“Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” John 6
Pope Francis has designated this Sunday’s celebration as the “Sunday of the Word of God.” He invites each of us to deepen our appreciation and witness to God and His Word. Francis calls the bible “God’s ‘love letter’ to all humanity.”
He adds: “To listen to sacred Scripture and then to practice mercy: this the great challenge before us in life. God’s word has the power to open our eyes and to enable us to renounce a stifling and barren individualism and instead to embark on a new path of sharing and solidarity.”
In the tradition of the prophets, Jesus opens what the gospel calls “good tidings” or “good news.” In Luke’s gospel, we read that the evangelist is writing to an individual with the name of the “most excellent Theophilus.”
This name in Greek curiously means: “friend of God” and draws on the Book of Wisdom, where it is written: “Blessed are those who are friends of God.” So in an informed way, we read Scripture either alone or in groups to become knowledgeable about God’s friendship with us and all creation.
Further, this opening of Luke’s gospel is a “kairos” moment or a taking-off point of Jesus’s ministry. During this week of prayer for Christian unity, Pope Francis encourages our discussions of sacred Scripture with our fellow Christians in Protestant, Orthodox, and interreligious settings. So this friendship extends to a convenient way, in Pope Francis’s terms, to envision and “to embark on a new path of sharing and solidarity.”
This idea of community, fellowship, and solidarity is of more significant concern today than ever. In our past two years of Covid, both our country’s politics and public behavior illustrate something darker and more profound that seems to be happening.
In the words of David Brooks, the alert columnist for the New York Times, he sees a long-term loss of national solidarity and a rise in estrangement and hostility. In his column, the author shares data regarding reckless driving behavior, altercations on airplanes, the murder rate in cities, drug overdoses, heavy drinking, and even nurses reporting patients are more abusive.
But why? Brooks speculates some spiritual and moral problems at the core with Americans acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and more antisocial and self-destructive ways. (“America is Falling Apart at the Seams,” NYT, January 13, 2022).
Brooks concludes, “As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.”
We may not have many easy solutions at the moment. But we are a people of glad tidings and good news. Then again, we are a people whose wisdom draws from the bible.
For example, in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, five centuries before Christ, these prophets knew oppression. They were given the remarkable opportunity to return to Jerusalem to reclaim their lives. Today, we read about Nehemiah, the governor of Judea, and how he rebuilt the temple wall, a holy of holies, the source of great blessings, and the cause of rejoicing over this remarkable accomplishment.
So much so they hold a festival, in which Nehemiah tells them: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared, for today is holy to the Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”
Despite the times in which we live, with the sudden and unexpected news that can paralyze our thinking and sober responses to people in need, what are the sources of our joy?
What makes us able to reflect optimism from the core of our lives? What or who are the people that make you laugh and tell a good joke even at their own expense. That humor and joy from within can be a healing balm at a time when you’re hurt emotionally and feel the need for encouragement.
I believe that there is a model for this joy, namely Christ, who has reclaimed life in all of its conflicts and even death itself to heal our lives and become the cause for daily prayer, blessings, and joy.
That kind of joy in our lives is something to stand up and shout about!
As my teacher, Father Jim Turro, once remarked: “It seems only fair that we who have known some joy and peace within our experience of our faith should make this happiness reach further to others.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.