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February 3, 2013 - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12:12-31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30

January 30, 2013

At CTU we have just completed the J-Term - a four week intensive period of teaching and learning. Mary Frohlich, RSCJ and I taught a course, "ES-4002 Ethics, Spirituality, and Global Climate Change." In her or his final research paper each student addressed ethical and spiritual dimensions of human caused global warming and climate change as it affects their homeland or the place of their anticipated ministry following study at CTU. Our class included students from China, Viet Nam, Nigeria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the U.S.

Some of the horrific realities linked to human caused global warming and climate change that these future ministers and our fellow believers face today are: the permanent displacement of peoples due to sea level rise caused by melting polar ice; extreme drought and the desertification of farmland and pastures leading to food insecurity and famine; permanent loss of potable water sources due to permanent loss of mountain glacier and snow melt, and more. All of these urgent issues require serious reflection and action by people of faith.

It was inspiring to see these CTU students engage such harsh, indeed life threatening situations, with the vast ethical and spiritual resources of our faith. But when their insights are preached and taught, will these new prophetic voices be heard? Therein lies the test for all of us. Will these prophets be received as Jesus was in today's Gospel? Will we hear only their "graceful words" (Lk 4:22) but then reject their message because "no prophet is welcomed in the prophet's home town?" If we cannot receive their message, will we lose an opportunity to strengthen and live out our vocation, given on the day of our baptism, when we were anointed to serve God as prophet, priest, and king? Today's Gospel invites us to examine Jesus' prophetic work and to see what we can learn for our day.

First, Jesus clearly identified himself as a prophet and he appropriated to himself the examples of the prophets Elijah and Elisha (Lk 4:24-27). Earlier, Jesus read the words of the prophet Isaiah (Is 61), and he then characterized his own ministry as their fulfillment (Lk 4: 21). Jesus' mission was to bring good news to the poor; the blind; the captives; and the oppressed. He also made special reference to the Jubilee Year (Lv 25:10-18) in which the land is required to rest; all debts are remitted; and slaved manumitted. Initially those listening to Jesus seemed to approve; they were "amazed at his graceful words" (Lk 4:22). But then they turned on him (vv 22-27)! It was as if something suddenly "clicked" and they "got it!" But, according to Luke, what they realized enraged them (v 28).

Jesus' deeper and more challenging message finally was heard. By comparing his ministry to that of Elijah and Elisha he was not simply claiming a message identical to Isaiah's. What was common between Elijah (I Kgs 17:1-16) and Elisha (II Kgs 5: 1-14) was that they extended good news to Gentiles who were "the poor; the blind; the captives; and the oppressed." Thus Jesus signaled his mission and ministry was to be for all nations. This proposition clearly did not sit well with Jesus' hometown folks (v 22). Luke suggests that people were unwilling and unable to open themselves to God's universal gift of salvation. Thus, the people lost an opportunity to grow in relationship to God and others, and Jesus' was rejected in his own country.

The biblical prophets were individuals called by God to communicate a salvific message to God's Chosen People and to compel them to keep their commitments to God, and the covenants with their neighbors in creation and community. Prophets announced the good news of God's justice and love, and denounced any violations against it. Frequently prophets warned people to change their ways, enticing them to deepen their understanding or to see the bigger picture - from God's viewpoint of universal justice and love.

St. Paul speaks of love in a forceful, inclusive, and positive vein:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I. . . comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
         but do not have love, I am nothing. . . .
Love is patient, love is kind. . . .
it does not seek its own interests . . .
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
        Love never fails.....
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
        but the greatest of these is love.[i]

I suggest that today as we see the effects of human caused global warming and climate change we have been given a new prophetic call to cooperate in extending God's justice and love to the Earth itself. As Pope Benedict XVI put it in his 2010 World Day of Peace Message:

Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of "environmental refugees," people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it - and often their possessions as well - in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources? All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development. [ii] 

Won't you join our CTU students in responding to this call to justice and love in our time? 

Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F
The Erica and Harry John Family Endowed Chair in Catholic Ethics

[i]1 Cor 12:31-13:13

[ii]Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2010, "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation,"§4, benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20091208_xliii-world-day-peace_en.html, (accessed January 26, 2013). See also Dawn M. Nothwehr, Ecological Footprints: A Franciscan Guide to Sustainable Living, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2012).

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