Category Archives: Travel

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Philip eunuch

Readings
Rembrandt’s biblical subjects are always interesting. They say as a child he used to sit with his mother while she prayed and look at the illustrations in her prayerbook. All his life the painter was attracted to the bible. Even without a commission, he’d sketch a biblical story that caught his eye.

Here’s the Ethiopian eunuch–our reading from Acts for today– kneeling and looking intently at the stream of water, waiting to be baptized by Philip the deacon. He’s been profoundly moved by the story he’s been told.

His servant stands behind him holding his rich outer garments. He’s the queen’s treasurer, don’t forget. An imposing guard on horseback, armed to the teeth, maybe an Ethiopian security agent, looks on. The rest of his retinue stand back, maybe puzzled by it all and anxious to get on their way on the long trip home from Jerusalem.

Like Zacchaeus, another rich man Luke recalls, the Ethiopian sees something greater than riches in Jesus and the water promising life.

Though visibly absent, the Holy Spirit who orchestrated this scene is here too. .

How does it all turn out, we wonder? When they get home, does the eunuch get sacked because the security agent turns him in for foolish behavior? Does the servant who watched the baptism become a follower of Jesus too? Did the eunuch tell the Queen the story of Jesus? Did he ever get back to Jerusalem again?

Luke is a wonderful story-teller. In his day Ethiopia was the end of the world, and so the gospel reaches there. Luke is a wonderful story-teller, and Rembrandt is too.

April 18-24 : the Easter Season:The Long Day

www.usccb.org   (Readings for the Easter Season)

Weekday Readings for Easter Week

Monday: Acts 2:14; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15

The gospel readings this week recall the Easter appearances of Jesus to his disciples. The Acts of the Apostles, the continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel and an important reading in the Easter season,  describes how the first witnesses guided by the Holy Spirit, gave testimony and were received.  Luke describes the beginnings of our church and also offers an insight into our church  today.

The gospels for the Octave of Easter describe the appearances of Jesus to the first witnesses, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, the Emmaus disciples, the women at the tomb, Thomas, and the disciples from Galilee who came up with him to Jerusalem.

In our readings from Acts on Monday, the witnesses begin to speak. Peter is the first. Just as it was with Jesus, his words are accompanied by a sign from God. The crippled man, a temple regular whom everyone knows, is cured by Peter and John as they come to the temple to pray. He becomes one of those who follow Peter and listen to him. He will be a sign that’s contradicted. The temple leaders refuse to credit him as a sign. (Acts, Wednesday to Friday)

From its beginnings in Jerusalem the church gradually spreads into the Roman world, incorporating gentiles, non-Jews, and eventually reaching Rome itself. Believers in the Risen Christ who give their testimony and signs that accompany their witness cause its growth.  

Morning and Evening Prayers here. Week I, Sunday readings all week.

Children’s Prayers here.

 

St. Gabriel Possenti, CP

gabriel

St. Gabriel Possenti, whose feastday is today, was born on March 1, 1838, the 11th child of Agnes and Sante Possenti, governor of Assisi, Italy. Gabriel was baptized Francis after that city’s famous patron. He had everything a privileged child could hope for.

In 1841, the Possentis moved to Spoleto and Gabriel fell under the spell of that city’s bright social world. Spoleto was influenced by the Enlightenment, a movement that preferred what’s new to what’s old.

Lively, headstrong, intelligent, he was educated by the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits. Popular, usually head of his class, he embraced the city’s latest fashions, plays, dances and sporting events. Gabriel was charmed by it all.

Yet, something else kept calling him. A year after moving to Spoleto his mother Agnes died. Her death and the death of two brothers and three sisters made him think seriously about life. A couple of times he almost died himself. He heard Jesus calling him to give up everything and follow him, but then the call seemed to fade away.

In the spring of 1856, a fierce cholera epidemic struck Spoleto and Gabriel’s favorite sister died in the plague. Overwhelmed by the tragedy, the people of the city processed through the streets with an ancient image of Mary, praying that she intercede to stop the plague and help them bear their heavy cross.

It was a transforming experience for Gabriel, who was drawn into the presence of Mary, the Sorrowful Mother. Passing the familiar mansions where he partied many nights, the theater and opera that entertained him so often, he realized what little wisdom they offered now. He took his place at Mary’s side and at her urging joined the Passionist Congregation.

In a letter home, Gabriel described his new life as a Passionist to his father: “ I would not trade even fifteen minutes here for a year or any amount of time filled with shows and other pastimes of Spoleto. Indeed my life is filled with happiness.”

Gabriel died on February 27, 1862 and was canonized in 1920. He’s a saint for young people looking for the pearl of great price, but sometimes in the wrong place. May St. Gabriel help them find it in the right place. Interested in becoming a Passionist?

Lord God,

you hide your gifts “ from the learned and clever,

but reveal them to the merest children.”

Show your love to the young of today,

and call them to follow you.

Give them the grace you gave St.Gabriel,

grace to know you as good.

grace to judge life wisely,

grace to be joyful of heart.

Amen

Feasts for Tired Believers

Central Italy, 1800s

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday. The Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden on Tuesday before that day.

I think both feasts are inspired by our missionary founder, St. Paul of the Cross, (1694-1775) who spent many years announcing the graces of lent in the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy..

It was a challenge. The Tuscan Maremma was then a place where graces seemed gone. An area in Central Italy facing the Mediterranean Sea, almost 2,000 square miles– roughly the size of Long Island and New York City together– it was the poorest, most troubled part of Italy in Paul’s day. Only gradually, towards the end of the 1700s, after his death, did it begin inching towards recovery.

St.PaulCross.017

Now Tuscanny is a popular tourist destination. Then it was an unhealthily mix of hills and swamplands. Malaria was widespread, roads often impassible, dangerous because of bandits. Farmlands were abandoned; beggars everywhere. The people in isolated villages and hill towns suspected outsiders.

Paul and his companions preached there for many years. Every year it was the same; it never seemed to change. You need other eyes and another kind of heart to work in a world like that and not get tired.

And so I think as they packed their bags for their lenten journey into the Tuscan Maremma they had to remind themselves what was there before them: the mystery of the Passion of Christ. They needed to pray so they wouldn’t forget. That’s what Jesus did before the mystery of his Passion.

It’s still so today, isn’t it?,. These two feasts are for tired believers, as well as missionaries, who face the world where things don’t seem to change. We need another way of seeing things and another kind of heart to journey on..

If you want to pray these feasts with the Passionists, go here.

St. Josephine Bakhita: February 8

An heroic African woman from the Sudan, Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped by slave traders when she was 9 years old and forced into slavery for almost 12 years. Pope Benedict XVI wrote of her in his encyclical letter “On Hope” as an example of God’s gift of hope. “To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope.”

“I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person.

She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited.
What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God.

She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people.

The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.”

Benedict XVI “Spes salvi” 2007

Josephine Bakhita died February 8, 1947 and was declared a saint in 2000.She is the patron saint of the Sudan and victims of human trafficking. For more on her, see here.

St. Agnes, January 21


St. Agnes, Rome

Agnes is one of the most important saints of the early church.  She’s  among the seven women mentioned in the 1 Eucharistic Prayer: “Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia.” That prayer goes back to St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century. Some also say his mother and aunt may have promoted that list of women, all strong women who died for their belief. ( cf. Joseph Jungmann)

It’s interesting to see where those women come from. Felicity and Perpetual are from North Africa, Agatha and Lucy from Sicily, Agnes and Cecily from Rome, Anastasia originally from Greece. They’re holy women from all parts of the church of their time.

Agnes’ story appears in legendary 5th century sources, but historians today are more and more appreciative of these early stories, as they are of the infancy narratives of the gospels. They contain more history than legend.  

Agnes was a beautiful, wealthy 13 year old girl, probably chosen to be the wife of an influential Roman man, but she refused to marry him or anyone else, because she believed as a Christian she had the right to choose marriage or not.

That choice wasn’t an option for Roman women then. They were expected to marry young, to marry men chosen for them, and to have two or three children. Rome needed  soldiers then to grow and hold on to their empire. It preferred its own men and wanted its own women to produce them. Only reluctantly did Rome come to accept and depend on foreigners for its army.

.Agnes’ refusal to marry went against strong Roman expectations. She also lived during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, who was suspicious of Christians, so Agnes was made an example of what would happen to anyone who made a choice like hers.  

Tradition says that after much pressure the authorities brought her to the Stadium of Domitian in the center of Rome,  to a brothel of prostitutes there, to commit her to a life of prostitution, but God kept her from harm. She would not yield, and so they took her into the arena and killed her by slitting her throat. Those who saw her die marveled at her courage and her faith.

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Martyrdom of Agnes, Church of St. Agnes, Rome

Agnes was buried in the catacombs along the Via Nomentana outside the walls of the city. An ancient church stands over her grave there. A beautiful church to visit if you are in Rome. ( below) Another 16th century church honors Agnes in the Piazza Navona, where the Stadium of Domition once stood and the young girl suffered and died. 

The feast day of St. Agnes, January 21,  comes about the time prayer and demonstrations for legal protections for the unborn occur in the United States. Agnes is a good reminder of the important place women have in the issue of unborn life. The choices women make are crucial.

One of the prayers for this time speaks of the importance of unborn children and the role of women who bear them and care for them: 

God, author of all life,

bless, we pray, all unborn children; 

give them constant protection

and grant them a healthy birth,

for they are signs of our rebirth one day into the eternal rejoicing of heaven.

Lord, grant courage to all women

whom you have gifted with the joy of motherhood, 

and give them the determination to bring their children along the way of salvation.

Amen

st. agnes church
St. Agnes, Via Nomentana, Rome

The Soldier Saints: Saint Sebastian

February 20th is the feast of Saint Sebastian, a young Christian from Milan who joined the Roman army in the 4th century as foreign armies began attacking Rome’s frontiers. Like others, he entered military service to save his country from invaders.

A good soldier, Sebastian rose quickly in the ranks. Diocletian, Rome’s finest general and then its unchallenged emperor, appreciated able, brave men. Above all, he wanted loyalty; Sebastian seemed to be everything he wanted.

Yet, he was a Christian. No one knows why, but the emperor, on good terms with Christians early on in his career, suddenly turned against them. In 301 he began purging his army, ordering Christian officers demoted and Christian soldiers dishonorably discharged. The emperor lost trust in them.

Then, Diocletian began persecuting the entire Christian population of the empire. It’s not known how many Christians were killed or imprisoned or forced into hard labor in the mines; it was so ferocious it was called the “Great Persecution.”

As the persecution was going on, sources place Sebastian, not yet dismissed from the army,  in Rome, then under the jurisdiction of Diocletian’s co-emperor Maximian. Here he faced the dangerous situation that caused his death.

Christians were being arrested and imprisoned, and Sebastian was among the soldiers arresting and guarding them. Rather than doing a soldier’s job,  Sebastian did what a Christian should do: he saw those imprisoned as Christ in chains. The whispered words, the small kindnesses, the human face he showed to those in the harsh grip of Roman justice was his answer to the call of Jesus: “I was a prisoner, and you visited me.”

How long he aided  prisoners we don’t know, but someone informed on him. The rest of his story– a favorite of artists through the centuries– says that Sebastian was ordered shot through with arrows by expert archers who pierced all the non-fatal parts of his body so that he would die slowly and painfully from loss of blood.

He was left for dead, but he didn’t die. Instead, he was nursed back to health by a Christian woman named Irene and, once recovered, went before the authorities to denounce their treatment of Christians.

They immediately had him beaten to death.

He was buried by a Christian woman, Lucina, in her family’ crypt along the Appian Way, where an ancient basilica and catacombs now bear the soldier saint’s name. You can visit that holy place today.

The early church revered soldier saints like Sebastian because they helped people in danger, even giving up their lives to do it. They used their strength for others. When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, he answered simply “Don’t bully people.”  The temptation of the strong is to bully the weak.

The soldier saints did more than not dominate or bully others, however; they reached out to those in the grip of the powerful. Sebastian’s great virtue was not that he endured a hail of arrows, but that he cared for frightened, chained men and women in a Roman jail–a hellish place.

Soldier saints like Sebastian recall a kind of holiness we may forget these days. They remind us that it’s a holy task to stand in harm’s way on dangerous city streets, in unpopular wars and trouble-spots throughout the world so that others can be safe. It’s holy, but dangerous, to confront injustice and corruption in powerful political or social systems and take the side of the weak.

Christianity is not a religion that shies away from evil and injustice. Like Jesus, a Christians must not be afraid to take a stand against them. We pray to the Lord, then, for more soldier saints.

Waters of the Jordan and the Sea

The land where Jesus lived spoke to him and inspired so many of the parables he taught. Did the water speak to him too? Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized Mark’s Gospel says, and he heard his Father’s voice and the Spirit rested on him. His ministry continued around the Sea of Galilee. The towns he visited were there; he taught on its shores. He traveled its waters and encountered its storms. He called disciples there.

Pilgrims today still look quietly on those waters when they visit this holy place. From the mountains above, the Sea of Galilee becomes a stage for gospel stories heard before. The waters of the Jordan flowing into it and out on their way to the Dead Sea remind them how realistic the mysteries of faith are. Fishermen, along with cormorants and herons, still fish the waters. At night, a stillness centuries old, takes over.

.Jesus began his ministry here. This land and its waters spoke to him.

The Jordan River figures in many of scriptures’ sacred stories and it’s still vital to this land today. It winds almost 200 miles from its sources at the base of the Golan mountains in the north into the Sea of Galilee and then on to the Dead Sea in the south. The direct distance from one end to the other is only about 60 miles. The river falls almost 3,000 feet on its way to the Dead Sea,.

The Jordan is sacred to Jews from the time they miraculously crossed it on their way to the Promised Land. The great Jewish prophet Elijah came from a town near the river’s banks. Later he found safety from his enemies there.

Elijah’s successor, the Prophet Elisha, also from the Jordan area, told Naaman a Syrian general to bathe in the river to be cured of his leprosy, and he was cured. Ancient hot springs near Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee fostered the river’s curative reputation then. They’re still used today.

At the time of Jesus, the river’s fresh flowing waters were the life-blood of the land, making the Sea of Galilee teem with fish and the plains along its banks fertile for agriculture. Pilgrims from Galilee were guided by the Jordan on their way to Jericho and then to Jerusalem and its temple.

The Jordan Today

The river is still essential to the region. Lake Kineret, as the Israelis call the Sea of Galilee, is the primary source of drinking water for the region and crucial for its agriculture. The use of water from the Jordan is a major point of controversy between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

cf: “The Disputed Waters of the Jordan” by C. G. Smith Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers No. 40 (Dec., 1966), pp. 111-128 Oxford, England.

Nourishing Prophets

The Jordan nourished prophets in the past.  Somewhere near Jericho where people forded the river John the Baptist preached to and baptized pilgrims going to the Holy City. The place where John baptized was hardly a desert as we think of it. It was a deserted place that offered sufficient food for survival, like the “ grass-hoppers and wild honey” John ate, but this uncultivated place taught you to depend on what God provided.

Jesus taught this too. “I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Mt 6, 25 ff) The desert was a place to put worry aside and trust in the goodness of God.

When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized, he acknowledged his heavenly Father as the ultimate Source of Life, the creator of all things. Water, as it always is,  was a holy sign of life.  Like the prophets Elijah and John the Baptist, Jesus remained in this wilderness near the water for forty days to prepare for his divine mission. He readied himself to depend on God for everything.

The Jordan after Jesus

Later, when the Roman empire turned Christian in the 4th century, Christians came to the Jordan River in great numbers on Easter and on the Feast of the Epiphany to remember the One who was baptized there. They went into the sacred waters, and many took some of it home in small containers.

Early Christian pilgrims like Egeria, a nun from Gaul who came to the Holy Land around the year 415 AD, left an account of her visit to the Jordan where she looked for the place of Jesus’ baptism.  Monks who had already settled near the river brought her to a place called Salim, near Jericho. The town, associated with the priest Melchisedech, was surrounded by fertile land which had a revered spring that flowed into the Jordan close by. Here’s how she described it:

“We came to a very beautiful fruit orchard, in the center of which the priest showed us a spring of the very purest and best water, which gives rise to a real stream. In front of the spring there is a sort of pool where it seems that St. John the Baptist administered baptism. Then the saintly priest said to us: ‘To this day this garden is known as the garden of St. John.’ There are many other brothers, holy monks coming from various places, who come to wash in that spring.

“The saintly priest also told us that even today all those who are to be baptized in this village, that is in the church of Melchisedech, are always baptized in this very spring at Easter; they return very early by candlelight with the clergy and the monks, singing psalms and antiphons; and all who have been baptized are led back early from the spring to the church of Melchisedech.” p 73

A 19th Century Pilgrim at the Jordan

Christians in great numbers have visited the Jordan River since Egeria. Towards the end of the 19th century, an English vicar, Cunningham Geikie, described  Christian pilgrims following the venerable tradition of visiting its waters.

“Holy water is traditionally carried away by ship masters visiting the river as pilgrims to sprinkle their ships before a voyage; and we are told that all pilgrims alike went into the water wearing a linen garment, which they sacredly preserved  as a winding sheet to be wrapped around them at their death.

“The scene of the yearly bathing of pilgrims now is near the ford, about two miles above the Dead Sea, each sect having its own particular spot, which it fondly believes to be exactly where our Savior was baptized…

“Each Easter Monday thousands of pilgrims start, in a great caravan, from Jerusalem, under the protection of the Turkish government; a white flag and loud music going before them, while Turkish soldiers, with the green standard of the prophet, close the long procession. On the Greek Easter Monday, the same spectacle is repeated, four or five thousand pilgrims joining in the second caravan. Formerly the numbers going to the Jordan each year was much greater, from fifteen to twenty thousand….”(Cunningham Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible,Vol 2, New York, 1890 pp 404-405)

The Jordan and Christian Baptism

Today, every Catholic parish church at its baptistery celebrates the mystery of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan as new believers receive new life and regular believers remember their own baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some eastern Christian churches prefer calling their baptisteries simply “the Jordan.”

Today the most authentic site of Jesus’ Baptism, according to archeologists, is in Jordanian territory at el-Maghtas, where a large church and pilgrim center has been built following excavations begun in 1996 by Jordanian archeologists. It is probably the  “Bethany beyond the Jordan” mentioned in the New Testament where Jesus was baptized and John the Baptist preached.

http://www.lpj.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=599%3Achurch-of-the-baptism-of-jesus-christ-maghtas-project-jordan&catid=81&Itemid=113&lang=en

The Jordan River offers a commentary on the mystery of death and resurrection of Jesus, expressed in his baptism.  At one end of the river is the Sea of Galilee brimming with life, and at the other end is the Dead Sea a symbol of death. The river holds these two realities together, and if we reverse its course we can see the gift God gives us through Jesus Christ.

Like him, we pass through the waters of baptism from death to life.

The Land Where Jesus Lived

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Bethany, outside Jerusalem

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?”  ( Mark 4, 30)  Jesus turned to the land where he lived and the life lived around him to answer that question.

It was a changeable land. If you stand on the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany near Jerusalem, as I did some years ago, you can still see ordered rows of olive trees growing beneath you. As night falls, the sky over the Mount of Olives raises questions of its own. Jesus knew this land.

Then, looking eastward to Jericho and the Dead Sea, there’s the barren desert. Then, from Jericho to Galilee the land turns from desert to lush farmland. A changing land.

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Jordan Valley

Jesus experienced a changing landscape as he left Nazareth for the Jordan River and then the Sea of Galilee;  it influenced the way he spoke. His parables are rich with the language of the sower and the seed. Like us, he was influenced by the place and life around him.

In a book written in the 1930s Gustaf Dalman, an expert on the geography and environment of Palestine, observes that when Jesus went from the  highlands of Nazareth, 1,100 feet above sea level to the fishing towns along the Sea of Galilee, 680 feet below sea level, he entered a different world.

For one thing, he ate better – more fish and nuts and fruits were available than in the hill town where he grew up. He looked out at the Sea of Galilee instead of the hills and valleys around his mountain village. He saw a great variety of birds, like the white pelicans and black cormorants challenging the fishermen on the lake. He saw trees and plants and flowers that grew abundantly around the lake, but were not around Nazareth.

Instead of the chalky limestone of Nazareth, Jesus walked on the hard black basalt around the lake. Basalt provided building material for houses and synagogues there. They were sturdy structures, but they were dark and drab inside. They needed light. Light on a lampstand became one of his parables. (Mark 4,21)

Basalt also made for a rich soil where everything could grow. “… here plants shoot up more exuberantly than in the limestone district. Where there are fields, they yield a produce greater than anyone has any notion of in the highlands.” (Dalman, p123)

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Farmland in Galilee

The volcanic soil on the land around the lake produced a rich harvest. The Jewish historian, Josephus, praised that part of Galilee for its fruitfulness, its palm trees, fruit trees, walnut trees, vines, wheat. But thistles, wild mustard, wild fennel grew quickly too and could choke anything else that was sown. The land around the Sea of Galilee was fertile then; even today it has some of the best farmland in Palestine.

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Soil near the Sea of Galilee

The weather in the Lake District was not the same as in the mountains, warmer in winter, much hotter and humid in summer, which begins in May. “It is difficult for anyone used to living in the mountains to work by day and sleep by night…Out of doors one misses the refreshing breeze, which the mountains along the lake cut off…one is tempted to think that Jesus, who had settled there, must often have made occasion to escape from this pitiless climate to his beloved mountains.” (Dalman, p. 124)

You won’t find these observations  in the gospels, of course, but they help us appreciate the world in which Jesus lived and the parables he drew from it.  He was influenced by where he lived, as we are.

And what about us? We’re experiencing climate change now, aren’t we? It’s going to influence our spirituality, how we see, how we live, how we react to the world around us.

May we gain wisdom from our time and place.

Reading Mark’s Gospel

Mark

Mark 1, 7-11-  Mark 8, 14-21

After the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus we read at Mass from the first 8 chapters of the Gospel of Mark until Ash Wednesday.

Mark’s Gospel makes no mention of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem but begins with the story of his baptism in the Jordan River. Then he describes his miracles and teaching in the towns around the Sea of Galilee– the Jewish towns first, then in the gentile region. Then he goes up to Jerusalem and his death and resurrection.

Until recently, Mark’s Gospel received little attention compared to the gospels of Matthew, John or Luke. It was hardly read in the liturgy. Early commentators thought Mark was simply a synopsis of Matthew’s Gospel. Commentators today, however, recognize Mark’s Gospel as the first to be written and appreciate the powerful way it tells the story of Jesus. It’s not just a simple portrayal of historical facts or a synopsis of Matthew. It’s rich in symbolism.

Mark’s Gospel, for example, begins in the waters of the Jordan River, where Jesus is called God’s beloved Son on whom the Spirit rests. Water is a recurring image in Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ ministry.

John Donahue SJ, a recent commentator on the Gospel of Mark (Liturgical Press, 2002) , points out the symbolic nature of the various events in Jesus’ ministry around the Sea of Galilee. As the Spirit rested on the waters of the Jordan, so does the Spirit stir these waters, drawing more and more to Jesus, God’s Son. Crossing from its western to its eastern side – from a side largely Jewish to a side largely gentile – Jesus and his disciples bring the gospel to gentiles as well as Jews. 

The storms Jesus and his disciples face on the sea are more than historic storms; they symbolize the fearful challenge and rejection to be faced in bringing the gospel to others. (Mark 6:45-52)

“As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,” Jesus calls some fishermen, Simon, his brother Andrew, James and his brother John. He makes them “ fishers of men.” (Mark 1, 16-19) Along the sea, Jesus teaches the crowds in parables.

The journeys of Jesus and his disciples to Tyre and Sidon, seaports on the Mediterranean Sea, are more than historical markers. The Syrophoenician woman and the deaf man, both gentiles healed there, are signs that the gospel must be brought over the seas to the gentiles at ends of the earth. ( Mark 7:24-37) 

Jesus multiplies bread on both sides of the Sea of Galilee in Mark’s Gospel. The gentiles are to be fed and blessed as well as Jews. (Mark 6:31-44; Mark 8:1-10)

The Spirit moves in the waters of the Jordan, the Sea of Galilee and the waters beyond yet, as Mark’s Gospel indicates repeatedly, the Jewish leaders, the pharisees, scribes, Herodians, members of his own family, his disciples, do not understand. Neither do we.

Still, the Spirit works through the waters, softening, cleansing, strengthening, giving new life.

Our readings from Mark end on Ash Wednesday.