Great Expectations?

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Friday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Mark 12:35-37

As Jesus was teaching in the temple area he said, “How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said: ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘lord’; so how is he his son?” The great crowd heard this with delight.

Opening Prayer: As I once again turn my attention to you and your living Word, Lord, I humbly ask you to send your Holy Spirit upon me to open my mind and heart to your grace. I am so easily distracted, so easily distraught, so easily discouraged. I turn to you now knowing that I need your grace to continue forward on my journey of faith. I join my own personal prayer to the prayer of the whole Church today (from the Collect for today’s Mass): “May I firmly hold the faith St. Boniface taught with his lips and sealed in his blood and confidently profess it by my deeds.”

Encountering Christ:

  1. Reduced to Silence: In the Gospel passages of the last few days we have seen Jesus responding to clever verbal attacks and subtly deceptive arguments by which some of his adversaries were trying to discredit him. But after losing every clash, his enemies have been reduced to silence. Now Jesus takes the initiative to explain to the crowds how their expectations for the Messiah have been too low. He interprets a passage from the Psalms–a prophetic passage about himself–so as to elevate their expectations. The Lord, the promised Messiah, is not just another earthly king, as King David had been. The Messiah is Lord, superior even to the greatest of Israelite kings. St. Mark tells us that “the great crowd heard this with delight.” They were delighted because Jesus was opening their hearts and minds to the glories of his grace, and although they may not have understood all the theological implications, they could at least sense the redeeming and enlightening power of his teaching. Jesus still wants to do that with us today. Our expectations about life in Christ are, certainly, too low. Our own sins and wounds tend to obscure our vision of who Jesus is and all he wants for us. We need to be enlightened afresh every single day by the power of God’s Word. As St. Paul explains to Timothy in the First Reading: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” What expectations do I have that Jesus needs to correct or purify? What am I expecting from God in my life, in the life of the Church? What should I be expecting? What does God want to give me?
  2. Sacred Spaces: St. Mark tells us that Jesus “was teaching in the temple area.” Rabbis at the time of Jesus often taught in the temple courtyards in Jerusalem. People would gather to be instructed, to debate and discuss the Scriptures and the events of the day. The temple was a sacred place, a place of worship, and a place of fellowship and spiritual growth. We need places like that. God knows we need them. In fact, he built it into our human nature to need sacred spaces. Every religion in the history of the world has utilized sacred spaces for their spiritual activities. What sacred spaces are there in my life? Every parish church, in a sense, is like the ancient temple of Jerusalem. It is a place where God himself dwells, through the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle, and where God’s people gather for instruction, fellowship, and spiritual nourishment. Of course, no sacred space here on earth–and so no parish church–will be perfect in every way. But even with its imperfections, it is meant to be a place of encountering God and nourishing my soul. Is that what it is for me? Each Christian home is meant to be a “domestic church,” according to Catholic tradition and doctrine. Is there a sacred space in my home? A prayer corner, a prayer room, a place with holy images, maybe a candle burning by a picture of the Sacred Heart? God dwells in our hearts as individuals, and he also sanctifies our homes, both through the Sacrament of Marriage from which every home springs, and also through his promise to be present wherever two or more of his disciples gather in his name. Am I hearing his voice teaching me in the “temple area” of my home? What can I do to create more sacred space in my life, so that the Lord can instruct my heart more easily and I can “hear this with delight”?
  3. A New Church: St. Boniface, whose memorial we celebrate today, was familiar with the power of sacred spaces. He entered a monastery in England in the seventh century and learned the spiritual life in the cloister. From there he was sent as a missionary to what is now modern Germany, and even today he is known as the Apostle of Germany. He spent his life spreading the Christian faith among the pagan peoples in northern Europe, reforming corrupt Christians and converting nonbelievers from pagan practices like human sacrifice. He also strengthened the Church through building bridges between the papacy and the secular rulers of northern Europe. One of the most famous encounters throughout his decades of missionary activity had to do with transforming a pagan sacred space into a Christian one. A massive, ancient oak tree on Mt. Gudenberg, known as Donar’s Oak, was a revered object of pagan devotion for the entire region. Even some baptized Christians couldn’t completely break away from the idol-worship associated with that place. St. Boniface was determined to rid his beloved people of the doubts and superstitions surrounding this tree and its supposedly sacred precinct. And so, he announced that he would chop it down on a particular day. When the day arrived, a huge crowd gathered, Christians and pagans alike, fearfully eager to see if the pagan gods would punish this Christian missionary who challenged the ancient power of Donar’s Oak. After a brief homily reiterating the Christian message of there being only one, true God, St. Boniface began his work, and after just a few swings of the ax the giant tree thundered to the ground, breaking into four immense parts. No lightning struck him down; the earth didn’t open beneath; in fact, nothing at all happened in the aftermath of the contest to give any credence to the old pagan beliefs. And to complete the transformation of that place, St. Boniface constructed a Christian chapel out of the wood from the sacred oak. He made a truly sacred space out of what had been a lair of idol-worship and superstition. He did similar work throughout northern Europe until he was martyred in the year 754, at more than 80 years of age.


Conversing with Christ: Dear Lord, come now into the temple of my heart, teach me there, topple and transform anything in my soul that is not fully devoted to you and to your Kingdom. You know how hard it is for me to live the kind of life you want me to live, the kind of Christian life I really want to live. Like many of St. Boniface’s disciples, I often seem to go back to my self-centered ways even after receiving your grace and your truth. But you have been faithful to your saints and your Church through the centuries, and I know you will be faithful to me. Please teach me to “remain faithful to what I have learned and believed” (2 Timothy 3:14, today’s first reading), even though I know that “all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Grant me, O Lord, the great peace that comes from loving your law (today’s psalm).

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will create some kind space in my home dedicated to God, meant to be a place of prayer and reflection, or at least a place to remind me that my home is a sacred space because I and my loved ones are Christians, temples of the Holy Spirit, bearers of grace and truth to this world.

For Further Reflection: Emails from Uncle Eddy on St. Bonfire.

Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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