Wednesday, February 1, 2017

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

We  Catholics sometimes have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be.  Take for instance our use of certain words, like catechesis or liturgy to describe certain regular activities of Catholic life (to teach and to pray).  Their meaning gets lost because they’re just not part of everyday life.  Take for example the phrase Social Justice.  Within Catholic leadership circles this has certain meaning for a wide array of Church activity, but if you were to ask the rest of us what “Catholic social justice” means, you might be hard pressed to explain.  Perhaps this Sunday’s readings can help…


Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalm 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16

Our first reading comes from later Isaiah, where we are reminded of what it is that God really wants to see of his people.  Not festivals, but works of mercy.  This passage comes from a period after the Exile… the people are back in the land… but a land not like what was there before.  The Israelites are practicing their ceremonies, but God does not respond.  Why?  Because God has grown weary of sacrifices and festivals.  He wants to see some action… to spread some of that love around to those who really need it.  God instead wants them to look around, and as in the old Mosaic tradition, reach out and help those in need.  Our Psalm reflects this desire of God from us as we sing, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.”  If we respond to people’s needs with mercy and justice, then we are like a light in the darkness, making us exalted in the eyes of the Lord.

Our Gospel from Matthew echoes this sentiment.  After Jesus speaks of the Beatitudes to the large crowd gathered around him on the mountain, (from last week’s Gospel), Jesus then turns back to his Disciples to charge them with the call to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.  Jesus has just explained to the crowd what is needed, and now he expects his most trusted disciples to carry out this message (justice for the poor) by their actions.  To become that light to the world.

Jesus gave us two simple rules to remember… Love God.  Love your neighbor.  and then he makes it even simpler… how do you love God… by loving your neighbor.  And when it comes to defining who your neighbor is, Jesus and the other prophets have been quite clear… not just a select few, but everyone, especially those in need.  As Jesus himself showed by his example, to be of service to one another.  Sacrifice is the language of love… giving of oneself for the benefit of others.  In its simplest form, this is what we mean when we speak of Catholic Social Justice.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Continuing from where we left off last week, Paul wants to refocus the community’s attention back to Christ.  Using himself as an example, he states that he knows nothing except Christ.  In other words, using the logic of a more cast-driven society, “beware of having ideas above one’s station.”  Remember, there are divisions among the Corinthians that he is trying to heal… divisions driven by cults of personality.  Here his message is that we should not let our faith rest on human wisdom, but on the power of the Spirit, as demonstrated by Christ’s resurrection.

Final Thoughts:

Practicing social justice isn’t hard.  It’s built into our guiding Christian ethic.  Jesus gave us two simple rules to remember… Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Then he makes it even simpler… how do you love God?  By loving your neighbor.  And when it comes to defining who your neighbor is, Jesus and the other prophets have been quite clear… not just a select few, but everyone, especially those in need.  As Jesus himself showed by his example, by being of service to one another.  Sacrifice is the language of love… giving of oneself for the benefit of others.  In its simplest form, this is what we mean when we speak of Catholic Social Justice.

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