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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
February 1, 2015

Moses was the one who delivered God’s word to the Israelites in the form of the Law. So when we hear him say today, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me” he must be referring to Someone that would do something similar. And that is exactly what we find in our Gospel today, “immediately on the Sabbath (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught.” And not only that, but “he taught…as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” And while there are similarities between the two, this is a more wonderful occurrence than Moses receiving the word of the Law from God because in Jesus we have God Himself delivering the message. An analogy might help to see the significance: Moses precedes Christ as your own shadow precedes you when walking with the sun at your back. Even though the path in front of you is visible, everything in the shadow is darkened to your sight. But, when you turn toward the Sun, everything can be clearly seen. In a similar manner, when the Son of God came and shed His light on the teachings of Moses, the people were astounded by the illumination He provided. Remember what happens when you step out of darkness and into the full light of day. At first, you are blinded and cannot clearly make out your surroundings and that is what happened here when Christ was teaching the people with authority. Therefore, in order to assure those present that what they were beginning to see was real and not an illusion; Jesus speaks again with authority and commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man who was possessed.

From this we are supposed to see clearly that Jesus is not like one of the scribes, who only reiterated the teachings of Moses. Instead, He is God – that is the only way He could speak and command with such Authority. And if this is the case – as we Catholics claim to believe – then shouldn’t we listen to and obey Him? After all, if a demon knows better than to ignore the command of Christ, then we who claim to follow Christ must do nothing less.

But, how do we hear Christ speaking to us so that we may follow Him? One answer to this question would be to follow our conscience. All people, whether they are Catholic or not, understand the obligation to follow their conscience. If we think something is wrong, we should avoid it and if we think something is right we should do it. And if we do the right and avoid the wrong are we not following Christ? This seems to be a simple answer of how we can truly hear Christ speaking to us. But there is a big pitfall in regards to conscience that people constantly overlook, which is this: while we do have an obligation to follow our conscience, we also have a duty to make sure that our conscience is properly formed. If our conscience has not been properly formed then it is possible to do the wrong thing while thinking that we are doing right. In regards to this we must understand that things are not right or wrong just because we happen to think they are. Instead, there is an objective reality that we must acknowledge in order to know what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, following Christ is not as simple as following our conscience. We first need a source of authority that can show us this objective reality about right and wrong.

But where can we find this authority? Certainly, as we learned today in the Gospel reading, Christ is that Authority that we need to guide our lives properly. But, He no longer walks physically among us in order to lead us down the path of salvation. One solution to this problem of a need for the Authority of Christ could be Sacred Scripture; because in it Christ still speaks to us. That is a reason that Scripture is read at every Mass – so that Christ can continue to speak to us. But yet another problem arises from this in that Scripture does not interpret itself. Instead, mankind interprets Scripture; and when we, as individuals, hear or read the words of Christ we can be mistaken about what they mean. Proof of this is easily seen when we look at the fractured state of those who believe in Christ. There are a multitude of so-called denominations, each of which is a result of the private interpretation of Scripture. And so even with Scripture we are left with a lack of Authority to lead us safely down the path of salvation. If only Christ were still here to speak to us so that we would not wander off the path.

And yet, He is here and he does speak to us still – people just don’t want to hear what He has to say. Let me explain how He is still with us and continues to speak to us. Our Lord spent three years teaching His Apostles the Truth about the Kingdom of God and told them, “He who hears you, hears me.”[1] And the Apostles then entrusted this “Sacred deposit of the faith” to the whole Church. And it is the teaching office of the Church, the living Magisterium, that continues to faithfully and fully hand on to succeeding generations what it has received, which is nothing less than the complete teaching of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when the Church speaks authoritatively it is in fact Jesus Himself that is speaking to us and guiding us along our way so that we may not stray from the path of salvation.

And yet many Catholics claim that they cannot accept the Authority that Christ has bestowed upon His Church because her teachings don’t make sense to them. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But we must ask: why is it the case that so many Catholics don’t accept the authoritative teachings of the Church? The answer is quite simple – it is due to the fact that their consciences have been formed and their understanding of Scripture conditioned by a source of authority other than Christ: for example the secular media, Hollywood, politicians, books, music, etc. The thinking is that if they see it on TV or read it on the internet then it must be true.

But I think there is a deeper reason why these people won’t accept the teaching authority of the Church and that reason is pride. They simply don’t want to see the Truth of the Church’s teaching because it doesn’t happen to coincide with their own limited opinion. They have heard what they want to hear from the world and have set that up as their standard of truth. And by so doing they claim to know more than Christ.

But salvation is not found in the world. If it were then the coming of the Son of God as Man would have been unnecessary. But we see in our Gospel today that He did in fact come and He spoke with Authority. And He still speaks to us with that same Authority which knows the way to life everlasting. And so the question that remains is this: will you listen?

[1] CCC §87