Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Priorities of Christ

(7th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 19 February, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Mark 2:1-12)

If you have been in a video store at all lately, then you know that there is no shortage of movies being made on exorcism and the supernatural— movies like Constantine and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. While most of these movies are more science fiction than reality, as Catholics we really do believe in exorcisms, although they are very rare.

Most every diocese, in fact, has a special priest appointed to perform exorcisms, if need be. But as you might imagine, getting a priest to take on that ministry is not always easy.

Fr. Gabriel Amorth, chief exorcist of Rome, in his book An Exorcist Tells His Story, relates how one bishop complained to him because none of his priests would agree to take on the assignment; they were all afraid of what might happen to them if they did!

Fr. Gabriel told that bishop that his priests shouldn’t be afraid of doing exorcisms, because there are two things a priest does on a regular basis that enrage the devil more than exorcism: preaching the Gospel and hearing confessions. Why is that?

Fr. Gabriel went on to describe how preaching the Gospel and explaining the word of God increase the life of faith. Faith is the very thing that helps us grow closer to Christ, helps us to avoid the things that would lead us away from God.

Confession and absolution have the power to restore our relationship with God completely, even if that relationship has been broken by serious sin. No matter what we have done or how long we have been estranged from God or the Church, the sacrament of reconciliation washes our sins away and we begin a whole new start with Christ.

The proclamation of the word of God and the forgiveness of sins: two very powerful gifts that unite us to God and keep us united to Him. And so it’s no wonder that those are the very things that Jesus places a priority on in the Gospel this morning.

It’s a remarkable scene that Mark describes for us. Jesus returns to Capernaum and we are told that so many people flocked to that place:

That there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.
—Mark 2:2

Think of all the things Christ could have done in that place. He could have performed miracles, proving to them who He was; but instead “he preached the word to them.” And they flocked to that place because He was telling them of God’s plan for salvation. They were hanging on his every word.

All throughout the Gospels, preaching the word of God is a top priority of Jesus. Again and again, in towns and villages, and everywhere He goes, Christ announces the message of God’s mercy and grace through His preaching of the word. Listening to that message and responding to that word in our lives is still a priority in the Church today.

The second priority of Christ in the Gospel this morning is the forgiveness of sins. St. Mark relates that dramatic episode of the paralyzed man being lowered down from the rooftop. His friends were desperate to bring Him to Jesus. The whole house waited in anticipation. And Jesus did the last thing they were expecting:

He said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
—Mark 2:5

It seems rather obvious to us that the priority should be his physical healing, but once again Jesus reveals His own priorities when it comes to our spiritual lives: the forgiveness of sins.

The forgiveness of sins is the reason why Christ comes to earth to begin with. The forgiveness of sins is why Christ dies on the cross, and it’s the one thing that God will never refuse to those who come to Him seeking that forgiveness.

Not everyone who asks for physical healing receives it. Not all of our prayers are answered in the way we expect, not all of our desires are granted in our journey of faith. But every time we seek God for the forgiveness of sins—in particular when we come to Him in the very sacrament that He instituted for this purpose, the sacrament of reconciliation—we are forgiven. We start anew with Christ.

This morning we simply reflect on the priorities of Christ: proclaiming the word of God and forgiving our sins. How is God’s life-giving word renewing us and helping us to grow in our faith, and where are those places in our lives that we are in need of the forgiveness of Christ. They were priorities for Jesus; may they also be priorities for every one of us.