05Jul 05 July. Thursday, Week 13

1st Reading: Amos (7:10-17)

Expelled from the sanctuary ( Bethel), Amos announces God’s Word

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'”

Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”

Resp. Psalm (Ps 19)

R./: The judgments of the Lord are true, and all of them just

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the Lord is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eye.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the Lord are true,
all of them just. (R./)

They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
Sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (9:1-8)

Jesus cures a paralysed man, so he can forgive sin too

And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”, he then said to the paralytic, “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

BIBLE

Misguided Orthodoxy

The Pharisees are right that only God can forgive sin yet they are misguided in limiting this to only what they themselves would forgive. Even well-intentioned rules cannot go unchallenged; but rule-makers find correction and warnings most difficult to accept. How hard it can be for good people to see that they have need to improve. This challenge faced by Jesus just as it was by Amos, remains a feature life in the Church even today.

It is hard for religion teachers and leaders to see the damage that their harshness has done to others. After all, how could good, well-intentioned bishops be wrong? Any blindness in the hierarchy is not about theology, which they know well, but about common sense and elementary justice. It seems easier to excommunicate or brand critics as trouble-makers than to re-think official practices whose relevance is outworn.

It is even harder if the truth-telling prophet is not diplomatic in naming what needs to be changed. Amos was vitriolic and sarcastic about the luxury-loving women (“fat cows of Bashan”); and he portrays the menfolk as effete and sensuous, lying on ivory couches to be anointed with sweet-smelling oil, while reciting poetry to a captive audience. Yet this was God’s true messenger, a rugged individual, earliest of the classical prophets even while he refused the title “prophet” from the mouth of the high priest, Amaziah. Jesus too was less than diplomatic. Rather than dodging the issue he wants to force a decision, “Why do you harbour evil thoughts? Which is less trouble to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?

It is never right to use theology to shackle necessary changes. In this case the cure of the paralyzed man could teach the theologians about the Messiah. God can transform and sanctify whatever is brought to him: a misguided Abraham, a sinful paralytic, an uncouth prophet. The proud person, no matter how pure and legally correct, cannot be helped. The proud person goes away angry; the unlettered crowd can praise God for such a compassionate prophet as Jesus.


The support of others’ faith

We often need the faith of others to support us when our own faith is weak. That is probably the reason why people sometimes ask us to pray for them. They may find it hard to pray for themselves and, so, they ask others to pray for them. In the gospel today, a paralysed man is carried to Jesus by the faith of his friends. Nothing is said about the faith of the paralysed man. The gospel says that when Jesus say their faith–the faith of those who carried the paralytic–he said to the paralytic, “Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven,” and then went on to cure his paralysis.

Despite some recent claims (by one who should know better) that to baptise an infant is to transgress its human rights, the truth is that we were all carried to the Lord by the faith of others. It was the faith of our parents, and of our grandparents, that took us to the font for baptism. As babies, we had no faith of our own at that time. We begin our lives as Christians carried by the faith of others. In the course of our lives, we find ourselves still needing the faith of others to keep our own relationship with the Lord alive. Indeed, we are always very interdependent when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. As I grow towards the Lord, I help others to do so as well. As I grow away from him, I make it more difficult for others to grow towards him. In a very profound sense, we depend on each other on the pilgrimage of life. In that sense our own relationship with the Lord, or lack of it, while very personal is never purely private; it always impacts on others.


CANDLE

(Saint Anthony Zaccaria, priest)

Anthony Zaccaria (1502-1539) from Cremona, Italy, studied medicine in Padua and practised as a physician for three years. From 1527 he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1528. He mainly worked in hospitals and institutions for the poor, and founded three religious institutes: one for men (the Barnabites); one for women (the Sisters of Saint Paul). While in Vincenza, he popularized for the laity the Forty-hour devotion, solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for the adoration of the faithful.

7 Responses

  1. Brian Fahy

    This week the gospel stories in Matthew have revealed to us the power of Jesus over all kinds of trouble. We have seen the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and then the calming of the demon-possessed men in Gadara, and now today the healing of the paralytic and the forgiving of sins. The great scripture writer, John L McKenzie writes well of these episodes in his commentary on Matthew in the Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968).

    We are being made well aware of the importance of weather and climate and of our responsibility to care for the earth, and to respect its power, that the calming of the storm points to. We are only too aware of the blessing of good physical health that the cure of the paralytic reminds us of, and in these high pressure times we are becoming more and more aware of the stress and strain that modern life places on people, especially young people. Mental health is now high on our agenda. The possessed men of Gadara are an important part of the gospel story.

    But the forgiveness of sins has slipped right off the page entirely. It has become a cast off along with religion in general. If God is absent from our life then offending against God is also displaced, and since truth is something to argue over, who is to say what is right and wrong anymore. We offend against one another all the time and truth is what I say it is.

    I grew up in a Church that had us drilled into confessing our sins on a regular basis and most of those sins were peccadilloes, until we reached our teenage years when the whole area of sexuality suddenly became the land of sin. We preached against our sexual nature until we frightened the wits out of people. Rigid religion alienated people from themselves as the Scottish poet Robert Burns well describes.

    Physical health and mental calmness and care for the earth that sustains us are all important to us, but sustaining us most of all is a spirit that seeks all that is good and just and beautiful and true. To offend against these realities is to make our selves really ill. That is sin –to offend against the good and the just and the beautiful and the true. Our human nature, of divine making, seeks fulfilment in these values and we seem to be closing our eyes in this modern media world to the good and the just and the beautiful and the true.

    Tomorrow we read a gospel that begins to show us the way to find wholeness and healing once again. Matthew, the sinner and tax-gatherer, a betrayer of his own people, is looked upon kindly by Jesus and is transformed. Mercy achieves what no amount of lecturing ever could, a heart transformed by love for love.

    The Church of my youth was heavily into confessing sin. Pope Francis today takes his line from the conversion of Matthew and the experience of receiving mercy. Jesus asks us to understand the nature of our sickness. Sometimes it is the body that is sick, and sometimes it is stress of mind. Sometimes the world itself is a stormy place. But most of all and closer to home we need to understand the sickness that lurks in our soul. To admit to being a sinner is not a negative, but is the beginning of our healing.

    ‘Be good,’ our mothers used to tell us as we went out to school in the morning. Be fair. Look for all that is beautiful. Respect truth always and everywhere. When we don’t do these things, let us willingly say, ‘I confess’ and say it in community, and know how merciful the good Lord is!

    Brian Fahy

  2. Sean O'Conaill

    #1 What about translating ‘sinner’ as ‘forgetter of God’s presence within me’?

    So enmeshed is ‘sin’ in the issue of sexuality that if you insist flatly to someone that all of us are ‘sinners’ his/her default interpretation of that is very likely to be ‘sexually indisciplined’.

    This, I believe, is why ‘covetousness’ is now missing from the latest version of the Catechism, replaced, mistakenly, by ‘avarice’. The latter is an inability to be satisfied with what one has, but to ‘covet’ is to allow our neighbour’s desires to determine our own: to want what he/she wants.

    It is the latter problem that lies at the root of social competition, all conflict, all social inequality. Nothing marks more clearly the irrelevance of the usual homily on ‘sin’ than the blinkers that Christendom placed on Catholic moral theology re the besetting sins of all social elites: vanity to begin with (the pursuit of admiration), covetousness to follow, and conflict to follow that (as revealed, for example, in ‘Game of Thrones’).

    Who could say that in the long era 312-1918 when it was exactly those sins that typified the very secular princes to whom the church was beholden to remain ‘established’? Tertullian and other pre-Constantinian Fathers could condemn ’emulation’ (rivalrous imitation – wanting what your neighbour wants) but under Christendom all noticing of the problems associated with human imitation stopped. No wonder that in 1999 Cardinal Gantin surprised everyone by attacking the ‘amazing careerism’ of bishops who had never been off his doorstep with appeals for a ‘better’ diocese.

    Did any bishop of Derry, for example, ever covet the Archdiocese of Dublin? If he did, could any Derry homily on ‘sin’ ever chide him for this, for ’emulation’? Does the question answer itself?

    It was the church’s replication in its own structure of the external pyramidal attitudes of ‘Christendom’ that distorted its own moral theology and homiletics – and gifted us our current problem with ‘sin’. Even bishops can forget that as God is within them they have everything they should ‘want’.

    It took a layman, René Girard, to pinpoint the sin of covetousness. As far as I know the only Catholic Bishop to catch up so far is Robert Barron. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSzF2OG2ejI )

    We also discuss Girard on the ACI site.
    See: https://acireland.ie/rene-girard/

  3. Joe O'Leary

    But to some extent René Girard is an heir to the French moralistes, who are very aware of “mimetic rivalry,” and who themselves are heirs of St Augustine. His entire opus, The City of God, is an attack on worldly ambition: “For I am aware what ability is requisite to persuade the proud how great is the virtue of humility, which raises us, not by a quite human arrogance, but by a divine grace, above all earthly dignities that totter on this shifting scene,” he says at the very start.

  4. Sean O'Conaill

    #3. Fascinating, Joe. Where might I find more on ‘French moralistes’ and ‘mimetic rivalry’?

    The first full biography of Girard has recently appeared. (Evolution of Desire, Cynthia Haven) (See below.) I finished it recently, finding quite a few of my questions about Girard’s Catholic influences (e.g. on his mother’s side) unanswered. There may have been a mention of Pascal, but I don’t think it was substantial.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Evolution-Desire-Studies-Violence-Mimesis/dp/1611862833/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1530969328&sr=1-1&keywords=haven+evolution+desire

  5. Joe O'Leary

    Actually the moralistes were enhanced and channeled to Girard by Marcel Proust. Girard adored Proust. Proust’s characters are consumed with the passions of mimetic rivalry!

    I met Girard once in 1979 after spending a day in Proust’s village of Illiers-Combray — he agreed that one should not visit that place as it deflates the novel.

  6. Joe O'Leary

    See Girard’s first book, “Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque” (1961; translated as “Deceit, Desire and the Novel,” 1966).

  7. Sean O'Conaill

    #5,6 I need to stop putting off reading Proust, obviously.

    In 2004 I was at a Girard-led conference in London, and heard René’s reading of the story of Susanna and the Elders from our Book of Daniel. Unforgettable!

    Thanks again, Joe.

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