Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 3

800px-Meister_der_Kahriye-Cami-Kirche_in_Istanbul_001 Medieval mosaic of nazareth

Nazareth in the Medieval Period

Central Idea: The world rejects but cannot overcome those who belong to God.

Doctrine: The virtue of hope.

Practical Application: Acts of hope.

To view today’s readings, click here (Lectionary 72).

Central Idea: The world rejects but cannot overcome those who belong to God.

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19

  • Because God chose Jeremiah to speak his word to Israel, the prophet should fear nothing that the people of Israel will threaten to do to him. Even though they will be allowed to do a lot to him, God will deliver him.
  • Because Jesus Christ is the Word of God whose mission was to speak the word of God to Israel, he feared nothing that the people of Israel would threaten to do to him, including being thrown off a cliff by his native townspeople. Even though they would be allowed to do a lot to him—even execute him— he would be delivered from death in his glorious Resurrection.
  • Because God has chosen us in his Son to speak his word to our world today, we should fear nothing that men who reject us can do to us. Even if they are allowed to do a lot to us, even kill us, God will deliver us by giving us eternal life.

Psalm Ps 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17

  • There are only two—maybe three—persons who really have had the right to sing this psalm. Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and probably St. Joseph are the three persons who really only depended on God from their youth and were entirely faithful to their Creator from conception. The rest of us—including the future king David and the great prophet Jeremiah—are to some extent frauds because we depend on ourselves a lot and often only really turn to God in our distress.
  • Yet through Baptism we get to identify with Christ and we can begin to take refuge in God and hope for deliverance from our enemies.
  • And we need this deliverance. Some men will hate us simply because they are hateful predators. Others will hate us because we are followers of Christ who don’t live our faith perfectly. Still others will hate us on an ascending scale: The more perfectly we identify ourselves with Christ the more they will be furious with us and seek to destroy us. In all these cases we want God to do for us what he did for Jeremiah and David, and what he did for his Son when the townsmen of Nazareth meant to murder him, to just walk away through their midst unharmed.

1 Cor 12:31—13:13

  • Pope Benedict XVI says, quoting St. Augustine, “if you see charity you see the Trinity.” When you see real love you are seeing God.
  • What is this love or charity? St. Paul wisely describes it, telling us what it is like and what it is not like. But can we venture to define it, to help us understand it even better, to help us live it?
  • It is to love one another as Christ has loved us, that is, as a good slave serves his master, as a man lays down his life for a friend.
  • It is to will the true good of the other, or, in other words, it is to do for another what is really the best thing for him or her.
  • Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., says that love is the condition in which doing good for another is as easy and pleasant as doing the good for oneself.
  • For most of us, most of the time, real love is doing something for another person which costs us something.

Lk 4:21-30

  • The townsmen of Nazareth became so furious with Our Lord that they tried to murder him. Jesus did not perform miraculous signs there.
  • When Jesus did work miracles, he did them to show mercy and compassion, to demonstrate what the reign of God was going to be like, and to reinforce the truth of the words he preached.
  • There were many miracles Jesus did not perform. Even though on two occasions he miraculously fed thousands by multiplying loaves and fish, there are the millions of others on earth from the beginning of time who have been hungry. Why does he allow any hunger? Why didn’t Our Lord cure every disease and infirmity, cast out every demon, and raise every corpse from the dead? The basic answer is that Christ came to redeem us from sin and eternal death, not to make this present world into an eternal paradise. Heaven is paradise; this world is something else.
  • God wants our world to keep its chiaroscuro or dramatic black and white dimensions of good and evil, happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, and life and death. He wants the world to remain this dramatic arena in which we work out our salvation with the help of grace.
  • This Gospel reminds us
    • we should not be surprised if we want something from God and don’t get it or have to wait for it;
    • we should not be surprised if some people we assumed were our friends reject us and even try to harm us, thinking they are justified in doing so;
    • we should not be surprised if a good portion of the world seems to be rejecting the faith.
  • This is the arena in which love, which is doing the best thing for another at the cost of self-sacrifice, can be victorious. This is the field of the battle of faith, where we believe and act on everything God has revealed. And it is the place where we exercise hope, the confident expectation that God will do for us what he has promised: redeem us and give us eternal life.

Doctrine: The virtue of hope[1]

  • Vatican II named one of its two greatest documents Gaudium et Spes, meaning joy and hope. It begins, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” Isn’t human life all about the hope that we will someday leave suffering behind and have secure happiness?
  • Hope is the desire of attaining a future good. Reaching this good is difficult and by no means certain, yet hope is a certainty it will be possessed. Because the future good is so good, we want it and pursue it, despite obstacles.
  • All of us who are baptized, despite how we feel at any one moment, have at least a kernel of hope of eternal life with God. We have the confidence that God will give us the graces we need to obtain this highest good. We received this as a gift at baptism.
  • Optimism is a human virtue very necessary in this life. Optimism is the confidence that one’s course of action, like starting a sport, or going off to school, or beginning a new job, or starting a family or a business, will be successful. However, the object of the virtue of hope is much more certain even though the goal seems so much more difficult—after all, it is out of our hands if we will ever survive death or receive a resurrected body. Yet hope is much more certain than natural optimism, since it is based on Gods’ omnipotence, faithfulness, and trustworthiness.
  • An investment broker can promise us a good return on our investment, but that promise is worth about two thousand words of fine print explaining the risks that we might not. God’s promise of eternal life is 100% guaranteed with only two reservations.
    • The first is that we don’t become presumptuous, that is, assume we will be saved no matter how we behave.
    • The second is that we do not give in to despair, the dark judgment that God can’t or won’t help us.

Practical Application: Acts of hope

  • We perform a human act when we freely and knowingly decide to do something. When we feel grief or anxiety and are tempted to discouragement or despair, God expects us to make an act of hope.
  • Since hope is the desire of attaining a difficult future good—in our case eternal life with God, our act of hope is freely and knowingly saying yes in one’s will that God will carry out his promises.
  • There are many ways of putting the act of hope into words. We can use our own spontaneous words. Here is a simple formula Fr. John Hardon, S.J., suggests, which can be memorized: “My God, I hope in You, for grace and for glory, because of Your promises, Your mercy and Your power. Amen.”

[1] This content is paraphrased from Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary on-line here.

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