Saturday, January 24, 2015

After the Whale

In the first reading for this weekend, we encounter a totally cooperative Jonah, freshly released from the belly of the whale and finally off to do God's work without further protest.
Pieter Lastman - Jonah and the Whale

Jonah, who first ran, then tried to sail away from God's will, is now the willing mouthpiece to announce the destruction of Ninevah if its inhabitants do not turn away from their sins. Rather willingly, they immediately give up their ways and God does not destroy them. Somehow, Jonah, who was so reluctant a prophet, was totally convincing.

This weekend, no doubt, many of us will hear homilies about the need to repent and believe in the Good News, the message of Jesus, who has just appeared in Galilee following the death of John the Baptist.

But what of willingness to evangelize others?  Jesus, ultimately, will hand that to the disciples as their mission when he leaves earth at his Ascension. How many Catholics today are more like Jonah, ducking and mumbling, "Anyone else but me, Lord!"?

Truth be told, the best evangelizers are the people who have known the belly of the whale - the hopeless, terrorizing suffering of  "three days and three nights" in the dark (Jon. 2:1) before seeing the light of day again. People who have gone through the dark times in life and again have seen the light are often most willing to tell their story and of the God who saved them. Of course, the three days/nights parallel the three days of Jesus' own Paschal Mystery.

Those who have suffered in life make good evangelizers, but so do people who allow themselves to suffer with Christ by immersing themselves in the Easter Triduum. If you look out at the assembly of those who are willing to be there for all of the Three Days, you will usually see those active in service of others in the parish, through teaching, charity and other action. They are also the people who are most likely to regularly attend Sunday Mass, because they know what it means when the Church says that each Sunday is a little Easter. Their frequent participation in the sacrifice of the Mass strengthens their connection to Christ and to his message - and to their mission to proclaim Christ - and the joy of salvation.

These are the truly engaged parishioners - and they are most willing to take on the role of prophets and evangelizers.  So, where do we find the faithful witnesses who can become our best evangelizers? Look first for those who have their own stories of suffering... and look among those who fill the pews during those celebrations that others feel are "optional." Those who know that really know God.  Listen to them - and provide them with opportunities to testify to their faith in the parish and the community. They are a gift.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ready, Set, Go! Short Winter Ordinary Time Journey Begins

Today, with celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we end the Christmas Season and begin a rather short and breath-taking narrative of Christ's ministry and teaching, leading up to Lent.

For the next five Sundays of our short winter journey that begins with the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, we will hear the Year B readings - mostly Mark, which is kind of the speed-reading version, since Mark never embroiders his narrative, but portrays a Jesus who gets right to the point. We will spend the first two Sundays collecting disciples, using one reading from John to fill in what is not present in Mark's short account.

On the 4th Sunday, we encounter Jesus teaching "with authority" in the temple, on the 5th, we witness him healing Simon's mother-in-law, and then on the 6th, we see him healing a leper. Then suddenly, it will be Lent. when the readings of those five Sundays bring us almost abruptly to the Passion.

It will not be until Summer Ordinary Time, after Pentecost, that we will have time to explore the life and ministry of Jesus at a more leisurely pace, although in the year of Mark, it will still consist of rather brief accounts.

So, what are we to gain from the next five Sundays? As usual, the priest's prayers in the Roman Missal provide a key.  Here are some key phrases we will hear over the next five Sundays:

2nd Sunday:  "...make those you have nourished by this one heavenly Bread one in mind and heart."

3rd Sunday:  " our actions according to your good pleasure, that in the name of your beloved Son we may abound in good works."

4th Sunday: "...that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart."

5th Sunday: "...grant us, we pray, so to live that, made one in Christ, we may joyfully bear fruit for the salvation of the world."

6th Sunday: "grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you."

What's the takeaway from these five weeks?  This is about developing unity, good works, agape love, participation in God's mission to save the world and personal relationship with God. In short, we are working on our discipleship - getting a short refresher course about what it means to be a community of disciples together on the journey before we enter the time of introspection and preparation for renewal that is Lent.