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January 31, 2016 — Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

READINGS: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 14-17; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 12: 31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30

PROPHETS AND LOVERS

assembly-logo“Hearts on Fire” was the theme of my congregation’s 2015 Assembly, a once-every-four-year gathering to set our direction and elect our leaders. One memorable evening we were serenaded by a spirited group of women, the “Daughters of LEFSA.” Their soulful singing meant even more when we learned that all of them had been touched by homelessness and other hardships. When one woman read her poem that named us “the Fire-Hearts,” I could barely hold back the tears.

Today’s readings call every one of us to be “Fire-Hearts.” God tells the prophet Jeremiah not to fear when he speaks words that his hearers reject. The prophet must be strong-hearted, like a “fortified city,” built firm on the rock of God’s strength.

In the Gospel, the townspeople first praise Jesus’ “gracious words” as good news, but when he tries to stretch their horizons, they quickly turn against him in fury. The good news that Jesus brings is meant for all, not just a select few. God wishes to heal and set free even the feared outsider, the hated foreigner (Naaman the Syrian — imagine!). Jesus the prophet brings fire — burning, cleansing, searing.

A prophet is laser-focused on a mission that has been given to him, on fire with a vision greater than her own. A prophet both sees and names what is, and calls others to imagine and work for what could be — like Jeremiah and Jesus, like Pope Francis and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who stood up to the Taliban.

Fire burns differently in each of us. As St. Paul reminded us last Sunday, some are prophets, some are teachers, some are “roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work” kind of people, some analyze the policies that keep people in poverty and create the strategies to change them, some march and protest, some get down on their knees and pray mightily for the rest of us.

This Sunday’s second reading (1 Corinthians 13) hammers home the point: no fire is greater than Love’s fire. No matter what gifts we have, not even prophecy, or faith, or inspired speech, they ring hollow if they’re not infused with love.

Prophets who aren’t lovers risk becoming brittle, strident, joyless.
Lovers who aren’t prophets risk becoming sentimental, narrow, out of touch.

Paul’s agenda for a lifetime of loving is far from a sugar-coated greeting card. No, this kind of love — loving each other as God loves us — “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Gulp! The message of today’s readings for me is simple and stark: “Love costs.”

So where will the love of Christ impel us this day? To be a prophet? To be a lover? To be a “fire-heart”? In the power of the Spirit, in the image of Jesus, we’re invited, impelled, to be all of the above. As we seek to follow that mission, we can trust that our God will be our refuge and our stronghold.

–Sister Regina Bechtle, SC

Regina-Bechtle-1Sr. Regina serves as Charism Resource Director for the Sisters of Charity of New York. A retreat leader and spiritual director, she gives presentations to lay and religious groups about St. Elizabeth Seton and our Vincentian-Charity heritage of spirituality.

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