Sunday, February 21, 2021

Receiving Revelation

1st Sunday of Lent (B)

Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 24(25):4-6,7b-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

Picture: cc Hafiz Issadeen

My dear friends, have you ever gone for an X-ray or a scan of some kind? As you know, scans uncover things that would otherwise remain hidden. And we use them not just out of curiosity. Scans play an important role both in diagnosis and prescription. Not only do they reveal hidden things, they also suggest the actions needed to address them.

Revealing hidden things in order to prompt needed action. This is also what our readings do for us today. Although, at first glance, the flood in the first reading may seem like nothing more than a punishment sent by God, it also functions as a spiritual scan. For before being swept away physically, by the raging waters of the flood, sinful humanity was already drowning spiritually, in its own violence and cruelty. The physical event uncovers the spiritual reality.

But the flood doesn’t just reveal the deadly consequences of sin, it also indicates a way out. We see this especially in the Covenant that God makes, not just with Noah, but with every living creature… for all generations. What this reveals to us is God’s desire not to destroy the wicked, but for the wicked to turn back and live (see Ez 33:11). Repentance wins salvation.

Which is also the Good News that Jesus proclaims in the gospel. But first the Lord allows himself to be driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Like the waters of the flood, the wilderness also functions like a scan. It reveals the otherwise hidden spiritual experiences of the Lord. Much as, in his public ministry, Jesus displays mastery over diseases and demons alike, what the wilderness shows us is that this mastery comes through a constant struggle against Satan. A struggle that the Lord always wins, because he draws power from the One who sends angels to look after him.

And the second reading reminds us of the full extent of Christ’s victorious struggle. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life… Here is revealed the deeper significance of his Dying and Rising, into which we have all been baptised. If only we keep struggling in the Lord, we too will enjoy the benefits of the Covenant. We too will find life.

Revealing hidden things in order to prompt needed action. This is really what the season of Lent is all about. More than just a time for giving up desserts, Lent is meant to function like a scan. It reveals hidden things to prompt needed action. Consider the opening prayer we offered earlier. We asked that through the yearly observances of holy Lent… we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ (revelation) and by worthy conduct (action) pursue their effects

Perhaps this is the deeper reason why some Catholics feel as if 2020 was a year-long experience of Lent. Not just because it was so difficult and trying, but also because it reveals to us hidden things about ourselves and our world. Indicating to us what we need to do to repent and to find fullness of life.

Sisters and brothers, if Lent is truly a spiritual scan, then what must we do to better submit to its consoling discipline today?

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Of Burdens, Bonds & Blessings

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: Job 7:1-4,6-7; Psalm 146(147):1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23; Mark 1:29-39

Video: Ron Wells @ YouTube

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother… My dear friends, are you familiar with these words? Apart from being the title of a song from the 1970s, some of us who may also recognise them as the motto of Boys Town. We may recall their story. One of the early residents of the home was a polio-stricken boy named Howard, who had been abandoned by his family. He had to wear heavy leg braces. And since he had great difficulty walking, several of the older boys took turns to carry him up and down the stairs. One day, Father Flanagan, the home’s founder, asked one of them if doing this was hard. To which the boy replied, He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.

Unpolished words. Yet how beautifully they express the awesome ability of bonds of kinship to transform burdens into blessings. This is what we find in our readings today.

In the gospel, Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed, burdened by a fever, but Jesus heals her. And the writer takes pains to describe how he does it. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. It’s as though healing happens through connection. Bonding with her, Jesus transforms the burden of fever into the blessing of service. And a similar thing happens to the Lord himself. After a hectic day in Capernaum, prayerful communion with his heavenly Father gives the Lord the energy he needs to continue serving elsewhere.

But if bonds can lighten burdens, the reverse is also true. The breaking of bonds can cause terrible suffering. Isn’t this the experience of Job in the first reading? After losing not just his wealth and health, but also all his beloved children, poor Job is paralysed with grief. He compares himself to a slave, toiling under the heat of the sun, and to a hired workman, who finds no meaning in his labour, beyond the money he expects for it. For the bereaved, life itself feels like a painful burden.

Even so, the psalm reminds us that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up all their wounds. The Lord Jesus has power not just to cure ailing bodies, but also to relieve burdened spirits. Isn’t this Paul’s experience in the second reading? Like Job, Paul also refers to himself as a slave. Yet Paul sees his own slavery not as a burden, but as a gift. The bond that Christ has established with him energises Paul to preach the gospel, so as to have a share in its blessings.

Just as bereavement burdens, bonding heals. Perhaps this is why Covid-stress is so real. Even if we may not admit it, the loss of our usual ways of connecting – with self, with others, and with God – weighs heavily on us. Still, this too can be a blessing, if it awakens us to how important these bonds really are. If it motivates us to find other creative ways to cultivate and nourish them. And if it inspires us to make our own these words from the song we mentioned earlier… If I’m laden at all, I’m laden with sadness, that everyone's heart isn't filled with the gladness of love for one another

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. These unvarnished words contain a simple yet profound truth. Sisters and brothers, what must we do to deepen our experience of it today?