Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings:  Is 8:23-9:3;   1 Cor 1:10-13, 17;   Mt 4:12-23                 

A television series called Early Edition portrayed the adventures of Gary Hopson who miraculously receives the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper a day early. He tries to use this extraordinary foreknowledge of events to prevent tragedies from occurring.  

In one episode he reads in tomorrow’s paper that an airplane at O’Hare exploded on takeoff yesterday, killing 150 people. And a little girl was knocked down by a car while riding her bicycle.  She died from what appeared to be minor injuries. He only has thirty minutes to stop the plane from taking off, but traffic is at a standstill.  When he sees the little girl riding by on her bicycle he has to make a snap decision: either press on to the airport, or try to save the child. Knowing there isn’t enough time to stop the airplane, he goes for the girl just as her bicycle is hit by a car.  He scoops up the crying child and brings her to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.  A nurse takes the girl’s name and telephones her parents.  When Gary insists that the child is dying, he is escorted out of the hospital as a troublemaker.  But he manages to get back in and convinces a doctor to examine her more closely.  The doctor finds a life-threatening condition and saves the little girl.  As Gary slumps into a chair with relief, his mind turns to the tragedy of those on the airplane whom he couldn’t save.  Later the girl’s parents come rushing in.  Her father is wearing a pilot’s uniform.  He was on the runway at O’Hare preparing for takeoff when the tower called him back because his daughter had been hit by a car. The plane and all 150 passengers were saved by Gary’s quick actions after all.

In television’s Early Edition the stories of Gary Hopson, a life-saving prophet, are heartwarming.  But real prophecy is often heartbreaking. Isaiah foresaw that the people of Israel would have to walk through the darkness of defeat and exile if they did not repent. He tried to warn them but in the end they killed him.  The prophet Jonah received a very early edition, forty days early.  It did not bring out the best in him, but the worst, because he did not want the conversion of Israel’s enemy, the cruel Assyrians. When God’s persistence finally prevails, Jonah returns to warn the people of Nineveh. They believe and repent. But Jonah would rather have seen headlines reporting the total destruction of the Assyrians.

The early edition of a more willing prophet, led John the Baptist to try and break through the false security of sinners. He foresaw chaff being blown away and fruitless trees being cut down at their roots by an axe.  When John didn’t shrink from reproaching even King Herod for his adulterous conduct he was arrested and imprisoned.  Ironically, the first person to be cut down by an axe was John himself. 

One day Charlie Brown was talking to Lucy with his arm resting securely on top of a wall.  She asks, “What do you think security is Charlie Brown?” He replies, “Security is sleeping in the back seat of a car when you’re a little kid and you’ve been somewhere with your mom and dad and it’s night. You don’t have to worry about anything. Your mom and dad are in the front seat and they’re doing all the worrying. They take care of everything.” Then Charlie Brown makes his own early edition prophecy, and says, “But it won’t last.  Suddenly you’re grown up and it can never be that way again. Suddenly it’s all over and you never get to sleep in the back seat again. Never!”  Overwhelmed by feelings of insecurity Lucy reaches over and says, “Hold my hand, Charlie Brown.

We have been given an early edition of the future by Jesus.  He is the fullest revelation of what is and what is to come.  As we follow Jesus again this year in the liturgy from Nazareth to Golgotha, and from Easter to Advent, Jesus reveals over and over again that we live in an insecure, dangerous and sinful world, and that we should repent because “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Suddenly it will all be over and we can never go back.  But thanks be to God, because we know what is to come.  We can get ready and be prepared to stand before Jesus with joy when he appears.  


Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20]

A recent book relates that there is evidence many American young people today are returning to religion. The first chapter of the book opens with an account of an unusual scene at Catholic University of America, where about sixty students linger for thirty minutes after a prayer service to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Earlier, at the same service, dozens of students were clamoring to go to confession. One young woman is described huddling with a priest. Having offered her confession, and been absolved, she remains seated in silence, her head bowed, quietly weeping, as the priest, a little disconcerted, sits with a hand on her shoulder as if encouraging her to contemplate the mystery of forgiveness she's just received from Christ. Maybe it's just me, but this scene awakens a certain ambivalence. It is, of course, wonderful to hear of these devout young people manifesting what appears to be a vibrant new found religious faith, and yet, I can't help be a little concerned about this girl and I wonder, in a world where so many young people have their trust betrayed, their minds short-circuited by competing ideologies and their bodies exploited, is this young woman just very contrite for her sins, or might she actually be the victim of some kind of trauma? Is she all right? Does she need to see a counselor? Is her embrace of the Catholic faith a healthy and authentic human response to the call of Jesus Christ? Might the intense feelings sweeping over her at this Catholic liturgy, be a kind of chemical she is taking to medicate the pain induced by an actual trauma? As John Paul II said on more than one occasion, young people today are rather fragile. As I picture her, bent over, weeping, any number of questions arise in my mind, so many questions . . . I forget to celebrate. I forget to rejoice at the very real evidence that a young woman, hearing Christ's summons, has returned to Him with all her heart. I forget that Jesus, after all, rose from the dead and that this revelation confirms he is the very Son of God sent into the world, and that he said: “Do not be afraid! I have conquered the world!” I forget that for a man risen from the dead, no evil or suffering or trauma is too terrible because Love has changed death into life! I forget that this young woman, bending in awe before the risen Lord, whatever her mental or emotional condition, is now in the hands of God. It's time to rejoice!

Sometimes I think, maybe I'm not very good at receiving good news. You tell me good news—and I want to think about it; I want to walk all around it, and study it from different angles; I have to inspect it, as if convinced it must be somehow flawed. Why can't I hear a story about a young woman returning to Christ and just—rejoice and be amazed and be thankful? I wonder how good you are at this sort of thing? Do you find you're able to receive an announcement of good news and trust that God is true; that He is faithful and that he is at work in the world? Are you able to celebrate good news spontaneously, with a glad heart, or do you detain the messenger and interrogate him and try to establish the facts of the case? How ready are you to believe good news when it comes?

Jesus, in today's gospel, appears in Galilee bringing glad tidings: “The time has come! Listen! Brothers and sisters, I tell you—the kingdom of God is near! Repent—and believe the good news!” Jesus' words mark the turning point in human history. These words are spoken by the Incarnate Word of God; who became flesh in order to accomplish for us a salvation we could never have attained for ourselves or even imagined. Jesus' words are the voice of Love bending down from heaven, drawing close to us as though a gentle and affectionate father, were gathering us up all together into his arms, whispering to us that we are loved far beyond anything we deserve or asked for. Do these words find a reception in your heart?

I wonder if our attitude toward young people in general might be an indicator of how receptive we are to the gospel Jesus announces today. The future is mysterious. If you want to know how mysterious, just look into the face of the young person seated nearest to you. We look at children and teenagers today and can have all sorts of mixed feelings. Their behaviors are—distinctive; their ways of talking and relating and dressing are all very different from those of young people in any other period of history. And yet their very presence among us makes manifest God's glory as Creator. A young person is a splendid, visible sign that God is fashioning a new world. In the freshness and strangeness of this new generation of human beings, we see God drawing all of us together toward an unimaginable destiny, the destiny Jesus calls “the Kingdom of God.” Maybe one effective way to “repent” and to dispel our unbelief and ingratitude is to take the risk of meeting and knowing a child, and praying for the grace to see in that child a sign that God's Kingdom is very near—and is getting nearer.

As we proceed now to celebration of the Eucharist, let us receive into our bodies and our hearts the humanity, soul, and divinity of Christ which is God's gift to us today. Let us especially pray for the conversion of our hearts that we may receive with greater trust and thanksgiving the gift of new life so marvelously manifest in the young, and trust that the good news Jesus' announces in today's gospel is being realized through them, for us, and for the glory of God.

Third Sunday of Ordinary time

[Scripture Readings: Is 8:23-9:3; 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23]

Today is the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. “Ordinary” does not mean “plain” or “common.” It means that there is an order to this journey to God that Jesus Christ is going to show us through the gospel.

So last week’s gospel prepared us for today’s. Last week we heard John the Baptist introduce us to Jesus as “He who takes away the sin of the world.” He used the singular: SIN, not the plural “sins.” The plural, “sins”, refers to acts; the singular refers to a condition. What is the SIN of the world, this “condition”? It must be the one sin that, when removed, would put us in right relationship to God. It would thereby assure our desire to live a happy life.

That desire for happiness and its connection to right relationship with God are the clues to the sin of the world. We all have a sense that something is lacking in us. When it is supplied we will be “set right”; we will be happy. Rather than receive happiness, though, we want to grasp it. Grasping leads to rivalry.

Biblical anthropologist, Rene Girard, tells us that the “sin of the world” is scapegoating; easing our fears by finding someone else to blame and making them pay. It is avoidance of facing our utter dependence on our creator. It is a refusal to be a receiver. What is lacking in us is our ability to love God with all of our heart, mind, & soul and our neighbor as self.
That would make us happy. But rather than admit our failure, throw ourselves on His mercy, and seek His help we find someone or something to blame. This is pride.

Today’s gospel presents the solution to this problem. To the people living in the darkness of this condition Jesus brings light. The darkness of life serves a very useful and important function: it makes us ready… ready to see the light…and go to it. Readiness is the purpose of the injunctions we find in the gospels; injunctions like “Learn from Me…” and “Come, follow Me!Readiness means being open to the call to move on. We’re most open to that when crisis hits. That is when we know that something has to change; we become open to conversion. With regard to conversion, readiness can have several synonyms such as “eagerness”, “zeal”, and even “desperation.” We look for someone to follow; for someone who knows how. Readiness, then, needs admiration to give it direction. This is humility.

Readiness is what impresses us most about the reaction of James and John, Peter and Andrew when Jesus called them. “They left their nets (their boat and their father) behind and immediately followed him.” There is something about the call and the Caller that captured their attention, aroused their admiration, and gave them a sense of urgency. There is something about that readiness that we admire. This must happen to us, too. This is true whether we are answering that call in the religious life, in marriage, or as a single person. There is something about the caller, Jesus Christ, and the call to follow Him that “rouses the weary,” that makes conversion attractive.

This something makes conversion attractive… but not easy. In the beginning, we are attracted because of His teaching and healing. We know, though, how it is going to end for the caller, Jesus Christ. He will be tortured and nailed to a cross. He knew His function as a caller would end that way; He was ready.

He knew that the cross was the only way He could reveal to us the scapegoating mechanism. The desire to assert autonomy, to deny dependence and powerlessness was so strong that it was better to kill an innocent man, even if the innocent man was the Son of God. Jesus Christ would acknowledge His dependence, remain submissive to the Father, and be a receiver of happiness even if it killed Him. Next week, in the Beatitudes, He will show us how to do the same; He will show us how to live without scapegoating. But first we need something that answering the call will provide.

At the resurrection, the caller became The Call. That something that drove Him is what He left us when He said “My peace I leave you.” That something made Him ready. That “something” is this: it is the powerful hope that what lies ahead will outweigh the sacrifice of what we are leaving behind.

Third Sunday of Ordinary time

[Scripture Readings: Neh. 8: 1-10; 1Cor. 12: 12-14, 27; Lk. 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21]

Among the different tensions we face in both secular society and church life is the tension between unity and pluralism. Few, if any people want a rigid uniformity that would make no allowance for personal initiative. However, there are many people today who think our tolerance for diversity has gone too far. The tension we experience is easy enough to state. Without sufficient agreement on our goals and how to achieve them we will simply be a collection of independent and eventually isolated individuals occupying the same geographical location. Conversely, if we do not allow for the legitimate expression of our uniqueness as human persons created in the image and likeness of God, we will be reduced to cogs in some sort of social machine. Whether the machine is a secular machine or has the trappings of a religious machine makes little difference. In either case we will be less than human persons, and hence less than the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and less than the sons and daughters of God our Father. The challenge of course is how to achieve a harmonious balance between unity and pluralism in our day to day lives.

To give in to my personal bias, whenever I reflect on the tension between unity and pluralism within the church and especially within our own local church of New Melleray my favorite image is the body of Christ as developed by St. Paul; not only as he presents it in his first letter to the Corinthians, but as he presents it throughout his letters; even when he does not specifically mention a body. Since he develops his presentation of the body of Christ by comparing it to a human body where the hand and the foot and the eye all have different functions, it is easy to conclude that his image of the body of Christ is only a literary metaphor. I submit that when Paul says that we are a body he is stating the truth of what as Christians we actually are. Just as our soul unites and coordinates the different organs and members of our physical bodies, the Spirit of Christ that we received in baptism unifies us as the body of Christ.

If we are experiencing our life together as too chaotic and disorganized, or conversely as too restrictive and stifling, I suggest the beginning of a more harmonious life together in unity and freedom is to look at how well we are cooperating with the Holy Spirit who is the source of our unity and our freedom. From the beginning of his public ministry to its culmination on Calvary and ultimately in his resurrection, Jesus Christ shows us what it means to live in the Spirit and he has enabled us to live in the Spirit. Our imitation of Christ is not only an external copying and adaptation of his behavior and teaching. First and foremost it is an internal imitation of his dedication to the will of his Father. We put on the mind of Christ by living in the Spirit of Christ who has been poured into our hearts.

Our birthright as Christians is to live in the complete unity and perfect uniqueness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The realization of our birthright begins here and now by our life in the body of Christ. We grow in our unity with one another and with all the members of the body of Christ past and present, and simultaneously we grow in our own uniqueness by putting the gospel into practice each day among those we live and work with. In the Holy Spirit unity and uniqueness are not in opposition; they grow in direct proportion to one another. We are gathered here this morning celebrating the sacrament of unity. As we receive the body and blood of Christ let us make our unity in Christ complete by living today and all our days in the Spirit of Christ.

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Is 8:23-9:3; 1 Cor 1:10-17; Mt 4:12-33]

Fr. Alberic In the gospel we just heard proclaimed, John, whom Jesus once called “the greatest man ever born of woman“, has been arrested by Herod, and, in response to this precipitous and unjust treatment of his friend, Jesus makes himself scarce; “withdraws” we are told, to Nazareth in Galilee. And I wonder if we don’t need to pause and reflect a moment on this particular behavior of Jesus, evident more than once in the gospels, namely, his tendency, in the face of problematic situations, to withdraw and seek refuge in another place. He does this repeatedly. On one occasion, evading boisterous and unruly crowds, he escapes on a boat across the sea of Galilee. From hostile Pharisees in the temple, who take up stones to kill him, Jesus withdraws, actually “hides“, and then “slips away“. Withdrawal, in the face of enemies, is not a position enjoying wide popularity among Americans these days, and, in general, a man is not thought well of, who repeatedly withdraws from engagement with his enemies, and so we might feel a little uneasy watching the Lord withdraw again and again from threatening situations. What are we to make of this behavior? Where does Jesus go when he withdraws? Where does he go in this morning’s gospel?

Jesus, hearing of John’s arrest, withdraws, the gospel says, to Nazareth in Galilee. That’s interesting. Nazareth is where Jesus spent his childhood. Withdrawing from Herod’s threats, Jesus — has gone home. You may be thinking, under the circumstances, Jesus must be glad to be home. He might be. But, for most of us, “going home” is a more complex experience than that. Nazareth in GalileeHome is where we come into contact with our personal history, and thus, come face to face with ourselves. Jesus has gone home; he has returned to himself, and to that place where he is able to see most clearly the truth about himself. This, you may say in reply, sounds like “belly-button gazing”; self-absorption; escapism. Is Nazareth an “escape” for Jesus? Evidently not. As we follow the path of his withdrawal, we read that, no sooner had Jesus arrived home, then he left again; left Nazareth and went to Capernaum near Zebulun and Naphtali, and, this is interesting: he has come to Capernaum, not to visit but, the gospel says, “to live”. Jesus, leaving home, settles down in Capernaum. What’s going on? Why should Jesus, leave home, to come live in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali? Zebulun and Naphtali, the gospel tells us, is where “people live in darkness“; a “land overshadowed by death“. Now, isn’t that interesting? Having fled a situation where he was threatened with death, Jesus now comes, (and comes to stay), in “a land overshadowed by death“, in order to settle and share with the people who live there their darkness; the darkness of death. Jesus’ withdrawal is looking less and less like a withdrawal and more and more like an engagement with the very evil, we thought he was avoiding. He is, in fact, actively engaging evil; in it’s ugliest form. Jesus has entered the land of death. Why? For what purpose? To despair and resign himself to the ultimate futility of life? Evidently not. The narrative continues, and the next thing we know Jesus has taken to the streets, proclaiming boldly with a loud voice: “Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” And this is only the beginning. In the next verse, we find him walking up to Simon and Andrew, fishermen on the shore of the sea of Galilee, and declaring: “Follow me!, and I will make you fishers of men!” A little further down the shore, he approaches two other complete strangers: “Follow me!” he says to them. Remarkably, all four men leave their nets immediately, and follow the impassioned stranger! Jesus is commencing his public ministry; the mission that will constitute him: “Savior of the world“. Capernaum in the region of NaphtaliBut before Jesus initiated the kingdom of heaven on the shores of Galilee, he went through a process: he withdrew from the noise and contention of the world; he went home; experienced and acknowledged the truth about himself; and having learned the truth about himself, was moved to associate himself from then on with those who live in darkness; in the shadow of death, and only then, having identified himself with those who under the curse of death, does the voice of the Messiah burst upon our ears for the first time, as he cries out with exultant confidence, “The kingdom of God is here!

Is there a lesson here for us today? We call certain men our enemies, but no man is our enemy. We all share as human beings one enemy: it is death. Are some of you asking: “Will there be another tsunami?” There is, at this very hour, brothers and sisters, a tsunami heading for our shores that will cover the entire face of the earth with its devastation—it is death, and it will leave no survivors, not one. If we could, come home to ourselves; if we could embrace, the way Jesus did, the truth about ourselves, that we are, all of us destined to die; if we could let ourselves be identified with the rest of the human race all huddled together: one mortal body overshadowed by death, then there would arise spontaneously from our hearts the cry: “Save us Lord! Liberate us from this body of death.” And having prayed this prayer, we would have ears at last to hear Jesus voice this morning proclaiming exultantly: “The kingdom of God is here! The reign of death is ended!“, and hearing Jesus’ voice, we ourselves, would be given new voices. We would become fishers of men and women gathering to ourselves all who seem so different from us, even our enemies, and recognize them as our own brothers and sisters in that kingdom where every tear is wiped away and death is no more.