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Thursday, 23 January 2014

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2014

 3rd. Sunday (A)
(Isaiah 8:23 - 9:3; 1st. Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12 -23)

Today’s readings speak to us of the joy God’s People experience when the ultimate yoke – no longer that of slavery or of foreign occupation and oppression, but the yoke of sin, the rod of Satan -- is lifted from their shoulders by the proclamation of the Good News brought by Jesus and given to His Church:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.  You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils.
Jesus, as you heard in the Gospel reading, intended to make His apostles “fishers of men” by associating them with Himself in the work He was about to begin after John’s apprehension and imprisonment:

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea.  From that time on Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Notice how strongly God impressed upon the great prophet the joy that would be occasioned by this ultimate preaching of Gospel freedom, for he repeated himself several times: ‘abundant joy’, ‘great rejoicing’, ‘rejoice at harvest’, and, ‘as men make merry when dividing spoils’!  And all those differing expressions striving to promote fitting awareness and appreciation of that one transport of delight he heaps together in a short and simple sentence:
 You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils. 

Such joy -- joy at God’s saving intervention freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt and from Assyrian terror – was, as Isaiah portrays it, most real and truly intense for those faithful ones who lived through it and cherished the memory of it.  However, Isaiah being a truly great prophet, is also allowed to foresee and foreshadow God’s ultimate future intervention that would bring an end to not only Israel’s, but also the whole of mankind’s, slavery and oppression under the yoke of sin, for all who will truly embrace the Good News of Jesus and the eternal salvation God offers in and through Him.  How wondrous will that joy be for all who will live for it!!  Israel of old had lived through temporal saving events; we, the true Israel of God, are called to know inconceivable joy by living for eternal salvation in accordance with Jesus’ Good News. 

For that purpose and to that end, Jesus chose special disciples -- twelve in all -- to be intimately associated with Himself in His life and work and, in particular, to be witnesses to His resurrection. These men became known as ‘apostles’, a designation highlighting their oneness with Jesus, Himself the apostle and high priest of our confession as the letter to the Hebrews tells us (3:1).  Ultimately, after the defection of Judas Iscariot and the adoption of Matthias, they were known and revered as ‘the Twelve Apostles’, or simply as ‘The Twelve’, who would continue Jesus’ work by establishing and consolidating His Church -- among both Jews and Gentiles throughout the world -- by their authoritative preaching and witnessing, in the power of His Spirit, to the fullness of His Truth (Mark 16:15): 

Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
St. Paul -- the Apostle of the Gentiles and Jesus’ supreme disciple according to the measure of his sufferings for Christ – emphasized the nature of his apostolic calling when he declared:

Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Now, People of God, bearing in mind Isaiah’s prophecy of joy and those authoritative words of St. Paul, do you, in this modern age, rejoice to hear the Gospel preached?  Being aware that you need salvation, do you truly want to hear the Church and her ministers’ proclamation of Jesus’ saving Gospel?  Without doubt, there seem to be many in Church on Sunday who are not deeply conscious of their need; for, being more aware of the person of the priest than attentive to Jesus, their appreciation of a sermon depends largely on its length, not on its content.  They much prefer a short -- even a very short -- homily, and when that is the case, they leave the Church positively congratulating themselves on their good fortune.

The great prophet Isaiah foretold joy, gladness, rejoicing, for God’s People privileged to hear God’s Word; and yet, for many today, there is no awareness of privilege, but rather of obligation, weariness, and tedium.  What does that mean?  It cannot mean that Isaiah was wrong or mistaken; God inspired him.  What does it mean then?  Is it not, perhaps, a lamentable but undeniable fact that too many apparent Catholics cannot be regarded as truly living, that is vital,  members of Christ’s Body, but are rather more or less uncommitted hopefuls, perhaps hangers on, or even, in some cases and for whatever reasons, pretenders?

However that may be, for those who are sincerely committed in their faith and persevering in their practice, those who, deep down, acknowledge and confess their need of and desire for the salvation offered by Jesus in the Gospel and in His Church, it most probably means that they are immature members of God’s People.  As St. Paul put it to his converts in Corinth:

Brethren, I could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.  (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Children don’t want food at times, it is not sweet enough, it does not look sufficiently attractive; their criterion for food is what is pleasant, not what is nourishing.   In a similar way, today, too many physically adult people do not truly appreciate the Word of God which the prophet foretold would bring such rejoicing to God’s People; it fails to call forth joy in, it does not meet with appreciation from, a people surrounded and satiated with what is expressly made and presented so as to be found pleasant and comforting, easy and popular.
Of course it is often said that the preacher fails to make the homily interesting, he is so intellectual, or so dull and unchallenging, and indeed it might well be true in some cases.  But just think: what if your father or mother had just died and the preacher was saying some words about them, or if your son or daughter was getting married and again the celebrant was mentioning them in his address, would not you be interested and indeed most attentive, even though the preacher was not brilliant, even though his words – of themselves -- were dull and uninspiring?  Words about your father or mother, about your son or daughter, could not fail to be of interest to you; you would hang on to every one of them.

Why then are the words of the Gospel, why then is preaching about Jesus and His offer of salvation, so wearisome for many?    Today we heard that:

Jesus went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

People came to Him -- spontaneously and enthusiastically -- in their spiritual need and with their physical infirmities; can it be that for those coming to Church and finding themselves bored to death with the readings and the sermons, that Jesus is not interesting because they are not aware of their need of Him; because they are in no way convinced of the spiritual poverty and moral weakness waiting to betray all of us in times of trial and distress; because they are not even disturbed by the rampant power of evil threatening the peace and stability of our society and of the whole world today?   In other words, can it be that, deep down, they think Jesus’ Good News is not really as good as the worldly pleasure and prosperity they find themselves presently enjoying and which they like to think is assured for them or will be available to them in the future ?

Certainly Jesus saw a deep-rooted malaise in the hearts and minds of the satisfied and self-contended Jewish leaders in His time:

He said to them, "Those who are well do not need of a physician, but the sick do.   I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)

He was addressing deeply religious people, but people who were also very human in their willingness and ability to ignore what they did not want to recognize; a people using literal observance of the Law and contempt for the Gentiles – above all their Roman occupiers -- to bolster their spiritual morale.  Today also, Catholic and apparently religious people have practices and distractions that help them avoid, or put-off, any disturbing awareness of their own deep needs or personal insufficiency: for some of them, reception of Holy Communion is one such practice; for others, a quota of good works provide a very comforting shelter.
Perhaps the modern ease of approach to the Eucharist combined with an aversion to hearing the Word of God preached and proclaimed is, in some measure, due to a failure to understand the true relationship between the Word of God in the Church’s proclamation and worship of Jesus, and the Incarnate Word of God -- Jesus Christ our Saviour -- present in the Eucharist.

Most Catholics want to receive the Eucharist, even frequently, believing It to be the key to Eternal Life as Jesus said (John 6:53-54):

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.   Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.   

However, Jesus also said on that very occasion:

It is the Spirit that gives life; while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.   (John 6:63-64)

The fact is that our Catholic Faith does not in any way practice or promote magic.  When Jesus speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood He is referring to His whole Person and Being: it is the whole life and death, the whole Risen Being, of Jesus the Incarnate Son of God, that offers nourishment for eternal life: eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus is intended to signify and bring about the deepest personal commitment to and oneness with the Person of Jesus, Who lived, died, and rose again for us and for our salvation.   We cannot just join the queue to receive Holy Communion and think that thereby eternal life is ours … that is little more than magical thinking.   Our reception of the Eucharist, is intended to be part of our active participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the sublime expression, fulfilment, and confirmation of our sincere desire for oneness of mind, heart, and soul, with Jesus, through the opening up of our inmost selves to the influx of His heavenly Gift of the transforming Spirit.

Likewise with good works so approved by many who show little respect for the Word of God proclaimed in the Church.  The fruit of good works is, indeed, required, as John the Baptist demanded of those coming to him for baptism in the Jordan, but only as the expression and consequence of the personal commitment of faith and obedience to Jesus:

“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”   Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the One He sent.”  (John 6:28-29.)

People of God, some want to approach Jesus but only from a position of strength, so to speak; to draw near to Him, indeed, but confident in their own goodness.   They do not want to feel, to be made aware of, their own emptiness and need. And yet, without that saving awareness no one can turn to God as Saviour.

You have been called and chosen by God for salvation, otherwise, you would not be here; and though I am now admonishing some, I have no desire or intention to discourage any, for I am urging all to recall those words of Jesus: 

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you; for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  (Luke 11:9-10)

People of God, the word of God has gone forth from the prophet's mouth:

You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils.  

Those words -- the Scriptures assure us -- will not, cannot, return to God fruitless: and God's faithful people will always rejoice both in His living Word and in His Eucharistic Presence.  Whether we will be found among them is up to each one of us: but none should try the childish practice of blaming others for what is personal indifference.  If you are looking and longing for God, then, whether the sermon is poor or the liturgy long should in no way cause you to close your mind or seal your heart.  If the words spoken are a sincere expression of the truth about God, and if the liturgy is celebrated with reverence, you should and can participate and worship, love and learn: and, being humble and faithful enough to learn, you will, soon enough, be granted to rejoice with all the blessed; because the God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in Whom you believe and trust is, indeed, awaiting you in the Eucharistic celebrations of Mother Church, where He will not fail to  comfort, strengthen and enlighten you, by His Presence and by His welcome in both Word and Sacrament.