Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour".(Lk 4:18,19)
"Then Nehemiah, that is, the governor, and Ezra the priest-scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people: 'Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not lament, do not weep!'- for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law". (Neh 8:9)
Something is wrong with our use and understanding of words. When was the last time in daily life you had time to reflect and check your own verbal answer to somebodies question or statement? It certainly doesn't happen on social media, neither Twitter nor Facebook allow us the time for reflection, quite the opposite, it's instant and immediate reaction. The result, aggressive exchanges from strangers, nasty unheeding criticisms by people who know little about the subject material, and others trolling good people with vile comments that can cause real distress.
But it does not have to be like this, as religious people we have all kinds of guidance as to how we communicate with God and each other in our Scriptures! More than that we have a deeply rooted tradition that tells us we are People of the Word-who-is-God. Can I ask you a question, take time to think about it and be honest with yourself? When was the last time that words such as a reading from Scripture or somebody speaking, moved you deeply, even to tears and made you think really hard about yourself and others? What did it feel like, this experience? I hope that somehow you became much as the people were when they heard the Law read out to them by the Prophet, very moved.
Let's push this image a bit further, I've often mentioned that I distrust the fascination of some Christians with adiaphora (non essential matters of our faith) often based on individual, external, inessential experiences, personal piety and devotion that somehow becomes muddled up with doctrine and faith. I've nothing against visions of Our Lady or prophetic utterances so long as they remain secondary to the Word of God. That is my problem, we need to recover our common destiny as a people who hear, listen with mind and heart to the living Word of God in scripture but then proclaim it by our lives.
Jesus as he begins his ministry sets for me my own vocation. Does he do this for you, do you see in his unrolling of the Scroll and opening words your calling? This act of Jesus comes after his 40 days in the Desert, his temptation and fasting, it is the inspired fruit of a journey into his heart and soul to dialogue with his Father and let the Spirit descend into every area of his life and encounter with others. The words he proclaims form the basis for our vocation, we let the Spirit descend on us, we then become anointed, sealed as people of thanksgiving and gladness, not gloom and doom, our tasks, to let the Lord who is the anointed one dwell with and in us so we can reach out in words of proclamation and a salvation, releasing others from sin, captivity, poverty, sickness and giving them instead hope and life!
That's our calling, it means going against the culture of words today, checking ourselves and others, NOT rushing to immediate judgement, learning that silence is also communication. We might begin to use that good old monastic technique of lectio divina, ruminating on God's word so that it becomes part of ourselves. We need to be like those listening to the Word of God in Nehemiah, bowing down in fearful love, trembling with awe and tears of compunction, but filled with unutterable joy as we hear God speak to us of love today!
Liturgy of St James 4th C
Source: Bernard Pick, ed. Hymns and Poetry of the Eastern Church (1908), pp.167-8.
• Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded, for with blessing in his Hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
• King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture - in the body and the blood -
He will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.
• Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of Light descendeth from the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.
• At his feet the six-winged seraph-cherubim, with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the Presence, as with ceaseless voice they cry,
"Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord Most High."
Mother Maria of Paris, Russian Orthodox - Saint died in Ravensbruck March 31 1945
"No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, 'Love one another,' so long as it is love to the end and without exceptions."
"She was never downcast, never. She never complained.... She was full of good cheer, really good cheer. We had roll calls which lasted a great deal of time. We were woken at three in the morning and we had to stand out in the open in the middle of winter until the barracks (population) was counted. She took all this calmly and she would say, 'Well that's that. Yet another day completed. And tomorrow it will be the same all over again. But one fine day the time will come for all of this to end.' ... She was on good terms with everyone. Anyone in - the block, no matter who it was, knew her on equal terms. She was the kind of person who made no distinction between people (whether they) held extremely progressive political views (or had) religious beliefs radically different than her own. She allowed nothing of secondary importance to impede her contact with people."
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
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