Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 31
Luke 4: 21-30
Time and time again in the Scriptures, we see people rejecting Jesus. I believe I ended last Sunday’s homily with the idea that we all have a choice: to follow Jesus or not to follow Jesus. And that’s where the whole thing still is today. When you come right down to the nitty-gritty of it, we have the choice to follow Jesus or reject him. Things haven’t changed a bit.
And one of the reasons for rejecting Jesus, perhaps the greatest reason of them all, is peer pressure. Someone once said: We spend three-fourths of our lives trying to be like other people. And sometimes this just leads to crazy behavior that we have all experienced. I recall the idea of the “pet rock” that sprang up in my past years. I wish I could have thought of that idea! Everybody had to have a “pet rock,” which was absolutely useless and we had to pay for it besides. It was only a stone! I had a whole driveway full of them. Yet I paid good money for a “pet rock” because everyone else was doing it. The same thing happened with the hoola-hoop. But at least you got a little exercise along with that.
We have this thing in us of trying to keep up with the Joneses. If our next door neighbor has a swimming pool, a Cadillac, a tandem bicycle, a fur coat, a three-car-garage, a motor boat, a cookout oven, a lap top computer, an I Pod – anything – then I have to have one too. Ridiculous, but true. This is what gives rise to all the fads in fashion and even ordinary, daily clothes. Today you can wear jeans to a wedding because everyone is doing it. You used to have to really dress up for a wedding because everyone else was doing it.
We carry this whole idea of peer pressure over into other areas of life too, even to our morality. So and so carries a gun, so I’m going to carry a gun. It’s OK to shoot someone because so and so did it. It’s OK to have an abortion because my girlfriend had one. It’s OK to have pre-marital sex because everyone else is doing it.
Hello!! If your friend jumped off the 12th street bridge into the Mississippi River, would you do it too? And why don’t more people bounce this peer pressure thing off of Jesus? Why not let him be our peer? He was human, you know. It seems that sooner or later we grow up and see the ridiculousness of this peer pressure syndrome. Let’s pray today that all of us see it sooner rather than later.
Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 1
Mark 5: 1-20
“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”
The Gospel selected to be read for today’s Liturgy is at first reading a bit strange to me. What it all boils down to, I believe, is that evil always makes fun of the good when the two meet. It’s kind of like coming across a group of people gossiping about someone and destroying his or her good name and reputation. Rather than join in, you say something good about the person being torn apart. The group will then begin to ridicule you for not joining in on the gossip. Evil makes fun of good. In the Gospel today, the unclean spirits cry out at Jesus’ appearance and feel diminished by him.
Rather than make fun of the good, Jesus urges us to spread it. Let others know there is another way – his way. Our Gospels have been pushing this idea lately. Let’s do things Jesus’ way and not our way. Let’s be proud of who we are and what we are and what we are able to accomplish as Christians, as followers of Jesus. Let us encourage others to join in with us. This is Jesus’ way and his wish for us all.
Good does overcome evil, you know.
Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 2
The Presentation of the Lord, Candlemas Day, Groundhog Day
Luke 2: 22-40
The Feast of the Presentation, often referred to as Candlemas Day (Candle Mass), commemorates the purification of Mary and the presentation of Christ, her first-born, in the Temple which Jewish law required to take place 40 days after his birth (Exodus 13). The Holy Family met Simeon in the Temple, who, upon seeing the Messiah, gave thanks to the Lord, singing a hymn now called the “Nunc Dimittis” which is still sung daily in the Liturgy of the Hour’s Night Prayer. This hymn reads as follows: My own eyes have seen the salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
The mention of “a light” by Simeon probably had something to do with the blessing of the candles to be used in the Liturgy the following year and of the procession with these candles on Candlemas Day. This day was also the day when some cultures predicted weather patterns. Farmers believed that the reminder of winter would be the opposite of what the weather was like on Candlemas Day. An old English song goes:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go winter, and do not come again.
All of this led to what we now refer to as “Groundhog Day,” which also falls on Candlemas Day.
The people in Minnesota are probably praying for clouds and rain today so winter will go away and make way for spring. And I can still remember my Mom reminding me on this day to bring home some of the newly blessed candles which she would then religiously light during thunder storms for protection from the storm.
Isn’t the combination of Liturgy and life wonderful! Enjoy the day!
Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 3
Mark 6: 1-6
Today, February 3, is the optional Memorial of St. Blaise. This used to be a sort of big feast in the Church when I was a kid. St. Blaise was a Bishop in Armenia in the 4th century and legend has it he saved a child’s life by successfully removing a fishbone from the child’s throat that was choking the child. Blaise became the patron saint of sore throats and every year on this day the faithful came to church to have their throats blessed. The prayer said by the priest as he blessed the throats was as follows: Through the blessing of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, may Almighty God free you from every sickness of the throat and from every other evil, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Some parishes still offer this blessing today, but for the most part it is another beautiful practice fading away, Proh dolor!
The Gospel for today’s Liturgy is another instance in the Scriptures where Jesus is rejected by the people in his home town. We spoke of this not too long ago regarding peer pressure. On this day we might think of a time in our own lives when we were rejected for one reason or another. How did that make you feel? How did you react? And let us remember to pray today for the minorities, the handicapped, and the poor in our society who are constantly being rejected.
May God bless us all with the gift of the grace of acceptance and tolerance of others.
Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 4
Mark 6: 7-13
Today’s Gospel tells of Jesus sending his disciples out on their first mission and how successful they were despite the fact they took nothing with them except the clothes on their backs. When I read this Gospel a few moments ago, for some reason it brought back the old memory of a man, Vince McAloon, whom I first met when I was a student in the Minor Seminary in Indiana and then again years later when I was a Theology student in Rome, Italy. I haven’t thought of him in a long time and now I am not sure I have his name spelled correctly.
Vince was a graduate of Notre Dame University and a successful business man. Then one day he read about Francis of Assisi and decided he wanted to be more like him. Eventually this led to Vince deciding to go from the United States to Assisi without a penny in his pocket. As I recall, he worked his way across the ocean to Spain on a freighter and then walked from Spain to Assisi, begging as he went for his food and an occasional odd job. In Assisi he met one of our Friars who was studying in Rome and borrowed his black suit so he had something decent to wear while he looked for a job in Rome. He finally found a good job managing a restaurant where he invited all of us to dinner one Thanksgiving Day. I remember him being at my Ordination to the Priesthood and at my First Mass. After that I lost track of him and then returned to the United States. I wonder whatever happened to him. He certainly was an inspiration to many because of the radical way he followed Francis. I hope to see him again in the Kingdom.
Moral of the story: It is really possible to live and find happy life without all the material benefits we sometimes work so hard for and think we just have to have.
Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 5
Mark 6: 14-29
Talk about being rejected! John the Baptist certainly knew all about this as we read in today’s Gospel selection. This rejection idea seems to be a recurrent theme in the early part of Mark’s Gospel. And it was something all of the earlier followers of Jesus had to deal with. This is what the many persecutions of the early Christians were all about.
I read a little story that deserves retelling about Henry Thoreau who went to jail rather than pay a poll tax to support the Mexican War. He saw that particular war as a move to expand slave-holding territories and could not support a government that supported slavery. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who hated slavery too, visited Henry in jail and said, “Henry, why are you here?” Thoreau replied, “Waldo, why are you not here?”
Think about this for a moment and then pray for strength and the virtue of courage.
Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Feb. 6
St. Paul Miki and Companions
Today the Church honors the Martyrs of Japan with the Memorial of St. Paul Miki and his companions. Paul was the son of a Japanese military leader and was educated by the Jesuits whom he then joined in 1580. He was crucified on February 5 with 25 other Catholics during the persecution of Christians under Taiko, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, ruler of Japan in the name of the Emperor. They were all canonized as the Martyrs of Japan in 1862. Their feast day is February 6.
Holy Martyrs of Japan, pray for us.