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Friday, 8 September 2017

23rd Sunday of Year (1) 2017

23rd. Sunday of Year (1)

(Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  The readings today offer us both guidance and warning: guidance that we may recognize and appreciate that which is truly important in our Catholic and Christian lives, and warning that we should then know how to protect what we treasure.

Fraternal charity is of such great importance for us in Mother Church because Mother Church is Jesus’ gift to His disciples world-wide and through all ages: a gift enabling all those whose faith in Jesus would lead them to lovingly obey Him in their lives on earth to attain to eternal salvation.  It is also a gift intended to bestow on them an initial experience here on earth of that heavenly life to which they aspire as children of God, members of God’s family; for, in Jesus’ Church -- as in the heavenly family -- just as each one is meant to receive help from being a member of the whole Body, in like manner each one is meant to share in promoting the good of the whole.  St. Paul puts it this way:

 There should be no schism in the body, members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.   Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.   (1 Corinthians 12:25-27)

Now notice, People of God, the words the Lord spoke to Ezekiel in our first reading:

Son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore, you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me.  When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die!' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.

There, the fact that Ezekiel had been chosen as prophet of God for the salvation of God’s People meant that he was also to act as ‘watchman for the house of Israel’; watchman, that is, for the good of Israel, obliged to warn anyone wandering into seriously wicked ways to turn from his or her follies at God’s command.  Notice, that the wickedness of a foolish individual was known to harm not only that individual but also -- subtly perhaps yet most seriously -- to detrimentally affect others of God’s People; others, that is, with potential weaknesses, perhaps also with headstrong tendencies, but as yet, not indulging in deliberate personal wickedness.  That is why Ezekiel -- chosen as prophet for God’s People -- had to speak out against the actions of those sinning people.  So too, parents, who are called to teach –  as prophets – their own children in the ways of God and of the Church, are also seriously obliged to warn their children when their failure to live up to the teachings of Jesus is harmful to themselves, and to others in His Church.

If you do not speak to warn them from their wicked way, they may die in their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand.

But what about Mother Church today, isn’t she -- above all – intended by God to serve as the Catholic and Apostolic watchman for the children of God here on earth?   Isn’t she, not only endowed but also obliged -- under pain of dire punishment – to speak out and dissuade the wicked from his way?

Is that warning voice being heard today, People of God, or is it not rather being drowned by the babble of ‘do-gooders’ or the high tones of specialists in ethics calling for sympathy, welcome, understanding and encouragement for all ‘wanderers’ – often enough on the basis of a hidden ‘who are you to condemn others?’ attitude -- and proffering their ‘solution’ as the only true ‘love’ fit for an enlightened modern morality as distinct from the rigidity of outdated religion.  But, take great care here dear Catholic Christians, for such ‘ethical’ love, though its proponents use Christian words, they very frequently abuse those words, and the enlightened ‘love’ of which they so proudly speak is not the Holy Spirit of Love, of Whom Jesus speaks and Whom Jesus alone bestows on His faithful ones!

‘Who are you to condemn?’, that is the unbelieving ‘do-gooders’ constant taunt against simple but true believers in Jesus and His Church.   Now, Ezekiel was called to speak against the wicked in God’s name:

If you tell, warn, the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die”, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt but you shall save yourself.

Notice that Ezekiel, speaking in the name of God does warn of punishment, even of death, he does not, however, condemn: he tells the wicked of their wickedness, he warns them of God’s punishment promised for such wickedness, but God alone condemns those He knows to be worthy of such condemnation.

Our Blessed Lord Himself in our Gospel reading went on to say:

If he (the sinner) refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a gentile or a tax collector,

which meant his being shunned by the whole Church community.

Why was our Lord so serious about rooting-out sin -- which He hated -- in the sinner He sought to save?  He hated sin because it spreads the contagion of evil for men’s ultimate destruction.   He hated sin because it would deprive sinners of the blessedness of eternal life as children of God – life in Himself, as living members of His Body, by the Holy Spirit of truth and love -- in the Kingdom of His heavenly Father.  He hated sin also because it actually deprives men, here and now, of some of that ‘foretaste of heaven’ which should characterise their life of learning to know and love aright in His Church on earth, concerning which He had promised His disciples:

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.   And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows Him. But you know Him, because He remains with you, and will be in you.  (John 14:15–18)

See, dear People of God, why the world cannot appreciate Christian life in Mother Church:

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, to be with you always; you know Him because He REMAINS with you (that is, He abides infallibly in and with Mother Church), and WILL BE in you (that is, in each and every individual who is a living member of Mother Church).
The world cannot accept the Spirit of truth, because it neither sees nor knows Him.

That is how, for all seriously faithful disciples of Jesus and living members of His Body the Church, our life as members of that Body -- where grace abounds (her sacraments), where saving and infallible truth is proclaimed (her doctrine), and where blessed fellowship is nurtured by exalted saints and living exemplars (good friends) – is indeed a divinely planned and lovingly prepared foretaste of heaven, for all who want to love what Jesus loves and hate what Jesus hates (which ‘do-gooders’ are not prepared to do, thinking themselves too good for that!)

Dear People of God, fraternal charity can only be found where sin is hated as Jesus hates it; and the devil’s ruse is to try to mix-up the contours of sin, so that no one is clear where or what sin is, thus enabling his faithless minions to claim to have nothing but ‘love’ in their minds and hearts for all men and for all life-styles, provided, of course, that such life- styles are backed by a suitable measure of popular support.  That, dear People of God is the resultant work of all those who speak for what they call ‘good’  while they themselves know no God good enough to deserve their love, no God holy enough to evoke their worship, no God majestic enough to demand their obedience.   All such faithless ‘ethicists’ have lovely, neat, ideas and visions of how modern irreligious people should live in a society they proclaim to be better than any Christian society, one where anything and everything sufficiently popular is allowed, and nothing, other than self, is loved.

Jesus, however, shows us very clearly where the first line of defence for the supreme good of fraternal charity lies:

If your brother sins, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. 

This was Jesus' consistent attitude in such matters; indeed, we are told earlier in St Matthew's Gospel that Jesus said on another occasion (5:25-26):

Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him. 

Here Jesus speaks clearly and authoritatively to whoever of His people may have been wronged in any way: DO NOT HOLD GRUDGES.    And that one command would solve so many modern problems all over the world!!

Later, Jesus went on to envisage what we might call an ultimate situation:

If he refuses to listen even to the Church, treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax-collector.

That is, he was to be shunned by the whole community. 

Now, the fact that Jesus countenances such a drastic, final, recommendation shows us in all clarity that fraternal charity is of the utmost importance in Mother Church: it is the cement of the Church and the most immediate fruit of the presence in the Church of Jesus’ Most Holy Spirit of Love and Truth, and it shows most clearly that Jesus was no ‘do-gooder’ … He was, and is, the only true Saviour from sin and eternal death, and, as such a Saviour, He wills to condemn all those who choose to refuse His saving grace for themselves and obstruct it for others.

Next in our Gospel reading we have those words:

Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

St. Caesarius of Arles writing (6th. Century AD) to individual churches says: “From the moment you begin to regard your brother as a publican, you have bound him, so to speak, here on earth.  However, take care to bind him with justice.  Then, when you have become reconciled with your brother, having brought him back to the right path, you have in fact “loosed” him on earth and he will be likewise “loosed” in heaven.”  We are all members of the one Church; we all, in our degree, live the one Christian life in the power of the one Holy Spirit.  We all, in our degree, bind and loose as does Peter in his degree.”

We are all, indeed, called to be living members of a prophetic, priestly, and royal People of God making up the one Body of Christ.

Because the Holy Spirit of Jesus is the life blood of the Church which lives because He has been poured out upon her; and since fraternal charity is the fruit of the Spirit's presence among us, cementing us together as members of the one Body of Christ; we must all recognize that harm done to Mother Church is a wrong done to Jesus Personally, and to all those who seek to love Him individually.  Now Jesus has such love for the Church that He has promised to remain present with her to the end of time, He gives His Holy Spirit to her in fullness and indefectibly, and He calls her His Body: and it is because of that supreme love of Jesus for Mother Church that St. Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 3:17):

If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

The root of Jesus’ love for the Church is His love for each and every one of us, and the root of His love for us is His love and zeal for the honour and glory of His Father Who created us.  In Mother Church we are all, in various ways, responsible for promoting the well-being of the whole, but that responsibility is not to be regarded as an obligation in the sense of a burden that weighs down heavily upon us, so much as an abiding and inspiring proof of Jesus’ love and respect for each and every one of us in our personal identity and ability.

So, my dear People of God, through all the years of our earthly pilgrimage, let us understand aright and then never forget the words of St. Paul urging us to keep our eyes on that which is so supremely important for the well-being of all, and for the good of each and every one of us:

Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.