St John Bosco

II Samuel 24.2,9-17; Psalm 31; Mark 6.1-6

John Bosco (1815-88) was born near Turin in the Piedmont, during a period of drought and famine and in the era of reconstruction following the Napoleonic wars.  As a young boy he saw a travelling circus troupe and began to teach himself magic tricks.  He yearned to be a priest but lacked even the most basic of education.  A sympathetic priest began to teach him and he was finally ordained in 1841.  He devoted himself to alleviating the plight of poor boys who came to the city in quest of employment.  Working at first in borrowed premises, John Bosco taught the boys; eventually through his efforts the establishment included a school, a technical college and a church.  He gained a reputation as an eloquent preacher, often using the magic tricks he had learnt as a child to capture his listeners’ attention.  

In 1859, along with 22 companions, he established the Society of St Francis de Sales (better known as the Salesians), named for the 17th Century Bishop of Geneva known for his gentle manner of teaching about the spiritual life and spiritual formation.  The new order was dedicated to continuing St John Bosco’s work of spiritual direction and education of boys; it soon spread to England, France, Spain, and Argentina.  With the help of St Mary Mazzarello St John Bosco also founded the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, devoted to undertaking the same kind of apostolate to young girls.  

Tuesday in 4th Week

II Sam 18.9-10,14,24-25,30—19.3; Ps 85; Mk 5.21-43

Absalom was a troublemaker, a thorn in the flesh for everyone around him, and, quite literally, a traitor.  Perhaps his father saw a bit of himself in him: his easy-going good looks, his ability to attract people to follow him unquestioningly, his derring-do.  David never stopped being a usurper, his kingdom always resembling the social dynamics of a terrorist band headed by a charming bandit.  Always the stability of his regime was in doubt.  So it is not surprising that malcontents might have seen in David’s charismatic son a possible replacement for him.

For David though, Absalom, whatever else he was, was his son.  At the announcement of his death—cut short in the midst of leading an uprising against his father—David showed something of his deepest, truest self: showed who he was at heart.  ‘O Absalom, my son! Absalom, my son!’ the king keened.  ‘Would that I had died in your place!’  Yet even a king could not do that—do someone else’s dying for them.  If he could have paid the price for his son’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it.  If he could have given his own life to bring his son back to life again, he would have given it.  But things like that can’t be done even by rich and powerful kings.  Things like that can only be done by a God.

Monday in 4th Week

II Sam 15.13-14,30; 16.5-13; Ps 3; Mark 5.1-20

The patriarchal stories of the book Genesis culminate in an extended family, the 12 sons of Jacob (who had received the new name ‘Israel’—meaning ‘He fought with God’—as a gift from God), together with their wives, children, grandchildren, living in Egypt.  The opening verses of Exodus make clear that the presence of this racially distinct family of dubious allegiance within Egypt was perceived to be a threat and the ‘Israelites’ were made slaves.

The remaining books of the Pentateuch make clear, though, that few of them thought himself an ‘Israelite’.  Their primary allegiance was to their tribe, the tribes being the descendants of those original 12 sons of the patriarch Jacob.  The slaves are brought miraculously out of Egyptian slavery into a land promised to them by God, but building a nation out of these fractious tribes was a lengthy project.  Nearly a millennium after the crossing of the Red Sea a monarchy was established to unite the 12 tribes into one nation.  

Saul, the first king, was of the tribe of Benjamin.  When David, of the tribe of Judah, became King (and the Bible tells several stories about the way that David came to displace Saul), the change wasn’t simply in the individual called ‘King’ but in the tribe of the 12 that had preëminence.   The remainder of the book called Samuel concerns the ways that David endeavoured to establish himself as the undoubted King of Israel, fending off challenges alike from members of Saul’s family and, ironically, from his own family as well. 

Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops

Titus 1:1-5; Psalm 95(96):1-3,7-8,10; Mark 4:26-34

Timothy and Titus were converted to Christianity by St Paul, and became his companions and helpers. Paul entrusted Timothy with the care of the Christians in Ephesus, and sent Titus to Crete to look after the Christians there. He wrote them the so-called “pastoral” epistles, giving advice for pastors and people alike.

Typical of St Paul, but always worth reading again, are his letter introductions: St Paul clearly loved and cared for his missionaries!

From Paul, servant of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ to bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion; and to give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised so long ago by God. He does not lie and so, at the appointed time, he revealed his decision, and, by the command of God our saviour, I have been commissioned to proclaim it. To Titus, true child of mine in the faith that we share, wishing you grace and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our saviour.
  The reason I left you behind in Crete was for you to get everything organised there and appoint elders in every town, in the way that I told you.

The Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Acts 22:3-16; Psalm 116(117); Mark 16:15-18

Saul, for all the right reasons (so he thought) fiercely persecuted the early Christians. After all, they were a schism - a breakaway from the true faith and so presented a threat to the stability and cohesion which enabled Judaism to survive under Roman rule, despite all he odds!

And then, on the road to Damascus, Saul met Jesus - and just by being in His presence, was transformed and became the most ardent of believers. This is such an important event that it is told three times in the Acts - as Saul experiences it, and then twice as he tells it to the Jews in the Temple, and to the Roman appointed King Herod Agrippa.

Few of us will ever experience a 'road to Damascus' conversion experience - but enough have to witness to the power of Christ's call. But all of us come close to Jesus each week in Mass - and we need to listen to him calling us. Once we begin to do His will, not ours - we can be the change Jesus is calling us to be in the world.


O God, who taught the whole world
through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul,
draw us, we pray, nearer to you
through the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today,
and so make us witnesses to your truth in the world.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop, Doctor

2 Samuel 7:4-17; Psalm 88(89):4-5,27-30; Mark 4:1-20

  He was born near Annecy, in Savoy, studied the law, and was ordained to the priesthood despite the opposition of his father. His first mission was to re-evangelize the people of his home district (the Chablais), who had gone over to Calvinism. Always in danger of his life from hostile Calvinists, he preached with such effectiveness that after four years most of the people had returned to the Church. He was then appointed bishop of Geneva, and spent the rest of his life reforming and reorganising the diocese, and in caring for the souls of his people by preaching and spiritual guidance.
  St Francis taught that we can all attain a devout and spiritual life, whatever our position in society: holiness is not reserved for monks and hermits alone. He wrote that “religious devotion does not destroy: it perfects,” and his spiritual counsel is dedicated to making people more holy by making them more themselves. In his preaching against Calvinism he was driven by love rather than a desire to win: so much so, that it was a Calvinist minister who said “if we honoured anyone as a saint, I know of no-one since the days of the Apostles more worthy of it than this man.”
  St Francis is the patron saint of writers and journalists, who would do well to imitate his love and his moderation: as he said, “whoever wants to preach effectively must preach with love.”

O God, who for the salvation of souls
willed that the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales
become all things to all,
graciously grant that, following his example,
we may always display the gentleness of your charity
in the service of our neighbour.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Tuesday of week 3

2 Samuel 6:12-15,17-19; Psalm 23(24):7-10; Mark 3:31-35

It is a good thing that we are left with 4 Gospels, and not just one, for each of them contains text which can be disturbing. Did, as Mark clearly says in todays Gospel, Jesus place his new friends above Mary his Mother, and above his brothers and sisters?

The same scenario told by Luke (Luke 8 19-21) has the brothers, sisters and Mary with Jesus before he tells the parables - so they become the first to hear the good news, not the last to miss out as implied by Mark.

The difference makes an important point: The people of Jesus are those who hear his Word - not just those who share the same blood line (or indeed, are of the same race). Thus it became possible for non jews to Hear the Good News, believe in Jesus and to also become his followers.

Without Mark we struggle to appreciate the importance of all people to Jesus, and without Luke we risk missing how vital Mary (and all women) is to Him, and therefore to us.

Saint Vincent, Deacon, Martyr

2 Samuel 5:1-7,10; Psalm 88(89):20-22,25-26; Mark 3:22-30

St. Vincent, the protomartyr of Spain, was a deacon of the 3rd century. Together with his Bishop, Valerius of Saragossa, he was apprehended during a persecution of Dacian the governor of Spain. Valerius was banished but Vincent was subjected to fierce tortures before ultimately dying from his wounds. According to details of his death (which seem to have been considerably developed later on), his flesh was pierced with iron hooks, he was bound upon a red-hot gridiron and roasted, and he was cast into a prison and laid on a floor strewn with broken pottery. But through it all his constancy remained unmoved (leading to his jailer's conversion) and he survived until his friends were allowed to see him and prepare a bed for him on which he died.  The saint's fame spread rapidly throughout Gaul and Africa - we have several sermons of St. Augustine given on his feast day. His feast day is January 22.