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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

FOURTH SUNDAY (B) JANUARY 31, 2021

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 95;
1Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

WELCOME to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the women retreatants from Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, NC.



Ancient people believed that mere humans could not approach God face to face. They would not survive the encounter with the all-powerful and holy One. We hear this reflected in our first reading from Deuteronomy. The people request of Moses, "Let us not again hear the voice of the Lord, our God, nor see this great fire anymore lest we die." So, they asked Moses to act as their intermediary with God. God accepts their reverential awe and even goes further, promising them another great prophet who, like Moses, will bring God’s word to the people.

After 400 years without a prophet Jesus appears on the scene. Normally prophets begin speaking with the words, "Thus says the Lord." But throughout the gospel Jesus begins his preaching with, "I say to you." As we plainly see in today’s gospel his words are effective, doing what they say. His words have authority – Jesus has authority. Today he casts out an evil power, later his word will bring about healings. All these good works reveal the saving presence of God. It is a new day – the day of the Lord. After the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples will come to realize he wasn’t just another prophet like Moses, but was the real and personal presence of the divine at work in their midst.

Jesus’ relationship to God is also shown by the power of his words. Just as God said, "Let there be light," so Jesus’ word brings light, driving out the darkness caused by sin. The word he speaks in the synagogue, "Be quiet," will later calm the storm. His words will open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf and raise the dead to life. God’s word in Jesus’ teaching also brings light into the darkness of people’s minds caused by ignorance and sin.

Today Mark clearly shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses and the people. Speaking through Moses God had promised, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin and will put my words into his mouth…." We will note throughout this gospel how slow the people are to respond to this "one like Moses." But, as today’s passage shows, the evil spirits are quick to recognize Jesus’ authority and respond to his word, "Quiet! Come out of him." He will not let them speak about him because their words will not flow from faith, but from rivalry and hostility.

Remember that John the Baptist had promised the one who was to come after him would be mightier than he and would baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8). In the synagogue Mark shows that Jesus has come with the promised power of the Spirit to overcome evil and the unclean spirits we face daily in their small, or large manifestations. The Internet, cable news and the front pages of our newspapers show us the myriad manifestations of evil in our society and world. Like what? Recall the violent displays in our Capitol on January 6; the addiction that enslaves millions in our country; the racial injustices throughout our systems; the disproportionate numbers of the poor in our prisons...and so much more.

Besides the unclean spirits in our world, what unruly spirits disrupt our personal lives? If Jesus would deliver us from them how would our lives change and what would that change say to others about Jesus’ power and authority? Shall we turn to him again and ask him to speak a powerful word to free us from whatever spirits are claiming all, or parts of our lives, right now?

When the people in the synagogue witnessed Jesus’ power over the evil spirit they were astonished. But amazement and admiration do not disciples make. Witnessing the manifestation of Jesus’ authority and power required more from those present. In fact, in Mark’s gospel, the very same people who were astonished by his powerful deeds will attribute his power to the devil, others will claim that he is "out of his mind." So, Jesus’ teachings and acts of power challenged those present, and us who hear the gospel today, to make an act of faith in the one Mark announced from the very opening of his gospel as, the "Son of God." Isn’t it ironic that at the end of Mark’s gospel it is the soldier at the foot of the cross who voices the truth that the gospel has been proclaiming from the beginning, "Truly, this man was the Son of God." (15:39).

The stunned crowd who witnessed Jesus’ powerful work and heard his teaching asked, "What is this?" (Or, "What does this mean?") The gospel poses the same question to us, challenging Jesus’ disciples, whether or not we accept him and his way of life? And if we do, how deeply committed are we to him? Are we true to his teachings about forgiveness and love of neighbor, especially the neediest among us? Since the gospel announces what is being introduced is "a new teaching with authority," do we continue to reflect on his teachings, accept their authority so we can grow as his disciples?

Many are timid about sharing their faith with another. If we speak out of what Jesus has taught us our words will also have his anointing power; words that can drive out darkness and fear and bring healing to distressed spirits If we live as Jesus’ disciples then we will communicate the authority and life his teachings have for all people. In other words, Christ-living disciples are powerful signs of God’s kingdom, God’s authority in the world.

We have confidence in Jesus’ words. We trust he will continue to be faithful to us as he sends us modern prophets to teach us his ways by their words and example. In light of the gospel we ask: who speaks to us with authority? The Pope, the president, a teacher, a loved one, the saints, theologians, etc.? Who are those who help us form our conscience and show us the presence of God in our lives and in the world? Who helps us interpret God’s will? We need teachers, religious and even secular, to help us pattern our lives on Jesus. The power of evil is very present in our world, but God’s power through the Spirit of Jesus can help us overcome it.

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

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/013121.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts."

Psalm 95

Salvation history is very interesting especially when one realizes that God often speaks through a variety of messengers, both women and men, who relay the divine Word. This is revealed fully in the wisdom of Jesus, the Word Incarnate. The biblical prophets, as messengers, were not predictors of the future. Instead, they are visionary in that they see the life of the people from God’s perspective and understand the consequences of the people’s actions. The prophet’s words act as a corrective for the people departing from God and from how they treat one another. For examples of the latter: exploitation of the poor by raising prices (Amos 8:4-7), by taking their land (Isa 5:8-10), by condoning violence (Isa 1:15), by perverting justice (Isa 59:1-15), the prosperous not caring about the desperation of the poor (Amos 6:1-7). The prophets call out those who do this because they know this will bring devastation upon all people. The prophet also helps the people imagine a different, more just and loving, present and future.

But first, the prophets must get the people to listen to them and we all know how many prophets were treated badly in the Bible. This brings me to the topics that I would like to discuss today--dialogue and listening. These are much needed skills to enlarge one’s world view and build a better future together.

Dialogue is very different than discussion. Discussion is talk that has a purpose—often to make a decision. People may sometimes take opposing views that can lead to a debate. In dialogue, people are interested in listening to other points of view, having an open heart, in order to have greater understanding of an issue or topic. There is no pressure to make decisions or be "right."

Listening is key to successful dialogue. Listening means, "to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give what you hear, consideration." Communication barriers occur when we hear something but do not take the time to understand what we have heard and process the meaning. Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, who spent his youth as a slave in Rome before gaining freedom after the death of Nero, is attributed with saying, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." This is a good way to approach dialogue about the important topics that affect our lives in common.

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:

"The people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching,

for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes."

Reflection:

 We have confidence in Jesus’ words. We trust he will continue to be faithful to us as he sends us modern prophets to teach us his ways by their words and example. Regular reflection on Jesus’ teachings can shape us; help us resist evil and turn towards the good. As the crowds acknowledged that day Jesus taught in the synagogue – his teaching has authority.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Whose words and actions have the power to sway us and call us to righteous living?
  • Who gives us perspective and a lens through which to look out at our world to help us find the good and reject the evil?
  • For Christians, Jesus’ words have such authority for us.

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:

  • Guy LeGrande #0238344 (On death row since 5/26/96)
  • Jamie Smith #0376917 (5/10/96)
  • Robbie Locklear #0246186 (5/14/96)

----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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