We Need to Find Words
Ordinary Time 3-B / 20,21 January 2018
The Second Person of the Trinity took flesh and made himself known in Jesus Christ as a traveling prophet, teacher and healer because God loves the world. This is what the Church affirms in these days of Christmas and Epiphany. The hymns and carols of the season proclaim it; the scripture readings drive it home.
In these Sundays we see Christ manifesting his identity in healing the sick, calling his hearers to repentance, announcing the coming of the Kingdom and choosing twelve disciples to symbolize his restarting of Israel’s life and to bear witness to the paschal mystery, the mystery of faith, his coming death and resurrection.
In all of this, we see the manifestation of God’s love for a world that is not worthy, that has gone far astray from God’s goodness and mercy. Had the world been worthy of the Savior, it would not have needed him. Love is so basic to the identity of God that the First Letter of John will announce “God is love.” Love is so basic to the identity of God that St. Augustine in speaking of the Holy Trinity identifies the Father as Lover, the Son as the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit as the Love that unites them. Now, we use many images and forms of language to speak of the Trinity, but this image goes a long way toward helping us comprehend God as a community of Love within Himself.
In all that is bright and beautiful we see the love of God revealed, but the complete revelation of his love is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to whose early ministry we turn in this season. In Jesus’ early ministry we see our own task as the Church – to bring to the world the love of God and the revealed truths that show his love.
This means that we must absorb the Gospel and the love of God into our very souls, so that we might live and proclaim it.
And that means learning to love the world as God has loved the world – all the way to the cross.
To be frank, it can be hard at times to love the world. We can love those closest and dearest to us—although you may well have some relatives and neighbors that are hard to love. We can love the world’s natural beauty and the many achievements of human art and labor. It’s hard to look at a suspension bridge or a medieval Madonna and not appreciate what God has done in creating us.
But there is also unspeakable cruelty in the world. Wars rage for absurd reasons; dictators strut; political promises come up empty; poverty and hunger still stalk many corners of the globe. Our Christian brothers and sisters endure persecution in India, China, the Middle East, and Cuba and Venezuela. The death toll from abortion mounts toward despair-inducing numbers. The sexual revolution continues to pile up victims, while much of the society is in complete denial about the problem. Millions seek consolation in drugs and other addictive activities – often because their lives have no center or meaning.
In the face of such a world it is tempting to turn inwards, to tend our own gardens and our own faith, and say “God, this is your problem.” In the end, of course it is. Only God in his justice and mercy can undo the damage and set things right. But our necessary reliance on God’s mercy cannot justify washing our hands and turning away from the pain of the world. For God loves this fallen world, not some other ideal one.
We do what we can in acts of charity and justice to diminish the world’s suffering. In Delaware we can for instance advocate against Physician Assisted Suicide so that more fragile lives are not made vulnerable. Call or e-mail your legislators!
This is all important. I do it; you do it. We should do it. But there is a great temptation in our era to focus on charity and justice and forget about the call to announce the Kingdom of God, the call to spread the faith so that the nations may be gathered to worship the God of Israel – one of the great themes of the Epiphany season. We cannot forget the call to evangelize.
You may have heard that St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach the Gospel at all times; use words if you must.” He never said it, which is a good thing because it’s wrong. In fact, he invited martyrdom by going to preach to the Turkish sultan.
We need to find words. This is not necessarily berating our neighbors continually with Christian doctrine – what people sometimes call Bible-thumping. Evangelism cannot be doctrinaire; it’s not a matter of winning debating points. And in truth it will sometimes involve actions not words. That was often true in the first centuries when the mutual love and charity of the early Christians invited positive curiosity from the pagan world in a time of persecution.
But our love for this world must involve witness to Jesus Christ and his mercy. Our love for the world means proclaiming the Gospel of repentance and the good news of the Kingdom. The world is loved by a real God. And so we must proclaim: Your existence is not random; you have been called into being by God. Your sin has grave consequences but God is eager to forgive. Right and wrong can be known, and the knowledge of the truth about good and evil is a source of freedom and joy. God will be there at the end of your life as he was at the beginning.
The world needs to hear all of this for its own sake. And the world needs to know Jesus.
What should we then do?
To do your part, you need to know the faith. Buy the Catechism of the Catholic Church, if you do not have it. Use the fine materials from Bishop Robert Baron’s “Word on Fire” operation. Find some broadcasts that suit and nourish you on EWTN or on the various Catholic radio programs. Read the biographies of saints. Commit yourself to reading through one of the Gospels in Lent.
The more you know the stronger your witness will be and the more able you will be to say the word of invitation or encouragement to someone who seeks the truth or needs to know Christ.
And it’s not like we’re called to do it all alone. We can all contribute to the Church’s missionary efforts. This weekend’s second collection for Catholic Communications and the Catholic University of America in DC may not be one of the year’s most critical, but the use of modern media is important, and CUA is making a strong positive impact in theology and in the life of the American Church.
You can certainly pray for vocations to the priesthood, to religious life, and to marriage – which is after all, the source of the other vocations.
You can do something beautiful for God. “Beauty will save the world,” wrote the Russian novelist Dostoevsky. And a living faith is beautiful. Live a beautiful and faithful life; pursue sanctity and goodness, and beauty will show through. Strive to make your life attractive to the unbeliever. Live so that you could have a bumper sticker that said “happily Catholic” and it would be true!
Beauty itself is a manifestation of love. The divine passion has exploded into the beauty we see, so obvious even in a fallen world, even in the most lost and dissipated of humans. God sees their value; we must do likewise.
Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, but God sent him there. We may not have chosen the America of 2018 with its multitude of challenges, but God has placed us here. Strive to look on our times and our place with the love God has for this time and this place, and you will find your place on the path of the apostles.