FEBRUARY 3, 2019: FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Scroll, Sarah Fagg.

Click here for Sunday’s Mass Readings.

And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.       Luke 4:24

My mother was Anglican, a member of the Church of England (the Episcopal Church is its equivalent in the USA). One day, out of the blue in the 1960s, she announced she had converted to the Catholic Church. We didn’t have a clue about any of it. We were astonished (and happy of course) and respected her decision. Several years later she also let it be known that she had abandoned it all. I asked why. She said that the elderly priest who had instructed her in the faith was insistent that she always go to confession before receiving holy communion. She then found herself making up sins to say in the confessional as she had nothing to confess! Knowing my mother, I was ready to believe her. I, as a priest, then assured her that there was no such obligation: she did not have to go to confession in order to receive communion. But I was her son; she would never take my word over the old priest who had assured her that this was the case. I could not convince her. I believe Jesus faced the identical situation all those years ago, standing in his local synagogue, impressing the people with his words and presence, only for them to remember he was a local boy, so what on earth could he tell them? They say familiarity breeds contempt, and I think he experienced it then and there. At least my mother didn’t try to throw me over a precipice or drum me out of the house, but you know what I mean. She just sighed; Jesus’ neighbors tried to kill him! He had, after all, seemed to have compared them to the unbelieving people in the times of Elijah and Elisha, where only unbelievers had heeded them. Jesus was, of course, inviting them to believe in him and acknowledge that what he had was the message of eternal life! They were not going to take that from the local carpenter’s son! This might well have been an intimation of what was to happen to him in Jerusalem about three years later when the crowd turned on him, leading to his death. That was a consequence of the people’s bitter disappointment in him for not fulfilling their stereotype of the messiah. So Jesus was, in a way, used to the people around him getting hold of the wrong end of the stick and beating him with it. Clearly he did not let all that weaken his resolve, but he did have to leave Nazareth, the scene of his childhood. 

The other two readings today are intriguing; one has God assuring Jeremiah that he would never be alone no matter what trials he was destined to endure, and the other telling us all about the power of love, which is unquenchable and which will carry us through any and all tribulation. They seem both to point to the Lord and his ability to survive unbelief and hostility, to carry on no matter what. The famous listing of faith, hope and love (traditionally called charity) as stated by Paul in the second reading, are called the theological virtues. They all look to God and are the engine and pathway, as it were, of the Christian life as it heads towards paradise. Faith is the foundational platform, the rock solid belief in God as creator and sustainer and source of everything that is good. Hope is the characteristic which springs from that, it is the virtue which enables us to overcome all challenges to our faith in God. But supremely, and Paul could not make this any clearer, love is the life force which animates the other two, and without which they are nothing. What good is having faith and hope when they do not respond appropriately to the world around us, with its needs and challenges, its opportunities and possibilities? If we have faith and hope, and do not respond to the needs of others, to the good works of others and implement our skills to make this a better world in the service of others, then where is love? It is the energy which moves us to be the obedient children of God that we became at our baptism. Remember Jesus made this virtue central to his disciples, commanding them and us to love one another (John 13:34). So today, rather than condemn those who did not accept him, Jesus simply continued his ministry as best he could when surrounded by unbelief. His faith was solid, his hope secure, and his love, though saddened, still enabled him to try to be of service to those who had rejected him (as stated in Mark 6:4-5). But he still continued his ministry despite all this, driven by the three virtues (virtue is a word which means, at root, strength). Love is what enables us to forgive, to show mercy (defined as compassion on someone who does not desrve it) and perhaps to understand. So today we have a gentle reminder that no matter the challenges we might face, at work, in the family or in our own thoughts, love is the wonder cure-all which overcomes everything, as it did with Jesus on the cross itself when even God seemed to have abandoned him. His love did not die; it saved him, as it does us. Remember the line from the closing song in the musical Les Miserables: To love another person is to see the face of God….

christ-preaching-in-the-synagogue-at-nazareth-14th-c-fresco-visoki-decani-monastery-kosovoJesus Preaching in the Synagogue, Visoki Decani Monastery, Deçan, Kosovo.

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PS: Today happens to be the feast of St. Blaise. He is commemorated especially in Eastern Europe where many churches are placed under his protection. The story of him saving a boy with a fishbone lodged in his throat gave birth to the pius tradition of Blaise being the defender against injuries and diseases of the throat. The rather strange blessing is explained here. The Croatian city of Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast is especially devoted to his memory.

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Note also that February 2 is the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem, as required by Jewish law, also celebrating the Purification of Our Lady. The ancient name for this day is Candlemas (possibly offering a link to the candles of the St. Blaise blessing on February 3). In many parts of the world Candlemas is the day that Christmas decorations come down (it’s the Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, in other parts). Here is an illuminated manuscript celebrating the day. Dated 1488, it is taken from an Armenian Apostolic church hymnal now in the Armenian Museum of America, Watertown, MA, USA:

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