Sunday, July 10, 2011

Receiving the Word

Today I celebrated Mass with the Sisters of St. Francis, the group that owns the building in which the national offices of the Apostleship of Prayer are located. Here is a summary of what I said in my homily.

According to our First Reading (Isaiah 55: 10-11), God's word is powerful and universal. God's word accomplishes what it was sent to do. In Genesis we see that when God spoke, creation came out of nothing. Like rain, God's word comes to the whole world; it comes to the just and the unjust. God sows the word, scattering it over a variety of terrains and peoples, as we read in the Gospel.

But, as we hear in the Second Reading (Romans 8: 18-23), "all creation is groaning." All creation, including ourselves, is made for more than what we currently experience. We're made for more than sin and its effect, death. We're made for what Isaiah prophesied in Chapter 11: 1-9--a peaceable kingdom where there will be total harmony, a time when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (verse 9). When will this be? In another letter of St. Paul's, Ephesians, we hear that it will be when our destiny is fulfilled, when the union for which we are made will be consummated, when God will be "all in all" (1: 22). Or, as Paul puts it a few chapters later, when we and all creation will "be filled with the fullness of God" (3: 19). In short, the groaning will be over when the seed of God's word is received and brings forth the fruit of eternal life.

The seed, the word, is a person. It is Jesus, the very Word of God. After the 2008 Synod of Bishops, Pope Benedict wrote the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini in which he said that the Word of God is more than a book, more than the Scriptures. It is the Living Word whom we encounter through the Scriptures. Throughout Verbum Domini Pope Benedict speaks about the "encounter" and the "relationship" to which we are called and which is facilitated through the Scriptures.

Jesus is the Word-Made-Flesh, God's perfect communication to creation. But communication is a two-way street. Spouses know this well. If one of them is reading the paper or watching television or surfing the Internet and the other is talking, communication does not occur. "Huh? What was that you were saying?" is the response to the one who asks a question, hears no response, and declares "You aren't listening!" God wants communication with us, the basis for a relationship. God does not want to talk at us but to us. God wants us to listen and receive His Word. God wants to talk with us, eager for our response to His communication. In Verbum Domini 86-87 Pope Benedict writes about this process which is called "lectio divina," divine or sacred reading. It involves not only listening to God speak through the Scriptures but also responding in prayer and in action, in the way we live our lives.

Prayer isn't easy. Many people get discouraged because as they read from a book or from the Bible they become distracted. The words seem to pass before their eyes while the thoughts in their minds are very different. This seems to be natural. Our minds always seem to race with thousands of thoughts. This is even more true today when so many distractions--radio, television, the Internet--are part of our daily lives. It isn't easy to focus on the words of a prayer or of the Bible. It requires hard work and discipline. When our minds wander away from the words on the page, we ought not get discouraged but should simply bring the words back into focus.

The ultimate example of this is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was receptive to the Word, not passive. She had focus. Her Immaculate Heart was not filled with the birds and weeds of temptation and distraction. Her Pure Heart was purely open and devoted to the will of God. And, as St. Augustine said, after receiving the Word into her Heart, she then conceived the Word in her womb. She received the Word first into her Heart and then gave flesh to that Word.

Every time we celebrate Mass we do the same. We encounter the Word in the proclamation of the Scriptures and in the Sacrament. We open our minds and hearts to receive Him. We open our mouths to praise Him and to receive Him into our bodies. We receive the Word so that He might be "all-in-all" in us. We receive the Word and are transformed. We receive the Word-Made-Flesh, His very Body and Blood, and become what we receive. Having received the Word in the Scriptures and Sacrament, we now give Him flesh and bring Him to others.

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