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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B) January 24, 2021

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 25; I Cor 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

The simple opening lines to today’s gospel might be passed over too lightly. One is tempted to "get to the story." But we "get to the story" by paying attention to what may seem like a simple introductory phrase: "After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God...." Now that the Baptist is arrested we know what, by Herod’s order, will soon happen to him. So, the atmosphere is froth with danger for anyone who follows after John. If the popular and influential John could be scooped up, immobilized and then executed – what could Jesus expect?

With the precursor gone, the attention now shifts to the one about whom John has been proclaiming: "One mightier than I is coming after me." What Jesus is announcing about the reign of God being at hand, certainly will attract the attention of those waiting for God to come to their aid – the poor, outcasts, sinners and the neglected. But the message will also attract the ire of religious and political powers who don’t want their world of privilege threatened. Hostile and suspicious eyes will soon focus on this upstart preacher who seems to have stepped into John’s shoes coming from, of all places, Galilee.

Later in this gospel, in Gethsemani, Mark says Jesus was, "filled with fear and distress" (14:34). There, the evangelist narrates, Jesus prayed, "If it were possible this hour might pass him by" (14: 35) and he beseeched, "Abba, you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me" (14:36). As is Mark’s custom, the agony in the garden is succinctly narrated. It shows a human’s reaction to an approaching painful death. Jesus could have left the garden and his mission behind. But he was free to withdraw from his mission long before the choice placed before him in the garden. Jesus made choices all during his ministry to accept what was coming.

He had to notice how his words and deeds were infuriating religious leaders who had connections with the Roman occupying forces. Each time he decided to keep teaching his message of God’s welcome to sinners; each time he ate with outcasts and called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, Jesus was deciding again to be faithful to his call to proclaim God’s reign. But he was also taking another step that would seal his fate with the authorities – another step towards his big decision in Gethsemani, to accept what awaited him.

Throughout our lives we each face many decisions. These choices are often small, daily and seeming inconsequential in light of the overall picture of our lives. But, in reality, the daily choices are important; they either further confirm our life’s path, or they take us away from it – one step at a time. For Christians, who have heard the invitation, "Come after me...," the daily choices either identity us as Jesus’ followers, or they don’t. If we spend our lives "going with the flow," never speaking a contrary word when an issue of fairness, or justice is raised; never taking a stand to defend a person wronged, or a cause we hold sacred; never risking love – then, step after step, we have pretty well decided to ignore the call to be Jesus’ followers.

Many of us, at some moment our lives, will have to make a big decision for right or wrong; for integrity, or dissolution. When that moment comes, how we have been choosing on a daily basis, will determine how we hold up under the big test. Jesus makes a decision to enter the public arena and fulfill his calling, despite the risks. It may not seem like a big event at this moment in Mark’s gospel; he hasn’t gone before the crowds in Jerusalem, he is still in the "little leagues." But he is already preparing for his final "Yes" in the garden. We say in the colloquial, "Don’t sweat the small stuff." In a way we should, for the little things we do prepare us for the bigger moments when more is on the line.

Jesus left the wilderness area and began preaching in the towns and villages. He is not an ascetical hermit who retreats to the wilderness to rid himself of "the evils of society." Rather, he goes to where people live and work. That’s where Simon, Andrew, James and John were, at work. There he delivers his invitation. Where do we expect to hear God’s call? At the ocean, or contemplating a mountain panorama? Where do we expect to hear the call to live a new, or more committed life ("Repent and believe...") – only on a silence-filled retreat? Lord knows we could use more of those moments! But most of our lives don’t provide a lot of time for gazing at the ocean or a mountain; nor do we have the luxury of a lot of silence to hear our "inner voices." These pandemic days have been a terrible strain on people and families. But some say there has been a surprised blessing for them. They have had some time for quiet, reading and prayer. How fortunate to have found that blessing in all this mess and anguish!

From the beginning, Jesus made daily decisions to follow God’s will and proclaim the reign of God. From the beginning he would also have known that his daily decision to be faithful to his mission would eventually put him on a collision course with the authorities of religion and state.

Here, early in Mark’s gospel, we are responding once again to the invitation to follow Jesus and be his witnesses in the world. At this Eucharist, we ask for the Spirit that came upon Jesus in the Jordan when he was baptized by John. This Spirit will strengthen and confirm our resolve to follow Jesus; for on our own, we might take the short cuts that tempt us each day and that eventually get us to follow another voice on another path. But with the Spirit as our guide, we will take the steps that lead us to respond daily to Jesus’ invitation, "Repent and believe in the gospel."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012421.cfm

QUOTABLE

Anyone who aspires to announce the Gospel needs, above all, to love the person to be evangelized, to know him or her with the heart and trust fully the power of the Gospel and the action of the Spirit, which invite the people of each culture to encounter salvation in their own way. We need to know how to approach people with respect and an attitude of listening and learning, to be stripped of the baggage of our own culture (without overestimating it) in order to avoid all ethnocentrism and colonialism; to use the language and symbolism of those to be evangelized, incorporating the specific values of the other culture.

--the General Chapter of the Dominican Friars, at Mexico City, 1992

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s bidding.

Jonah 3:3

I found myself chuckling when I read the first reading for today. If this passage is all that one knew about Jonah, it would be easy to think that responding to God’s call is a quick "yes." We don’t hear the part of Jonah fleeing in the opposite direction from God’s intention nor do we hear how angry Jonah becomes (after completing the task God has given him to do) because God forgives Nineveh for its transgressions and spares its destruction. When you hear the full story, Jonah becomes really human!

Let me pose it to you in another way. You have made the decision to become a disciple of Jesus. After all, Jesus was a good person, kind and loving. However, Jesus was also not indifferent to injustice, he was not selfish, and he didn’t pursue unworthy aims. Here is where our humanness comes in to play. Working to change societal injustice is hard; not wanting to put yourself first is hard; taking a road less-traveled is hard and a much narrower path. Why would anyone make this choice to act for and with God and make it so completely their way of life? I think that for Jonah, there is no other choice. "But you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God" (Jonah 2:7). How could Jonah not love the God who saved his life? How can we not love and serve the God who gives us life?

This is where the process of discernment and formation is so foundational to the continual process of Christian life. Your journey begins by asking life’s great questions: "Who am I?" "Who am I for?" "Who is God?" "Why am I here?" "What am I to do with my life?"

January is Poverty Awareness Month and it is not too late to really look at this unjust issue and decide what you can do out of love for God. The USCCB Office of Justice, Peace, and Human Development writes, "Poverty is not a catch-phrase—it is a serious reality that many are living. Over 34 million people live below the poverty line in the United States. Our faith challenges us to respond to the needs of those who are most vulnerable." Learn more about poverty here: https://povertyusa.org/facts  and discern God’s call for you to help.

Looking for a contemplative prayer community to support your journey, contact socialconcern@hnojnc.org.

----Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,

Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

As Jesus passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother casting their nets into the sea....

Jesus said to them, "Come after me and I will make you fishers of people."

Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.

Reflection:

We hear Jesus’ invitation, "Come follow me," each day, as life presents us with choices. Shall we forgive when asked? Shall we help someone in need? Shall we buy less for ourselves and give more to the poor? Shall we see the injustice or turn a blind eye? In these, and so many other occasions, we hear the same invitation Jesus made to those fishermen and like them, we put other considerations aside to follow him.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What recent choices have I made that show my desire to follow Christ?
  • What changes do I have to make in my life to follow him more fully?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • John Mc Neil #0275678 (On death row since 11/10/1995)
  • Stacey Tyler #0414853 (11/14/1995)
  • Russell Tucker #0413011 (2/21/1996)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Domincales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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