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97. Prayer and Action (Mark 1:29-39)

January 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“If you seek to know where you can stay, stay close to Christ, because he is the way.”  St. Thomas Aquinas

Mark 1:29-39: On leaving the synagogue, he went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was. In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.

Christ the Lord Christ is a man whose whole attention is focused on others. Simon and his disciples come to him the morning after a day like none they had ever known before. Christ’s popularity was at a zenith, after his immensely successful preaching, his casting out a demon in the synagogue, and his evening of miraculous cures and exorcisms. They surely thought that he would claim the Messianic kingship right away and gather an army to cast off the despicable Roman rule, or something to that effect. When they awoke to find him gone, they searched apprehensively for him, lest they miss their chance for glory (the townspeople were already rallying and demanding his presence). But when they find him, alone in prayer on the mountaintop, and they tell him that everyone is looking for him, Christ answers with what was to be the first of many surprises: it is not for personal glory that he has come, but to fulfill a mission received from another, and so he must move on. They are welcome to come with him, but whether they do or not, he will be faithful to his Father’s will.

In a world inundated with the ethos of “success” and “achievement,” where great souls are withered by the rat race of petty promotions and vaporous rewards, the selfless, transcendent purpose of a man entirely focused on fulfilling someone else’s plan (i.e., God’s) may perhaps furrow our brow, but doesn’t it also stir us to admiration? Such is our Lord, who hopes that our admiration will evolve into heartfelt emulation.

Christ the Teacher Jesus Christ was God become man. His human nature was united with the power of his divine person. He was perfect, sinless, without any selfishness, laziness, or pride. His character was flawless, as firm as the mountains and as gentle as a mother’s caress. His mind was beyond brilliant, filled with the radiance of divine light and understanding. No emotional scars from a difficult family upbringing (Mary was without sin too, and Joseph was a saint), no personality disorders or imbalanced self-esteem – no lacks, no wounds, no imperfections at all. And yet, over and over again in the Gospels, we see him go off to be alone in prayer: “In the morning long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”

Christ was perfect, God from God and light from light, and yet he needed to reserve time just to be alone with his Father; he needed to go off and pray. He even had to get up early to make time for it. Sometimes he had to stay up late in order to make time for it. But he always did it.

If he, who was perfect, needed prayer in order to fulfill his life’s mission, what does that imply for us, who are so imperfect, so weak, so vulnerable to every sort of temptation and wounded by every kind of sin? Christ was a man of prayer, and, as he himself put it, “no disciple is greater than his master” (John 15:20).

Mark 1:29-39Christ the Friend It’s not only the simple fact of Christ’s miracles that demonstrates his personal love, but even the manner in which he performs them. Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. In the ancient world, fevers posed greater threats than they do today. If the fever was the result of an infection (which fevers frequently are), it could indicate an impending death, since there were no antibiotics; this explains the apostles’ concern. Jesus could have snapped his fingers and immediately cured her; but instead, he goes over to the bed where she lay, grasps her sweaty, feverish hand in his own firm, gentle grip, relieving her sickness with his touch, and then helps her up. In Jesus Christ, God comes to meet us in the reality of our humanity, bringing the warmth of his divine light into its most ordinary nooks and crannies.

Simon’s mother-in-law: When I woke from the fever, I felt… well, how can I describe how I felt? Normally such a long, severe fever wears you out, but when I woke from this one I felt buoyant, glad, strong. I felt a healthy, invigorating warmth flowing through me, banishing the fever’s enfeebling heat. And then I realized that this new strength was flowing into me. Only then did I turn and look to see who was holding my hand: Jesus.

Simon had told me about him, but I had never met him before. And yet, his smiling eyes told me he knew me. He didn’t have to speak any words. Right away he was my oldest friend as well as my newest friend. It sounds so strange, but it’s true. Suddenly, under his gaze, with his hand holding mine, all the different parts of my life fell into place. My heart and mind came into focus as they never had before. I wasn’t just cured from the fever; I was somehow new. Without even thinking, I smiled back at him and rose to start preparing some supper for him and his companions. Healthy? Yes, I was healthy again, healthier than I had ever been before.

Christ in My Life Lord, by making me your disciple, you have shared your mission with me. I am your missionary. You want to reach out to others through me; I am part of your mystical body. O Lord, fill me with enthusiasm and zeal for this wonderful and daunting mission of building your Kingdom! It is far beyond my capacities, but that doesn’t matter, as long as you lead me.

Prayer is a mystery to me, Jesus. Sometimes I seem to pray well, while other times I’m completely lost. But I know that you have given me the gift of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within me, teaching me and coaching me. Lord Jesus, I believe in you, and I know that without a healthy, growing life of prayer, my soul will wither. Dear Lord, teach me to be docile to the promptings of your Holy Spirit.

You continue to touch me, just as you touched Peter’s mother-in-law, whenever I receive you in the Eucharist. Thank you, Lord, for staying so close to me, for bringing your saving grace into my life in such a human way. Teach me this same gentle, caring manner as I reach out to help my neighbors.


PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art for this post on Mark 1:29-39: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter's Wife, John Bridges, 1839, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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