If you are looking at a particular sermon and it is removed it is because it has been updated.

For example Year C 2010 is being replaced week by week with Year C 2013, and so on.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Fourth  Sunday (Year A)
(Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; 1st. Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12)

Once again, People of God, we have the Sermon on the Mount for our Gospel reading.  We are given it again because it is indeed a compendium of the Good News brought by Christ to promote glory to God in the highest and bring peace on earth for all men of good will.  However, it is to be approached today from the point of view of the accompanying readings  from the prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul’s first letter to the Church he founded in Corinth.
Our reading from the prophecy of Zephaniah started with the words:
Seek the LORD, all in the land who live humbly, obeying His laws; seek righteousness, seek humility; it may be that you will find shelter on the day of the LORD's anger.
Notice the subtle difference between the translation before you which says “Seek integrity”, and the version I have just quoted which prefers: “Seek righteousness”, which is also the choice of all the other versions I can lay my hands on.  The difference is this: “integrity” is very frequently used today in the phrase “personal integrity”, meaning, “true to oneself”.  The modern understanding of personal integrity requires that a man or woman speaks his or her own mind and behaves according to his or her own feelings or opinions with an open and probably somewhat bullish "I am what I am" attitude; in doing so they may speak of their own ‘conscience’ but by that they do not usually mean to imply that they are being obedient to God in such words or actions.  On the other hand, the translation “righteousness” is not, in its essence, in any way personal to us, it is personal only to God, and “seek righteousness” means “try to put on the holiness of God”, it requires that we learn from Him what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is beautiful.  In order to “seek righteousness” we need to be prepared to die to ourselves and our opinions, to our own passions and sinful inclinations, and learn how to walk in the ways of Christ by the power of His Spirit, in order that, walking along such ways, we may, gradually, become ever more truly children of God.  True to Him Who is our heavenly Father, not to our own pseudo-integrity and sinful selves.
The great gulf between the translations ‘seek integrity’ and ‘seek righteousness’ becomes especially clear when we realize that the greatest sinners are often  those who are most proud of their own personal integrity, which, approximating to the supreme sin of personal pride, is the Devil’s own pseudo-virtue and totally opposed to God’s righteousness.  That is why the prophet Zephaniah declared in the name of the Lord (3:11):
I shall rid you of your proud and arrogant citizens, and never again will you flaunt your pride on My holy mountain.   I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.  
And to confirm this vision of a purified Israel, Zephaniah’s prophecy ends with words evoking the thought of Mary:
Sing, O daughter of Zion!  Shout, O Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! (3:14)
Mary the supreme daughter of Zion and purest flower of Israel; Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, beloved of God because of her humility!  With her, how far we are, indeed, from the modern understanding of personal integrity which makes the hearts of so many people today totally unresponsive and indeed seemingly impervious to God’s offer, in Christ, of true righteousness, because such divine righteousness can only enter the hearts of those prepared to hear with faith and respond with humility to Jesus’ Gospel call:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  (Matt 4:17)
St. Paul in today’s reading taken from his first letter to the Corinthians tells us:
He who glories, let him glory in the LORD;
for, as he explains:
            no flesh should glory in (God’s) presence.
Paul is there reminding his Corinthian converts that God had not chosen them because they were particularly wise, or politically important, nor because they came from noble families; indeed, he said, it was because God wanted to shame those who are wise and strong in the world’s estimation -- those most proud of their personal standing, achievements, and integrity -- that He chose what is foolish by human reckoning: the weak, and those whom the world regards as common and contemptible.  Not, indeed, that God loves ignorance or lack of moral fibre; but rather that He wants to give us true virtue, heavenly wisdom, and divine strength, gifts that will free us from the chains of sin and allow us to fulfil our authentic selves by becoming, in Jesus, God’s true children.  In order to change the old stale water of our stagnant lives into best wine God must first of all get rid of the illusory human righteousness involved in the phrase “personal integrity”; for it is only when that has been shown up in all its deceitfulness can He then make us, as Paul says, members of:
Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God -- and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
People of God, observe how wisely, how lovingly, Mother Church tries to lead us to a true and fruitful understanding of Jesus in the Scriptures!  These two readings from Zephaniah and St. Paul are essential if we are to be able to understand and try to live the message of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  It is our human pride, our human self-esteem, which so blinds us that we are rendered unable to recognize what is true and what is false, what is real and what is illusory, what is ours and what is of God.  The gentle, who do not fight for power, the merciful, who are unwilling to condemn, the peacemakers, who refuse to malign others, such people cannot prosper on a diet which feeds “personal integrity”, because they find it poisonous.  Neither can the worldly man of great personal integrity understand what he regards as the weakness of those who do not fight for power, the indecisiveness of those who are unwilling to condemn, the flabbyness of those who, in order to preserve peace, are loath to speak ill of others.  And, of course, the worldly man, eager to assert and stand up for his own personal integrity, is bound to be somewhat disgusted with what he would regard as the insipid and servile attitude of those whom the prophet so lovingly mentioned in our first reading:
the remnant of Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths.
Of course, the words of Jesus at the end of the Beatitudes are absolutely alien to those who pride themselves on their personal integrity; they are not so much mysterious words, as utterly ridiculous words depicting a somewhat despicable attitude:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
For us, however, those are words of the utmost moment to which we must give some special attention.
‘Blessed are you when they … ‘   Who are they?  Up to now Jesus has spoken about ‘those who mourn’, ‘the meek’, ‘those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘the merciful’, ‘the peacemakers’, ‘those who are persecuted for  the sake of righteousness’ …. But, then, all of a sudden, He speaks of they  who do the hateful things:
            Blessed are you when they insult, revile, and persecute you.
Who, I ask again, are these they?
Surely Jesus must be referring to some, perhaps many, who have already begun to show such hostile, contemptuous,  to Him and His disciples.  And they are with us today, aren’t they, most confidently showing their faces and proclaiming their opinions and opposition for all things Christian and Catholic.  You should notice, therefore, People of God, why you, we, Catholics and Christians generally, are the butt of so much ribaldry and the objects of so much antipathy and distaste, it is because of Jesus:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
The opposition, mockery, and loathing shown to Christians and Catholics will not be because you are John Soandso, Margaret Whatshername, Mr. This or Mrs. That, but simply and solely because you are a Christian.   You as an individual are, in the world’s estimation, lost in hatred of Christ … and that is why Jesus said ‘Blessed are you’ when such things happen because that is the sort of Catholic and Christian you are called to be, totally Jesus’ …. Living in the Church which is His beloved Spouse and supreme Witness, by His own Body and Blood whereby He nourishes us and the Holy Spirit He bestows upon us; proclaiming, loving and living the Faith and Hope which His words have generated within us; aspiring towards our only Father Whose Kingdom is in Heaven and Whose lordship extends through all the earth and by Whose loving Providence countless brothers and sisters who have witnessed before us are awaiting and encouraging us in our pilgrimage of testimony.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
For all who, as authentic disciples of Jesus and children of Mother Church, have abandoned the sordid garments and worldly aspirations of personal integrity, and have put on, instead, the righteousness of Christ, those words are, indeed, both eternal and true; words that lead us to confess the truth about Jesus together with the very first disciples -- Peter and the holy apostles -- who said:
Lord, You alone have the words of life.