THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

Mk 9:2-10

Dear Friends, Our task for Lent is clear. This is a time to free our hearts and to enter more deeply into to the great mystery of our faith, the boundless act of God’s love in or crucified Savior.

The somber message of Lent and the glory of the Transfiguration offer us a challenge similar to the challenge of the total message of Jesus. We are trying to grasp how death opens up to life.

When Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29), Peter answered, “The Messiah.” (Mk 8:29) No doubt, Peter thought he had arrived safely at the conclusion of his search. Then Jesus lays the Jerusalem journey with the Cross and death on poor Peter. He felt confused and bewildered. Suffering and God, Messiah and failure were opposites he was ready to unite.

We share Peter’s confusion when we try to equate our belief in an all- loving and an all-powerful God and the horrors we hear and see daily in the news and the experience in our lives. If we are honest and open to the uttlerly harsh depth of violence and hatred, the insanity of war and ambiguity of nature’s horrors, we have to ask, How can this be?

This is the ultimate question about the broken and sinful condition of humankind. It seems history is an endless display of human evil and savagery. This happens with full-blown consistency on a personal level and, in the case of climate change, it involves the whole world. How can this be? The hunger and thirst of millions is right in front of us while we continually look for new places to store our grain? The picture of the children of Gaza stretching out their little pans for a spoonful of food leads us to the question, How can this be? In a few months it will be similar story in new place coming to us on the nightly news.

God has only one answer to this repeating and universal horror. His beloved Son has entered into the consequences of sin from our first parents that unleased this persistent evil. The result was not an explanation we can put into our textbooks. It was the reality of the Crucified Christ so that we can ask in a new way and with new wonder, How can this be? How can our God suffer and die for all of us, both good and bad?

The Cross was the way God has responded to the curse of theall-pervading evil of human experience. In the Crucified Christ, God has given the answer to the ruthless destruction and waste of war, the ravages of climate change, the persistence of racism and sexism, the constant presence of the majority of humankind living in poverty and our enduring ability to discover new ways to degrade our brothers and sisters.

It is through that Crucified Christ that we must confront these expressions of evil whether that be personal like the death of a child or communal like the repeating gun violence in our nation. Christ assumed them all in his death and passage to the new reality of the Resurrection. This is God’s final word. This is the victory of love over hatred. This is the conquests of death by life eternal that begins now when we walk in love in the footsteps of Jesus. This is not information that we try to understand but a mystery we live by in the surrender of faith. Lent tells us our footsteps of faith must direct us first to Jeruslam and the Cross and then to new life in love in the Resurrection.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus reaffirms his divinity just as He does on the road to Jerusalem where He will be rejected, suffer and die. So, when the Father says, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (Mt 9:7) we are being called into the Pascal Mystery. This is the key to the placement of the Transfiguration story on this second Sunday of our Lenten journey.

Lent is a time to prepare to celebrate with new joy and hope, stronger faith and growing love, the great mystery of our faith and our life, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

“Listen to Him!” (Mk 9:7) ‘is the task our Lenten journey. It will draw us in freedom into the mystery that is Christ Crucified and Christ Risen.
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FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

Mark 1:12-15

Dear Friends. As we begin our Lenten journey, today’s Gospel sets the story line of Jesus’ life in the most simple and stark terms. It is a contest of good and evil. We need to let the light of the Gospel story open up the depth of our own experience. We, too, find an endless struggle with the “wild beasts” and are in constant need of the angels to minister to us.

There is a very strong word in the beginning of today’s Gospel. The word is “drove”. “The Spirit drove him into the desert.” (Mk 1:12) The word Mark uses to describe what happens to Jesus in the desert indicates that he is tested rather than tempted. This is the same word used to describe the challenge to Abraham with his son, the experience of Moses and the exiles in the desert, and the entire adventure of Job.

It is clear the Spirit is preparing Jesus to face the evil which awaits him in his ministry and, ultimately, in its most naked and shocking form in the passion and death.

Along with the test of evil in the phrase “among the wild beasts” (Mk 1:13), we have the consoling message, “and the angels ministered to him.” (Mk 1:13) This tells us that God is never far away even when we so often find ourselves “among the wild beasts” as is the case in the lives of all of us.

One of the great deceptions of the devil is to lead us to think that we have overcome evil, thinking we have won the battle. This diabolic deception holds the seeds of many distortions and deceits in our journey.

Let me share a story about the environment as an example. In the 1880’s in Chicago there was a serious problem with sewage. From the city’s beginning, they simply let the sewage flow into Lake Michigan, the source of the city’s drinking water. As the city experienced a population explosion, the quantity of sewage expanded rapidly. At the same time, there was an enormous demand for more drinking water. Thousands were dying of typhoid fever because of the sewage in the Lake. Only after years of struggle did the city leaders finally face the need to pay for a new sewage system. In the meanwhile, tens of thousands had died.

The same choices between the quality of life and economic sacrifice is repeated constantaly in our day. We constantly face an option between health and money, life and death. The denial is most often maintained until we have the bodies to give us proof. This is evil that stays hidden until the end. Yet, it is evil whether we accept it or not. We saw an example of this in our recent encounter with Covid. The simple but life-giving actions of receiving vaccines, wearing a mask and keeping social distancing during the pandemic saved lives.

This is what Jesus’ Gospel is about. We are given a choice between good and evil. We have a role to play in the coming of the Kingdom, which is God’s plan for the world and reality. “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk 1:15)

Jesus invites us to enter the struggle between good and evil. Jesus calls us to change and to accept his call to embrace the Good News. Jesus wants us to know the angels will be on hand to help us as we journey in his footsteps.

In today’s gospel, a passage at the very beginning of Mark, we have two basic facts about the Christian message. The time is at hand and the kingdom has arrived. This means we have the responsibility to change our life. We need to repent. Likewise, we need to believe the Good News of God’s love revealed in Jesus. We are challenged to change our way of living. We need to put God at the center. It is a clear issue of God’s reign and our response in new openness of heart leading to our Lenten task of service and sacrifice.

On this First Sunday of Lent, the brief Gospel passage lays out a challenge for us to walk with Jesus in the unending battle of good and evil. We need to use the time of Lent in sacrifice, service and prayer to open the eyes of our heart to see the depth and power of evil in our personal life and in our world. Like Jesus, the wild beasts are never far from us. The greatest danger is to fail to recognize them. Lent is a time to open up our eyes and our heart to Jesus’ command, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mk 1:15)
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SIXTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

Mark 1:40-45

It is important to understand the context of lepers in the time of Jesus. They were designated lepers by any major skin disease. Only some had the key contagious disease we call leprosy today. Secondly, they had to live in isolation with no contact with the community. This included total isolation from family, worship and work. Therefore, they were beggars and abandoned at all levels as the awaited a painful and slow death.

The first five words of today’s gospel text are very explosive. “A leper came to Jesus…” (Mk 1:40) For a leper to approach a person other than another leper was a life threatening adventure for the diseased individual. People considered the ailment both deadly and easily contagious. Therefore, they justified whatever was necessary to protect themselves and their loved ones.

In today’s episode and other events to follow in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus was taking on the task of humanizing the distortion of the purity laws. In fact, there was a deeper realty taking place. There was an on-going transfer of the place of holiness from the Temple to the person of Jesus.

In his desperation, the poor leper realized Jesus was the source of something special. Not only does he approach Jesus in a breach of the purity laws, he dares to beg for a cure. “If you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mk 1:40) Jesus responds by touching him, an even more shattering defiance of the purity laws.

This encounter between Jesus and the leper goes much deeper than a compassionate healing miracle. Jesus is revealing a new source of purity in his person. Jesus is launching an unprecedented attack on the prevailing demonic power. He also is attacking the rigid control of the Jewish leaders and their manipulation of the purity laws.

Then it gets interesting. The leper has this incredible experience of a totally new life in front of him. Jesus seems not to share his joy and warns him sternly with the command, “See that you tell no one anything but go show yourself to the priest.” (Mk 1:44)

The leper was not up for the program of silence and containment. “He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” (Mk 1:45)

This same request of Jesus for silence about his healing power is related in many ways in Mark’s stories. It deals with the basic nature of Jesus’ mission. He did not come to do wonders even if he healed the leper, fed the 5000, let the blind see and so many other marvelous expressions of healing and freedom.

Jesus saw the larger issue. He realized that not all the lepers were being cleansed nor all the blind were receiving sight nor all the hungry were being fed. He understood that His mission was to address a much more fundamental and totally pervasive reality. He was confronting evil. He saw that the conclusion of His mission would lead Him to Jerusalem and to the Cross and the death that would be the ultimate victory.

The entire Gospel of Mark plays out this central struggle of what kind of Messiah Jesus was to be. The leper today and the disciples in the unveiling of the rest of the Gospel are seeking a wonder worker and a person of prestige, power and privilege. They want a popular Messiah who, no doubt, would make their life share in the prestige, power and privilege of Jesus.

Jesus had a totally different vision of his mission. His message was one of service and sacrifice. He modeled the true victory in the apparent ultimate defeat. It was only at the foot of the cross that the full revelation was unveiled when the centurion said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mk 15:39)

Mark invites us continually to struggle with the deeper image of Jesus that is so foreign to our seeking Jesus to fix our problems and give us special blessings. Mark tells us we will all participate in the ultimate healing beyond our wildest dreams and far beyond the leper’s wondrous cure. However, to do so, we have to take up our cross, we have to lose our life and we have to follow Jesus to Jerusalem on the passage to the fullness of life in the Father’s Kingdom.
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GOSPEL CHARACTERS-5 (SAINT MATTHEW)


The Canaanite Woman’s Prayer 

These various reflection on Gospel characters hopes to show the importance of deep personal prayer.
In some examples, the absence of this prayer is also insightful.


I

The Story’s Background in Matthew’s Gospel


All the Evangelists told the story of Jesus out of the context of their own community. Matthew’s community was a group of Jewish Christians struggling for their own identity as both Jews and followers of Christ.

They saw themselves as the true Jews. They accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah fulfilling the hope of centuries of Jewish longings for salvation foretold to Abraham and Moses. Matthew’s faithful Jewish community understood God’s saving action in the Law of Moses and the teachings of Jesus. They recognized one consistent message of deliverance from evil.

However, they faced a two-fold dilemma. First, the majority of the Jews rejected Jesus and, in fact, rejected them in their commitment to Christ. They had been dismissed and persecuted as unfaithful to the common acceptance of the Jewish faith. Secondly, great numbers of Gentiles were accepting Jesus as the t rue Savior of all humankind.

Matthew wrote his Gospel for the community in the midst of a massive identity crisis. Were they true representatives of the Jewish heritage? Was Jesus the true Messiah and leader? Were they called to leave their Jewish heritage and join the growing numbers of Gentile followers of Christ now called Christians?

Matthew offers an answer to this dilemma in his Gospel. He portrays Jesus, first and foremost, as the fulfillment of the Law and longings of the Jewish people. Matthew is unequivocal. The hope rooted in the stories and tradition of the Patriarchs, Moses, David and the prophets was fulfilled in Jesus

At the same time, Matthew offers an opening to the universality of God’s saving power in Jesus. Matthew’s development of the Gospel has a gradual opening to the Gentile world. At the very beginning, there are four Gentile women in the genealogy. Then there is the presence of the Magi in the infancy narrative. This is followed by the miracle healings in the stories of the centurion’s servant and the Canaanite’s daughter. At the foot of the Cross, we again have a centurion speaking the truth of Jesus’ identity. Finally, at the conclusion, as Jesus prepares to ascend to the Father, we have the final mandate to preach the Gospel to all the world.

Matthew presents a very sensitive and insightful image of Jesus that addresses this opening to the boundless gift of salvation for all. Matthew’s guidance to his Jewish brothers and sisters was not the centuries old choice of “us or them”. It was a clear and joyful declaration of the reality that all humanity are truly children of God.

This was an answer to the people who were grappling to interpret a God-given, centuries old identity as the Chosen People. The story of the Canaanite woman captures that struggle of the people in the story of Jesus’ own struggle with the awesome woman of faith and courage.

II

A Woman of Faith and Courage from the Gentiles
A Brief summary of the Text (Mt 15:21-28)


There are three characters in the scene:

  1. Jesus had just finished a conflict with the Jewish leaders stressing that the Law was about the heart not legalities. He was moving toward a Gentile area to seek some rest and quiet.
  2. The disciples were anxious to get rid of the woman and her annoying determination to get help from Jesus.
  3. Then there was the Canaanite woman. Her insistence was rooted in her pain and driven by compassion for her daughter. She saw in Jesus the true answer to her immediate prayers. At a deeper level, she perceived a true savior.

In the woman’s first cry for help Jesus completely ignores her anguish. The disciples plead with Jesus to dismiss her. The benign interpretation of this plea is the removal by healing the daughter. The more realistic view would be in tune with the common prejudice of the day. She was a Gentile. She was a woman. She deserved no attention.

Jesus’ first response is to the disciples. He told them his mission was the Chosen People not the Gentiles.

Next, there is one of the most touching scenes in all of the Gospels. The woman acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, kneels before Jesus in total vulnerability and says, “Lord, help me.” (Mt 15:25)

Jesus is still resistant. He says, “It is not right to take the bread of children and throw it to the dogs.” (Mt 15:26)

There has been an enormous amount of ink spent over the centuries trying to give a gentle and satisfying interpretation to Jesus’ use of the accepted Jewish word for Gentiles: dogs. Whatever the true explanation, the woman wins the day with her brilliant response, “Please Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” (Mt 15:27)

In a critical point in all of Christian history, Jesus accepts the plea of the Gentile woman and reveals God’s love for all humankind in his words. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that time.” (Mt 15:28)

Much more than most Gospel passages, the story of this special Gentile woman has received seemingly countless interpretations. One of the most insightful and sensitive is Matthew’s kindhearted understanding of his community’s problems with the Gentile issue. Matthew has Jesus mirror the struggle of his community in addressing the tortuous issue of accepting the Gentiles. In Matthew’s construction of the story, Jesus is shown in his own uncertainty. Yet he changes and accepts the faith of the woman. He shatters the Gentile barrier. His example encourages and supports his Jewish followers to both castoff their own resistance and to embrace the deeper world of God’s love for all.

III

A Woman of Prayer


Upon deeper reflection, the wonderful person of faith that is the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel, offers us some excellent traits needed to be a person of deep personal prayer.

  • First and foremost, she moved beyond herself. Her emphasis was service.
  • The complaint of the disciples, whether benign or ignorant, could easily have led her to see herself as a victim. She stayed the course, stressing not her personal hurt, but the urgent need of her daughter.
  • She was in a Jewish world. She was a foreigner. She was a woman. Nevertheless, she maintained her dignity.
  • With all these truly burdensome obstacles, she always kept her eyes on Jesus.

Her determination drove her beyond the labels of the situation. She did not get lost in her being a woman or Gentile or a victim. She did not let the label of Jew or Gentile, saved or lost, Chosen People or pagans, impede her determination to express her concerns before God. Stripped of all labels, she stood free in the ultimate reality as a creature before God. She accepted her helplessness and expressed her trust and faith as a child of the all -loving God.

If we reflect on her simplicity and helplessness, we have a marvelous model as we seek a life of deep personal prayer.
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FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

Mark 1:29-39

Dear Friends, The seemingly breathless activity of Jesus takes place in in the framework of an ordinary day. The series of teachings, exorcisms and miracles were, in fact, a declaration of the coming of the long-awaited kingdom of God. The people at that time saw the exorcisms and healings as an open attack on the reigning power of the demons.

Here are a few major points that will be helpful in understanding these initial actions of Jesus:

  • The teachings, exorcisms and healings clearly signaled the coming of the kingdom.
  • This new reality demands that people must recognize the need for personal change. Personal attitudes and false values are often an obstacle to the coming of the kingdom.
  • Jesus holds the key to overcoming the reign of evil in the longstanding dominance of the demonic powers.
  • Early on, it is clear that the disciples’ understanding of Jeus is quite deficient. The question of what kind of Messiah Jesus was to be is a critical question in all of the Gospels, especially Mark.

There is one aspect of today’s Gospel that bothered me for a long time. The verse says, “Then the fever left her and she waited on them.” (Mk 1:31)

I did not feel very good about the mother-in-law getting right out of the sick bed to wait on them. It seemed a bit much to me. I thought they should wait on her.

As is so often the case, deeper study of the Scriptures opens up new and powerful insights. In this case, the service of the mother-in-law is related to a central theme of Jesus’ teaching in Mark. The word used to describe the action of Peter’s mother-in-law is used at critical points later on to describe a true disciple. The mother-in-law, as a new disciple, must respond to the call of the kingdom in service.

Jesus uses the same word to describe a true disciple when John and James ask to sit at his right and left. He says, “for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)

The next time the word used to describe the mother-in-law’s action is at the time of the passion. In portraying the faithful women who did not flee but stayed near the Cross, Mark has this to say about them: “These women had followed Him when he was in Galilee and ministered to Him.” (Mk 15:41)

In these three instances, among several examples, of the description of service, we have a clear picture of what Jesus wants from His disciples: a life of service for the brothers and sisters.

From the beginning to the final stages of Mark’s Gospel, the disciples struggle to understand Jesus’ teachings. In the Garden, they flee. Their failure is crystallized in Peter’s three denials.

Mark’s Gospel gives us a powerful picture of the broken humanity of the twelve disciples. Their vision was rooted in their longing for privilege and power, not service. They struggle mightily and painfully before they grasp the contradiction between their misguided understanding of the Messiah and the clear and demanding reality of the suffering Christ.

Mark uses them to give us an image of ourselves. It is no small task to accept Jesus’ teaching about the cross. “He summoned the crowd and his disciples and said to them, ‘whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.’ ”(Mk 8:34-35)

Peter’s mother-in-law got it. Let us hope, like Peter and the disciples, we too, will eventually get the message.
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THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

Mark 1: 21-28

Dear Friends, This opening exorcism of Mark’s Gospel, the first of Jesus’ signs and miracles, goes far beyond an act of kindness to a deeply afflicted individual. Mark uses today’s passage to set the scene for the dramatic story of his Gospel. It is a story of the ultimate conflict of good and evil. It will conclude with the drama of the final victory of righteousness in the apparent defeat of Jesus in his death on the Cross. Of course, in the Resurrection, we have the final and absolute victory over evil and the source of eternal hope.

For the Jews at the time of Jesus, the demons were much more pervasive expression of evil than depicted in the possession of an individual. Demons represented all that was evil, all that restrained the freedom of the people. This bondage was especially manifested in sickness, the disasters of nature and the brutal power of the repressive Roman regime.

Jesus’ casting out of the devil from the man possessed was a powerful sign of the coming of the new age. It was an expression of God’s rule coming in the person of Jesus. Equally important in today’s Gospel story is the teaching of Jesus. The goodness and truth of God were so much part of Jesus’ teachings that the demons cried out in fear and horror.

The entire first half of Mark’s Gospel will build upon this diabolic encounter. It will develop the growing question of the identity of Jesus (Mk 1:21-8:21) Just as for the first followers of Jesus, we today are all being invited to respond to the awesome question, “Who do you say that I am?” (MK 8:21)

When Jesus said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk 1:15) the battle between good and evil was on. He came to cast out all that restrains the freedom of all of us. He came to release us from oppressing diabolic presence in our midst. The “devils” of our day come in all different sizes and forms in our personal lives: the seductive illusions of consumerism, the grandiosity of our egoism so often out of control, the lure of power and money, the expression of sex that neither enhances life nor love, the horror of addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling and so many other false gods of our day. Then there is the area of mental health that can be so fragile and so destructive when it fails to be an expression of healthy freedom.

Likewise, the “demons” of our social and economic lives destroy our freedom: unemployment, economic injustice in the distribution of society’s goods and opportunities, the violence bred by the abuse of drugs. Just think of the billions of dollars wasted on the tragedy and insanity of the wars in Gaza and Ukraine. This money could go the alleviate poverty and fund our efforts to create a clean environment. These evils, and so many more, are symbolized in the conflict of Jesus and the demon.

The key component of this conflict of good and evil is the freedom that Jesus brings to the possessed man. He opens for us that opportunity of freedom also when He proclaims, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk 1:15) So often, the burdens and conflicts of our lives seem so out of control, so beyond our ability to manage them. It seems our freedom is lost and we are possessed by the circumstances of our broken relationships whether personal and social and economic. Today’s Gospel tells us all is not lost. Hope opens the way to new positive horizons. We need to turn to Jesus in faith, trust and surrender. He will, again, set us free of the demons that oppress us. True gospel freedom demands that we listen to and accept the One who offers “a new teaching with authority.” (Mk 1:27) We need to ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk 1:15).
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THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

Mark 1:14-20

Dear Friends, Today we begin this year’s journey with the wisdom and treasures of Mark’s Gospel. When Jesus proclaims the presence of the long awaited kingdom, He unites it to a call for conversion, a change of heart and a change of life for all of us.

The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was rooted in the long passage of the past Jewish experience from Abraham to Moses to David and the prophets. It was also a call into the future. It would be the fulfillment of God’s plan to return us to our original innocence where God’s love reigns over all, both the human heart and the historical reality.

This special plan of God takes place in history where both life and death along with sin and grace are in constant battle. God’s call to justice and love will win out. This is the kingdom Jesus was proclaiming.

In the call of the first disciples, Jesus shows us what is most fundamental to the necessary repentance and conversion. The call is an invitation to a personal relationship with Jesus. He is to be our friend and teacher. He is the greatest gift of the kingdom. Our call is to walk with Jesus. This goes before all rules and practices of our faith. We are called to a radical transformation of mind and heart. The repentance will be a continual and crescendoing process of encountering God’s love in Jesus. Our faithfulness to Jesus urges us on to proclaim the reign of God. As we let God’s grace take over in our hearts, our life becomes a witness to this healing presence of God. Equally important, this presence of God flows from the tension of the personal and historical. It is a process of personal transformation and the renovating power of justice and peace in the social, economic and political lives of suffering humanity.

Mark’s story of Peter and the other disciples is a story of hope and failure, of broken dreams and deeper acceptance of flawed human experience. It opens up to the mystery of divine love. It is a journey filled with the stuff of life in its fear and confusion, its wonder and joy. It rides the roller coaster of the feeding of the five thousand and the Transfiguration along with the denials in the courtyard. The yes to Jesus is always packaged in our human frailty but embraced by a patient and ever-forgiving Savior.

The message for us today is to seek a relationship with Jesus. We need to go beyond the words of the song, “What a Friend I Have in Jesus” to a way of life filled with trust and longing. We need to be ready for the question asked of Peter, “Who do you say I am?” (Mk 8:29) Like Peter, we will have more than our share of difficulty in understanding the command to take up our Cross and follow Jesus to Jerusalem. Also, like Peter, true faithfulness will ultimately show us that Jesus knows best what we need and what our world needs.

This relationship with Jesus must go through many different stages as we learn not only who Jesus is but who we are. Our vulnerability and weakness will blossom in our self-awareness. This gift of self-knowledge will help us to really recognize who Jesus is and how much we need Him in the journey of life. We will slowly discover that it is not in our heroic deeds but in our openness and surrender to Jesus that we will truly be proclaimers of God’s reign. Discipleship is primarily a surrender to Jesus. The only passage into true discipleship is the way of love.

As we grow in this deep-seated relationship and communion with Jesus, our hearts will open up to the second part of the call: to share the gift, to be “fishers of men.” (Mk 1:17)
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SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

John 1:35-42

Dear Friends, As we begin Ordinary Time once again, we have the opportunity to answer the question, what is a Gospel? It is neither a life of Jesus nor a summary of His teachings. A Gospel is the opportunity to encounter Jesus in faith. We now can meet Jesus in our weekly liturgy just as the disciples did when He walked the dusty roads of Galilee. He teaches, heals and calls us just as He proclaimed the Good News to the first believers.

John’s passage today has two fundamental questions for us as we prepare to encounter Jesus in faith. The first is, “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38) This touches the deep hunger in every human heart. Jesus’ question is a challenge and a call to discipleship.

We are all looking for happiness. It is a lifelong search with seemingly endless dead-ends of frustration, confusion and pain. Yet the burning desire persists. We will find true healing and satisfaction for our troubled heart in walking with Jesus as a disciple. God shows us the way of discipleship in our life’s responsibilities and relationships, by the signs of the times and the ever-present cry of the poor and, more alarmingly in our day, the cry of the earth.

Jesus follows his initial question with a simple invitation and call, “Come and you will see.” (Jn 1:39) Jesus knows the human heart was made for God and, in the end, it will only be satisfied and fulfilled when it finds and embraces God. By his invitation, Jesus is showing us that God desires our presence. God is engaged in our life. God is calling us to an intimacy that opens the world and its wonders in a new and marvelous way.

Our liturgical journey this year is primarily with the Jesus of St. Mark’s Gospel. We are invited to “Come and see.” We are called to have an encounter with Jesus, an encounter of faith just as real as Andrew and Peter in today’s Gospel.

In his command to join him, Jesus was offering much more than mere hospitality. Jesus was proposing an invitation to realize the truth, wisdom and freedom in the depth of our hearts. He was offering an answer to the pain and misery, the confusion and darkness of life. He would later explain the call as the way, the life and the truth.

We do not need more information about Jesus. We need to open our heart and our life to him in our daily experience. It is in a growing and deepening relationship with Jesus that we slowly grasp with more clarity and more depth what we are looking for in life. We begin to see the truth that comes from the journey of walking with Jesus.

Once again, as we begin Ordinary Time, the Church invites us to journey with the story of Jesus in St. Mark so we can be set free from the darkness of sin. We are asked to be the leper that is cleansed, the paralytic who is healed and forgiven, the hungry that are fed with the loaves and the fishes. With Peter we need to face the awe-inspiring question of salvation, “Who do you say I am?” (Mk 8:27) We will be told to take up our cross and follow Him to Jerusalem. (Mk 8:34)

Indeed, in so many ways over the coming months, the invitation, “Come and you will see” (Jn 1:39) will help us answer the fundamental question of our human reality, “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38)

It is by coming to Jesus in faith and gradual surrender and remaining with Him and listening afresh to His words and call that we answer His question, “Who do you say I am.” (Mk 8:27) At the same time, we answer the crucial question, “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38) by realizing our own identity as children of God.
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