This Sunday is the fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The theme of today’s readings is Divine authority. Such authority was exercised in this world by the prophets of the Old Testament in their messages, by the apostles in their writings and teachings, and by Jesus in His teaching and healing ministry. This week we also celebrate National Catholic Schools Week. This year’s theme is, “Catholic Schools: Learn, Serve, Lead and Succeed.”
The first reading tells us that a true prophet speaks with authority because God speaks through him. After the Babylonian exile, the Jewish priests began to interpret the words of Moses, in the first reading, namely, “a prophet like me,” as referring to one individual, the expected Messiah. This passage is chosen for today’s first reading because it refers to Jesus, the “preacher with authority,” mentioned in today’s Gospel.
In the second reading, St. Paul exercises his God-given authority as the Apostle to the Gentiles to teach the people in Corinth that marriage is a holy state ordained by God. It is also a life–long partnership according to the teaching of the Lord. Further, Paul recommended a life of virginity to the unmarried, but only if they felt they could live such a life. The advantage of celibacy, as Paul explained, was that celibates would have the freedom to serve God fully with the fewest earthly distractions. In the Gospel, Mark describes one Sabbath during Jesus’ public life. Jesus joined in the public worship in the synagogue as a practicing Jew, but He also healed the sick, drove out evil spirits and prayed privately. People immediately noticed His authority to heal and forgive sins. Jesus explained the Scriptures with complete confidence, and when questioned by people, He answered with authority. Jesus used His Divine authority to teach, empower, liberate, and heal people.
Neither the prophets, Saint Paul, nor Jesus used their authority to rule or control people but to serve, guide and enable them. Jesus came to free people from sin. Jesus also freed us from all the “evil spirits” of fear, jealousy, envy, addictions, compulsions, selfishness, anger, resentment and hostility. Jesus wants us to come to Him and to invite Him into our lives. We all exercise authority; the question we need to ask is: How do we exercise our God-given authority?
This week is the celebration of National Catholic Schools in the United States. The celebration reminds us that “Historically, Catholic schools are known for their high level of academic achievement, moral values, and high graduation rates,” says Karen Ristau, of the National Catholic Educational Association. “What may not be as widely recognized are the outstanding successes recorded by students of low income families and students from the inner city. That’s certainly a plus for many portions of the American population,” she further noted.
The executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also noted that “. . . nearly 30 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million Catholic school students come from minority populations. Enrollment of students who are not Catholic has increased to 14.5 percent, an indication that many diverse families seek the benefits of a quality education with moral underpinnings.” The 7,094 Catholic elementary and secondary schools make up over 44 percent of all private schools in the United States.
We are blessed to have a school in our parish and to be able to see our children actively participating in the Liturgy and other areas of parish life. In order for our children to learn values, we, as a parish community, must have an essential role in promoting Catholic education and in supporting Santa Sophia Academy. Therefore, I invite you to take a visit to the Academy anytime during this week; if you cannot visit, please make a point of thanking the school staff.