3 February 20194 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
4 Ordinary Time
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C 1
Corinthians 12,31-13:13

Some years ago a popular song told us, "What the world needs now is love, love, love." Perhaps the composer of this song was inspired by St Paul's letter to the Corinthians. At any rate, Paul of Tarsus would totally agree with the main lines of the song. Only one person in the history of the United States has had the good fortune or, if you prefer, the misfortune to be inaugurated four times as President. He was the remarkable Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As his biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin will attest, the man from Hyde Park, New York was not an especially religious person. Yet, he knew his St Paul. At each of his inaugurations, the Roosevelt family Bible was held by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. And each time it was open to today's superb second reading on love. The President was as much impressed by the thirteenth chapter of Paul's letter to the small Christian colony at Corinth in Greece as we are. This chapter has been correctly called a hymn of love. I suppose too we might name it a hymn to love. Many would argue that the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians is not merely the finest prose in St Paul's letters but also in the entire New Testament. Authors of whatever stripe would consider their oeuvre complete if they could run off such a sublime message on their word processors.

The Holy Spirit had full burners working when He inspired Paul of Tarsus on this passage. I recall as a boy listening to the late actor, James Mason, with his marvelous voice recite this chapter from memory. As young as I was, I felt goosepimples moving swiftly around my skin. I can well understand how Beethoven's audience must have felt that night he first conducted his Ninth Symphony. All of us at some time have asked in one form or another, "What is love?" There are of course many answers to the query. The one offered by mystics is the one I find most satisfying. They would say simply that love is a person. His name is Jesus. And, if you want to be an authentic lover, become that Jesus. To paraphrase Nobel Prize laureate Seamus Heaney, He is the "lure let down to tempt the soul to rise." One author further suggest a strategem for our instruction. Wherever Paul mentions the word "love," we should substitute the word "Jesus." Listen! Jesus is always patient and kind. He is never jealous. He is never boastful or conceited. He is never rude or selfish. He does not take offense and is not resentful. He takes no pleasure in other people's sins but delights in the truth.

He is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. The glorious language does fit our Leader well, does it not? But suppose that wherever St Paul mentions love, we substitute our own names. Is there anyone here who thinks the language fits us? If anything, we should grow red in the face - all of us - and hopefully sigh our regrets. Yet, the exercise does tell us the direction we Christ followers should be heading. However, we might better be able to substitute our own names with more confidence if we were to begin to practice what someone has called the Golden Rules for Living. If you open it, close it. If you turn it on, turn it off. If you unlock it, lock it up. If you break it, admit it. If you can't fix it, call in someone who can. If you borrow it, return it. If you value it, take care of it. If you make a mess, clean it up. If you move it, put it back. If it belongs to someone else, get permission to use it. If you don't know how to operate it, leave it alone. If it's none of your business, don't ask questions.

Aldous Huxley spent some time as professor of the Humanities at the celebrated Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a world-class intellectual. There he told a friend, "...it's rather embarrassing to have spent one's entire lifetime pondering the human condition and to come toward its close and find that I really don't have anything more profound to pass on by way of advice than, 'Try to be a little kinder.'" St Paul would say, "Amen to that!"

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
4 Ordinary Time
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Before I formed you in the womb....

Today's first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived 600 years before the Lord. 600 years is a long time. Imagine us reading something from 1419. Jeremiah prophesied before the King and the leaders of the people. Then he spoke to the everyday people. He told them all that their lifestyle had brought suffering upon themselves. He told them not to make treaties with the pagans, treaties which would demand they sacrifice to pagan gods and participate in pagan immorality. He told them to trust in God. For this he was persecuted, attacked, even left to die in a cistern. Still, Jeremiah remained true to the Word he had been given. He wouldn't refrain from preaching or even refine his preaching. He complained that he wished he could keep quiet, but the Word of God was burning like a fire within him. He had to prophesy. Yet, it was not all gloom and doom in Jeremiah.

He prophesied that a time would come when God's covenant would be written within His people's hearts. Those are the some of the main points of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. But for us, perhaps the most important message of the prophet is contained in today's first reading from the beginning of the book. The Lord said to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." Now, there are many levels to prophetic statements. There is the level that refers to the prophet and his or her time. God was telling Jeremiah that he had picked him out to be his prophet before Jeremiah was even conceived.

There is a level that looks down from the prophecy to the time of the Messiah. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you," speaks about the presence of the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and God's plan for the Word to become Flesh, a plan put into motion by Mary's agreeing to be the Mother of the Lord at the Annunciation. A similar example of the layers of prophecy would be in Isaiah where the King is told that a virgin shall be with a child whose name will be Emmanuel. The people of Isaiah's time saw this as referring to Hezekiah. As time went on this prophecy was recognized as referring to Jesus. There is still another level to the prophecy though. It is the level that looks down through the ages, 2,600 years, that looks to us. The overwhelmingly Good News is that before each of us was born, or even conceived, God knew us, each of us. Think about that. God knew you and knew me before our mothers and fathers ever met. He was excited to bring us into being. He was thrilled to call us to proclaim His truth. We are not just random results of nature. We are individuals whom God has been fascinated with from before our existence.

And He calls us to proclaim His Truth. But his call comes with the warning that was given to Jeremiah, "They will fight against you, but I am with you to deliver you." He will be with us as we proclaim the authentic way of life, living for the Kingdom of God. Jesus proclaimed the truth in the Synagogue in Nazareth. The people there had heard that He had performed miracles, and they wanted Him to perform some for them. But they didn't have any faith in Him. They couldn't get past His family background. So He told them that as in the past, with Elijah and Elisha, he would only perform miracles for those with faith, even if they were Gentiles. They wanted to kill Him for saying this. They rushed Him out of town. They brought Him to a cliff and were about to push Him off, push Him to his death, but it wasn't his time to die yet. His Father was with Him. Jesus just turned and walked through the crowd. What a scene! The prophecy about the results of proclaiming the truth given in Jeremiah and witnessed in Jesus' life on earth continues with us. Some people don't want to hear us when we proclaim God's truth with our lives as well as our words. They mock us. They insult us.

They vilify us. They want to push us off the cliff of respectability. But the One who called us from before we were conceived, will not desert us. His way, His truth will prevail. There is nothing that anyone can do to us that will force God to leave us. "What can separate us from the Love of God," St. Paul asks in Romans 8: 38. Nothing can take God from us. If he is for us, who could be against us? We have to proclaim all that is right and moral and God's way, but we have to speak with charity. The great praise of love of 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient, love is kind, and so forth, is far more than a wonderful reading for a wedding. It is God telling us how we are to care for people. We are to proclaim his truth with patience and kindness, and not with all the negatives of the passage from today's second reading. We cannot proclaim God's love if we are arrogant, jealous, selfish, angry, and vengeful. If in our determination to proclaim God's truth, others cannot see the love of God behind our words and actions, then we are not proclaiming His Kingdom. We cannot be using the truth like a two by four to beat people over the head and into submission. If we let our anger determine our actions, even anger over horrible things like abortion, we will get no where. If that's our way of acting, then we need to grow up.

That's why St. Paul adds in the reading, "When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, think like a child, and reason like a child, but when I became a man I put childish things aside." God is calling us to be patient and kind with others, even those, especially those, who do horrendous things. He called us from before we were in our mothers' wombs.

How wonderful is that? He has always loved each of us as individuals. He entrusts us with the mandate to proclaim His Kingdom in a loving way. He assures us that whatever happens in our lives or in our world, whatever dangers lurk, from Islamic terrorism on the extreme right to the exaltation of immorality on the extreme left, even if the worst should happen to the world, to our nation, or to any of us, faith, hope and love will remain. And the greatest of these is love, for God is love and He will never desert us. To each of us, God is saying today, "I knew you Sharon, Bob, Phil and Mary; add your own name here. I knew you from before you were even conceived. I have called you to proclaim my truth, to be authentic to whom you are, my daughter, my son. I have called you to proclaim the Truth with love. And I promise you, no matter what results from your proclamation, I will always be with you."

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
4 Ordinary Time
Love Never Fails (February 3, 2019)
Bottom line: Emotions come and go but as Jesus shows, love never fails. Amen.

Last week we heard Jesus' inaugural address. Quoting the prophet Isaiah he lays out his mission: that the Holy Spirit has anointed him to bring glad tidings to the poor, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. You'd think the Nazarenes would rejoice that one of their own has such an exalted role. Instead they turn against Jesus, even want to kill him. The whole incident points to something we saw last week. The Gospels are not sweet stories - they report events as they happened. The important thing is that criticism and rejection did not deter Jesus from his mission. You can sum up that mission in one word - the word St. Paul uses today: love. Jesus' love is not sentimental, not some kind of mushy feeling that heats and then cools down. No, love is patient. It doesn't seek its own interest or brood over injury. Love bears all things, believes, hopes and endures all things.

Now, love doesn't mean being a doormat. Jesus is hardly a wuss. He faces down a crowd. Having discerned the Father's purpose, he continues forward in spite of obstacles. Regarding firmness of purpose, I think of Sister Barbara. God called her to St. Mary of the Valley in 1977. She continued faithfully in good times and bad. I was privileged to be with her the last nine years of her life. Only after her death did we realize how much she had done.

People kept asking: Father, can we get another Sister? I didn't think it would be possible, but as a result of much prayer God sent us Sister Carmen. Now, I am not saying Sister Carmen will replace Sister Barbara. No one can replace her, but Sister Carmen brings her own gifts. God is good. On Sister Barbara's memorial bench we inscribed one of her sayings, "God is good; he is so very good." Sister Barbara reflected God's goodness and love. As we see in today's readings, love is not easy. Dostoevsky wrote, "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams." Love had a dreadful dimension for Jesus. So it will be for us. So this Sunday we see Jesus embracing his mission in spite of opposition. He keeps on keeping on. People are beautiful but they also disappoint. You and I fall down - we need Jesus to pick us up. Emotions come and go but as Jesus shows, love never fails. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
4 Ordinary Time
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gospel reading today follows directly on from last Sunday's account of Jesus reading from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth. When he was finished he sat down and then with all eyes fixed on him he announced, 'This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.' In other words he told them that he was the Messiah so long foretold. These words become the first line of our Gospel reading today. Up to that point everyone in the synagogue was transfixed. As it says, 'he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.' But the mood swiftly changes. Whoever it was who said, 'This is Joseph's son, surely?' is not identified but suddenly the people turned against Jesus leading him to say, 'I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.' Jesus responds to their rejection by telling them that Elijah and Elisha were also sent to minister to non-Jews. In this way Jesus indicates that while his ministry will be largely among the Chosen People he also has a mission to the Gentiles.

The people of Nazareth want to hear no more and so they hustle him away and attempt to push him over a cliff. This return to his home town ends up as being spectacularly unsuccessful. The people initially welcome him but then because of his audacious claims they end up completely and utterly rejecting him. This is a pattern that will be seen again and again throughout Jesus' public ministry and it is what will eventually lead to his death on the Cross of Calvary. We don't know who it was that pointed out that Jesus was the son of Joseph; but looking to many similar incidents throughout his travels in Palestine we can guess that it was probably one of the village elders or another man of authority. These were the people who had potentially the most to lose if Jesus did turn out to be the Messiah, especially when you consider that much of his teaching is about lifting up the poor and putting down the rich.

These people of position and vested interest realise very quickly that in this Kingdom that Jesus preaches they will soon lose their power and wealth. But this passage also shows us how fickle a crowd can be. Initially the people of Nazareth accept Jesus and then after a brief moment of reflection they are enraged and completely reject him. But, of course, if you are an active Christian in the world of today you will realise that this is something that you have already experienced. Some people just do not want to hear about the Lord and they get awkward and angry if the subject of religion is raised with them. If you present yourself in an obvious way as a Christian some people will immediately pick a fight with you. This has occasionally happened to me when wearing a clerical collar on a train or a bus. Certain people are keen to get into an argument and trot out a lot of half-baked theories attempting to prove that Christianity is just plain wrong or on other occasions they attack you personally and try to make you out to be some sort of hypocrite.

We shouldn't be upset when this sort of thing happens to us, Jesus himself warned his disciples that this type of thing, and much worse, would inevitably happen to them. Actually, when we are attacked like this we should regard it as a badge of honour. It is a good rule of thumb to take into account the first reading when we are considering the Gospel text. Often it can shed a bit more light on things. In the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus revealed himself to be the Messiah, in the first reading the Prophet Jeremiah tells us how he was called to the ministry of prophet. He tells us that it was revealed to him that he had been chosen for this great task even before he was born. We ought to relate these two important callings, that of Jesus and that of the Prophet Jeremiah, to our own particular calling. Because, make no mistake about it, we have been called. Each one of us has been given a mission, each one of us has been given a task by the Lord. And our task is to spread the Good News, to be Evangelists in the world, to be Apostles in this present age. To be a Christian and not to have brought other people to faith can be considered to be something of a failure.

However, don't feel that I am damning you if your children have rejected the faith or if you have never managed to convince anyone else of the truths of the Gospel. We know that our first task as parents is to transmit the faith to our children. We understand that this means explaining to them the truths of the Gospel, it also means living lives in accordance with God's laws in order to give them good example. And it importantly it also means praying with them and so heling them to develop a personal relationship with the Lord. But we cannot force the faith upon them. Ultimately it is their own free choice whether to accept the Gospel or not. Also, in relation to people at work or among our acquaintances we probably would feel uncomfortable giving them the hard-sell about faith. We need to remember that we are Catholics and not Jehovah's Witnesses who cannot talk about anything else other than their strange doctrines. Some people are better qualified to be Evangelists than others and maybe most of us don't think that we have the necessary gifts to be persuasive in a public way.

But there is such a thing as pre-Evangelisation, what this involves is preparing the ground to that at the opportune moment a person can be brought to faith. Pre-Evangelisation is something subtle, it means talking and discussing things with other people in such a way that our faith is evident to them even though we don't talk about it directly. What pre-Evangelisation does is help the other person to realise that some of the positions and views that they hold are not incompatible with the faith, it helps them to realise that faith is possible and credible, it helps them to open up to Christianity. Pre-Evangelisation is something that we can all do. To give an example, it might be that because of stances we take at work we are known to be people of integrity and honesty; our colleagues might then realise that the reason why we are like this is because of our Catholic faith. This may cause them to view the faith in a more favourable light. So if we can't all be Evangelisers we can at least concern ourselves with pre-Evangelisation, we can prepare the ground so that at the opportune moment God can do his work and lead our friends and colleagues to faith in Christ and in his Gospel of love.

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