We have returned to the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. You will notice that a noble simplicity has returned in the church decorations and the ceremonies of the Mass. This season does not highlight any particular mystery of salvation. Rather, we reflect upon the events of the life and ministry of Jesus as the Gospel of Mark, starting next Sunday, is proclaimed in more or less continuous fashion until the beginning of Lent.
The refrain from today’s Responsorial Psalm should be the bold response of any Christian to God’s will. It represents the response that any young person should be willing to give who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life.
Regarding human dignity, today’s Second Reading reminds us that, having been baptized into Christ’s body, our bodies, too, are sacred and temples of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul is writing primarily against sexual immorality here. However, all sins against another’s person, especially deliberately depriving another of life, are offenses against human dignity and against the Precious Blood of Christ with which he has purchased us as his own.
The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins this Monday, January 18, and ends the next Monday, January 25, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. This year’s theme is taken from John 15:1-17: “Abide in My Love…You Shall Bear Much Fruit.” Here, Jesus reminds his disciples that he is the vine and we are the branches. If we abide in him, in Jesus and the Covenant made in his precious blood, we will be such a healthy branch as to bear much fruit, abundant grapes.
Jesus manifests this in his references to loving one another: “Abide in my love.” This love of Christ figuratively speaking is akin to the healthy sap that nourishes the vine throughout all its branches. Jesus the man is lovingly begotten into human society by the love God has for all human beings, through the cooperation of a human woman, the Virgin Mary. In return, humanity is repeatedly raised from sin to justification by the love of Christ, the only Son of God, one with the Father and the Spirit through all the ages. This resource for abiding in his love is endless.
The image of branches helps believers understand that they are all diverse as individuals, but brought together in the one Vine, who is Christ alive in the Church. It can also point out, in these times of growing ecumenical witness, that the differing expressions of Christian faith are also branches which cannot live on their own and still authentically proclaim the Gospel to all creatures. We preach Christ crucified and risen to a needy world, that the world may have hope. Separately, that “sap” which keeps all the branches healthy, gets stuck in blocked veins of animosity, distrust, bigotry and ignorance. Only open veins will allow the sap to flow. Only then can all the branches bear much fruit.
This coming Wednesday, January 20, will be Inauguration Day for President-elect Joe Biden. As American Catholics we would do well to pray for him and for our nation, especially for a peaceful transition of power. The Church has always encouraged prayer for civil leaders, going back to Saint Paul himself: “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Saint Peter also encourages respect for civil authority: “Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17)
Pray the Rosary this week for the unity of Christians, and for the unity of our nation. Pray also for Deacon Timothy Reither, a seminarian from Saint Charles Parish, as he continues his vocational discernment and formation.
May God bless his people with peace.