Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Preparing this homily I found it rather difficult to understand our reading from St. Paul; therefore I will present you with the two verses that precede it taken from another translation, not quite so literally accurate perhaps, but certainly more understandable:
While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit. (NLT)
Now we can take up our prescribed reading with a greater measure of preparedness:
So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. Therefore, we aspire to please Him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.
‘We are courageous’ repeated twice does sound somewhat bumptious and perhaps that is part of the reason why several other modern translations prefer to say, ‘We are confident’; nevertheless, I think that both are right, for though we are most certainly called to have confidence, trust, in the Spirit, nevertheless, we are also, on the basis of such confidence, likewise called to show ourselves to be courageous, able and willing to ‘fight the good fight’ in order to resolutely follow the teachings and unhesitatingly walk in the way of the Lord despite the awareness of our own weakness and the mockery, opposition, or even, alas, the bloody persecution of the world around us.
In our first reading from the prophet Ezekiel there was a beautiful metaphor of someone climbing right to the very crest of a choice cedar and finally stretching with his fingers to separate out and pluck a most delicate and promising growth:
I will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off, a tender shoot.
Thus the prophet foreshadowed God’s sublime millennia-long nourishment and formation of Israel, the cedar of His planting; and on its crest -- the Holy Virgin Mary of Nazareth alone and unique as the summit of Israel’s response to such divine nurturing – first of all, lovingly revealing the sublime beauty and tender promise of that unique sprout which only she could bear, before taking it to himself.
Concerning that Shoot of the Virgin, Ezekiel goes on to say:
The tender shoot shall put forth branches and bear fruit and become a magnificent cedar. Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it in the shade of its boughs.
Our Blessed Lord’s two parables confirm this appreciation of today’s readings since they also -- speaking this time of the Kingdom of God which He inaugurated in His own very self – use the same imagery of fruitful maturity, unobservable to human scrutiny, yet ultimately giving shelter and succour to those in need:
It springs up and becomes the largest of plants putting forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.
All our readings today are thus seen to form a very closely related group -- one might say a family -- from which even the psalm is not to be left out because it speaks so very well of the ‘courage’ and ‘confidence’ proclaimed by St. Paul:
The just shall bear fruit even in old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be; declaring how just is the Lord, my Rock, in Whom there is no wrong.
Here, therefore, we can now with profit turn to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (15:12) where he speaks of the ‘tender shoot’ of our readings as being the ‘Root of Jesse’ of which the prophet Isaiah said:
The Root of Jesse shall come, raised up to rule the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.
Which is Paul’s adaptation of Jesus’ own description of the Kingdom of God:
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.
And so, dear People of God, after a series of feasts and solemnities each with distinct and striking emphases, it is most ‘homely’ and satisfying to peacefully celebrate an ‘ordinary’ Sunday which puts before us, with items chosen from her Scriptures ‘old and new’, something of the wholesome unity of Mother Church, and something of the calm strength and beauty of ‘ordinary’ Catholicism: a Catholicism to quietly savour and admire, as one appreciates a daily companion, cherishes a constant hope, and finds strength and peaceful joy in what is ordinary and fundamental.
Today, people are not sufficiently aware, I believe, that a very large proportion of mankind’s troubles, be they criminal or personal, arise from sinful humanity’s inability to appreciate and accept, let alone find peaceful fulfillment in, the ‘ordinary’. The young hate boredom and crave the excitement of ‘highs’. Those of middle-age need distractions to occupy their minds and prevent self-introspection, lest the time on their hands turns to thoughts of missed opportunities, stirs embers of regret, or what is much worse, lets memories presumed long-forgotten come close to the surface once again: memories of responsibilities incurred or friends failed. Too many of those who are old, however, just worry about the past, the present, and the future; or else they while-away the time still allotted them in reveries about the good old days no longer available to them.
People of God, there is no true happiness or fulfilment without a true appreciation of and gratitude for the ordinary in life: especially for us Catholics and Christians who proclaim the enduring goodness of God in all that He ordains for our development into children of His, destined to partake of the wedding feast He is preparing for all those His Son brings with Him.
And what could be more ordinary and homely concerning the spiritual life of all devout Catholics than those words of St. Paul in our second reading:
Therefore, we aspire to please Him, whether we are at home or away.
We aspire to please Him, that is, even though we are not yet at home with the Lord in heaven, even though we walk by faith, not by sight.
We aspire to please Him: how simple that sounds! Just right for an ‘ordinary’ Sunday reading and homily … no burdensome thinking required, no great obligations to be accepted, we are encouraged simply to try to please Him, Jesus our Lord and Saviour. And yet, such simplicity does not in any way threaten the richness of your Sunday spiritual food; because in order to ‘please Him’ we need to know Him, know what He wants, or even what He prefers …. Just as you take pride in knowing the likings and possible preferences of your family and the guests who may be gathered around your Sunday table.
We walk by faith, not by sight: how clear that sounds also, not frightening in any way! And yet by walking in that way you are dying to yourself for love of Him! There is no greater spirituality than that!!
People of God, thank you for reading, following, me carefully. Please, try to enjoy your Sunday, and ask God to help you appreciate His daily, ordinary, gifts … not forgetting His gift of everyday time … for they all ultimately express the same undying love for you that led Him to give up His Son – alone -- for you, so as to be able to lift Him up for you all those thousands of Sundays ago.