“Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:14-21.
As we are days away from the take-off point of the presidential elections with the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary, we are roughly one-year away from the presidential inauguration. Yes, we must endure ten months of presidential politics, the candidates and the endless television coverage, and finally, the transition to a new administration. One original feature of the inaugural ceremony is the formal address by the new president.
Some inaugural addresses have been very inspiring, with memorable lines. As a youngster, I recall watching on TV, President Kennedy’s address in 1961, on a cold and snowy Washington, D.C. Some presidential speeches have been concise; for example, George Washington’s second address was a mere 135 words. This is in high contrast to the 1841 address of President William Henry Harrison, which was over 8,000 words and lasted two-hours, even after edits by the famed orator Daniel Webster.
What’s notable about Harrison’s speech was that it was too long and that he caught a severe cold, and died the next month. A forewarning to anyone who is a public speaker, who should take seriously the recommendation of Winston Churchill, who advised prime ministers and presidents when delivering a speech, “Be clear, be brief, and be seated!”
The best of the inaugural addresses, like those of John F. Kennedy or Franklin D. Roosevelt, leave meaningful metaphors behind. Such words and images put our fears behind us and tell of a new age, an opportunity to motivate, to lead, and even inspire citizens to actively participate in the work ahead. Such is the task of Jesus in today’s gospel. He asks his listeners and each of us to be active agents of his ministry of grace, healing, and mercy.
Today’s gospel from Saint Luke opens the public life of Christ as he speaks to an assembly of his hometown. Luke’s gospel is addressed to Theophilus, whose name means “friend of God.” As we are “friends of God,” who in hearing this passage, we are fulfilling the “promises of God” in Jesus’s ministry.
So this particular passage is a form of “inaugural address,” which opens for his listeners and us a new age — an age of mercy, healing, and grace. We will find out next week, as the reading continues, that the prophet is not always welcomed in his hometown.
Two additional aspects of today’s readings come to mind, especially this week.
Tomorrow, January 25th is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Our second reading from Saint Paul to the Corinthians tells us that we comprise the “body of Christ.” Paul writes: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”
Thus we come to our community of faith, not as individual persons, merely seeking inspiration. But active participants of God’s grace — that’s why we are physically together as a Church community — present to the Lord and one another.
We are not only “nice people” seeking his favor but good people really doing his work and seeing him in one another — always the more time-consuming and challenging task, as witnesses and servants, caring for the needs of the most vulnerable in society.
Earlier today, in Rome, Pope Francis presided at the Christian Unity celebration at Saint Paul’s Basilica. At this interfaith gathering, the pope gives witness to the ideal of our gospel that calls all Christians to the joint work despite historical missteps, conflicts, and religious claims. God’s grace and our works healing and mercy are too vital, too crucial for souls in need, so despite our differences, the work of the gospel and of Christ must be paramount.
Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic mistreatment of other Christians. He stated: “We cannot undo what was done in the past, but we don’t want to allow the weight of past sins to pollute our relationship, [since] the mercy of God will renew our relations.”
As a sign of unity, strength, and vigor, the pope asks us to value one another’s contribution and draw inspiration from our shared efforts on behalf of the gospel.
It was announced, after the Christian Unity week, that Pope Francis, in October of 2016, will travel to Lund, Sweden, to participate in an interfaith convocation that will mark the 500th anniversary of Reformation.
At his weekly audience this past Wednesday, Pope Francis underscored the theme of Christian unity, with the idea of a common baptism in the Lord, and added, “no one is excluded from God’s Mercy.”
Concluding his remarks, Pope Francis prayed that the Lord would help all Christians to grow in that unity, “which is greater than what divides us.” He added, “Together, we may respond to his call to share with others, especially with the poor and forgotten of our world, the gift of divine mercy which we have received.”
Take note, the image of Christ (above) comes from the main altar of the “Church of Our Lady” Cathedral in Copenhagen, Denmark, pictured below.
Our Lady of Refuge, Castroville, CA.