Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 2, 2014
Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

One of my theology teachers would always conclude his lecture saying “Onward and upwards.” I think of it most days, especially when many people are going through challenging periods, and that is just about every day. Sometimes we have to learn to say goodbye to times past and move forward into a new day. Letting go is not easy because we do not adequately deal with our feelings. Frequently, we want to talk at great length about the past so we can explain our feelings, but putting the past aside will help you move to a new present and future.

The mother and father of Jesus encounter two elderly people who serve as symbols of the past when they go to the Temple to consecrate their son to the Lord in accordance with the Mosaic Law. They first meet Simeon who waits for news of hope for the future of Israel and he sees it fulfilled in the person of Jesus. He knows it is time to gracefully exit the stage and to accept that a new time has begun. He is able to let go with ease and he actively brings about the death of his former vigilance because it is no longer needed in this new era.  

They then encounter Anna, an elderly widowed prophet, who stayed in the temple night and day until she met Joseph and Mary and held the boy Jesus in her arms. For the first time in her life, she was able to go home and to give up her devotional practices. They no longer served any constructive purpose. The Law and the Prophets were being fulfilled in her presence. A different kind of life is to be lived when the past is fulfilled.

Jesus is the one who breaks from the past and ushers in a new era. He is able to retain the promises of a former time so the present times can flourish. All that we really have is the “now,” which is donated as a gift. All the negativity and stuff that detracts from actualizing the promise is left behind to perish because they are temporal realities that do not contribute to living joyfully in the kingdom. We must move forward every day.

The church is moving forward under Pope Francis and for some this comes with confusion and pain. Practices and styles that once dominated church teachings are left to perish because they no longer serve the common good of the kingdom. A new way, a new style, is ready to flourish and it is taking hold of the world with remarkable ease. This is a sign that it is blessed with God’s grace.

What is in your past that needs to be left behind? Too often we needlessly cling to something that helped us survive. It may have worked, but if we do not let go of it, we are not going to mature into healthy individuals. We have to take steps that give us courage and energy to our actions as we boldly emerge into a new way of living our Christian life. Each person must actively reject the faith of his or her parents and family and even the church in order to come back to it and make it one’s own. It means painfully breaking with the past so we can shape and own a future that is ours. Do not look back with great emotions or anxiety because it is your task as a maturing Christian adult to claim who you are. View the past warmly as Simeon and Anna did and let it go as graciously as they did.

Each of us must choose the manner in which we live our faith. Assess where you are: are you timid and frightened?; bound by choices you have made in the past?; lukewarm, complacent and nominally a Christian?, or do you possess the spark, the fire that kindles other fires? Do you have boldness and courage? I quote some words from Karl Rahner, S.J. that continues to inspire me.

Let us step forth on the adventurous journey to the heart of God! Let us run! Let us forget what lies behind us. The whole future lies open to us. Every possibility of life is still open, because we can still find God, still find more. Nothingness is over and done with for the person who runs to meet God, the God whose smallest reality is greater than our boldest illusion, the God who is eternal youth and in whose country there dwells no resignation, no despair. Why shouldn’t we believe and go on this journey? Why shouldn’t we look to the light of Christ in the expanses of our hearts? Why not follow the Light?  (– Really, what have we to lose?)

            Today is the day we bring candles to the church to be blessed – as fires, as lights, that will brightly illumine the world. These flames represent us and they represent the Lord’s promise to us. Today is the day we present ourselves to the Lord, just as the parents of Jesus presented him. How much of yourself are you able to present? Let us try to present our best selves, the goodness that we know we are. Let us respect the past for bringing us where we are, and let us let it go. Let us present our hopes and dreams and visions and our imaginings. Let us offer our good thoughts, our struggles for unity, our work in building the kingdom. Let us bring forward our moments of joy and our beautiful souls. Let us stand before our Lord and be gazed upon for the beauty and wonder we possess and let us walk hand in hand with the Lord ‘onwards and upwards’ towards a new day.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: An informant told David that the children of Israel transferred their allegiance to his son Absalom. As David hid on the Mount of Olives, Shimei, son of Gera, taunted him, but David would not touch him because he might have been sent by the Lord to speak the truth. Absolom mounted an attack of David’s servants, but his hair caught fast in a tree and hung from a terebinth. Someone stabbed him in the heart with pikes and killed him. David mourned. David registered the people and counted 800,000 military men in Israel and 500,000 in Judah. He then repented because he was relying upon the strength of men and not God. He asked that a plague be sent upon the people as punishment for his sins. When King David’s death drew near, he gave instructions to Solomon to follow the ways of God and observe the statues and decrees as written in the Law of Moses. After Solomon becomes king, songs were composed to honor David and his mighty feast as their military and civil leader. The Lord asked Solomon to ask for something and the Lord would give it to them. The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s response because he asked for an understanding heart to judge God’s people and to distinguish right from wrong.

Gospel: While near the sea, Jesus went to the territory of the Gerasenes where he met a man ravaged by evil spirits. After exorcising him and sending the spirits into swine, people kicked Jesus out of their territory. Jesus cures the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years and he raised a 12-year-old girl to life to show that faith in him is enough to perform extraordinary deeds. Jesus departed from there and returned home where he taught in the synagogue. The people could only see that he was the carpenter’s son; he told them that a prophet is without honor in his hometown. Jesus calls Twelve men to himself and gives them authority over unclean spirits. He gives them instructions in their mission to proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand. King Herod heard about Jesus and inquired about meeting him because his fame had spread. John was arrested because he spoke publicly about the King’s illicit marriage to Herodius, his brother’s wife. John was later killed after spending time in prison. The Apostles gathered to report about what Jesus had done and taught. Jesus calls them away to a deserted place where he can relax with them and teach them.

Saints of the Week

February 2: The Presentation of the Lord is the rite by which the firstborn male is presented in the Temple as an offering to God. It occurs 40 days after the birth while the new mother is considered ritually unclean. Two church elders, Simeon and Anna, who represent the old covenant, praise Jesus and warn his mother that her heart will be pierced as her son will bring the salvation of many.

February 3: Blase, bishop and martyr (d. 316), was an Armenian martyr of the persecution of Licinius. Legends hold that a boy was miraculously cured by choking to death on a fish bone. Blase's intercession has been invoked for cures for throat afflictions. The candles presented at Candlemas the day earlier are used in the rite of the blessings of throats.

February 3: Angsar, bishop (815-865), became a monk to preach to pagans. He lived at the French Benedictine monastery of New Corbie and was sent to preach in Denmark and Sweden. He was made abbot and then became archbishop of Hamburg. He is known as the Apostle of the North because he restored Denmark to the faith and helped bolster the faith of other Scandinavians.

February 4: John de Brito, S.J., priest, religious, and martyr (1647-1693), was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who served in India and was named “The Portuguese Francis Xavier” to the Indians. De Brito was martyred because he counseled a Maravan prince during his conversion to give up all but one of his wives. One of the wives was a niece to the neighboring king, who set up a round of persecutions against priests and catechists.

February 5: Agatha, martyr, (d. 251), died in Sicily during the Diocletian persecution after she refused to give up her faith when sent to a brothel for punishment. She was subsequently tortured. Sicilians believe her intercession stopped Mount Etna from erupting the year after her burial. She has been sought as a protector against fire and in mentioned in the First Eucharistic prayer.

February 6: Paul Miki and Companions, martyrs (d. 1597), were martyred in Nagasaki, Japan for being Christians. Miki was a Jesuit brother and a native Japanese who was killed alongside 25 clergy, religious, and laypeople. They were suspended on crosses and killed by spears thrust into their hearts. Remnants of the Christian community continued through baptism without any priestly leadership. It was discovered when Japan was reopened in 1865.

February 8: Jerome Emiliani (1481-1537), was a Venetian soldier who experienced a call to be a priest during this imprisonment as a captor. He devoted his work to the education of orphans, abandoned children, the poor and hungry. He founded an order to help in his work, but he died during a plague while caring for the sick.

February 8: Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947) was a Sudanese who was sold as a slave to the Italian Consul, who treated her with kindness. She was baptized in Italy and took the name Josephine. Bakhita means fortunate. She was granted freedom according to Italian law and joined the Canossian Daughters of Charity where she lived simply as a cook, seamstress, and doorkeeper. She was known for her gentleness and compassion.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Feb 2, 1528. Ignatius arrived in Paris to begin his program of studies at the University of Paris.
·      Feb 3, 1571. In Florida, the martyrdom of Fr. Louis Quiros and two novices, shot with arrows by an apostate Indian.
·      Feb 4, 1617. An imperial edict banished all missionaries from China.
·      Feb 5, 1833. The first provincial of Maryland, Fr. William McSherry, was appointed.
·      Feb 6, 1612. The death of Christopher Clavius, one of the greatest mathematicians and scientists of the Society.
·      Feb 7, 1878. At Rome, Pius IX died. He was sincerely devoted to the Society; when one of the cardinals expressed surprise that he could be so attached to an order against which even high ecclesiastics brought serious charges, his reply was: "You have to be pope to know the worth of the Society."
·      Feb 8, 1885. In Chicago, Fr. Isidore Bourdreaux, master of novices at Florissant, Missouri, from 1857 to 1870, died. He was the first scholastic novice to enter the Society from any of the colleges in Missouri.