Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year B: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Ps 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Our readings today remind us that the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ, proclaims the truth. Truth is found or established when our concept of something equals to what that something really is. The Gospel teaches us about who God really is, who we really are and how our path to God really looks like.
In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard God promise the people of Israel, after the Exodus from Egypt, that after Moses, the greatest leader in the history of Israel, God “will raise up … a prophet like” Moses. Someone who will speak God’s own words from “his mouth”. This someone would, in other words, have an even greater closeness to God than Moses, who had been speaking to God as one human to another.
In the gospel passage we heard of Jesus’s first homily in Capernaum, the town he moved to as his public ministry began. We heard how “he taught [the people] with authority”. And St. Mark adds: “unlike the scribes”. Jewish religious teachers always related their teaching to Moses, through whom God had mediated the covenant with Israel and given the Law. But Jesus does not need to do this. And this is revealed by the Greek word, used in the original text, for “authority”: “ex ousia”, literally meaning “out of essence, out of substance”. I.e. Jesus speaks out of who he really is, by his second nature: God, “consubstantial with the Father” as we soon will profess in the Creed. Jesus thus speaks God’s words from “his mouth”, as the first reading promised – in a literal sense. Words confirmed by Jesus’s immediate action to drive the demon out of the possessed man.
And the listeners understood that they were encountering something completely unique. Not an interpretation of the truth, not a piece of the truth but The Truth; Truth itself; in full. Indeed, the core of Christian faith is that the Logos, the Plan of the whole universe, really becomes flesh, matter, part of the creation, to lead it out of the destructiveness, which humanity imposed on itself at the Fall, when the first humans nabbed the right to define truth according to their feelings and will.
Remembering what people in Capernaum’s synagogue experienced this particular Sabbath 2000 years ago, werecall that God is the “highest and first” of all truths, speaking with St. Thomas Aquinas; that God is personal, talking to us, our hearts, i.e. our personal cores, so that we can, as we sang in the responsorial psalm, “today … listen to his voice!”, and as St. Paul wrote in the second reading from First Corinthians, “give undivided attention to the Lord”. I.e. allow him to become the sole guiding star of our lives, with consequences for all that we are, and thus, for all that we say and do.
Today, our society focuses more on “opinions” than truth and encourages feelings and impulses to form opinions that, in the next step, are confused with truth. Combined with philosophies and ideologies denying the existence of objective morality, and even of nature, thus confirming and strengthening Original sin, the popular and ruling opinions of our time often communicate the direct opposite to truth. And out of fear to be labelled as “judgmental”, “phobic” and not “open” enough – whatever that is – too many people do not dare to speak out against the pure falsehoods dominating our public discourse.
Like with the demons of Jesus’s time, the powerlessness of lies and self-deceit is also today revealed in the presence of truth, of Christ, concretely of his Church. When the Catholic Church proclaims the truth about God and the human person, about morality and justice, all over the field, she often causes a loud cry from the demons of our time. The devil and the demons – and the gospels constantly confirm that they are real, and no symbols – only want for us to be eternally separated from God, starting here and now.
Since the Fall, we humans are not able to fully grasp and internalize truth on our own. Philosophy, logic and ethics can give us one part of the truth, e.g. moral truths derived from reasoning on human nature. Empirical science can give us another part of the truth, e.g. on physical and biological functions and causalities. But neither philosophy nor science can give us the whole truth, because they do not answer the questions about meaning: Where do we come from, for what are we aimed and what is the ultimate Good? Only with God incarnate in Jesus Christ, the code can be cracked so that the whole creation, us fully included, becomes possible to read; to be understood as it was aimed to be, and with God’s help can become.
Reconciliation means that God bridges over the things that are not true and thus should not be, to what should be, to Him. Jesus Christ is this visible bridge, maintained and pointed at by the Church, at all times, for us to always keep our minds and eyes directed towards. Therefore, the Church presents us to the holy, that which is separate from the world, set apart by God for God, to serve Him in the world, so that truth alongside with goodness and beauty can be more visible for others through us, Christ’s co-workers.
We meet the holy in the liturgy. The Catholic liturgy contains much, which we daily do not meet elsewhere, like e.g. Latin, incense, gilded textiles, golden chalices, kneeling, Gregorian chant, a lot of speaking symbolism as e.g. the priest being a man representing Christ and the congregation representing his bride, and so on. All in order to help us receive the holy. If Mass would be remade into a meeting governed by the same rules as any social gathering, it would lose its ability to bring us closer to God.
In every Mass, and its Holy sacrifice, we are invited to allow Jesus Christ, and his life, death and resurrection, to enlighten everything in our life and bring true content and meaning to it, at the service of our most real need, our eternal communion with God. In order to transform us, with our cooperation, so that we can become more holy, more set apart for God; for, and filled by, The Truth, and in turn reflect it in the world. Never afraid, never dependent upon our own achievements or others opinions. But always filled with true hope, and therefore true happiness. Amen.