"Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside." [Mark 1:21-28]
"'Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’" For some reason, my meditation on today's Gospel went beyond its first and foremost message concerning the sovereign authority of Jesus.
The rather grotesque painting (placed above), often titled "In the Fullness of Time", came to my mind and I wondered to myself just how the Pax Romana actually facilitated the spread of the Gospel. I thought about our world today as possessed, filled with unclean spirits, and even about the Church, like the synagogue at Capernaum, which can leave the demoniacs seemingly unchallenged in its midst until Christ comes to teach and cast them out. Our world would seem to be as decadent and death-dealing as that into which our Savior was born in the fullness of time. Indeed, in each and every age, we are called to His manger bed, to welcome and pay homage to the King. In each and every age we are called to respond to God's love as manifest in the Son, Who took on flesh and redeemed us by His Blood. In each and every age, some turn away from the Virgin Mother and Her Child, preferring death to life.
In the painting the angel, sheltering the Holy Family under his wings, casts a glance over his shoulder at Caesar's world, which would soon enough fall at the feet of Christ. We might ask what has changed. Is it not the same world we see around us today in the terror of Charlie Hebdo's France, Boko Haram's Nigeria and the ISIS of the Middle East, to mention just a few: a world refusing to shelter under the angel's wings with the Newborn Savior, the Son of God Most High? Is it not a world which still rejects God's authority and makes its bed with unclean spirits? What would it take to bring our world to its knees, to seek shelter under the angel's wings, at the feet of Mary and her Beloved Son?
The other day a lovely group of carolers, university students from Lviv, came by for Christmas with singing and a thoughtfully well-prepared play (vertep as it is called in Ukrainian). Visiting afterward, they told me their next stop was Maidan, meaning of course today the memorial which remains in Institutska Street with the little wooden chapel, commemorating those who died in the "revolution of dignity" as it is called. Not long ago an ambassador asked me if the hand-painted Christmas scene which had figured so prominently on Maidan was yet to be found. I told him I didn't know if it had survived the fire-storm of those last days of February. The word "dignity" is nice, but thinking of that crib scene, thinking of all the plastic rosaries also symbolizing the struggle of those days not only here in Kyiv but elsewhere around the country as well, I wonder if we couldn't speak about a people seeking shelter under the angel's wings at the very center of our picture.
It would be wrong to speak about justice and retribution, but I cannot refrain from saying that too many in our world have not understood ultimately where victory lies, too many have scorned the manger bed and the shelter of the angel's wings. Too many have embraced outward show, Caesar's pomp, his decadence and death-dealing decay. Ukraine can teach itself, Ukraine can teach our world about right choices, about ultimate victory in His Mother's arms. Maidan is rising!
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI