ON THIS FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME we come today to our parish churches of Saint Joseph Cathedral and Holy Cross Church. But in today’s Gospel, the question that Jesus wants each of us to ask ourselves is why have we come here? Have we come here hungering for what Christ wants to give us? Or have we come only for what we want Christ to give us? Are we here trying to accord our priorities with His? Or are we trying to impose our priorities onto Him? It’s still common today that many people, like those in today’s Gospel, come to the Lord simply as a miracle worker, as a benefactor who can pull strings to get us out of a jam, or as a powerful friend who can provide a quick fix to a problem we’re facing. Jesus, however, wants more. As Christ said in today’s Gospel, the reason He came from heaven to earth was to proclaim the message of the kingdom. What Jesus wants from us is to hear that message, for us to embrace it, and for us to live it as “doers of the word, not hearers only” (James 1:22). He wants each of us to respond to it with the same type of life-changing faith that we see in Mary and the apostles. That is Christ’s priority. Now, no doubt, some of us might think that Jesus has His priorities mixed up. After all, imagine how full this Church would be if Jesus, through Bishop Campbell, Fr. Noble, Fr. Hilary, Fr. Augustine, Fr. Ramone or me were working tremendous miracles of healing. Everyone would be coming here! People would come from all over the city, the state, and around the world seeking to be cured. All those with cancer, heart disease, back-pain, or emotional scars would bring them here and leave completely healed. Probably it would also bring some of the criminals and drug dealers who, in seeing this incredible divine power working through a man, might be brought to conversion. But that’s not the way Jesus chooses to do it. Instead, Jesus sends a man – ordained in His person – to preach the Gospel of the kingdom. From Jesus’ own divine — and therefore correct — perspective, the greatest gift that He can give to any of us, whether we are ill and suffering or not, is His divine word, His divine teaching, His divine wisdom! Jesus wants us here most to listen to His preaching, to embrace His word, and in consuming the Word-made-flesh in the Eucharist, to become so one with His Living Word that each and every one of us becomes living commentaries of life in the kingdom. So why have each of us come here today? Jesus knows that we come here with our illnesses, needs, challenges and problems. He can cure us and He wants us to ask Him with confidence to do so. But He doesn’t want these difficulties to distract us from an even more important gift he wants to give us today: His timeless truths, His Living Word. Today at Mass, we bring before Him especially our prayers to help us to recover from the horrible violence that occurs seemingly daily in our city. We pray for those who have terminal illnesses, that through Christ they will have the strength and perseverance to face the challenges and pains they now endure, and may grow closer to Christ during this time. We pray for others who are ill, that they will receive the healing power of the Holy Spirit. We pray for those who continue to struggle in this economy. We pray for those in Washington, that our religious liberties (guaranteed by the Constitution, but under attack by our government) will be protected, and that conscience rights will be protected. We should pray, daily, a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. And we pray for so much more. How does Jesus respond? Jesus responds with the gift of His divine word. Jesus wants us to hear very clearly that God made each of us in His own image and likeness and that “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me!” (Gen 1; Mt 25:31-46). Jesus wants us to hear what He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not kill,’ but I say to you that whoever hates a brother or a sister, will be liable to judgment” (Mt 5:21). Jesus wants us to hear His message — however hard it may seem — about forgiving our brothers “seventy times seven times” (Mt 18:22) and to make our own His prayer as He was being hammered to the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Jesus also wants us to give His message on the truth about human love and living a moral life. This is the greatest gift that Jesus Christ can give us, and truly the greatest path to healing.
This is “World Marriage Day” and we remember, especially today, the importance of the Sacrament of Marriage. We will have a special blessing of married couples during the Masses this Sunday. I wish to provide to you a statement from Bishop Malone of the Diocese of Buffalo, and Chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and You of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Greeting and blessings in this new year. The observances of National Marriage Week (Feb. 7-14), World Marriage Day (Sunday, Feb. 8) and Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) provide an opportunity to celebrate the gift and blessing of marriage and to affirm and support engaged and married couples. As you know, one of the pastoral priorities of our Conference is to promote and strengthen marriage both as a natural institution willed by the Lord and as a Christian sacrament between a baptized man and baptized woman. Marriage and the family face many challenges in our contemporary society. The declining numbers of marriages in the Church is a concern to our Committee, as are the effects that pornography use has on marriages and families. In the political and legal realm, it is certainly of grave concern to see continuing attempts to redefine marriage into something other than the lifelong union of one man and one woman. And yet we remember that in the midst of ongoing challenges, there are always opportunities to proclaim the Gospel more clearly.
I encourage everyone to visit the USCCB’s special marriage web page: www.nationalmarriageweekusa.org.