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Mark 3:1-6

Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched him closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

Introductory Prayer: Lord, I believe in you. Thank you for the gift of faith, more precious than life itself. I hope in you. May the dark waters of doubt never break through my dike of hope. I love you. I want to let you purify me, so that my love for you may be more ardent and more courageous.

Petition: Lord, help me to bear witness to you even in adverse circumstances.

1. “They Watched Him Closely”: At the beginning of his public ministry, Christ already incurs the bitter opposition of the Pharisees. Having reduced them to silence in a wheat field, Christ bravely enters the synagogue to confront them once again. There the Pharisees are in the first places of honor, and they watch his every move, hoping he will cure against the laws of the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. The Pharisees were right about one thing. They did well to observe Christ closely. If only they had done so with the right spirit: to learn from him and to glorify God for the wonders he did through him. How closely do we watch Christ in our own lives? How readily do we perceive his actions through the circumstances of the day? How often do we glorify God for the great things Christ does and longs to do in us?

2. To Do Good or Evil? Christ obliges the Pharisees. With fearless courage he calls the man with the withered hand forward, so that no one can mistake what he is about to do. Then he puts his antagonists in a dilemma with two clear questions. First: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil?” “They are bound to admit that it is lawful to do good; and it is a good thing he proposed to do. They are bound to deny that it is lawful to do evil; and, yet, surely it is an evil thing to leave a man in wretchedness when it is possible to help him.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, pp. 68-69) Then Christ asks the second question: “Is it lawful to save life rather than to destroy it?” “Here he is driving the thing home. He is taking steps to save this wretched man’s life; they are thinking out methods of killing Christ. On any reckoning it is surely a better thing to be thinking about helping a man than it is to be thinking of killing a man. No wonder they had nothing to say!” (Ibid.)

3. Angered by Their Hardness of Heart: Seldom does the Gospel show Christ angry. Here his anger is provoked by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and their hardness of heart. They close themselves off from his message of salvation. What happens when someone definitively closes his heart to Christ? The Pharisees, the defenders of the law and Jewish customs, were bitter enemies of the Herodians, who collaborated with King Herod and the Romans. Yet this Gospel relates the chilling fact that these two joined forces to plot to kill Jesus. They are united not by the intrinsic force of goodness, but by the malignant power of evil. Do I at times make small concessions to hypocrisy, envy or even hatred? These could slowly harden my heart toward Christ. Am I willing to be courageous like Christ and endure even bitter opposition for the sake of the Gospel?

Conversation with Christ: Thank you, Lord, for your goodness and courage. How small I feel when I compare myself with you in the Gospel. What an infinite distance separates us! Thank you for calling me — with all of my weakness, sins, and limitations — to be your apostle. Help me never to surrender to evil in my heart, but to grow in goodness of heart in order to be more like you.

Resolution: I will do a good deed for someone today, even if it is difficult, in order to bear witness to Christ.

A group of the faithful in Westchester County, New York, put aside their own needs — and think of those who have far less.

I pulled into the Ferragu residence in Scarsdale, New York, at 5 p.m. on a frigid and snowy December afternoon just a few weeks ago. Over 20 high school boys and girls, along with several of their parents, were in rapid motion for the good of others.

They’d put down slices of bread on the kitchen counter and were carefully applying  peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese. Large pans of chicken soup and hot chocolate were brewing on the stove, soon be deposited into thermos containers.

Nearby, plastic bags that had been packed with Handi Wipes, toothpaste, and other personal-care items were going into a large box — while piles of winter coats and gloves were already neatly stacked on the living room floor. The younger children were placing pieces of chocolate and plastic rosary rings in small boxes to give as gifts — and everyone was doing all of this work with a great attitude.

Aude and Pierre Ferragu soon assembled the entire group in the living room and said, “Let’s remember that during our ‘Jesus Run,’ we’re trying to communicate the love of Jesus to every person we meet along the way. Let’s say a little prayer to Jesus and the Blessed Mother, so that we can be effective instruments of His love tonight.”

Because of the heavy snow that evening, it took our group about two hours — twice the normal time — on slippery and icy roads to make it down to Penn Station in Manhattan.

Just outside Penn Station, members of the homeless community were waiting for our group with grateful hearts and deep smiles on their cold and tired faces, and I could see they’d developed a connection with many of these kids and their parents. They stood chatting for some time — people on both sides seemed to be catching up with each other.

As I handed one woman a cup of hot soup, she told me, “Father, I appreciate the soup on this cold night, but what I most appreciate is that you all do it with love.”

Pierre Ferragu is one of the business leaders in our Lumen Institute group in New York City; he helps his wife, Aude, coordinate this run every month. After that evening, I asked him to share his insights on this effort, and he did so generously.

“What we want to achieve with the Jesus Run is not so much finding a solution to poverty, but offering people around us (and ourselves!) the opportunity to experience charity on a regular basis,” he said. “It works admirably well. We typically see a family show up to help the first time because their teen needs to fill some community service hours. Then they become regular participants because they enjoy the time they spend with the homeless. We believe we can help transform people by offering them regular opportunities to experience practical charity — and we definitely feel transformed by this monthly routine.”

He added, “Involving the children is an amazing experience. The other day our nine-year-old was asked what was good about being a Catholic. Her first response was, ‘As a Catholic, you can give food to the poor.’ Every time we take our seven-year-old to the city, he gives out one-dollar bills to the poor. Even very young children are incredibly at ease during this Jesus Run. They have no difficulty going toward the homeless and engaging with them, and the joy they bring is indisputable. We encourage families to bring young children — the same thing happens with our teenagers. They love it. Our oldest, for her Sweet 16 party, wants to organize a dinner in the city with her friends, followed by a run to share meals with the homeless.”

Ferragu summed up the experience this way: “We create bonds with the homeless. We give out about 40 meals in an evening, and we’ll typically meet about 10-15 ‘regulars.’ They show up most of the time. We know their names, they sometimes know ours — and we know a bit of their story.”

Patrick Coughlin, a 29-year-old lawyer in our fellowship program, had also joined us that evening, and he noted later, “I was most struck by the kids who regularly make the trek into New York City to serve the poor. They were all joyfully and enthusiastically engaging with those who came by for hot soup or clothes. It was inspiring to see young people making a habit of celebrating the humanity in others.”

One of the high school girls shared an encounter that she and her friends had with a 40-year-old homeless woman in the subway tunnel. This woman said these touching words: “I have been homeless for over 10 years now and it has been really tough. I have not had much faith along the way, but the joyful and compassionate presence of you and your friends makes me think God just may exist. Thank you for spending this time with me.”

The joy of giving and the joy of receiving — this is God’s love in action for all of us.

Must everything be wrapped up with a bow on top? One intangible but priceless possession is worth some reflection.



I am amazed to see the heroic sacrifices so many moms make for the good of their kids. It’s the same with the hard work and sleepless nights so many businessmen and women endure to provide for their families.

But how willing are they to sacrifice for their spouse? And do they realize that if they do, they’re giving a tremendous and lifelong gift to their children?

I recently asked a mother of four, “What percentage of your day do you spend thinking about your kids?”

She responded, “Ninety-nine percent — actually, probably 99.9 percent.”

So I asked next, “What about your husband?”

She said, “My husband is a big boy now. He can take care of himself.”

During dinner with a family in Washington, D.C., I asked the husband about his role within the family and how he perceived it. He replied, “That’s pretty clear. I’m here to provide for them. I work hard to pay the bills and keep this ship running. My wife focuses on the kids.”

Another gentleman once told me, “Father, if I died today, I would be good with God. I provided my wife and kids with this beautiful house, a safe neighborhood, and a top-class education. They have nothing to worry about.”

Many years ago, a successful business leader shared a very telling concern. His name had been in the papers for his business successes, he said, and “accolades were pouring in from all sides. But I am deeply hurt,” he told me, “because the one person who matters most to me is not recognizing my success. My wife even belittles me and tries to minimize it as much as possible. Her esteem is what I would most appreciate — this is so painful.

Revealing, isn’t it?

Another business leader I know once told me that if a colleague at work stops by to make a joke or to comment on a current event or a bit of sports news, he will always make time in his busy schedule for that kind of chitchat. But if his wife calls him during work, he immediately gets impatient and tells her, “Honey, I am overwhelmed at work right now. Sorry, I can’t discuss this now. It’ll have to wait.”

I could continue with more anecdotes, but the point is clear. The greatest gift parents can give their children is the love and respect they have for each other. Moms need to be wives and dads need to be husbands, first and foremost.

Looking back on my own childhood, I recall how I sensed when my parents were in a good spot with each other — and I loved how they would spend some time together with each other, sometimes with a glass of wine as they chatted. At other times, they’d pray together, play tennis, and go dancing. They also went on several European trips and cruises together.

I noticed so many little sacrifices and acts of kindness that they extended toward each other — it was easy to see they were each thinking of the other, all the time.

This gave me great peace and still does — and it showed what true love and commitment are all about. I encourage all parents to focus more on the needs of their spouses — and to give this tremendous and lifelong gift to the children.
Dear Friends,
Thy Kingdom Come!
Greetings from Montreal. I hope you are enjoying this beautiful weekend.
God bless you!
Fr. Stephen
If one were to ask an ordinary American Catholic today who his favorite authors were, I doubt very much that any of them would be among the so-called “Fathers of the Church”. These influential Christian scholars, living in general before 700 A.D., set the theological foundations of Christianity. Today, however, they seem distant at the best. This probably is not too surprising. Even among those committed Catholics who do read, most of them will dedicate their reading time to contemporary Christian writers who at least seem capable of responding to today’s challenges with today’s language. St. Athanasius’s “Apologia Contra Arianos” (Apology against the Arians) might be a Catholic classic, but for our contemporary reader, the problem of the Arians seems as antiquated as a grandfather’s style of dress, and why one would have to “apologize against” them seems an even greater, and non-relevant, mystery.

There is one exception. St. Augustine of Hippo. The Share Faith Magazine (a Protestant publication)[1] rated Augustine’s Confessions as the third most important Christian book of all time (before Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” and Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”), while Church Times, (self-proclaimed as “the world’s leading Anglican Newspaper”)[2] placed it number one in their list of “100 Best Christian Books”. Catholic surveys nearly always put it among the top five spiritual classics read even today.[3] Such examples as these could go on and on; there is little doubt that St. Augustine has remained one of the very few ancient Christian authors, if not the only, still read widely in the world today. Why is this?

I think the reason lies in St. Augustine’s passionate and constant concern for spiritual realities that today we need, and nevertheless neglect, more than ever. In 1986, Saint Pope John Paul II wrote to the entire Church an apostolic letter about St. Augustine (Augustinem Hipponsensem). At the end of this letter, the Pope addresses himself to St. Augustine, and asks the great Bishop what he has to say to modern man. St. John Paul describes in this way Augustine’s answer: “It seems to me that one must bring men back…to the hope of finding the truth. One must seek the truth with piety, chastity and diligence, in order to return into oneself, to the interior realm where truth dwells; and likewise to overcome the materialism and rationalism which prevent the mind from understanding the “mystery” of the human person.”[4] At the end of the letter, the Pope reminds the young people of the world that Augustine constantly recalls them to the great things in life without which they would not wish to live: love, freedom, and beauty.[5] More compelling still is that he recalls them not only with his teaching, which is indeed brilliant, but even more so by his example and sincerity. In his Confessions Augustine opens up his personal history and struggles with a style centuries before its time, and arguably more personal, poignant, and authentic than even that of our modern Robert Lowells and Sylvia Plaths.

When I first turned to St. Augustine (and his Confessions in particular) in my early 20’s, I suppose it was because I saw in Augustine’s life aspects of my own. I suppose this is also true for that great mass of struggling Catholics who, though they would like to be good and faithful, are a bit overwhelmed by their weaknesses, failures, and downright confusion. Constantly pummeled by an ever-more secular and aggressive society, contemporary Catholics struggle with those same themes with which Augustine struggled: sexual practice outside of marriage or the norms of the time, flirtation with peripheral religious and spiritual tendencies, exacerbated rationalism, love of fame, fortune, and well-being, etc., etc. If all these we recognize only too easily today, they were also the bread and butter of Augustine’s everyday life. The pre-conversion Augustine really was not so different from a Brad Pitt “Fight Club style” wild young man, confident and cocky on his self-destructive path, or from a Camus-like rebellious freethinker set on carving out his own way through the meaningless forests of the world. Add to this fascinating history a man fearlessly sincere and capable of brilliant writing, and it is little wonder that his writings still appeal to readers today.

Nevertheless, it is finally one thing above all these that probably makes Augustine not only a perennial, but also a contemporary favorite: his deep-seated love of truth.   For a world plagued by relativism, where everyone would have his own truth and feel morally obliged only by it, Augustine represents the man that the partial, the individual, or the relative will never satisfy.   The great fault of relativism is that it locks us into our individual cages; the hope of an ultimate truth and love that binds us all is lost, and with the loss of that hope, we lose our hope of happiness. Augustine, however, would never submit to that. In his passion for man and for the truth, Augustine strove to seek the source of that truth in a God he imagined as the great and inaccessible One. He found instead, in a blaze of faith-filled light, the Incarnate Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI once wrote: Christ made him (Augustine) understand that God, apparently so distant, in reality was not that at all. He in fact made himself near to us, becoming one of us… (and taught us that) a man who is distant from God is also distant from himself, alienated from himself, and can only find himself by encountering God.[6] Through his own experience, Augustine becomes the great teacher of the possibility of finding the Truth, and with the Truth, love, and with love, peace. Even for the most contemporary of men, even for those most sold out to the cynicism of relativism, these never lose their force of attraction: they are simply too tempting.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the first famous American poets, wrote a little-read poem entitled “The Ladder of Saint Augustine”. The poem speaks of how Augustine teaches us to use our weaknesses as rungs of a ladder that will eventually lead us to God if we are not afraid to climb them. Perhaps this is why Augustine remains so pertinent and popular even today: a strange and wonderful mix of realism and faith permit us not to lose “the hope of finding the truth”.

‘We have not wings, we cannot soar; But we have feet to scale and climb By slow degrees, by more and more, The cloudy summits of our time.

Standing on what too long we bore With shoulders bent and downcast eyes, We may discern — unseen before — A path to higher destinies,

Nor doom the irrevocable Past As wholly wasted, wholly vain, If, rising on its wrecks, at last To something nobler we attain.`[7]

Fr. Bruce Wren, August 2017
[1] Share Faith Magazine, May 6, 2015.
[2] Church Times, https://ct100books.hymnsam.co.uk/
[3] A simple Google search under “Top Ten Catholic Spiritual Books” will make this immediately evident.
[4] Augustinum Hipponsensem 4, August 28, 1986
[5] Ibid, 5.
[6] Cfr. Papal Audiences of Benedict 16th, January 2008, 3 and 5.