Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

 

 

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They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

PRAYER FOR THE WEEK

Prayer to Jesus

O Lord and lover of men, make shine in our hearts the pure light of Thy divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teaching. Instill in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling upon all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual life, willing and doing all that is Thy good pleasure. For Thou art the light of our souls and of our bodies, Christ O God, and we give glory to Thee together with Thine eternal Father and Thine all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever, world without end. Amen.

From the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

COLLECT

O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption,

look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters,

that those who believe in Christ

may receive true freedom

and an everlasting inheritance.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity

of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

READING I

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Is 35:4-7a

Thus says the LORD:

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:

Be strong, fear not!

Here is your God,

he comes with vindication;

with divine recompense

he comes to save you.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,

the ears of the deaf be cleared;

then will the lame leap like a stag,

then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Streams will burst forth in the desert,

and rivers in the steppe.

The burning sands will become pools,

and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

APPLICATION

God chose the descendants of Abraham (1800 B.C.) as the people to whom he would reveal himself and through whom he would preserve that revelation while preparing for the coming of his Son as man on earth. He selected human representatives from among them who, acting in his name, would direct their civic and spiritual activities, and so keep them faithful to the covenant he had made with them on Sinai. Moses, Joshua and the Judges were civic and spiritual leaders who regulated the Chosen People’s lives for nearly two hundred years. Samuel (1040 B.C.), the last of the Judges, was more a spiritual than a civic leader. He was the first of the prophets—a line of men chosen by God to speak his “word” to his people. It was he, under God’s orders, who anointed Saul as first king of the Israelites.

The monarchy survived as the political and civic director of the Chosen People, down to 721 B.C. in the schismatic north, and until the Babylonian exile (587) in Judah. God, however, continued to send his prophets for nearly two hundred years more. The monarchy had failed in the break-away north (Israel). But even in Judah the line of David came under pagan influence—with a few notable exceptions—and led many of their subjects away from God. For their part, the prophets were faithful to their vocation and it is to them, under God, that we owe it that a “remnant” of the Chosen People preserved the knowledge of the true God in Israel until the “fullness of time” had arrived—the age predetermined by God for the coming of Christ.

Isaiah, of the 8th century B.C., was one of the greatest of these mouthpieces of God. As well as strong words of condemnation for the evil practices of kings and people–words that were badly needed, he had also words of encouragement and consolation for the faithful among God’s people–they were needed too. Many of those good people, because of the evil which was rampant around them, were beginning to doubt if God would fulfill the promises he made to Abraham and his descendants (Gn. 12: 1-3), promises repeated down through the centuries. Had God forgotten them because of the disloyalty of so many among them?

Today’s excerpt from the prophet gives a definite no to these misgivings. “Behold your God will come with vengeance (for the wicked) with the recompense of God he will save you.” He goes on then to describe some of the blessings that this coming of God would bring them: spiritual blessings described in the image of material ones. The religiously blind would see God (in Christ); the deaf would listen to God’s word; the lame would walk freely in God’s paths; the dumb would pronounce God’s praises. What was desert land, as far as the knowledge of God was concerned, would become fertile and fruitful in God’s cause, flowing with streams and fountains of good works.

Today, perhaps more than ever before, devout Christians may, like Isaiah’s contemporaries, be beginning to wonder if God has lost interest in them. Not only has theoretical atheism spread like wild-fire throughout the world, but practical atheism seems to be getting a grip on some within the stronghold of the Church of Christ. What is God doing about it? people are tempted to ask. The answer of Isaiah to his contemporaries is the same answer that God gives to all good Christians today. God will fulfill his promises to us as he fulfilled them for his Chosen People of old. This period of doubting, of questioning, of permissiveness, will pass. There will be casualties but his Church will come forth from this passing crisis strengthened and renewed. Many who were blind will again see the light of faith, others who had closed their ears will again listen to the eternal truths.

Heaven is God’s plan for us. If we remain faithful and loyal to him and his laws during life, no matter what those about us think or say, heaven will be our eternal home. While we do our best then to prove our fidelity to God and to Christ, let us not forget to pray sincerely and often to our loving Father to send his light and grace to those of our fellow-exiles who have put themselves in grave danger of missing their destined goal.

READING II

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Jas 2:1-5

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality

as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes

comes into your assembly,

and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,

and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes

and say, “Sit here, please, ”

while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ”

have you not made distinctions among yourselves

and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.

Did not God choose those who are poor in the world

to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom

that he promised to those who love him?

APPLICATION

The words we have read from St. James’ letter could have been written to almost any Christian parish in the world of our day. Yet, they were written over nineteen centuries ago. This simply proves that human nature, even in Christians, has not changed with the passing of the centuries. There are still Christians who are “respecters of persons” and there are still Christians who because of their worldly wealth or position expect and demand special respect for themselves. This would be wrong even in a purely secular society, but in the religious brotherhood of Christians it is sinful and an offense against God whose children we all are.

St. James tells his fellow-Christians that giving special honor to the Christian who wears gold rings and fine clothes, while humiliating the poor man in shabby clothing is to pass judgement with evil thoughts–that is, to judge not on the real merit of a man but on one’s own false criteria. God alone is able and has the right to pass judgement on a man’s merit as a Christian. The Christian who usurps this right of God is sinning. Furthermore, to base one’s judgement on the false worldly criteria or wealth status–which is what the “respecter of persons” does–is doubly sinful: it is usurping God’s right and is a false judgement.

There are few of us who cannot profit from a meditation on these words of St. James. First of all, far too many of us are inclined to claim special consideration and credit because of our personal gifts of mind or body or because of the personal position of power or wealth which we happen to have attained. To such of us, St. Paul puts a very pungent and deciding question: “What have you that you have not received? If then you received it all as a gift why take the credit to yourself?” (1 Cor. 4: 7). As regards our personal qualities of mind and body, we did not give them to ourselves, God it was who gave them to us. If we have used them well and profited by them, we must still thank God. If our neighbors did not get these gifts, we have no right to think less of them because of that—God may have given them unseen gifts which will be more profitable in the final reckoning.

As regards position and worldly wealth, we have less reason still to exalt ourselves. There is always the great question-mark as to how we got them! And granted that everything was honorable and above board in our acquisition of wealth or position: neither is really of lasting value. The millionaire, president, or king of a country will get the same size grave as the pauper. Monuments and laudatory inscriptions will not help the dead man one bit once he has left this life.

We owe all we are and have honestly acquired to the good God; let us never forget it. Instead, let us thank him all the days of our lives. He has a bigger and a far greater gift in store for us—eternal happiness; let us not lose that through the infantile folly of pride. All men are God’s children, he cherishes them all equally—even those who refuse to recognize him. They may have abandoned him, but he will not abandon them until they have breathed their last. As members of his family who recognize all that he has done for us let us do all we can to bring his prodigal children back to him, and help them to appreciate who their true Benefactor is. Thus we shall prove our own gratitude to him and strive to earn his esteem, the only esteem that really matters. We shall not be tempted then to seek glory from men, nor shall we encourage those who, in their childish folly, seek honors or adulation from us.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM

Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10

Praise the Lord, my soul!

The God of Jacob keeps faith forever,

secures justice for the oppressed,

gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets captives free.

Praise the Lord, my soul!

The LORD gives sight to the blind;

the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.

The LORD loves the just;

the LORD protects strangers.

Praise the Lord, my soul!

The fatherless and the widow the LORD sustains,

but the way of the wicked he thwarts.

The LORD shall reign forever;

your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.

Praise the Lord, my soul!

GOSPEL

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Mk 7:31-37

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre

and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,

into the district of the Decapolis.

And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment

and begged him to lay his hand on him.

He took him off by himself away from the crowd.

He put his finger into the man’s ears

and, spitting, touched his tongue;

then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,

“Ephphatha!”– that is, “Be opened!” —

And immediately the man’s ears were opened,

his speech impediment was removed,

and he spoke plainly.

He ordered them not to tell anyone.

But the more he ordered them not to,

the more they proclaimed it.

They were exceedingly astonished and they said,

“He has done all things well.

He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090918.cfm

APPLICATION

During his discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, our Lord told her that “salvation was to come from the Jews” (Jn. 4: 22). This was in accordance with God’s plan when he took Abraham from his pagan family and surroundings, and elected him to be the father of a Chosen People from whom God’s blessing would come for all nations (Gn. 12: 1-4). This was the historic beginning of “salvation” for men. It was, as yet, a vague generic promise but down through the following eighteen-century history of the Chosen People (Abraham’s descendants) this blessing eventually became crystallized in the Messiah—the anointed and holy one of God. It was he who would introduce the messianic age of which the prophets so often had spoken, and it was in him that all peoples, Jews and Gentiles would find their true “blessing.”

It was right and fitting, therefore, that Christ should proclaim his kingdom and his Gospel among the Jews and in their promised land. Those who would accept him and his message would later spread the good news among the Gentile nations. This is what happened. His Apostles, including St. Paul, and the faithful disciples having done their best for their fellow-Jews, left Palestine and carried the great news of the incarnation–a blessing greater than any man could have imagined–to the pagan peoples of the then-known world. It was surely from the Jews that salvation came to us Gentiles.

While Christ reserved his preaching to the Jews according to God’s plan, he visited some of the Gentile lands bordering on Palestine–Tyre, Sidon, Phoenicia, the Decapolis–and worked some miracles there. However, he did not preach to them. This exception–going into pagan lands–was evidently important to St. Mark, for he goes into details in describing the faith of the people of the place who asked for a miracle, and their enthusiastic reaction to Christ’s power when he did what they requested. Mark himself knew very well that Christ was fulfilling the divine plan when he restricted his preaching to the Jews, and that he had given a command to his Apostles to bring his Gospel to all nations (Mk. 16: 16). Possibly, however, some of his Gentile converts were questioning why Christ had not come to the Gentiles but spent all his public life in Palestine. In this short episode, Mark shows that Christ was interested indeed in Gentiles and showed his compassion for them by working miracles for them.

We have much for which to thank God the Father, Christ and the good Jews who preached the Gospel to our ancestors. We should not think of questioning why Jesus spent his short public life trying to convert his fellow-Jews. God thought of us from all eternity–the incarnation was his way of giving a truly satisfying meaning to the life of man–the masterpiece and master of all his creation. It has given us a new status in life, a new purpose and an end worth every effort we can muster to gain. Life, with its trials and troubles and its brevity, has a meaning, a profound meaning, for Christians–it is a short period of preparation for the future which awaits us after death if we use it properly.

Christ who carried out his Father’s will even unto the death on the cross, deserves our unending gratitude. Eternity will not be long enough for us to thank and praise him. If ever we are tempted to be in any way anti-semitic let us first remember those of God’s Chosen People who preserved the knowledge of God and trust in his promises until the time of their fulfillment had come. Secondly, we must never forget the Apostles and disciples of Christ who devoted and gave their lives in order to bring the Christian faith to us. The best way to show appreciation of a gift is to use it fully and gratefully. Let us make full use of the divine gift of salvation by living according to its teaching all the days of our lives.

Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission of Ignatius Press

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)

CCC 1151 Signs taken up by Christ. In his preaching the Lord Jesus often makes use of the signs of creation to make known the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.1 He performs healings and illustrates his preaching with physical signs or symbolic gestures.2 He gives new meaning to the deeds and signs of the Old Covenant, above all to the Exodus and the Passover,3 for he himself is the meaning of all these signs.

CCC 1504 Often Jesus asks the sick to believe.4 He makes use of signs to heal: spittle and the laying on of hands,5 mud and washing.6 The sick try to touch him, “for power came forth from him and healed them all.”7 And so in the sacraments Christ continues to “touch” us in order to heal us.

1 Cf. Lk 8:10.

2 Cf. Jn 9:6; Mk 7:33ff.; 8:22ff.

3 Cf. Lk 9:31; 22:7-20.

4 Cf. Mk 5:34, 36; 9:23.

5 Cf. Mk 7:32-36; 8:22-25.

6 Cf. Jn 9:6-7.

7 Lk 6:19; cf. Mk 1:41; 3:10; 6:56.

BENEDICTUS

Bread for the Journey

The Son of God, becoming flesh, could become bread in this way by the nourishment of his people journeying toward the promised land of heaven.  We need this bread to cope with the toil and exhaustion of the journey…  The Sunday precept is not a simple duty imposed from outside.  To participate in the Sunday celebration and to be nourished with the eucharist bread is a need of a Christian, who in this way can find the necessary energy for the journey to be undertaken…  The way that God indicates through his law goes in the direction inscribed in the very essence of man.  To follow the way means man’s own fulfillment; to lose it, is to lose himself.  The Lord does not leave us alone on this journey.  He is with us; he wishes to share our destiny by absorbing us…  In the Eucharist the center is Christ who attracts us to himself; he makes us come out of ourselves to make us one with him.  In this way, he introduces us into the community of brothers…  This means that we can only encounter him together with all others.  We can only receive him in unity…  We cannot commune with the Lord if we do not commune among ourselves.  If we wish to present ourselves to him, we must go out to meet one another…  We must not allow the destructive larva of resentment to take hold of our spirit, but open our heart to the magnanimity of listening to the other, of understanding, of the possible acceptance of his apologies, of the generous offering of our own.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

CLOSING PRAYER

Psalm 40

How many, O Lord my God,

are the wonders and designs

that you have worked for us;

you have no equal.

Should I proclaim and speak of them,

they are more than I can tell!

You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,

but an open ear.

You do not ask for holocaust and victim.

Instead, here am I.

In the scroll of the book it stands written

that I should do your will.

My God, I delight in your law

in the depth of my heart.

Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be,

world without end. Amen

 

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About Benedicamus Domino

Let Us Bless The Lord - A Benedictine oblate's weekly study of the Catholic Church's Sunday Sacred Liturgy. I hope that families and friends will benefit from this as a prayerful way to prepare and actively participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
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