3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. January 27, 2019.
Neh 8:2-4,5-6,8-10; 1Cor 12:12-14, 27; Lk 1:1-4, 14-21
Embracing Christ’s mission today
I was staying with a group of religious nuns in their convent in the Philippines while guiding them on an 8 days silent retreat. Taking a walk one evening I had a conversion with a lady who happened to be living close to the convent. When I told her that I was guiding the sisters on a retreat, she responded, “Stay away from those sisters. They are no good.” She then proceeded to speak of all the negative things she had heard about the sisters.
I asked her if she had ever approached any of the sisters to hear their own side of these negative stories. I asked if she had at least written them an anonymous letter to inform them of what she had heard and how disturbed she was about it. I asked if she had ever offered to the sisters a hint to remedy the evil that she had heard about them. Her response to all these my questions was, “No.” She claimed that she did not want to get involved in their affairs but she had knowingly or unknowingly become a propagator of the evil that she heard.
We can easily do something similar when we hear, see or experience evil in our world today. We accuse, blame, condemn, or castigate others without even asking ourselves what is the good that we must do in the face of such evils. We thus allow ourselves to be overcome by evil and become its propagators.
Our Lord Jesus Christ shows us a different attitude towards evil. He is the Eternal Word who willingly “leapt down from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed.”(Wis 18:15) Today’s Gospel shows Him “returning to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,” the Spirit of divine goodness that stoops low into human mystery so as to bring good to humanity for the greater glory of God. He is anointed by this Spirit not for Himself but for the good of humanity in the throes of an evil world, “To bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.” He does all this for the sake of the Father’s glory, “To proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Was the goodness of Jesus appreciated by the recipients? Did He receive appropriate recompense for the good that He did and the evils that He endured. No; even His Nazareth folk, after hearing these gracious words of divine goodness from His lips, would eventually reject Him and “lead Him to the brow of the hill to hurl Him down headlong.”(Lk 4:29) But Jesus would remain faithful to His mission to the very end, until He would experience the greatest evil of deicide on the cross so that He may win for us forgiveness from sin and adoption as children of God. In both life and death, evil stopped with Christ and divine goodness triumphed and overflowed to bring divine benefit towards those who were completely unworthy of it.
Before we attempt to excuse ourselves from following in Christ’s footsteps because we are not Christ, let us ponder the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”(1Cor 12:14) We too have that Spirit of divine goodness by which evil is to end with us and we are to overcome evil by doing good for others for the greater glory of God. This means that we are called and gifted to make present Christ’s own mission in this world.
We become propagators of evil in this world because this Spirit of goodness that we received in baptism is dormant in us. We have failed to do what St. Paul exhorted St. Timothy to do i.e. to “stir into flame the gift of God (Spirit)… For God did not give us a Spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”(2Tim 1:6-7) We can stir up the Spirit of God in two ways:
First, let us read, reflect, and meditate deeply on the word of God as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. We are told that the priest Ezra “read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.” The response of the returning exiles to this authoritative reading and interpretation of the God’s laws was not just sentimental, “weeping as they heard the words of the law.” They also responded by recommitting themselves to the follow the law of God.
Likewise if we too are going to allow the Spirit of goodness overcome the evils of our times, we must know the truth and believe in the truth alone and wholeheartedly, refusing to succumb to the many deviant personal interpretations of scriptures that we have in our day and time. Partly due to our fallen nature that moves us to believe only what is according to our taste and lifestyle, everyone can read the Scriptures but not everyone can give an authoritative faithful interpretation. We need to be guided by the Church’s Magisterium in this regard so that the truths believed can awaken the Spirit of goodness within us.
Secondly, we must foster a deep and true devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. It is in Mary and through her faithful and loving response to the Angel Gabriel that the Spirit of goodness formed the God-Man, Jesus Christ, in her womb and thus initiated God’s definitive defeat of evil in our times. She believed and responded to the Angel’s words, “The Holy Spirit will descend upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
By the Incarnation of the Eternal Word in her womb, Mary teaches us that our first response to the evil of our times is neither silence nor activism but complete openness to the Spirit of God within us and a recommitment to Jesus Christ, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord be it be done to me according to your word.” By being truly devoted to Mary, she helps us today to be completely open and docile to the Spirit of goodness within us and to constantly renew and live out our commitment to Jesus Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we too face the reality of evil and sin in our times. A few days ago, the governor and law makers of the state of New York decided to extend abortion right to even after birth, denying the infant the right to life even after surviving an abortion. This weekend, Islamic terrorists blew up faithful Catholics worshipping in a Cathedral during Sunday Mass in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. In the Catholic Church, we have revered clergy and ministers being credibly accused of sexually abusing children and seminarians for many years and covering up their abominable crimes.
What should we do? It is easy to paddle the stories. It is easy to call names. It is easy to vent on social media. It is even easy to lose our faith and to refuse to embrace the challenges of the time because we feel that we cannot make a difference. Let us remember that we are called and gifted to perpetuate Christ’s mission on earth: to overcome evil by the Spirit of goodness in us and bring true benefit to others for God’s own sake.
More than ever, let us embrace Jesus most closely as we encounter Him in our Eucharist today so that we will share more fully in His Spirit of divine goodness. With this Spirit present and alive in us, we can perpetuate His mission in our world and refuse to be propagators of evil. This is the way that evil will end with us and divine goodness will overflow to others through us for the sake of the God who has lovingly bestowed on His own Spirit of goodness.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!