The Year of Faith is a summons to renewal, the kind of renewal undertaken by Jerusalem’s exiles as they returned to raise a new nation from the ruins of the past.
The Book of Nehemiah chronicled this new beginning, giving particular emphasis to the promulgation of the Law that would become the foundation of Israel’s renewal.
The Book describes, in great detail, the ceremonial that surrounded the promulgation of the Law. The whole assembly gathered for the proclamation of the Law given to Moses, listening to its decrees from early morning until noon. At the conclusion of this solemn recitation they responded by bowing down, prostrating themselves before the Lord.
Every detail of the narrative skilfully emphasises the sovereignty of God’s will as the only sure foundation for renewal. This is in stark contrast to many of the attitudes that we encounter in contemporary society. Today, values tend to be relative, resting on what society judges to be acceptable to itself without any awareness of sovereign values rooted in God’s revealed truth.
The responsorial psalm, reflecting on the law, understands its precepts as the path to wholeness. “The law of the Lord is perfect, it revives the soul. The precepts of the Lord are right, they gladden the heart. The command of the Lord is clear, it gives light to the eyes.”
As we celebrate the Year of Faith, with its emphasis on a return to the scriptures and the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the spirit of this psalm is an invaluable guide. These documents are more than a source of information; they can become, in a more profound way, an encounter with the presence of God.
The proclamation of the Law that had initiated the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah is paralleled in Luke’s Gospel
in the return of Jesus to the synagogue at his home in Nazara. Taking the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus proclaimed the programme that would be fulfilled in his ministry. “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free.”
The whole scene underlines the fundamental steps in any programme of renewal. St Luke characteristically situated the Holy Spirit at the heart of this process. It was in the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had returned to Galilee to begin his ministry. Our tendency is to rush to proposals and programmes for renewal. If we are to remain faithful to this Gospel passage then the first step must always be the prayer of listening. It is from within that the promptings of the Spirit will be revealed.
Throughout his ministry Jesus was led by that Spirit, a Spirit that comes not to impose, but to reach out to the poor, to bring true freedom, true sight and true understanding.
Faith will be enriched as we are led by the Spirit to recognise the plight of the poor in an unequal world. Faith will be enriched as we recognise the empty promises that hold us captive. Faith will be enriched with the new sight that loves the world from a divine perspective.
Let us approach the year of faith with the Spirit that brought Jesus to the synagogue in Nazara.