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THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – January 27, 2019

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
A reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians 12:12-30
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Can you identify with the people in today’s first reading?  Have you ever been moved to tears, or to great joy as the proclamation of the Scriptures washed over you?  Such experiences ought to be the norm, rather than the exception.  We believe it is the living word, after all.  The Lord is present in the Word, just as Christ is present in the Eucharist and in the Assembly.  That encounter should thrill and draw us into deeper conversion.  That is what happened to those men, women, and children old enough to understand, assembled before Ezra, the priest.  It will similarly move those gathered around Jesus in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry, as he opens the scroll and reads from the Prophet Isaiah in today’s gospel.

Part of the intensity of experience for those assembled in the first reading is due to their situation.  They are the people newly restored to Jerusalem, following their having lived in exile and slavery during the Babylonian captivity.  While in Babylon, many had wandered from the Lord and had gone after the gods of the Babylonians.  They have returned to the holy city destroyed and now in the process of being rebuilt.  Ezra, standing on a special platform and holding the scroll high, so that all the people could see it, proclaimed from the Law from daybreak until midday.  How do you think a reading of that length would go over today?  But, then, remember that probably we are not starved for the Word as those people were. Or we may not recognize that we are.

We tend to think of laws, even the Decalogue, as repressive, curtailing our freedom.  Believe it or not, that was not the primary reaction the Jews had to the Law.  Hearing the Law proclaimed gave them the opportunity to examine their consciences and recognize their infidelity to YHWH.  And so they bowed down and wept as they felt sorrow for their sins and a resurgence of faith in the One who led their ancestors out of Slavery in Egypt to the freedom in the Promised Land.  They raised their hands high and shouted, Amen!  Amen!  Why?  Because the reading of the Law gave them an intense experience of YHWH’s presence in their midst.  They were YHWH’s people.  Even though they had been unfaithful, YHWH had remained faithful to them and once again had led them out of slavery and restored them to Jerusalem.

Imagine the power of Ezra’s reading and the fervor with which he proclaimed the reading to that assembly.  The Spirit of God animated Ezra and spoke through him and so touched the people in their vulnerability and strengthened and renewed them.  YHWH acted.  The people reacted and woke to belief.  To be similarly moved, perhaps we have to come before the Word similarly vulnerable, conscious that we are sinners, and so be awakened to, and strengthened in our experience of God in our midst.

Pardon an aside here.  It is obvious that YHWH gifted Ezra with the power to proclaim the Word.  Today we would say that gave Ezra the charism of Reader or Lector.  Notice, Ezra is not preaching.  He does not break open the Word.  He proclaims the Law as it is written in the Torah.  Sometimes I find listening to the proclamation of the Word at Mass a tortuous experience.  Some of those who stand in the midst of the Assembly and read from the platform designated for that purpose, the ambo, do not have Ezra’s charism.  There is no enthusiasm in the reading.  Often words are mispronounced, the phrasing pedestrian to poor.  Sometimes it is clear that the Lector does not understand the reading, or is reading without having prepared it prior to the proclaiming of it.  Paul, in the second reading from the first Letter to the Corinthians, urges us to recognize that everybody does not receive the same gifts.  There are different gifts, but the same giver.  Having a gift, a charism, does not raise the person above the rest, but rather receives a call to share that gift in the midst of those other and differently gifted people.

Sensing a call to a certain ministry is not a guarantee that that one has the charism.  There ought to be a discernment process done through prayer and reflection by which it becomes clear to which ministry the person is being called by the Spirit working in her/him.  Not everyone is a Lector.  Not everyone is a Preacher.  Not everyone is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  The same is true for all of the other ministries to be practiced in the parish.  But some are called to each of them so that all of those ministries can be carried out in a healthy parish.  Where there is a ministerial need, the Spirit will inspire so that the need can be met and the work of the Lord can be carried out. 

The gospel for this Sunday and for most of the Sundays of this Liturgical Year is from Luke.  The reading comes from two chapters, the first and the fourth, combined to orient us in the journey we are beginning with Luke.  Notice that Luke addresses the Gospel to Theophilus.  Some say there was someone of significance by that name in Luke’s community, a wealthy person to whom Luke would address both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  But most commentators take their cue from the name’s translation and see that both books are addressed to One Who Loves God, that is, to you and to me.  Take your pick.  And Luke explains to the reader that he is a thorough researcher, has read other accounts, talked to eyewitnesses, and now is ready to write his own sequence of the events that evidence our salvation.

We come to Jesus’ return.  From where?  From the period of temptations in the desert.  Having triumphed in that struggle, the Spirit, who had led him into the desert for the temptations, now leads him back to Galilee where his reputation will swell rapidly among the people who marvel at his words and his deeds.  And he comes to Nazareth, the town where he grew up.  He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and in the midst of those people who have known him from his childhood, reads to them from the Prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah speaks as one animated in the Spirit of the Lord, sent to bring good news to the poor, to set captives free, to restore sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.  When Jesus finishes the reading, he closes the scroll and says to all in his hearing: Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.

The reading is a composite sketch of Jesus’ ministry.  All of those charges are meant to remind the people of God’s undying and unconditional love for them.  Jesus brings God’s love to the little ones, to the off scouring of society, so that they might know their favor with God and that they are destined to live with God forever.  The hungry will be fed.  The little ones and the oppressed will be lifted up and freed.  Wars will end.  Jesus says that this will happen in, with, and through him beginning today.  That is thrilling, isn’t it?

This thumbnail sketch of Jesus’ ministry should also be the same for the ministry of the Church.  The work is not finished yet.  There are still the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.  There are still those who need to be convinced that they are of worth regardless of their situation.  Jesus’ primary focus is always on those deemed insignificant by society, those deemed to be sinners, or unclean, and therefore to be shunned.  The Church is healthiest when it is clear that these same are of primary concern for the Church.  Those in the Church are called to work tirelessly for the liberty and justice of all people and to bring peace.  Has there been a time in recent history when there has been a deeper hunger for that message?

Just as the Spirit led Jesus and inspired his ministry, so does the Spirit move in the Church today, inspiring members to take up those various responsibilities so that Jesus’ ministry can continue.  What is necessary is prayer and discernment to recognize the Spirit’s movement, and then for the courage to act.  Of course the Church must support those who follow the Spirit’s lead.  

The Assembly gathers for the Liturgy of the Word.  Its Spirit-inspired proclamation will touch the hearers’ hearts.  The Spirit-inspired preaching will nourish those gathered and transition them to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  There the Sacrament they celebrate will transform them and the meal they share so that they can be sent to do what Jesus did and proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.  The time of fulfillment is now.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus

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SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – January 20, 2019

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 62:1-5
A reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 12:4-11
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 2:1-11

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Christmas Season concluded last Sunday with the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  This Sunday we begin the numbered Sundays of Ordinary Time.  That is what ordinary means – numbered.  Some would prefer to translate ordinary as customary or routine.  That is not entirely a bad idea.  After all, these Ordinary Sundays will mark our customary or routine journey of faith as we follow Jesus on The Way through the Liturgical Year.  For some in the Assembly it will not be routine.  As Catechumens, they may be making the journey for the first time.  Even if they have journeyed the Liturgical Year before, this time their trek will be extraordinary.  They make their way to the Easter Vigil where they will encounter the Risen Christ at the Font.  They deserve the prayers of support of the Assembly.  That is our ordinary responsibility.

Each of the readings in this week’s Liturgy of the Word contains powerful ideas for us to ponder, powerful, yet ordinary to our faith.  Isaiah’s theme in the first reading is the magnificence of YHWH’s unbounded love expressed in the forgiveness and restoration of Israel.  The Babylonian Exile is over.  During the exile many of the people were unfaithful to YHWH and were seduced by the alien gods, Baal and the rest.  Notice that YHWH, through the Prophet’s proclamation, does not call up the sins of the people’s past, nor deride them for their sinful deeds.  YHWH speaks only of their sufferings and abuse.  YHWH desires to lift them up and restore them to the Holy City.  Punishment will be for those who led them off to captivity and destroyed the City.

Notice how completely God ignores the people’s sin committed during the exile.  It would not have been too farfetched to typify their behavior as harlotry in their seduction by Baal.  But the imagery the Prophet puts before us is of a virgin bride in whom the bridegroom rejoices.  That, says Isaiah, is the best way to describe how YHWH rejoices over the return of Israel.  The nations (Gentiles) will be in awe.

There is a challenge for the Church flowing from Isaiah’s proclamation.  What great rejoicing there would be if today sinners experienced that outpouring of forgiveness.  And what about those typically ostracized or shunned by the “righteous” ones.  Does the parish church have the reputation for being a place where all are welcome?  The LGBTs?  The divorced and remarried?  Sinners?  Those with whom Jesus practiced table fellowship?  Unfortunately, some would say that that is not the common experience in many parishes today.

This is also a time for the Bishops to seek forgiveness for the mishandling of the Clergy sexual abuse of children and teens.  The surviving victims need to be recognized and their forgiveness sought.  Years will not heal their wounds.  But at least they need to be assured that they were not responsible for the abuse.  They were victims.   The Church supports and loves them.

It is strange how gifts can become the source both of pride and division.  That is what happened in the church at Corinth.  The phenomenon of speaking in tongues, glossolalia, was proclaimed by those with that gift as a sign of God’s special favor for them; therefore they should have primacy of place in the community.  From their perch they looked down on the rest as being inferior.  Paul told the Corinthians, as he tells us, there are many gifts and gifted ones in the community.  No one has all the gifts.  But each one is gifted in someway.  It is most important to recognize that whatever the gift, the Spirit is the source of the gift.  What is equally important is what is done with that gift.  All of the gifts combined reflect the one Body of Christ and serve to build up that Body, the Church.

Paul gets in his jab at the prideful ones.  He assigns a quasi hierarchy to the gifts, noting their purpose is to benefit the rest.  One by one they are numbered.  At the bottom of the list come the gifts of tongues and the interpretation of tongues.  Perhaps he thought, enough said.  He pleads with the Corinthians to remember that the source remains the Spirit, and the gifts, freely given are not merited.

What is the application for us?  The Spirit continues to enrich the community with charisms, as we call the gifts today.  They remain freely given, unmerited by the ones who receive them.  The purpose remains to enrich the community’s experience of the abiding Spirit.  Each gift is an invitation to service.  Yet gifts can remain a source of pride on the part of the gifted one, and of jealousy on the part of the one not gifted and blind to his/her own giftedness.

The one common charism shared by most in the community is the charism of faith.  Paul said in another place: No one is able to say Jesus is Lord, except in the Spirit.  Some come to faith quickly and early.  Others journey for a long time as they quest after faith.  Some find faith in the last moments of their lives.

A great challenge to the faith community is to gather and discern charisms in their membership.  Charisms cannot be imposed.  The one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as (the Spirit) wishes.  The gifts are in the experience of their expression.  Proclaiming the Word is a charism, as is preaching, the breaking open of the Word.  Pay attention and you will perceive the gift, even as you may have to endure the lack of the gift.  Celibacy is a charism.  That is why some theologians question the imposition of celibacy with ordination to the Priesthood.

You have noticed, I am sure, that some amaze by the service they render in the community, their visiting and caring for the sick; their feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless; their demonstrating for peace and justice.  These are truly charisms.  Were you to ask any of these extraordinary ministers why they do what they do, the answer that would come back to you in some form would be: Why wouldn’t I?  It is the right thing to do.

The gospel’s link to the first reading is the wedding scene to which Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are invited.  Last week’s gospel, the Baptism of the Lord, and this week’s, continue the Epiphany theme that began with the Magi’s recognition of the Infant as Lord.  These gospels continue that recognition.  We will begin to recognize, with the disciples, who Jesus is by what he does in this first of his signs.  We have to interpret the sign and so continue in the development of faith on this journey with Jesus.

A wedding is a time of great rejoicing and of sensing the abundance of God’s love being poured out on the couple and those gathered with them.  The sharing of wine and the meal make the blessing tangible.  Remember, Jesus will multiply loaves and fish to feed the five thousand who otherwise would be sent away hungry.  Jesus, on the eve of his passion, will break bread and share a cup in the meal in which all are invited to partake and so experience Jesus’ continuing presence in and among them.  We continue that meal and call it Eucharist.  

At Cana, the wine runs out.  What an embarrassment for the host.  Mary, the Mother of the Church, calls Jesus’ attention to the situation, but gives no direction as to how he should respond.  He says, my hour has not come.  The hour will be the full revelation of his glory in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  His mother tells the servants to do what Jesus says.  Have faith and trust in him.

Notice that Jesus does not do anything other than to tell the servants to fill the water jars, draw from them, and offer the results to the wine steward.  Jesus directs the servants.  They trust him and obey.  The result is rich and abundant wine.  The disciples witness and begin to believe.

Remember that what you hear proclaimed in the Word is happening in your midst now.  The challenge seems to be to recognize the needs in the community and bring them to Jesus, not so that he will take care of them all, but through the community, resolve the needs through the abundance of their loving service.  Remember those charisms Paul listed, the gifts of the Spirit?  In the context of the Feast, the Eucharist, the Spirit is poured out, transforming the bread and the wine and the assembled, into the Body of Christ.  Yielding to the Spirit, each member of the Assembly, by taking and eating and drinking in memory of Jesus can be empowered to exercise more than abundant charisms to meet the needs and not exhaust the charisms.  Those in the wider community will look on in amazement at the signs and may begin to believe.

You are called by your charism to be signs of the glory that is to come.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus     

THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD – January 13, 2019

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

Or

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Or

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

It is one thing to ponder the wonder of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptizer.  It is another to consider the implications of our own in light of Jesus’.  With ours, we rejoice that we are identified with Jesus, united with him as the object of God’s love.

Jesus and John obviously had had a relationship prior to their encounter at the Jordan.  John’s ministry was highly successful.  Hugh crowds came out to hear him.  Many people submitted to his Baptism.  As his junior, Jesus may have sat and listened to his message, being formed in his own ministry by him.  When did Jesus decide that he had to go his own way?  When did he determine that his message would be new, Good News, markedly different from the reform that John preached?  So much of John’s proclamation had to do with dire warnings of a wrath to come, of judgment and condemnation for those caught unaware.  It is difficult to reconcile that message with the Suffering Servant Isaiah described, the one who brings forth justice to the nations without crying out, without shouting, without so much as a voice heard in the street.

Jesus’ way will be the gentle way.  He will be about forming the relationship between people and God, the Baptismal Covenant, even as he helps people to see and walk in the light of freedom.  Jesus will not be about condemning, but about calling people to the freedom of the Children of God.  His message will be for the nations as well as for the Jews.

Yet, Jesus must have wanted it to be obvious that there was continuity between his way and John’s, one message to be built upon and flow from the other.  Was it the Spirit that day urging him that day as he went to the Jordan and asked John to Baptize him?  Was it the Spirit who told Jesus this was the hour, that it was time to begin the response to the Father’s will?  There would be no turning back from this moment, even as he must have wondered where this moment would take him.  The gospel does not say that John clapped Jesus on the back and wished him well.  It doesn’t say that they parted after a fond embrace.  It does say that Jesus heard a voice saying: This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.  This pleasure is at the beginning before his mission had begun.  Is this being well pleased at the start God’s way of saying that God’s love is unconditional and forever?  The voice came from the heavens, but did anyone else hear it besides Jesus?

We believe that this is an Epiphany moment just as surely as was the coming of the Magi.  We believe that in Jesus’ Baptism he is recognized as and proclaimed to be the Messiah whom we call Lord.

That is all well and good.  Should we stop there?  Or is there much more for us to remember in this celebration that should have profound impact on our way of life and the way we live it?  Otherwise, the Word is not living and all we do in the hearing of it is to look back at an isolated moment and wish that we could have witnessed it ourselves.  That moment at the Jordan was timeless.  Each time someone enters the waters to die and rise, that moment is renewed, as is the covenant.

That is why the Font in every church is such a sacred space, a place where people ought to pause and reflect each time they enter the worship space.  Each time we enter we should touch the water and wash again in the sign of the cross and so remember that it is only by journeying through this Font that we gain access to the Table to share in the meal that is prepared there.  It was not a minor moment when we were plunged into those waters; nor was it for Jesus.  We were called by name as we were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And all the people, the Church gathered around and said Amen!  And just as surely, the earth shook, the heavens parted, and the voice was heard calling the baptized beloved, proclaiming them loved with the same love God has for the Son.  That is our comfort and consolation.

Should we stop there?  To do so would be to make that a private moment to be cherished in our hearts, but without implications.  If we were called by name and Baptized, if God spoke of God’s pleasure in us, all this was so that we could be sent to do what Jesus did.  That has nothing to do with making our voices heard in the streets.  Some may have done that.  It has nothing to do with being judgmental or condemning, breaking the bruised reed.  Some do that.  Alas.  Christ wants us to be aware that the journey that begins at the Font is one of love and may well lead to where his did, to Calvary, the Cross, to crucifixion and even death.  But not to defeat.  All the defeat was washed away in the Water.  Death stayed there.  Even if we are asked to pour out our entire being in service of the Word, if we die doing that, in Christ we will rise again.

May the Lord help us to remember in the dark times so that we will be strengthened for the journey.  Keep looking forward to the next time you pause at the Font and touch the Waters.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus