Daily Bread

1 Sm 18:6-9; 19:1-7; Ps 56; Mk 3:7-12

The unclean spirits would shout, “You are the Son of God!”
Jesus does not want the demons to make him known, but his mission is no secret. The crowds are so eager, thick and needy that they threaten to crush him. A lot of us, I guess, would find such unbridled enthusiasm unseemly. We prefer to maintain a sober distance, rather than pressing to touch him. Lest our fervor brand us as fundamentalists, we keep our openness to all points of view. Okay, we shouldn’t turn Jesus into a winning lottery ticket, but neither should we quench the fire within, burning with God’s mercy.
O God, you have rescued me from death, my feet, too, from stumbling.

1 Sm 17:32-33, 37, 40-51; Ps 144; Mk 3:1-6

Stretch out your hand!
For the Pharisees, Jesus is “fake news.” Even when they witness a miracle, as today in the healing of a man’s withered hand, they see it only as a threat to their privilege. Of course, what really galls them is Jesus’ in-your-face attitude. “Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart,” Jesus defies their smugness as he, according to them, defiles the Sabbath, just to save life. Bottom line: They conspire to kill him. I guess that’s what happens when you cast your lot with the poor and those who live on the margins. I’m pretty timid, by comparison. I wonder if I could stretch out my own hand.
O God, you are our refuge and our fortress, our stronghold, our deliverer, our shield in whom we trust!

1 Sm 16:1-13; Ps 89; Mk 2:23-2

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
When even the Lord of the Sabbath tells you to lighten up, you better listen! The Pharisees, constantly trolling Jesus, shame him for his apostles’ snacking on the Sabbath. They’re just plucking grain to munch on as they walk through the fields! That’s a sin? When Jesus cites the precedent of King David taking the temple offering to feed his starving soldiers, he hints at the Eucharist, as happens frequently in Mark’s Gospel. So maybe access to the Eucharist is not always a matter of sin/no sin. If the Sabbath is for us, how much more the Mass! If soldiers eat the sacred offering, who am I to judge others hungering for the body of Christ?
O God, you are our refuge and our fortress, our stronghold, our deliverer, our shield in whom we trust!

1 Sm 15:16-23; Ps 50; Mk 2:18-22

New wine is poured into fresh wineskins.
As we begin a new year, it’s time to freshen up. Don’t get bogged down in your comfort zone. It’s time to be flexible, not rigid; soft, not severe; celebratory, not stern. Jesus, who self-identifies as the bridegroom, flooded the wedding feast at Cana with new wine. Today, he invites us to the joy of the Gospel that has been the theme of Pope Francis since the beginning of his papacy. We may be in the season of Ordinary Time, but the rule of the day is the extraordinary mission that lies ahead, both for Jesus and for us. There will be setbacks, deep wounds, but just remember: The wine is for pouring, not for storing!
Oh Lord, you are our Father, our God, our Rock, our Savior!

1 Sm 9:1-4, 17-19, 10:1; Ps 21; Mk 2:13-17

I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.
Our world is filled with a fear-driven sense of us vs. them; a sense that different is synonymous with dangerous. This agenda of fear teaches that to show any vulnerability is to invite attack and abuse. In contrast, Jesus and St. Paul teach us that it is our weaknesses that makes us strong. Recognizing our own failings allows us to empathize and connect with other flawed humans and to acknowledge God (not us) as the source of life and sustenance. Being open to diversity and accepting that each of us has failings, allows one person’s weakness to be strengthened by the gifts of another. When we live in the understanding that we need God and each other, we will always be stronger together.
We offer praise as our sacrifice to glorify you, O Lord our God!

1 Sm 8:4-7, 10-22a; Ps 89; Mk 2:1-12

I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.
Knowing that the Pharisees do not believe Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, Jesus demonstrates a more visible sign of his authority by physically healing the paralytic man. I sometimes find it easier to believe and to follow a doctor’s prescription for my physical ailments, than I do to trust in the healing forgiveness offered to me by God. Long after an aspirin has eased our physical pain, the hurts of insults, neglect and abuse linger to plague our physical and mental well-being. To hear or to offer the words: “Child, your sins are forgiven” may be the most healing prescription we have ever been given or will ever give.
Thank you, Jesus, for choosing to eat with “tax collectors and sinners.”

1 Sm 4:1-11; Ps 44; Mk 1:40-45

Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated today?
There is an arrogance to the Israelites’ confidence that God’s will must surely reflect their own, as they carry the ark of the Lord onto the battlefield against the Philistines. When they are humbled by a devastating defeat, they lament in confusion. God’s name has been used by humanity to initiate or justify war and a multitude of abuses throughout history. We are still trying to put words in God’s mouth when terms like “Christian values” are used to promote agendas of exclusion and prejudice of all kinds. When Jesus touches and heals the leper, we are reminded that no one should be deemed untouchable, nor are we capable of judging who is worthy of receiving God’s love and mercy.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Grant us the courage to forgive others in turn. 

1 Sm 3:1-10, 19-20; Ps 40; Mk 1:29-39

Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
When by word of mouth, one physical healing led to an endless waiting room of illnesses, Jesus stepped away to pray. He knew that if he were to stay true to his greater purpose of proclaiming God’s salvation, he needed to move on. Doing the work of the kingdom can often snowball as one project quickly becomes many. Even though they may all be worthy causes, their commitments can become overwhelming. At some point, we need to follow Jesus’ example and take time to be quiet and pray for the discernment of where our particular talents might be most effective. Inevitably, there will be difficult decisions in order to let go of some good works and perhaps to mourn a loss of control.
Touch and soften our hard hearts, Jesus. Make us clean.

1 Sm 1:9-20; 1 Sm 2; Mk 1:21-28

Do not think your handmaid a ne’er-do-well…think kindly of your maidservant.
Traveling has given me many opportunities to share in the Sunday liturgies of different parishes across the country. Although I’ve had some wonderful experiences, I’m ashamed to say that instead of entering fully into these times of prayer, I have sometimes stepped back and watched with a critical eye how a community celebrates. I nitpick about details, perhaps in part to validate my own community’s manner of celebrating. Like Eli observing Hannah’s heartfelt prayer, I cannot know the hearts of those who pray. Our faith communities are a microcosm of the wider world. Perhaps if I practiced seeing my fellow Catholics through more merciful eyes, I might be able to see the varieties of faith beyond the church doors with a greater open-mindedness.
Speak Lord, and your servant will try to listen with an open heart.

Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 29; Mk 1:7-11

Here is my servant…with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit.
Through our baptism, we were chosen, consecrated and anointed priest, prophet and king; titles of both honor and responsibility. As priest, we are the physical body through which the world encounters the risen Christ. As prophet, we strive to make our entire lives a clear message of God’s love. As king, we are to become servants to our fellow humans. We are called to live out this three-fold mission with such gentle compassion that we neither break bruised reeds or quench smoldering wicks. Even when we fall short of this difficult mandate, we are assured that we always remain beloved by God who is pleased by our very existence.
Forgive me God, when I presume to know your will better than others.