Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prayers this week: Save us, Lord our God, and gather us together from the nations, that we may proclaim your holy name and glory in your praise. (Psalm 105: 47)

Lord our God, help us to love you with all our hearts and to love all men as you love them. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

St. John Bosco (1815-1888)

John Bosco’s theory of education could well be used in today’s schools. It was a preventive system, rejecting corporal punishment and placing students in surroundings removed from the likelihood of committing sin. He advocated frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. He combined catechetical training and fatherly guidance, seeking to unite the spiritual life with one’s work, study and play. Encouraged during his youth to become a priest so he could work with young boys, John was ordained in 1841. His service to young people started when he met a poor orphan and instructed him in preparation for receiving Holy Communion. He then gathered young apprentices and taught them catechism. After serving as chaplain in a hospice for working girls, John opened the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales for boys. Several wealthy and powerful patrons contributed money, enabling him to provide two workshops for the boys, shoemaking and tailoring. By 1856, the institution had grown to 150 boys and had added a printing press for publication of religious and catechetical pamphlets. His interest in vocational education and publishing justify him as patron of young apprentices and Catholic publishers. John’s preaching fame spread and by 1850 he had trained his own helpers because of difficulties in retaining young priests. In 1854 he and his followers informally banded together under Francis de Sales. With Pope Pius IX’s encouragement, John gathered 17 men and founded the Salesians in 1859. Their activity concentrated on education and mission work. Later, he organized a group of Salesian Sisters to assist girls.

“Every education teaches a philosophy; if not by dogma then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all” (G.K. Chesterton, The Common Man).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (4:21-30)

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

The Heart of Man
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Our Gospel passage today presents the reader with an extraordinary occasion. Our Lord returned to Nazareth, and went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did. He got up to read, read the prophecy that was about himself, gave his breathtaking comment on it, and his townspeople were so angry that they hustled him out of the town to throw him over the cliff (Luke 4: 21-30). They intended to murder him. These were the ordinary people he knew and loved, his neighbours when he was a growing boy. He had visited their sick, attended their weddings, sorrowed at their funerals, and enjoyed their festivals. As the carpenter-builder he had perhaps built their houses, made their furniture and fashioned their ploughs. We can imagine what a neighbour and friend to them our Lord would have been all those years. How could they have turned on him in this way? To ask that question is to raise the mystery of sin. Sin was present in their hearts, and it is present in our hearts as well. There is an old saying - at times attributed to John Bradford (circa 1510–1555) - which runs, but for the grace of God, there go I. We ought not think that it would have been impossible for us to have been among those at Nazareth who turned so violently against our Lord. We ought never think that we are too good for what we see others do, for there go I but for the grace of God. As we consider the reaction to Jesus as narrated in the Gospel, let us consider the awfulness of sin and what it can lead the human heart to choose. Sin must be overcome! There was once a famous catchcry of classical Rome, “Cathago delenda est!” By the end of the second Punic War in which Hannibal and his elephants crossed the Alps, Rome hated Carthage. Marcus Cato, a respected senator, began to clamour "Carthago delenda est!" "Carthage must be destroyed!" Well, a similar cry must ring out in our hearts: Sin must be overcome! Sin is the most hateful thing, and by God’s grace it must be overcome.

Our Lord could see that his words to his townsmen were not being accepted, and he told them that they were in danger of not receiving the blessing of God. Elijah, he reminded them, was sent not to God’s people to work his miracle, but to a pagan widow. The prophet Elisha cured none of the many Jewish lepers, but a foreigner. That is to say, God would pass the townspeople of Nazareth by - unless they changed their attitude. At this, they were furious and tried to do away with him. In effect they said, “we will not listen to you about our spiritual and moral shortcomings. And never you dare to tell us that we reject God’s messengers!” It was an omen of our Lord’s public ministry and a manifestation of the sinfulness which is at the root of the rejection of Christ. This same drama plays itself out in all times and places, including in our own lives. Jesus Christ speaks to us in the Scriptures, in the pastors of the Church - priests, bishops, and especially in the Pope - and at times in one another. He speaks to us also at Mass. At Mass our Lord is present in the gathering of God’s people, in the person of the priest, in Christ’s word, and most of all in the Eucharist. He speaks to us there just as truly as he did in that Synagogue of Nazareth. Do we, at both Mass and generally in our religion, have listening hearts, or are we a little like the people of Nazareth? When the Church - say, in the person of the Pope - speaks on a point of faith or morals, the response of some is very far from what it should be. St Augustine had the experience of preaching a message that was unwelcome. He once wrote to his flock in these words: However unwelcome I may be in what I preach, I have to say this to you: You wish to stray, you wish to be lost, but I cannot want this. This is because I am a shepherd and God will be angry with me if I am an unfaithful shepherd. Shall I fear him rather than you? Remember we must all present ourselves before the judgment seat of Christ. I am obliged to be a good shepherd and preach the word no matter whether you like it or not.

As we think of how the Nazarenes reacted to the preaching of our Lord, we ought examine our own attitude towards the teaching of the Church as it comes to us in the preaching and teaching of the Church’s pastors, especially the Church’s chief pastor, the Pope. Today we are invited to cultivate hearts that constantly listen to Christ. The heart that listens to Christ is a heart that loves him. It is a heart like that of Mary, who was the shining exception to the attitude of many who heard our Lord at Nazareth.

A second reflection on the Gospel

“When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crown and walked away.” (Luke 4: 21-30)

Dispositions During the second half of the twentieth century some archaeological work was done on the village of Nazareth of the time of Christ. Interestingly, the digs indicated that the village had a lengthy if fitful history prior to Jesus. But in all of its obscure history to that point, there was surely no event so important as the one we read in today’s Gospel. On this occasion (Luke 4:21-30), Jesus reveals to them that he is the Messiah, and that they beheld before them the fulfilment of the promises of the prophets. In the nature of the case, our Lord’s words and presence occasioned the greatest decision that the town and each of its inhabitants had ever had to make. It was the chance of a lifetime, and it was lost. They rejected Jesus and his claim to be the Messiah, and so he passed through their midst and went on his way. It is surely a tremendous lesson for every person of every time.

Now what, we might ask, did those people do that led them to go so wrong? Why did they make that terrible decision to reject Jesus? Of course, there must have been many reasons, but a simple yet very important one comes to mind. Speaking simply, fundamentally they were not properly disposed. They lacked a proper readiness of mind and heart to believe our Lord and his word. The immediate question then is, And why was this? Of course we must speculate, but surely we can assume that an important factor was that they were leading lives of religious and moral mediocrity. The life of Nazareth and its inhabitants consisted of plain and ordinary duties, a daily round of doing the simple things. In those many little duties that made up their daily existence at Nazareth, in unnoticed ways they were failing to obey God’s will. A repeated moral failure in little duties, unrepentant and continual, will assuredly produce a reluctance to do whatever God asks. Their rejection of Christ indicates that sanctity was not their everyday ideal. They did not have the moral readiness to hear the word of God and to put it into practice. Perhaps a hint of this is given in Nathanael’s answer when told by Philip of Jesus of Nazareth. He said, can anything good come out of Nazareth? Mary was a shining exception.

By contrast, let us compare the reaction of Nazareth to Jesus’ claims with the reaction of Simeon and Anna years before, when the infant Jesus was presented in the Temple. They accepted the Child for who he was. Why? They were properly disposed in the first place. They accepted him because they were open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They were disposed in this way precisely because their whole lives had been lives of fidelity to their conscience. Their holy lives sustained their moral and religious disposition, just as their moral and religious disposition sustained their holy lives. Their fidelity to grace and the dictates of conscience disposed them to accept God and his revelation when the critical moment came. When God’s will became manifest, no matter what it was, they were ready to do it. Aquinas says somewhere that holiness consists in the total readiness to accept and do God’s will. This readiness is developed in the constant doing of God’s will in the little duties of every day.

Let us learn from the tragedy of the rejection of Jesus by the people of Nazareth. Let us be ready for whatever God asks in life, wherever and whenever it might be. We shall only be ready if we are trying to do his will every day in the seemingly ordinary unimportant things of life.

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