Homily on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed (Mk 1: 35)
The communique from the Vatican press office on January 20 indicated that the pope’s annual Lenten retreat with the Roman curia officials has been canceled because of the ongoing pandemic. The Pope, however, has invited those who normally participate in the retreat to arrange their own personal time in prayer. Thus, from February 21-26 this year, our Holy Father will follow the same schedule as his closer collaborators: no appointments so that he will spend time solely with the Lord. The world is going to miss a very simple and yet profound image of our Holy Father with a little carryon bag, walking onto the bus with his closer collaborators and heading out for a spiritual exercise at Pauline Fathers’ retreat center in Ariccia, a town about 20 miles southeast of Rome.
You probably pick up from my tone that I treasure this simple and profound image of the pope sitting on the bus, with people who work in the curia, heading to a spiritual exercise. Simply, it is very human. There is a need for God in each of us and it is through prayers that a human heart encounters the Lord. Jesus taught us this fact in the Gospel today: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” (Mk 1:35).
Not too long ago, we celebrated Christmas, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). The Son of God truly became the Son of Man. In assuming our humanity, the Eternal Word assumes all that belongs to our world, except sins. Therefore, Jesus also experiences tiredness and exhaustion and the need to be recharged. As the Gospel indicated the day before, after healing the mother-in-law of Simon, “they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons” (Mk. 1:32-34). Imagine what happened at the front door of Simon’s home: what does it look like? It is similar to that of an emergency room in a hospital, isn’t it? Ask any doctor or nurse who works in this unit on a challenging day and he/she will tell you that he/she goes home physically drained and emotionally exhausted. How could the heart not be moved in confronting the pain and suffering of our fellow human beings? The Son of God who became a human being in the incarnation was moved with pity for the sick at the door of Simon’s house. The antiphon before the Gospel proclamation sums it up the best: “Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Mt. 8:17). So, after a challenging day, Jesus too needed to be reinvigorated: He found that in prayer. “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mk 1:35).
What Jesus did, we are called to imitate. When we are drained, we need to be inspired, strengthened, and empowered. This can only happen through prayer. The greatest prayer of the Church is the Mass. This is the reason why the Church in her motherly care obligates us to attend Mass on Sunday during ordinary circumstances. (Although our current situation is not ordinary, our Bishop has consistently indicted those who can attend Mass should know that “nothing substitutes our participation in the Mass” either on a weekday or Sunday). The Church proclaims the Eucharist as the “source and summit of Christian life.” It is the source because from the altar of the Church we are nourished, strengthened, and reinvigorated. It is the summit because all that we do in life should lead us back to the altar to give praise and thanks to the Lord for the blessing of life and salvation. Also, I would like to draw your attention to the Eucharistic Adoration which is the extension of that moment at Mass: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” The Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is taken place on different days and times during the week so that our parishioners can gaze upon the saving Lord and be strengthened by Him. In prayer, God reconfirms us and empowers us to be faithful witnesses.
In concluding, I would like to draw your attention to the first reading from the Book of Job: “Is not man’s life on earth drudgery?” (Jb 7:1) asked Job. This question reminds us of the story of a just man who was afflicted with all kinds of suffering and always kept his faith. Indeed, Job taught us a lesson and Jesus gave us a concrete example to illustrate this lesson: human life without prayer is truly drudgery! When we are open to God in prayer, we truly experience our God is Emmanuel, God is with us. With God journeying with us, we will confront the storms of life with inner peace! Amen.