Thursday of week 5

1 Kings 11:4-13;Psalm 105(106):3-4,35-37,40; Mark 7:24-30

Yes, you can bargain with God.

The woman in this story is not a jew, she is a gentile woman, and in her time, jews would have regarded her as no better than a dog. Mark is writing to her people in his Gospel, so he is subtly using the common language of the people who regarded other races, using other languages, as barking like dogs (a literal translation of 'barbaros', the word from which we get barbarians).

The woman however turns the pun on its head: 'even dogs can eat scraps dropped by the children'. Jesus recognises in her - and by extension in all Gentiles - the possibility of salvation. As the Gospel of Mark unfolds one can detect a change in Jesus, who was initially focused on only the jewish people, but by the end, he died for the salvation of us all.

Wednesday of week 5

1 Kings 10:1-10; Psalm 36(37):5-6,30-31,39-40; Mark 7:14-23

"Its what comes out of a person that makes them unclean" . .

Take this parable just as it is written, and you find a slightly humorous (if maybe in a slightly tasteless way?) argument that what you eat is irrelevant as it all ends up in the sewer anyhow. There is even an aside ('thus he pronounced all foods as clean") to help us see that.

But are parables meant to have deeper, hidden meanings?

Often - usually indeed. In this case - is it a way of commenting on the scribes and pharisees? Jesus might be saying that what comes out (of their mouths) is unclean. They would have been teaching a commitment to Mosaic tradition and law - which very strictly govern what may (and may not) be eaten. We too, can burden ourselves and others with regulation and scrupulosity. It is the over zealous attention to rules that can lead us away from God - we become focused on doing the right things, and not enough attention being paid to why.

We can protect ourselves from this by sticking to just what is important. Love God, and Love your neighbour. Aim for those and not much can go wrong!

Saints Paul Miki and his Companions, Martyrs

1 Kings 8:22-23,27-30; Psalm 83(84):3-5,10-11; Mark 7:1-13

Nagasaki, Japan, is familiar to Americans as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped, immediately killing over 37,000 people. Three and a half centuries before, 26 martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers, and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits, and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans, and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his Church.

Brother Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross, Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution: “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that they had secretly preserved the faith. Beatified in 1627, the martyrs of Japan were finally canonized in 1862.

Saint Agatha, Virgin, Martyr

1 Kings 8:1-7,9-13; Psalm 131(132):6-10; Mark 6:53-56

She was martyred at Catania in Sicily, probably during the persecution of Decius (250-253). Devotion to her was widespread in the Church in the earliest times and she is mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass.

May the Virgin Martyr Saint Agatha
implore your compassion for us, O Lord, we pray,
for she found favour with you
by the courage of her martyrdom
and the merit of her chastity.
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.

St Blaise, Bishop & Martyr

I Kings 3.4-13; Psalm 118; Mark 6.30-34

Blaise (who died around the year 316) was born in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey) of noble, well-to-do parents.  He became Bishop of Sebastia (now called Sivas, Turkey) during the persecution of Christians carried out by the Roman Emperor Licinius.  Blaise was arrested and imprisoned and during his imprisonment he was visited by a mother and her son, who was choking on a fishbone.  At Blaise’s blessing the bone dissolved and the boy was rescued.  After being tortured with wool-combers’ irons Blaise was beheaded.

Apocryphal legends have it that Blaise had been renowned as a surgeon before his ordination and numerous stories were told of miraculous cures he effected on wild beasts.  He is venerated as the patron of sufferers from throat disease and is accounted one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers whose intercession was particularly invoked during the 14th-Century ravages of the black death pandemic.  It is customary in many places to bless throats on this feast, using candles blessed the previous day at the Candlemas celebration.

The Catholic approach to the Bible – John Huntriss, 25th January 2024

Further Reading


Here are the readings in your YouCat that go with this week’s  session:

  • #11 to #19 – the Bible [7 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).



If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3.1-4; Psalm 23; Luke 2.22-40

This feast (commonly called Candlemas because of the ancient tradition of blessing the candles for liturgical use on this day), which brings the 40-day Christmas season to a close, offers a tapestry of themes and motifs: the Light that will enlighten all nations of which the aged Simeon sings; the long-awaited but terrifying Lord the ancient prophet declared would come into his Temple to purify it; an aged prophetess, Anna whose burbling elation contrasts the poverty and taciturnity of Joseph and Mary, seemingly overwhelmed by the magnificence of the Temple.  And the forty-day-old Christ child himself, who in the overture of his life contrasts with Simeon who apparently is near to his dying breath.

Simeon’s prayer has at least since the 4th Century been sung by the Church at the close of each day, at once a prayer and a Creed: an acknowledgement that the Lord of our longing has come down from heaven for us and for our salvation, and a prayer to his Light would fill us and be transmitted through us.  Simeon stands as the pivotal figure between the Light and Joy of Christmas and the paradoxical Light and Joy of Easter as he declares that this Child is a Sign of God’s presence in the midst of his people that we must either cradle or reject.

Thursday in 4th Week

I Kings 2.1-4,10-12; I Chronicles 29; Mark 6.7-13

Probably everyone in this country, whether they care much about either music or the monarchy or not, recognises the opening bars of George Frederick Handel’s anthem (written for the coronation of King George II in 1727 and sung at every coronation since) Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king. [I Kings 1.38-39] It wasn’t inevitable that they should do so, of course: Solomon was neither the eldest of David’s sons nor the strongest. But in the waning days of David’s reign, the king perhaps not wholly in possession of his faculties and the kingdom ruled by the wiles and intrigues of David’s closest counsellors and his many wives, one of those wives, Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, persuaded David to signal that Solomon should succeed him.  Already Solomon’s elder brother, Adonijah, had been declared king by Abiathar the priest and Joab the commander of the army.  This ‘succession narrative’ of the first chapters of I Kings endeavours to establish Solomon’s legitimacy. (As a reward for his support, Zadok’s descendants came to hold exclusive right to the priesthood of the Temple, when it had been built by Solomon.  Known as the ‘Sadducees’, they dominated the Temple until its destruction by the Romans in AD 70.)