September 10, 2021

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 Mass on this weekend in Ordinary Time.

This passage is one of several similar sections in this part of Isaiah 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 this part of Isaiah as these songs were written? The author? Another loyal and devoted follower of the covenant who faced many difficulties? The chosen people, the servant being a collective symbol for them?

The answer is unknown, but the picture is vivid. 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 this weekend, the Church gives us a passage from the Epistle of St. James. This reading affirms the classic Catholic interpretation of revelation. God gives us the healing and empowering grace so that we can believe and bear witness.

God reveals to us the way to salvation and the purpose of life, but 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 with the help of God’s grace 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 even today is visited by tourists and locals. At the origin of the Jordan River, it is picturesque and placid.

Such was the beautiful setting for this powerfully revelatory passage. Jesus questioned the Apostles. His identity was the issue. They responded by reporting the various proposals 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 asked the Apostles about their thoughts as to the identity of the Master. Note that St. Peter spoke for the group, not out of turn. He was the leader among the disciples as ever since his successors have been the universal shepherds of the Church.

Also note Peter’s firm answer: “You are the Messiah!” (Mk 8:29).

The Twelve heard from Jesus lessons not given to the rank and file. They were set apart. They were to be commissioned, so Jesus prepared them.

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

Then Jesus tells the crowd that discipleship means carrying personal crosses, the willingness to sacrifice.

Reflection

Sacrifice has been the story of Christianity, giving anything to imitate the Lord. It can be hard, as the martyrs knew well.

The presidential election of 1928 was especially bitter. New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith, a devout Catholic, was the Democratic candidate. Not only he, but all Catholics were targeted and insulted, their patriotism and integrity questioned.

A prominent Republican arrived in Memphis to speak against Smith. He always attacked Smith’s Catholicism.

At the train station, this politician was met by the most influential politician in town, a former mayor.

He welcomed the visitor and offered to show him the sights of Memphis. They drove immediately to Calvary Cemetery.

There the Memphis politician pointed out the graves of the many priests and nuns who died, serving the sick, in the yellow fever epidemic several decades before.

He said, “In Memphis, when we hear ‘Catholic,’ we think of these priests and nuns who sacrificed their lives for desperate people.

“You are a bigot. Get out of town.” The visitor boarded the next train leaving Memphis.

The Memphis politician, an Episcopalian, knew Christian sacrifice when he saw it. †

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