25Feb 25 February. Second Sunday of Lent

NB: Saints in the Liturgical Year

1st Reading: Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18

The Binding of Isaac shows Abraham’s complete obedience to God

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 116)

Resp.: I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living.

I trusted, even when I said:
‘I am sorely afflicted.’
O precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful. R./

Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
you have loosened my bonds.
A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
I will call on the Lord’s name. R./

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem R./

2nd Reading: Romans 8:31-34

God’s love for us is shown by letting his Son die for our sake

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-10

The apostles glimpse Christ’s glory, to sustain them through his coming passion

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.


Where doe sacrifice come in?

“It is better to enter into life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire!” Matthew (18:9). This extreme condemnation of toying with temptation was meant to make it stick in people’s minds, and it does. But “hell fire” is not precisely what Matthew wrote, but rather the “fiery Gehenna.” The Hebrew word Gehenna meant the “Valley of Hinnom,” a gorge just south of the Jerusalem Temple. It was a place under a curse, for it was there that the pagan Canaanites used to sacrifice children to their god Moloch, by throwing them into a fire. Some breakaway Jews followed that savage custom until the idol of Moloch was finally destroyed in the 7th century B.C. The horror of the place survived, and it became the refuse dump of Jerusalem, a place of continual smoke from burning rubbish. In the public mind it became synonymous with hell, a visible image of what that place must be. But there was no place for child-sacrifice in true worship of God, and devout Jews would claim there never was. They saw the confirmation of this in the actions of Abraham, their father in faith, how God stayed his hand as he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is full of high drama. The demand that Isaac be sacrificed seemed to utterly contradict God’s promise that the boy would pass on Abraham’s line into the distant future. It was a radical trial of faith, and no greater test of obedience could be set. Abraham’s heart was pierced by the boy’s innocent question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Finding it impossible to tell his son that he was the intended victim, Abraham stammered, “God will provide.” St. John may well have this episode in mind when he wrote, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son” (3:16). It raises several acute questions. Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? Why did Abraham intend to obey? Indeed why did God allow his own divine Son to be sacrificed? The God who spared the son of Abraham and showered him with blessings, did not spare his own Son, but left him in the hands of his enemies for our redemption.

Unlike Isaac, Jesus was aware of what lay ahead. “The Son of Man must suffer,” he said. Shortly before the Transfiguration, when he first told the disciples what he was to suffer, Peter prayed that God would not allow such a thing to happen. The Lord’s response was instant and severe, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do” (Mk 8:33). In dealing with God we must have faith and trust. On the cellar wall of a bombed-out house in Cologne an unknown fugitive, obviously Jewish, left a testimony of trust that only came to light when the rubble was being cleared away after World War II. It read: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.” That is the faith of Abraham, and is the kind of faith we should seek as well.

The freedom of letting go

Abraham is portrayed as being willing to let go of what was most precious to him, the only son of his old age. In being willing to let his son go to God, he went on to receive him back as a gift. Many people find it a very disturbing story, because it portrays God as asking Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son as a burnt offering to God. We are rightly shocked by the image of God asking a father to sacrifice his son in this way. Abraham lived about a thousand years before Christ. In the religious culture of that time it was not uncommon for people to sacrifice their children to various gods. The point of the story seems to be that the God of Israel is not like the pagan gods. If Abraham thought that God was asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac like the people who worshipped other gods, he was wrong. God was not asking this of Abraham. Yet, the willingness of Abraham to let go of what was most precious to him if that was what God was asking remained an inspiration to the people of Israel. He had already shown a willingness to let go of his family and his homeland as he set out towards an unknown land in response to God’s call.

The early church understood the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as pointing ahead to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. Like Abraham, God was prepared to let go of what was most precious to him, his divine Son, out of love for humanity. God was prepared to let his Son take on our flesh, with all the dangers that entailed. Saint Paul marvels at this generosity of God on our behalf, as he writes, ‘God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all’. God let his precious Son join in our humanity even though the consequences meant the rejection of Jesus by his own people and, ultimately, his crucifixion. Even after Jesus was crucified, God continued to give him to us as risen Lord. When Paul contemplates this self-emptying love of God for us, he asks the rhetorical question, ‘With God on our side who can be against us?’ Iif God’s love for us is so total, then we have nothing to fear from anything or anyone.

Peter, James and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus, and have an experience which takes their breath away. It was an experience so precious that Peter could not let it go. He wanted to prolong it indefinitely and so he says to Jesus, ‘Rabbi . . . let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’. He and the other two disciples had a fleeting glimpse of the heavenly beauty of Christ, and did not want to let go of it. Beauty attracts the eye and the heart; it calls out to us. Yet, Peter and the others had to let go of this precious experience; it was only ever intended to be momentary. They would receive it back in the next life as a gift. For now, their task was to listen to Jesus, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him’. That is our task too. We spend our lives listening to the Lord as he speaks to us in his word and in and through the circumstances of our lives; we listen to him as a preparation for that wonderful moment when we see him face to face in eternity and we can finally say, ‘it is wonderful to be here.’

Is iontach linn a bheith anseo

Tógann Íosa Peadar, Seamus agus Eoin árd ar an tsléibh Tabor, agus tugann sé taithí iontach leó a thugann a n-anáil amach. Bhí sé mar thaithí chomh luachmhar nach bhféadfadh Peadar é a ligeant as a mheabhair, coíche. Bhí sé ag iarraidh é a éascú ar feadh tréimhse éiginnte agus mar sin deir sé le Íosa, ‘Rabbi. . . lig dúinn trí phubaill a dhéanamh, ceann ar do shon, ceann do Mhaois agus ceann do Elijah .’ Bhí léargas mór aige ar an áilleacht neamhaí a theaspáin Chríost dó féin agus do na dá dheisceabail eile, agus níor mhían leis ligean dó. Meallann an áilleacht an tsúil agus an croí; glaonn sé chugainn. Ach ní mór do Peadar agus do na daoine eile an taithí luachmhar seo a ligean; ní dheónach é orthú ach i láthair na huaire. Gheobhaidh siad ar ais é tar éis aiseirí Chríost. Mar sin iarrtar orthú éisteacht le Íosa, ‘Is é seo mo Mhac muirneach. Éist leis.’  Is é sin ár tasc freisin. Caitheamar ár saol ag éisteacht leis an Tiarna mar a labhraíonn sé linn inár gcoinsias agus i gcúimsí ár saol; éisteacht leis mar ullmhúchán don lá nuair a fheicfimíd íosa aghaidh le haghaidh go deireanach, agus is féidir linn a rá, ‘tá sé iontach linn a bheith anseo.’

15 Responses

  1. Pádraig McCarthy

    This is meant to be a story with a shock.
    We are here in an oral culture, where people are used to stories and how they are told. Think of the “seanchaí.”
    We have the story of the hero (Abraham) who, in the strength of his very dedication to serving God, is about to do something which went against all the deep values of the people, in sacrificing his child, the very thing which the people of Israel abhorred (see Gehenna above), but which other peoples around practiced.
    The hearers would realise immediately that this is Abraham going astray. Like other stories with a hero who does great deeds, and somehow the very qualities which make them strong lead them close to disaster. Until realisation dawns at the last minute, but not before the listeners have shared the sense of deep shock.

    Is there a parallel today?
    There are many people who are sacrificed and enslaved by the god of the “market economy”. Who made your shoes, your shirt? And yet those who run that economy think they are doing a really good job!
    There is also a closer parallel facing us. With the very best of motives, for compassion for women in crisis pregnancy, we may be coming close to saying, however regretfully, that the right thing to do is to terminate the lives of unborn children.
    There are many different kinds of circumstance in this, and compassion is absolutely vital. Just to take one set of circumstances: The report of the Oireachtas Committee says clearly that the majority of abortions are for socio-economic reasons. Surveys in other countries confirm this.
    Socio-economic causes are dealt with by socio-economic remedies. Medical remedies are entirely inappropriate. They are an abuse of medicine.

    Where do we find the alternative sacrifice? In the thorn bushes of the market economy.
    Justice and compassion have economic implications.
    Is this a fair analogy?

  2. Pádraig McCarthy

    God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac.”
    There’s a word missing. By courtesy of the web, I looked at a few dozen English translations, and it’s not there.
    What’s missing is, in Hebrew “na” – “please.”
    (I looked it up on an interlinear Hebrew-English Bible site.)
    “Please do take your son…”
    That changes the tone, doesn’t it? When does God ever say “please”, “más é do thoil é”?
    I wonder is it a vocal signal that this story is presenting God anthropomorphically? A signal that we’re to look not for a piece of history, but something far deeper?

  3. Sean O'Conaill

    Can we not see an obvious biblical progression in the very idea of ‘acceptable sacrifice’ – a progression that leads us to an understanding of ‘Holy Sacrifice’ – the sacrifice that God DOES sanctify – in the New Testament?

    To begin with, before Abraham’s time, the person who ‘performed’ the sacrifice – the priest – was obviously not the victim as well. It can be said therefore that if the purpose of the ceremony was to assuage God’s anger then the priest was selfishly deflecting God’s anger from himself onto the hapless victim. He saves himself, and the community, at the expense of the victim.

    However, in the case of Abraham, the sacrificer is agreeing to give to God what is most precious to himself – not simply his only son Isaac but all of the descendants he had been promised would follow. This is a clear, definitive step away from ‘selfish evasive sacrifice’.

    The next obvious step is the substitution of an animal for a human as the sacrificial victim. There is still a degree of deflection and evasion here, and of some violence on the part of the ‘priest’, but clearly no hint of ‘murder’. We see this step too in the Abraham / Isaac story.

    With Jesus’s gift of himself on Calvary – a consequence of his refusal to use violence against his captors – all deflection and evasion has ceased. The ‘priest’ has become the victim, non-violently – and sacrifice has turned through 180 degrees, forsaking its violent origins.

    That Christian sacrifice is therefore non-violent self-giving is clear from the texts used in the Mass, from the ceremony itself and from the meaning received by so many Catholics, who give themselves unselfishly to service of the poor and the weak. It remains a complete mystery why this is so rarely seen and said by our clergy.

    Always in my experience the priest will duck the potential difficulties of the Abraham & Isaac text – especially the question whether God ever did demand human sacrifice. Never will the priest suggest the idea of a progression in the human understanding of acceptable and holy sacrifice. Worst of all, never will it be seen that in substituting himself for the victim Jesus is removing all hint of violence from the role of the Christian priest – and revealing the meaning of the common priesthood of all of the faithful in doing so, the call to self-giving.

    That this understanding nevertheless conveys itself to so many must be regarded as a miracle of grace. When I offered an article on this to the ACP in Sep 2017 I was ignored – but here it is anyway.


  4. Paddy Ferry

    I want to thank Padraig and Sean for sharing their thoughts inspired by today’s readings. Not many of us would have heard a sermon today as insightful and thought provoking as what we have just read above. It was also good to read again Aidan and Martin’s responses to Sean’s article. Like Aidan the whole idea of Atonement is definitely not helpful to me on my faith journey. And, the more I read and study the more troublesome it becomes. The late great Fr.Joseph A Fitzmyer SJ  once said that nowhere in the uncontested letters of St. Paul are we told that Jesus had to die for our sins. And he certainly knew a thing or two about this whole subject.  Infact, did Jesus not say in Matthew’s Gospel that he came not for sacrifice but to bring mercy. I am assuming –and I sincerely hope –that we can accept that chapter and verse in Matthew’s Gospel as the “gospel truth”
    Infact, the more I study this subject I am increasingly coming to the conclusion  that the only person in the New testament (NT) who claimed that Jesus had to die for our sins –as priest and sacrifice all in one —  was the author of the Letter to the Hebrews or, perhaps just Hebrews, no definite article. And, we don’t even know who he or she was , almost definitely a he, I would think. And, apparently it wasn’t even a letter; almost certainly a speech which somebody else delivered on his behalf.
    And then, of course, there is the business of Melchizedek which many scripture scholars would now refer  to as the Melchizedek Myth.
    I don’t really want to sound controversial this Sunday night at the end of a wonderful weekend for Ireland and Scotland.
    But I am completely with Tony Flannery when he says that we need to find a new language to express this ancient beliefs.
    That is what Tony will speak to us about in Edinburgh at the Newman Association on Tuesday evening, March 6th.
    Goodnight and God bless.

  5. Joe O'Leary

    That Christ died for our sins, in our place, is very central for Paul and for our faith today. Jesus himself declares he came to give his life as a ransom for many, and that his blood will be poured out for many (in texts that are as close as we can get to his very own words). I’m never quite sure what people are objecting to when they complain about the language of sacrifice and atonement. A René Girard reinterpretation in anthropological terms can no doubt improve our grasp of the paschal sacrifice.

  6. Sean O'Conaill

    #5 A ‘ransom’ is paid by a rescuer to a third party, the captor or slave owner. Who was the captor in the case of the ransom paid by Jesus? It is clear from John 3: 16 that for Jesus it cannot have been his Father, as this text, spoken by Jesus, clearly puts the Father also in the role of rescuer.

    Yet one reading of ‘satisfaction’ and ‘substitution’ theories of atonement is that Jesus rescued us from the vengeful anger of the Father, who would have punished us if Jesus had not allowed the divine punishment due for sin to fall on himself.

    It simply does not do to shrug and say ‘I can’t see the problem here’. There is room for huge misunderstanding, especially of ‘sin’ on the one hand and ‘God’ on the other.

    Is ‘sin’ the breaching of arbitrary divine rules made simply to annoy us, and is God therefore the equivalent of an abusive and tyrannical parent who makes such rules? Or is sin the non-observance of rules intended as warnings, to prevent us from harming OURSELVES – rules clarified for us by a God who has always sought our freedom and our happiness?

    That is, are we punished FOR our sins, or BY our sins? If it is the former, then Jesus came to change God’s mind about US. If it is the latter then Jesus came to change OUR mind about God.

    Is it truly unreasonable to expect our Irish clergy to be clear, rather than hopelessly inarticulate, about such questions? Does God want the Irish people of God to be wholly dependent upon e.g. Richard Rohr OFM, or Rob Bell, to address them, in 2021 AD – when the fundamentalist option is now also available here?

    When I asked back in 2014 why Irish clergy were so reluctant to visit these questions, Joe told me the reason was the ‘phobia’ that Irish priests have about studying theology:


    Not one other Irish priest disputed that verdict, so that problem hasn’t gone away. With Maynooth as a seminary apparently on the way out, the message on its tombstone seems set to read:

    “Here is where Irish theological curiosity came to die!”

  7. Joe O'Leary

    The Letter to the Hebrews is one of the most thorough-composed and beautiful works in Scripture. It uses all the typology of sacrifice from the Torah and uncovers in it a spiritual meaning or a spiritual fulfilment in Christ — the letter that kills is transformed under our eyes into the spirit that gives life.

  8. Pádraig McCarthy

    “How A Poor Theology Of The Cross Created America’s Broken Justice System” is an article tracing bad theology to bad justice systems:
    It goes back to Anselms’s faulty theology.
    Richard Rohr has some related commentary at http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Richard-Rohr-s-Meditation–Love–Not-Atonement.html?aid=iXa_UNn2YaQ&soid=1103098668616.

  9. Paddy Ferry

    Sean, I would not be too hard on Irish priests — priests over here in Scotland do not have much to say about Atonement either.

    Yes, Joe, Hebrews is certainly one of the most polished works in Scripture, or so the scripture scholars would tell us; and with a sophistication of language not matched anywhere else in the New Testament, beginning, for example, with a flourish of alliterated words. However, that is part of the anomaly of Hebrews; a sophistication of language on the one hand yet, on the other, an eccentric logic as, for example, in the treatment of Melchizedek and Jesus as priest. Isn’t it interesting that it took so long for Hebrews to be accepted into the canon of sacred scripture in the West.
    Only early in the 5th century  -Synod of Carthage 419 AD, I think, — was it finally accepted.
    By the way, has our Church now finally accepted that it was not written by St. Paul?

  10. Joe O'Leary

    Anselmian rationalism about who Jesus “pays” the ransom to is the sort of bad metaphysics that gets in our way.

    Jesus is the ransom. Sin is a reality that weighs deeply on humanity, and Jesus steps forward as a “martyr of charity” to take it all on himself.

    The result is that the sinner can take refuge in Jesus and be cleansed by his blood.

    This is God’s gift to us, our Saviour.

    We should first let this mystery envelop us in all its power, not anxiously seeking for explanations.

    The old question, why did God bother with all this when he could have saved the world by simple fiat, is rationalistic too. In any case the economy of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery is powerfully effective, allowing the sinner not just to wait around in the hope of being left off the hook by some abstract God, but actually to identify with the sinless one who became sin for our sake, and who mantles us with his righteousness and shares his very life with us.

    In short the solution to Anselmian conundrums is to deconstruct them as false questions.

  11. Joe O'Leary

    On the Pauline authorship of Hebrews the Pontifical Biblical Commission, then part of the Magisterium, replied in 1914, as follows: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19140624_epistola-ebrei_lt.html
    Trans. of 1914 document here: http://www.superflumina.org/letter_to_hebrews.html

    However the Church today has returned to its senses and the Lectionary does not say “The Epistle of St Paul to the Hebrews” but simply “The Epistle to the Hebrews.”

    The canonicity of Hebrews was unproblematic in the Eastern Church from the start but had a slow acceptance in the West until the end of the fourth century.

    The Melchizedek part (Heb 7) is no more problematic than similar typological arguments in Paul. We have to appreciate these ancient modes of argument on their own terms.

  12. Sean O'Conaill

    #10 Come on, Joe! This is to lapse into megachurch-speak: ‘sin – cleansed by his blood – became sin for our sake’. Really?

    Please face the problematic you are denying – that what people are aware of as ‘oppression’ today does not fall under what they understand as ‘sin’ (i.e. sexual self-indulgence). Do you remember a guy called Freud – and how the church scandals have consolidated his view of Christianity as itself oppressive, hypocritical and nonsensical?

    What ‘sin’ lies behind e.g. planetary degradation, political corruption, ‘terrorism’, outrageous income inequality – and the general failure of secularism to realise ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’, the Enlightenment programme? By what exactly are we oppressed today and how does the Christ event ‘ransom’ or liberate us?

    Talk of metaphysics, Anselmian conundrums and ‘deconstruction’ will get you through a seminar, maybe, but it won’t play to packed churches in Mullingar or anywhere else on this island just now.

  13. Joe O'Leary

    How does the atoning death of Christ connect with the wide evils that prey on humanity, poverty, violence etc.? I think in the post Vatican II liturgy that connection is stressed at every Mass, for we are always bringing to mind these evils. When modern congregations say “who takes away the sins of the world” and “grant us peace” they have these wider forms of sin in mind.

    Again, in the Creed, when we say “for us and for our salvation” or “crucified for us” I think as Vatican II Christians we do think of salvation more comprehensively than just forgiveness of individual guilt.

    But that only underlines further the power of the Atonement. Christ became sin for our sakes in that his death exhibits every kind of sin that humans commit and that preys on humans–he is poor, homeless, a victim of injustice, of communal prejudice and state violence. He literally, physically takes on himself the sins of the world and offers in exchange his forgiveness, in the “joyous exchange” that Luther celebrates. (2 Cor 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”)

    The Cross speaks for itself — it exhibits sin in all its loathsomeness, in its individual, communal, and social dimensions. It brings us face to face with our own guilt. And it simultaneously speaks as a sign of redemption.

    Pseudo-Anselmian quibbling about how Christ can be a ransom for humanity and who he is supposed to pay the ransom to and how the transaction works out somehow falls short of this central reality and misses the power of the biblical language of sin and redemption. (And there are many other instances where an undue trust in metaphysical reason — or rationalism — misses the point.)

  14. Joe O'Leary

    For a very sensible presentation of Luther’s Christology and Theology of the Cross, I’d like to recommend Johannes Zachhuber, “Luther’s Christological Legacy” (Marquette University Press, 2017). Zachhuber, born in Communist East Germany, has a deep knowledge of the Greek Fathers and of the history of German theology: he brings them both together in this eloquent presentation of Luther’s thought to the English-speaking world. He teaches at Trinity College, Oxford, and is more Oxonian than the Oxonians. https://www.amazon.com/Luthers-Christological-Legacy-Christocentrism-Chalcedonian/dp/1626005060/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1519828867&sr=8-3&keywords=zachhuber

  15. Sean O'Conaill

    #13 – ‘The Cross speaks for itself.’

    Yes, Joe – but not to all as forcefully as it should, because Christendom clouded its meaning and left us with biblical heuristics and theology which persist in missing the point.

    That point is most directly identified by Jesus in John 5: 44: “How can you believe, since you look each other for glory and are not concerned with the glory that comes from the one God?”

    If we give to ‘glory’ the near synonyms ‘honour’, ‘high respect’ and ‘social status’ we hit upon the central problem of human society – our huge difficulty in thinking well of ourselves unless we have reason to think that other humans think well of us too.

    What follows usually is vanity – the pursuit of status, the admiration of others. Wanting what others want – their status symbols – follows naturally from this. This is mimetic desire or covetousness.

    The other ‘deadly’ sins follow naturally – including the fetishization of sex.

    Vanity – confusingly rendered too often as ‘pride’ – is therefore indeed the root of all evil, and the root of all of the unjust status pyramids on earth. Because Christendom gave status to clergy also they became part of the social status pyramids that arise out of vanity – and became unable to see their own vanity. In an Ireland that gave high status to clergy, priests came to envy other priests with supposedly ‘better parishes’ and bishops came to want transfer to ‘better dioceses’. (I can’t even be sure that this is not still the case.)

    How on earth in this situation could our clergy see and indict the social climbing going on in secular society? That they could rely in Ireland before c. 1994 on sexual guilt to keep the punters coming to Confession and Mass was reason enough not to worry about ‘relevance’ – but once that motivator was removed (by a combination of Freud, the clerical sex scandals and the media) the lynchpin fell out of ‘Catholic Ireland’.

    But the cross is indeed, as you say, still our salvation – because it reveals not only what status pyramids do to those who can’t climb, but that there is indeed a higher reality to look to and to seek relationship with – as Jesus did. The horizons of ‘fulfilment’ that people tend to prioritise today, in the absence of faith and spirituality, are the reason that the world is in chaos.

    It remains only for us Catholics to see this clearly, and for clergy to stop ‘saying’ Mass as though there is a more important GAA or other event they are in danger of missing if Mass isn’t done and dusted in less than thirty minutes.

    A ‘satisfaction’ or ‘substitution’ theology inherited from Christendom, a theology that implies that the Father is obsessed with his ‘honour’ – i.e. his status – when Jesus in contrast endured ultimate shaming for our sake – is way past its sell-by date, and so are biblical heuristics which miss the pervasive honour / shame dynamic in scripture.

    We all need to be rescued (ransomed) from the huge mistake of thinking that in the end it is society that determines our value. Properly understood the cross does do that, but in Ireland just now too many of our clergy are behaving as though their own social catastrophe (i.e. cross) is the end of the church, instead of an essential part of their formation.

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