September 14, 2012

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe last and third section of the Book of Isaiah provides the first reading for this weekend in Ordinary Time.

This passage is one of several similar sections in Trito-Isaiah. These sections together are called the “Songs of the Suffering Servant.”

Poetic and expressive, they figure in the liturgies of Holy Week, especially Good Friday, because historically Christians have applied them to Christ, the Lamb of God.

Who was in the mind of the author of Trito-Isaiah as these songs were written? Was it the author? Was it another loyal and devoted follower of the Covenant who faced many difficulties? Was it the Chosen People, the servant being a collective symbol for them?

In any case, the picture is complete. The servant is steadfast. Hardships and obstacles abound in the servant’s path to fidelity. God still provides strength and guidance unfailingly.

Assured of God’s help, and resolute in faith, the servant is undaunted in obeying God.

For its second reading, the Church this weekend gives us a passage from the Epistle of St. James.

At the time of the Reformation, the differing opinions regarding texts such as this reading literally caused wars. It affirms the classic Roman Catholic interpretation of revelation. God gives us the healing and empowering grace so that we can believe.

However, we must ratify our belief in our worthy Christian conduct. It is not a question simply of following rules and regulations. Rather, it is to conduct ourselves so that in everything we do we replicate Christ.

St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.

In this story, Jesus and the Apostles have gone to the region of Caesarea Philippi.

This region is often in the news even today, and it has been the scene of much violence in the past 40 years. In general, it is the region now called the Golan Heights, territory claimed by modern Syria but taken militarily by Israel about 40 years ago. Parts of it still are under Israeli control.

At the origin of the Jordan River, it is picturesque and placid.

Such was the setting for this powerful revelatory reading. Jesus questions the Apostles. His identity is the issue. They respond by reporting the various proposals that people put forward as to the Lord’s identity. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets” (Mk 8:28).

Then Jesus bluntly asks the Apostles about their thoughts as to the identity of the Master. Note that St. Peter speaks for the group. Also note Peter’s firm answer. “You are the Messiah!” (Mk 8:28).

Jesus then gives the Twelve a special lesson. It is one of many occasions within the New Testament in which the Apostles appear as special students. Jesus teaches them lessons not given to the rank and file. They were special.

When Peter interjects his own, human thinking into the discussion, Jesus reprimands him.

Then Jesus tells the crowd that discipleship means carrying personal crosses. It is frank and somber. To follow Christ means the willingness to sacrifice even earthly life itself.

Reflection

Living the Christian life by active acts of love and faith, all in reflection of Jesus, always has been challenging. Certainly, the martyrs, from those who died in ancient Rome to those dying today in the world, know very well this aspect of discipleship.

Blessedly, Americans do not face this test of discipleship. But each day they face the mighty attacks to the Gospel from our culture. We must sacrifice if we wish to follow the Lord.

The fact is that, however the challenges come in daily life, overcoming opposition and being loyal to Christ results in peace in this life and joy in the life eternal.

Our example is Jesus, the crucified, the Risen, so beautifully depicted as the Suffering Servant. His story is of victory, not defeat—of life, not death. †

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