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Bishop's Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 13, 2022

[St. Stephen Diocesan Center, Kaneohe (Institution as Lectors of Deacon Candidates)]

When I was Director of Vocations in the Diocese of Oakland, I was in residence at St. Anthony Church in East Oakland.  I was not in charge there, but I did have the privilege of getting to know the people.  Some years later I returned there as pastor, and at one of my first Masses there a woman who had been a lector for quite a while.  She read from Isaiah [in the dullest, unanimated voice]: “The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might preach to the weary a word that will rouse them.”  I almost dozed off!  It was not the way that reading should have been proclaimed, with energy and rich expression.  My first thought was to tell her after Mass that she could not be a lector any more.  But my second thought – which is often the more prudent one – was that this woman KNEW the Word of God and had an intimate relationship with him, and everyone in the parish knew that she was a very holy woman.  So I did give her some training, which helped a bit, but she remained as a lector.  What seemed on the surface to be an unacceptable proclamation of the Word was actually a witness to the importance of the Word in that woman’s life.

Jesus says some amazing things today, things that are rather counter-intuitive.  Families, of course, have an obligation to take care of their own, and so acquiring the means to do so is a good thing.  But when we hoard our possessions and do not share them freely with those who are most in need, we are like that tree in the desert that will eventually burn out.  I remember the story of a young graduate from Notre Dame University who joined the Peace Corps and lived and worked in the one of the poorest areas in Africa.  He kept in touch with his classmates, who were all very successful in their lucrative careers.  He could see very clearly that they were nowhere near as happy and contented as he was.  He was very poor, but very blessed, while they were rich but not at all fulfilled.

I recall a woman whose husband died very suddenly, and she was so grief-stricken she wondered if the grief would ever dissipate.  Yet she realized that many of her friends were still married and miserable, living in unloving relationships.  She realized that her grief was a blessing, because its origin was great love.

We are in a world in which the Gospel of Jesus is no longer the accepted basis of our culture.  Lack of respect for life in all its stages; demonizing those who disagree with us rather than learning from each other; the triumph of will (what I want) over truth are all challenges we face as followers of Jesus.  I remember speaking with a pro-life woman who said that if women were just told the facts about human life in the womb, they would be convinced.  I countered that there may have been a time when such truth-telling would have mattered, but in these days, “the truth” is a very subjective thing in many peoples’ minds.  When we speak the truth, therefore, and live by the values that come to us from the Word of God, we are ridiculed, rejected, and perhaps even persecuted.  Jesus, who is often so counter-intuitive, reminds us that we are blessed and should rejoice under such circumstances, because our reward will be great in heaven.

Why would our way of looking at things be so different from the ways of the world, unless we were soaked in the living Word of God?  We must never think of the Scriptures as simply ancient words and ideas printed on a page, but as the voice of God himself, who wants to reveal himself to us in his rich complexity through Jesus, who, from the very beginning, was the Word, and who in time became flesh to live among us.  Anyone who proclaims the Word of God in the liturgical assembly should have a well-trained tongue that is aware of proper diction, pacing, phrasing, and expression based on what is being read.  But if the reading is technically perfect but the reader does not live by it, it will lose more power than if the Word is proclaimed poorly.  This is why you gentlemen are being instituted as Lectors today in preparation for your ordination as deacons.  Yes, we want you to proclaim the Word effectively, but that involves much more than technique.  It involves growing in love each day with the person of Jesus, who is the Word of God, so that through you, he can take flesh again and again in the hearts of all who hear your proclamation.