September 23, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
“What were you arguing about along the way?” (Mark 9:33 ) Jesus’ question is met by silence, because the disciples have been arguing about who is the greatest. But now, under the loving yet challenging gaze of Jesus, it all seems so foolish. What can James or Peter or Andrew or Matthew say?
Jesus has been teaching them that dying to one’s selfish inclinations is the way to life, that the way to a more abundant life is to turn away from self-centeredness and live for others. They’ve spent the whole day focusing on self and who is the most important. How could they have wasted so much time or been so foolish?
In Jesus’ presence we see so clearly how putting “me first” is not His way nor the way to follow Him. When we pray, which is simply being conscious of Jesus’ presence and entering into a conversation with him, we discover that we are passionate about things which are not of lasting value. That in our desire to be right all the time, we hurt others.
Each day we are invited to answer the question Jesus poses to us as we walk along the way of discipleship with Him. What were you arguing about with your spouse? Your response could be: Oh, how foolish I was. How selfish I am, thinking my needs are more important than my spouse, that I am more important. What were you arguing about with one of your friends? Oh, how foolish I was, how self-centered, trying to prove the superiority of my position. What were you arguing about with your co-worker? Well, my coworker is of a different political persuasion than I, but I showed her and cut her down a notch or two. But how foolish I am, lording myself over her and making her feel so small.
Three times in the very center of Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer, die and rise, and each time they don’t get it. So, each time he uses their “misunderstanding” as an opening to teach them even more clearly what it means to follow him along the way of the cross. Today’s teaching follows the 2nd prediction of his Passion along the way to Jerusalem. His teaching—the greatest among you will be the servant of all. Not just by serving a few select people, but by being a servant to all people.
In Jesus’ 3rd prediction of His Passion in Chapter 10, it’s as if James and John don’t even hear what he says, because they ask for the best seats in His Kingdom, and then the others get upset at the brothers for doing so. So, Jesus teaches them again that in his Kingdom it is not about glory and honor and making one’s importance felt, but about service, using himself as an example, Jesus refers to himself as Son of Man, his favorite title for himself, as he states: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 ).
He will reinforce this teaching at the Last Supper, getting on his knees to wash their dirty, stinking feet.
Just like those first followers of Jesus, we struggle to hear his words and to remember his example of life-giving service. Instead of washing feet we are tempted to take the opposite perspective, to stand over others, to look down on others from our perch of self-righteous judgment. From this perspective, we see ourselves as better, as more important, as being always in the right.
Getting down on our knees to wash others feet gifts us with a totally different perspective. We have to look up at others, and as we do so, we realize we are not better than them, more important than them. Rather we see what we share in common—that all of us have feet that sweat and stink because that’s part of the human condition. From the vantage point of service, we see that we are all human beings.
In fact, from the perspective of being a servant to others, we realize something even deeper, that we are all children of God.
One of the penances I often give to children when they come to Confession is to go home and ask their parents: “What can I do for you?” I picture their mom or dad, upon hearing this question, initially being speechless, their jaws dropping open in amazement.
This kind of attitude within a family—“What can I do for you”— transforms family life by building each other up and strengthening the life of the family. Those who used to be self-centered widen the circle of their concern to include the needs of other family members.
This kind of attitude also transforms the human family into being what it has been made to be—the family of God. When we daily ask of others, “What can I do for you?” there is no time nor energy for arguing about who is the most important.
Instead of judging people only on what they can do for us, we ask what we can do for them. Then our eyes are opened, and we see that we are serving Christ himself.
September 16, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Over the last several weeks we“Whoever wishes to save his life loses it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35) This is what St. John Paul II called the “law of the gift.” Pope John Paul II stated it this way: “Man can only find himself through the sincere gift of self.” This teaching of the 2 nd Vatican Council, repeated incessantly by St. John Paul II, unmasks the deception of a life focused on self. If I seek only to preserve myself—my interests, my comforts, my preferences— I lose everything. But, if I learn to sacrifice myself, if I learn how to be a gift to and for others, I not only bless and affirm the God-given dignity of others, I find myself and “save” my life in the process.
The “law of the gift” helps us better understand the mystery of the cross and what it means for us to carry the cross. Instead of focusing solely on ourselves, we deny ourselves and follow Jesus, who is the example of what self-giving love looks like. We participate in carrying HIS cross, not just any old cross. For the cross is simply an instrument of torture that was used not only to kill Jesus but other condemned criminals. BUT Jesus’ cross is different for on it he gives himself completely to the Father out of love and for us out of love. The innocent One dying for the guilty, the Son of God for the sons and daughters of men, emptying his life that we might share in divine life and death destroyed.
So, to carry the cross does not mean suffering through illness, because that is self-focused. Besides, everyone at one time or another suffers from sickness, whether they are Christian or not. Instead, to carry the cross means to help others in their time of illness, to be the healing hands of Christ to them.
To deny oneself and follow Jesus in carrying the cross does not mean when disaster strikes my life, this is my cross to carry. Every human being faces and deals with disaster at one time or another in their life. Instead, to carry the cross means reaching out to help carry people who are impacted by disasters in their life. Just as well, to carry the cross does not mean struggling through the burden of sorrow over the death of a loved one. Once again, that is self-focused, not other-directed. To carry the cross instead means to lift up others who are being crushed by the weight of their sorrow, to dry the tears of those who weep, to bring them the hope of new life by our self-giving love.
What you are willing to give up for someone reveals your love for them more than words can ever say. Real love and sacrifice are never far apart. Love which is the real deal is always connected to the gift of self. In fact, it’s not what we take and have which makes us rich, but rather what we give up. St. James in his letter proclaims the same truth in a different way by stating that faith without works is dead. True faith is faith put into practice. Real faith acts on behalf of others, especially those in greatest need. Faith Works! Today we are given an opportunity to put our faith to work, to love in a sacrificial way, by responding generously to the annual Catholic Charities Appeal. Our sisters and brothers who need our help will receive it through the many excellent service programs of Catholic Charities. I invite forward Molly Bernard to speak with us about the good works Catholic Charities does in our name and with our sacrificial support.
[He] said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)
And [immediately] the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.
September 2, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
We have finished our Scripture summer vacation through Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel and now return to the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel for this liturgical year. We spent the last 5 Sundays coming to know more fully Jesus as the Bread of Life who gives his flesh for the life of the world, who hungers for union with us, that we might live and love with Him and in Him. As we are drawn deeper into this intimate union with the Word of God made Flesh, we recognize more fully with Peter that he alone has the words of everlasting life. That Jesus is the Word of everlasting life.
Today in Mark’s Gospel the words Jesus speaks to the Pharisees & scribes help us to see more clearly the danger of hypocrisy and the importance of integrity in our life of faith. Some of the Pharisees and scribes focus only on the externals of religion, following the rules. They neglect the heart of religion, the most important law of God to love God by loving one’s neighbors. (Remember in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus puts no limit on who one’s neighbor is.) Jesus looks into the heart, while they focus only on external appearances.
Jesus hangs out with those whom the religious hypocrites of the day consider to be sinners, whom they would never get close to for fear of being contaminated and becoming unclean.
These “religious” ones believe that someone like a deaf mute is a sinner, thinking that such a person has done something terribly wrong to be punished by God with such a serious disability. However, Jesus sees those who struggle with disabilities and sickness as revealing the glory of God and knows they trust in God’s care more than the healthy do.
The Pharisees see a tax collector as a traitor, working with the Roman occupiers and making money off his own Jewish brothers and sisters, whereas Jesus looks into the heart of Matthew the tax collector and sees an apostle.
The religious leaders see a prostitute and label her a sinner while Jesus gets to know these women as warriors who do whatever is necessary to provide for their starving children. The Pharisees and scribes believe those who are rich are blessed by God, and conversely that those who are poor must be cursed by God. But by caring for the impoverished, Jesus shows that the poor are God’s favorites.
Judgment spews from the Pharisees and scribes—they judge others on the externals. Mercy flows from Jesus, because he sees into the heart, and as Savior has come to save those who need him. Such Pharisees and scribes never even attempt to know those they consider sinners, because these “pious” ones stand at a distance judging, while Jesus dines with sinners, feeding them with the gift of God’s saving mercy.
The Pharisee in each one of us is convinced that by keeping the rules we can earn our salvation. The Pharasaical temptation is to think we can save ourselves by focusing only on externals, by perfect observance of the rules.
This kind of thinking leaves Jesus out of the picture. There is no purpose and no reason for a Savior in this kind of system. In his debate in today’s Gospel with the Pharisees, Jesus takes a stand against this kind of thinking. Salvation is from the hand of God made visible in Christ. It is a free gift, not something we can earn and then think we can deserve. Jesus is the perfect gift come from God the Father who saves us from ourselves. For we all fall into the trap, in one way or another, of thinking we can earn our salvation.
The danger with this kind of thinking is that it leads to judging others as unclean, as unworthy, as outside of God’s care. If we think we can earn salvation by earning the approval of God, then we think we deserve it by what we do, and thus those who do not do the same are condemned. When we focus only on the externals, it is easy to be both jury and judge in our relations with others and consider them to be outside of God’s care and thus outside of ours as well.
Jesus’ message—pay attention to yourself. Pay attention to what resides in your own heart. For from within the heart arise thoughts which make one unclean, which defile a person. The Savior of the World, the one who is the Word of Life, waits on us to invite him into a deep-sea dive into the depths of our heart. With him we can plunge into the darkest recesses of our heart and ask him to save us from whatever death-dealing attitudes reside there.
On Judgment Day I think we will be asked by God not whether we perfectly followed the “rules” but whether we loved our neighbor and thus demonstrated our love for God.
According to St. James, one of the 12 apostles who learned at the feet of Jesus, religion which is pure and undefiled before God is this : “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction.” (James 1: 27) That’s right—loving the most vulnerable in our world, reaching out to lift them up in their time of struggle and suffering—this is what real religion looks like.
This is what it means to love the Son of God, who became poor that we might become rich in God’s mercy.
As we journey through these Sundays of September, we will keep returning to the Letter of James and his challenging teaching on what real religion looks like.
The word of God in this letter will lay bare the temptation of our hearts to judge others on appearances. James will point out that even in an assembly of Christians gathering for worship, this deadly dynamic continues to play out, as we welcome the well dressed person and shun the poor person in shabby clothes. Think about it— how would you react if a homeless person came in here looking for a seat?
Or Christians only offer prayers of blessing for those who have nothing to wear or no food to eat, instead of clothing and feeding them in their need.
A living faith, as James points out, leads to good works, for we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only. If we want the living Word of God to take root in our hearts and dispel the darkness living there, then we are called to love him present in the least of our brothers and sisters.