Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Pete Iorio
January 26, 2020 – 11:00AM

Audio Recording

About 20 years ago, when I was only 6 years ordained a priest, I received a phone call from the rector of the seminary in Chicago. He talked about the seminarians and life there. Then he asked me if I would pray about becoming a member of the formation faculty, teaching and mentoring seminarians to become priests. Whoa. I had many reasons why I was not going to become a member of the faculty. Love and closeness to family and my current ministry at the time, fear of my inexperience, and of course, dislike of the long cold winters up there. But, how could I say no to praying? So, I said yes, I would pray. I went on a retreat to be able to listen more clearly to God’s voice. It was at a Mass when the first reading was about Abram being obedient to God’s will to go to a new land that God would show him. The words of Scripture struck my heart. I felt like God was speaking directly to me, as clearly as the voice of Jesus himself were calling the first disciples to “Follow me” as we heard in the Gospel today. And to affirm that voice, the priest preached about going on journeys and making life changes. Instead of doing my will which as a BIG NO to be on faculty of the seminary, I said YES to God’s will and spent 3 years in Chicago. Now in hindsight, I have an insight into God’s plan for me. Scripture is alive. It is not just something we read and study and try to understand. Scripture is the living word of God that transforms us and acts through us. I hope that in some way, just like a human person, Scripture has comforted you, inspired you, challenged you, excited you and maybe even puzzled you. God’s Word is alive.

Pope Francis declared that today, the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time shall be the Sunday of the Word of God which always takes place in January when we are encouraged to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity. Pope Francis says that this is more than a temporal coincidence: the celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God has ecumenical value, since the Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity.

While many Catholics focus on the Mass as receiving the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, the first part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Word. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states that {Christ} He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, also, when the Church prays and sings, [and I am sure our choir is excited about this] for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).

So, for whatever reason some people cannot partake of the Eucharist, they receive the fullness of Christ in His Holy Word and gathered in communion of prayer and song with the people of God. Biblical faith, then, is based on the living word, not on a book.

The role of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures is essential. Without the work of the Spirit, there would always be a risk of remaining limited to the written text alone. This would open the way to a fundamentalist reading, which needs to be avoided, lest we betray the inspired, dynamic and spiritual character of the sacred text.

The Bible belongs to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words like I did during my discernment to move. The Bible is the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from division towards unity. The word of God unites believers and makes them one people.

The second reading today contains that same theme of unity in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.

We live in a world, in a country and in a church that is divided. Christians are always called to work for unity not only among ourselves but in the world. If we replace Paul’s names with more contemporary ones, we may be able to recognize ourselves in the Word of God. For example, I have heard about you, my brothers and sisters, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Pope John Paul II,” or “I belong to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,” or “I belong to Pope Francis.” Is Christ divided? Were the popes crucified for you?

Let that message as bizarre as it is, sink in. Just as Paul exhorted the people of the city of Corinth to come together in unity, this message is no less important for us today, as Roman Catholics, as people who call ourselves Christians, as Americans, and as members of this community. There is so much about which we differ, and you know the hot button issues that I do not even need to mention them.

The writer of that letter whose feast day of his conversion was yesterday is a great example of changing our ways of prideful righteousness to following a path of humble servitude.

The Holy Spirit makes all things new and empowered Saul to be converted to the great vision and mission of Jesus Christ. Remember that Saul was a staunch religious leader called a Pharisee who sought to eradicate those who were not faithful Jews. Saul concurred with the stoning to death of Stephen who was a Christian. When Jesus appeared to Saul and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Christ was referring to His presence in those like Stephen who were His followers. Recognizing his errors, Saul became a new person with a new name, Paul and then a new vision and mission. Instead of being a persecutor, Paul willingly allowed himself to suffer out of love for Christ and the Good News of Jesus Christ – that all are worthy of universal respect and dignity. The beauty and challenge of a diverse community is that each one of us are in different stages of spiritual development. Some of us here present are like Saul, staunchly religious Catholics who want to eradicate those who are not pure. Honestly, I was once there myself. I accept that this stage does belong and is included in the vast universal embrace of Catholicism while the path of conversion transcends and opens up to universal love of all as Paul shows us with his life’s journey.

Pope Francis says, “To listen to sacred Scripture and then to practice mercy: this is 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.”

I end with this quote from Father Henri Nouwen: “The purpose of spiritual reading is not to master knowledge or information (in other words to keep it all in our head) but to let God’s Spirit master us. Strange as it may sounds, spiritual reading means to let ourselves be read by God! Spiritual reading is reading with an inner attentiveness to the movement of God’s Spirit in our outer and inner lives. With that attentiveness, we will allow God to read us and to explain to us what we are truly about.”