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Bishop's Homily for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

January 23, 2022

[Resurrection of the Lord Church, Waipio (Installation of Pastor); Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu]

St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel always.  If necessary, use words.”  He certainly preached the Gospel with words, but he is best known for his joyful service to the poor and the outcast.  He went and announced the Gospel with his life, as we are all urged to do as we leave Mass.

Today we celebrate the annual Sunday our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has designated as the Sunday of the Word of God, the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time.  If it were not a Sunday, we would be celebrating on January 23 the Memorial of St. Marianne Cope.  She was a Franciscan Sister, a spiritual disciple of St. Francis of Assisi, and a woman who dedicated her life to being a living Gospel proclaimed to all she met through her prayers, her witness of faith, and her humble but dedicated work on behalf of those who were most in need.  She preached the Gospel, seldom with words, but eloquently with her actions.  She announced glad tidings to the poor, especially the young women who were exiled to Kalaupapa, Molokai because they had been diagnosed with the disease of leprosy.  They were captives, exiled from their families and loved ones and not allowed to leave that tiny peninsula, and she brought liberty to them by helping them realize their great dignity and worth.  Their tears of grief often made them blind to the goodness of life, but she helped them to bring sight to their blindness, opening their eyes and to see that they could create a new family in their new home.  She helped those who felt so much oppression just because their disease made them unattractive to the eye, and she liberated them by dressing them with the latest fashions so that they would feel their dignity and their beauty.  To those who had good reason to question God and his ways, she always declared that they were in God’s favor and called them to worship him and give him thanks, despite their sufferings.  The Word of God was fulfilled in their hearing because Mother Marianne was so steeped in that Word and filled with that Word through her daily Communion and meditations on the Scriptures.

Just as Luke today introduces his Gospel, telling us how he is going to witness to Jesus in all that follows, so we are called to introduce the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, to others.  They may or may not know of the inspired Gospels, so we are called to be the first Gospel that is preached to them by our example of faithful witness to Jesus in all we say and do.  We do this best when we ourselves are steeped in the Word of God, who is Jesus himself, and in the Scriptures the Holy Spirit inspired.  We can be filled with the Word of God when we take the person of Jesus, who is the Word-made-flesh into ourselves in Holy Communion.  We can listen to the Word of God as it is preached verbally or non-verbally by the many good and holy people who surround us.

The Scriptures proclaimed by the priest Ezra, which we heard about in the Old Testament reading, moved people to tears, and they committed themselves to put the Word into practice.  But the Scriptures we have are much richer now, because they include God’s greatest self-revelation to humanity, the Good News of Jesus, God and man; his life, death, and resurrection; and his sending the Holy Spirit upon us to anoint us just as he was anointed.  We are invited to treasure those Scriptures, not by keeping them in a special place in our homes, but by opening them, devouring them, wrestling with them, studying them, and loving them, because they are the living, inspired Word of God.  But we do this not just for ourselves and our own growth in holiness.  We do it so that we can be anointed to let them be fulfilled in the hearing of all we meet today, because they see that we are truly members of the Body of Christ.

Yes, there is still a great need to bring glad tidings to the poor by reaching out to them with our care and our love; to proclaim liberty to those who are captives to addictions or to their own self-destructive ideologies; to open the eyes of those who are blind to their own worth and the dignity of others; to free those oppressed by violence or hatred.  We may be the only Gospel they will hear, or at least the first Gospel that opens their hearts to the living Word of God.  Like St. Francis and St. Marianne Cope, we preach the Gospel always, using words when necessary.