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Have we experienced the power of God’s Word?

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Annual Diocesan Women's Conference, at Saint Joseph Church in Herndon.

No doubt, most of us, perhaps all of us, have had the experience of listening to a speaker, who spoke in such a way that we lost any sense of time, that we wished that he or she would never stop, that, in a word, we were spellbound by what was said, and how it was said. That is the experience recorded in today's Gospel account: "Never has anyone spoken like this man." That one sentence summarizes the real reason why people flocked to see and to hear Jesus Christ as He taught throughout His native land. And He continues to teach us in the same way today: by His Word.

Aside from miracles, the crowds followed Jesus because of the words that He spoke. We hear in the Gospels that He spoke with authority beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees. He Himself tells us that His words are spirit and life (cf. Jn 6:63). Like the miracles of Jesus, we are drawn by His words, but unlike the miracles, the words of Jesus mold and instruct us. Through His words, Jesus teaches us how to pray. Through His words, Jesus offers the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Through His words, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. By His words, Jesus gives us hope and leads us to salvation. Jesus never corrected anyone for listening to His words. Instead, we hear Him say quite often, "Whoever has ears, ought to hear" (e.g. Mt 11:15).

In the Gospel just proclaimed in our hearing, a dispute breaks out among the crowds following Jesus about whether or not Our Lord was in fact the long-promised Messiah. It must have been quite an argument, because the temple guards went to report the incident to the scribes and Pharisees. "Why did you not bring him in?", they asked the guards. In response, the guards made no references to the miracles of Jesus. They did not even argue that He may have been a prophet. Instead, they simply said, "Never before has anyone spoken like this man."

These guards probably were not followers of Jesus. They had only heard Him speak in the temple while they were working. In fact, they probably never saw Him work a miracle. But even with their limited experience, their response was perfect. No one had ever spoken like Jesus, and no one ever will. He is True God and True Man, and thus His words are not corrupted by lack of knowledge or sinful intentions. No, they contain perfect truth, perfect goodness, and perfect charity. Not only that, but His divine words are eternal, and thus contain truth that speaks not only to those who heard them first-hand two thousand years ago in Galilee and Judea, but to everyone who hears them in every age, to us today here! This is why we meditate on the scriptures. This is why we listen to the Word of God at every Mass. Jesus wants to speak to us today, and every day. He wants us to hear His words that we might learn from them, take hope from them, and be saved by them.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we pay particular attention to the words of Jesus about the divine mercy we receive from God, and about the depth of mercy He calls us, His followers, to show our neighbors. First, with regards to the mercy of God, we need look no further than the parable we heard last Sunday, that is, the parable of the Prodigal Son. The fifteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel contains three parables describing the mercy of our heavenly Father - the parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son - and I would recommend this chapter as a rich source for reflection for anyone who wants to encounter the extravagant mercy of God. Had we not heard it from the mouth of Jesus, it would be impossible to believe that we have a Father in Heaven Who is as forgiving as the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. After his son rejects him, squanders his money and returns with the request that he only have a place to stay and food to eat, the father runs to forgive him and restore him to full sonship.

Secondly, the words of Jesus not only teach about the mercy of God, they also teach us about the mercy we must extend to one another. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to forgive our brother over and over and over again - seventy-seven times was what He told Saint Peter.

I echo my invitation to reflect on God's Word about mercy in the passages mentioned today, so that we may both experience God's mercy ourselves and be healed so that in turn, we may be the convincing heralds of that same divine mercy to others.

Let us return, before we conclude, to the basic lesson we are being invited to relearn: the powerful impact of God's Word in our lives. As we read or hear the Word of God, especially through Christ Jesus, do we also experience what we heard in today's gospel account: "Never before has anyone spoken like this man"? Whether we have or we have not, permit me to propose several reasons why we may not yet have experienced the saving impact of the Word of God within us.

We may not be aware that the Word of God is a living word now. It is not merely a historical recording of events, but it is God now speaking to our hearts His Word that saves us.

So, understanding that, we approach God's Word differently: with attention, with the desire to be fed and strengthened. So, as we reflect on God's Word at home or listen carefully and attentively to its proclamation at every Mass, we will often experience a new insight, a new energy, a new reason to hope.

I propose that family members gather for fifteen to twenty minutes per week to ponder God's Word, sharing with each other their insights. Begin with fifteen to twenty minutes; this time frame may well increase as you become more comfortable with this process. I also propose that a small group of you do something similar: a kind of spiritual support group, once a week.

Obviously, taking part in some form of adult formation and education regarding the scriptures is yet another way to become more open and aware of the life-saving power of the Word.

Yes, what the temple guards said is true: "no one has spoken like this man." Let us devour every word which the Lord speaks, that we may come to know His wisdom, so He may guide us through this life and save us, that we may join Him, and all the angels and saints, in heaven. There we shall then see face to face the Triune God, Whose Word truly has been life-giving and life-saving for us.

"Lord Jesus, Your Word is spirit and life! Let me never wander away from Your saving Word, which in itself is mercy abundantly revealed. Amen!"

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016