18th. Sunday (Year C)
Watching a news programme on the television, I saw a picture of a Mosque in Birmingham filled with men worshipping. You can go, on the other hand, to Christian churches, even to Catholic churches, and find them half empty. Why is this? Because so many Christians, so many Catholics, are not living their faith today: they are living for the world, for the pleasures and advantages the world seems to offer them. The Muslims I saw filling the mosque, on the other hand, were there because they feel themselves to be a minority under threat, and so they were rallying together round the one thing that, in a currently alien and historically Christian, society and country, most distinguishes them from others and most unites them among themselves, that is their Muslim faith. It was like that in Ireland over a hundred years ago when Irish men and women, under persecution and oppression, held firm by rallying together round their faith, their Catholic Faith, which distinguished and sustained them in the face of their Protestant persecutors. Even more recently the same phenomenon occurred in Poland when Catholic Poles were under atheistic Communist rule. When oppression ceased more or less in Ireland and Poland, then the practice of the Catholic faith also began to fall in fervour as men and women, living in an apparently more friendly world, began to enjoy living in the world more than they rejoiced to practice their faith: with the world an enemy, the faith was a lifeline; when the world seems friendly, why should the precepts of Catholic faith be allowed to disturb that mutual acceptance and approval of surrounding society?
Today then, even where Catholics still appear to value their faith, many are tempted to live for the world: they do not openly or totally give in to the temptation, but, not infrequently, they make serious concessions to it. Now, these concessions have to be justified in some way or other, because these people want to regard themselves as practicing and true Catholics, and so, they begin to talk about the need to make our faith acceptable to modern people who, they say, now have a much greater knowledge of science and a much wider understanding of other, non-Western, cultures than their forebears possessed. In this way some modern Catholics come to justify singular interpretations of the Faith by claiming that the practice of faith must be made more popular: indeed they seem to feel it their vocational calling to do all they can - watering down difficult teaching and brushing aside unwanted rules - in order to make their presentation of the Faith as attractive, as pleasing, and as easy to understand, as possible for others whom they hope to thereby persuade to accept the Catholic way of life. People will come to the Faith it is thought and said, if, and only if, they find us nice people not overburdened with troublesome principles, if they find our message accommodating and comforting, and if the portals of our church are open wide, welcoming and obstacle free, to all and sundry.
This is a most fundamental and insidious perversion of the Faith. Jesus tells us quite categorically that it is the Father alone who draws disciples to Jesus:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. (John 6:37)
The Father draws and gives to Jesus disciples who have come to know Him through the witness of Mother Church and her children, who make Jesus known by proclaiming His Truth and presenting His teaching to all who are sincerely seeking God and His salvation. But, People of God, how could anyone come to love the authentic Jesus if His followers are intent, first and foremost, on presenting themselves as nice Jesus-people? How can followers whose aim is to offer a popularly acceptable message, rightly proclaim the teaching of Jesus? Their want to present their own version of the Gospel, a version adapted to modern ideas and current preferences, not the Good News of Jesus as given us in the Scriptures and proclaimed in the traditional teaching of the Church.
Now this state of affairs comes about because people all too easily think only in terms of this world, as if everything will be decided here on earth according to human judgements and expectations; and therefore our readings today, warning us, most explicitly, about this folly, proclaim that this world is not the be all and end all of life:
Here is one who has laboured with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; and yet to another who has not laboured over it, he must leave property. This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
In fact, it is but the essential preparation for what is to come, a life of either eternal fulfilment or eternal loss:
Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
But God said to him, 'You fool! This night your life will be demanded of you; and then the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?'
The currently widespread persuasion that the Good News of Jesus has to be subjected to our adaptation is an unacknowledged capitulation to modern society’s craven worship of popularity. Therein is the root error: for popularity has neither role nor authority in matters of faith; indeed, at the best it is irrelevant, while potentially it is most harmful, in matters of faith.
There are some disciples in the Church today who follow Pilate rather than Jesus:
Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)
What is truth? Pilate doubted there was such a thing as truth. Today, pseudo-disciples give the same thought a different twist: since the only true proclamation of the Gospel is one that makes Jesus and His teaching popular, therefore we must study modern attitudes and practices both carefully and sympathetically, so as to be able to make suitable adaptations to the Gospel message that will enable it to win more widespread acceptance.
Now that can never be the authentic Christian, Catholic attitude; we only need to look at and listen to Our Blessed Lord once more to realize that:
Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:20-22)
Today we need to renew our trust in God; indeed, we have to stir up some courage on the basis of our faith. The original apostles, the original Christians who were called Catholics from the very beginning, did not cower before the world's criterion of popularity as so many do today; for example, the gentle, loving, Apostle John (1 John 4:6) says quite bluntly:
We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
And they had this confidence and strength because they firmly believed what the infallible Faith taught them, as we heard in the second reading:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think on what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.
In other words, they looked forward to a heavenly, not an earthly, fulfilment, and, in order to attain that blessedness they proclaimed a Gospel of Truth, knowing that only divine truth can form a human being in the divine likeness:
The new self is being renewed for knowledge in the image of its Creator.
That very truth required them to preach what would be unpopular at times. Indeed, because the essence of the Gospel message is that we can only find salvation through the Cross of Jesus, Who died for our sins before rising again for our salvation:
(He) bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24).
Therefore, even in the early Church, there were those who wanted to preach a Gospel without the Cross, a popular Gospel instead of the Gospel of righteousness. Of them, the Apostle Paul said with incisive clarity in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:18-19):
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."
And again in his letter to the Galatians (5:11):
Brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offence of the cross has ceased.
People of God, in times of trial we must cling to Jesus all the more closely in Spirit and in Truth, for:
This is a faithful saying: if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13)