24th Sunday Ordinary Time B

See, the Lord is my help

In 1977 the missionary magazine Echo From Africa published a fascinating true story about ten heroic Ukrainian nuns sentenced by Russia to Siberian exile in 1951.

Soviet authorities arrested three sisters in the Ukraine and tried to get them to renounce the pope and their religious vows. When they refused, they were condemned to ten years of hard labor in Siberia.

At their Siberian prison camp, the atheistic commandant renewed the effort to break these ten women. He called them “dogs of the Vatican,” and ordered them to give up their “idolatry.” Though they angered him by their firmness, they won the admiration of their fellow prisoners by the way they helped the women and girls. They were even able to secretly baptize hundreds of adults.

In January, 1952, when the Siberian winter was at its coldest (the temperature is usually 50-60 degrees below zero), the camp commander summoned the sisters and announced that since they had proved themselves fanatical agents of the Vatican, Moscow had instructed him to take more severe measures. He told them that they were now to be put into solitary confinement on bread and water until they came around. If this method failed, he would force them to stand in the cold for three hours clad only in their underclothing.

The first measure did not work. Therefore after a week of solitary, the commandant sent them out to stand in the middle of the snowy camp square in the scantiest of clothing. Asked again to sign a statement of “confession,” they still declined. Then they began to sing the Creed.

This was too much for the officer, and so he ordered that the savage watch-dogs be unleashed to attack the singing nuns. The blood-thirsty dogs bounded towards the sisters. But when they were six feet away from them, they suddenly stopped and lay down in the snow. A crowd of sympathetic but helpless fellow prisoners had been watching all this. Now they cried “A miracle!” The commandant turned pale, and sent the sisters back to the barracks. There was no further harassment, and eventually they were released. Once again God had intervened to protect those who had trusted in Him: “See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?” (Isaiah 50:9. Today’s first reading.)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q545: Wasn’t Jesus a bit hard on Peter today, calling him a “Satan”? Today’s episode (Mark 8:27-35) marks a turning point in Mark’s gospel. For the apostles, it is all about expectations – their anticipations about what would happen if Jesus really is the long-awaited Messiah, and their opinions about what their own discipleship would mean for them in the future.

Each one of us tends to put people in a box of our own description, after a brief observation of their words and behavior. We tend to label people with a super-glue label, one very hard to remove. For example, one person is apparently just a wind-bag, so we listen but ignore him on all matters. Other folks are perceived to be gossipers, so we are careful about what information we share in their presence, if any. Many politicians hold unjust and immoral positions on life issues, so we distrust everything they say on every topic.

The people in Jesus’ time were no different in comparing and contrasting Jesus with known public figures of the past. They categorized Jesus as another John the Baptist, or Elijah, or a different prophet. Peter came closest – he recognized that Jesus was truly the Messiah. But his understanding of that role was the common one, a political figure who would restore Israel to prominence among the nations.

Jesus brought them back to the basics of Faith 101. They were to expect the unexpected; to believe in mystery, and to simply let that mystery unfold before their eyes. Yes, he was indeed the Messiah, but until they understood what that really meant, they were to keep quiet about it and not inflame the false expectations of others. Both the role of the Messiah and the role of a Disciple would involve suffering – something totally unexpected by the culture, something that did not fit their pre-conceived notions. So Jesus was telling Peter to stop putting him in a pre-labeled box, a devilish practice that not permit mystery to unfold.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Prepare your hearts to really trust in Jesus alone. The cost of discipleship may be very high, and requires us to give up all dangerous attachments to power and possessions – i.e., we need to reset our expectations and priorities (CCC #2544).

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Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me

St. James continues to remind us today that faith without good works is dead. In the other readings both Isaiah and Jesus remind us of the cost of living faith. Isaiah was called to speak God’s word to the people. He did follow that call and suffered abuse and humiliation. When Peter is appalled at the idea of a suffering Messiah, Jesus insists on the necessity of the cross for himself and his followers. Some have taken this to mean that suffering is good and virtuous in itself, but Jesus never said that. He tells us that we must imitate his self-giving for God and our neighbor. We cannot give of ourselves without paying a price for it.

Lord, I want always to walk in your ways. Guide me; keep my foot from stumbling. Dry the tears from my eyes in time of suffering and sorrow. Hear me, O Lord, and come to my aid. Lead me by faith and good works, however painful, to your glory.

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