HOMILY - JANUARY 29, 2012
I went to the seminary in Baltimore, at St. Mary’s, the nation’s oldest
seminary, founded in the 1700s. It was a wonderful place and had high
academic standards. And, it was a national seminary, meaning that our
seminarians came from dioceses throughout the United States.
In 1976, as I was preparing to be ordained a deacon, a few of us decided
to organize a self-styled retreat to prepare spiritually for our ordinations.
4 of us seminarians and 2 of the priests on the faculty spent a weekend
together at a resort area called Ocean City, in Maryland.
One of those priests had a friend who let us borrow their condo on the
13th floor of a high rise building on the beach.
It was a wonderful weekend that we spent together, knowing full well
that we would never spend much time together again, scattered across
the United States as we were.
We cooked some wonderful meals, drank some good wine, said our
prayers together, had great conversations about our years together,
walked the beach and celebrated a couple of Masses during the
The high point came at our Mass on Sunday morning. We had it in the
living room with its large windows looking down on the Atlantic Ocean.
And we had a dialogue homily, meaning we openly discussed the
readings of the day.
At one point in the homily my best friend, Vince, from Virginia, asked the
priest celebrant, Father Joe, “if he could boil all of Christianity down to a
single word, what would that word be?” I remember thinking that it was
a kind of a hazardous question. After all, how to do boil down all of
Christianity, our whole tradition, down to a single word? But Father Joe
didn’t flinch or pause for a second. Without hesitation, he shot back “the
word would be ‘Surrender.’”
“Give in. Give it up. Don’t resist Him.”
He went on to elaborate. “We spend all our lives erecting walls between
ourselves and God. We hold onto those little private spaces where we
don’t want God to get in. Oh, we might give him 95% of our lives,
perhaps even 99%, but we don’t let Him in to some of our spaces. We
hold on to those. All the time, He’s trying to break into our lives if only
we will let Him.”
“This is a God,” he said, “who loves us so much that He wants to pitch
His tent on the front yards of our hearts, if only we will let Him. So, the
word would be ‘Surrender.’”
I think of that moment as I think about today’s scene in the Gospel –
people, in one sense, surrendering to Him.
Jesus comes “into the synagogue and taught.” And, the crowd is
astonished. We don’t hear a single word of his teaching – but simply
that they’re astounded by what he taught, surrendered to his teaching,
and told others about him.
The only word he speaks is to the one who has the clearest sense of
who Jesus is: Satan. Demons possess the man with an unclean spirit.
“What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to
destroy us?” Then, Satan’s voice shifts from plural to singular: “I know
who you are - the Holy One of God!”
With Jesus’ simple“Quiet! Come out of him!’ -Satan surrenders - at least
for a time.
“Who is this?” they all ask in astonishment.
It’s not unlike the time when the disciples were in a boat with Jesus -
crossing the Sea of Galilee. A violent storm came up and He
commands: “Quiet! Be still.” Even storms surrender to the authority of
The people are astonished by the authority with which he spoke.
Rabbis handed down what they learned from other rabbis…from the
Torah…all the way back to Moses, who had spoken to God. A rabbi was
always quoting others. Scribes, too, never gave an opinion of their own
without backing it up by mention of their predecessors.
We see that in the Church. Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of St.
Thomas Aquinas, likely the greatest intellectual in Catholic history. What
does he do? Thomas has a lot of great teachings but to back them up
he quotes the scriptures, Jesus, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Anselm.
Not so Jesus! He teaches out of his “own being.” In Greek the word
‘authority’ is ‘ex ousia’ – “out of your own substance” / “out of your own
You see this in the Sermon on the Mount. He’ll say, “You’ve heard
Moses’ law “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” – “but what I say to
you is offer no resistance to injury. If a man strikes you on the right
cheek turn and offer him the left.”
Jesus speaks from an authority greater than Moses. Because He’s God
He needs no experts.
To the people it’s a break with the past. His words amaze. His deeds left
And, what of us? Shouldn’t we surrender to this authority?
Lots of voices claim to speak the truth in our world. They compete for
They’re professional athletes, the voices of Fox or MSNBC, politicians,
New Age groupies, health gurus, Oprah and Ellen. We can take some of
what they say but only to a point.
Don’t listen as if they’re the prime authority of your life.
Christ casts out evil. His authority heals. His authority forgives and
offers God’s mercy. His wisdom saves us from pride.
Think of those times when you’ve experienced that authority in your
own life, those times when you heard His voice speak to your heart.
And surrender - surrender to that voice again and again.
Don’t resist Him. Give it up. Give in. Surrender.