In his homily for Ascension Sunday, Bishop Silvio José Báez addressed one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages in Saint Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:17-18. As a scripture scholar and former professor of sacred scripture and biblical theology and spirituality at the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum, he is well-equipped to interpret and comment on this passage. He says that its “language is somewhat archaic and symbolic, but it’s worth deciphering.”
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”Mark 16:17-18
To begin, this is an effort to permeate creation with the gospel; first of all, the disciples will “cast out demons” in Jesus’ name. Not by their strength and human abilities, but through the power of Jesus. Living the Gospel is the most effective exorcism. Each one of us, living the gospel, will remove evil’s power and make it turn back and retreat until it is eradicated from life and history.
By our witness and our prayers we will drive out the most terrible demons that lie in wait for us, the demon of lies and selfishness, the demon of violence and power. Let’s not be discouraged. Evil doesn’t have the last word.
“Living the Gospel is the most effective exorcism.” Bishop @silviojbaez #Ascension homilyTweet
But this isn’t enough; as St. Paul says, “If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). For this reason, today we urgently need to learn the language of solidarity, respect, and compassion.
We must eradicate verbal attacks, words that wound, offensive remarks, and denigrating gossip. If we want a new society, let’s begin by learning ‘new languages’ that make it possible for us to draw closer together, promote interaction and seek the common good.
Then, Bishop Báez commented on the third sign that accompanies those who believe: “they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them.”
Third, the Lord will protect believers, as happened to St. Paul when he was unharmed after he was bitten by a viper on the island of Malta (Acts 28:3-6).
Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god (Acts 28:3-6).
Today there are insidious snakes and deadly poisons that are even more dangerous. By being faithful to the Lord, leaning on him, there will be no seduction to turn us away from the truth and cause our hearts to become dark and hardened.
Let’s ask the Lord to deliver us from the poison of the ‘four deadly I’s’: indifference, intolerance, ideology, and idolatry. These are poisons that can kill freedom and truth within us and rob us of generosity and joy.
Bishop Báez concluded by commenting on the Church’s healing mission…
Finally, believers ‘will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ Just as Jesus did. An essential part of our mission is to heal the world — to heal life; not only individual persons but society as a whole. By praying and witnessing to Jesus, we can heal the world. People who are sick, who suffer in their bodies from some ailment, should always be at the center of our hearts.
” By praying and witnessing to Jesus, we can heal the world.” Bishop @silviojbaez #Ascension homilyTweet
But we also must commit ourselves to the healing of our sick society. We must promote a healthier coexistence among people, spreading the desire to serve without self-seeking, promoting greater respect and understanding among all and offering forgiveness to people mired in moral failure and brokenness within themselves.
We must collaborate to heal the structures of society, condemning evil in all its forms. Further, we must liberate ourselves from the temptation to sell off our conscience for money, not being complicit in corruption. We must be committed to work for the best interests of the poor and promote social justice.
In the dark nights of our mission, Jesus shines as a gentle light that enlightens and consoles us; in loneliness and failure he reveals himself close by as a loving presence that gives hope.
In weakness and persecution, he strengthens us with his love so that we don’t lose heart, whispering to us in the depths of our souls: Courage! “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).
Silvio José Báez, O.C.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Managua
Homily, Ascension Sunday 2021 (excerpts, annotated)
Translation from the Spanish text is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.
Featured image: A Palestinian pilgrim prays the rosary in St. Peter’s Square on this date, 17 May 2015, at the Holy Mass and Rite of Canonization for Mariam of Jesus Crucified Baouardy. Here’s an excerpt from the homily of the Holy Father Pope Francis:
An essential aspect of witness to the risen Lord is unity among ourselves, his disciples, in the image of his own unity with the Father. Today too, in the Gospel, we heard Jesus’ prayer on the eve of his passion: “that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17:11). From this eternal love between the Father and the Son, poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5), our mission and our fraternal communion draw strength; this love is the ever-flowing source of our joy in following the Lord along the path of his poverty, his virginity and his obedience; and this same love calls us to cultivate contemplative prayer.
Sister Mariam Baouardy experienced this in an outstanding way. Poor and uneducated, she was able to counsel others and provide theological explanations with extreme clarity, the fruit of her constant converse with the Holy Spirit. Her docility to the Holy Spirit made her also a means of encounter and fellowship with the Muslim world.
Saint Mariam, pray for us!
(Photo credit: screengrab from Vatican Media broadcast)