28 Aug, Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
St Paul’s ringing challenge to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” is indeed a high ideal, a worthy target for all who wish to aim at realising the full value and potential of their lives. In Jeremiah and Jesus we have two inspiring examples of doing God’s will in the teeth of opposition and danger. This is a message of living hope, to all those for whom life is a struggle, and for whom the cross, in one form or another, is an unavoidable daily burden.
Jer 20:7-9. Jeremiah feels anguish and complains to God at having to preach such a hard message of condemnation and repentance to his people.
Rom 12:1-2. A true Christian cannot just blindly follow the social conventions of this world. He must try to discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Mt 16:21-27. Jesus tells his disciples that he must save the world through suffering and death. The disciple of Jesus must also follow the way of suffering and self-renunciation.
– that we may present ourselves as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” by the quality of our daily life.
– for deep inner peace and the ability to share with others not only what we have, but what we are.
– for the grace to take up our cross and follow Jesus, accepting whatever sufferings providence may send our way.
– for all those who suffer and are seriously ill, especially those whose illnesses are terminal.
Where Did We Go Wrong? (Peter Briscoe)
It has become a cliché of certain kinds of drama that the grief-stricken mother of a criminal asks “Where did we go wrong? We gave him everything.” It is a bitter experience indeed to see someone to whom we have given life, whom we have nurtured and to whom we have given our all, to see them fail to find life. Was the child’s failure a reflection of the failure of the parents? Were they too poor in possessions or perhaps too poor in love? Each homilist might reflect today on this experience of how potential for life is stunted and even destroyed, and how life is to be regained.
The first element of the mystery to be presented is the fact that life, even the life we have given to others, cannot be controlled. Parents cannot manipulate their children into happiness, anymore than one of us can manipulate others into freedom. The other person is always independent, in a basic way beyond us. As we make this discovery we also come to realise that life itself is beyond us. Our own life is not something whose origins or whose ultimate goal is known to us in any clear kind of way. We need to come to accept it as gift, as we accept the lives of others as gifts. As gift, our life is not something we can hold on to as a possession nor is it something that can be protected and given security by the accumulation of possessions. Our life is more than food and our body more than clothing (Mat 6:25.) If any of us were to be held to ransom we would undoubtedly think that no price would be too high to pay for our release, each of us is priceless to ourselves, yet we fail to remember that before God “n one can pay a ransom for his life, it is beyond him” (cf. Ps 49:7.)
Today’s gospel reminds us that the price has been paid by Christ himself. The gift of life that we had been given and which was in jeopardy because of sin, that potential for life has been rescued by the Incredible generosity of Christ. The “price of life” is not possessions or power over others but an act of self-sacrifice which makes no sense by the standards of this world. The paradox of the cross is that life is gained not by holding grimly on to it but by lovingly letting life be in others. The message of the cross includes the followers of Christ as Christ himself. We too are called to realise that we won’t gain life for ourselves or for those who depend on us simply by heaping up possessions (possessions cannot buy life without end) nor by seeking power structures with which we would seek to guarantee life. Life as gift is to be found through poverty not possessions and trust not control. Following this way will involve self-sacrifice, a struggle against doubt (like Jeremiah) and rejection. It means haing our “normal” way of thinking totally transformed, transformed by the mystery which is the will of God, “the good, acceptable and perfect” (Second Reading.)
All of us know that we have been graced with a life and potential for a life that goes beyond the here and now. Like the mother of the “criminal” son, we can also know the experience of life-failure, of unrealised potential. The “good news” of Jesus is that our heavenly Parent never gives up offering us the gift of new life whenever we fail. His love is strong enough to endure all rejections and to make it possible that we might imitate that love.
The Cost of Discipleship (Patrick Rogers)
If we were invited to pick and choose within the Gospels, and build up our religion just from those parts that appeal to us, what a comfortable church would emerge! We might retain the stories of Christ’s birth and infancy, his temptations in the desert and his miracles among the sick. We would include our favourite parables-like the Prodigal son, the Pharisee and the Publican, and of course, the Good Samaritan. But how many would leave out that Gospel we read today, that hard teaching about renouncing self, taking up the cross, even losing our lives for the sake of Jesus? And even though we have not removed those words from our Gospels, do we not remain deaf to them in practise, in our lives?
In a way, accepting the Gospel is like accepting a friend, whom we must accept in full; accepting the demands as well as the benefits of friendship. Just as we should take people as they are, without trying to modify them just to suit ourselves, so with the Gospel: we. accept the whole of Christ’s word, because we trust him and know that his ways are truth.
Well then, what does the Lord want from us? What does he mean by “renounce yourself,” “lose your life for my sake,” “carry your cross,” or (in the epistle) “present your bodies as a holy sacrifice?” Surely these words don’t refer to anything suicidal, to devaluing of this present life, its joys and its achievements? And yet, are these not something more than a pious way of saying: Put up with what cannot be changed? These are questions to revolve in the mind, without expecting any quick or simple solution. If we will allow, God’s Word challenges us out of any complacency with a comfortable, conforming religion. It unmasks our many evasions, our double standards, our desire for “cheap grace” – wanting salvation at cut price, unwilling to involve ourselves in sacrifice.
Perhaps one clue to this Gospel demand is provided by the first reading, in Jeremiah’s extraordinary accusation that he was seduced by God. Letting God overpower him with his prophetic vocation, Jeremiah found himself involved in many a hard and thankless task. But he had fallen in love with God, so that nothing could hold him back from following God’s will, no matter to what lengths this might lead. But have you and I fallen in love with Christ? Are we seduced by him, so as to follow his example, and offer to his service all that is ours to give? Wouldn’t that be renouncing self, and becoming a living sacrifice?
We might overly concentrate on the “renunciation” in today’s Gospel so as to miss its positive aspect. All growth, all achievement demands effort and sacrifice. Yet the sacrifice can become a peaceful, satisfying part of experience, when orientated towards the desired goal. (Examples: athletic training; mountain-climbing; studying a language; practising any skill.) So, the self discipline involved in living out our Christian life, and acceptance of the circumstances in which God places us, should be seen as contributing to our personal destiny. And we look forward in hope to the great reward of loyal service-When the Son of man, coming in glory, “will reward each one according to his behaviour.
Carrying A Cross (Liam Swords)
I once delivered this homily – or one like it – on the RTE series “Outlook”. Ireland was a single channel area then and that late-night religious programme had a surprisingly large audience. Besides, it was transmitted just before the nightly news and as a result netted quite a few otherwise unwilling viewers. This I gathered from the letters I received, not all of which were fan mail. On that occasion, a woman wrote to me. She was the mother of four young children, one of whom was handicapped. Her husband had left her some time previously for another woman and was not paying her any child-support. Her life was a constant struggle trying to hold on to a badly paid job and look after her young children. All this, and much more, she poured out in her letter to me. My talk, then as now, was a commentary on Christ’s injunction to his disciples in today’s gospel: “If anyone wants to be a disciple of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” She bitterly resented the smugness ofsomeone like me, with the comfortable life that lied, lecturing people like her about accepting suffering. Her punch line certainly shattered my smugness. “The heaviest cross you have ever carried,” she wrote, “was probably your golf-bag.” I was, in fact, though she couldn’t have known it, a keen golfer at that time. I replied to her, as I always did to all the letters I received, complimentary or otherwise. Apart from her trenchant criticism, I was impressed by the quality of her writing. She was a natural born writer. I told her so, suggesting that she try to publish something, a somewhat inane suggestion, given her circumstances. But it did do wonders for her self-esteem, as she told me in another letter, regretting the bitterness of her remarks in the earlier one. The moral of this story is that those who have no crosses to carry should be the last to encourage others to do so. The trouble about preaching the gospel is that a preacher must never dilute its message, just because he doesn’t practice it himslf. Having so prefaced my homily, I now propose to do just that.
With the rising standard of living of our world, our tolerance of suffering has diminished enormously. Certainly we’ve all become softer compared to previous generations. Pain or discomfort of any kind is something to be avoided at all costs. We bombard the doctor with all sorts of trivial complaints. Our bathroom closets are full of pills for all sorts of ills, real or imaginary. Unused medicines are so extensive, that campaigns are regularly launched to have them collected and sent to the disease-ridden Third World. We try to take the pain out of living. We long for a trouble-free existence. A sort of Utopia, where we can have comfort without effort, roses without thorns, happiness without tears. In short, the sort of life, that every commercial promises us. In religion, we have been chipping away for some time now at anything that smacks of suffering either here or in the hereafter. “Nobody is bound to the uncomfortable” would seem to be our moral bottom-line. Self-denial, abstinence, sacrifice are dismissd as weird practices from an ignorant and superstitious past.
It’s a long way from the world the gospel was written in. It’s a long way too from the world our parents grew up in. But they probably had a vision of life far closer to reality than ours. Suffering for them was part and parcel of living. The great myth of modern life is that perfect health, like perfect happiness, is attainable. But perfect health, as Ivan Illich once told doctors, is not the absence of pain, but the ability to cope with it. And, it is precisely this ability that we axe fast losing by our dependence on drugs that mask the symptoms rather than cure the disease.
Maybe the older people were too fatalistic, too pessimistic, too prone to accept suffering as the will of God. But at least they knew that you can’t take the cross out of Christianity any more than you can take the pain out of living. As St Rose of Lima said: “Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” Crosses are burdens you carry on your shoulders. (golf-bags excluded!) not just pretty ornaments you wear round your neck.
“Get behind me Satan!” Christ strongly rebuked Peter when he tried to dissuade him from heading towards Jerusalem, where his cross and crucifixion awaited him. “The way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” St Paul has the same message for us: “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you.”
Whose Standards To Follow? (John Walsh)
There are three things in particular which the readings in today’s Mass teach us. The first is that God calls each one of us in a unique way to bear witness before the world to certain eternal values, by what we believe, what we say, what we do. That call may not be as insistent as the one which came to the prophet Jeremiah, on whom it brought insult, derision, and suffering throughout his whole life. But if our minds are open to the promptings of God’s Spirit the call will be unmistakable. The second lesson is how we respond to God’s demands. Are we prepared to live by these, to change our ways in accordance with the insights granted us, and not just model our lives on the behaviour of the people around us? The third lesson is, how far are we prepared to go in defence of our principles, in pursuing the demands of our conscience, especially when these run counter to the standards of the world around us. Are we ready to act according to the example of Christ, Christ who tells us that unless we renounce ourselvs, take up our cross daily and follow him we cannot be numbered among his faithful disciples. John Paul I, who was Pope for only 33 days, while being Cardinal Archbishop of Venice, was asked to write something each month for the city’s Catholic paper. This took the form of a letter addressed to some important person in past history.
His final letter was to Jesus and part of it goes like this. “When you said, “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted,” I wasn’t present with you. Had I been, I’d have whispered in your ear, “For heavens sake, Lord, change the subject, if you want to keep any followers at all. Don’t you know that everyone wants riches and comfort? You’re promising poverty and persecution. Who do you think is going to follow you?” But you went ahead unafraid, and I can hear you saying you were the grain of wheat that must die before it bore fruit; and that you must be raised up on a cross, and from there draw the whole world up to you. today this has happened; they raised you up on a cross. You took advantage of that to hold out your arms and draw people to you. And countless people have come to the foot of the cross, to fling themselves into your arms.” This was a lesson the disciples of Jesus were slow to learn. They wanted him to be a conquering Messiah, a warrior leader who would drive out the Romans from their contry.
“But Jesus’ way was that of the cross to which he would be condemned by the religious leaders of the day. Peter reacted almost violently while reproaching Jesus, “God forbid that this should happen to you.” The response of Jesus, however, was most severe, likening Peter to Satan in tempting him to turn aside from the path that would lead to suffering and death, and consequently to his resurrection. What in effect Peter also had been advising was, “Lower your standards. Give people what will please them and they will become followers of yours.” And this was precisely what Satan had urged upon Jesus during his forty days” fast in the wilderness at the start of his public mission. It requires courage and a special grace to pursue a call in the face of rejection and mockery. The prophet Jeremiah did not want to do it, but the sense of mission to which he was called by God prevailed in him. For St Paul God’s love was the only thing that really mattered and even the prospect of death did not deter him from preachin this to others. Jesus, whose life was so much shorter than that of Jeremiah or Paul, never once gave way to his opponents while proclaiming the kingdom of God by word and example.
It is so easy for us Christians to identify with society and its standards. Lying, stealing, killing, for example, are condemned by society. But the more subtle ways of committing these are often not even regarded as moral issues. Lying is evil, but the commercial world can so easily get away with bogus advertising and deceptive packaging; stealing is evil, but what of useless food products, inflated prices, or perpetual idling in paid employment; killing is wrong, but what of industrial pollution, the continued marketing of harmful drugs such as in the thalidomide case, or of poisoned olive oil as in Spain where approximately one million people were affected. Taking up one’s cross and following Christ can mean being faithful to the teaching of Christ when turning one’s back on it could bring ill-gotten wealth, or short-lived pleasure, or promotion to higher office in society. Being a true disciple of Christ can often mean speaking what people do not want to hear, or doing what people do not want to do.
Faith like Father Damien’s (Jack McArdle)
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples what is going to happen to him, and he invites them to follow him, while explaining to them some of the ramifications of their decision to do so.
What Fr Damien the Leper undertook was something entirely new in the world at that time. He knew the risk he was taking, and he eventually paid the full price for his courage and bravery. Since that time others have been inspired to follow his example, and to travel down that road. There are volunteers ères working with lepers in Calcutta and, as recently as a few years ago, another priest was withdrawn from Damien’s island of Molokai, because he too had contracted leprosy.
It is worth noting that, from early on, Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed, but that he would be raised on the third day. It is interesting, because, when it did happen, the disciples didn’t seem to be ready for either event. Even on the morning of his ascension, we are told that some of them doubted. They still had a problem at taking him at his word, and it was in believing his word that Jesus depended for the success of his mission. “Heaven and earth will pass away before my word passes away.” He himself was the Word of God, and when he spoke a word it could be accepted and acted on. “The sin of this world is unbelief in me.”
The contribution of Peter, and the strong reaction of Jesus, is well worth looking at. Right from the start of his mission, Satan had done everything within his power to thwart his plans. He put Jesus through a severe testing in the desert, His attacks took several forms, but today’s episode is particularly cunning. Satan is using Jesus’ own right-hand man to do his dirty work for him. Peter is completely innocent, because he acts out of love and concern. He doesn’t want to see Jesus walking into the hands of his enemies. However, he cannot see the scenario as Jesus can, and so he doesn’t realise that this is all a part of the Father’s plan for Jesus. Later on, on the way to Emmaus, Jesus asked the disciples, “Did you not read what the prophets said, that the Son of Man must suffer, and be delivered into the hands of his enemies, who would kill him, but on the third day, he would rise from the dead?’
After his confrontation with Peter, Jesus lays it on the line for his followers. He makes it clear what following him will entail. He speaks in apparent paradoxes, because I’m sure the disciples never heard such thinking in their lives. How could you find your life by giving it away? Was it necessary to sacrifice one’s own personal ambitions to be a follower of Jesus? He then goes on to make a distinction between what is most important, and what is less important. You can abandon your earthly dreams, and sacrifice your bodily comforts, but you must never lose your own truth, your authentic self, your own soul. He then goes on to bridge the gap between his earlier prediction about his death and resurrection, to tell about his final coming in glory with all his angels. It will all end in eternal triumph, and those who follow him will be part of that, it seems, once again, that the apostles failed to grasp the great truth behind what he was saying.
Response: Reading today’s gospel two thousand years after it happened gives us a great advantage over the disciples. The facts of death and resurrection have been fulfilled. We should have no problem, then! Our problem can arise when we try to bridge the gap between what happened to Jesus, and what must happen in our lives, when we take the gospel story and apply it to our day, we discover that we are the ones who now have to die, and then be raised from the dead. We believe that it happened to Jesus, but it’s not so easy to believe that it will happen for us, Incarnation is not a once-off event that happened to Jesus. Bethlehem, Calvary, the tomb, the Pentecost room, all this must be on-going within our hearts.
Prudence and over-caution can stultify us, and freeze us into non-action. To live is to take risks, and the person who never takes a risk cannot claim to be fully alive. I can eat as much as I want and put on weight, and the chances are that no one will say anything. However, if I fast, I will get all sorts of advice about being careful, about minding my health, and about the dangers of going down that road. Some years ago, one of our young priests decided to go on the mission to Mozambique. I was present when a friend of his tried everything within his power to dissuade him from doing this. There was such a need for young priests in Ireland, etc. Today’s gospel is now The latter part of today’s gospel holds some solid teaching for all of us. We are called on to consider what is involved before we make any decisions, what good is it for any of us to gain the whole world, and lose ourselves in the process? If I were to play back the tape of any normal day, and line up in order how I spent my time and my money,it would give me a picture of where my priorities lie. If there is a football match on the television, I’ll arrange my time in such a way that I have a chance to see it. Nothing wrong with that. However, I may find that I didn’t have time for someone who called on me, or I may not have time to take the few quiet moments to be alone with God, and my reflections, If I am that busy, then I’m too busy. Jesus tells us that we will be judged by our deeds. Carrying the cross has to do with being at the service of others. Having time for others is an important part of being a Christian.
“You see things from a human point of view, and not from God’s.” Taking time out to reflect gives me an opportunity to see things from God’s perspective. In prayer I come before God exactly as he sees me, and I accept his love and acceptance. Faith is to have the courage to accept God’s acceptance. I must make a clear distinction between saying prayers and praying. Prayer is what God does and says when I give him an opportunity. It is essential that I develop a reflective spirit, and I cannot do this without giving time to it. After a while it becomes natural, and I can have a reflective heart in the midst of city throngs.
Am I aware of the place of the cross in Christian living? It’s not about suffering all the time, or about enduring a burden, without seeking help or advice, Jesus tells us that his yoke is sweet, and his burden is light. The kingdom of God is built up by tiny acts of kindness, and most of them are hidden. I have to develop a generosity of spirit that prompts me to be there for others, even if that inconveniences me, it is about dying to myself for the sake of others. It is about giving, and about walking that extra mile with another. Like Jesus, we are called to be “basin of water and towel people.” The selfish person lives in solitary confinement, because I am the only person in my life.
I suggested above that I might look at the priorities in my day. This enables me to discover what god I serve. Some people are completely taken over by the god of money, pleasure, or power. This is what motivates everything they do. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing. If money brought happiness, then every wealthy person would be happy, and we know that is not true. The happiest people on earth are those who serve others, There’s a vast difference between being wealthy and being rich. I could be a really rich person, and have little money. I need to check my priorities, to select what is most important in my life, and to make what changes are necessary to become a life-giving person for others. Today’s the day for stock-taking!
The mother had to go out to the shop, so she asked her children to set the table for dinner when she was gone. They did as they had been asked, but they added a nasty sting to the tail of their giving. They got a piece of paper, and wrote on it, “for setting the table 2 Euros.” When the mother returned, she spotted the piece of paper, picked it up, put it in her pocket, and said nothing. She went into her bedroom, deeply hurt and disappointed. She got an A4 page, and began to write. “For giving you life, and for carrying you within me for nine months. For going through the pains of childbirth, so that you could be born. For nursing you, and caring for you night and day for several years. For sitting up with you when you were sick at night. For dressing you and feeding you. For bringing you to school, helping you with your homework, and for bringing you on holidays. For buying you presents at Christmas, on birthdays, and at many other times. For loving you, and for giving you everything I possibly could, Total Bill = Nothing!” She returned to the kitchen, placed the sheet of paper on the table, and began preparing dinner. The children read what was written, and they began to cry. They went over to her, hugged you, and told her they were sorry for being so selfish. They’d learned something about love, and about giving
First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-9
O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
Second Reading: Romans 12:1-2
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.