If you are looking at a particular sermon and it is removed it is because it has been updated.

For example Year C 2010 is being replaced week by week with Year C 2013, and so on.

Friday, 25 September 2020

26th Sunday Year A 2020


26th. Sunday of Year (A)

(Ezekiel 18:25-28; St. Paul to the Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32)


Jesus takes up once more the theme of workers for the vineyard, and today our attention is centred on the attitude of two brothers called to work in their father’s vineyard.  

What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’   He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.  The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.  Which of the two did his father’s will?  They answered, “The first.”

There, as you heard, one of the brothers answered his father with respectful words but did not go to work as promised; the other, on the contrary, began with a blunt refusal and then, changed his mind, and went to work in the vineyard.  We are not told how long it took the latter to change his mind; so, he might have gone almost immediately into his father's vineyard, regretting his disrespectful outburst, or his change of mind and heart might have taken some time, so that he went into the vineyard at perhaps the sixth, the ninth, or even the eleventh hour.  That is a possible link with last week's parable.

The teaching of today’s parable, however, is very close to the heart of Jesus because it concerns “doing the will of the Father”:

"Which of the two did his father’s will?"  Jesus asked.

Jesus, you will recall, once told us the whole purpose of His coming on earth:

I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him Who sent Me. (John 6:38)

That was not merely a dutiful expression of filial awareness, it was the central pillar of His everyday experience of life on earth: in the agonizing moments of His suffering in the Garden which caused Him to sweat blood, He repeated the same words to strengthen Himself in His need:

Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done. (Luke 22:42)

Moreover, that same attitude is the essence of the only prayer He taught us, which is, ultimately, the only prayer we need:

Our Father Who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

For all, therefore, who want to become true disciples of Jesus, our life as Christians is not simply a matter of carrying out a share of work in the master’s vineyard, but rather of a journey being undertaken with a loving desire to become one with Jesus for the Father, Who is ever inviting us to find our ultimate fulfilment as His obedient children.

Presuming we have such a desire, how are we, in fact, going to set about doing His will on earth and attaining our salvation in His presence in heaven?

Let me first of all clear up a possible misunderstanding resulting from the first reading.  To be sure, it is not a mistake that would easily be made by any sincere disciple of the Lord; but if someone were going through difficulties or was only half-hearted in their faith, those words of Ezekiel in our first reading might be thought to signal an easy way out:

If a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.

The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, for example, did think that he could postpone deciding about conversion and the good life until death was at hand, and then, “turn away from wickedness” and be baptized, so as then to be prepared to die with an absolutely ‘clean slate’ so to speak.

However, in such a case, the apparent conversion would only be finally acted out after the penitent had, necessarily , long put up with his inevitable daily faults and failings, and pandered to his ever-recurring weakness and sins.  As for any interim protestations of love for the Lord, when put to the test they could hardly have fared any better than Herod’s reverence for John the Baptist.  Moreover, Ezekiel’s very words would not seem to give any encouragement to such worldliness, for he did say “turn away and do what is right and just”: a death-bed conversion, quite literally the fag end of a life, cannot be thought a suitable opportunity for doing anything at all, let alone what is right and just.

And so, whilst it is, indeed, never too late to mend; and whilst it is always possible -- in whatever situation one might find oneself -- to turn to God our Father and find forgiveness in the name of Jesus, nevertheless, it is absolutely essential that we turn to the Father in sincerity of heart.

And so, St. Paul tells us in the second reading just how we should set about sincerely trying to do the Father’s will, with a ready response to His call:

Have the same attitude that also Christ Jesus had.

And at this point, people of a fundamentalist turn of mind might well say: “All that is necessary is to read the Scriptures and do what Jesus did”. 

Let us just look rationally at those two bits of advice.  “We must do what Jesus did or would have done.” How can we do that?  Jesus lived on earth two thousand years ago, His circumstances were not the same as ours today.  And what is infinitely more, Jesus, with His sublime understanding of people and of the workings of divine grace, sometimes did things, spoke words, which we -- having only a sin-stained appreciation of our fellow men, together with a native ignorance of the workings of divine grace -- would not dare to say or ever think of doing.

"All we need to do is to read the Scriptures and do what Jesus did."  Indeed!  Who would dare to say with Jesus: "It is not fair to give the children’s food to dogs” to a woman begging for her daughter’s healing? Or again, what doctor or nurse, or anyone who could help, would treat dear friends, as Jesus, in His supreme love and divine wisdom, treated Mary, Martha and Lazarus:

When He heard that (Lazarus) was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. (John 11:6)

Let us therefore recall and try to learn the truths contained in the Apostle's teaching:

Have the same attitude (of mind and heart) that also Christ Jesus had.

We cannot 'do what Jesus would have done', until we have, in truth, the same attitude as Jesus; and that can only come about by the gift of the Spirit, for it was the Spirit Who led Jesus.  Now, the Spirit of Jesus is not given to any of us either fully or permanently, nor is He given to all of us in the same degree.  The Holy Spirit of Jesus is given in sublime and abiding fullness to Mother Church so that she can make her children members of the Body of Christ in which all have a personal purpose and role to fulfil for that Body and for the glory of the Father.  Therefore, our first and supreme duty, in order to learn and to do the Father’s will, is to hear and obey Jesus’ clear commandments given for all those who would love Him and want to be his disciples, commandments passed down to us in the Scriptures and in the authoritative teaching of Mother Church.  Now we can all do that thanks to the baptismal grace of the Holy Spirit given by Jesus to all who believe in Him.  Such essential obedience is the minimum required of a true disciple.

However, in order to have the same attitude as Jesus, and do the Father’s particular will for each one of us, we must, in sincerity of heart, pray much more.  By enabling us to obey the commandments of Jesus and the Church, the Spirit can be said to rule our actions.  Nevertheless, most of our choices in life do not directly or necessarily involve sin: they are predominantly indifferent choices of themselves, and if we aspire to have the same attitude as Jesus and do the Father’s will in all things big and small, we must ask, beg, pray the Holy Spirit to not only rule our actions so as to keep us from sin, but also to guide our lives in every respect to the extent that it is no longer we who live, but rather -- through the Spirit – Jesus Himself living more and more in us for the Father, as St. Paul said (Galatians 2:20):

It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.

The Spirit is Jesus’ Gift, Jesus' bequest, to us in Mother Church; He is not ours, He cannot be gotten, so to speak, and then possessed.  Because He is the Gift, we have to keep going to the Father in prayer, and to Jesus in the Eucharist, to receive the Spirit anew, the Gift in ever greater abundance.  Moreover, since He is the Gift we must constantly be trying to live up to, we must therefore beg the Holy Spirit Himself, in our prayers, to penetrate  our being every more deeply, so that He might guide and rule us, not only in our rejection of sin, but also in our free choices and deep desires, until He has ultimately formed us – mind and heart -- as His faithful instruments, for the Father’s glory.  In other words, we should beg the Spirit to make each of us a likeness of Jesus painted by His own living hand, in and for our world of today, not an inauthentic or blasphemous imitation of what happened in the past, nor a product of merely human cogitation, expressing personal pride and based on current popular, trendy, thinking.

Therefore, taking the words of St. Paul to ourselves in all sincerity let us humbly pray that we may become true sons and daughters of the God Who calls us; and that, through our Spirit-led actions and the Spirit-formed attitude of mind and heart, we may help in some way, small indeed, but nevertheless positive measure to bring it about that:

All, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, may (come to) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Dear People of God, today’s parable is, again, unique to St. Matthew and perhaps we can glean some inkling of why he may have seriously wanted it to be well-remembered, by his telling us of the following words of Jesus which St. Luke also recalls (vv. 31-2):

Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.  When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

Matthew, Mark and Luke, were as one in their memories of Jesus until Matthew chose to insert today’s Gospel parable of the two sons and their father, along with the words which we have just heard.  Why?

Apparently Matthew wanted the former Pharisees of his congregation to remember those last words of Jesus because, after having strongly underlined the repentance of the younger son in His foregoing parable, those additional words also emphasize anew the importance and ‘power for good’ of repentance in the lives of  Christians, this time the repentance of the tax-collectors (Matthew himself was one!) and prostitutes on their having heard the Good News proclaimed by Jesus of the Kingdom of God.  Matthew was determined that his Christian congregation should never forget the wondrous gift of the spirit of repentance which they themselves had embraced when so many of their former fellows refuse to accept that gift of God!

Dear People of God there are ‘attitudes’ which can be characteristic of individuals and of peoples resulting from their birth and/or development before God, and which it is essential for those individuals and people to remember with deep gratitude in their hearts, and to express most definitely and sincerely in their lives.  For Matthew, the former publican himself, and for all the former Pharisees of his Christian congregation, that most beautiful remembrance of humble repentance should never be allowed to wither away in their hearts due to lack of gratitude to God for such a gracious gift.  God’s gifts are many and varied: some are glorious, some tragic, some inspiring, others humbling, but however varied in their multiplicity answering to our many, many human needs, all, however, are sublimely beautiful and fulfilling for those on whom they are bestowed.

Our sinful world seeks to replace God and His gifts of Faith, Hope, and Charity by the three human values of liberty, fraternity, and equality; and, as we learn from experience, in that process, the variety and vivacity of moral beauty is lost, the calming peace and power of complementarity in human life is misunderstood, while liberty and equality are highly valued in no small measure because of their modern, unquestionable, travelling companions: libido and licence. 

Friday, 18 September 2020

25th Sunday Year A 2020


25th. Sunday of Year (A)

(Isaiah 55:6-9; Paul to the Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16)




Dear People of God, we profess that God is all-holy, but what do we mean by “holy”?  In our first reading we were given an intimation of what God’s holiness means:

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD.   As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are My ways above your ways and My thoughts above your thoughts.

This characteristic “otherness”, or perhaps even “strangeness” of God’s holiness was also shown very clearly in the Gospel reading, where you heard the cry of the earlier workmen on receiving their pay for the day:

These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.

Although our understanding can appreciate the attitude of the landowner in the parable, nevertheless our emotions are such that we are much more readily inclined to sympathise with those early workers and, as a result, we find ourselves somewhat puzzled by Jesus telling such a parable for our instruction.

However, Jesus not infrequently shocked people in order to make them pay attention, and perhaps that is the case here: the very difficulty that this parable has for us teaches us a basic, and absolutely essential, lesson: we -- of ourselves -- are not holy; God alone is holy, and He is sublimely Holy.

That was the lesson God had, by His great prophets, sought to teach Israel over many centuries, and it was the prophet Daniel who finally summed up Israel’s long historical experience of God’s dealings with them in words of simple finality giving expression to a fiercely-resisted and long-overdue humble conviction:

O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day -- to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You. O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.  (Daniel 9:7-8)

The prophet Ezekiel had earlier emphasized the same saving truth when he prophesied:

“The house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.'  O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?   Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin ... get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore, turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:29-32)

Thus, God promised life -- a new heart and a new spirit -- to a people who would learn from His warning proclaimed by Ezekiel.  And, indeed, a fruitful branch of Israel ‘did turn and live’ by learning to humbly acknowledge and whole-heartedly embrace those subsequent words of the great prophet Daniel:

O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.

And it was with the furtherance of that same spirit of humble renewal in view – no longer for Israel alone but for mankind as a whole -- that God the Father sent His only-begotten Son as our Redeemer, so that, through His Son’s death and Resurrection on our behalf, and by the subsequent gift of His Spirit, we might be able, ultimately, to truly return to Him and live as His children -- adopted in Jesus His only begotten  Son, made man and become their Saviour -- with filial love before His holy presence for all eternity.   Let us, therefore, listen again to, and carefully learn from, Jesus’ teaching about God and ourselves in this parable.

First of all, why did Jesus tell His disciples this parable?

The central theme of Jesus’ preaching was always the Kingdom of Heaven and its accessibility, and that was the question posed by the Twelve (Matthew 19:25s.) just before Jesus told them our parable:

‘Who then can be saved, (if the rich who-can-do-good-things can’t)?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

He then proceeded in St. Matthew to answer their problem by His parable, for which Luke only remembered a short saying of Jesus (12:32):

            Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

In the parable we are told that the landowner:

Went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard (and) agreed with the labourers for a denarius a day;

and that later he went out again about the third, sixth and ninth hours to hire more workers.   Now that was most unusual; there was a steward by his side, he would pay the wages and he would normally have done the drudgery of repeatedly going and coming to negotiate with and hire workers as needed: for on such occasions voices might well be raised, opinions expressed, and accusations made; rough and tough men might, at times, call for firm handling, and such negotiations was not normally carried out by the landowner himself.

But, for this parable, the personal relationship between the landowner and the hired workmen is of the utmost importance: we are told that the first group strike a deal with the landowner: so much work for so much pay.  From then on, subsequent groups trust in the landowners’ generosity, bearing in mind their work; until, with those hired at the eleventh hour, hope in the landowner’s goodness is the whole reason for their undertaking an obviously negligeable amount of work.

The landowner in the parable was compassionately concerned about workers unable to find work; that is why he came out five times looking for husbands and fathers unable to feed and shelter their wives and families without work. Jesus Himself was supremely compassionate towards the lost sheep of Israel; He had come to save them and us from sin by giving Himself, sinless as He was, to death for us.

Look at the workers now.   Those hired at the eleventh hour might well have gone off home after the sixth, and especially after the ninth hour (mid-afternoon) … for who would be hiring men so late?  They remained, however, because they hoped for what seemed most unlikely … they had seen or heard of this landowner hiring men, first of all, at the normal time, then he had come back again mid-morning, mid-day, and even mid-afternoon, offering some jobs and hope … this last group therefore, those who clung on hoping to the very end, were still waiting there at the eleventh hour, one hour before sun-down and tools-down.

What was the difference between those five groups of men? 

Each of the early groups had been waiting to receive offers of work ready and primed with confidence in their own abilities; and now, having completed the task, were keenly aware of the amount of work they had done for the landowner: ‘we have slaved all day; we have been hard at it from dawn, the third, sixth, or ninth hours’.

That, however, was not the whole picture Jesus willed to portray; He was speaking ultimately about the Kingdom of Heaven, His life theme, and only the last group of hired workers -- the last-gasp-group so to speak -- came to recognize the basic reality and truth of their, and our, situation as regards the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only the last group, hired at the very last minute so to speak, said that they had been standing there doing nothing “because no one has hired us”.  Experience had led them to recognize that the opportunity to work was a gift, a blessing, one which they could not give to themselves.   They were the only ones whose experience had made them humble enough to recognize just how much they depended upon the goodness of the landowner, who, indeed, had hired them primarily not so much for the work they could do for him but out of compassion for them and for their families in need.

At the end of the day when all were gathered to receive their pay all those workers taken on in the beginning and then in the third, sixth, and ninth hours were full of their own performances.  The eleventh-hour group, however, were the only ones who, through hope, had become aware of the goodness of the landowner who had shown such compassionate understanding of their need, they were the only ones able to help us too realize something of the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven proclaimed by Jesus, ‘Thank God this landowner came back again for us!’   The last group of workmen -- most fully aware of the landowner’s goodness and compassion, are meant to be models for us all who seek to know, love, and serve God and show gratitude for His gifts. 

The sublime truth being taught by Jesus was that the gift, the reward, God offers to His faithful -- being both divine and eternal -- infinitely transcends any earthly work we can present – any personal merits we can invoke.  It is an undeservable GIFT. Our first and foremost Christian calling and duty is to praise God with grateful hearts and minds for His great goodness whereby He has called us Himself and given us an opportunity to work for His Kingdom on earth, with Jesus, by the power and under the inspiration of His Spirit.  Whatever work we do will only have value before God in so far as it is offered as our small part in the great redeeming work offered to the Father by Jesus, His Son, our Saviour and Brother; but that humble awareness will be, indeed, at the root of all our heavenly delight: God is All in all; He is all for us in Jesus, and we are for Him and for each other in His Spirit.  

There are many who go through life without reference to God, they seek to do their own will, not His; they want to satisfy their own desires not win His promises.  They have that attitude of mind described in the book of Job:

They say to God, 'Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways.    Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him?  And what profit do we have if we pray to Him?' (21:14-15)

Such people may well come towards the end of their life thinking “I’ve been very successful in my business, I have made a lot of money, built up a good reputation, and have much to leave to my children”.  Indeed, that is how things may seem to others also, such as Job, who, in the midst of all his difficulties and trials, struggled to understand:

Why do the wicked live and become old (and) mighty in power?  Their descendants are established with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes. … They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. (Job 21:7-8, 13)

How many suffering people in the world today are tormented with similar thoughts!  And yet, the Christian message is clear: those who work for themselves, for this world alone, will ultimately experience the terrible truth of Jesus’ judgment: “They have had their reward.”  Only work that leads us to forget ourselves and praise God is ultimately acceptable to God and profitable for us.

People of God, whatever our situation during our time on earth -- whatever good we may do and whatever trials we may have to endure, whatever praise we may be given and whatever honours or riches may befall us -- only when we come to gratefully recognize and respond to the great goodness of God secretly and surely guiding and sustaining, protecting and comforting us, in and through all these things, only then will we begin to appreciate the fullness of happiness in Him that we call eternal life.

Here below, we are always – in response to our heavenly calling -- on the way to our heavenly reward, and there can be no greater blessing than, in the course of our efforts for God, to become so totally emptied of all self-esteem and pride, as to be totally open to and able to delight to the full in the infinite beauty and goodness of God, as members of His family in Jesus.  Remember St. Paul's words:

For me, to live is Christ, (and) to depart and be with Christ … that is very much better.  Conduct yourselves (always) in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.








Friday, 11 September 2020

24th Sunday Year A 2020

                                       24th. Sunday of Year (A)

(Sir. 27:30-28:7; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35)


Once again, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our Gospel story is unique to Saint Matthew.

Saint Luke gives us the same saying of Jesus that we have just heard but in a slightly different form:

If your brother wrongs you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry’, you should forgive him.  (17:4)

In our Gospel reading Saint Matthew did not mention the fact of the penitent brother asking for forgiveness:

Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?

He would seem to have presumed it.

He would have been right to presume it, of course, because one cannot forgive someone who does not ask for forgiveness, someone who is not wanting forgiveness, for in such a case the original wrong would still hold sway, and even God does not forgive those who do not repent of their sin, because forgiveness – the re-establishing of an original relationship -- has to be received in order for it to be given.

Saint Matthew, however, in his account of this saying of Jesus about forgiveness, is not concerned primarily about the circumstances between the offender and the offended, for, as I earlier mentioned, he does not mention that the repentant sinner came back asking for forgiveness; but rather, Matthew’s great concern is about the relationship between the one offended and God, and in that respect, dear People of God, we must first of all recognize that the ‘huge amount’ owed by debtor no. 1 to the king is ultimately to be regarded as the debt of sins forgiven by God -- a huge amount -- for the sake of His Son’s self-sacrifice as our Saviour on Calvary, and as a huge debt – now of gratitude and gratefulness -- owed by all aspirants to heavenly life  in Jesus before the Father. 

Bearing in mind that essential fact, Matthew is most insistent about members of his congregation of Pharisee-converts in their personal response to a sinning brother, now a convert Christian brother sinning against a fellow convert.  I say Matthew is insistent about this secondary relationship because he here invokes another of his unique memories of Jesus, quoted earlier in his Gospel (5:45), to the effect that, as children of God, you must do, not as the Law of Moses taught or allowed you to do, but as Jesus in His Law of Gospel Grace and Charity teaches you: God never refuses forgiveness when sinners sincerely seek it of Him, and that is what St. Matthew has in mind when he alone quotes that seventy-seven times which means ‘any number of times’, or, ‘times without limit’. 

There is, however, a certain strangeness about Our Lord’s parable, in that the cancellation of the whole debt is far beyond any question of forgiveness, concerning the repayment of a debt, or the time of any such repayment.  And I do not think that Our Lord was insisting that, His Christian disciples must quite literally always write off the whole debt, wipe the slate clean, so to speak, in such cases.  What I am certain about, though, is that He was and still is insisting that we wipe the slate (of our memory) clean in that we truly forgive, without holding onto any grudge or resentment.  And here Matthew has a most important and, once again, unique teaching of Jesus for us to note and most carefully remember: God does not and we must not hold grudges or cherish animosity:

He makes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on the righteous and also on the unrighteous; (Matthew 5:45)

such gifts of God are given to all irrespective of their personal sinfulness.

That is absolutely important for us to remember, dear People of God, because our granting forgiveness does not mean that, let us say, the original state of friendship is to be restored immediately; that may take time, or it may be impossible; but what is to be restored immediately is the manner in which we treat the forgiven offender, that is, we treat him or her without any cherished animosity or resentment, that we treat ‘him’ as normally, open-heartedly, and courteously as we treat others, just as God ‘makes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on he righteous and also on the unrighteous’. 

Of course, Jesus knew that such an attitude is not humanly possible even when He was deliberately saying those words, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times’, in which the word seven is a figure of plenitude, perfection.  Jesus chose those words, I say, to make us realize that the Christian life – life as His disciples and witnesses to Him on earth, aspiring to a heavenly destiny in Him before His Father – is beyond us, of ourselves; it is not something merely human, it is a share in God’s life and gives us a claim on God’s strength.  We cannot say as an excuse, ‘It is beyond me’; of course it is, but it is not beyond God for us, with us, in us, and through us.  We Christians, above all we Catholics,  have the fulness of God’s grace available to us in the Sacraments, and we are meant to live not a merely human life, but a divinised human life, in Christ Jesus, divinised by His Gift of the most Holy Spirit, for the Father, which is what Saint Paul told us in our second reading:

If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord; so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord.

That, dear People of God, should be the ultimate principle of our conscious Christian behaviour: we belong entirely to God in Jesus, and we should strive to react to each situation in life with Him in mind, not ourselves; and for that, our supreme model is blessed Mary at the Annunciation, totally God-centred and self-less!  Of course, we may be taken by surprise or even overcome by our native and instinctive self-love, and led into returning evil for evil, but any such happening should be a clear warning to us and we should make sure that such a surprise does not become deliberate and most certainly not habitual!

Such steadfastness in God’s service, however, can only be achieved not by will-power, but by love-power, so to speak; and that love-power is a gift of God, a gift ‘contained’, ‘understood’ in those words of St. Paul, ‘we belong to God’, words which mean ‘we are His possession’, ‘we are possessed by God’, words which, in turn, can only mean that we are those people who have opened ourselves up to Him -- above all in the highs and lows of life, in our troubles and  trials, in our joys and delights -- and besought Him, most ardently and perseveringly, to rule supreme there.




Thursday, 3 September 2020

23rd Sunday Year A 2020

23rd. Sunday of Year (A)
(Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

When the harmony of human life was shattered by sin, that mutual love which fostered harmony was forgotten as each individual became more independent of, less concerned with, his or her neighbour, brother or sister.  As a result, when God asked Cain:

             Where is Abel your brother?

Cain’s reply was:

             I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?    (Genesis 4:9)

… the very prototype of all ancient and modern ‘couldn’t care less’ and ‘look after number one first of all’ attitudes!

But in the Kingdom of God, in the new, redeemed and restored, human community inaugurated by the sacrifice, and configured to the teaching, of Our Blessed Lord Jesus -- such cold indifference has no legitimate place, as the Gospel reading for today clearly shows:

Jesus said to His disciples: ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two other along with you ….. if he refuses to listen to them, tell the church, if he refuses even to listen to the Church, treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax-collector.

Now St. Matthew is the only evangelist to give us those words of Jesus: obviously important words as shown by their very closely and sequentially developed form; and some ancient writers recognizing their seriousness proclaimed them to be a serious commandment of the Lord for all;  and indeed, some even declared -- with relentless logic -- that anyone sinned-against who would not enter on that possible procedure of personal confrontation, witnesses, and ultimately church judgement,  was to be considered a greater sinner than the one guilty of the original fault!

Alas, even individuals who loved the Lord, when faced with the difficulty of understanding particularly ‘thorny’ passages of Scripture can be found to have, at times, unwittingly distorted Our Lord’s words with an interpretation of their own; as Father Faber laments in these famous words of his:  'The love of God is broader than the measure of our mind; we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own; and we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.'

However, thanks to the work and achievement over many years of Catholic scholarship and Church guidance we are now in a better position to understand, more accurately and more lovingly, that which previously Mother Church – not fully understanding why St. Matthew alone reported those words Jesus -- had only been able to treasure in faithful trust, and hand-down literally and completely for later understanding.

Today, there is a conviction that St. Matthew wrote his Gospel memoirs of the Lord for a particular community in Jerusalem, now often referred to as Jewish Christians, that is, for former faithful pharisaic followers of the Mosaic Law -- in which, of course, Jesus Himself as a Child had been brought up most perfectly and much less rigidly at Nazareth – devout pharisaic followers of the Law who had  come to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, their Saviour and Redeemer, and had consequently left the synagogue to become members of the Christian Church in Jerusalem.

Now, their background was far different from that of the Gentiles, pagans for whom the letters of St. Paul and the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John were mainly addressed; and are we to think that Jesus had nothing to say to those of His own background who had left all for Him, and who now found themselves rejected and reviled by their former fellow-Jews, and perhaps not fully understood by their new-found fellow Christians?

Matthew earnestly desired to guide and sustain this his congregation of former Pharisees in the ways of their chosen Lord and Saviour, Jesus of Nazareth, and he most certainly did not think that Jesus had nothing particular to say for such converts. 

He, Matthew, had been appointed as ‘watchman’ for this congregation, and he was well aware that their lives till then -- lived in faithful observance of the Law of Moses and following traditional Jewish practices -- had brought them to recognize, love, and choose to obey Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.  Matthew too, had good reason to think that he, along with Paul, also ‘had the mind of Jesus’:

 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.  And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.  For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.   (1 Corinthians 12-16)

Now, Matthew had some most explicit words of Jesus to guide him in what he, imitating His Lord, was seeking to do for his congregation, words to be found in his Gospel, for he remembered Jesus once severely criticizing His opponents:

You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law; judgment and mercy and fidelity.  These you should have done without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23s.)

Tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, were part of their background as Pharisees, that is, as Israelites specially devoted to serve the God of their fathers by diligent observance of the Law, observance not limited to what was explicitly commanded but which also embraced practices that were thought to help better observance of what was prescribed.   And Jesus was saying that such extra devotional practices could still be acceptable if they truly helped them observe the weightier things of the Law better:

            These you should have done without neglecting the weightier things.

With such explicit words of Jesus-- the most supremely devout observer of the Law (Can any of you charge Me with sin?) and the very Son of the God of Israel -- Matthew would not rubbish the life-background and the deeply ingrained, devout endeavours of many of his community by trying to eradicate all traces of Pharisaic Judaism ‘hook, line, and sinker’ from them!  Instead he followed his and their Lord’s own example and words, these (procedural requirements) you learned to do before becoming a Christian you can continue to practice among yourselves -- they have become part of your life as devout servants of the Law – but they must not in any way cause you to neglect the essentials of your new life as Christians, walking in the way of Jesus according to the new law of grace, a law of far deeper love and fear of the Lord.  
How wonderful and instructive to be able to see Saint Matthew and Saint Paul both interpreting the ‘mind of Christ’ for those for whom the Spirit of Christ had established them both as watchmen! 

However, those words of Matthew are a good way of ‘having it out with a brother’, whereas the weightier things of Jesus’ Gospel Law, those not-to-be forgotten weightier things,  Matthew reserved until a little later (18:21-22) when he reported how Jesus responded to a question from Peter:

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how many times must I forgive Him? As many as seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times!”

Isn’t it, indeed, lovely to glimpse St. Matthew using his knowledge of Jesus, his own awareness of the ‘mind of Jesus’, to help these Pharisee converts develop in the way of Jesus!  You must remember that Matthew was formerly a renegade Jew, a tax-collector for the Romans -- named Levi -- despised by all Jews, most especially however by the Pharisees!!  All that however is now ‘water under the bridge’ as Matthew digs out of his personal memories of Jesus to find a way to help and encourage these new converts in the way of Christian faith and, by his own example, unconsciously to show them that ‘weightiest’ and most beautiful, ‘item’, jewel,  of the Christian Law: charity ... the love and concern of a convert ex-Jewish tax-collector for the well-being and confirmation of convert ex-Pharisees in their shared new Faith!!

We should now dwell, just for a moment, on another point.   Jesus wants us to be concerned about, to love, both our fellows and the truth: He wants us to be concerned, in the right way, to ‘win back our brother’.

We are not to judge hastily; we are not to condemn; as our Blessed Lord commanded explicitly:

            Stop judging, that you may not be judged (Matthew 7:1);

and as His most faithful Apostle Paul re-iterated to the Romans (14:10):

Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Nor are we to make accusations freely and inconsiderately before other people, for the name given to Satan in the early Church was ‘The Accuser’ as we read in the book of Revelation (12:10):

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.

It may, a times, be necessary to speak,  not secretly to ourselves – cherishing grudges or contempt – not openly to other people – slandering our neighbour, ruining his public reputation unnecessarily – but charitably to the offender himself: not in order to accuse him, but only if such action might serve to help win him back to the right way:

We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all (1 Thess. 5:14); for:

Better is an open rebuke than a love that remains hidden (Proverbs 27:5).

In all cases, we should recommend the whole affair, the offender, ourselves and the offended, to the Lord Who lived among us and, in the Spirit, knows us all most intimately: our actions and our intentions, our fears and sensitivities.

As St. Paul says (Romans 12:17-18):

Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.  If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.

And here I would add myself: having committed everything to the Lord, live at peace yes; and above all at peace with, and in, yourself, your own heart and mind -- a skill, an art, not always easy, but one which can be learned by those who are willing to humble themselves and practice seriously that other great Christian virtue of patience.

Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.  (Romans 12:21)