Sunday Sermon for February 5, 2012, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39

In the first reading today Job asks the question “is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” Sometimes it feels that way: get up, go to work, eat, go to bed. Repeat. When we get caught on the gerbil wheel just trying to make money and pay some bills, the monotony can seem endless.

Tragically, when we consider what people in this society, and in so many others, do to break the monotony it is usually things like partying, wasting time and money, trying to impress others, seeking selfish wants and desires, etc. From a spiritual perspective, I cannot imagine anything that would be more of a drudgery than living for the weekend, looking forward to the next party, wanting to go to casino, or any other selfish pursuit we can add to the list.

In these examples the reason for the drudgery is the emptiness we experience. The second paragraph has some forms of pleasure involved and do not seem immediately to be empty, but a few seconds of reflection will demonstrate the void these kinds of activities leave in the soul when they become the focus of our lives. While not all of these things are illicit or even bad, if they are selfish or become an end in themselves, then they will be empty because they can never fulfill what we are hoping they will provide for us.

The key to finding fulfillment, getting off the gerbil wheel or breaking the drudgery is in the motivation for our actions. In the second reading St. Paul says that his preaching of the Gospel is entrusted to him as a stewardship. Like a job, he points out that he can preach unwillingly. In other words, he could go through the motions, saying and doing the right things, but without his heart being in it.

On the other hand, he tells us that if he preaches willingly, then he has a recompense which is nothing less than the preaching task done without cost. St. Paul says that he has made himself a slave to all. Being a slave and working for free would certainly have all the appearance of a life of drudgery, but St. Paul did not see it that way. He made himself a slave of charity, using his own free will to choose this in order to serve God and the people to whom he preached the Gospel out of love and not out of any self interest.

Doing something out of charity, that is love for God and love for neighbor, takes the drudgery out of anything. We may be doing the same thing day after day, but when it is done for God and neighbor, it has a purpose beyond ourselves and is, therefore, fulfilling. The problem is that in our brokenness we cannot just do things this way; we have to overcome our selfishness and learn to practice true charity.

As we have already seen from St. Paul, part of this is the doing of the action, whatever it may be. However, the other element in this equation is found in the Gospel reading today. First we see our Lord, like St. Paul, performing the works of charity by preaching, teaching and healing. We are also told that the entire town was at the door, so our Lord needed to be patient with and charitable to the people when He was probably exhausted Himself. Instead of giving in to any desires He may have had for rest, relaxation or just some time alone, He sacrificed all of this to serve the people out of love.

The most important point, however, is presented to us when His disciples found Him off alone in prayer. It is in prayer that we receive the grace to do things out of love for God and neighbor. It is in prayer that our hearts and minds are molded and transformed to become like the heart and mind of God. It is in prayer that we can understand what is truly important in life, set our priorities correctly and find the fulfillment that we have been seeking in vain through all of the worldly means at our disposal.

If your life feels empty, unfulfilling, or a drudgery, it may be because your focus is wrong. We live in a society that places too much emphasis on selfish pursuits, using others, grabbing power and lording it over others, pleasure seeking and anything else that strokes the ego. St. Paul recognized these weaknesses in himself and chose to make himself the slave of all. Jesus made Himself the lowest and served others out of love. Prayer will conform us to Christ and help us to get our focus off of what cannot fulfill and put it onto what will be fulfilling in this life and in eternity.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit