This Sunday I am reminded of a very dear priest friend of mine, Fr. Ken, who shall we say, is no wilting violet—no “Caspar Milquetoast.” In particular I think back on a time when in the middle of a wedding, as he stood before the couple, a man made the near fatal mistake of parking his ice cream truck right in front of the open front doors of the church (it being a very warm day) and turned up the volume of his loud speakers which were playing a jingle version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Hardly being able to hear himself speak, Father, dressed in full liturgical battle array, walked briskly down the middle aisle, out the doors, and right into the cab of the ice cream vendor’s van. He yelled at the top of his lungs “Move this @#$%!! truck out of here NOW! How many times have I told you not to park here! Can’t you see there is a wedding going on?” The ice cream truck vanished in a cloud of exhaust, Father returned to the sanctuary much in the same way as he had exited, and continued with the blessing of the rings almost without missing a beat.
In the spirit of today’s Gospel, the forty days of Lent mean that we accompany Jesus into the desert—to converse with our Heavenly Father, face our tempters, and be ministered to by angels. What I have found helpful over the years, as foundational to a Lent well observed, is to recall the spiritual life as outlined by the masters—the saints. Common to all of them are the classic elements of the conversion process: the PURGATIVE, ILLUMINATIVE, and the UNITIVE WAYS.
Jesus heals… As our world insists on becoming increasingly a messy, even frightening place to live, the Prophet Job’s question becomes more than ever our own:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Indeed it is. And Job’s fabled patience is needed in heavy doses. The news of escalating persecution of faith professed is heart wrenching; downright discouraging is the awareness that prejudice of every sort still has a hold on us; and that devaluation of human life actually has growing legislative lobby power is most disheartening.
Indeed, Jesus comes with a new teaching—with authority—authority enough to drive out unclean spirits. This proclamation begs the question: What did those around Jesus experience as new. In fact, they were aware of other authority figures in the past that demonstrated great power. We need only think of Moses and the prophets. But what is certainly new here is that the people believed it was God’s authority in Moses and others that accomplished God’s almighty power. What is new in Jesus (and what they can’t seem to put their finger on) is that Jesus’ authority is his own; and when they finally figure this out, the majority will decide he should be crucified for making such a claim for “he blasphemes!”
Picking up from the Gospel of John last Sunday, which recounted John the Baptist’s handing on of the baton to his cousin, Jesus, and his consequent instruction to his disciples to follow HIM, we turn to Mark’s account today which depicts Simon and Andrew, James and John dropping and abandoning everything to do just that—follow. Last week I wished to underscore the obvious theme of “Call and Response.” And, of course, the most important call and response of one’s life, has to be one’s vocation from God. But the readings of this Sunday actually bring about a shift in theme as they draw our attention to what has to be the first request on the lips of one who follows, “Teach me your ways O Lord!”
This Sunday the gospel reading is taken from St. John and is really preparatory for next Sunday’s reading taken from St. Mark. This Sunday John has “The Baptist” telling his disciples to turn their allegiance to Jesus (which they do); next Sunday in Mark the same disciples will be called by name. To borrow from the realtor’s world, one might say it’s all about “VOCATION, VOCATION, VOCATION.”
Truly each of us is given a star to follow and each of our stars is illuminated by the light of Christ—a light to dispel the darkness. May each of us, as we enter the New Year of 2015, have the courage to remove any obstacles in our lives that cause us to hide our light.
On this Feast of The Holy Family, I can think of no more important exhortation than to invite our prayers for Pope Francis’ ongoing Synod on The Family. At the conclusion of the inaugural “extraordinary synod” this past October, The Holy Father, as part of his closing remarks said:
TWO SAMUEL SEVEN. This was the answer to one of my canonical examination questions before ordination to the priesthood in 1973. The question was: “What is the earliest appearance in the Old Testament of the notion or idea of a once-and-for-all savior?” (I got it right, by the way.) The Second Book of Samuel, Chapter Seven, is given as our first reading on this Fourth Sunday of Advent and echoed in the Gospel of Luke as the child to be born of Mary is described as the one who will be great and will be called Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his Father, …and of his kingdom there will be no end.