My kingdom does not belong to this world.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
November 18, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Some Christians use a passage like this one in Mark’s gospel to predict the end of time. But that is not what this Scripture passage is about. In fact, Jesus in Mark’s Gospel even humbly states no one knows the day nor the hour, only the Father. So it is a waste of time looking for signs to predict the end time.
Rather this poetic, symbolic passage is a message of hope to Mark’s Christian community in Rome who are struggling to believe in God’s goodness while undergoing great trials. They feel as if their world is ending because of the terrible persecution they are suffering at the hands of the Roman Empire. So Mark shares the message of Jesus that even when you feel like you are walking in darkness—as if the sun and the moon and the stars have lost their light— that God still reigns, that God will save his faithful people.
It would do us well to remember where this powerful teaching by Jesus is located in the context of Mark’s Gospel— immediately before he enters into his passion and death. Jesus is on his way to the cross where he will enter the chaos and the darkness of human existence, plunge into suffering and loneliness, and transform it by his self-giving love.
Jesus wants us to remember, as those first Christians Mark addressed in Rome were challenged to recall, the truth of how God works and where God dwells. Not in someplace removed from the trials and tribulations of our world, but here in this world in the midst of senseless death, God is found. Not distant and far away, but here in the center of hopeless chaos and injustice, God is found. Not in some heaven far away from our struggle of feeling abandoned and all alone, but in the moment of total loneliness, God is found. God is not changing any of these painful experiences nor taking them away, but by simply being present in them, changing the people who experience them. The God of Jesus Christ is not a magician who waves his magic wand and all suffering—poof, disappears. The God who Jesus Christ reveals is a Passionate Lover who goes with us into the darkest place and most painful moment of our life to transform us by his Light and His Love.
Acknowledging the presence of Jesus with us by the power of His Spirit, we are daily transformed to live each day in hope and to bring others to the One who is the Source of our hope. Faith gives us the eyes to see that tribulation and trial can be birth pangs in the hands of a midwife God bringing about a further flowering of His kingdom in and through us. For we know, having journeyed this year with the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel, that he is present with us in suffering, that we are never alone even there, especially there.
Many people are tempted to believe that in the midst of suffering and trial God is not present, that God has abandoned them. Mark’s Jesus teaches us otherwise. That despite appearances, God still rules the world, and His Son, who suffered out of love for us is present with us in our suffering. That despite what things appear to be, God still reigns, and His Son who died out of love for us can transform every death into new life. Faith gives us the ability to see clearly, to focus on what is important, to enable us to notice where God is at work, even in darkness and difficulty.
So that instead of being swallowed by despair, we can grow in hope. So that instead of responding to hatred with hatred, we can respond with love. So that instead of responding to violence with more violence, we can overcome evil with good. So that instead of being tortured by doubt, we can rest in the peace of faith.
Then we notice the life-giving signs of God’s kingdom blooming in our midst.
Such as the 7 adults desiring to join our community of faith who went through the Rite of Acceptance at the 5 p.m. Mass this Saturday. They see signs of the Kingdom of God here, in our midst, and want to be a part of it. And they, too, become signs to us of the in-breaking of God’s reign.
The parents who present their children for baptism at the Sunday Masses also notice signs of the Kingdom of God here, so they trust that we will help them raise their child in the faith.
Even though the signs of the Kingdom be as small as a leaf budding from a tree at the end of winter, they are there.
By the bright, shining virtue of hope we have eyes to see the fruits of the Spirit coming to life all around us in the goodness and generosity of others.
November 11, 2018
Deacon Bill Hough
There are times when the Scripture readings really speak to me. For instance, today – “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept … seats of honor in synagogues” – next to the priest. It is a good reminder that in today’s self-centered secular world, we will only find true satisfaction when we keep our focus on God.
And that’s what our readings are about today – faith and trust in God who will always provide. This faith and trust are present in our two poor widows, one in our first reading from the first book of Kings and the other in the gospel reading from Mark.
You may remember this Old Testament story of the prophet Elijah. The king of Israel at the time, Ahab, had married Jezebel, who worshipped the god Baal. She made the people of Israel worship her god and was out to destroy any prophet of the God of the Israelites. Elijah went into hiding, but before that, God had him announce a period of drought on all who worshipped Baal.
In our reading today, God has sent Elijah to the widow in Zarephath. She has nothing and is at the point of death from famine. However, Elijah guarantees that her flour and oil will not run dry until the drought is over. She believes and her trust in the word of God through Elijah is her salvation.
In our gospel reading, Jesus is in Jerusalem. His criticism of the scribes will soon lead to His death. But He has something to teach us. The poor widow is an example to His disciples. She has given everything she has and trusts that God will provide for her.
He contrasts the widow with those who are only concerned with their own wealth and honor.
It is not a bad thing to be rich or famous (or wear long robes). It becomes a problem when riches and fame become more important than the love of God and neighbor. I had a boss who once estimated that ninety percent of people who were rich and famous were not happy because they always wanted more. It is hard to argue with that when you look at the distance in today’s world between those who have and those who do not.
Jesus accused the scribes of this self-centeredness. However, we all must beware of this. Even the Apostles at times had a difficult time understanding the message of Jesus. Just a few weeks ago, we read about James and John who wanted to sit at the right hand of Jesus. The others were angry – because they didn’t think of it first.
The late Jesuit priest and scripture scholar Daniel Harrington pointed out the minor characters in Mark’s gospel who do respond to the message of Christ. Not only the widow in today’s reading, but he also includes the woman with the hemorrhages, the Gentile woman with the sick child, blind Bartimaeus, and the friendly scribe in last week’s gospel.
Father Harrington said that these minor characters remind us that genuine holiness resides in a humble and generous spirit that loves and is totally dependent on God – something that the Apostles eventually did learn.
Advent begins in just three weeks, so we are just a few weeks from the end of this liturgical year when we have been reading from the Gospel of Mark. Mark has given us some special parting gifts these past two Sundays. Last week we heard the entire meaning of Christian life – to love God and neighbor. This week we have the lesson of humility and trust in God alone.
Our challenge is to go out and to live these lessons.
With the grace we receive today from Jesus in His Word and in His Body and Blood, let us offer our lives to God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. Then, as we go throughout this week, let us share this grace with all we meet.
They have all contributed from their surplus wealth
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
November 2, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
Of the three Theological Virtues—faith, hope, and love— we focus most of our attention on faith and love and neglect the vitally important virtue of Hope. The celebration of All Souls Day brings back into focus the centrality of hope in our lives of faith, a hope which leads us to love more joyously and generously.
Christian hope is not an abstract wish, and it is not a worldly optimism that somehow things will get better in the future. The hope we share in Christ is concrete and real. It confronts the wrenching reality of death and does not run away from sorrow.
It is a life-giving hope which the Good Shepherd protects and nourishes in us as he leads us through the dark valley of the death of our loved ones, and through the dark valley of our own death.
Every time we make a Profession of Faith at Mass, we express this hope to receive the gift of life beyond this life. “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
This is a hope which no one can snatch away from us, an anchor in the stormy seas of this life, a hope which does not disappoint.
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans speaks powerfully of this hope which does not disappoint. Why is this so? Paul is crystal clear: “because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” So the virtue of hope, so important for us in today’s world, flows from the love of God given to us—it is a divine gift.
God’s love which sustains and strengthens our hope is given to us in abundance, for it has been poured into our hearts through the gift of the Spirit first given at baptism. Not a drop here and then a drop there, but this water of new life, this love which energizes hope, has been poured into our hearts.
Christian hope roots itself in a person—in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Son of God is sent by the Father into the world, not when people in our world have turned away from sin and are worthy to receive such a great gift, but He comes before anyone is worthy to receive such a great gift.
There is more good news to enrich hope, because as St. Paul states so clearly, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. The love which sustains our hope is undeserved, unearned, complete gift. The One who is Love enfleshed gives himself to us before we are ever worthy of him, to reconcile us to the Father and to one another, to be the source of our hope forever.
The one day in history which tilted our lives and the world forever toward hope and away from despair was that first Easter Sunday when Christ Jesus rose from the dead. From the place where hope dies—the tomb—life blooms again. So now even the place of death becomes a place where hope lives.
The will of our Heavenly Father who sent His Son into the world as the living symbol of hope is that the Son should not lose anything of what the Father gave him. In Jesus, nothing and no one is lost to us. Everything and everyone can be found in Him who is the source of all hope.
We often use the word “loss” when we speak of death. We tell others we are sorry for your loss, and we pray for those who have suffered through the loss of a loved one. When we encounter the reality of death in the searing sorrow over the death of a loved one, we can feel like we have lost them, that they are lost to us. We also feel lost, for everything in life is different without them. We feel disoriented in our daily routine which used to include our beloved dead. Nothing seems to be same—even food tastes different salted with sorrow. Little things happen throughout the day which remind us of them, and we feel even more deeply the loss of their physical presence.
It is right there, in the midst of great grief, in the middle of searing sorrow, that the Lord of all hopefulness finds us. To remind us that nothing and no one is lost to him, that he came to seek out and find those who are lost. That because everything, that’s right every thing, has been created through Him and for Him, that even our beloved animal companions, our favorite blooming plants and golden leafed trees, are not lost—they are found in Him. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians says of Jesus Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creatures. In him everything in heaven and earth was created, things visible and invisible. All were created through him, all were created for him.” (1:15-16)
Our beloved dead linger with us, and continue to bless us, even when their physical absence bewilders us and breaks our hearts still. For in Jesus, all of them are still alive. In Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, they still live, just in a different way. Life for them, and for us, has changed, not ended.
Today’s Gospel passage from the evangelist John assuring us that nothing is lost in Jesus is taken from the middle of Chapter 6 in what has been called the Bread of Life discourse. It is the chapter in John’s Gospel where he lays out a powerful teaching on the Eucharist, as Jesus teaches that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have life in Him.
Thus, every time we come to the table of the Lord, we are found by the One who is the Resurrection and the Life and joined to Him who is the Source of our Hope. We also find those we thought we had lost here with Him, for he brings them with Him.
So we are joined to them, our beloved dead, at this sacred meal, and they to us, in the One who is the reason for our hope, in this banquet pointing us to the heavenly feast.