Sunday, February 1, 2009

In Word and in Deed

All of us have wondered what it would be like to meet Jesus in person. What if we could actually speak face to face with our Savior? What would he look like? What would he say to us? How would we feel as he looked into our eyes and spoke to our heart?

Today's gospel tells us about a group of people who actually had the opportunity to meet Jesus and how it changed their lives forever.

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. Saint Mark tells us that the people were astonished as they listened to him. They were riveted by his words because, unlike anyone they had ever heard before, he spoke with authority. Not only was he interesting to listen to, but his words penetrated their hearts and illuminated their minds. No one had ever spoken to them with such conviction and meaning.

And their astonishment would only grow, because not only did Jesus demonstrate his authority by the words he spoke, he also showed his power by the actions he performed. In this case, a man possessed by a demon was sent into a fit of convulsion when Jesus spoke. The demon knew very well who Jesus was, the Holy One of God. Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of the man with a shriek. The scene must have left everyone in the synagogue shaken and confused. I think we can say with confidence that the people had never seen anything like that before! The authority of Jesus' words was backed up by the power of his actions.

None of us will ever have the opportunity to meet Jesus face to face in this life. That does not mean, however, that we can no longer be astonished by his words or by his works. Jesus is still among us exercising his authority in a powerful way through the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. He continues to speak to us with authority through the Bible, and his power over sin and evil is powerfully present in the Sacraments.

Let us take a look at how each of us can meet Jesus and be transformed by reading the Bible and receiving the Sacraments.

First, Jesus continues to speak with authority to the world through the Bible. As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Though it was written by men in the language and imagery of their time, it was inspired by the Holy Spirit to such a degree that we can truly say that God himself is its author. In the Bible, we experience the authority of God's Word teaching us the truth about his love and calling our hearts to change. By reading and studying the Bible, we come to understand God in a way that we otherwise would be unable to. Because it is God's inspired word, when we read it privately at home or hear it proclaimed at Mass, it is Jesus himself we are hearing. And so, any of us who have ever wished that we could hear Jesus speak to us should read and study the Bible everyday.

There was a man once who decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. He came across many sections that he couldn't understand, but he kept on going. He simply thanked God for the parts that he could make sense of and asked for help understanding the more difficult sections. That is the way we have to approach the Bible. It is not always easy to read and understand. Rather than be overwhelmed by it, we should start slowly by maybe focusing on the Sunday readings or the daily Mass readings. There are many Catholic magazines such as The Word Among Us which are great helps in guiding our study of Scripture. However we may decide to approach it, the Word of God is indispensable in the spiritual life of all believers.

Second, we encounter Jesus' continuing authority over sin and evil through the Sacraments. Each Sacrament is a real encounter with Jesus. While we meet Jesus in the Bible through words, we encounter him in the Sacraments through signs. These signs are not just symbolic of Jesus' presence and action, they really give us the grace that they signify. For instance, the waters of baptism really grant the forgiveness of sin and make us children of God. Through the Sacrament of Confession, we really receive the forgiveness of our sins. And in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, bread and wine really become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is not just symbols that we receive when we come up to communion, but the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Risen Jesus himself. When we take to heart the mystery of Christ's presence and action in all the Sacraments, how could we not want to receive them as frequently as possible to be transformed by the power of our Savior?

The Sacraments, however, are not magic. For us to have our lives changed by the light and power that the Sacraments offer us, we must strive to live lives that are pleasing to God. We saw in the gospel reading today how the demon shouted out when Jesus walked into the synagogue. That is because Jesus and the Devil cannot be in the same room together. They are mortal enemies. Just so, we cannot welcome Jesus into our lives and continue to hold grudges, gossip, lie or steal. There can be no compromise with sin if Jesus is to have a place in our hearts. It is certainly not easy, and we can never be totally free of sin in this life, but the Sacraments are given to us precisely for this reason - to give us both the desire and strength to change and to make us examples of Jesus' love to everyone we meet.

None of us can hope to meet Jesus face to face in this life. But each of us will one day stand before his throne of glory to give an account of our lives. If we take to heart the Word proclaimed to us today and receive him in the Sacraments with faith, we can trust that we will be ready to receive his mercy and forgiveness when he comes again in glory.

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