Archive for September, 2012

St. Ambrose

Patron of the Veneration of Mary

c. 340 – 397


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St. Basil the Great

Father of Eastern Monasticism

c. 329 – 379


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St. Gregory Nazianzen

The Theologian

The Christian Demosthenes

c. 329 – c.389


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St. Hilary of Poitiers

The Athanasius of the West

c. 315 – c.368


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 Gospel, Mark 7:31-37  Tyre and Sidon were cities on the Mediterranean coast and capitals of districts bordered by the Mediterranean on the west, the upper Jordan River on the east, and Galilee to the south.  Jesus and his disciples had followed the Jordan valley north of the Sea of Galilee into the regions of Tyre and Sidon, perhaps a time of vacation or retreat, where they had an encounter with a rather persistent Syrophoenician woman who had prevailed upon Jesus to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30).  Jesus and his troupe now return to the Sea of Galilee, but rather than following the western shore to Capernaum, they cross the Jordan River out of Galilee and follow the eastern shore through Bethsaida and on into the district of the Decapolis, a confederation of “ten cities” and their outlying areas. 

Jesus had been in that district previously, having cast an evil spirit out of a man and into a herd of pigs which then ran over a cliff and died (Mark 5:1-20).  Witnesses to Jesus’ power at that time begged him to leave their territory, afraid perhaps that the non-pork eating Jew Jesus was about to wipe out the entire pig population.  The fellow from whom the spirit had been cast out, however, “went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him” (Mark 5:20).  It may well have been his witness that encouraged people in this passage to bring the deaf-mute man to Jesus.

Why did Jesus heal in such a strange manner, sticking his fingers in the man’s ears, putting his spit on the man’s tongue, looking heavenward, groaning and shouting?  You would probably not go back to a doctor who used such healing techniques.  Such may well have been, however, the way healers of that day did things. The man to be healed probably considered it good technique.  Jesus had power to heal by his word alone, but faith in Jesus’ ability to heal was essential for that healing to take effect.  Recall how Jesus could not heal many people in his hometown of Nazareth due to their lack of faith.  The actions Jesus performed were apparently necessary for the deaf-mute to believe Jesus could really heal him. 

Note the retention of the Aramaic word “ephphatha” in the gospel text along with the translation of the gospel into Greek and subsequently into other languages.  There are three other instances in the gospels where the Aramaic spoken by Jesus is retained, the others being “Abba”, “Talitha koum” and “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani”.  We don’t know why these phrases were retained in Aramaic, but their inclusion lends a certain force to the narrative of the actual accounts. 

Reading 1, Isaiah 35:4-7a  Isaiah received his prophetic call while at prayer in the temple of Jerusalem in 742 BC and prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.  These were challenging years during which the northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria (722 BC).  Those Jews who escaped the Assyrians headed south into Judah where they sought refuge in towns and cities.  It is believed that in a matter of a couple years the population of Jerusalem more than doubled.  Although the two countries of Israel and Judah hadn’t always gotten along and had gone to battle against each other from time to time, they were sister countries in that the population of both countries was nearly 100% Jewish.  With the collapse of Israel, the crowding of her cities, the drain on supplies and resources, and the presence of the Assyrians just a handful of miles north of Jerusalem, Judah faced significant challenges.  In those troubled times, Isaiah challenged his king and countrymen to follow a path more pleasing to God if they were going to have the blessing of his protection.  In later chapters, the prophecies from Isaiah look the current challenges to a loss of God’s blessing but then a time of restoration.  This passage is from the prophecies regarding the time of restoration.  Jerusalem was, in fact, surrounded a few times by foreign armies, but it would be another 135 years until the nation of Judah would fall and her people be exiled to Babylon. 

Reading II, James 2:1-5  The letter of James focuses on the practicalities of not simply professing but living the faith.  James is concerned about how we are to relate to one another as Christian individuals and as a community.  We are not to show partiality for or against anyone, particularly not based on worldly standards of importance.

Isn’t it natural, however, to give special attention to people of influence, wealth and position?  If the pope or President Obama or Bill Gates were to be in attendance at Mass, we would certainly give them special attention.  Based on this reading from James, we should be aware of anyone new or visiting at Mass and show them the same respect as people of equal importance and worthy of the same attention as visiting civil dignitaries.

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