3rd Sunday Ordinary Time
Cycle A, 2004-2005
First Reading - Isaiah 8:23 - 9:3
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Gospel - Matthew 4:12-23, or 4:12-17
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Napthtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in the land overshadowed by death light has arisen. From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Over the past few weeks, I have been paying attention to some of the very dramatic rescue stories associated with the victims of the tsunami disaster in South Asia. Everyday, you hear about another story of the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly impossible odds. Some days ago, I watched EWTN's coverage of how the Basilica of St. Thomas the Apostle was preserved in southern India, despite the fact that every other building in the town was wiped-away. It was an amazing sight to see - for miles around, there was complete devastation and yet the basilica was preserved. There is a story associated with this miracle. Before he was martyred, St. Thomas is reputed to have put a stake in the ground where the current basilica stands and claimed that the waters of the sea would never pass that point. It seems that he was prophetic.
St. Thomas gave his life as a martyr many miles away from home. Most of the rest of the apostles did the same - they traveled to the ends of the earth to spread the Gospel and all of them, except for St. John, died as martyrs. St. Peter himself ended up in Rome, where he would give up his life in martyrdom on a hill called Vaticanus. The presence of St. Peter's bones in Rome, under the mighty basilica is some proof that the Resurrection happened. After all, what would have driven the saint to freely return to Rome after he had practically escaped the city during the persecution of Nero? Peter had seen the Resurrected Christ and he knew what awaited him if he remained faithful to his vocation - heavenly glory.
Our Gospel today allows us to marvel at the response of the first four Apostles the Lord Jesus calls - two sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew and James and John. There must have been something about our Lord's glance, the tenor and pitch of His voice, that must have compelled these men to leave everything in their lives that was safe, reliable, predictable, stable and comfortable in order to follow Him. Their response was permanent and it was immediate. It was almost reckless and uncalculated, in the eyes of the world. A great lesson can be learned from this: when the Holy Spirit moves us to follow our Lord in a more radical way, our response to the Spirit's prompting should be immediate and firm. There should be a type of recklessness on our part to follow the Spirit's movements within our souls. After all, God is never outdone in generosity, when we are generous with Him.
The Twelve Apostles had no real idea what following Jesus would eventually cost each of them. They could not have known that all but one of them would die as martyrs. They could not have known that their vocations would have carried them to the very ends of the earth, enduring many trials and hardships for the sake of the Kingdom of God. These men were practically "nobodies" in the eyes of the world and yet today, they are memorialized and venerated by over 1 billion Catholics worldwide. Consider the Basilica of St. John Lateran, in Rome - the mother church of Western Christendom. The main nave is lined with the statues of the Twelve Apostles and St. Paul. The statues are nearly 15 feet high and each of the Apostles are presented as robust, impressive men, each holding the instrument of torture used to martyr them. Not only is the Lateran Basilica a church - it is a living monument to the memories of our forefathers in Faith - it is upon their faith that our Lord build His Church.
Speaking of memorials, a good friend of mine, a priest of St. Louis, Missouri, was visiting me a few months ago. We spent a couple of days up near Washington and the only site he wanted to visit was the new World War II memorial, on the National Mall. We rented a couple of bikes in Old Town, Alexandria and biked over to the monument and spent a couple of hours there, admiring the monument. Half of it is dedicated to those who served in Europe and the other half of it is dedicated to those who served in the Pacific Theatre of the Second World War. I was moved to see that nearly one-third of the Asian battles occurred near and around my beloved Philippines. My friend and I pondered the title given to those who served our nation in this era - the "Greatest Generation" as they are called. We discussed whether or not our generation - Generation X, the children of the Baby Boomers, would ever be considered the greatest generation. We both agreed, "NO WAY!" The reason why is because our generation has yet to learn the meaning of sacrifice - a word that was a lived reality for the Greatest Generation. Members of the Greatest Generation lived through the Great Depression and fought in the Second World War II. They knew what food and sugar rations were and what patriotism really meant. They knew that some things were worth dying for and that it was important to be a God-fearing nation.
We have wandered from the spirit of the Greatest Generation. The notions of sacrifice and mortification are not a part of our generation's vocabulary. We cannot understand why someone would willingly deny themselves legitimate goods in order to mortify themselves to make room for interior growth. Instead, we understand the language of self-indulgence and immediate gratification. If you can't get to the store on Sunday, don't worry about it - you can shop online. The online store is always open and we've got to have the latest thing right now. If you've ever read the publication SkyMall, found in practically every seat-pocket in front of you on an airplane, you know that many dogs in this country live better than most people in South Asia. We have become a culture that does not appreciate its wealth and we are at times drunk with self-gratification. This culture of softness and over-indulgence spent over $700 billion in entertainment in 2004. To be sure, a good percentage of this amount was spent in legitimate goods, but it does make us wonder about the great inequities in the world when we can spend that much money on mere entertainment while so much of the world starves.
Moreover, this over-indulgent culture we now live in champions convenience and supposed right over human life and the immutable truth that all human life is sacred and inviolable. Tomorrow, thousands will gather in Washington for the 31st Annual March for Life - protesting the anniversary of legalized abortion in the United States. The Culture of indulgence has given birth to the Culture of Death - secularist mentality that claims that life is cheap; that life only has meaning if we say it does; and that "choice" triumphs over life itself. It is a culture that asserts that liberty and happiness outweigh life itself. Paradoxically, this Culture of Death does not recognize that without life, liberty and happiness have no context in which to operate.
among Catholics, we find many anti-life dispositions. For example:
• There are those couples of child-bearing years who know God is calling them to be open to having more children but they contracept in their marriage because of selfishness and a lack of trust in God that a change in their lifestyle may be good for them.
• There are those who assert that abortion and contraception are just two issues among a continuum of life issues such as capital punishment and war, even though these can never be equated with abortion and contraception because capital punishment and war are permissible in certain circumstances while abortion and contraception are intrinsic evils and are never permissible.
• There are those who remain silent when adult children or siblings or peers head down the road of invitro fertilization (IVF) which creates embryos outside the womb and discards unused embryos or supplies an illicit embryonic stem cell research industry.
• There are those who are ambivalent towards abortion, citing the libertarian view that, "I don't have a right to impose my morality on others." Others will say that if the Church wants to pay their bills, then the Church can tell them how many children they should have. This asinine line of thinking would then argue that the Church should not speak out against murder and rape because the Church could never guarantee a way of stopping such evils. If our Lord had adopted this position, He would have explained Himself after the Sermon on the Mount, which many of his hearers must have found difficult and said, "I know you think that what I said is really tough to follow, so just do what you want and do whatever makes you feel comfortable."
While tomorrow's March for Life will specifically call for an end to legalized abortion, what the March for Life is really about is a desire to take a stand against the Culture of Death. Abortion and contraception are just symptoms of the Culture of Death. What we need to be praying for is a conversion in the hearts of our fellow citizens to oppose the Culture of Death in all of its forms and to promote the Gospel and the Culture of Life.
Our first reading and our Gospel make reference to two cities - Zebulun and Naphtali. These were two cities that had been victims of continual invasion and occupation by foreign enemies over the course of Jewish history. When Isaiah makes mention of these cities, he uses them as metaphors for the type of liberation that the Messiah will bring - not a liberation from political and military force, but something greater - liberation from the grip of sin and death itself that only God can initiate and complete. The Gospel of Life is a manifestation of this true liberty that Christ offers the human family - to venerate and protect every human life, for every human life is unique and irreplaceable.
The Greatest Generation looks at the Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers and wonders where it all went wrong. When we live in a culture (and we do) that has legalized the murder of 45 million babies through abortion, we have gone to a very bad place. We have much to learn from the Greatest Generation - may we soon rediscover that the Greatest Generation already knows - that to live for others and to die to self is the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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