Dear People of God, let me begin by giving you some background on Eli, the high priest who received the boy Samuel into the service of the Temple where:
he grew in stature and in favour both with the Lord and with men.
Eli was by then an old man with a long history before God:
A man of God came to Eli and said to him: “This is what the LORD says: ‘I went so far as to reveal Myself to your father’s family when they were in Egypt as slaves to the house of Pharaoh. I chose them out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, and to wear the ephod before Me; and I assigned all the oblations of the Israelites to your father’s family. Why do you keep a greedy eye on My sacrifices and on the offerings which I have prescribed? And why do you honour your sons in preference to Me, fattening yourselves with the choicest part of every offering of My people Israel?’ (1 Samuel 2:27-29)
Eli was, and had long been, a disgraceful 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 and the arm 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, Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them. (v. 33s.)
And Eli’s two sons did, in fact, soon die together, along with many in Israel’s defeated army; and those of his descendants who remained would only serve to blind his eyes with tears and burden his heart with grief before they too died in the prime of life. What a terrible punishment! It was, indeed, one given to match the magnitude of his sins: both as a high priest who dishonoured the Lord in his service at the altar, and as a father who – loving his sons more than the Lord – pandered not only to their desires but also to their sins. And yet it was, at the same time, a most loving punishment, one meant to waken up the old man both to an unambiguous awareness and acknowledgement of his past failings with regard to his responsibilities as High Priest, but also, along with those still-abiding responsibilities, to a most humbling awareness of God’s boundless goodness and forgiveness towards himself, in His bringing young Samuel to the Temple where -- thanks to the guidance of a now deeply chastened and humbly renewed Eli -- he would grow up in the ways and service of God to become one of Israel’s great prophets.
Today, parents so often claim that they are good parents because they try to make their children happy here and now, as they themselves want to be happy. They don’t want ‘trouble’ in the house they will often say, they want to be enveloped in a sunny atmosphere, full of childish laughter, giggles and kisses, an atmosphere that promotes 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 had been a good father according to such standards: his sons would have said that they were enjoying life; after all, they got plenty of the best available, 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 afford Eli any comfort or consolation, let alone joy or delight.
That is enough about Eli for the moment, People of God, for now I want to bring something else to the forefront for your attention, hopefully for your further guidance and possible comforting. Recall what we 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.
A little further on you heard that one of those two disciples, Andrew by name, went to tell his brother about Jesus:
Andrew 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 follow Jesus! Likewise, what praise and thanksgiving has Andrew not received for bringing his brother Simon Peter to Jesus? The greatest prophet in Israel, and a simple fisherman: both, great before God, as in our own hearts and minds, for guiding others to the Lord.
Now, who do you bring to the Lord? Perhaps you are thinking that you do not have words in your mouth like those of John the Baptist: very well then; but do you have a brother like Andrew or perhaps a sister? You don’t need special words when speaking to them. 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, a disaster: having been unfaithful before the Lord as High Priest, having brought dishonour on his own father‘s house, and ultimately, having been found miserably wanting in care for his own children and grandchildren. Yet even one such as 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 – would grow to become the great prophet Samuel:
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, with such an example, you can surely appreciate that no one can truthfully say that they are unable to help anyone in the Lord. For, unless we are totally dead spiritually, we can -- by word or deed, by prayer or advice, by teaching, example, or encouragement -- still be of some help in the ways of God to one sent, guided, to us by God’s secret Providence. That is why we who are called are able -- at all times and in whatever circumstances, be they important or seemingly insignificant -- to help the spread the Kingdom of Jesus.
However, 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 the good of God‘s people, not to seek favour and approval for himself; he must guide those who hear him in the ways of Jesus as taught by Mother Church, not cravenly seeking popularity or following 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, should look carefully at themselves in their relationship with and teaching of their children. At times it seems that some parents are more intent on indulging themselves -- always descending to their children’s level, wanting to show themselves as sympathetic and understanding by pretending to delight and share with them in their childish excitement and pleasures -- rather than serving their children’s true good when opportune or necessary, by lifting them up as well as loving them, by correcting as well as comforting, and at all times confidently seeking and humbly praying to fulfil their God-given privilege and calling to be the first and most fundamental, the best and most discerning, life-guides and heart-teachers of those entrusted to them by the Lord.
The example of Eli does, indeed, show that some parents can be condemned in their children for having seriously failed to guide and support, correct and discipline, them in the selfish tantrums of their infancy, during their childhood’s lack of knowledge and proper understanding, and in the worldly inexperience of their early adult years; condemned, because they failed, ultimately, to truly love those children. Eli gave his boys plenty of food, plenty of freedom, and plenty of social opportunities; and those sons then went on to use such advantages to sate themselves with pleasures and satisfactions, bringing upon themselves an ever greater measure of present disgrace and future punishment. And Eli himself was personally involved in these later developments because he had never before prevailed upon himself to teach or discipline them as children or 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 towards 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.
As you heard, the body originally was created not for immorality but in view of Jesus, the Word of God, being able to take on such a body from the Virgin:
The body is … for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
Moreover, for all the baptized, the body is now:
A member of Christ’s body and a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, Whom you have from God.
And indeed, in the future the body can be raised far above all immorality:
God raised the Lord and will also raise us by His power.
And so, originally, now, and in the future:
The body is for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
When therefore the Apostle says the body is not for immorality I think we can infer that no one, abusing his or her body initially and for the first time, does so innocently … for our very body itself in the depths of our nature is uneasy with, and complains against, such abuse. Our body is God’s gift to us and -- recalling St. Francis -- ‘brother body’ is our very own and most intimate friend. However, since it communicates with us most intimately and accommodatingly it can easily be ‘shouted down’, deliberately ignored, or allowed to go unperceived when passions, selfishness, and pride, in their innumerable guises connive and co-operate against it. And in such cases the young are most especially vulnerable, as the Psalmist (Ps. 119:9) recognized:
How may a young man lead a clean life? By holding to Your words.
With further sorrowful life-experience, of course, all sorts of special pleading can muddy the waters of our relationship with our body. Women’s liberation supporters can be heard saying a woman’s body is hers -- alone and exclusively -- to do with as she wills; and so they condone and promote abortion. Many young men -- and women too these days -- want to think that some of life’s deepest joys are their birth-right for directly personal gratification, not a God-given concomitant of responsibly shared love. They can, also, easily come to think that getting married is an expensive thing, indeed perhaps a dangerous course to enter upon, especially when still relatively young; and therefore they are inclined to opt to live together outside of marriage, where there is no dedication to God, no self-giving pledge of life-long love, but only a waiting and watching to see how much “I” is getting out of “our” arrangement, with little thought or acceptance of enduring responsibility for the endurance of that ‘arrangement’.
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, and however you can; even if all else seems to be lacking to you, praise and serve Him in your body, with your body – ‘brother body’ -- which is always present to you and for you, always waiting, wanting, and able, to do some good work. It has been given you as an instrumental means for the physical expression and full realization of your unique personality and spiritual calling. And though, at times, your mind might be dull and your heart dry with no elevating thoughts or warm inspirations, your body can still enable you to serve both God and man in such simple ways as perhaps genuflecting with care before the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling in prayer, refraining from an impatient or angry remark and offering instead a neighbourly word and/or accompanying gesture of encouragement and sympathy. In a multitude of ways you can put your ‘brother body’ to a worthy use: let it help you glorify God, express true love, and find the salvation Jesus has won for all of us despite our many weaknesses, failings, and sins. He, ‘brother body’, is your unfailing companion and was always meant to be your sure friend for God’s glory and your salvation.