You may have recently been mailed a flyer posing the question, “What if every Catholic in the Diocese of Rochester read the same Gospel?” Judging from efforts to promote the Book of Mark, diocesan leaders are sincere about getting participation as close to 100 percent as possible.
The Mark Project, which constitutes the second phase of the Spirit Alive! spiritual renewal, kicked off with flyer mailings and the blessing of Bibles at churches across the diocese on Nov. 30, the first Sunday of Advent. Progressing to a new Marcan chapter each week, this initiative will continue into Lent and is highlighted by parish Bible-study gatherings and weekly bulletin updates for home self-study.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark stressed that The Mark Project is open to all, whether they be folks who regularly read the Bible or those who, as he put it in his Catholic Courier “Along the Way” column on Oct. 29, 2008, take this chance to “find and dust off your Bibles and start reading.”
Strong interest in the initiative was reflected by Bible-study series that took place during Advent at St. Felix Church in Clifton Springs and St. Francis of Assisi in Phelps. Deacon Bob Cyrana, facilitator, said he was pleasantly surprised to see an average of 10 participants at each locale.
“When you do a Bible study, usually you probably get six people,” he said.
Ongoing Marcan Bible studies during the winter months are occurring at such parishes as St. Mary in Bath, which is holding Sunday-morning gatherings; Holy Cross in Dryden, which is offering sessions on Wednesdays; and Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, which is meeting every other week.
In addition, the diocesan spiritual-renewal Web site (www.rochesterspiritalive.org) offers extensive details and resources on the Gospel of Mark. Meanwhile, the self-study bulletin updates are reaching a countless amount of people. They examine one chapter of Mark each week; for instance, the first week highlighted Mark 1:1-8, depicting when John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness to announce the coming of Jesus. Related reflection questions were: “In what ‘spiritual wilderness’ have you found yourself? Who played the part of John the Baptist in your life — who ‘prepared the way’ for Jesus? How would you describe your relationship with Jesus right now?”
Guest speakers have enhanced The Mark Project as well. Father George Heyman, director of continuing education at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, is presenting lectures throughout the diocese that are cosponsored by St. Bernard’s and the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Catechesis. And on Dec. 12, St. Bernard’s hosted the Rev. Mark Allen Powell, a nationally known expert on the Gospel of Mark.
Mark is generally believed by modern scholars to be the first Gospel written, even though it appears after Matthew. The Book of Mark, at 16 chapters in length, is significantly shorter than the other Gospels — Matthew has 28 chapters, Luke contains 24 and John has 21. The book details Jesus’ suffering and rejection but also the need to continue trusting in him, being that many early followers of Jesus were undergoing heavy persecution of their own for their beliefs.
“It was pretty clear to everybody that Mark was writing for a specific audience,” Deacon Cyrana remarked of those who attended his Bible-study sessions.