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Friday, 24 January 2020

3rd Sunday of the Year A 2020

3rd. Sunday of the Year (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 yoke of sin, the rod of the oppressor, is lifted from their shoulders when they embrace the Good News brought by Jesus:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; among 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 people make merry when dividing the spoil. 

Jesus, as you heard in the Gospel reading, intended to make His apostles “fishers of men” by doing what He Himself was setting out to do, preach the Gospel, the Good News of salvation, to all men and women of good will.

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, 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 Isaiah the fact that great joy that would be occasioned by this future preaching of the Messiah, for he multiplied words expressing joy and happiness: ‘abundant joy’, ‘great rejoicing’, ‘joy of harvest’, and, ‘as people make merry when dividing the spoil’; and all those differing expressions of the same thing in just one sentence.

Jesus, as you well know, specially chose disciples, ultimately twelve in all, whose task would be to hear and learn from Him first of all, and then continue His work of preaching, proclaiming world-wide, His Good News:

            Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)

And Paul a former Pharisee – himself specially chosen by the Risen Jesus, not as one of the Twelve but alongside them, to become the Apostle of the Gentiles – that same, though so very different, Paul also declared, as you heard earlier:

Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel; and not with wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied if its meaning. 

Now, People of God, in this modern age do you rejoice to hear the Gospel preached?  Do you feel you need, do you truly want, to hear the Gospel message?  I have no doubt that many in the Church on Sunday do not have such a desire, because for many their principle criterion of a sermon depends 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. 
Why then is it that the great prophet Isaiah foretold joy, gladness, rejoicing, for God’s People privileged to  hear God’s Words of Salvation; and yet, for so many today -- like those still ‘living in a land of gloom’ there is no awareness of any such joy or privilege, just a feeling of weariness and tedium.  What does that mean?  It cannot mean that Isaiah was wrong or mistaken for God inspired him.  What does it mean then?  Is it not, perhaps, a lamentable but undeniable fact, that too many modern apparent Catholics are not truly living members of Christ’s Body, but rather, only committed in their Catholic sentiments at the best, but hangers-on in their Catholic and Christian mind and heart?

As St. Paul put it to his converts in Corinth (1 Cor. 3:1-3):

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. 
Children cannot stomach solid food, it is not sweet enough, it is not sufficiently easy to digest, nor does it look sufficiently attractive: that is why, today, the Word of God, which the prophet foretold would bring such rejoicing to God’s People, fails to call forth that joy and delight in many modern Catholics.

It is often said, of course, that the preacher fails to make the homily interesting, he is so dull, or so intellectual, or so unchallenging.  That might be said, and indeed it might be the part of the reason in some cases, but Dr. Johnson once remarked that Christians do not need to be told new things, the latest ideas, so much as to be reminded of those things they know but are in danger of forgetting.

Just think, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: what if your father or mother had died and the preacher was saying some words about them, or if your son or daughter was getting married and the celebrant was mentioning them in his address, would not you be interested, attentive, even though the preacher was not brilliant, even though his words were perhaps stodgy?  Words about your father or mother, about your son or daughter, could not fail to be of great 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 uninteresting for so many?    In the Gospel reading today we heard:

Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. 

People came to Him in their need and with their infirmities; can it be that for many today -- even those coming to Church and finding themselves bored to death with the readings and the sermons -- Jesus is not interesting because they are not aware of their need of Him: because they are in no way convinced of the corruption which infects the imagined virtues of our pagan society, or of the spiritual poverty and moral weakness waiting to betray they themselves in times of trial and distress? 

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 think are assured for them in the future?

Certainly, Jesus saw a deeply 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 have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. (Mark 2:17)

He was addressing deeply religious people, people who, for all that, did not want to recognize themselves as needy or endangered.  They used their literal observance of the Law and their contempt for the Gentiles – above all their Roman occupiers -- to bolster themselves.  Today, religious people also have practices and aspirations that help them avoid, put-off, any disturbing awareness of their own deep needs or personal insufficiency: for some of them who are Catholics, reception of Holy Communion is one such practice; for others, good works proclaimed by modern society also provide such a very comforting shelter.

Perhaps the modern ease of approach to the Eucharist and aversion to hearing the Word of God proclaimed is partly due to a failure to understand the true relationship between the Word of God in the Scriptures and Mother Church’s proclamation of the Faith, and the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ our Saviour, present in the Eucharist.  Most Catholics – even those who are impatient or ill at ease with the Scriptures or the Church’s proclamation of Jesus’ Good News – still want to receive the Eucharist, even frequently, believing It to be the key to Eternal Life:

Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Nevertheless, Jesus also said on that very occasion (John 6:53-54, 63-64):

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.
Our Catholic Faith does not in any way teach or rely on magic.  When Jesus speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood He is referring to His whole Person and Being.   The whole life and death of Jesus -- the Incarnate Son of God -- offers nourishment for eternal life, and ‘eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus’ is intended to literally express 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 troop up to receive Holy Communion and think that thereby eternal life is ours … that is nothing more than magical thinking.   Our reception of the Eucharist, our active participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, is intended to be the sublime expression, fulfilment, and confirmation of our continuous and consuming desire for oneness of mind, heart, and will, with Jesus, through the Spirit.

Likewise, with public good works so approved by many who show little respect for the Word of God proclaimed in the Church.  Just as mere reception of the Eucharist does not stand alone at the summit of Christian piety, so neither can socially-approved ‘good works’ be regarded as the supreme requirement or conclusive evidence of the Christian spirit.  As John the Baptist demanded of those coming to him for baptism, the fruit of good works is required, but only as an expression and consequence of their personal commitment of faith:

Diversity of fruits do not nourish man, rather is it Your Word that sustains those who believe in You. (Wisdom 16:26)

People of God, are you one of those who want indeed to approach Jesus but only from a position of strength, so to speak; to draw near to Him, indeed, but always confident in your own basic goodness?   Are you one who does not want to feel, who, indeed, will not allow yourself to be made aware of, your own emptiness and need?  There are many who will do almost anything to avoid any deep awareness of loneliness and nothingness which moments of loss, suffering, or love can make painfully clear: and modern society is, as a whole, geared to providing countless distractions that will help us to temporarily ignore any such saving awareness of our fundamental emptiness, weakness, and need.  And yet, without such an awareness, no one can turn to God as Saviour.

Now, you whom I am addressing have been chosen -- are called to salvation -- by God, otherwise, you would not be here; and though I am speaking now to admonish some, I do not wish to discourage any, for I urge you all to recall those words of Jesus (Luke 11:9-13):

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.  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!
People of God, the word of God has gone forth from the prophet's mouth:

You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at harvest, as they exult when dividing the spoils. 

Those words of Scripture, will not, cannot, return to God fruitless: and God's faithful people will indeed always rejoice both in His living Word and in His Eucharistic Presence.  Whether you will be among them is up to you: 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 too long will in no way harm you, for so long as the words spoken are a sincere expression of the truth about God, and if the liturgy is celebrated authentically, you should and can learn something profitable and receive blessing.  And being humble enough to learn and love something, 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, always available for you in the Eucharistic celebrations of Mother Church, where He will not fail to call, comfort, strengthen and enlighten you, by His Presence in both Word and Sacrament.