January 24, 2023
by Molly Mattingly
Creighton University's Campus Ministry and St. John's Parish
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Frances de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 318

Hebrews 10:1-10
Psalm 40:2 and 4ab, 7-8a, 10, 11
Mark 3:31-35

Praying Ordinary Time

Rediscovering Corporal Works of Mercy


Our readings recently have shown Jesus rewriting the rules and reversing the expectations and norms of the day. In the first reading, Paul comments on the psalm, pointing out how Jesus rewrote the rules around sacrificial offerings by offering obedience to God’s will instead of the prescribed offerings from the law of Moses. We respond with the same words of Psalm 40, imitating Jesus as the Body of Christ on earth: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” Then in the gospel, Jesus turns the question “who is my family?” on its head.

These are challenging readings. I work with many college students who wonder what, exactly, God’s will for them is so that they can follow it. This usually becomes a pressing question during junior and senior year. They would like God to “explain the assignment” in detail. I often would, too – that kind of precise clarity and following the rules can be easier than the work of discernment in choosing between multiple goods, and taking responsibility for my choices. I think there’s a false premise at work in this approach: if God’s will is an assignment to be completed and graded, or a riddle to be solved in order to succeed, then one doesn’t really need an ongoing relationship with God. It can be frustrating to come up against a seeming lack of clarity in the “spiritual assignment” when most of life has worked within the model of school. Students learn to follow the directions, complete the assignment, get a good grade, move on to the next step, and repeat. But Jesus is rewriting the rules; after all, they were only there in the first place to lead to something deeper. Jesus just wants to keep showing up saying, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will,” and keep the conversation going by living it out loud.

On days with challenging readings, I sometimes go to the saint whose memorial we celebrate, to see if their life sheds any light on the matter. St. Francis de Sales did not disappoint. In a nutshell: he was a lawyer, a teacher, a writer, a spiritual director, a mystic, and he laid the groundwork for Vatican II’s focus on the “universal call to holiness” as far back as the Reformation. Prayer was essential for him; he didn’t want to do anything for which he hadn’t sought God’s input first. He showed up to life saying, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” His insistence that people in every stage and state of life are called to holiness helps me connect with Jesus’ words in the gospel: “Whomever does the will of God is [my family].” In St. Francis de Sales’ time, it was thought that only clergy and religious were really called to be holy; lay or family life simply wasn’t a way to grow closer to God. He saw spiritual direction for laypeople as one of his most important ministries as bishop, and wrote in his most famous book that family life is a path to holiness just as much as religious life. Jesus calls everyone! As Paul wrote to the Hebrews at the end of today’s first reading, Jesus has also consecrated us – we the Body of Christ on earth – through the offering of his Body once for all.

Psalm 40

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