Monday, January 25, 2016

Hearing for the first time, once again

          Here's a link to a video that is emblematic of what I speak of in my homily this week.  People who truly encounter the Good News for the first time respond in this way.  Let us not be afraid to bring it to them, meeting them in our works of mercy!


Homily: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear.  Many people suffer hearing loss because the hair cells in their inner ear (known as cochlea) are damaged.  The cochlear implant enables sound to be transferred to the hearing nerves in spite of the damaged cochlea, thus enabling one to hear.  For someone who is very hard of hearing (or even deaf), cochlear implants can help them regain a sense of hearing.
          These are amazing devices: true marvels of modern technology.  And if you want to feel really good for a few hours, take a moment (after Mass) to look up a video on YouTube using the search “hearing for the first time”.  Most of the people in these videos are either teens or adults: in other words, people who have lived many years and are very conscious of what they have been missing.  When the technician turns on the cochlear device for the first time, and they hear peoples’ voices clearly for the first time—especially their own voice!—they are overwhelmed with emotion and begin to weep.  Warning!  You, too, will be overwhelmed with emotion when you watch one of these videos!  After living for so many years, keenly aware of what they were missing, these people can’t help but cry tears of joy that now they have been made “whole”.
          In our first reading today, what we hear ought to sound familiar, at first.  That is because what is described there is a liturgical gathering: something not very different than what we do in the first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word.  The setting for that ancient liturgy, however, was very different than ours today.  You see, this was one of the first liturgical gatherings of the Jewish community after they had returned from exile in Babylon: where they had been deprived of the temple worship for hundreds of years and where the teaching of the Torah—that is, the Old Testament Law of the Covenant—was all but lost.  Thus, most of the people (probably all of them, in fact) had only ever heard the law described to them—as it was handed down to them by their parents and grandparents—but had never actually heard the law itself read to them.  And so, when Ezra read from the scroll of the Law itself, the people seemingly overreact: they weep.
          Now, there is no description in the reading itself about why they wept when they heard the law read to them.  Therefore, even Scripture scholars won’t say definitively why they reacted the way that they did.  Perhaps they were now acutely aware of having failed to follow the Law and so wept in sorrow for having offended God for so long.  Perhaps, however, they were a little more like those people hearing for the first time.  Imagine: for years they had only heard about this gracious law from Yahweh, the God of their fathers, a law that was just and fair—in short, a law that was so much better than the law of the Babylonians, under which they had been living—and so for years they longed to one day hear the law as it had been written.  Then, on that day of that solemn liturgical gathering, they heard the law read to them for the first time.  Having desired to hear it for so long, the experience of actually hearing it must have been overwhelming to them; and so, they wept: tears of joy because what they had longed for had been fulfilled.
          Fast forward now to the Gospel reading, where we read about another liturgical gathering.  The setting for this one, however, is much more like the one we are celebrating today: for it was the regular Sabbath day gathering in the synagogue at Nazareth.  The experience this particular Sabbath, however, would be much different.  Jesus, who had been away preaching and working miracles in other towns and areas, now returned to Galilee, and his hometown of Nazareth, where stories of what he was accomplishing quickly spread.  And so, when he came to the synagogue, all eyes were on him.  While all, I’m sure, expected to hear the preaching for which he was becoming famous, what they received was much more astonishing.
          Jesus, after having read a portion of the Scriptures referring to the Messiah—the Messiah, by the way, that everyone knew that they should be looking for, but were not expecting to find that day—sits down and tells them plainly: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  In other words, what he’s saying to them is: “I am the Messiah.”  Now, today’s reading doesn’t give us the reaction of the people in the synagogue and so we’re left to imagine it for ourselves.  I want to invite you to imagine their reaction to be something like those who were gathered at that ancient liturgy in Jerusalem, where they heard the Law of the Lord read to them for the first time, or like those persons who could not hear, but who heard the voices of their loved ones for the first time: in other words, that their reaction was that of someone who experiences the fulfillment of a long-hoped-for desire.  Indeed, the next verse reads “And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”  They were amazed: probably because they had experienced the fulfillment of all that they had been missing.
          My brothers and sisters, there are a lot of people walking around this world half-empty and are searching for something to fill in what is missing.  Perhaps even some of you here fall into this category.  Those of us, however, who have allowed ourselves to be fully initiated into this mystery already know what it is that will fulfill in them what is missing: for it is Jesus.  Saint John Paul II said it best when he said “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you.”  My brothers and sisters, there are many people right here in our own community that long to hear this message, but are so lost in their empty pursuits that they won’t understand it when try to proclaim it to them.  This is why Pope Francis’ call that we “go out to the peripheries” to meet these people wherever they are at is so prophetic; and it is why this Jubilee Year of Mercy has so much potential to transform lives for the better.
          You see, when we go and meet people who are living on the “peripheries” of society, and when we meet them through the loving works of mercy, they become seedbeds in which this saving message of Jesus can be planted: a light that can begin to illumine the empty space within them and so heighten their expectation of fulfillment; and thus dispose them to hearing for the first time that salvation—the salvation that up to that point they may not have known that they needed—is possible and that it is ours when we unite ourselves to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  For someone who experiences this for the first time, it is overwhelming: an experience that often moves them to tears.  Each of us has the potential to move someone to that experience and this Jubilee Year of Mercy should be our motivation to do so.
          My brothers and sisters, in the Eucharist we renew the experience of having all that we had longed for fulfilled—of hearing for the first time once again.  May the joy that we are filled with from this experience lead us to share that experience with others so that God’s mercy—found in the face of Jesus—may be known by everyone.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 24th, 2016

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