Sunday, February 5, 2023, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
Is anything wrong with our society? Closer to home, is there anything wrong in your family life? In your work situation? In your social life? Do you ever blame God for any of it? After all, we say that he is our “maker... the Lord our God.” Doesn’t that give him some responsibility?
The Entrance Antiphon calls us to “worship the Lord.... bow down in the presence of our maker.” We “bow down” before him in adoration because he is awesome, all powerful, the one who gave and is giving us right now our very existence. For this we owe him respect and trusting obedience: “He is the Lord our God.”
The Opening Prayer(s) build on this: “Father, watch over your family... keep us safe... all our hope is in you.” God, as the Giver of existence, is all present. He is in all things, sustaining them in existence, giving them power to act. So we say, “No thought of ours is left unguarded, no tear unheeded, no joy unnoticed.” We do say he has assumed responsibility for our well-being. So why are things such a mess?
The prayers Over the Gifts and After Communion focus on God helping us through the “bread and wine” which, having become the Body and Blood of Christ “give us nourishment” and “make us one in Christ.” How does that solve our problems?
The Communion prayer ends with a surprise: “Help us to bring your salvation and joy to all the world.” God is making it our responsibility to straighten things out on earth. That changes the meaning of “all our hope is in you.” Now it means we are trusting in him to help us do what needs to be done. We are the world’s only hope, and our hope is in what God empowers us to do.
The prayers point to the way he does it through the Mass. His Body and Blood “give us nourishment” and “make us one,” united in faith, mutual support and action. But there is more. We must not overlook the power in the Liturgy of the Word. God nourishes, strengthens and unites us through his word:
The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since from the table of both the word of God and of the body of Christ she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life, especially in the sacred liturgy.
Now it all comes together: God’s answer to the darkness of the world is to put his light in us and send us out to “give light to all in the house,” everywhere we are: at home, at work, in social and civic life. Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” But since we are his body, he is in the world as long as we are. He said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” We are sent out “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the way of peace.” For this we need to be students of his word.
We need to shine
The Responsorial (Psalm 112) gives the key to all the readings: “The just are a light in darkness to the upright.” Those Christians who are “just,” who live by what they believe, are a “light in darkness” to anyone who is “upright” enough to be open to truth. Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” and “Whoever listens to you listens to me.”
Whatever religion people follow, if they are in contact with God, they can communicate with anyone else who knows God. John said, “Whoever knows God listens to us.” And if we know God, we will listen to anyone else who does. Light does not reject light. And when believers are unified in light, they are a force to contend with.
Isaiah 58:7-10 puts the emphasis on living the light. In us it shines through our actions. We Christians, especially Catholics, are certainly at fault for not sharing our faith in words. We are embarrassed to show devotion. We don’t take seriously enough the warning of Jesus, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” But our greatest failure is in living out the faith in action.
Isaiah says, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech....” We may accuse ourselves of these sins on the personal level — if we ourselves take advantage of others, lie, or destroy acquaintances’ reputations. But do we take responsibility for the ways we as a nation oppress and exploit others economically? Do we repeat the accusations against politicians and public figures that are proliferated on the internet and in the media without checking them out? Do we listen to those talk shows that with a thin veneer of humor are nothing but negative humor and hate? Hate divides, and is the work of the devil. Those guided by the Spirit follow the principle St. Ignatius of Loyola enunciated so well:
Every good Christian ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it. Further, if one cannot interpret it favorably, one should ask how the other means it. If that meaning is wrong, one should correct the person with love. And if this is not enough, search out every appropriate means through which, by understanding the statement in a good way, it may be saved.
How much would this practice alone help to heal the divisions between “conservatives” and “liberals” in the Church? Not to mention politics!
It is in Matthew 5:13-16 that Jesus tells us we are the “light of the world.” At the same time he tells us we are the “salt of the earth.” In the Bible salt brings out the taste in food and preserves it. Metaphorically, it is that which keeps human relationships peaceful and makes speech gracious and intelligent.
Jesus says salt is “good for nothing but to be thrown out” when it goes flat. But light is useless when it is invisible, hidden “under a bushel basket.” So he says to us who know him, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
This is the answer to the mess the world is in. Christians need to let the light that is in them shine in the darkness. We need to speak out the truth revealed to us. And let it become visible in our actions. Jesus identifies letting the “light shine” with people seeing our “good works.” Not to give us credit for them — that doesn’t seem to enter his mind — but to “give glory to your Father in heaven.” In heaven. Our “works” should visibly be inspired by ideals so far above ground level, beyond cultural human values, that people will recognize we are empowered “from above.” By our Father in heaven.
Letting our light shine doesn’t begin in the marketplace, the voting booth or in the ranks of political protest. It begins at home. In our circle of closest friends. If we don’t share the light of our insights and personal experiences of God with those nearest and dearest to us, something fundamental is lacking in our Christian life and ministry.
How many fathers share with their sons and daughters, not what their children should think about God, but what they themselves feel? How many children have any clue what their parents’ real experience of God is? How many people share this with their friends? With those they date? How many of our neighbors know anything about our religion or what it means to us?
For that matter, how many spouses talk deeply with each other about their experience of God? Or lack of it? (To show one knows what is missing is already to reveal faith and hope). Would it be far-fetched to say that a root problem in Christianity is that Christians don’t swell the light by expressing faith, hope and love in family life?
And what kind of circle of friends do you have if you are not eager to come together regularly to discuss the Scripture and share your responses to it? If all you have in common is drinking, TV, sports and small talk — or even large talk that shies away from God — you aren’t real friends to each other. You are just casual acquaintances in the departure gate, whiling away the time until your flight is called.
In 1Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul tells us what Christian communication is. We don’t exclude intellectual conversation — no one was more “theological” than Paul — but we aren’t really sharing as Christians in the “communion of the Holy Spirit” until we go beyond “the persuasive force of ‘wise’ arguments” and build each other up with the “convincing power of the Spirit.”
Why do we find it so threatening to pray together? To talk about the fruits or failures of our prayer? Don’t we have a common God? Don’t we share the same Father? Isn’t Jesus the Teacher, Friend and Lover of us all? Weren’t we all given the gift of the Spirit who dwells in our hearts? So why do we exclude the Father, Son and Spirit from our conversation as if they were weird relatives we are ashamed of?
Think of what we don’t find it weird to talk about: enslavement to business; the idolatry of sports; the insanity of conformity to the culture; the trivia of style in grooming, dress and housing; addiction to the latest technology. If this is the level on which we share, this is probably the level on which we live — suffocating under our own bushel basket. Do something about that!!
Insight: If it is true that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34), where does this put you?
Initiative: Fill your heart with the words of Scripture. Fill your mouth with them too.
 Vatican II, “Revelation,” no. 21.  John 9:5; Matthew 5:14-15; Luke 1:79. John 18:37; Luke 10:16; 1John 4:6 Matthew 10:32-33. Spiritual Exercises, no. 22: “Presupposition”; tr. George Ganss, S.J., Loyola Univ. Press, 1992.  In Year A the Sunday Gospels are from Matthew. Weekday Gospels are from Mark until Week Ten. Job 6:6; Baruch 6:27; Mark 9:50; Colossians 4:6.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry