DESOLATE NO MORE!
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
January 17, 2010
N.B. In the Philippines, the third Sunday of January is traditionally set aside to celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño (the Holy Child, that is, the infant Jesus). The immediately following English reflection is for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time which is what is celebrated everywhere else in the Catholic world.
Last week’s solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord allowed us to reflect on how God the Father, “took delight” in Jesus, His Son, revealing him for all present to hear: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” It led us to reflect also on how important it is for everyone to be “blessed” and “affirmed” by people who matter most to us. Children ought to be blessed by their parents. Parents need to be blessed by their children. In the final analysis, we all need to “take delight” in each other and speak the best of one another if we are to give the best of ourselves.
God was at His best when He blessed creation into existence. “Let there be life … Let there be light.” That was God’s “original blessing.” In last week’s solemnity, the Father blessed His Son and inaugurated him to public life, to his mission, by revealing him to the world for what and who he really is, the Son of God.
This Sunday, the readings further unfold the mystery of the same Jesus who was manifested to the gentiles (Epiphany), even as they give more insights about the nature of the Trinitarian God.
The first reading from Isaiah stirs into a flame our “hopeful imagination” as believers. Whilst it does not give us details, Isaiah’s passage speaks about a God who will “vindicate” His people, and offer “victory like a burning torch.” Using images related to marriage and conjugal intimacy, Isaiah reminds us of a “new name” symbolic of a new beginning, a new creation, a fresh encouragement, a novel impetus: “No more shall people call you forsaken, or your land desolate.” In unmistakably endearing and intimate terms, God professes His love, His “delight” in His people!
God takes delight not only in His only begotten Son. God takes delight in every one of us for whom His Son Jesus Christ has been sent to give “new life.” The Liturgy of today is a making present and a making real and concrete in our own personal and ecclesial lives the “blessing” that the Trinitarian God continues to give His people.
What constitutes this collective “blessing” that is worth our singing joyfully today as we say after the first reading: “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations?”
St. Paul offers us some important clues. He refers to “spiritual gifts,” “forms of service,” and “different workings” from the “same Spirit,” the “same Lord,” and the “same God.” He refers to gifts such as “wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy” and others. God, through the Spirit, generously gives each one a gift or other for the good of the Church, for the good of oneself and others.
The Gospel reading shows us what all these gifts point to and lead us to – our entry into a new beginning, a new creation, a totally new set of conditions that the Messiah has come to inaugurate in this present world. The first miracle performed by Jesus, which St. John calls the first “sign” – the changing of water into wine – represents the beginning of the “messianic times,” the time of salvation. Given the culture of the Jews at that time, the image of overflowing wine could not have been a better choice to represent the joy, the celebration, the rejoicing at the start of God’s “ultimate blessing” for His people – the gift of incipient salvation, and the revelation of his “glory.”
I would like to suggest that once more, God offers freshness and novelty to a world grown tired, old, and rather worn-out despite the daily barrage of material novelties, fads, and cheap gimmickry that abound everywhere. In a post-modern culture deeply steeped in an infinite variety of consumer goods and creature comforts, people easily get tired of old stuff. The engine of consumerism is fueled by the daily creation of new gadgets and new products that, thanks to expert marketing strategies, literally convince people that such items are absolutely needed. The variety of cleaning materials alone that are now mostly “throw-away” disposable items is mind-boggling! The choices people have even in such basic items as toothpastes, shampoos and soaps to which new brands and new “formulas” are being added by the day all seem to reflect the very strong longing in men and women of today for “all things new,” and all things different from what they were before. The global society where we belong cannot stand old stuff; why it finds it hard even to accept the inevitable fact that every one is bound to get old. Our society is obsessed with keeping youthful, staying young, or at the very least not appearing old.
It is good for us today to reflect on the good news that the liturgy today offers for our reflection. The Good News is this… With the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, a new creation has been set into motion, a new order of things, a new life … “A people who walked in darkness has seen a great light!” The readings today tell us that “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” (Gerard Manley Hopkins) and that this freshness and newness is not to be found in mere novelty items that the consumeristic world offers us. That newness is to be found, not in the shallow and mad rush for anything that is the opposite of “old” but in allowing the same “Spirit,” the same “Lord,” and the same “God” to lead us to a fresh appreciation and use of the “spiritual gifts,” the “different forms of service,” and the “different workings” of God in our lives.
The world easily tires of “new products.” What was touted as revolutionary and avant-garde yesterday is condemned as harmful today. (Remember Ephedra?) The throw-away, disposable cleaning items of today are the problem garbage of tomorrow’s generation, a future ecological nightmare. The solutions of today become tomorrow’s problems! Novelties do not last as such. They become old, useless and thus ultimately unwanted.
We need to look for “the dearest freshness deep down things.” And we need perhaps to rely more for guidance on Him who says: “Behold, I make all things new. I am the Alpha and the Omega!”
All this is to suggest that the ultimate newness and freshness can be had only in God who is the “beginning and the end.” Novelties alone will not satisfy the ultimate longings of our hearts. Mere possession of whatever is the latest can never make us happy on a lasting, permanent basis. “The world and all its pleasures are fast drifting away.” Everything created has an end, everything but God who has no beginning nor end.
The first reading from Isaiah puts us back into the right perspective. The “desolation” has ended. The barrenness and the shameful status of being “forsaken” have been “vindicated.” God professes his “delight” in His people, and pronounces them “espoused,” saved from sure-fire embarrassment and utter shame.
Desolate no more … That is what we as individuals, as Church, and as a people ought to be. To all of us who may have suffered, or may still be suffering from some concrete form of desolation and abandonment, there is good news worth proclaiming to the world, and singing a new song to God for. There is hope. There are gifts in our person worth our while appreciating and using. For with the coming of a new creation wrought by God in Christ, through the Spirit, “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” If only for this, the world and its people, are “desolate no more.”
P.S. I would like to quote in toto the poem entitled “God’s Grandeur” of Hopkins for your reference:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, and the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.