The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time has been designated by Pope Francis as the Sunday of the Word of God. The Holy Father chose this particular Sunday because it is on this particular Sunday that we begin the continuous reading of one of the synoptic Gospels for the current cycle of the Lectionary. In Cycle B of the Lectionary for Sunday Mass, St. Mark’s Gospel will hold our attention for most of the Sundays of Ordinary Time. Today’s Gospel passage opens with the message of the Gospel in a nutshell. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
In the letter of Pope Francis establishing this observance, the Holy Father stresses the importance of the Scriptures in the life of faith for all Christians: “In the hearing of God's word the Church is built up and grows, and in the signs of the liturgical celebration God's wonderful, past works in the history of salvation are presented anew as mysterious realities. God in turn makes use of the congregation of the faithful that celebrates the Liturgy in order that his word may speed on and be glorified and that his name be exalted among the nations. Whenever, therefore, the Church, gathered by the Holy Spirit for liturgical celebration, announces and proclaims the word of God, she is aware of being a new people in whom the covenant made in the past is perfected and fulfilled.”
Given the last several months, and in particular the first weeks of January, we don’t need a prophet to tell us that this world won’t last forever. As St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “The world in its present form is passing away.” We believe that Jesus will one day return at the end of time, but even if he does not appear in our own lifetime, each of us will one day die. Keeping that fact should prompt us to pay close attention to and heed God’s Word as it is presented to us at every Eucharist. If heaven is our goal, the path to heaven can be found in our deliberate and daily meditation upon the plan of salvation as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures.
The Scriptures for today give us good advice in how to follow that path. The Ninevites of whom we read in the first reading teach us to acknowledge our own sinfulness, repent, and seek forgiveness. Not only is this attitude right and just, it is also an exercise in humility, and essential part of our growth in holiness.
St. Paul tells us to act in the opposite way as one would expect. His advice in today’s passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians is to set aside the usual pursuits of the world and focus our attention on heaven. We live each day knowing that we are preparing for the day when we will live in heaven with Jesus, his Mother, and all the saints and angels.
In the Gospel, Jesus calls his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John. His invitation is simple. “Come, follow me.” For them that invitation meant leaving behind their nets and their boats, forgetting about where there next meal would come from, leaving behind their homes and their families. It was a radical call and caused, I am sure, a bit of consternation for them and for those they left behind. However, they deemed coming to know Jesus more important than anything else that occupied their lives at that juncture. While the Gospel does not demand that we cut ourselves off from ordinary human pursuits, it does demand that we prioritize our vocation to follow Jesus. It demands sacrifice, but following Christ is, after all, the most important thing we can possible do in this life.
No matter what path we take in life, the Word of God informs our choices as married people or celibates, and as buyers and consumers. This Sunday reminds us that carrying the Word of God to others is the most important task of our lives. In the United States, this is also Catholic Schools Week. This Sunday observance is especially relevant for catechists who teach our children. So in our prayers today, we remember that all of us are called to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator