Pastor Column: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 27, 2019
Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
Dear friends / Estimados amigos,
While many people like to talk, only a few are what I would judge inspired speakers. The latter only come around a few times in life, while the others we meet daily. People like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa or even Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) spoke words that inspired millions to work for change that transformed society, raised awareness of the plight of the destitute, and encouraged people to take a genuine interest in the other, offering sincere encouragement when dealing with him/her.
Effective and powerful words are at the heart of today’s liturgical readings. Ezra reads the words of the Law to the gathering of Jews so that those words would become their source of life, their reason for union, and the bond which would unite them with God forever. St. Paul used dramatic images of the body to drive home the importance of mutual respect for differences in the faith community. In the Gospel, Jesus takes the scroll to deliver the words that would outline the “agenda” for His public ministry. His powerful words of promise were confirmed by the fact that He would spend His life and go to His death in order to fulfill them. His public activities were saturated with the proclamation of good news to the poor, the liberation of those held captive by evil spirits or disease. He made the blind see and liberated captives. As the words are once again repeated in our presence they are particularly challenging. Will we be lulled by eloquence or moved to action, fired up by the words of the Lord?
Theologian Walter Brueggemann has affirmed the importance of repeatedly re-hearing Jesus’ powerful words. At the time it is proclaimed, the sacred text is offered by the deacon/lector and received by the listener as something revelatory. The Word of God discloses something about this moment or situation that would remain unknown if not revealed. It becomes the privilege and responsibility of those to hear to keep the text available, to linger over it together, in order to permit it to speak its truth to the present situation. Every so often the words of the text, after a time of lingering, become something even more powerful. They are applied to new and different circumstances oftentimes far removed from their original contexts. Someone from the community finds a new light in the text, a nugget of truth. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he or she convinces others to see and believe with fresh eyes and enriched faith. The Word, handed on for centuries as tradition, becomes something explosive and filled with new vigor, perhaps even moving others to work together for its realization.
The theologian grasps the possibilities that are inherent in re-hearing the Word of God each time we gather for liturgy. Some may think it boring or rote, but people like the great speakers of the past have found the ingredient to spark change and convert hearts. We need people like that: inspiring and powerful, they are tuned into the workings of the Spirit and willing to share their observations and dreams with us all.