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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B) February 7, 2021

Job 7: 1-4;6-7; Psalm; 147;
I Cor. 9: 16-19; 22-23; Mark 1: 29-39

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

The selection from Job certainly contradicts the familiar expression, "as patient as Job," we use to describe someone of long suffering. Turns out, Job is not patient at all. The popular wisdom of the time would have attributed suffering to punishment for wrongs. However, Job feels he has done nothing wrong to deserve such misery. He is not meekly accepting his lot in life, he is vocal, even eloquent, in his protest. His prayer lament loosens our tongues and encourages those of us who feel life has become too burdensome, especially through this long pandemic, to pray in a similar way. Some people don’t think this is a "proper way to speak to God." They feel God is either the source of their misery or that, though they have led good lives and deserve better, God is standing by doing nothing while they are going through distress. Rather than enter into a "shouting match" with God, they keep silent. But this kind of respectful silence harbors resentment and can create a chill in our relationship with God. There is plenty of witness in the Hebrew texts, especially in the psalms, to encourage a more honest expression of our feelings. A complaint to God puts aside false pieties, formalism and "proper etiquette," to express honest feelings to the One who has the power to change things, but seems uninterested, or even impotent.

There certainly are times in our lives when life seems out of control, as if someone with an evil intent is running the show. We ask, "Who’s in charge here?" The evils or hardships we experience can’t possibly be coming from the One who created us, we reason. Job expresses this feeling of being under a harsh sentence when he says he feels like a "hireling," someone working for a hard taskmaster. His days are a "drudgery," he is, he says, a slave working in the hot sun who "longs for the shade." What is troubling is that Job is not being punished for any wrong he has committed. If he were, we would feel less fragile as we read this, we would feel less susceptible to a similar fate. If this misery he so eloquently describes could happen to an innocent person, who would be exempt from something similar? Hearing Job might cause us to feel we are walking on thin ice and any moment we might break through and be overwhelmed by the killing waters beneath.

Even living a good life doesn’t seem to spare us from what looks like the perfidy of the gods. When we hear this Job reading we are tempted to put our hands over our ears and shout at the top of our lungs, as we did when we were kids and didn’t want to hear something. Of course now we behave in a more adult fashion when the unpleasant enters. We change the subject if the conversation is about the divorce of close friends, or a serious sickness that strikes down someone our age. We avoid thinking about the future dire consequences of our present actions. We change the channel when the faces of starving innocent children or weeping victims of war appear.

Let’s not get morose, let’s talk about youth and physical beauty, the athletic and the latest technologies. But it is hard to get Job’s words out of our heads as we hear them at this liturgy. For anyone of us might speak them someday, no matter how prosperous or successful our lives – or good. "I have been assigned months of misery," sound like words from a hospital ward. Is it the intensive care unit separated from loved ones, or the grieving spouse who might say, "troubled nights have been told off for me?"

I look for the grace in this passage; it ends so dismally! – "I shall not see happiness again." Perhaps the somber word of Job, who once prospered but is now in dire straits, is a wake up call to encourage me to keep my eyes and attention fixed on God, and not to trust in the externals of life that can be taken away overnight. I might also learn from Job that when life takes a hard turn I can express myself without inhibition to God and know that God will not strike me dead!

One word of Job’s does stir up hope. He addresses God and says, "REMEMBER that my life is like the wind...." It is spoken by person who realizes that he is not the source of his own being, that he is totally dependent on the One who created him. He is telling the Creator, "Remember what you made when you made me, I am vulnerable, impermanent and can blow away and disappear as easily as the wind. Remember I am nothing, insubstantial and need you for my very existence." It is a word of faith, a word to remind God of the bond God has with the people. Not that God needs reminding – but I do! Job is saying, "You know how I am, so do something about it!" He is challenging God to remember humans are mere wind. Bold speech indeed!

The word for wind used here is "ruah" and it has another possible reference. Ruah also refers to the life force that comes from God. Job may be reminding God how ephemeral his life is (ruah); but at the same time admitting that God is the source of the life breath (ruah) in him. So God can bring life to this frail human and sustain it. Has God forgotten? Of course not and by "reminding" God, Job is actually reminding himself; God remembers what God made and knows it cannot live unless God keeps renewing life in the creature, especially when misery had made that life burdensome.

In today’s gospel Jesus has just left the synagogue where he has driven an unclean spirit from a man and enters the house of Simon and Andrew. He is told that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Notice how succinctly Mark tells the story: Jesus is told about the woman’s condition, he goes over to her, "grasped her hand and helped her up and the fever left her. She immediately began to wait on them." Mark uses rich New Testament expressions to describe the cure, though it sounds ordinary on first hearing. Jesus "helped her up" – this is the same expression in the New Testament that is often used in the resurrection stories. Mark is implying that this person is being given a new life, a life that only the risen Jesus can give.

What does this new life look like? Well, we are told when she was healed the woman "began to wait on them." It sounds like she is doing household chores, "woman’s work." But the word Mark uses is "diakoneo," the word for "church work," or Christian ministry. Thus, Mark is implying that she "waits" on the community and does the work of the community. When people experience new life from Jesus, they are willing and able to serve others. What one receives one wants to share. The mother-in-law is quick in her response, her "work" isn’t taken on grudgingly. The best ministers among us do their work with a sense of joy that seems to come from their own experience of Jesus "raising them up." In fact, believers who do "deaconal" work say they get more out of what they do than they put into it. It is as if, in the midst of their ministry to others, Jesus is taking them by their hand and "raising them up."

There is no easy answer to Job’s problems. He is the innocent sufferer. There is no "solution" to the mystery of suffering. But we do hear today’s gospel showing Jesus’ power over suffering. We know that unlike the fictitious and innocent Job, Jesus is very real, the sinless one who takes on our suffering; who suffers so others can be set free. Not an easy answer either, but a truth to be engaged and celebrated in our liturgy today. What Jesus did for Simon’s mother-in-law he does for us, individually and as a community. He extends a hand to us, raising us up from sin and death to a new life. His new life gives us the power to see the needs of others and respond with energy and joy.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/020721.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."

Psalm 147:3

In their 2018 pastoral letter, "Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love," the U.S. Bishops state; "The truth is that the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have been complicit in the evil of racism" (21). They go on to describe a document from 1452 known as the Papal Bull Dum Diversas. This Bull is actually one of three that, together, will become known as the Doctrine of Discovery. In this month that we dedicate to Black History, it is important for Catholics to start with these documents because of the deadly ramifications they caused throughout the ensuing centuries to African and indigenous populations.

Dum Diversas, issued by Pope Nicholas V, "granted apostolic permission for the kings of Spain and Portugal to buy and sell Africans, setting the stage for the slave trade" (21).  The next Bull that Pope Nicholas V wrote in 1455 was called Romanus Pontifex. This time, the Catholic nations of Europe were given dominion over "discovered" lands during the Age of Discovery, blessing the seizure of non-Christian lands and encouraging the enslavement of native, non-Christian peoples in Africa and the New World. Things must have gotten out of hand for competing Christian nations so, in 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the Bull, Inter Caetera, stating that one Christian nation did not have the right to establish dominion over lands previously dominated by another Christian nation. This establishes the Law of Nations.

Sadly, these three documents serve as the justification for the global slave-trade of the 15th and 16th centuries and the Age of Imperialism. Subsequent popes would vigorously condemn slavery, but the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, and the lucrative slave trade continued to flourish. "Much to our shame, many American religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, failed to formally oppose slavery; some even owned slaves" (ibid). Today, our silence is complicity in racism.

The USCCB pastoral letter continues: "Therefore we, the Catholic bishops in the United States, acknowledge the many times when the Church has failed to live as Christ taught—to love our brothers and sisters. Acts of racism have been committed by leaders and members of the Catholic Church…  and her institutions. We express deep sorrow and regret for them. We also acknowledge those instances when we have not done enough or stood by silently when grave acts of injustice were committed. We ask for forgiveness…" (22).

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,

Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told Jesus about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.

Reflection:

Jesus is no longer trapped by the limits of time and place. He comes over to us now at this Eucharistic celebration. He extends a hand, as he did for Simon’s mother-in-law, to raise us up from what would press us down and to help us go further on our journey with him.

So we ask ourselves:

  • At this stage of our journey with Christ, how do we experience his hand reaching out to sustain us?
  • Who is the outstretched hand of Christ for us?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Archie Billings #0471315 (On death row since 6/5/1996)
  • Angel Guevara #0506556 (6/20/1996)
  • Walic Thomas #0405380 (8/9/1996)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Domincales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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