FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR C
An article in Friday’s edition of the Kaleej Times bore the headline, “UAE All Set to Welcome Pope Francis.” The article began,” In the Year of Tolerance, when the head of Catholic Church is visiting the region for the first time, the government is not leaving any stone unturned to ensure the three-day state visit will be an all out success.” It quoted our Holy Father as saying that he was looking forward to his visit to a country that is a model of coexistence and peaceful fraternity. And in response, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, tweeted: “We warmly welcome you Holy Father, Pope Francis and look forward to the historic Human Fraternity Meeting between you and His Eminence Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif, in Abu Dhabi. We are hopeful that generations to come will proper in peace and security.”
Those words are most gracious; and, I regret to say, they leave me amazed, coming as they do in a culture sadly lacking in gracious discourse. They came to my mind immediately when I read St. Luke’s comment that all in the synagogue at Nazareth spoke highly about Jesus and “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
St. Paul’s famous hymn to love in this First Letter to the Corinthians has become extremely familiar to Catholics who have attended any number of wedding ceremonies and Nuptial Masses. And, like everything familiar, we have a tendency to tune out as we listen, because we believe that we have heard it all before. I would suggest, however, that in our culture of confrontation and “in your face” discourse, not to mention hate speech, we need to listen very attentively to Paul. Love, he assures us is the supreme gift of God, and it is a gift that not only delights but challenges us. Listen. “Love is patient. It is not rude. It is not quick-tempered, It does not seek its own interests. It rejoices with the truth.”
Our culture more and more powerfully disposes us to demonize people who disagree with us. The media prompt us to respond instantaneously and without a measured consideration of context or differing “takes” on the same events. Certainly, we had an example of that two weeks ago when the Bishop of Covington and a number of Catholic commentators on the news found themselves issuing apologies after jumping to hasty conclusions about a confrontation at the end of the March for Life in Washington.
Christian discipleship demands that we respond constantly to challenges and disagreements in a mature, measured, and – above all – respectful way. The challenges began in the synagogue at Nazareth when Jesus deliberately provoked his listeners to consider how supremely free God is in dispensing his healing, life-giving mercy. “There were many widows in Israel…It was to none of these that Elijah was sent… There were many lepers in Israel… yet not one of them was cleansed.” And the response was swift and violent. “They rose up, drove him out of town and led him to the brow of the hill… to hurl him down headlong.”
Hopefully, Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates and his interactions with leaders of different religious traditions will set a better example. And as we look forward to the annual celebration of Valentine’s Day, may we bear witness to the fact that love is far more than a delightful emotion. Love is a call to hard work and heroism, and to the recollection of God’s words to Jeremiah, “I am with you to deliver you.”