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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

St. John Bosco Parish, Edmonton

January 20, 2019

As we listen this evening to the beautiful and familiar story of Jesus in his hometown synagogue, we hear that the eyes of all present were "fixed" on him. This expression carries the sense that the attention of everyone was riveted upon the Lord. I find that that captures well the purpose for which we are drawn together this evening here in St. John Bosco church. 

As a community of disciples, united in Baptism and desirous of bringing that unity to perfection, we know that we can move forward toward oneness among all Christians only if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ and follow where he leads. 

Since it is the Lord Jesus who calls, transforms and sends us, we must stay always close to him. Apart from him we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5), we can be nothing (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16). So tonight, by means of this service of communal prayer, we fix our eyes on the Lord, eager to learn anew from him.

Our gaze is directed by Sacred Scripture. Jesus is the centre and fulfillment of salvation history; he is therefore the very heart of all that is recorded in the holy texts. They reveal to us his provenance, identity and mission, and, in this manner, enable us to look upon him and learn how we are to live. Three beautiful texts have been proclaimed for us. Together they help us to fix our gaze on Jesus as he teaches us what it means to live lives marked by justice.

The text from Deuteronomy makes very clear the command of God that his people live by justice: "Justice and only justice shall you pursue." But what does this mean? How are we to understand it? As Christians, we recognize that only by turning to Jesus, only by fixing our eyes upon him, can we achieve full understanding of all that God reveals, all that He wills, including this summons to justice. So, let us do just as his hearers in the synagogue once did. With our gaze riveted upon the Saviour, let us listen to what he teaches.

In tonight’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus identifies himself as the One anointed and sent by the Spirit. This is immediately instructive for us. By speaking in this way of his identity, Jesus reveals our own. By the gift of the Spirit we are drawn into deepest communion with Christ himself. The Holy Spirit, which Jesus possessed in fullness, is the very same Spirit that indwells us through Baptism. This means that as Jesus was anointed and sent, so, too, are we. Union with our Lord impels us to participate in his mission. By reflecting upon our share in the mission of Christ, we gain an understanding of what it means, in our day, to pursue justice as his disciples. 

“He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Like you I am aware of the real poverty that afflicts so many of our brothers and sisters, even in our own city and country: those who cannot find affordable housing, or who are, in fact, homeless; or the working poor who find it almost impossible to make ends meet. Then, too, there is the poverty of loneliness and isolation, especially among the immigrants to our land. Neither can we forget that particularly debilitating poverty that is engendered by the lack of meaning and direction in the lives of many. To all of these we are sent to announce the good news of the wealth of God’s mercy and love revealed in Christ.

“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives.” Certainly, there are many who inhabit the prisons and detention centres within the boundaries of our respective areas of pastoral responsibility. But we can think also of the many today who are locked behind walls of fear and anxiety in the face of life’s many challenges; or the numberless people who are held captive by a lie, or by the many illusions that masquerade as reality. To these we are sent to announce freedom and release; to proclaim that true liberty arises when we place our faith in Christ and live from him who is the truth.

“He has sent me to proclaim ... recovery of sight to the blind.” The Gospels record many miracles by which those who could not see were restored by Jesus to physical sight. Yet the words and actions of our Lord were also aimed at healing a deeper and more dangerous blindness, one that still afflicts many people today who have not yet accepted his Gospel. This is the blindness to moral truth that leaves people unable to discern right from wrong and causes them to present one as the other. Nor can we fail to notice that the mystery of transcendence is eclipsed from the view of many who insist that only what is empirically verifiable qualifies as real. To this darkness, we are sent with the announcement that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the light that enables humanity truly to see the beauty of God, the mystery of creation, and the divine saving plan for humanity.

“He has sent me to ... let the oppressed go free.” Relief for the oppressed is an urgent concern for the disciples of Jesus Christ. Here the Holy Spirit prompts us to embrace the truth of our solidarity with all of suffering humanity. The Son of God emptied himself and became incarnate so as to enter fully into deepest solidarity with those destined to be his brothers and sisters. He assumed to himself the sin, pain and suffering of the human race, even to the point of death, and revealed by his resurrection the victorious power of love and mercy. Living in and from Christ, therefore, we too must unite ourselves to all who suffer, at home and abroad, and by our acts of mercy give witness to the power of the Cross to overcome evil.

In virtue of Baptism, we are a people anointed and sent. By faithfully responding to the call that is ours in virtue of our communion with Christ, we announce the Lord’s year of favour as forever “now” and work, now, to bring relief to the poor, blind, oppressed and captive. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, we learn that this is the way we are to pursue justice as the Lord himself would have us do.

Yet our reflections cannot end here. When we fix our eyes on the Lord, our gaze is focused upon the One who is not only our teacher but also our Saviour. This means that we turn our eyes toward him always in the hope that our gaze will meet his. We desire deeply to look upon the Lord, yet even more do we long for him to gaze upon us and our situation. Only by the light of his penetrating insight can we know how our minds must be renewed as St. Paul would put it, how we must repent and grow so as to follow him ever more faithfully and be effective agents of the justice he wills to bring about among people.

Let this, then, be our particular prayer this evening. May the Lord, in his look of love and mercy, enable us to see the truth of our situation. May his grace so renew our minds that our thought and behaviour patterns are shaped only by the beauty and truth of his Gospel. Many opposing voices are competing for our attention, striving to conform our mindsets to a vision of life centered not on justice but injustice, not on a genuine concern for others but an all-consuming absorption in the self. That we might pursue justice and only justice, may the gaze and grace of the Lord renew our minds, heal our hearts, draw us closer to one another and impel us toward the poor, blind, captive and oppressed with the liberating truth of the Gospel.

✠ Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton

January 20, 2019