Sermons

Summary: To prepare to witness to others, we should engage in the practice of lectio divina.

Thursday of 20th week in course 2015

Joy of the Gospel

The Book of Judges is not an easy read. The stories of the years between Joshua and the Israelite king Saul are full of blood and gore–mutilations, treachery, and repeated violation of the Law by the people He chose. Here we see Jephthah vowing to sacrifice the first thing that emerged from his home after victory. Let’s not be naive. He knew it would be a servant or family member, and it was his only daughter. One of the blunders humans made at that stage is remaking God into lower-case gods. Instead of man being in the image of the loving God, they remade gods in their own image–selfish, venal, obsessed with power and pleasure. So they imagined that bloody sacrifice would please those false gods, and even tried human sacrifice to appease their anger.

Of course, you can see similar actions even today, when in their lust for power, Islamic militants use rape and pillage and murder as instruments of self-aggrandizement. And Western politicians do nothing to help, for instance, the developing nations in Central America to build local schools and industries that will give opportunity for their people to rise from poverty. It’s like that all over the world, isn’t it?

This kind of mileau makes the preacher’s job hard. Sometimes we feel like the king in the Gospel, that we have to drag people scratching and fighting into the banquet of life, and provide them with a wedding garment to boot. The Holy Father tells us to witness our own faith so as to draw people to make the decision for Christ and love freely:

‘We are not asked to be flawless, but to keep growing and wanting to grow as we advance along the path of the Gospel; our arms must never grow slack. What is essential is that the preacher be certain that God loves him, that Jesus Christ has saved him and that his love always has the last word. Encountering such beauty, he will often feel that his life does not glorify God as it should, and he will sincerely desire to respond more fully to so great a love. Yet if he does not take time to hear God’s word with an open heart, if he does not allow it to touch his life, to challenge him, to impel him, and if he does not devote time to pray with that word, then he will indeed be a false prophet, a fraud, a shallow impostor. But by acknowledging his poverty and desiring to grow in his commitment, he will always be able to abandon himself to Christ, saying in the words of Peter: “I have no silver and gold, but what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6). The Lord wants to make use of us as living, free and creative beings who let his word enter their own hearts before then passing it on to others. Christ’s message must truly penetrate and possess the preacher, not just intellectually but in his entire being. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the word, “today, just as at the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by him. The Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself

‘There is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in his word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina. It consists of reading God’s word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us. This prayerful reading of the Bible is not something separate from the study undertaken by the preacher to ascertain the central message of the text; on the contrary, it should begin with that study and then go on to discern how that same message speaks to his own life. The spiritual reading of a text must start with its literal sense. Otherwise we can easily make the text say what we think is convenient, useful for confirming us in our previous decisions, suited to our own patterns of thought. Ultimately this would be tantamount to using something sacred for our own benefit and then passing on this confusion to God’s people.

‘In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example: “Lord, what does this text say to me? What is it about my life that you want to change by this text? What troubles me about this text? Why am I not interested in this? Or perhaps: What do I find pleasant in this text? What is it about this word that moves me? What attracts me? Why does it attract me?” When we make an effort to listen to the Lord, temptations usually arise. One of them is simply to feel troubled or burdened, and to turn away. Another common temptation is to think about what the text means for other people, and so avoid applying it to our own life. It can also happen that we look for excuses to water down the clear meaning of the text. Or we can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make. This leads many people to stop taking pleasure in the encounter with God’s word; but this would mean forgetting that no one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait.’

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