FATHER ALF'S HOMILIES
13.09.20 ~ 24th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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Mgr Paddy O’Dea, a priest from our Diocese, used to tell a story of a priest waxing lyrical about a man whose funeral he was conducting, saying what a wonderful man he was, a pillar of the church, a devoted husband and father, renowned for his good temper, and a friend to all in need, at which point, his widow said to one of the children, “Get you up there, and check the name on that coffin”.
It’s a good story, but more often than not, it’s the relatives who say how wonderful the deceased was – “He never did anybody harm, she would do anything for anyone, she was perfect” when deep down we all know that nobody is perfect, and that we all need forgiveness for something. St John says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar”. It’s tantamount to saying, “Ok, so Jesus died to take away the sins of the world, but he didn’t need to do it for me. I’m perfect”. That’s why in the Catholic Church, a Requiem Mass is primarily to ask God’s forgiveness so that the dead person may rest in peace. It’s not a memorial service or a celebration of the life of. That comes later in the pub, or at the reception, when he lives again in the stories we all tell about him.
On Friday I left church after Mass singing a song to myself. I thought I had switched the mike off, but I hadn’t, as Viv pointed out. When I checked, the green light was still on, but in full daylight was very hard to see. Different lights give off different powers in the dark, but in daylight, comparisons are meaningless. Similarly, in the shady dealings of the world we may look, to ourselves, pretty good, shining lights even, compared to others, but when we stand in the brilliance of God’s light, our imperfections become a bit more obvious, so that comparison with others becomes irrelevant.
As I said, we all need forgiveness from God, but as the scriptures demand today, it’s very clear that we must also bestow forgiveness. However, if you have been badly hurt, or suffered huge injustice from someone, that’s not so easy to do. Part of the trouble is, that from a human perspective, God’s forgiveness is extravagant to the point of being ridiculous. Today’s parable shows the unforgiving servant owing the equivalent of the 800 million euros you’d need to buy Lionel Messi, which he could never pay back. What does God do? Ask him to pay in instalments, give him more time? Neither. He simply writes off the whole debt. Unbelievable! How could I ever forgive like that?
There’s a clue in the opening words to the parable, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” Jesus is preparing his followers to live by God’s rules, not man’s. Peter has just been given power to forgive sins, and trying to appear magnanimous, asks how often he should forgive: would up to 7 times be reasonable? But, Jesus makes it clear that God never stops loving the sinner and offers as many fresh starts as needed, even 70 x 7. The danger is that people might think that if he’s going to forgive me anyway, the rules don’t matter. It’s a bit like today’s situation, that if our Government gets away with breaking international Law, and there’s no penalty for Donald Cummings breaking the lockdown, why should we ordinary citizens keep the law? To think that, though, would be to miss the point. Forgiveness, unlike expediency, implies a fresh start, not a license to do what we like.
When we look back over our life, well, when I look back over my life, I know there are things I have done, or failed to do, when I had the chance, which I regret, but I can’t undo them. The key is to see myself as a forgiven person, to accept that our debts really are cancelled, wiped out as if they never existed, by the blood of Christ, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. By realising that, and seeing how God continues to put his faith in me, forever giving me a fresh start, I might just learn to look at the people who have hurt me, in a different way, to understand that they have their problems too, and to pray for the grace to forgive them. It may be hard to forget the hurt, but forgiveness is not so much about forgetting, as about ‘remembering without bitterness’, which causes a change of heart very much in line with today’s psalm: “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger, rich in mercy.”
06.09.20 ~ 23rd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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Have you ever been in a room when someone walks in and says, “That blankety-blank Fred has done it again – upset everyone, and caused chaos. Someone ought to tell him he’s gone too far this time!” Everyone agrees, but no-one wants to do it, so instead, Fred’s wrongs will probably be posted all over social media, leaving it open to anyone interested, to assume the role of judge and jury on his transgressions, but this is not likely, I imagine, to get someone to change his ways.
It’s not easy to correct people, especially when you are aware of your own faults, but if there’s going to be any peace, it has to be done. So what’s the best way? Ezekiel was charged with warning the wicked to change their ways or die, and that if he didn’t warn them, he would be held responsible for their death. Jesus, however, gives us a graduated response to dealing with someone who has done something wrong, not necessarily to me personally, but against the good of the community. The first and best way is to have a chat in private. Failing that, to enlist the help of a couple of friends, and if that doesn’t work, to bring in others of the community who have the best interests of everyone at heart. Don’t forget, the aim is not to condemn our brother, but to win him back, and there are many ways of doing that. As Frank Carson used to say, “It’s the way I tell ‘em”.
A very good friend of mine, after he left the Army, made his living teaching integrity to Captains of Industry. This was during the Yuppie Era, when Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have said there is no such thing as Society. Every individual was encouraged to make tons of money, the theory being that it would trickle down to the poor. In practice, it did no such thing – the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and look where we are today, still one of the richest countries in the world, but where thousands of our citizens rely on Food Banks to feed their children. Technically, my friend was a Management Consultant, but instead of showing these up-and-coming bosses how to drive their business simply to make more money, he taught them that their greatest asset was their employees and their first and most important job was to take care of them. “Get the man right, you get the Firm right”. He knew that if the rich and powerful have only their own good, and not the common good at heart, then the Church’s prophetic role is to warn them – after that it becomes their responsibility.
More recently, you may have seen on the news the sentencing of an Australian white supremacist, who had murdered over 60 Muslims in three New Zealand mosques. Listening to the Victims' impact statements, he showed not a flicker of emotion, except when one lady said, and then repeated, “I forgive you – because I refuse to allow myself to hate in the way you do”. It was then he bowed his head. That Muslim lady was the living embodiment of St Paul’s words “If you love your fellow man, you have carried out all your obligations and kept all the commandments”. Who can say if what she did may not, one day, cause the killer to repent of what he did, change his ways, and save his soul?
Actions speak louder than words. The test is always love for our neighbour. Closer to home, you’ll know that we take out hundreds of crates of food every week to people in need, people whom Jesus identifies with, the lost, the lonely, the unloved, the poor, but even they sometimes need correction. For example, there are quite a few homes we go to where people are not in, or do not answer their phone, even though they know we come on the same day at the same time every week. By not being in or letting us know, they are demonstrating an irresponsibility which could have long-term consequences for themselves and their children. Our response has been to have that initial one-to-one conversation, rather than just accept as inevitable a ‘brother doing something wrong’ as Jesus puts it. In some cases, we have won back our brother or sister, in others no, but, like Ezekiel, we are sentries, and, in the spirit of what the gospel tells us today, it would do more harm than good not to warn them of the need to play their part for the common good. This is real-life, into which we must show how the living word of the gospel can not only change lives, but in some cases save them.
30.08.20 ~ 22nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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When I looked at today’s scripture readings, for some reason the first thought that came into my head was a line from a song about the battle of the Alamo. The Alamo was a mission station in San Antonio, defended by 180 Texans fighting for their independence against a Mexican Army of 1500. Before the battle, General Travis draws a line in the sand with his sword. He then tells the men that they are free to go, especially those who are married, and that nobody will hold it against them if they do, or they can cross the line and stay. “Over the line stepped a hundred and seventy nine”
In today’s gospel, Jesus, like Travis, pulls no punches about what horror lies ahead. As there’s no chance of a misunderstanding, Peter can’t believe what he has just heard. It’s only a day or two since he was praised by Jesus for acknowledging him as “The Christ, Son of the living God”. Now he is savagely rebuked for saying “This must not happen to you”. The phrase ‘Get behind me Satan, you are an obstacle in my path’ has two meanings. Firstly, it addresses the Devil who had tried to tempt him in the desert away from his mission, and is trying to do the same again, this time using the love and affection of his friends. Secondly, it’s also meant to put Peter, and indeed every would-be follower of Christ, in his proper place, ie behind him. A true disciple does not confront his master, but follows behind. It’s then that Jesus draws his line in the sand, which those who would follow him must step over. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me”.
It’s a tough call which can cause us to question the way God does things, as Jeremiah did. Chosen as a very young man to speak God’s word to the people, all older and more experienced than him, he probably felt pretty excited. However, he is rejected and mocked by those very people. So upset is he, that he rails at God, and wants to give up. “Lord, you have reduced me to a laughing stock. Your word has meant for me insults and derision all day long. I used to say I will not think about him or speak in his name anymore”. But, God never promised it would be easy, that there would be no pain: only that he would be with him through it all, which he felt “as a fire burning in my heart that I could not resist”. He couldn’t bring himself to walk away.
In a world where, for many, individualism “because you are worth it” trumps all other demands, the idea of accepting the “Cross” does not sit easily, and is to be avoided at all costs. That’s why St Paul tells us that we must worship as thinking beings, and not be modelled on the behaviour of the world around us. Christ’s followers cannot be comfortable in a world of poverty, inequality, deceit and oppression. “What does it profit a man to win the whole world but to lose his soul”?
As thinking beings, we have to work out what carrying the cross means. It certainly means getting to grips with the nitty-gritty of the Gospel, for example, marrying up the reality of recognising Christ in Holy Communion, with the reality of recognising Christ in the beggar who asks for something to eat. It means speaking out and campaigning against injustice. In many parts of the world it literally means losing your life for Christ. Back here at home, it may simply mean continuing to practise our faith among people who scorn our beliefs, or ridicule us, being, as St Paul puts it, “Fools for Christ’s sake”. This is God’s way not man’s. “The one who loses his life for my sake will find it”. The line in the sand is there in the gospel for all to see. Have I got what it takes to step over it, shoulder the cross and follow behind the Master?
23.08.20 ~ 21st SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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I was in a shop the other day, waiting my turn at the till while another customer was
chatting with the sales assistant, a fairly loud but friendly type, whose reply to what
the customer said was “Christ Almighty!” As it wasn’t the first time I had heard the
assistant use Our Lord’s name in that way, I had a quiet word in private, explaining
how much the name of Jesus means to us, and how it’s not nice to hear it used as a
swear word. It was clear that the assistant was genuinely surprised to hear it was a
swear word and said “That’s just the way I was brought up”.
It made me wonder that, if we were to ask today the same question Jesus asked the
apostles, ‘Who do people say I am?’ what sort of answers we might get. Perhaps, in a
post Christian era, for many Jesus is just a name, so it doesn’t matter how you use it.
For others he may be, at best, an important historical figure, but not relevant to the Hi-
tech scientific world of today. However, the story of Jesus, just as in his own time
when he asked that question, lies not in the past but in today and into the future.
When Christ asked “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” the apostles seem at a
loss. They try to pigeon-hole him, by comparison with other people from the past with
similar qualities. In effect, they were all saying, and this is after nearly two years
together, “We’re not really sure, we don’t know!” All of them, that is, except Peter. “I
do” he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
If this is true, as Peter, inspired by the Father himself, declares, then Jesus is the
Christ, the Son of the living God, not just for that moment, but for every generation,
and to the whole world, for ever. This response of Peter does not come from what
Jesus calls ‘flesh and blood’ the limited understanding of human opinion, but is
revealed to him by the Father. So, faith comes from God – it’s a gift. As St Paul says,
“Who could ever give or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him”. But to
benefit from the gift, we have to root it personally in Christ his Son.
Once Peter had made that personal declaration of faith in Christ, things began to
happen to him. His name was changed to ‘Rock’ symbolising that he was being given
a mission, just as other famous Biblical leaders were. Peter was of little significance
before Christ came into his life. At best he was a useful fisherman, presumably good
husband and father, who would leave no mark when he died. We know he was weak,
impetuous and headstrong, but Christ knew that fundamentally he was a good man,
that his faults did not come from badness but from human frailty. It was just the kind
of material that He could work with. Christ released massive power in him so that he
became of great importance to the world, as our own Pope Francis is today.
As we saw in the gospel, faith in Christ is not something dreamed up by man-made
opinion, or a sentimental attachment to the idea of the ‘perfect man’ from the past, but
means acknowledging Jesus as the Son of the living God and, like Peter, accepting the
mission to make him known and loved. If we, who do have such faith, show, by our
intimacy with Christ, in daily prayer, the sacraments, and in the way we live out the
gospel, that he is truly alive in us, here and now, perhaps others may be given the
grace to see that Jesus is not a relic from the past, or just a name to express anger or
frustration. Remember you and I are the only Church many people will ever see, the
only Gospel they will ever read, the only reflection of Christ they will ever know.
16.08.20 ~ THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY.
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During the week I had a couple of days away playing golf with some fellow priests. I won‘t dwell on the golf as, in my case, it was, as Mark Twain so accurately put it, a good walk spoiled. I was awful – couldn’t put two shots together. However, compensation came at the 19th hole when some good stories were told. One of the guys told us how he once asked a boy in class what the Assumption of our Lady meant. His reply was, “It means we assume Mary is in heaven”, which must rank, I think, with that other great schoolboy howler, “Our Lady had an immaculate contraption”.
The boy was right in one respect. We can certainly assume Mary is in heaven, but today’s feast is concerned with what that means for the rest of us. In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared the dogma that Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven”. People wondered why the Pope felt the need to make such a declaration 1900 years later, when, from earliest times, Christians had always believed that about Mary. In fact, in the catacombs there is a 2nd century wall painting of Our Lady rising to heaven and being crowned by her son. The proclamation of the Dogma at that particular time, was a response to the rise of nationalism and the desire for domination, which had already led to the unprecedented suffering of two world wars. To a world of extraordinary brutalism, Pope Pius was proposing an antidote to violence, the triumph of tenderness, gentleness and love, which is at the heart of Christianity, as seen in, practised by and fulfilled in Mary, the lowly handmaid.
As a bit of background, all three scripture readings are about liberation. At the time St John wrote the Apocalypse, the Church was leaving the Jewish world and broadening its horizons, intent on winning over the Nations, starting with the mighty Roman Empire. As we know, that took nearly 300 years, during which the Church suffered regular persecution. John’s story of the woman is symbolic of attempts to destroy the Church in its infancy, but she escapes and gives birth to the child who is to be the ruler of all nations. That vision of a mother with her child, people with no rights or power, triumphing over the 7 headed monster, is the fulfilment of God’s first promise, after the Fall of Adam and Eve, when the devil was told his head will be crushed by the heel of the woman’s offspring.
Written in the midst of those very persecutions, we have St Paul’s letter in which an earlier chapter, often chosen at weddings, defines what real love is, and how love conquers all. Christ himself is love personified, and so is guaranteed the final triumph. ”Then the end will come when Christ delivers the kingdom to the Father, after having destroyed every rule, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death”.
In the gospel we have the Magnificat, Mary’s wonderful canticle of the triumph of humility. Mary, so unobtrusive in the gospels, except perhaps for her intervention at the Marriage feast of Cana, is the one chosen to proclaim that the historical revolution, which mankind has waited 2000 years for, since the call of Abraham, is about to start with the birth of the Saviour, even though she herself can’t quite understand why God has looked upon her in her lowliness. The whole of her song is about the wonder of God who pulls down the mighty from their thrones, scatters the proud-hearted and raises the lowly, showing that he remembers the mercy he promised to our fathers.
The essential message of today’s feast is that Christ has won the victory and the final triumph is not in question. Mary’s assumption body and soul to heaven fulfils Jesus’ promise, that he was going to prepare a place for us and that he would return to take us with him. In Mary we see that the process of salvation for all people has begun, and that ‘those who belong to him will be brought to life in Christ’. The
Magnificat tells us what God’s mercy has done, is doing now, and will do, all of which has already been accomplished in Mary, but will also be fulfilled ‘from age to age in those who fear him’
09.08.20 ~ 19th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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Every golfer’s dream is to play St Andrew’s. On the one and only time I’ve played it, we started at 6am in fog. Because we were unable to see anything, we were guided by a compulsory hired caddie. As the morning wore on, the fog cleared and I actually played quite well until I landed up against the vertical face of a huge bunker. The Caddie asked me if I thought I could get out of it. To me that sounded like a challenge so I said I’d give it a go, but it took me three shots to get out. He reminded me of what he’d asked, then added that if I had said “No”, he would have told me that I could have declared it an unplayable lie, and taken a penalty drop, which might have saved me a shot. I didn’t know that. Sometimes, when counting the cost, it’s wise to listen carefully to an expert’s advice.
For some, counting the cost often comes too late as a result of having done something daft by acting on impulse, without first thinking it through. Today’s gospel contains the classic example of just that. Here you have the apostles battling with a heavy sea, being tossed all over the place, perhaps even fearing for their lives, and Peter, with absolutely no experience of walking on water, asking Jesus if he can hop across the waves to join him. It’s like the first time I strapped on a pair of skis without taking lessons. Nothing to this, I thought – I’ve watched Ski Sunday - until the skis started moving so fast that I was soon out of control yelling for Jesus, Mary and Joseph to save me, and for everyone to get out of the way. What was Peter thinking of? No wonder he began to sink when reality kicked in!
This incident tells us so much about Peter, who, as we have seen on several occasions, is given to acting on impulse, without thinking of what he was doing, or counting the cost. Because he acted on impulse, he often failed and came to grief. Remember him professing eternal, unshakeable loyalty to Jesus – “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you”, then at his trial denying he ever knew him. Somehow he missed, or didn’t listen carefully to, Our Lord’s insistence that if anyone wants to be his follower, he must count the cost of what that involves, and make an honest assessment of his ability to carry it through.
Peter’s trouble, or maybe weakness, which I personally think is his most endearing character, was that he was ruled by his heart. No matter how often he failed, his heart was always in the right place – he clearly loved Jesus very much and, in his often ham-fisted way, was never frightened to show it. I suppose his most redeeming feature was that in the moment of failure, his natural instinct was to reach out for Christ, as we see here when he begins to sink. Like Judas, he betrayed Christ, but unlike Judas he stayed for Christ’s forgiveness. Each time he fell, he rose again, and maybe those falls brought him closer than ever to Jesus whom he knew would forgive, not 7 times but 77x7 times. From Peter, we learn that a saint is not someone who never falls, but someone who gets up after every fall. Like him, there’s hope for us all, if we reach out for Christ’s helping hand.
Getting back to the Sea of Galilee, it’s significant, I think that when Jesus gets into the boat the wind drops and all is calm again. Many commentators see that as an image of where the Church is today, although for me, I think it’s where the Church has always been; tossed by the various storms that rise every so often in our history, leaving many people, Christians among them, torn between belief and doubt. Perhaps they have forgotten another occasion, this time on the shore of Lake Galilee, when Jesus gave to Peter, the rock on which he built his Church, a guarantee that the gates of Hell will never prevail against it. In the time of Elijah, the Jewish faith seemed dead in Israel. Discouraged and depressed by it, he made a pilgrimage back to its source, the mountain where God had made his covenant with Moses. There he found God not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in the still small voice of calm. It gave him the confidence to return to proclaim God’s word. So, in our own time, in spite of rumours of our faith being dead, and lots of turmoil in the church, Jesus’ words to Peter still apply “Man of little faith, why did you doubt”? We need to stay calm - He’s here in the boat with us.
02.08.20 ~ 18th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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If you are a film fan, as I am, you will all be familiar with the words of the song, “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, the fundamental things of life apply, as time goes by”. It was sung during a scene at Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca, involving Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, two sad people reflecting on how things could have been, had she not gone off and married someone else. There’s a poignancy in the words, ‘as time goes by’ because they imply the remorseless march of time, as we look back sighing for missed opportunities.
In today’s gospel there’s a hint of that poignancy. Jesus has withdrawn with the apostles to be by themselves, because his personal life was in turmoil. He had just had word of the execution of his cousin John the Baptist. Clearly, he is frightened by the news and the realisation that he will almost certainly be next. We are seeing a very different Jesus here, a long way from the strong, confident, razor-sharp, intelligent man we’re used to. To see him like this puts things into perspective. His life wasn’t all high profile miracles and battles with the authorities, nor was it all long and loving conversations with his disciples. In private he experienced the mental stress we all have after a major setback. Christ wasn’t a robot without feelings. We saw that in the Garden of Gethsemane. He needed to get away, and he needed time to think.
That time was denied him by the crowds who are waiting for him when the boat arrives. He could have sailed on, but took pity on them, spending most of the day, I suspect, healing their sick, and then feeding them – all 5000 of them, to say nothing of women and children. In the midst of this huge crowd, he must have felt terribly lonely as the time went by, but the fundamental things of life still applied; opportunities to do good are not to be missed. When the apostles say “This is a lonely place – send the people away to buy food for themselves”, there’s another opportunity – this time to teach them an important lesson. Their reaction was the world’s logic: everyone must take care of themselves. ‘America first’. Jesus’ logic is: sharing means everybody gets fed. As Pope Francis says, “A provident Father will not allow the world to go without food, but we have to learn to share it with our brothers and sisters”, something lots of you have been doing throughout this pandemic to make sure no-one here goes hungry.
Of course, there is a lot deeper meaning to this incident. Before the distribution of the bread two things happen. The words and actions of Jesus are identical to what he will do with the bread at the Last Supper - take, bless, break and give it. So, the feeding of the 5000 is a forerunner to his ultimate act of sharing, giving his body totally, broken and bleeding, to redeem the whole world. The second thing is that this is the only miracle that the apostles are directly involved in. Normally they just look on, but here Jesus tells them to feed the people. This is a forerunner to their function in the Church which is entrusted with the task of feeding the multitudes of the world with the Word of God and the Bread of life, which it has done ever since.
Thinking back to how Jesus coped on that day, perhaps we can remember a time of great sadness in our own life, when, in spite of how we were feeling, we still took the opportunity to do some good for others. If so, it was a very Christ-like thing to do. Although we must live with our memories, we mustn’t dwell on the sadness we have known. There are people to feed, people who need us, people who would be glad to have the little help we have to offer. The fundamental things apply as time goes by.
POST SCRIPT - Following Mass, Fr Alf was sent this audio file, by Anne Nolan, of 'As Time Goes By'. This is how it should be sung!!
26.07.20 ~ 17th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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In Steve’s parish quiz the other night there was a section on the names of characters from TV soap operas. Needless to say I got about three out of ten. One I did get was Delboy, famous for his catchphrase “One day, Rodders, we’re going to be millionaires”? My favourite dodgy deal of his was when bottled water became trendy. He began selling ‘Peckham Spring’ which came straight from the tap in his council flat kitchen. After years of such get-rich-quick schemes, he finally found the pearl of great price, an antique watch in their own lock-up which made them millionaires. Another popular programme is Cash in the Attic. An attic is a place where people put things they don’t need any more but don’t want to throw out, in case they might come in handy one day. Then, the next generation comes along, has a clear out, and finds that an old vase which granny used to put her flowers in is, in fact, a priceless one from the Ming Dynasty. It’s just like finding hidden treasure in a field. Both these examples are about the discovery of immense riches, one by a lifelong search, the other by chance, but the discoverers are not likely to have to sell everything they own in order to obtain them. In contrast, both parables raise the question of how far we would be prepared to go, and how much we would be willing to give up, to obtain the greatest treasure of all - eternal life.
The third parable is about how important it is to have balance in our lives. Like a dragnet we haul all sorts of things into our lives. Some are brilliant – some are rubbish, and we need to sort them out. ”Every disciple of the kingdom of heaven” Jesus says, “knows to bring out from his storeroom, things both new and old”. To help us to do this, we need to know the true value of what we are bringing out from our storeroom. For example, you are probably aware that there are factions within the Church at loggerheads with Pope Francis, accusing him of heresy and riding roughshod over traditional teaching. Of course, he is doing no such thing. What he is doing, is bringing out from the Church’s storeroom what is old, but essential, from our Sacred Tradition, which is one of the twin sources of revelation, while at the same time, encouraging all that is good in new ways of spreading the gospel, which don’t always conform to the rigid interpretation his detractors would like. He is not changing one iota of Church doctrine, but balancing its weight with God’s all-consuming mercy. Jesus himself said “I have not come to destroy the Law, but to bring it to perfection”. He wanted us to reach a stage in our life where we would not need to be told what to do, because the love of God we have in our heart would do it for us. It’s what Pope Francis means by ‘The Joy of the Gospel’
The Sacred Tradition of the Church is 2000 years old and has never changed. In Catholicism something is either true or not true – you can’t have a vote on it. But, in every age, we also have to be aware of the signs of the times and how they affect what we hold to be objective truth for the common good. Unfortunately, in our time, subjective individualism, pre-Covid 19, undoubtedly held sway. But, things may be changing. Over the past four months I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard how kind, thoughtful and helpful people have been. Maybe we won’t go back to how it was before.
In every era, including our own, we must know when to bring out old and new, individually, of course, but also collectively, so perhaps this quote from Ian Linden in the recent issue of PAX Christi, the International Catholic Movement for Peace, is particularly relevant for the signs of our times: “The impact of Covid19 was a stark revelation of the gross inequality in our nations. We face choices. We can cling to little England nationalism, or be inspired by scientists who promote a global vision, based on international co-operation. We can pay our key workers a respectful living wage, or just applaud them on Thursday evenings. We can root our economy in the shifting sands of financial services, and promote arms sales, or invest in the sustainability of a high tech manufacturing economy which reduces emissions. In short, post Coronavirus, we can either continue with unfettered competition and growing inequality, or we can rebuild our societies based on care for creation, justice, human dignity, and building peace”.
19.07.20 ~ 16th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
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On the radio the other day there was a lively debate about whether we should be trimming grass verges on our roads or cutting our lawns, because so many other species of wild plant life are destroyed in the process. It’s a dilemma, because we all love to see a beautifully kept garden, but at the same time, we are becoming more and more eco-conscious in the battle to save the planet.
Like last Sunday, the theme of the parable this week is growth, and once again, Our Lord uses an example from Nature to illustrate his point. When the workers discover that thorns are growing alongside his precious wheat, they report it to the farmer as a disaster and say action must be taken immediately to root them out. But, as we see, he takes the long view, and decides to let Nature take its course. He disagrees with the servants because he wants to give the wheat every possible chance. In spite of the thorns, he knows there’ll still be a good crop. When Jesus explains the parable to the apostles, he’s obviously talking of the last judgement when the devil’s subjects will be separated from the subjects of the kingdom and each will be assigned their fate. But, as always, there’s more to Our Lord’s parables than meets the eye, so this one is not just about the final judgement.
Like the argument about the grass verges, Our Lord is pointing out that there are a lot more species of people out there than just the good ones we know, some of them very bad, but, like the farmer, he wants to give them every possible chance. The workers’ desire to root out and throw away the darnel highlights the difference between the way God and man deal with evil. The Tabloid Press thrives on painting public figures as hypocrites, or splashing their sexual misadventures across the front page. Rarely do we feel sorry for a politician or celebrity, like Ghislain Maxwell, when their fall from grace is exposed to the gaze of the rude and scoffing multitude. It’s a rather disturbing trait that we all have to play the judge. Some fundamentalists may also subconsciously think, if God is supposed to be all loving, good and powerful why doesn’t he get rid of the dross, and allow the good guys to flourish in what would then be an ideal world? But what does God think about that?
For the answer, we need to refer back to the first reading from the Book of Wisdom. “There is no other god to whom you have to prove that you have never judged unjustly. You are all powerful and your sovereign power is unquestioned”. It’s precisely because God is all powerful, that nothing can disturb his equilibrium; nothing has the power to change him from being an all-loving God to every person he has created, even those who have chosen evil. And, here’s the good bit: “Your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all; disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement”. Who wouldn’t want to be judged by someone whose prime concern is to show mercy? He is the embodiment of the phrase ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’. By acting this way he has taught us the lesson that the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow man.
You could call the world we live in a field full of ambiguities and complexities, in which good and evil co-exist and, therefore, needing the art of discernment. Even the Church, as we know so well, is made up of saints and sinners, those who live exemplary lives, and those who certainly do not. We are a mixed bag, that’s for sure, but Christ died for each and every one of us, and the Father loves each and every one of his children, and will never stop trying to seek them out, watching the road for his prodigal son’s return.
The key thing to remember, is that God has all the time in the world, and he’s prepared to wait as long as it takes for someone to turn back to him. At all times he gives the opportunity for repentance no matter what we’ve done. At the heart of the parable’s message is leave all judgement to God, and refrain from judging others harshly, because we can never know what is in their hearts, or what they may be going through. To know all is to forgive all, and there but for the grace of God go I.