Jesus Teaching in the Synagogue, St. Elizabeth Convent Catalog.

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When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished.  Mark 6:2.

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Today’s gospel includes this deadly observation: “Is he [Jesus] not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” Jesus was so familiar to them that they could not believe that he, being so lowly born, could aspire to such a height as preaching in the holiest building in town. In other words, they stereotyped him; he was a common man, so he could not be a good preacher (despite the evidence of their own ears and eyes). Sound familiar? Stereotyping is, I believe, responsible for an enormous amount of suffering in the world, all of it unnecessary. Denying the humanity of a person because of incidentals (or accidentals as philosophers might call them), such as skin color, accent, type of work, education level and so on, is to deny that person’s God-given humanity. It is wrong, evil and sinful. Jesus was to be stereotyped later as the messiah as desired by the Jews, he who would rid them of the despised Roman occupiers and restore the kingdom of David. He wasn’t, and as he had failed to live up to that stereotype, he was put to death. Stereotyping is remorselessly evil.

Also, this passage, and the similar one in Matthew 13:55, is where Jesus is identified with a specific family in Nazareth, with mother, father and relatives enumerated. But the phrase “son of Mary” might also be an insult, as men were always called sons of their fathers, in this case it should have been Jesus son of Joseph, Y’shua bar-Yosef. But on this occasion he was called Y’shua bar-Miriam, almost certainly meant to be demeaning.

Then there is the very interesting statement about Jesus’ brothers and sisters, found in passages from Mark and Matthew. We have been brought up to believe that Jesus was an only child, born of a virgin who remained such forever, and was never married. The tradition that Jesus was an only child is extremely old and the Catholic Church has very old teaching surrounding that. However, the term “brother” can be very wide. For example, in Shakespeare’s play “Henry V”, before the battle of Agincourt, which was a spectacular English victory over the French, the king, rousing his reluctant troops, concludes by saying:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii.

So what has all this to say to us today? I think it is this. Too many times in my life I have been reluctant to speak of God’s presence within us and around us. I fear being condemned, just as Jesus was perhaps in today’s scene in the Synagogue, because I am just a regular fellow, nothing special, and afraid to hear words such as “Who does he think he is talking to us like that?” So I have remained many times silent. Jesus, on the other hand, did not remain silent, even though such words hurt him, resulting in He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, as it says in today’s gospel. Spiteful words can hurt deeply, and it takes courage to speak out about certain things, such as God’s mercy and love, when there is a danger of provoking a response like that. But, on reflection, and not wanting to be condemned as a holy Joe, carefully chosen words might be wholly salutary, deeply beneficent to those hearing them. Ezekiel was emboldened to speak by God’s strength in the first reading, and Paul actually states that when I am weak, then I am strong, able to speak with the power of Christ dwelling in him, not relying on his own power. That same power dwells in us. We too should be God’s mouthpiece when we are called to bear witness, for when we are weak, then we are strong, possessing the strength of God!


Jesus Christ preaching on a boat on the sea of Galilee, megapixl.com.


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Happy July 4th!


PentecostPentecost, Mayno 1618, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

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Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…   Acts of the Apostles, 2:3-4a.

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The Acts of the Apostles tells us that there were Jews in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost from all over the place, stating that there were “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene…” just to emphasize the point. They were not there to celebrate the Birthday of the Church which is not too surprising as at that moment the entire Christian Church was huddled in a small room somewhere in the city, fearing for their lives. Being the followers of the crucified criminal Jesus of Nazareth, they expected to have the same punishment meted out on them for claiming he was the Messiah. The gospel of St. John tells us that they were behind locked doors, and says it twice! They were definitely not pilgrims for the feast of Pentecost! Yes, it was originally a Jewish festival, and still is, except the Greek name for the feast has been changed to the Hebrew name, Shevuot, the Feast of Weeks. We Christians eventually took the name of Pentecost to ourselves! Pentecost sort of means weeks; the Greek word Pentēcostē, Πεντηκοστή, means fiftieth, or the 50th day, about seven weeks, after Passover. It was originally the Hebrew feast of the First Fruits of the Harvest, but evolved into the Feast of the Law, the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai. Tradition had it that 50 days after leaving Egypt, the Hebrew people arrived at Sinai. In a sense, the first fruits of their liberation was the acceptance of God’s Law, hence becoming the Chosen People. It became one of the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals, meaning those who could would journey to Jerusalem and worship in the Temple (the other festivals are Passover and Sukkot, the feast of shelters or tabernacles, shortly after Yom Kippur). And so Jerusalem was packed that day, as mentioned in today’s first reading. Then it happened.

What could possibly explain the total and complete transformation of a group of terrified people huddled in a locked room, into boisterous, loud, preaching and proselytizing missionaries for that same Jesus of Nazareth?

A loud bang, a strong wind (inside the locked room), something looking like flames of fire coming down on each of them huddled there, and they were all transformed. The locked door was ignored, smashed open, never to be locked again. The Christian message was unleashed on the world for the first time, and the church was born! Not only that, but these new missionaries could suddenly speak all those languages listed above, out of the blue. It was as if the curse of the Tower of Babel, the sinful pride of whose builders angered God so much that they suddenly could only speak in incomprehensible languages to each other (Genesis 11:1-9), was reversed! All who would listen could now hear the new teaching in their own language. The new teaching was universal! Whoever it was that had achieved all that, had God-like power of transformation and focus. The Church was born! 


The Cenacle, the “Upper Room” in Jerusalem. Traditionally, this is the site of the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Well, it was the fulfillment of the promise Jesus had made before ascending to his Father in heaven, commemorated ten days ago. As told at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, he ordered them to “stay in Jerusalem (which at least two, fleeing to Emmaus, had disregarded) and await for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. And what a difference that made! It was perhaps the greatest miracle in the Church ever, without which, it must be said, there would be no church. Those cowering people, terrified that a knock on the door would mean crucifixion, could never have carried Jesus’ message anywhere. It would have died with them. Instead, there they were, out amid the Pentecost pilgrims proclaiming the New Covenant, one which overshadows the Old Law or Covenant (the very focus of the Pentecost festival), which had been revealed by none other than the man crucified only 50 days earlier, the Messiah himself. That was what they were preaching fearlessly  to anyone who would listen. 


Symbols of the Holy Spirit of God, Loyola Press.

This day inaugurated the Age of the Holy Spirit. Centuries before, beginning with the still small voice of God talking to Abram/Abraham, recorded in the 12th chapter of the Book of Genesis, we slowly became aware of God the Father, as God gradually revealed His Divine Nature, through the centuries, to the Hebrews. The Father spoke through the prophets, but then at last sent His Son to speak to us directly, the Age of God the Son. Jesus interpreted all that we knew of God in such a way that we, too, could be the children of God by obeying his teachings and following his example. After his return to the Father in heaven, our present Age began, guided by the Holy Spirit of God, whose immense powers were vividly on display on this birthday of the Church. The last 2000 years have seen the Holy Spirit at work in the church, especially through the saints who have called us back to The Way (the first name given to the Christian Church) time and again. So today the first Christians received the powers of God’s Holy Spirit in the most dramatic and successful way possible, and began to spread the Word to the world. We are their successors. It is up to us to continue spreading that same Word in whatever ways are open to us. This can be directly through what we say and the way we say it, what we do and how we do it, and indirectly through our example of decent Christian living. And ultimately in the overall impression we give to those around us, who, we hope, will be attracted to that same source of strength, hope and happiness which give us our reason for living day in and day out. 


Symbol of The Holy Trinity, Lightstock.

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The Four Presences of Christ, National Catholic Educational Association. 

[Jesus said] “…where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”  Matthew 18:20.

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Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s had a great deal to reflect on, and enacted a large number of reforms in the Church. Not least among them was replacing the use of Latin in the Mass with the language of whatever place the Mass was said. For someone like me, this was a breathtaking change. The Latin Mass was something which had been in place for over 1000 years, something which would never change. But it did. The consequences of this still resound in the church today. The Council stated this was not only to enable a greater understanding of the central and most sacred liturgical action in the Christian Church, but also to enable other Christians to see and understand what the Roman Church meant by it. Remember that the “Real Presence” of the Lord in the consecrated bread and wine at Mass was one of the most divisive factors in the Reformation. The Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy also stated the Church’s strong belief that the presence of the Lord is also to be found in the sacred writings, in the presence of the priest at Mass and in the gathering of the faithful, “two or three” to use Jesus’ own words today. Primarily, however, the consecrated elements of bread and wine are the ultimate foundation of this belief. In fact, the greatest privilege a priest has is to preside at Mass. Ask any bishop, ask the Pope himself, and you would get the same answer, to preside at Mass. So the Mass should be the supreme demonstration of Christian love, celebrating Jesus’ love for us, fulfilling his promise to be with us forever until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). Given that, but knowing human frailty, Jesus tried to create a model which would help achieve that goal even when there is division. It is all shaped, I believe, by possibly his strongest of all commands, that we forgive, forgive and forgive again. So if our brother sins against us, we are obliged to forgive him, but also to address him directly, a confrontation devoutly to be avoided most of us would say. But there it is, from the lips of the Savior himself. If there is no admission of guilt, then further action has to be taken, and ultimately, given no change, he is to be “treated as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, which is to say, to be excommunicated from the community. That is to be done even though you have forgiven him, unsaid by Jesus, but fully in line with his teaching on forgiveness. 

The thought occurs here that this confronts a frequent criticism hurled at Christians that we forgive anybody for anything and even let people get away with murder. But in today’s gospel we have a wrongdoer being punished for his evil act, whatever it was. In fact, if you transpose this gospel teaching to the supernatural world, it seems to say that the wrongdoer will end up in hell, an existence I have always equated not with devils, fire and pitchforks, but with a solitary existence, a solitude, a loneliness forever, forever without any hope ever. If you put yourself always first in this life, then that’s what you get after. Jesus is very clear on something else too: that the facts, as stated by two or three witnesses, have to indicate clearly the guilt of the sinner. So it is clearly the stubbornness of the guilty party that is the reason for his punishment. We often read of court cases where the accused shows no remorse over the crime committed. That always seems to have a huge effect on the ultimate punishment. One might think prisoners at the bar might make at least an attempt at remorse, but some do not, which makes Jesus’ words today even more understandable, though bear in mind that God will know the difference between remorse and show acting… So the lack of remorse displays defiance, a “me first and always” attitude, leading to self-destruction, as suggested above. As the second reading states clearly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law, and, one might add, the pathway to life and love eternal. Surely that is worth remorse, shame and admission of guilt and the hope of forgiveness? Continue reading