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From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 28, 2024)

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Inspired by a talk at the Priest Conference in California earlier this month, I’ve been dedicating some leisure hours this past week to penning a little booklet about our patron, Saint Mark. In honor of the World Day of Consecrated Life this Friday, here is a teaser drawn from my “investigations.”  

What do we know about the vocation of St. Mark? Well, we know that it was brought about by St. Barnabas. Barnabas was the older cousin of Mark (Col 4:10). He was also something of an eye for talent: when Saul was “exiled” to Tarsus after his conversion on account of the attempts against his life (Acts 9:30) and likely still distrusted by many disciples, Barnabas had the foresight and boldness to go fetch him and bring him to the church at Antioch, which had been entrusted to the oversight of Barnabas by the leaders in Jerusalem (see Acts 11:22-25). In Antioch, Saul’s brilliance began to show and he quickly rose into the ranks of the “prophets and teachers” of that church listed in Acts 13:1.

Paul was not to be Barnabas’ last recruit, even if he was his greatest. On a relief mission to famine-stricken Jerusalem with his protege, they picked up “John whose other name was Mark” and brought him back to Antioch (Acts 12:25). John Mark, your discernment is over. Consider yourself called!

Prior to this, all we know about Mark is that he lived in Jerusalem with his mother, whose house was a gathering place for the early church, and perhaps Peter’s “cathedral” prior to his departure for “another place” (probably Rome) in Acts 12. After this, we know that Mark experienced some difficulties. When Barnabas and Saul were set apart by the Holy Spirit for the first missionary journey, “they had John [Mark] with them to assist them” (Acts 13:5). That “assistance” likely entailed “administrative support”: logistics, interpreting, perhaps letter writing… Unfortunately, however, Mark didn’t make it very far. After an initial adventure on Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas returned to the mainland at Perga. “But John left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Paul would later characterize this act as “desertion” (Acts 15:38). But Barnabas, happily, was not ready to give up on his talented but, perhaps, immature cousin. He was determined to have Mark join him again on the second journey, even though it meant a painful parting of ways with Paul. 

The gamble paid off. Mark proved his worth. A decade later, Paul is writing to TImothy from Rome and telling him to “Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me” (2 Tim 4:11). And Peter goes so far as to call Mark his “son” at the end of his first letter (5:13). Evidently, after a rough start, Mark proved himself a faithful and fruitful servant of the Gospel and to the Apostles, and eventually an evangelist in his own right. 

Notice how simple Mark’s vocation was. He was available. He had the right gifts. And then someone in the Church with authority (Barnabas) called him to put those gifts and availability to the service of the Gospel. Mark didn’t necessarily desire the call or welcome it, and seems to have struggled with its demands. But when the call was renewed he did not refuse, and the rest is history. 

Vocation is a mystery, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. “If you today, you hear His voice” says the Psalm this Sunday, “harden not your hearts.” That “voice” might come through a Barnabas asking for assistance, the voice of conscience aware that a certain path might be more pleasing to the Lord, or through an old lady asking a young frequenter of the adoration chapel of he or she has considered the religious life. But if it is a voice calling you to greater generosity and service, to a holy way of life, to becoming more conformed to Christ… consider it Jesus Himself calling under one of His many guises. Like with St. Mark, he won’t take away your freedom, or your power to say “no” (even after you have given an initial ‘yes’!). As with Mark, He is not chiefly interested in what you might prefer or desire. Nor, on the other hand, does He lack a back-up plan if His most loving hopes for you are scuttled. Writing as one who, like Mark, did not exactly receive the call with joy at first, trust me: there is no better purpose towards which your talents can be put, no occupation more fulfilling, no consolation more satisfying, than to spend yourself and be spent in the service of the Lord and the salvation of souls. Saint Mark, pray for us and obtain for us many religious vocations for the young John and Jean Marks at our parish!

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