3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
The shorter periods of daylight in the winter may leave us feeling as though we are surrounded by darkness. Sometimes, we leave home in the morning in the dark, and it is dark by the time we return home in the evening. We may feel more keenly the presence of spiritual or emotional darkness as well: fear, loneliness, doubt, grief, or worry may press upon our hearts, leaving us anxious and uncertain. The darkness is not only personal. We feel the darkness of political division, violence, and natural disasters so deeply that at times it feels as though light has been banished from our lives and world. If there is anything we learn from Jesus, it is that God does not want us to live in darkness. God so desires that we know and live in the light that God came among us, to be one with us.
This is what we celebrated in the Christmas season. No matter how unbearable the darkness may seem, we know that Christ’s light prevails. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone.” (Is 9:1) Christ’s light dispels our darkness and all darkness humanity has ever or will ever experience. Whatever the darkness we face, Christ’s light awaits. Not only this, Christ awaits our loving action as the means for spreading his light, bringing hope and peace to those who most need it. We do this through our faithful stewardship of our lives, our actions, attention, prayer, help, support, caring and sharing. How will you walk in the light of the Lord and share the light with others, dispelling their darkness by sharing God’s great love in Jesus Christ?
Pope Francis is inviting Catholics across the world to deepen their appreciation, love and faithful witness to God and his Word.
That’s why, as established by a papal decree – the third Sunday in Ordinary Time today is to be observed as a special day devoted to “the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God”. It is an initiative that the Pope has entrusted to the whole Church so that “the Christian community may concentrate on the great value that the Word of God occupies in its daily existence” (Aperuit illis 2). It’s an opportunity to renew our commitment and understanding of “the inexhaustible richness that comes from God’s constant dialogue with his people.”
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. Yet He dwelt among us so that He could die for us. On Calvary on Good Friday, the Word sacrificed Himself — flesh and blood, soul and divinity — to God the Father. The meaning of this singular act of self-sacrifice is two-fold: that sinners might be reconciled to God, so that God might make them His children.
The Word of God is a person. This truth is often obscured in regard to preaching. Preaching, of course, is essential to the Word of God’s ministry. Nonetheless, the preaching of the Word of God is a means to a far greater end, just as the divine Son in all things leads us to the divine Father.
The ultimate end of all preaching is communion with God the Father, through God the Son, in God the Holy Spirit. Yet in His Divine Providence, God chose to accomplish this communion through the Cross of Christ. All of Jesus’s words and works on earth lead to Calvary. The Cross of Christ is the earthly end — the proximate end — of our discipleship.
This Sunday’s Scripture passages focus our attention upon the Word of God. The Gospel reading is from only the fourth of the 28 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel account. The first two chapters, of course, focus on the advent and infancy of Jesus. So today’s Gospel Reading takes place early in Jesus’s public ministry, and focuses on the basics.
That’s fitting for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. The beginning of the Church year, of course, focused on the advent and infancy of Jesus. So today’s Gospel Reading during the early part of Ordinary Time focuses on the basics of following Jesus.
After Jesus calls two sets of brothers to become “fishers of men,” He labors at three works of public ministry amidst “all of Galilee.” Jesus teaches, preaches, and cures the sick. Yet the fact that the short form of today’s Gospel reading ends by focusing upon Jesus’s preaching suggests how central preaching is to His public ministry.
In fact, the only words that we hear Jesus preaching in today’s Gospel Reading are: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance is the first word of Jesus’s preaching the Word of God. From the perspective of those who hear the Word of God, repentance is the first word of following Jesus.
The Christian repents not just once in his life because, this side of Heaven, he remains a sinner. When Jesus later commands His disciples to take up their crosses each day (Lk 9:23), this command includes the embrace of daily repentance.
This side of death, it’s only through the Cross of Christ that we can enter into union with the Word of God. That’s not to say that we can’t, while on earth, also enjoy a foretaste of Jesus’s victory over death. But entering into the Cross of Christ is the door to this victory. On earth we can only dimly glimpse the resurrection; its fullness can only be known in Heaven. On earth we can, however, fully experience the Cross of Christ. In fact, we must in order to be His disciples.
Saint Paul in today’s second reading draws our attention to the link between preaching and the Cross of Christ. It’s telling that the larger point of this passage is divisions among the Corinthians. Paul’s remedy for divisions within the Church is the Cross of Christ. He even speaks to one of the pitfalls that he, as a preacher, has to work to avoid. This pitfall is the “human eloquence” that captivates in the short term but can bear no lasting fruit, and in fact does lasting harm by creating an expectation and desire within Christians for what is shallow.
The depth of the Word of God is only found finally in the Cross of Christ. Every word of the Old Testament is fulfilled in the Cross of Christ on Calvary on Good Friday, just as each word and work during Jesus’s public ministry was so fulfilled. Every word and work of Jesus after His Resurrection, as every word in the New Testament books that follow the four Gospel accounts, as every work of the Church in her holy sacraments, flows from the power of the Cross of Christ. Of no sacrament is this truer than the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, where the Word made Flesh offers Himself in sacrifice, so that we can join sacramentally in His singular act of salvation.
By embracing Jesus’s Cross, we can come to communion with the divine Person of Jesus Christ Himself. Only through this Cross can the Christian enter the life of the Son, and through the Son the embrace of the Father. In the order of salvation, this is the providential role of the Word of God.
Let us pray that we may have the courage and strength to read, meditate and live our lives according the Scripture. Amen.
Fr. A. Francis HGN