Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Dezzo di Scalve is a mountain village in the Lombardy section of northern Italy. The village is very small with homes and businesses lining both sides of the Dezzo River. Looking at the eastern side one finds an unusual situation. A huge boulder jutting from the mountain protrudes almost to the water. Houses are built on the top and sides of the boulder. The boulder played an important part for those houses and they who call them home. In 1923 a dam was constructed up river called the Gleno Dam. The first construction was quick and sloppy. On December first of that same year the dam broke unleashing the powerful force of the river down upon the small village. Everything was destroyed; except for the homes that were built on and around the boulder, the rock.

Jesus tells an allegorical story using a similar image. He uses the story as an illustration – “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

In this familiar passage Jesus associates those who listen to Him (in other words, who follow his Way) have a firm foundation which the forces of this world will not be able to destroy. In the Old Testament, Psalm 18 recognizes the goodness and strength which the Lord provides to see us through difficult times. The psalm opens with these words “Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold! Praise the Lord, I exclaim! I have been delivered from my enemies.”

The readings for today’s liturgy likewise remind us of God’s immense care for us and his abiding strength.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus tells his disciples twice that they have no need of fear – “Do not be afraid!” he tells them. He encourages them to find courage in the knowledge that God loves them and cares for them. “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

He then calls for an act of faith – “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” By the act of faith, we place our hope, our trust and our confidence in the Lord.

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah provides a witness of one who finds his courage in the Lord. Jeremiah is besieged. He is tormented by those who are against him. His life is in jeopardy. They plot and scheme against him because of his criticizing the society and its leaders. He calls them to repentance and fidelity to the covenant. He calls them to trust in the Lord God. They do not listen, nor do they want to listen. They seek to quiet the annoying prophet, to “shut him up,” so to speak. He faces the threats and schemes and torments with courage. His courage comes from the Lord, who for him is a rock.

The passage can be divided into four parts. In three of these he addresses his listeners or readers today; in the third he addresses God.

The first part recalls his situation in life. He is tormented; his life is in jeopardy. In the second part, he gives witness to the Lord as his strength: “But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame to lasting, unforgettable confusion.” The third is a prayer for deliverance. The fourth a song of praise: “Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!”

Living the life of faith may seem, at times, like we are swimming against the tide. Sometimes making decisions based on faith causes one to be set aside, not included, or perhaps even worse.

Some aspects of our society seem to move further and further away from the Way of life Jesus has called us. Some of the values and practices are clearly contrary to God’s way.

As these become more wide-spread, so does the pressure to go along with it; to ride the wave; to not upset the cart; to join in; to go with the flow; and so forth. These are some of the winds and storms we, as a communion of believers, face today. These coupled with the more “ordinary” challenges of life, lead us to look for help. We find that help in the Lord.

Whoever, centuries ago, built the houses on top of the boulder in Dezzo di Scalve knew what they were doing. They built on rock.

We are reminded today that the Lord God is our rock. With Him we can face any challenge, any obstacle, any onslaught.

In the words of Psalm 124: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.