Lent – 2nd Sunday (Year B)

This Sunday’s Mass readings present us with what appear to be opposite types of messages or moods – our first reading from Genesis about the offering of Isaac by Abraham as a sacrifice to God, and the Gospel of Mark’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. We might distinguish between them as ‘dark and unsettling’ to ‘light and uplifting’.

Certainly the account of Abraham taking his only son up Mt. Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice at the direction of God upsets and disturbs our modern sensibilities. We might find ourselves even thinking that this is an exercise in cruelty, questioning God’s motives in this particular call to Abraham – yet it is actually a lesson in God’s Providence, Mercy and care; it is one in a series of small steps in which God reveals Himself, and His will, steps that will eventually reconcile all humanity to Himself, through His Son, Jesus. But God knows how human nature cannot handle abrupt and sudden change – He has to gradually make His will known over time and in many circumstances, thoughout all of salvation history. That’s why we have to look at this story in its context.

This episode in Abraham’s life is before there is a Jewish nation, before there is the Law of Moses, before we have any kind of a sense of Judeo-Christian morality. This story takes place in the land of Canaan, a land where the population worshipped a number of pagan gods and idols. Among these was a god named Molech, and most notoriously, part of worship of this pagan god, was human sacrifice, particularly the sacrifice of children. This was seen as normal in the culture and time. Abraham would have seen this, whether he agreed with it, liked it or not, as a ‘normal’ part of the culture in which he lived.

Yet God, moves into this setting, speaking to Abraham, and asking Abraham nothing less and nothing more than the pagan Canaanites believed is pleasing to their idols. For Abraham, God asking him for the sacrifice of his son Isaac makes perfect sense, and so as a show of complete faith in this God who has begun to reveal Himself to Abraham, he complies.

And we know how the story continues; that at the moment Abraham is prepared to strike, God stops him, so that no harm comes to Isaac. God even provides a ram as a substitute for Abraham, again in a culture where sacrifice of living things makes some sense. Yet in this action, God has shown that human sacrifice is not what He wants, and this is a step in revealing the difference between the God of Abraham, and the pagan gods; He is a God who is involved, who speaks, who reveals Himself, and who is merciful and loving. The pagan gods never stopped anyone from sacrificing their child to them; yet the God of Abraham does just that. When a human is set to follow worldly wisdom, Divinity shows them otherwise.

Contrast that with our Gospel; we see Jesus, transfigured on Mt. Tabor with his closest friends present; He reveals His Divinity, appearing in glory with Moses and Elijah; Jesus appearing as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, completing God’s plan. He provides a preview of what His disciples can expect, to be drawn into His Divinity – He shows what awaits those who seek, follow and serve Him. Yet this episode concludes with Him talking about rising from the dead; He will have to suffer and die to take upon Himself the sin of all humankind – to atone for our separation from God; God will offer His only Son, and the Son will willingly offer Himself for all humanity. Yet in this part of the drama, when the Son is being offered up, during His Passion , there will be no human who will stop the harm being visited upon Jesus.

We see the contrast; God who enters into Abraham’s cultural reality to lead him to a better understanding of His will, and is judged by us to be cruel and heartless even though He prevents Isaac from being harmed. Yet when God’s Son Jesus is the One being offered up, humanity does not return the favour, and we give ourselves a pass. Even though it is for our broken relationship with God and each other that Jesus offers Himself willingly.

It is a drama which is played out day, after day, after day in our own time, and in our own lives. God offers the gift of His Glory through His Son Jesus to each and every one of us; and every time we neglect our brothers and sisters, every time we ignore the needs of the poor in our midst, every time we respond to others with anger, malice, cruelty or contempt, we visit harm on the Body of Jesus.

This in a culture that, according to modern media and the internet, is apparently more concerned with the colour of a dress than with the abduction of hundreds of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East and Africa; a culture that is more interested in the theft of an Oscar gala dress than in the killing ,maiming and displacement of thousands of Christians in Iraq and Syria. What right does a culture like that have to presume to judge the One True God, who desires only to reconcile all people to Himself, in harmony and unity as we were meant to be?

God speaks to each of us all the time, particularly in His Sacred Word. These readings are God’s invitation to each of us, especially during this season of Lent, to reflect on our own lives, to see where we have harmed the Body of Christ in our own way, and to seek ways to build up that Body and strengthen our own relationship with God and with each other.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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First week of Lent

On Ash Wednesday in Rome, Pope Francis invited all believers to be ‘islands of grace’ in an ‘ocean of indifference’.  It’s a great starting point for Christians in guiding themselves during this Lenten season.

Lent is a season of mercy; it is a season where each of us asks forgiveness from our merciful God, as we live out our hope to be made worthy of the gift of salvation that Christ bestows on us through His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
It is also a time that, in asking God for mercy, we are expected to show mercy – if we would truly call ourselves disciples of Jesus, Christians.
I am reminded of the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola concerning the two ‘standards’ (meaning the flags of military-style camps); there is the standard of Christ, and the standard of the devil. Underneath the standard of Christ, are mercy, compassion, forgiveness, charity and love; beneath the evil one’s standard are cruelty, selfishness, revenge and indifference.
We are given a choice in our actions each and every day, both towards God and towards each other.
As the knight in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ said, ‘choose wisely.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Lent 1st Sunday (year B)

There is a large hardware store chain with the slogan, ‘Never stop improving’.

That, it seems, is something that we as Christians are called to in our lives, to ‘never stop improving’; never stop growing in our depth of love for God; never stop growing in our appreciation of the great things God has done in our lives; never stop growing in our desire and ability to serve our neighbors, loving them as we love ourselves.

We are called to continually grow ‘upward’, reaching towards union with God, and drawing others into that union as we journey.  In the 1600’s, a lay Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence wrote a book, ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’, considered by many to be a spiritual classic.  Brother Lawrence wrote that if we are not moving forward in the spiritual life, we are actually moving backwards; once we enter into that relationship with God, we can’t simply stand still and accept the mediocre – it is a relationship that by its very nature demands that we grow and progress and deepen.  Imagine being in love with another person and saying to the object of our affection, ‘Okay, I kind of love you – so this is how much I am going to love you– just this little bit and no more – then I can focus more on myself’.  I’m pretty confident that a relationship like that would sour and die pretty quickly.

But the serious relationship with God deepens and evolves and moves forward; and to do that, we are called to prepare our own hearts to grow in their ability to be open to and embrace the will of God, and to follow where Jesus leads us.

In this Sunday’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus leads us into the desert, into the wilderness – St. Mark says the Spirit ‘drove’ Him into the wilderness, implying that the need for Jesus to withdraw from the ‘busy-ness’ of everyday life to commune uninterrupted with God was overwhelming.   But this was not simply a vacation, or an end in itself.  There was a reason for Jesus to leave the concerns of this world behind and move into the desert to prepare for the start of His public ministry.

He had to, as they say, ‘withdraw for the sake of return.’

Jesus shows how with the desert experience, great things happen.  After setting aside the comforts and unnecessary distractions of daily life, Jesus begins his public ministry;  after battling temptations and physical demands– He emerges and ‘proclaims’ the ‘time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.’

While the season of Lent is a time for us to prepare for Easter, it is also a metaphor for our journey as pilgrim souls, all making our way back to God.

We don’t spend more time in prayer simply to give up our spare time…or give up ‘things’, simply for the sake of giving things up…we set some things aside that are luxuries to us, that we simply don’t really need for survival.  Where they become a problem is when we mistake those things that are ‘extras’, as ‘essentials’ that we can’t do without; things that become a priority over and above God and each other.

During Lent we often focus on the ‘withdrawing’ or ‘giving up’ of things as a negative, as a sacrifice to suffer through; but that is focussing too much on the ‘sacrifices’ as an end in themselves.  The purpose is to ‘withdraw’ from distractions, or ‘remove’ unnecessary things that have become unnecessarily important in our lives – things that really do nothing in building up our relationship either with God or with others.

Being in the wilderness , in the desert, really puts into perspective the difference between necessities and ‘extras’ – it is a time that one can very clearly see what is truly needed to sustain life.  Computer tablets and video games are great, but you can’t eat them.  Luxury items are nice, but they don’t provide fire for warmth or light.

In one sense, this movement into the wilderness by Jesus is given to us as an example; a separation from all the ‘busy-ness’ and materialism that creeps into our daily lives, and clouds our clear view of our path towards God.   He goes into an area where there is nothing in order to hear the Father speaking to Him, a place free from distraction and noise. When he is ready, Jesus emerges from that wilderness – not in a quiet and tranquil complacency – He emerges ‘proclaiming’ the message of repentance, of believing the Good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.  He is convicted, and boldly proclaims this Truth.

The Season of Lent gives us each that opportunity to enter somehow into our own desert experience, into our own wilderness.  That varies for each of us, and for some it may be a retreat – for others more time in prayer with the Blessed Sacrament – for yet others it may be something as simple as an extra five to ten minutes a day in prayer or reading Scripture; but in all of these, we enter into a brief sense of ‘wilderness’, a sense of reduced distractions and obstructions, so that we can more clearly hear God’s voice in our lives. Then like Jesus, we can emerge from that wilderness with a greater sense of God’s presence in our lives.

When we are truly convinced of God’s presence in our lives, then it’s not a sacrifice at all to continue on our Lenten journey.  It grows as a desire to ‘never stop improving’ with Christ.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

more thoughts on the readings 6th Sunday Ordinary year B

(note: there are occasions when I have a researched and prepared homily, and come to the moment in the Mass to preach where the ‘prepared’ homily notes are set aside, and something else comes forth.  This past Sunday was one of those times -DC) I think sometimes when we read through the Gospels and encounter the miracles and words of Jesus that are recorded for us, very often we focus on the miraculous events or words in isolation – we look at the wonder of an event where Jesus is involved, and forget that there is more to these particular incidents.  Very often, I think we fail to realize that in everything Jesus said, and in everything He did, including miracles of healing, there were ‘real-time, real-world’ consequences for His actions in first-century Palestine. St. Mark records for us the healing of a leper by Jesus.  While we may focus on ‘what’ Jesus did, in this regard it is just as important to reflect on ‘how’ He did it, to get a sense of the consequences I am referring to.  Jesus did not simply heal this man with a word and a wave of His hand.  He touched the leper. This action in and of itself is the lesson that I want to focus on today.  Jesus knew that there would be reactions and consequences to His actions; he practiced His Jewish faith in His humanity, and so perhaps it is important to ‘back up’ a bit so that we can better understand the consequences Jesus faced. Our first reading from the Book of Leviticus relates how the Law handed down through Moses told the children of Israel during the Exodus how to deal with someone who was even suspected of having leprosy (perhaps not even having leprosy itself, but a skin rash that ‘looked’ possibly leprous).  They were to be set ‘outside the camp’ to live alone.  There was a practical reason, of course, in preventing the spread of disease among this pilgrim people as they travelled to the Promised Land. This injunction, though, effectively removed the person from the rest of the people, cutting them off from any interaction – socially, financially, culturally, etc.  Over time, this would evolve as Israel would, to the point that by the time the Temple was built, lepers (or those suspected of leprosy) were put outside the cities, towns and villages; they had no contact with their own people – they were cut off from religious celebrations and activities which were at the very heart of their nation and culture.  Lepers could most certainly not enter the Temple. Being sent off to separate areas they were, ‘out of sight and out of mind’. This could give rise to a mentality amongst those who were ‘well’ that could sound very familiar to modern ears; as long as these people were out in their isolated places,  it could become a matter of “if you get well, get well; if you die, then die – as long as I don’t have to deal with it and it doesn’t affect me directly, it’s not my problem or business.”  They had become disposable people. Likewise, people who touched lepers were considered ritually impure or at risk – they had to go through a period and rite of purification before they could participate in Temple worship.  We know that Jesus practiced His Jewish faith – we read examples throughout the Gospels, including this passage; He tells the man to present himself to the priests and make an offering according the Law of Moses.  Jesus is not setting aside the Law – He recommends its practice to this cleansed leper, as any observant Jew would have done.  Jesus, as an observant Jew would have been well aware that he risked being cut off from the people and the Temple by touching a leper. No doubt those around Him would have been saying, ‘are you crazy? Don’t touch this leper! You will be unclean and have to be purified!’  Jesus knew there was a consequence in the immediate moment.  He also knew that this man was cut off from his own people, his own community and family, and his own faith practice.  He knew it would result in some people avoiding Him or demanding He be separated from the community as well.  He knew these were ‘real’ consequences in that moment. He touched the leper anyway, and healed him. In doing so, Jesus restored the man to his family, his community, and to the opportunity to practice his faith, in a sense to be restored to his relationship with his neighbours and with God.  He did it deliberately; He did it with compassion; He did it with great love. Why would He do this?  He certainly didn’t do this just to display His power or spread His fame (He told the man not to tell anyone).  He did it to restore this man, because this man was a son of Israel, a child of God, a member of the human race.  With few words and in this simple gesture of touching a leper, Jesus made a bold statement for all time.  There are no ‘disposable people’ and that human life in whatever form it takes, has an inherent dignity, whether the rest of society recognizes it or not.  This was a moral lesson and statement on the need to put one’s own convenience second to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Less than two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the current law governing assisted suicide.  While not made up of the same individuals, this is the same ‘body’ that struck down our laws on abortion and marriage.  It’s anybody’s guess as to how this latest decision will end up, but anyone who suggests it won’t affect the most vulnerable members of our society is either incredibly naive or deliberately dishonest.  As a society (yes, Catholics, we are part of that society) we have handed off responsibility for our moral and ethical decisions as a nation to a panel of judges, established by politicians, less than 150 years ago. I don’t know about you, but I would rather look for guidance in what is moral, ethical, right and true from the Church, instituted by the compassionate Son of God, Christ Himself over 2,000 years ago. Our second reading from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians tells us to be ‘imitators’ of Christ.  If we would truly claim to be His disciples, that ‘imitator’ of Christ is who we are called to be – it isn’t an option, it’s an obligation.  It means we are obliged to uphold the dignity of every human life, just as Jesus the Master did when he touched that leper; it means we are to do it at all times, in all places, recognizing that we, like Jesus , will have to face the consequences in witnessing to this truth – whether we face those consequences in our social settings, our workplaces or communities, perhaps even in our own families. Like Jesus, we are to do this, not from some sense of moral superiority or in a cruel or judgemental way; we are to witness, as the master did – deliberately, with compassion, and great love; and we ask Our Lord to grant us the strength and perseverance to imitate Him whatever the consequences. flag Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Imagine having an incredible miracle happen in your life – a 100% sure, bona fide honest to God miracle – perhaps some amazing healing, or a complete transformation in your living conditions – and not being able to tell anyone. This is the curious message that we find in the middle of our gospel passage today from St. Mark, concerning Jesus and the healing of a leper. But there is tremendous wisdom in the midst of this ‘strange’ instruction from Jesus – and in this short passage, we actually see the mission of the Church and the individual call to holiness both in miniature, yet another illustration of the two great commands – love of God and love of neighbor.

But as with any gospel passage, it’s important to understand some of the context of what is happening between Jesus and the people involved.

Certain diseases were particularly feared through the history of the children of Israel, and one of the most feared was leprosy. Under the Law of Moses, someone who had contracted leprosy was supposed to be set completely apart from the whole community –‘outside the camp’ as we heard in the book of Leviticus, to avoid contaminating the rest of the camp. Even anyone ‘suspected’ of having leprosy – and just about any kind of skin condition would fit in this category- was to be presented to the priests for a confirmation that they were in fact, leprous; and if they were found to be leprous, then they had to live outside the camp – completely removed and out of contact with the rest of their community. If anyone came near, they had to warn them off, shouting ‘unclean, unclean’ as if wearing a warning sign around their neck. There was a very clear sense of isolation, and a very public sense of shame connected to the leper. We need to really understand this in putting today’s Gospel passage into context. Jesus is not just doing a good deed. He’s illustrating what is expected of all of his followers; in a deeper sense, he’s giving a sign of what we need to do to grow in our own holiness.

To associate with, to touch lepers – those who were unclean – was to make one’s self ritually impure or unclean. A Jew who did this would not be permitted to offer sacrifice in the Temple (and wouldn’t be particularly welcome at any gathering, really) until they had gone through a rite and period of purification, to make themselves ritually pure again. This leper, this one who is unclean, is isolated from the rest of the community through circumstances that may or may not be a result of his own actions; and by coming into contact, Jesus risks being considered impure as well – and despite this, when the man kneels before Jesus and says ,’if you choose, you can make me clean’, Jesus responds with, ‘I do choose,” and cures the man.

But that’s when Jesus does that curious thing; he tells the man to tell no one about this cure; in fact he says ,”say nothing to anyone…” and just to present himself to the priests after making his offering of thanksgiving for his cure, as was prescribed in the law of Moses. Instead, this man who is absolutely bursting with gratitude goes off and tells everyone ,”proclaiming it freely,” the gospel says. He does the opposite of what Jesus tells him.

Now we can all probably appreciate why the man did this, especially in light of the rules about lepers. Who knows how long he had been cut off from the rest of the community? Who knows how long he had to survive alone against the elements and whatever hardships were to be found outside the town? Who knows how long he had gone without someone to help him in need; without someone to share a meal with; without someone – anyone – to even just talk to? If we were taken from that situation, and suddenly free to move about and talk to and see whomever we liked, imagine how difficult it would be for us not to tell everyone about it.

But the man didn’t follow Jesus’ instructions. Now Jesus is no longer able to minister in the towns; His fame spreads because of this man’s words and his obvious cure; St. Mark writes, Jesus could no longer ‘go into a town openly,’. People were caught up in their need; the need for healing, the need to witness – even the needs to satisfy their curiosity or to have some visible proof to convince them of what they had heard. These crowds made it impossible for Jesus to openly minster in the towns, to those who were genuinely in need. Crowds who would have gathered out of curiosity would have drowned out Jesus trying to preach and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom to those who needed it the most.

Instead, Jesus has to remain outside the towns, and for people to see him, for people to be healed by his touch, for people to hear what he has to say, they have to leave the towns – leave behind the crowds- leave behind their community – and make an effort to go to where Jesus could be found. Those who were really sincere in wanting to meet Jesus, and recognizing that he alone could fulfill their need, had to approach Jesus, rather than waiting for him to approach them.

The leper had been placed outside the town; in order to minister, Jesus had to place himself outside the town; anyone who wanted to hear, see or touch Jesus, had to go outside the town.

This story can be seen as a description of the mission of the Church; to seek out those who have been placed ‘outside’ the community – the lost or broken or marginalized in any way – to see Jesus in those who are ‘outside’ the community, and to place ourselves with those who are ‘outside’ the community, being that instrument of mercy, compassion and healing so that we can bring the marginalized back inside our community; back inside our family.

We can also see in this story the movement of those who desire to grow closer to God being given directions on how to do this: God uses this man, this leper, who was put outside the town as the means by which anyone who sincerely seeks Him has to move ‘outside the town’ as well. They can’t stay in the comfort and anonymity of the crowd – and it’s the same for us; we have to make the effort to go beyond that comfort of the crowd, outside of a materialistic and self-absorbed society, to stand apart and to approach Jesus in sincerity and authenticity. Like the people in the town, we have to bring our needs to him, rather than waiting for him to wade through our own crowd of dozens of daily concerns to address our needs at our convenience.

Like the leper, we need to move outside of our own distractions and desires; like the leper we need to kneel in humility before him in our own brokenness and ask for his healing; and when we approach Christ in that spirit of true humility, we can be confident that we too will receive the same response as that leper did – the response of the love, compassion, healing and love that is found only in the presence of Christ.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

5th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

One of the challenges that comes with children is teaching them appreciation for the people that play an important role in their lives, in their development and growth. Whether as a child, or as an adult, many of us can recall a time when a gift was received by a child from a special visitor – perhaps a grandparent or other relative; sometimes, if these visits were repeated over time, a pattern emerged where the child repeatedly received something from the visitor; and eventually when the visitor arrives at the door, they might be greeted with “ Hi grandma or grandpa…what did you bring me?’

It then becomes the work of the parent to lead the child to an understanding that it is the giver that is most important, rather than the gift….that love doesn’t need to be expressed with ‘presents’; eventually the hope is that the child will greet the visitor with “ Hi grandma or grandpa…I love you. It’s great to see you. You didn’t have to bring me anything, but thank you for the gift.’

One of the more common temptations for Christians as they go through life, is this idea of placing a priority on gifts we receive. Whether blessings of health, employment, family, prosperity; we can be drawn into a type of ‘ Hi God, what are you going to give me” focus in our prayer life or in our relationship with God.

We might look at some gifts as our right to have, sometimes placing demands or conditions as if God owes them to us ; sometimes we might even treat gifts as if we don’t appreciate them; imagine how we would feel if after handing someone a present, they responded with, ‘ you gave me this? This isn’t what I wanted…”

Other times, we focus so intently on the gifts that we receive, that we lose sight of who gave them to us; We fall in love with the gifts, rather than the Giver.

Our first reading today is a passage from the Old Testament Book of Job; in this passage, Job is speaking with three friends and is commenting on the shortness of our lives on earth compared to eternity; taken only in itself, and not read in the context of the entire book, this is probably one of the most depressing pieces of Scripture you could read, “…I am allotted months of emptiness and nights of misery are apportioned to me..,”

Not terribly uplifting language. But to understand it in its context, the Book of Job relates how Job was very faithful to God, and was wealthy with estates and crops and livestock and children….the Old Testament image of a successful person blessed by God. A conversation occurs between God and the devil, in which the devil insists that the only reason Job is so faithful to God is because Job has so many gifts and blessings; the devil claims Job is in love with the gifts, not the Giver.

So the devil is given permission to influence Job’s life – Job loses his riches and his family, but still will not speak out against God – no doubt we’re familiar with the line “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away”…this is where it comes from.

God tells the devil that Job is still faithful and holds him up as an example – but the devil comes back with ‘ Job is only still faithful because he still has his health, and that gift is the only reason Job still praises you…’ so the devil is given permission to further tempt, and this time Job loses his health. And during this time, while he doesn’t praise God, he doesn’t speak out against God, until his friends visit him.

These friends could be looked at as our own society. They focus on the loss of gifts, as if these are the only measure of God’s love for Job. They speak out in judgment, trying to rationalize why Job is suffering….maybe he did something wrong and God is punishing Job, or maybe Job should question God or maybe demand an explanation from God……and eventually, Job agrees and demands to know from God why he has lost all of the gifts he once had….

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The dialogue between God and Job gives much food for thought…..it begins with God saying ‘who is this who darkens my counsel….” I will answer your question if you answer mine first…where were you when I laid the foundation of the universe? Where were you when I created all things? Was it you that I sought advice from before creating life?..and on it goes for several chapters.

The dialogue eventually ends with Job basically saying ‘You’re right God…you are God, not me, and you create and build for your own purpose, not mine. Thanks for gifts you did give me – all I ever had, I received from You in the first place.

In other words, You are the Giver, God, not me…all is gift and my focus should be on you, not on what you have or have not given to me.’ Your gifts are yours to give, not mine to take.

It is because of this sense of gratitude, then that God restores everything to Job, but God is not pleased with the three ‘friends’ who gave Job all of their advice….and you can read further in this book.

And yet, the response of the friends is a very common, human response. Instead of simply being present to Job in his suffering, they want to rationalize it, to provide a reason from a human standpoint…at no time do they comment on all of the blessings and gifts that Job had. At no point do they even try to comment that while they can’t give a reason for this ‘turn of fortune’, that Job should trust that God still loves him. It is as though the gifts were the sole measure of the relationship between Job and God. It is as though without gifts, the relationship was unimportant.

In much the same way, our passage from St. Mark’s Gospel raises this notion. Continuing from what we heard last Sunday, from Jesus’ early ministry in Capernaum and his visit to the synagogue and casting out a demon, this passage takes place on the same day, and a very full day it is. Jesus goes to the house of St. Peter where he heals St. Peter’s mother in law, and she waits on them. After hearing about the happenings in the synagogue, the local citizens bring all of the sick and suffering to the door of St. Peter’s house at sundown…it says the whole city was gathered there, and Jesus performs many miracles of healing and casting out of demons well into the night. In the early morning, while it is still dark, Jesus goes away by himself to a quiet deserted place to pray, to spend time alone with God, the Giver of all things.

It says the disciples ‘hunted’ for Him, and when they found Him said ‘Everyone is searching for you.”

The question we might ask at this point is ‘why’ was ‘everyone’ searching for Jesus? For some it may have been his teachings in the synagogue…for others it may have been a feeling of being drawn to Jesus in his generosity and kindness in his dealings with people…but for many it was likely to see another miracle performed, to witness another ‘gift’ of healing at the hands of Jesus.

And how does Jesus respond? Rather than going back into Capernaum and giving more gifts on command, He says it’s time to go to the neighboring towns…” so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” The focus of Christ’s ministry is proclaiming the Good news of salvation; that God is acting to reunite Himself to humankind. But it seems that in dealing with people at this time, that’s not the news they are interested in ; that’s not the gift they want most –the gift of relationship with God – they are more interested in the gifts of something miraculous that they can see – something extraordinary or visibly outstanding…..

Almost an expression of ‘Hi Jesus, what did you bring me?’

In our own world, many people thirst and hunger for a relationship with God…in fact, we could echo the words of the disciples, God “Everyone is searching for you.” But unfortunately, many seek to fill that hunger with things that draw them away from God – entirely focusing on material gain, power, luxuries…as if these ‘gifts’ could satisfy their deepest longings…but these ‘gifts’, these ‘things’ don’t satisfy because they are not eternal. As St. Augustine noted ‘our hearts can never rest O Lord until they rest in you.’

We have gifts at every Mass; we have a miracle at each and every Eucharistic celebration, when through the power of God, bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, Our Savior. We receive and hear the living Word of God proclaimed in the readings. We gather to worship, and in that gathering of two or more Christ Himself is in our midst. The Church has all of these gifts, they are a constant. But they are not ours to demand or take – that are God’s gifts, freely given out of love for each of us.

They are an expression of God’s invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with Him.

They are an invitation to us to live in gratitude for the knowledge that God knows each of us, and loves us and wants us to live in Him.

They are a reminder of self-giving, and that more important than any blessings and gifts that we have received in our lives, the most important is God’s gift of Himself in the person of Jesus to us;

that the Giver is the ultimate gift.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!