Seek what is good
Bishop Peter Muhich
Homily from the Televised Mass, NewsCenter1
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 29, 2023
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and he began to teach them.
A while back I ran across an article in a publication by a medical researcher, E. Ray Walker, about the benefits of reading and how reading is something that we do less and less of. The article quoted a study in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2003 that reported that seniors reduce their risk of dementia by 35 percent by reading several times a week. It was a good article. It was interesting. But I was also concerned about one line in the piece and it’s this line — “In fact, reading anything is good for us. It may help generations to come.”
Now, on purely physiological grounds the brain synapses may be exercised by reading regardless of what is read, this compared to not reading all. But what a person reads is important since ideas do influence us. What we fill our heads with does matter. And, while if he thought about it, I’m sure Mr. Walker wouldn’t defend his sentence without qualification, I hope he would agree that what we read and think about does really matter. But we live in a culture that increasingly sends us signals that when it comes to right and wrong, values and choices, one value is pretty much the same as any other and it is the choosing and the acting that are the most important things.
I say all of this because in the Gospel this Sunday, today, the Lord Jesus takes a much different approach. He teaches the crowds to choose carefully and to intentionally seek God’s kingdom and God’s ways. He utters the now famous beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed the clean of heart. Blessed are peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Jesus is teaching his audience to choose the good and to avoid the evil no matter what the cost. To seek God and his kingdom and his will on earth as it is done in heaven.
Now, if we were to ask the Lord, he would certainly agree that reading is good for our brains, but he wouldn’t stop there. He would and does tell us to seek what is good and fill ourselves with God’s word, the light of God’s truth. To read and think about the good, the true and beautiful. To walk, not just in any way, but in his ways.
Without fail, in the Gospels, Jesus speaks of our following his example and his teaching. He never once says go out and make it up as you go along. Besides the beatitudes in the Gospel today, Zephaniah the prophet in our first reading, and Saint Paul in our second reading, are making much the same point.
Now, this coming week is Catholic Schools Week, our annual celebration of Catholic education across our country. In Rapid City, we are blessed to have Catholic schools — a grade school, St. Elizabeth Seton; a middle school, Saint Thomas Moore; and a high school by the same name. Why are we blessed to have a Catholic school system? Well, because in addition to a disciplined environment — in addition to the dedicated and talented teachers, a hardworking staff and administration, excellent academics, fine arts, and opportunities for leadership development — we have a place where Jesus Christ’s life and teachings and his sacramental presence are at the center of everything we do. They come first and they’re integrated into our curriculum and everyday classroom experience. Can we get better than we’re doing now? Of course. Always. Always. But our goal is to place Christ in the center of everything, and that’s a gift to have a school that does that.
Of course, there are other ways to instill the Catholic faith in our children. I am personally the product of public education in a small mining town in northern Minnesota. We didn’t have a Catholic school in our town, but I had a devout and active Catholic family to grow up in and our life was really centered around our parish. I know there are good things going on in other educational settings, both public and homeschooling. But it is a great blessing that our Rapid City area provides a Catholic school for our families. And a very good one of that. And I know, of course I know that our diocese is vast in size and many of you are not near Rapid City, but during this Catholic Schools Week we do exalt and thank everyone that has made Catholic education possible. And, of course, we pray for all families as they educate and raise their children. So, all of you in our area of Rapid City, I encourage you to enroll your children and to be supportive of this great gift that many have worked hard to provide for us.
And all of us, whether we have access to a Catholic school or not, to seek always the good and true and beautiful and to pass those things onto our children. Not just read anything. But to fill the life of our minds and our hearts and our souls with what is truly life living — to follow Jesus Christ, above all else, and to seek to apply his teachings every day of our life.