1st Week, Thursday, Jan 16th + Liturgy

1 Sam 4:1-11 / Mark 1:40-45
Israel takes the ark into battle: They were defeated; the ark was captured.

Eli’s sons were evil men. They turned away from their father when he tried to correct them. Finally, Eli warned them: “If a man sins against another man, God can defend him; but who can defend a man who sins against the Lord?” 1 Samuel 2:25. Eli’s words proved to be prophetic, as today’s reading points out. Their sins made them unworthy of God’s presence in the ark. God refused to defend them in their battle against the Philistines.
This explains God’s remark to Samuel in today’s reading, that in demanding a worldly king, the people “are rejecting me as their king.” (NAB) But for some mysterious reason, God yields to their demand.
To what extent does Christ reign as king in our hearts? “Jesus Christ will be Lord of all, or he will not be Lord at all.” St. Augustine. Do we ignore God’s law, debase his presence by our conduct, and still expect all kinds of special blessings from him?
“It is not well for a man to pray cream and live skimmed milk.” Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit
Whenever we have the luxury of a quiet moment to think and reflect about life, then we may be able to come to this realization.

We may be able to see that there is a purpose for the events that take place in our lives. There are no coincidences. There is a reason for everything. In spiritual terms, there is God's plan and purpose for the events and situations that happen in life.

In the 1st reading, we hear that the Israelites had lost an earlier battle with the Philistines, with four thousand of their army killed. They then asked this question: Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated today by the Philistines? They then embarked on this drastic action of bringing in the Ark of the Lord to accompany them in battle. Obviously, their intentions were far from spiritual or noble. Because if they had faced the first question that they asked earlier, they would have come to realize why they were defeated in battle.

In the Old Testament, every misfortune, tragedy or defeat points to a problem or a crisis. The word "crisis" comes from the Greek krisis which means "turning point in a disease" (used as such by Hippocrates and Galen). When understood in that sense, then the defeat was an opportunity for Israel to awaken from their spiritual decay and corruption and turn back to God in repentance.

In bringing the Ark of the Lord to battle, they created another greater disaster for themselves.

Similarly, to be afflicted with leprosy is a great tragedy. Especially in Biblical times, it means corruptible disfigurement as well as permanent expulsion and isolation.

Because leprosy was seen as not only as a communicable physical affliction, it was also a sign of spiritual corruption.

So it actually took a great deal from the leper to come before Jesus and ask for healing. The disease which was a crisis for him, became a turning point in his life as he turned to the Lord.

So every trouble, big or small, every disaster or tragedy, every crisis does not just happen without a reason. All that happens happen within the plan of God ; all that happens are in the hand of God.
God's will is for us to turn back to Him. Even if it means that Jesus, His only Son, had to die a tragic and humiliating death on the cross. That is what God will go through in order for us to turn back to Him.

If we realize this, then it is not just a coincidence or that it just happens. Let us give thanks to God for all that happened and will happen.

Today’s first reading tells us the beautiful story of Samuel’s vocation. He is the man attentive to the signs of God’s presence, hearing the inaudible, seeing the invisible, where others do not hear or see anything. He is in contact with God, like also Jesus withdrawing in a lonely place to pray. We hear God best when all is silent in us.
The Gospel shows this compassion of Jesus to those afflicted with all sorts of ills and the brokenhearted. He is committed against death and misery. Isn’t it that this is the mission he entrusts also to us today?

Opening Prayer
Lord God, compassionate Father, every day we meet people who suffer, who have been tried hard in life, who have encountered evil and pain.  What shall we say to them?  Let us like Jesus, try to understand the pains of our neighbor in need feel with them, and be reliable friends, perhaps in respectful silence, on account of him who suffered our pains and shared in our ills, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

When Samuel was called by God during sleep, he never thought of supernatural intervention. He could only conclude that Eli was calling him. The priest advises the young man to go back to bed and only grasps the truth of the matter after the third intervention. If it happens again, says Eli to Samuel, then respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  It is easy, and all too frequent, to confuse “hearing” with “listening,” but there is a marked difference between the two. There are many things we hear in the course of a day without really listening. Listening implies attentiveness. We may hear background music playing while we work, but when we go to a concert we are definitely in a listening mode.  The life of Samuel, one of the Bible’s most inspiring personalities, was one of complete adherence to God’s will. Many biblical people have excellent qualities but often have feet of clay as well. We are all called to listen to God’s voice but, in the cacophony of modem life, it is not always easy to discern God’s will. In the Marcan Gospel today, Jesus sets forth an important principle. He is told that people were clamoring for him in the towns he had visited. But he had no interest in returning to ground that had already been plowed. He wants to visit neighboring villages that had not yet even been touched by the good news.  Rather than set out for new ground, we often prefer “the tried and true.” Christ never surrenders to the attraction for popular acclaim. His life was short, and there was much to be done.  We do not know what the Lord may ask of us. Faith and trust will call us forward, often away from familiar ground. The church’s expansive vision from the start moved her from Jerusalem to the far-reaching Gentile world. And of that, we are all beneficiaries.    Points to Ponder    Listening to the word of God Responding to God’s call Moving into the unknown Ecumenism challenges 

 – For all who preach the Gospel, that they may speak the Good News of Christ in the light of the people’s everyday life and needs, we pray:
– For all who care for the sick, that they may never tire of treating them with personal attention and infinite respect, as they would do for the Lord himself, we pray:
– For our Christian communities, that we may be of one heart and soul and not to allow any among us to be in need, we pray: 

Prayer over the Gifts   
God, our Father, in these signs of bread and wine, you let again come among us him who is compassionate and reliable  because he shared in our death and pain,  your Son, Jesus Christ.  Let every bit of anguish and grief bring us a deeper understanding of ourselves, of life and of our neighbor and help us to be closer to your Son, who is our Lord, for ever and ever. 

Prayer after Communion 
God, our Father, we have a friend and brother who has been tried and tested as we are, put to the test at times.  He has been here with us; we have taken part in his sacrifice.  Give us now his Spirit of strength to stand firm in our trials, to grow through them as human beings and Christians, and to stand by the side of those who are submerged in suffering.  May this be our way of sharing in everyday life in the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

Who can understand better our pain and suffering than the Son of God, who went through our temptations, our suffering, our death for our sake. He knows and stands by our side in our difficult moments. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.