Hi everyone, this is my homily for JANUARY 27, 2019 – the 3rd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim Audio: Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2
So I got this email the other day – it was really unexpected, incredible news. 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. 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 but got distracted and now I don’t know what I did. I’m just so ticked off, 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. It’s so frustrating – First I didn’t win the Powerball, now this… I guess you win some, lose even more…
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 even 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 proclaims in tonight’s gospel, that’s what came to mind. “Yeah, right – 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? Yeah, right Mary and Joseph’s son – the carpenter? – Some were skeptical, dismissive, thought it might be a scam… Sadly, many today, think the same thing…
But there was an interesting thing about this gospel reading we just heard… Before we got to the scene of Jesus in the temple, we heard the introductory words from the Gospel of Luke. It probably sounded a bit awkward, especially if you didn’t have the text in front of you as the Gospel was proclaimed, because the reading started with these four verses from the first chapter of Luke . . . and then we jumped ahead three chapters, past all the Christmas accounts, to Chapter 4 – to get to this scene which is the beginning of Jesus’ preaching and teaching in Galilee. Why bother? Those first four verses don’t seem that important to warrant our attention. 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. Why does the Church go out of it’s way to make sure that we hear this dedication?
I think it’s to remember that this Gospel wasn’t written by Luke thinking that one day, thousands of years later we would be at a gathering reading this… It wasn’t meant to be a biography or some historical record recounting the occurrences of Jesus. This is St. Luke’s authentic, passionate words to someone he cares about. To someone who is obviously an important person to Luke. He dedicates great care and thought and time 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. So Luke isn’t simply trying to convince Theopholus to do something… he’s not simply passing on information or sharing stories about Jesus.
Luke is sharing what’s moved him – what’s transformed him. Luke’s 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 . . .so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
Those types of life giving encounters didn’t end with St Luke or people of that time. In every day and age since, countless numbers of people continue to have encounters with Jesus Christ. . . and we are amazed to realize how blindness is gone, how the freedom is found – how the promises that are written in the deepest recesses of the hearts are fulfilled in Him.
A few years ago, while visiting Philadelphia, Pope Francis shared one example as he told the story of one of their own – Katherine Drexel, or rather, St. Katherine Drexel. This woman grew up in the mid 1800’s to an incredibly wealthy family (in today’s dollars, her family estate would be $500 million) But had experienced tremendous losses – 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. Her family used their considerable wealth to help with all sorts of charities and foundations. Katherine was very moved by the suffering of Native Americans as well as African Americans. So much so, that even though she was still mourning the death of her father, she went to Rome to visit Pope Leo XIII. She went to ask the Pope that he send some more religious orders, more missionaries to support those efforts that she and her family were supporting financially. As she advocated for this cause, the Pope listened attentively and then pointedly asked her – “What about you? What are you going to do?”
Those words cut to her heart. It changed her life. She remembered 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, Katherine shocked the entire world, as a newspaper of the time said “Miss Drexel enters convent gives up 7 million dollars.” Katherine would spend the rest of her life (from age of 33 till she passed at age of 96) and the rest of her family fortune doing just that. Serving others, proclaiming Jesus’ good news – being His good news to people that needed it the most.
St. Luke and St. Katherine are just two examples of people who’s lives bear witness to 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.
Into 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.
Fast forward to today, here and now… 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. We can all give ample reasons why that is the case – and have a lot of very valid, legitimate points for all of them, for sure. But as we’re pointing fingers, of blame… as we mourn or are discouraged by those realities, 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, that here in our country “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 emailing 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 the new life in Him, which has resulted in their sharing these glad tidings with us. That Jesus is the one we’ve all been waiting for. God’s son has come among us.
As we hear the Gospel proclaimed… as we consume Jesus Body and Blood in the Eucharist – that question needs to resonate in each and everyone of our hearts – What about you? What are you going to do?
What is Jesus putting on your heart right now? Can you think about different times and spaces that would have been desolate without him? Can we see how our lives are different because we too have encountered God incarnate in Jesus Christ? Have we shared that hope and the joy to someone else? There’s a world of “Theopholus’” out there who are waiting for a St Luke a St. Katherine – or rather – for you and I – to share our lives, our witness to the difference Jesus Christ has made for us and the Good News He offers to the world.