Monday, January 26, 2015

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 1, 2015

First Reading Commentary
In a literal sense, the word “prophet” is used to communicate to the people of Israel that they need not fear when Moses is no longer with them because God will continue to supply prophets who will speak the Almighty’s words to guide them.  Prophetically, the “Prophet” is the Messiah as indicated by Saint Peter when he said: “When the times of refreshment shall come from the Presence of the Lord, He may send Him Who has been preached to you, Jesus Christ.  For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God shall raise up to you a Prophet from among your brethren as He raised up me; to Him you shall hearken in all things that He shall speak to you.’  To you first, God, raising up His Son, has sent Him to bless you that everyone may turn from his wickedness” (Acts 3:20, 22, 26). 

Saint Stephen, the martyr, reaffirms this (cf. Acts 7:37).  The verse’s application to Jesus has been argued by others who see it as no more than a reference to Joshua, who led the people of Israel after the death of Moses; and the prophets who followed all the way up to Jeremiah.  Saint Athanasius condemned this opposing theory while Saint Augustine adds that the word “prophet” is written in the singular to directly signify the eminent dignity of Christ.  The opposing conclusion is not completely incorrect, but the error is in Christ’s exclusion.

God says He will put His words into the mouth of this forthcoming prophet.  Jesus said: “The words that I speak to you I speak not on My own authority.  But the Father dwelling in Me, it is He Who does the works” (John 14:10). 

In this Reading, God lays on the hearts of those who will not listen to Him a stern warning.  Returning to Saint Peter, he proclaimed these words: “It shall be that every soul that will not hearken to that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:23). 

Fire and brimstone aside, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. John 14:6).  The Catechism of the Catholic Church very succinctly separates Jesus from the pack of the other prophets with these words: “Christ’s whole earthly life - His words and deeds, His silences and sufferings, indeed His manner of being and speaking - is Revelation of the Father” (CCC 516).              

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul’s message here has an awareness theme to it.  What he is sharing is not inevitable as Paul himself declares that this letter is for our benefit and not to restrain us.  If what he writes is inevitable, then every unmarried man and woman is “anxious about the things of the Lord.”  If only that were true!  And of course every married person is spiritually dead because all their concerns are “about the things of the world.”  Thank God that isn’t true! 

Marriage is a sacrament meaning that it is ordained by Christ; therefore, Paul would never deem it to be hopelessly sentenced to the affairs of the world.  It’s true that in married life there are many concerns especially when a couple’s love for each other produces a family.  But the message here to married persons is clear: Don’t let the concerns of married life and raising children be a roadblock in your relationship with the Lord.  Rather, allow Christ to be the Lord of those concerns.  Make Him the Center of your marriage and family life. 

For the unmarried person, being concerned solely for “the things of the Lord” would be a great grace.  But Paul’s “be aware” theme intends to warn those who are single that they are just as susceptible to worldly distractions as anyone else.  Regardless of one’s state in life, holy reminders are great aids to thwarting deviation and nurturing a heightened awareness of the presence of our Lord.  Some examples of holy reminders would be a Crucifix on the wall or desk, carrying a pocket size New Testament or a Rosary, having a bottle of holy water nearby, wearing a medal that has the image of our Lord, or our Lady, or a Saint, and frequent pauses throughout the day to acknowledge Jesus in our lives.  If your place of employment is near a Catholic Church, it’s always beneficial to pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament during your lunch break.  These holy reminders can give us, as the Latin Vulgate translates, “power to attend upon the Lord without impediment.”                 

Gospel Commentary
It would seem that Satan takes one of two approaches in his attempted onslaught of God’s people.  It would be ideal for him if humanity didn’t believe in his existence.  And in this day of New Age practices, that is a common trap many have fallen into.  For those of us who believe differently, however, the master of deceit opts for plan B.  Plan B is his attempt to get us to believe that he is bigger and more powerful than he really is. 

Notice the “key” words in the statements made to Jesus: “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have You come to destroy us?”  The “us” in these two statements surely suggests more than one, if not many, and therefore, difficult to defeat.  The trouble with this is that this Gospel story reveals beforehand “there was a man with an unclean spirit.”  And “he,” meaning the unclean spirit, “cried out.”  Yes, “an unclean spirit” and “he” - there’s only one; there aren’t many as he would want Jesus to believe.  That is not to say that demons don’t exist, but in this Gospel story Satan or a demon appears to be working alone. 

The late comedian Flip Wilson and his portrayal of the character “Geraldine” helped popularize the phrase: “The devil made me do it.”  Some theologies blame Satan for everything that goes wrong.  Giving Satan too much credit is a formula for being brainwashed into believing that he can perpetually pull our strings.  Many of our trials come from the choices we make.  God gave us the gift of free will and therefore God won’t force us to do anything. 

Out of love for us, Jesus gave us His teachings and has revealed to us everything He intended to reveal.  The choice to abide in Him, however, is completely ours.  On the flip side, sin begins with temptation; and once again the choice is ours whether or not to succumb to it.  Surrendering to temptation starts the ball rolling that leads to another temptation, and another, and another; and today we live in a world whereby the end result of successful temptations have become the norm for standard living and have nearly desensitized us to immorality: Disagreements or misunderstandings lead to dissolved friendships; on government levels they lead to wars. Risqué suggestions lead to promiscuity, broken marriages, adultery, premarital sex, unwanted pregnancies and finally abortion.  In the cases of war and abortion, innocent lives are destroyed because of the decisions of a few.  This is the domino effect of succumbing to temptation.  There are countless examples of how one seemingly harmless temptation can lead to disaster.  Concupiscence in itself is not sinful, but if not pushed aside quickly could and most likely will create a doorway for sin to enter. 

Satan is not the source of all that is wrong in life but for those of us who believe in his existence, he greatly desires to have us also believe that he indeed is the source of all sin and therefore irresistible.  Of course Jesus is not weak and isn’t fooled and simply says, “Quiet!”  A habitual succumbing to temptation without reconciling to God could become an invitation for the evil one to enter into one’s life; and then visiting the confessional will become increasingly more difficult while one’s lifestyle will gradually keep sinking further into immorality. 

Through Him, with Him and in Him is the only way to be conformed to Christ’s will and deal with temptation from the vantage point of the Sanctuary of His Sacred Heart.  A serious, highest priority relationship with our Lord is the only way because anything less or any sort of faith indifference can become a gigantic arena for temptation to play and have its way.  The holiest men and women also are men and women who faced mountainous temptations.  God’s will is for us to have a most intimate relationship with Him but that also has to be our desire and downright conviction; and for those men and women in history who have conformed to the will of God, we call them saints.  Temptation strikes regardless of anyone’s level of sanctity, but remaining close to the Bosom of Jesus makes us a channel of His strength and consequently gives us the resolve to say, “Quiet!” when evil knocks at the door of our hearts. 

From the early Church, Diadochus of Photike shares these words of wisdom: “We must by all possible means, and especially through peace of soul, offer a resting place for the Holy Spirit, in order to have the Lamp of knowledge always shining in us; for if it shines endlessly in the innermost recesses of the soul, not only will these harsh and somber insinuations of demons be shown up, but still more, they will be considerably weakened, confused by this holy and glorious Light.”