Sunday Sermon for February 8, 2015, 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
When I looked at the first reading today I was tempted to check the source and make sure that this was really from 3500 years ago and not from last week. We hear Job whining and complaining about his life being a drudgery, being like a slave longing for shade and a hireling seeking his pay. He says that he does not think he will know happiness again.

We have changed the wording of these complaints in our modern world, but the essence remains the same. Job, at least, had some justification for his disposition; most of us do not. Just think, Job had no running water, no electricity, no TV, no computer, no smart phone, no radio, no car, no shower, no hot water, no heat or air conditioning, no movies, no microwave. On top of that, he was afflicted with health problems and had no doctor from whom he could get a pill to ease the pain, let alone promote healing.

When we compare our circumstances with Job’s, we realize that we have all of these things that are supposed to save us time, make life more convenient, and provide us with lots of leisure time. Instead, all that I see are people running at a frantic pace with no peace and no joy. Job thinks he will not see happiness again; many of us do not have to worry about seeing it again, because we have never really experienced happiness in the first place.

The reasons for this are many, but I think it can be brought down to just a couple of points. First, our society it saturated with selfishness, a disaster that has not left many of us unaffected. Second, due to the selfishness and the technology, we live our lives in a very shallow manner, keeping most things on the surface and the sense level. For this reason, we are always looking for some kind of sensory stimulus that will distract us, provide some selfish pleasure and cause us to equate that with happiness.

When we consider the Gospel reading, one has to wonder how our Lord tolerated being on earth for the thirty three years of His life. He is God Who became one of us. He must have been bored out of His skull. He had to deal with people who did not care about God or His ways. Even among those who did care, He found them poorly formed and slow to learn. If life was a drudgery for anyone, it would have been so for Jesus.

However, search the Gospels and we do not find Him whining or complaining about His circumstances. We could say that He freely chose to do what He was doing, so he was not complaining about it. Now, just look at yourself and your own state in life. You freely chose that state in life, so are we to assume that you never complain about it? I do not think that I have to answer that question.

St. Paul provides the insight for us to understand how to live a life that is truly fulfilling and, thereby, truly joyful. He considered his calling and realized that if he lives it out willfully he has a recompense, but even if he does things unwillingly, or begrudgingly, he has an obligation. Jesus came into this world and He chose, at every moment, to do things willfully. At times that must have been a real sacrifice, but it was in this that He showed us the path to joy and fulfillment.

This is what St. Paul learned as well. Many of us fall into the category St. Paul mentions of doing this begrudgingly. Because of our obligation, we may feel compelled to do something, but we really do not want to do it. St. Paul learned to do things willingly; in this he found freedom. His freedom became so complete that he willingly made himself the slave of all. To do this willingly is an act of love, not an act of constraint. A slave of constraint wants to be free of his bondage; a slave of love finds freedom in serving.

Once again, each of us needs to look at our own call. Consider your vocation and ask if you do things as a matter of habit, as a matter of convenience (so you do not have to deal with the consequences), or as a matter of charity. In the first two there will be no joy; in the third option we will find joy and peace. This implies choosing, out of love, to live a moral life, a prayer life, and a life of service to others. Our selfishness has brought us no happiness; perhaps it is time to try God’s way, the only way that brings real happiness.

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