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In 2011 Bishop Hans van den Hende, bishop of Rotterdam, gave one of the catechesis classes during the World Youth Days in Madrid. His talk then was met with a standing ovation. This year, although he joined pilgrims for the pre-WYD program in Suriname, he returned home before the start of the World Youth Days proper in Rio. But, as the WYD@Home program took place within the bounds of his diocese, in Delft, Msgr. van den Hende did offer catechesis there.
Here follows my translation of the text, which may be found in Dutch here.
1. Topic of the Catechesis
In unity with Pope Francis and with the youth in Rio we here in Delft also have catechesis. We follow the catechesis program as given in Rio. Catechesis means: putting the contents of our faith into words, explaining and communicating them.
The catechesis here in Delft and in Rio is closely tied into the theme of WYD 2012. Every WYD has its own theme, chosen by the Pope, including this year’s WYD in Rio. The previous Pope, Pope Benedictus XVI, gave the WYD in Rio the following theme: “Go and make disciples of all nations”.
The words of the theme are words from the Bible. They come from the New Testament, from the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
2. The Gospel = the Good News of Jesus Christ
In the Gospels the person of Jesus Christ takes centre stage .In the first chapter the Gospel of Matthew explains that God’s salvation history from the Old Testament is linked to the person of Jesus Christ (the so-called genealogy). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, He is the Messiah (the Anointed One, the Christ). In that way Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel of Matthew.
That is also the case in the other three Gospels. The Gospels tell us who Jesus is: the incarnated Son of God. The Gospel also proclaims the message that Jesus promotes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Gospels are the heart of all the Scriptures “because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Saviour”.” 
As an illustration, three quotes from the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John. These clearly show the intent of the Gospels:
The Gospel of Mark’s opening sentence is “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” .
The introduction of the Gospel of Luke states: “I [...] have decided to write an ordered account for you, [...] so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received” .
Near the end of the Gospel of John we read: “There were many other signs that Jesus worked in the sight of the disciples, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name” .
So the Gospel proclaims to us that Jesus is the Son of God, that the message of Jesus is the Good News of God’s Love, that Jesus gave His life on the cross; He died for us.That the Word of Jesus is trustworthy, that Jesus has risen from the dead; that He lives. In short, the Gospel encourages us to follow Jesus: believe in Him, have trust in Him, build your life on Him: He lives!
3. Jesus lives
To start with, we’ll look at the final part of the Gospel. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if everything was over, had come to a dead end. The Gospel tells us that the dead Jesus was buried . The disciples and other friends of Jesus were truly in mourning. The heavy stone that they had placed before the entrance to Jesus’ grave weighed also, in a sense, heavily upon their hearts.
But the Gospel does not end with the death and burial of Jesus. On the contrary, the Gospel proclaims that Jesus lives. When the disciples visit the grave, it is empty. The Gospel tells us: Jesus is no longer in the grave, He has risen .
That is the Good News of Easter: Jesus lives! The Gospels also relate that Jesus visited his disciples several times after His resurrection, that He appeared to them: for example to Mary Magdalen , to the Apostles in their home , on the shore of the lake , on the road , and on the mountain (Matt. 28:16-20).
On the mountain Jesus ultimately gave his disciples the special assignment: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. These are the words that are the them of WYD 2013.
Jesus, the Risen Lord, asks his disciples to communicate the Good News to others and to baptise them. In the book Acts we read that the Apostles remain loyal to the assignment to go and make disciples of all nations, which they received from Jesus. The Apostle Pater, for example, holds a speech and proclaims the crucified and risen Jesus Christ to his audience. And Peter subsequently baptises about three thousand people who join them .
Jesus lives. He stays with us. In Matthew 28:20b, Jesus promises: “And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time”. That is why we – centuries later – stand when the Gospel is read during the celebration of the Eucharist. We have the good habit to stand at the Gospel because we believe that Jesus himself, the living Lord, is speaking in the words of the Gospel . We are called to be listeners to Jesus’ words and also proclaimers and executors of them. As disciples of the Lord we listen to the Word of God to act according to them .
4. To be a disciple of Jesus: learning from Jesus
Jesus is true teacher. That is also the opinion of the rich young man in the Gospel, who asks Jesus: “Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” . Jesus Christ is a good teacher in the words he speaks and the actions he performs in His life amid the people: what Jesus asks of us, He also does himself.
A) In the first place the words Jesus speaks. We may learn from the words of Jesus. In the first place Jesus makes use of the expressive language of parables. The Gospels tells us: “He told them many things in parables” , and: In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables” .
When we are a little bit familiar with the texts of the Gospels, we all know a few parables, for example: of the sower who sows on different kinds of soil: rocky soil, shallow soil, soil with weeds and thistles, good fertile soil . The Catechisms states that parable are mirrors for man: “will he be hard soil or good earth for the word?” 
In the Gospel we can also read that Jesus speaks His words as a teacher in conversations with people, for example with the scribe Nicodemus. The Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to converse with Him and he says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him” . Another example is Jesus’ conversation with Mary, the sister of the deceased Lazarus. Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  As disciples of the Lord we can do no else but start listening attentively to Jesus’ words in the Gospel .
B) We can also learn from the things that Jesus does in the Gospel, of the actions that Jesus performs. As disciples we may carefully read and see the acts of the Lord, learn from them and imitate them.
Jesus is faithful in praying to His Father. The Catechisms tells us: “When Jesus prays he is already teaching us how to pray” . In the Gospels we read that when Jesus prays to His Father, the disciples at one point asks Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” .
Jesus also performed acts of love and charity and so encourages His disciples to truly love their neighbours. Jesus says, “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” . And in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you” .
Very impressive is the footwashing that Jesus performs at the Last Supper. The washing of feet was, at that time, the work of a servant, but Jesus does it himself and says, “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” .
Jesus is a true teacher when it comes to forgiveness and mercy. In the home of the Pharisee Jesus expressly forgives a women who is known to be a sinner, but who is penitent . To an adulterous woman who is about to be stoned for her sin, Jesus says, “Go away, and from this moment sin no more” . And to the taks collector Zacchaeus in Jericho, Jesus says, “I am to stay at your house today” . In the end, when He is dying on the cross after taunts and torture, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” . That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” .
Do we, as disciples, really want to listen to Jesus’ words, keep them in our hearts, and put them into practice? That is only possible if we really want to learn from Jesus, from His words and His actions. As a disciple of Jesus you let yourself be touched by His words and actions. It is necessary to let yourself be formed in your life by Jesus . Because Jesus rose from the dead and lives, He can now be our teacher, shepherd and friend, in the community of the Church.
5. Trusting in Jesus: believing in Jesus
Jesus Christ, the living Lord, asks us, as His disciples, to really trust in Him. This means:
Believing that Jesus lives (Jesus is not just someone from the past, He is also close to us now);
Believing that Jesus loves you and is interested in you, that He calls you with your talents;
Being willing to entrust your life to the Lord by being honest to yourself and to God, asking and receiving forgiveness for your sins (Sacrament of Confession), laying your fears at His feet (Jesus also knew fear );
Offering your talents to Him: the willingness to be an instrument of God;
Believing that Jesus has given you the Church to learn, to celebrate, to serve and live in faith and love in the community of faith.
It is important to realise that the word of God, the Gospel, is also the word of the Church. Jesus has entrusted His Good News to us, His Church: to write down, to life from, to communicate .
6. Following Jesus: building your life upon Christ
As a disciple of Jesus you are invited to build your life upon Jesus. To be able to do and grow in that the following points or of vital importance:
Your life with Jesus needs a continuous conversation with Christ in prayer, alone in your inner room  and in the community of the Church;
Your relationship with Jesus, the living Lord, has consequences for how you relate to people around you (concerning honesty, neighbourly love, forgiveness, pure intentions, etc);
Every day requires conversion (if necessary forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: confession);
Your life in faith is never without difficulties (it is necessary to be willing to give something for it, the sign of the cross means victory but also presupposes suffering and sacrifice );
Life in faith can never exist by our own strength alone: it is a gift from God, of God’s mercy: it is therefore necessary to keep celebrating the sacraments, to ask and receive the comfort and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, to accept and experience the support of your guardian angel ;
Your life in faith needs good examples: look towards the saints as friends of God. They are our intercessors, which means that they pray with you to God.
In short: your path as a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the community of the Church, from day to day, with ups and downs.
7. In closing (through Him and with Him and in Him)
The first word of the theme of the WYD is “go”. That means getting up towards your neighbour to confess your faith in Jesus. You can only do so if you’ve first come to Jesus, meaning:
Consciously aligning your heart with the Lord and letting Him touch you
Actively uniting your life to the Lord and His Church
Choosing to place your life in the light of the Gospel
Only when you’ve come to Jesus yourself, only then you can leave from Jesus and go in His name to win others for the Lord, to make others into disciples of Christ.
8. Questions to discuss
Do you believe that Jesus lives? What does that mean for you personally?
What would you like to learn from Jesus?
What do you think is the most important thing to tell others about Jesus?
+ J. van den Hende
Bishop of Rotterdam
Photo credit: P. van Mulken
On the Fourth Sunday of Easter – still a long way away, it seems as we are approaching the Fourth Sunday of that other great season, Advent – the Church will join together, “united in prayer, to ask from God the gift of holy vocations and to propose once again, for the reflection of all, the urgent need to respond to the divine call,” as Pope Benedict XVI writes in his Message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (My Dutch translation here).
Taking as its theme “Vocations as a sign of hope founded in faith”, the message is first and foremost a meditation on hope. Drawing on Abraham’s faith in Gods promise that He would make him “the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18), the pope explains the reason for our hope: Gods faithfulness. He writes:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters, what exactly is God’s faithfulness, to which we adhere with unwavering hope? It is his love! He, the Father, pours his love into our innermost self through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5). And this love, fully manifested in Jesus Christ, engages with our existence and demands a response in terms of what each individual wants to do with his or her life, and what he or she is prepared to offer in order to live it to the full.”
And later Benedict suggests a very real and practical realisation of this response to Gods love manifested in Christ:
“Just as he did during his earthly existence, so today the risen Jesus walks along the streets of our life and sees us immersed in our activities, with all our desires and our needs. In the midst of our everyday circumstances he continues to speak to us; he calls us to live our life with him, for only he is capable of satisfying our thirst for hope. He lives now among the community of disciples that is the Church, and still today calls people to follow him. The call can come at any moment. Today too, Jesus continues to say, “Come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). Accepting his invitation means no longer choosing our own path. Following him means immersing our own will in the will of Jesus, truly giving him priority, giving him pride of place in every area of our lives: in the family, at work, in our personal interests, in ourselves. It means handing over our very lives to Him, living in profound intimacy with Him, entering through Him into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and consequently with our brothers and sisters. This communion of life with Jesus is the privileged “setting” in which we can experience hope and in which life will be full and free.”
The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is mostly aimed at vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but we must not forget that we all have a vocation. Because we are baptised, Christ calls us all. Each of us must decide to answer, and also how to answer. Hearing the call, ans thus answering “is possible in Christian communities where the faith is lived intensely, where generous witness is given of adherence to the Gospel, where there is a strong sense of mission which leads people to make the total gift of self for the Kingdom of God, nourished by recourse to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and by a fervent life of prayer.”
And so ends the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, or the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, as it is referred to in a rather handier fashion. A closing Mass yesterday wrapped up the three weeks of deliberations that, for now, resulted in a Message (available in Dutch as well) as composed by the commission chaired by Cardinal Betori and Cardinal-designate Tagle, and a set of 58 propositions to the Holy Father, which the latter will craft into a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which will probably see the light of day in a year or more. This will the final and concluding document of the Synod Assembly, but of course there is no reason before waiting to reflect on what has already been said and proposed, or to put some of it in practice. Because words are all fine, but if they don’t become reality, there is little point to them.
Reflecting, like I did in my previous blog post, on blind Bartimaeus, Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily, referred to what St. Augustine said about this Biblical character, that he was a man fallen from prosperity into misfortune:
“This interpretation, that Bartimaeus was a man who had fallen from a condition of “great prosperity”, causes us to think. It invites us to reflect on the fact that our lives contain precious riches that we can lose, and I am not speaking of material riches here. From this perspective, Bartimaeus could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized long ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God, no longer considering him relevant for their lives. These people have therefore lost a precious treasure, they have “fallen” from a lofty dignity – not financially or in terms of earthly power, but in a Christian sense – their lives have lost a secure and sound direction and they have become, often unconsciously, beggars for the meaning of existence. They are the many in need of a new evangelization, that is, a new encounter with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1), who can open their eyes afresh and teach them the path. It is significant that the liturgy puts the Gospel of Bartimaeus before us today, as we conclude the Synodal Assembly on the New Evangelization. This biblical passage has something particular to say to us as we grapple with the urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places where the light of faith has been weakened, in places where the fire of God is more like smouldering cinders, crying out to be stirred up, so that they can become a living flame that gives light and heat to the whole house.”
And, I can’t help but thinking, is the Holy Father perhaps thinking along similar lines as the late Cardinal Martini, when he speaks about “smouldering cinders”, under ashes or not?
Pope Benedict mentions three pastoral themes that apparently struck him during the Synod’s proceedings (and the Holy Father himself was perhaps one of the most active participants, taking copious notes during the interventions and being far more than just a presiding pope): the importance of the sacraments of initiation; the Missio ad gentes; and the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism. All are important themes for the new evangelisation.
And perhaps Bartimaeus, although never canonised – in fact, nothing is known of him beyond his appearance in the Gospel of Mark – can still be something of a patron for the new evangelisation, for as the Holy Father says:
“Dear brothers and sisters, Bartimaeus, on regaining his sight from Jesus, joined the crowd of disciples, which must certainly have included others like him, who had been healed by the Master. New evangelizers are like that: people who have had the experience of being healed by God, through Jesus Christ. And characteristic of them all is a joyful heart that cries out with the Psalmist: “What marvels the Lord worked for us: indeed we were glad” (Ps 125:3).”
They reached Jericho; and as he left Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus – that is, the son of Timaeus – a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and cry out, ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’ And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’
Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here.’ So they called the blind man over. ‘Courage,’ they said, ‘get up; he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus.
Then Jesus spoke, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘Rabbuni, let me see again.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’ And at once his sight returned and he followed him along the road.
Yesterday we heard this simple and powerful Gospel passage (Mark 10:46-52) in the celebration of Mass. The blind beggar Bartimaeus happens to be in the right place at the right time. Or is he?
In his homily Cardinal Eijk, who offered Mass at our cathedral for the occasion of the 125th anniversary of its dedication, told us that that wasn’t the case. It was not a matter of chance that Bartimaeus happened to be sitting in the street through which Jesus passed on His way out of Jericho. For Jesus passes us every day. It is up to us to see and recognise Him, something that Bartimaeus, despite being blind, managed to do.
He saw with the eyes of faith, thus recognising Jesus. The next step that he took, and which has to be a step we all should take, is to call out, to confirm the recognition to ourselves, to Christ and to everyone around us. Bartimaeus did so in a very simple form: “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me”. But it is deceptively simple. Bartimaeus words were a short but very effective prayer, one that we could do worse than use every now and then.
Bartimaeus shows us that we can see and recognise Jesus every day, and we should not hesitate to speak to Him, in prayer. And prayer can be very short and simple without losing any of its intent and power.
Some that are blind can see clearly, and some that have their sight are blinded by vision.
Art credit: Bartimaeus, by Harold Copping
“And he said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven; there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.”
Today we celebrate Ascension Day, although celebrate is perhaps not the correct term. After all, the Apostles had no reason to celebrate when their Teacher returned to His Father. After the sorrow of the Crucifixion, the joy of the countless appearances of Christ after His Resurrection, now there came a true ending of sorts. Now they had to go out alone or in small groups and spread the Gospel among all creation. Not a small task, even with the prospect of the Lord “working with them”. The Apostles, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, needed some time to come to terms with this new reality. They surely didn’t feel like celebrating.
But we do today. Maybe it’s easier for us, since the Lord remains with us in the same way that He has ever since our Baptism. Apart from the readings at Mass and the prayers of the day, we have no real sense of change in our life. Instead, we may renew our efforts to follow the commandment that Christ gave His disciples upon His Ascension: to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel to all creation.
Today’s Gospel reading offers us some examples on how to do so, or rather: how the Lord helps us in doing so. There are signs which accompany the work of the Apostles, and which still accompany our work in the same way. Those sings can take all kinds of forms; it is not as if God is limited in His help. They need not always be great miracles (although they certainly can be – consider, for one, the miracle of the sun at Fatima), or even take place at the same time that a modern Apostle does his or her work.
Often, we only realise that God was with us, helping us, confirming our words and works, when we look back at the things that happened or that we, or someone else, did. A prayer answered, a chance encounter with someone new, a seemingly random set of occurrences, some words read out, a homily… the possibilities are endless. What these signs indicate is that Christ is still with us, and that He will always be with us on our way to our ultimate goal. And that is why we celebrate today.
Art credit: “He vanished from their sight,” by Harold Copping
Today, the final stage of our journey begins as we enter Jerusalem with Jesus Christ. The people cheer and welcome Him, but behind the scene the plotting already begins…
It was two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by some trick and have him put to death. For they said, ‘It must not be during the festivities, or there will be a disturbance among the people.’
He was at Bethany in the house of Simon, a man who had suffered from a virulent skin-disease; he was at table when a woman came in with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the ointment on his head.
Some who were there said to one another indignantly, ‘Why this waste of ointment? Ointment like this could have been sold for over three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor’; and they were angry with her.
But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why are you upsetting her? What she has done for me is a good work. You have the poor with you always, and you can be kind to them whenever you wish, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could: she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. In truth I tell you, wherever throughout all the world the gospel is proclaimed, what she has done will be told as well, in remembrance of her.’
Mark 14: 1-9
Our celebration of today is twofold: on the one hand we are happy because Christ is among us. We honour Him like the woman, who are may or not have been St. Mary Magdalene, with the costly oil. And it is good that we do so. If we do not honour Christ, our good works for the poor are empty, because He is the poor man, the hungry man, the sick man. Just like faith without good works is just empty words, so good works without faith are just empty actions.
But in the meantime, the events of the coming week are also present. The authorities are plotting to have Christ arrested, but quietly, so as not to disturb the festivities and the people. There is little doubt that Jesus knows full well that they are doing so. He knows why He is in Jerusalem. His anointing is a preparation for His sacrifice. The sacrifice is made pleasant before God. Jesus is honoured and through Him, His Father also.
So the Passion begins…
Art credit: Speculum humanae salvationis of Colgone, ca. 1450
“Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap; because the standard you use will be the standard used for you.”
A classic text, this one from today’s Mass, often cited under the “do unto others” banner. It’s closely linked to what the scribe told Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: “To love [God] with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice” (12:33). In the following verse Jesus confirmed this.
The love of God and the neighbour is therefore closely connected, not least because we see the face of the Lord in the people around us, especially the poor, the sick and the needy. What we do for others, we therefore essentially do for God. Jesus further expounds on this when He speaks of the return of the Son of God in glory, in Matthew 25:31-46, saying “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (v. 40).
The service to others is then very important to God and also to ourselves. It can in fact safely be considered the very basis of our Christian life in the context of the the ultimate return of Christ.
As for the passage from Luke itself: does Christ forbid us to judge and condemn? No, but we must remember that we too will be judged and, possibly, condemned for our misdeeds. That must always be in the back of our minds, when we judge something that someone did or did not do (we have no business judging or condemning the person anyway). The passage is also an invitation to forgive. While we may condemn an action or inaction, we should also forgive people for what they did wrong and give them a chance to do better.
“The standard you use will be the standard used for you”: having a standard to measure the world and the people around us is not a bad thing, as long as we also use it on ourselves. We are not above others, and equally prone to do wrong and make mistakes. We too want to the opportunity to overcome our failings. We should give others that opportunity too.
Art credit: “The greatest commandment”, from an unknown illustrator of a children’s Bible
Our first motivation to observe Lent is simply because Jesus did it before us. It’s very simple, but w should consider Jesus to be our teacher in everything He did. There are numerous examples in the Gospels of Jesus praying and giving alms, but He also fasted. The best known example of that is of course the forty days He spent in the desert, just before He began His public life.
In the Gospel reading from today’s Mass, St. Mark spends very few words on this undoubtedly important event in Jesus’ life.
“And at once the Spirit drove him into the desert and he remained there for forty days, and was put to the test by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels looked after him.
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the gospel from God saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel.’”
Mark 1: 12-15
Four sentences to describe a number of very significant elements. St. Mark is nothing if not succinct. Let’s take a look at some of the elements in this text.
- “And at once the Spirit drove him into the desert and he remained there for forty days”. The Holy Spirit plays a part here. He caused Jesus to go into the desert. We don know if Jesus went willingly or not, but we can conclude that He was inspired to do so. The Holy Spirit inspires us as well, sometimes to do very concrete things. It is because of Him that we have faith, and we sometimes can’t adequately explain the things we do because of faith, although we do know they are the right things to do. And why the desert for forty days. It’s not difficult to be alone and to fast in the desert, and the number forty would indicate a lengthy time, comparable to the forty years that the Jews, led by Moses, wandered the desert. Fasting has no meaning if it is not just for a day and is hard to keep up if you are faced with distraction after distraction.
- “and was put to the test by Satan”. St. Mark does not elaborate here, and without referring to the other Gospels, which do tell us more, we may say that Jesus was tempted by evil. That is certainly not alien to us, and therefore it shouldn’t be for Jesus either. “For the high priest we have is not incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us, but has been put to the test in exactly the same way as ourselves, apart from sin” (Heb 4:15). Jesus is a man just like us. He knows us, our strengths, but certainly also our weaknesses. We are put to the test by Satan, so He needed to have been as well in order to take our trespasses on His own shoulders.
- “He was with the wild animals, and the angels looked after him”. Jesus is God, so it makes sense that all creation, here on earth and in heaven, serves Him. But there’s also an interesting comparison to Adam, who was master of the animals in the garden (cf. Gen. 2:19). Jesus is the new Adam, who came to correct the sin of the first man.
- “Repent, and believe the gospel”. This, in fact, is what Lent is about. If we return to the Gospel, get to know it again, take it seriously and continuously apply it to our own lives, we will be following Christ to the salvation which He brought us. The topic of knowing and understanding the Gospel is a whole topic by itself, so I won’t be discussing that any further here.
Art credit: ’40 Days of Temptation; Jesus Alone’, by Daniel Bonnell
Starting another week with a look at the Gospel, we find a very short reading today. But, as ever, words have meaning, so no matter the length of a text, what is says is valuable. Let’s take a look:
“The Pharisees came up and started a discussion with him; they demanded of him a sign from heaven, to put him to the test. And with a profound sigh he said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? In truth I tell you, no sign shall be given to this generation.’ And, leaving them again, he re-embarked and went away to the other side.”
Mark 8: 11-13
Well, there is certainly much to recognise here. The demand of the Pharisees is something that many, if not most, of us have also made: “God, if you exist, give me a sign so I can believe in you!” And that demand is certainly understandable; God, after all, asks much of us, so why can we not ask something from Him to help us along?
But the problem is, though, that that sign has already been given. The problem is not so much that God refuses to give a sign, but that we refuse to accept it for what it is. In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God that we find in Scripture, but also in the faith we see around us every day, in the effects that trust in the Lord has – not always the effects that we desire or expect, but effects nonetheless – we see that sign.
Does that mean we should just keep quiet and not ask anything? Certainly not. If we look again at the passage from the Gospel of Mark above, we see that the Pharisees are not just asking. Instead, they are demanding, that they are putting Jesus to the test. The way in which we ask our questions is just as important as what we ask and how we deal with the answer. By demanding, the Pharisees, and everyone else who does so, are closing themselves off from the answer: they are presenting themselves as in possession of the truth to which they expect Jesus to conform, not as curious onlookers who are genuinely interested in His answer. Jesus’ profound sigh is only understandable here.
His answer also deserves a closer look. Jesus does not say that the Pharisees or anyone else who will ever ask for a sign, will not be getting one. No, He speaks of “this generation”. We must never forget that the Incarnation is an historical event: Jesus lived among us at a specific time and place, and was part of a specific society and generation. Perhaps we can then see His answers, that “no sign shall be given to this generation” as an indication that the attitude of the demanding Pharisees is a social, or generational, ill. Maybe society reinforced the attitude expressed by the demands of the Pharisees.
Today, we also live in a society which is very self-centered. Our attitude, that we somehow ‘deserve’ an explanation that fits our own agenda, is reinforced by many of the expressed values of our society. The society we live in plays a part in how we relate to others and to God, and as such also, as far as our modern society is concerned, in closing us off from the signs of God. By recognising that, we take our first step in opening our hearts, to be receptive of God’s answers.
Art credit: “The Pharisees and the Saduccees Come to Tempt Jesus” by James Tissot
Today we look at a short reading in which, at first glance, nothing much seems to happen. It’s one of those readings that connect two more interesting stories (in this case the beheading of John the Baptist and the miracle of the loaves and fishes). Or is it?
The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught.
And he said to them, ‘Come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that there was no time for them even to eat.
So they went off in the boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many recognised them; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.
The Apostles are returning from some work they have done. They are properly tired and at the same time eager to tell the Lord what has befallen them. But as Jesus is quite popular, he invites them to come with Him to some quiet place and rest. This immediately brings to mind the times when we are alone with the Lord: at times of Adoration, receiving Him at Mass, or simply when we are sitting by ourselves for a bit, in Church or just at home praying or reading and reflecting on some Biblical passage. These moments give us rest, or rather, Jesus gives us rest. And at the same time, just like the Apostles, we tell Him of the things that have befallen us, the things that keep us busy, the things we worry about or fear, or simply just about ourselves. We need these moments of spiritual recharging. Just like the Apostles, we too are sent out by Jesus, and we too need to return to Him at times to be able to continue our work.
But, in apparent contrast, we are not solo fliers. Sometimes people need us. Or, as in the text above, people want to be with Christ. He recognises that, and after only a short time with His Apostles in the boat, he returns to teach the crowd. In this we may read again an example for us. After spending time with the Lord, we must let Him go to other people, and today He needs us for that: we need to bring Christ to other people,”to teach them at some length”.
If we don’t have Christ, we can’t bring Him to others, so we must first spend them alone with Him. Christians do not operate in a vacuum. We must go out and recognise the sheep who have no shepherd and bring Him to them: the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.