Jesus' mission is Church's mission: Preaching, teaching and healing. That's why we have churches, schools and hospitals. These ministries seem to be our primary mission. This might get us busy, tired, stressed and can get us out of our wits. That's when we need that space to recharge our spirits and bodies. That's what the Lord did. However, he doesn't seem to complain when "they" came to "disturb" him out of his "space". For Jesus the "action-contemplation" space was seamlessly woven into his mission-presence space.
-Tony Kayala, c.s.c.
Gospel reading: Mark 1:29-39
Today’s gospel passage is in three sections:
– verses 29 – 31: Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law;
– verses 32-34: a general statement on Jesus’ ministry of healing;
– verses 35 – 39: Jesus chooses to expand his ministry to neighboring towns.
We can take one section at a time, on its own; or we can try to discern a movement flowing through the entire passage – this is the approach I propose. The passage then reveals a new dimension of Jesus’ ministry, the general outlines of which are drawn in these first Sundays of Ordinary time.
On the Third Sunday, Jesus announced the overall goal of his ministry – the kingdom of God. The Fourth Sunday (Mark 1:21-28) showed that his ministry is a ministry of casting out unclean spirits with authority. On this Fifth Sunday, we get the further insight that Jesus will always be restless, he will never “have somewhere where he can lay his head.” He will always be on the lookout for new areas where his gospel needs to be preached.
This has also been the mark of Jesus’ followers. In every age and culture, the Church has had its “missionaries”, men and women of generous spirit, happy and successful where they were, who realized that the gospel was not being preached among cultures, ethnic groups or social classes which were neglected by society and by the Church. They stepped out courageously and moved into these “neighboring country towns” so that the gospel of God’s love could be “preached there too.” Paul and Barnabas were the first. They left the prosperous community of Antioch to bring the good news to the Greek cities of Asia Minor. One thousand years later, St Francis of Assisi turned his back on his noble and wealthy family and lived as a brother among the poorest people of his area. In our time, Mother Teresa, comfortable and successful in a well established religious order, decided to move out and found a new community entirely dedicated to the dying on the streets of Calcutta.
In the secular world too, all great people come to the time when they must step out into an area their movement has neglected up to now. Nelson Mandela, for example, decided at some point in his life that he would work for reconciliation with his oppressors. People have given up successful careers in law, medicine, finance, education or management to work for the advancement of neglected communities.
It happens to all of us, at one time or another, that we find the courage to break new ground, to be reconciled with someone who had hurt our family, to move into some field where our services are needed. This passage celebrates such moments of grace
– in the life of Jesus and in our lives.
In recent years, our Church has often made similar moves in many countries. It has given up its prestige and influence, risked loosing the patronage of the wealthy and the powerful, and stood at the side of the oppressed, “preaching there too.”
It would be good to spend some time with the expression “because that is why I came.” Like so many phrases in the Bible, it is brief and seemingly simple, but it can transform our consciousness radically. When the Church neglects the marginalized it is always because it has forgotten the reason “why it came”.
The gospel passage reminds us that we will not take bold new decisions unless we are inwardly free, as Jesus was. It also teaches us the secret of his inner freedom – his regular, deep, personal prayer, the fact that he would “leave the house and go off to a lonely place to pray there” – another haunting little phrase.
Lord, answering your call is often difficult.
Sometimes we are discouraged by our failures,
but at other times it is success that prevents us.
Like Jesus, we must go against those who admire us and the work we are doing.
They want us to continue where we are, they remind us of the good we do for people,
as friends, teachers, doctors, nurses or counsellors,
how we take them by the hand and help them,
so that the fever leaves them and they can wait on us.
They point out the people bringing to us all who are sick,
and those who are possessed by devils, so that it feels as if the whole town is there crowding round the door or our house.We ourselves are pained to leave the many who are suffering from diseases
of one kind or another,
or who need devils to be cast out. Teach us to follow the example of Jesus; remind us that if we want to do your will we must learn to get up in the morning, long before dawn, and leave our house to go off to a lonely place and pray there, so that when others come in search of us saying, “Everybody is looking for you,”like Jesus, we will be free enough to choose what we know is right for us.
We will go to neighboring regions where no one else has gone,
relate to those we have been keeping at arm’s length,
so that we can bring the good news of your love there too, remembering that this is why we have come into the world.
Lord, forgive us, your church, that we have become complacent,
that we are content to congratulate ourselves at whole towns crowding round our doors.
We pray that we will never lose the missionary spirit of Jesus,
so that, just as he went through all Galilee,
the church too will go through all areas of society and all cultures,
preaching your love wherever people are gathered,
and casting out every kind of evil spirit.
Introduction to the Celebration
Today we recall that Jesus ‘went all through Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out devils.’ We gather at his table now because we acknowledge him to be the One who brings us healing, who has conquered evil, and who gives us life and hope.
Comments on Gospel: Mk 1:29-39
In this passage we see the beginnings of the public itinerant ministry in Galilee. However, there are one or two points of interest. First, there is the combination of the public with the private. Jesus heals both in public, and in the private space of the house of Simon and Andrew. We hear of Jesus being in the public gaze of healing — ‘after sunset’ which we would express as ‘doing overtime’ — and then he is away in a private space in prayer and then back immediately to another public space to preach.
Second, it is interesting that the first private healing is of someone with fever — fever brought a dread to people in the ancient world that we cannot grasp (Luke in his version of this story links fever with demonic possession), and so being able to cure fever, and do it quickly, is a sign of heavenly power. The theme of the speed of the healing is expressed by the fact that Peter’s wife’s mother was ill with fever one moment, and the next was able to be up and about serving them.
At the outset of the ministry Mark wants to present Jesus as the one who brings healing and deliverance; now in this passage comes the additional task of preaching. But all the time, only the demons know his true identity, but he has such power over them that he can even keep them from speaking and spreading this news. Here we are getting our first glimpses of the Messianic Secret that is such a key theme in Mark’s theology.
1. It is often the case that we perform actions in the liturgy while hardly ever thinking why we bother. Often when people are asked, for example, why we bring Communion to the sick, the only answer is that the priest wants it done, so because the minister likes to help out the priest, he or she does it. Even worse occurs, however, when people think up their own rationale for actions without recourse to the fundamental rationale of Christian liturgy. That process was, and still is, the great factor leading to deformities in the liturgy over time, such as the enormous deformities in the liturgy of the Eucharist that were corrected after Vatican II. People often wonder why there was need for such a radical break with the 1950s: the answer is that the extent of the surgery was adapted to the extent of the cancer! But such confusions do not just happen in the past, but all the time. Ask your Eucharistic Ministers why they bring Communion to the housebound, and you might get some theological surprises! I did so and got this morsel of confusion: if the sick can get Communion on the days they cannot get to Mass, but ideally should, they build up less ‘trouble’ with God. Unpicking this, it was clear that this well-educated minister was not confusing’not being able to get to Mass’ with sin (or what old textbooks called ‘material sin’), but did think that God was running a merit / demerit system as a basis of salvation. Coupled with this was a notion that celebrations of the Eucharist were really there as a way of producing Holy Communion: so if the sick person could get the result without watching the preparation, then all was well! This is reminiscent of the eighteenth-century casuists’ question: why should bishops (presiding, not celebrating) be required by law to sit through long ceremonies when they had more important things to do, could they not just be given communion by their chaplains? Answer: Bishops and kings have to sit through the ceremonies on Sundays prior to receiving Communion as an act of penance! So the special minister I spoke to was the unwitting inheritor of a long tradition of teaching that we would all now rather forget.
2. Hence, it is a good idea to use the homily sometimes to reflect on just why we are doing what we are doing, and today’s gospel with its links to Jesus entering houses, healing, and eating makes this a good day to reflect on the links between the celebration of the Eucharist and care of the sick in the community.
3. A simple explanation would include these elements:
• We gather each week to become one people as brothers and sisters in Christ• When we gather for the Eucharist we become the Body of Christ: Jesus is the head of this body, we are the trunk and arms and legs.
• We show we are one body by having shares of one loaf and drinking from one cup.• The cup of blessing which we bless, is a participation in the blood of Christ.• The loaf which we break, is a participation in the body of Christ.• Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
• But we recall that there are sisters and brothers in this community who cannot gather with us because they are sick or housebound. • So we bring them a share of our one loaf, the portion carried to them by the Minister of the Eucharist.• Then through that sharing, they become one with the rest of us and with Christ.• The Ministers carrying portions of our loaf to the sick and housebound of the community are forming the links and sinews of the Christ’s body
We continue reading from the first chapter of Mark and its emphasis on Jesus as the one who inaugurates the kingdom of God. Now it is his healing ministry that highlights God’s triumph over the powers of darkness. This is dramatically symbolised in the fact that it is after sunset on the Sabbath that the people come crowding around the door. During the Sabbath they were not allowed to bring their loved ones to him as this would be considered work, but now they flock to him in search of his healing compassion. As before, Jesus does not permit the demons to speak and here an important theme of the gospel is being alluded to. People have definite expectations of what a Messiah should be, and what Jesus is offering will be different and so he refuses to allow a mistaken notion of his purpose to develop. Rather he commits himself to his task by taking time out to pray alone and then continuing his mission of proclaiming the kingdom.
The friends who came to comfort Job in his suffering were no comfort at all because they only offered him platitudes derived from poor doctrine. Job, for his part, insisted there must be more to God than what he was being told and it was this determination to really know God that brought him to the experience outlined in the final chapters of the book (38-42). Sometimes, in order to feel secure and certain, religious people can speak of God in ways which are only a demonstration of their ignorance and fear. As Jesus showed, God will be better known through love in action than through any statement of doctrine.
Donal Neary SJ
Darkness and Light
The first reading is tough to hear and we admire Job. We talk of ‘the patience of Job’. Job is the example and the hero of depression. He just had it bad. All had gone wrong and he felt no good, no hope, no meaning. His family collapsed, his wealth disappeared and he cursed the day he was born. He went through all of the depressions people have, but somehow kept that glimmer of light alive. He never totally lost God, and God never lost him.
Depression is a huge illness. Many suffer; many are affected. Treatment can be of help, and the listening times of friends as well as therapy is healing.
A great priest wrote
…. At the worst of the burn out I couldn’t say mass, never mind preach. Dry, empty, without light or life. Thanks again for the card you sent. It means a lot to me now. Funny, in the worst of my anxiety, nothing, no compliment, and no reassurance… meant anything to me.
There are many helps on the human level. There is the help also of faith and prayer at times. And the help of someone who, listens, sympathises, doesn’t judge nor give easy cures. Love from God never ends even though it may not appear near just now. This is the Jesus of the gospel – bringing the grace of healing, of freeing from any evil, of constant love.
From The Connections:
Jesus works miracles not out of any need of his own for the adulation of the masses but out of an extraordinary sense of compassion, a deep love for his brothers and sisters, especially those in crisis or pain. The miracles he works are not to solicit acclaim for himself but to awaken faith and trust in the Word of God, to restore in humankind God's vision of a world united as brothers and sisters under his providence (“that is what I have come to do”). Jesus’ compassion for those who come to him breaks down stereotypes and defenses that divide, segregate and marginalize people; his ministry is not to restore bodies to health but to restore spirits to wholeness.
Like Jesus’ rising before dawn and going to a deserted place, we too need that “deserted,” “out of the way” place to re-connect with God, to rediscover God’s presence in our life, to find within ourselves again a sense of gratitude for the blessings of that presence.
Jesus does not perform miracles to dazzle the crowds and glory in their acclaim but to awaken his hearers’ faith and trust in the word of God, to restore all of humanity to God's vision of one world in which all men and women love and respect one another as brothers and sisters under the Father's loving providence.
That began to change with a bathrobe, one of the few things she took with her to the hospital for her cancer surgery. Every morning she would put it on and took comfort in how soft it was and enjoyed its beautiful color, its warmth, the way it moved around her when she moved.
She later told her doctor, “One morning as I was putting it on I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I know it sounds funny, but I felt so lucky just to have it. But the odd part is that it wasn’t new. I had owned it and worn it now and then for quite a few years. Possibly because it was one of five bathrobes in my closet, I had never really seen it before.”
When she completed her chemotherapy, she held a huge garage sale and sold more than half the things she owned. Her friends thought she had gone “chemo-crazy,” but getting rid of so many possessions brought a new joy and appreciation to her life. Until her illness, she had no idea what was in her closets or on her bookshelves, she didn't know half the people whose telephone numbers she had in her address book.
But the fewer things she has she now enjoys; she has fewer but much deeper friendships. Having and experiencing, she discovered, are very different.
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
1: “It must be Peter’s mother in law!”:
There is the funny story about a woman listening to her pastor preach a Sunday morning sermon about Simon Peter's wife's mother, ill with a fever. Since it was a boring sermon the woman left the Church after the Mass, feeling somewhat unfulfilled. Consequently, she decided to go to Church again that day, out in the country where she had grown up. When she arrived, she discovered to her dismay that her pastor had been invited to be the substitute priest and again, during the Mass he preached on the Gospel of the day about Peter's mother-in-law being ill with a fever. Believing that there was still time to redeem the day, the woman decided to go to the hospital chapel in the evening. As you may have guessed, her pastor was assigned to say the evening Mass there and he preached the same sermon on Peter's wife's mother and her fever. Next morning, the woman was on a bus riding downtown and, wonder of wonders, her pastor boarded that bus and sat down beside her. An ambulance raced by with sirens roaring. In order to make conversation, the pastor said, "Well, I wonder who it is?" "It must certainly be Peter's mother-in-law," she replied. "She was sick all day yesterday." (Millennium Edition of Preaching)
4: Humor in our healing ministry:
“Laugh and the world laughs with you.” “Laughter is music of the spheres, language of the gods.” And it's fine medicine. Laughter exercises the face, shoulders, diaphragm, and abdomen. The breathing deepens, the heart rate rises, and the blood is more oxygenated. Endorphins are released, pain thresholds are raised, and some studies suggest that even immune systems are boosted. Norman Cousins, in Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, tried laughter therapy, and found that ten minutes of hearty laughter could give him two hours of pain-free sleep. When you laugh, others laugh too. Laughter is a contagious, highly effective, totally organic medicine. It has no side effects, and no one is allergic to it. Did you have your dose of laughter today? Jesus may have burst into hearty laughter when he watched Zacchaeus climb down from the sycamore tree. Perhaps he also had at least a mischievous smile when Peter started sinking in his attempt to walk on water. Then why don’t we too have a hearty laugh in the worshipping community in the real presence of our Lord?
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
We are familiar with the story of Job, part of which is contained in the first reading of today. Job’s story was a pitiable one: He was deprived of family, lacked worldly possessions, was racked by physical pain and suffered mental anguish. Job put himself the question: “Why should God allow these misfortunes to come upon me?” Job moans his lot: “Is life worth living?” He compares his life to a slave, whose life is one long drudgery; he feels helpless and hopeless like a workman who has to work for no wages; His life is one long bore, he waits for the end which will not come. Job though steadfast and loyal was impatient. His human friends had failed to explain life and he felt that his divine friend would not come either. Is there any hope for the depressed? Our Christian perspective adds a new dimension. Truly, if death is the end of it all, life does not make sense!
The healing in giving
He stood on the steel bridge-fifty feet above the swirling river. He lit his last cigarette –before making his escape. There was no other way out. He had tried everything: orgies of sensuality, travel excitement, drink and drugs. And now the last failure: marriage. No woman could stand him after a few months. He demanded too much and gave nothing. The river was the best place for him. A shabby man passed by, saw him standing in the shadow and said, “Got a dime for a cup of coffee, Mister?” The other smiled in the darkness. A dime! “Sure, I’ve got a dime, buddy. I’ve got more than a dime.” He took out a wallet. “Here take it all.” There was about $100 in the wallet, he took it out and thrust it towards the tramp. “What’s the idea?” asked the tramp. “It’s all right. I won’t need it where I am going.” He glanced down towards the river. The tramp took the bills, and stood holding them uncertainly for a moment. Then he said, “No, you don’t mister. I may be a beggar, but I’m no coward; and I won’t take money from one either. Take your filthy money with you –into the river. He threw the bills over the rails and they fluttered and scattered as they drifted slowly down towards the dark river. “So long, coward.” said the tramp and he walked off. The ‘coward’ gasped. Suddenly, he wanted the tramp to have the money he had thrown away. He wanted to give – and couldn’t! To give! That was it! He never had tried that before. To give –and be happy… He took one last look at the river and turned from it and followed the tramp….
The gospel story begins with Jesus going with his disciples James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. He has barely entered when they confide to him their worries and concerns, petty though they may seem. Simon’s mother-in-law has gone to bed with a fever. Jesus did not hesitate, he went straight away to her bed, took her by the hand and the fever left her and she began to wait on them. Jesus’ present healing involves only a gesture – he grasped her hand and helped her up. That healing action of Jesus was enough to set the town on fire, and by evening everyone who was sick or afflicted in any way was at Simon’s doorstep. Whenever people hear of a healer there are hordes of people who seek the magical touch. What’s wrong in seeking a miracle? If we can get instant relief from our misery why not try the charm, the magical ritual, the holy sanctuary? After all does not God want us to be healed? The Gospel tells us the crowds kept increasing, they wanted more miracles. By morning there were crowds milling around waiting for Jesus but he was nowhere to be found, he disappeared. The apostles could not understand. This was the moment Jesus should have capitalized on his popularity, yet he disappeared and when they found him, he was alone by himself praying. By refusing to be what the people wanted him to be: a magical Saviour, Jesus was making a point, that good health does not necessarily enhance the quality of life, and ill-health does not necessarily detract from it. Rather than carry on with the healing, Jesus insisted on leaving the crowds and heading off to other places to preach the good news. We can imagine it was hard for Jesus to leave the people yet that was the Father’s will revealed to him in prayer, and that is what he did. He had come not to do what the people wanted him to do but to do the Father’s will. Suffering, a deep part of human existence, and essential part of estrangement from God, was also a means of purification and return to God. Jesus did not ignore pain, but did not seek to avoid it either.
Broken to become beautiful!
At the Royal Palace of Tehran in Iran, you can see one of the most beautiful mosaic works in the world. The ceilings and walls flash like diamonds with multifaceted reflections. Originally, when the palace was designed, the architect specified huge sheets of mirrors on the walls. When the first shipment arrived from Paris, they found to their horror that the mirrors were shattered. The contractor threw them in the trash and brought the sad news to the architect. Amazingly, the architect ordered all of the broken pieces collected, then smashed them into tiny pieces and glued them to the walls to become a mosaic of silvery, shimmering, mirrored bits of glass. Broken to become beautiful! It's possible to turn your scars into stars. It's possible to be better because of brokenness. Never underestimate God's power to repair and restore.
Pause and be still
The musician Andre Kostelanetz once visited the French artist Henri Matisse. When Kostelanetz got to Matisse’s home, his nerves were frayed and he was exhausted. Matisse noticed this and said to him good-humouredly, “My friend you must find the artichokes in your life.” With that he took Kostelanetz outside to his garden. When they came to a patch of artichokes, Matisse stopped. He told Kostelanetz that every morning after he has worked for a while, he comes out to his patch of artichokes to pause and be still. He just stands there looking at the artichokes. Matisse then added: “Though I have painted over 200 canvasses, I always find new combination of colours and fantastic patterns. No one is allowed to disturb me in this ritual. It gives me fresh inspiration, relaxation, and a new perspective towards my work.”
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’
Finding our strength and power in God
There was a man who was in the habit of going off by himself into a remote wood. One day a friend curious to know what he was up to, followed him. When he caught up with him, he found him sitting quietly on a log. “What are you doing?” he asked the man. “I’m praying,” came the reply. “But why come to this remote spot to pray?” “Because I feel close to God here.” “But isn’t God to be found everywhere, and isn’t God the same everywhere? “God is, but I am not.” – While it is true that we can find God and pray to God anywhere and everywhere –in the kitchen, in the street, in the car, in the farmland, in the workshop –still, it’s a good idea to have a special place to which we can withdraw from time to time – the shore, the park, the mountains, the church, or whatever. In such places God seems to be nearer and more friendly. The whole atmosphere seems to be more pervaded with the divine presence. And in such places we are different too. We are calmer, quieter, more relaxed, and thus more open to what God is offering us at all times and in all places.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies
Reaching out makes us reach within Late one December night on the cancer ward the halls were quiet and solemn, the patients were asleep and most of the visitors were gone. The nurses were gathered about the nurse's station preparing for shift change. Sarah, one of the nurses, was especially tired, having worked seven straight 12 hour days. The kids had needs, her husband had been laid off, and the house payment was due. PING. PING. PING. Sarah angrily looked at the call light box. The patient was a seventy-year-old woman. Sarah had been to her room at the end of the hall at least fifteen times. Angrily she started down the hall. On her way, she suddenly stopped. She stood motionless as a soft voice wafted out of room 235.
"And then one day I'll cross the river;
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then as death gives way to victory,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she listened and thought about the young woman in that room -- a thirty-five year old mother of two with cancer, with only a week to live, perhaps days. Sarah stood there, with tears in her eyes, remembering how this young terminal woman had such peace. The patient would speak to everyone who came into her room and she would smile even in her pain and took the time to share her faith and let people know the reason for her peace was a faith in God. All the nurses who had been around her commented on her strength and how they had felt peace and calm after talking with this exceptional young woman.
"Because He lives, I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know who holds the future,
Life is worth all the living, just because He lives."
Sarah started down the hall to answer the call light, but she was no longer going to check on some pestering old woman. She was going to the room of a patient, a person, a fellow human in need. Sarah left work with a new outlook on life. She had a rekindling of the spirit of service that had motivated her to become a nurse. Those fires had almost died, but for a young terminal woman who had the desire to be of service to her fellow man even unto death. This is a reminder to us that the reason that we are on this earth at all is to be of service to each other. Christ said it best when He said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brother." Author unknown
1. Your job comes first. Forget everything else.
3. Always have your briefcase with you when not at your desk. This provides an opportunity to review completely all the troubles and worries of the day.
4. Never say "no" to a request. Always say "yes."
5. Accept all invitations to meetings, banquets, committees, etc.
6. All forms of recreation are a waste of time.
7. Never delegate responsibility to others; carry the entire load yourself.
8. If your work calls for traveling, work all day and travel at night to keep that appointment you made for eight the next morning.
9. No matter how many jobs you already are doing, remember you always can take on more.