Pope Francis guides readers through the Gospel of Mark

This second volume in the series of reflections on the Gospels from Pope Francis is a perfect guide through the liturgical year of the Gospel of Mark. Taken from the pope’s homilies, speeches and addresses, each reflection draws upon the miracles, parables and teachings of Jesus that are presented in this Gospel.

As he did in the earlier spiritual and pastoral reading of the Gospel of Matthew, Pope Francis brings the stories of Jesus alive and provides insights that call us to a richer discipleship of contemplation and action. For example, the pope says that “to know Jesus, one must first be able to recognize him. And to know Jesus, there is prayer, there is the Holy Spirit, yes, but it is also a good practice to pick up the Gospel every day. …  It is the only way to know Jesus—to know what he did, what he said.”

As a Jesuit, the pope is grounded in the practice of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the order, and knows the strength that comes from contemplating the life of Christ daily. Pope Francis is aware that no matter how many times we return to the same Gospel story, new inspiration and insights for our own life and vocation emerge.

Take the stories of the miracles, for example, which the pope sees as “signs” that “encourage our faith, signs that are always accompanied by words that enlighten,” and lead us to conversion.

As Father Ronald Witherup, the superior general of the Sulpician order and Scripture scholar, notes in his foreword, Pope Francis “makes no claims to be a biblical scholar, but it is evident that his reflections are always rooted in the biblical text.”

While all four Gospels tell the same basic story, Scripture scholars usually regard the Gospel of Mark, the shortest and earliest one, as presenting the most human Jesus.

However, it is probably because we can identify so naturally with this very human Jesus and the other characters in this Gospel that I find it the most challenging as a disciple, especially when Jesus asks of Peter in the middle (or heart) of the Gospel, “But who do you say that I am?”

The issue of Jesus’ identity—a central theme in the overall structure of Mark—is also clear in the pope’s treatment of the text. Like all the characters in the Gospel, we are challenged to distinguish between the false understandings and the true identity of Jesus that is only revealed at the foot of the cross.

Like the Roman centurion, are we able to declare, “Truly, this man was the Son of God”?

Readers have the option of reflecting on the entire Gospel from beginning to end or selecting fragments of a passage for prayer.

As we meditate on these reflections of Pope Francis on the Gospel of Mark, may we come to know Jesus more intimately and not only be challenged by the question, “Who do you say that I am?” that Jesus asks of each of us, but also be open to the conversion that living our discipleship demands in today’s world.

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