Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Pastoral Visit to Our Lady of Fatima Parish
[Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147; 1Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39]
As you may know, for World Youth Days last year I made a brief visit to Portugal, beloved homeland to many of you and your ancestors. I loved every minute of the visit. My only regret is that I could not have stayed longer to see more of the country, including the Azores, which I am told are of a unique beauty. Someday, God willing, I shall be able to return.
To lead us into the Word of God for this mass, I recall here two memories from my time in the city of Porto. The first has to do with the wonderful hospitality of the people, while the second pertains to a particular local dish.
Pilgrims from this Archdiocese who visited Porto were billeted with families of the area. By the time I visited them, they had already been with these families a number of days. I was taken with the deep bond our young people felt with their host families. As I listened to their stories, I learned how the Portuguese people had opened the doors of their homes and hearts so wide that they practically adopted our pilgrims as members of their households. It was beautiful to see.
In light of the Gospel passage for today, this memory raises a question for us all. How do we extend hospitality to our Lord Jesus Christ? Notice in the first part of the narrative from Saint Mark that Jesus enters the house of Simon and Andrew. It is stated as a simple fact but it is highly significant. The house is the place where daily family life takes place. Within the home, meals are prepared and shared; finances are reviewed and bills paid; family hopes and disappointments are discussed; homework is done; pets are played with; and on and on and on. By simply entering a house, Jesus signals that he wishes to be part of our ordinary daily routines, to be a member of the family. No matter, however seemingly trivial, is outside of his concern. In the house of Simon and Andrew, they told Jesus about Simon’s sick mother-in-law sick. In our own homes, we can bring many aspects of our own lives to Jesus, and he would love it if we did. He healed Simon’s mother-in-law; there is nothing in our own daily lives that he cannot set right. In Porto, families welcomed in the Canadian pilgrims, new relationships were forged, and lives were changed in the process. Our lives change forever, and for the good, when we extend hospitality to our Lord and bring everything to him.
Within those homes in Portugal, I do not know what the pilgrims were fed. But I do know what I ate while I was in Porto. This brings me to my second memory, the local dish called Francesinha. For those unfamiliar with this meal, it is made with a few layers of toasted bread and assorted hot meats, over which sliced cheese is melted by a near-boiling tomato-and-beer sauce, a fried egg is placed on top, and the dish is typically served with fries. I ate this twice, and now expect am in serious need of heart bypass surgery. For me, this meal, so different from anything I had ever seen, brought home rather clearly the fact that I was in a culture that was new and foreign to my own.
Many of us have had experiences of visiting or living within a foreign culture. In fact, the pioneers who founded this parish had to do just that, as they emigrated from their homeland to this new and unfamiliar country. Their culture shock would have been far more dramatic than my little episode. The point I want to make here is that all of us, precisely as Christians, are engaging every day with a culture that is increasingly foreign to the Gospel. We do not have to travel thousands of miles on a plane for this experience; it happens every time we step outside our homes. We need think only of the legalization of euthanasia, polarization among peoples, and definitions of human nature contrary to that fashioned by God, as examples of a culture that is marked not by fidelity to the Gospel of our Lord but by surrender to self-will. Great harm is happening to individuals, families and nations. Job’s ancient lament that we heard in the first reading finds many modern echoes in the lives of people today. Our surrounding culture is in serious need of healing.
This takes us back to the Gospel. Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew while he was on his mission to bring God’s healing and salvation to the world. Everywhere he went, he cured those who came to him and cast out demons. These acts indicated he had come to dismantle and overcome the power of evil, that seeks only to destroy the lives of the people it touches. As he travelled, Jesus brought his disciples along with him, because he had invited them to have a share in his own mission. That same invitation he now extends to us, the members of his Church, charged with announcing Jesus to every culture and inviting all people to find healing and new life in him and in the power of his love.
Allow me to express to each and every one of you my deep appreciation for the many ways you are accepting the call to be missionaries of Jesus Christ to a culture that needs his Gospel. It is not always easy to stand up and be counted as Catholic and to share with others the good news. We often encounter allergic reactions from people who receive our witness. Yet, the love of our Lord, who enters our homes and our lives with his healing power, inspires within us the same zeal that impelled Saint Paul to say, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!” We must not run from a culture foreign to the Christian faith; rather our call is to engage it with the good news of the love and mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Thank you for all you do in service to the Church and her mission.
My memories of Portugal centered around hospitality and a meal. A similar remembrance unites us now, as we recall the invitation from Jesus to gather at his table and be fed with himself, the Bread of Life. May communion with our Eucharistic Lord give us the healing and strength we need to embrace anew the call to be his disciples, sent on mission to a culture in need of the healing only Jesus can give.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Our Lady of Fatima Parish
February 4th, 2024