Love, the Christian Difference
User's Guide to Sunday, Feb. 5.
Sunday, Feb. 5, is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
St. Scholastica, Feb. 10: We love the book The Holy Twins by Tomie de Paola, which tells the story of today’s saint, the twin sister of St. Benedict. The story imagines what their childhood must have been like. Of course, central to the book is the story of the storm that God sent in answer to Scholastica’s prayers when she wished to spend more time with her brother. Get the book to share that story with your family or search YouTube for St. Scholastica and click on the Apostleship of Prayer link.
Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb. 11: There is a good, nearly 15-minute documentary available on YouTube about Lourdes called “Lourdes: Miracle City, France.” At the end, the documentary dwells on some mild criticisms of Lourdes, but, overall, it tells the story fairly. Lourdes is an important feast day at Benedictine College. One of the college’s founders was rescued from a dangerous situation, lost and weakened in the wilderness, after a little girl experienced a Marian apparition and put a lamp in her window. That allowed the college to be founded in 1858 — the year Our Lady appeared to another little girl, Bernadette, in the rural town of Lourdes.
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39
There’s a story told about how a reporter was following Blessed Mother Teresa on her exhausting rounds to visit the poor and sick in India. He saw Mother Teresa doing a particularly loathsome task, removing maggots from the flesh of a dying man.
“I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars,” he said.
Mother Teresa smiled and said, “Neither would I.”
Today’s first reading, from Job, compares our life on earth to the work of a day laborer and slavery — and the New Testament readings we hear don’t really dispute that account. They do introduce a difference in attitude, however.
“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” asks Job. “Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.”
If that sounds like a tiring, difficult existence, consider what Christ’s life is like in today’s Gospel.
He visits a house with his apostles, where Peter’s mother-in-law needs to be cured. Then people flock to him in the evening outside, and he cures them late into the night. All the same, he wakes up early in the morning to pray — only to be interrupted by his apostles, who find him and say, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Even Christ’s life is one of constant work. And that isn’t just because he is the Son of God. Here is how St. Paul, in the second reading, characterizes his own life as a Christian:
“Woe to me if I do not preach” the Gospel, he says. “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so as to win over as many as possible.”
What separates Christ’s and Paul’s understandings of the work of life from Job’s dark take on toil and drudgery? Two key Christian attitudes: First, they are describing actions taken of their own free choice. Second, they are describing actions taken for others, not for themselves.
Paul feels compelled to serve because of the demands of the Gospel. But this is also his deepest fulfillment. His faith is so deep, and his mission is so fulfilling, that, in another letter on the same topic, he has a hard time choosing which he would prefer — to die and be with Christ in eternal beatitude or to live and work for him on earth. As compelled as he feels to preach, he also finds great joy in his correspondence with his vocation.
But that fulfillment comes not because he is doing something wonderful to fill his time, but because he is doing something wonderful for other people.
“To the weak I became weak to win over the weak,” he writes. “I have become all things to all to save at least some.”
It is a paradox of life that the more we try to make ourselves happy the less happy we are — and the more we concentrate on making others happy the greater our personal joy.
Christ’s example leads us in the same direction. “The whole town was gathered at the door,” says the Gospel. “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.”
The next morning, when he is interrupted in his prayer to help more people, he kicks the mission up a notch. “Let us go on to the nearby villages, that I may preach there also,” he says, adding, “For this purpose have I come.”
Christ has also chosen for himself a life he will live for others.
Free choice and action for others — these make the Christian difference. And there is another word for “choosing freely to serve others”: love.
Love is what allowed Mother Teresa to do her difficult work — and love is what allows each of us to do what we should do each day.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.