Sunday, January 24; 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The image of a scroll is seen this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time both in our First Reading from Nehemiah and in Luke’s Gospel:  Ezra opens a discovered scroll, and Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah handed him.  Both scrolls, found and given respectively, contain God’s inspired word.  I believe it was the poet Emily Dickenson who said that, in Scripture, we find ‘words that breathe’.  I like that.  Scripture has the life-giving force to breathe hope and a new-found understanding in us as happens to Ezra and Jesus in our Scriptures today.

With these scrolls in mind, I recall those young shepherds who stumbled upon ancient scrolls at Qumran, near the Dead Sea many years ago.  The scrolls were found in clay pots going back around the time of Christ.  It’s believed John the Baptist spent time with this Essene community, known for its ascetical way of life.  They were celibate and lived as monks.  I like to think Jesus spent time there as well, though I’ve never found anything to corroborate this hunch of mine.  The Dead Sea Scrolls, since this find, have deepened our understanding of God’s Word and filled in some of its lacunae. 

This image of the scroll in scripture as well as at Qumran is an apt metaphor for what is to be discovered and opened within each of us and during our search for God.  Inside these “earthen vessels” of ours, we carry something invaluable.  God wants only to help us make this inner discovery of who we truly are and, by grace open ourselves to the mystery of His presence.   Both Ezra and Jesus were opened in this way.  God, too, desires to open us and make us more alive to what matters; more alive to God.

“O Lord open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise” I would chant each morning, together with my brother monks and long before dawn.  The spiritual life is all about opening to the One who has opened to us so deeply.  St. Bernard sees the wounds of Christ as apertures; openings.   Yet, we refuse to open much of the time and keep to ourselves.  We can be more a “closed Book”; an enigma to ourselves and those nearest us.  Perhaps we fear misunderstanding and rejection.  So, we spend a lifetime wearing ‘masks’ that keep us from really knowing ourselves and being known; ignorant also of God   who, mysteriously, is our deepest Self.

Recently, I read how Pete Carroll, coach of the Seahawks, is successful with his players because he lets them be themselves; their uniqueness unfolding on and off the field.  There’s freedom to do just that, along with the love players often talk about.  Carroll does not demand they fit one particular mold.  According to the article, this has been a defining factor to their success.  I like that.

This weekend, we begin Catholic Schools Week and celebrate the gift of Catholic education and how our students bring life to this community of faith.  I know they give me life, and keep me open to God.  When Catholic education works, it helps a young person make a similar discovery both Ezra and Jesus made:  to see themselves as strengthened by God and called to be merciful.  This ought to define us as Catholics and during this Year of Mercy.  If we can instill in our kids the awareness that  they’re held by God who wants only to open them in ways that are good;   seeing themselves as belonging to God, then we’ve done our work.  If we teach them to open their eyes and see life in a sacramental manner, perceiving all as a ‘word’ spoken by God, then we’ve succeeded.   If we can open them to their own   goodness: that each is uniquely fashioned in God’s Image and Likeness, clay pots though we are, then it’s worth every penny this expensive endeavor Catholic education has become.

May each of us, learners all, open to the timeless truth that we are held, loved and understood by a God who reads hearts.

Father Tim Clark, Pastor

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