4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel we learn something very important about Jesus. It’s important to all Christians, but especially to us Catholics. He’s teaching in the Synagogue. But the people who’ve gathered to listen to Him will learn that this isn’t just some ordinary teacher, some ordinary Rabbi. Teachers in Jesus’ time, just like today, taught based on someone else’s authority. Father Paul and I don’t just make this stuff up. We rely on someone else’s teachings. We have the Scriptures, we have the words of religious scholars, we have the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, and we have the Holy Spirit. If Father, or I, or anyone else who assumes the role of teacher stands up here and makes stuff up, you have every right to complain.

If any of us comes up with some new, radical teaching of our own invention, you should get on the phone to the Archbishop and tell him that we’re preaching heresy. Then the Archbishop will call us in and demand to know what’s going on. It won’t be pretty. We may even lose our faculties to preach or worse. We’re not allowed to preach anything that isn’t the truth, as it’s been passed down over the centuries.

In Jesus’ time, Rabbis taught from the Torah. That was the Word of God and that’s what the people wanted, and deserved to hear. But, here’s this Jesus teaching something new. His message was extremely radical for the first century. And, as Mark says, ”the people were astonished at His teaching.” They said, “What is this?”

One man even speaks up and says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” But to get an idea of what’s going on, we have to look back at Moses’ words in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Jesus is that prophet, but the people don’t realize it yet. God promised Moses that He would put His words into His, this new prophet’s mouth. God goes on, “Whoever will not listen to my words which He speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”

 

Jesus is that new prophet. This man who challenges Jesus is possessed by an unclean spirit. Here’s the evil one, Satan, challenging Jesus in the Synagogue, the very house of God. Jesus rebukes the man and says to the unclean spirit, “Quiet! Come out of him?” And the spirit, with a loud cry, comes out of him.

Naturally, the people are amazed. “They asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” Satan has made a huge mistake. His attempt to discredit Jesus backfires and the people understand. Jesus is teaching with authority, not human authority, but with the authority of God the Father. For the first time in history, someone other than God the Father, has the authority to speak on His behalf. Up to this time, every teacher has taught strictly from the Torah. As Mark says, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

 

Today, Christians rely on both the Old Testament word of God, and the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ. But, why is this more important to Catholics than it is to other Christians? To find the answer we have to turn to Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tell the disciples that whoever hears them, hears Him and whoever rejects them, rejects Him. And whoever rejects Him, rejects the One who sent Him. This is the beginning of the teaching authority of the Church.

This begs the question, “Do we always like what the Church teaches?” Not necessarily. Do we have to believe it? We do unless we want to reject God, and that’s dangerous territory. As faithful Catholics, it’s up to us to learn what the Church teaches and to know the difference between Church doctrine and discipline.

The Eucharist is a perfect example. In a few minutes, Father will take the bread and wine, which will be presented to him by members of the congregation representing all of us. The bread and wine are your gifts to God. Then he’ll turn that bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s God’s gift to you. It’s scriptural and has been taught by the Church since the very beginning. If you don’t believe it, then you’re not a Catholic. It’s a core belief and it’s non-negotiable. In fact, according to Saint Paul, if you partake in communion without believing it is what it is, then you’re guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ.

On the other hand, the Church calls us to fast for an hour before we receive His Body and Blood. If you forgot and ate a donut 59 minutes before communion, are you committing a sin? No, that’s a discipline. It’s something we should do, not something we have to do. It can change and it did change after Vatican II. Remember, you used to have to fast for twelve hours. Under certain circumstances, for example, if you’re a patient in the hospital, you can receive the Eucharist at any time.

Disciplines can change, doctrine can’t. Remember when you couldn’t eat meat on Friday? It wasn’t that long ago.

Recently our former Archbishop, Cardinal Burke, has been in the news for things he’s said that aren’t in agreement with Pope Francis. You may wonder, how can this be? Who are we supposed to believe? If you study what both men have said, they don’t disagree on Church doctrine. The disagree on disciplines. Male alter servers aren’t Church doctrine. If the good Cardinal thinks servers should all be altar boys, that’s his opinion. Again, it’s something that has changed over the years. Given the power of the feminist movement, it’s not likely to change back, but it could. In fact, there are still some dioceses where they don’t allow female servers. But, remember that here in Saint Louis he did allow girl servers when he was Archbishop. Frankly, it’s not that big a deal.

To wrap this up, today’s readings remind us that Jesus has a special kind of authority and He shared that authority with His Apostles and their successors, the Pope and the Bishops. It was unique. It was radical. It was outrageous! It’s no wonder that the Jewish authorities didn’t want Him around. His authority was a challenge to their authority.

Make no mistake, there are people alive today who hate Jesus and His Church. Why? For the same reason. Jesus’ authority, and by extension the authority of His Church, is a challenge to them. If I’m in the business of selling sin, our course I’m going to hate the Church. If the Church challenges my political authority, I’m going to hate the Church. If I represent a religious denomination that doesn’t accept the Church’s teachings, I’m going to hate the Church. If I suddenly decide to divorce Jan and marry another guy, I’m probably going to hate the Church. Any time the Church challenges anyone on anything, there’s going to be a backlash. Remember that there were enough people who hated Jesus that they tortured Him and killed Him.

As Catholic Christians, we have a responsibility to know what the Church teaches, to accept those teachings, and to share those teachings with others.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

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2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our readings today are about being called. In the Old Testament reading, Samuel is being called by the Lord. But what’s Samuel doing? He’s asleep…in the temple. God has to call him three times before he understands what’s going on and then only because Eli explains it to him. It begs the question, “How many times have you and I been called but we’ve been sleeping? Or maybe we just weren’t paying attention. Either way, we’ve missed the call.

We hear so much today about a shortage of priests in the Church. I don’t believe God’s calling fewer men to the priesthood. I believe that we’re just not listening. The same can be said for any vocation. Take parenthood for example. God calls married couples to be parents. In the marriage vows the priest or deacon asks the couple if they will accept children willingly from God. They respond, “Oh, we will. We will.” knowing that the bride is already on the pill. Obviously they’re not listening. They’re asleep in the church just as much as Samuel was asleep in the temple.

God calls all of us to be disciples and to make disciples of others.   The word “disciple” means “student”. How many of us are actually students of God’s word? This weekend we’re being asked to renew our subscriptions to the Saint Louis Review. Reading the review is critical if we’re going to be disciples. If our only source of Catholic news is the secular media, we’re in real trouble.

There was a letter to the editor in the paper this week. The writer said that the Church should stop worrying about collections and worry about taking care of the poor. Huh! How do we take care of the poor if we don’t have collections? This is the kind of stupid statement that we have to watch out for. We have to be ready to defend the faith.

We’re constantly being called by God to do something. Unfortunately, we’re being pulled in so many different ways, God’s message can get lost. We’re being bombarded by television, the internet, cell phones, iPods, and so many other things God can’t get through. So many people can’t stand even a moment of silence in their lives. Most of us carry cell phones so we won’t miss a message from our friends or our family. We have answering machines at home so that we won’t miss an important call, but do we ever set aside time to listen to God?

The great thing about God is that He’s very patient. If we’re busy, He’ll wait until we have some quiet time before He talks to us. The trouble is, if we never have any quiet time, He can’t get through. If all we can spare is 45 minutes once a week to come to mass, we may never get God’s message, especially if we spend our time at mass thinking about other things.

Notice what Eli told Samuel to say to God, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.” We Catholics are known for our rote prayers; The Our Father, The Hail Mary, our Prayer to the Infant of Prague. These are all great prayers, but maybe Eli’s words should be part of our prayer ritual too. “Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.” Then LISTEN! Don’t tell God what you want. Don’t tell Him how to be God. He already knows! He knows everything. You and I, not so much. But He’ll fill us in if we give Him a chance.

If you or I had a chance to sit down with an expert in a field where we have a lot of interest and we had a limited amount of time to be with that person, would we want to dominate the conversation, or would we take advantage of the opportunity to learn something? I think we all know the answer. Why do we act so differently when we talk with God? Notice I said “talk with”, not “talk to.” There’s a big difference.

The reading ends, “he grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” If you get a chance, read the Book of Samuel right before and right after this reading. The temple was a mess. Eli was not a good leader. God will punish him for his failure, but Samuel will become a great leader. Why? Because He listened to God.

 

David wrote in Psalm 40, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” We just repeated that line five times. Did we mean it? Is it part of our lives? “Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.” Do we have open ears? Are we listening for God’s call? Or when He calls will He get a busy signal?

When the two disciples of John the Baptist followed Jesus, how did they answer when He questioned them? They called Him teacher. They wanted to learn from Him. They wanted to be disciples. They had no idea what that meant, but they knew what they wanted. They didn’t know how following this Rabbi, this teacher Jesus would end, but they knew that they had to answer the call. And so they did.

Can we do any less?

Baptism

When John baptized Jesus the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  The same thing He said when you were baptized.