LAST Sunday’s First Reading from the Book of Jeremiah is one of the powerful biblical passages that I’ve encountered regarding one’s prophetic role. Realizing that the Lord duped him to take this job, Jeremiah, however, confessed that he could not be silent to speak in God’s name: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
I told my students in homiletics class to take Jeremiah’s words as their own because it will be their primary duty as priests to preach God’s Word like “fire burning in their hearts,” to proclaim it boldly without weariness and hesitation. I shared with them that it is my responsibility as their mentor to see them growing in unceasing love and zeal for preaching the Gospel and living it out authentically every day of their lives.
This call to preach the Gospel like fire burning in our hearts is for all of us Christians. In today’s world wherein we face difficult issues of immigration, poverty, human trafficking, global warming, and homelessness, the Lord challenges us to speak courageously on his behalf. He challenges us to speak up for greater respect and promotion of the dignity of every child, woman, and man; for the care of their well-being; and for the protection of the environment and all of God’s creation.
As the Lord in this Sunday’s First Reading (Ezekiel 33:7-9) appointed Ezekiel to be a “watchman for the house of Israel,” he also sends us in this world to remind people to be faithful to God’s commandments of love, forgiveness, and mercy. He asks us not to be afraid to warn people of their wickedness—their selfishness, greed, corruption, and pride. He summons us to do this not only out of great concern for poor and weak but also out of great love for sinners. This is evident in the words of God to Ezekiel, “If I tell the wicked. ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”
This Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 95) speaks of this call to be “watchmen” for the people of God: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” No matter how different our views are regarding the issues of the nation and the world, we must always defend the values of the Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ proclaimed on earth, which are mainly about love, mercy, justice, and peace.
In his Letter to the Romans (13:8-10), St. Paul reiterates this responsibility: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
The most pressing we need we have in this world is to be united in prayer and fidelity to God’s commandments. It is our earnest prayer as the Gospel tells us this Sunday (Matthew 18:15-20) to agree on earth about anything for which we are to pray, “for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
May we never stop proclaiming God’s love, peace, and justice for the world!
* * *
From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.