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Father Vincent Hawkswell

When in doubt, ask what to do

Voices Jan. 21, 2019

We can learn a great deal about God’s ways through experience, provided we are open to the lessons, willing to admit mistakes and ready to change, writes Father Hawkswell. (Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea, by James Tissot/Wikimedia)

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
First Reading: Neh 8:1-4a, 5-6, 8-10 
Second Reading: 1 Cor 12:12-30 
Gospel Reading: Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple,” says this Sunday’s Psalm. “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes.”

We recite this Psalm in response to the First Reading, in which we hear how Ezra read to the people “the book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel” from early morning until midday, making sure they understood it.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus proclaims that he has been anointed by the Holy Spirit “to bring good news to the poor.”

Each Reading involves a message from God to humans. Each message informs and instructs us about God and his ways, which are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth. Each makes known to us things we would not otherwise know.

We were created as human beings, but God has invited us to become his children, living the kind of life lived by God the Holy Trinity. Our first response should be joyful acceptance, for this is the only kind of life that will last forever and make us perfectly happy.

Our second response should be “What should we do?” This is the question the people asked John the Baptist when he first preached his baptism of repentance. This is the question they asked Peter at Pentecost when, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, Peter told them just who Jesus, whom they had killed, really was.

What John and Peter had just told the people was so earth-shattering that they knew they could never work out for themselves what they should do. Accordingly, they asked, humbly, acceptingly, “What should we do?”

God designed the world to work according to his plan. Accordingly, we can learn a great deal about God’s ways through experience, provided we are open to the lessons, willing to admit mistakes and ready to change.

However, there are other things that we have to be told. That is why God sent Moses and the other prophets and finally his own Son. That is why St. Luke wrote his Gospel. That is why Christ founded his Church, giving it his authority to keep on telling us all the things he had commanded and promising to remain with it even after he had ascended to his Father.

When the Pope and the bishops “forbid” (as the media put it) pre-marital sex, artificial contraception, or the ordination of women, they are actually telling us, in God’s name, how we must behave if we want to be his children.

In a democracy like ours, we think of ourselves as all equal. The idea that “God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers,” etc., as St. Paul says in this Sunday’s Second Reading, is undemocratic. Nevertheless, it is true.

In his 1988 encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et Vivificantem (“Lord and Giver of Life”), Pope John Paul II said that God created human beings in his own image. Nevertheless, he said, man is “a creature: in his existence and essence he depends on the Creator. According to the Book of Genesis, ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ was to express and constantly remind man of the ‘limit’ impassable for a created being.”

“Disobedience,” he said, “means precisely going beyond that limit ... God the Creator is the one definitive source of the moral order in the world created by him. Man cannot decide by himself what is good and what is evil – cannot know good and evil like God.”

The Holy Spirit ensures “that in the Church there will always continue the same truth which the apostles heard from their Master,” the Pope said; he ensures “continuity and identity of understanding in the midst of changing conditions and circumstances.”