Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 29th, 2017)

 

The first of the Church’s scriptures for today is an excerpt from the book of the

Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah. Zephaniah spoke the Lord’s word of truth in

the years preceding a horrific catastrophe- the destruction of the Kingdom

established by David by the armies of Babylon. This catastrophe is foreseen by

Zephaniah, but he discerns more than destruction- God will act, the prophet

testifies, God will act to effect the restoration of his people. But this restoration

will not produce an Israel like before, worldly, pre-occupied with wealth, pleasure,

power and honors, but an Israel that will manifest to the world their relationship

with God through humility and lowliness. The mighty kingdom of David will pass

away, but the remnant, what appears to the world to be nothing and nobodies,

will be precisely the means through which God reveals himself to the world.

 

In other words, Zephaniah understood the catastrophe that the Israelites would

face, the loss of everything the world considered to be important, to be not just a

loss, but an opportunity. Stripped of worldliness, Israel might become what God

had intended his people to be- true representatives to the world of the one, living

and true God. Bereft of the distractions of wealth, pleasure, power and honor,

the Israelites might better appreciate and understand what it truly mean to be

God’s chosen people.

 

The lesson in all this for us is properly understood by correlating or connecting

what the prophet Zephaniah says to the Israelites and to the Church. The

prophet’s words are for us- for the Church (and by Church I do not mean just the

hierarchy, but all the baptized). How are we enamored by worldliness? How

much of our time and efforts is spent in pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and

honors? And what does our attainment of worldly things contribute to our

mission as representatives of God in the world? The prophet insists that the

chosen people of God will make him known in humility and lowliness- what would

the prophet make of us? What does God make of us?

 

The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament letter of St. Paul to the

Corinthians. In this text, the Apostle Paul speaks of a reality that appears to the

worldly to be foolish and weak, a nothing and a nobody, contemptible and

despised. What is this reality of held in such contempt by the worldly?

 

It is Christ and those who belong to him- Christ and his Church.

 

However, what appears to so worthy of the world’s contempt, is in actual fact,

God and his chosen people. In other words, the worldly have got everything

wrong- what the worldly think is power is actually their own weakness, and what

the world thinks is glory, is actually their own foolish pride. What the worldly

think matters most, doesn’t actually matter all that much at all.

 

In Christ, God reveals himself to the world in a way that confounds and confuses

all the expectations of who God is and what he is supposed to do. In Christ, God

makes himself small, in fact, he makes himself seem like a nothing or a nobody,

going so far to allow himself to be maligned, tortured and executed, all so that he

can reveal his power over death, and in doing so, show the worldly just how

empty their own claims to power really and truly are.

 

As it is with Christ, so it is with his Church. Real power, divine power in the

Church is not revealed by those who manage her wealth, preside over her

bureaucracies, or who receive the most in terms of public attention. Real power,

divine power, in the Church is foremost revealed in her Sacraments and in her

Saints- for in her Sacraments and Saints, the Church is most like Christ. The world,

indeed many in the Church, think little of either the Sacraments or the Saints,

preferring the Church’s wealth and power as their preoccupation, but true power

resides in the Sacraments and the Saints. The worldly cannot see and appreciate

this, but to those who are faithful to Christ- they see things rightly and they

appreciate and they understand.

 

Finally, the Church presents to us a select passage from the Gospel of Matthew-

and it is one of the most cherished and renowned passages in the Gospel!

 

The Gospel for today are the Lord Jesus’ own words concerning beatitude or

blessedness. In other words, how does one discern God’s favor?

 

Whom does God single out for his particular attention? Who are the ones that

God chooses to be the means through which he reveals his will and his purposes?

 

The answer to this is revealed to us by God in Christ in today’s Gospel.

 

The worldly insist that divine favor is manifested in worldly attainments- in

wealth, in pleasure, in power and in honors. The worldly prize success in terms of

worldly attainments- who is the richest, who is the most powerful, who is it that is

recognized and rewarded, who is it that lives in comfort and security? The

worldly consider such success as blessedness, as beatitude. These things

represent God’s favor and having these things is the measure, the evidence of

blessedness or beatitude.

 

But God in Christ reveals something else entirely. God in Christ identifies himself

with those who often have little of what the worldly deem to be valuable and

important. In his beatitudes, in his revelation of who is truly blessed by God and

why, Christ overturns our expectations of who has divine favor and what it really

means to be in an authentic and true relationship with God.

Sermon on the Mount
Copenhagen Church Alter Painting

Homily for Friday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time (September 12th, 2014)

Today, in his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul insists that he is compelled to preach the Gospel.

What does this mean?

Preaching is an act of witness- it is testimony and St. Paul’s witness, his testimony, is to Christ. The Lord Jesus has laid claim to St. Paul’s life, called him, entered into a relationship with him, transformed him, and sent him out on mission. St. Paul desires to give to others what he has received from Christ. He cannot hold onto the gift of his relationship with Christ, but he gives it away, knowing that what he has received from Christ increases only in the measure that he is willing to give it away.

All this signals to us is that a relationship with the Lord Jesus, though always deeply personal, is never intended as merely private. Christ sends out mission those whom he shares his life with. If we do not share with others what we receive from Christ, that gift in us diminishes into a narrow kind of spiritualized self-preoccupation, what Pope Francis calls “self reference”. As such the compulsion that St. Paul speaks of today is a dynamic that should characterize our own lives, especially the endeavors of a parish. Rather than resting in self-reference, we should be actively engaged in mission.

What is our mission? It is the same mission as St. Paul’s!

Our mission is to invite people to accept a relationship with Christ, a relationship that will be given to them in his Church. There is no other mission that compels us but this and there is no other endeavor that claims priority over us. Once called we will be sent, and to be sent we must be prepared for our mission.

St. Paul likens the attitude, the disposition, the preparation for and our commitment to the Church’s mission, as akin to an athletic endeavor. The purpose of the Church is not to prepare us for relaxation, but for movement, for mission. Just as the athlete prepares for competition, so should be our determination and desire to prepare our selves for mission.

Consider the sacrifices an athlete must make! Athletes must have strength, flexibility, endurance- and work to attain these qualities.

Athletes must have singularity of purpose, intensity of focus, determination in the face of adversity, a willingness to try and fail, an openness to risk.

Even greater are the sacrifices that will be demanded of a disciple!

This image of discipleship as athletic intensity challenges a prevailing attitude that the Church is a kind of soft, self-indulgent therapeutic form of faith based entertainment, that affirms us “as we are” and provides us with self-help strategies.

In this ethos discipleship is reduced to institutional matriculation and the parish becomes a faith based venue for special events. Contribution and commitment is kept as minimal as our expectations. The hard facts of the Gospel are buffered by bureaucracy.

Little is sacrificed and even less is asked.

No athlete who engaged his/her training in this manner would ever be adequately prepared for competition. Neither can the disciple be prepared for mission if this is the ethos that prevails in the Church.

Christ insists that his disciples must be willing to become like him, a transformation that means that we must accept that he is the master and we are the servants, he is our teacher and we are his students.

Being like Christ only happens if we know Christ. We cannot become like someone that we do not, or scarcely know.

Christ is never a construct of who we want him to be. He is always boldly, creatively himself and he reveals himself to us in the Church. The real Christ, the true Christ, is the Christ to whom the apostles give testimony, a testimony that is expressed in the Scriptures which are understood in communion with the Church, a testimony that is vividly embodied in the practices of the Church’s creed, sacraments and worship.

Any other way that we might seek to know the Lord Jesus blinds us to his truth- it is like a plank or splinter that obstructs our spiritual vision.

Only in knowing the apostolic testimony can we know the Lord Jesus in truth, love what he loves and serve what he serves.

And only in knowing the Lord Jesus can we become the people that God desires us to be.

st-paul-preaching-at-athens-cartoon-for-the-sistine-chapel