Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.)

“Bad Day” by Daniel Powter was a song released in 2005. The tune was very popular and can still be heard on the radio. It was even used in a Coca-Cola advertisement.

The lyrics resonated with listeners, who could relate to having a “bad day.” The song recognizes those hard times, and offers hope that life will get better.

After hearing the first reading for today’s liturgy from the Book of Job, one might think that Job is having a bad day. But if we know the story or read more from the Book of Job, we realize that Job is not just having a bad day, but a pretty serious situation of hardship.

The book wrestles with the problem of bad things happening to good people. Job and his friends examine the questions of evil and suffering in all their complexities. The passage for today’s Mass captures the thoughts and feelings of one in the midst of great suffering. It is as if the person is enveloped by darkness with no glimpse of light. Hope is longed for but not found.

Life has its challenges. Sometimes the challenges might be small and short-lived. Other hardships are more pervasive, with pain and sorrow prolonged and heightened. These might be two ends of one spectrum, between which many other situations may fall.

Recognizing that these situations are real and for some very painful, we turn to the Gospel. We are still in chapter one of the Gospel of St. Mark. Jesus has opened his public ministry with a call to “repent and believe in the Gospel, the kingdom of God is at hand.” He then calls disciples to himself. As he teaches and preaches, people are amazed and astonished at his word for he teaches with authority “and not like the scribes.”

Now we see his ministry of healing. In last week’s passage, Jesus expelled the unclean spirit. He then heals Peter’s mother-in-law, who was bedridden with fever. St. Mark tells us that all who were suffering from illness or evil spirits would come to Jesus: “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.”

Jesus heals those who are suffering. He brings light into the darkness that they experience.

We gain further insight into Jesus’ mission and ministry as he takes time to pray. He goes to a deserted place to be alone. There he prays to the Father. He who has this great authority to preach and teach, the one by whom the crowds are amazed, takes time away to pray. This is important for his ministry and mission.

When Simon finds him and says “everyone is looking for you,” Jesus responds by saying: “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.” Jesus goes forth to continue his mission. His words and his very presence bring light into the darkness that the people are experiencing. He heals by his touch and by his word.

The healing mission of Jesus finds its core in his passion, death and resurrection. Here Jesus takes on suffering to its full; likewise his confrontation with evil and sinfulness is consummated with his death. His resurrection breaks the power of suffering and death; mercy triumphs over sin; love triumphs over death. As his public ministry begins, Jesus reaches out to those who suffer. His healing witnesses to a compassion for those who are in pain. It is this compassion that carries the light and helps lift the burden of those who suffer.

Jesus hands on the mission to his apostles and disciples after he ascends to the Father. In other words, the mission continues in the life of the church. Jesus’ mission to reach out in compassion for those who suffer continues. It continues in every disciple, in every home, in every parish and in every church.

St. Paul was keenly aware of this. He speaks of the mission entrusted to him to preach the Gospel. The intensity of his personal responsibility is clear: “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the Gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”

St. Paul, moved by God’s love and mercy for him, is willing to share in others’ suffering so they too might experience God’s love and mercy, and have their burden of suffering lifted.

Jesus comes into the world to bring light into the darkness of our suffering — whether it simply a “bad day” or something more prolonged and serious. At the same time, he invites us to be the instruments of his love. As we recognize human suffering in all its various forms and dimensions, we have the opportunity to bring his light into those lives through compassion.

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.