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Friday, 27 January 2017

4th Sunday of Year A 2017

4th. Sunday (Year A)
(Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; 1st. Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12)

The Sermon on the Mount is indeed a compendium of the Good News brought by Christ our Saviour to promote ‘glory to God in the highest’ and bring ‘peace on earth for men of good will’, and we are guided to approach it from the point of view of today’s accompanying readings from the prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul in his first letter to the Church he founded in Corinth.
Our reading from the prophecy of Zephaniah started with the words:
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth, who have observed His law; seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD’S anger.
Note the word ‘justice’ in our Catholic translation (aka ‘integrity’); it translates quite literally the Latin (New Vulgate) ‘iustitiam’, but unfortunately leaves itself open to misuse by self-promoters who are so frequently to be heard these days saying they want ‘justice’, especially when crying out against authorities!   For that reason, I prefer to put before you a more widespread translation of the verse I have quoted, which, instead of ‘justice’ uses the word ‘righteousness’ which can only mean ‘God’s righteousness’:
Seek the LORD, all in the land who live humbly, obeying His laws; seek righteousness, seek humility.
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!  The teaching of these two readings from Zephaniah and St. Paul are essential if we are to rightly understand and try to live Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.  Our human pride, self-esteem, self-integrity, so blind us at times that we are rendered unable to clearly recognize and distinguish what is true and  what is false, what is real and what is illusory, what is from us and what is of God.
A worldly man cannot 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 such a person is bound to be equally 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.
However, revolting above all for such proud lovers and promoters of this world and its standards, are those words of Jesus in the final Beatitude:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
For today’s worldlings those are not mysterious words but utterly ridiculous words depicting a truly despicable attitude.  And that is an attitude most surprisingly exemplified (I trust unintentionally) last week-end in a well-known Catholic periodical by a doctoral student of theology (!!): “The Gospel, in flagrant defiance of such a reasonable course of (Buddhist) treatment, makes us more susceptible to suffering.  Taking Christ as our example, the holy response to situations of loss and agony is quite simply to suffer: to fall upon the ground and weep, to beg for deliverance, to sweat drops of blood.”(!!!)  However, there would seem to be something in her human heart better than what is in her student’s head, for she ends up by writing,  ”But something in me knows that suffering is a truthful response to this world.  So I am not a Buddhist.”
For us, however, those words of Jesus are mysterious 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 hateful things:
            Blessed are you when they insult, revile, and persecute you.
Who, I ask again, are they?  Surely Jesus must be referring to some, perhaps many, who have already begun to show hostility and contempt to Himself and, in some measure, to His disciples also.  And they are still with us today, most confidently showing their faces and proclaiming their critical opinions of and practical opposition to whatever makes us Catholic and Christian.  You should appreciate, therefore, People of God, why you, why 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 is not because you are John ‘So-and-so’, Margaret ‘What’s-her-name’, Mr. ‘This’ or Mrs. ‘That’, but simply and solely because you are a Catholic and/or a Christian.   In the world’s estimation, you are -- as an individual -- lost in the fog of hatred for and contempt of Christ; and that is why Jesus said ‘Blessed are you’ when such things happen, because that is the sort of Catholic and Christian God has called you to be and the world is now recognising you (let us pray, truthfully!) to be, that is, 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 bestows His Holy Spirit upon us; proclaiming and loving the Faith in the hope which His words have generated within us; aspiring towards our only Father and His Whose Kingdom is in Heaven and Whose lordship extends through all the earth, and by Whose loving Providence countless brothers and sisters who have already 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 authentic disciples of Jesus, children of God and of Mother Church, who -- having abandoned the sordid garments and worldly aspirations of personal integrity and self-satisfaction, popular approval and political correctness -- seek by prayer and obedience to 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.
Yes dear Lord, sent by Your Father into this world, You have become for us:
Wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, “ Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”
And we do indeed ‘boast in the Lord’ because, in the words of the Psalmist:
            The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Our Blessed Lord took upon Himself the sins of the world to save the whole of mankind from sin in all its ramifications and manifestations, and ultimately from eternal death.  Under such a burden, and deliberately emptying Himself of all forms of glory for our sake, He Himself had to: ‘fall upon the ground in the garden of Gethsemane and weep, to beg for deliverance, to sweat drops of blood’ (so mockingly recalled by our student writer) precisely because He was suffering for all in whatever need, so that even  among those reduced to the profoundest depths of human suffering and humiliation, there might be none so low or so desperately lonely that they could not turn to Him for understanding, forgiveness, and redemption.  He endured that for love of us, so that we, His most gratefully proud disciples might be able to better bear our own sufferings and trials in the power bestowed upon us by His Gift of the Spirit Who, many centuries before, inspired the psalmist to prepare and sing for us:
Trust in the LORD and do good that you may dwell in the land and live secure. Find your delight in the LORD Who will give you your heart’s desire.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will act.  He will make justice dawn for you like the light, bright as the noonday shall be your vindication.
By the LORD are the steps of a man made firm, and He approves his way. Though he fall, he does not lie prostrate, for the hand of the LORD sustains him.
The salvation of the just is from the LORD; He is their refuge in time of distress.  The LORD helps and delivers them, He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.   (cf. Psalm 37)