It is wonderful to be here with all of you here for my first Sunday mass here at St James parish in Tupelo. It has seemed to be a whirlwind of activity for me, trying to wind down all my activities in Yazoo City and Belzoni and to get ready for the move here to northeast Mississippi. As we hear about the calls that Jesus and Jeremiah lived out in their lives under some rather difficult and challenging circumstances, we might think about the calls that God sends us in our own lives. I arrived here in Tupelo very late on Thursday night and got up to celebrate the 8:00 mass with the community here on Friday morning. One of the last things I did in Yazoo City was to visit the state prison there and to say goodbye to the inmates who have been attending my Catholic services there for the past 2 ½ years. In fact, I have been visiting inmates in three different prisons these past years, so prison ministry is something that God has called me to as a priest and that has grown very near and dear to my heart. A few weeks ago, I noticed a saying scrawled on a whiteboard in the chapel of the federal prison in Yazoo City where I had mass with the prisoners each Saturday morning. It said this – “Do not judge today based on the harvest that you reap – rather, look at today based upon the number of seeds that you sow.”
I can imagine this saying having a particular meaning to the prophet Jeremiah and the circumstances of today’s first reading. Jeremiah feels destined and called to be a prophet. In fact, God told Jeremiah that even before he was formed in his mother's womb, God knew him and chose him for the special purpose of being a prophet not only for the people of Israel, but rather for all the nations.
As comforting and hopeful as God’s message sounds to us today, of choosing Jeremiah as a prophet, God warns Jeremiah of the opposition and resistance his prophetic message will incur from the people. God tells him to prepare himself and arise, to tighten his belt and to get ready for action. What a frightening message for Jeremiah to hear. However, God tells him that he will protect him in the midst of this, that God will make him a pillar of iron, a fortified city able to withstand the enemy attacks. God promises Jeremiah that his enemies will not prevail, that Jeremiah will be delivered.
Jeremiah's experiences in a hostile environment are echoed in the reaction Jesus receives in his hometown: the crowd assembled in the synagogue is astonished and initially responds favorably to the glad tidings to the poor that Jesus proclaims from the book of Isaiah. But, the crowd begins to wonder how a carpenter's son could be doing something so beyond the boundaries of accepted behavior according to his status in society. Yet, Jesus continues to challenge their narrow view of God's love and salvation by noting how Elisha and Elijah reached out to the Gentiles in healing miracles. The crowd becomes furious and even wants to harm Jesus, not wanting to give up its preconceptions about Jesus or about God.
Jesus and Jeremiah continued to sow seeds in the lives of the people. They continued to bring God’s message to the people and to proclaim the kingdom of God to all. We, too, are called to sow seeds in our lives, to have God’s message affect how we live in the world, and to have that message change and renew the world in both little and big ways.
We have been recognizing the Year of Faith since October, celebrating the faith traditions, devotions, and spirituality that mark our Catholic faith. We have been trying to renew the Catholic faith within all of us, and then in turn, we are to use our faith to be evangelizers to the world. Today, February 3, we celebrate St Blaise each year. Blaise was a bishop is Armenia who was martyred for the faith back in the year 316. The is a legend that has been passed down about St Blaise, about how he healed a boy was brought to him who was chocking on a fish bone in his throat and about to die. St Blaise is now the patron saint of those suffering for maladies of the throat, so we have a special blessing of the throats today in honor of Blaise and to recall this tradition of our faith. Coming in the middle of cold and flu season, this blessing could not come at a better time for us. So now, we will invite people to come forward for our traditional blessing of the throats.