September 11, 2009

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 and Good Friday because Christians historically 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 he thinking of himself? Was he thinking of another loyal and devoted follower of the Covenant who faced many difficulties? Was he thinking collectively of the Chosen People?

Whoever it might be, the picture of the Servant is complete. The Servant is steadfast. Hardships and obstacles abound in the Servant’s path to fidelity, but God unfailingly provides strength and guidance.

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 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 requires conducting ourselves so that in everything 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 30 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 powerfully revelatory reading. Jesus questions the Apostles. His identity is the issue. They respond by reporting the various proposals that people had 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 on the identity of the Master. Note that Peter speaks for the group. Also note Peter’s firm answer.

“You are the Messiah!” (Mk 8: 29).

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. They heard lessons from Jesus that were not given to other people. 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 advice. To follow Christ means the willingness to sacrifice even earthly life itself.


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

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

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

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

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