(Dt 18:15-20; 1Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28)
What do you think is the difference between an orator of the world and an orator of God’s Word? In the ongoing Impeachment Trial in the Senate of the Philippines as an Impeachment Court, we see a lot of orators and hear a lot of orations.
The Dominican Fr. John Francis Ku, writing beautifully on the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen as Master Preacher, says that while a man becomes an orator in the world by learning how to orate, a man becomes an orator of Christ by learning how to “orare”. “Orare” is the Latin verb for “to pray.” An orator of the world is a dealer in words. An orator of Christ is a communicator of God’s Word. Fr. Ku further says that an orator of the world is like a flint that kindles its own fires while an orator of Christ is like a brand lit by the torch of God.
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen was an orator of Christ and a master preacher of God’s Word. As a master preacher, he spoke and taught as one having an authority and not as the others, as the Gospel reading today tells of Jesus.
One cannot deny that the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen was truly a gifted and learned man, but his authority in preaching, as he himself would attribute it, came from God. His authority was not personal and not of his own but one that ultimately came from his deep relationship and intimacy with Jesus, especially in moments of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen is known for his personal devotion, commitment and promotion of the daily One Hour of Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He promoted this commitment especially to the priests and the preachers of God’s Word. In his autobiography, Archbishop Sheen entitled a chapter The Hour That Makes My Day. On the day of his ordination to the priesthood, as Fr. Ku also relates, he resolved to spend an hour of prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament every day of his life, a promise he observed faithfully until the end. This nourishment served as the very root of his prayer life, his vocation, his perseverance and his fruitfulness in ministry, including his preaching. All of Archbishop Sheen’s homilies and sermons were prepared in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Archbishop Fulton Sheen spoke with authority because he was truly a man of God, a man of prayer, a man of God’s Word and a man of the Eucharist.
In the gospel today, Jesus’ authority was recognized not only by the people but also by an evil spirit. The gospel says, “The people were astonished at the way he taught…” “They wondered, ‘What is this?’ With what authority he preached? He even orders evil spirits and they obey him.” Indeed, the evil spirit, at the command of Jesus, came out of the man it had possessed.
The context of the teaching of Jesus was the synagogue worship. As an adult member of the community, he took his turn at teaching those gathered in the synagogue. The people were used to the manner of teaching of the other scribes. The scribes as official teachers usually relied on the authority of the others preceding them. This was not the case with Jesus. He taught as having an authority in his own right. The people recognized this and were amazed at it. The exorcism he performed was another manifestation of the unusual authority that he had.
It was actually the evil spirit which articulated the source of the authority of Jesus, both in teaching and in exorcising. While the name Jesus of Nazareth was a recognition of Jesus’ natural and human origin, as someone coming from the little and obscure town of Nazareth, the title “the Holy One of God” that the evil spirit used to refer to Jesus was a recognition of Jesus’ distinctive relationship with God and of his unique status and superiority. The evil spirit admitted this when it uttered, “Have you come to destroy us?” The evil spirit knew that it was in confrontation with Jesus and that Jesus was far more superior over and against it and the other evil spirits. Jesus was definitely more powerful than the evil spirits because he was from God, he was sent by God and he spoke the Word of God. Later on, Jesus’ followers would recognize him not only as coming from God, but the Son of God himself.
Jesus’ authority was divine as it came from God and was of God. Jesus also used this authority for the good of others, which included instructing and teaching people to turn to the Lord and to his Kingdom and freeing people from the power of Satan and his cohorts. The preaching of Jesus did not only bring about admiration, as can be seen in the reactions of the people. More important were the transformation, liberation and renewal that it brought to the man freed from the chains of the evil spirit. Jesus’ teaching was with authority not only in terms of its divine source but also because of its transforming and liberating effects on the part of the listeners and recipients.
Etymologically, the word authority comes from the Latin word auctoritas, which literally means “a producing” or “a cause.” An authority is that something that produces or causes one to do what one is doing in a particular way and with a particular result. What caused Archbishop Fulton Sheen to preach with authority? What caused Jesus to preach and expel evil spirits with authority? Ultimately, the question, in fact, is not “what” but “who”. Who caused Archbishop Fulton Sheen to preach with authority? Who caused Jesus to teach and expel evil spirits with authority? It was GOD.
Authority has also something to do with influence. What is the influence of the person on another or the others? What effects does the person with authority have on others? Again, we see in the examples of Jesus and of Archbishop Fulton Sheen the good influences and effects of their teaching and preaching on the listeners and recipients. By its fruits, we know not only the tree but also the source of one’s authority.
What does this gospel reading have to do with us? Most of us are not priests or preachers and teachers. Maybe, not in the official sense. But, whether we like it or not, we are all teachers and preachers. We are all priests, prophets and kings by virtue of common baptism. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach at all times, and if necessary use words.” We, ordained ministers, preach to God’s people in a more official capacity. Parents teach their children. Parents have a lot to learn from their children. We all teach and preach to one another, whether we like or not.
Don’t we often hear the following statements? “I have learned a lot from this person and from his example.” “I have been touched by his show of kindness.” “I have been inspired by his leadership by good example.” As Christians, we must preach the Word of God with words, by our deeds and by the way we live our lives. Do we really do this? Do we teach or preach with authority? Are we truly receptacles and channels of God’s message of love, peace, justice and forgiveness? St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, “We cannot be channels of God’s love unless we are first receptacles.” And, in everything that we do, do we always seek the good and betterment of others?
Some weeks ago, I saw an attempted robbery in a store in the US that had been captured on CCTV, broadcasted by TV station KDFW Fox 4, and made available on YouTube. In the presence of a client, the masked robber pointed his gun at the lone sales lady and owner and asked for money. Marian Chadwick, the sales lady and owner, did not give the robber money but instead commanded him to leave the place in the name of Jesus. She shouted, “In the name of Jesus, get out of my store. Right now! I bid you in the name of Jesus, leave my store.” The robber was taken aback and left without hurting the sales lady and owner and taking anything from the store.
Did Marian Chadwick speak with authority? More than we could ever imagine. We may never do what Marian Chadwick did. But the truth remains: We can teach or speak with authority when we allow God, his Word and his power to be the one speaking in and through us. We can witness to Christ with authority when our lives are credible witnesses of selflessness and God-centeredness. We live with authority when it is Christ who truly lives in and through us.
St. Joseph Cupertino, pointing to the preacher as God’s instrument, says: “A preacher is like a trumpet which produces no tone unless one blows into it. So, before preaching pray to God: You are the spirit and I am only a trumpet, and without your breath, I can give you no sound.”
This is true not only in terms of preaching, teaching and witnessing. This is true in the very way we live our lives as Christians. We are nothing without Christ. We have no authority without Christ. We have no impact without Christ. We can only make a difference when we allow ourselves to be humble instruments of the Lord. The paradox of human instrumentality vis-à-vis God’s initiative and action was expressed by Archbishop Fulton Sheen when he said: “Everything is done by God and nothing is done without us.” As Christians, we teach, preach, witness, minister and live in Christ’s behalf just as the prophet Moses, as the First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy says, was raised by the Lord and spoke in his name.
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 95) exhorts us not to harden our hearts when we hear God’s voice. God’s voice is spoken in a very special way in the Scriptures and in the words, deeds and lives of God’s faithful servants and witnesses as they try to live God’s Word in their lives. God is proclaimed in and through the lives of people who live passionate and single-hearted lives, as the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians insinuates. Indeed, when we hear and recognize God’s voice and presence, we need to heed him. God is coming not to destroy us, in contrast to the experience of the evil spirits mentioned in the gospel, but to save us and claim us as God’s beloved children.
When God speaks, he always speaks with authority. When we respond to God, we should respond with the totality of our being, with all honesty and integrity. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” “I come to do your will.” “You have the words of eternal life.”
Santuario de San Antonio Parish
January 28-29, 2012