Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Voice of God

(4th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on 28 January, 2012 at All Saints Catholic Church, Woonsocket, R.I. and on 29 January, 2012 at St. Pius X Church in Westerly, R.I. See Deuteronomy 18:15-20 and Mark 1:21-28)

You have probably seen the cartoon series by Gary Larson called "The Far Side." It has that unique ability to capture both the comic and the bizzarre at the same time. One of my favorite Far Side cartoons shows a man sitting down with his children, reading a book. The faces of the children are frozen in terror, as the caption at the bottom explains the reason: 
Stephen King, reading a bedtime story!

Our first reading this weekend goes something like that. Moses is relating to the people of Israel their own previous experience at hearing the voice of the Lord back when He revealed Himself with great power in the sight of all. He says:

"This is exactly what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let us not again hear the voice of the Lord, our God . . . lest we die'."
-Deuteronomy 18:16-17

They were literally scared to death to hear the voice of God, and for good reason! God’s voice, His power and majesty, is something we should all certainly be afraid of. His righteousness, His sovereignty is overwhelming. He spoke, and the world came into existence out of nothing. He merely says the word, and His voice brings into existence mountains and valleys, oceans and dry land. The voice of God is awesome in power and strength. But is not the voice of God also the voice of a father? Even the voices of earthly fathers often bring consolation, comfort, peace and joy to their children. Why should God’s voice be any different, He who is our heavenly Father?

Which brings us back to Stephen King and his children. While his daughter Naomi was still young, Stephen King realized that she did not share the same interest in his horror fiction that many others did. After writing thirteen best-selling novels he realized that she had not read one of them since she had no interest in the stories that had been such a big success for others. Therefore he decided to write a story just for her, a fairy tale that a little girl would enjoy. He called it, "The Eyes of the Dragon," and naturally it was a best seller.

At first his daughter was a little reluctant. Yet soon she found herself engrossed in the novel that had been written for that very purpose. On his website, Stephen King tells how moved he was the day Naomi finished that book. He tells how she hugged him and said that the only problem she had with the book was that it eventually had to come to an end.

Towards the end of "The Eyes of the Dragon," there is a powerful scene in which Peter, one of the main characters, is finally freed from the tower where he has been a prisoner for so long. He had been framed for the murder of his father, the King. He was the rightful heir to the throne, but no one knew it.

As he is freed there is great chaos in the square, but Peter begins to direct and motivate the people around him, so as to bring order and guide their escape. The people, who do not recognize this young man by his shabby clothing or unkempt appearance, immediately recognize that this is no ordinary voice. This is the voice of a king. They follow that voice instinctively and are able to fight successfully against the forces of darkness around them.

In the Gospel this weekend, we hear once again the voice of God. It’s the same voice that the people of Israel heard at Horeb, but this time it has a body to go with it! It is the voice of Christ teaching in the synagogue and the people are no less amazed. That voice is proclaiming the word of God and casting out unclean spirits, freeing those who had been enslaved by evil.

St. Mark relates the reaction of the people:

"All were amazed and asked one another, 'What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him'."
-Mark 1:27

We live in a world that longs for that voice and desperately needs the freedom it calls forth. Yet sadly it is also a world that often closes itself off from that voice and refuses to listen to it. The voice of God continues to resound in the world in which we live through the Church that Christ founded. The voice of Christ echos thoughout the centuries in the teachings of the Church, clearly expressing some of the most fundamental dimensions of what it means to be human and to live in this world with our hearts and minds set on things eternal. Yet daily we can see a culture which fails to listen to that voice.

The voice of God in the teachings of our faith calls out in splendid witness to the dignity of every human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. Nonetheless, we see all around us the "culture of death" and abortion on demand as the law of the land, signalling the lowest ebb of respect for human life in our nation's history. 

And yet, still, the voice of God resounds, calling for another way: the way of life.

In our own personal lives, we also need to listen to that voice and follow it if we are to be the men and women of the Gospel that God is calling us to be. His voice is the voice of power, the voice of authority, the voice that is calling us to a better life, a higher path.

  • Where do we need to listen to that voice, calling us away from the sins and habits which only lead us further away from God? How are we called to tune in to that voice and allow it to lead us closer to Christ and to each other?
  • Where is the voice of Christ echoing in our families, teaching us about forgiveness and patience as we draw closer together and, together, closer to Him?
  • Where is the voice of God in the teachings of the Church guiding our communities and our schools to focus on prayer and faith, and the fundamental principles and virtues which will lead us, in the end, to eternal life with God?

May we come to recognize, more and more clearly, that voice of God in our lives, not as something to be feared and avoided but as a voice to be embraced and loved, adored and worshipped. Like Stephen King's daughter, who was so enraptured by that story written just for her, may we also come to recognize that the voice of God is constantly telling our story, a story that begins here in time but continues for an eternity with Him; indeed, a story that will never end.