Saturday, February 4, 2012

Called to Proclaim! (Sunday 5B)

Father Robert Barron from Chicago is fast becoming the new Fulton Sheen. Like the famous television preacher of the 1950s and 60s, Father Barron seems to be everywhere at once – on YouTube, on television, and writing books.

His specialty is in the details rather than in his delivery. He mines the Bible for gems—insights we could easily miss.

Father Barron is inspired by Origen of Alexandria, a third-century Father of the Church who compared the Bible to the Eucharist. Origen said that we must treat each word of the Scripture as reverently as we would a particle of the Host. Just as we're careful not to drop even a small piece of the consecrated Host, so we should make sure not a word of the sacred text falls to the ground.

This thought also inspired me as I wrote my homily this week. Unfortunately, it inspired me while I studied next week's readings by mistake. In any case, when I finally got on the right page, I read with special care, pretty much word by word.

When I did, I found one word that jumped off the page in today's Gospel: that word was proclaim. Even with people lined up outside his door, Jesus tells the apostles he needs to "to proclaim the message." Mark uses the verb twice.

The same word dominates our second reading. Paul says "woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel."

Think of the other things Jesus could have been doing: healing and casting out demons, for sure. Think of the other things Paul could have been doing: strengthening Christians, building community, solving problems. Yet both our Lord and St. Paul put proclaiming the Good News at the top of the list.

Today, both Jesus and Paul remind us that we're called to proclaim the Gospel—it's our duty. But Job, in our first reading, adds another motive—people are dying to hear the message. Human beings, Job says "have a hard service on earth." Life's not easy. Job's not the only one facing sleepless nights tormented by worry or by the fear of death. Life is short, and often life is hard.

Christ has the answer to Job's questions, and Christ has the answers to the questions of modern man.

Maybe, just maybe, at one time we could get away with saying that proclaiming the liberating and healing message of Christ was the duty of priests and sisters. There was a time when we seemed to have a good supply of both. But if it were ever true, it's not true now.

St. Paul puts it perfectly: "how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?"

The Apostle asked those questions in his Letter to the Romans, not in a letter to priests. And they're meant for us. How are people today going to believe in a Lord they've never heard of? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?"

The 'someone' is you. You, the fifteen year-old student at STA. You, the middle-aged dentist. You, the young mother of four. You, the assistant manager at Park Royal. You, the retiree, you, the medical student.

I can preach until I am blue in the face without reaching any of the people with whom you study, work or live… because they don't come to church, and unlike Bishop Sheen or Father Barron, I'm not on TV.

And with all due respect to St. Paul, I can't be "all things to all people." I'm not a woman; many of you are, though. I'm not young; but some of you are. I'm not rich, but some of you are; and I'm not elderly (yet!) but some of you are. It's you, the parishioners of Christ the Redeemer parish, who can actually be "all things to all people," and can proclaim the message in an effective way to the people the Lord puts in your path, rich and poor, old and young, male and female.

What does this say to us today? Surely it's a simple message. We need to make sharing the faith a priority in our lives.

The stunning success of our Alpha courses is proof of what I am saying. People came because friends, family members, and acquaintances asked them to come. And they came back because they found a warm welcome.

When so-called ordinary parishioners realize they are entrusted with a commission, great things happen.


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