Jan 21 Monday (St. Agnes, Virgin, Martyr): Mk 2:18-22: 18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.”
The context: Today’s Gospel passage gives Jesus’ reply to the question (raised, perhaps by some Pharisees), of why Jesus’ disciples ate and drank, while they (John the Baptist’s disciples), and the Pharisees fasted and prayed. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving were three cardinal “good deeds” of Jewish religious life.
Jesus’ reply: Jesus responded to their sincere question using three metaphors: the metaphor of the “children of the bridal chamber,” the metaphor of patching torn cloth and the metaphor of wineskins. First, Jesus compared his disciples with the children of the bridal chamber. These were the selected friends of the bride and groom who feasted in the company of the bride and groom during a week of honeymoon. Nobody expected them to fast. Jesus assured the questioners that his disciples would fast when he, the Bridegroom, was taken away from them. In the same way, we are to welcome both the joys of Christian life and the crosses it offers us. But Joy is the chief characteristic of a Christian – joy even in tribulation. Using the comparisons of the danger of using new, unshrunken cloth to make a patch for an old garment, or old wineskins to store new, still-fermenting wine, Jesus told the questioners that they must have more elastic and open minds and larger hearts to understand and follow his new ideas which were, in many cases, different from the traditional Jewish teachings.
Life message: 1) We need to be adjustable Christians with open and elastic minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit, working actively in the Church and guiding the teaching authority in the Church, enables the Church to put into practice new visions, new ideas, new adaptations and new ways of worship in place of old ones. So, we should have the generosity and good will to follow the teachings of the Church. 2) At the same time, we need the Old Testament revelations, the New Testament teachings and the Sacred Tradition of the Church as main sources of our Christian faith. (Fr. Tony) L/19
Jan 22 Tuesday (Day of Prayer for Unborn Children) Mk 2:23-28: 23 As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the Sabbath, His disciples began to make a path, picking the heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; 28 so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
The context: Today’s Gospel passage gives Jesus’ teaching on the purpose of the Sabbath and on its proper observance. This was his response to a criticism and a silly accusation made by Pharisees against his disciples. On a Sabbath, to satisfy their hunger, they had plucked ears of grain from a field, removing the husks by rubbing the grain between their palms and blowing away the chaff. The Pharisees accused them of violating Sabbath laws by performing three items of work forbidden on the Sabbath, namely, harvesting, threshing and winnowing. God Himself, the originator of the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3), ordered the Jewish people to avoid certain kinds of work on this day (Exodus 20:8-11; 21:13; Deuteronomy 5:14) to leave them free to give more time to God. As time went by, the rabbis complicated this Divine precept. By Jesus’ time they had extended the list to 39 kinds of forbidden work (Navarre Bible Commentary).
Counter-arguments: According to Matthew, Jesus gives three counter-arguments from Holy Scripture defending his apostles. But Mark gives only one of those arguments. Jesus argues that basic human needs, like hunger, take precedence over Divine worship and Sabbath observance. In other words, the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy does not come before the duty to seek basic sustenance. Jesus cites from Scripture the example of hungry David and his selected soldiers. They approached Abiathar, the priest of Nob who gave them for food the “bread of the Presence” which only the priests were allowed to eat (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The bread of the Presence consisted of twelve loaves or cakes placed each morning on the table in the sanctuary, as homage to the Lord from the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Leviticus 24:5-9). The loaves withdrawn to make room for the fresh ones were reserved to the priests (Navarre Bible Commentary).
Life message: Like the Jewish Sabbath, the Christian Sunday is to be 1) a day of rest and refreshment with members of the family; 2) a day for thanksgiving and the recharging of spiritual batteries through participation in the Eucharistic celebration (for Catholics); 3) a day for parents to teach religious faith and Bible to their children; 4) a day to do works of charity in the neighborhood and in the parish; 5) a day for socializing with family members, neighbors and fellow-parishioners. (Fr. Tony) L/19
Jan 23 Wednesday: (St. Vincent, Deacon, Martyr, St. Marianne Cope (U. S. A.) Virgin) Mk 3:1-6 1 There was a man there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
The context: Today’s Gospel describes a miraculous healing done by Jesus on one Sabbath as a public violation of Sabbath law to prove that God’s intention for the Sabbath was to do good and to save life rather than to do evil or to destroy life.
The incident and the reaction: Ex 20:8 and Dt 5:12 instructed the Jews to keep the Sabbath holy. But the Scribes and the Phariseeshadamplified God’s law on the Sabbath by misinterpreting it and had made it burdensome for the common people through man-made laws. Jesus wanted to demonstrate in public the original intention of God in declaring the Sabbath holy. For Jesus, the Sabbath was a day of rest to be used in adoring God, learning and teaching His laws and doing good to/for others. Hence, Jesus took the liberty of granting healing to a man with a withered hand in the local synagogue immediately after the worship service, thus infuriating the scribes and the Pharisees.
Life messages: 1) Our Christian Sabbath observance of participating in the Eucharistic celebration is meant to recharge our spiritual batteries for doing good to/for others and avoiding evil. 2) Our Sunday observance is also meant to be an offering of our lives to God on the altar, to ask God’s pardon and forgiveness for our sins, to present our needs before the Lord and to participate in the Divine Life by Holy Communion. 3) It is also a day for us to spend time with the members of the family and to participate in the activities of our parish and neighborhood. (Fr. Tony) L/19
Jan 24 Thursday (St. Francis De Sales, Bishop, Doctor of the Church): Mk 3:7-12: 7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea 8 and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him. 9 And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.
The context: Today’s Gospel describes how both Jews and Gentiles from Galilee and all surrounding areas gathered around Jesus practically every day of his public ministry of preaching and healing. Jesus preached the Good News of God’s love and demonstrated by his healing ministry the mercy and compassion of God the Father.
Jesus’ mission was universal, attracting Jews and pagans alike. He exercised his Divine power of healing, using his human body to demonstrate to the people that he was both God and man. Jesus instructed the healed ones not to publicize him as the expected Messiah because he did not want to bring his public life to a premature end. The ordinary Jews believed that the expected Messiah would declare himself King of the Jews after overthrowing the Roman rule. Hence, it was dangerous to let people regard him as the Messiah.
Life message: 1) Jesus continues to preach the Good News and heal the sick through his Church and through us his followers. He welcomes our response to him and calls us to come to him through the Sacraments, and especially through our participation in the Eucharistic celebration, with trusting Faith and confident expectation. (Fr. Tony) L/19
Jan 25 Friday — Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle: Acts 22:3-16, Mark 16:15-20: Paul, the “Apostle to the Gentiles” and the greatest missionary, was a Roman citizen by his birth in Tarsus (in Cilicia), and a Jew born to the tribe of Benjamin. His Hebrew name was Saul. Since he was a Pharisee, Saul was sent to Jerusalem by his parents to study the Mosaic Law under the great rabbi Gamaliel. As a student he also learned also the trade of tent-making. He was present as a consenting observer at the stoning of Stephen. But Saul was miraculously converted on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians. After that, Saul, now called Paul, made several missionary journeys, converted hundreds of Jews and Gentiles and established Church communities. He wrote 14 epistles. He was arrested and kept in prison for two years in Caesarea and two more years in Rome. Finally, he was martyred by beheading at Tre Fontane in Rome. Today we celebrate the feast of the conversion St. Paul which revolutionized the history and theology of the early Church. Saul of Tarsus, because of his zeal for the Jewish law and Jewish traditions, became the most outrageous enemy of Christ and His teaching as the apostles started preaching the Gospel. Saul consented to the martyrdom of Stephen, watching the cloaks of the stoners. After the martyrdom of the holy deacon, the priests and magistrates of the Jews raised a violent persecution against the Christian communities at Jerusalem, and Saul was their fanatical young leader. By virtue of the authority he had received from the high priest, he dragged the Christians out of their houses, chained them and thrust them into prison. In the fury of his zeal, he applied to the high priest and Sanhedrin for a commission to take up all Jews at Damascus who confessed Jesus Christ, and bring them bound to Jerusalem to be properly punished. He was almost at the end of his journey to Damascus, when, at about noon, he and his company were suddenly surrounded by a great light. As Saul fell to the ground, he heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul answered, “Who are you, Sir?” And the voice said, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Saul rose and, blind, was led by his companions into Damascus.
The Lord sent a Damascus disciple named Ananias to heal and instruct Saul. Ananias entered the house and, laying his hands on Saul, prayed over him so that he might regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes. He regained his sight, got up, was baptized and, having eaten, recovered his strength. He had realized the truth that Jesus was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing. He could easily identify Jesus with Jesus’ followers. He stayed several days in Damascus with Christian disciples and started teaching in the synagogues that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the Son of God. Saul’s conversion into Paul teaches us that we, too, need conversion and the renewal of our lives by a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit, which will enable us to bear witness to Christ by exemplary lives. (Fr. Tony) L/19
Jan 26 Saturday (Saints. Timothy & Titus, Bishops): Luke 10: 1-9 –– 1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; 9 heal the sick in it and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Both Timothy and Titus were converts and coworkers of St. Paul, who used them to defuse tensions in problem Churches. Timothy was born in Lystra in Asia Minor. He had a Greek father and Jewish mother, Eunice by name. He was converted by Paul in AD 47. He labored with Paul for 15 years, even during Paul’s house arrest in Rome, and Paul called him “dear son.” He visited the cities of Asia Minor and Greece in the company of St. Paul. He was made a bishop of Ephesus when he was comparatively young. Paul wrote two letters to him and once advised him to take a little daily dose of wine to treat his stomach problem: “Stop drinking only water but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1Timothy 5:23). He also advised Timothy to “stir into flame” the grace of the Holy Spirit Whom he had received in Baptism (with Confirmation) and Ordination. Timothy won a martyr’s crown at Ephesus on a pagan feast day in the precincts of the temple of the goddess Diana to which he had gone to calm an unruly crowd.
Titus was a Greek-speaking Gentile from Antioch whose parents were Gentiles. He was Paul’s friend and fellow-preacher, a peacemaker and an administrator whom Paul chose to carry his letters to Church communities. He was made administrator (bishop) of Christians in Crete, charged with organizing the Church there, correcting abuses and appointing presbyter-bishops.
Life messages: 1) Let us have the apostolic zeal of saints Timothy and Titus. 2) Let us also practice their charity and patience. (Fr. Tony) L/19