The Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 11
Mark 1: 7-11
In our Gospel selected to be read on this Sunday, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. In other Gospels about the same topic, we see John wondering about this and he says to Jesus: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” This Gospel points out something about Jesus that Francis of Assisi understood so well: his profound humility.
In the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus, the Son of God and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, takes on the nature and the weaknesses of a human being. In case you haven’t thought that much about it, it is quite a step down from the divinity to humanity. In fact, it is an infinite step down. Paul wrote about this to the Philippians: “Who (Christ) though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
St. Mark’s Gospel for today shows us the humility of Jesus, a virtue that all of us must imitate if we are to be followers of Jesus. Humility, deflating ourselves, letting the air of pride out of our sails, is one of the requirements of discipleship. We read in the Scriptures that the one who is least among us is the one who is the greatest. A real paradox and one that the world finds difficult to accept: Humble yourself, deflate yourself, and then you will be great. Humility is the basis for prayer and for all spirituality. Once, when asked to name the four Cardinal Virtues, St. Bernard responded: Humility, Humility, Humility and Humility. His answer was correct.
Strange as it may seem, then, it is humbling ourselves (not in becoming no. 1) that we find true joy. There is a story told of Francis and his buddy, Brother Leo, walking along a road when Francis asks Leo, “Do you know what is perfect joy?” Leo had probably heard the story before, but Francis tells it again anyway. It is a story of them arriving at a Friary on a chilly, damp winter night. They have been walking most of the day and are wet and muddy and chilled to the bone. All they want is to get someplace warm for a while. They knock on the door of a Friary and ask to come in. The porter does not know them and refuses to let them in. Instead he insults them, beats them with a stick, knocks them down in the snow and slams the door in their faces. It is then that Francis says to Brother Leo, “Brother Leo, this is perfect joy.”
Obviously, we too are to humble ourselves. Let go and let God. Stop being in control of everything. Humility tells us to turn our lives and wills over to God, to surrender to him.
This idea comes from the 3rd Step of the AA 12 Steps. We must discover that we are not God and that we can’t do everything in our lives alone. One of the best things that ever happened to me was discovering I couldn’t do it alone and didn’t have to try. I discovered I need God to be a part of my life and he is only too willing to be such. The more I rely on God, the more happiness, joy and peace I have in my life. On this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, he humbled himself for us. Let us humble ourselves for him and each other.
Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Jan. 12
Mark 1: 14-20
Yesterday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord brought us to the end of the Christmas Season. Today we return to Ordinary Time, and this will continue now until February 25 when we begin the Season of Lent with Ash Wednesday.
Today’s Gospel from St. Mark begins by repeating the whole reason for the coming of Christ: our repentance. John the Baptist cries out, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” After this the Gospel shows Jesus calling his first disciples. He first called Simon and his brother Andrew and then James and his brother John. They all followed him immediately and began to repent, convert, change, make a U turn in their lives. No longer were Simon, Andrew, James and John fishermen. Now they were heralds of the Great King and fishers of people, of souls. They began to follow Jesus and announce him to others. In the process, their lives were forever changed.
And so it will be for us. Once we truly encounter Jesus and begin to listen to his call to follow him, our lives will change. Boy, will we change! Let us reflect for a time today on the changes that came into our lives when we encountered Jesus and began to be truly a follower of his way, truth and life. What else are we now asking Jesus to change in our lives?
Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Jan. 13
Mark 1: 21-28
When we encounter Jesus and allow him to help us change, we truly become his followers. We have a stake and a part in what Jesus came to do. In the Gospel assigned to be read today, Jesus amazes the people by driving an unclean spirit out of a man. Jesus wasn’t showing off by performing this and other miracles. It was his way of showing the people of the time and all of us that his Kingdom could and would overcome the evils of the world. It has often been said that the whole message of the Scriptures can be summed up in the little phrase: good will overcome evil. Jesus began his mission with dramatic signs but it is up to us to carry on his mission in our time and place.
What can I do today? What opportunities do I see coming in which I can help fulfill the mission of Christ to overcome evil in the world?
Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Jan. 14
Mark 1: 29-39
In today’s Gospel, Simon’s mother-in-law, who was sick with a fever, encountered the healing power of Jesus. This seems to be the theme at the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel: encountering Jesus and the resulting repentance and changes. When the disciples told Jesus that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill, he grasped her by the hand, helped her up, and the fever left her.
Her cure from the fever must have amazed her, and the Gospel tells us: “She waited on them.” Realizing what Jesus had done for her, she began to serve others. And isn’t that what we try and do when we are “cured” by our encounter with Jesus? When I humbly asked him to remove from me the sickness of alcoholism, he did so and then I began to serve others as I was supposed to have been doing previous to my sickness. I am still trying to serve others today. My life is no longer all about me. How about you? Have the U turns that have happened in your life caused you to become a servant for others?
Thursday of the First Week n Ordinary Time, Jan. 15
Mark 1: 40-45
The theme begun in Mark’s Gospel of repentance and what follows after it continues in today’s Gospel. In this Gospel we run into the so-called Messianic Secret for the first time in Mark’s Gospel: “See that you tell no one anything…..” There are many different explanations for this secrecy that we read about in quite a few places in the Scriptures and perhaps the best explanation for it is the simplest explanation: It was not yet the proper time for Jesus to be revealed as the Messiah. But we really do not know the answer for this “secret” we read about in the Gospels.
In today’s Gospel Jesus heals a leper from his dreaded disease. The leper was told to tell no one of his cure, but in his excitement he told everyone he met. Do we personally feel free enough and humble enough to share our “healing” stories with others in the hope that they will present themselves for healing to Jesus also?
Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Jan. 16
Mark 2: 1-12
Today’s Gospel selection reveals a great message for us all: Jesus is the Healer, Jesus is the Changer. We do not heal or change ourselves despite what we sometimes do or think. Remember the words of Jesus in the parable of the Vine and Branches: “Without me, you can do nothing.” Those are not just words. They are as true as the day is long. Without Jesus we cannot be healed or changed.
I often have the occasion to point out this truth to those who follow the AA 12 Step way of life. This is one of the messages found in Steps 6 and 7, both of which deal with conversion, with the U turns we need to make in our lives in order to have happiness, joy and peace. Step 6 tells us we must be entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character. Step 7 tells us to humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings. We are to be ready for “God” to remove our defects and for “Him” to remove our shortcomings. It doesn’t say anything at all about “me” removing my defects or shortcomings. As I’ve often said before: We cannot change ourselves. Maybe the leper in the Gospel knew this, maybe not. But if he didn’t, he sure made the right choice in asking Jesus to cure him. Are we smart enough, humble enough, to do the same?
Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Jan. 17
Mark 2: 13-17
In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus continues to call those he chose to be disciples to follow him. Today he calls Matthew (See Mt. 9:9), also known as Levi, to be one of his chosen ones. That was great, except for the fact that Matthew was a tax collector, despised by all the people as a rip-off artist. And then, to top it all off, Jesus sat down to eat a meal with Matthew and some other “sinners.” The scribes and Pharisees were falling all over themselves complaining about how Jesus could do this. Didn’t he know any better?
We all know how Jesus could do this. He called us, you and me, to follow him. He sure didn’t know what he was doing when he called me! Or did he? He took me and refashioned me, healed me, fixed me, so I could follow him and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem that I was when he called me. I was not and am not a saint – yet. Jesus is still working on me, offering me his strength and grace which I must accept to get to be what he wants me to be. But then, when one stops to think about it, sinners make the best saints in the long run, e.g., St. Francis of Assisi. You can’t go up until you’ve first been down. I hope and pray that all of us are on our way up so people don’t have to wonder and complain when Jesus takes the time to eat with us.