Prayers today: In the beginning, before all ages, the Word was God; that Word was born a man to save the world. (John 1: 1)
God our Father, through Christ your Son the hope of eternal life dawned on our world. Give to us the light of faith that we may always acknowledge him as our Redeemer and come to the glory of his kingdom, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
St Raymond of Penyafort (1175-1275)
Since Raymond lived into his hundredth year, he had a chance to do many things. As a member of the Spanish nobility, he had the resources and the education to get a good start in life. By the time he was 20, he was teaching philosophy. In his early 30s he earned a doctorate in both canon and civil law. At 41 he became a Dominican. Pope Gregory IX called him to Rome to work for him and to be his confessor. One of the things the pope asked him to do was to gather together all the decrees of popes and councils that had been made in 80 years since a similar collection by Gratian. Raymond compiled five books called the Decretals. They were looked upon as one of the best organized collections of Church law until the 1917 codification of canon law. Earlier, Raymond had written for confessors a book of cases. It was called Summa de casibus poenitentiae. More than just a list of sins and penances, it discussed pertinent doctrines and laws of the Church that pertained to the problem or case brought to the confessor. At the age of 60, Raymond was appointed archbishop of Tarragona, the capital of Aragon. He didn’t like the honour at all and ended up getting sick and resigning in two years. He didn’t get to enjoy his peace long, however, because when he was 63 he was elected by his fellow Dominicans to be the head of the whole Order, the successor of St. Dominic. Raymond worked hard, visited on foot all the Dominicans, reorganized their constitutions and managed to put through a provision that a master general be allowed to resign. When the new constitutions were accepted, Raymond, then 65, resigned. He still had 35 years to oppose heresy and work for the conversion of the Moors in Spain. He convinced St. Thomas Aquinas to write his work Against the Gentiles. In his100th year the Lord let Raymond retire.
Raymond was a lawyer, a canonist. Legalism is one of the things that the Church tried to rid herself of at Vatican II. It is too great a preoccupation with the letter of the law to the neglect of the spirit and purpose of the law. The law can become an end in itself, so that the value the law was intended to promote is overlooked. But we must guard against going to the opposite extreme and seeing law as useless or something to be lightly regarded. Laws ideally state those things that are for the best interests of everyone and make sure the rights of all are safeguarded. From Raymond, we can learn a respect for law as a means of serving the common good.
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (4: 14-22)
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised Him. He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was His custom. And He stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour." Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, and He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. "Isn’t this Joseph’s son?" they asked.
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
In the Imitation of Christ (Book 1, chapter 1) we read that our chief effort ought be to study the life of Jesus Christ. The author, though, writes that “there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ.” If we wish “to understand fully the words of Christ,” we must try to model our whole lives on his. So the Gospels will reveal the figure of Christ to those who wish to follow him. The Gospels were written for the spiritual benefit of those who have faith in Jesus and who love him. In our Gospel today we read of our Lord’s return to his hometown where he spoke in the Synagogue. I have always found this passage of the Gospel to be especially intriguing and winning because of its vivid description of the person of Jesus speaking in the Synagogue. He went to Nazareth and undoubtedly stayed in his former dwelling, back now with his widowed and most holy mother. Think of the conversation between them over those few days and of Christ sharing with her his account of his public ministry now begun. He mixes with relatives and past acquaintances, and the Sabbath arrives. He enters “the Synagogue as was his custom.” This time he stood up to read. Imagine Christ rising from his chair, his mother in the Synagogue as well — perhaps knowing that he would be announcing to the congregation that in him the prophecies were being fulfilled. He stood, showing his desire to read and the Synagogue official, seeing him ready, signals to him to come forward. He reached the official and received from him the scroll which he unrolled to the prophet Isaiah. He read the passage he had sought, rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down. It is all quite detailed in its description. Jesus then began to speak and he proceeded to deliver a profoundly impressive and moving address, the gist of which was that his hearers were, at that very moment, seeing and hearing exactly what Isaiah had been referring to in his prophecy. The townspeople of Nazareth were amazed. Never had they expected such beautiful rhetoric from this one who was of their own.
It is a Gospel scene (Luke 4: 14-22) in which the real Jesus of Nazareth is vividly brought before the reader. But consider the wonder of what is being described. The people gaze on one of their own. Impressive as is his discourse — presumably the most impressive ever given in the long and fitful history of the tiny settlement of Nazareth — still, all they had before them was the Jesus they had known since his infancy. This was the young man who all along blended with his townsmen and clan. He was indeed so good a person, and yet he was one of themselves. They had no inkling of the fact that this very person they had known all along, this young man whose very infancy many would remember, was — yes! — God himself. This man, limited as was his humanity, was the unlimited God. Pure Being was present before them in a limited human nature. He stood with a certain posture and moved with a certain gait. He was of a certain height and a certain weight. He had certain features, certain lines of countenance, a certain way of looking and speaking, his voice had a certain timbre and modulation. His person was manifested within definite limitations. Now this person, defined in his human characteristics, was the great God himself. A divine person with his divine nature, he had taken to himself a truly human nature, such that in gazing on this man they were gazing on God — God the Son become this man. It can only be described as an unending wonder that God had become man, and those who saw him and spoke to him were in familiar relations with the infinite God. God utterly and absolutely transcends his creation. How could it be otherwise with a Being that sustains out of nothing all that is? He transcends all, while being unimaginably close to all that he sustains. But by his power he has become, not a creature, but one with a created, finite and limited nature, while retaining his eternal and infinite divine nature. God made man now had a mother, he lived as brother to men, and he suffered and died just as does each of us. Those in the Synagogue that Sabbath morning were gazing on a townsman who was and is God himself.
Let us stand there astonished at the marvel of the Incarnation. As we raise our eyes and gaze at the heavens, at the clouds, the moon and the stars, as we think of the unspeakable vastness of visible creation and the lofty grandeur of its Creator and Sustainer, let us think of the greatest of all displays of divine power. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. There were those of us who saw his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. From him has come grace upon grace, and the power to become children of God. He, Jesus Christ, is the treasure beyond treasures, the pearl of great price. Let us, as it were, sell all we own to gain that pearl.