My focus for this weekend’s homily was inspired by listening to Fr. Robert Barron’s homily. You can find his homily through his Word of Fire Website, here. My own reflection, though similar, takes a different direction than Fr. Barron’s.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Nehemiah (8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10.) Nehemiah and Ezra are active in the renewal of the faith of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple after the Babylonian exile. It is a time when the faith of the people had been weakened through many accommodations with the people and practices of their time. (Sound familiar?!)
Ezra knew that the people had to return to the law of God, the law of Moses. So, Nehemiah (governor) and Ezra (priest) called all the people of Israel to gather in Jerusalem. The number of the people of Israel returning from exile at this time amounted to 42, 360. (Nehemiah 7:66) We know from today’s reading that the people gathered ‘from daybreak to midday’ to listen to Ezra read the law of Moses. This is significant.
Our Psalm response today sums up the truth for all people of all times: “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and Life.” (Psalm 19) This snapshot of this period of Israel’s history provided in today’s reading is a lens to help us understand what the New Evangelization is all about. The faith of our time has been weakened, watered down. We, too, have made many accommodations with the culture and customs of our time. Thus, we are called by the Church to return to the Lord. We are called by the Church to be renewed in our relationship with Christ and our knowledge of Scripture and the teachings of the faith.
As the people gathered with Ezra, they listened to the Law of Moses. We, too, in our day, are called to listen to the Word of God. As the people listened to the Law of Moses, they wept, because they saw how their ways had strayed from the way of God. They were saddened to see how far from God they had drifted. We know from further reading of the Book of Nehemiah and the Book of Ezra that the people eventually confessed their sins, and returned to a life of fidelity to God; a life of prayer and worship that informed and directed all the other aspects of daily life.
We, too, are called to allow the Word of God to penetrate our own hearts to reveal where we have strayed, individually and as a society, from the way of God. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
The initial result of such humble submission to God’s word is sadness, because it reveals our sins. But if we follow the Word of God, we will be led through confession to the joy that is at the heart of God’s Word. This is the joy mentioned by today’s psalmist: “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life.” Another psalm, 119, says that the precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart. God is calling us back to himself, for only in him do we find fullness of life.
Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God. He is the Light of all nations. When we think of a prism, and a light shining through a prism, we know how the light brings about a brilliance of many colors when allowed to shine through the prism. This is the image of Jesus as the Incarnate Word of God present in the world. Just as he was a Light shining in the darkness of the world of his time, he is a Light for each and every age, for each and every culture and society. He comes to our day and age to reveal all that is good within our society, but also to illuminate all that is dark and not of his Kingdom.
Blessed Cardinal John Newman wisely recognized how slow people are to embrace the Light of Christ and the legitimate role of religion. He said in a homily entitled Religion a Weariness to the Natural Man: “the literature of the day is weary of Revealed Religion.” (#4) This is surely true of our time, people are weary of religion and the moral law of God. Newman also wisely points out that for some strange reason, this is the natural inclination of the human spirit, as he quotes the beginning of John’s Gospel: “through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1: 4-5) “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:11)
The lesson is clear: we must allow the Light of Christ’s Word penetrate our being. Even though this Word brings joy to the heart, we must persevere in our cooperation with God’s grace to remain in the Lord. Our day is in need of the Light of the Gospel, the Gospel of Life. In this Year of Faith, we will spend more time with Christ, with Christ’s Word, and allow his Light to shine through us to be a source of renewal, not only for our Church, but for the society of our day.