Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday word, 19 Jan 2014

From Altar Through Us
Second Sunday of the Year A (19 January 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Last Sunday was the feast of our Lord’s baptism. Today we linger at the Jordan with John the Baptizer. To him Jesus identity was revealed: the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. How does Jesus remove sin of our world today? One way is with and by us: Jesus heals the world as we live his gospel in our culture. Let’s consider it.
Jesus announced gospel; gospel is good news. His gospel is not locked between covers of a book. It is not only words; his gospel is power.1 Jesus’ gospel takes flesh through us and all Christians in each people’s culture.2 As Jesus’ living voice his gospel helps us “distinguish between the growth of the Reign of God and the progress of [our] culture and society.” We don’t separate God’s reign and human culture; we detect growth of God’s reign among us.3 Looking at Jesus helps us see the reign of God and human cultures are not separate: Jesus joined the world; embodied the reign of God; and put the reign of God into action. As his disciples Jesus’ mission and vocation are ours.

To recall Jesus said, “My words will not pass away,” helps us appreciate that his gospel is his living voice. His gospel holds a mirror to human culture. At the same time Jesus came not to condemn cultures but to save them.4 Because you and I live in our culture, Jesus invites us to open ourselves to how his gospel helps us help our culture progress in ways that protect the vulnerable, respect dignity and serve justice and peace. His gospel offers vision to help our culture: the vision of Jesus and of those who grew to see with his vision. Human vision always needs conversion; it is not always easy. A contrast may help us appreciate the gospel’s call to convert culture.

The 1960s saw an upheaval of cultural norms. It earned the decade the name of counter-culture. Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll remain in the imaginations of us who grew up or raised families in the 60s. The 60s also saw our society progress to make discrimination illegal. Some reject what the 60s embodied. Their rejection blinds them to the growing gap between rich and poor. It also blinds to the violence of war and re-surging militarism; of violence with money, power, dishonesty; and violent and casual disregard for natural resources. Blindness to them reshapes our imaginations and redirects our affections.

Enter the gospel. It is Jesus’ voice in his church. Jesus welcomes our conversion. Conversion turns us inside out, and we see ourselves as we are. So scripture shows people who heard Jesus.  A Samaritan woman: Jesus told me everything I have done.5 Peter: Depart from me Lord, I am a sinner.6 The father of boy needing healing: Lord, help my unbelief!7 The disciples in a storm-tossed boat: Lord, save us.8 Seeing oneself honestly is at the beginning of conversion. Conversion’s genuine nod to beliefs comes later.

To see ourselves honestly is a lifelong goal. Certain aspects of culture absorb us, reshape our imaginations and redirect our affections differently from Jesus and his disciples. When we are absorbed by Jesus and put on his attitude we slowly convert our culture. Pope John Paul expressed neatly our vocation to convert culture: “Since culture is a human creation and is therefore marked by sin, it too needs to be ‘healed, ennobled and perfected.’”9

The slow, gradual conversion of our culture depends on our ongoing conversions. Our conversions flower with our baptisms. Eucharist sustains baptism and ongoing conversion. The gospel, the voice and power of Jesus in his church, invites us to see ourselves honestly and take stock. We Catholics may describe taking stock with the question: Are we absorbed more by Jesus and his disciples; or are we taken with elements of our culture, elements which need to be “healed, ennobled and perfected?”

Being absorbed and shaped by Jesus is daily conversion. Being absorbed and shaped by Jesus liberates us: from our fears flowing from our compulsions; our need to be at the center; and our need to control. As we are “healed, ennobled and perfected” our culture gradually is. The power of the Lamb of God in gospel and in sacrament flows from altar through us into our world.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week,
  • Pause in the creative love of our triune God.
  • Invite John the Baptizer to present you to Jesus.
  • In your words ask Jesus to learn him better. See yourself with him promoting God’s reign among us.
  • Ask Jesus for his attitude and desire to make it yours.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. His words, on earth as it is in heaven, on our lips voice our desire to be reshaped by Jesus and his gospel and to “be ‘healed, ennobled and perfected’” one moment, one hour, one day at a time.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Romans 1.16.
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 854.
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2820.
  4. See John 3.17.
  5. John 4.29.
  6. Luke 5.8.
  7. Mark 9.24.
  8. Matthew 8.25.
  9. Mission of the Redeemer, 54, his little-read encyclical in the developed world.


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