3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday of the Word of God
Blessing of the Bell Tower
St. Louis, Clarksville
Jan. 26, 2020
It is always a pleasure for me to visit St. Louis Parish, and to thank Msgr. Luca for his wonderful pastoral leadership, along with Fr. Peter Gevera and Father Bill Keown, my brother deacons, the dedicated lay staff and leadership, and the principal, staff, and teachers here at St. Louis School – and I am happy to be with you as Catholic Schools Week begins.
But today is an especially joyous occasion as we celebrate the completion of the bell tower and, not coincidentally, the renovated steps leading into the church – and my warmest thanks to all whose generosity made this and much more possible. But let us pause and ask ourselves what it is that the bells in the tower call us to. Let us pause and ask ourselves what it is that the church steps enable us to ascend to. In a word, you are summoned by the bells and you ascend the church steps to encounter the living Word of God in the power of the Spirit.
This Sunday, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, is no ordinary Sunday. Pope Francis has designated it as the “Sunday of the Word of God” – and you might be thinking to yourself, isn’t every Sunday dedicated to God’s Word. It is to be sure – but sometimes we need to shine the spotlight on various aspects of our faith so as to understand and cherish them, and to see more clearly their importance in our lives. That’s what we’ll do today in this homily – we shall highlight the central importance of God’s Word in our life of faith.
What Is Meant By the Phrase, “The Word of God”?
First off, let’s remind ourselves what the expression, “The Word of God” means. If we think back to Christmas, we’ll recall the beginning of St. John’s Gospel where it says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” “The Word” is another term for God’s Eternal Son – as if from all eternity God the Father uttered, in the love of the Holy Spirit, One Word that summed up and captured all that he is and has. It was by God’s Word that the world was made, that the Jewish people were chosen and guided through history, and that hope was planted in human hearts for forgiveness and life everlasting.
Those hopes were fulfilled in that privileged moment in human history, when God’s Word came in person: Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary. And what do we see Jesus doing in today’s Gospel? He is going from place to place and he is preaching – he who is the Word made flesh is preaching the Word of God – the word of truth, the word of life, the word of joy – and people’s lives are changing, their hearts are being transformed, and they are saying, “No one ever spoke like that before”. Indeed, his words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” were heard not just then – they reverberate throughout history.
Still, we may say to ourselves, don’t I wish I had been around in those days to hear Jesus speak, to witness the miracles, and to be one of his first disciples. It’s a nice thought but before we go down that road too far, let’s remind ourselves that the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles – indeed everything God wants us to know for the sake of our salvation – has been set down inerrantly in the inspired Word of Scripture. The Bible is not a book of science nor is it history in the modern sense of the word – but it does describe how God has spoken and acted in human history – culminating with the coming of Christ, the Word made flesh, the Messiah. As you know, the Bible is in fact many books written at different times in history – from the earliest pages of the Old Testament to the most recent writings of the New. It was written by different authors, in differing languages, at different times – yet all were inspired by the same Holy Spirit and on every page of Scripture it is one Voice who speaks to us – the Voice of Christ, the Word who assumed our humanity and spoke our language. And what is especially beautiful about the Scriptures is that God is speaking through our human language, through our many cultures – so that he might reach us now – as a Church and as individual members of the Church.
And let me tell you something else about the Scriptures. Because it is inspired by the Spirit and because it truly is the Word of God, Scripture is filled with inexhaustible riches – it’s a little like drinking from a fire hose! No matter how many times we hear or read a passage, there’s always something new in it, something applicable to our lives, something that sheds light on our personal problems or on the challenges that the Church is facing in our times. And it’s not merely a word of good advice, though Scripture has plenty of that – but more than that, it is a word of life, a word of love, a word of wisdom that elicits an ongoing conversion in our hearts and directs our footsteps – for as the Psalmist says, “Your word is a lamp for my steps” (Ps. 119:105).
In saying this, I’m speaking from experience and maybe my experience tracks yours. When I read the Word of God prayerfully, the Lord really does speak to my heart. Here, I’m referring to a slow and prayerful reading of God’s Word – whether it’s the liturgical readings of the day or from the Liturgy of the Hours – or simply reading a book of the Bible, straight through, a little at a time. First, I try to understand the meaning or meanings of the passage. Then, I spend a little time meditating on what I’ve read – asking the Holy Spirit to help me see how it illuminates the corners of my heart that may be darkened by sin or by error or by discouragement; and conversely showing me the way forward, what I should say or do, and sometimes just offering me the consolation that God loves me. After meditating on God’s Word, then I find myself praying over it, praising the Lord for his goodness, adoring his majesty, asking for the grace to do his will, and seeking pardon of my sins.
Given my schedule – and all of us lead busy lives – I try to do this early in the morning but that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The big point is to find some time in the day and some quiet corner of the house in which to spend quality time with the living Word of God. And let me tell you what will happen if you do so. First, you will have a sense that the Lord is walking with you all day long and pretty soon you’ll feel a joy and peace that the world can’t provide, whether it’s a good day, a difficult day, or a routine day. Second, you will find that when you come to Mass, it all comes alive. Msgr. Luca and his team work hard to have a beautiful place of worship, great homilies, beautiful music, and to celebrate the Mass reverently. But the whole onus should not be on the priests and the liturgical ministers. You and I need to come prepared, hungry for God’s Word, hungry for the Eucharist, with minds that have been opened by Scripture and prayer. A third and really beautiful thing will also happen to us if we read and pray the Scriptures during the week is this: we’ll see the beauty and importance of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. Not only will we want to read the Word of God, we will also want to receive the Word made flesh, or as St. John Paul II said so famously, ‘to digest the secret of the Resurrection.
One final benefit will accrue to you and to me if we read and cherish the Word. All this talk in our church about missionary discipleship won’t sound so foreign. The thought of talking to someone about our faith, helping someone to return, passing the faith on to our children, and bearing witness to it in private and public, practicing a charity towards the poor and vulnerable that evangelizes – none of that will seem like an impossible task or burden if we’re steeped in the Word. Quite the contrary and to paraphrase Scripture itself, ‘The word will be in your mouth and in your heart’ (Rom. 10:8). And in ways that are appropriate and convincing, you will find yourself confessing in the power of the Holy Spirit that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!” Amen!