This weekend we celebrate the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time after the celebration of the Feast of St. John the Baptist. Though nothing about our lives in the present time is really ordinary especially as we in Ireland are preparing for the visit of Pope Francis in about 7 week’s time.
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday we hear about the woman who had the hemorrhage and we also hear about the official’s daughter. Whilst the stories are about the faith of the people involved they are also about the mercy of Jesus towards them both. Jairus, the synagogue official and loving father of a ‘desperately sick’ twelve-year old daughter, is convinced that if only Jesus would place his hands on her ‘to make her better and save her life’ she will surely recover. The unnamed woman, suffering for twelve years from a condition for which she has spent her life-savings on one doctor after another, has one last hope. She is convinced that ‘if she can touch even his clothes’, surely she will ‘be well again’ and then she was able to get near to Jesus and touched his garments.
The poor woman and Jesus know that healing power has gone forth. Jesus turns around, inquiring who is the one who had touched him. Fearfully, the woman admits that she is the one. Jesus immediately calms her fear, telling her to go home in peace, for she is healed. Then, He proceeds to the house of Jairus, where He learns that the little girl has died. Quieting all the commotion, He goes in with the child’s parents and Peter, James, and John. Taking the hand of the girl, He brings her from death to life, ordering that some food be brought to her.
It is worth dwelling on the detail of the stories because they give us an insight into the mystery of Jesus. They tell us about a man who has a fierce kinship with those who suffer, who does not disappoint those who look to him for help. Like Jairus, there are many people who suffer on behalf of their loved ones and who feel powerless when they are confronted by the pain of those they love The Gospel story of Jairus’ daughter is given to all of us as Good News. It is offered to us today to nourish our faith in Jesus, to enliven our hope in his power over death itself. We know there are those who mock that belief, professional mourners who believe that death must have the last word in every human story. There is no place for that attitude in the community that gathers in the Lord’s name. In the Eucharist we support each other in our shared faith, we confront real loss with Jesus at our side. And when the loss is deeply felt, we too need to hear the words of Jesus:
This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the birthday of St. John the Baptist also known as the forerunner who pointed the people of his time to the coming of Jesus. A desert prophet, he was outstanding for vigour, discipline and humility
The narrative of the Baptist’s birth revolved around the miraculous. An elderly couple could not have children, yet an angel told Zechariah, that his prayer had been answered. Zechariah was incredulous, so he was struck incapable of speech. But the couple did conceive a son. When Mary visited the boy’s mother, Elizabeth, the Spirit filled the boy when in the womb. Now, with the birth of the child, miracles would happen again. With the proclamation of the boy’s name, Zechariah regained his power of speech, only to praise God over and over. When speech was restored to Zechariah, he praised God to affirm his faith in the heavenly message he was given. In other words, Luke highlighted the movement of the Spirit over the parochial concerns of the immediate community. God, not humans, would guide events.
When John began final preparations for his mission, he withdrew into the harsh, rocky desert beyond the Jordan to fast and pray. When he came back to start preaching in the villages of Judaea, he was haggard and uncouth, but his eyes burned with zeal and his voice carried deep conviction. The Jews were accustomed to preachers and prophets who gave no thought to outward appearances, and they accepted John at once. So great was the power emanating from the holy man that after hearing him many believed he was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. John quickly put them right, saying he had come only to prepare the way, and that he was not worthy to unloose the Master’s sandals. His humility remained incorruptible even when his fame spread to Jerusalem and members of the higher priesthood came to make inquiries and to hear him. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,”-this was John’s oft-repeated theme. John the Baptist was the first of the New Testament Prophets, the very first of the witnesses to Christ. There is always a need for prophets in the Church and God has not been neglectful in providing them. There are people in our own day who speak up for Christ.
We may not consider ourselves saints but each of us can make a great impression on the world in our own way guided by the faith we profess. The message of salvation that John the Baptist preached to his people is meant for us too. We receive the salvation Christ won for us but we are also called like John to be heralds of salvation as we live lives of faith. May we be the people who point towards Jesus and tell those around us there is the Son of God let us follow him for he is the way the truth and the life.
This week we had the formal announcement of the timetable of Pope Francis visit to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August. The world meeting should be a reaffirmation of what it means to be a Catholic family in today’s world. Of course many people will have their own interpretation of this and in todays world of equality and peoples rights the whole idea of the Christian family is constantly under attack by those who say family is something different to what it really is. If we look at the Holy Family of Nazareth we need look no further to see what we as Catholics mean when we talk about family. Also this Sunday in one of our neighbouring parishes we have an ordination to the priesthood and we pray for Deacon Tony McAleese as he begins his priestly ministry in our diocese.
In this weekend’s Gospel we hear the story of the mustard seed the faith that we have is represented by the mustard seed and that faith is something all of us need to nourish. The Kingdom of God is like a tiny seed planted within each of us. It’s a strong seed, like those seeds that push their way through the clay in order to grow toward the light.
Gardeners out there will know that as we nurture the small mustard seed we have expectations for it and this is true for the seed of faith too. Sometimes our expectations are fulfilled, sometimes not. Other times, we don’t know how, but we find ourselves bearing the fruits of joy, compassion, peace, generosity, faith-fullness, gentleness, and thanksgiving for the wonder of it all. Then we know our growth in faith is a partnership with god and, while we can care for the seed, we can’t make it grow or flower or reproduce without nurturing it. The parable of the seed shows us that there is an almighty power working for us through the smallest thing the mustard seed. Our part is to do a good job preparing the soil of our hearts and then when we plant the seed we let God take over. As we see the Church continues to grow; for the Lord, not people, gives the spiritual growth. The Church will adjust and flourish in the future just as it has in the past. And when we are confronted with all kinds of things that run against what we believe in we should not despair, the Church not only lives on through the muddle and the mire of the world, it actually grows.
We also grow like the mustard seed as long as we do everything possible to stay united in faith with the Church. For in the face of turmoil, outside and within us, God is with us.
After the seasons of Lent and Easter along with the great feasts of Pentecost, Holy Trinity ,Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart we now go back to Ordinary Time and continue from the 10th Sunday. The gospel Reading for this Weekend is all about the Family of Jesus and their attempt to take control of him. When Jesus asks the question who is my Mother and my brothers he puts everything in its place. In one move, Jesus replaced his personal family and friends with the family of God the Church and that is the people who did the will of God, his Father. Jesus is not disowning his family; he is acknowledging the relationship between himself and the Father and that is greater than the physical bond of family and homeplace. Jesus establishes a new family , no doubt hoping that his own relatives, like everyone else, will come to accept him for who he is the son of God. Clearly his relatives like so many others have trouble accepting the change that Jesus has undergone from becoming a village carpenter to a mighty prophet who proclaims the kingdom of God his Father. As John says in his Gospel: “Not even his brothers… had faith in him” (7:5). Jesus has to face that misunderstanding and rejection. It is part of the cross he has to bear.
Allegiance to the Father and by implication to his Son transcended ties of the country you come from and the family you belonged to. The Kingdom of God was above social structure. Hence, social expectations over behaviour, even behaviour that challenged the status quo of the leaders, was also superseded. Family ties, social roles, and religious pecking order were meaningless. Our problem, of course, lies in our expectations. What do we expect others to do? What do we expect God to do? How do we react when God or others don’t meet our expectations? More important, how do we react when God or others CHALLENGE our expectations? These days there are many different challenges to us as members of god’s family and for us here in Ireland there are many particular challenges. I believe that faith will prevail but the faith of the future will be different but in many ways will remain the same. Over the past few days I have been thinking about the abortion referendum result and what it means and I feel that the faith of so many has been challenged and many people have been found wanting in what they have said and done. I think that its fair to say that all of us who are pro-life feel broken as a result of the referendum vote but we know that as the brothers and sisters of Jesus he is with us in this moment of sadness and hurt.
The gospels are always challenging and calling us to a better way of life as members of the body of Christ his family. We will become his brothers and sisters if we do the will of God. Doing the will of God may alienate us from our family and relatives, but the Jesus always points us towards a more important relationship with the Father. As we go forward there will be many challenges to us in our personal lives and our lives of faith. If we are true to the faith we profess each time we say the creed then we can say that we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus doing the will of the father as we face the challenges of being people of faith wherever we live in our world.