4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 31 January 2021 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Responsorial: Psalm 95; II: I Corinthians 7:32-35; Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

The story is told of naturalist John Muir and his awe and wonder of the power and grandeur of creation and how this led him, one day, to experience that power in an extraordinary way. He was hiking in the Sierras and a summer storm rolled over the ridge. He could see that the coming rain, wind and lightening was intense. So in his excitement and wonder he climbed to the top of a tall pine as the storm approached. Muir was soon hanging on as the tree blew and snapped with with the wind and elements. After the storm passed he climbed down totally drenched with rain and awe at the grandeur of the storm he had experienced. Now obviously this is not a practice to be recommended for many reasons of health and safety. But the spirit of the adventure does give a lesson of importance today and does offer recommendation for souls seeking to hear and follow the call of Christ.

I recently read a series of articles offering suggestions for SURVIVAL, as Catholics, in the course of this year. The premise shared was with our faith so beset by storms and battles we need to hunker down, grasp our rosaries tight and endure in the tenets of our faith. I found the messages very thought provoking, especially in light of the Scriptures for this early week of the new year. I found myself seeking our Lord, asking are we called to Survival or Serenity?

Let’s be honest. As 2021 follows the perils and struggles of the past year we are beset by many storms and challenges. It would be profoundly foolish and dangerous to take the attitude that as Christians all is well, that no harm, sorrow, peril of body, soul or spirit can afflict us. The image above of a church in the mideast devastated by the attacks of hate testifies that these battles are very real and dangerous. Likewise many people of deep and holy faith have succumbed to the Covid virus, despite medical care and prayers of the faithful. These struggles also afflict our faith. Again, and especially we need to seek our Lord as to whether we are called to mere survival or serenity. Is our faith in the storms and forces of darkness? Or is our faith in He calls us to follow Him.

Our Bible readings and especially the Gospel for today present the dynamic realities of our call and our focus. In the Gospel we read that as the new disciples have begun to follow Jesus He leads them to the synagogue where He proclaims the Word. Well…..This is good! We are following Jesus and He blesses us as we gather for worship. This is as it should be!

The preaching of Jesus is powerful. The blessings are palpable. But then the unthinkable occurs! A worshipper in their midst is possessed by an evil spirit that cries out against Jesus. This sort of conflict can’t occur in our community of worship! But Jesus intervenes, silences the evil spirit and commands it to come out of the afflicted soul. The unclean spirit is quenched and the people in the synagogue are amazed! They were filled with wonder! Where there had been bondage, fear and oppression there is healing, peace and deliverance at the Living Word who is Jesus.

It is no coincidence that the Gospel of Mark makes clear mention that one of the first lessons recorded of the walk of the early disciples of Jesus brought them to face the very real and intense conflicts they would share if they were to heed Jesus and follow His call. They were to experience the refrain, many times over, of our Psalm for today: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” We hear this verse often, as well we need. And usually think of the sins of doubt or rebellion that leads to hearts hardened before God. But we also must recognize that our human nature often leads us to hunker down in our faith instead of facing the storms or battles with our faces to the wind. It is really much more comfortable to burrow under the covers of familiar practices and prayers, to avoid seeing souls who challenge our thinking or faith. I confess that in my firefighting days I sometimes resented the dispatches to someone sick or injured in the middle of the night after a long day at work in the station and on calls.

The call of God is not always at our convenience, ease or pleasure. But it is as we say yes and allow Him to lead us to the places, people and His Truth that always grows we then share with the disciples and people in that synagogue so long ago. We grow amazed at His grace, the grandeur of His holiness, the power of His love. We may witness a soul we think of as far outside the realms of grace and then see them aflame in the serenity and joy that comes only from God. We may be allowed to encounter great storms of body, soul or spirit. But it will be in those places we can learn..not just survival but the serenity, the peace that comes within the heart that knows…Jesus is Lord. The winds, the waves, those souls broken by sin..Jesus is Lord. His ways of deliverance, healing..hope are found as we follow in His steps. The eternal power of His peace and mercy lead us not to mere survival but to see Jesus and each other in ways that will amaze and bless.

Pax et bonum