January 31 2016 (C) Fourth Sunday of the Year

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: World Day for Renewed Religious Life

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

Introduction to the Readings. The readings today remind us of God’s calling to his chosen people down through history, a call to be faithful to the demands of belief in him, even in hostile circumstances. The prophet Jeremiah was called to do this in a heroic way. God’s own Son, Jesus of Nazareth, was rejected by his own townspeople at Nazareth, as the Gospel reading will tell us. There is also the quiet call to live as Jesus did, in a life governed by Christian love, of which St Paul speaks.

First Reading (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19). I have appointed you as a prophet to the nations. Those we recognize as genuine biblical prophets had one thing in common: they were conscious of having “stood in the council of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:18), conscious of having been sent by God, of being his mouthpieces. Their message depended on circumstances. Sometimes it was of woe, of punishment, to a rebellious people, neglecting the demands of the covenant. The prophetic voice was a reminder to the people that their covenant God had not gone away. A little later that the time of Jeremiah, at his prophetic vocation by God the prophet Ezekiel was told by God: “The people also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them and you shall say to them: ‘Thus says the Lord God’. And whether they hear or refuse to hear they shall know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ezekiel 2:4-5). Today’s reading speaks of the divine vocation of Jeremiah, “in the days of Josiah” (actually his thirteenth year, 627 B.C.) who was told to prepare for a very difficult life as prophet, as God’s spokesperson. So it turned out to be. In many ways Jeremiah in his life and teaching prepared the way for understanding the life, sufferings and teaching of Jesus.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 70[71]. My lips will tell of your help.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13). There are three things that last: faith, hope and lover; and the greatest of these is love. This passage is often referred to as the hymn on love. While not a hymn in the strict sense, its poetic and rhetorical nature is obvious. In style and unity it differs significantly from the preceding and following chapters, but is clearly connected with both what precedes and what follows. It may have been a theme on which Paul had for long reflected and had become for him a kind of poetic composition. The precise meaning of the term “love” in the New Testament varies from one writing to another. There are many passages on God’s love for us, and our love for God. In the present reading the love intended is brotherly and sisterly love, love for one another. Paul knew full well God’s love for us, and the love of Christ for us, who died for us while we were sinners. For Paul here the source and model of Christian love for one another is Christ, Christ who did not please himself, but as it is written “The reproaches of those who reproach thee (God) fell upon me” (Romans 15:3). In his description of true love in this hymn Paul is calling to mind the shortcomings of the Corinthian Christians in matters such as the charismatic gifts of prophecy, understanding of the faith, speaking in tongues and such like.

            The passage is in three fairly identifiable sections, as most Sunday missals and missalettes will present it, as follows: the superiority of love (verses 1-3), the works of love (verses 4-7), and its never-ending duration (verses 8-13). The first section instances a number of the charismatic gifts enjoyed by believers in Corinth: the gift of tongues, prophecy, special understanding of the mysteries of the faith, charismatic faith which may be enjoyed by a few. These gifts without love mean nothing, probably in the sense that if those who enjoy them fail in the demands of Christian love for others. The same holds true for those who give away all their wealth, if done for vain glory. Paul even mention those who deliver their bodies to be burnt, or perhaps sold into slavery to gain freedom for others. If this is done from pride or vain glory it means nothing. The second section dwells on the qualities of love, its breadth of understanding and its self-forgetfulness, for which of course Christ would be the supreme model. These are points which Paul stresses elsewhere, especially in his letter to the Romans. The third section invites us see all earthly gifts in the light of eternity. Our vision of this reality is as in an ancient mirror, which was a polished metal surface not yielding a clear image. Only the three theological virtues (faith, hope and love) remain, the greatest being love.

The Gospel (Luke 4:21-30). Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus is not sent to the Jews only. At Nazareth, his home town, Jesus presented himself as the person sent to fulfil the prophecy of bringing the good news to the poor. His words were well received. The sudden turn in events shows that fulfilment of such prophecies requires human cooperation. Jesus’ divine mission was soon forgotten and his human origins (connected with Joseph) invoked. Jesus’ reply implicitly implies that his saving mission extends beyond human family, home town and native land. He instances the miracles of the two earliest of those regarded in Israel as the chain of prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Both worked their miracles not for their Jewish fellow-countrymen, but for pagans, Elijah for a widow in Sidon (1 Kings 17:8-16) and Elisha for a pagan Syrian (2 Kings 5:8-14).

B. Reflection & Dialogue: World Day for Consecrated Life

This year, on this Sunday, we may also recall the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (2nd February) and in Ireland the feast of St Brigid (1st February). This Sunday’s liturgical readings and the other celebrations mentioned present us with an opportunity of considering the role of religious life in the Church and the importance of praying for a renewal of religious life and of vocations to this way of life. In 1997 Pope John Paul II dedicated February 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, as a World Day of Consecrated Life. The Pope explained that he had three purposes in so doing: namely to praise the Lord for the great gift of consecrated life, which enriches and gladdens the Christian community by the multiplicity of its charisms; secondly this day is intended to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God, and thirdly the celebration is intended to have religious reflect on their great vocation, to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world.
            Recent years and the sad history of certain religious in the Church have seen a great decrease in vocations, and the virtual disappearance of some forms of religious life. Reflection on this situation is called for. Growing secularism and recent scandals should not lead to a neglect of the gift to the Church that religious life in its various forms is. In Ireland we may thinks of the early period represented, among other matters for women, by St Brigid, of the learning and art for which the early Irish Church was renowned, for the services rendered to education and nursing and in many other ways by the religious of Ireland down through the centuries. The various forms of religious life are witness of dedication to God. Pope John Paul II recalled that the World Day of Consecrated Life is held on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord because “the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.”

            Today’s Scripture readings can help us to understand the call for reflection on the role of religious life in the Church, that is religious life conscious of its prophetic calling. The prophetic call is no easy one, as is evident from God’s words to Jeremiah (first reading) and Jesus’ experience in his home town of Nazareth (Gospel reading). True Christian life is prophetic in its witness to God’s self-revelation through his Son Jesus. Temporary set backs or failures should be understood in context, and not as the end. Despite annoyances and disappointments, the prophetic element that is religious consecrated life should not be allowed to die or be quenched. In Church life we are dealing with a divine mystery, to be understood through faith and kept alive through prayer. We should then pray for a renewal of various forms of religious life in the Church, and also pray that those so called may be faithful to their role and calling.


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