Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Blessing the Pigs

Today's Mass readings (Monday of the 4th Wk of Ord Time; 2 Sm 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13; Ps 3; Mk 5:1-20) include one of my very favorite passages of the Bible. I first heard the Gospel reading preached very well some four years ago at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, at a daily Mass. First, I'll recap the priest's brief but brilliant homily, and then I'll write a bit about why I feel the reading has been so powerful in my life.

The priest first pointed out that Gerasa, the town afflicted by the possessed man, was either a town of Jews or of Gentiles, but it was in the Gentile regions just outside the Holy Land. The town's location isolated it. Whether Jews or Gentiles, their economy had notably incorporated swineherding - an activity forbad among the Jews. Even to touch a pig rendered a man unclean and outcast. The town's economic activities isolated it. Moreover, the road into the town from the water was blocked by the man possessed by the legion of demons. His terrifying activity had rendered the town further isolated. Supernatural forces isolated it.

Jesus comes into town and, as an act of mercy, exorcises the man, whose many demons who ask to be sent into the pigs rather than Hell. Jesus grants their request, and the maddened pigs stampede into the sea, drowning themselves. Their terrified swineherd tells the whole town what had happened. The locals then meet Jesus, and ask Him to leave. They were happy to have the road into their town opened again, but not at the cost of parting with their sinful occupations, not at the cost of overturning their way of life. They wanted to get the blessing without their lives being changed.

The priest then preached that God will not bless us with whatever blessing unless we are willing to change our lives to accomodate it. A prayer like, "Lord, help me with my finances," must be accompanied by a willingness to give up frivolous and selfish spending, and probably even a willingness to tithe, to render to God what is God's. If we want to receive God's blessing, it is only fair that we should be willing to part ways with whatever separates us from him, with whatever sin. God will bless us, and the blessing entails removing our swine from us. God will not bless the pigs.

In my own life the passage has been particularly meaningful because of my desire to be a priest. The man possessed by the legion of Jesus desired to join the ranks of Jesus' apostles and traveling disciples, and in a rare refusal, Jesus told the man the he should rather stay among his own people and tell them what the Lord had done for him. These people who wanted to forget God, and who would be tempted just to get new swine and pretend the whole thing had never happened, needed a living reminder. While I was in the seminary, Jesus began, or continued, to work a good deal of healing and conversion in my life - chasing out demons and swine. When leaving the seminary, confident only that I was doing what Jesus wanted me to do, this passage came to be important for me personally. It is the hope of every Christian that we will, by God's grace, be able to discern and exercise our share in the apostolate, in works of mercy, in reconciliation of divisions, in proclaiming the Gospel. It requires a great deal of humility to set aside the manner in which we would like to do it, and to trust Jesus that he has in store a role more valuable, more meaningful, more important for us. We must obey Him as a father, in an act of loving self-sacrifice, loving death-to-self, and hoping that He who makes the seed fall, will grant it an increase.

Holy Man of Gerasa, pray for us.

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