Pastor’s Column September 18 – 19, 2021
“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
This weekend we celebrate Catechetical Sunday. Catechesis comes from a Greek word meaning “to teach”, and it is a fancy way of talking about religious instruction. And while the primary purpose of this celebration is to recognize the important contribution made by our Academy teachers and Religious Education catechists in handing on the faith to our children, it also serves to remind us that by virtue of our baptism, we are all called to proclaim the Good News and evangelize our families, friends, and those with whom we come in contact in our daily lives by our words and, most especially, by our deeds and the way we live our lives.
This year’s Catechetical Sunday theme is: “Say the Word and My Soul Shall be Healed.” These words which we recite at every Mass come from a Roman centurion’s encounter with Jesus in which that soldier was looking for a healing miracle for his servant. When Jesus offered to go to his home the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.” The past year has highlighted the urgent need for healing–physical, spiritual, emotional–in ourselves and in our world. As our world struggles to heal, complete healing is not possible without Jesus as the Divine
Physician. The healing that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist is essential, eternal, and ever open to us. We humbly ask him to say the word, and with that prayer, we have faith that, with the fantastic and improbable prospect of Jesus entering under our roof, our souls shall be healed. And when our souls heal, all heals, despite our suffering.
In our Gospel reading this weekend, Jesus teaches his disciples about the virtue of humility which is so evident in words and actions of the centurion. Mark writes, “He was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.” The disciples were afraid to question Jesus because they realized that they might not like the answers they were likely to get. They were looking forward to glory and grandeur, not suffering, pain and death. And to demonstrate just how deep
was their lack of understanding, in the midst of this talk about how the Son of Man would be handed over and killed, they were arguing with each other about who was the greatest.
And so Jesus tells them point blank: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” How different that message is from what we hear in our society that equates success with wealth and preaches a rugged individualism that says we should all take care of ourselves. To emphasize his point, Jesus puts his arms around a child and places it in their midst and says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” A child is the ultimate example of someone who is needy and incapable of taking care of himself or herself. It must be fed,
clothed, housed, protected, and educated. Jesus is saying that to be first, in order to be considered great, means to provide for those most vulnerable among us who cannot take care of themselves.
We all bear the responsibility of sharing our faith with the world. And nothing is more important than passing along the faith to our children. As I have been announcing, we can use more volunteers to fill all kinds of roles in our Religious Education program. And our parish can use more Lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Ushers, and Altar Servers as well. As we celebrate this Catechetical Sunday, let’s say thanks to and pray for all our religious education teachers and volunteers and look to do our part to help transmit the faith and serve one another. –
September 12, 2021 Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus’ Way is the Way of the Cross
Jesus is becoming the talk of the town as He makes His way to Caesarea Philippi, prompting Him to ask His closest disciples in today’s Gospel, “Who do you say that I am?” This is a question that is posed to each of us all well, all these years later, as we wrestle with who Jesus is, and what discipleship will entail.
We look to a noteworthy biblical commentary for insight into what it describes as the first major climax of Mark’s Gospel drama (the second climax being the Passion account, chs. 15-16). Scholar Philip Van Linden, C.M., writes in his treatment of the Gospel of Mark (The Collegeville Biblical Commentary, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, copyright 1989, Dianne Bergant, C.S.A. and Robert J. Karris, O.F.M., general editors), that, “until now, Mark has been revealing who Jesus is (in the mighty deeds He has done. Along with this revelation, Mark has also reported Jesus’ reluctance to have people believe in Him only because of those wondrous deeds. This Caesarea Philippi passage is the heart of the matter. Jesus now says explicitly that His way is a way of suffering. The way of the Messiah is the way of the Cross” (p. 920).
Van Linden points out that “Mark, Matthew and Luke all record this important passage. However, whereas Peter’s confession of faith gets rewarded with ‘the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven’ in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 16:19), Mark only reports that Peter is told not to tell anyone that Jesus is the Messiah (v. 30). Mark knew what Peter meant by ‘Messiah,’ namely, ‘the powerful delivered of God.’ Mark also knew that Jesus understood that title differently, i.e., that it signified that He was ‘the Son of Man, [who] must suffer greatly and be rejected … be killed, and rise after three days’ (v. 31). The account goes on to show that Peter and the disciples were not ready for this. They wanted a leader who would deliver them from pain, not one who would experience pain and death Himself!”(p. 920-921).
Van Linden continues, “Consequently, Peter rebukes Jesus (v. 32), angering Jesus to the point of sending Peter away as if he were the devil himself (v. 33). Indeed, when Mark shifts the focus of the scene from Peter to the crowd and the disciples (v. 34), his readers find out that they also must share the disciples’ struggle with the hard, cold reality that Jesus is not the ‘instant cure-all’ person they would like Him to be. They can hear Him speak directly to them, saying: ‘Whoever wishes to come after Me, must deny Himself, take up the Cross, and follow in My steps!’ (v. 34)” (p. 921).
Van Linden writes, “Even today’s reader finds it hard to swallow the absolute and radical statements that follow: ‘For whoever wishes to save her/his life will lose it …” (v. 35). … Yes, says Mark, all who call themselves followers of Jesus must lose their lives for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the Gospel (v. 35). Mark thus pushes his readers to the edge. Either they give themselves in total trust to the suffering Messiah they follow, or they open themselves up to the awful prospect of hearing an unfavorable judgment: ‘The Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels’ (v. 38)” (p. 921).
Van Linden concludes that “the urgency of this whole section of [Mark’s] Gospel does provoke profound questions for individual Christians and for the whole church. If Mark’s readers are to take his Jesus seriously, how can they begin today to live the Christian life more radically? What are the times and circumstances in which they can be people of Gospel values in the midst of their world today?” (p. 921).
Today’s Gospel challenges us to show the lengths we are willing to go, in backing up what we profess, that Jesus is none other than THE Christ, the Son of God, the Lord of Lords.
Rev. Michael W. Panicali
In the Rite of Baptism for Children (which happens to be one of my favorite things to do as a priest), the final prayer before the conclusion of the rite is called Ephphatha, or the Prayer over Ears and Mouth. The celebrant touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father. Amen.” This ritual is derived from the Gospel reading we hear this weekend where Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment.
The scene begins with an amazing journey. Mark tells us that “Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.” And while the names of these biblical cities might be somewhat familiar to us, unless you have a detailed knowledge of the geography of the Holy Land you probably do not know that the point of departure, Tyre, is 35 miles north and west of the Sea of Galilee and the destination, the district of the Decapolis, is about some 50 miles away, to the south and east of that Sea. Yet to go south, Jesus travels by way of Sidon which is about 20 miles further north. Not only was this journey long, but it would have been almost entirely through Gentile territory that ringed around Jewish Galilee. Some biblical scholars believe this trip may have lasted as much as eight months and so might well have been the calm before the storm, a time of long and peaceful communion between Jesus and his disciples away from the antagonism and bickering of the scribes and Pharisees we have been hearing so much about these last few weeks, before the final tempest would eventually break out in Jerusalem.
As soon as they arrive in the region of the Decapolis the people bring to Jesus a man who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech. And Jesus shows the most tender and loving consideration for this man for whom life was so very difficult. In fact, there may be no other miracle story in the gospels which so beautifully demonstrates Jesus’ way of treating people, even a foreigner, with such care and respect. First, he takes the man off by himself away from the crowd to avoid any possible embarrassment to the man. Deaf people know they cannot hear; and when someone in a crowd shouts at them and tries to make them hear, in their excitement they can feel all the more helpless. And so throughout this whole miracle, Jesus first acts out what he was going to do. He puts his hands in the man’s ears and touches his tongue with spittle, a healing technique that would have been familiar and acceptable to Gentiles. And Jesus says to him “Ephphatha”, an Aramaic word which means “Be Opened!” “And immediately,” we are told, “the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.”
The reading concludes with those who witnessed this healing miracle being astonished and saying about Jesus, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” In commenting on this passage, Bishop Robert Barron writes, “We are meant to share their amazement in the measure that Jesus continues to heal us, deaf to the Word of God, and hence unable to speak it clearly.” In this journey and in this healing miracle of the deaf and dumb man we can see a symbol of the way God acts on us and on our souls. We need to spend time with Christ and walk with him in order for God to first open our ears so we can listen to His Word and hear it in the midst of a secular society that tries everything in its power to drown that word out. Next, God must open our minds and hearts so that His Word, who is Jesus, can take root in our souls so that then, like the crowd in the story, we too can proclaim the mighty works of the one who does all things well, and be his witnesses and his instruments in our world today. – Fr. Bob