"All Scripture is Inspired..."

(Twenty-Ninth Sunday, Year C)

When you enter Holy Family Church you may have noticed the words inscribed in the vestibule: "All Scripture is inspired by God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to instruct in justice." (2 Tim 3:16) They are the same words we heard in our second reading today. Monsignor McGrath had them placed in the church entrance area back in 1953 . I look at those words with some affection and even amusement because sometimes I hear people talk as if Catholics did not discover the Bible until after the Second Vatican Council. Of course the Bible has always been an integral part of our liturgy, art and prayer. You can find many exhortations by Church Fathers, popes and councils for Catholics to know the Word of God.

This does not mean the Second Vatican Council did not bring real advances in promoting the reading of Scripture. The greatest is what I am holding, the Sunday Lectionary. We now follow a three year cycle of Scripture readings that includes almost the entirety of the four Gospels, the epistles as well as major sections of the books of the Old Testament. If a person listened carefully on Sunday, he would drink deeply from God's Word.

Still, I must add a caution. St. Paul makes it clear that our goal is not simply to learn the Scriptures--like we might learn the ins and outs of a Shakespeare play. He mentions three uses of the Bible: to teach, to reprove and to train in holiness or justice. To teach is to lead out of darkness. Our minds are darkened by the consumer society we live in; the Bible can help draw us out of that slavery. The Bible is constantly speaking about eternity--that has a way of putting our latest shopping frenzy into a perspective.

The second use of the Scripture is to reprove which means to rebuke or correct. People love the Bible because it calls a spade a spade, a sin a sin. Have you ever been in a quandary, not knowing what to do? Then picked up the Bible, opened it a random, started reading and something hit you right between the eyes? St. Augustine did that when he was alone in a garden. He heard a child's voice say "tolle et legge, take and read." He opened to Romans 13:13: "Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." That verse transformed his life and he went on to be one of the Church's greatest teachers. The Bible has power to rebuke and correct.

Finally the Bible trains in justice or holiness. When I made a thirty day retreat, I learned a beautiful way of using the Bible to pray. It involved taking a single verse and spending a half hour or hour trying to savor it. One verse which my director had me spend several meditations on was from the prophet Jeremiah: "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (29:11) Even tho those words were uttered in a specific context what matters most is that God speaks them to you and me in our present circumstances. The Bible "trains for holiness," a phrase which St. Paul parallels with being "equipped for every good work."

St. Paul joins Scriptural inspiration to what we Catholics call Tradition. In the preceding verses he tells Timothy to remain faithful to what he has learned from his teachers (2 Tim 3:14-15). He's referring the truths passed on (traditio) by the spoken word. Sometimes people think there is a contradiction between written Scriptures (the Bible) and oral tradition. There is not. Jesus taught orally. As far as we know he wrote nothing down except whatever he traced in the ground when the adulteress was brought before him (Jn 8:6). His disciples taught by word of mouth. The New Testament emerged from that oral teaching--and that Tradition continues right till our day. We have seen an example of it in recent years as Pope John Paul has clarified some of the biblical teaching on capital punishment. It's not that the pope and bishops can teach something not in the Bible, but that we need their guidance to understand the true scriptural doctrine.

Now I've spent the major part of this Sunday's homily time explaining the uses of the Bible and its relation to Tradition. I do not want to ignore the Gospel where Jesus describes the importance of persistent prayer, not losing heart. I'm thinking of this in terms of a beautiful image I will be seeing this week when I go down to Peru: Our Lord of the Miracles. In 1651 an Angolan slave named Benito painted a picture of Christ crucified on a wall. Four years later on Nov. 13, 1655, an earthquake struck Lima. It leveled most of the city, but that image of Jesus was undamaged. It became such a focus of popular devotion that the city authorities feared a slave revolt might begin there. September of 1671, the Viceroy ordered the image to be whitewashed. Whether they were miraculously restrained or just could not destroy a picture of Jesus in his suffering, the two men sent to erase it were unable to make the first brush stroke. Little by little the officials accepted the image.

As the title implies, this image has been the occasion of many miracles. A recent one involved a four year old boy named Leonardo Carmelino. He had fallen from the second story of a building and suffered a severe brain concussion. The doctors said their was no hope for him. But his mother, like the importune widow in today's Gospel, did not despair. She went before the mural and told Jesus that if he saved her child, she and her entire family would dedicate themselves to his service. When she went home, she discovered that Leonardo had recovered completely. To this day the Carmelino family have dedicated themselves to Our Lord of the Miracles.

The lesson is clear: Do not give up hope, not just for some advantage in this life, but what St. Paul describes as the true benefit--life eternal with Jesus himself.

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From Archives (Homilies for Twenty-Ninth Sunday, Year C):

2016: Boots Laced Week 5: Little People
2013: Focus on Prayer, Part Two: Persistence
2010: Persistent Prayer - The Eucharist
2007: The Manly Task of Intercession
2004: A Significant Battlefront
2001: Such a Home Is Prayer
1998: All Scripture is Inspired

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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