9th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is not enough to worship God just by going to Mass on Sunday. We must sincerely try to do the will of the eternal Father. The divine will is for us to show care and concern for others. As the biblical author reminds us, we are to put these words of God into our very heart and soul.
Deut 11:18,26-28,32. “Put these words of mine in your heart and soul.” If God’s people observe the commandments their obedience will bring a blessing; if not, their rebellion will bring a curse.
Rom 3:21-25, 28. The way to God for everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, is through free grace, not through our own achievements.
Mt 7:21-27. An empty profession of faith, without good works, is worthless for salvation. It is not the person who mouths about faith (saying ‘Lord, Lord!’) who will enter heaven, but the one who does the will of God.
– that our sharing in this Sunday’s Mass will be reflected by the Christian charity of our lives.
– that the Word of God we hear in the Scriptures may take root in our heart and soul, and bear fruit there.
– that we may always keep a spirit of mercy and solidarity with the less fortunate in our community.
– that we may enjoy the blessings of the kingdom of heaven, by seeking and doing the will of the Father.
Avoiding Shallowness (John Taylor)
It is easy nowadays to live a shallow existence in our modern world. What used be once referred to as the “thinking” man or woman could become an endangered species. It is an era of continual distraction – radio, television, computer games, cyberspace or virtual reality, the internet enabling people on opposite sides of the world to exchange messages at the touch of an email, a facebook message, or a skype-key. There are individuals who spend up to 40 hours a week linking up with other people like this. Irish missionary priests in Ecuador find it extremely difficult to persuade their parishioners – mostly poor people – to give up watching television all through Sunday morning.
It has been said that in the US “being busy” has been glorified to such an extent that one of the most embarrassing situations for a true-blue American is to be caught thinking – doing nothing, just thinking. Against such a frenetic background, perseverance in any prayer apart from the Mass is becoming more difficult to pursue. Within the Church itself a minority of people tend to look with disdain on what they regard as mere religious trimmings, and would regard as “craw thumpers” to be pitied, whoever might take seriously St Paul’s exhortation to keep on praying at all times.
At first sight today’s gospel, and indeed our Lord’s own words, seem to lend weight to their arguments, that we should concentrate on doing our duty and not waste our time on novenas, rosaries, and such like. And of course all, Jesus did clearly warn his disciples, “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Is the possibility and the necessity of prayer, we may well ask, being here called into question?
A truly profound prayer life can only be achieved by devoting effort, and perseverance to it. There are many businesses today which demand round the clock attention, so destroying the old habits of private and family prayer. For others the morning has become the most intense part of the day, and the evening the most devoted to entertainment. But to interpret the words of Jesus in the gospel as praise for anyone who bypasses prayer is clearly to distort them.
In fact, according to the gospel, the criterion by which Jesus judges us is whether he “knows us,” whether there exists between him and us a truly personal bond and relationship. There might be certain individuals with the ability to even work miracles, to foretell the future, all done in the name of Christ, but if they were without this personal knowledge of Christ, they could well face complete rejection by him. He does not mince words when he says, “I shall tell them to their faces: Away from me, I have never known you.”
One thought we might profitably take away with us this morning, is this: prayer is the way we come to know Christ; it is an essential part of the Christian life; in effect, as somebody has said, one can no more believe without prayer, that one can swim without water. The basic expression of faith is not, “I believe in the Bible, or in the doctrines of Christ and his Church, or in the commandments.” Living faith is a turning to the mysterious and hidden being whom we call God, with the sense; ” I trust in you, I commit myself entirely to you.” Every prayer is in a way a repetition in endless variations of this personal response, “I believe in you.”
Faith is to be practised as a real part of our everyday life, and so we should not pray merely as the mood strikes us. Nor, however, should we regard prayer as a religious obligation, a duty pressed upon us, or purely a repetition of set formulas, like the “Lord, Lord” of the gospel. Prayer must be a loving expression of our living faith. There was a stage in the history of the Church when everyday work was seen as serving “the world,” and so as a distraction from God. But following the advice of St Paul that our lives should be lives of continuous prayer, we should regard our entire working activity as an indirect form of prayer, prayer without words. No matter what you do, do it for the glory of God.
Faith and Good Works
There is a real unity linking all three readings. We may start with Romans where Paul states that “a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do.” Paul, before his conversion, had been a Pharisee and, like all Pharisees, firmly believed that it was precisely by exact observance of Law that salvation was assured. His religious experience on the road to Damascus led him to the view which he expresses in Romans, that justification comes through the free gift from God of faith in the person of Christ and in his redemptive work.
At first sight the first reading would seem to contradict Paul’s statement in Romans. The curses and blessings which Moses attaches to the keeping of the Law seem to be saying that salvation comes through doing what the Law tells one to do. The whole book is about law as its title “Deuteronomy” (The Second Law) informs us. However, this must be balanced by the Deuteronomic theme of the love of God for Israel and the appeal of the book that Israel should love God in return and make the love of God the motive behind their observance of the Law. The prominent part given in the Book of Deuteronomy to the love of God saves it from being described as legalistic in nature. The book is saying something like what Christ meant in the saying in John: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Legalism is not simply the keeping of laws; it is the keeping of laws based on the false belief that salvation comes through the keeping of laws.
When laws become multiplied excessively and love wanes, legalism makes it entry. The multiplicity of laws in Deuteronomy combined with the decline of emphasis on the motive of love after the Exile led to the growth of the spirit of legalism among the Jews. At the time of Christ who opposed it vigorously, it was triumphant. The early Church had to sweep away almost all the Mosaic Law before it could establish itself firmly in the Greco-Roman world. See Acts, ch. 15.
The Gospel returns to the balance of Deuteronomy, the keeping of the essential Law or doing “the will of my Father in heaven” out of love for him. It goes further than Deuteronomy. Not only does it insist on the necessity of both hearing and doing the will of the Father, it also insinuates the unique position of Christ as God. To hear and do the will of the Father by acting on the words of Christ is to build one’s house on a rock. Is Christ here calling himself “the Rock,” a term much used by the Jews to designate God. This is the theme of the Responsorial Psalm for today: “Be a rock of refuge for me, o God.”
Application to today: The lessening of the number of Church laws since Vatican II can now be seen as a blessing, because it serves to preserve us from the danger of legalism. No longer can one say, “I don’t eat fish on Friday; I don’t miss Sunday Mass: I keep all the laws of the Church. God therefore must be pleased with me and must save me. I am a good Catholic.” This is equivalent to saying that one saves oneself with the implication that one does not need a saviour.
Every advance brings with it a corresponding danger. In the process of being freed from legalism, there exists the real danger of concluding that law does not matter and that it is all right to do our own thing. The passage from Matthew stresses the need of action in conformity with the Father’s will. This is the same as saying that the divine law is to be observed. One cannot go wrong if one does as Christ did, that is, reduce the observance of all laws to an expression of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. “On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the prophets.” All the commandments.. are summed up in this single command: “You must love your neighbour as yourself”( Rom. 13:9.)
Since faith and salvation are God’s free gift to us, we cannot save ourselves. But we can, and we are expected to co-operate with God in the work of our justification. We can; perhaps, learn from today’s readings in conjunction with our personal experience. If we trust in our own merits alone, we are building our houses on sand. We must build upon the Rock which is Christ, who inspires us not only to listen to his words but also to act on them. In this way we shall avoid the twin dangers of legalism and its opposite: living as if law does not matter.
Relevance of the Commandments
Quite simply the commandments are more necessary and relevant today than ever because of the way modern living has gone. During our so-called “tiger” boom era we saw clearly how materialistic we can be. Materialism always brings in an erosion of general and religious values, and we have seen plenty of evidence of that, during the bubble economy before the crash. But no matter what people say there is a need and an inborn desire in us for some spiritual quality in life. As long as that quality has not surfaced there is going to be frustration, resentment, anger and of course materialism and hedonism.
Take an alcoholic example. No one ever lived more selfishly, hedonistically or destructively. See him when recovered. He has a new sense of wonder in life, from flowers to his own wife and children, as though he had never even seen them before. His new key to life is spiritual values – doing his best to live as God wants him to. And God surely does know us best – for it is He who made us. People engrossed in the rat race are similarly blinded even to what is within themselves.
So much effort at economic recovery is trying to heal symptoms only, and not getting at the root cause. The only remedy for a corrupt style of society is massive conversion to Jesus as Lord – Lord of every tissue of life. And for that the commandments as deepened by Christ are vital. In our day we are pragmatic. Our first question so often is: “Does it work?” It really does.
The Will Of The Father
Priests have a varied experience of human society. Their pastoral work is a passport that allows entry to all sorts of places, from a prison-cell to a penthouse flat. Apart from doctors, they are the only ones that can at once be confidants to millionaires and paupers. They are, at least occasionally, the privileged witnesses of rare acts of quiet heroism or Christian generosity. it is one of the few consolations of an otherwise lonely and demanding vocation.
While on pastoral visitation in a rural parish in the west of Ireland, I came across an isolated hovel on the side of a mountain. At first I thought it was uninhabited. Such abandoned homes are not unusual in those parts. The windows were boarded up or blocked with cardboard. I was about to pass by, when I noticed a thin line of smoke curling up from the chimney. I knocked at the door and, after a pause, what sounded like a girlish voice called me in. Once inside, I could see nothing. It was pitch-black except for the faint glow of a dying fire in the hearth. I looked around to locate the owner of this ghostly voice. At last I found her. She was a tiny little creature, sitting on the hob, under the chimney and as black as the chimney itself. She must have been in her eighties in spite of her little girl’s voice.
I picked a little stool to sit on and we began to talk. It wasn’t an easy conversation. I found it hard to find her wavelength. From what I could make out she was born retarded, which probably explaind the little girl’s voice. She was what was known in Irish as Duine le Dia (“one of God’s people’). She had been cared for all her life by an older sister who had died a few years previously. When I asked her how she managed now, she replied grinning toothlessly, “Johnny O’Hara comes every week with a bag of coal and a few groceries.” I knew this weekly Santa Claus only by reputation and that reputation wasn’t great, at least in church circles. He was one of those who if he came to church at all, lurked on the fringes outside the door. He was, to use the local expression, “one of the lads.” Only a short time before he had been the subject of a tirade from the local parish priest. I made a mental note to put a word in that defective ear, though I doubted it would have much effect. The latter was not given to revising his opinions of people. I remember another unlikely Good Samaritan too, a journalist with a somewhat lurid Sunday tabloid. His regular mission of mercy was to a Dublin attic flat where a single mother and her baby were threatened with eviction.
Why attendance at Sunday mass should be the sole litmus test of Christian practice, I have never understood. Priests, like accountants, have a fixation with figures. Mass-attendance, like baptisms, marriages and deaths, lend themselves to easy measurement. But a large measure of the Christian life is not so easily quantified. Christian charity by its nature is anonymous. It is a secret between the giver and the receiver. More often than not, even the beneficiary does not know who the donor is. Priests frequently receive sums of money, large and small, to be distributed to those in need, in envelopes slipped through their letterbox, without ever knowing where they came from. Church poor boxes yielded tidy sums until church vandals deprived the poor of this valuable source of income. Nobody can be in any doubt that church-attendance figures are in steep decline and, more than likely, this trend is irreversible. But more than one observer has commented on the high level of concern, particularly among the young, or the poor and the deprived in society. Many volunteer to work with the poor on inner city projects here, or abroad with famine victims in the Third World. I confess to feeling justifiably proud when watching reports on French television on the plight of refugees in Rwanda, where the short interview invariably features a young Irish volunteer, cradling an emaciated child in her arms. At least for a small country a disproportionate number of Irish seem to be featured in such reports. If Catholic practice is in decline, there is no evidence that Christian practice is. Mass observance may be down, but at another level, gospel observance seems to be up.
Those who listen weekly to Christ’s words and do not act on them are building on sand. “I have never known you” will be Christ’s final rejection. “It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
In every sense of the word, today’s gospel is a solid teaching on exactly what Jesus means by being a disciple of his, and of doing as he prescribes.
It may sound strange, but religion was always been a cause of conflict and wars, right from the beginning. There is not a war anywhere in today’s world that is not a religious one. As a pupil in junior school, I used listen with shock to the horrors attributed to Cromwell, as he sought to subjugate the Irish people. What shocked me most was when I heard that he was a deeply religious man and, every night, after massacring hundreds of the Irish “Papists,” he would go on his knees and thank God for the privilege that was his.
I have also come across people who adhered strictly all their lives to all the external trappings of their religion and yet, when the crunch came, when the cross arrived, when death approached, the whole fabric of their religion came apart, and they were certainly on shaky foundations.
Calling Jesus “Lord,” if he’s not Lord, won’t get me anywhere. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know mine, and mine know me.” Allowing Jesus to be Lord in my life is a different and, yet, a simple thing. It is all a question of obedience. If he is to be Lord, then I must do things, and live my life according to the clear guidelines he left me. “If you love me, you will obey me There is a religious song called “Jesus is the rock of my salvation, and his banner over me is love.” Jesus uses the word “rock” several times. When he called Peter, he said “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Peter himself wasn’t actually a rock, as his unfolding story shows, but he was to be the titular leader of a group of which Jesus himself would be the rock. When Jesus called Peter, he “looked at Peter.” Later, when Peter denied him, “Jesus turned and looked at Peter.” Peter saw that the look hadn’t changed, and he knew that Jesus alone was the same yesterday, today, and always. Later, in one of his letters, he woud write “Always have an explanation to give to those who ask you the reason for the hope that you have.”
One translation of today’s gospel has Jesus saying, “Go away. I never knew you. The things you did were unauthorised.” Jesus is the author of our salvation. He has written the script. It is our vocation to learn that script, and to live it out. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” As a Christian, I am someone who is sent, who is commissioned to carry a message. That message is about Jesus, and about the good news that he came to proclaim.
Response: Jesus asks an important question in another part of the gospel. “Who do you say that lam?” If he is Lord in my life, then that must profoundly change my whole approach to living my life, if he is Lord, then, I am living in his kingdom. “Seek you first the kingdom of God, and everything else will be added to you.” I have no reason to worry what the future holds if he holds the future. Spirituality is about letting go, and death, at the end of my life, is about letting go completely.
You will notice in today’s gospel that Christian living is not about what we do, as much as why we do it. I could be a pagan, and be a good person, and do many kind acts. What is unique about the actions and words of the Christian is that all of this is done because Jesus has entrusted this mission to me. On several occasions in the gospels Jesus asked by what authority he did what he did, and he always replied that he had come to do the will of his Father in heaven. “They marvelled at him, because he spoke as one having authority.” Later on he would say, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you. If you love me, you will obey me Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and always. That is why, if my life is based On him and on his word, I can stand firm in the midst of all the storms and trials of life. “I will not abandon you in the storm. I will come to you.” We can all be sure of the trials, and the moments of testing, that is part of life itself. It is at such times, more than others, than I can be mostaware of Jesus’ presence and his promises. It is often at such times that real growth takes place in my life, rather than when everything is smooth, calm, and under control. What to one person is a problem, to the Christian can be an opportunity.
There is nothing automatic about Jesus or his message. Just because I was baptised is no guarantee that I will ever become a Christian. There comes a time when I must take personal responsibility for my Christian vocation and, with a generous heart, I accept Jesus as my Lord, and I ask for the anointing of his Spirit to enable me live and walk in his Way. Nobody else can do this for me. There is nothing profound or earth-shaking about this, although, indeed, it is an extraordinary moment of grace. The words I use matter little. It is the goodwill in my heart that the Lord is seeking. Could that moment happen in your life today?
I said that there was nothing earth-shaking about this, yet it is a moment that will certainly bring profound change, and real blessings into my life. These are changes and blessings that I will personally experience. I don’t have to wait until the storms come to find that my faith is much deeper, and my conscious awareness and contact with God is more real. Jesus will no longer be some sort of 999 merchant, called in for emergencies only! I will find that he is included in every decision, and I consult with him on every issue.
Don’t forget the crunch line in today’s gospel. There is one thing you can be absolutely sure of. You are going to die one day, and come face to face with Jesus. Immediately the first part of today’s gospel comes into effect. You either know him or you don’t. There is a vast amount of material written about what happens, at such a time, to two-thirds of the world who never heard of Jesus, or who never heard his message. While acknowledging that there are solid, reasoned, and reasonable replies to such questions, they do not concern us now, because I am not speaking to those people at this time. I am speaking to us, about us, right here, right now. We all can slip into the habit of putting off till tomorrow something that should be done today. This question, however, is too serious for that. There are people walking around today, feeling strong, healthy, and well, and they will not be alive tomorrow. Not one of us can have any claim on tomorrow, which is a gift that God may or may not give us. We certainly canot take it for granted.
First Reading: Deuteronomy 11:18ff
You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.
When you cross the Jordan to go in to occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and when you occupy it and live in it, you must diligently observe all the statutes and ordinances that I am setting before you today.
Second Reading: Romans 3:21ff
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
Gospel: Matthew 7:21-27
Jesus said to his disciples, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-and great was its fall!”