The Word Made Flesh, NAC Holy Hour, March 14, 1999

Rev. Mr. Roger J. Landry
Pontifical North American College
NAC Holy Hour
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A
March 14, 1999

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him nothing came into being. What came to be in him found life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own did not accept him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, children who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

On this Laetare Sunday, we rejoice in a particular way that earlier today 46 of our brothers were installed as lectors for Holy Mother Church. In his very moving homily, Archbishop Pittau called them in particular, but also all of us, to reflect on the fact that God called every one of us to this special responsibility and privilege of hearing and proclaiming the Word of God, not because of any special qualification on our part, but because he loved us in a special way and wanted to include us in his plan for saving the world.

Tonight I would like to continue this meditation through the help of the Word of God as proclaimed at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel.

John’s prologue zeroes in on the greatest event in human history, that the Word of God, who was from the beginning, with God, and who was God, the Word who brought to life who creation, that Word whom now all of us in this house have the honor of proclaiming, became flesh and dwelled among us. But he did not stop there. As we sang this morning, he came came from heaven to die, crucified for us and our salvation.

This Word made flesh, this Word that became one of us so that he could die to save us, is now the word we’re called to proclaim. And for us to proclaim the Word in all its fullness, we have to enflesh the Word, in at least the three following ways:

(1) In our proclamation of the Word.
(2) In our actions
(3) And in the Eucharist.

First, in our proclamation of the Word. When we read the Word of God, liturgically at Mass, when we recite the breviary, in common or in private, when we read and pray Sacred Scripture, whenever we come into contact with God’s revelation, we have to allow the word to become flesh in us and to give others that enfleshed Word. How many times we have heard the Word of God proclaimed at Mass in such a way that it seemed like a completely dead letter! Sometimes, even here in this house, it seems as if certain lectors couldn’t read the Gospel in a more lifeless fashion if we were paying them to do so! None of this is to say, of course, that we have to be theatrical up here, to put on a show, to attract attention to ourselves and distract attention from Sacred Scripture. But it does mean that, somehow, we’ve got to show that this Word has really made a difference to us, that it interests us, that somehow it has changed us. If we don’t do this, if we read as if we’re just getting through the reading because, gosh, someone’s got to do it and it was merely my turn on the schedule, then the Word hasn’t been made flesh and we really haven’t proclaimed the Word.

Think about St. John. He was proclaiming a living word made flesh, a Word, as he tells us in his first letter, which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and touched with our hands, which was revealed, which we have seen and to which we testify, which we declare to you, who is the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. The purpose of all of this, John says, is “so that you also may have fellowship with us … that our joy may be complete.” Not only did he have a personal experience, a personal enfleshment of the Word abiding within him, but he didn’t consider his joy complete, until he conveyed that Word to others in such a way that, with God’s grace, it might change them. So, too, we should proclaim this Good, no Great, news in such a way that others hearing us might hear the One who has called us to proclaim it in his name.

Secondly, we’re called to proclaim the Word made Flesh in our Actions. Jesus Himself is the Revelation of God. As Dei Verbum tells us, he manifested himself in more than what emanated from his larynx, but proclaimed the Good News by his words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. In a similar way, as Archbishop Pittau alluded to this morning, we are called to proclaim the Good News, the Saving Truth of God, in our words and in our deeds. If we don’t practice the Gospel we proclaim, no one will listen to us — and let’s be honest, no one should. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted this with great candor and sadness in their discussion of modern atheism, saying that “believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.” If this is true of all Christians, it is a fortiori true of us who are called to be united in a special way to Christ, because we are united to Christ the Head of the Church.

It is not by accident that St. Paul called the Church the body of Christ, because the Message entrusted to the Church, the Message who is a person, a living Word, has a body. The Word of God that dwells within the Church has an external form. We are that face of the Church! That’s why St. Teresa of Avila wrote so beautifully, Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours!. To the extent that our feet walk in the way of the Lord, following his footsteps; that our hands bring his merciful touch, are folded in prayer, are extended in shakes of genuine fraternity and friendship; that our body remains the Temple of the Holy Spirit it was made at baptism, we will reflect the beauty and goodness of Christ and attract others to him. This Lent, this Holy Hour, is a great time to reflect on how well our actions bear witness to our absolutely remarkable claim that Christ actually lives and abides in the Church, in us.

Thirdly, we are called to proclaim the Word Made Flesh in the Eucharist, as we are doing right now in adoration before the Incarnate Lord abiding with us, truly present, on the altar. We certainly should do this in our preaching, as Fr. Peter John Cameron has counseled us to do. But that’s only half of it! The way we proclaim the Word made flesh par excellence is not so much with our lips and the integrity of our actions — as important as these are — but by our knees, when we drop in adoration of the Word made Flesh. Archbishop Pittau credited his vocation to seeing his pastor, day in, day out, worshipping God before the Blessed Sacrament. My own vocation I credit to seeing my pastor Fr. John Cantwell, when I was four year’s old attending Mass with my mother, lift Jesus in his fingers and say “Behold the Lamb of God, He who takes away the sins of the World.” He said it in such a tender and overwhelming way that I knew that he knew that he was holding the Savior of the World in his fingertips. I said to myself that day that the priest is the luckiest man in the World, able to hold God in his hands and to give him to others, and I asked God to give me a priestly vocation. All of us are called to be vocation directors and vocation recruiters in this very same way, by our actions in treating God in the Blessed Sacrament as if we know he is truly God. To genuflect as if we really mean it, to eat the flesh and blood of our Lord as if we really know we’re consuming God Himself, to have such care and reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist in all our actions so that others, seeing us, may be attracted to One who inspires them.

In our words, in our actions, in our love of the Eucharist, may the Word of God truly become flesh and dwell among us! Amen!