July 1 2012 13th Sunday of the Year (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24).

We will appreciate this reading better when we place it within the context and purpose of the entire book, and in its immediate context. The work was composed in Greek in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in the second part of the first century B.C. by a Jew, steeped in the faith and the wisdom learning of his people. There was a large Jewish community in Alexandria and the author of this work was writing primarily for his fellow Jews whose faith was badly shaken by the attraction of the advanced cultural life of Alexandria, well known for its imposing philosophical systems, it advances in the physical sciences of which it was immensely proud, well known also for its mystical mystery religions and seductive popular cults. With these advances in science and culture went a pervading denial of any reality beyond what was known to through the senses. The words of these pagan proponents of a religion alien to Judaism are clearly expressed in the passage of the book immediately after today’s readings (Wisdom 1:16-2:5). Their views are represented as follows:

“But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company. For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, ‘Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. For we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been, for the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts; when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air. Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat. For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.”

The author of this book, also with an eye on Gentile, pagan, readers, wrote to confirm his fellow Jewish coreligionists on their faith. They had nothing to fear from the new scientific and religious views of their pagan surroundings. Their own Jewish religious tradition, and their faith in the living God, could confront any age and its anti-religious propaganda. Belief in the living God of Israel, creator of the universe has both and other-worldly and a this-worldly view. Everything created here on earth is by God, and is very good. The power of evil, of the anti-God forces, will not, cannot succeed. And at the peak and centre of God’s creation is the human person, destined for life and to the full, here and hereafter. The anti-God movements, all evil, derive from the envy of Satan, and will not prevail.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm29[30]]. I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.

Second Reading (2 Corinthians 8:7-9, 13-15).

Taken by itself, as in today’s reading, this passage may make little sense to many listeners. Matters are different when we regard it in its biblical context. This occurs within the larger context of 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15 in which Paul is speaking of a collection of money he is taking up in his churches in Greece to aid the poor in the Christian Church in Jerusalem. He considered this collection very important. In Corinth the collection may have been suspended for a while by reason of a rift between members of that church and their apostle. It had recommenced as he writes. In today’s text Paul is encouraging them to give as generously as they can. He praises their many virtues, saying that to these they can now add the work of mercy of financial donation to his collection. He recalls the example of Christ, who through his incarnation became poor, as one of us humans. Paul does not expect them to given beyond their means, but to donate from abundance. The Church at Corinth appears to have been better off financially than others of Paul’s churches.

Gospel (Mark 5:21-43).

Here Mark gives us an account of two miracles by Jesus, one regarding the daughter of Jairus, the other the cure of woman suffering prolonged haemorrhaging. The account of the first miracle is divided into two parts, between which Mark (as he does elsewhere) sandwiches the other. Mark begins by noting that Jesus had come to the other side of the lake that is from the eastern and gentile region to the western and Jewish. For both miracles Mark notes the presence of faith, prior to and not the result of the miracles. For Mark the presence of faith is a prerequisite for a miracle by Jesus. As for the transfiguration, Jesus takes the three disciples Peter, James and John to witness the miracle. Mark, writing in Greek, has retained the Aramaic words used by Jesus, “Talitha kum”, “Little girl, I say to you get up”.

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day

Catholic Church influence in public life? The Church’svoicer must be heard

Sometimes the statement is made that the Catholic Church (or any Church) should have no influence on public life, no part to play in it. Such a statement can come from politicians or from secularists, working for what they believe to be a purely secular society. Here clarification on terms used is called for, not least for the sake of ordinary members of the Church itself. If by “church” the ministers of the Church, bishops, priests and others related to the “institution” are meant is once thing. But the church is more fundamentally the body of the faithful believers, who for some purposes are the body politic, that elect the politicians who exercise their duty in accord with their consciences.

The Church has a God-given mission and message. She has a confidence given by God to continue to proclaim this message. Her message is that of the biblical Book of Wisdom that all God’s creation is good and about life here and beyond, a conviction that her message and mission are such that they can confront problems intellectual and social arising in any age.

Public administration in good part deals with the well-being and the problems of society, in their many manifestations, from birth, child welfare, marriage arrangements, violence, murders, sexual excesses including prostitution and many others. They belong to human behaviour. The Church’s message also is about human behaviour. It is this, the good works and exemplary lives of believers, that bear witness to Christ, and glory to his heavenly Father. But there is another dimension to the Church’s Gospel message, namely its address to the inner person, to the source of action, to the souls of believers.

The Church should continue to proclaim its divine message. This message has to do, among other matters, individual conviction, with human living and society affairs. Legislation can aim at remedying affairs, and apply sanctions. But at the root of many such problems lies in the human heart. The message of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount on many issues, such as forgiveness of enemies, establishing friendships, building bridges, makes for a stable society. All these can be effective already in public life, bearing witness to the presence of the Church’s message. A prevailing ignorance or neglect of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” leads to disregard for human life. Similarly one may say with regard to sexual morality. Theologians speak of a hierarchy of truths, with regard to the Creed and other beliefs. Similarly with regard to sexual morality, which is often equated with contraception, homosexuality and the use of condoms, whereas it can range from such actions as rape to minor ones. Neglect of the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and related matters can lead to the proliferation of brothels by reason of the fact of restraint by those calling on their service. Commandments may cause problems, but give restraint. Thus, by reason of its message the Church is part of public life, and in dialogue with changing society.

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