Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 29, 2012, Year B

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Dear Friends,

O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts…” It isn’t always easy to discern God’s voice in our own hearts, let alone to appreciate holiness in the heart of a questionable stranger who emerges from a harsh and hostile world.

St. Mark writes: “They were astounded at his teaching for he taught them as one having authority…” Jesus then expands this authority to heal a man convulsed by an “unclean spirit.” But all of us are a mixture of dark and light, turmoil and peace. Can we push through our fear to listen to God’s voice? Will we then respond – with love and trust – to God’s healing touch?

Paul’s message can sometimes seem judgmental, contradicting ideas of an inclusive, open-hearted God: “The unmarried woman and the virgin are concerned about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is concerned about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband.” He says the same about men; according to Paul, married folk inevitably succumb to “divided interests.”

Worldly concerns, holiness and scandal coexist in all walks of life. Does Paul suggest that in order to be close to God we must consecrate ourselves to a life of virginity and contemplation in a controlled “safe” environment? Even in contemplative life, “unhindered devotion” to the Lord — developing compassion for family, friends and strangers — is daunting. Perhaps, like all of us, Paul struggles in his journey to understand the myriad questions and concerns of his time and place.

Thomas Merton says: “Clean, unselfish love does not live on what it gets but on what it gives. It increases by pouring itself out for others…” Can we pour ourselves out with unselfish love for those unexpected and sometimes frightening prophets and messengers in our midst? To begin, we might put aside our fear; we might even invite them into the car as we travel through this challenging, complex world.

In the face of my reluctant, half-hearted, blundering
Christianity, this stranger touched…no, gripped…….
my shoulder. In that deliberate gesture, he assured me
that I’m not so bad. He understood my fear, and for-
gave me for it. This marginal stranger forgives me.
He blesses me.” (Strachan, American Magazine, 2008)