First, Prayer; then, More Prayer; then, When That's Done, Finally We Can Settle Down to Pray.
The First Wednesday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Hebrews 2: 14-18.
• Psalm 105: 1-4, 6-9.
• Mark 1: 29-39.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Marcellus I, Pope & Martyr.*
Lessons from the common "Si díligis me…" for One or Several Holy Popes, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Peter 5: 1-4, 10-11.
• Psalm 106: 32, 31.
• Matthew 16: 13-19.
8:54 AM 1/16/2019 — Many of the Gospel lessons that come our way in Ordinary Time, particularly in the first couple of weeks, can seem pedestrian and commonplace until we resolve to read them with prayerful recollection. The characterization given from the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany is one of Divine mystery; we were maneuvered by the liturgy of the Church to reflect on the Divine in Christ: His preexistence from all eternity, His fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy, the mystical nature of His earthly conception and birth. The contrast of that with the Gospel lessons in the beginning of Ordinary Time would lead us to believe that the shift is changing dramatically from Who and What Jesus is to what it is He does: not so much Jesus being this or that, but Jesus doing this or that … all kinds of activity: preaching, traveling, curing. But then comes the one solitary verse that cures us from judging too rashly or over-simplifying things.
Our Blessed Lord is busy in today's lesson: Peter's mother-in-law is ill, so he goes and cures her; and that, of course, is the cue for everyone in town to drag all their sick and possessed to our Lord, so the day is spent dealing with them. Lord knows how many of these people were actually possessed. Some mother has an unruly kid she can't control, so she presumes he's possessed even though anyone raised by someone as high-strung as her would have to turn out peculiar. My assumption is that very few of these people actually believed in our Lord. How could they? He's revealed precious little about Himself at this point. It reminds me of Henry VIII's wonderful line from Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons: “There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown; and those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I'm their tiger; there's a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves.” I think there were a lot of those following our Lord in the early days of His ministry.
In any case, he spends the day with these people, even if they are “a mass that … follows anything that moves”, and gives them what they want: “various diseases” says the Gospel, and “many demons”; he deals with it all. But when the day is done: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mark 1: 35 NABRE). In spite of the level of activity that the necessity of the moment has imposed on Him, our Lord is not an activist; He's a contemplative. His activity is never allowed to displace His prayer. And the lesson is unmistakable: there is no competition between action and contemplation; and, if we perceive in our lives some tension between prayer and active duty, it's only because we've failed to understand either. If you haven't read it already, get your hands on a book called, The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard. It was first published in 1920, and was a favorite of Pope St. Pius X: a whole book dedicated to the thesis that your prayer life can't compete with your daily duty because it's your prayer life that gives meaning to everything you do.
Of course, our Lord doesn't escape for long; the disciples have followed Him: “Everyone is looking for you” (v. 37). It's more than just St. Mark listing the sequence of events; it's a statement of eternal truth. Think about it long enough and you'll realize it: everyone is looking for Jesus, even those who don't know that He's the one they're looking for, even those who don't know they're in fact looking for anything. The words of St. Augustine at the beginning of the Confessions may be the most truthful post-Biblical statement every made: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Conf., Book I, ch. 1). The human heart is made to seek and to love God. And God facilitates this encounter, for He, too, seeks out each one of us through countless graces; hence, our Lord's statement after He is found: “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come” (v. 38). And He's not just telling us about Himself; He's telling us about ourselves, giving us an example.
When we see someone, or read about someone in the paper, or see something about someone on television, and the thought crosses the back of our mind: “Does that person worry about salvation?” We may even say a silent prayer for that person, or that situation, or the world in general. It's that apostolic seed that the Lord has planted deep in the soul of each one of us, and our first instinct is to pray. We may even find ourselves feeling guilty: “Should I be doing more?” But what is it we think we should do? Quit our jobs to go fight terrorism? Abandon our responsibilities to care for Ebola-stricken countries? Make a spectacle of ourselves preaching on a soap box to the pagans in Times Square? Certainly not. Our duty is here with those who depend on us. Give in to the temptation to believe that prayer is not a sufficient response, and you've given in to the activist mentality that Dom Chautard warns about. Our first duty before God is to meet faithfully the responsibilities of the here and now, and sanctify that duty through prayer.
Let's take the Lord's example. He did a lot of good for a lot of people, as these lessons in the beginning of Ordinary Time illustrate; but, he always took time to pray; and, sometimes I don't wonder, whenever I read that passage from Luke wherein our Lord's visit to Martha and Mary is described, Jesus, in His Human Heart, looking back to these first months of his public life, had just a tinge of envy when He spoke those words to Martha: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part....” (Luke 10: 41-42 Douay-Rheims).
* Pope Marcellus defended the rights of the Church against the state with heroic virtue, and was exiled by the heretical Maxentius. He died in the year of our Lord 310.