Friends of Faith

Mark 2: 1-12
Heb 4:1-5,11 / Psa 78

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
(Mark 2:5)

What many may not realize
Forgiveness is what we all need;
While sin can trap and paralyze,
In Penance we are healed and freed.

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that He had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and He preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in His spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and He said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2: 1-12)

Reflection

The healing of the paralytic must be one of the best known miracles in the life of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Narrative versions are also found in the other synoptic Gospels of Matthew (9:1-8), and Luke (5:17-26) that confirm the veracity of this event.

The story must have proceeded as follows: Four friends decide to help their paralytic buddy by bringing him to Jesus whom they learned had just returned to Capernaum, performing wonders in many places. They firmly believed that this Jesus must be a prophet of God if not the Messiah Himself, and decided that they would bring their paralyzed friend to Him by all means possible. As they neared the house where Jesus was teaching, they saw that a huge crowd had jammed the entrance and it was virtually impossible to bring their sick friend to Jesus. They figured that the only way that they could achieve their purpose was to open a big hole in the roof directly above where Jesus was, and lower their paralyzed friend down to where Jesus could minister to him. Our Lord must have admired their resourcefulness, determination, and deep affection for their paralytic friend. But above all, He was moved by their strong faith. And for these, He not only healed the paralytic, but more importantly, He forgave him all his sins. But His act of love could only evoke resentment from His critics, the teachers of the law, who silently accused Him of blasphemy. He proved them wrong by telling the paralytic to “get up, take your mat and go home.”

Today’s Gospel of Mark tells us how important it is to have friends of strong faith. They are the ones who bring us closer to Jesus. They are the ones who help us get back on our feet. Unlike the scribes who do nothing but criticize and judge others, true friends take the initiative, go out of their way to help, even if they have to face up to the damages incurred to solve the problem (like repairing the roof). Thank God if you belong to a charismatic community, for there you have found a good number of friends of strong faith. And I am sure you are one yourself.

Lord Jesus, thank You for making us realize that it is our sins that paralyze us, and render us helpless when we are in dire straits and in need of help. Thank You for the grace of Penance, which reconciles us back to You and the Father. And thank You for our “friends of faith” who help us when we are far from You. Bless them for their kind hearts and help them in their determination to beat the odds. Amen.

Foolish Disobedience

Mark 1: 40-45
Heb 3: 7-14 / Psa 95

He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to Him.
(Mark 1:45)

We are in our disobedience
Stained by the leprosy of sin;
But thank God in our penitence,
Touched by God’s Word, we are made clean.

A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged Him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, He reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” Jesus said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him. (Mark 1: 40-45)

Reflection

Leprosy was set apart as an affliction far worse than other ailments not only because it was considered so repulsive and incurable, but because a man so afflicted was also regarded as spiritually and morally unclean. That was why the leper begged Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” What he prayed for was not merely for healing, but for cleansing. Isolated from society during those times, they were consigned to garbage dumps, where they could scrounge for scraps to survive, and also so that no one could witness their miserable existence.

The reality of leprosy can be seen as the physical manifestation of the malignancy of sin, which isolates us from the community of God’s kingdom, and we can only be cleansed through God’s mercy and the sinner’s repentance. Sin is so loathsome to God that we can become “unclean” just by tolerating it. Ever since we first learned our catechism, we were told to avoid all occasions of sin. However, today’s Gospel also teaches us that although God despises sin, He still loves the sinner, and wants to free him from his affliction, just as our Lord Jesus touched the leper not only to heal him, but to show him God’s mercy and compassion

How remarkable our God is, that our disobedience and wayward ways do not affect His divine compassion whenever we come to Him in humble supplication. He is always moved with pity by our various afflictions. However, we must not test the limits of His mercy. Today’s first reading says: “…if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (Heb. 3:7-12)

How foolish a “faithless and unforgiven generation” is if they still persist in a life of sin in spite of all the signs that God has provided in the thousands of years since His Sacrifical Lamb died in Calvary. Our time in this life is so uncertain. Death can come like a sudden gust of wind and snuff out our fragile life like a flickering candle. Then how can the disobedient face his Maker? . . . ‘They shall never enter my rest.’

We were all unclean, Lord, in our foolishness and disobedience. But You touched us with your Word, and You have made us clean. Grant that we may never disobey Your statutes and decrees again. Amen.

Time

Mark 1: 29-39
Heb 2:14-18 / Psa 105

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus went off to a deserted place to pray.
(Mark 1:35)

You always rush, so little time,
So much in mind of things to do;
Lest we forget things more sublime,
What if in turn, God forgets you?

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So He went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak because they knew who He was. Rising very early before dawn, Jesus went off to a deserted place to pray. Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:29-39)

Reflection

The writing style of St. Mark in his Gospel narration gives the reader the impression that our Lord’s life was fast-paced and packed full of activities – he was healing the sick, exorcising demons, preaching, and rebuking His critics. As soon as He had organized His core group, He immediately launched His ministry (even on a Sabbath), curing a demoniac in the synagogue, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then attending to the problems of the whole town who had massed at Peter’s door — well into the night. But as much as He showed His love and concern for people, Jesus never missed the opportunity to pause and find the time to pray to the Father.

Our Lord shows us what it means to be a man for others – one who is sensitive to society’s ills, gives his time and energy generously and lovingly to promote love, peace and justice, restore health and order – but at the same time also finds time and space for the Source of these blessings. Jesus displayed this balance in His life not only for the benefit of His followers, but especially for our generation, who place too much importance in achieving the most out of life in the soonest time possible. In the hyper-speed technology of our age, how easily we lose sight of the necessity of spending quality time with the Maker of time.

If our Lord Jesus saw it fit to ‘recharge His batteries’ in meditation with the Father, how much more for us, who sorely lack the spirit and enthusiasm that our Lord possessed? Just as our body needs the nourishment of food, so does our soul, which needs to come before God “as an empty pitcher before a full fountain.”

At times it is for lack of prayers that we become sick or even stricken with a deadly disease. Being possessed by an evil spirit is certainly the result of a lack of spiritual guidance and nurturing. Quite often, people only find time to pray intensely to God when they or their loved ones are already in the throes of a serious ailment. If only they had made daily prayers as much an important part of their schedule as taking care of their bodily needs, they would have had a more balanced, healthy life.

I must confess to being guilty of what I am preaching about. My wife and I have long maintained a regular schedule of prayers and daily masses. But when the Christmas holidays took us on a two-week vacation to Manila, the flurry of events and activities there disrupted our schedule of masses and prayers, and soon after we got back home from the vacation, I had to attend to the details of a surprise party I had been planning for my wife’s 70th birthday. Grateful that the Lord blessed us with a very successful surprise party, I also came to realize that being away from God too long can be dangerous to our health. Thank God we can always make up for lost time.

Father, thank You for all the blessings that You have given to me and my family, and our community. Remind us always to give more time to listen to Your bidding in our prayer and meditation, so that all the things that we do in the days to come may be pleasing to You. Amen.

Presence of an Impure Spirit

Mark 1: 21-28
Heb 2: 5-12 / Psa 8

What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.
(Mark 1:27)

Trust in the Holy Spirit’s sword,
Have faith, the Gospel will not fail,
Against the power of God’s Word
Impure spirits will not prevail.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1: 21-28)

Reflection

There are many instances in the Bible where our Lord encountered and expelled evil spirits from the possessed. Demons during Jesus’ time were as real as they are now. Sadly, it is a tragedy of our time that many people either take this for granted or they do not believe that devils exist at all. This is serious because in order to be victorious against the enemy, we must be aware that it exists, and be wary of its power and cunning. Evil lurks in darkness, and pounces when we are not on guard. In his letter to Christian communities in Asia Minor, St. Peter warned of this. He said, “Be sober and vigilant. Your enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1Pet 5:8)

I recall a long time ago, in college, one favorite preoccupation when we were cooped up in the dormitory by bad weather was playing with the “spirit of the glass” on an ouija board. Little did we know then that we were fiddling with an evil spirit, and treading on dangerous grounds. Every good citizen of God’s Kingdom knows that one must have nothing whatsoever to do with the occult. The more we are deluded by Satan into believing that various forms of “spiritualism” are just harmless preoccupations, the higher the risk of falling into the devil’s dominion.

The most common forms of human frailties that can open the door to evil spirits are the sins of egotism, jealousy and pride. These sins we find in the life of King Saul, which started when he became jealous of the military successes of the young David (1Sam 18:8-9). His egotism and obsession against David drove him to commit mass murder against a whole clan of priests (1Sam 22). Alienated from God’s favor, he was driven to consult a medium, who conjured the ghost of Samuel. But the spirit of Samuel told him: “Because you disobeyed the Lord’s directive. . . by tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the Lord will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines” (1Sam 28:8-19). King Saul’s final act of pride was to commit suicide rather than face his victorious enemies (1Sam 31:4).

Our Lord’s great sacrifice and death on the cross should bear out the reality that evil is a devious adversary, and the forces of hell (although no match against the forces of heaven) are still a grave danger to reckon with insofar as our souls are concerned. We must always pray for the Spirit’s guidance, wisdom and protection against it.

Keep us, O Lord, from all evil influences; command Your angels to guard us in all our ways (Ps 91:11). Let only Your Holy Spirit occupy our minds and hearts all the days of our life. Amen.

The Call to Serve

Mark 1: 14-20
Heb 1: 1-6 / Psa 97

Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
(Mark 1:17)

The call to serve we can’t ignore,
It’s not ours but God’s decision;
If Christ is knocking at our door,
We’ve been chosen for a reason.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “This is the time of fulfillment,” He said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News!” As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed Him. When He had gone a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him. (Mark 1:14-20)

Reflection

The Jews had been waiting for the fulfillment of salvation that God had promised through the prophets. Israel had been a great nation during the reign of King David and King Solomon. But because of its infidelities, Israel was in turn subdued and subjugated by successive nations, like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and up to the time of Jesus, by the Romans. Under the yoke of this mighty nation, the Jewish people had long been waiting for the promised Messiah, so that when Jesus proclaimed that “this is the time of fulfillment” and “the kingdom of God is near,” the first four apostles responded in earnest immediately.

Later, the apostles realized that the call to serve in the kingdom of God did not mean being drafted for political or military service. It meant a much higher calling of reorienting their whole way of life in order to spread the Gospel. It meant sacrificing everything: their livelihoods, their family, and even their lives. Relationships would be compromised — “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death (Mark 13:12) – but only because one’s true family in the kingdom of God are all who consider themselves God’s children. As Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50).

We all hear and heed the call to serve in various ways. It may be to serve in a renewal community, or to find time to give of ourselves and our resources to the less fortunate, especially to the victims of a natural calamity. This our community did in response to the destruction caused by a super typhoon in Davao Oriental many years ago. Several couples spent the whole night repacking foodstuffs and basic needs into sacks good for two hundred families. Two days later two brothers brought the goods, together with some building materials to the town of Bagangga, enduring the eight-hour land trip from Davao City. This was the third trip that our community had made to the affected areas. Our chapter was determined to continue with these relief efforts as long as donations kept coming from generous souls.

Yes, the kingdom of God is here. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is among you.” It is within everyone who regards others as his brothers and sisters; it is in the hearts of all who are willing to sacrifice an amount of their time, privilege, abilities and resources so that others who have lost much in life may learn to have hope in God and His kingdom because of their sacrifice.

Lord, in our hearts we hear Your call, and surrender to Your will. Grant that we may have the confidence and courage to leave the comforts of home, relationships, and privilege in order to become “fishers of men” for Your kingdom. Amen.

Of Leprosy and Mercy

Luke 5: 12-16
1 Jn 5: 5-13 / Ps 147

Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.
(Luke 5:12)

Grant us the wisdom, Lord Jesus,
By the Father’s Will abide.
With Your healing Word release us
From the “leprosy” of pride.

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:12-16)

Reflection

At this time, the reputation of Jesus as a miracle worker had already spread far and wide (Luke 4:37). The leper must have sought out Jesus, because he never doubted that Jesus could cure him of his incurable disease. For him it was just a matter of whether the Lord was willing to grant his request or not (“Lord, if you are willing…”). It was common belief at that time that leprosy was the worst punishment from God for sinners. The leper therefore felt that because of his sins, Jesus might not be so willing to heal him, and so he fell with his face to the ground to beg Him for His miracle of healing.

There were three things that moved Jesus into action: first, by the man’s boldness to defy strict social conventions, (he could have been stoned or beaten for entering the town); then, his humility in owning up to his sinfulness; but most of all, by his great conviction that Jesus was really God, because only God could cure a leper of this malignant disease.

Not only did Jesus heal the man and forgave him of his sins, but the Lord showed him (and all the people watching) His great love and compassion by touching him. In those days it was considered anathema to touch a leper because of his uncleanness. But this was Jesus’ way of showing His followers how to express kindness and mercy to those who are considered the outcasts of society– the mendicants, the sick and the dying. Jesus is showing us that it is not so much the gift that we are sharing with them that makes the giving significant, but the love and sympathy that we feel for them. We saw this exemplified in the life of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She showed genuine love and compassion to the sick and the dying, even embracing those in the throes of death to make them feel the love of God in their last moments.

How many people in our midst feel like lepers because society has turned a blind eye to their dire privation and neglect? Hopelessness has driven some to end their misery by committing suicide. And yet all that was needed was to give them a shred of hope, a little kindness and acceptance, an act of mercy to let them know that God cares for them, if only like that leper, they would turn to Him for help. Are we willing to help?

Heal us, Lord, of our moral afflictions, especially our pride, and complacency in being more responsive to the needs of others, especially those we find “detestable” just because they are poor or afflicted by some kind of disease. Help us to imitate even in a small way Your saints, like Mother Teresa and St. Francis of Assissi, who embraced a leper to show him Your love and give him hope. For all the blessings that we have received from You, it is only fitting that we also help those in need. Amen.