Homilies – January 2016

JEREMIAH 1:4-5, 1 CORINTHIANS 12:31-13:13, LUKE 4:21-30

Today’s gospel begins where last Sunday’s gospel ended.

Jesus, at the beginning of his public ministry, has gone into the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. Last week we heard that he chose the Prophet Isaiah and in reading it out proclaimed himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”

It is interesting to note the immediate response from those who listened. The scripture describes that “they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips!” Yet, in a few moments, they then start to wonder how can such wonderful words come from a person from such a lowly background. They start to discuss that Jesus is “Joseph’s son, surely?!”

Let us reflect on this for a moment. There is a tension in the gospel here. There is a creative tension in all religious discourse. What is this creative tension?

I’d like to use an image outside the scriptures. There is a British astronaut by the name of Tim Peake, at this moment. this astronaut has now joined the team orbiting the earth on the International Space Station.

It is the first time he has done this. Just before Christmas he gave an interview on the social media of his initial experience.

He spoke of looking out of one of the windows of the space station onto earth. He explained how beautiful the earth was. Even more beautiful than the photographs that we have seen of this sight. Then he said he looked out of the window facing the other direction. He then described the blackness of space. He said “It was very hard to describe”. Deep outer space is very different from looking at the earth, which seems so nearby.

Without really knowing it, I believe this British astronaut was articulating a religious experience amongst other levels.

It’s a little bit like Moses in front of the burning bush in Exodus. He was both attracted to the burning bush, yet at the same time, repelled by it. It’s also a little bit like Mary at the Annunciation. She feels the closeness and warmth of God inviting her to the intimacy of being the Mother of God. At the same time, she is full of awe and wonder at what she is experiencing.

This sort of experience is in our religious DNA. It is envisaged, there in the first reading by the Prophet Jeremiah. He has God say to the people, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you.” Already there is the promise of the nearness of God to his people. That He knows us each one by name, even before we are formed in the womb. Yet at the same time we know that God is the utterly other. He is the God of the universe, the God of the cosmos. Trying to bring those two polarities together is a profoundly religious experience.

I do recall reading over the summer a beautiful book on contemplation. This feeling of God with us, yet God beyond us, is, at the essence of Christian contemplation. The writer of this book on contemplation in the Catholic tradition, stated that it is an experience of “God intimately with us and God is infinitely beyond us.”

The writer says that these polarities are united together in silence. It is only in deep and liberating silence that we can have a unity of God’s nearness, yet God being beyond us. It is in Jesus himself that this unity is formed. It is in the loving and merciful and silent adoration of God that we can have deep inner peace and deep inner unity and tranquillity. It is an experience of God’s love for us. In the second reading today we have the wonderful definition of God as love from 1 Corinthians 13. This is one of the most beautiful passages, not only in the entire scripture, but in all of literature. This is where we encounter God most intimately within us, and yet most extraordinarily beyond us.

Let us in this Mass today be attentive to the ritual silences of the Mass. This is especially true after Holy Communion. Let us try, in the year ahead, in this Year of Mercy, to find many times daily where we can go deep within us, and in silence, ask Jesus to unite us in his nearness and yet his beyondness. If we can do this especially every day for at least 10-15 minutes, we will all see an enormous change, not only in our personal peace, but also in the effects that it has on making us practical peacemakers of mercy in this very troubled world.