Let me begin by giving some background on Eli, the high priest who received the boy Samuel into the service of the Temple.
A man of God had recently come to Eli and said to him:
Thus says the LORD: “Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt as slaves in Pharaoh's house? Did I not choose them out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to offer upon My altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod before Me? And did I not give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire? Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honour your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?” (1 Sam. 2:27-29)
Eli was a failure as high priest, and for that he was under threat, as the messenger from the Lord went on to make clear (v. 31):
Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your (arm) strength and the strength of your father's house, so that there will not be an old man in your house.
However, that sword hanging over his head did not express the full horror of his situation, for the man of God had yet more words of the Lord for Eli:
Any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age. Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them. Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.
Eli’s two sons would soon die together, along with many of Israel’s defeated army; and those of his descendants who remained would only blind his eyes with tears and burden his heart with grief before they too died in the prime of life. What a terrible punishment for Eli! It was, indeed, one given to match the magnitude of his sins: both as high priest who dishonoured the Lord in his service at the altar, and as father who – loving his sons more than the Lord – pandered not only to their desires but also to their sins.
Today, parents so often think they are good parents because -- choosing to follow the most popular and least troublesome way -- they seek to make their children happy here and now, as they themselves want to be happy: they want to be surrounded by a sunny atmosphere, full of childish laughter, giggles and kisses, an atmosphere that engenders warm feelings about themselves and confidence in their standing in other peoples’ eyes, for surely everyone will see that their children are happy and have plenty. Eli was a good father according to such standards: his sons would have said that they were very happy; after all, they got plenty of what they wanted and they were sharing their father’s honour as priests in Israel. However, unknown to themselves, they were walking to their death and would never -- to his dying days -- afford him any comfort or consolation, let alone true joy or deep gratitude.
However, that is enough about Eli for the moment, People of God, for now I want to bring something else to the forefront of your attention, hopefully for your guidance and consolation. Recall what you heard in the Gospel reading:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
One of those two disciples, Andrew by name, went to tell his brother about Jesus:
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Kephas” (which is translated Peter).
What great blessings have been called down upon John the Baptist because he guided those two disciples of his to Jesus! Likewise, what praise and thanksgiving has been accorded to Andrew subsequently for bringing his brother Simon Peter to Jesus?
Now, who do you bring to the Lord? Perhaps you are thinking that you do not have the words of the Lord in your mouth like John: very well then; but do you have a brother or sister like Andrew? You don’t have a brother or sister? Neither do I. But that does not mean that we are not to be zealous for the Lord, that we are not called -- not able -- to help people to God. Look again at Eli. He was a failure; indeed, one might say, a disgrace: having betrayed the Lord as High Priest, having brought dishonour on his father‘s house, and been found miserably wanting in true care for his own children and grandchildren. Yet even such a wretched failure as old Eli was still obliged, and therefore still able, to help others to the Lord; and, in the event, he did ultimately manage to help someone to God, the child who -- for Eli’s blessing -- grew to become the great prophet Samuel. Listen again to that story:
The lamp of God was not yet extinguished, and Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was. The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.” He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.” “I did not call you,” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.” So, he went back to sleep. Again, the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli. “Here I am,” he said. “You called me.” But he answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.” At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet. The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.” Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth. So, he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Now you can clearly see that no one can truthfully say that they are unable to help another, some other, to the Lord. Unless we are irremediably dead before our time -- spiritually dead though walking on our feet -- we can, by word or deed, by prayer or advice, by teaching or example, still be of help to one sent us by God. That is why we are called, that is why we are able and obliged, at all times and in all circumstances, to help spread the Kingdom of Jesus.
It is above all priests of the Lord, together with parents of God-given children, who are at the focal point of our readings today. A priest must preach God’s truth for God‘s people, not seek favour and approval for himself; he must guide those who hear him in the way of Jesus as taught by Mother Church, not blindly follow the presently prevailing, politically correct, attitudes of those whose mind and heart are set upon the things of this world rather than those of heaven. Parents, too, are to look carefully at themselves in their attitude to, and teaching of, their children. Sometimes it seems that parents are more intent on enjoying themselves by delighting in their children, rather than serving their children’s true good by guiding and teaching, correcting and supporting, those entrusted to them by the Lord. Such parents must realise that they can indeed, at times, be condemned in their children. And yet, on the other hand, they should not condemn themselves prematurely: John the Baptist could not force his disciples to follow Jesus, neither could Andrew force Simon to come back with him to Jesus.
In like manner, parents are not always able to positively guide their children when they are older: when adults they will go where they want, while their parents can only watch, pray, and perhaps advise where advice might be welcome. The example of Eli, however, shows that there are some parents who can, indeed, be condemned in their children for having seriously failed to guide, correct, and discipline, them in their infancy, childhood, and early years; condemned, because they failed, ultimately, to truly love those children. Eli gave his boys plenty of food, plenty of freedom, and plenty of influence; those sons then went on to provide themselves with plenty of pleasure, bringing upon themselves an even greater measure of disgrace. Eli, however, was personally involved in these later developments because he had neither taught nor disciplined them as children, neither had he ever prevailed upon himself to remonstrate with them as they grew older. It was for that guilt that he suffered much, as you have heard; and there are parents today who will likewise suffer much because of their guilty indulgence of both themselves and their children.
Finally, let us turn to St. Paul’s teaching in the second reading:
The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, Whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.
Women’s liberation supporters can be heard saying a woman’s body is her own to do with as she wills, and so they condone and promote abortion. Young men, and women too, think that life’s pleasures are their direct birth-right, not the God-given concomitant of responsible love. As a result, they can easily think that getting married is too expensive, indeed perhaps a dangerous knot to tie when still relatively young. They may, therefore, be inclined to live together outside of marriage, with no promise of life-long love and no binding acceptance of responsibility; and some will, indeed, then go on to use their baptized, God-given, bodies -- intended to be shrines of life and Temples of the Holy Spirit -- to promote death: the physical death of infants in the womb, and the spiritual death of themselves.
People of God, you belong to God because you are members of Jesus His Son Who died for you and Who lives in you by His Spirit. Bear witness to Jesus whoever you are, wherever you are, however you can; even if all else seems to be lacking to you, praise and serve Him in your body, with your body which is always present to you, and always able and waiting to do good work. It has been given you as a means for the physical expression and realization of your own unique personality and spiritual calling. And though, at times, your mind might be dull and your heart dry, with no penetrating thoughts or warm inspirations, your body can and will still enable you to serve God by giving timely, instinctive, warning for all ‘erring’ into sinful ways; and when put to its proper and worthy use, help you express pure love, give true glory to God, and ultimately find the salvation Jesus has won for all of us and wants, above all, to bestow upon each and every one of us.