In this Year of Faith, the Church calls us to renewed amazement at Jesus' teaching so that with gratitude and wonder we will become living commentaries of his Good News.
FALL RIVER, MA (Catholic Online). In today's Gospel, we see that Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. All those who listened to him were "astounded at his teaching, for he taught with authority and not like the scribes." He then showed the tremendous power of his authoritative words by silencing and casting a demon out of a man. That amazed the crowd even further. They asked, "What is this? A new teaching - with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
The same Jesus who entered the Capernaum synagogue enters our Catholic Churches throughout the country today. After he speaks "live" in the Gospel as it is proclaimed, he who created the heavens and the earth with his word, who called fishermen and tax collectors to follow him so powerfully that they immediately got up and did so, will do something far more amazing than cast out a devil or silence a storm at sea. He will change bread and wine into his body and blood and cast himself into believers. If we recognize what is really going on, if we awaken to the power of his words, we will be far more amazed than Jesus' contemporaries two millennia ago.
One of the goals of the Year of Faith is to help every believer become more and more amazed and astonished by Jesus' teaching and to see it as the free medicine to heal the wounded souls of so many in the world.
Jesus teaches unlike any other teacher. His contemporaries said he "taught with authority, unlike the scribes." The scribes always used to cite Sacred Scripture or Jewish tradition, to base their teachings on the authority of the word of God.
Well, Jesus didn't need to cite the word of God, because he was the Word of God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, he contrasted himself to what Moses, their greatest teacher up until then, said to them in the desert: "You have heard that it was said - in other words, Moses said to you - 'you shall not kill.' 'you shall not commit adultery. ,' 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.,' but I say to you, you shall not even be angry with a brother, or look on a woman with lust in your heart, or if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other as well" (Mt 5:20-45).
Authority comes from the Latin word for "author," and Jesus spoke with authority because he was the author, the creator, of man and the world.
To capture just a little of what it must have been like to listen to Jesus talk about God, about the world, about man, and about faith and morality, we can imagine listening to Vince Lombardi discuss football, the Wright Brothers talk about airplanes, Henry Ford talk about cars, Thomas Edison describe electricity, Steve Jobs talk about computers, iPads, iPods and iPhones.
They could speak with greater authority than almost everyone else because they were the "authors," the inventors, of what we now take for granted.
Well, that's just a glimpse of what it it ought to be like for us to listen to Jesus, who is the author of the world, the one through whom all things were made. He could command even the seas and the wind (Mk 4:41) and the demons and they would obey him, because he is the Lord of all.
Jesus continues to teach with that amazing authority. He does so clearly at Mass. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council reminded us that "when the holy scriptures are read in Church, it is Christ himself who speaks" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). That's why we stand when the Gospel is proclaimed, because we stand for Christ who himself is proclaiming it through his minister.
But Christ also speaks to us with his authority through the teaching of the Church, to whom he gave his own amazing authority to continue his saving work. Before ascending into heaven, he said to his apostles: "Full authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:18-20).
He gave that authority in a special way to the visible head of the Church he founded. He told Peter that he was the rock on whom he was going to build his Church and then gave him the authority to open and lock the way to heaven: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:19).
The Church firmly believes that that authority was passed down to St. Peter's successors all the way to Pope Benedict. Christ also gave his authority to the apostles as a whole (and their successors, the bishops) so that they could, as ambassadors, teach authoritatively in his name, saying, somewhat amazinging,"Whoever hears you hears me, and whoever rejects you rejects me" (Lk 10:16).
The question for us today and throughout the Year of Faith is how do we respond to the Lord's teaching? Are we amazed by it? Grateful for it? Astonished at the authority? Do we follow it, ignore, or resist the Lord as he teaches us in Sacred Scripture, or through his Vicars on earth, or through the successors of the apostles? Do we trust in our own opinions more than we trust what he has said, done and established?
Everyday in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours that priests, religious and many lay people pray, we begin with Psalm 95, in which the Lord through the inspired text tells us, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
Lack of astonishment to the teaching of the Lord is not a function of a hardened brain, but a stony heart. It's not a thing of inadequate intelligence, but of insufficient love. Those who love God are astonished and amazed by him and what he says and does.
That's where we need to begin.
The psalm says that many of the Israelites had hardened hearts "even though they had seen my works." God has done far greater works for us than he did for the Jews in Egypt, but sometimes, just like our spiritual ancestors, our hearts harden through sin, self-centeredness, and lack of love such that we have no amazement toward God and the gifts he gives us.
Today, moved by the Gospel, is an opportunity for us to stoke our amazement and authority at Jesus' teaching, which is a great gift. Jesus teaches us today, just like he did during his own day.
Even though sometimes we might pretend otherwise, Jesus knows that we don't know it all and he speaks to us day-by-day, subject-by-subject through prayer, through the Word of God, through the school of the Church, to help us overcome our ignorance, the ignorance that really does harm us. Ignorance is not bliss; it's misery.
It's the same way in the faith. When we're immature spiritual ruffians, we would prefer to call the shots ourselves. When we grow up spiritually, however, we recognize how little we know, how much we need to learn, and how grateful we are for the education in faith and life Christ gives us.
The real litmus test as to whether our heart is hardened or astonished and amazed is how we respond to the gift of God's teaching.
All of us who read have our favorite authors whose works we generally devour. For me, I love to read Peter Kreeft, CS Lewis, Scott Hahn, Prof. Robert George, George Weigel and Archbishop Charles Chaput. Anything they write I want to read because they give me lenses to see things I don't notice, understand or appreciate on my own.
Those who like fiction generally can't wait until the next book comes out from their favorite authors. Each is us is called to have more zeal for what the Holy Spirit writes us through the Word of God and the teaching of the Church than kids in recent years have had for the Harry Potter books.
We - you and I - need prayerfully and enthusiastically to read the Bible with astonishment, particularly the Gospels. We can hear a little bit of the Word of God at Church, but if we never study the Word of God on our own, we're no better than a student who never does homework. None of us is a "spiritual genius" with all of this knowledge infused. We're called to ponder what Jesus teaches us with authority in Sacred Scripture.
We also have to ponder what he teaches us through the Church he founded, through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, through the writings of the Popes and the bishops. We need to overcome the spiritual immaturity of thinking we learned everything we need to know about the faith by the time we were confirmed. It's simply not true. There's so much to learn, and this truth will set our lives free. But we need to begin with that astonishment and amazement of heart.
In this Year of Faith, let's ask for that gift for ourselves and for others!
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on catholicpreaching.com.
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