his preaching and baptizing. John’s message was simple and to the point: “Turn away from your sins. . . . ‘Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him.’ ”

Luke 3:3–4

Before long, news of John’s activity reached the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Year B

So they sent a delegation of priests and Levites to talk to John. The priests had a special interest in John because he was the son of a priest, Zechariah. In Judaism, the only requirement for priesthood was heredity. It a man was descended from Aaron, no one could stop him from functioning as a priest. The priests in Jerusalem, therefore, were especially concerned about John, and why he was behaving so strangely. hen the delegation of priests arrived, they got right down to business and asked John, “Who are you?”

W

John knew what was on their minds, so he said, “I am not the Messiah.” “If you’re not the Messiah,” the priests said, “who are you? Are you Elijah?” This seems like a strange question to us. But we must remember that Elijah is the prophet who, at the end of his life, was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. Many Jews believed Elijah would reappear when it was time for the Messiah to come. Even today some Jews place an empty chair for Elijah at the Passover table. They pray that this will be the year when Elijah will appear to announce the coming of the Messiah. But John said flatly that he was not the same person who was taken to heaven centuries before in a fiery chariot. “Are you a prophet, then? they asked. Again John answered, “No! I am not a prophet in the sense that Jeremiah and Ezekiel were prophets.” “Who are you, then?” they asked. John replied by quoting the prophet Isaiah: Lectionary 8

4

Advent

11


“I am ‘the voice of someone shouting in the desert: Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!’ ” To appreciate John’s words about making “a straight path for the Lord,” we must remember that few ancient roads were paved with gravel or stone. Most ancient roads were simply mud paths. When a king planned a visit to a certain town of his kingdom, he sent an “advance man” ahead of him to have the people fill up mud holes and straighten out the path. Another thing the “advance man” did was to instruct the people in the proper protocol for receiving the king. Concerning the protocol for receiving the Lord, John says, “Turn away from your sins and be baptized.” Mark 1:4 And so my rephrase John’s complete message this way: “I am not the Messiah. But I am the Messiah’s ‘advance man.’ Get ready! For he is coming!” John does what every true religious leader ought to do. He turns attention away from himself and focuses it on Jesus. hat’s what the Church does during Advent. It focuses our attention on Jesus. it acts as his “advance man” and tells us he is coming. Finally, it explains to us how to prepare for his coming.

T

The “coming” of Jesus that the season of Advent talks about is not only his coming in history, which we celebrate at Christmas, but also his final coming at the end of history.

“When the Son of Man comes as King . . . he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. . . . “The King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! come and possess the kingdom. . . .’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Away . . . to the eternal fire.’ ” Matthew 25:31–34, 41

A

nd so the message of today’s readings is this:

John is not the Messiah. He is the Messiah’s “advance man.” John tells us how to prepare for the coming of Jesus. And the coming we prepare for is not just his coming into history as our savior, but also his coming at the end of history as our judge. et’s close with one of the recommended acts of contrition from the rite of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Please pray along with me in silence:

L

“Father of mercy, like the prodigal son, I return to you and say: ‘I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom you promised Paradise: ‘Lord, remember me in your kingdom.’ “Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on you with trust: purify my heart, and help me walk as a child of light.”

Matthew says of his final coming: 12

Advent

4

Lectionary 8

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


4th Sunday of Advent 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8–11, 16; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38

God’s Power Will Overshadow You God’s new presence among us—in the person of Jesus— makes all things possible.

year before Columbus discovered America, Saint Ignatius of Loyola was born in Spain. The parents of Ignatius died before he was 16. The years of Ignatius’ young adulthood, therefore, were undisciplined and wayward.

A

Eventually Ignatius turned from his life of sin. He underwent a profound conversion. Ignatius kept a journal of his experiences. Later he published it as a kind of road map for others to study in their own search for Jesus. The journal is called The Spiritual Exercises. ne of the “spiritual exercises” in the journal is a guide for meditating on today’s gospel. It has three steps.

O

The first step is to imagine what the world was like before Jesu was born. For example, people were drifting from God. Evil was spreading like a giant cancer. The world was in a hopeless situation. The second step is to imagine the angel Gabriel descending from heaven to announce to Mary that she is to be the mother of Jesus. We imagine ourselves descending from heaven with the angel. We see the planet Earth far, far away. It is just a tiny speak of light in a star-filled universe. As we draw closer, we see the spot on Earth called the Holy Land. As we draw even closer, we see the town of Nazareth. Next, we see Mary’s house in Nazareth. Year B

Finally, we see Mary inside the house. She is kneeling in silent prayer. The third step is to listen to the conversation between the angel and Mary. We pay attention to two sentences, especially. The first sentence is the angel’s words to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest on you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35 The important word in that sentence is overshadow. This word is rarely used in the Bible. One place we do find it, however, is in the Book of Exodus. There it describes a mysterious cloud that “overshadowed” or “covered” the tent in which Israel kept the ark of the covenant. Exodus 40:34 says that as soon as the cloud overshadowed the tent, “the LORD’s presence filled it.”

L

uke’s choice of the rare word overshadow is not accidental; it is deeply symbolic.

Luke compares Mary’s body to the tent in which the ark was kept. He compares Mary’s womb, in which Jesus will be housed, to the ark in which the tablets of the Ten Commandments were housed. Thus when God’s power overshadows Mary, the LORD’s presence” fills her. but the “LORD’s presence” that fills Mary is infinitely richer than the “LORD’s presence” that fills the tent. The “LORD’s presence” in Mary is the flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus. Here we should recall that God can be present to us in different ways, just as people can be present to each other in different ways. For example, a son away at college can be present to his mother by a photograph on her desk Lectionary 11

4

Advent

13


or, more personally, by a letter in her hand. When the son comes home, he becomes present to his mother in the most personal way possible, by his own flesh and blood.

How beautifully today’s gospel illustrates that “nothing is impossible with God.”

In a similar way, God is present to us in different ways.

Before God’s power overshadowed Mary, she had no hope of bearing a child. She was a virgin.

First, God is present to us in creation. God put something of himself in creation, just as a songwriter puts something of himself in the melody of his song. Second, God is present to us in the words of Scripture. God’s thoughts are present to us in Scripture, just as a songwriter’s thoughts are present to us in the words of his song. Finally, God is present to us in Jesus. God became present to us in flesh and blood, just as a songwriter can be present to us in his flesh and blood. This brings us back to the first sentence that we should give special attention to in today’s gospel. It is the angel’s words to mary that God’s power would overshadow her. When God’s power overshadowed Mary, God became present to us in the most personal way imaginable. He became present to us in the flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus.

T

his brings us to the second sentence that we should focus on in today’s gospel.

The sentence follows immediately after the angel’s reference to God’s power overshadowing Mary. In the very next sentence the angel says, “Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. For there is nothing that God cannot do.” Luke 1:36–37 The important words in this sentence are the words nothing is impossible with God. 14

Advent

4

Lectionary 11

Before God’s power overshadowed Mary, the world had no hope. Sin and violence were everywhere.

Before God’s power overshadowed Elizabeth, she had no hope of giving birth to a son. She was old and sterile. And, finally, before God’s power overshadowed Elizabeth, she had no hope of giving birth to a son. She was old and sterile. And, finally, before God’s power overshadowed Mary, the human race had no hope of salvation. It was held in slavery by Satan. The power of God that overshadowed Mary changed all that.

W

hat does this mean for us today, personally? It means this:

Our world may be messed up. Our family may be messed up. Our own lives may be messed up. But there is hope, because God’s power, in the person of Jesus, has entered our world. This is what we prepare to celebrate in these final hours before Christmas. This is what gives us joy beyond imagining, hope beyond dreaming. et’s close with a prayer. Let’s pray the words Mary prayed later on when she visited her kinswoman Elizabeth. Please pray along with me in silence:

L

“My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Savior. . . . He has kept the promise he made to our ancestors. . . . . He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham and to all his descendants forever!” Luke 1:46–47, 54–55 Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Christmas Isaiah 52:7–10; Hebrews 1:1–6; John 1:1–18

God’s Christmas Gift to Us Jesus gave to the world the news that God is our Father and we are brothers and sisters.

ome years ago, during a trip to the Holy Land, James Martin bought a nativity set. All the figures were there: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.

S

When Martin arrived at the Tel Aviv airport for his return trip to the United States, security was extremely tight. The customs officers checked and x-rayed each figure, even the baby Jesus. “We can’t take any chances,” the officer apologized to Martin. “We have to be sure there’s nothing explosive in this set!” Afterward Martin thought to himself, “If that officer only knew! That set contains the most explosive power in the world.”

The uniqueness of that power is dramatized by the way Jesus came into the world. Jesus came not as a powerful prince, living in a great mansion in the most powerful nation on earth. He came into the world as the son of a poor carpenter, living in a dirty stable in one of the weakest nations on earth. Jesus came into the world as you and I did: naked, helpless, fragile, vulnerable. Like each of us, he had to wait for other human beings to take care of him. He knew hunger. He knew thirst. He knew pain. He experienced ridicule. He experienced rejection. He even experienced the worst death anyone could experience—crucifixion. And when Jesus arrived in the world, he wasn’t greeted by world leaders. He wasn’t greeted by generals. He wasn’t greeted by celebrities.

T

Jesus was greeted by smelly shepherds whose earthly status was so low that their testimony was not accepted in a court of law.

And what is this power?

When Jesus came into the world, he identified himself with the poor, the suffering, the powerless, even the sinful.

he explosive power Martin was talking about is infinitely greater than the combined nuclear power of the United States and the Soviet Union.

t’s not the infinite power of God that created the world in the flicker of an eyelash and is capable of destroying it with the snap of a finger.

I

The power Martin is talking about is the power Jesus brought with him into the world on that first Christmas night. It is a power unlike any other the world had ever know up to that point. Year B

And this brings us to the power that Jesus brought with him into the world. he great power that Jesus brought into the world is the power contained in the incredible message that Jesus brought with him. It is a twofold message.

T

First of all, it is the “good news” that the great God of heaven and earth loves us— Lectionary 16

4

Christmas

15


each one of us. God loves us without exception and without reservation. The great God of heaven and earth loves us so much that he didn’t send a letter to tell us. He didn’t send an angel. He “cared enough to send the very best.” He sent his own Son. And this brings us to the second half of the message Jesus brought into the world. It is the additional “good news” that the great God of heaven and earth not only loves us but is our Father, and we are all brothers and sisters. It is this incredible message that made the non-Christian historian H. G. Wells rank Jesus first among all the people who ever lived. Commenting on his choice of Jesus, Wells said: “I am speaking of him as a man. . . . The historian must treat him as a man just as the painter must paint him as a man.” The historian, says Wells, must disregard the fact that many people consider Jesus to be the Son of God. He has to stick with those undeniable facts that would go unchallenged and be accepted by every person on earth, believers and nonbelievers. Commenting on the incredible message of Jesus, Wells says: “It is one of the most revolutionary changes of outlook that has ever stirred and changed human thought. No age has even yet understood fully the tremendous challenge it carries. . . . But the world began to be a different world from the day that doctrine was preached.”

16

Christmas

4

Lectionary 16

The historian’s test of a person’s greatness, says Wells, is, What did he leave to grow? Did he start people thinking along exciting new lines that continued to grow after his death? By this test, Jesus towers above everyone else who has ever lived. he power contained in the Christmas scene is the power of the twofold message Jesus brought to into the world.

T

It is the message that the great God of heaven and earth is our loving Father and that we are to be loving brothers and sisters. This incredible message is God’s Christmas gift to each one of us. What we do with it is our gift to God.

A

nd this brings us to the challenge of Christmas.

It is summarized beautifully in this poem by an unknown poet: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flocks, the work of Christmas begins: “to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music with the heart.”

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Holy Family Sirach 3:2–6, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Luke 2:22–40

Family Prayer Family prayer should take place in three settings: the personal, the group, and the communal.

ome time ago Reader’s Digest carried a “family quiz.” It contained 12 questions addressed to parents. One of the questions read: “With guests at your Christmas dinner table, would you feel comfortable asking any of your children to say grace?”

S

That question calls attention to one of the key concerns of every family: its prayer life.

T

here are three settings in which the family’s prayer life takes place.

First, there is the personal setting. In this setting family members pray to God on their own. For example, a father prays on his way to work. A mother prays over her sick baby. A boy or girl prays before going to bed. There are several ways to pray alone. We can pray set prayers, like the Our Father, reflecting on the words as we go. We can pray from Scripture, reading a paragraph and meditating on it. We can pray in our own words, speaking to God freely from the heart. Jesus often prayed alone. He prayed at his baptism. He prayed during his preaching ministry. He prayed in the garden. One of the most precious gifts a parent can give to a child is an appreciation of personal prayer. And there’s no better way to do this than by example. Year B

Dorothy Day, whom the New York Times called “the most influential person in the history of American Catholicism,” says that one of her first attractions toward Catholicism came as a child when she saw an adult Catholic at prayer. She writes: “It was about ten o’clock in the morning that I went up to Kathryn’s to call on her to come out to play. There was no one on the porch or in the kitchen. . . . I burst in. . . . “In the front room Mrs. Barrett was on her knees, saying her prayers. She turned to tell me that Kathryn and the children had gone to the store and went on with her praying. And I felt a warm burst of love toward Mrs. Barrett.” That’s a beautiful scene, and I’m sure many of us can relate similar examples of adult Catholics at prayer. he second family prayer setting is in a group. In this setting the family members pray together. For example, they pray around the table at mealtimes. They pray together before retiring for bed. They pray together at other appropriate times.

T

Jesus prayed often with his family. Jews put the highest priority on family prayer, especially at family meals. An ancient Jewish proverb says that whoever eats food without giving thanks steals from God. Jesus prayed often within the context of a meal. For example, he prayed when he fed the hungry crowds on the hillside. (See Luke 9:16.) He prayed at the Last Supper. (See Luke 22: 19.) He prayed when he ate with the two disciples at Emmaus. (See Luke 24:30.) Lectionary 17

4

Holy Family

17


Again, one of the most precious gifts a parent can give to a child is an appreciation of group or family prayer. In his biography of General Douglas MacArthur, Courtney Whitney quotes the general as saying: “By profession I am a soldier and I take pride in that fact. But I am prouder—infinitely prouder— to be a father. . . . It is my hope that my sone, when I am gone, will remember me not from battle but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’ ” inally, there is the communal prayer setting. It this setting the family gathers with other families on the Lord’s Day around the Lord’s table.

F

Of course, it is not always possible for families to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, as a complete family. But there should be times when the family makes an effort to do this. Jesus prayed often in this setting. Commenting on Jesus’ practice of praying in community with other families, Luke says: “Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue.”

Luke 4:16

oday’s Feast of the Holy Family invites us to ask ourselves about the quality of our family prayer life.

T

In particular, it invites us to ask ourselves how well we— fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters— are contributing to the prayer life of our family.

would you feel comfortable asking any of your children to say grace?” If our answer to that question is no, then today’s Scripture readings have an important message for us. et’s close with a prayer. General Douglas MacArthur wrote it in the Philippines during the opening days of the war in the Pacific.

L

Though it is a prayer for sons, it is equally appropriate for daughters. Please pray along with me in silence: “Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, brave enough to face himself when his is afraid. . . . “Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds. . . . Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. “Let him learn to stand in the storm; let him learn compassion for those who fall. “Build me a son whose heart is clear, whose goals will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past. “And after all of these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor so that he may always be serious yet never take himself too seriously. . . . “Then, I his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’ ”

Recall the way the family quiz posed the question to parents: “With guests at your Christmas dinner table, 18

Holy Family

4

Lectionary 17

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Mother of God Numbers 6:22–27; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21

Mother of All Mary is not only the Mother of God but also the mother of us all.

ears ago Fulton Oursler was the editor of a highly successful national magazine. The story behind his rise to success is fascinating. But even more fascinating is the story of his search for God.

Y

As a reporter for the Baltimore American, Oursler had covered Methodist meetings, Baptist conventions, and outdoor revivals. He had even waited for ghosts in darkroom séances. “Out of all of this,” he says, “I emerged at the age of 30 a self-styled agnostic.”

He sat there a while, then got up, and walked over the Chapel of Our Lady in the cathedral. He went inside, knelt down, and prayed the following prayer: “In ten minutes or less I may change my mind. I may scoff at all this and love error again. Pay no attention to me then. For this little time I am in my right mind and heart. This is my best— take it and forget the rest, and, if you are really there, help me.” At that moment, he said, there began a remarkable transformation in his life. The transformation ended in his becoming a deeply committed Christian.

But instead of finding peace, his unbelief left him totally empty inside. It also left him unhappy. Eventually the emptiness and unhappiness turned into gnawing depression.

ulton Oursler’s search for God ended in the House of God. And his spiritual birth into a new life began in a chapel dedicated to Mary the Mother of God.

Then one day serious trouble threatened his family. He needed help. But the kind of help he needed was not the kind of help friends could give. There was not one to whom he could turn, not even God—for he didn’t believe in God.

And what an appropriate place for it to take place. Mary is not only the Mother of God. She is the spiritual mother of all humankind as well. For when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she gave birth also to a new human race. Paul expresses this mystery this way in today’s second reading:

One windy day in New York he was walking down Fifth Avenue. He came to the cathedral. He stopped, looked at it, and thought. He was desperate. Minutes later he found himself walking up the steps, going inside, and sitting down. After a few minutes of collecting his thoughts, he bowed his head and asked for the gift of faith. Year B

F

“[w]hen the right time finally came, God sent his own Son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children. . . . And since you are his child, God will give you all that he has for his children.” Galatians 4:4–7 Lectionary 18

4

Mother of God

19


Commenting on this great mystery, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (22) says: “For, by his incarnation, he, the son of God has in a certain way united himself with each man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.” Indeed, when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she gave birth to a new human race as well. And so Mary is not only the Mother of God. She is also the mother of us all. Because Mary is our mother, she is a powerful advocate for us in heaven. To ignore Mary’s motherly concern for us is to ignore God’s gift of her motherhood to us.

A

nd this brings us to the new year.

A new year is a time of new hope. A new year is a time of new life. A new year is a chance to begin again. Last year is past and over. This year has just been born and lies ahead. It is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God. It is fitting that the Church should choose January 1 as the day on which to celebrate the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. For it reminds us that because of Mary’s motherhood, you and I were given a whole new life. We were given new hope, the kind of hope only God can give.

And one way to do this is through prayer. We can ask Mary to intercede for us as she has for so many other children of hers throughout history. A simple way to do this is to pray daily that special prayer to Mary, the Hail Mary. Another way to do it is to imitate Mary’s own way of praying. One way she prayed was to mediate on God’s activity not only in human history but also in her own daily life. Luke gives us an insight into this way of praying when he tells us at the end of the birth narrative: “Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them.” Luke 2:19 Another way Mary prayed was to speak to God spontaneously from her heart. Luke gives us an insight into this way of praying when he describes the prayer she made during her visit to Elizabeth. Let’s use it as our own closing prayer. I invite you to pray it along with me in silence: “My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Savior, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant! “From now on all people will call me happy, because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me. . . . “He has stretched out his mighty arm . . . and lifted up the lowly. . . . He has kept the promise he made to our ancestors. . . . He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham and to all his descendants forever!” Luke 1:46–55

If we are looking for a New Year’s resolution, we could do no better than to resolve to make Mary a more important part of our life. 20

Mother of God

4

Lectionary 18

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Epiphany Isaiah 60: 1–6; Ephesians 3:2–3, 5–6; Matthew 2:1–12

Gift of the Magi The gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold point to Jesus’ humanity, divinity, and kingship.

illiam Sydney Porter was an American short-story writer who lived at the turn of the century. His better known to us by his pen name, O. Henry. He is especially remembered for the surprise endings he gave to his stories.

W

One of his best-known stories takes its name from today’s feast. It is called “The Gift of the Magi.” The story concerns a young married couple named Jim and Dela. They are poor but much in love with each other. As Christmas approaches, Dela wonders what to get Jim for Christmas. She would like to give him a watch chain for his gold watch, but she doesn’t have enough money. Then she gets an idea. She has beautiful long hair. She decides to cut off her hair and sell it to buy the chain for Jim’s watch. On Christmas Eve she is returning home. In her hand is a beautiful box containing a gold chain which she has purchased with her hair. Suddenly Dela begins to worry. She knows Jim admired her long hair, and she wonders if he will be disappointed that she cut it and sold it. Only time will tell. Dela climbs the final flight of stairs leading to their tiny apartment. She unlocks the door and finds Jim waiting. In his hand is a neatly wrapped box containing the gift he has purchased for her. When Jim sees Dela’s short hair, tears begin to form in his eyes. Year B

But he says nothing. He chokes back the tears and gives her the box. When Dela opens it, she can’t believe what she sees. There in the box is a set of beautiful combs for her long hair. And when Jim opens his gift, he too can hardly believe his eyes. There inside the box is a beautiful chain for his gold watch. Only then does Dela realize that Jim sold his gold watch to buy the combs for her hair. Some people think the surprise ending of the story is tragic. But most people consider it beautiful. What makes it beautiful is not the gifts, but the love that the gifts symbolize. nd that brings us to our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany, also called the Feast of the Magi.

A

I’m not sure why O. Henry called his story “The Gift of the Magi.” Maybe it was because the gifts of the Magi were also filled with deep symbolism. Let’s turn to the symbolism of those gifts. et’s begin with myrrh. Among ancient peoples, myrrh was used to prepare the dead for burial. For example, the women brought myrrh to the tomb of Jesus. Because of myrrh’s relationship with death, it made an ideal symbol of human vulnerability.

L

The gift of myrrh, therefore, is symbolic of the humanity of Jesus. It speaks to us of Jesus’ human vulnerability. Like us, he experienced the whole range of human emotions: joy, sorrow, fear, frustration, loneliness. He was like us in everything but sin. This brings us to frankincense. Ancient peoples used incense in their religious worship. Lectionary 20

4

Epiphany

21


The aroma and smoke, spiraling upward to heaven, spoke to them of gods and divinity. The gift of incense, therefore, is symbolic of the divinity of Jesus. It tells us, in Paul’s words to the Philippians: “[Jesus] always had the nature of God, . . . He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above.” Philippians 2:6–9 Finally, there is gold. Among the ancient peoples, gold was regarded as the king of metals. It was, therefore, the ideal gift for a king. A king was, above all, a leader. The ideal king led by love. He undertook noble causes for his people. He inspired others to join him in his causes. Jesus was such a king. He led by love. He undertook the noble cause of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. And he inspired others to join him in his work. And this brings us to the practical message of the Feast of the Epiphany. n many nations today, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated with greater solemnity than Christmas.

I

This is because it celebrates Jesus’ manifestation of himself to the Gentile world. Just as Christmas celebrates so Epiphany celebrates the special manifestation to the Gentiles. It is, therefore, the “feast of the nations.”

We must carry to the nations of the world the “good news” that Jesus, the Son of God, took flesh and lived among us. We must tell them that Jesus entered history not just for the Jews of his time, but for all nations of all time. Jesus came to set up God’s kingdom on earth. He came to set up a new world, one in which there would be no more grief, no more pain, no more sorrow— one in which the needy man and the needy woman would find loving friends, where before they found only cold strangers. This is the “good news: that we must carry into the world. This is the practical message of the Feast of the Epiphany. It is a message that calls each of us to action. et’s close with these words. Written by an unknown poet, they sum up in vivid imagery the practical message of the Epiphany:

L

“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flocks, the work of Christmas begins: “to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoners, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart.”

What was begun by Jesus in his time must be continued by us in our time. If Jesus is to be made known to all nations, it must be through our efforts. 22

Epiphany

4

Lectionary 20

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


1st Sunday of Lent Genesis 9:8–15; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Mark 1:12–15

Reform and Believe We must admit our sins and seek Jesus’ help to turn away from them.

iri Thomas wrote a book called Down These Mean Streets. It describes his conversion from being a convict, a drug addict, and an attempted killer to become an exemplary Christian.

P

One night, Piri was lying on his cell bunk in prison. Suddenly it occurred to him what a mess he’d made of his life. He felt an overwhelming desire to pray. But he was sharing the cell with another prisoner called “the thin kid.” So he waited. After he thought “the thin kid” was asleep, he climbed out of his bunk, knelt down on the cold concrete, and prayed. He said: “I told God what was in my heart. . . . I talked to him plain . . . no big words. . . . I talked to him of my wants and lacks, of my hopes and disappointments. . . . I felt like I could even cry . . . something I hadn’t been able to do for years.” After Piri finished his prayer, a small voice said, “Amen.” It was “the thin kid.” “There we were,” Piri said, “he lying down, head on bended elbows, and I still on my knees. No one spoke for a long while. Then the kid whispered, ‘I believe in Dios also.’ ” The two young men talked a long time. Then Piri climbed back into his bunk. “Good night, Chico,” he said. “I’m thinking that God is always with us— it’s just that we aren’t with him.” Year B

hat story is a beautiful illustration of what Jesus means in today’s gospel when he says, “Turn away from your sins and believe in the Good News!”

T

Jesus’ instruction contains two points. The first is to “reform” our lives. The second is to “believe in the gospel.” Let’s begin with the first point: the reform of our lives. o reform” means to recognize the evil in our lives and to turn our back on it. It means to face up to sin in our lives and to turn away from it.

T

It means to imitate Piri Thomas, who admitted the mess he’d made of his life and decided to do something about it. All of us can relate to Piri Thomas’s experience. We too are aware of the evil tendencies that occasionally mess up our lives. For example, we are aware of selfishness that puts our comfort ahead of others’ needs. We are aware of pride that keeps us from admitting our faults. We are aware of laziness that keeps us from helping others. “To reform” means to face up to these evil tendencies in our lives and to do something about them. his brings us to the second point of Jesus’ instruction. Besides reforming our lives, Jesus tells us to “believe in the gospel.”

T

This means to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he came to save us. It means to seek out Jesus, especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and to receive from him forgiveness and healing. It means to do what Piri Thomas did after he saw the evil in his life. Lectionary 23

4

Lent

23


He turned to God for help. He believed in the “good news” that God had sent Jesus into the world to save sinners like himself. And so the story of Piri Thomas illustrates beautifully the two points of Jesus’ instruction in today’s gospel. The first point is to “reform” our lives. The second is to “believe in the gospel,” to believe that Jesus came to save us. ome time ago author Kilian McDonnell made a keen observation about conversion. It came in response to this question: Why are some evangelical preachers so successful in effecting conversions?

S

For one thing, says McDonnell, they follow Jesus’ instruction in today’s gospel. They get people to admit they are sinners, and they help people turn to Jesus for salvation. “Many [people] do not recognize Christ, because they do not recognize themselves as sinners. If I am not a sinner, then I have no need of Christ.” McDonnell concludes, saying: “No man will celebrate the mystery of Christ in joy if he does not first recognize in sorrow that he is a sinner.” Today’s gospel invitation touches on both of those important points. It invites us to admit we are sinners, and to turn to Jesus for salvation.

If we are looking for a special way to celebrate Lent this year, we could do no better than to use it as an opportunity to rediscover the power and peace of the sacrament of Reconciliation. For in this sacrament we do what Jesus invites us to do in today’s gospel. We acknowledge our sinfulness and accept him as our personal savior. et’s close by reflecting on a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It describes Paul’s own experience of his sinfulness and his own acceptance of Jesus as savior. Paul writes:

L

“I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. . . . “For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. . . . “What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? “Thanks be to God . . . Jesus Christ!” Romans 7:15, 18–19, 24–25

his brings us to a concluding observation. Today’s gospel invitation makes a perfect introduction to Lent.

T

Down through the centuries, Christians have found the season of Lent to be a time of special grace, especially for reforming one’s life.

24

Lent

4

Lectionary 23

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 22:1–2, 9, 10–13, 15–18; Romans 8:31–34; Mark 9:2–10

Mountains and Valleys Faith has its peaks and troughs. If we remain faithful at all times, God will bless us with lasting life.

ohn Updike wrote a short story called “Pigeon Feathers.” It’s about a young boy, David, who begins to have doubts about his faith.

J

One night in bed David is thinking about his problem. Suddenly he decides upon a bold experiment. He takes his hands from under the covers, lifts them above his head, and asks Jesus to touch them.

“God forbid it, Lord!” he said. “That must never happen to you!” Jesus turned around and said to Peter: “Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don’t come from God, but from human nature.” Matthew 16:22–23 Peter, James, and John probably needed a spiritual shot in the arm after that shocking experience. Perhaps that’s also why the Church includes this gospel in its Sunday Lenten readings. The Church wants to give us a spiritual shot in the arm before it turns our attention to the passion and death of Jesus in Jerusalem on Good Friday. his brings up a big point about faith. Our faith is often like a roller coaster. It has ups and downs. It has high points and low points. It has mountains and valleys.

As David waits breathlessly, he thinks he feels something touch his hands; but he’s not sure. After a while he returns his hands to the covers, not sure if they had been touched or not.

T

We can all relate to David in this scene.

In other words, there are times when our faith burns bright. There are other times, however, when it flickers and nearly goes out. Let me illustrate.

We too experience times when our faith seems to disappear or go behind a cloud. When this happens, we long desperately for a sign that God is real and that Jesus is the Son of God. Or to put it another way, we long for a sign of Jesus’ glory, like the one Peter, James, and John received in today’s gospel. his raises a question. Why did Peter, James, and John receive this special sign of Jesus’ glory?

T

One reason may have been what happened a few days earlier, when Jesus told his disciples he was going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Matthew says that when Peter heard this, he cried out, Year B

In today’s gospel, the faith of Peter, James, and John is bright and strong. But in a few months their faith will flicker and almost fail. It will happen in a garden called Gethsemane, on another mountain, the Mount of Olives. Matthew describes it this way: “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee [James and John]. Grief and anguish came over him, and he said to them, Lectionary 26

4

Lent

25


‘The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me’ ” Matthew 26:36–38

On such a day, it is difficult to know why we ever thought life easy.” Anthony Padovano

Shortly afterward “a large crowd armed with swords and clubs” came looking for Jesus. The three disciples, whose faith was so strong in today’s gospel, panicked and ran for their lives. Worse yet, Peter even denied he knew Jesus.

Faith is like that too, following the rhythms of happiness and sadness, ecstasy and agony, light and darkness.

A

nd so, too, our faith goes through high points and low points.

When we are expecting a high point, our faith is strong and bright, like the disciples’ faith in today’s gospel. During a high point, we feel so close to Jesus that we can touch him. We feel so close to God the Father that he seems to have his arm around us. And the Holy Spirit seems to speak to us. On the other hand, when we are experiencing a low point, our faith flickers and almost goes out, like the disciples’ faith in the Garden of Gethsemane. During a low point, Jesus seems to have lost his fight to Satan. The Father seems to have left us orphans. And the Holy Spirit seems as far away as last year. One author compares the high points and the low points of faith to life itself. During high points, life is beautiful. We love everyone. We hug our friends and we forgive all our enemies. On such a day, we wonder how we ever thought life could be difficult. But during low points, nothing goes right. “We feel oppressed and sinned against, misjudged, out of place, and lost. It’s a time when we number more enemies than we have and find fault with every friend. 26

Lent

4

Lectionary 26

hen moments of darkness come, we should follow the example of Abraham in today’s first reading.

W

Abraham’s faith flickered and almost failed when he thought God was asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It pained Abraham’s heart and confused his mind. But Abraham trusted God. And God didn’t let him down. God blessed him beyond his wildest dreams. In a similar way, God tests our faith. When this happens, our hearts are pained and our minds are confused. But if we trust God, as Abraham did, God will not let us down. In the end, God will bless us, too. beyond our wildest dreams. The Apostle James puts it this way: “Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such a test, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

A

nd so this is the good news of today’s readings.

It reminds us that faith is a lot like life. Faith has its mountains and its valleys. When we are standing on a mountain, it is easy to believe and to love God. But when we are standing in a valley, it is hard to believe and to love. But if we remain faithful during these trials, God will reward us with the life that he has promised to those who love him. Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


3rd Sunday of Lent Exodus 20:1–17; 1 Corinthians 1:22–25; John 2:13–25

Gospel or Film? The Gospels not only record the words and actions of Jesus but also interpret their meaning.

uppose a modern TV camera crew could get into a time machine and fly backward into history 2,000 years to the time of Jesus.

He went on to say that if we had only a film of the life of Jesus, we might end up misunderstanding it also. “ ‘What miracle can you perform to show us that you have the right to do this?” Jesus answered, ‘Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will build it again.’ “Are you going to build it again in three days?” they asked him. It has taken forty-six years to build . . . !’ ” John 2:18–20

S

After describing this conversation, John says:

Suppose they were able to film the actual life of Jesus from his birth on Christmas to his resurrection on Easter. Suppose they were able to bring the film back with them in the time machine.

“But the temple Jesus was speaking about was his body. So when he was raised from death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and what Jesus had said.” John 2:21–22

Think of it! That film would allow us to enter the world of Jesus exactly as it was. It would allow us to see the people Jesus saw. Best of all, it would allow us to see Jesus as he was. In other words, instead of reading today’s gospel, we could show the film of the event. We could actually see Jesus drive the money changers out of the Temple. We could see the expression on Jesus’ face. We could hear the exact words he spoke. ow let me ask you a question. Would you trade the four written Gospels, as we now have them, for a film like that? Keep in mind that you couldn’t have both. You would have to pick one or the other. Would you trade the Gospels for such a film?

N

hen someone asked an expert on the Gospels that same question, he said, “I’d keep the four Gospels.” His explanation was interesting. He said that many people in the time of Jesus saw and heard what Jesus did and said, but they didn’t understand it.

W Year B

In other words, even Jesus’ disciples didn’t fully understand what Jesus was talking about at the time. Only after he was raised to glory did it become clear. Take another example. Take what happened on Palm Sunday, when Jesus rote into Jerusalem on a donkey. After describing the episode, John says: “[Jesus’] disciples did not understand this at the time; but when Jesus had been raised to glory, they remembered that the scripture said this about him.” John 12:16 hat happened to the disciples, afterward, that enabled them to understand these things?

W

“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will tech you everything and make you remember all that I have told you.” John 14:26 In other words, what makes the four Gospels better than a film is that they were written in the light of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Lectionary 29

4

Lent

27


As a result, they contain not only Jesus’ words and works but also the deeper meaning behind them. Let me illustrate this point. We’ve all seen the television commercial for Polaroid camera. A girl takes a picture at a birthday party. After she does, a piece of blank paper rolls out of the front of the Polaroid camera. Nothings seems to be on it. It looks blank.

he season of Lent is a good time to rediscover the power and beauty of the four Gospels. It’s a good time to listen to them at Mass with greater attention and deeper love.

T

More importantly, Lent is a time to focus our eyes on Jesus, the central figure of the Gospels. It’s a time to place all our trust in him. If we do this, he will show himself to us on Easter Sunday in an entirely new way, just as he did to his disciples.

But suddenly, before our eyes, shapes and colors begin to appear on the blank paper. At first they are fuzzy and faint. But shortly they become sharp and clear.

L

The events of the life of Jesus were like that. At first they seemed to be like blank paper. There didn’t seem to be anything special about them.

God our Father, thank you for your gift of the four Gospels. Teach us to love them and appreciate them.

But then came Pentecost. The Holy Spirit enlightened the minds of the disciples about the events of Jesus’ life. Suddenly the deeper meaning of these events began to emerge, just as clearly as did the image on the Polaroid paper. The difference between the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ teaching before and after Pentecost is as striking as the difference between the Polaroid paper before and after it was exposed to light.

et us close with a prayer. Let’s thank God for his gift of the four Gospels and ask him to deepen our faith in them:

Help us meditate on the four Gospels. Show us how to put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples, that we may see and hear what they did. Above all, help us live the four Gospels. Show us how to apply them to our lives, so that when this life comes to an end, we may share your life forever.

nd so the four written Gospels are far better than a film. They not only record Jesus’ words and works but also interpret their meaning for us.

A

The four Gospels are a priceless gift from God to us. Saint Jerome called them the “love letters” of God the Father to his earthly children.

28

Lent

4

Lectionary 29

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


4th Sunday of Lent 2 Chronicles 36:14–17, 19–23; Ephesians 2:4–10; John 3:14–21

Lifeline Jesus is the believer’s lifeline in the hazardous journey from earth to heaven.

ne job early Christian preachers had was to explain to prospective Jewish converts how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.

O

One way they did this was to show how key Old Testament persons and events pointed to key New Testament persons and events. For example, they showed how Abraham’s son, Isaac, pointed to Jesus. Isaac was an only son, as Jesus was. Isaac was deeply loved, as Jesus was. Isaac was given for sacrifice, as Jesus was. Isaac was to be offered on a hill, as Jesus was. Isaac carried the sacrifice wood, as Jesus did. Paul makes similar comparisons between the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul compares Adam and Jesus. He writes: “ ‘The first man, Adam, was created a living being’; but the last Adam [Jesus] is the life-giving Spirit. . . . “The first Adam, made of earth, came from the earth; the second Adam [Jesus] came from heaven. “Those who belong to the earth are like the one who was made of earth; those who are of heaven are like the one who came from heaven. “Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth, so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven.” 1 Corinthians 15:45–49 Year B

n today’s gospel, Jesus draws yet another parallel between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He says:

I

“As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” The Old Testament event Jesus has in mind is the one described in the Book of Numbers. It’s where the Israelites are complaining bitterly to God and to Moses about the troubles they’re having in the desert. Following their complaint, snakes appear and attack the people. When this happens, the people cry out to Moses: “ ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Now pray to the LORD to take these snakes away.’ So Moses prayed for the people. “Then the LORD told Moses to make a metal snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and be healed. “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten would look at the bronze snake and be healed. Numbers 21:7–9 (The medical profession chose the image of the snake coiled about a pole as the symbol for its healing profession.) Jesus parallels this Old Testament event to his crucifixion on Calvary. He explains that whoever looks upon him, with faith, will be healed, spiritually, just as the Israelites were healed when they looked upon the coiled snake. Lectionary 32

4

Lent

29


J

ohn follows the reference to Jesus’ crucifixion with these words in verse 16:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” And verse 17 reads: “For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.” These two verses, in the third chapter of John’s Gospel, have been called a summary of the Bible. Listen to them again: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.” A number of years ago, these two verses, John 3:16 and John 3:17, took on extra-special meaning for many Bible readers. you may recall the episode. It involved our astronaut program. Space engineers were designing space suits for the command module pilot and the lunar module pilot. A part of the design of each space suit was an umbilical cord, consisting of a long flexible tubing. The purpose of the umbilical cord was to supply oxygen to the astronauts when they “walked” in space or passed from one module to another. The suit receptacle into which the command pilot’s cord fit was called J 3:16. The suit receptacle into which the lunar pilot’s cord fit was called J 3:17. Designer Frank Denton said he named the two suit receptacles after the two gospel passages: John 3:16 and John 3:17. 30

Lent

4

Lectionary 32

His reasoning for doing so went like this: Just as J 3:16 and J 3:17 supply the astronauts with what they need to survive in their journey from one module to another, so John 3:16 and J 3:17 supply us with what we need to survive in our journey from earth to heaven.

A

nd so today’s gospel is a rich one.

First, it contains a beautiful summary of the Bible. Second, it contains a beautiful illustration of how the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together. Finally, it illustrates how Jesus is our lifeline as we pass from earth to heaven, just as the umbilical cord is the astronauts’ lifeline as they pass from one space capsule to another. In other words, just as the umbilical cord supplies the astronauts with life-giving oxygen, so Jesus supplies us with life-giving race. et’s close by recalling these words of Paul in today’s second reading. They make a fitting climax to what we have been saying. Paul tells us:

L

“It is by God’s grace that you have been saved. In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. . . . For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, . . . God has made us what we are, . . .” Ephesians 2:5–6, 8–10

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


5th Sunday of Lent Jeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 5:7–9; John 12:20–33

Unless Wheat Dies Like the tiny grain of wheat, we must die to our own will if we are to live and bear fruit.

everal years ago Catherine Marshall wrote an article called “When We Dare to Trust God.” It told how she had been bedfast for six months with a serious lung infection. No amount of medicine or prayer helped. She was terribly depressed.

S

One day someone gave her a pamphlet about a woman missionary who had contracted a strange disease. The missionary had been sick for eight years and couldn’t understand why God let this tragedy happen to her. Daily she prayed for health to resume her missionary work. But her prayers went unanswered. One day, in desperation, she cried out to God: “All right, I give up, if You want me to be an invalid, that’s your business.” Within two weeks the missionary was fully recovered. Catherine Marshall laid the pamphlet aside. She was puzzled by the strange story. It didn’t make sense. “Yet,” she said, “I could not forget the story.” Then one morning Catherine cried out to God in words similar to those of the missionary: “God, I’m tired of asking you for health. You decide if you want me sick or healthy.” At that moment, Catherine said later, her health began to return.

Year B

he story of the missionary woman and the story of Catherine Marshall illustrate what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel.

T

They illustrate the teaching of Jesus that unless a grain of wheat dies, it cannot bear fruit. Or to put it another way, unless we die to our own will, we cannot bear fruit for God. Had the missionary not died to her will, and said “All right, God, I give up,” she would probably have remained an invalid. Instead, she got well and bore fruit. Had Catherine Marshall not died to herself, and said, “God, you decide what you want,” she would probably have remained sick. Instead, she too got well and bore fruit. The story of the missionary and the story of Catherine Marshall remind us of the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. During his agony there, he cried out to God, “Father . . . not my will . . . but your will be done.” Luke 22:42 Had Jesus not died to his will in the garden, you and I would not be saved from our sins. The stories of the missionary woman, of Catherine Marshall, and of Jesus— they all teach us the same lesson. They teach us that we must be willing to die to our own will if we wish to bear fruit for God. They teach us that we must be willing to trust God and put ourselves in his hands if we wish to gain eternal life.

C

oncretely, what does all this mean for you and me in everyday life?

Consider some possibilities.

Lectionary 35

4

Lent

31


Suppose our marriage is falling apart and we need outside help but are too proud to ask for it. Dying to our own will means dying to our pride and asking for help. Or suppose close friends tell us we are developing a drinking problem but we keep denying it, in spite of mounting evidence.

We may have to struggle, as the missionary and Catherine Marshall did. Or we may have to endure agony, as Jesus did. But if we do, we too will bear fruit for God and gain eternal life. The important thing is to put our lives in God’s hands in complete trust.

Dying to our will means admitting our problem and seeking medical help.

The important thing is to let go of our lives and let god do with them whatever he wishes.

Suppose a friend or a family member has hurt us in some way and we are holding a grudge against him or her.

And so this is the good news contained in today’s gospel.

Dying to our will means forgiving that person from the heart and treating him or her with love once again. Dying to our will is not easy. No one said it was. The missionary didn’t find it easy to tell God she would accept being an invalid if that’s what he wanted. Catherine Marshall didn’t find it easy to tell God she would accept whatever fate he decided for her. Jesus didn’t find it easy to agree to do whatever his Father wanted him to do. But all three— the missionary, Marshall, and Jesus— trusted God and put themselves in his hands. They died to themselves and, as a result, bore much fruit for God. he good news in today’s readings is that we can do the same. We can follow the example of the missionary, of Catherine Marshall, and of Jesus. We too can bear much fruit for God.

T 32

Lent

4

Lectionary 35

It is the good news that if we imitate the grain of wheat and die to ourselves, we too will bear much fruit. It is the good new that if we imitate the example of the missionary woman, of Catherine Marshall, and of Jesus, we too will bear fruit for God and gain eternal life.

L

et’s close with a prayer. Please pray along with me in silence:

God our Father, as we prepare to break bread together, help us realize that had not the grains of wheat been ground into flour, and had not the individual grapes been crushed into juice, we would not be able to share this holy meal together. Help us imitate the wheat and the grapes and offer our lives to you for whatever use you wish to make of them.

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion Procession: John 12:12–16 Mass: Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Mark 14:1–15:47

Hosanna! Jesus reveals he is the Messiah. But he is to be a messiah of peace and not a warrior-king messiah.

that if anyone knew where Jesus was, he must report it, so that they could arrest him.” John 11:55–57 hat sets us up for the actual entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. What is the deeper meaning behind the way Jesus entered Jerusalem and the way the people greeted him?

T

ilbert Frankau tells the story of a friend of his who was an artillery officer in World War I.

G

To answer that question, let’s review how Jesus entered the city. John’s Gospel says:

In those days there was no radar to guide artillery fire to its target. Shells were simply lobbed over hills and trees, much as one heaves a rock at a target.

“Jesus found a donkey and rode on it, just as the scripture says, ‘Do not be afraid, city of Zion! Here comes your king, riding on a young donkey.’ ” John 12:14–15

Sometimes a soldier was sent up in a hot-air balloon to give directions to the gunners. He’d yell down to them, “A little to the left” or “A little to the right.” “Whenever I went up in that balloon,” said Frankau’s friend, “I was frightened. I as a perfect target for enemy gunfire, and I knew it. I never got over my fear. But I never let my fear keep me on the ground.”

As Jesus rode into the city, the people waved palm branches and shouted: “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!” John 12:13 John ends his description with this unusual comment:

That story will help us appreciate better the gospel passage we just read.

“[The disciples of Jesus] did not understand this at the time; but when Jesus had been raised to glory, they remembered that the scripture said this about him and that that had done this for him.” John 12:16

It tool tremendous courage for Jesus to go to Jerusalem on this particular Passover. It took unbelievable courage. John’s Gospel explains why.

What is the deeper meaning, then, behind the way Jesus entered the city and the way the people greeted him— waving palms and shouting “Hosanna”?

“The time for the Passover Festival was near, and many people went up . . . to Jerusalem. . . . They were looking for Jesus, and . . . asked one another, ‘What do you think? Surely he will no come to the festival, will he?’ The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders Year B

ddly enough, the key to the answer lies in the donkey Jesus was riding.

O

Our modern Western notion of a donkey is not a flattering one. We think of a donkey as a stupid animal. Gilbert Keith Chesterton popularized this notion in a poem. Lectionary 38

4

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

33


In it he has the donkey reflect on its ugliness and say to itself:

and drive the Romans out of Palestine into the sea.

“When fishes few and forests walked And figs grew upon thorn, Some moment when the moon was blood Then surely I was born.

Jesus’ action of riding into Jerusalem on an animal of peace flies in the face of this idea. It reveals that the Messiah isn’t going to be a warrior-king who will be served by Israel’s enemies.

“With monstrous head and sickening cry And ears like errant wings, The devils’ walking parody On all four-footed things. . . . “Fools! For I also had my hour, One far fierce hour and sweet; There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet.” And so the donkey says, in effect: “You modern people may ridicule and mock me, but of all the animals on earth, I as the one chosen to carry on my back the Savior of the world.”

A

lthough we make fun of the donkey, people in biblical times honored it.

The donkey was an animal of peace, as opposed to the horse, which was an animal of war— carrying soldiers into battle. Zechariah had prophesied that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus now carries out Zechariah’s prophecy. As he does, he makes two important statements.

Jesus hasn’t come to sit on a throne and be served by conquered peoples. He has come to kneel on the floor and wash the feet of his subjects. Jesus hasn’t come to rally people behind him and do battle against other people. He has come to rally them behind him and do battle against poverty, hunger, hatred, and all forms of injustice. Jesus hasn’t come to condemn people. He has come to forgive them. Jesus hasn’t come to destroy people’s dreams. He has come to fulfill them in the most wonderful way imaginable. Jesus hasn’t come to force people to follow him. He has come to invite them.

I

t’s this Jesus whom we great today.

It’s this Jesus who wants to enter our hearts, in a special way, in the Holy Week ahead.

First, he affirms that he is the Messiah of Israel.

It’s this Jesus who is in our midst right now as we begin our liturgy, by processing through the church.

Second, he reveals what his messianic mission will be.

So let’s rejoice and sing with Christians everywhere:

This revelation was badly needed in Jesus’ time, because many people were getting confused about the Messiah’s mission.

“Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!” John 12:13

For example, some thought an important part of the Messiah’s mission would be to rally people to his cause 34

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

4

Lectionary 38

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Easter Sunday Acts of the Apostles 10:34, 37–43; Colossians 3:1–4; John 20:1–9

Easter’s Message The message of Easter is that Jesus is alive and risen and at work in our lives.

t was a hot summer afternoon. The famous Hollywood film director Cecil B. DeMille was drifting in a canoe on a lake in Maine, reading a book. He looked away from the book momentarily, down to the lake. There a bunch of water beetles were at play.

I

Suddenly one of the beetles began to crawl up the side of the canoe. When it got halfway up, it attached the talons of its legs to the wooden side of the canoe and died. DeMille watched for a minute; then he turned back to his book. About three hours later, DeMille looked down at the dead beetle again. What he saw amazed him. The beetle had dried up, and its back was starting to crack open. As he watched, something began to emerge from the opening: first a moist head, then wings. It was a beautiful dragonfly. DeMille sat there in awe. Then the dragonfly began to move its wings. It hovered gracefully over the water where the other beetles were at play. But they didn’t recognize the dragonfly. They didn’t realize that it was the same beetle they had played with three hours earlier. DeMille took his finger and nudged the dried-out shell of the beetle. It was like an empty tomb.

W

e all recognize the parallel between the water beetle and Jesus.

Jesus died nailed to a cross. The water beetle died fastened to the canoe. Year B

Jesus underwent an amazing transformation three days after his death. The water beetle went through a similar change three hours after its death. Jesus wasn’t recognized by those who had been with him three days earlier. The beetle wasn’t recognized by those that had been with it three hours earlier. The risen body of Jesus had new powers to move about. The beetle could now fly and no longer had to crawl about. The story of the water beetle may help us understand better what happened to Jesus on Easter morning. he body of Jesus that rose on Easter morning was totally different from the body of Jesus that was buried on Good Friday afternoon.

T

It was not a resuscitated body, that is, a body restored to its original life— like Lazarus, or the son of the widow of Naim, or the daughter of Jairus. Rather, it was a body that had taken a quantum leap forward into an infinitely higher life. It was a glorified body. It was totally living and totally life-giving. Paul compares the body before resurrection to a seed, and the body after resurrection to the plant that emerges from that seed. He says in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “[w]hat you plant is a bare seed, . . . not the full-bodied plant. . . . When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body,” 1 Corinthians 15:37, 42–44

In the same letter Paul says that we will share in the resurrection of Jesus. He writes: “[t]he truth is that Christ has been raised from death, Lectionary 43

4

Easter Sunday

35


as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised. For just as death came by means of a man, in the same way the rising from death comes by means of a man. For just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ. . . . “Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth, so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven.” 1 Corinthians 15:20–22, 49 ut Paul tells us something more. He tells us that we don’t have to wait until we die to share in the risen life and the risen power of Jesus. We can do it right now. All wee have to do is open our hearts to him.

B

Let me illustrate with a true story. Roger Bolduc was a victim of cancer. Until he died in 1977, he never ceased to believe that his illness was a precious gift from God. Shortly before his death he wrote:

And so we don’t have to wait until we die to share in the risen life and risen power of Jesus. We can share in it right now, at this moment. ach time we love again after having our love rejected, we share in the power of the resurrection.

E

Each time we trust again after having our trust betrayed, we share in the resurrection. Each time we fail and try again, we share in the resurrection. Each time we hope again after having our hope smashed into pieces, we share in the resurrection. Each time we pick up the pieces, wipe our tears, face the sun, and start again, we share in the power of the resurrection. The message of Easter is that nothing can destroy us anymore— not pain, not sin, not rejection, not death. The message of Easter is that Christ has conquered all, and that we too can conquer all, if we put our faith in him.

“Many things upon which I placed importance in the past seem so trivial now, they just don’t seem to matter anymore. . . .

That’s what the resurrection is all about. That’s what we celebrate this morning.

“Time has become precious. God has become so real. . . . I can feel his power—it’s always there. I feel that God has answered my prayers.”

It’s the good news that we don’t have to wait until death to share in the resurrection. We can begin to do it right now, in this life, at this moment, in this Mass.

Bolduc concluded by saying that he always knew God loved him, but he had no idea God loved him so much. This is a beautiful example of the power of the risen Jesus at work in someone’s life today. Roger Bolduc literally died and rose spiritually. 36

Easter Sunday

4

Lectionary 43

It’s the good news that every Good Friday now has an Easter Sunday.

All we have to do is open our hearts to the grace that Jesus won for us on the first Easter Sunday, nearly 2,000 years ago.

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


2nd Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 4:32–35; 1 John 5:1–6; John 20:19–31

Reason and the Risen Jesus Reason supports what Scripture tells us: Jesus is indeed risen.

uppose we called you up to the lectern and blindfolded you. Suppose we placed a water bucket in front of you and asked you if it was empty or full.

S

What are three ways you can learn the answer to that question without removing the blindfold? One way is to reach into the bucket and feel if there is water in it. In other words, you can experience firsthand if the bucket is full or empty. This way of learning is called experiencing. It’s knowledge that we acquire by firsthand experience. It’s knowledge that our senses give us. A second way to learn if the bucket contains water or not is to drop an object, like a coin, into it. If the object hits the bottom of the bucket with a loud or ringing sound, you know the bucket is empty. On the other hand, if the coin hits with a slurp or a splash, you know the bucket contains water. This way of acquiring knowledge is called reasoning. A third way to learn if the bucket contains water is to ask someone you trust. The person could look into the bucket and tell you if it has water in it. This way of learning is called believing. It’s knowledge that we acquire by faith. Experiencing, reasoning, believing— these are the three ways we acquire knowledge in this life. Year B

ow consider a second question. Of the three ways of acquiring knowledge, by which way do we learn most of our knowledge?

N

Do we learn mostly by experiencing things with our senses, by reasoning to them with our minds, or by believing them with our hearts? f you said believing, you’re absolutely right. We acquire most of our knowledge by believing what others tell us. Some experts estimate that we learn as much as 80 percent of our knowledge in this way.

I

For example, few of us have traveled around the world. The only way we know about most countries is by what others tell us. In other words, we trust the people who have been there. If they tell us there is a country called China and that its people do this or that, we believe them. What is true of the way we acquire regular knowledge is even more true of the way we acquire religious knowledge. Most of our religious knowledge comes to us by believing what the Scriptures tell us. In other words, most of our religious knowledge comes by believing. ow consider a third question. Can we acquire religious knowledge by the same three ways that we acquire regular knowledge? For example, can we know that Jesus rose from the dead not just by believing what Scripture says but also by reasoning?

N

Some people think we can. Their explanation is fascinating. They begin by pointing out that after the death of Jesus, his disciples were completely distraught. Lectionary 45

4

Easter Season

37


They were a defeated group of people. They were a discouraged group of people. They were a frightened group of people. Then on Easter Sunday, something happened to these distraught, discouraged, frightened people. Something transformed them in the most remarkable way imaginable. Something changed them in an amazing way. Suddenly they literally exploded with joy and happiness. They couldn’t contain themselves. Off they went to tell everyone they met that Jesus was risen and alive. So convinced were they about this that they readily suffered the most terrible kinds of persecution, and even death, rather than deny their risen Lord. The lives and preaching of this handful of people changed the course of human history. No acceptable explanation has ever been given to explain their transformed lives— no explanation but their own: They had seen Jesus alive. Had these unlearned people lied about Jesus and his resurrection, it’s reasonable to assume that sooner or later one of them would have confessed under the pressure of persecution or death. But none did. Their witness to the risen Jesus never wavered. Their witness never weakened in the least. On the contrary, it grew stronger and more powerful. They even experienced an amazing new power that allowed them to work miracles. It is this unexplainable transformation of the followers of Jesus that leads some people to say that reason itself testifies to the resurrection of Jesus.

38

Easter

4

Lectionary 45

In other words, pure logical reason dictates that something spectacular happened on Easter to transform the followers of Jesus. Pure logical reason dictates that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. ou and I can’t place our hand in the side of Jesus, as Thomas did, and experience firsthand Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But we can place our trust in the testimony of Scripture.

Y

We can do more. We can use God’s gift of reason to confirm what Scripture tells us. We too, then, can fall down on our knees, as Thomas did, and say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28 Jesus, in turn, will say to us, “How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”

L

John 20:29

et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, whenever our faith falters, as the faith of Thomas did, remind us of your words in Scripture about what happened on Easter Sunday. Remind us also about the impact this event had not only on the disciples of Jesus but on the whole course of history. Above all, remind us to share the good news of your resurrection with others in our world, just as the disciples shared it with the people of their world. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


3rd Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 3:13–15, 17–19; John 2:1–5; Luke 24:35–48

Witness to the Resurrection The risen Jesus shares his risen power with us and, through us, with others.

n his book I Believe, Grand Teaff, head football coach at Baylor University, tells a remarkable story.

I

It’s about a young man who was once the world’s greatest pole vaulter. His name is Brian Sternberg. In 1963 Brian was a sophomore at the University of Washington. he was not only the world’s best pole vaulter but also America’s trampoline champion. Teaff says—and I quote him exactly here, “Word around the track was that Brian Sternberg was the most self-centered young athlete to come along in a long time.” Teaff tells how he watched Brian perform the day he broke the world’s record. He says, “The thing that caught my eye . . . was his poise and confidence and the fact that he never smiled.” The next day at breakfast, Teaff picked up the paper and was stunned. The headline read, “Brian Sternberg Injured.” Brian had been working out alone in the gym. He did a triple somersault and came down on the trampoline off center. His neck hit the edge of the trampoline, snapping it and leaving him totally paralyzed, able to move only his eyes and his mouth. Brian was left a helpless, hopeless cripple and a very bitter young man. Five years later Coach Teaff saw Brian again. It was at a convention of coaches and athletes at Estes Park, Colorado. The auditorium was totally dark. Suddenly a movie projector lit up the screen. Year B

There was Brian Sternberg racing down the runway and executing that record-breaking pole vault. Every coach and athlete oohed and aahed. Then the auditorium went totally dark again, except for a single spotlight falling on a single chair on the empty stage. Suddenly out of the shadows on the stage came a huge football player named Wes Wilmer. In his arms was what looked like a big rag doll. Its long arms and legs hung limp at its sides and flopped this way and that way as Wes Wilmer walked across the stage. The rag doll was six-foot, three-inch Brian Sternberg, who now weighed 87 pounds. Wilmer placed him in the chair and propped him up with pillows to keep him from falling over. Then in a raspy voice Brian Sternberg began to talk. He said: “My friends . . . Oh, I pray to God that what has happened to me will never happen to one of you. I pray that you’ll never know the humiliation, the shame of not being able to perform one human act. “Oh, I pray to God you will never know the pain that I live with daily. It is my hope and my prayer that what has happened to me would never happen to one of you. Unless, my friends, that’s what it takes for you to put God in the center of your life.” The impact of Brian’s words were electrifying. No one there will ever forget them. don’t know of a single story that illustrates so powerfully and pointedly the lesson in today’s Scripture readings.

I

In today’s gospel reading Jesus instructs his disciples tobe his witnesses to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. And that’s what we find Peter doing in today’s first reading. Lectionary 48

4

Easter Season

39


And that’s what we find Brian Sternberg doing before all those coaches and athletes: “Oh, I pray to God . . . that what has happened to me would never happen to one of you. Unless, my friends, that’s what it takes for you to put God in the center of your life.” Witnessing to Jesus is more than telling people about the life of this great person who lived 2,000 years ago. Anyone can do that. Witnessing to Jesus is more than testifying that Jesus is risen. The soldiers guarding the tomb did that. Witnessing to Jesus is testifying by our lives that the power of the risen Jesus has touched us and transformed us in the most remarkable way imaginable. Witnessing to Jesus is letting Jesus speak through us to other people. And that’s what Brian Sternberg was doing on that empty stage in Estes Park, Colorado. Before his tragic accident he was a self-centered athlete. Immediately after it he was a bitter person. But then something beautiful happened. Someone introduced Brian to Jesus Christ. Beginning with that introduction, the power of the risen Jesus touched Brian and began to transform him. The result was that Brian became an inspiring living witness to the resurrection. The most powerful force in the world is someone touched and transformed by the power of the Risen Christ. lbert Schweitzer gave up a career as a concert pianist in Europe and became a medical doctor to the poor. Commenting on some of the influences that motivated him to do this, Schweitzer said:

A

“As I look back upon my youth I realize how important to me were the help, understanding, and courage . . . so many people gave me. 40

Easter Season

4

Lectionary 48

These men and women entered into my life and became powers within me.” Reader’s Digest, October 1949

And then Schweitzer made a surprising comment about the impact of those people on his life. He said: “But they never knew it. Nor did I perceive . . . their help at the time.” The most powerful witness to Jesus often takes place without the people involved being aware of it. And that’s what happened in that auditorium in Estes Park, Colorado. The last thing on Brian Sternberg’s mind was that he was giving living witness to Jesus. All he was doing was sharing the deepest part of himself and his convictions about life with a group of brother and sister athletes and coaches. And so witnessing to Jesus is testifying by our lives that the power of the risen Jesus has touched us and transformed us. It’s doing what an 87-pound rag doll did on an empty stage in Estes Park, Colorado. It is letting Jesus speak through us to other people. et’s close with a passage from a letter of Bishop Duval of France. It touches on the very thing we have been talking about:

L

“No matter how beautifully expressed, abstract ideas rarely move people. But let a person come forward, a living person, capable of speaking to the heart; let truth flow from that person’s life, and let the person’s power be matched by an equal gift of love: then people will listen and the dawn of better days will brighten our skies.” Pastoral Letter

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


4th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 4:8–12; 1 John 3:1–2; John 10:11–18

I Am the Good Shepherd The Good Shepherd laid down his life to share with us his risen life.

aura Bell is not your typical college graduate. After graduation she took a job as a sheepherder in Wyoming. Some of her friends thought she was crazy. But Laura wanted a challenge. Well, she got it.

L

She worked eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. Her days began at dawn and ended at sunset. All this time she was completely alone, except for her dog, her horse, and 2,000 sheep. Once a week someone rode out across the hills to bring her food, mail, and rifle shells. Laura’s job consisted in keeping the sheep together, moving them about for food and water, and protecting them from wild animals. “When you’re out there all alone,” she said, “there’s no one to correct your mistakes. So you keep doubly alert for dangers, like rattlesnakes; and you don’t do dumb things with your horse.” Laura said one of her joys was the weather. It was also one of her biggest headaches. The weather determined how the sheep were going to behave and what her day would be like. One morning a group of sheep decided to break away from the main herd. Laura said she spent the rest of the day tracking them down. Just when she found them, a thunderstorm drenched her and the flock. She spent that night shivering in a wad of soggy blankets. Year B

he story of Laura Bell gives us an insight into just how hard the job of a modern sheepherder can be.

T

Ancient shepherds had to work even harder. This was because they had no horse, dog, or rifle to help them with their job. All they had was themselves. This made their work exceedingly dangerous. Let me illustrate with an example. A story in the First Book of Samuel tells how young David volunteers to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath. The king refuses, saying, “You’re just a boy, and he has been a soldier all his life!” “Your Majesty,” David said, “I take care of my father’s sheep. Any time a lion or bear carries off a lamb, I go after, attack it, and rescue the lamb. And if the lion or bear turns on me, I grab it by the throat and beat it to death. I have killed lions and bears, and I will do the same to this heathen Philistine.” 1 Samuel 17:33–36 We all know how the story turned out. David defeated Goliath with a slingshot, which was the closest thing to a rifle that an ancient shepherd had. But the danger to the ancient shepherd’s life came not just from wild animals but also from outlaws and rustlers. In his book on the Holy Land, called The Land and the Book, W. M. Thomson records this tragic story. One day a young shepherd was tending his flock in the vicinity of Mt. Tabor. Suddenly three bedouin rustlers appeared. The young man knew what he was up against, but he didn’t flee. He stood his ground and fought to keep his flock from falling into the hands of the outlaws. The episode ended with the young shepherd laying down his life for his sheep. he ancient shepherd’s dedication to his flock inspired the biblical writers to speak of God as a shepherd.

T

Lectionary 51

4

Easter Season

41


God’s dedication to Israel was like that of a shepherd. Thus the psalmist sings: “The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. . . . Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid.” Psalm 23:1, 4 Since the religious leaders of Israel took God’s place on earth, they too were referred to as shepherds. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, Israel’s religious leadership deteriorated. When this happened, the prophet Ezekiel spoke out in God’s name, saying: “You are doomed, you shepherds of Israel! You take care of yourselves, but never tend the sheep. . . . You have not taken care of the weak ones, healed the ones that are sick, bandaged the ones that are hurt, brought back the ones that wandered off, or looked for the ones that were lost. . . . “So listen to me, you shepherds. I, the Sovereign LORD, declare . . . I will take my sheep away from you. . . . I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd, and he will take care of them.” Ezekiel 34:2–4, 9–10, 23

I

t is against this background that we must read today’s gospel.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep. . . . [t]hey will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” John 10:11, 16 In other words, Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy made by Ezekiel. Like the good shepherd David, he cares for the week and helpless, heals the sick, and goes out in search of the stray and the lost sheep. 42

Easter Season

4

Lectionary 51

Jesus does more. He lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus does still more. He rises from the dead and shares his own risen life with his sheep. This is what Peter refers to in today’s first reading. He tells the people that it is through Jesus’ power that the cripple has been healed. Peter invites the people to believe in Jesus and to be healed by him spiritually, just as the cripple was healed physically. This is also what John talks about in today’s second reading. He says that through Jesus the Father has made us his own children.

W

hat should be our response to all of this?

First, it should be one of gratitude to Jesus. For through his death and resurrection we have been saved from eternal death and raised up to eternal life. This is what John is referring to in the second reading when he says: “My dear friends, we are now God’s children, but it is not clear what we shall become. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is.” Second, our response should be one of profound openness to Jesus. For Jesus is present in our midst right now, continuing his work of salvation. He continues to care for the weak, heal the sick, bandage the wounded, bring back the stray, and seek out the lost. Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd promised by God. Jesus not only laid down his life for us 2,000 years ago, but also continues to dwell in our midst, and communicate to us his own risen life. Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


5th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 9:26–31; 1 John 3:18–24; John 15:1–8

Keeping in Touch We stay united to Jesus and give visibility to his presence when we gather as Church.

he lunar module Eagle, carrying astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong, landed on the moon July 20, 1969. While Armstrong prepared for his moon walk, Aldrin unpacked bread and wine and put them on the abort guidance system computer. He describes what he did next.

T

“I poured the wine into the chalice. . . . In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon and the very first food eaten there were communion elements.” Just before eating and drinking the elements, Aldrin read this passage from the Gospel according to John: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” John 15:5 Commenting on his Communion experience alone on the moon, Aldrin says, “I sense especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and the Church everywhere.” Guideposts Treasury of Hope hat story not only gives special meaning to today’s gospel but also underscores the way we, the branches, remain united with Jesus, the vine.

T

We remain united to Jesus by three way in particular: by gathering in his name, Year B

by listening to his word, and by sharing his Body and Blood. Concerning gather in his name, Jesus told his disciples, “For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:20 When we gather in Jesus’ name, we have his promise that he’s there with us. Concerning reading and explaining his word, Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me . . .” Luke 10:16 When we hear the Gospel read and explained, we have Jesus’ promise that we listen to him. Finally, concerning eating and drinking his Body and Blood, Jesus told his disciples, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them. John 6:56 When we share the Lord’s Supper, we have Jesus’ promise that he’s united with us. These are the three special ways, then, by which we remain united to Jesus: by gathering in his name, by listening to his word, and by sharing his Body and Blood. his leads us to an important point: If we want to find Jesus today, we will find him in his Church, or we won’t find him at all.

T

Sometimes we hear people say, “I can find Jesus and unite myself to him in my own way. I don’t need the Church.” When we hear this, we want to cry out, “But there is no Jesus apart from the Church. There is no Jesus like the one you are talking about. That Jesus died on Calvary 2,000 years ago.” The only Jesus there is today is the Jesus who rose on Easter Sunday. And this Jesus lives in his Church, or he doesn’t live at all. As evidence of this, recall Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, before his conversion. Lectionary 54

4

Easter Season

43


Listen to how the Acts of the Apostles describes it: “[s]uddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ “ ‘Who are you, Lord, he asked. “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you persecute,’ the voice said.” Acts of the Apostles 9:3–5 Paul was confused. He hadn’t persecuted Jesus. He had persecuted only his followers. Then it dawned on Paul. Jesus and his followers were one. They were like a head and a body. Trying to separate Jesus from his followers was like trying to separate a head from its body. Years later Paul wrote: “[Jesus] is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body’s life.” Colossians 1:18 his leads us to a final point: If people today are to find Jesus, we, the Church, must make him visible to them.

T

A teacher used to say to his students, “what if some unthinkable explosion destroyed all life on earth except for us, right here in this room. Where would the Church of Jesus be then?” The students would always think a minute. Then they would see the light. The Church of Jesus would be right there in their room. They would be the Church. That little experiment makes an important point. The Church is not a place where people gather. It’s the people who gather. The Church is not a place where people gather to pray. 44

Easter Season

4

Lectionary 54

It’s the people who gather to pray. But note what we said! The Church is the people who gather. To have Church we must gather together. The Church is like the bread and wine that we use in the Eucharist. Hundreds of grains of wheat and hundreds of grapes had to be gathered to make them. It is the same with us. Only by gathering together do we become the Church of Jesus. Only by gathering together do we make Jesus’ Church visible to our world. Only by gathering together do we make the risen Jesus visible to our age. And so by gathering together we give visibility to Jesus and his Church. Each time we gather, we show people where they can find the risen Jesus in today’s world. This is one of the reasons Jesus said to his followers in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. . . . “In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14, 16 ord, you are the vine and we are your branches. As the branches draw life from the vine, so we draw life from you.

L

Lord, help us remain united to you always, by gathering in your name, by hearing your word, and by sharing your Body and Blood. For in this way we make you visible to our world. Lord, help us remember always that where your Church is, there you are. Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48; 1 John 4:7–10; John 15:9–17

Miracle of Love! Love works miracles for those who believe in it and practice it.

everal years ago Reader’s Digest carried a moving story about a baby boy in a Milwaukee hospital. The baby was blind, mentally retarded, and had cerebral palsy. He was little more than a vegetable that didn’t respond to sound or touch. His parents had abandoned him.

S

The hospital didn’t know what to do with the baby. Then someone remembered May Lempke, a 52-year-old nurse who lived nearby. She had raised five children of her own. She would know how to care for such a baby. They asked May to take the infant, saying, “He’ll probably die young.” May responded, “If I take the baby, he won’t die young; and I’ll be happy to take him.” ay called the baby Leslie. It was not easy to care for him. Every day she massaged the baby’s entire body. She prayed over him; she cried over him; she placed his hands in her tears.

M

One day someone said to her, “Why don’t you put that child in an institution? You’re wasting your life.” As Leslie grew, so did Mary’s problems. She had to keep him tied in a chair to keep him from falling over. The years passed: five, ten, fifteen. It wasn’t until Leslie was sixteen years old that May was able to teach him to stand alone. All this time he didn’t respond to her. But all this time May continued to love him and to pray over him. Year B

She even told him stories of Jesus, even though he didn’t seem to hear her. Then one day May noticed Leslie’s finger plucking a taut string on a package. She wondered what this meant. Was it possible Leslie was sensitive to music? May began to surround Leslie with music. She played every type of music imaginable, hoping that one type might appeal to him. Eventually May and her husband bought an old second-hand piano. They put it in Leslie’s bedroom. May took Leslie’s fingers in hers and showed him how to push the keys down, but he didn’t seem to understand. Then one winter night in 1971. May awoke to the sound of someone playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. She shook her husband, woke him up, and asked him if he had left the radio on. He said he didn’t think so, but they decided they’d better check. What they discovered was beyond their wildest dream. Leslie was sitting at the piano. He was smiling and playing it by ear. It was too remarkable to be true. Leslie had never gotten out of bed alone before. He’d never seated himself at the piano before. He’d never struck a piano key on his own. Now he was playing beautifully. May dropped to her knees and said, “Thank you, dear God. You didn’t forget Leslie.” Soon Leslie began to live at the piano. He played classical, country western, ragtime, gospel, and even rock. It was absolutely incredible. All the music May had played for him was stored in his brain and was now flowing out through his hands into the piano. Leslie, who was not 28, began to talk. He didn’t carry on extended conversations; but he did ask questions, give simple answers, and make brief comments. Lectionary 57

4

Easter Season

45


For example, one night he was watching a comedy on TV. He got fed up with the dialogue and said, “We’d better turn that off. They’re all crazy.” Leslie now plays concerts for church groups, civic organizations, cerebral palsy victims and their parents. He’s even appeared on national television. Doctors describe Leslie as an autistic savant, a person who is mentally retarded from brain damage, but extremely talented. They can’t explain this unusual phenomenon, although they have known about it for nearly 200 years. May Lempke can’t explain it either. But she does know how the talent can be released—through love. he story of May Lempke and what her untiring love did for Leslie needs to be told over and over again. But it’s especially appropriate for today for three reasons.

T

First, it dramatizes in a moving way the message in today’s readings, namely, Jesus’ teaching about love for one another. Second, it dramatizes in a moving way why we celebrate Mother’s Day. It’s because mothers, as a rule, live out Jesus’ teaching about love more consistently and more faithfully than any other group of people. Finally, it dramatizes in a moving way the tremendous power of love. What May’s love did for Leslie is nothing short of miraculous. And that’s precisely what Jesus intended love to be. It’s a way to work miracles in people’s lives in our time, just as Jesus worked them in people’s lives in his time.

46

Easter Season

4

Lectionary 57

Through love, God has put at our disposal the greatest power there is in the world. It’s a power all the money in the world doesn’t give. It’s a power all the knowledge in the world doesn’t give. It’s a power all the leaders in the world don’t possess. It’s a power all the armies in the world can’t muster. And what is more, love is a power that every human being has, no matter what sex, no matter what religion, no matter what nationality, no matter what educational achievement. Love isn’t reserved for the healthy. It isn’t reserved for the wealthy. It isn’t reserved for the wise. It isn’t reserved for the famous. Love is for everyone. Love is the one thing that makes all of us equal before God and before each other. This is the good news contained in today’s Scripture readings. his is the good news that can transform our world as beautifully as May Lempke’s love transformed Leslie’s world.

T

This is the good news that we must shout from the housetops and live to the hilt. And if we do, we too will be able to work miracles through our love in our lifetimes, just as Jesus worked miracles through his love in his lifetime.

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Ascension Acts of the Apostles 1:1–11; Ephesians 1:17–23; Mark 16:15–20

Witness and Preach Jesus commissioned us to witness to the world and to preach to the nations.

n American army chaplain had just given the homily at a Mass for American servicemen in a cathedral in Europe.

A

The theme of the homily was: “Be proud of your Catholic faith; don’t be ashamed to practice it in public.” After the Mass a sailor, obviously moved by the homily, stopped the chaplain in front of the cathedral. “Would you hear my confession, Father?” he asked. “I’d be happy to hear it,” said the chaplain. With that the sailor knelt down right on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral. “Never mind kneeling,” said the chaplain. “People will stare.” “The heck with them, Father!” said the sailor. “Let ’em stare. I’m proud of my faith.” he sailor’s spirit of witness may have been a bit overly enthusiastic, but he certainly had the right idea.

T

In today’s first reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “[y]ou will be witnesses for me . . . to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “preach the gospel to all people.”

Mark 16:15

That too is something all of us must do. Proclaiming the good news about Jesus is not reserved for priests and religious alone. It’s a responsibility we all share by our baptism and confirmation. This raises a question. How can the average person preach about Jesus in today’s world? Let me share with you a story of how one person answered that question. uddell Norris was a conscientious young man. But he was also a shy young man. He found it hard just to talk to people, much less to discuss religion with them.

R

Then one day he got an idea. Ruddell did a lot of reading, and he was aware of the many pamphlets about the Catholic faith. So he decided to set aside a part of his weekly allowance to buy pamphlets. Ruddell placed his pamphlets in places where he thought people would pick them up and read them. For example, he placed them in waiting rooms and in reception areas.

Jesus’ command includes all of us. By our baptism and our confirmation we are all called to be witnesses to Jesus.

One day a young woman who was a friend of his family told his parents how she became a convert and how her husband returned to the Church. “It all started with a pamphlet,” she said. “I found it in the hospital waiting room.”

But our baptism and confirmation go even further. They call upon us to do even more.

You can imagine the boy’s excitement when he learned of the impact just one of his pamphlets had.

Year B

Lectionary 59

4

Ascension of the Lord

47


he story of Ruddell Norris underscores an important point about proclaiming the Good News: There are many ways to do it.

T

We can proclaim it directly, as Ruddell did. Or we can proclaim it less directly, for example, by praying and by giving financial support to the missionary activity of the Church. he Feast of the Ascension is one of the most important feasts of the entire liturgical year. That’s why we celebrate it in a special way.

T

“You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it. “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. . . . In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13–16

We might compare the Feast of the Ascension to the passing of a baton from one runner to another in a relay race. On this day 2,000 years ago, Jesus passed the baton of continuing his work on earth to his followers. The way we complete that work is by witnessing to our faith, as the sailor did, and by proclaiming it to others, as Ruddell did. This, then, is the twofold responsibility that the Feast of the Ascension sets before us. Each of us must respond to this responsibility in our own way, as the Holy Spirit inspires us. et’s close with these words of Jesus to his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. They take on special meaning for us in the light of today’s feast:

L

48

Ascension of the Lord

4

Lectionary 59

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


7th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 1:15–17, 20–26; 1 John 4:11–16; John 17:11–19

I Do It for Them The best way to help others follow Jesus is to follow him more closely ourselves.

ears ago Jimmy Stewart, the famous Hollywood actor, wrote an article for McCall’s magazine.

Y

He began by saying that when he was a boy, the center of his universe was the Stewart Hardware Store. It was a monstrous three-story building that contained everything you need to build a house, repair a car, or plant a garden. But then one day it dawned on Jimmy that the center of his universe was not the store, but the man who ran it—his father. Jimmy went on to describe the big influence his parents had on him, especially his father. A good example of his dad’s influence was an incident that took place just before Jimmy’s bomber squadron went overseas during World War II. As the moment of departure neared, Jimmy sensed that his father wanted to say something special. But the words never came out. Finally his father embraced him and departed. Only later did Jimmy discover that his father had slipped a letter into his pocket. It read: “My dear Jim boy, Soon after you read this letter, you will be on your way to the worst sort of danger. . . . I am banking on the enclosed copy of the 91st Psalm. Year B

The thing that takes the place of fear and worry is the promise of these words. . . . I can say no more. . . . I love you more than I can tell you. Dad” Jimmy then read these words of Psalm 91: “[you] will be safe in [God’s] care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you. . . . God will put his angels in charge of you to protect you wherever you go.” Psalm 91:4, 11 he story of Jimmy Stewart and his father helps us appreciate something Jesus says in today’s gospel.

T

The context for today’s gospel in Jesus’ prayer for his disciples shortly before his departure from this life. In the prayer, Jesus says to his Father: “And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you.” John 17:19 Let me repeat those words. They’re so important. Jesus says: “And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you.” John 17:19 The word consecrate means “to make holy.” And so we may rephrase Jesus’ words to read: ���I make myself holy that my disciples may be holy.” I think that phrase could become the motto and the motivation of every person here, whether we are parents already or whether we hope to be parents someday. Let’s rephrase Jesus’ words to apply directly to parents: “I make myself holy that my children may be holy.” In other words, the best way to help children follow Jesus is for parents to follow him more closely. Jimmy Stewart’s article in McCall’s makes it clear that his inspiration Lectionary 61

4

Easter Season

49


to love God and to follow Jesus came from the fact that his parents loved God and followed Jesus. he first and the most important teachers of children are parents. Nothing can substitute for their influence— not the best CCD program in the world, not the best parish in the world, not the best school in the world, not the best friends in the world.

T

These can all contribute to a child’s education, but they remain only secondary influences. The great educator Booker T. Washington wrote this paragraph in this autobiography, Up from Slavery: “The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women.” We can rephrase his words to apply to parents: “The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with a great father and mother.”

oday’s gospel is an invitation for us to imitate Jesus. Just as Jesus made himself holy for the sake of others, so the gospel invites us to make ourselves holy for the sake of others.

T

We could hardly find better motivation for striving for holiness than this one. If we decide to respond to the gospel invitation, we will bring about a transformation not only in our own lives but also in the lives of all we touch.

L

et’s close with a prayer for others, especially our own families:

Holy Father in heaven, bless all families as you blessed the family of your own Son. Bless all families with the desire to seek you, with the patience to pursue you, with the wisdom to find you, with eyes to see you, and with a tongue to praise you. Finally, bless all of us here. Bless us with a productive life, a happy death, and a glorious resurrection to eternal life.

If we are looking for a way to give others an appreciation of prayer, we can do no better than to become more prayerful ourselves. If we are looking for a way to lead others to greater involvement in the Mass, we can do no better than to become more involved ourselves. If we are looking for a way to inspire others to be more loving, we can do no better than to become more loving ourselves.

50

Easter Season

4

Lectionary 61

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Pentecost Acts of the Apostles 2:1–11; 1 Corinthians 12:3–7, 12–13; John 20:19–23

The Fifth Christ On Pentecost, the risen Jesus began to indwell his followers in a powerful, new way.

ears ago Leonard LeSourd, former editor of Guideposts magazine, was at dinner with ten other people.

Y

They were discussing a movie about Jesus. Suddenly a young woman, obviously bored with the conversation, said, “Well, who would want to be like Jesus anyway?” An awkward silence fell across the group. Then the conversation veered off in a different direction. Later LeSourd asked himself, “Why did that young woman’s remark create such an awkward silence?” He concluded that some of the people were intimidated by her remark. Others, perhaps, were as bored as she was with the conversation. And still others didn’t know Jesus well enough to know if they wanted to be like him or not. Then LeSourd asked himself about his own understanding of Jesus. He concluded that he had known five Christs in the course of his lifetime. e first met Jesus in Sunday school. His introduction to Jesus came in the form of a stern-looking person whose picture hung on the Sunday school wall.

H

This Jesus failed to impress a nine-year-old who was more interested in playing baseball than he was in learning about a man who lived 2,000 years ago in a faraway country. And so the first Christ LeSourd ever knew was a “fanciful Christ” who existed only in his own immature mind. Year B

LeSourd met his second Christ in college. This was the Christ of history. It was the Christ whose impact on history has been so immense that even non-Christians call him “history’s greatest person.” But the historical Christ didn’t touch him personally. He was just another great man, like Lincoln. “Putting Christ in this setting,” he says, “was a simple solution during college and four years as an Army Air Corps pilot. The historical Jesus did not interfere with anything I wanted to do.” And so the second Christ LeSourd met was the “historical Christ.” LeSourd met his third Christ after mustering out of military service. he got a job with Guideposts magazine interviewing people about their faith. In the course of doing the interviews, he was surprised to learn that many successful people lived their lives by the teachings of Jesus. Soon he found himself reading the Gospels to learn more about these teachings. And thus LeSourd met his third Christ: the “teacher Christ.” LeSourd met his fourth Christ while on retreat. The theme of the retreat was commitment to Jesus. During the course of the retreat, a young man got up and told the others how he had gone into the chapel, knelt down, and committed his life to Jesus. LeSourd was embarrassed by the young man’s complete openness. But at the same time, he found himself wanting what that young man had found in that chapel. So before the retreat ended, LeSourd went into the chapel, knelt down, and committed his life to Jesus. He recalls the unforgettable moment this way: “I found myself in this chapel, on my knees before the altar, Lectionary 64

4

Pentecost

51


saying a simple prayer, ‘Lord, I don’t know how I happen to be here, but I want to give my life to you. I do so now.’ ” And so LeSourd met his fourth Christ. It was the “Savior Christ.” It was the Christ who lived him in a deep, personal way. From that day on, Jesus became the center and focus of his life. And so LeSourd’s understanding of Christ progressed from the “fanciful Christ” to the “historical Christ” to the “teacher Christ” to the “Savior Christ.” his brings us to the fifth and final Christ. LeSourd met this Christ in an unexpected way.

T

One day he found himself being severely tempted. It was the kind of major temptation that we all experience from time to time. LeSourd felt himself falling. He reached out frantically for something to hold on to. He found it in the commitment he had made to Jesus years before on the retreat. He found something else too. He found his most meaningful relationship yet with Jesus. It was contact with the “indwelling Christ.” It was contact with the Risen Christ, who began to indwell his followers when the Holy Spirit descended upon them on Pentecost Sunday 2,000 years ago.

N

ow everything in the New Testament began to fit together.

LeSourd saw how the Apostles had always committed themselves to Jesus in a burst of fervor. But when severe temptation came to them, they too fell back into their old ways. 52

Pentecost

4

Lectionary 64

Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied him, and the rest fled. It wasn’t until Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit of Jesus, that the Apostles were really transformed. On that first Pentecost 2,000 years ago, the spirit of the risen Jesus began to indwell his followers in a powerful way. And that’s what we celebrate today. We celebrate that important day in the history of Christianity when, through the coming of the Holy Spirit, the risen Jesus began to indwell his followers with a personal presence. e may compare LeSourd’s gradual growth in his understanding of Jesus to the five stages of a plant’s growth.

W

The first Christ, the “fanciful Christ” of his childhood, corresponds to the seed of the plant. It is just a beginning. The second Christ, the “historical Christ,” corresponds to the green stem that emerges from the seed. The third Christ, the “teacher Christ,” corresponds to the bud that eventually forms at the top of the stem. The fourth Christ, the “Savior Christ,” corresponds to the flower that bursts from the bud. The fifth Christ, the “indwelling Christ,” corresponds to the fruit that develops from the flower of the plant. It is this fifth and final stage that we celebrate on Pentecost. It is the presence of the “indwelling Christ” in the Church as a whole and in each one of us individually.

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Baptism of the Lord Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34–38; Mark 1:7–11

Three Baptisms Jesus’ baptism begins a “new era” The new era is a “new creation.” Jesus is the “new Adam.”

lannery O’Connor wrote a moving story called “The River.” One scene in the story is very similar to today’s gospel reading.

F

There’s a little boy named Bevel. His parents are so involved in social affairs that they often leave Bevel with an elderly baby-sitter. One day the baby-sitter takes Bevel to the river, where a famous preacher is baptizing people. The baby-sitter presents Bevel to be baptized. The preacher takes Bevel and, while saying the words of baptism, plunges him under the water. When he pulls Bevel up from the water, the preacher looks him straight in the eye and says, “Now you count, boy! Before, you didn’t even count.” here’s one big difference between the preacher’s baptism of Bevel and John’s baptism of the people in the Jordan.

T

When the word baptism appears in the Gospel, it can mean one of three different baptisms. First, it can mean John’s baptism with water. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. It was a sign that people repented their sins and wanted to wash them away. John’s baptism was only the first step in a journey. It was only a sign. It was only a start. John made this perfectly clear when he said: “I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, Year B

but the one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He is much greater than I am; and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals.” Matthew 3:11 In other words, John is saying that his baptism is only a preparation for another baptism to come. John’s baptism is only a sign that people want to begin a new life. This brings us to the second baptism. It is Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit. At the end of his life Jesus told his disciples: “Go . . . to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19 Jesus’ baptism is a baptism of rebirth. It communicates to people a whole new life. Commenting on this new life, Paul wrote to newly baptized Christians: “When you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ. . . . You were at one time spiritually dead. . . . But God has now brought you to life with Christ.” Colossians 2:12–13 And so the baptism of Jesus communicates to people a share in his own life. This brings us to the third baptism. It is John’s baptism of Jesus himself. Today’s gospel describes what took place when John baptized Jesus. First, the sky opened. Second, the Spirit descended. Third, a voice from heaven said, “You are my own dear Son.” Mark 1:11 John’s baptism of Jesus is sometimes called a baptism of revelation. This is because its importance lies in what it reveals to us through the images of the sky, the Spirit, and the voice. Lectionary 21

4

Baptism of the Lord

53


Consider the image of the open sky. In their imaginations ancient Jews pictures God as living somewhere above the sky. They imagined the sky to be a kind of barrier separating heaven and earth. If God wanted to come down to earth, he had to break through the barrier. This explains Isaiah’s words when he asks God to save the world from sin. Isaiah says to God, “Tear the sky open and come down.” Isaiah 64:1 The image of the open sky suggests that God has heard the prophet’s prayer and is coming down to save the world. So a “new era” on earth is beginning. This brings us to the second image: the image of the Spirit hovering over Jesus and the water. This image is almost identical with the image the Book of Genesis uses to describe the start of creation. Genesis says, “God’s spirit hovered over the water.” (JB) And so the image of the Spirit suggests that the new era is to be a “new creation” or “re-creation” of the world. Finally, there is the third image: the voice from heaven, saying, “You are my own dear Son.” Mark 1:11 These words of God the Father identify Jesus as his Son. Jesus is the “new Adam” of the new creation. Paul compares Jesus and Adam this way: “ ‘The first man, Adam, was created a living being’; but the last Adam [Jesus] is the life-giving Spirit. . . . “The first Adam . . . came from the earth; the second Adam came from heaven. . . .

And so the baptism of Jesus is a baptism of revelation. It reveals a “new era” that is just beginning. This new era is to be a “new creation” of the world in which Jesus is the “new Adam.” his brings us to a final point. It is the most important point of all for us in this church.

T

The new creation that began with John’s baptism of Jesus became a personal reality for each one of us at our own baptism. When we were baptized, in a very true sense, the sky opened above us, the Spirit of God descended upon us, and a voice said to us, “You are my son; today I have become your father.” Psalm 2:7 Recall how Paul described our baptism: “When you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ. . . . You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins. . . . But God has now brought you to life with Christ.” Colossians 2:12–13 Paul concludes, saying: “You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven. . . . Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. . . . “Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!” Colossians 3:4

“Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth [the first Adam], so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven [the second Adam, Jesus].” 1 Corinthians 15:45–49 54

Baptism of the Lord

4

Lectionary 21

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


2nd Sunday of the Year 1 Samuel 3:3–10, 19; 1 Corinthians 6:13–15, 17–20; John 1:35–42

Operation Andrew Like Andrew, we should share our faith in Jesus with others.

everal years ago an old man was admitted to a hospital for treatment. After the nurse made him comfortable, she asked the man a few routine questions. She had to fill out one of those hospital forms.

S

One question she asked the old man was, “What is your religious preference?” The old man looked at the nurse and said, “I’m awfully glad you asked me that. I’ve always wanted to be a Catholic, but nobody ever asked me before. You’re the first one.” his true story raises an embarrassing question. Why do so many of hesitate to share our faith with other people? Or we could put the question this way: If we believe the Gospel is good news, why don’t we share it with others? Or if we believe Jesus is the greatest treasure the heart can possess, why don’t we share our faith in Jesus with others?

T

This brings us to today’s Scripture readings. The first reading presents Samuel sharing his faith with the young boy Eli. The second reading presents Paul sharing his faith with the Corinthians. And the gospel reading presents John sharing his faith with two disciples, and with Andrew sharing his faith with his brother Peter. Let us focus on the gospel reading and on Andrew, especially. Significantly, John mentions Andrew three times in his Gospel. Year B

Each time Andrew is bringing someone to Jesus. Each time Andrew is sharing his faith. In today’s reading, Andrew brings his brother Peter to Jesus. Eventually Jesus picks Peter to be the rock on which he builds his Church. Later on, Andrew brings a boy with five loaves and two fish to Jesus. (See John 6:8.) And Jesus uses the loaves and fish to feed a great crowd of hungry people. Finally, Andrew brings some Greek people to Jesus. (See John 12:20–22.) And Jesus uses the occasion to teach the people some important things. This brings us back to our original question. If we really believe Jesus is the greatest treasure we can possess, why are we reluctant to share our treasure with other people?

O

ne answer we often hear is that other people aren’t interested in Jesus.

An obvious response to that question is that many people thought the old man wasn’t interested in Jesus either. They probably thought to themselves, “If that old man had been interested in Jesus or in becoming a Catholic, he would have checked things out long ago.” Some years back a Chicago high school teacher asked each member of his class to interview three people about prayer. The students were to ask them five questions: Do you pray? Do you pray daily, or only occasionally? Why do you pray? When you pray, how do you pray? Who taught you to pray? Three surprises emerged from the student interviews. First, the students were surprised how willing people were to talk about prayer. Second, the students were surprised how many people prayed daily. Lectionary 66

4

Ordinary Time

55


Third, the students were surprised how many of their close friends prayed. They had never discussed it before. One student said of the interviews: “I thought my friends would make fun of the interview, but they didn’t. They respected it. One of my friends said he was glad to talk about something that really mattered.” The girl concluded: “What I got out of the interview project was this: People do care about prayer.” ll of us have read magazine articles about how to become a better conversationalist, or how to improve our personality by improving our conversation.

A

One thing these articles always stress is that we should talk about things that are personal and important to us. And what is more personal and more important than faith in Jesus? A person who thinks people aren’t interested in these things should keep in mind the student survey. People not only cooperated with the survey but were eager to do so. This brings us to an important point: We should share our faith with others. Any person who things this isn’t important should keep in mind the story of the old man. Had the nurse not asked him about religion, he would have died without fulfilling his dream of becoming a Catholic.

And had Andrew not shared his faith with the boy with the loaves and fish, the crowd on the hillside might have gone home hungry, and the Gospel may have gone without one of the most inspiring stories of all Scripture. In conclusion, today’s gospel invites us to take a long, hard look at our reluctance to share our faith with others. If we believe the Gospel is good news, and if we believe Jesus is the greatest treasure the human heart can possess, why are we so reluctant to share our faith with our own children, with our own friends, and with those people we know are searching for something to believe in? This is the all-important question today’s gospel sets before each one of us. No one can answer the question for us. We must answer it for ourselves, each in his or her own way. But answer it we must. People are interested in our faith. And sharing our faith is important, critically important.

L

et’s close with a prayer. Please follow along with me in silence:

Lord, teach each one of us that here on earth you have no hands but ours to reach out to the needy. You have no heart but ours to embrace the lonely.

And any person who thinks it isn’t important to share his or her faith with others should keep in mind today’s gospel.

You have no voice but ours to share the message of why you lived, suffered, and died for us.

Had Andrew not shared his faith with his brother Peter, Peter might never have become the rock upon which Jesus built his Church.

Lord, teach us that here on earth we are your hands, we are your voice, we are your heart.

56

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 66

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


3rd Sunday of the Year John 3:1–5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20

Come Follow Me Jesus can do more than inspire us. He can enter our person and help us achieve our fullest potential.

n September of 1862, the Civil War tilted decisively in favor of the South.

I

The morale of the Northern army dipped to its lowest point of the war. Large numbers of Union troops were in full retreat in Virginia. Northern leaders began to fear the worst. They saw no way to reverse the situation and turn the beaten, exhausted troops into a useful army again. There was only one general who might be able to work this miracle. That was General McClellan. He had trained the men for combat, and they loved and admired him. But the War Department didn’t see this. Nor did the Cabinet see it. Only President Lincoln saw it. Fortunately, Lincoln ignored the protests of advisors and put McClellan back in command. He told him to go down to Virginia and give those soldiers something no other man on earth could give them: enthusiasm, strength, and hope. McClellan accepted the command. He mounted his great black horse and cantered down the dusty roads of Virginia. What happened next is hard to explain. Northern leaders couldn’t explain it. Northern soldiers couldn’t explain it. Even McClellan couldn’t quite explain it. McClellan met the retreating Union columns. he waved his cap in the air and shouted words of encouragement. Year B

When the tired men saw their beloved teacher, they began to take heart. They began to get the unexplainable feeling that now things could be different. Now things could be all right again. Here’s how Bruce Catton, the great Civil War historian, describes the excitement that grew and grew when word spread that McClellan was not back in command. “Down mile after mile of Virginia roads the stumbling columns came alive, and threw caps and knapsacks into the air, and yelled until they could yell no more . . . because they saw this dapper little rider outlined against the purple starlight. “And this, in a way, was the turning point of the war. . . . No one could ever quite explain it.” This Hallowed Ground

But whatever it was, it gave Lincoln and the North what was needed. And history was forever changed because of it. he story of General Mcclellan illustrates dramatically the impact a leader can have on the human spirit.

T

In one of his essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson has this remarkable line: “Our chief want in life is somebody who can make us do what we can.” And one of the persons who can do this is a great leader. We ourselves cannot trigger the great potential that lies within all of us. Most of us are like that bottle Aladdin found on the seashore. We have a magnificent genie inside us. But that genie can’t get out by himself. Nor can we ourselves release him. We need some Aladdin to come along, pull the cork, and free the genie for us. And this is also what Emerson had in mind. Right after saying “Our chief want in life is somebody who can make us do what we can,” he adds, “That is the service of a friend.” Lectionary 69

4

Ordinary Time

57


And I would like to add, “That is also the service of Jesus Christ.” Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Gospel. And no gospel story shows it better than the one in today’s reading. It illustrates what Napoleon once said about his own power to spark something in the hearts of men. He said: “The lightning of my eye, my voice, a word from me, then the sacred fire was kindled in their hearts. I do, indeed, possess the secret of this magical power that lifts the soul.” And, indeed, Napoleon did possess that power. Jesus possessed the same power also, but to an infinitely greater degree— as Napoleon noted further on in the same passage. What is there in Jesus that makes him so different from other leaders? The answer is simple. Other leaders can only influence us, inspire us. Their impact on us, however, is purely psychological. The impact of Jesus, on the other hand, is not only psychological but also mystical. What does this mean? It means that other leaders can fire us up. They can excite us. They can inflame our emotions. They can excite our imaginations. But other leaders can’t give us their spirit. They can’t share with us their own personal power and strength. If their followers are to change, the change must come about through the followers’ own power and effort. In the case of Jesus, all this is different. Jesus can put his spirit in us. He can share his own power with us. He can enter our mind and our heart and help us do what we could never do alone. 58

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 69

To have Jesus enter into our life, we need only open our mind and heart to him. He will do the rest.

A

nd this brings us to our final and most important point.

There is only one thing Jesus can do for us. He can’t open the door of our mind and our heart against our will. He can do everything else, but he can’t do this. We hold the key to the door our mind and our heart. And only we can admit Jesus into our life. And that takes us right back to today’s gospel. Today’s gospel shows us how to open the door and let Jesus in. It also names the price we must pay if we want to do this. We must do what the Apostles did. We must be willing to pay the price they paid. We must be willing to burn all bridges behind us and follow wherever Jesus leads. If we decide to do what the Apostles did, if we decide to risk everything for Jesus, he will do for us what he did for them. Jesus will make us partners in his work and give our lives a new meaning beyond our wildest dreams. et us close by paraphrasing a beautiful meditation by Edward Farrell in his book Surprised by the Spirit.

L

“Who is this man walking along the shore by the shimmering sea? “Who is this man—bright, shining, and terrible—who looks at us with searing eyes— eyes that search our very soul? “Who is this man who sees our thoughts and reads our inmost heart with loving, knowing eyes that say: ‘Nothing less than all of you is what I want’?” Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


4th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 7:32–35; Mark 1:21–28

The deeper meaning behind Jesus’ exorcisms is that the kingdom of Satan, which enslaved people since Adam’s sin, is now giving way to the kingdom of God.

Two Kingdoms in Conflict

This raises a question.

Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom, but he left its completion to us. We must work harder at this task.

If Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God more than 2,000 years ago, why is evil still so widespread today? Or to put it another way, if Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom in his lifetime, why is Satan’s kingdom still so powerful in our lifetime?

n the 1970s the movie The Exorcist was breaking box-office records. It concerned a young person who was possessed by an evil spirit, not unlike the one in today’s gospel. The movie was based on an actual case of a 14-year-old boy who lived in Mt. Rainier, Maryland, in 1949. Newsweek described the case this way:

I

“Pictures, chairs and the boy’s bed would suddenly move about. At night, the boy could barely sleep. After he was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital . . . the boy began to mouth fierce curses in ancient languages and at one point, while strapped helplessly in his bed, long red scratches appeared on his body.” The boy eventually survived an exorcism and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. An old priest involved in the boy’s exorcism has taken a vow not to discuss it. He does say, however, that the experience dramatically changed his life for the better. ike the people in today’s gospel, we too ask, “What does this mean?” What is the deeper meaning behind Jesus’ power to expel evil spirits— a power that he also gave to his Church?

L

esus answered that question himself, saying, “It is . . . by means of God’s power that I drive out demons, and this proves that the Kingdom of God has already come to you.” Luke 11:20

J

Year B

The answer, of course, is that the coming of God’s kingdom is not an instant happening. It’s a gradual process. It is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing movement in history. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God. But Jesus left us the task of completing it. That’s why we still pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come.” We might compare God’s kingdom to a plant. Jesus put the plant—the kingdom—in the soil. But he left to us the job of cultivating it, fertilizing it, and watering it. It is our job to see to it that the kingdom bears the fruit God intended it to bear. This raises a second question. Why is God’s kingdom so slow in coming? Or to put it another way, why is Satan’s kingdom so slow in dying? The answer is that we are not carrying out our job as well as we should. We are not doing our job of completing the kingdom as well as we could be doing. Take one example. How many of us live out Jesus’ command to love one another as he loves us? (See John 15:12.) You know the answer to that as well as I do. Lectionary 72

4

Ordinary Time

59


Our failure to love others as Jesus loves us extends not only to our enemies and to our neighbor, but also to our own family. The reason we fail to love even our family as we should is usually not because of malice on our part. It’s not because we are mean.

Good things and bad things— queer little habits I never noticed he had— and ways of talking I never paid any mind to. And suddenly I know who he is— and I love him so much I could cry! And I want to thank God I took the time to see him real.”

What is the reason, then? More often than not, it’s simply because we are negligent. We are forgetful. We are delinquent in our vocation to love. We get so involved in the affairs of life that we overlook the needs of family members. We get so caught up in everyday matters that we forget how wonderful they really are.

T

here’s a beautiful scene in the play and the movie The Rainmaker.

One of the play’s characters is a man by the name of Starbuck. He’s terribly unhappy with life. Worse yet, he can’t figure out why he’s so unhappy. Another character, named Lizzie, tells him it’s his own fault. He’s always on the run— here, there, everywhere. Starbuck never slows down enough to see people as they really are— beautiful creations of God. Then Lizzie gives Starbuck an example of what she means. She tells him how sometimes when she’s doing the dishes in the kitchen, she watches her father playing cards with her brothers. At first she sees only a middle-aged man, not very attractive or interesting to look at. But then something happens. She says: “And then, minute by minute, I’ll see little things I never saw in him before. 60

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 72

tarbuck’s problem is our problem, too. We don’t slow down enough to appreciate one another. We are so busy doing other things that we miss doing the one thing that makes all the other things worthwhile.

S

Today’s gospel is an invitation to slow down. It’s an invitation to see people as they really are and to love them as Jesus loves us. We may sum up the message of today’s gospel this way: Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom on earth. But he left to us the job of completing it. One reason it is slow in reaching completion is our failure to love other people, even our own family, as we should. And our failure to love is not because of any meanness. Rather, it’s because we don’t slow down to see people as they really are— beautiful creations of God, to be loved as Jesus loves us.

L

et’s conclude with a prayer. I invite you to follow along in silence:

Slow me down, Lord. Help me see that it’s necessary to spend time working for things money can buy. But, at the same time, help me see that it’s necessary to spend time working for things money can buy. But, at the same time, help me see that it’s necessary to take time, now and then, to make sure I don’t lose the things money can’t buy. Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


5th Sunday of the Year Job 7:1–4, 6–7; 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22–23; Mark 1:29–39

Pause and Be Still! Amidst the turmoil in his life, Jesus took time off to pause and pray. So should we.

S

everal years ago Outdoor World magazine carried a beautiful article by Barry Lopez.

One drizzly morning Barry got up and went off alone, before breakfast, for a walk in the woods. As he squished through the pines and cedars, he recalled a similar morning in his boyhood, when he saw his grandfather go off alone through these same woods. When his grandfather returned, little Barry asked him where he had been and what he had done. His grandfather smiled, put his arm around Barry, and said, “Let’s go get some breakfast.” As Barry continued to walk in the drizzle, he came to a clearing in the woods. There he knelt down and laid his hands flat against the damp earth. It gave him a feeling of being united with all of creation.

of the woods, standing on the beach with his hands in his pockets, listening to the ocean.

T

oday’s gospel indicates that Jesus used to go off by himself to pray also.

One reason why Jesus did this was the same reason why Barry used to do it: to renew himself, to recharge himself. Mark’s Gospel says Jesus had spent the previous day healing people. This exhausted him spiritually. Later on in his Gospel, Mark gives us an insight into the spiritual price Jesus paid to heal people. A woman who had been sick for 12 years pushed through a crowd to touch Jesus. When she did, she was instantly healed. “At once,” Mark says, “Jesus knew that power had gone out of him.” Mark 5:30

Healing people drained Jesus of power. In a similar way, working with people drains us of power. That’s why we need to do what Jesus did. We need to recharge ourselves, spiritually. Maybe we can’t do this by going off alone into a woods. Maybe we can’t even do it by going off alone to a quiet part of our house.

Barry recalled how his grandfather told him that if he ever felt lonely, he should go for a walk in the woods, be quiet, and do whatever he felt moved to do, like kneeling down and laying his hands flat against the earth.

But we can do something. We can at least pause momentarily during the course of our day to get in touch with ourselves and to listen to God’s voice in our heart.

Half-an-hour later, when Barry started back to the house, he felt renewed. He felt recharged. Then he remembered why his grandfather used to walk in the woods in the morning.

W

Barry’s grandmother once told him it was the way his grandfather said his prayers. He would always end up on the other side Year B

Let me illustrate how important it is to do this. hen disaster strikes on a British naval vessel, a signal called “The Still” is sounded. This signal means: “Stop what you’re doing. Pause. Check your situation. Prepare to do the wise thing.” Lectionary 75

4

Ordinary Time

61


Before the signal is sounded, few sailors know what is the wise thing to do. During the pause they learn what it is. “The Still” has saved thousands of British lives and millions of British dollars. We too run into emergencies in daily life. We too don’t know what to do immediately. We cry out, “What can we do?” Actually, the best thing we can do is to pause and be still.

It gives me fresh inspiration, necessary relaxation, and a new perspective toward my work.” ach one of us must take to heart Matisse’s advice to André Kostelanetz. We must find the artichokes in our life.

E

Or to put it another way, we must do what Barry Lopez did. We must go off alone once in a while for a morning walk in the woods.

Pausing often spells the difference between success and failure.

We must do what British sailors do in crisis situations. We must pause and be still.

oday’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves: Do we follow the example Jesus gave us in his life? Do we pause periodically to get in touch with ourselves? Do we pause occasionally to listen to God’s voice in our heart?

We must do what Jesus did. We must get up early, occasionally, and draw strength from prayer.

T

The musician André Kostelanetz once visited the French artist Henri Matisse. When Kostelanetz got to Matisse’s home, his nerves were frayed and he was exhausted. Matisse noticed this and said to him good-humoredly, “My friend, you must find the artichokes in your life.” With that, he took Kostelanetz outside to his garden. When they came to a patch of artichokes, Matisse stopped. He told Kostelanetz that every morning, after he has worked for a while, he comes out to his patch of artichokes to pause and be still. He just stands there looking at the artichokes. Matisse then adds: “Though I have painted over 200 canvases, I always find new combinations of colors and fantastic patterns. No one is allowed to disturb me in this ritual. . . . 62

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 75

This is the message of today’s gospel. It is an important message. We may sum it up this way: “Amid the turmoil of his day, Jesus took time to pause and pray. So should we.”

L

et us close with a prayer:

Slow me down, Lord. Slow me down! Ease my pounding heart; quiet my racing mind; soothe my frayed nerves; relax my tired muscles. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of keeping in touch with myself, of listening to the voice of God and drawing from it new light, new strength, and new courage. Slow me down, Lord. Slow me down!

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


6th Sunday of the Year Leviticus 13:1–2, 44–46; 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1; Mark 1:40–45

Be Healed! For those who believe, no tragedy is so great that Jesus can’t make of it something better.

n 1981 Peter Cropper, the British violinist, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. As a personal favor to Peter, the Royal Academy of Music lent him their priceless 285-year-old Stradivarius for use in the concert.

I

This rare instrument takes its name from the Italian violin maker, Antonio Stradivari. It was made of 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. Its beautiful sound has never been duplicated. When Peter Cropper got to Finland, an incredible nightmare took place. Going on stage, Peter tripped and fell. The violin broke into several pieces. Peter flew back to London in a state of shock. A master craftsman named Charles Beare agreed to try to repair the violin. He worked endless hours on it. Finally he got it back together again. Then came the dreaded moment of truth. What would the violin sound like? Beare handed the violin to Peter Cropper. Peter’s heart was pounding inside him as he picked up the bow and began to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin’s sound excellent, but it actually seemed better than before. In the months ahead Cropper took the violin on a worldwide tour. Night after night the violin everyone thought was ruined forever drew standing ovations from concert audiences. hat violin story is a beautiful illustration of what happens to the leper in today’s gospel.

T

Year B

In ancient society no figure was more pathetic than a leper. People were deathly afraid they would catch the disease from him. The leper’s life was a living hell. People hated the sight of him, and he, in turn, hated the sight of himself. Psalm 31 describes his wretched situation. “Those who know me are afraid of me; when they see me in the street, they run away. . . . I am like something thrown away.” Psalm 31:11–12 To such a tragic leper Jesus reached out his hand lovingly, touched the man, and healed him. he story of the leper and the story of the violin contain an important message for all of us. They illustrate something that happens over and over in life.

T

Some big tragedy strikes our life. A loved one dies. A friend betrays us. An accident leaves a child an invalid. A father loses his job. A mother becomes an alcoholic. When a misfortune like this strikes our life, we are overwhelmed with grief and anguish. We are crushed, as the leper was when he contracted his disease. We are plunged into a state of shock, as Peter was when he broke the violin. How do these two stories speak to tragedies like this? They tell us that no tragedy is so terrible that we can’t survive it. They tell us that no calamity is so crushing that we can’t recover from it. They tell us that no disaster is so destructive that we can’t pick up the pieces and start over again—in one form or another. Whenever we think our life is ruined forever, we need only turn to Jesus. Lectionary 78

4

Ordinary Time

63


Like the master craftsman who fixed the violin, Jesus can repair our broken life.

“For this reason we never become discouraged.”

Jesus can do more. He can even make from a broken life something better and more beautiful than it was before.

And in his Letter to the Romans Paul says:

ears ago an explosion burned the legs of a seven-year-old boy so badly that the doctors considered amputation. A friend told the boy’s mother, “You might as well face it. Glenn’s going to be an invalid for life.”

Y

Two years later Glenn was off his crutches. Not only was Glenn walking; he was running. He wasn’t running fast, but he was running. Eventually Glenn went to college. His extracurricular activity was track. Now, he wasn’t running to prove people wrong. He was running because he was good at it. Intercollegiate records soon crumbled under the boy’s driving legs. Then came the Berlin Olympics. Glenn not only qualified for the 1,500 meter run but also broke the Olympic record for it. The following year Glenn Cunningham broke the world’s record for the indoor mile. The boy who was supposed to be an invalid became the world’s fastest runner. The boy whose life was broken by a tragic explosion came back stronger than he was before the accident occurred.

P

aul sums up the message of today’s readings this way in a letter to the Corinthians:

“We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair . . . and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. . . . 64

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 78

“We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him.”

2 Corinthians 4:8–9, 16

Romans 8:28

This is the good news contained in today’s Scripture readings. These readings tell us that no accident is so disastrous that we can’t be repaired, as was the violin. They tell us that no illness is so destructive that we can’t be cured, as with the leper. They tell us that no tragedy is so devastating that we can’t rise up from it, as Glenn did. They do more. They tell us that even though Jesus may choose not to repair our lives totally, he can use our broken condition to make of us something more beautiful and more precious than we were before.

L

et’s close with a prayer. It was found in the pocket of a dead soldier:

“I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. . . . I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. . . . “I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. . . . “I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed.” Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


7th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 43:18–19, 21–22, 24–25; 2 Corinthians 1:18–22; Mark 2:1–12

Using a safety razor, he shaved the hair from around the wire. Then he painstakingly cut the wire from the animal’s flesh.

The sacrament of Reconciliation frees us from the bonds of sin.

All the while, the monkey lay there with amazing patience, blinking its eyes. As soon as the operation was over, the monkey jumped up and down, leaped on Andrew’s shoulder, and hugged him.

he book God’s Smuggler tells the story of a Dutch missionary named Brother Andrew. This missionary took upon himself the job of smuggling Bibles into communist countries.

The removal of the wire set the monkey free. Now the source of all its trouble was removed. The monkey was so happy it could hardly contain itself.

Brother Andrew says smuggling Bibles is often more difficult than smuggling gold or diamonds. The reason is simple: Bibles are bigger.

T

The Monkey’s Wire

T

Oddly enough, Brother Andrew’s favorite vehicle for doing his smuggling was the Volkswagen. Pocket-sized Bibles, he points out, fit snugly into the VW’s panels. Brother Andrew says you’d be surprised how many Bibles fit into the panels of a VW. His personal record is 800. Before his smuggling days, Brother Andrew did a hitch in the Dutch army in Indonesia. One day he bought a young monkey for a pet. Soon he noticed that the monkey was very sensitive around the waist. Upon closer inspection, he discovered a raised welt around the monkey’s midsection. He laid the animal down, pulled back the matted hair around the welt, and saw what was causing the problem. When the monkey was a baby, someone had tied a wire around its middle and had never taken it off. As the monkey grew larger, the wire embedded itself in the monkey’s flesh. That evening Andrew began the task of carefully removing the wire. Year B

he paralyzed young man in today’s gospel must have felt the same way when Jesus spoke over him those healing words: “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 5:20 He, too, was set free from something that had held him bound and in pain. The removal of his sins and his paralysis freed him, just as the removal of the wire freed the monkey. The paralytic, too, was so happy that he could hardly contain himself. At once he began to praise God. (See Luke 5:25.) ll of us can relate to the feeling of being freed from something that has held us bound and in pain.

A

One place we have all experienced this freedom is in the sacrament of Reconciliation. But our freedom came at a price. A prerequisite for it was that we admit and confess our sins humbly. This is by far the most difficult part of the sacrament for most of us. It is also the part of the sacrament that contributes most to our sense of freedom and to the experience of God that frequently accompanies it. An example will illustrate what I mean. Lectionary 81

4

Ordinary Time

65


Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most successful programs in leading people back to sobriety. No program has yet matched its effectiveness in changing lives.

The point is that in confessing to God, to themselves, and to another human being, they find freedom. They find something more; they find God.

Consider the first five steps of the program. Every AA goes through them.

And many Catholics experience the same thing in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

1. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable. 2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could heal us. 3. We made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. 4. We made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves. 5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The key step is the last one. Concerning it the AA manual says that few steps “are harder to take” and “scarcely any step is more necessary.” The fear and reluctance to take the last step is so intense that many AAs try to bypass it. Somehow, confronting another person is more embarrassing than being alone with God. Being honest with another person confirms that the AAs have been honest with themselves and with God. The manual also says that many AAs who did not believe in God before they entered the program often discover God in this final step. “And even those who had faith already often become conscious of God [in this step] as they never were before.”

66

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 81

oday’s gospel invites us to allow Jesus to do for us what he did for the young paralytic.

T

It invites us to present ourselves to Jesus in the sacrament of healing and to hear Jesus say over us what he said over the paralytic: “Your sins are forgiven.” It invites us to experience the same freedom that the paralytic experienced after being bound so long to his affliction and to his sins. et’s close with a prayer that many modern Christians use as their act of contrition or act of sorrow when they receive the sacrament of Reconciliation:

L

“Father of mercy, like the prodigal son, I return to you and say: ‘I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom you promised Paradise: ‘Lord, remember me in your kingdom.’ “Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on you with trust: ‘Purify my heart, and help me to walk as a child of light.’ ”

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


8th Sunday of the Year Hosea 2:16–17, 21–22; 2 Corinthians 3:1–6; Mark 2:18–22

Why Don’t They Fast? We must be aware, lest habituation destroy our worship of God.

ncient Egyptians fasted to look younger. Ancient Greeks fasted to be more mentally alert. American Indians fasted to show courage. Russian icon artists fasted to paint better.

A

These interesting facts, and many others, are found in Dr. Allan Cott’s provocative book, Fasting: The Ultimate Diet. The cover of the popular book proclaims that fasting can help us feel better, physically and mentally. Contrary to popular belief, fasting by adults, even for long periods of time, does not harm their health. On the contrary, it benefits them. Dr. Cott cites two interesting cases to make his point. Japanese soldiers who hid in the jungles of the Philippine Islands for up to 30 years after World War II, rather than surrender, were found to be much healthier than their countrymen back home. And the British people, whose food supply was severely rationed during World War II, remained remarkably fit. When the severe rationing ceased, the national health declined; and ailments that had been almost nonexistent during the rationing began to reappear. Dr. Charles Goodrich says the chief obstacle that keeps people from fasting today is the initial fear of doing without food. This fear, he says, is deeply ingrained in us.

B

esides fasting for natural reasons— to look younger, stay healthier,

Year B

and show courage— ancient people also fasted for spiritual reasons. Almost all world religions give an honored place to fasting. Legend says Buddha grew so thin from fasting that he was able to touch his backbone when he pressed his stomach. Early Christians fasted to imitate Jesus’ own 40-day fast in the desert, to atone for sin, and to seek God’s special help. Ancient Jews fasted for similar reasons: to repent for sin, to mourn a death, and to prepare for and hasten the coming of the Messiah and God’s kingdom. And so it is no surprise to find fasting being discussed so vigorously in today’s gospel. The gospel doesn’t tell why John’s disciples were fasting, but they were probably preparing for the coming of the Messiah and God’s kingdom. After all, John had told his disciples that something big was about to happen. This would explain Jesus’ response. In effect, Jesus is saying: “Something big has happened. The Messiah has come; the kingdom is at hand. The reason for fasting is now ended.” To keep fasting now would be like continuing to bandage an arm after it has healed. It would be like continuing to hold an umbrella after the rain has stopped.

T

his brings us to an important point.

Sometimes our own practice of religion can become like that of ancient Jews who had been fasting to prepare for the coming of the Messiah and God’s kingdom. They continued to fast even with the coming of the Messiah and God’s kingdom. Lectionary 84

4

Ordinary Time

67


They had been fasting for so long that they had forgotten why they were fasting in the first place. It had become a matter of routine or habit with them. sychologist warn us about letting routine or habit take over certain areas of our lives. Habit can be immensely helpful in some areas of our lives, but it can also be hurtful in other areas.

P

Religion is one area where habit can be helpful. For example, the habit of daily prayer can be extremely helpful. But there are other areas in our religious life where habit can be hurtful. For example, taking holy water and signing ourselves upon entering a church can become so routine and habitual that we can do it without thinking. We can become so mechanical about it that it loses all meaning for us. We can become like the Jews of Jesus’ time, who lost sight of why they were fasting. Likewise, we can lose sight of why we take holy water and sign ourselves when entering a church. And so we need to refresh our memory from time to time. We need to recall the reason why we take holy water and sign ourselves “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s to remind us of that day when we were baptized with water, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Taking holy water and signing ourselves is intended to be a conscious renewal of our baptism. Similarly, standing, kneeling, and sitting during Mass 68

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 84

can become so routine and habitual that we can do these things without thinking. We can become so mechanical about them that they lose all meaning for us. We forget that, as a general rule, we kneel to show special reverence, we sit to listen and reflect with special attention, and we stand to proclaim with special emphasis. Likewise, we sign our forehead, lips, and heart before the reading of the Gospel to petition God that his Word may be ever in our mind, on our lips, and in our heart. his brings us back to the gospel reading and our original point. Habit and routine can be immensely helpful in certain areas of our religious life. But if we are not on our guard, they can also become immensely hurtful. For example, we can perform certain religious practices so routinely and habitually that we do them without thinking. We can become so mechanical about them that they lose all meaning for us. When this happens, we are in danger of doing what some Jews did in today’s gospel. They forgot why they were fasting. They forgot that it was a sign of hungering and preparing for the coming of the Messiah and God’s kingdom.

T

et’s close with a brief prayer. Lord, keep us from praying or performing our religious practices routinely and mechanically. Help us make all of our words and all of our actions conscious acts of worship. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.

L

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Trinity Sunday Deuteronomy 4:32–34, 39–40; Romans 8:14–17; Matthew 28:16–20

The Sundial A practical prayer exercise can help the doctrine of the Trinity come alive in our daily lives.

ears ago a missionary who worked in rural Africa returned home to England for a short vacation.

Y

The most beautiful revelation of our faith is the teaching about the Holy Trinity, namely, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have correctly placed this teaching at the center of our faith. We stand in awe of it. But instead of putting the teaching to work in our daily lives, we have built a roof over it, just as the African villagers built a roof over their sundial.

While he was home, he happened to run across a beautiful sundial. Immediately he got an idea. He thought to himself, “That sundial would be ideal for my villagers in Africa. I could use it to teach them to tell the time of day.”

For many of us, the teaching of the Trinity seems of little practical value when it comes to our daily lives. We treat it more like an ornament of our faith.

The missionary bought the sundial, crated it up, and took it back to Africa.

First, let’s review what Scripture says about the Trinity. Second, let’s see how we can make the Trinity have greater practical value in our daily lives.

When the village chief saw it, he insisted that it be set up in the center of the village. The villagers were also thrilled with the sundial. They had never seen anything so beautiful in their lives. They were even more thrilled when they learned how it worked. The missionary was delighted by everyone’s response to his sundial. He was therefore totally unprepared for what happened a few days later.

On this Feast of the Holy Trinity, therefore, it would be good to take a closer look a this teaching.

F

irst, what does Scripture say about the Trinity?

We find the most frequent reference to the Trinity in John’s Gospel. There Jesus talks a lot about his Father. He also makes a number of references to the Holy Spirit who will come after him.

The people of the village got together and built a roof over the sundial to protect it from the rain and the sun.

The best-known reference to the Trinity, however, is found in Matthew’s Gospel. It is the passage we read in today’s gospel. Jesus says to his disciples:

ou’re probably wondering how that story relates to today’s feast— the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

Y

“Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Well, I think the sundial is a lot like the Holy Trinity. And we Christians are a lot like the African villagers.

The most graphic reference to the Trinity, however, occurs in Mark’s Gospel. Immediately after the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descends upon him

Year B

Lectionary 166

4

Trinity Sunday

69


in a dovelike form, and a voice from heaven says, “You are my own dear Son.”

Mark 1:11

The voice, the dove, and Jesus— these three images create a vivid portrait of the Trinity. Luke has the most fascinating theology of the Trinity. He sees the history of our salvation in a kind of Trinitarian perspective. For Luke, the Old Testament period is the era of the Father. The gospel period is the era of the Son. And the post-gospel period, which began on Pentecost, is the era of the Holy Spirit. Finally, Paul refers to the Trinity in his letters. His best-known reference is his famous blessing at the close of his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:13 Down through the ages, theologians have used various images to try to give us a better insight into the Trinity. Saint Patrick used the three leaves of a clover to convey the idea of the Trinity. Saint Ignatius of Loyola used the example of three notes forming one musical sound. Others have used the example of water, which can exist in three different forms: steam, ice, and liquid. There is only one water, but it can take three different forms. In some similar way, we might think of God. et’s now take a look at the second point: how we can make the Trinity a more practical part of our daily lives.

L

each night before falling asleep. They take three minutes to replay the day that has just ended for them. During the first minute, they pick out the high point of the day, something good that happened— like having a great talk with a good friend. They speak to the Father about it and thank him for it. During the second minute, they pick out the low point of the day, something bad that happened— like having a shouting match with a loved one. They speak to Jesus about it and ask him to forgive them. During the third minute, they look ahead to the next day, to some critical point— like having to do something they would rather not do. They speak to the Holy Spirit about it and ask for help in dealing with it. As you can see, this exercise combines prayer with an examination of conscience. But more importantly, it brings the Holy Trinity into the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives. If you’re looking for a way to give the Trinity a more prominent place in your daily life, you might consider this exercise. During the week ahead, it would make an ideal follow-up to the great feast we celebrate today. et’s conclude together with the Trinitarian action that has become the trademark of our Catholic faith—the Sign of the Cross:

L

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

One way that some people find helpful is a prayer exercise that they follow 70

Trinity Sunday

4

Lectionary 166

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Body and Blood of Christ Exodus 24:3–8; Hebrews 9:11–15; Mark 14:12–16, 22–26

The Door The Eucharist was prefigured at Cana, promised at Capernaum, instituted at Jerusalem, and celebrated at Emmaus.

n artist designed an unusual door for a church in Germany. He divided the door into four panels. Each panel depicts several symbols referring to a gospel event.

A

The first panel depicts six water jars, referring to the miracle at Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine. The second panel depicts five loaves and two fish, referring to the miracle at Capernaum, where Jesus multiplied loaves and fish. The third panel depicts thirteen people seated at a table, referring to the Last Supper. The fourth panel depicts three people seated at a table, referring to the Easter supper Jesus ate at Emmaus with two of his disciples. The artist chose these four events because they relate to the Mass. They relate to Jesus’ gift of himself to us in the form of bread and wine. et’s take a closer look at each panel to see how it relates to the Mass. Let’s begin with the miracle at Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine.

L

Sometimes modern Christians have trouble seeing how water can change into wine. Early Christians had no trouble with this miracle. They lived off the soil and saw something similar to it happen each summer in their vineyards. Year B

Grapevines drew water out of the ground and, with help from the son, changed the water into wine. But the important thing about the miracle of Cana is not how Jesus worked it, but why he worked it. Was it merely to save a young couple from embarrassment of running out of wine at their wedding? The artist who designed the door suggests that Jesus had a deeper reason. Jesus wanted to prepare his disciples for the Last Supper, when he would change wine into blood. his brings us to the second panel. It shows five loaves and two fish, referring to the miracle of the loaves and fish.

T

Again, some modern Christians have trouble with this miracle. Early Christians, however, had no trouble with it. They saw something similar happen each year in their wheat fields. In spring they would plant five bushels of wheat, and by the time summer ended, the wheat would multiply into 500 bushels. But again, the important thing is not how Jesus worked this miracle, but why. Was it merely out of compassion for a crowd of hungry people? Again, the artist suggests another reason. The miracle gave Jesus a chance to tell the people that he would soon feed them more marvelously than he had just done. He would feed them even more marvelously than Moses fed their ancestors in the desert. Jesus said to the people: “What Moses gave you was not the bread from heaven. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. Lectionary 168

4

Body and Blood of Christ

71


The bread that I will give you is my flesh.” John 6:32; 51

All this ties in beautifully with the Feast of Corpus Christi, which we celebrate today.

nd this leads us to the third panel. It shows thirteen people seated at a table, referring to the Last Supper.

A

Corpus Christi celebrates Jesus’ gift of himself to us as our spiritual food and drink.

At the Last Supper Jesus does more than change water into wine; he changes wine into his own blood. And he does more than multiply loaves of bread; he changes bread into his own body. Mark describes it this way in today’s gospel:

This mystery of love is beyond all imagining. Jesus gives himself to us so completely that there is nothing more for him to give.

“While they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. ‘Take it,’ he said, ‘this is my body.’ “Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and handed it to them; and they all drank from it. Jesus said, “This is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant.’ ” nd this leads to the final panel. It shows three people seated at a table, referring to the Easter supper Jesus ate at Emmaus with two of his disciples.

A

The artist interprets the Emmaus supper as the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Luke describes it this way: Jesus “took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them.” Luke 24:30 This description matches what Jesus did at the Last Supper. he artist’s door is an excellent summary of the Lord’s Supper as it develops in the course of the Gospel. It traces it from Cana, where it was prefigured, to Capernaum, where it was promised, to Jerusalem, where it was instituted, to Emmaus, where it was first celebrated.

T 72

Body and Blood of Christ

4

Lectionary 168

ome time ago divers discovered a 400-year-old Spanish ship buried in water off the coast of northern Ireland.

S

Among the treasures found in the ship was a man’s gold wedding ring. Etched into the wide band of the ring was a hand holding a heart and these words: “I have nothing more to give you.” The same image and sentence could be used to describe what today’s feast is all about. It’s Jesus saying to us, “I have given myself to you so totally that there is nothing more to give you.” ay I close with a suggestion? In a few minutes, at Communion time, when the eucharistic minister holds up the sacred host and says to you, “the Body of Christ,” try to realize, in a special way, what you receive.

M

It is the living body of Jesus. It is the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem. It is the same Jesus who died on the cross. It is the same Jesus who rose from the dead. When you think about it this way, it’s so incredible that it’s hard to imagine. Yet we know, by faith, it’s true. Only a loving Father could have given his children such an incredible gift.

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


9th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 5:12–15; 2 Corinthians 4:6–11; Mark 2:23–28

Lili Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, we often get the cart before the horse.

ears ago there was a delightful movie called Lili. You can still see it on television occasionally.

Y

Lili was a young girl in France who traveled about with a circus. Since there were few girls her age in the circus, her closest friends became three puppets in one of the sideshows. Every time Lili got bored or lonely, she’d visit the puppets. They’d cheer her up, and she’d leave feeling better. But, as Lili grew older, she grew more lonely. It became harder and harder to cheer her up. Finally, her loneliness got so bad that she decided to leave the circus. Before leaving, however, she went to say good-bye to her old friends, the puppets. When she told them what she was going to do, they hugged her tightly and tried to persuade her not to go. As they did, she noticed they were trembling. Suddenly the truth dawned on her. It was the handsome young man who operated the puppets. He was really the one who was trembling and pleading with her to stay. All along, he had used his puppets to tell her what he wanted to say to her but was afraid to say face to face. Now Lili realized that the puppets were merely the mouthpiece of the handsome young man. Now Lili realized what she had failed to realize before. Year B

The one who loved her was not the puppets but the handsome puppeteer. He was the one who had befriended her and cheered her up when she had felt lonely. Now Lili realized that she had been making a serious mistake. She had mistaken the gift for the giver. She had mistake the treasure chest for the treasure. Or, to use an old-fashioned expression, she had gotten the card before the horse. he story of Lili helps us understand the point Jesus makes in today’s reading. He says to the Jewish leaders, “The Sabbath was made for the good of man; man was not made for the Sabbath.”

T

These Jewish leaders had put so much emphasis on observing the Sabbath that they forgot the purpose of the Sabbath. It was to help people. The Sabbath was not the people’s master; it was their servant. The Sabbath was not an end in itself; it was a means to an end. The Sabbath existed to help people serve God better. It existed for their benefit, not the other way around. In other words, the Jews had done what Lili did. She had gotten so preoccupied with the puppets that she lost sight of the puppeteer. She had gotten so preoccupied with the vehicle that she lost sight of the handsome young man who was driving the vehicle. The Jews had done the same thing. They had gotten so preoccupied with the Law that they forgot about the people for whom the Law existed.

T

he mistake Lili made in the movie, and the mistake the Jews made in the gospel, Lectionary 87

4

Ordinary Time

73


is the same mistake that many people still make today.

T

Take a father who has a job.

If we are a father are we doing what the Jewish leaders did in today’s gospel?

In most cases, the main reason why the average father works is to earn a living for the family he loves and wants to support. Or take a mother who has to work. In most cases, the main reason why the average mother works is to earn a living for her family. Or she works to supplement her husband’s income, which doesn’t stretch far enough to pay all of their bills. Unfortunately, however, many of these working fathers and mothers end up getting the cart before the horse. They end up with their job taking over first place in their lives. Suddenly the job begins to occupy most of their time and to sap mot of their energy. They families end up in second place. Worse yet, the very children they sought to help often end up being hurt.

oday’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves some serious questions.

Are we giving first priority to something that should have second priority? Are we putting our job ahead of our family? If we are a working mother, are we doing what the Jewish leaders did in today’s gospel? Are we giving first priority to something that should have second priority? Are we putting our job ahead of our family? If we are a young person, are we doing what the Jewish leaders did in today’s gospel? Are we giving first priority to our personal growth and education? Are we putting our own physical and spiritual development in first place in our lives? Or are we putting them in second place and giving first place to other things? These are questions that we must face with honesty and answer with equal honesty.

What started out to benefit the family now puts itself in first place ahead of the family. The card ends up before the horse.

L

As a result, many people today find themselves in the very situation that Jesus talks about in today’s gospel reading.

“Lord . . . guide us with your Spirit that we may honor you not only with our lips, but also with the lives we lead. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.

What should be in first place has suddenly ended up in second place. And what should be in second place has suddenly ended up in first place.

et us close with these words that form a part of the closing prayer in today’s Mass:

“Amen.”

What should be the master has suddenly ended up the servant. And what should be the servant has suddenly ended up the master. 74

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 87

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


10th Sunday of the Year Genesis 3:9–15; 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1; Mark 3:20–35

Mrs. Hannah “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

rs. Hannah is a widow in Colorado. One day her daughter was murdered. The assailant was eventually apprehended, found guilty, and imprisoned.

M

But Mrs. Hannah could not forgive the murderer. She knew that Jesus said “Love your enemies, . . . and pray for those who mistreat you.”

Luke 6:27–28

But try as she may, she could not bring herself to forgive the man. Describing her feelings in a magazine article, she said that her heart was filled with hatred for the man. The “love, laughter, and beauty” that once characterized her personality were slowly being destroyed. She herself was being destroyed by her own burning hatred and anger. Mrs. Hannah didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Then one day, after thinking about Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness, she decided to act on it, in spite of her feelings. She bought a Bible, wrote in it a message of forgiveness, and sent it to the prisoner. That action changed not only her life but the life of the prisoner as well. The prisoner, who was previously sullen and bitter, sent word to Mrs. Hannah that she had opened the door to a new world for him. Year B

Her forgiveness made him realize, for the first time since the crime, that God would forgive him if he asked. Before receiving her note, he had all but despaired that God would ever forgive him. Her note made him realize that if she could and would forgive him, then God could and would forgive him also.

T

hat story dramatizes three important points found in today’s readings:

1. the sinfulness present in our world, 2. the sin against the Holy Spirit, and 3. the importance of doing God’s will.

F

irst, let us consider the sinfulness present in our world.

Crimes like murder remind us that Satan is still very active in our world, just as he was in Jesus’ world. This makes us ask the question, If Jesus established God’s kingdom on earth, why is Satan’s kingdom, with all its evil, still present in our world? The answer is that God’s kingdom has, indeed, been established on earth, but Satan’s kingdom has not yet been extinguished on earth. In other words, the coming of God’s kingdom on earth is not an instant happening, but a gradual process. It is not a one-time event, but an ongoing movement. This is why we still pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” The kingdom of God is like a plant. It is alive and growing, but it has not yet borne its intended fruit. Until it does, evil will always be with us. In other words, the kingdom of Satan has not yet come to an end. It is only under the sentence of death. Lectionary 90

4

Ordinary Time

75


T

his brings us to the second point that the story dramatizes.

It concerns the sins against the Holy Spirit that Jesus refers to in today’s gospel reading. The story of Mrs. Hannah illustrates perfectly what that sin consists of. Before Mrs. Hannah sent the Bible and her note to the prisoner, he had all but despaired of being forgiven by God. In other words, the prisoner was on the verge of convincing himself that God couldn’t and wouldn’t forgive him the terrible sin he had committed. This is what we mean by the sin against the Holy Spirit. It’s despairing of God’s forgiveness. In other words, we sin against the Holy Spirit when we deny that God can or will forgive us. It is unforgivable, because God won’t force anything on anybody, even forgiveness. It was into this situation that the prisoner in the story was rapidly slipping. Thanks to Mrs. Hannah’s own forgiveness, the situation was reversed in time.

A

nd this brings us to the third point that the story dramatizes.

The third point is this: You and I become true brothers and sisters of Christ only when we do God’s will. In other words, we must live out God’s will in our daily lives, just as Mrs. Hannah did. We must put God’s will before our own will and feelings, as she did.

T 76

his brings us to this church and each one of us in it.

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 90

Today’s readings invite us to ask ourselves how we stand in relation to the three points we have just discussed. For example, what are we doing to bring about the end of Satan’s kingdom and to hasten the coming of God’s kingdom? In other words, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” but what are we doing in our daily lives to bring God’s kingdom to its final completion? Second, today’s readings invite us to become true brothers and sisters of Christ by doing God’s will. In other words, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” but what are we doing in our daily lives to live out God’s will? Finally, today’s readings invite us to trust in God’s forgiveness and to forgive others, as Mrs. Hannah forgave the prisoner. In other words, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” but what are we doing in our daily lives about forgiveness? In brief, today’s readings invite us not merely to pray the words of the Our Father, but also to live them out in our daily lives.

P

lease pray along with me in silence:

God our Father, help us realize that it’s not enough to merely pray the Lord’s Prayer, which your Son taught us. Help us realize that we must also live out the Lord’s Prayer in our daily lives. Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


11th Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 17:22–24; 2 Corinthians 5:6–10; Mark 4:26–34

Knotholes God planted the seed of his kingdom in our heart. We must nurture it with trust and with patience.

n the early years of baseball, there weren’t any reenforced concrete stadiums. There was only a grandstand with a broad fence enclosing the outfield.

I

Sometimes the board fence had a knothole in it. Small boys would flock around it to get a free glimpse of the game. A knothole didn’t offer a good view of the game, but it was good enough to give an idea of what was going on. Some ballpark fences had several knotholes. There would be one in left field, one in center field, and another in right field. By moving from one to the other, you could get different views of the game. The parables of Jesus are a lot like knotholes in a ballpark fence. They give you a glimpse of God’s kingdom. Parables don’t give you a good view of it, but it’s good enough to give you an idea of what the kingdom is like. Take the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. It contains three different parables about God’s kingdom. By moving fromone to the other, you can get three different views of the kingdom. Interestingly, all three parables are about seeds. he first parable tells about a farmer who planted seed. Some was planted in good soil, some in bad soil. Only the seed in the good soil bore fruit.

T

Year B

The second parable, which we just read in today’s gospel, tells how seed grows beneath the soil without the farmer knowing how. It’s a mystery to him. The third parable, which we also read in today’s gospel, contrasts the tiny seed to the large beautiful plant that grows from it. Each of these three parables gives us an insight into God’s kingdom. The first parable reveals that the kingdom can grow only in good hearts— hearts that are open to it. The second parable reveals that God’s kingdom grows in our heart in a marvelous, mysterious way, without our knowing how. The third parable reveals that the tiny seed of the kingdom in our heart will eventually grow into something beautiful. ark’s three seed parables recall an unusual seed story by Joel Weldon. Weldon is an expert on helping people develop their full potential.

M

Weldon says that one of the strangest seeds in the world is the seed of the Chinese bamboo tree. It lies buried in the soil for five years before any seedling or sprout appears above ground. Think of it! Five years! All during these five years the seed must be cultivated, that is, watered and fertilized regularly. Now comes the big surprise. When the bamboo seedling finally emerges from the ground, it grows to a height of 90 feet in just six weeks. Why does the seedling take so long to emerge? Why does it grow so fast once it emerges? Lectionary 93

4

Ordinary Time

77


Plant experts say that during its first five years in the soil, the bamboo seed is busy building an elaborate root system. It’s this root system that enables it to grow 90 feet in six weeks. The seed of God’s kingdom is like the seed of the bamboo tree. It too takes a long time to emerge. Sometimes it takes so long that we wonder, “Did the seed of the kingdom— planted in us at baptism—ever take root? Maybe it fell on a rock inour heart and died. Maybe it got choked by the thorns of our sins.” This is where the story of the bamboo seed helps. It reminds us that the seed of God’s kingdom is building an elaborate root system inside us. And eventually, from this root system, something beautiful will grow. That explains why it’s taking so long to emerge.

P

ractically, what does all this mean for us?

It means two things. First, it means we must trust God. He planted the seed of his kingdom inside us. He understands what’s happening in our heart, even if we don’t. Second, we need to be patient. Even though God’s kingdom doesn’t seem to be growing inside us— even though we don’t seem to be getting holier— we shouldn’t be discouraged. Rather, we should keep on cultivating the seed inside us, especially by praying and by receiving the sacraments. For just as the Chinese farmer cultivated the bamboo seed patiently for five long years, so we should patiently cultivate the seed of God’s kingdom inside us. ne model of the trust and patience we need is provided by fathers and mothers. Raising a family today takes lots of patience and trust.

O 78

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 93

First, it takes lots of trust. Parents can’t be with children all the time, so they must learn to trust them. And sometimes that trust gets betrayed. What do parents do when this happens? They forgive the child and go on trusting. Second, raising a family takes lots of patience. Sometimes parens see little evidence of maturity in a child. Sometimes what the child thinks is maturity turns out not to be. What do parents do when this happens? They love the child even more and go on being patient. It’s the same way with the seed of God’s kingdom in our heart. We must trust God and be patient. God is trying to grow something special in us— something beautiful, something infinitely more marvelous and complex than a bamboo tree. If we trust God and remain patient, things will work out in God’s own time and in God’s own way. The day will come when God’s kingdom will emerge from our heart and grow into something glorious, something we will thank God for forever. So the message in today’s readings comes down to this: God planted the seed of his kingdom in our heart at baptism. Our job right now is to nurture it, trustfully and patiently, by praying and by receiving the sacraments. et’s close withthe prayer of a wife for her husband. It’s short but beautiful. Please pray along with me in silence:

L

“Lord, place your hand on his shoulder. Whisper your voice in his ear. Put your love in his heart. Help him fulfill your plan in his life.” Anonymous Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


12th Sunday of the Year Job 38:1, 8–11; 2 Corinthians 5:14–17; Mark 4:35–41

Amazing Grace It often takes a storm to discover not only our heavenly Father but even our own earthly father.

ohn Newton was the son of an English sea captain. When John was ten, his mother died and he went to sea with his father.

J

The boy learned the sea backward and forward. At 17, however, he rebelled against his father, left the ship, and began living a wild life. Eventually John took a job on a cargo ship that carried slaves from Africa to America. He was promoted rapidly and soon became captain of the ship. Newton never worried about whether slave trade was right or wrong. He just did it. It was a way to make money. Then something happened to change all that. One night a violent storm blew up at sea. The waves grew to the size of mountains. They picked up Newton’s ship and threw it around like a toy. Everyone on board was filled with panic. Then Newton did something he hadn’t done since leaving his father’s ship. He prayed. Shouting at the top of his voice, he said, “God, if you will only save us, I promise to be your slave forever.” God heard his prayer and the ship survived. When Newton reached land, he kept his promise and quit the slave trade. Later he studied for the ministry and was ordained pastor of a small church in Olney, England. There he won fame as a preacher and as a composer of hymns. Year B

One of the most moving hymns Newton wrote is one that praises God for his conversion. The words read: “Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found— Was blind, but now I see. . . . “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.”

T

he story of John Newton bears a striking resemblance to today’s gospel.

Like Newton, the Apostles got caught in a violent storm. Like Newton, they too cried out to the Lord, “Save us!” Like Newton, they too were changed forever after their prayer was answered. Today’s gospel ends its account of the storm at sea, saying of the Apostles: “They were terribly afraid and began to say to one another, ‘Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ ” ho is this man?” That was certainly the important question. And the answer, of course, lies in today’s first reading and in the responsorial psalm.

W

The first reading describes how God created the sea and told it what it may and may not do. The responsorial psalm tells about sailors caught in a storm at sea. The psalmist says of them: “In their trouble they called to the Lord, and he saved them. . . . He calmed the raging storm, and the waves became quiet.” Psalm 107:6, 29 In both of these Old Testament readings we see God exercising mastery Lectionary 96

4

Ordinary Time

79


over the winds and the waves. God commands them and they obey him.

They part company with their parents when it comes to God or religion.

This is exactly what we see Jesus doing in the gospel reading. We see him exercising mastery over the winds and the waves. He commands them and they obey him.

And this spiritual parting can be even more painful than leaving home physically.

Today’s readings, therefore, show God in the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament exercising the same kind of power. They exercise the same kind of power because they are the same. Jesus says: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. . . . I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” John 14:9, 11 “The Father and I are one.” John 10:30 The story of the storm at sea answers the question “Who is this man?” Jesus is the Son of God. et’s turn briefly to a second point. Let’s see how the storm at sea contains a beautiful, practical message for families on this Father’s Day.

L

When John Newton left his father’s ship, his father was heartsick. We can imagine his father standing on deck that night and praying to God in words like this: “Lord, why did this have to happen? Why doesn’t John see that I love him? Why can’t he see that you love him? Lord, even though John has deserted both of us, protect him. Protect him for the two of us.” This tragic scene, or one like it, has repeated itself again and again, in home after home. It’s not a new phenomenon in modern times. It’s as old as the story of the prodigal son in Luke’s Gospel. But even if sons—or daughters— don’t leave home physically, they often leave home spiritually. 80

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 96

When this happens, parents shouldn’t think of themselves or their child as failures. Rather, they should recall the story of the prodigal son and the story of John Newton. In both stories, the son eventually returned home. And in both stories, he returned home a better son than he was when he left, and he returned home to a better father than the one he left. The reason both—father and son—were better is because, at some point in their separation, both called out to God for help. And that’s when both became better. It’s unfortunate, but it often takes a storm to discover not just our earthly father or son but also our heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus. Let’s rejoice, therefore, and let’s give thanks today for two fathers: our earthly father and our heavenly Father. Let’s also remember that when we find one of these fathers, we usually find the other as well. et’s close by repeating the words of the hymn John Newton wrote to celebrate his father and his home:

L

“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found— Was blind, but now I see. . . . “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.”

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


13th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 1:13–15; 2:23–24; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13–15; Mark 5:21–43

Partners, Not Puppets God helps those who help themselves.

ne spring a terrible flood engulfed a rural area. It stranded an old woman in her house. As the woman stood at her kitchen window, a boat appeared. The driver said, “Climb aboard and save yourself.”

O

“No thanks,” said the old woman. “I trust the Lord. He’ll save me.” The driver shook his head and drove off. The next day the flood rose to the second floor of the house. As the woman stood at a second-floor window watching the water, another boat appeared. The driver said, “Climb aboard and save yourself.” “No thanks,” said the old woman. “I trust the Lord. He’ll save me.” The driver shook his head and drove off. The next day the water rose to the roof of the house. As the old woman sat on he roof watching the water, a helicopter appeared. The pilot called down over a loudspeaker, “I’ll drop a rope ladder to you. Climb aboard and save yourself.” “No thanks,” said the woman. “I trust the Lord. He’ll save me.” The pilot shook his head and flew off. The next day the flood engulfed the house, and the old woman drowned. When she got to heaven, she said to Saint Peter, “Before I go inside, I want to register a complaint. I trusted God would save me from the flood, but he let me down.” Saint Peter gave the woman a puzzled look and said, Year B

“I don’t know what more the Lord could have done for you. He sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

T

he old woman should’ve read today’s gospel more closely.

It shows two people in need of help, as she was. And both people trusted God, as she did. But there is one big difference between their trust and hers. Let’s see what it is. The first person is a sick woman. She trusts that Jesus can heal her. But she also realizes that she most do more than just trust Jesus. She must go a step farther. She must do her part. She can’t just sit at home and wait for Jesus to come to her. She must get up, go to Jesus, and present herself to him for healing. The same is true of the second story in today’s gospel. Jairus also trusts that Jesus can heal his sick daughter. But Jairus also realizes that he must do more than just trust Jesus. He realizes that he must go a step farther. He must do his part. He must cooperate with Jesus. Since his daughter is too sick to come to Jesus, he must ask Jesus to come to her. And so the two people in today’s gospel do more than just trust in Jesus. They go a step farther. They do their part. They make use of the ordinary means God gave them to obtain the healing they need. his is where the woman in the flood made her mistake. She forgot that God normally acts in our lives through ordinary means.

T

Lectionary 99

4

Ordinary Time

81


She forgot that we must do our part and cooperate with God by using the normal, ordinary means he gives us. In other words, we can’t sit idly by and expect God to work some miracle for us. We must first use all the ordinary means God gives us to help ourselves.

L

et me illustrate with a true story.

A high school English teacher had a student in class who didn’t study all year. On the day of the final exam. the student came up and told the teacher that he was confident he would pass the exam. The student said he had prayed every night during the past week for God’s help in the English exam. God never intended prayer to be a substitute for study. He never intended prayer to be a substitute for hard work. Receiving God’s help is a two-way street. It involves our cooperation with God. We must do our part, and God will do his part. Saint Ignatius of Loyola describes our cooperation with God this way: “We must work as if everything depended on us, but we must pray as if everything depends on God.” In other words, we must cooperate with God and make use of the ordinary means he gives us before we as him to intervene in some extraordinary way. An old adage puts it this way: “God helps those who help themselves.” ears ago there was a best-selling novel called Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It contained a beautiful paragraph that has since become the theme of a song. It goes something like this:

Y 82

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 99

“If you love something, you must set it free. If you set it free and it comes back to you, then you know it is yours. But if you set it free and it doesn’t come back to you, then you know it wasn’t yours to begin with.” That’s the way god deals with us when it comes to helping us. He has set us free. He doesn’t force his help on us. He makes it available to us and leaves us free to use it or not. God doesn’t treat us like puppets. He treats us like partners. In other words, God gives us all the ordinary resources we need for ordinary daily living. Only when these ordinary resources fall short in emergency situations do we normally think of turning to God for emergency help. When we do turn to god in these situations, we can be sore of his help, for he is our Father and we are his children.

L

et’s close by repeating the paraphrase from Jonathan Livingston Seagull:

“If you love something, you must set it free. If you set it free and it comes back to you, then you know it is yours. But if you set it free and it doesn’t come back to you, then you know it wasn’t yours to begin with.” Lord, in your fatherly love for us, you have set us free. Help us show our children’s love for you by returning to you when we have need of your special help.

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


14th Sunday of the Year Exodus 2:2–5; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; Mark 6:1–6

Pepe LePew People will reject us; but if we continue to love, our love will eventually bear fruit.

I

n 1960 a religious persecution broke out in the territory of Sudan in Africa.

A Christian black student named Paride Taban fled the danger and went to Uganda. While in Uganda, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained. When things settled down in Sudan, young Father Taban returned to his homeland. He was assigned to a parish in Palotaka. But his African congregation found it hard to believe that he was really a priest. Father Taban says: “The people looked hard at me and asked, ‘Do you mean to say, black man, that you are a priest? We can’t believe it’ ” These people had never had a black priest before. They had always had white priests who gave them clothing and medicine. Young Father Taban was from the Madi tribe and had nothing to give them. He was poor like them. To make matters worse, Father Taban had to introduce them to the changes of the Second Vatican Council. These changes bothered the people greatly. They said to one another: “This young black man turns our altar around and celebrates Mass in our own language. He cannot be a real priest.” Only after a great deal of difficulty did the people of Palotaka finally accept Father Taban. Year B

he story of Father Taban is a modern example of the kind of rejection Jesus encountered when he returned to his home in Nazareth.

T

The people said to one another, “Isn���t this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” They thought to themselves, “Isn’t he an ordinary workman, like ourselves? How can he know any more about God than we? Who does he think he is?” The people of Nazareth were not the only ones who wondered how a carpenter could know about God. In early Christian times, a formidable opponent of Christianity was a man named Celsus. He used to ridicule Christians, saying, “Your founder was only an ignorant carpenter in a country village.” Some modern Christians still find it hard to accept the fact that the man we call Lord and god was schooled in a carpenter shop, not in a university lecture hall. esus and Father Taban are just two examples of people who were rejected by other people before being accepted.

J

Consider just a few modern examples. Bishop Fulton Sheen, the great preacher, was told by his college debate coach, “You’re absolutely the worst speaker I ever heard.” Ernest Hemingway, the great novelist, was told by his teachers, “Forget about writing; you don’t have enough talent for it.” Richard Hooker, the author of MASH, had his book rejected by six publishers before it was finally accepted and became a runaway best-seller.

H

ow does all this apply to our lives? Lectionary 102

4

Ordinary Time

83


Jesus answered that question himself when he said, “No pupil is greater than his teacher; no slave is grater than his master.” Matthew 10:24 In other words, if people rejected Jesus in his lifetime, we shouldn’t be surprised if people reject us, his followers, in our lifetime. For example, we shouldn’t be surprised if people reject us because we oppose destroying innocent life through abortion. We shouldn’t be surprised if people reject us because we speak out in defense of human rights in Africa and Central America. We shouldn’t even be surprised if, sometimes, other Christians reject us because of our nationality or economic status. And finally, we shouldn’t even be surprised if, sometimes, our own families reject us. Jesus said this would happen. (See Luke 12:53.) For example, a parent refuses to forgive a child from the heart. Or a child refuses to forgive a father or mother from the heart. When rejection like this occurs, it’s easy for the rejected one to lose heart. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to stop loving. It’s easy to grow angry. It’s easy to become bitter and resentful. But we must resist this temptation. ears ago, when movie theaters still showed cartoons, a popular series was called Looney Tunes.

Y

A favorite character in the series was a romantic skunk called Pepe LePew. Pepe was always falling in love with someone. But because of his unpleasant odor, Pepe’s love was always rejected. But that didn’t stop Pepe. He went right on loving— 84

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 102

no matter how many times he was rejected. Pepe never gave up on people or love. That’s why so many moviegoers grew to love Pepe. epe was a lot like Jesus. Jesus never gave up on people either. He went right on loving them— no matter how many times he was rejected.

P

And perhaps that’s the biggest practical lesson we can take away from today’s readings. We can imitate Jesus. We can imitate Father Taban. We can imitate Pepe LePew, the cartoon character. We can go on loving people no matter how many times we are rejected. In brief, then, today’s readings can teach us two things. First, people will inevitably reject us, at times, just as they rejected Jesus. Second, we should not let this keep us from continuing to love, just as Jesus never let it keep him from continuing to love. et us close by listening to these encouraging words from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says:

L

“Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh! “Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and say that you are evil, all because of the Son of Man! “Be glad when that happens and dance for joy, because a great reward is kept for you in heaven.” Luke 6:21–23 Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


15th Sunday of the Year Amos 7:12–15; Ephesians 1:3–14; Mark 6:7–13

Il Poverello All of us are called to preach the Gospel, especially by lives of service.

aint Francis of Assisi was born into a wealthy Italian family. As a teenager, he was a playboy and a spendthrift. He used his generous allowance to pay the bills of his rowdy friends.

S

Then in the year 1202, hostilities broke out between the towns of Assisi and Perugia. Young Francis joined the army of Assisi and went off to fight. He was taken prisoner during the conflict and spent the next year of his life in chains in a dirty dungeon. After his release, it took Francis a full year to regain his health. The prison ordeal and the year of recuperation changed his life forever. He put aside his expensive clothes and put on the garb of a poor workman. On the back of his garb he drew a big white cross. Young Francis then left home and took up the life of a hermit. His new home was a tumbledown church on the outskirts of Assisi. There he spent hours alone in prayer. rancis developed a deep love and concern for the outcasts and rejects of society. This love grew in his heart as a result of two biblical teachings that touched him deeply.

F

The first is from the Book of Genesis. It says that every person is created in the image and likeness of God. The second is from the Gospel according to Matthew. Year B

It says that whatever we do for the least person, we do for Jesus. An example will show how Francis lived out these two teachings. Once he was walking along through a field. Suddenly he came upon a leper. Although Francis had a dreadful fear of leprosy, he went up to the unfortunate man and embraced him. This moving incident previewed what was to happen next in the life of Francis. It came about this way: One day Francis was attending Mass. The gospel for the Mass was the same episode we read in today’s gospel. Francis was struck by Jesus’ instruction to journey forth and preach the Gospel, taking nothing for the journey— not even food or money. This instruction gave a whole new direction to Francis’ life. Francis gave up his hermit’s life and journeyed forth, in poverty, to preach the Gospel in towns and villages. The charismatic personality of Francis soon drew other young people to follow him. These first “Franciscan’s” went about caring for the sick and helping the poor. They slept under the stars and ate whatever was given to them. The group grew in such numbers that the 27-year-old Francis sought and got permission from the pope to form a religious community. The new community was dedicated to living in poverty and serving the poor. t’s important to note here that Francis did not romanticize poverty. He and his followers embraced it strictly for spiritual reasons. It made them one with the poor. It also imitated the life-style of Jesus.

I

Lectionary 105

4

Ordinary Time

85


Some people criticize Francis’ approach to helping the poor. These same people criticize Mother Teresa for the same reason. They say that neither attacks the roots of poverty, that both approach poverty superficially. They merely put Band-Aids on huge wounds. This is a terribly misplaced criticism. The call of Francis— like the call of Mother Teresa— is a call to help the poor in their present situation. Like Jesus, Francis and Mother Teresa leave to others the task of mobilizing public opinion and governmental action to attack the root causes of poverty.

The teaching in today’s gospel is clear. All of us are called to preach the Gospel. None of us is excused. And one way we can preach the Gospel is to follow the example of Francis and Mother Teresa. We can preach the Gospel by showing our love and concern for others. n his book Teresa of Calcutta, Robert Serrou compares Mother Teresa to Saint Francis. Both came from comfortable backgrounds. Both were suddenly seized with the same devotion to God’s poor.

I

It’s not surprising, therefore, that Mother Teresa chose the Prayer of Saint Francis to be the official daily prayer of her order.

Here we must respect the different calls to service that God gives. Paul alludes to these calls in his Letter to the Corinthians. He says:

Nor is it surprising that Mother Teresa began her acceptance speech of the Nobel prize in Oslo, Norway, in 1979 by reciting the Prayer of Saint Francis.

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts. . . . There are different ways of serving, . . . different abilities to perform service. . . . The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.” 1 Corinthians 12:4–7

let us close with this same prayer. It spells out how we can preach the Gospel by the example of our daily lives:

his leads us to an important final point. Today, more than ever, we need the kind of witness to serving the poor that we find in the lives of Francis and Mother Teresa.

T

We need to be reminded that just because there is no master plan for attacking poverty, we are not excused from helping the poor. The world needs people who help the poor in their present situation.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to beloved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Jesus was such a person. Francis was such a person. Mother Teresa is such a person. And we can be such persons. 86

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 105

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


16th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 23:1–6; Ephesians 2:13–18; Mark 6:30–34

Four Shepherds When our responsibilities threaten to crush us, we should turn to God in prayer.

ne name stood out above all the rest in the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s. That was the name Martin Luther King.

O

King was the undisputed leader of millions of black Americans. He was their hero. He was their spokesman. He was their shepherd. Without him, black people in those years would’ve been like the people in today’s gospel. They would’ve been like sheep without a shepherd. King and his close associates were like Jesus and his disciples in another way. They too found it impossible to go off alone by themselves for some peace and quiet. For example, one night after a hectic day in Montgomery, Alabama, King had just gone to bed. His wife, Coretta, had already fallen asleep. Just as he was about to doze off, the telephone rang. He picked it up quickly to keep it from waking Coretta. An angry voice on the other end said, “Listen, Nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you. Before next week, you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” The caller than hung up. Suddenly all of King’s fears came tumbling down on him like a collapsed building. All his courage deserted him. He got up, went to the kitchen, and heated a pot of coffee. Year B

He sat down and tried to think of a way that he could remove himself from the situation in Montgomery without appearing to be a coward. At that moment, with his courage gone, he bowed his head and prayed to God. He said something like this: “Lord, I’m taking a stand for what I think is right. But now I’m afraid, terribly afraid. People are looking to me to lead them. But if I appear to be frightened, they too will become afraid. I am at the end of my rope. I don’t know what to do. I can no longer face this responsibility alone.” The most striking lines in Dr. King’s prayer are the ones where he says, “People are looking to me to lead them. But if I appear to be frightened, they too will become afraid.” In other words, to borrow the expression in today’s gospel, they will be like sheep without a shepherd. very pastor of a parish, every teacher of a class, every parent of a family can identify with Dr. King’s words.

E

There are times in life when we feel the responsibility of leadership in a frightening way. There are times in life when we feel we can no longer carry the burden that has been placed upon us. There are times in life when we feel like Jesus who cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me!”

Matthew 26:39

When times of crisis like this come, what should we do? We should do what Jesus did. We should do what Martin Luther King did. Lectionary 108

4

Ordinary Time

87


We should do what Christians have always done. We should turn to God in prayer. Right after Jesus prayed to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, Luke says, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” Luke 22–43

“Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and the planets had fallen on me.”

And right after Dr. King prayed to God on that memorable night in Montgomery, he said he felt the strengthening presence of God as he had never felt it before.

J

The lesson for us is clear.

In each case, God gave them the courage and strength to continue to shepherd their people.

When we feel crushed by some heavy burden, we should do what Jesus did. We should do what Martin Luther King did. We should turn to God in prayer.

O

ne of the military leaders in the North during the Civil War was General Sickles.

General Sickles tells us that shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln felt crushed by the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. Instinctively he turned to God in prayer. Commenting on that prayer, Lincoln himself said: “Never before had I prayed with such earnestness. I wish I could repeat my prayer. I felt that I must put all my trust in Almighty god. . . . He alone could save the nation from destruction.” When Lincoln rose from his knees, he said: “I felt my prayer was answered. . . . I had no misgiving about the result.”

esus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Martin Luther King— all four of these shepherds did the same thing when responsibility crushed them. They turned to God in prayer.

There’s a practical message here for each one of us. It is simply this: When heavy burdens threaten to crush us, we too should turn to God in prayer. If we do, God will strengthen us, just as he strengthened these shepherds.

L

et’s close by paraphrasing today’s responsorial psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. “Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I will not fear. Thought I be crushed by heavy burdens, I will not falter. “For the Lord walks beside me. He steadies me and strengthens me. “And when my life fades, like the fading sunset, he will escort me into his home to live with him for ever and ever.”

In a similar vein, but in a more humorous way, Harry Truman told reporters after his first full day as president: 88

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 108

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


17th Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 4:42–44; Ephesians 4:1–6; John 6:1–15

Loaves and Fish If we give what we have to Jesus, he can multiply it beyond our greatest expectations.

ay Kesler has written a book called Growing Places. He tells how one night he was on a plane descending into an airport in India.

J

As the plane touched down, he noticed the bodies of sleeping people lining both sides of the runway. When Jay asked about this, someone told him these were homeless people. The person explained that during the day, the runway soaked up heat. Then at night it acted as a warm radiator to protect the people from the cold. After Jay deplaned and picked up his baggage, he took a bus to a nearby city. The bus arrived after midnight. As Jay walked down the deserted street to his hotel, he saw poverty all around him. Then suddenly he heard a strange sound: thump scrape, thump scrape, thump scrape. He turned and saw a boy whose legs were cut off almost to his body. The boy was propelling himself along with two tiny crutches. When the boy reached Jay, he held out his hand. Jay gave him all the loose change he had. Then Jay continued on to his hotel. Jay hadn’t taken ten steps when he heard another strange sound. He turned around and saw several beggars hitting the boy with his own crutches. They were trying to force the boy to give them his coins. Jay said he didn’t sleep that night. Year B

ne day a middle-aged woman came into the midst of this poverty and cruelty. She saw the tragic situation and said to herself, “Something’s got to be done.”

O

She took all the money she had and rented an old building with a dirt floor. The building wasn’t much, but it would do. The next day the woman went around the neighborhood and offered to teach the children. She used the old building as her schoolroom. She had no desks, no chairs, no table. Her chalkboard was the dirt floor. She rubbed it smooth with an old rag and wrote on it with a stick. That was the way the woman fought back against the poverty and cruelty around her. It was a pathetic response, but it was the best she could do.

W

hatever happened to that woman and her undertaking?

Today she has 80 fully equipped schools, 300 modern mobile dispensaries, 70 leprosy clinics, 30 homes for the dying, 30 homes for abandoned children, and 40,000 volunteers, worldwide, helping her. The woman, of course, is Mother Teresa. can’t think of a better story to illustrate the point of today’s first reading and today’s gospel reading. Take the gospel reading.

I

The boy had five loaves and two fish. Jesus asked him for them to feed the crowd. The boy gave them to Jesus, and Jesus did the rest. He fed over 5,000 people. That’s what Mother Teresa did too. She gave Jesus her “loaves and fish,” and Jesus did the rest. He multiplied them way beyond her dreams. Lectionary 111

4

Ordinary Time

89


The story of Mother Teresa, the story of the man in today’s first reading, the story of the boy in today’s gospel— all three stories make the same point. It’s the point that Pope John Paul II made to the young people in Edinburgh during his visit to Scotland in 1982. The pope said to them: “Now the point I wish to make is this: [The boy in the gospel] gave all that was available, and Jesus miraculously fed those 5,000 people and still had enough left over. “It is exactly the same with your lives. Left alone to face the difficult challenges of life today, you feel conscious of your own inadequacy and afraid of what the future may hold for you. But what I say to you is this: “Place your lives in the hands of Jesus. he will accept you and bless you, and he will make use of your lives in a way that exceeds your greatest expectation.” oday’s readings invites us to look into our hearts and to ask ourselves this question: How much of our lives and our resources are we currently placing in the hands of Jesus to do with as he wishes?

T

To what extent are we giving of ourselves and our resources as Mother Teresa did, as the man in today’s first reading did, as the boy in today’s gospel did? In today’s gospel Jesus is saying to us:

“For today I have only your feet to carry me into the slums, the factories, and the offices of your cities. “I have only your hands to reach out to the helpless, the homeless, and the hopeless. “I have only your tongue to tell my brothers and sisters why I came to live on earth, and why I suffered and died for them.”

I

n brief, the message of today’s gospel is this:

Jesus invites us to cooperate with him in working miracles not unlike those he worked in biblical times. Whatever we give him— our time, our talent, our prayers, our sacrifices, our responses— he will use in a way that will exceed our greatest expectations. He will multiply them beyond anything we dreamed of, just as he did the boy’s loaves and fish in today’s gospel reading. This is the invitation Jesus makes to us in today’s readings. et’s close with a prayer. It was a favorite of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Please follow along in silence:

L

“Take, Lord. Take my liberty. Take my memory. Take my understanding and my entire will.

“I need your talent. I need your generosity. I need you.

“Take whatever I am and have. You have given it all to me. Now I give it all back to you. Do with it whatever you wish.

“I need your feet. I need your hands. I need your tongue.

“Give me only your love and your grace. With these I am rich enough and desire nothing more.”

90

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 111

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


18th Sunday of the Year Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; John 6:24–35

Is Something Missing? There’s a hunger in all of us that only Jesus can fill.

et’s begin by asking a rather unusual question. Were you ever hungry for something, but you didn’t know what?

L

For example, did you ever go to the refrigerator, open the door, look at everything on the shelves, and say, “I’m hungry for something, but not for any of that”? Or were you ever thirsty for something and didn’t know what it was? Again, did you ever go to the refrigerator, open the door, look at everything on the shelves, and say, “I’m thirsty for something, but not for any of that”? Or put it still another way. do you have everything in life that’s important— a family, a job, and an income— but still feel something’s missing? f our answer to those questions is yes, then today’s Scripture readings could hold an important message for us. For they remind us of something that we often forget. It’s this:

I

There are two kinds of hunger in the world. First, there’s a physical hunger, which only food can satisfy. Second, there’s a spiritual hunger, which no food in the world can satisfy. In other words, we can be rich and successful and still feel an incredible hunger inside us. Let me illustrate with the true story of two people. Year B

irst there’s Tom Phillips. At the age of 40, Tom was the president of the largest company in the state of Massachusetts. He had a Mercedes, a beautiful home, a lovely family.

F

but Tom Phillips was not happy. In fact, he was downright unhappy. Something was missing from his life, but he didn’t know what it was. Then one night, during a business trip to New York, something happened to him. Tom Phillips had a religious experience that changed him forever. Speaking of that experience, he said: “I saw what was missing [from my life].” It was Jesus Christ. “I hadn’t ever . . . turned my life over to him.” And that night Tom did just that. And that night Tom’s life changed in a way that brought him a happiness he never dreamed existed. That brings us to the second man. His name is Charles Colson. He too was a successful man. In his own words, he had “an office next to the president of the United States, a six-figure income, a yacht, a limousine, and a chauffeur.” But he too was an unhappy man. In his own words, he had a “gnawing hollowness” deep inside him. Something was missing from his life, but he didn’t know what it was. Then one August night in 1973, Tom Phillips, the first man we talked about, told Charles Colson about his conversion. And the more Colson listened, the more he became convinced that Tom Phillips had put his finger on what was causing the “gnawing hollowness” deep inside him. Lectionary 114

4

Ordinary Time

91


He too was hungering for something. And now, for the first time in his life, he had an insight into what it was. Charles Colson left the Phillips home that night knowing exactly what he must do. He hadn’t driven 100 yards from the house when he pulled up alongside the road and began to cry so loudly that he was afraid the Phillips family might hear him. Describing what happened next, Colson said: “I prayed my first real prayer.” It was like this: “God, I don’t know how to find you, but I’m going to try! I’m not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to you.” He then added: “I didn’t know how to say more, so I repeated over and over the words: Take me.” To make a long story short, that was the beginning of a religious conversion that surprised not only the White House staff but also the entire country. The so-called “hatchet man” of the Nixon administration, who once supposedly boasted that he would “run over his own grandmother to reelect the president,” underwent a dramatic religious conversion. The Los Angeles Times gave it this headline: “ ‘Tough guy’ Colson has turned religious.” The New York Times gave it this headline: “Colson has ‘found religion.’ ”

his brings us back to our original question. Have you ever hungered for something deep inside you and didn’t know what? Have you ever thirsted for something deep inside you and didn’t know what?

T

If our answer to those two questions is yes, then we’ll want to take seriously today’s Scripture readings. For they contain an important message for us. Jesus himself sums up that message in these words: “I am the bread of life. . . . Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 The message in today’s Scripture readings is simply this: There’s a deep-down hunger and thirst in all of us that only Jesus can fill. This message has brought new meaning to millions of lives. And it can bring new meaning to our lives too, if we but let it. et’s close by repeating the prayer that Charles Colson prayed in his parked car on the unforgettable August night in 1973:

L

“God, I don’t know how to find you, but I’m going to try! I’m not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to you. “Take me! Take me! Take me!”

To this day colson crisscrosses the country preaching the Gospel wherever he can, especially in prisons and on college campuses.

92

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 114

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


19th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 19:4–8; Ephesians 4:30–5:2; John 6:41–51

A Dream Come True Jesus tells us his disciples about eternal life and what they must do to acquire it.

t first glance it doesn’t seem that a 16th-century explorer, some 20th-century senior citizens, and an ancient Chinese emperor would have much in common. But they do.

A

The 16th-century explorer was the Spaniard Ponce de Leon. Shortly after Columbus discovered America, rumors spread that the new world contained a fountain of youth. Ponce de Leon outfitted a ship and sailed to America to search for this legendary fountain. That brings us to the senior citizens. They are the old people in the movie Cocoon. Those old people experienced a return to their youth when they bathed in a swimming pool secretly used by aliens from another planet. Their exciting experience prompted them to accept an invitation from the aliens to go back with them to their planet. The senior citizens were told that once they reached the alien planet, they would live forever. And finally, we come to the ancient Chinese emperor. His name is Chin. chin is the emperor who built the Great Wall of China. Extending over 2,000 miles, the Great Wall is the only man-made structure on earth that the astronauts could identify from outer space. According to National Geographic magazine, Emperor Chin had a great fear of dying. Year B

One day his magicians told him about an island paradise in the Eastern Sea. It’s inhabitants had discovered the secret of eternal life. Chin loaded several ships with priceless gifts and dispatched them to the island’s inhabitants, hoping to trade the gifts for their secret. Reportedly the ships found the islands, but the islanders wouldn’t exchange their secret for such paltry gifts.

W

hat does all of this boil down to? What point does it make?

It is this: From the beginning of time people have dreamed about never dying. They have dreamed about living forever. They have dreamed about eternal life. With such death of a loved one, that dream became more and more of an obsession with people. And so when Jesus showed up in Palestine and began talking about eternal life, people flocked to hear what he had to say. Jews, especially, were interested. Since the time of Abraham and Moses, they were in the dark about what happened to the dead. They believed there was a “world of the dead,” but they had no idea what theat world was like. And so any light Jesus could throw on the mystery was welcome. ne of the most remarkable things Jesus said about eternal life is what he says in today’s gospel. Listen again to his remarkable words.

O

“I am the bread of life . . . that comes down from heaven. . . . If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” Lectionary 117

4

Ordinary Time

93


Jesus reveals that life in this world isn’t the end of things. There’s another life to come. And that life will never end. It is an eternal life; it is an everlasting life. Is it any wonder that many Jews shook their heads at Jesus, especially when he said, “I am the bread . . . that comes down from heaven”? Is it any wonder that they grumbled among themselves, saying, “This man is Jesus son of Joseph, isn’t he? We know his father and mother. How, then, does he now say he came down from heaven?” John 6:41–42 Only when Jesus rose from the dead did many of these Jews reconsider his words and take them seriously.

T

hat brings us to this gathering in this church today.

We have gathered together to hear the word of Jesus about eternal life. We have gathered together to be nourished by the Body of Jesus, the bread of eternal life. What Ponce de Leon searched for in America, what the senior citizens looked for in Cocoon, and what Emperor Chin sought in the paradise islands of the Eastern Sea is with us in this church today. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the fountain and wellspring of eternal life, is present with us right now. He is with us in his spirit. He said to his followers, “Where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:20 Jesus is with us in his word. What he said 2,000 years ago to the people is what he said to us a few minutes ago in today’s gospel.

Speaking to his representatives, Jesus said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” Luke 10:16 And finally, Jesus is with us in the sacrament of eternal life. It was concerning this sacrament that he said in today’s gospel, “I am the bread of life. . . . If you eat this bread, you will live forever.” John 6:51

In the light of all this, is it any wonder that Jesus said to us: “How fortunate you are to see the things you see! I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but they could not, and to hear what you hear, but they did not.” Luke 10:23–24

A

ll we can do in the face of such a great mystery is pray:

God our Father, you have given us so much. Forgive us if we ask for one more thing. Give us the faith to recognize the spirit of your Son in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in this church right now. Give us the faith to recognize the voice of your Son in the word we have just read and heard explained to us. But above all, give us the faith to recognize the Body of your Son in the bread we now prepare to break and share. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord, through whom with whom, and in whom we will one day live with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

Jesus is with us in his representative, the priest. 94

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 117

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Assumption Revelation 11:19; 12:1–6, 10; 1 Corinthians 15:20–26; Luke 1:39–56

Jungle Survival Heaven is our destiny, and Mary wants to help us in our struggle to reach it.

T

he popular TV show “St. Elsewhere” deals with life in a busy hospital.

At one time, one of the show’s young doctors, Dr. Caldwell, was played by Mark Harmon. Mark is also the young person who does the Coors beer commercials. Older football fans will remember Mark’s father, Tom Harmon, the star quarterback and Heisman trophy winner from the University of Michigan. Tom became a pilot during World War II. One day his plane crashed in a dense jungle. His changes of survival were nil, and he knew it. As a matter of fact, 25 planes crashed in the same jungle the same week Tom’s did. Not one crew member from those planes made it back to civilization. Tom Harmon was the only one who did. When newspaper reporters asked Tom how he accounted for his miraculous survival, he surprised them by saying, “Prayer!” He surprised them even more, explaining: “[I said] at least a million ‘Hail Marys’ during my trek out. In fact, as I walked through the jungle, trying to find my way out, I used to yell ‘Hail Marys’ at the top of my voice, hoping that someone would hear me hollering.” He added: “Without great faith, I would not have gotten out of that jungle.” Year B

T

om Harmon isn’t alone in his faith in the power of prayer.

Nor is he alone in his faith in the power of prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Tom Harmon’s experience, as well as the experience of millions of other Christians, has given Mary a special place in the hearts of believers everywhere. And so it is with great joy that we gather today to celebrate the feast of Mary’s assumption into heaven. rom a theological viewpoint, the Feast of the Assumption tells us that Mary is in heaven, soul and body. Because she didn’t sin in her lifetime, her body, like the body of Jesus, didn’t decay. It went directly from an earthly state to a heavenly state.

F

From a practical viewpoint, the Feast of the Assumption reminds us that we too are destined to be in heaven someday— soul and body. We sometimes forget that in heaven we will have a body. It won’t be a physical body, of course, but a spiritual body. Speaking of our resurrection from the dead, and the kind of body we will have after it, Paul writes: “Someone will ask, ‘How can the dead be raised to life” What kind of body will they have?’ ” 1 Corinthians 15:35

Paul answers that question by comparing our body before death to a seed, and our body after death to the plant that grows from the seed. Paul says: “When you plant a seed in the ground, it does not sprout to life unless it dies. Lectionary 621

4

Assumption

95


And what you plant is a bare seed. . . . . God provides that seed with the body he wishes. . . . “This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:36–38, 42–44

T

his brings us to a second practical point about the Feast of the Assumption.

The feast reminds us that Mary is not in heaven in a passive way, simply enjoying God’s presence. That is, she isn’t just sitting there, as it were, waiting for us to join her. On the contrary, Mary is in heaven in an active way. She is actively concerned about us. In other words, she wants to help us in our own struggle to reach heaven.

It’s practical message is that we too are destined to join Mary in heaven someday, and that in the meantime, she wants to help us in our struggle to reach it. et’s close by praying the following words from the Preface of today’s Mass:

L

God our Father, “today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be . . . a sign of hope . . . for all your people. . . . “You would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to your Son, the Lord of all life.” May we join Mary in heaven someday and, with her, praise you for eve rand ever.

We need only call out to her for help, as Tom Harmon did in the jungle. n conclusion, then, the Feast of the Assumption contains a theological message and a practical message.

I

Its theological message is that Mary is in heaven—soul and body. Because she didn’t sin, her body, like the body of Jesus, didn’t decay. It went directly from an earthly state to a heavenly state.

96

Assumption

4

Lectionary 621

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


20th Sunday of the Year Proverbs 9:1–6; Ephesians 5:15–20; John 6:51–58

Marie and John The Eucharist is a beautiful expression of faith and love.

“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” John answers in a soft but firm voice, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and I shall be healed.” Marie then gives John Communion.

ome time ago a college student named Marie wrote an article called “I Bring Jesus to John.”

S

Marie is a eucharistic minister in her parish. Each Sunday she attends the ten o’clock Mass. After Mass she takes the Eucharist to a man named John, who lives all alone. Describing John, Marie says, “His rocking chair creaks as he sways back and forth beside his living room window.” His hearing is bad, his eyesight is poor, and a heart attack has slowed his movements. But John’s 88-year-old faith is strong and vibrant. Each Sunday John waits eagerly for someone. “That someone,” says Marie, “is Jesus, and I a 22-year-old college student am privileged to bring Jesus to John.” While Marie attends the ten o’clock Mass, John watches the same Mass on television. Thus when Marie arrives with the Eucharist, John feels a part of it too. After taking off her coat Marie sits down beside John. Then she rereads the Sunday gospel, just in case John’s poor hearing caused him to miss any of it on television. Marie ends by reviewing the homily with John.

After a few moments of silence, Marie opens a book and prays: “God, our Father, may the Body of Christ which Brother John has received bring him lasting health in mind and body.” Marie concludes with a prayer that has become John’s favorite. It goes something like this: “Lord, Holy Father, free your servant John from sickness, restore him to health, strengthen him by your power, protect him by your might, and raise him to new life on the last day.” After this prayer Marie and John chat together for a while. Then they hug, say good-bye, and promise to pray for each other until they meet again next week.

T

hat simple story of John and Marie is truly beautiful for two reasons.

First, it illustrates the kind of faith Jesus invites us to have when he says in today’s gospel:

Next comes the moment John has been waiting for all week. Marie begins it by praying with John the Lord’s Prayer.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. . . . My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.”

Then she holds up the Body of Christ for John to see and says,

Both Marie and John witness to their faith in these words of Jesus.

Year B

Lectionary 120

4

Ordinary Time

97


Marie does it by bringing the Body of Jesus to John. John does it by receiving the Body of Jesus. And they both do it by their prayers together before and after John’s Communion. It is right here, in their prayers together before and after Communion, that the story of Marie and John may have something practical to say to us. The story of Marie and John reminds us that if the reception of Communion is to be a faith experience, it must be done within a prayer context. Let me illustrate by a comparison. he moment of receiving Communion could be compared to a diamond. The time before and after Communion might be compared to a gold band.

T

A diamond by itself is beautiful. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if it is placed in the center of a gold band and made the centerpiece of a gold ring. The same is true of Communion. Communion by itself is a beautiful experience. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if we place it within a setting of prayer. If our own experience of Communion seems to be missing something, maybe it’s missing the setting of prayer. How prayerful are we before and after receiving Communion? What goes on in our mind and heart as we approach the altar to receive the Body of Christ? What goes on in our mind and heart after we have received the Body of Christ? Do we speak with Jesus as with a friend? Do we give him thanks, ask his forgiveness, and seek his guidance? This brings us to the second reason that makes a story of John and Marie so beautiful. 98

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 120

esides the kind of faith Jesus invites us to have in today’s gospel, the story also illustrates the kind of love Jesus invites us to have as Christians.

B

The warm friendship that has grown up between Marie and John is the kind of friendship that all Christians should try to cultivate toward one another. And so a second question we might ask ourselves is this: Does our own reception of Communion make us more loving in our lives, especially toward those who need our love most, like John? In other words, does it draw us closer not only to Jesus but also to one another? et’s conclude by listening of Saint Paul describe the kind of faith and love we should have because of our reception of the Eucharist:

L

“The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. “Because there is the one loaf of bread all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.” 1 Corinthians 10:16–17 In conclusion, then, the story of Marie and John illustrates the kind of faith and love Jesus talks about in today’s gospel when he says: “My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in him.” Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


21st Sunday of the Year Joshua 24:1–2, 15–17, 18; Ephesians 5:21–32; John 6:60–69

When Darkness Comes The way to survive in life is not to focus on our problems, but to focus on Jesus.

Soviet fishing boat was docked alongside an American Coast Guard cutter, just off the New England coast.

A

Inside the Soviet vessel, American and Russian officials were trying to settle a long-standing dispute over fishing practices in the North Atlantic. The conference was going well. That night, however, something unexpected threatened the talks. A sailor named Simas Kudirka leaped from the deck of the Soviet ship, across ten feet of water, to the deck of the American ship. Kudirka pleaded with the Americans for political asylum. But the U.S. commander refused, a decision for which his superiors later rebuked him. The disillusioned sailor was handed back to Soviet authorities. He was returned to Russia and sent to prison. Kudirka’s imprisonment brought him face to face with despair. In the midst of his ordeal, another prisoner taught him the words to a poem by Rudyard Kipling, the British poet.

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ . . . Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!” Time after time Kudirka recited those words, and time after time they gave him the strength to hold on. To make a long story short, Kudirka survived his imprisonment and is now a free man. Kudirka attributes his survival to the spirit of Kipling’s poem. It gave him the strength to hold on when there was nothing in him except the will that said, “Hold on.”

T

hat story dramatizes an important point found in today’s gospel. The point is this:

There are times in life when we are pushed to the wall. There are times in life when we are ready to quit. There are times in life when we need something to hold on to. We see this in today’s gospel. The disciples of Jesus are pushed to the wall. Their faith in Jesus is challenged severely by what Jesus said earlier about giving them his body to eat.

Kudirka said later that those words sustained him in the years ahead. An excerpt from the poem reads:

T

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two imposters just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools . . .

The second group meets the challenge successfully and remains faithful to Jesus.

Year B

he disciples respond to the challenge in two ways.

One group finds Jesus’ words too hard to take. They part company with Jesus and no longer walk with him.

Why did the first group fail the challenge and the second group succeed? Lectionary 123

4

Ordinary Time

99


The gospel doesn’t really answer that question, but it does leave us a clue. It is this: When Jesus asks the second group, “Would you also like to leave?” Peter answers for them, saying, “Lord, to whom would we go? You nave the words that give eternal life. And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God.” When pushed to the wall, they kept their eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. They didn’t get distracted by the problem posed by what Jesus said. When pushed to the wall, they fell back on their personal faith in Jesus. On the other hand, the group that failed did just the opposite. They fixed all their attention on the problem: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” John 6:52 In short, they took their eyes off Jesus. he difference between fixing attention on Jesus and fixing attention on the problem stands out clearly in another episode involving Jesus and Peter.

T

One night when the Apostles were out on the lake, a great storm blew up. When it was at its peak, Jesus appeared, walking on the waves. “[The Apostles] were terrified. It’s a ghost!” they said, and screamed with fear. Jesus spoke to them at once. ‘Courage!’ he said. ‘It is I. Don’t be afraid!’ “Then Peter spoke up. ‘Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.’ ‘Come!’ answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink. . . . ‘Save me, Lord!’ he cried. 100

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 123

“At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said, ‘What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?’” Matthew 14:26–31 The point is this: As long as Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, he was all right. But when he took his eyes off Jesus and began to focus on his problem, that’s when he began to sink.

T

his leads us to a practical conclusion.

We are all like Peter in the storm. There are times in life when some storm threatens to destroy us. There are times in life when we find ourselves sinking, as Peter did. When these times come—and they will— let’s not make the same mistake Peter made. Let’s not fix our attention on the storm, that is, on our problem. Rather, let’s fix our attention on Jesus, standing in the boat and encouraging us. Or we may think of it in terms of today’s gospel, when Jesus tells his disciples about Eucharist. There’ll be times in life when our faith will be challenged too, as theirs was. We may even be tempted to part company with Jesus and walk with him no more. When these times come, let’s not make the same mistake some of the disciples made. Let’s not fix our attention on the problem. Let’s fix our attention on the person: Jesus. Let’s reaffirm our faith in Jesus, as Peter did, and say: “Lord . . . You have the words that give eternal life. . . . We believe . . . that you are the Holy One who has come from God.” John 6:68–69 Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


22nd Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8; James 1:17–18, 21–22, 27; Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23

The Rabbi Prisoner The heart of religion is not ritual and law, but love of God and neighbor.

illiam Barclay, the Scottish theologian, tells the story about an old rabbi who was in a Roman prison. He was on a minimal ration of food and water. It was just enough for him to survive.

W

As time passed, the rabbi grew weaker and weaker. Finally it became necessary to call a doctor. The old man’s problem was diagnosed as dehydration. The doctor’s report confused prison officials. They couldn’t understand how the rabbi could be dehydrated. Although his daily ration of drinking water was minimal, it was adequate. The guards were told to watch the old man closely to see what he was doing with his water. It was then that the mystery was solved. The guards discovered that the rabbi was using almost all his water to perform religious ritual washings before he prayed and before he ate. As a result, he had little water left to drink. his story helps us appreciate better today’s gospel. It helps us understand better the shock and dismay Jewish leaders felt when they saw the disciples of Jesu eat without performing the ritual washings.

T

hen Jews talk about “the Law,” they mean one of the two things: either the “written” Law or the “oral” Law.

W

The older and more important of these two is the written Law. It is set down in the Torah, that is, the first five books of the Old Testament. It is something called the Law of Moses. Some of these laws are concrete and specific. Others are very general, more like norms than laws. for a long time, Jews were content with these general norms. They applied them to their lives as they saw fit. Beginning with the fifth century before Jesus, however, there emerged in Israel a group of legal experts called scribes. They felt the general norms were too vague and should be spelled out more in detail. And they proceeded to spell them out. This gave rise to the second set of laws—the oral laws, or oral traditions. About the same time, there arose on the part of many Jews the desire to imitate the ritual holiness of their priests. For example, according to the written Law, ritual hand washing was required of all priests before they entered the temple sanctuary. Its purpose was to wash away all ritual uncleanliness so that they could worship God more worthily. Gradually the people began to imitate the priests and wash their hands before praying. In a similar way, the practice of washing before meals evolved.

This is what makes today’s gospel reading so important. It focuses on one of the basic disputes between Jesus and Jewish leaders.

By the time of Jesus, Jews observed these oral traditions just as minutely and faithfully as they did the written laws of the Torah.

Let’s take a closer look at what this particular dispute involved.

The idea behind all of these observances was noble.

Year B

Lectionary 126

4

Ordinary Time

101


It was to try to make religion permeate every action of the day. But in the course of trying to do this, something tragic happened. Slowly religion began to degenerate into an activity of performing external rituals. To observe these rituals was to please God. Not to observe them was to sin. In short, observing these external rituals became identified with being religious and serving God. To illustrate the danger of such legalism, William Barclay points out that theoretically someone might hate another with all his heart. But that “did not matter so long as he carried out the correct hand washings and observed the correct laws about cleanness.” To make his point crystal clear, Barclay tells a story—probably apocryphal— about a Muslim pursuing an enemy to kill him. In the midst of the chase, the public call to prayer sounded. Instantly the Muslim got off his horse, unrolled his prayer mat, knelt down, and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse and continued his pursuit. It was precisely this kind of legalism that Jesus opposed so vigorously. ow does all this apply to us? It warns us that we too must guard against identifying religion with performing external acts.

H

For example, going to church, saying prayers, reading the Bible, and giving to charity do not, in themselves, guarantee holiness. The reason is obvious. We can do all of these things, but for the wrong reason. We can do all of these things, but in an unloving way. 102

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 126

What counts is not what we do. What counts is the love in our heart that motivates us to do what we do. If our heart is filled with bitterness or pride, then all the external practices in the world won’t make us holy before God. Today’s gospel invites us to look into our heart and ask ourselves, To what extent do the words in today’s second reading apply to us? “Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to [God’s] word. . . . Pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows . . . and to keep oneself from being corrupted.” Or to what extend do these words of Isaiah, which Jesus cites in today’s gospel, apply to us? “These people . . . honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me.” In short, what counts in religion is not what we do, but why we do it. What counts is the love in our heart: love of God and love of neighbor. et’s close by reading prayerfully Paul’s famous words about love in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

L

“I may have the gift of inspired preaching . . . I may have all the faith needed to move mountains— but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have . . . but if I have no love, this does me no good. “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs. . . . Love never gives up. . . . Love is eternal. . . . It is love, then, that you should strive for.” 1 Corinthians 13:2–8; 14:1

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


23rd Sunday of the Year

Many of us are deaf and dumb spiritually, and Jesus wants to heal us.

he story of the deaf person gives us a better appreciation o f today’s gospel. It gives us an insight into how the deaf and dumb man felt after Jesus healed him. For the first time in his life, he felt a part of life.

woman had a friend who was deaf. One day she asked her friend what she wanted for her birthday. Her friend make a strange request. She said:

A

his raises a question. Why did Jesus heal the deaf and dumb man? Why did he unplug his ears? Why did he restore his speech?

T

“Would you write Ann Landers and ask her to reprint a prayer she has for deaf people. She printed it once before in her column but I lost my copy of it.”

One answer to that question is found in today’s first reading. Describing some of the signs that will take place when the Messiah comes, Isaiah says, “The deaf will hear . . . and those who cannot speak will shout for joy.”

Isaiah 35:4–7; James 2:1–5; Mark 7:31–37

Spiritual Deaf-mutes

The woman wrote to Ann Landers. And on June 1, her friend’s birthday, Ann reprinted the prayer in her column. A portion of it reads: “O God, the trouble about being deaf is that most people find deaf folks a nuisance. They sympathize with people who are blind and lame, but they get irritated and annoyed with people who are deaf. And the result if this is that deaf people are apt to avoid company, and get more and more shut in.” William Barclay That portion of the prayer points out something about deaf people that few of us realize. Most of us think that blindness is worse than deafness. But Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, considered deafness the far greater handicap. When you can’t hear, a lot of doors in the normal world slam shut. Turning on the radio is pointless. Watching television is bland and often boring. Conversing with someone is next to impossible. After a while you feel lonely and abandoned. Year B

T

By healing the deaf and dumb man, Jesus fulfills two of the signs that Isaiah says will help people recognize the Messiah. And so one of the purposes of today’s healing is to add to the converging evidence that points to Jesus as the Messiah. ut the healing of the deaf and dumb man also tells us something personal about Jesus. It tells us that he is a compassionate person. We see this, especially, in the way Jesus heals the man. Jesus takes him off, away from the crowd.

B

Deaf people are often embarrassed by their situation. They can’t understand the simplest questions people ask them. They feel different and out of place. By taking the man away from the crowd, Jesus shows real compassion for him. He shows real sensitivity to his situation. And so besides pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, the healing of the man points to Jesus as a compassionate person. Lectionary 129

4

Ordinary Time

103


inally, the healing of the deaf-mute is a source of hope for many people today— people like you and me.

F

More concretely, today’s gospel is inviting us to do something many of us have lost the habit of doing.

The deaf and dumb man’s plight is not unlike our own plight. Many of us today are deaf and dumb— not physically, not spiritually.

It’s inviting us to set aside a few minutes for daily prayer to let Jesus do for us what he did for the deaf and dumb man. It’s inviting us to let Jesus heal us of our deafness and dumbness.

What do we mean by that? An example will illustrate. Recently a mother and father were visiting their daughter who was seriously ill in the hospital. As they drove away from the hospital, the mother began to cry. She said to her husband: “Ron, I don’t know what’s happening to me. Ten years ago I would have been able to pray my heart out for our daughter. I’d have been able to talk to God about her. And I’d have been able to hear God tell me: ‘Don’t worry!” “But I can’t do that anymore. I can’t pray any longer. I can’t speak to God as I used to. And I can’t hear God speak to me. It’s as though I’ve suddenly become spiritually deaf and dumb.” hat story describes a situation that many of us can relate to. We too find it hard to pray as we used to. We too find it hard to speak to God. We find it hard to hear God speak to us.

T

What can we do in this situation? We find the answer in today’s gospel. We can do what the deaf and dumb man did. We can seek out Jesus, go off with him, away from the crowd, and spend some time in his healing presence. Today’s gospel is inviting us to give Jesus an opportunity to touch our tongue to loosen it, spiritually, and to put his fingers in our ears and open them, spiritually. 104

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 129

nd so the story of the deaf and dumb man does three things.

A

First, it reveals Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. Jesus does what Isaiah foretold the Messiah would do. He makes the ears of the deaf to hear and the tongue of the dumb to sing. Second, the story of the deaf and dumb man reveals Jesus as a compassionate person. Jesus takes the deaf and dumb man away from the crowd to heal him. He doesn’t make a public display of him. Rather, he deals with him privately and personally. Finally, today’s gospel reveals the solution to the problem that many of us experience today. We are unable to pray. We are unable to speak to God and to hear him speak to us in our heart. We are spiritually deaf and dumb. The solution to this vexing problem is to do what the deaf and dumb man did. It is to seek out Jesus and ask him to heal us. More concretely, it is set aside a few minutes for daily prayer to give Jesus a chance to touch us, heal us, and make us whole once again.

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


24th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 50:4–9; James 2:14–18; Mark 8:27–35

Bitter or Better? “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor the person perfected without trials.” Confucius

n a book called This I Believe there’s a series of essays by famous people. They describe episodes from their lives that affected them deeply.

I

For example James Du Pont of the Du Pont Company recalls an episode that happened to him when he was seven years old. One midnight he awoke out of a dead sleep. His mother was sobbing loudly. It was the first time he’d ever heard her cry. He describes the incident this way: “My dad’s voice was low and troubled as he tried to comfort mother— and in their anguish they both forgot about the nearness of my bedroom. I overheard them.” Then he adds: “While their problem . . . has long since been solved and forgotten, the big discovery I made that night is still right with me.” Du Pont’s discover was this: “Life is not all hearts and flowers. It’s hard and cruel . . . much of the time.” ’m sure all of us can relate to that seven-year-old boy lying in bed, listening to mother cry.

I

We too remember hearing our mother cry. We too remember the impact it had on us. We too remember how it made us aware, perhaps for the first time, that life is not all hearts and flowers. It’s sometimes cruel and hard. And so we can relate to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, when he says, Year B

“If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.” In other words, suffering and sorrow are like hurricanes and floods. They are a part of life. There’s no way we can escape them. But then Jesus goes on to say something remarkable. He says, “If you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it.” Mark 8:35 In other words, Jesus says the important thing in life isn’t the sorrow and suffering that befall us. The important thing is how we respond to them. The important thing is what we do about them. Maybe we can’t avoid sorrow and suffering, but we can do something with them. We can turn them into something constructive, not destructive. We can turn them into something that is life-giving, not death-dealing. We can turn them into something that makes us better, not bitter. Let me illustrate. Take the case of Eugene O’Neill. Until the age of 25, O’Neill was a failure. His life was without purpose, without discipline, without direction. Then one day he took seriously ill and was taken to a hospital. It was during his long stay in the hospital that he got a chance to do something he had never done before. He got a chance to think about his life and where it was headed. It was also in the hospital that he discovered that he had a talent for writing plays. Eventually Eugene O’Neill recovered, took up a writing career, and went on to revolutionalize American drama. It all happened because O’Neill reacted to sorrow and suffering in a constructive way. He responded to them in a life-giving way. Lectionary 132

4

Ordinary Time

105


Take also the case of Golda Meir. As a young person, Golda Meir felt depressed because she was not beautiful. She wrote: “It was only much later that I realized that not being beautiful was a blessing in disguise. It forced me to develop inner resources. I came to understand that women who can’t lean on their beauty . . . [have to work hard and, therefore,] have the advantage.” In other words, Golda Meir accepted her cross. She didn’t cry out against it. She didn’t fret over it or resent it. She acknowledged it, picked it up, and carried it courageously. Golda Meir went on to become the first woman prime minister of Israel. Finally, take the case of Oscar Wilde. At the height of his writing career, he was convicted of a morals charge. After he returned from prison, he could no longer write superficial comedies. He no longer had a heart for the frivolous. Wilde wrote, in what has to be one of the most beautiful lines of poetry ever written, “Where sorrow is, there is holy ground.” And in another beautiful line, he wrote, “How else but through the broken heart May the Lord Christ enter in?” Oscar Wilde used his humiliating experience as an occasion to grow and become better. In the spirit of today’s gospel, he turned it into an experience that was life-giving, not death-dealing. he stories of Eugene O’Neill, Golda Meir, and Oscar Wilde illustrate that the important thing in life is not the sorrow and suffering that befall us. The important thing is how we respond to them.

T 106

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 132

If we refuse to accept sorrow and suffering, if we refuse to pick up these crosses and carry them, we end up losing our life. On the other hand, if we pick them up and carry them courageously, as Jesus did, we can turn them into something positive. We can turn them into something life-giving, just as Eugene O’Neill, Golda Meir, and Oscar Wilde did. nd so, by way of summary, like the seven-year-old in our opening story, sooner or later we discover that life is not all hearts and flowers. It’s often cruel and hard.

A

But we discover something else. Sooner or later we also discover that sorrow and suffering are not necessarily death-dealing. Thanks to Jesus and the Gospel, they can be life-giving. God often uses sorrow and suffering to fashion us into better people— warmer people, humbler people, more compassionate people, more understanding people. Sorrow and suffering can open our eyes to a richer, more beautiful life than we ever dreamed possible. The poet Robert Browning Hamilton sums up the spirit of today’s gospel in these words: “I walked a mile with Pleasure, She chattered all the way, But left me none the wiser For all she had to say. “I walked a mile with Sorrow, And ne’er a word said she; But, oh, the things I learned from her When Sorrow walked with me!” “Along the Road”

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


25th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 2:12, 17–20; James 3:16–4:3; Mark 9:30–37

The Monk’s Vision “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.”

L

awrence LeShan tells this story in his book How to Meditate.

An old monk prayed many years for a vision from God to strengthen his faith, but it never came. He had almost given up hope when, one day, a vision appeared. The old monk was overjoyed. but then, right in the middle of the vision, the monastery bell rang. The ringing of the bell meant it was time to feed the poor who gathered daily at the monastery gate. It was the old monk’s turn to feed them. If he failed to show up with food, the unfortunate people would leave quietly, thinking the monastery had nothing to give to them that day. The old monk was torn between his earthy duty and his heavenly vision. but, before the bell stopped ringing, the monk made his decision. With a heavy heart, he turned his back on the vision and went off to feed the poor. Nearly an hour later, the old monk returned to his room. When he opened the door, he could hardly believe his eyes. There in the room was the vision, waiting for him. As the monk dropped to his knees in thanksgiving, the vision said to him, “My son, had you not gone off to feed the poor, I would not have stayed.” Year B

T

hat story bears a striking resemblance to today’s gospel.

Like the disciples, the monk gave up everything to follow Jesus. Like the disciples, he turned his back on the material wealth of this world for the spiritual wealth of the next world. And like the disciples, after he had done all these things, he learned the most important spiritual lesson of his life. He learned that the best way to serve God is not necessarily to give up everything. The best way to serve God is not necessarily to turn our back on the world and go off to some monastery. The best way to serve God is not necessarily to spend hours in prayer, contemplating heavenly visions. The best way to serve God is to do something far more basic. The best way to serve God is to reach out in service to our brothers and sisters, especially those less gifted than ourselves. Jesus taught his disciples this lesson, saying, “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 his raises an all important question. How can we translate Jesus’ teaching into action in our own lives?

T

Even as we ask that question we realize that there’s no single answer to it. There are as many answers as there are people. And so, no one can answer the question for us. We must do it ourselves. Nevertheless, it might help us to look at how one young man answer that question in a courageous and responsible way. Ted Kennedy, Jr., first made national news when he lost a leg to cancer at the age of 12. Lectionary 135

4

Ordinary Time

107


Periodically after that, the press carried a photograph of him skiing with one leg or playing football with an artificial limb. Now, however, you read about him in another capacity. Young Kennedy has been crisscrossing the country addressing handicapped people, especially the young. He attributes his positive attitude toward his own handicap to his family and friends. They never “made me feel different,” he says. On top of that, he frankly admits that he had the best doctors and the best treatments available. “One of the reasons why I’m trying to help other handicapped people,” he says, “is that I want to repay some of that debt. It takes so little from me to make others feel better that it would be unthinkable not to make the effort.” That last sentence deserves repeating. “It takes so little from me to make others feel better that it would be unthinkable not to make the effort.” ew of us have the leisure of Ted Kennedy, Jr. Few of us have the time or the financial security to do the kind of work he is doing. Yet I can’t help wondering about something.

F

Even if you and I did have the leisure and the financial security that Ted Kennedy, Jr., has, how many of us would be using those gifts as generously as he’s using them? That brings us back to our original question. How can we, personally, respond to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel? 108

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 135

“Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 As we said, no one can answer that question for us. We must answer it for ourselves.

A

nd so today’s gospel contains an invitation and a challenge.

First, it contains an invitation. It invites us to take inventory of our lives and ask ourselves, What is our own spirit of service in the work we are doing, right now— whether we are a mother raising small children or someone involved in office or factory work? Second, it contains a challenge. It challenges us to take a few minutes off in the week ahead and ask ourselves sincerely, How can we bring to our work a greater spirit of service than we now have? et’s conclude by listening prayerfully to the words of Albert Schweitzer. One of the great Christians of modern times, he turned his back on the concert halls of Europe to become a missionary doctor to the poor in Africa.

L

Schweitzer said: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will really be happy are those who sought and found how to serve.” Let’s repeat those words once more. “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will really be happy are those who sought and found how to serve.” Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


26th Sunday of the Year

Thomas More was eventually arrested. On July 6, 1635, he was executed for treason.

Numbers 11:25–29; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 47–48

Cost of Discipleship A disciple should be willing to undergo any sacrifice for the kingdom of God.

T

he movie A Man for All Seasons is based on the life of Saint Thomas More.

Thomas More was a teenager in England when Columbus discovered America. Thomas attended Oxford University and, after graduation, entered public life. He rose rapidly as a government official. In 1529, King Henry VIII honored him by appointing him Chancellor of England. Then tragedy struck Thomas More’s life. Here’s how it happened. Henry VIII divorced his queen and remarried unlawfully. To combat opposition to his marriage, Henry ordered certain dignitaries of the state to sign a document, swearing under oath that his remarriage was lawful. Henry passed word along to the dignitaries that if they refuse to sign the document, they would be arrested for treason. A dramatic scene occurred when Lord Norfolk brought the document to Thomas More. Thomas refused to sign it; no amount of persuasion would change his mind. Finally Lord Norfolk lost his patience. he said to his friend: “Oh confound all this . . . I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. but, damn it, Thomas, look at these names. . . . You know these men! Can’t you do what I did and come along with us, for fellowship?” Thomas More still refused. He wouldn’t swear to something that he knew in his heart was wrong. Year B

he story of Thomas More illustrates what Jesus means when he says in today’s gospel:

T

“If your hand makes you lose your faith, cut it off! . . . If your foot makes you lose your faith, cut it off! . . . If your eye makes you lose your faith, take it out! It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of god with only one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into hell.” Mark 9:43–47 Jesus isn’t telling us to cut off a leg or pluck out an eye in the literal sense. He’s simply using familiar expressions of his time to make an important point. The point is this: His followers should be willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to keep from sinning. They should be willing to sacrifice even what is most precious to them to enter the kingdom of God. In the case of Thomas More, this meant sacrificing his own life. And lest we think that because Thomas More was a saint he therefore found it easy to give up his life, listen to these words. They appear in a letter he wrote to his daughter shortly after his arrest. They reflect the terrible struggle that was going on inside his soul. “Dear Meg, “I will not mistrust God, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. “I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, Lectionary 138

4

Ordinary Time

109


and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help.

and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help.

“And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning. . . .

“And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning. . . .

“And therefore my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world.

I

“Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem it shall indeed be best.” oday’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves this question: How vigilant are we in avoiding sin for the kingdom of God? How vigilant are we in guarding against anything that may cause us to lose the kingdom of God?

T

In one of his letters, the famous 17th-century French saint Saint Francis de Sales has this to say about temptation and guarding against sin: “Let the enemy rage at the gate, let him knock, let him push, let him cry, let him howl, let him do worse; we know for certain that he cannot enter save by the door of our consent.” And so we should be vigilant in guarding against sin. When temptation to sin does come— and it will— let us recall the words of Saint Thomas More to his daughter Meg: “I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, 110

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 138

n brief, then the message of Jesus in today’s gospel comes down to this: We should be willing to undergo any sacrifice to avoid sin and losing the kingdom of God. We should even be ready to imitate Sir Thomas More, who sacrificed his own life for the sake of the kingdom of God.

et’s close with these words from an old hymn. The Church prays them in The Liturgy of the Hours at evening prayer on certain Sundays of the liturgical year:

L

“At the name of Jesus Ev’ry knee shall bow, Ev’ry tongue confess him King of glory now. . . . “In your hearts enthrone him; There, let him subdue All that is not holy, All that is not true; May your voice entreat him In temptation’s hour; Let his will enfold you In its light and power. “Brothers [and sisters], this Lord Jesus Shall return again, With his Father’s glory, O’er the earth to reign; He is God the Savior; He is Christ the Lord.”

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


27th Sunday of the Year Genesis 2:18–24; Hebrews 2:9–11; Mark 10:2–16

Rediscover Wonder A childlike wonder is at the heart of all prayer and worship.

ome years ago the Chicago Tribune carried an article entitled “Taking a Walk with My Grandson,” by Amelia Dahl. It was written in dialogue form and went something like this:

S

Ricky

Grandma, why do trees take their clothes off at the end of summer?

Grandma Because they get worn out and must be exchanged for new ones. Ricky

Where do their new clothes come from?

Grandma From underneath the ground. Deep down, mother nature is busy preparing a new spring wardrobe for them. Ricky

Grandma, did you ever notice that the sky looks like an upside-down lake?

Grandma And those little white clouds look like sailboats, don’t they? Ricky

I wonder where they’re sailing to.

Grandma Maybe to a cloud meeting. Ricky

What would they do there?

Grandma Probably decide if the earth needs more rain. Ricky

Gee, God thinks of everything, doesn’t he, Grandma?

hat charming dialogue between Ricky and his grandma illustrates one of the points Jesus makes in today’s gospel: “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15

T

Year B

Ricky’s grandma is a perfect model of an adult who has not lost her sense of childlike wonder. To wonder means to see things as children see them. It means to ask the same questions about them that children ask. To wonder means to see things as if we were looking at them for the first time. It means to see things with the freshness they had when they first tumbled bright and new and unspoiled from the creative hand of God. To wonder is to look at a field of wet grass after a rain and see the footprints of God. It is to look into the eyes of a child and see the fingerprints of God. good example of what we are talking about is found in Charles Colson’s book Born Again. Recall that Colson was one of the men who was convicted in the Wategate scandal of the 1970s. He later experienced a religious conversion that has left its mark on him to this day.

A

In one of the episodes of his book, Colson takes us back 20 years to a happy summer vacation he spent with his two young boys. He brought them a 14-foot sailboat and took it out to the lake. When they arrived at the lake, a gentle summer rain was falling. But this didn’t dampen their spirits. As they shoved off from the pier, the only sound that could be heard was that of rippling water under the hull of the boat and of the wet sail flapping in the wind. Colson’s ten-year-old son, Chris, was in control of the boat. When the boy realized that he was the skipper, the most marvelous look came over his face. And his eyes flashed with excitement of knowing that in his two hands he was holding the power of the wind. Lectionary 141

4

Ordinary Time

111


As Colson looked into his son’s face and eyes, he himself became transfixed. And then something strange happened. He found himself talking to God. He still remembers his words: “Thank you, God, for giving me this son, for giving us this wonderful moment. Just looking now into this boy’s eyes fulfills my life. Whatever happens in the future, even if I die tomorrow, my life is complete and full. Thank you!” Afterward Colson was amazed and startled at what he had done. Even though he didn’t believe in a personal God, he had spontaneously spoken to him as a person. In the joy of the moment his heart bypassed his mind and affirmed the existence of a personal God. In his own words, he discovered that “communication with this unproven God was possible.” Why else had he spoken to him unless deep down he was aware that “someone, somewhere, was listening.” Indeed, on that rainy summer afternoon, Colson discovered for himself something that spiritual writers have always maintained: Wonder lies at the heart of all prayer and worship.

T

hat brings us to the practical message that is contained in today’s gospel.

If we are finding it hard to pray or worship, maybe it’s because we have let our sense of childlike wonder go behind a cloud. Maybe it’s because we haven’t taken seriously Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of god like a child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15 Maybe it’s because we have lost our sense of childlike wonder at the world. 112

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 141

Maybe it’s because it’s been too long since we’ve had a long walk and talk with one of our children or grandchildren. The modern novelist John Updike warns us what can happen when we lose touch with the younger members of God’s family. He says: “[If we adults] do not keep on speaking terms with children,” we cease being human beings “and become machines for eating and earning money.” “The tragedy of life,” said the great missionary Albert Schweitzer, “is what dies inside us while we live.” When our sense of wonder begins to die, then our sense of prayer and worship also begins to die. This is the important, practical word that Jesus speaks to each of us through today’s gospel.

L

et’s close with a prayer. Please follow along with me in silence:

God, help us keep our sense of wonder. Keep us from becoming blind to your fingerprints in the world around us, especially in the eyes and faces of children. Help us keep in touch with the little people around us so that we won’t forget what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15 Help us discover again how to wonder, so that through our wonder we may discover anew how to pray and worship. We make our prayer through Jesus the Lord, who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever. Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


How to Leave the Rocking Chair

Jesus admired him for this. But Jesus also made it clear to the rich man that Christianity is more than just a set of negative commands— like not stealing or not cheating. Christianity is far more positive.

If we walk toward God one step, he’ll run toward us ten steps.

Jesus said to he rich man in effect:

28th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 7:7–11; Hebrews 4:12–13; Mark 10:17–27

J

ames Kallam tells this amusing story in one of his writings.

Years ago a young door-to-door book salesman was assigned a rural area. One day he came upon a farmer seated in a rocking chair on his front porch. The young man went up to the farmer enthusiastically and said, “Sir, I have a book here that will tell you how to farm ten times better than you are doing now.” The farmer didn’t bother to look up. He simply kept on rocking. Finally, after a few minutes, he glanced up at the young salesman and said, “Young man, I don’t need your book. I already know how to farm ten times better than I’m doing now.”

T

hat story is a good illustration of what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel.

The farmer was capable of farming better, but he lacked the commitment to do so. The rich man was also capable of doing more than just keeping the commandments, but he too lacked the commitment to do so. Today’s gospel story makes it painfully clear that there is more to Christianity than just keeping the commandments. Jesus reviewed for the rich man the commandments, which are the starting point of Christian life. The man said he had kept them all. He hadn’t done one thing in his whole life to hurt anyone. Year B

“Granted, you’ve never hurt anyone, but what have you done to help anyone? Have you ever used your wealth to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or shelter the homeless?” It was at this point that the rich man saw how sadly he was still lacking in perfection. So Jesus held out to him a challenge, saying in effect: “If you want to follow me, transform your vision. Stop viewing goodness negatively— as not hurting anyone— and start viewing it positively— as helping people. Do this and you will find happiness in this life and in the next one.” The challenge Jesus held out to the rich man is this: “How badly do you want eternal life? How badly do you want to follow me? Do you want these badly enough to sacrifice your possessions for them?” The rich man answered, “Master, I want them—but not that badly.” And so the rich man rejected Jesus’ invitation. The thought of using his wealth for anything other than himself and his family was too great a sacrifice.

A

nd this brings us to ourselves in this church, right now.

Many of us are like the farmer on the porch. We know how to be a Christian ten times better than we are being one now, but we lack the commitment to do it. Lectionary 144

4

Ordinary Time

113


We are like the rich man in today’s gospel. We have kept the commandments too, but we haven’t yet been able to reach out as generously as we could to the needy, the naked, and the hungry.

oday’s gospel is an invitation for us to reach out not just to our neighbor but also to Jesus. It’s an invitation to trust Jesus when he says:

T

his raises two brief questions. The first is this: What do we do if we find ourselves in the situation just described?

T

Do we sit on the porch and continue to rock, as the farmer did? Do we lower our head and walk away from Jesus, as the rich man did? What do we do? The gospel suggests the answer to our question. Right after Jesus tells his disciples that “it is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” they cry, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus replies, “This is impossible for human beings but not for God.” In other words, we can do nothing by ourselves, but with God at our side we can do everything.

T

Mark 10:25–27

his brings up the second question: How do we enlist God’s help?

There’s an old adage that says, “God helps those who help themselves.” And there’s another one that says, “If we walk toward God one step, he’ll run toward us ten steps.” The answer to our question lies right here. The way to seek God’s help is not merely to ask him for it in prayer. We should do this, of course; but we should also do something more. We should take the first step and help ourselves. We should reach out to someone in need, even if it’s only in some small way. 114

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 144

Once we take this first step, God will come running toward us ten steps. He will support us and show us the way from there.

“I tell you that those who leave home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and for the gospel, will receive much more in this present age. They will receive a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields . . . and in the age to come they will receive eternal life.” Mark 10:29–30 Today’s gospel is not an invitation to make a great journey all at once. It’s merely an invitation to take the first step of that journey. If we take that first step by reaching out to someone in need, God will come running toward us, take us by the hand, and walk at our side for the entire journey.

L

et’s close with Saint Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity:

“Lord, teach us to be generous. “Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that we are doing your will.” (slightly adapted)

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


29th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 53:10–11; Hebrews 4:14–16; Mark 10:35–45

Bread and Water We must imitate Jesus, who came not to be served by others, but to serve them.

he last sentence in today’s gospel is one of the most remarkable sentences in all Scripture. Let’s listen to it again: “The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” Mark 10:45 Few sentences in Scripture sum up the life of Jesus so perfectly.

T

When the great Japanese Christian Kagawa first heard about the life of Jesus, he cried out, “O God, make me like your Christ!” To be more like Christ, Kagawa left a comfortable home and went to live in the slums of Tokyo. There he shared himself and his possessions with whoever needed help. In his book Famous Life Decisions, Cecil Northcott says that Kagawa once gave away all this clothing. He was left standing in only a tattered kimono. On another occasion, even though deathly sick, he continued to preach to people in a rain, repeating over and over: “God is love! God is love! Where love is, there is God.” William Barclay gives us an insight into the heart and mind of Kagawa when he quotes the great man as saying: “God dwells among the lowliest of men. . . . He is there with beggars. He is among the sick, he stands with the unemployed. Therefore let him who would meet God visit the prison cell before going to the temple. Year B

Before he goes to church let him visit the hospital. Before he reads his Bible let him help the beggar.” When we read about someone like Kagawa, we find ourselves wondering, How can we live out the Gospel more seriously in our own lives? We find ourselves wondering, How can we imitate more closely Jesus’ life of service to others? We find ourselves asking, What can we do to be more Christian in our own homes and work situations? Of course, no one can answer those questions for us. They are questions that we alone can answer. Moreover, there are as many answers to each question as there are people here this morning. The worst thing we can do, however, is to say, “I can’t move to the slums of Tokyo and do what Kagawa did.” And having said that, we proceed to do nothing. Just because we can’t do something courageous or dramatic doesn’t mean we can’t do anything at all. All of us can do something— be it ever so small and insignificant. And the place to start is in our own homes. If we start there, chances are we will find ways to expand our service beyond the home. But if we don’t start there, chances are we will never start anywhere. ne of the most moving examples of starting in the home is a story that appeared some time ago in Leadership magazine.

O

A boy was consistently coming home late from school. There was no good reason for his tardiness, and no amount of discussion seemed to help. Lectionary 147

4

Ordinary Time

115


Finally, in desperation, the boy’s father sat him down and said:

“All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.”

“The next time you come home late from school you are going to given bread and water for your supper—and nothing else. Is that perfectly clear, son?”

That story illustrates perfectly what Jesus meant when he said in today’s gospel, “The Son of Man . . . came . . . to give his life to redeem many people.”

The boy looked straight into his father’s eyes and nodded. He understood perfectly. A few days later the boy came home even later than usual. His mother met him at the door but didn’t say anything. His father met him in the living room, but he didn’t say anything either. That night, however, when they sat down together at table, the boy’s heart sank down to his feet. His father’s plate was filled with food, and his mother’s plate was filled with food. But his own plate contained only a single slice of bread. Next to his plate was a lonely glass of water. The boy’s eyes stared first at the bread, then at the glass of water. This was the punishment his parents had warned him about. To make matters worse, tonight he was absolutely starving. J. Allan Peterson, who tells the story, describes what happened next. “The father waited for the full impact to sink in, then, quietly took the boy’s plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate . . . and put it in front of the boy.” The boy understood what his father was doing. His father was taking upon himself the punishment that he, the boy, had brought upon himself by his own delinquent behavior.

Mark 10:45

Jesus came into the world to do for us what that father did for his son. He came to pay the price for our sinfulness. And the price he paid was his own death on the cross. y way of conclusion, then, today’s gospel holds out a challenge to us. It challenges us to give our lives in loving service for others, as Jesus did for us.

B

And the best place to start doing this is in our own homes and work situations. If we start in these places, chances are we will expand our loving service into other areas. In time, we may even find ourselves serving others as generously as did Kagawa in the slums of Tokyo. We may even find ourselves serving others as generously as did the father in the story of the delinquent son. But before we can hope to fly, we must first learn to walk. And so today’s gospel is an invitation to walk. It’s an invitation to begin serving one another, right now, in our own family and work situations. It’s an invitation to begin imitating Jesus, who said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” Mark 10:45

Years later that same boy recalled the incident and said: 116

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 147

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


30th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 31:7–9; Hebrews 5:1–6; Mark 10:46–52

Mike and the Beggar Many people, especially young people, are hindered rather than helped as they try to reach out to Jesus.

few years ago a father and mother sent this open letter to the parents and students of a high school in a southern city.

A

“Dear Boys, Girls, and Parents: “We buried our son Thursday. He got into bed Tuesday and very deliberately put a gun to his temple and shot a bullet straight through his brain. Mike was bright, handsome, witty, shy, and with ease did well in school. His phone rang constantly and his friends were in and out of the house all the time. The Coroner’s report showed no drugs. “In reality Mike had lots of friends. Each individual, however, has his own perception of reality— his reality. Sunday night, Mike got drunk and we had a long talk, and for the first time we realized that our rosy perception of the state of his life wasn’t his. He was very sad. He felt his friends didn’t care about him— even though we know they DID. “We believe you all can help God make this world a happier place to live. Somewhere between the ages of 20 and 35, people begin to feel secure enough to tell their friends ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m glad you’re my friend.’ Please be brave, because of your age it is a scary, chancy thing to say; but please tell your friends that they are your friends and you do care. Year B

This is most important because a person can feel most alone when surrounded by people. “There are also some in your school who truly have no friends. Their phone never rings and friends never come over. Please make friends with them. They are really lonely. If Mike felt such despair when he had friends, just imagine the sadness and loneliness those boys and girls must feel and endure. “God put each of us on earth to do good and bring joy. Please help make Mike’s death bring love and joy to the world in a concrete manner. “Growing up is very hard and there is so much each of you must sort out for yourself. Your parents and family are there, but your peers are so important too. Please, please open your hearts and tell your friends that you love them. “Love to you all,”* The letter was signed by Mike’s mother and father.

I

t took a lot of love and courage for Mike’s parents to write that letter.

That’s what makes it so beautiful. That’s what makes it so powerful. That’s what makes it a letter that every young person and parent should read. I think it’s especially appropriate for us to read it today, because the blind beggar in today’s gospel might well have been about Mike’s age. Like Mike, he was trying to reach out to Jesus as best he knew how. And like Mike, he sought help from those around him. *Reprinted with permission of Mr. and Mrs. Monlezun. Lectionary 150

4

Ordinary Time

117


But like young Mike, instead of getting help from those around him, the blind beggar got just the opposite. Instead of getting support from the crowd, he got abuse and outright rejection. Today’s gospel says that when the beggar called out to Jesus, “Son of David! Have mercy on me!” many people yelled at him and told him to keep quiet. In other words, instead of taking the beggar by the hand and leading him to Jesus, they took him by the neck and shoved him farther away from Jesus. Only one person came to the beggar’s aid. And who was that person? It was none other than Jesus himself. When Jesus heard the people shouting at the beggar, he stopped and asked that the beggar be brought to him. Only then did the people change. Only then did they help the unfortunate man.

It invites us to ask ourselves, What are we doing to help these young people in their fumbling efforts to reach out to Jesus? It invites us to do what the courageous parents of Mike pleaded for the parents and students of a southern high school to do. Let me read the operative passage of that letter again: “God put each of us on earth to do good and bring joy. Please help make Mike’s death bring love and joy to the world in a concrete manner.” Today’s gospel is an invitation to make Mike’s death bring love and joy to the world in a concrete way. et us close with a prayer that we have used on several previous occasions. It spells out in a concrete way how we can go about bringing love and joy to our world:

L

T

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

How many of these Mikes and how many of these blind beggars are trying to reach out to Jesus?

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

oday’s gospel prompts us to ask ourselves, How many Mikes and how many blind beggars are there in today’s world?

How many of these Mikes and how many of these blind beggars are being treated the way the people treated the blind beggar in today’s gospel? How many of us, perhaps even without realizing it, are discouraging these Mikes and these blind beggars?

“Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

ven more to the point, today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves, Who are the Mikes and the blind beggars in our own lives?

E

118

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 150

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


31st Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 6:2–6; Hebrews 7:23–28; Mark 12:28–34

Inseparable Twins You cannot love God, whom you cannot see, if you don’t love your brother, whom you can see.

ather George Anderson served as a chaplain at the maximum security prison at Riker’s Island, New York.

F

He started a prayer-discussion group among some of the prisoners. The group would read a passage from Scripture, like the parable of the good Samaritan or the parable of the prodigal son. The prisoners would then ponder the passage in silence and end by discussing how it applied to their everyday lives. One evening a prisoner named Richard, from a section for the mentally disturbed, was with the group for the first time. Father Anderson describes the episode this way: “It was a windy evening in March. There was little heat in the room. An inmate sitting opposite Richard, having come only in a T-shirt and trousers, was shivering. Richard had come with his shoulders wrapped in two blankets. Then while we were discussing the idea of helping each other, Richard suddenly got up, walked to the other inmate, and put one of his blankets around him.” ichard’s wordless gesture impressed the group more than any words that were spoken. It also made an important point— the same one Jesus makes in today’s gospel: Love of God and love of neighbor go hand in hand. Like two sides of the same coin, they cannot be separated.

R

Year B

In other words, you can’t speak to God lovingly in prayer— as the prisoners were doing in their group— if you don’t treat your neighbor lovingly in action. The Apostle John underscores this point in his First Letter. He says bluntly: “If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others whom we have seen. The commandment that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.” 1 John 4:20–21 piritual writers tell us that Jesus’ command to love our neighbor is so closely linked to his command to love God that if we ignore our brother we will soon ignore God also.

S

In fact, we will soon lose contact with God and our own immortal soul. There’s a popular saying that expresses this point graphically. It says: “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three.” The key to loving contact with God and with our own soul is loving contact with our neighbor. ragically, our failure to love our neighbor often starts with a failure to love in our own family. When we stop reaching out in love to the members of our own family, we inevitably fail to reach out in love to our neighbor.

T

Lectionary 153

4

Ordinary Time

119


And the opposite is just as true. When we reach out in love to members of our own family, we inevitably reach out in love to our neighbor. Love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable twins. Where you find one, you find the other. And where you don’t find one, you won’t find the other. oday’s gospel contains one of the most important questions we can ever ask ourselves.

T

As such, it invites us to ask one of the most important questions we can ever ask ourselves. How loving are we toward the members of our own family? If the answer is “not very loving,” then we are probably not very loving in our approach to our neighbor either. And if we aren’t very loving in our approach to our neighbor, we are probably not very loving in our approach to God. On the other hand if we are loving toward the members of our own family, then we are probably loving to our approach to our neighbor. And if we are loving in our approach to our neighbor, we are probably loving in our approach to God. ome time ago the Dallas Morning News carried a letter from a young woman. It was prompted by the death of her mother. A part of it reads:

S

“When I called Mom on the phone, our conversation was brief and hurried. I feel ashamed when I think of the times I cut her short with, ‘Sorry I have to run.’ . . . “The world is filled with daughters like me. I hope many of them will see this . . . and profit from it.” I’m sure many of us can relate to that young woman’s remarks. We too have treated our parents or our children or people who need our love and affection in a similar way. oday’s gospel is an invitation for us to take inventory of our lives and ask ourselves if, perhaps, we may be like the young woman who wrote the letter that appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

T

If we are, then today’s gospel is a challenge from Jesus himself to do something about it.

L

et’s close by repeating these words from today’s gospel:

“A teacher of the Law . . . came to [Jesus] with a questions: ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ “Jesus replied, ‘The most important one is this: . . . “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. . . .” The second most important commandment is this: “Love your neighbor as your love yourself.” There is no other commandment more important than these two.’ ”

“Mom lived nearby. It would have been easy for me to drop in for a cup of tea and a hug. . . . 120

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 153

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


All Saints Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; 1 John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12

In Their Footsteps The saints preserved the faith for us and act as guides for us in our own faith journey.

bout 60 years after the birth of Jesus, a great fire broke out in Rome. It burned for over a week. Rumors spread that Emperor Nero had ordered the fire. He wanted to destroy the old city of Rome, rebuild a new one, and name it after himself.

A

Nero did his utmost to stop the rumors, but they refused to die. Finally, in desperation, he seized upon a scapegoat to blame. He falsely accused the Christian community in Rome of starting the fire. Nero’s accusation touched off a religious persecution that lasted for nearly 300 years. One Roman historian describes the persecution in Nero’s time this way: “The Christians were treated with unusual brutality. Some were dressed in animal skins and torn apart by enraged dogs. Others were put on crosses and, at night, burned as torches to light the darkness.” To protect themselves and to be able to practice their religion, many Christians literally went underground. They dug elaborate networks of tunnels in the soft volcanic subsoil of Rome. Some of these remarkable tunnels extended for miles and were designed like mazes to confuse the authorities. Today, some of these caves, called catacombs, are popular tourist sites in Rome. Year B

It was in these underground tunnels that Christians celebrated Mass, baptized their young, and buried their dead. Saint Jerome says in his writings that as a boy he and his friends used to play in the catacombs. Centuries after Saint Jerome, Roman boys still played in the catacombs. One day a group of boys was wandering through the maze of tunnels. Suddenly their only flashlight gave out. The boys were trapped in total darkness with no idea of the way out. They were on the verge of panic when one boy felt a smooth groove in the rock floor of the tunnel. It turned out to be a path that had been worn smooth by the feet of thousands of Christians in the days of the Roman persecutions. The boys followed the footsteps of these saints of old and found their way out of the darkness into sunlight and safety.

W

e spent some time on that story for two reasons.

First, it shows the tremendous price our Christian forefathers paid for their faith. Had they not paid this price, many of us would not be Christians today. Second, the story of the boys in the catacombs acts as a kind of parable showing us how the saints of old can still play an important role in our lives. Many of us are like the boys in the catacombs. We are lost. We are confused by conflicting opinions of what is right and what is wrong. We are stumbling around in the darkness, not sure of which path to follow. It’s right here that story of the boys in the catacombs acts as a parable for us. Lectionary 667

4

All Saints

121


The boys found a path on the floor of the tunnel that has been worn smooth by the footsteps of the saints centuries before them. By following the footsteps of the saints, they were able to find their way out of the darkness of the catacombs into the brightness of the day.

And the high soul climbs the high way; and the low soul gropes the low; and in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.

In a similar way, we too can follow in the footsteps of the saints. We too can find our way out of the darkness and confusion of our time into the light of the day.

The Feast of All Saints invites us to have the courage to imitate the saints and to choose the high way.

A

nd so the Feast of All Saints serves two important purposes for us.

“But to every person there opens a way, a high way and a low. And every person decides the way his soul shall go.”

If we do, we will someday find ourselves in the company of the saints in heaven and share their happiness for ever and ever.

First, it reminds us of the great debt of gratitude we owe to the saints of old, who preserved our Catholic faith for us. Second, it reminds us that by imitating these saints and following in their footsteps, we too can find our way through the darkness of this world into the brightness of God’s presence. he saints were not extraordinary people. On the contrary, they were ordinary people like us. They were people who lived their ordinary lives in an extraordinary way.

T

Let’s close by paraphrasing John Oxenham’s poem “The Way.” It sums up the invitation and the challenge that the Feast of All Saints holds out to each one of us: “To every person there opens a way: a high way and a low.

122

All Saints

4

Lectionary 667

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


32nd Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:10–16; Hebrews 9:24–28; Mark 12:41–44

Three Givers Grudge givers say, “I hate to”; duty givers say, “I ought to”; thanks givers say, “I want to.”

ne night years ago a cloudburst stranded a newlywed couple on a remote country road. Unable to go any farther, they got out of their car and set out on foot toward a dimly lit farmhouse.

O

When they reached the farmhouse, an elderly couple, carrying a kerosene lamp, met them at the door. Explaining their predicament, the young man asked: “Could you put us up until morning? A place on the floor or a few easy chairs would be fine.” Just then a few grains of rice slipped from the young lady’s hair and fell to the floor. The elderly couple glanced down at it and exchanged a knowing glance. “Why surely, children,” said the elderly woman. “We just happen to have a spare bedroom. You get your things from the car while my husband and I freshen it up a bit.” The next morning the newlyweds got up early and prepared to leave without disturbing the elderly couple. They dressed quietly, put a ten-dollar bill on the dresser, and tiptoed down the stairs. When they opened the door to the living room, they found the old couple asleep in chairs. They’d given the newlyweds their only bedroom. The young man had his wife wait a minute while he tiptoed back upstairs and put another five dollars on the dresser. Year B

hat story is a modern illustration of the beautiful story of the widow in today’s gospel.

T

Like the widow in the gospel, the elderly couple gave not from their surplus and what they could spare. Rather, they gave from their own meager resources. Moreover, in both cases they gave not only generously but also joyfully and from the heart. t has been said that there are three kinds of givers: grudge givers, duty givers, and thanks givers.

I

Grudge givers say, “I hate to give”; duty givers say, “I ought to give”; thanks givers say, “I want to give.” In other words grudge givers give reluctantly and with a certain amount of resentment. Duty givers give reluctantly too, but with a sense of true obligation. Thanks givers, on the other hand, give freely and from the heart. The story of the widow in today’s gospel and the story of the elderly couple in the farmhouse are both beautiful examples of thanksgiving. Neither gave under constraint. Neither gave under obligation. Both gave from the heart. he two stories invite us to ask ourselves how we give. Do we give grudgingly? Do we give dutifully? Or do we give because we want to?

T

And here we are not just talking about giving money. We are also talking about giving of ourselves and of our time. Lectionary 156

4

Ordinary Time

123


For example, how do we give of ourselves and our time to God, in Sunday worship and daily prayer? How do we give ourselves and our time to the members of our own family, in support and affection? How do we give of ourselves and our time to our neighbor, in concern and service? Do we give grudgingly, because we have to— because if we don’t give we will be criticized or penalized in some way?

For he has reminded us elsewhere in the Gospel: “Give to others, and god will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping poured into your hands— all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.” Luke 6:38

Do we give dutifully out of a sense of obligation? That is, would we rather not give but feel obligated to do so?

L

Or do we give thankfully, because we want to? That is, do we give with a generous and full heart as did the widow in the gospel and the elderly couple in the story?

We ask for a drop of water; he gives us an ocean.

here’s one more point about the giving of ourselves that we might think about.

T

It’s that we can give of ourselves in different ways to different people. We might put it this way:

et’s close with a brief meditation on how God gives so generously to us:

We ask for a flower; he gives us a bouquet.

We ask for a grain of sand; he gives us a beach. We ask for a blade of grass; he gives us a lawn. We ask for something to eat; he gives us his own body and blood.

“The best gift to an enemy is forgiveness, to a friend is loyalty, to a child is good example, to a father is honor, to a mother is our heart, and to a neighbor is our hand.” (Inspired by Francis Balfour)

f our giving is less than it should be— if it is less than that of the widow in the gospel, or if it is less than that of the elderly couple in the story— then Jesus is speaking to us in a special way, directly and personally, in today’s gospel.

I

124

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 156

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


33rd Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 12:1–3; Hebrews 10:11–14, 18; Mark 13:24–32

Second Chance In the end, only two things will matter: the service we have rendered to others and love.

he film Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is the story of a man about to be hanged. Enemy soldiers march him out to a bridge across Owl Creek. They take a board and place it so that half if it rests on the bridge and the other half extends over the edge of the bridge.

T

Then one of the soldiers stands on the half that rests on the bridge, and the condemned man is made to walk out and stand on the half that extends over the edge of the bridge. Next, the man’s hands and legs are tied, and a rope is dropped from the top of the bridge and put around the man’s neck. When everything is ready, the commanding officer barks the order. The soldier steps off the board and the condemned man plunges downward with the rope around his neck. Then something strange happens. The rope breaks, and the condemned man goes plummeting into the river far below. Dow, down into the water he sinks. As he does, he’s aware that he’s alive and struggles to free his hands and feet. Miraculously, he manages to untie himself. Realizing he has a second chance at life, the man begins to swim down the river. As he does, he passes a tree branch floating in the water. He is struck by the beauty of the leaves on the branch. He marvels a the intricate pattern of veins in the leaves. Year B

Then the man sees a spider spinning a web. He is struck by the beauty of the web and the tiny drops of water clinging to it like sparkling diamonds. He feels the wetness of the water on his body. He looks up and sees the blueness of the sky. Never has the world looked so beautiful to him. Suddenly the soldiers on the bridge begin to fire at the man. He fights his way through a hail of bullets, past a water snake, and over a waterfall. Finally, he swims ashore totally exhausted. He drops to the sand and rolls over and over. He looks up and sees a flower. He crawls over to it and smells it. Everything is so beautiful; it’s so great to be alive. Then a bullet whistles through the trees, and the man leaps to his feet and begins to run. He runs and runs until he comes to a house with a white fence around it. The gate swings open mysteriously. The man can’t believe his eyes. He is back home safe. He calls his wife’s name, and she comes running out of the house, arms outstretched to greet him. Just as they embrace, the camera takes us back to Owl Creek Bridge. This time, we can’t believe our eyes. We see the body of the same man plunge downward with the rope around his neck. Then we see his body swinging back and forth, back and forth. The man is dead. We are left stunned. All the effort, the running, the second chance were pure make-believe. The man had not escaped after all. He merely imagined that he had in the split second as he fell to his death. He merely imagined that he had gotten a second chance at life— a life he suddenly saw in a different way, a life he suddenly saw through new eyes. For the first time, the man saw the world for what it is— a beautiful place. Lectionary 159

4

Ordinary Time

125


For the first time, the man saw life for what it is— a precious gift to be shared with those we love. How differently the man would have lived his new life if he had really escaped and had really been given a second chance! his raises a question. What did the author have in mind when he wrote his story? What message did he want to communicate?

T

“[They saw in the final analysis that only two things matter:] the service you render others and love. All those things we think are important, like fame, money, prestige, and power, are insignificant.” This observation tallies perfectly with what Jesus taught in his lifetime. He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve.” Mark 10:45 He also said, “Love one another, just as I love you.” John 15:12 oday’s gospel invites us to reflect on the moment when we will meet Jesus at the end of our lives or at the end of the world— whichever comes first. It invites us to ask ourselves: How satisfied will we be at that moment with the quality of our service and love?

To put it in another way, why did the author deliberately mislead us? Why did he build us up for such a terrible letdown? Why did he lead us to believe that the man got a second chance at life?

T

think one thing he had in mind was the same thing Jesus had in mind in today’s gospel. The author of the story is telling us:

I

Unlike the man in the story, we have a second chance to prepare for that hour—beginning right now. What will we do with our second chance?

“The man in my story is also you! The condemned man in my story didn’t get his second chance at life, but you have shared his experience, and you do have a second chance.”

Will we sincerely try to make an effort to love, as Jesus did? Will we sincerely try to make an effort to serve, as Jesus did?

The author is saying to us: “The hour will come when you will die, as that man did. No one knows when that hour will be, but it will come, as it did for that man.” ome years ago Dr. Kubler-Ross of the University of Chicago wrote a book called Death and Dying. It grew out of her work with terminally ill people. Commenting on their feelings about life as they looked back on it at the moment of death, she writes:

S

126

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 159

Only we can answer that question. The answer we give is important. It could be the most important answer we will ever give to any question. et’s close by listening to a passage from Weldon Johnson’s book God’s Trombones. In the passage Johnson describes the death of a saintly woman:

L

“She saw what we couldn’t see; she saw Old Death. She saw Old Death coming like a falling star. But death didn’t frighten Sister Caroline; he looked to her like a welcome friend. And she whispered to us: ‘I’m going home.’ And she smiled and closed her eyes.” Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


34th Sunday (Christ the King) Deuteronomy 7:13–14; Revelation 1:5–8; John 18:33–37

Kierkegaard’s Parable Christ the King became one of us, to serve us and to teach us to serve one another.

oren Kierkegaard was a philosopher and theologian who lived in Denmark about 150 years ago. In one of his books there’s a story about a king who fell in love with a peasant girl.

S

The king knew that it was next to impossible for him to marry the girl. Kings never married peasants. They always married royalty.

The king finally decided that he loved the peasant girl so much that he would risk everything to make true love between them possible. ierkegaard never told how the story ended. He never told whether the girl accepted the king’s love or rejected it. He never told whether they got married and lived happily ever after.

K

Kierkegaard had two reasons for not telling how the story ended. First, that’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is the king’s love for the lowly peasant girl. It was so great that he renounced his royalty and his throne for her.

But another thought occurred to him. If he married the peasant girl and stayed king, there would always be something missing in their relationship.

The second reason why Kierkegaard never told how the story ended is that the story is not yet ended. It’s still going on. It’s a true story, whose ending has not yet been written. It’s the true story of God’s love for each one of us. The king in his story is God; the girl in the story is each one of us.

The girl would always admire the king, but she could never really love him. The gap between them would be too great. She would always be conscious of the fact that he was royalty and she was merely a lowly peasant.

There are two differences, however. First, God is more than royalty; he is divinity. Second, God’s love for us is infinite; he loves us more than the king could ever love the peasant girl.

So the king decided on another plan. He decided that he would resign his kingship and become a lowly peasant himself. Then he would offer his love to her as one lowly peasant to another.

But the rest of the story is exactly the same. God could have loved us and kept his divine status. But that would have made the gap between us too great. It would be hard for us to love God freely.

But this king was so powerful that he knew he could marry the girl and get away with it.

The king realized, of course, that if he did this, the situation could backfire. He could lose not only his kingship but the girl as well. She might reject him, especially if she thought him foolish for doing what he did. And so, the king had a problem. What should he do? Year B

So God decided to become one of us. In the person of Jesus Christ, he decided to become a lowly human being. He decided to declare his love for us in a way that would not overpower us. He decided to declare his love for us in a way that we could understand perfectly and respond to freely. Lectionary 162

4

Ordinary Time

127


And this leads us to the second reason why Kierkegaard never told how the story ended. It’s because the love story between God and us is still going on. It’s because the love story between God and us is not yet ended. Each one of us is in the process of writing his or her own personal ending to that story. Each one of us is in the process of deciding whether we’ll accept God’s love or reject it. Each one of us is in the process of deciding whether we’ll live happily with god for ever after. esus Christ is indeed a powerful king who became like us so that he could love us and serve us. “The Son of Man,” says Jesus, “did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” Mark 10:45

J

Paul refers to this incredible mystery this way in his Letter to the Philippians: “Christ Jesus . . . always had the nature of God, but . . . of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being. . . . “For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name. “And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5–11

H

ow can we reduce all this into some practical application for our lives?

Right after we were baptized the priest took holy oil and anointed our head, saying this prayer: 128

Ordinary Time

4

Lectionary 162

“As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.” In other words, each one of us, by baptism, shares in the kingship of Christ, our head. And so, we can make this practical application. Christ can no longer walk about on our earth, teaching people and healing them as he used to. He can do that only through his body. We are Christ’s hands; we are his feet; we are his tongue; we are his heart. In other words, the kingdom of God, established by Jesus in his lifetime, must be completed by us in our lifetime. And so, the Feast of Christ the King invites us to ask ourselves, What are we, personally and concretely, doing to bring to completion the kingdom of God on earth? t the end of time Jesus will return as king. Matthew says in his Gospel: “When the Son of Man comes as King . . . he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. “Then he will divide them into two groups. . . . He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left. “Then he will divide them into two groups. . . . He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left. “Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! . . . I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me . . . naked and you clothed me. . . . “ ‘Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me’’ Matthew 25:31–36, 40

A

Sunday Homilies Series I by Mark Link, S.J. © 1988 Mark Link

Year B


Sunday Homilies Year B