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Thursday, 27 August 2020

22nd Sunday Year A 2020

   22nd. Sunday of Year (A)
(Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27)

The words of St. Paul in our second reading:

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and pleasing and perfect,

are as pertinent and necessary today as they were at the very beginning of Christianity.  Then, many Christians were tempted, or driven, by fear of the persecuting might of the Roman Empire, to conform to the expected state-worship and thus save themselves from being reported as refusing to join in sacrifices to the traditional gods for the well-being of the Empire and of the Emperor himself.

Likewise today, many wavering or nominal Catholics strive earnestly to keep in tune with the currently acceptable opinions and attitudes of society around them, and today’s first reading from the prophet Jeremiah was one that would not have been comfortable hearing for them, since the common impression of people these days with regard to the prophet Jeremiah --- if, indeed, such people have any awareness of the prophet at all --- derive from the cloud which hovers over his very name: for they regard a  ‘Jeremiah’ as one who always looks on the dark side of things, a harbinger of evil whose legacy is an ancient book called ‘Lamentations’, the like of which are now frequently termed as ‘Jeremiads’.

Occasional Catholics dare not resist such talk because it is so very easy for those who decry the prophet to turn around and mock any who would show him or his writings respect, as being weak personalities, fragile characters, unable to share and rub shoulders with others in the normal joys of life; of being – to put it bluntly – modern Jeremiah’s, full of despondency and complaints concerning modern society.

And so, although Jeremiah’s personal courage or fidelity to his office of prophet-in-Israel can never be questioned let alone denied, nevertheless, he seems condemned to permanently suffer under the misapprehension that he was a ‘moaner’, even though today’s short first reading show how far he was, in fact, from being a true ‘moaner’.  For moaners are always complaining to others, constantly soliciting the sympathy of those around them, whereas Jeremiah only gave expression to his anxieties and fears in the secrecy of his personal prayer to God; and -- far from being public cries for human sympathy -- his words were private and most humble acknowledgements before God alone of his deep fear of being personally unfit for the divine task being asked of him.

Before men, as I have just said, Jeremiah showed himself to be most courageous, being called to suffer much over many years as a servant of the Lord.   It is true that he publicly and frequently forecasted disaster, but that was the task given him by the Lord: the words and the warnings were of the Lord’s commissioning, not of Jeremiah’s choosing.

In one passage of his book he tells us (Jeremiah 15:16) just how much he loved the word of God:

Your words were found, and I ate them, Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.

But, rejoicing so whole-heartedly in God's word, and having sincerely tried to fulfil the Lord’s command for the good of Israel, Jeremiah was both puzzled at the reception given his proclamation by God's Chosen People, and alarmed at the outcry it stirred up against him personally; and so, in his private prayer to God he says:

Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable?   Will You surely be to me like an unreliable stream, as waters that fail? (15:18)

You will get an idea of his courage if you appreciate that what was happening to him was that which most people today fear above all: he was being mocked, opposed -- rejected by his friends and acquaintances -- and even hated by his own people because he was he was proclaiming in the name of the Lord a message they would not accept:

Whenever I speak, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.  

Foreshadowing in that way the loneliness of our Blessed Lord on Calvary he cried:

Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me, a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth!  (15:10)

Surely you will appreciate that only a man of great courage and strong spirit would have dared to repeatedly proclaim a message everyone considered unpatriotic and defeatist, a message no one wanted to hear, and which brought down so great a measure of public opprobrium and contempt upon his head.

In his prayers Jeremiah told the Lord how he had thought of keeping his mouth shut: why keep on shouting what no one will accept, what only brings me increased hatred and derision?  However, when he tried to keep silent he found that:

(His word) becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary of holding it in, I cannot endure it.  

He was in a dilemma: for though he dreaded speaking out, yet he was finding it impossible to keep quiet.  He did indeed need to pray, to seek God's help and guidance, for only the Lord could appreciate and alleviate his situation.

Listen carefully to what the Lord said to him, however, because it may well surprise you, since it clearly shows that commiseration and empathy are not always or necessarily the true expression of divine love:

If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve Me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be My spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.  (15:19)

Notice those words “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve Me”.  In other words: repent, because at present you are not showing yourself as one worthy to serve Me; for, to serve Me -- even if it involves earthly suffering -- is a privilege.  We should also notice those other words:

Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.

You must not try to make your preaching acceptable: My Word is My Word, it alone is good for My people, don't you dare change or adapt it to their liking.

Yes, People of God, it is a privilege to serve God and any suffering it involves does not change the fact that it is a privilege.  Moreover, God's message is not to be evaluated by its popularity: God's message cannot be adapted, let alone changed, in order to accommodate modern fancies, opinions, or desires. 

The heroism of Jeremiah and his fellow prophets who faithfully proclaimed God’s message at such great cost, was absolutely vindicated and sublimely confirmed when Jesus, the Son-of-God-made-man, came to destroy sin in man, and thereby proclaimed the worldly reality and universality of such sin and the inevitability of its ultimate destruction in the punishment of those who embrace it, by His own sinless Death and Resurrection for the salvation of all repentant sinners. 

Dear friends in Christ, our world, not just our country, is in the grip of a deadly pandemic destroying not merely lives, but human living and working together as social beings, and leaving in its wake poverty, homelessness, and despair. And are we to assume that this world-wide phenomenon has no message for God’s people and the world today? Are there no prophets today like Jeremiah of old?  Or, is God today not allowed to speak a prophetic message – as Jesus Himself was not allowed to speak God’s truth by the Pharisees and Chief Priests of His day -- for His People in this coronavirus pandemic because He might draw unwelcome attention to that other modern, and much more deadly, pandemic of sin?

For sin is a concept which is totally absent from the vocabulary of modern social ‘teaching’ and legislation, which promote, with almost ‘evangelical’ zeal, equality and freedom for all, ignoring, of course, that most blatant and shamefully hushed sin of the millions of unborn children who have had and still have to be killed (‘aborted’ is the preferred word) perhaps in those very hospitals so rightly praised for the self-sacrificing, life-saving, anti-virus, work done there; those fetuses (they must not be seen as children!) have to continue to be ‘aborted’ to cover up our ‘mistakes’, to save us from embarrassment, or inconvenience!

Nevertheless, today I do not want to exclusively reprove a negligent Church or poor Catholics, but also and indeed thereby to build up Mother Church and encourage good Christians, because in our Gospel reading there is encouragement for us -- such as was given to Jeremiah -- by the Lord.
Jesus began to speak to His disciples about His forthcoming condemnation and crucifixion, and we are told that:

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, "God forbid Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to You.”

Whereupon Jesus turned sharply on Peter saying:

Get behind Me, Satan! You are an obstacle to Me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

There Jesus insists most firmly  -- but not uncharitably as milk-and-water Christianity would ‘teach’ -- that He Himself, and consequently His Church and His disciples, cannot expect to live untroubled lives here in this wicked world:

You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

Consequently, we who love Mother Church should not, must never, allow ourselves to be alarmed or become despondent, when our Faith is attacked, mocked, denied, or simply ignored by the majority: it happened to Jesus Himself:

Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him Who sent Me.  (John 15:20s.)

In our present trials, and in the present persecutions suffered by Catholics and Christians all over the world, we must always bear in mind Jesus' words:

Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.   For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
People of God: have quiet confidence and firm trust in God, for you have all been personally called by the Father to serve His Son and to find salvation through Him.  You have divine strength available to you, for you are in the Church where the truth about Jesus and all the grace and power of His Spirit are at your disposal in her teaching and through her sacraments.   Try to realize and appreciate just how close you are to those earliest Christians who suffered for the Faith in the pagan atmosphere of the Roman Empire and to whom Peter wrote words which apply personally to us today:

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.  If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  (1 Peter 4:12-14)