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Friday, 31 August 2018

22nd Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

22nd. Sunday of Year (B)

(Deut. 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark: 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

Our readings today are centred upon what one might call the art of living in the Church.  We are shown the good things God gives us and does for us, and also how mankind – even those who are sincerely religious -- can distort and disfigure those blessings.  In the words of Fr. Faber, it can happen that: “We make His love too narrow by false limits of our own, and we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.”

In the first and second readings we were reminded of the great blessings God bestowed, first of all, on Israel, and, subsequently upon the whole of mankind, both Jews and Gentile

Be careful to observe (this Law) for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'

Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. … Therefore, receive with meekness the implanted word (the Faith) which is able to save your souls.  But, be doers of the word and not hearers only.

We should recall that, in the first place, the Law given to the Israelites in the desert had come as a gift from God; the People of Israel had not somehow managed to produce it of themselves.  And likewise, the land they were about to enter would not be won by their own might or valour, but would be yet another gift from God.  That is why Moses told them: 

You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. 

For us too, the Faith that we have received is not of human origin; as Jesus made abundantly clear when He said, as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel reading:

            The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63-64)

It was Peter who – inspired by the Father – gave the only true response to such words, not only on behalf of all the Apostles, but in the name of all true Christians and Catholics:

Lord, You have the words of eternal life.  Also, we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (John 6:68-70)

And it is that same spirit to which you heard St. James give expression in our second reading:
Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls, (and) be doers of that word. 
Therefore, we must cling firmly to the teaching of the Faith: not only by defending it in our words but also by practicing it in our daily living.  And in order to do those things we must, above all else, learn to truly appreciate and love the Faith which God has so graciously bestowed upon us:
            This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 
All this may seem clear and sound simple, but such impressions can prove misleading, because at times our own unruly thoughts, imaginations, and feelings, will tempt us to follow their urging; and their very unruliness will make it difficult for us to appreciate, and consequently more difficult to obey, the Faith we acknowledge to be both God-given and true.
Such difficulties, however, are due simply to the fact that the Faith has been given us in order to change us from what – from who -- we are, into what – who -- God wants us to become. The Faith has been given us to re-form us, not in accordance with the maxims and examples of the world around us, nor for the fulfilment of our own personal preferences and ambitions, but after the pattern, and according to the will, of Him Who is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, preparing a place for us to live there with Him for all eternity. 
However, in addition to such difficulties which arise from our very nature and are therefore the common experience of all disciples of Jesus, there are other difficulties we experience that spring not so much from our common human nature as from our own personal character and that of others with whom we have dealings: especially from the attitudes and teachings of others in positions of prominence and authority.  We saw an example of this in our Gospel passage:
The Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?"
To which words, Jesus answered most vigorously, saying:
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.   And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.  And He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”             

The traditions of the elders to which the Pharisees and Scribes were so devoted were originally practiced -- and subsequently handed down -- as a means of helping and protecting true devotion among the people of Israel.  And there were undoubtedly some in Israel who had profited and would continue to profit from their observance.  The trouble was, however, that the zeal of the Pharisees and Scribes for such traditions and for the letter of the Law, led them, at times, to disregard or even reject God’s Personal commands and His broader spiritual teaching given through the Prophets of Israel.

Jesus said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.” 

Moreover, this excessive and misplaced zeal of the Pharisees and Scribes pushed them further, even, indeed, to assert that everyone in Israel should be bound by their traditions.  This amounted, Jesus said as He quoted the prophet Isaiah, to them:

Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

In that condemnation you can recognize how zealous Jesus was for the honour of God: men’s commandments were in no way to be compared with the commandments and doctrines coming from God.

Now, In Mother Church there are those in positions of authority that entitle or at times require them to give advice and guidance to the People of God.  Most frequently that guidance – because the authority behind it stems from learning, experience, and above all, from the acknowledged and invoked guidance of God’s promised grace – requires obedience at times, and always merits respect and thoughtful attention.  No one can totally ignore or disregard such guidance.

Nevertheless, we must always realize that we have been set free by Jesus Christ to serve God in Spirit and in Truth, as living members of the Body of Christ in response to the guidance of His Holy Spirit living and working within us; and that no human guides can ever be allowed to cut us off from that personal response to God so long as we remain in Jesus by keeping His known commands, and following His general teaching mediated to our conscience through the Gospel proclamation of Mother Church.  St. Paul makes this absolutely clear in his first letter to the Corinthians (3:21-23):

Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come -- all are yours.  And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. 
As we go through life, striving to listen ever more carefully to God and follow Him ever more closely, we are always advancing to what is -- for us – new and unknown territory so to speak.  Therefore, it is indeed good and necessary that we should have the help of guidance from Mother Church, for on her alone did Jesus bestow the fullness of His Spirit, and to her alone does He recall all that Jesus taught and did.  Nevertheless, after personal prayer to God, after listening to His Spirit whispering in our conscience and abiding in Mother Church, after acknowledging our own inclination to sin and God’s wonderful goodness to us,  it is up to each of us, personally, to decide finally which way to go, because such responsible commitment is the hall-mark of a personal relationship with God intimately known and loved in our heart and life, it is the glory of a Christian which we should not yield, and certainly never abandon, to another.
Jesus once declared to His disciples:
When they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak, for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father Who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:19-21)
Jesus might have said, ‘the Spirit of My Father will guide you’, but no, He actually said, ‘the Spirit of your Father Who speaks in you’ will help you.   As it were obliterating Himself, Jesus shows us how closely He wants His disciples to be united to, one with, His Father, and it is for that end He gives us His Spirit at baptism and renews His Spirit within us every time we rightly receive Holy Communion. Oneness with the Father, in Jesus, by the Spirit, that is the culmination, crowning and fulfilment, of all Christian life and holiness.

Nevertheless, never at any stage in our life can we presume that we have heard, understood, and responded aright, without regularly checking -- as we proceed further -- that we are, indeed, not only within the parameters of the Faith, but also walking in the direction of, and in a comforting conformity with, the life-thrust of her who is both the unique Bride of Christ and also our own Mother.  And this constant longing for, and looking to, God; this unceasing watchfulness for the motions of His Spirit within us; this abiding awareness of personal weakness and ignorance together with an ever growing awareness of and reliance upon God’s goodness to us, … all these endeavours and experiences gradually build up in us an ever deeper confidence and abiding joy in Mother Church, together with an ever more humbling and grateful experience and awareness of the presence, power, and goodness of God in our individual lives.

The Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God: the things which God has prepared for those who love Him; things which God has revealed to us through His Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)