by Father James Rodriguez
As our nascent new year of ordinary time marches on, and the glow of Christmas grows fainter, Isaiah continues to cry out in our wilderness, challenging us not to become complacent, since “anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness.” Though he prophetically looks forward, at the same time he is looking backward, speaking as one who has already seen the promise fulfilled. Such is the trust of true prophets.
Like Isaiah, we can thank God in advance for His goodness and perfect timing, so often contrary to our own. It can be a challenge to trust when our prayers are so urgent, our needs so pressing, but Isaiah reminds us that even though we have “dwelt in the land of gloom” we can be assured that “a light has shone.”
In his Gospel, John would go on to add that “the darkness did not overcome it.” As a people of the light who sometimes waver as the clouds of life block the Sun, the prophet’s gratitude can show us the way through. Thanking God for all that was, is, and will be — the good, as well as the bad — is a tall task, but this humble acceptance is critical in the life of a disciple. When we insist on our own will over and above His, we find ourselves spinning our wheels without going anywhere. He is the only light, the only salvation.
Quite naturally, then, we sing these very words with the psalmist today. Ours is a song of victory over present troubles, since placing our trust in God liberates us from the shackles of false independence. We need Him, and pretending that we don’t only hurts us more. Our light is feeble and it wavers. Sometimes it grows so dim that we can barely see it, yet He can whip it into a roaring flame if only we allow Him. With grateful hearts that are willing to lay down the arms of denial and the lie that we do not have time to pray, amazing things can happen. King David knew that “to dwell in the house of the Lord … that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord” is the only thing necessary for our happiness, and it is something we can do anywhere and at any time after Mass, since receiving the Eucharist makes us living tabernacles, and the world around us a glorious temple.
Because of our common union as members of the Body of Christ, the Church can be a powerful witness to the secular world. Indeed, when we have allowed the Eucharist to shape and mold us, we have been and continue to be a radical force for good. This treasure captivated the heart of every saint and inspired every martyr. Unfortunately, however, there have also been many moments of division and vitriolic bickering that have hurt the Church and her witness. Political agendas, often in the name of inclusion, have infiltrated our Church and, in a cruel irony, turned away people of every stripe.
When St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians and us about being “united in the same mind and the same purpose,” it is with the singular goal of preaching the Gospel to a world rife with division, unwilling to look to the sacred unison of scripture and tradition for guidance. While there is certainly room for dialogue in our implementation of the Gospel mandate, the mandate itself neither wavers nor does it change, for, in a word, it is love.
That love beckoned the apostles: “Come after me!” Taking root in them, it spoke to their successors, all the way to the fine young men that populate our seminaries and those discerning a vocation to the priesthood. These are called by the very voice of love that bolstered Isaiah and the other prophets, calling faithful Israel to greater trust. St. Paul heard this voice and was blinded by the light it accompanied. The Gentiles were converted and the Word of God reached distant shores as the holy fire spread. What about you, dear reader? What about me? Will we hear the voice and remain unchanged? Will we see the light and look away? Will we insist on our own will and not that of the One who knows better? Instead, let us “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Let us, privileged as we are to see and hear the amazing truth that God is with us, live lives in accord with the Gospel call to love.
Readings for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 8: 23—9:3
Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23 OR 4:12-17
Father Rodriguez is the administrator of Saint Rose of Lima in Rockaway Beach.