Sunday Sermon for January 27, 2013, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1Cor 12:12-30, Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

In the first reading we hear an account of the assembly of the people as they gathered to hear the words of the Book of Deuteronomy. Prior to going into exile one of the priests must have buried the scroll which, upon the return of the people after seventy years, was found by the priests who were working to repair the Temple and get it reading for use. No one among those returning to Israel had ever heard the words of this sacred book, so as they listened they were stung by the contents and began to weep.

The priests and Levites who were present for the occasion kept telling the people not to weep and that it was to be a day of rejoicing, a day holy to the Lord. I often wonder, when I hear about the reaction of these Israelites, why so few seem to be moved profoundly by the words of the Gospels. We fall into the category of which our Lord speaks, in a completely different context, that we piped you a tune but you did not dance; we sang you a dirge but you did not wail.

There are so many points in the Gospels that should convict us, but we walk away untouched. In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells us that the words from Isaiah are fulfilled in Him. This should be a cause of great rejoicing for us, but we tend to remain unmoved.

St. Paul points out to us in the second reading that we are all members of the Body of Christ and that we have all been given to drink of the one Spirit. This defines who we are and should fill us with an understanding of the immensity of our dignity. Most of us shrug our shoulders and ignore these truths because “we have heard it all before.” The fact that we have heard it before does not change the fact that they are true, nor does it diminish the awe and the glory that should be in us as we consider these truths and apply them to ourselves.

We have to recall that all Scripture is inspired by God; it is the Word of God. Moreover, the word “Gospel” literally means “Good News.” All that God has revealed is good and beautiful. While it is true that the Scriptures contain much that should convict us in the depths of our conscience, even these passages are written for our good to help us to stay on the right path and to move us to repentance it we have strayed.

It is time that we begin looking deeper within ourselves to ask about what is most important in our lives. God has given us a book which tells us who we are and why we were created. It also lays out for us how we are to live our lives in this world and how we can get to Heaven. It tells us of the greatness of God’s love for us in becoming one of us and dying on the Cross for us. Any one of these things should be enough to motivate us to pick up this book and study it; all of them together should make this a book we want to understand and come back to on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, most of us do not do this. All too often it has been years since many Catholics have read from the Bible other than what they hear at Mass on Sunday mornings. People will often reply that when they try to read the Scriptures they do not understand what is being said. It is true that there are parts of the Scriptures that are difficult to understand, but perhaps that is so that we will do the work necessary to understand and, thereby, never forget the lesson because of the amount of work we have dedicated to the project.

There are many tools available to help us to understand, interpret and apply the Word of God. Putting forth the effort required will help us to gain knowledge of the Hebrew culture, the Jewish worship and the times in which God chose to reveal Himself. We cannot understand the New Testament fully without first having an understanding of Old Testament.

More to the point, we cannot fully understand Catholicism and Catholic worship without an understanding of Judaism and Jewish worship. Catholicism builds upon the foundation of Judaism and completes it. Jesus did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. We have to know the Law and the Prophets if we want to know how they are fulfilled in Christ. We have to know the Word of God in order to apply it to ourselves and live it. Read it and rejoice!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit