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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

8th Sunday of Year A

 8th. SUNDAY (A)
(Isaiah 49:14-15; 1st. Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34)

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Today’s Gospel reading is of supreme importance for our personal well-being, for two of the greatest plagues of modern times, the greatest obstacles to us living our human and our Christian lives to the full, are distractions -- leading directly to superficiality -- and, derivatively, ‘cares of the world’ -- worrying over what is past, self-solicitude for the present, and anxiety about what the future might hold – all of which, together, make effective self-commitment to God and His purposes impossible, as can be found in the lives of so many nominal Catholics and Christians today.

Our modern world, of course, becoming ever more at variance with the Lord, boasts about its ability to provide endless distractions (and thereby generate endless money!), whilst denying, indeed, mocking the very suggestion, that there is or can be any institutional contributing cause for the sickness and pain of indecisiveness and anxiety in the lives of so many.
Jesus is quite clear and decisive in His teaching:

Your heavenly Father knows (all your needs); seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

However, those words ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness’ take a degree of commitment and selflessness which – though God gives fully and freely what we, in faith and good-will, can only want and begin to attempt – are precisely what our modern society would deprive us of.

Today, young children and, indeed, even infants, are – through the media which delights to detail, dramatize, and magnify -- made aware of and excited by what is going on around them long before they are able to recognize, understand, and rightly appreciate what is going on within themselves.  How few children are fortunate enough to be guided by their mothers – uniquely naturally endowed and also spiritually empowered to respond to and guide their child’s first, most sensitive and tentative, experiences of human life -- to an awareness and appreciation of the deep and calming influence of what is both lovely and ordinary, as well as to a humbling experience of joy, admiration, and awe before the exuberance of what is wonderful in nature and her seasons!  Again, how few children have a mother or father who is willing and able to introduce them into an awareness of the sublime yet fragile glory of human relationships which form the fabric of daily human living and, indeed, offer -- on the basis of a concomitant responsibility, itself both beautiful and formative – what is life’s great experience of natural and spiritual fulfilment?    How many are blessed to find themselves in a family where a truly Catholic appreciation and love of Jesus’ Person and teaching is a light and joy, a guide for the understanding of what is beautiful and true, a strength and support in all difficulties and trials, and a banner evoking gratitude and love, loyalty and self-sacrifice?

We find, alas, so many are wrapped up, mixed up, enmeshed and embroiled, in internet activities, secretly or even publicly, acerbic and disturbing; or else fixated on the television which -- frequently and unashamedly -- stirs up with seductive and violent emphasis what most young people cannot deal with aright because they have not become able, perhaps never had the opportunity, to gradually discover and learn what it is to be in tune, and at home, with their own personal self and individual make-up.  So many are ill-at-ease with themselves, needing endless ‘things to do’, to occupy their thoughts and temporarily distract their imagination, lest the ever-threatening background danger of self-preoccupation with its kaleidoscope of vague, unrecognizable fears, might raise its head against them.  As a result they are strongly tempted to taste and seek to enjoy some of the many passing satisfactions, irresponsible pleasures, and fleeting consolations, being touted and displayed in a continuous stream on the screen before them and in the late night, back-street, society around them; all of which bring nothing more than a multiplicity of shallow satisfactions and passing moments of pseudo-exaltation, before ebbing away and leaving behind, as wages of sin or worldly inheritance, a numbing sense of frustration, emptiness, and disenchantment.

Today Jesus seeks to protect us from, or invites us to face up to, such situations.   Life is not meant to be a warren with dark corridors leading hither and thither into ever further darkness and threat.  He speaks to us as Lord and Master with words that are sure and true:

No man can serve two masters; he will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.

Jesus lived and died with the words of Israel’s psalms in His heart and on His lips, and often in the Gospels He seeks to pass on to us, wants to share with us, some of the blessings He Himself had gained from living those words to the full.  Today’s is one such psalm:

Only in God be at rest, my soul, for from Him comes my hope.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold.   I shall not be disturbed. 

Notice those final words: ‘I shall not be disturbed’; they indicate a deliberately willed purpose, not an expected, automatic, or merely hoped-for, result; and if we look at Jesus we can see how He Himself followed the psalmist’s lead, and we may, perhaps, even glimpse thereby something of His Personal relationship with His Father in Heaven:

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

He must have often seen and thought upon what He saw when the birds were fluttering above and around Him, and as He observed them His thoughts would  turn to His Father, their habitual resting place … ‘they do not sow but My heavenly Father feeds them’.

Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.  They do not work or spin.  But not even Solomon in all his splendour was clothed … as God has clothed them, the grass of the field.

Again, He must frequently have admired the simple beauty of Israel’s flowers,  and always His thoughts would turn in gratitude to, and rest confidently with, His Father …. ‘I shall not be disturbed’.

Jesus’ love for His Father was total and unremitting … He saw what was beautiful or good and immediately His life’s compass swung to His Father in admiration and praise; and when He looked upon what was evil He would compassionate His Father:

            Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.

Ultimately, love is the only guarantee that we will never be subject … despite our sinfulness and inherent weakness … to the domination and dichotomy of two masters.  It is love alone which can give us the initial strength and courage to take on what we might possibly admire but could never undertake.  But such love we have to work at … ‘I shall not be disturbed’ … and when we wish to work at it, we must be absolutely sure that we are, indeed, working for the love of it, not for the wanting of it … we must be working for that total love for God, not the peace of soul and strength of character such an acquisition might hopefully bring to us ourselves.

If we now turn to St. Paul we will see, and wonder at, of his oneness with Jesus’ teaching … for we are all surely aware of our human sensitivity to the opinion of others, and even more especially might that have been felt by Paul, since his work did not involve objective skills, tangible powers, but was totally concerned and involved with people, affecting them and indeed changing them through his proclamation of the Good News … would not his ability, success, and effectiveness as an Apostle be inextricably linked with his personal charm and popularity?

But in blunt contradiction with any such thoughts or suppositions, Paul tells us:

It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or by any human tribunal.

Paul was in no way subject to human opinion!  Indeed, in that respect one can say that he was dead to men.  He served but one Master apparently.  And yet, I say ‘apparently’ because there is still another, hidden, tribunal by which he might be affected and influenced and diverted, even corrupted, in his discipleship … but he goes on immediately to totally repel any such thought:

I do not even pass judgement on myself; but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the One who judges me is the Lord.

Paul was sublimely simple: no reflecting on himself, his success or his failings.  He was indeed, a most wonderful disciple of Jesus His Lord … one dead to the world and even to himself for love of Jesus:

I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ    (Philippians 3:8)

Jesus would say at the height of His torments and dereliction:

            Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

St. Paul, as a supreme disciple, would likewise say:

I know the One in Whom I have put my trust, and I am sure He is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to Him. (2 Timothy 1:12)

Such examples do most surely inspire us, but the only way for us to respond is the way of love.  Parents, lead, guide, encourage, your children to recognize, appreciate, respond to, what is beautiful, good, and true in life.  As they grow up and need rules for guidance and strength show them the truth, love, and the beauty behind and above such rules.  Obedience, to be sure, is at times absolutely necessary as our ultimate defence and surest guide, but its deepest authority and power should be based on love and should express love. 

(Brothers and sisters in Christ) whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.   (Philippians 4:8)

And so, my dear People of God, may Jesus’ final words in today’s Gospel inspire us to go out from Holy Mass today with loving purpose, firm hope, and most joyful confidence, to advance more surely on our life-long endeavour to:

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness;  and
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and your neighbour - Jesus Christ your Saviour - as yourself.