“When the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:21-22)
February 1, 2015
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
The following story, composed by an unknown author and situated in an America of a half-century ago, invites our consideration in the light of the gospel passage we hear today:
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“A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was enchanted with this fascinating newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.
“As I grew up I never questioned his place in our family. In my young mind, each member had a special niche. The stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries, comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spell-bound for hours each evening.
“If I wanted to know about politics, history, or science he knew it all. He knew about the past, understood the present, and seemingly could predict the future. The pictures he could draw were so lifelike that I would often laugh or cry as I watched.
“He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars.
“The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn’t seem to mind—but sometimes Mom would quietly get up—while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places—go to her room, read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave. You see, my Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house—not from us, not from our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge the stranger was never confronted. My dad didn’t permit alcohol in his home—not even for cooking. But the stranger felt like we needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often.
“He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. He talked freely about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing.
“More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive. If I were to walk into my parents’ den today, you would still see him sitting over in the corner. His name? We always just called him TV.” (Original source unknown)
Even today, many decades after an unknown author penned this story, TV and other media continue to inform our minds and move our hearts. Tragically, though, it seems misinformation assaults us with more regularity than the truth. Indeed, one must be very discriminating when choosing who and what to believe.
Even in Jesus’ own day, the problem of where to hear the truth was alive. As St. Mark writes, “When the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:21-22)
The manner of Jesus’ teaching was different from that of other religious leaders of his day. While St. Mark doesn’t reveal the content of Jesus’ teaching, he asserts that Jesus touched hearts and minds in a powerful way, clearly evidencing his words as true. And likely it was only when listeners heard the voice of Jesus that they realized that all other teachers they’d heard were somehow lacking. Other religious teachers did not inform their minds and move their hearts as did Jesus. He was possessed of an authority that was wholly new.
In our own day, we hunger to hear that same voice in a world grown so complicated, so ill at ease with itself, so riddled with loud, empty voices. Indeed, we ask: Where is the voice of moral authority to be heard today?
Sadly, we’ve experienced betrayal from institutions that ought to have spoken truth. Civil government, some say, has turned in upon itself becoming dysfunctional, while the Church, once a clear moral voice, has experienced diminished authority through a spate of scandals.
So, where does one hear the true voice of Jesus today? Where does he speak most powerfully and directly to us?
I would suggest that the primary place one might hear the voice of Jesus is within the silence of one’s own heart. Having chosen the human heart as his dearest earthly dwelling, Jesus speaks from that place to every person. The daunting challenge, of course, is to silence the rest of the world so one can hear him.
In an article recently published in America magazine, author Sidney Callahan suggests an effective way to quiet the world in order to hear the divine voice within. I share a brief excerpt from her article entitled “Centering Prayer: Contemplative practice for the 21st century”:
“Centering Prayer is a practice of silent prayer that is a stripped-to-essentials form of Christian contemplation. The simple steps of the method are to choose a sacred word as a symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. Then, settling comfortably, you introduce the sacred word and remain quietly attentive within God’s presence. Two 20-minute periods a day of practice are recommended. Centering Prayer is a completely lay and democratic movement with no need for hierarchical church oversight. It has been called ‘A monastery without walls.’” (AMERICA, December 3, 2014)
Indeed, Jesus still speaks with stunning authority within the temple of the human heart.