5th Sunday Ordinary Time B

The slave of all

The Christian nations of Europe brought many good things to the world. They also brought many bad things. One of them was black slavery. In some respects, slavery and the African slave trade were less brutal in Latin America than in Anglo-Saxon America. But the story was basically the same.

Cartagena, in the present Republic of Colombia, was one of the most notorious of the South American slave-trade ports. As many as 10,000 slaves from Africa reached there each year. Hundreds of others died on route. Those who arrived were usually frightened, sick, dying. Spanish slave dealers were willing to let them be baptized, but they would permit little more. Spanish missionaries protested against this mistreatment, but their complaints were ignored.

At least something could be done for these poor folk to show that God loved them. One Spanish Jesuit, St. Peter Claver, devoted himself to them for years. He met them in their crowded “corrals” repulsive though they were in their sickness and neglect, and brought them medicines and food and little gifts. He rounded up the blacks to interpret his instructions on God and his love, and thus he was eventually able to catechize and baptize over 300,000 slaves. He warned these poor folk against exploitation and the occasions of sin that they would encounter. He sought constantly to remind them of their own human dignity, despite their social degradation. This was his principal missionary work for thirty-five years. Then in 1650 he was stricken with a terminal illness that incapacitated him for four years. Peter bore his trials with great patience – including the young black man assigned to take care of him who often neglected him for days on end. Only in his last hours when they learned he was dying, did the people of Cartagena recall what Father Claver had done among them! He had fulfilled his vow to be “the slave of the Negroes for ever.”

…I made myself the slave of all so as to win over as many as possible. (I Cor 9,19. Today’s second reading.)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q357: Job is really suffering, and sounds so forlorn (Job 7:1-4, 6-7). Is there any hope for the “Job’s” of our own time, suffering from cancer, diabetes, etc.?

There are many people among us today who understand completely the physical suffering and pain that Job is going through. However, we all need to put ourselves back into that specific culture in which Job lived, to understand better what he was feeling emotionally and spiritually.

In the Jewish culture of his time, the people ascribed everything to the direct action of God. If everyone obeys God’s laws as spelled out in the holy scriptures, then they would be blessed. However, if they disobeyed, then punishment was the outcome. Accordingly, if wars were lost, or disease was rampant, or drought was being experienced, it was considered to be the judgment of the Lord on the immoral and unjust actions of the people.

Similarly, if an individual person experienced an illness or sickness, then that too was ascribed to God. “Obviously,” the surrounding people would conclude, this man has “sinned” because he is now sick. The Jewish people had not yet reached the evolving understanding of God’s revelation of His permissive will, as contrasted with His directive will.

Today, we know that we have a Savior who hears every single one of our prayers and petitions. We also know that illness, sickness, mental and physical challenges are not necessarily punishment from the Lord. One only has to remember the teaching of Jesus himself, who said that the death of the workmen killed by the fall of the Tower of Siloam, or those killed in Galilee by King Herod, was not punishment from God. So in confidence, we always turn to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who promised to hear our prayers and also to answer them. At the same time, we offer up our daily sufferings to Christ, uniting them with his cross, for whatever redemptive value they have for the benefit of others. Perhaps this may be the greater value: to help open the gates of heaven for others through redemptive suffering. This is a great mystery; but we had a great Teacher! Therein lies our Hope!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! It is by faith and reflection on the holy scriptures that we grow in our understanding of the meaning of the Redemption that Jesus won for us (CCC #573). In his humanity, Jesus had to learn obedience through suffering; we are called to that same trust in God’s will and obedience to Him in our situation in life, knowing that His plan will be accomplished through his people (that’s us!) (CCC #2823).

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A Day in the Life of the Lord

In today’s readings we have a continuation of Mark’s picture of a typical day in Jesus’ public ministry. He is God’s response to Job’s anguished lament. Jesus enters into the world of the sick, the suffering, the alienated with a healing touch and a comforting word. He engages in combat with the powers of evil and overcomes them. It must have been draining, but Jesus finds the strength he needs for this ministry in prayer, in going apart from the day’s activity to renew his relationship with the Father. We have been called by baptism to share in the life of Christ. We are called to be the signs of his continued ministry of teaching, healing, and overcoming evil. Like him we have to find in prayer the strength to do all of these things.  We should imitate Jesus by seeking regular times and places for personal prayer.

Lord, your disciples asked you to teach them how to pray. You have shown us the way in your own practice of going apart to pray, and you have given us your own words of prayer, now give us the will and the strength to set apart some part of our busy days for private prayer with you.

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