3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Catholic School Week Mass)

Preached January 27, 2016; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

In today’s 1st reading we heard that some 2,500 years ago in the city of Jerusalem the whole assembly of the people, men, women, and children old enough to understand, stood from dawn to midday listening attentively to the reading of the word of God. That is truly impressive. There were no microphones, no dancing, no skits, no entertainment, just reading and explanation. They all stood there and paid attention. Their capacity to listen to the word of God tells us that this was a truly educated people, even if the majority of them might have been illiterate.

I want to contrast the capacity of the people in that assembly in Jerusalem with what passes in today’s world as the ‘gold standard’ for education – STEM, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That is where the big money is at. They are all important disciplines, not doubt, but it would, be a huge mistake to embrace this as an adequate standard for any sort of Catholic or even human education. The STEM disciplines give us power to shape the world outside of us, but they do nothing to build up the vast universe which is the human soul, they do not form the human person, they do not make anyone to become a better man or woman, they do not bring anyone closer to God.

If we consider well that ancient assembly in Jerusalem, then we can say that the highest education is the education that prepares a person truly to hear and to respond to the word of God. When we hear and respond to God’s word, the interior universe of the soul is built up, God himself forms us as persons, he instructs us as his children.

The word of God, however, does not come to us by way of some pure interior voice, but it comes to us from without by means of ordinary human words. That means that in order to hear the word of God we must learn to hear and read human speech; that requires as a minimum a formation in the classical liberal arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic; these arts do not build anything in the outside world, but instead they enable the possessor to build in his own mind a world of right thought, open to and mirroring reality.

Nevertheless, the word of God is not just human speech, it is indeed the word of God that as such can only be heard through faith and prayer. The word of God instructs us in the right way to live in order to draw near to and be united with God himself. The more we live in fidelity to his word, like the wise man who builds his house on rock, the better we will be able to understand his word.

Even more, the word of God surpasses all human words in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in whom all the words of God are fulfilled. He is the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that was God, the Word through whom all things were made. All other words, human and divine, are well spoken when they lead us back to the eternal Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who makes God himself known to us.

In order to make God known the eternal Word took flesh of the Virgin Mary, was born in Bethlehem, was crucified in Jerusalem, rose again from the dead, and ascended to the glory of his Father’s right hand.

Though he has ascended into heaven he has not left us orphans, but he has entrusted himself into our power by his very words: This is my Body; This is the chalice of my Blood. These words are fulfilled in our hearing, day in and day out in every Mass.

Finally, the highest response to the word of God in this life consists in the worthy participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and worthy reception of holy communion as the fruit of that sacrifice. Catholic education prepares for hearing the word of God and for receiving the Word in person in holy communion, not just once, but as the weekly and even daily food for our life’s journey. The Word of God made flesh, the Bread of life, is what truly builds up the soul and forms the human person in the life of Christ.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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