03Sep 03 Sept. 22nd Sunday in OT

Saint Gregory the Great

Our invitation to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, is an ideal to realise the full potential of our lives. Jeremiah and Jesus fulfil God’s will in spite of opposition. This is a hopeful message to all whose life is a struggle, and for whom the cross is a daily burden.

1st Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-9

Jeremiah complains to God at having to preach such a hard message to his people

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.

2nd Reading: Romans 12:1-2

Do not conform to the conventions of this world, but try to discern what is the will of God

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

The disciple must follow Jesus in the way of suffering and self-denial

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.


The Cost of Discipleship

If invited to pick and choose within the Gospels, and form our religion only with what appeals to us, what a cosy, comfortable church we would have! We might keep the stories about Christ’s birth and infancy, his temptation in the desert and his healing miracles. We would include our favourite parables, like the Prodigal son, the Pharisee and the Publican, and of course, the Good Samaritan. But would we leave out that Gospel for today, that hard teaching about renouncing self, taking up the cross, losing our lives for the sake of Jesus? And even if we have not removed those words from our Gospels, do we remain deaf to them in practise, in our lives?

In a way, isn’t following Christ like accepting a friend whom we must accept in full or not at all; welcoming the demands as well as the benefits of friendship? Just as we need to take people as they are, without trying to change them to suit ourselves, so with the Gospel: we accept the whole of Christ’s recorded words, because we trust him and know that his ways are truth.

So 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 a clue to this Lord’s demand is in the first reading, in Jeremiah’s extraordinary accusation that he was seduced by God. Letting his prophetic vocation overpower him, Jeremiah was involved in many a thankless task. He had fallen in love with God, so that nothing held him back from doing God’s will, no matter where this might lead. Have we fallen in love with Christ? Are we seduced by him, so as to gove to his service all that is ours to give? Wouldn’t that be becoming a living sacrifice?

We might overly focus on the “renunciation” in today’s Gospel so as to miss its positive aspect. All growth, all lasting achievement demands effort and sacrifice. Yet the sacrifice can be a satisfying part of experience, when orientated towards a high and valued goal. (Examples: athletic training; mountain-climbing; studying a language; practising any skill.) So, the self discipline involved in Christian life, and accepting the circumstances in which God places us, contribute 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 all according to their behaviour.


José Antonio Pagola

Today’s stark teaching is recorded in all the Gospels and in fact recurs up to 6 times: Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever letss go of his life for my sake will find it. Jesus isn’t talking about a religious theme. He’s sharing with his disciples what is the true strength of living.

This idea is both paradoxical and provocative, to make a major point: There are two very different ways of directing our life: One leads to salvation, the other to destruction. Jesus invites everyone to follow the path that seems harder and less attractive, since this one leads us to definitive salvation.

The easy path consists of holding onto life at all costs, living exclusively for oneself: making the «I» the final reason and supreme objective of existence. This manner of living – always seeking my own gain or advantage – leads one to destruction.

The second, harder path consists of knowing how to lose, living as Jesus does, giving priority to the Father’s humanizing project: knowing how to renounce my own security or profit, seeking not just my own welfare but also that of others. This generous way of living leads us to our salvation.

Jesus is speaking out of his faith in a Saving God, but his words are a serious warning for all. What future awaits a divided and fragmented humanity, if the economic powers so massively seek only to benefit their own countries, their own welfare; individuals, their own interests?

The logic that is guiding the path of the world at these moments is irrational. As peoples and individuals we are falling little by little into the slavery of always wanting more. Even having it all ends up being too little to satisfy us. In order to live well, we need ever more productivity, more consumption, more material wellbeing, more power over others.

We seek wellbeing insatiably, but aren’t we in danger of dehumanizing ourselves? We talk of «progress» all the time, but what kind of progress leads would abandon millions of fellow human beings to misery, hunger, malnutrition? How many years can we enjoy our own welfare by closing our borders to the hungry and those who come among us to seek refuge from so many wars?

If the privileged countries only seek to preserve our level of wellbeing, if we don’t want to share our economic potential, we will never take steps toward a worldwide solidarity. Let’s not deceive ourselves. The world will be all the more insecure and inhabitable for everyone, including ourselves. In order to save human life in the world, we need to learn to lose.

Faith is a slippery rock

Fergal Mac Eoinín

(Peter as the “rock” of faith is a comfort for anyone whose journey is more like an ice-rink than a footpath.)

Rock has many personalities. It simply depends on what poet you happen to be reading at the time. In our stories rock occupies all of the extremes. This inanimate and cold thing is the foundation of our lively and warm homes. It typifies dependability, permanence, solidness and reliability. Equally it can be unstable, shaky, unpredictable and dangerous. Rock has sunk as many ships as it has anchored.

Among the many attributes that we assign to rock one is particularly good for faith. Faith is a slippery rock. When lived fully, faith slides between reason and good things that defy reason. It tries to give meaning to it all. Anybody not sliding is dogmatic and missing out on a great glory of being alive – struggling with faith.

Jesus’ choice of Peter as the “rock” of faith is a great comfort for those of us whose journey of faith is more like an ice-rink than a footpath. Peter’s rocky faith is the tale of a man who would deny his friend one day and rush across the surface of a lake to see him a few days later. Peter’s faith slid between the two extremes – it never actually lodged at either of them.

Peter’s humanity is the rock on which Jesus founded faith, and Peter was all too human. There are people who focus on the rock of faith for its solidness and others who reject faith for its shakiness. Both overlook the fact that faith is an engagement, not a position. Faith is the ability to try to make sense of reality. We all try to understand our world and most of us realise that it is neither a world of pure scientific fact not a world of pure superstitious magic.

For the Christian, every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Traditionally we have understood that that image and likeness is not physical. We are like God because we can think for ourselves and make our own decisions. In the encounter with life, thought and choice are everything. We are even smart enough to recognise our limitations if we choose to do so. Faith sends an invitation to find good in the things we meet along the way. That is why Peter is such a wonderful example of Christian faith. He didn’t always get everything right but he always looked for the answer that was good.

Faith is not simply a belief that God does or does not exist. Faith is how we interpret and address the world around us in accordance with that belief. Christian faith suggests that life has a benign and eternal meaning.

In our interactions we are asked to constantly choose between something that is probably good and something that might not be so good. Few choices and decisions are simple and fewer still are easy.

Most of us share Peter’s unpretentious intelligence and human frailty. Like Peter, we do not always get it right.

Shortfalls of knowledge and absence of backbone are not the only challenges that distract faith. There are so many factors to consider. We often have to choose something because it seems to be the best option or the least damaging one. It is like pretending you don’t know somebody to save your own skin. That is unacceptable in a world that puts its faith in champions, heroes, patriots and martyrs but it was perfectly acceptable for Christ.

Jesus put his faith in a man who was sensible, ordinary and loving.

Saint Gregory the Great

Gregorius I (540-604) was pope from 3 September 590 to his death in 604. By sending Augustine to England he instigated the first large-scale mission from Rome to convert a pagan people to Christianity. Gregory is also known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope.

2 Responses

  1. David O Riordqn

    Brilliant homily from Fergal McEoinin. Give us more. Thanks Fergal.

  2. Fr. Bertin Miller OFM

    The material is right on and most appreciated. Great insights that prompt reflection and ask the right questions for a very engaging dialogue.
    Thank you, contributors.

    Fr. Bert

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