Scripture Readings: Book of Deuteronomy 18:15-20; First Corinthians 7:32-35; Gospel According to Mark 1:21-28

The Swiss philosopher and writer Max Picard, who lived from 1888 to 1965, called snow “silence made visible.” As our Chama canyon and much of northern New Mexico currently is covered in a thick blanket of snow, Picard’s remark is truer than ever. In a nutshell, we have plenty of “visible silence” on hand just now.

In addition to the snowfall, which promotes a certain amount of isolation, the reality of “shelter-in-place” encouraged at present due to coronavirus has me thinking about the possibilities of silence and solitude in my life. While the pandemic is horrific, it causes us all to take a different slant on many aspects of life, including social interaction, which presents us with a variety of responses. For example, one can be resentful and bitter about the whole matter or more compassionate toward the plight of others and of actively cultivating one’s interior life.

The three Scripture readings assigned for this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary speak about being attentive and listening to the prophet whom God will send (the first reading from Deuteronomy), of being free from worry (second reading from First Corinthians), and finally, in the Gospel according to Saint Mark, the importance of the “completely new teaching in the spirit of authority,” which Jesus heralds.

The reading today from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy is addressed to God’s people by Moses, considered to be the greatest of the prophets. Moses’ words carry an important message for those who belong to God; namely, that God will not abandon his people, but will continue to raise up prophets after Moses, who acts on God’s behalf, as did Moses, to make God’s ways and commands known to the nations. Eventually such a prophet was to be understood and being embodied in the promised Messiah, whom we now recognize as embodied in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who as the Gospel today expresses it, teaches and acts “in a spirit of authority,” derived from God.

The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians today is not so much about which is better, married life or the single life, as it is about that fact that every person has his or her own special gift from God. Paul desires, in the spirit of the Gospel he is preaching, that no one be bogged down with anxiety, or feeling that a noose has been thrown around their neck. Rather, everyone should consecrate him or herself to the Lord, in accordance to one’s call. Saint Paul is not advocating pushing anyone into an ideal that is beyond the capacity of the believer.

Turning to the Gospel for this Sunday, we find Jesus teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum, which one can still visit on a Holy Land pilgrimage. The synagogue there, by the Sea of Galilee, is neither grand nor outstanding and in its present state stands partly in ruins, with no roof on it. This fact, of being roofless, has always struck me as underlining the fact that the message of the saving deeds of the Lord cannot in any way be bound or confined, but must extend to all the ends of the earth. In other words, there is no roof on Jesus’ message.

Just as we don’t know the precise amount of snow we’ll be receiving in the coming months or how long this winter will last, so also the final outcome of the coronavirus remains in the realm of the unknown. Nevertheless, we never give up in our search for God day by day, and we trust in the loving kindness of the One who created us and who has sustained us to the present. At the same time, at some point we will all be exchanging time for eternity, a definition of death I have been hearing more frequently, especially in the Catholic Herald magazine from England. May we be prepared to meet the Lord now and at the moment of our death.

Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB