Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
September 2, 2014
1 Cor 2:10-16, Ps 145, Lk 4:31-37
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today we once again encounter Jesus teaching in a synagogue. After he was booted and almost killed from the Synagogue in Nazareth where he grew up, he went to Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, where Peter, Andrew, James and John all lived and worked. In Nazareth when he taught, all were initially “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth,” but eventually doubts came in because they considered him one of their own and how could one of their own be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah? Today in Capernaum, St. Luke tells us that “they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority” and later, after he had rebuked a demon, they were “all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out!”
- One of the most important aspects of our Christian response in faith is to be amazed and astonished at Jesus. This is an experience most of us, I hope, had when we first started living by faith, when our parents read to us from the Bible or from Bible stories and told us that the Bible contains the words of God himself; when we first began to pray and we recognized that God was listening to us with love; when we first discovered that the Eucharist is God and comes down from heaven on the altar, and dwells within the tabernacle, or loves us from the monstrance; when we first started to hear about Jesus’ great miracles, his multiplication of the loaves and fish, his walking on water, his casting out the devil like he does in today’s Gospel, his healing the sick, and his rising from the dead. If we’ve received a good, normal Christian formation and upbringing, most of us have had these experiences and foundational graces. But what can happen over time is we can lose our amazement because the things of God can become routine. We cease to view with amazement the fact that God has spoken to us in Sacred Scripture, that he listens to us in prayer, that he awaits us with love in the Eucharist wanting to nourish us with the only nourishment worthy of our souls, that he is risen and alive and seeks to walk with us throughout each day, that he can continue to work great miracles if we approach him with faith and it really is in alignment with what’s best. We can begin to take things for granted, to “domesticate” Jesus, and lose our awe. It’s one of the ugliest and saddest things that can happen in the life of faith. I think of those priests, religious and “professionally Catholic” lay people who have lost the basic astonishment that accompanies the life of faith, so that they begin to look at the Mass as just some dramatic ceremony, who begin to place tabernacles in worship spaces as if they’re placing potted plants, who begin even to use words to describe the Eucharist like “bread” and “cup,” who have no reverence at all when it comes to the word of God but try to deconstruct it as if they’re dissecting a cadaver instead of analyzing something very much alive, who mock the Sacrament of Penance as if it’s just a historical vestige rather than a gift of God we need for salvation. Real faith always brings with it this childlike astonishment and amazement before God and what God has done and is doing. It’s important for us all to ask the Lord for the gift never to lose this holy awe and to help us grow in it each day.
- There’s a particular type of awe that we’re called to ponder in today’s Gospel. It’s astonishment at Jesus’ teaching, at the power of his word. St. Luke tells us that the people in the Capernaum synagogue were amazed because “he spoke with authority.” Most of their rabbis — as well as the Scribes, Pharisees and anyone who tried to teach the Jewish faith — would normally speak by citing passages from the Hebrew Bible or from the oral tradition of the rabbis. They were constantly using footnotes to ground the authority of what they were saying. Jesus didn’t do that. He spoke as if he were the author — that’s what it means to speak with authority. We see this clearly in the way that he used parables. We see even more strikingly in how he preached the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with what they knew from the Mosaic law and then taking the teaching much further by declaring, “But I say to you.” Much like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, when Jesus started to do this their hearts began to burn, they could sense that they were hearing the truth from one who knows.
- The first reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians focuses on this dynamic. St. Paul asks, “Among men, who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within. Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.” This is a basic truth of life. We can really only know someone else in depth, know someone’s interior, when that person opens up and tells us about himself or herself. Likewise with God, we can only truly get to know God personally when God reveals himself personally. This is what St. Paul says the Holy Spirit does through the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit, at the same time, helps us so that “we may understand the things freely given us by God.”
- There are two consequences of this truth about Jesus’ teaching authority and the way the Holy Spirit moves us to receive it. First, we must approach it with amazement and astonishment. We should hunger to get to know God in his intimacy by listening to him speak to us in what he has revealed. We should long to get to know him better in Sacred Scripture, by prayerfully assimilating the Bible, by starving to come to Bible Studies and to use other resources so that we can penetrate better who God is and what he is saying, by longing to spend time learning to live by that word. The vast majority of Catholics don’t love the Word of God like we ought, we don’t have that astonishment and amazement the way some of our Evangelical brothers and sisters do, and we need to ask God for that grace and act in accordance with it.
- The second thing is even more amazing: the Holy Spirit wants to fill us with the capacity to echo Jesus in his teaching authority in sharing that saving word with others. St. Paul says about the way he is teaching the faith to the Corinthians, “We speak about [the things freely given us by God] not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.” This is because, he says, while the “natural man does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness and he cannot understand it because it [must be] judged spiritually, the one who is spiritual, however, can judge everything” because “we have the mind of Christ.” When we’re truly amazed and astonished at Jesus’ teaching, the Holy Spirit helps us to understand it according to an inner logic — and understand who we are better through seeing ourselves reflected in the Word of God — and then makes us capable of passing on that understanding not just as words but as words that astonish and amaze us just as much in proclaiming them as they do when we hear and read them. And that amazement and astonishment is contagious when it is met by those listening with faith.
- Applying this to what St. Paul has been saying to the Corinthians and we’ve been pondering the last two days, we are called to be amazed and astonished at Jesus’ words that to be his follower we have to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross and follow him, at St. Paul’s words that Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God and that God has chosen us, despite the fact that we were not the most intelligent, noble, powerful people he could find in order to give us the treasure of his kingdom, his faithful and prudent stewards, sent with the mission to enrich the whole world. These things are absurd to “natural man,” but the Spirit helps us from within to “think not as man does but as God.”
- Jesus’ most astonishing words of all are those that he says through the accent of his priests each day, when he takes simple bread and wine and changes them into himself. He does this by his authority as Creator over all creation, but he also does it by his love as our Redeemer. Today he comes not to the Capernaum synagogue, but here to St. Bernadette’s, and even more particularly, he comes to each one of us, seeking to make us his temple and speak with authority to us from within throughout the day. Let us ask the Spirit who helps us to understand the things of God to give us greater amazement at this tremendous mystery as we prepare to great him with the astonishment of the Roman Centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my [soul] shall be healed.”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 cor 2:10b-16
The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.
Among men, who knows what pertains to the man
except his spirit that is within?
Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.
We have not received the spirit of the world
but the Spirit who is from God,
so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.
And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom,
but with words taught by the Spirit,
describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.Now the natural man does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God,
for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it,
because it is judged spiritually.
The one who is spiritual, however, can judge everything
but is not subject to judgment by anyone.For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
ps 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13ab, 13cd-14
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The Lord is just in all his ways.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and speak of your might.
R. The Lord is just in all his ways.
Making known to men your might
and the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.
Your Kingdom is a Kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
R. The Lord is just in all his ways.
The LORD is faithful in all his words
and holy in all his works.
The LORD lifts up all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
R. The Lord is just in all his ways.
He taught them on the sabbath,
and they were astonished at his teaching
because he spoke with authority.
In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon,
and he cried out in a loud voice,
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!”
Then the demon threw the man down in front of them
and came out of him without doing him any harm.
They were all amazed and said to one another,
“What is there about his word?
For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits,
and they come out.”
And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region.