Last Sunday’s reading from the second chapter of Mark shows how fast things move in Mark’s Gospel. We already see our Lord performing great wonders as he moves throughout the country. At the same time, those wonders are producing opposition that will ultimately result in the crucifixion of the Lord.
Jesus had just told a paralytic man that his sins were forgiven and the religious leaders of that day were up in arms. “How dare you say that! No one can forgive sins except God alone.” Jesus does not respond to that charge because he agrees with it but to just show the relationship between himself and Yahweh, Jesus says to the paralytic in front of him, “I command you. Stand up. Pick up your mat and go home.” The crowds were awestruck and the reputation of the Lord grows stronger but his enemies see this new prophet in their midst as a real threat to their status and don’t look warmly towards being undercut by this young man from Nazareth.
The sick man in this story had everything against him. He was crippled and also was marked by human frailty. In a very real way, he stands in the place for all of us. We all have material and physical problems and we need God’s help, but we also are spiritually weak and sooner or later we need God’s forgiveness. When you say your morning prayers try to visualize the voice of Jesus leaping across the centuries and saying to you, “John, pick up your mat and go.”
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February 19th, 7th Sunday of the Year
Image from letitreachyou.blog.com
As I said last week, Mark lays out his thesis of his Gospel in the first sentence of the first chapter, that it was about the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Having said that, he moves quickly to provide motives for faith to his listeners and begins to relate the awesome powers that Jesus constantly exercised. Today’s except provides us a delightful and interesting story.
Jesus has quickly become famous, stories abound about his wondrous powers and throngs gather around him. Many of those coming want to be cured from terrible sicknesses and disease. Today, it is a question of a paralyzed man whose friends bring him. When they are frustrated that they can’t even get inside the building because of the crowd, they use their heads and carried the man up on the roof (I think that most roofs were flat at that time), removed some of the thatch and lower this man down from the sky. Isn’t that delightful?
Visualize our Lord delivering a major presentation on his message of salvation and suddenly right down in front of him, held by a blanket, comes the body of this crippled man. Our Lord was impressed but telling him he is cured is not the first thing he said. Rather, he said, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” That immediately caused a stir among his enemies. I will come back to that tomorrow how Jesus uses this need for a physical cure as a sign of a much greater power that he has; namely, to heal the relationship between frail human beings and an infinitely loving God.
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Sin is always with us, and that is certainly true as far as this week is concerned! The other day I talked about the fact that we find ourselves in different situations in our lives, and those situations can generate different temptations to stumble and fall morally, and different responses to those temptations.
First, I mentioned older Christians (and I be one!). Now, I’d like to say a few words about those people who find themselves in what, in my opinion, are the most difficult years. I mark this arbitrarily as between 30 and 50 years of age. For most of us, are careers have been launched, and their future prospects fairly identifyable. Our children are half grown. Our parents are sick and in need of help. Problems associated with work often do not seem to be solvable. It’s a tough time.
These are the years that put great strain on marriage- a strain that occasionally leads to missteps. Adultery is an obvious example, and so is dishonesty or theft in our workaday world. If these sins are entered into freely, rupture our relationship with God until we have atoned through our sorrow and reception of the Sacrament of Penance. These are the years that seem to be extremely difficult, while at the same time, easy escapes from our burdens are not on the horizon.
Persons in these years can sometimes be terribly disheartened, discouraged, bitter, and lose their motivation. These reactions are counterproductive and sometimes destructive, but not SINFUL. These are the years that call for heroism and generosity, and not a preoccupation with sin.
God bless the middle ages!
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We’re still on SIN. I began this by mentioning that many are curious about what the priest hears in the confessional, hour after hour and year after year. I usually answer that question with something very true, but for me, at least, is a cliche. There is not much variety! While we have received 10 Commandments from GOD, most human beings have serious trouble with only two or three of them. We DO honor our parents. We do NOT steal. We DO try to worship God. But some of us have more difficulty with the 6th, 7th, and all that coveting business.
Sins are committed in the face of temptation. IF the temptation is resisted, we are spiritually stronger. If we succumb, we are damaged somewhat. But temptations vary on the basis of age, place in life, and spiritual formation. Let’s talk about elderly penitents today.
They are settled in life. Their day to day experience is often routine. For the most part, they have established good habits, relationships that are suppportive. They have intelligence and free will, so are certainly capable of sin- even grave sin- but most of them are free of grave sins the majority of the time. These people will confess “uncharitable speech”, the telling of risque jokes, failure to say morning prayers. While these weaknesses should be avoided, they are usually not “sinful” at all- just bad manners. Bad manners are to be avoided, but they are NOT sins in themselves.
Onward through the fog!
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September 11, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The texts in today’s Mass point us forcefully towards the need to develop within ourselves the virtue of forgiveness. The Gospel is wonderful. It is all about an evil servant who, although he is forgiven a great debt by his master, turns on a fellow servant who has failed to repay but a pittance that was owed. As good as that is, I prefer to touch on the first reading from the book of Sirach, which speaks beautifully and poetically to the need to be forgiving persons. Sirach tells us:
“Wrath and anger are hateful things and yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
Isn’t that marvelous? Don’t we all know people, and maybe even occasionally ourselves, who hug tightly to our anger and hate instead of letting it go, and experiencing the joy and freedom that comes with forgiveness. The text goes on,
“The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance for He remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbors injustice and then when you pray your sins will be forgiven.”
In my opinion, one of the keys to day-to-day happiness is not carrying about anger and bitterness inside our minds and hearts. Today, the voice of Sirach leaps across the centuries and tells us that we need to try to do the same… although today in particular, forgiveness can be very challenging.
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Another flap! I had hoped that somebody in the Vatican was scurrying around trying to locate a very talented person to run the PR office of Vatican City. We all remember when the Pope attacked the Muslim faith on his way to Turkey. About fifteen or twenty people lost their lives because of that. We remember when he rehabilitated an English Bishop that denied the Holocaust had ever happened.
Today, however, I want to address the latest blunder.
The press has had a field day for the last two weeks, running cartoons, commentaries, and blistering criticisms of the fact that a Vatican statement condemning certain human errors (read sins) put two items on that list that in the minds of an average person should never be joined. One was the strong condemnation of the sexual abuse of a child or minor.
The other was a condemnation of any person attempting to ordain a woman to the priesthood.
Obviously, the Vatican is truly opposed to both actions. However, to put them in the press release on the list together was a startling communications error! Even though there were many other issues on the list, putting these two items together handed the Press yet another opportunity to ridicule Church leadership.
What do I think? I believe the Church’s views on women and their role in society remains Medieval at best. Those positions will eventually change, but one battle at a time. The sexual scandal has been so devastating to the well being of the Church, that the Church should do whatever it can to restore the confidence of the people. This news story had destructive ramifications, and has produced the opposite effect of what we need.
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