Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year A: Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Ps 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
With today’s readings, the Church summarises how God liberates, unites and calls us.
The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah mentioned border areas in the Holy Land invaded by enemies of Israel in different waves, drawing parts of the population into exile in the millennium immediately BC. Isaiah is one of them who saw how the erosion of faith among people, and especially the elites, led to a social, cultural and political decay weakening the country from within and making it defenceless to external threats. A warning to consider also in our days.
But then Isaiah talks about the arrival of a “great light”, as well as of a joy when “the yoke that was weighing” on the people of Israel will be broken. The reference to the liberation from Egypt is clear. The promise that all will be done “as on the day of Midian” reminds of a historic battle where a small army won a victory against a numerically superior enemy by trusting fully in God’s protection and power. The prophecy thus speaks of an upcoming liberation of Israel, not dependent upon Israel’s own strength or power but instead on God, who in himself is “light” and “salvation”, as our responsorial psalm reminded of, and who is incarnated in Jesus Christ for the extension of the liberation to all nations. And that liberation it is not political, military, social, technical, economical or ecological, or anything else we ourselves can achieve, but a liberation from the grip of sin and death; from an eternal absence of God, to resurrection and eternal life in communion with God.
True liberation thus starts with God and the trust in how God through Christ repeals fear of death and consequently the need to feed the ego. True liberation can never start with us and our progress, ideologies, leaders or influencers. This is why the Apostle Paul in today’s second reading from First Corinthians emphasizes how true liberation is a liberation to the unity in the Body of Christ, the Church. And we heard the warnings of division, based on affiliation to particular preachers and “camps”. A warning that echoes through history until today in Christianity at large and in the Catholic Church.
Division obstructs our possibility to lead others to Christ. Therefore, the unity we are called to is not a cocktail party-style unity on trivial matters, or a facade on which polishing becomes an end in itself. And it is not our task to decide the uniting ground. No, the source to the Christian, and Catholic, unity precedes us, is larger than us, and is offered to us. It is the divine revelation we are receiving through the Church, founded by Christ himself, and in whose unchanging teaching and seven sacraments his self-giving love constantly is present in the world.
The unity of the Catholic faith presupposes the unity of the Magisterium, the Teaching office, in space and time. For a new teaching to be in line with revelation and binding for faith, it must always be interpreted in line with what the Church has taught thus far. Each true development of doctrine is, as newly canonized John Henry Newman teaches us, an increasingly and deeper understanding of one and the same recognisable teaching. Never a rupture with, or a change of, it.
For the Catholic faith is indeed that God explains himself through the Church, who has divine origin and divine authority to speak in matters regarding faith and morals. Not because of us sinners dwelling in her, but because of Christ’s presence. What makes us Catholics is that our trust in Christ transforms into a trust in the Church he himself has established, has promised never to abandon and gives the visible signs holding her together in continuity of unity; i.e. the Catholic Church. From this insight flows every other form of Christian humility.
In a time of confusion and conflict, 2000 years ago, in the 16th century and today, the principle of unity is notchallenged by the defence of the faith and teaching of the Church, which she received from her Lord and founder and therefore is faithful to before anything and anyone else. Of course, this defence can be put through in both good and bad ways. But it safeguards the very source of unity – truth. Public disputes of the own faith, ideas of the primacy of individual subjectivity over sacred tradition or that temporal majorities today would trump the majority of saints, and similar, performed by people in the Church – that is what threatens the unity revealed and wanted by Christ.
As we heard in the gospel, Jesus starts his proclamation of the liberty and unity in truth in the region called Galilee, and the prophecy of the first reading was thereby unveiled: this is the afflicted area where God’s great light will start to shine. And we heard how the light shines forth in Jesus’s calling of his first apostles. Of those, on who he will build the foundation of his Church and say that the one listening to them listens to him. Not for their personal excellence, not because they will figure out everything much better than him, or “modernise” his words. No, but on their faith and dedication to eternal life with him, and to him, not as they would have preferred him to be, but as he truly is.
They are in the middle of their work as fishermen when Jesus meets them. He doesn’t wait until they are free, go to the synagogue or have stopped working. No, he just walks into their everyday lives, interrupts them in the middle of their business and gives their lives their true direction and meaning by becoming a part of them himself. All built upon something that is already there, but which he, and only he, can fully refine into what it was meant to be by God, the origin and end of all: the fishermen become fishers of men.
If we only listen and give attention, we can see him wanting to do exactly the same with us. To become part of our lives, where we live them, and perfect our characteristics, talents, skills and gifts by gathering and directing them in service to him; liberating and illuminating them so that they, in unity with others who want to belong to the truth, may extend God’s glory and kingdom. Our real answer to him actually begins, just like for the apostles, in that moment when we see which nets we need to let go of, and which boats we need to leave behind, that we always thought we needed, but that prevent him from making out of us what we actually are intended for. Amen.