2d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jan. 15, 2017
1 Cor 1: 1-3
John 1: 29-34
I was well into homiletic preparation for today before I remembered that the deacons preach on the 3d Sunday of the month. I decided to finish and post the homily even tho I didn’t actually preach it.
The revision of the sacred liturgy after Vatican II has been a wonderful thing. To mention just 2 blessings that the Church has received thru this revision we celebrate God’s Word and worship in language we understand (mostly—sometimes liturgical language even in English is a bit strange); and we hear a much vaster selection from the Sacred Scriptures.
The revision has also left us with some oddities like calling today the “2d Sunday of OT” when it’s the Sunday of the 2d week of OT but not really the 2d Sunday in this season we call Ordinary Time. So you didn’t pull a Rip Van Winkle and sleep thru the 1st Sunday.
You may have heard me introduce the new liturgical year back on the 1st Sunday of Advent by telling you we’d be listening mostly to the Gospel According to St. Matthew this year. Before we resume reading Matthew next week with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, however, we have an interlude this week with St. John’s Gospel (1:29-34), speaking John the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as the one on whom the Spirit of God has come down and whom the Father has missioned to baptize people with the Holy Spirit. This is John the Evangelist’s version of Jesus’ baptism and his appointment by God to go and sanctify humanity.
|Baptism of Christ by Lambert Sustris|
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he handed that mission to his apostles, who were confirmed in the mission by the descent of that same Holy Spirit upon them. So eventually St. Paul preaches the Gospel to the Jews and the pagans of Corinth in Greece. Today we hear Paul addressing the little Christian community there with the opening words of what we now know as his 1st Letter to the Corinthians—words that speak of their sanctification, their call to be holy. He greets them: “Paul … to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy” (1:1-2).
Let’s consider those words. He addresses the people—his own disciples, converted to Christ by his preaching and his staying among them for over a year; and they are his friends, besides—he addresses them as “church.” That’s the Greek word ekklesia, meaning “those who have been called out,” an assembly, a gathered community. And these people have been called out and gathered by God; they are the ekklesia of God. If they are followers of Jesus, it’s God’s doing, God’s grace.
That’s true wherever and whenever we speak of the ekklesia—same word in Latin—or of iglesia in Spanish, eglise in French, chiesa in Italian. It’s primarily the assembled people of God, only secondarily the building in which we assemble. In fact, in Paul’s day and for a quarter of a millennium longer, there were no Christian buildings for the faithful to gather in because the Church was basically illegal, regarded as a subversive organization, people of suspect loyalty to the imperial regime. (Does that sound at all familiar? It’s estimated that last year, 2016, some 90,000 Christians were killed because of their faith.) So we who are the Church today are the Church of God, the people whom God has called together to be his own—we, the Catholics of Holy Cross, the Catholics of the diocese of Peoria, the Catholics of the entire worldwide ekklesia united in apostolic faith with the successor St. Peter.
Why has God called us? Paul says straightforwardly, “to be holy.” Of ourselves, we’re certainly not holy. We’re sinners, sometimes very wretched sinners. But God wants us to be otherwise, and so he invites us to a share in his very own life, to a share—in some mysterious fashion—in his own nature. He calls us to be holy as he is holy. He is “the fount of all holiness,” as the 2d Eucharistic Prayer says, and that fountain gushes with grace pouring out over us—the grace of Jesus Christ (cf. John 4:14; 7:37-38), sanctifying us.
St. Paul says we’ve already been “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Our union with Jesus—the Holy One of God, the Lamb of God—sanctifies us. In practical terms, Baptism inaugurates us into the divine life, the holiness of Jesus. Every sacramental encounter with Jesus deepens that union, roots us more deeply into Christ. That’s why we come regularly to the Eucharist—all of us called to gather to be made holy by Jesus. That’s why we approach Jesus regularly in Reconciliation—to be restored to holiness, if unfortunately we’ve gone astray, or to be confirmed in holiness by the gentle touch and encouragement of Jesus.
Holy Name of Jesus Church, New Rochelle
These vital sacramental encounters occur in and thru the ekklesia, the assembly of God’s people called to be holy, called to be Christ’s presence in the world, called to be Christ’s instrument or his means of contacting individuals and drawing them to himself—to Baptism in the Holy Spirit (cf. John 1:33), to Eucharistic communion, to the forgiveness of sins.
As the assembly of God’s people, we join together to thank the Father for such mercy, for such a calling, to be united to him in Christ, thru the gift of the Holy Spirit.