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Bishop's Homily for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

January 22, 2023

[St. Ann Church, Kaneohe (Episcopal Visitation)]

We use words in a wedding when a man and a woman vow their love and their lives to each other, and those words are so solemn and binding that in the Catholic Church they are witnessed by a priest or deacon and two other witnesses.  Words are used in an oath, when we need to get to the truth about a matter and we hold the person being questioned to their solemn word.  Words have a power that can move a person to tears of joy or to a deep sense of hurt.  There are empty words and useless words, and there are words that are fraught with great meaning.

Today, at the behest of Pope Francis, we celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God.  In addition, we are in the midst of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Eucharistic Revival, in which we are challenged to deepen our love for the great gift of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.  And so today we focus in a special way on the Liturgy of the Word, in which we listen to the Word of God himself, given to us in the Sacred Scriptures.

The Eucharist is above all else a physical encounter with the risen Lord Jesus.  He who lived on the earth two thousand years ago, who died and rose again from the dead, and who ascended into heaven, is the living bread come down from heaven.  He has not abandoned us, but lives with us even today, and he makes himself present in the Eucharist.  He is present in many forms:  in the sacred assembly that is his Body; in the priest, who sacramentally represents him as the Head of the Body; in the bread and wine which are changed into the very Body and Blood of Christ so that he can enter into an intimate and holy communion with all of us.  And he is present in the Word of Sacred Scripture that is proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word.

The Sacred Scriptures, the Bible, are not simply inspiring words; they are words inspired by the Holy Spirit.  God first encounters human beings – through the experiences of the people of Israel, through the disciples of Jesus, and through others with whom he has real interactions – and the Holy Spirit inspires certain people to write about those experiences.  These are reviewed by the Church, the Body of Christ, and judged to be authentically the living Word of God, and so these various books are put together in the Holy Bible.  As you know, the Bible is divided into two basic sections:  the Old Testament, in which we hear of all that led up to God’s fullest revelation of himself in a living human being, Jesus Christ; and the New Testament, which speaks explicitly of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  The New Testament is anchored in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; but it is expanded to include apostolic reflections on the Church Jesus founded.

When we come together as the Body of Christ in this sacred assembly that is the Mass, it is the risen Christ himself who speaks to us in his living Word.  Yes, these words of Scripture are read out loud by various members of the sacred assembly, but it is only their voices we hear because they are speaking not their own word, but the Word of God himself.  This Word is meant to take flesh in us, to enter us and take possession of us, so that we can give witness to Jesus by being true members of his Body, steeped in his living Word.  These words are meant to transform us, just as surely as the words of Jesus transformed the lives of those fishermen he called at the Sea of Galilee.  Once they left their nets to follow him, the nets of their hearts and minds were cast into Jesus, so that they could draw from his divine wisdom, then bring it up to nourish their brothers and sisters with that Word that first caught them.  If we are to be true to the current call of Jesus to each of us to be fishers of men and women, to draw them up from the depths of darkness to see the great light of the Kingdom of God, then we ourselves must be immersed in the Word of God.

The Catholic Church offers us the Word of God by means of a set lectionary, so that over a three-year cycle, we will have heard most of the New Testament and much of the Old Testament.  On Sundays this year we concentrate on the Gospel of Matthew, next year on the Gospel of Mark, and the following year on the Gospel of Luke; then we repeat this three-year cycle.  The Gospel of John is read during certain festive seasons of the year, such as Christmas and Easter.  So, in three years, we will have heard the four Gospels.  The first reading is from the Old Testament, such as today’s reading that refers to Galilee, living in darkness but seeing a great light.  This reading is normally chosen because it corresponds to the Gospel, as we see Jesus arriving in Galilee as that great light prophesied by Isaiah.  (During the Easter Season, the Old Testament reading is replaced with a reading from the Acts of the Apostles.)  The Responsorial Psalm is also thematically tied to the first reading and the Gospel.  The second reading is from the apostolic letters of the New Testament, and they are chosen on a semi-continuous basis, not necessarily because they tie in thematically with the Gospel.  One person proclaims the Word of God for us, but it is only effective if we actively listen to it, taking it into ourselves, letting ourselves be consecrated by the Word, and reflecting on how we can put that word into action.  Here the homily is meant to assist us in putting the Word of God into action.  Our recitation of the Creed is one expression of our putting the Word into action, and our Prayer of the Faithful is putting the Word into action through prayer for the needs of the Church, of the world, and of all our brothers and sisters.

The Word of God was written centuries ago, but it is living and effective.  Just as Jesus, the light, changed the lives of those fishermen and others of Galilee, he does so for us today by truly speaking to us in his Word and calling us to follow him.