Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

We don’t know anything about what Jesus said in that synagogue in Capernaum.  The gospel simply says that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and that he has a unique authority.  His authority is spoken and it defines who Jesus is.  His authority is put into action and it defines what Jesus does. 

Jesus is the One God sent into the world to people whose lives are broken by sin.  Like the man in that synagogue who was possessed by the demon there is so much brokenness and pain in this world and Jesus the Christ has come to heal what is most painful in our lives, to bring peace in all the conflict and strife we face, to make our lives whole in his merciful love.

As impressive as the divine authority of Jesus is, though, the sad truth is that the awe of it doesn’t always make much of a difference.  It healed the possessed man and made those folks in Capernaum drop their jaws when they saw and heard the demon come out at Jesus’ command.  This was not a magic trick.  It was simply words of a command put into action.  But how long did the awe last in those people from Capernaum?  Later on, Jesus condemned the people from Capernaum because they didn’t believe, they didn’t change their lives and they continued to live within their sins.  Jesus’ authority was great for a little while; great enough to heal a man, but not great enough to convince those who saw it, that they should repent.

It’s sort of like the miracle we experience here at Mass.  We are in the presence of Jesus Christ.  His being commingles with our own in this Eucharistic meal.  We hear the Good News of God’s love proclaimed in the gospel and in the other readings of the Mass.  The divine presence of Jesus is real in us.  This place today is as alive with the Body of Christ as that synagogue was nearly 2,000 years ago.  He comes to bring healing, the forgiveness of sins and peace for our broken lives.  His presence has a transformative power that calls us to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

But how many of us are willing to turn away from sin to be faithful to the Gospel which calls us to take up our crosses each day to follow in the footsteps of Jesus?  The Gospel is Good News for a world drowning in despair, shame and sin, but Christ calls us to die to sin, to die to our greed, our prejudices, to all the ways we hate other people and to all the ways we ignore the plight of the poor.

Unfortunately, we get so used to the ritual we don’t even find it worthy of much awe.  We’re impressed enough to be here and the Eucharist does make a small difference in our lives.  The healing miracle happens over time.  Knowing this, we entrust our lives to the saving power of Christ, whose healing power comes by his divine authority.  The healing may not come in the ways we expect.  It might not fill us with the jaw dropping awe the people in Capernaum experienced when Jesus expelled the demon from that man.  However, His authority constantly and patiently urges us to receive his healing love.  It calls us to follow him as faithfully as we possibly can.  This is done by giving away what we have received – his divine love.

The miracle of this Mass might not be as impressive as witnessing an exorcism in a crowded synagogue – but that’s not the point of what’s happening here.  The point of the Gospel, the point of the Eucharist is simply this:  Jesus Christ has come into the world to heal us and to love us into eternal life in God’s kingdom.  Whether or not we’re impressed, we have to ask ourselves this question.  Are we ready to follow him?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


This new translation is confusing to me.  After nearly a month, I still feel like a third grader standing up in front of the class reading an essay, "What I Got For Christmas."  The sentence structures and cadences are so different from what I am used to.  But I will have to GET used to it.  Someday I will.  There are moment, though, when I just don't feel smart enough to be a good priest because I keep stumbling all over the words I am supposed to speak.
I have no intention of saying anything bad about the new translation.  At the same time, I see no great reason to defend it.  It is what it is, and there's nothing I can do to change it.  In obedience, I will always do my best with it, and I will follow the rubrics and the exact letter of the liturgical law to the very best of my abilities - even though I sound like a third grader reading an essay.

In the Third Eucharistic Prayer there is a petition for Benedict our Pope, N., our Bishop, "And the Order of Bishops."  I want to briefly reflect on this.

Bishops are ministers of the Church, Apostles sent to shepherd the people of God. The old translation of the Eucharistic Prayer 3 simply said "And all the bishops...) along with the clergy and everyone else in the Church.  The new translation really says the same thing, but that word "order" seems to highlight further the ecclesial rankings of the bishops.  I don't begrudge them that rank.  I most definitely do not begrudge them the prayers of the people of God.

Because of the sex abuse scandals, bishops need our prayers.  Every diocese in the country has had to deal with the difficulties of all the legal ramifications the sexual abuse of children and other people by clergy.  Some dioceses have gone bancrupt after paying astronomical settlement costs.  Besides that, bishops are still being chastised for hiding the scandal under church carpets and moving offending priests from parish to parish.

Now that the new translation of the Roman Missal has been implemented in the English speakng world, the Order of Bishops will need our prayers because they are going to have deal with idiots like me who don't know how to read the translation in a way that makes sense.  Maybe I'm the only one.  But, like I said, "It is what it is" and it can't be changed, so I think the bishops are going to be fine with this issue.

The Order of Bishops need our prayers because the Church is still losing a lot of people and the need to present the Gospel to the world is great.  In their 1992 Pastoral Letter, STEWARDSHIP: A DISCIPLE'S RESPONSE the Bishops of the United States wrote about the need of all Catholics, including bishops, to embrace an attitude that defines a Christian Steward as one who "Recieves God's gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible manner, shares them in justice and love with others, and returns them with increase to the Lord."

I attend the stewardship conferences that are done through the ICSC.  I listen carefully to the presentations done by bishops, clergy, and lay experts in the field. Beyond that, however, I hear so little from the bishops about the call to live as stewards in the world except for when the bishops are asking parishioners to financially support diocesan ministries. 

Again, the bishops wrote about the necessity of evangelization in their 1994 Pastoral Letter, GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES.  They first spoke about challenging the peoples in the pews to be evangelizers to the point that others who are outside of the Church will recognize the goodness of those who are inside and will see in them an invitation to enter in.  The bishops are absolutely correct in this regard. 
Evangelization is very difficult work that must be directed by the bishops in their dioceses, but we hear so little about evangelization these days.

Bishops need our prayers, not because they have a higher rank than us - that's not a bad reason to pray for them, though.  They need our prayers because there is so much work the Church must be doing under their leadership, and the work is hard, and people will complain because the hard work brings about changes that they don't like and it's always the bishops' fault because they're the ones at the top.  The Order of Bishops has as their mission the four-fold task of evangelizing, teaching, serving the needs of the poor and sanctifying the people of God.  My prayer is that we will soon move beyond crisis mode.  My prayer is also that, now, since the new translation of the Roman Missal has been implemented, and maybe even as a result of its implementation, the Church, guided by the Order of the Bishops will bring the mission of the Church to even greater importance in the years to come.