[Homily. January 10, 2023.]
With the celebration yesterday of the Baptism of the Lord, the Christmas Season ended. Yesterday, the festive Christmas decorations were taken down. The precious images of the Belen removed, wrapped and stored for the return of the season again next year.
Today we are in “Ordinary Time” in our liturgy. That is a total of 33-34 weeks in the year. Ordinary Time focuses on the person of Jesus Christ as he affects our lives within the Christian community, and also necessarily on how the Christian community affects the human community and the world. Unto this purpose, beginning today, we start off Ordinary Time with passages from the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Hebrews.
After seven weeks, Ordinary Time will be interrupted by the Lenten Season leading to the Celebration of the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Lord. This season then ends with the celebration of Pentecost.
After Pentecost, Ordinary Time resumes with its eighth Sunday and climaxes in the 34th, the Celebration of Christ the King. As a summary of his “gospel of God,” Mark says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” It is also a summary of our liturgical year, where we celebrate the long-awaited coming of the Messiah into our lives. In preaching the Kingdom of God, Jesus encounters great opposition, but he fulfills his mission in his obedience to the Father even to the point of death, death on the Cross. In being raised from the dead and lifted up to heaven, he is established as King of Heaven and Earth, Christ the King. The celebration of Christ, the King, and Judge of the Universe, is the climactic end of Ordinary Time, also the end of the liturgical year.
In this context, I have three recommendations.
First, open yourselves to a deeper and more intimate knowledge of Jesus – as you would intimately know a close friend. Of course, this involves knowing many things about your friend: what he likes to eat, what he likes to wear, how he likes to work, how some people make him very happy, how other people turn him off. But you do not wish only to know about your friend, you wish to know your friend. That is very different from just knowing about your friend. You wish to know this friend as he turns to you, looks you in the eye, and talks to you, and you do the same. You wish to know him saying, “I like you. I love you. I support you. I share my future with you. I lay down my life for you.” You wish to know him listening to you share your concerns: your problem with your parents, your problem with your children, your problem with your identity, your problem with the dryness within. Your fear, your doubt, your hope. For such intimate knowledge of the Lord, Ignatius does not recommend you read and study more. He recommends that you beg the Lord for the grace of this more intimate knowledge of him. You cannot and do not produce this knowledge; you can only receive it as God, in his graciousness, gives it to you as a gift.
Second, cultivate a serious prayer life. If you want to know Jesus more intimately, you have to spend quality time with him. Set a certain amount of time aside daily for prayer. That can be 10 minutes a day, that can be sixty. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. How many minutes do you reserve to spend with your Lord? Whatever amount of time you set aside, be careful not to take shortcuts on it. Like when you set aside 30 minutes, but stop when you reach 27. Once you start doing that, you will soon be stopping when you reach three minutes. After a while, you won’t even have three. You’ll say you don’t have time to pray, when actually you don’t have time not to pray! Never leave your prayer ahead of time. In a serious prayer life, you can use such prayers as the Our Father, which was how the Lord taught us to pray, the Hail Mary, and the Glory be. These prayers should not be chattered; they should be prayed mindfully. Do not rush, take your time. Be present to every word you pray. But beyond prayers formulated by others, do not be afraid to talk to God using your own words. In the silence of prayer, tell him what is in your heart. Its excitement. Its brokenness. Its hope. More important, in the silence of prayer, listen to what is in his Heart.
Third, if you want to get to know Jesus more, spend time with him as he manifests himself to us through the Gospels. Use the Gospel of the day. Just spend time with Jesus revealing himself to you and your community through the Gospel passage. If he is teaching as he is in our Gospel reading for today, listen to him. Hear his words. See his facial expressions. See the faces of his hearers as they listen to him. Understand why the Gospel says, “He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). If he is casting out demons from a person, witness what transpires. Hear how the devils taunt him. But experience him vanquishing them. If he is quarreling with the scribes and Pharisees, understand what the issues are, what Jesus’ values are, what the values are of those opposed.
In sum, Ordinary Time is an opportunity for you to get to know Jesus more intimately. Beg for this grace. Spend time with Jesus. Absorb his values: “He emptied himself… He humbled himself…” (cf. Philippians 2:6-11). But he drove the money changers out of the temple. (cf. Jn 2: 13-22). He fed the hungry (cf. John 6:1-15). He said, “Take and eat, this is my body. … Drink from this cup all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many [on your behalf] for the forgiveness of sins” (cf. Matthew: 25:26-29). “Go make disciples of all nations. … Know I am with you [“Emmanuel”, Mt. 1:23] always even to the end of time” (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).