January 27, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Deuteronomy furnishes the first reading for this weekend.

Deuteronomy appears in modern Bibles as the fifth book in sequence in the Old Testament. It is one of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and all of the books are attributed to Moses.

In this reading, Moses addresses the Chosen People, whom he has led with God’s help from Egypt where they were enslaved. He promises them that God will send prophets, with whom they can relate.

But if anyone presumes to take the role of prophet upon himself or herself without having been called by God, then this imposter will die.

God will take care of his people.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading.

From the earliest days of Christianity, virginity has been treasured. Christians have never been forbidden to marry, although all Christians are bound to be chaste, according to their state in life. However, over the centuries, Christians have chosen lifelong virginity for religious reasons.

Corinth, in the first century A.D., was a city notorious for its outrageous immorality. It was a busy commercial center. Visitors often availed themselves of the pleasures of the flesh provided in Corinth. Indeed, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and carnal desire, was the city’s special deity.

Paul sees virginity as a powerful Christian witness and, from a more pragmatic point of view, he thinks that Christians not obligated by marriage and parenthood can devote their whole time to God’s service.

St. Mark’s Gospel is the source of the third reading.

It is an interesting story, and is the first of four scriptural references to exorcisms.

First, Mark again reveals the identity of Jesus. While Judaism has never required weekly attendance by Jews at synagogue services, going to the synagogue to pray together and learn the teachings of the Torah was important for Jews during the time of Jesus, as indeed it is among Jews today.

The fact that Jesus went to the synagogue, and on the Sabbath at that, reveals the ongoing gift of salvation offered by God to the Chosen People. Jesus fulfilled and culminated this long process of mercy and life.

Then Jesus spoke with authority, and the people realized this.

The most dramatic moment came when a man “with an unclean spirit” appeared. This man recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God,” affirming that Jesus has the power to do anything.

Exercising nothing less than divine power, Jesus orders the unclean spirit to leave the man, and the unclean spirit obeys him.

Again, the people are amazed. No devil can overcome the power of God.

Reflection

Thanks be to God, few people today say that they, or great numbers of people, are “possessed by the devil,” although the Church still teaches that such possessions occur in the world.

Still, sin is real. Evil is real. All people sin at some points in their lives, and sin is the mark of the devil’s involvement, to some extent at least, in any person’s spiritual life.

An unfortunate mark of these irreligious times is that fewer and fewer people have any sense of sin. Few people think of themselves as sinners. They succumb to the age-old tactic of rationalization, abetted by this culture’s increasing rejection of any transcendent religious principle, taught by any religious authority.

The contemporaries of Jesus had a strong sense of sin. They saw personal sin, and society’s sin, as the root of all heartache and injustice. They knew that people and communities easily may be prey for temptation.

Jesus, the Son of God, in the words of Mark, rescues people from sin, forgiving them for sins committed and pointing the way to holiness.

Resisting sin, nevertheless, requires personal resolve, a determination equal to that urged by Paul in his message to the Corinthians. †

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