It is an understatement to say that I love the beauty and the organization of Catholic Liturgy. Every detail is well thought out and inspired by the Holy Spirit. One aspect of the Mass that people sometimes take for granted is the responsorial psalm. Some see it as an interlude. For some people, it may seem that after the first reading, we sing the psalm as a commercial break. I do not blame the congregation much for this attitude because even as a homilist, I rarely focus on the responsorial psalm in my preaching.

So, what is the responsorial psalm? It is that part of the Mass that follows the first reading. For Sundays, the first reading comes from the Old Testament, except during Easter when it comes from the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. After the first reading, we should observe a moment of silence to reflect on what we just heard from God through the first reading. We then, read or sing a portion of the Book of Psalms (most of the time). This reading or song that comes after the first reading is the responsorial psalm. Some believe we call it responsorial psalm because after each verse, there is a response from the congregation. But there is another reason we call it responsorial psalm. It is because the psalm is the people’s response to the word of God in the first reading.

Prayer is a dialogue between God and God’s people. So, when we gather at Mass, we listen to God, and we talk to God. For example, God speaks to us in the first reading, and then we respond to God in the responsorial psalm. If you have not noticed it before, pay attention to the first reading and the responsorial psalm, and you will see that the psalm responds to the message in the first reading. For example, today’s first reading presents the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. And the refrain of the responsorial psalm is, “Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” It is an affirmation from the people regarding the words from God in the first reading. The first stanza of the responsorial psalm says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.”

So, what is going on here? God gave his words, his law, in the first reading. And his people, through the responsorial psalm, are saying, “We trust you and your word, Lord. Your law is perfect. We will obey it for our good and because we love you.”

Sometimes, as human beings, there is a tendency to dislike the law. We feel the law is there to restrict our freedom. But the truth is that the law protects our freedom. When the car manufacturer, for example, gives you a manual, it is a guide to keep you safe as you use the car. The manufacturer knows the advantages of the car, the risks that surround the car, and how to make the best of the car. When a person decides to go against the manual from the manufacturer, the person will have no reason to blame the manufacturer for any bad result from the misuse of the car.

Many have argued that hellfire cannot exist when God is all-loving. Others say that even if there is hellfire, God, who is love, will not send anyone to hell. My response is that God does not send anyone to hell, and he does not send anyone to heaven. It is all auto-select. People easily gravitate towards people who share common interests with them. At any public gathering, you will notice how people gradually group themselves based on what they have in common.

God, in his love, created us and gave us the freedom to choose where we will spend eternity. He has also shown us the map, the GPS, or the direction to heaven. He clarifies that any contrary direction will not lead us to heaven. In his commandments, as we have in today’s first reading, we find the map that leads to heaven. When we leave this world, we will easily recognize those who related to the commandments the way we did, and easily join their company. No one will force us; it will be auto-select. Those who spent time on earth loving God and neighbor will naturally feel attracted to that place of eternal love, in contrast, those who spent time on earth in hatred will not have any attraction to that place of everlasting love. My dearly beloved in Christ, “The law of the Lord is perfect … it gives wisdom to the simple.” May God grant us the grace to obey his commandments so that we may share in his everlasting love through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Homily for 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B 2024

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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