Sunday, January 25, 2015
"Repent and Believe the Gospel!": Fr. Andersen Homily
Fr. Eric M. Andersen
Holy Trinity in Bandon/St. John the Baptist in Port Orford
January 25th, 2015
Dominica III Per Annum (Post Epiphaniam)
In the Holy Land, it is still Christmas. This past Sunday, January 18th, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem arrived in Manger Square in Bethlehem to celebrate Solemn Christmas Vespers followed by a succession of liturgies and Masses all through the night and ending at dawn on Christmas day, January 19th. On that same morning of January 19th, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem entered into the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in solemn procession for the High Mass of the Epiphany. Decorations for Christmas remain a public sign of the presence of Christians throughout the Holy Land. Large public displays including Christmas trees, lights, Nativity scenes, and poinsettias adorn the streets, public squares, shop windows, and hotel lobbies. They are not anxious to take them down. It is Christmas and will remain so well into February. This is clearly different from our celebration of Christmas here in the United States.
In the Latin Rite, we now celebrate the third Sunday after Epiphany. This is true also in Jerusalem, but the Christmas decorations still remain even in Latin Rite sanctuaries because we still await the 40th day after the birth of Christ to celebrate the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin and the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. This will occur for us on February 2nd which is one week from this coming Monday. The Presentation of the Lord signals the final end of Christmas for us in the Latin Rite. The Armenians, however, will not observe the Presentation until February 14th, just a few days before Ash Wednesday. Why the difference?
Part of the difference may be attributed to the use of the Julian Calendar among the Orthodox Christians of the East. The Julian Calendar is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar which we observe. Every 128 years, the Julian Calendar gets one more day behind. The Greek Orthodox currently celebrate Christmas on January 7th according to the Julian Calendar. The Armenians in the Holy Land set their celebrations twelve days later on January 18-19th, to avoid crowding and competition for use of the Holy sites. Each group gets their time and their space. Christmas therefore lingers.
On this third Sunday after the Epiphany, we in the Latin Rite may still reflect on the Incarnation and Manifestation of the Lord: the Nativity and the Epiphany. We begin with the prophet Jonah. How does our first reading begin? It begins with these words: Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam. . . (And the word of the Lord was made to Jonah. . .). This is common wording in the Old Testament when God speaks to a prophet. The Word of the Lord was made to the prophet. Let’s be clear about this: the Word is from eternity. The Word is the Son––the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. We must be clear that the Son is not made. The Word is eternal. The Son is eternal and begotten from eternity, not made. At Christmas we reflect on how the Word was made flesh (Verbum caro factum est). That is what we call the Incarnation. But every time the Lord speaks to the prophets of the Old Testament, it is described as the Word of the Lord being made––Verbum Domini factum est––to the prophet.
The Word of the Lord, though eternal, continues to be spoken in time to creatures who are made. The Eternal Word is spoken by the Father, and the Eternal Word which is spoken is the Son. The breath of God which speaks the Eternal Word is the Holy Spirit. Here we have an image of the Holy Trinity. The Father speaks; the Son is the Word spoken; the Holy Spirit is the breath by which the Word is spoken, proceeding from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is the true Author of all the Holy Scriptures –– every word of them. There is no insignificant word in the Holy Scriptures because God does not waste one word. The Eternal Word is God Himself in the Son.
That Eternal Word of the Lord was made to Jonah. In other words it was spoken to Jonah; made present in Jonah’s mind and heart. It was given to him and now he has the obligation to speak that word, to make it present to others. God entrusted this to Jonah because Jonah was made in the image and likeness of God, to be an earthen vessel for the work of God. He was sent to the Gentiles. By that word being spoken by Jonah, the course of history was changed. The city of Ninive was going to be destroyed. By the Word of the Lord made unto Jonah, and then obediently spoken by Jonah, the city of Ninive was spared. The men of Ninive repented and proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth for 40 days. God saw their repentance and their works and had mercy upon them. The course of history was changed because of one man’s obedience to speak the Eternal Word of the Lord made unto him.
We also are being called to repent. “The time is short” as St. Paul tells us (1 Cor. 7:29). The “fashion of this world passeth away” (7:31). The forty days of Christmas are winding down for us this week and the forty days of Lent will be quickly be upon us. Let us enjoy these last days of the time after Epiphany, but keep in mind that we must begin to prepare soon for the 40 days of Lent. We are commanded by our Blessed Lord Himself: Repent and believe! “The time is accomplished and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). These are important words for us today in this very time! The Eternal Word Himself, the Son of God, now speaks not through the prophet Jonah. The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us. He now speaks for Himself directly: “Repent and believe the gospel!”
What do these words mean? Repent (paenitemini). This word is a command in the plural to all. Paenitemini! Repent! Pseudo-Jerome comments: “For he must repent, who would keep close to eternal good, that is, to the kingdom of God. For he who would have the kernel, breaks the shell” (Catena Aurea). Here is a helpful image: “he who would have the kernel, breaks the shell.” We can apply this to eating a nut. In order to get to the almond or walnut or filbert, we must take a nutcracker or even a hammer and break the shell. So it is with man. In order to get down to the kernel, we must break the shell. We must do mortification. Mortification belongs to Lent in a special way, but not only to Lent. It is part of the daily life of a Christian all through the year. But this is not a life of drudgery. It is a life of variety.
A few weeks back I spoke about the calendar year including the days of the week and the months of the year. Well, throughout each year there is variety. There are seasons of feasting and seasons of fasting. We are currently in Ordinary Time after Epiphany but within the 40 days after Christmas. This is not necessarily a season of feasting, but we do celebrate feasts during this time. This is not necessarily a season of fasting either, but we do celebrate fasts during this time. Let me explain: Each Sunday is like Easter. It is the day of the Resurrection. If you are going to feast––to indulge a little––do it on Sunday. Remember this as a general rule: every Sunday is a feast day and every Friday throughout the year is a day of penance and abstinence. That might come as surprise to some of you that every Friday is a day of penance and abstinence. That is something that many people mistakenly attribute only to the life of Catholics before Vatican II. But Vatican II did not do away with this. The Church currently obliges all Catholics to do penance and to abstain every Friday through the year. This is true not just during Lent but on every Friday of the year. The preference is to abstain from meat but if you are a vegetarian already, or for some other reason, then abstain from something else. The obligation to do penance is divine law. Our Father has commanded and so our mother, the Church, lovingly shows us how to obey our Father: observe every Friday as a day of penance and abstinence.
If you are not already doing this, you will find that abstaining from meat, or chocolate, or wine on Fridays gives you a real sense of joy. Self-denial is satisfying. We get down to the kernel by breaking the shell. We find the kingdom of God in that one day of penance each week and also on the day of feasting on Sunday each week. God knows that we need this. It is healthy. From a purely natural perspective, it is not healthy to feast all the time and it is not healthy to fast all the time. God made us. He knows what we need. He gives us these days of feasting and fasting and these seasons of feasting and fasting to provide variety among our days and to safeguard our good health.
By doing so, we heed the call not only to repent but to believe. We must also heed His command to believe! Believe the Gospel. Credite! The Lord uses the same word we use to profess our faith: Credo. I believe. If I believe, then I act upon that belief and I repent. If I profess my faith each week as a Catholic, then I act according to what it means to be Catholic. Nobody forces me to be Catholic. It is my choice. It is a choice based upon the belief that Jesus Christ the Lord is God and that He established one Church and that she is inseparable from Him. She speaks for Him. When we hear the voice of the Church, we hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us as the Word was made to the prophets. Therefore we do not dismiss the precepts of the Church which oblige us to abstain. We embrace these precepts as coming from God. We give thanks for these precepts and we are filled with the love of God which impels us to follow these precepts to the best of our ability.It is the Lord who speaks: “Repent and believe the gospel!” We must be willing to break the shell in order to get to the kernel which is the kingdom of God. If we have not already done so, let us begin by doing something so simple: feasting on Sunday and abstaining on Friday. As God looked with mercy on the men of Ninive who believed and repented, so God will look with His mercy upon us and grant us life in abundance.