Archbishop Lori’s Homily: Sunday of the Word of God; 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 23, 2022
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen

Sunday of the Word of God

Many years ago, as a newly ordained deacon, I preached my first parish homily in a little church in Southern Maryland. I prepared diligently for the occasion. I studied the readings carefully, consulted commentaries, took the homily through several drafts, and sought the advice of classmates. By the time I preached that homily, it had everything in it but the kitchen sink. After Mass, the pastor and I stood outside to greet parishioners. A small group of parishioners, in earshot, was discussing my maiden preaching effort. One man said, “I didn’t know what the young fella was talkin’ about, but good Lord, he sure do talk purdy!” The pastor poked me in the ribs and said, “You could do worse, kid!”

I thought of that little episode as I prepared to preach on this particular Sunday, a Sunday which Pope Francis designated as the “Sunday of the Word of God”. This annual observance is a standing invitation for you and me to deepen our appreciation of the Word of God, the Scriptures, whether we read the Bible prayerfully in the privacy of our homes, or listen to its proclamation in the Liturgy of the Word, including the homily. For me, this Sunday is an invitation to reflect on the responsibility of preaching, of breaking open the Scriptures, thus enabling the voice of the Risen Lord to resonate in our hearts and shed his light and love on every aspect of our lives. After all, as the II Vatican Council taught, “Christ is present in his Word, and when the Scriptures are proclaimed, it is Christ himself who speaks to us” (SC, 7). Happily, today’s Scripture readings offer a beautiful foundation for the Liturgy of the Word as well as for our own private study of the Scriptures. Let’s begin with today’s first reading from the Book of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

In that reading, we meet the priest and scribe Ezra, standing on a high wooden platform, a kind of pulpit, reading the Law of God, the Torah, and explaining it as he went along. Ezra was not brief; he read from the Scriptures from daybreak until noon. (Think of that the next time you feel like the homily is going on too long!) At least one commentator describes this scene in the Bible as the foundation of the Liturgy of the Word, both for the Jewish synagogue and the Catholic Mass. B. What was the occasion of this extended “liturgy of the word”? It took place not long after the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon. As they attempted to rebuild a devastated Jerusalem, morale was low. That is why Ezra and Nehemiah gathered the people: to encourage them. This they did, not by a pep rally speech, but by reviewing with them how God had walked with his people throughout history, and how God would always be faithful to his promises. The people listened attentively and many of them wept over their infidelity. They pledged themselves anew to accept and live by the Word of God.

Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Let us fast forward some 400 years to the Gospel where we find Jesus in his hometown synagogue at Nazareth, participating in “a liturgy of the Word”, and in fact, preaching his inaugural homily. The scene is dramatic: Jesus, known as “the carpenter’s son,” stands up, is handed the scroll and chooses a passage from Isaiah which he proclaims: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Then Jesus sits down and says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

With these few words, Jesus proclaims, in effect, that he is the Servant of the Lord of whom Isaiah had prophesied as the Israelites were returning from exile. Jesus stands before this hometown audience, not merely as one in a long line of prophets, but as Messiah and Lord, indeed the Eternal Son of the Father, the Word made flesh! And he proclaims that he has come to establish a Year of Jubilee, and not just a year, but a new and ultimate epoch of salvation, just as God had promised through Isaiah. In this new era of salvation, those held captive by injustice and by personal sin would be liberated. Those physically and spiritually blind would see the wonders of God’s love. Those oppressed by Satan and the power of sin would be set free. Using the words of Isaiah the prophet, Jesus laid out the entirety of his mission, later described this way by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles: “You know…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Jesus came to proclaim, not bad news, not a message of endless sin and guilt, but a message of liberation: of mercy, forgiveness, and transformation in his love.

1 Corinthians 12:12-30

What should our response be to Jesus’ inaugural homily, proclaimed afresh today? Like the people in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, we should listen attentively, take the Lord’s words to heart, and weep for joy, so much does the Lord love us! In his grace, we should resolve to throw off shackles of cynicism and indifference, and to encounter the Risen Lord in an ever deeper and more personal way, allowing him access to those corners of our hearts where we are still held captive. Once forgiven, once liberated, we truly experience “the joy of the Gospel”. Here, I would highlight the role of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in our lives in bringing Jesus’ message of forgiveness and mercy to fulfillment in ourselves.

Yet, we do not experience the Lord’s mercy merely as isolated, solitary individuals. In our reading from his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul teaches that we are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. When we were baptized, we were anointed by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus was. In that moment, we became members of his body, the Body of Christ, the Church. By water and the Holy Spirit, we were immersed in Christ’s death and resurrection, and united with all those who believe and hope in Christ, believers from every time, place, and culture, one body, one spirit in Christ! As members of this Body, we have a responsibility for the Word of God: not only to study it ourselves and to take its message of mercy to heart, but also to hand it on to our children, as also to bear witness to God’s Word by lives of deep integrity and goodness, by our spirit of mercy and forgiveness, by our love for the poor and vulnerable. If our hearts are receptive, the Spirit will give us the gifts we need to bring the Gospel into our homes, our places of work, and all our relationships.

“Lift Up Your Hearts!”

Embracing the Scriptures as truly the Word of God, as truly words of spirit and life, let us now proceed to lift up our hearts as the Lord gives himself for us anew, in the reenactment of his death and resurrection and in our reception of his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.