Today’s Liturgy celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by St. John Baptist in the Jordan River. This feast brings to a close the Christmas Season. Tomorrow we return to the first week in Ordinary Time.
The first reading for today’s Liturgy is taken from Isaiah, the forty-second chapter. Isaiah is describing God’s Servant as one upon whom God has put his Spirit. For Isaiah a servant is one chosen by God and anointed with the Spirit. This idea applies to the Messiah (the Anointed One of God- Jesus) and to God’s people. Let us remember our own double anointing in the Sacrament of Baptism. There we are set aside, marked, consecrated for a holy purpose.
These verses from Isaiah in chapter 42 give the marks of a servant. A mark is a sign of identification. Our different marks identify us. If you see someone 6’10” tall with a full head of bushy hair, that person is not me. Those are not my marks. The marks of a Christian servant are associated with Baptism. They may be referred to as the fruits of Baptism. They identify us as Christians. There are four of them:
The first mark of the Christian servant is gentleness. We see this in verses 2 and 3: “He will be gentle, he will not shout or quarrel in the streets.” Gentleness comes from the Greek word epieikeia which means gentle authority. This has become a legal term in our own day meaning a gentle interpretation of the law as opposed to a strict interpretation. Gentleness and meekness are closely related. The basic idea behind this Greek word is real strength under control, a gentleness that is really strong.
Secondly, the Christian will speak out boldly in order to bring forth justice. Justice here means righteousness, having a right relationship with God and our fellow human beings.
Thirdly, the Christian servant will be aware that being a servant involves costliness. This ministry, this doing the will of the Father, is not going to be all ice cream and apple pie. It is going to involve pain. Isaiah says in verse 14: “he will groan and cry like a woman delivering her child.” Note that this is pain leading to joy, like the pain of giving birth.
Fourthly, is the mark of mightiness. There is nothing weak about the servant. The Christian servant is not a wimp. Rather, they have courage and fortitude. The Christian servant does not bounce all over the place, does not fluctuate from one extreme to the other.
When I reflect on these marks that I should have as a Christian, I shudder. I have a long way to go.
MONDAY of the First Week in Ordinary Time
The Liturgy now returns to Ordinary Time, the First Week, and the Gospel of Mark from now until the beginning of Lent on February 6, Ash Wednesday. There is not much time between Christmas and Lent this year.
We pick up the Gospel of Mark in chapter 1, verse 14. John the Baptist has been arrested by Herod, and Jesus now comes to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God. As you can see from today’s Gospel selection, the first item on his agenda is the calling of his first disciples: Simon, Andrew, James and John. Jesus called them by name to come and follow him. They immediately left what they were doing and followed Jesus.
We, too, were called by Jesus at the time of our Baptism. We were called by our name for the very first time, to come and follow him. Eventually, as we know, Jesus in the Gospels called Twelve Disciples whom he named Apostles. Since that time billions of people have been called to be “fishers of people.” It is interesting to note that all but one of the original Twelve were faithful to Jesus. Some of us, I guess all of us, fail in some respects to be good disciples, but hopefully the majority repent and rejoin Jesus along the way to follow in his footsteps.
This New Year can be regarded as a new beginning for us. Let us check out our discipleship, being servants of Jesus, at this time. Remember the marks identifying the servant given in yesterday’s homily. Are we living up to Jesus’ expectations of us? Where do we need to make progress?
Jesus, help me in being your faithful disciple.
TUESDAY of the First Week in Ordinary Time
The Gospel selection from Mark for today shows Jesus beginning his teaching ministry. This Gospel is not so much about WHAT Jesus taught, but HOW he taught it. Jesus taught with authority. The people were astonished at this. He taught on his own authority, not citing other rabbis from which he derived his teaching. This amazed the people. Remember, so far only the four fishermen Jesus called in yesterday’s Gospel are following him. The rest of the people are astonished and amazed at what they are hearing. Most of them gave Jesus a nod of the head or verbal allegiance, but they were not really devoted to him or inclined to follow him as his disciples.
How about us? Are we merely hearers of the word, amazed and astonished at what we hear, without being doers of the word at all? Are we practicing head trips with Jesus’ words or are we really letting them enter our hearts and truly following him?
WEDNESDAY of the First Week of Ordinary Time
Mark’s Gospel chosen to be read today reminds us of the healing power of Jesus. Jesus entered Peter’s home with his disciples and they found Peter’s mother-in-law ill with a fever. Jesus went to the woman, grasped her hand, and helped her up. The fever left her. Jesus cured her with his touch.
There are sick people in our hospitals and nursing homes who would gladly welcome the healing touch of Jesus. And it is available to them! Through the Sacraments, Jesus is present to us today in a special way. In Baptism, he is present through the invitation to come and follow him, to be his child. In Eucharist, he is present to us as spiritual nourishment for our spiritual health and growth. And in the Sacrament of the Sick, he is present to us a Healer.
Let’s not forget that the Sacrament of the Sick is available and to request it for those of our family who may be ill. Unfortunately, only a priest is permitted to administer this Sacrament, but many are willing to go out of their way to do it. All one has to do is ask. Also there are many retired priests around who would be happy to administer the Sacrament of the Sick if they are aware of the need. In this Sacrament, the priest lays his hands on the sick person asking Jesus to also join in his special presence to also touch the sick person as he/she is anointed with the oil of the sick. In one way or another, this Sacrament will heal the one receiving it. In administering this Sacrament the priest says: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen. And may the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up. Amen.”
Jesus, be present to your sick followers, and in your loving mercy and compassion, heal them from their pain and suffering.
THURSDAY of the First Week in Ordinary Time
“I do will it. Be made clean.” With these words, Jesus healed the leper who asked Jesus to make him clean in today’s Gospel.
“I do will it.” I dare say that whatever Jesus wills, will happen. But sometimes what Jesus wills depends on my cooperation with what he wills. Good old free will! God didn’t create us to be puppets, you know. He does not pull the strings and we dance. We are free to reject Jesus’ will for us. For example, Jesus wills us all to be holy. He wants us to be whole, complete, fulfilled, happy. And because this is his will for us, all we have to do is cooperate with what he gives me to be holy and it will happen. This is one of the nice things about knowing what Jesus’ will for us is. If I cooperate, my will with his, it will happen.
Lord, I really want to be whole, complete, fulfilled and happy. Please give me the strength to cooperate with the means you have given me to be so. Help me to banish in myself whatever is interfering with you will for me.
FRIDAY of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel reinforces what we said in yesterday’s homily: Remove the obstacles in our lives for Jesus’ will for us, and it will happen. That’s what the friends of the paralyzed man in the Gospel did. The crowd around Jesus kept them from getting their friend into the presence of Jesus so he could heal him. So they bypassed the crowd. They opened the roof of the house where Jesus was and lowered their friend into his presence. And Jesus healed the paralyzed man.
What is it in my life that is keeping me, blocking me, from the presence of Jesus’ will for me in my life? Is it my prejudices against certain people, my computer, what I read, what I watch on TV, the people I run around with, my attitudes, my bad habits, my selfishness, my indifference, my complacency, my laziness? What?
Jesus, help me remove whatever it is in my life that is blocking me from loving you and fulfilling your will for me.
SATURDAY of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel is a fitting conclusion, as it were, to what we have been talking about the past couple of days. We have been concerned about removing whatever is keeping me from following Jesus, from doing his will for me.
Today’s Gospel shows us how this is the desire of Jesus for us all. He invites us as he did the tax collector, Levi or Matthew, to follow him. Matthew got up from his customs post, which was his block to Jesus, and followed Jesus. Matthew made the decision to get up and leave his tax collector’s booth.
The word decision comes from the Latin word “decidere”, which means to cut away, cut out. When we make a decision to follow Jesus, we become willing to cut out or cut away whatever is blocking us, keeping us, from Jesus’ presence and will for us.
Let us ask Jesus to give us the strength to truly make the decision to follow him and be his disciple.