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Maria McCann has devoted her life to helping others. But she never forgot one family in Peru - and three decades after she last saw them, she flew thousands of miles to look for them. Joanna Moorhead tells the story.

Mark 4:21-25

Jesus is the teacher par excellence. His insight, method and wisdom are sublime and perfect. CH Dodd, the New Testament scholar, marvelled at the teaching of Jesus:

The style is the man, they say. What, then, of the style of the teaching of Jesus as it has come down to us in the Gospels? A large proportion of it comes in the form of crisp utterances, pungent, often allusive, even cryptic, laden with irony and paradox. This whole body of sayings, handed down through different channels of tradition, has an unmistakable stamp. It is impossible to suppose that they are merely the product of skilful condensation by early Christian teachers. They have the ring of originality. They betray a mind whose processes were swift and direct, hitting the nail on the head without waste of words. (The Founder of Christianity)

In today’s Gospel we encounter the force of this unique and beautiful mind. It is important that we savour, ponder and meditate upon the depth and breadth of Jesus’ teaching. It is the Holy Spirit who creates within us a reverence and love for the words and teaching of Jesus. It is also the Holy Spirit who imparts wisdom, insight and clarity so we can understand his teaching. The challenge we face is: what does this mean to us today? How can we live out this teaching? What are its practical implications in our lives?

The notion that one would purchase a lamp and then immediately place it under a bed is ridiculous and amusing! We who have received so much grace and blessing should not be ashamed or embarrassed by our faith. A practical implication of this teaching is that we should not be ashamed of the gospel – it is the power of God. The beauty and glory of the gospel are to be proclaimed and made known. The large measure of grace we have received from God through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist can be measured out through prayer, reading God’s Word and acts of charity and mercy.

Heavenly Father, open my heart that I may understand more clearly, grasp more keenly and penetrate more deeply your teaching. In your love and mercy you lavish on me a generous measure of your grace. Grant me the humility and strength to treasure and protect your anointing received through baptism, that I may be a light to the world and a city on a hilltop.

Hebrews 10:19-25  •  Psalm 23(24):1-6
Mark 4:21-25


Mark 4:1-20

Jesus told this parable to a large crowd, but explained it only to his disciples. He was particularly anxious that they should understand it, saying: ‘Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?’ (v. 13). Why was it so important?

This parable is essentially about how we respond to God in the light of our own daily experiences and the challenges that face us. It can be tempting to look at the explanation given by Jesus and think that each category describes a type of person. While that may be true, we can behave like any of the people described in the parable at different times, even during the same day. If we read Scripture in the morning and then immediately forget what we have read when we get to work, it is as if the word of God has fallen on stony ground. If in our prayer we receive a joyful insight into God’s love for us, but then immediately get annoyed with someone on the phone, we are acting as if that insight has not taken root. If we find ourselves thinking about nothing else but the next shopping trip, we are in danger of letting worldly distractions choke the word.

But this parable is not intended to leave us helpless and hopeless, because Jesus points out the good soil that we can become if we ‘hear the word and accept it and bear fruit’ (v. 20). Then we shall grow fruitfully and joyfully in the way God wants us to. How can we do this?

We have everything we need to become good soil in the Holy Spirit. He will help us cultivate a deep inner knowledge of Jesus in prayer and the reading of the Word, and will give us the gifts of God that will enable us to develop and grow into the people he wants us to be. We only have to ask.

Father, we know that in many ways we act so that your seed cannot grow in us or bear fruit. Forgive us those times, Lord, and through the power of the Holy Spirit make us holy. Keep us faithful in prayer and the reading of your Word, and develop in us those gifts and virtues that will enable us to bear fruit for you.

Hebrews 10:11-18  •  Psalm 109(110):1-4
Mark 4:1-20

Mark 3:31-35

Jesus is very clear that to do God’s will is to belong to God’s family. The practical and challenging question we face is: what is God’s will for my life today? How am I to obey God’s will? When we want something we can be very strong-willed. We can discover within a fierce determination to achieve our wants or desires. Often even the most mild-mannered and easy-going of people find themselves iron-willed and resolute on certain issues. If what we will is good, wholesome and even godly, this is a wonderful impulse. If what we will is bad, unwholesome and wrong, then this is a misguided impulse.

God has given the gift of free will. We have remarkable freedom in which we can exercise a choice to obey or disobey God. The very essence of Jesus’ ministry was in carrying out and fulfilling the will of his Father. He sought to align his own will with God’s and so lived a life of perfect, humble submission to his heavenly Father. To know God’s will for our lives is to experience and know the freedom of being a child of God. Our knowledge and understanding of God’s will is born within us through prayer in which we learn to listen and be docile and receptive to the prompting, guidance and movement of the Holy Spirit. We can have an instinctive fear or reticence in seeking out God’s will for our lives – fearing perhaps that such insight will stifle or cramp our freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear:

The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the workings of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world. (para. 1742)

Hebrews 10:1-10  •  Psalm 39(40):2-11
Mark 3:31-35

(Memorial) SS Timothy and Titus  •  Mark 3:22-30

Today we celebrate the memorial of St Timothy and St Titus who both accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys and had positions of authority and leadership in the new churches the apostle had established. To have been a companion of Paul must have been an exciting, challenging and daunting role for these men. What do we know of our intrepid pair?

Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and Greek father (Acts 16:1-3). He was converted, together with his mother and grandmother, when Paul preached at Lystra on his first missionary journey. When Paul returned, two years later, he saw Timothy’s desire to serve Jesus and invited him to join him on his mission. Titus, whom we encounter in Galatians (2:1-3), was a Greek who was part of an apostolic delegation from Antioch to Jerusalem (Acts 15). It is likely that Titus was with Paul on his second journey when Timothy joined them.

Timothy and Titus were Paul’s constant companions, witnessing the dynamic birth and turbulent growth of the early churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus. From the letters Paul writes to them we can see that they grew into mature leaders of the Christian communities. To Titus, Paul entrusted the fledgling church in Crete and to Timothy, the difficult task of bringing into line those influenced by heretical teaching in Ephesus. Christian teaching on leadership is very important, and it is vital that those who serve God’s people have the right character. We tend to think of bishops and priests as our leaders, and of course this is right and correct, but many are called to positions of leadership. Parents are Christian leaders and indeed are called to serve their families as Christ serves his Church. Teachers, public servants and those who serve in the parish are all called to be witnesses of Christian leadership. Paul outlines to Titus the qualities he is looking for in a leader – if we took his requirements seriously very few of us would want to be leaders. The reason the call is so demanding is because it is the call to live a life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lord God, teach me to be blameless, righteous, faithful, obedient, patient, gentle, self-disciplined, holy and to love the truth of the gospel. Teach me that through your Son Jesus Christ and by the power of your Holy Spirit, I can be the leader you want me to be.

Proper of Saints: 2 Tim 1:1-8 or Titus 1:1-5  •  Ps 96(96):1-3, 7-8, 10
Proper of Season: Mark 3:22-30

Mark 1:14-20  •  Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

We all like to receive good news. It’s said that good news doesn’t sell newspapers, but there’s no doubt that it lifts our spirits and gives us hope. You name it – any kind of good news is a tonic. The birth of a child, securing a new job, exam success, winning a competition, gaining a pay increase or a bonus: the list goes on and the enjoyment is wonderful. As St Basil once said, ‘Truly unexpected news makes both ears tingle.’

The gospel, however, is a very special kind of good news. It doesn’t just last for a day or a week and then fade into the background: it lasts for ever. If we haven’t understood the gospel as good news we have seriously missed the point. The essence of the Good News is distilled in the words of Jesus: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel’ (v. 15).

This verse unveils so much treasure about the gospel. For example, the Greek word used here for ‘time’ is kairos, which captures the idea of an anointed, special and unique opportunity (unlike the word chronos, which simply expresses time as a succession of moments). The Good News is that when time had reached its fullness God sent his Son. Time itself is now charged with the presence and mystery of God. God himself entered into human history, sanctifying time itself.

The Greek verb translated ‘fulfilled’ is pleroo, which means to fill up, indicating a fullness of being, completion and wholeness. God’s plan of salvation finds its perfection and wholeness in the coming of Jesus. How are we to respond? By repenting and believing. The Greek word for ‘repent’ is metanoeo, which means to change one’s mind: it implies turning away from sin wholeheartedly with a true change of heart towards God. Finally, the Greek word translated ‘gospel’ here is euaggelion, which means simply ‘good news’ – the good news is that in Jesus the kingdom of God is at hand, and that we can now be reconciled to God, restored to the fullness of the humanity for which we were created.

Lord Jesus, you are the Good News. You are inexpressible joy and fullness of life. Fill my heart with a living sense that the gospel is the best news I can hear, and grant me the grace to embrace it today.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10  •  Psalm 24(25):4-9
1 Corinthians 7:29-31  •  Mark 1:14-20

(Memorial) St Francis de Sales  •  Mark 3:20-21

It would be easy to brush over today’s short Gospel, but if we stop and reflect we can see that it challenges us in two ways. Firstly, we can ponder the life of Jesus and try to realize how he was misunderstood: even his own family ‘went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself”’ (v. 21). Secondly, we can reflect on the personal cost of following Jesus.

Jesus was considered by some to be mad. He healed the sick, he forgave sinners, he associated with the outcasts, he often spent all night praying, he went without meals, he had no home of his own, he claimed God was his Father, he challenged the religious leaders of his day. He taught people to love their enemies and to do good to those who hurt them, and to seek greatness by being last and serving others. The Gospels reveal how Jesus had an effect on those he met, whether they marvelled at him, knelt before him, were puzzled by him or plotted to kill him.

As we seek to follow Jesus, and by his Holy Spirit grow more like him, then we too can expect to be laughed at or to meet opposition. This may already be our experience. Jesus calls us to take the lowest place – in contrast, the world encourages us to strive for success and praise. Jesus calls us to love and serve others even when this involves personal sacrifice – the world encourages us to seek comfort and indulge ourselves. In these and so many other ways Jesus’ call to holiness and the qualities he seeks to form in us go against the world and expose us to ridicule. Mother Teresa wrote:

We are looked down on by some because of our lack of culture and education, our inefficiency in our work for lack of proper qualifications, or because of our awkwardness. Some do not understand our way of life or our charity to the poor and so they criticize us. Even so Christ was despised…so we are blessed again in sharing the same lot as Christ, though in a very small way.

‘From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being criticized, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being passed over, deliver me, Jesus. O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours.’ (Adapted from a prayer by Rafael)

Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14  •  Psalm 46(47):2-3, 6-9
Mark 3:20-21

Mark 3:13-19

‘Simple, uncultured working men’ is how a casual observer might have described the first apostles. Few would have chosen them to convert the nations, subject as they were to human weakness and temptation. Like us they had to battle with petty jealousies, pride and ambition, and even in Jesus’ hour of need in Gethsemane they ran off in fear of their own lives. Yet, not many years after the Lord’s resurrection, these ordinary men had set the world on fire with their preaching of the Good News.

Jesus knew their frailties, but saw beyond the rough exteriors to hearts that truly wanted to serve God. He called these men to be with him. As they were in his company, Jesus was able to share with them his own divine life. Slowly, painfully, they recognized that he was indeed the Messiah. Ultimately they could say, with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28). After Pentecost, they were completely transformed by the Spirit and went out boldly to proclaim the name of Jesus.

The apostles are the foundation stones of the new Israel, the Church, and the people of God (Rev. 21:14). But we too have an apostolic vocation to serve Christ and to preach the gospel. Jesus is calling each of us. He empowers us as he did his apostles. He wants us to spend time with him, simply, from the heart, listening to his voice while we ponder the Scriptures. As we open our hearts to Jesus and give him time, he comes and changes us.

Often he leads us to start small, perhaps highlighting someone in our family or at work with whom he wants us to share his love. He may want us to take a more active role in parish life, such as joining a Bible study group, visiting the homeless or taking the Eucharist to the sick. What is important is that in faith we seek actively to respond to Jesus’ call to be an apostle to those around us.

Whatever our present situation, whatever sin is in our past, God has work for us to do. If we feel unclear about what God is asking us to do, the Holy Spirit will be our counsellor. He delights in revealing the Father’s will and gently prompts us to service.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill me with your love. Help me to know your will for me, and to follow it in faith.

Hebrews 8:6-13  •  Psalm 84(85):8, 10-14
Mark 3:13-19

Mark 3:7-12

Great crowds flocked to Jesus. From all over Palestine they came to hear him and to touch him. Why did so many rush to Jesus? His appearance obviously caused a stir, and the reports of his healing power spread quickly. So the crowds came both out of curiosity and to have their own needs met – they came to get something from him. But they did not recognize him for who he was – only the unclean spirits knew his true identity. At this point of apparent success and popularity, it is worth remembering that the crowds would turn against Jesus at the end.

Jesus rebuked the unclean spirits for publicly proclaiming him. He did not want to be revealed in this way, a way that ordinary people could not understand. At this stage they would not be able to comprehend what was meant by the title ‘Son of God’. Jesus wanted people to come to know him by remaining close to him, by sharing his life, hearing his teaching and experiencing his presence. Then they would know who he truly was.

It was the healings that drew the crowds above all. At a time when illness and disease were greatly feared, people were excited by the appearance of a healer. Jesus’ power to heal was a sign of the kingdom of God. When Jesus healed someone, that person was touched by God’s healing and transforming presence – the power of the kingdom of God broke into everyday life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes this: ‘Christ’s compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that “God has visited his people” and that the kingdom of God is close at hand’ (para. 1503).

Jesus came to heal the whole person, soul and body. In the sick he saw those who were most in need of his care and healing power, and also those most able to accept it. He called his disciples to have a special care for them. He calls us, too, to have a constant love and care for those who are sick, for all who are in need of God’s healing power. In our prayers and in our actions we can bring the kingdom of God close to them.

Lord, show your healing power to all who are sick. Enable me to be filled with love and compassion for them, and to do all I can to relieve their need.

Hebrews 7:25–8:6  •  Psalm 39(40):7-10, 17
Mark 3:7-12

Mark 3:1-6  •  St Agnes (Memorial)

A dramatic and passionate confrontation takes place in the synagogue at Capernaum. The Pharisees, amazed by Jesus’ teaching and actions, watch to see how he will react to a man with a withered hand. Jesus, knowing that they are trying to trap him, asks a question: ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ (v. 4). The Pharisees maintain a petulant silence, and Jesus heals the man.

We can sense the passions running high in this encounter. Mark says that Jesus looked around in ‘anger’, and uses the Greek word orge which has a strong meaning – the same word is used elsewhere of the wrath of God against sin. In response the Pharisees, together with the Herodians – friends and supporters of Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee – first begin to plot to kill Jesus. The atmosphere must have crackled with tension.

Healing on the Sabbath was, in fact, permitted by the law if life was threatened. The man with the withered hand was not in danger of death, so Jesus’ opponents could accuse him of breaking the law. And yet the law was given to help people to do God’s will, so such a narrow use of it was against the law’s original spirit. By Jesus’ time the law was bound up with a multitude of traditions, which made it more prohibitive – those with a legalistic frame of mind, like the Pharisees, were quick to react to any breach.

Such a strict interpretation of the law meant Jesus’ opponents missed a chance to do good. To miss an opportunity to do good is tantamount to doing evil, and so the Pharisees, in their desire to keep to their traditions, are led into sin – something that can all too easily happen when we stick to a legalistic interpretation of any law.

In healing the man, Jesus gave a sign of God’s power. Healing is a sign of the kingdom of God, and should bring a reaction of joy, rather than the anger and threats of Jesus’ opponents. There are many in need around us – in helping them we become signs of the presence of God’s kingdom.

Lord Jesus, give me the vision and the courage always to seek to do your will. Grant me the strength never to turn away from any opportunity to do good. May I be a sign of your presence in the world.

Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17  •  Psalm 109(110):1-4
Mark 3:1-6

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