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Friday, 26 October 2018

30th Sunday (Year B) 2018

30th. Sunday (Year B)
(Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)

God’s Chosen People had originally been banished from their homeland because there they had – over many generations -- become alienated from God by their sinful behaviour: the Promised Land had been God’s gift to them, and, of course, when they turned away from God, dishonouring rather than glorifying His holy Name, they lost His favour and finally lost the gift He had given them.  Now, in our first reading today from the prophet Jeremiah, God is showing that mercy to His People for which many prophets and holy men and women had long been praying: He is bringing them back to their Promised Land, restoring His gift, and thereby inviting them to return to Him with their whole heart and mind.  This physical returning home was to be an opportunity for them -- back in God’s land -- to become once again worthy to be known as God’s Chosen People (Luke 1:74-5):

That, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

Nevertheless, this physical return was hard, very hard indeed, leading over desert and stony ways; food and drink being necessarily in short supply since, after having had to pay the prices asked for them, they were then obliged to carry those supplies on their own backs as well as on the backs of the few animals they possessed.  Moreover, backs for carrying were not plentiful since they were returning with some treasured possessions, above all, they were carrying their infants; and there were many who could not carry anything at all because they were either blind, lame, sick, too old, or else heavily pregnant.  For all these reasons food and drink had to be strictly limited for a journey that was long, over territory that was difficult, and under conditions of great heat during the day and penetrating cold at night.

Those difficulties, however, were not the only nor perhaps the greatest ones encountered by the returning exiles; for, although the physical trials of that long trek back to Israel were great, nevertheless, that trek was completed in a period of months, whereas there would be other difficulties involved in rebuilding and restoration which would take years to resolve.  Above all, having made their return, the very greatest challenge facing them would be from their own wayward hearts and minds which still had to return to the Lord their God in spirit and in truth.  This physical return home was their great opportunity, but a truly successful return would not to be accomplished without much soul-searching, prayer, and endeavour (Jeremiah 31:9):

They shall come with weeping, and with supplications I will lead them.    

That is the experience, even today, of many who, for whatever reason, leave Mother Church, and then are led, by the great mercy of God, to return to the fold: their absence has changed them, and, during that absence, Mother Church herself has changed, inevitably, since she is a living Church relating to a world in constant flux.  And even though such changes might, perhaps, only have been slight, nevertheless, they are not imperceptible; with the result that some aspects of Church life may now seem to those returning less familiar, less homely, than before, whilst other changes might even seem to strike a disturbing, somewhat alien, chord.

Changes in ones’ self, changes in the Church, however, are not the only cause of difficulties for exiles returning home; their return can be made difficult and trying by one thing that does not change, human nature: the people they find on returning may not appear to be, and some of them may not truly be, understanding, sympathetic or helpful:

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.  On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”  And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.

The words of the prophet are, indeed, still very true:

They shall come with weeping, and with supplications (that is, with pleas for forgiveness, blessing, strength, and guidance) I will lead them.

Now, it is undeniably the case that all of us -- even those who have never been separated from Mother Church -- are exiles returning to our Father, because all of us can experience something of that alienation from God which sin and worldliness incessantly threaten to bring about in us.  In addition to that, we all have set before us a totally new and unimaginable promise and prospect, for we are now called not to prepare ourselves for something we know, but rather, to allow ourselves to be groomed for the supernatural condition of children of the heavenly Father by the Spirit, forming us in the likeness of Jesus by our faith in Him as the only-begotten Son of God made flesh for our salvation.   We have to make a journey not simply across territory over which we had once wandered and then lost, but a pilgrimage into unknown territory, un-natural because it is supernatural and heavenly, which our imagination finds impossible to foreshadow and familiarise.

We can only undertake such a pilgrimage thanks to Jesus.  We were told in the second reading:

Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.   No one takes this honour upon himself but only when called by God.

Jesus offered His gifts and sacrifice to the Father for us, and He envisaged not only our redemption from sin but even our being with Him in heaven as He had been with us on earth; the price for the attainment of such an unimaginable purpose, however, could only be itself unimaginable, unimaginable love -- the love that caused Jesus to offer His life to His Father from the Cross on Calvary for our salvation (John 10:17-18):

Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.  This command I have received from My Father

If Jesus was to give supreme expression to that infinite fulness of divine love enjoined on Him by His Father it had to be in and through His human body, and inevitably, by His bursting the limitations of that body: totally embracing divinely filial obedience for His Father’s supreme glory and showing unimaginably compassionate love for our human waywardness, both aspects to be glimpsed in and through His crucified Body and His pierced Heart.

In such a way Jesus won for all of us exiles that first gift of the Spirit, that original inspiration, to start us out on the way back to our Father.

Thanks to the supreme prayer of Jesus and His sacrifice of self on Calvary -- the sacrifice made available and effective for all ages in Mother Church’s continuous offering of Holy Mass -- we too can gain a hearing when we pray, as His disciples, ‘Lord have mercy on us.’

Having, in the name of Jesus, gained a hearing, and having begun our return in Him and with Him to the Father, we have to persevere throughout a long, and at times difficult, journey, overcoming -- as did those returning exiles in the first reading -- trials from both without and within ourselves.  Thanks be to God, in Mother Church, at Holy Mass, all of us who are, to whatever degree, alienated from the Father by our sinfulness, can draw near and call out to Jesus -- as did Bartimeus on hearing the noise of the crowd -- because Jesus at Holy Mass is close at hand to hear our cries and answer us, as He did so long ago:

Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want Me to do for you?" The blind man replied to Him, "Master, I want to see!"         

What would you have asked for in such a situation, People of God?  What do you, in fact, ask of Jesus at Holy Mass?  Each of us is making his or her own journey to the Father, and each and every one of us has his or her own difficulties to deal with  and overcome; but whatever our needs and whatever the request we might ask of Jesus, let us remember and learn from what we are told about Bartimeus, for Scripture says that:

Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me!"

Is anyone telling you to shut up?   Perhaps it is you yourself, your worldly self, suggesting that you are tired of praying … it never seems to be heard; telling you that you are weary of making efforts which don’t bring any visible results.  Such contrary, psychological, ‘voices’ may not, however, be all that tends to discourage you, People of God, for in our present situation here in multi-cultural Britain under a positively secular-minded and anti-religious government there is much opposition and ridicule both public and in private for those who would serve God and conscience first and foremost.  We are now surrounded by people who profess themselves satisfied by what they think they know about life in today’s world, people who think themselves able to do all things necessary to sufficiently advance their own purpose and achieve their own goal; people who acknowledge no realms beyond what their own eyes and mankind’s technical abilities tell them,  no truths beyond their ken.   Consequently, they cannot understand and indeed tend to dismiss or despise those of us who, as Christians, look to Jesus to give us, by His Spirit, sight to recognize what is ultimately true, and strength to walk along His way towards its attainment and enjoyment in His Father’s Kingdom.

Nevertheless, whatever opposition you may encounter, whatever the difficulties and disappointments you may experience, keep your hopes firmly fixed on Jesus, dear  People of God, and like Bartimeus, pray that despite all, through all, you might be enabled to see well enough to follow Jesus ever more closely along the road that leads ultimately into the presence of the Father.  This process of becoming one with Jesus in love for the Father and in the service of our fellows, is never-ending while we are still on earth, and it is one that can only be accomplished in us, for us, and through us, thanks to the Holy Spirit -- the Personal bond of love between the Father and the Son -- bequeathed to us in Mother  Church by Jesus; the Spirit whereby the love and the truth of Jesus are actively and effectively overcoming the sin of the world for all those of Good Will; the Spirit, without Whom, as Jesus said, we can do nothing but prove ourselves futile and ultimately fruitless.