Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME – JANUARY 24, 2016 – the readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012416.cfm . Thanks as always for reading this blog; sharing it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit) and for your comments and feedback. Have a great week – God Bless – Fr Jim
So I got this email the other day – it was really unexpected, incredible news. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was as I’m reading this message on my laptop. But now I cannot find it. I don’t know what I did… I KNOW I didn’t delete it, there’s no way I’d delete it. But I’ve gone up and down in that list of emails in my Inbox, I don’t know how many times. I’ve looked through all my other email files. It’s not in the Spam file, the Junk Mail file (I don’t know why I have BOTH of those, but… it’s not in either of them ) I even looked through all the other files – you know the sent file, or the drafts file to see if by mistake I moved it there…It’s not there either. So it’s gone, right? It’s just so frustrating because I keep trying to figure out HOW DID I LOSE THIS MESSAGE! The last thing I remember was that I hit the “X” in the corner to minimize the email, but I know I was saving it… it was too important, and all I needed to do was get some information for the guy who had contacted me. I was going to get right back to it. I’m just so frustrated, because I don’t know how the guy found me in the first place and now this opportunity is gone because I lost the message.
You see, it seems that this prince from Nigeria was reaching out to me, he just got this HUGE inheritance and somehow found my name and email. If I could help him transfer his funds to the US, he’d give me $100 million – all I needed to do was email him my bank account. I don’t know – it’s so frustrating – First I didn’t win the Powerball, now this… I guess you win some, lose some…
It’s amazing – that “Nigerian – Email scam” or variations of it has been circulating in email boxes for years and years now. Most people read these and realize it’s a scam because they’ve heard the stories of people who’ve gotten the same email, believed it and then have been swindled out of thousands of dollars, some hitting $10,000 or more (which I guess, in light of the millions you’re going to receive seems a drop in the bucket)
We’re understandably skeptical people. We hear or read something like that and, sure, we wish it were true. Who couldn’t do a lot with a $100 million dollars? But most people learn pretty quickly the old adage, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.
For some when they first heard the words Jesus is proclaiming in tonight’s gospel, that’s what came to mind. “Yeah, right – this guy Jesus – he’s the one God was promising would bring glad tidings to the poor. He’s the one who would proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, THIS GUY IS THE ONE WHO IS GOING to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Yeah, right – this carpenter – What’s the scam? some thought. And sadly, many today, think the same thing…
There’s an interesting thing about this whole gospel reading though. Before we heard Jesus giving this first sermon, we heard the very beginning words from the Gospel of Luke. If you didn’t have the text in front of you as the Gospel was proclaimed, you might not have realized that the reading started with these four verses from the very beginning of the Gospel of Luke . . . then we jumped ahead three chapters past all the Christmas accounts all the way to Chapter 4 verses 14-21 to get to this selection which is the beginning of Jesus’ preaching and teaching in Galilee. On the surface, those first four verses don’t seem that important to warrant our attention in this Post-Christmas season. It’s basically like when you open a Stephen King book and see on one of the first pages, “To my Mom and Dad” or someone who’s important to him. We read Luke’s “dedication page.”
And just as we don’t know the people that most authors dedicate their works too, we don’t know who this guy Theophilus is. Theophilus – sounds like a disease or a cure for one! He’s only mentioned here, and in Luke’s sequel to the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles where Luke continues writing to Theophilus. So we have little to no historical information on who he was. So why does the Church want us to hear this dedication?
I think it’s to remember that this Gospel wasn’t just written as a historical record recounting the occurrences of Jesus. A lot of people were talking about Jesus, what he said, what he did. Things that had happened that caused them to follow Jesus themselves as they said to others, “You should, too.”
But St. Luke is more passionate… so much so that he stops and says, “Theophilus – I know you’ve heard a lot of buzz about Jesus. I want to share my passion – my experience – my life’s witness to what I experienced.” See, Luke isn’t just passing on a critical review of Jesus’ message or giving information about Him. He’s sharing what’s moved him – what’s transformed him. His encounter with Christ was that important and he cared enough for Theophilus that Luke organized all his memories, all his thoughts to, as he says “write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, (Next time my friends ask me to do something I’m not going to take them seriously unless they call me ‘most excellent’); so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
People in our day and age continue to have encounters with Christ. And when they do, it’s beautiful to witness how the blindness is gone, the freedom they seek is found – the promises that are written in the deepest recesses of the hearts are fulfilled.
A few months ago, Pope Francis when he was visiting Philadelphia recounted the story of one of their own – Katherine Drexel, or rather, St. Katherine Drexel. She grew up in the mid 1800’s to an incredibly wealthy family (in today’s dollars, her family estate would be $500 million) But she had also experienced tremendous loss – her mother died weeks after she was born, her step mother died when she was a young-adult and then a few years later her father died. So by her early 30’s she had boatloads of money, was considered a “socialite” in the Philly scene… but had experienced tremendous personal loss. While her family was tremendously wealthy, they were also tremendously charitable. And Katherine was very moved by the suffering of the Native Americans as well as the African Americans. While she was still mourning the death of her father, she had gone to Rome to visit Pope Leo XIII and was going to advocate that he send some more missionaries to support the efforts that she and her family were supporting financially. At that, the Pope very pointedly said – “What about you? What are you going to do?” Those words cut to her heart. It changed her life because now what came front and center was the reminder that by our Baptisms each and every one of us have become members, as St. Paul so beautifully told us in the second reading – of the Body of Christ. Katherine recognized how each and every one of us has a responsibility, a mission in our own unique ways, to be the ones to share the good news of what Jesus’ brings… the glad tidings, the liberty, the recovery he promises. With that, she rocked the entire world, as a newspaper of the time said “Miss Drexel enters convent gives up 7 million dollars.”
St. Luke and St. Katherine in their own ways share their encounters with Jesus. How in their poverty, Jesus brought glad tidings to them… In the areas of their lives where they felt captive, imprisoned – Jesus was the one who liberated them. In whatever blindness they had experienced, there was a correction, there was a restoration of vision. Whatever it was that oppressed them, how Jesus was able to provide the freedom.
It is said that here, in the United States, the largest single religious denomination is Roman Catholics. You want to guess what the second largest group is? Former Roman Catholics. And one of the fastest growing groups in the country is those who claim no religious identification. While there’s a lot of reasons given for that, and a lot of fingers being pointed why that is, one big finger is pointing at us… Those words from Pope Leo to St. Katherine have to ring in our ears, in our hearts – and cause some self-reflection – What about you? What are you going to do? Do we have this personal relationship with Jesus, have we experienced Him and been transformed by Him? So often we can approach the Sacraments, or come to Mass as simply a weekly obligation. Just like I have to get my gas tank filled up, I gotta get my religious stuff done for the week. And we can have an equal sense of passion for both of those things.
Do we remember what our God has done and is continuing to do for us? How Jesus continues to come to us, proclaiming glad tidings to those in poverty. For us in this “first-world nation” that poverty is for a different, almost more urgent need. Mother Teresa observed, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation . . . than for bread.” Jesus wants to heal that. Jesus continues to want to free us from the imprisonment that sin causes, the blindness we can have to how self-focused, self-involved, self-deluded we can become, ignoring the pains and sufferings of those around us. Jesus’ proclamation of freedom is still awaiting the selfless sharing of every one of us to relieve the world’s oppression. That is Jesus’ mission, that is His mission for us . . . but that’s not going to happen simply because we happened to make it here to Mass today to hear these words.
St. Luke and St. Katherine aren’t like some anonymous Nigerian prince offering lofty promises to unsuspecting victims, trying to pull some scam on people. They’re very lives give testimony to how they encountered Jesus Christ. How that encounter caused them to lay down the lives they had been living to share the glad tidings with you. That Jesus is the one we’ve all been waiting for. God’s son has come among us.
Jesus is asking us to go deeper, to see what He has done for each of us personally. How the Gospel you and I have heard proclaimed, how the Eucharist – Jesus’ Body and Blood that we consume each week – has transformed us. Maybe we need to take a step back and think about that and remember that. Remembering the difference He has made – imagining how desolate different times and spaces in our life would’ve been without him . . . And then to pass on that hope and fullness and joy to others. To make a difference doesn’t mean you need to give up all your worldly belongings to accomplish this, although you may be moved to do so, but I think a another approach would be mindful of how you can serve God daily. To hear Jesus ask that question What about you and to listen and look with an openness to the Holy Spirit for the nudges you feel to go into action. It may be helping someone you don’t really like a lot that happens to be in a class your taking… it may be traveling to another country to serve. It can be deciding to take your faith more seriously here and now… it could be opening the door to the astonishing, but amazingly beautiful call to serve him all of your life as a priest or religious… In whatever way in small acts and life long commitments, the Lord is asking each of us – What about you… Knowing how the Theolophus’ of our day and age are waiting for this testimony… waiting for you and I to take up the example of St Luke, St Katherine and testifying to what our encounter with Jesus has brought to us and the good news He wants to bring to them….