The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Fulfilled in Your Hearing!

Today’s readings

I want to begin my homily by reminding you of the words we heard in our first reading from Nehemiah:

He read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.

So when you think Mass is too long, just think about that! We could be going from daybreak to midday!

Today we’re talking about teaching and the Scriptures, which is to remind us that we are all, always and forever, in the “school” of the faith. We don’t ever graduate from that school, until, of course, that great day, when we stand before our Lord to be judged, relying on his mercy and on our relationship with him, which is always a gift. Those who unite themselves to our Lord in faith throughout their lives, those who continue to study the Scriptures and see them fulfilled in our hearing, they have the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Saint Jerome underlined this for us. He said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, because for all of us who did not live in the same time as Jesus, we rely on the Scriptures not just to tell us who Christ was, but also to have a relationship with him, remembering that Jesus is always present in the proclamation of the Word of God.

There are three Scriptural moments in today’s Liturgy of the Word. First, the Word is proclaimed. Second, that Word has an effect on its hearers. Finally, the Word is fulfilled. So first, the Word is proclaimed, and we see that twice. In the first reading, Ezra the priest reads from the scroll from daybreak to midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand. It was quite the proclamation, and also included a kind of homily, apparently, since the reading tells us that Ezra provided an interpretation. The second time we see this is in the Gospel reading. Jesus takes the scroll of the law, and finds a particular passage from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims it. He too provides an interpretation, in the form of his very life.

The second Scriptural moment is the Word’s effect on its hearers. For Ezra, the Word produced a very emotional response. The people bowed down in the presence of the Word, and began to weep. The weeping is presumably because, hearing the Word, they realized how far they were from keeping its commandments. I think we might have that same reaction sometimes, and when it produces repentance, that’s really not a bad thing at all. But Nehemiah instructs them not to weep, but instead to rejoice and celebrate, because the proclamation of the Word on this holy day was an occasion for great joy. In contrast, we don’t get any idea of how the rest of the congregation at the synagogue reacted to Jesus’ proclamation of Isaiah in the Gospel reading, but one would think that it would have been a pretty tame reaction until he announced that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy. Then we can imagine they had a lot to say and a perhaps indignant reaction.

Finally, the Word is fulfilled. Jesus’ instruction in the Gospel that the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled in the synagogue-goers hearing tells us that Word is never intended to be a static thing. We do not just passively sit through the proclamation of the Word, nod our heads, and move on to the Eucharist. The Word is a living thing and it is intended to have an effect on its hearers. Indeed, the Word is always proclaimed with the intent that it be fulfilled, and that fulfillment began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his person, all of the promises of the Old Testament are brought into being, and the real hope of the world begins.

We continue to celebrate the Word in those three moments. We come now come to this holy place to hear the Word proclaimed, and have it interpreted in the homily. Our Liturgy of the Word, then, goes back to ancient times, and looks much the way Ezra proclaimed the Scriptures. Except, of course, it’s a lot shorter now! We continue to be affected by the Word’s proclamation. We too may be moved to tears as we hear of God’s goodness, and think of the way we have fallen short. We too need to hear Nehemiah proclaim that the preaching of the Word is a time for great joy. Finally, the Word continues to be fulfilled among us. Having sent his Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to be the fulfillment of Scripture, every time someone hears the Word and acts on it.

I want to try a bit of an object lesson. Jesus, quoting from Isaiah, said that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. That is true too for all of us who have been Baptized and Confirmed, because we receive the Holy Spirit in both Sacraments. So I would ask all of you to close your eyes for a minute and listen to these words from Isaiah spoken not just to Jesus, but also to all of us:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you,
because he has anointed you
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent you to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

You may find yourself ill-equipped to break people out of prison. But I know that you know at least one person who is in some kind of prison. Maybe they are imprisoned by illness or old age. Maybe they are imprisoned by fear of acting to better their lives. These people need you to journey with them and be present to them, thereby setting those captives free. You may not be too sure about how you can proclaim recovery of sight to the blind. Maybe you don’t even know anyone who is physically blind. But you probably know somebody who is blind to the fact that they are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Or maybe you know somebody who is blind to the fact that they are suffering from an addiction of some sort. Maybe you know somebody who is blind to the fact that someone they are close to needs them in a special way. You may even know somebody who is blind to the fact that they are a beautiful, gifted, and beloved son or daughter of God. You can be present to these who are blind and to gently but firmly lead them to recovery of sight. Finally, you probably have no idea how to let the oppressed go free. But you may have an hour or two to serve a hot meal to those oppressed by homelessness at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. You may be able to spend some time occasionally with those who are oppressed by not knowing how to read. By giving of yourself, you can let these oppressed go free.

We have been anointed with the Holy Spirit in order to bring glad tidings to the poor. By acting selflessly, we can turn things around in our own little corner of the world. By hearing and acting on the Word, we can proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. May the Words of this Holy Book be fulfilled today – and every day – in your hearing.

Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Saint Jerome is something of an enigma.  He wasn’t the epitome of the quiet, scholarly saint that one might think him to be.  Perhaps unfortunately, he was known for his quick temper and sometimes mean-spirited pen.  If they had email in those days, he’d probably be the one to fire off a quick nastygram without even taking time to think about it.

But we need to be extremely thankful for Saint Jerome as we open up the Scriptures today.  Without his tireless efforts, our understanding of Sacred Scripture would be quite limited, I think.  It was Saint Jerome who spent so much time translating the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, creating what was know as the Vulgate translation.  This was the standard text of the Scriptures for a long time in the Church, and is still an important basis for today’s English-language and other translations.  His commentaries on the Scriptures are important to us to this very day.

Jerome was a pre-eminent scholar.  He studied the Scriptures all the time and was an expert in Biblical languages including Hebrew, Greek, Chaldaic and of course Latin.  He also spent a good deal of time in the Holy Land, walking the path of Christ, staying in the places where he stayed, even living for a time in the cave believed to have been Jesus’ birthplace.  He wasn’t just a scholar studying the Scriptures from a theoretical viewpoint; he was instead devoted to the Scriptures, pouring through them with love.  He once said that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  To know the Lord, we have to immerse ourselves in Scripture.

For those of you who are part of our Biblical Institute or our Bible Studies, today is a Patronal feast day for you.  Saint Jerome’s love of Scripture has made it possible for all of us to come to know Christ in a more intimate way through our own study and devotion to the Word of God.  Saint Jerome, pray for us, and lead us back to the Scriptures with the same love and devotion you had.

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I want to begin my homily by reminding you of the words we heard in our first reading from Nehemiah:

He read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.

So if you think my homily is long, just think about that!  We could be going from daybreak to midday!

Today we’re talking about teaching and the Scriptures, which is very appropriate today as we begin Catholic Schools Week.  This week reminds us that we have the gift of a wonderful school that teaches not just the usual subjects you find in every school, but also helps to teach the faith and gives witness to the joy of the Scriptures being fulfilled.

But as far as that goes, we are all, always and forever, in the “school” of the faith.  We don’t ever graduate from that school, until, of course, that great day, when we stand before our Lord to be judged, relying on his mercy and on our relationship with him, which is always a gift.  Those who unite themselves to our Lord in faith throughout their lives, those who continue to study the Scriptures and see them fulfilled in our hearing, they have the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

Saint Jerome underlined this for us.  He said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, because for all of us who did not live in the same time as Jesus, we rely on the Scriptures not just to tell us who Christ was, but also to have a relationship with him, remembering that Jesus is always present in the proclamation of the Word of God.

There are three Scriptural moments in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  First, the Word is proclaimed.  Second, that Word has an effect on its hearers.  Finally, the Word is fulfilled.  So first, the Word is proclaimed, and we see that twice.  First, in the first reading, Ezra the priest reads from the scroll from daybreak to midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand.  It was quite the proclamation, and also included a kind of homily, apparently, since the reading tells us that Ezra provided an interpretation.  The second time we see this is in the Gospel reading.  Jesus takes the scroll of the law, and finds a particular passage from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims it.  He too provides an interpretation, in the form of his very life.

The second Scriptural moment is the Word’s effect on its hearers.  For Ezra, the Word produced a very emotional response.  The people bowed down in the presence of the Word, and began to weep.  The weeping is presumably because, hearing the Word, they realized how far they were from keeping its commandments.  I think we might have that same reaction sometimes.  Nehemiah then instructs them not to weep, but instead to rejoice and celebrate, because the proclamation of the Word on this holy day was an occasion for great joy.  We don’t get any idea of how the rest of the congregation at the synagogue reacted to Jesus’ proclamation of Isaiah, but one would think that it would have been a pretty tame reaction until he announced that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy.  Then we can imagine they had a lot to say and a perhaps indignant reaction.

Finally, the Word is fulfilled.  Jesus’ instruction in the Gospel that the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled in the synagogue-goers hearing tells us that Word is never intended to be a static thing.  We do not just passively sit through the proclamation of the Word, nod our heads, and move on to the Eucharist.  The Word is a living thing and it is intended to have an effect on its hearers.  Indeed, the Word is always proclaimed with the intent that it be fulfilled, and that fulfillment began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In his person, all of the promises of the Old Testament are brought into being, and the real hope of the world begins.

We continue to celebrate the Word in those three moments.  We come now come to this holy place to hear the Word proclaimed, and have it interpreted in the homily.  Our Liturgy of the Word, then, goes back to ancient times, and looks much the way Ezra proclaimed the Scriptures.  Except, of course, it’s a lot shorter now!  We continue to be affected by the Word’s proclamation.  Of the stories we hear, we have our favorites, and there are stories that move us within, emotionally and spiritually.  We too may be moved to tears as we hear of God’s goodness, and think of the way we have fallen short.  We too need to hear Nehemiah proclaim that the preaching of the Word is a time for great joy.  Finally, the Word continues to be fulfilled among us.  Having sent his Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to be the fulfillment of Scripture, every time someone hears the Word and acts on it.

I want to try a bit of an object lesson.  Jesus, quoting from Isaiah, said that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.  That is true too for all of us who have been Baptized and Confirmed, because we receive the Holy Spirit in both Sacraments. So I would ask all of you to close your eyes for a minute and listen to these words from Isaiah spoken not just to Jesus, but also to all of us:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you,
because he has anointed you
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent you to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

You may find yourself ill-equipped to break people out of prison.  But I know that you know at least one person who is in some kind of prison.  Maybe they are imprisoned by illness or old age.  Maybe they are imprisoned by fear of acting to better their lives.  These people need you to journey with them and be present to them, thereby setting those captives free.  You may not be too sure about how you can proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.  Maybe you don’t even know anyone who is physically blind.  But you probably know somebody who is blind to the fact that they are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship.  Or maybe you know somebody who is blind to the fact that they are suffering from an addiction of some sort.  Maybe you know somebody who is blind to the fact that someone they are close to needs them in a special way.  You can be present to these who are blind and to gently but firmly lead them to recovery of sight.  You probably have no idea how to let the oppressed go free.  But you may have an hour or two to serve a hot meal to those oppressed by homelessness at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.  You may be able to spend some time occasionally with those who are oppressed by not knowing how to read.  By giving of yourself, you can let these oppressed go free.

We have been anointed with the Holy Spirit in order to bring glad tidings to the poor.  By acting selflessly, we can turn things around in our own little corner of the world.  By hearing and acting on the Word, we can proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.  May the Words of this Holy Book be fulfilled today – and every day – in your hearing.

Friday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Just like John in today’s reading from the Revelation, we who are followers of Jesus are called to take in the Scriptures and internalize them.  And just as for him, they will first taste sweet: our initial experience with God, or even a fresh new experience of him will often be a pleasant encounter.  But eventually, the word becomes sour in our stomach as we realize what the word means for us.  We may have to change in some way, or end a toxic relationship, or take a leap of faith, or attack a pattern of sin.  None of that is easy, but like the Psalmist, we may remember what Jesus has in store for those who do his will and pray, “How sweet to my taste is your promise!”

Friday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the Scriptures.  They speak to us of the very essence of God.  The Scriptures aren’t words dictated by God, but rather, the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Scriptures with the truth that comes from God himself.  All Scripture, as Saint Paul reminds us today, is “useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

What is wonderful about the Scriptures is that, even though they were written over many centuries, they all resonate in harmony with each other.  Even the New Testament does not clash with the Old Testament.  In many ways, the Church Fathers have taught us that the Old Testament is the precursor to the Gospel, the prophecy and history that prefaces the coming of Christ.  All of the Scriptures were always part of God’s plan for us, and they are the textbook for living the Christian life.

Over the years, Catholics have been accused of being unfamiliar with the Scriptures, which was true in the past.  But that has changed recently, and many Catholics have become friends of Scripture, and have studied and prayed with these words as was their intent.  I had a seminary professor who used to tell us to be sure that we let the Scriptures wash over our lives each and every day, even reading just a few verses before bed if we hadn’t had time to read them all day long.

So today we are grateful to God for the revelation he has given us in holy Scripture.  May we all immerse ourselves in them, constantly striving to come closer to God through the study of his word.

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time – Respect Life

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word is kind of a homily about the Liturgy of the Word.  We hear in the readings about how powerful the Word of God is, and what an important part of our lives hearing those words is for those who believe.  Our first reading and our gospel reading both show moments where the word is proclaimed.

In the first reading, the people are returning from a disastrous exile in Babylon.  Because they had not previously acted on God’s word, the Babylonians overtook them, and the cream of their population was carted off to exile.  The religious and political leaders, the learned teachers, the strong soldiers, all of these were taken from their midst.  So today’s reading finds them on the other side of that event: they are returning and beginning to think about the daunting task of rebuilding their society and its infrastructure.  They pause at the beginning of that to remind themselves of the words of Scripture that had been so important to them.

The gospel reading finds the Israelites at a much later time, obviously, a time where the Temple had been destroyed.  In order to preserve their religion, the practice of meeting in synagogues had come about.  There, the words of Scripture would be read, and someone would give an interpretation of those words.  This time the proclaimer and interpreter is Jesus himself.

What is common in these two readings is that each of them shows us three Scriptural moments. In the first moment, the Word is proclaimed. Second, that Word has an effect on its hearers. Finally, the Word is fulfilled. So first, the Word is proclaimed. In the first reading, Ezra the priest reads from the scroll from daybreak to midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand. It was quite the proclamation, and also included a kind of homily, apparently, since the reading tells us that Ezra provided an interpretation. This went on most of the day, I might add, so don’t complain if my homily is more than nine minutes!  The second time we see this is in the Gospel reading. Jesus takes the scroll of the law, and finds a particular passage from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims it. He too provides an interpretation, in the form of his very life.

The second Scriptural moment is the Word’s effect on its hearers. For Ezra, the Word produced a very emotional response. The people bowed down in the presence of the Word, and began to weep. The weeping is presumably because, hearing the Word, they realized how far they were from keeping its commandments, and remembered that not following those commandments is what cast them into exile. Ezra then instructs them not to weep, but instead to rejoice and celebrate, because the proclamation of the Word on this holy day was an occasion for great joy. We don’t get any idea of how the rest of the congregation at the synagogue reacted to Jesus’ proclamation of Isaiah, but one would think that it would have been a pretty tame reaction until he announced that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy. Then we can imagine they had a lot to say and a perhaps indignant reaction.

Finally, the Word is fulfilled. Jesus’ instruction in the Gospel that the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled in the synagogue-goers hearing tells us that Word is never intended to be a static thing. The words of Scripture than made the Israelite’s weep in Nehemiah and Ezra’s day are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ and continue to be fulfilled in our own day.  We do not just passively sit through the proclamation of the Word, nod our heads, and move on to the Eucharist. The Word is a living thing and it is intended to have an effect on its hearers. Indeed, the Word is always intended to be fulfilled, and that fulfillment began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his person, all of the promises of the Old Testament are brought into being, and the real hope of the world begins.

The Word of God, we are told, is a living and active thing.  The Word leads us to a certain way of life, a belief that God is among us, and that he gifts us overwhelmingly every single day of our lives.  This time each year, we pause to be reminded particularly of the gift of life.  Perhaps we might find ourselves of the same mind as the Israelites who wept when they considered how far they had been from keeping God’s law.  The same could be said of our own society, which seems to value life less and less all the time.  Against this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” (CCC, 2258)

This past Friday was the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that in effect legalized abortion in the United States.  The Church teaches us that abortion is a violation of the fifth commandment, which states: “Thou shall not kill.”  Participation in an abortion – which includes having one, paying for one, encouraging one, performing one, and helping in the performance of one – is a mortal sin.  Because we oppose abortion, we as a Church are committed to making alternatives to abortion more available, including adoption, financial assistance to parents and especially mothers in need, and education about the sanctity of life.

Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, our society has tumbled down the slippery slope of devaluing life and we are seeing the rotten fruits of it all over. War, violence, hatred, lack of concern for the poor and needy, lack of respect for the elderly and terminally ill, all of these things are symptoms of the culture of death that surrounds us. Far from liberating women and giving them choice over the use of their bodies, the legalization of abortion has driven many women to have an abortion simply because they thought that was their only option or because it was more convenient for family or the father.

But respecting life goes beyond merely opposing abortion.  Our Church teaches us that we cannot claim to be Pro Life if we are in fact only anti-abortion. Our claim to righteousness has to be based on more than never having had the disastrous occasion of having to choose to participate in an abortion, or it’s not really righteousness at all. If we pray to end abortion and then do not attend to our obligation to the poor, or if we choose to support the death penalty, or if we engage in racial bigotry, then we are not in fact Pro Life. Every life, every life, every life is sacred, no matter what we may think of it.  It’s sacred because God created that life after his very own image and likeness.

And I say all this not because I don’t think that abortion is anything short of a disaster: it most certainly is.  Abortion ends the life of a child, it ruins the lives of everyone involved, it damages society in ways we may never fully know.  I say this because it’s way too easy for us to oppose abortion and then call ourselves Pro Life and then go out and violate life in some other circumstance. We must be very careful of doing that, because not being completely Pro Life weakens our witness to the sanctity of life.  The world is watching us closely.  And we absolutely cannot be at all weak in our witness for life: our society needs our strength and passion for life so that there can be conversion and change and unity and peace.

The Word of God continues to be proclaimed, to have an effect on us who hear it, and to be fulfilled in our hearing.  Our witness for life is an important way that the Word is fulfilled in our own day.  The Scriptures tell us that the culture of death doesn’t get the last word – God does, life does.  And for that, as Ezra exhorted the Israelites, we should rejoice.