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3rd Sunday Ordinary Time 2016

The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Today’s Gospel takes place in Nazareth, the town where Jesus had grown up. It is also the hometown of Mary and Joseph. On my pilgrimage to the Holy Land we visited Nazareth which in the time of Jesus was only about 200 residents but now has a population of 60,000 (70 % Muslim and 30 % Christian.) There is the biggest Christian Church in the Holy Land there built over Mary’s home where the Annunciation took place. And there is also a Church built over the house of Joseph.

Today’s Gospel occurs after Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John and Holy Spirit came down upon him like a dove. Then he spent 40 days in the desert which ended with him being tempted by the Devil. After this test, Luke the Evangelist says he returned “in the power of the Holy Spirit.” And in the synagogue at Nazareth Jesus reads the prophecy of Isaiah about the Messiah: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…proclaim liberty to captives…and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” The Word “Messiah” means “anointed one.” The Jews looked for the coming of the Messiah who would be the one to save them from Roman oppression, cure all their ills, and fulfill all their dreams. And Jesus says to those in the synagogue that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy, that he is the Messiah, the anointed one!

Imagine being there to experience that moment: Many were thinking: Is this for real?   Can all that we hoped for really become true?   For those in the synagogue with Jesus that day this Good News was too good to believe. Next week we’ll hear that they drove him out of the town and even tried to kill him. We as humans are full of the spirit of doubt and skepticism. We are afraid of disappointment so it is easier not to believe. But we cannot receive what God wants to give us if we do not believe it.

We as Christians can be like those in that synagogue in Nazareth: We can stop believing when we rely only on our human spirit and not the Holy Spirit that we received at our baptism and again at our Confirmation. The Spirit of the Lord is also upon us and we have been anointed with a power that goes beyond our human capacity to give us particular roles in the Church which is the Body of Christ. St. Paul describes these powers to the Corinthians: “First, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.” Unfortunately, we get so used to doing things based on our own power that we forget the power God. We get so dependent on following our own opinions and desires that we neglect the anointing of the Holy Spirit that has been given us. We become like a flower that is so focused on its own beauty that it forgets that it is the soil that makes it grow. Or a beautiful rainbow that fails to realize that it has been created by billions of invisible rain droplets that for a brief moment are illuminated by the rays of the sun. Our life is a great gift created by God. He made us from the dirt of the earth and gave us life by breathing his Spirit in us. And we are here just for a moment on this earth to realize this. How easily we forget and waste the opportunity.

So we have to make a return to the Lord and his favor. We have to realize that we are nothing without him. And we cannot use the excuse that we are insignificant or that we are too weak. St. Paul says: “Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.” Think of all those billions of invisible rain droplets that are necessary to make up the rainbow. Therefore, God has a specific plan for each of us, an important role to play for everyone. So we have to be renewed in the Spirit and trust God more than ourselves. The People of God, the Jews, needed a spiritual renewal and for Jesus to come to them was a huge favor. Jesus said the “Spirit of the Lord is upon me to … proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Pope Francis who is Christ’s representative on Earth has just proclaimed a Jubilee of Mercy, a whole year to celebrate God’s Mercy. For us Christians, this is a huge favor if we recognize the great grace that is being offered us: If we admit that we are spiritually poor, that we are blind to God’s ways, and that we are oppressed by the Devil. If we truly knew how much we needed this grace we would thank God for this Year of Mercy.

One of the great benefits that that is offered in this Year of Mercy are the Doors of Mercy that Pope Francis opened in Rome at St. Peter’s to begin the Jubilee. He has designated Doors of Mercy throughout the world. We walked through a Door of Mercy in Nazareth at the place where Mary received the Message from the Angel Gabriel that she would conceive Jesus in her womb. In our diocese, The Cathedral of Christ the King and the Monastery of the Holy Spirit are two of the 7 Doors of Mercy designated for us to pass through. The Holy Door is opened to evoke the concept of forgiveness, which is the main focus of a Holy Year. In ancient times Christians practiced public penitence to perform before receiving absolution. Today we continue to do acts of penance to evoke God’s mercy.

Engraved on the Holy Doors are different stories from the Bible that show God’s mercy, like the Story of the Father who welcomes his prodigal son with open arms. The Doors of Mercy are like our Heavenly Father opening his arms to us to receive us. All we have to do is believe that he loves us and forgives us and walk into his loving embrace. But we have to have faith and trust in God, that he doesn’t want to condemn us but to love us. That is why as we walk through the doors we get an extraordinary grace: A Plenary indulgence (all time off purgatory) when we pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, go to Confession, receive holy communion and have detachment from all sin.

It isn’t magic. It is a gift of God’s mercy that we can receive when we have faith. Pope Francis said if we cannot walk through the Holy Doors then we should offer one of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. It is almost too good to be true. It is almost too easy. So we have to have more than our own human spirit and not follow the spirit of doubt and skepticism. We have to be opened to the power of the Holy Spirit. So let this Jubilee be a year acceptable to the Lord who comes to help us in our spiritual poverty with Good News, to free us from our captivity to sin with his forgiveness, to cure us of our spiritual blindness with his truth, and to release us from the oppression of evil with the gift of his Mercy. Amen.

Father Timothy J. Gallagher

1-23-16


St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church
101 South College Street
Cedartown, GA 30125
(770) 748-1517
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