On Sunday, June 10, I celebrated Mass at Holy Family Parish in Syracuse and enjoyed the parish picnic following Mass. The occasion gave me the opportunity to recall the Year of the Family and the family’s mission to spread the Gospel. When our families are faith-filled so too is our diocese. The homily I preached on this occasion is included below.
“He is out of his mind . . . He is possessed by Beelzebub.” I think you would agree these comments are not good character references. Jesus’ state of mind and actions are being questioned by his family and by the respected leaders of the day.
What precipitated these comments? Prior to the Gospel selection we heard today, Mark’s Gospel tells us Jesus had been very active — healing Peter’s mother-in-law, a leper, a paralytic, and a man with a withered hand. Moreover, He publically supported His disciples when they did not fast — a traditional Jewish practice. For Jesus’ contemporaries, only God could heal and time-honored religious traditions like fasting should be observed. Therefore, surely, Jesus must be out of his mind or possessed by Satan.
Paul expressed the attitude of a faithful disciple. In the midst of everyday life and the challenge of following Jesus, a disciple does not lose heart or give into discouragement because their “inner being is renewed each day.”
Accepting Jesus is a challenge. We are not always attracted to the requirements of the Gospel. We are not always ready to follow Jesus. We are often tempted to be satisfied with the here and now without much consideration of its connection to the future. We set our gaze, as Paul told the Corinthians, on what is seen and transitory rather than on what is unseen and lasts forever (Cf 2 Cor 4: 18).
There may be times when we can understand Jesus’ family and their frustration with His teachings and actions. Jesus was different from His contemporaries, even His family. He was completely engaged in doing the Father’s work and making sure that others knew God — even when His image of God was different from common religious beliefs and practices.
With the Scribes and Pharisees, it is worse. Jesus’ understanding of the law is completely different from theirs. They are the religious experts and Jesus is a threat to what they believe and practice. He must be possessed.
Jesus in neither out of His mind nor possessed. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became flesh to reveal the enduring love and mercy of God. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed him” (Jn 1: 18).
Jesus uses this contentious occasion to highlight true discipleship. His disciples are those who believe in His power and follow His teachings. Discipleship is not founded on being a relative of Jesus. Jesus’ true family are the people who join Him in following the divine will. “These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me” (Mk 3: 35).
The Gospel is the living word of God. It is not just a memory of an event from the past. A living word is not stagnant and fixed in a particular time or situation. A living word has meaning for us in our time. Therefore, we ask, “How do we respond to Jesus’ words and deeds?” Do we think they are too demanding, too challenging? Do we dismiss them as unrealistic, not relevant to our lives?
We are called to be missionary disciples — to go forth and proclaim the good news. This good news, supported by the witness of our lives, may not always be accepted by others — even family members. In many ways, the Gospel is countercultural and often rejected. When this is our experience, we remember that God shares His divine strength with us as we take up His mission.
As you know, this is the Year of the Family. The family plays an important role in passing on our faith. “When it comes to our Catholic faith, the home is the “first school of Christian life” and parents are the “first heralds of the faith.” The family is where we learn “endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous — even repeated — forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.’” It is the mission of the family to evangelize. . . . Having first been evangelized themselves, members of the family are then able to evangelize others” (Pastoral Letter, The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham).
The parishioners of this parish have a special claim on the intercession of the Holy Family. Ask the Holy Family to strengthen family life, to assist parents in living their faith and sharing it with their children and to take up the mission of reaching out to others with the good news of God’s love and mercy.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.