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Friday, 2 March 2018

3rd Sunday of Lent Year B 2018

 3rd. Sunday of Lent (B) 
   (Exodus 20:1-17; 1st. Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25)

Notice the confidence of Paul and the early Christians: they were small in number, poor, persecuted by the Roman authorities, and outcasts from what was, for some, their native Jewish society; but for all that, Paul could say, as you heard in the second reading:

The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Paul and the early Church were full of confidence in their vocation to proclaim and bear witness to Jesus the Christ, not only in despite of, but even because of, all the forces arraigned against them.  The power of those forces opposing them showed, as Paul tells us, the hidden might of the Gospel proclamation, so peacefully, so humbly, and yet so irresistibly drawing more and more followers to Jesus while continuing to solidly confirm and ever more surely establish disciples already experiencing suffering for the Name of Jesus openly before men, but finding themselves being secretly buoyed-up and born-along by a Spiritual conviction and peaceful strength in Jesus and before God:

We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

What pride and confidence they had in the Faith!  Those forebears of ours were totally convinced of, and boundlessly grateful for, the Faith they had been privileged to hear and embrace, and for the amazing fact that they had been personally called to witness before the world to the truth of the apostles’ proclamation of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit received from the risen Lord of Glory through the ministry of His Church on earth.

Now, if we are to bear witness to Jesus today, in our modern society which is largely secularised and unsympathetic to religious attitudes and values, we also must have confidence in our Catholic faith.

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  (John 17:14)

Our confidence, however, cannot be a worldly confidence which sometimes manifests itself as the brashness found in certain Jehovah’s Witnesses who come knocking and stand arguing at peoples’ doors; nor can it be, what is much, much worse, a devilish confidence based on a presumed personal holiness.  Our confidence must be a confidence in God, Personalized and shot through and through with gratitude to the God the Father who has deigned to choose and call us as disciples of His beloved Son Jesus Whom He sent among us, and Who now wills to bestow on us  His most Holy Spirit for the fulfilment of His saving purposes in our world of today.   People of God, without such deep and humble gratitude our confidence would not be Christian confidence.

Today, part of the failure of Christians to bear witness to the truth about Jesus is due to the fact that they are embarrassed by and afraid of the total simplicity and sheer confidence of St. Paul’s words:

We proclaim Christ crucified, to those who are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

They feel it is somehow proud and sinful to think like that; because -- fearing men more than God -- they don’t want to appear to non-believers as being disrespectful of other peoples’ religious or irreligious opinions.  What faith they have, therefore, must be couched in words that both irreligious people proud of their ‘logical’ thinking and self-satisfied do-gooders can find understandable and acceptable.   These are people who, at times, come out with plans and policies that are ‘logical developments’ of certain shreds of Christian teaching they might have retained or absorbed (e.g. Christian marriage is good; therefore, we should allow anyone and encourage everyone – be they heterosexual, homosexual, or trans-sexual -- to marry), while nevertheless totally rejecting any idea of there being a transcendent spiritual God relating to a human being’s personal conscience.  And being totally ignorant of, or unwilling to accept, the very possibility of any human spiritual life, understanding, or development, they have no comprehension at all of what Jesus wanted to say with such words as:

It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.

            I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance;

Judas said, ‘Why was this oil not sold and the money given to the poor?’   Jesus answered, ‘Let her alone.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.

Get behind Me Satan: You are thinking not as God does but as men do.  Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but who ever loses his life for My sake will find it.  What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?

How sad and foolish for Catholics and Christians to be afraid to witness to and clearly express their faith because of such ‘logically-good’ people!   For, as I said, the confidence we must have is a confidence in God’s power and God’s wisdom, together with a humble awareness of our responsibility to live up to the calling He has given us.  The modern refusal to embrace such confidence is a sign of lack of faith in God, lack of gratitude to God, and also a most serious overdose of self- love which makes its’ sufferers afraid of stirring up opposition or receiving criticism from others held in public favour or holding popular opinions.

The glorious apostle Paul had no doubt concerning his own obligation and calling to bear witness to Jesus by his ministry:

I became a minister (of the Gospel) according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. (Ephesians 3:7)

His fitness for the work of apostle was a gift; and that gift of the grace of God was not in any way exclusive to Paul himself since he proclaimed a like gift of power and fruitfulness for all true believers when (Ephesians 1:19-21) he spoke of:

The exceeding greatness of (God’s) power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.

Moreover, the Word of God we are called to bear witness to, the Word we celebrate and meditate here at Mass every Sunday, does not, of its very nature, return to God fruitless, as the prophet Isaiah (55:11) tells us:

My word that goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

However, God’s working in and through us might well appear to critical viewers as the foolishness and weakness of Catholics and Christians before it is revealed as the wisdom and power of God; and such a thought might incline some to tremulously consider whether, in our proclamation of Christ, in our work for Him, we should not seek, first of all, to ingratiate ourselves, to tone down, soften, our proclamation of the faith we hold in our dealings with others who either do not believe at all or who have a different faith to ours.  That is not the true Christian attitude.  Look at Jesus in our Gospel today:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the moneychangers seated there.  He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, "Take these out of here, and stop making My Father's house a marketplace!"

Jesus, quite clearly, could be firm, even -- as on this occasion -- forceful, whilst at other times He might be kindly, gentle, humble, or persuasive in proclaiming His Good News of salvation.  Never, however, will you find Him trying to ingratiate Himself or tone down the implications His Good News.  Likewise, only if our witness to Jesus is made authentic and strong by our forgetfulness of self and simple trust and confidence in Him – that is, in His truth unadulterated by any scheming of our own -- will it bear the fruit He wants from His true disciples.

The world we are seeking to serve in Christ is beyond our acceptance or understanding:

While He was in Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, many began to believe in His name when they saw the signs He was doing.  But Jesus would not trust Himself to them, because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify (to Him) about men.  He Himself understood them (too) well.

Only God fully knows the mind and heart of man.  Jesus, the Son of Man, did not trust Himself to those in Jerusalem who proclaimed primarily their own authentic religiosity or who appeared to only reluctantly believe in Him because of some miracles He had performed.  Likewise, we must not rely on human words, posturizing, schemes or stratagems, for only God’s wisdom can guide us in our endeavours to promote the Gospel in our world today.  Our witness to the Faith has to be a proclamation of Jesus’ truth made in love and sincerity; we most certainly have no need to seek to ingratiate the Gospel, or ourselves, by trying to conform it to modern preferences or practices. The Faith we profess and proclaim is God’s gift to mankind; through faith in Jesus His Son, it is the supreme expression, and only authentic channel, of God’s uniquely saving love for men and women of all times.

Therefore, I encourage you today, People of God, to have confidence in God and your own calling: confidence in the wisdom enshrined in the Faith, confidence in the power of His Word to which you bear witness, confidence in His goodness and care that will, if you keep looking trustfully to Him, be with you all the way in all your Christian endeavours.  We must seek to please one only, God; and we can only please Him if we, first of all, have sufficient trust and confidence in Him as to be able to forget ourselves.  Then, under the inspiration of the Spirit of Jesus, we have to go forward in trust and confidence, and work according to the words of Jesus, seeking only the Father‘s glory and the good of souls.  And if, at times, because of our sinfulness and failings, we may need to try to curb or correct our personal character and attitudes in order to help our neighbours hear and recognise the Gospel of Christ, we must never think that the Gospel message itself, the Good News of Christ which is ours in the Faith, needs to be ingratiatingly adapted to what others may want. 

We should therefore hold close to our hearts the following words of St. Paul:

Bring to light (for all) what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God Who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.  This was according to the eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in Whom we have boldness of speech and confidence of access through faith in Him. (Ephesians (3:10-13)