7th Sunday of the Year
Isaiah 43:18–19, 21–22, 24–25; 2 Corinthians 1:18–22;
Mark 2:1–12

The Monkey’s Wire
The sacrament of Reconciliation frees us from the bonds of sin.

The book God’s Smuggler tells the story of a Dutch missionary named Brother Andrew. This missionary took upon himself the job of smuggling Bibles into communist countries.

Brother Andrew says smuggling Bibles is often more difficult than smuggling gold or diamonds. The reason is simple: Bibles are bigger.

Oddly enough, Brother Andrew’s favorite vehicle for doing his smuggling was the Volkswagen. Pocket-sized Bibles,
he points out, fit snugly into the VW’s panels.

Brother Andrew says you’d be surprised how many Bibles fit into the panels of a VW. His personal record is 800.

Before his smuggling days, Brother Andrew did a hitch in the Dutch army in Indonesia.

One day he bought a young monkey for a pet. Soon he noticed that the monkey was very sensitive around the waist.

Upon closer inspection, he discovered a raised welt around the monkey’s midsection. He laid the animal down, pulled back the matted hair around the welt, and saw what was causing the problem.
When the monkey was a baby, someone had tied a wire around its middle and had never taken it off. As the monkey grew larger, the wire embedded itself in the monkey’s flesh.

That evening Andrew began the task of carefully removing the wire. Using a safety razor, he shaved the hair from around the wire. Then he painstakingly cut the wire from the animal’s flesh.

All the while, the monkey lay there with amazing patience, blinking its eyes. As soon as the operation was over,
the monkey jumped up and down, leaped on Andrew’s shoulder, and hugged him.

The removal of the wire set the monkey free. Now the source of all its trouble was removed. The monkey was so happy it could hardly contain itself.

The paralyzed young man in today’s gospel must have felt the same way when Jesus spoke over him those healing words:
“Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 5:20
He, too, was set free from something that had held him bound and in pain.

The removal of his sins and his paralysis freed him, just as the removal of the wire freed the monkey. The paralytic, too,
was so happy that he could hardly contain himself. At once he began to praise God. (See Luke 5:25.)

All of us can relate to the feeling of being freed from something that has held us bound and in pain.

One place we have all experienced this freedom is in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

But our freedom came at a price.

A prerequisite for it was that we admit and confess our sins humbly. This is by far the most difficult part of the sacrament for most of us.

It is also the part of the sacrament that contributes most to our sense of freedom and to the experience of God that frequently accompanies it.

An example will illustrate what I mean.
Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most successful programs
in leading people back to sobriety. No program has yet matched its effectiveness in changing lives.

Consider the first five steps of the program. Every AA goes through them.

1. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could heal us.

3. We made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

4. We made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
The key step is the last one. Concerning it the AA manual says that few steps “are harder to take” and “scarcely any step is more necessary.”

The fear and reluctance to take the last step is so intense that many AAs try to bypass it. Somehow, confronting another person is more embarrassing than being alone with God. Being honest with another person confirms that the AAs have been honest with themselves and with God.

The manual also says that many AAs who did not believe in God before they entered the program often discover God in this final step.

“And even those who had faith already often become conscious of God [in this step] as they never were before.”

The point is that in confessing to God, to themselves,
and to another human being, they find freedom.
They find something more; they find God.

And many Catholics experience the same thing in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Today’s gospel invites us to allow Jesus to do for us what he did for the young paralytic.

It invites us to present ourselves to Jesus in the sacrament of healing and to hear Jesus say over us what he said over the paralytic: “Your sins are forgiven.”

It invites us to experience the same freedom that the paralytic experienced after being bound so long to his affliction and to his sins.

Let’s close with a prayer that many modern Christians use
as their act of contrition or act of sorrow when they receive the sacrament of Reconciliation:

“Father of mercy, like the prodigal son, I return to you and say: ‘I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom you promised Paradise: ‘Lord, remember me in your kingdom.’

“Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on you with trust:
‘Purify my heart, and help me to walk as a child of light.’ ”

Series II
7th Sunday of the Year
Isaiah 43:18–19, 21–22, 24–25; 2 Corinthians 1:18–22;
Mark 2:1–12

Retreat Confession
As God has forgiven us, so we should forgive others.

John Egan was making a high school retreat. On the last day, he decided to do something that he’d been putting off for a long time. He decided to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.

John confessed his sins, holding back nothing. He confessed everything he could remember as honestly and frankly as he could.

To John’s surprise, the priest didn’t talk to him about his sins.
He talked to him only about God’s great love for him.

Describing what happened next, John writes in his spiritual journal, A Traveller Toward the Dawn:

“I left the chapel enormously relieved and walked out into the beauty of the afternoon. . . .
I became acutely aware of the glory of that April day. . . .

“Joy began to well up and run in my heart . . .
growing and surging . . .
different from anything that I’d ever experienced before . . .
purer and richer.

“As I walked alone, stunned by the newness of it all . . .
that pure rich joy grew and expanded. . . .
I don’t think I’d ever been happier in my life. . . .

“I wandered along . . .
not knowing or caring where my feet went. . . .

“At length I found myself way out on the golf course.
I remember lying down out of sheer joy on a bunker
with my eyes to the blue sky and my arms wide open to the Lord. . . .

“How long I lay there I don’t remember. All I do remember is that I felt enormously close to God.”

John’s experience of the sacrament of Reconciliation
on his high school retreat makes a beautiful introduction to today’s Scripture readings.

For the theme of these readings is God’s forgiveness of our sins.

That theme is tenderly set forth in the first reading,
where God says to Israel through Isaiah:

“You burdened me with your sins; you wore me out with the
wrongs you have committed. And yet, I am the God who forgives your sins, . . . I will not hold your sins against you.” Isaiah 43:24–25

The theme of forgiveness is dramatically continued in the gospel reading, where Jesus says to the paralytic:

“Your sins are forgiven. . . . Get up . . . and walk.”

The word forgiveness—or some derivative of it,
like forgiving or forgave—appears nearly 150 times in the Scriptures.

This frequent use underscores the fact that forgiveness is one of the major themes of the Scriptures.

And, as you might expect, next to the theme of God’s love,
the theme of God’s forgiveness is the single most prominent theme of the Christian Scriptures, or New Testament.

The theme of forgiveness permeates the teaching of Jesus.

We find it enshrined in the Lord’s Prayer,
where Jesus teaches us to open ourselves to God’s forgiveness and to forgive others as willingly as God forgives us.

We find it dramatized in the parable of the lost sheep,
the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son.

In each of these parables, Jesus drives home the same point: his heavenly Father is a forgiving God.

We find the theme of forgiveness underscored in an instruction to Peter, where Jesus teaches us to forgive others
not just seven times, but seventy times seven times.

And what Jesus teaches to others, he practices himself. Forgiveness permeates his personal life.

He forgives the paralyzed man.
He forgives the adulterous woman.
He forgives the good thief.
He forgives his executioners.

This brings us to the practical message contained in today’s Scripture readings. It may be summed up in this twofold way.

First, God is more willing to forgive us than we are to ask for God’s forgiveness.

Second, as God forgives us, so we should forgive one another.

Put more concretely, the message of today’s readings is an invitation for us to do two things.

First, it is an invitation to do what John Egan did in our opening story. It is an invitation to open ourselves to God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Second, it is an invitation to do what Jesus did in his own personal life. It is an invitation to forgive others their sins against us.

This is the practical message contained in today’s Scripture readings.

This is the invitation that God makes to us today through his Word.

This is what we celebrate together in today’s liturgy.

Let’s close with a prayer. It sums up both the message and the invitation contained in today’s Scripture readings.

God our Father, do for us what you did for your people
in the Hebrew Scriptures, when you said to them,
“You burdened me with your sins; you wore me out with the
wrongs you have committed. And yet, I am the God who forgives your sins, . . . I will not hold your sins against you.” Isaiah 43:24–25

Jesus our Brother, say to us in the sacrament of Reconciliation what you said to the paralytic in today’s gospel: “Your sins are forgiven. . . . Get up . . . and walk.”

Holy Spirit our Helper, give us the strength to extend forgiveness to others as God the Father and Jesus have extended it to us.

Series III
7th Sunday of the Year
Isaiah 43:18–19, 21–22, 24b–25; 2 Corinthians 1:18–22;
Mark 2:1–12

Breaking open the Word
Put yourself in the shoes of the characters in the gospel event.

They were all completely amazed and praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:12

In the film To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says the only way to understand people is to crawl inside their skins and walk around in them.

The same is true of the Gospel. We will never understand it by reading it, as we do the evening newspaper.

We must meditate on it.
We must crawl into the skins of its characters and try to see what they saw and hear what they heard.

Take the story of the paralytic in today’s Gospel. Here’s how one high school student meditated on it. He writes:

When friends came for me, I cursed them and told them to let me be. But they paid no attention to my protests and carried me through the twisting streets of Capernaum.

When we reached the house where Jesus was, it was so crowded, my friends decided to lift me to the roof and to lower me from there.

As they dropped me down, I felt everyone’s eyes fix on me. There was one pair of eyes, however, that I felt more than all the others. Suddenly, I began to feel badly about what I’d done in my life. I had the feeling that this man knew everything about me. I started to think: “Maybe my friends were right to bring me here!”

Then he spoke. His voice matched his eyes. It was a voice that could shake the foundations of a building, yet calm a frightened child.

He told me, “Your sins are forgiven.” How could I not believe that voice—and those eyes? . . .I felt joy surge through my body. Even my legs tingled. Yes! They tingled.

Then he said to me, “Get up and walk!” And I did! I did! And people crowded around me. I had a great feeling of being born again. I ran off to shout the news to my family. But I forgot to thank him. Oh God! How could I forget to thank him? By the time I realized I hadn’t thanked him, he had gone.

I resolved to tell everyone about this incredible man. . . .
I told the merchants; I told the shepherds. . . .
I told everyone who would listen. I even told people who wouldn’t listen. I hoped that, in this way, I thanked him.

That beautiful meditation helps us to understand why Mark was inspired to record it and what Jesus wants to say to us through it.

To understand the deeper meaning behind this important gospel story, we need to recall that when Adam sinned,
three evils entered the world: sin, sickness, and death.

This is another way of saying that through Adam’s sin,
the kingdom of Satan entered the world and the entire human family fell victim to sin, sickness, and death.

For centuries, people prayed that God would send someone who would overthrow the kingdom of Satan and reestablish the Kingdom of God.

And so when Jesus began healing the sick, forgiving sinners, and raising the dead, people began to see him as the answer to their prayers.

By forgiving sinners, he showed his power over sin. By healing the sick, he showed his power over sickness.
By raising the dead, he showed his power over death.

And this brings us to what Jesus wants to say to each of us, personally, through this story.

Years ago, the British TV celebrity Malcolm Muggeridge— inspired by the life of Mother Teresa—did something he said he would never do. He entered the Catholic Church. Sometime after his conversion, he wrote:

Everything I have learned . . .everything that has truly enhanced
and enlightened my experience has been through affliction,
and not through happiness.

In other words, he is saying that the crosses of his life—sin, sickness, and death—turned out to be the real blessings of his life.

We see this same truth dramatized in the story of the paralytic.

Had the young man not been paralyzed, he may never have met Jesus. He may well have gone through life living selfishly for himself and ending up losing his immortal soul—the most precious thing he possessed.

Had it not been for the aggressiveness of the young man’s friends, he may never have met Jesus. He may never have had his sins forgiven.

Worse yet, he may have grown old, closed in on himself, become embittered, and ended up losing his immortal soul.

This brings us back to the high school student’s meditation.
He has the paralytic going off, rejoicing in his blessing—but forgetting to thank Jesus.

Then the student ends it beautifully, by having the paralytic say:

I resolved to tell everyone about this incredible man. . . .
I told the merchants; I told the shepherds. . . .

I told everyone who would listen.
I even told people who wouldn’t listen.
I hoped that, in this way, I thanked him.

On that note, and in that spirit, let us conclude with a brief meditation of our own.

Lord, help us never to forget that what sometimes seems to be a cross is really a blessing in disguise.

Help us never to forget to thank you for the gift of friends,
especially those friends whom you have often used to act as channels of grace for us.

Help us never to forget that these blessings are signs that the Kingdom of God has been reestablished among us.

Above all, help us never to forget to do for others what the friends of the paralytic did for him: to bring the good news of your Kingdom to all around us.

And, in this way, help us to show our gratitude for your blessings to us and to our world.


Bible Diary 2019

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