Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year "C")—February 3, 2013
LOVE AND GOD'S UNIVERSAL MISSION
[Texts: Jeremiah 1.4-5, 17-19 [Psalm 71]; 1 Corinthians 12.31-13.13; 4.21-30]
A decade ago, Canadian dioceses hosted a visit of the reliquary of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, ‘the Little Flower’. In preparation for this event I began reading about her spirituality of the ‘little way’, something I have continued since the fall of 2001.
In her convent, Thérèse dreamed of travelling the world (she had wanted to go to the new Carmel in Vietnam), preaching the word of God and, like the Doctors of the Church, enlightening souls with their understanding of the gospel. She believed God would not have inspired such desires in her without wanting to fulfil them.
She sought a resolution by reading Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and found solace in his teaching that, just like a human body, the Church is composed of many different members (last Sunday's epistle reading). However, she remained unsatisfied until she came to today's passage on love, what Paul calls “a still more excellent way”.
There she discovered what she was looking for. “I finally had rest,” she declared.
“Considering the mystical body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather I desired to see myself in all of them. Love gave me the key to my vocation... I understood it was Love alone that made the Church's members act. I HAVE FOUND MY PLACE IN THE CHURCH. In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love.... Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized”.
Commenting on this vision, Bishop Patrick Ahern writes, “Thérèse pushed love to the limits of its meaning and anchored it in its foundation, which is God. She aspired to be love, even as God Himself is Love. No other saint we know of ever entertained such an aspiration” (Maurice and Thérèse: The Story of a Love [New York: Doubleday, 1998, p. 80]).
Now declared a Doctor of the Church, Thérèse shows in her teaching how the most ordinary human existence contains material for extraordinary holiness. She invites others to follow her path of ‘spiritual childhood’, reflecting an attitude of unlimited hope in God's merciful love. Though she never left her convent she has been named co-patron, with St. Francis Xavier, of missionary activity.
God's compassionate love prompts a mission of mercy to the nations of the world in the prophetic vocations of Jeremiah and Jesus, as depicted in today's other scriptures.
|Master of Aix Annunciation (1443-45): The Prophet Jeremiah|
Jeremiah's call was a difficult one—to be a rejected by his own people, thereby becoming a “prophet to the nations”. Still, he learned to confide in God's Word before handing it on.
There are several points of comparison between Jeremiah and Jesus. Both Jeremiah and Jesus faced hostility from those upset by their message. Jeremiah's confidence parallels Jesus' total trust in his Father.
Jeremiah believed God would deliver him. And Jesus understood that his Father intended to rescue him from death.
Jesus' enemies thought they could silence him for good, but time and again he slipped away from them as, later, he would definitively do so in his resurrection (“they led Him to the brow of the hill ... so that they might hurl him off the cliff; but Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way”).
In the second half of His Nazareth address, which opened with a proclamation of God's year of favour, Jesus articulated the meaning of his ministry: he was following in the footsteps of God's prophetic servants.
Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus offered God's salvation to ‘outsiders’, to foreigners. Jesus' rejection on the cross would bless all the nations of the earth as they came to accept the Good News, believe in it and be saved.
The manifestation of God's mercy, Jesus declared, extends from the poor and captive of Israel to all Gentiles yearning for God's favour. Precedents for divine outreach to Gentiles, Jesus said, may be found in the careers of Elijah and Elisha. In their ministries many in Israel did not receive God's healing touch, but Gentiles did.
Because they were not open to sharing God's bounty with others, Jesus' acquaintances and neighbours were unable to receive it themselves. In every age, believers are challenged to lay hold of the infinitely wide breadth of God's loving plan.