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TUESDAY HOMILY: Acting with Urgency to the Lord's Authoritative Word

By Fr. Roger J. Landry
September 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

During this Year of Faith, it's key for us to grasp that if even demons recognize the authority of Jesus' words and involuntarily obey them, then believers likewise must recognize that authority and voluntarily obey them.

FALL RIVER, MA (Catholic Online). The people in the Capernaum synagogue were amazed at the authority with which Jesus taught and even more amazed at the authority his speech wielded.

His sermon was interrupted by a possessed man who hollered, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God."

Parenthentically, sometimes people in denial about the supernatural - both miracles as well as demons - will try to argue that those like the man in the Gospel who seemed possessed just had undiagnosed epilepsy. One would have to be possessed by something other than common sense, however, not to recognize that epileptics normally don't speak in the royal we, interrupt homilies verbally in the midst of an attack, and identify total strangers as the "Holy One of God" who simultaneously seems intent to "destroy" others. 

When Jesus quieted and exorcised the demon, they were all even more astonished. "What is there about his word?," they exclaimed. "With authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out."

During this Year of Faith, it's key for us to grasp that if even demons recognize the authority of Jesus' words and involuntarily obey them, then believers likewise must recognize that authority and voluntarily obey them.

In Hebrew, there is no distinction between the words "hear" and "obey," because God's word is far more powerful than E.F. Hutton's. His is a word to be done. Likewise in Latin the word "obey" (ob-audire) is just a more intense form of the word to listen (audire).

Jesus praised the faith of his mother as the paragon of "those who hear the word of God and obey it," the one who said to the Angel Gabriel, "Let it be done to me according to your word." Jesus said we would become a member of his family, his "brother, sister and mother," if we likewise "do the will of the Father in heaven."

Faith, as the papal encyclical Lumen Fidei reminded us two months ago this week, is a new type of hearing. Faith helps us to listen not just with our ears but with our heart to the voice of the Good Shepherd calling us to follow him. How much we strive to attune our auricular atria to Jesus' frequency in our daily prayer, in our meditation on Sacred Scripture, in the teachings of the apostles and their successors he sent out with his own amazing authority promising  that those who hear them hear him, and in reflection on the events of each day, is an indication of the vibrancy of our faith.

We occasionally listen well. But it seems that St. James had many of us in mind when he wrote to the first Christians, "Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like." God's word reveals to us not only who God is but who we are in his image, and when we forget or ignore God's word, we forget who we really are.

One of the things many of us routinely forget is the message we hear at the beginning of every new liturgical year, something like the basics of which students are reminded at the beginning of every new school year. Jesus reminds us each year at the start of Advent to be vigilant, to stay awake, to be alert for his coming. But then we, like Jesus says in a parable, often begin to think he's long in coming and begin to do whatever we want. We lose that longing for him. We become spiritually drowsy. We think we'll have time "later" to get our act together.

This is the exact opposite of the pastoral situation St. Paul was confronting in the Thessalonika in the first reading, but the solution St. Paul proposes to that predicament is equally valid for what Jesus himself was saying for those who are spiritually somnolent.

The Thessalonians thought that Jesus' second coming was so imminent that they were almost paralyzed. "You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night," St. Paul tells them. And like those who are paranoid of burglars, when every house creak, every rustle of trees, every noise coming from an animal or a critter, can put them on highest alert, so the Thessalonians were always Code Red.

St. Paul tried to calm them down. "But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief." He said that they were all "children of the light and . of the day," not of the "night or darkness." While others may be asleep, they're sober and alert, but not paranoiac. God was not trying to catch them off guard, he said, in order to destine them for wrath, but destined them to gain salvation through Jesus. He encouraged them to "live together" with Christ Jesus in the present and then they would never be caught off guard.

Likewise, all of us are called to be sober and alert, to live as children of the light. In this Year of Faith, it's even more important for us to focus on seeing, walking and living with the light of faith, as the encyclical Lumen Fidei reminded us over the summer. The biggest choice of our life is whether we're going to choose to live in the light or live in the darkness. To live in the light means to live totally in the light of the Lord Jesus, bringing all aspects of our life to him, recognizing he loves us and already sees all.

Someone who lived together with the Lord in the light is the great saint the Church celebrates today, Pope Gregory the Great. He was also someone who tried to bring all Christians and even those outside the Church to know the light and to dwell in it. Like the two other popes who have been officially declared great (Leo and Nicholas) and the one we pray will one day soon be numbered among them (John Paul II), he had an enormous impact inside the Church and outside the Church. Within the Church he reformed the episcopacy so that bishops would be men of light capable both in their teaching and in their morals. He reformed Church liturgy so that the prayers and music would be more luminous. He sent Benedictine monks from the monastery he had founded on the Coelian Hill in Rome before his election to bring that light and the simple light of prudence to feudal kings at the beginning of the middle ages.

He didn't waste time. He accomplished more as Pope between 590-604  - despite multiple infirmities - than the century and a half of popes before him and about 400 years worth of popes with him. The reason is because he knew that time is always short, that the end of our life may always be right around the corner, and therefore we should really take the present seriously and unite it as much as we can to the Lord.

St. Gregory the Great's example is a powerful witness for all of us in this Year of Faith. Many seem to be taking this Year for granted, going about it in a lackadasiacal way, presuming that there's no real urgency to growing in faith because, we suppose, we still have plenty of time ahead of us to start getting serious. But we can never bank on that. That's why, with St. Paul, with St. Gregory the Great, we're called to live every day as a day of the Lord.

That's what it means to live by faith. That's the way we'll see, as we pray today in the Responsorial Psalm, the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. That's the way we'll one day have the privilege to confess Jesus as the Holy One of God forever.

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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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