2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; January 17, 2021
Readings: 1 Sam 3:3-10,19; Ps 40:2,4,7-10; 1 Cor 6:13-15,17-20; Jn 1:35-42
Both today’s 1st reading and Gospel give us accounts of beautiful, intensely personal meetings with the Lord.
In the first reading we can imagine Samuel, as a young boy between 10 and 12. He has grown up serving the priest in the Temple, doing simple tasks, learning about God, what he has done in the history of his people, Israel, and the rituals of worship. He has been learning all this; he loves it, he is proud of his religion and his people; he believes everything, but it is all a matter of what he has heard, rote knowledge. That is all very good, but he has never really ‘met God’; he does not, in the language of the Bible, ‘know the Lord’. One other thing, he is at an age in which he has not yet been distracted by girls.
So there he is sleeping in the Temple at night when he hears the voice of the Lord calling him by name, “Samuel.” When he wakes up the only light is the flickering flames of the seven-branched candelabra that casts light upon the holy table with the twelve loaves, the bread of the presence, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. In the shadows, beyond the candelabra and the holy table, he can barely discern the golden altar of incense as it glints in the candlelight. He knows that behind the altar is the veil before the Holy of Holies in which is hidden the Ark of the Covenant.
Only after the priest instructs him does he realize that it is God calling, not the priest; only then does he know to go before the golden altar, to kneel down, and to say, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. There in the silence of the Temple, under the guidance of the priest, the innocent boy has come to know the Lord.
Why did I mention that he was not yet distracted by girls? Because there in the silence of the Temple, hearing the voice of the Lord, his heart first awakes to love, and it is the love of God, the God who alone can fill the human heart.
The Gospel actually tells us a similar story of meeting God, only now it is not God in the Temple, but God in the man Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the living Temple, who makes us to become living Temples.
Here the details are very few, but it will help to fill in some of the background.
We start out with two disciples of John the Baptist who hear him as he points out Jesus as the Lamb of God. We know that one of those two disciples was Andrew, the other is likely John, the son of Zebedee, who would become an Apostle, the author of the Gospel. I want to focus on John because though not so young as Samuel, he was the youngest of the Apostles, was not married and indeed never married. He was the virgin Apostle.
John and Andrew, then, were disciples of John the Baptist. That meant that they had become deeply religious Jews who were eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Like Samuel, John was giving his youth to God. When they heard their teacher as he pointed out Jesus, we can imagine their youthful excitement. The Baptist had been telling them to wait for the one who was to come after him, the Messiah, and now here he is. After so many centuries of waiting he has come to Israel and they are the first to hear the announcement of his arrival. So, they start after Jesus and their excitement grows when he turns to speak to them and then finally when he answers their question and invites them to come and see where he is staying.
We can find the same Jesus staying here in the tabernacle.
We have not a word about what transpired during that afternoon with Jesus, only that Andrew left convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. We can expect that the same was true of John. In his youth, John came to know the Lord Jesus. He would follow him during the three years of his public ministry. He would come to be known as ‘the beloved disciple’. He would be the only Apostle to stand by him when he was crucified. He would receive from Jesus the care of his mother, Mary. He would live many years after Mary’s assumption into heaven. He would have the great vision of the Book of Revelation. He would himself be the last of the Apostles to depart from this world, more than sixty years after the crucifixion. He would always remember that it all started in his youth when together with Andrew he heard Jesus invitation to “come and see”.
I have focused on the innocence and youth of John and Samuel in their meeting the Lord because this connects us to the 2nd reading. There we also hear about the Temple: Do you not know that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit within you? This is in the context not only of an implicit reference the virtue of chastity – avoid fornication – but also of something even more than ‘knowing the Lord’, of being united to him, becoming one spirit with him, using language analogous to a man and woman becoming one flesh in marriage.
First, though, avoid fornication: it is an ugly word for an ugly thing.
Fornication, the use of sex outside marriage, though it masquerades as ‘love’, though engaged in by ‘nice’ people, is an ugly thing, an illusion of love. Fornication dishonors parents, disrespects self and partner, and future spouse; it undermines the culture of marriage, sets a bad example for children and harms any children born of the unstable union. Fornication plunges the emotions into disorder and darkens the mind. Among the baptized it profanes the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and degrades the Body of Christ, the Church, of which the fornicator is a member.
At the root of fornication is the disordered sexual desire called ‘lust’, which is like a spiritual leprosy, that produces a secret shame, ulterior motives, and lying, contaminating social relations and isolating people one from the other.
Anyone who is caught by the sin of fornication or polluted by the shame of lust, should know that he does not need to live that way.
Christ came to set you free; he cleansed the leper. We need to pray, Create a clean heart in me, O God. (Ps 51:10) The Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, without passing judgment, full of understanding, will gladly help you.
It is not enough merely to turn away from fornication, we must seek after and love the virtue of chastity.
Chastity, the mastery of sexual desire that makes it possible to avoid fornication, is not mentioned in the 1st reading and the Gospel, but it is presupposed. Chastity is less than charity, but joined to humility and to the spirt of silence that makes prayer possible, it is actually the indispensable foundation for intimacy with God, becoming “one spirit” with the Lord.
Chastity has several forms: there is pre-marital chastity that keeps faith with a future spouse; there is marital chastity that keeps faith with one’s actual spouse; there is the chastity of the widow that longs for eternal life; there is the chastity of the penitent, who turns back to God after losing chastity, and while sorrowing over what was lost and the offense against God, rejoices even more at the marvelous gift of God’s mercy; finally, there is the glorious and resplendent virginal chastity, consecrated to the service of God from youth, the chastity of one for whom God has been the first and only love.
Chastity is truly a beautiful virtue: it is the possession of oneself, the right order of the soul, and the capacity for true love. It is won by prayer and love for Christ. It is gained and preserved by the hard work of self-discipline. It is watched over by the Virgin Mother of God and her virginal spouse, St. Joseph. Chastity joins us to the company of the holy angels in heaven.
Chastity makes it possible to love another without ulterior motives; it refuses to exploit or manipulate another; it is an essential part of the purity of heart to which it is given to see God. Chastity enables a person truly to see others as persons, rather than as mere objects to be used. Chastity bestows true psychological maturity which frees a person from emotional neediness and dependence. Chastity is a fountain of joy, the closest we can come on earth to a return to Eden.
Chastity is the protection of a woman’s dignity and the strength of true manliness.
Marital chastity enables husband and wife to be available for the service of each other and of their children.
Celibate chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of God, makes a person available for the service of God and his people.
Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. (Mt 5:8)