Mk 1.21-28                 Dt 18.25-30              1Cor 7.32-35  

Whatever the details about driving out the demons, the symbolism is clear enough, that Jesus has authority to confront and overpower evil, wherever he encounters it.  The difficulties faced by those who are afflicted by whatever weaknesses or illnesses endure today, in our own lives, and those whom we love.  Interestingly, Mark doesn’t go into any details about what Jesus teaches, but rather has him getting into action, driving out the demons!

Once again, Brendan Byrne SJ puts it well: “The dramatic liberation of the demon-possessed man, before the eyes of all in the synagogue, was not, then, unconnected with Jesus’ teaching. It simply enacted, albeit more physically, a liberation that was going on within all present as they listened to Jesus… ‘Captivities’ of prejudice, fears, scruples, guilts, ignorance about God, were dragged out of them. Far beyond overt cases of possession, the demonic can refer to any condition that controls human lives, inhibiting freedom and choice, stunting personal growth, alienating persons from God and their true humanity, rendering relationships with others poisonous or destructive. Addictions of all kinds come to mind…  Rather than being mere spectators… the Gospel invites those who hear it to identify with Jesus’ audience… and to consider how their own lives need to be set free through the power and teaching of Jesus”.

In a very moving reflection this week, one of the recipients of the Order or Australia, Professor Richard Scolyer, afflicted by a terminal brain cancer, spoke of his will to live, and his determination to take whatever treatment he could to overcome the disease which is shortening his life, at 57.  He has earlier been involved in successful research into melanoma treatment. New therapies keep coming and being tried, with the hope of a cure, or at least prolonging life, but there are no guarantees.

As a member of the Royal Melbourne Hospital Ethics Committee, we meet twice a month to review new research proposals, primarily aimed at improving the quality of life of patients, at the same time ensuring that not too much risk and that privacy is protected.  I am also on the Cancer Council of Victoria’s Ethics Committee, with similar aims.  I figure it’s one way of contributing to the broader community by being involved in such areas.  There is no cure all to our ailments, but better and more effective treatment is certainly a positive value.

While the aim is to enhance and extend life, there’s no escaping our ultimate mortality, whilst continuing to live life as well as we can, in our context, according to Gospel values, and taking the message of Jesus to heart and putting it into practice.

Today’s Gospel portrays Jesus as getting straight down to active ministry in casting out the demons of the man possessed, whatever might have been troubling him, and offering him, and others present, peace of mind and healing in body, mind and spirit.

Our mission and ministry in life as Christians is to do what we can to improve the lives of others, by reaching out and responding to needs where we can. It’s not just about suiting ourselves, but, at the same time, it’s not a call to ignore our own needs and to accept help when we need it.  And so I reflect on my ministry and responsibility for pastoral care, with the involvement of so many others.

Given that January has been a quiet month, and with no funerals so far, I made the most of my time in the last week, visiting a few friends beyond the parish.  My first parish priest, from 45 years ago in Croydon, Paddy Duggan, now 93, and over 70 years a priest, wasn’t home when I called in Boronia. I took that as a positive sign!  He later rang me and said I should have checked first, as he has made a good recovery from back surgery and mobility issues!

Then there was Margaret, one of my past Tribunal co-workers, now in care, and afflicted with dementia, but who was very happy to see me and receive a blessing. Marion, whom I met as an Australian diplomat in Ottawa some 40 years ago, is now facing new treatment for an aggressive cancer, likewise was pleased with a visit and chat, back at home, in the care of her daughter, after a lengthy hospital stay.

Our dear friend, Charity Sister Regina, now in Aged Care at Caritas Christi in Kew, is facing up to Parkinson’s disease, now with limited mobility, willingly accepting necessary care, having been a pastoral carer herself for many years, during her long religious life.  When I arrived to see her, there were already 2 parishioners, Leanne and Geraldine, visiting her, just demonstrating the simple fact of being there, as appreciative friends.  Then there was my old friend Joe, who shares a birthday with me, only 25 years older, who can hardly move now, and speaks with difficulty,  but again, a big smile of appreciation for a visit.  And, closer to home, there are quite a number of parishioners on our list, with whom we keep in touch regularly, as vital members of our faith community of friends.

My experience is that a friendly chat, accompanied by Anointing and Communion, can brighten the day for those who are unable to connect directly  by being here for our parish celebrations, but still interested in what is going on, and having an ongoing sense of belonging.

This, to me, is what the Gospel is all about.  We see from the start of his ministry in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus out on the road, or rather the beaten path, seeking out the lost, the wounded, the weak, the needy and those open to his preaching and teaching as Good News for life and faith to be lived.

john hannon                                                                                   28th  January  2024

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