"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
September 4, 2011: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Ezekiel 33:7-9
Synopsis: Ezekiel was a priest in Jerusalem who was sent into exile after the city was sacked by the Babylonians in 597 B.C. Jerusalem’s destruction and the exile that followed were seen as punishment for national apostasy. Ezekiel however stresses the idea of personal sin and individual responsibility. Even though captive, each person is still free to choose between good and evil.
In the first reading Ezekiel compares himself to a watchman whose job is to alert the citizens to approaching danger. As God’s spokesman, Ezekiel must “warn the wicked man to turn away from his iniquity.” Echoing the first reading, Psalm 95 summons us to heed God’s voice. The first part is a call to worship while the second part urges us to open our hearts to the word of God.
In the second reading St. Paul summarizes the entire Law of Moses with a single commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This injunction doesn’t excuse us from other ethical obligations; rather it is the unifying principle behind them.
This week’s Gospel deals with sin in the Church, and fraternal correction. Sin doesn’t just affect the individual, but the whole Church. In light of the first reading and the Psalm, the Gospel teaches us that God speaks to us through his Church. First and foremost God speaks to us through his word, especially at Mass. Other times he speaks to us through our bishops and priests, and sometimes he even speaks to us through other people. Either way, the word of God is meant to help us turn away from sin and do good.
Key verse: “If today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts!” (Psalm 95: 7-8)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Holy Spirit gives a spiritual understanding of the word of God to those who read or hear it, according to the dispositions of their hearts. By means of the words, actions, and symbols that form the structure of a celebration, the Spirit puts both the faithful and the ministers into a living relationship with Christ, the word and image of the Father, so that they can live out the meaning of what they hear, contemplate, and do in the celebration” (No. 1101).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The divine word also discloses the sin that lurks in the human heart. Quite frequently in both the Old and in the New Testament, we find sin described as a refusal to hear the word, as a breaking of the covenant and thus as being closed to God who calls us to communion with himself. Sacred Scripture shows how man’s sin is essentially disobedience and refusal to hear” (“Verbum Domini,” 26).
Life application: This week’s readings remind us that each of us bears personal responsibility for our actions. God’s word illuminates the dark recesses of our souls so that we can see ourselves as God sees us. Only when you’re truly open to God’s word and willing to take responsibility for your sins can you experience the freedom of redemption.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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