Sunday Scriptures

Christ Gives Certain Hope of Victory

By Father Michael Panicali

Two images on the shelf above my desk keep my focus as I write this column: a crumbling drawing of Jesus salvaged from my childhood home that dates back to the 1960s, and a figurine of St. Michael the Archangel, that my brother Larry gave me.  The drawing of Jesus, so lifelike that His eyes seem to pierce the soul, is disintegrating, tearing, and browning at the edges; the St. Michael figure lost half of its left wing when I dropped it a good while back. These images guide me both for what they depict, and – much like the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ – how they are damaged, but yet endure.

The first phrase of today’s  reading from Jeremiah calls to mind the tragedy of New York State’s recent passage of legislation legalizing abortion through nine months of pregnancy, and withholding protections to babies who survive unsuccessful – or botched – abortions.  Jeremiah recalls, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.’”

These beautiful words reveal the intimacy between Creator and human being, and the truth of the human person, which are so tragically lost upon all proponents of legalized abortion, and what now amounts to infanticide in New York. At the core of our Judeo-Christian belief system is our conviction that each and every uniquely made human being is loved into the world by God, made to participate in the Divine Life of God, and made for relationship with God.

Time to Man Up  

The young Prophet Jeremiah is basically told by God to ‘man up’ and get ready for battle against the forces of evil. As any prophet is to do, he must reprove and call the people to repentance. Jeremiah, who was promised God’s protection, is commanded: “Gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land … They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.”

Tangentially in today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus experiences the wrath of this rebellious people who look to run Him off a cliff for saying He is the very fulfillment of what Isaiah prophesied – that in His very Being, glad tidings are sent to the poor, liberty has been proclaimed to the captives, the blind have recovered their sight, and the oppressed have been set free.

The crowd refuses to receive all that faith in Jesus offers, as they refuse to believe He is the long-awaited Messiah. They threaten violence against Him. Like the prophets before Him, Jesus receives hostile treatment from a recalcitrant crowd.

But what occurs next is one of my favorite lines in the Gospels, as it so richly communicates Jesus’ powers and identity – He simply passes through the midst of them, and goes away, unharmed.

For those looking to combat the grave evil in our midst with the legalization of abortion-on-demand – and for those who met this recent abortion expansion legislation with hopelessness, shock and brokenness – simply gaze upon the images of Christ and St. Michael the Archangel.  While the latter reminds us of the powerful presence of evil that has gripped our world (you have to be able to identify your enemy before you can fight it with prayer, fasting and peaceful protesting), the former reminds us that the final battle has been won.

And He desires that we be at peace, not fraught with anxiety.  Much like what St. Paul received writing from his prison cell, Jesus’ words in John 14:17 reassure those who put their unwavering faith in Him: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Until the day when abortion is cast into the sad heap of history, we rely on God for strength, determination and most of all, certain hope of victory.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19

1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13 or 1 Corinthians 13:4-13

Psalm 71: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17

            Luke 4:21-30

Father Panicali is a parochial vicar at St. Mark and St. Margaret Mary parish, Sheepshead Bay.

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