Homily for Mass – Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Sunday 7:30am, 9:00am & 5:00pm)
31 August 2014
(Readings: Jer 20:7-9; Ps 62; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27)
In choosing words to describe the people of our generation one word that certainly fits is “entertained.” We must be one of the most ‘entertained’ generations of human history. We have TVs that bring free-to-air and any number of paid stations; the internet can bring before our eyes practically anything; anyone who fears silence can carry around an i-pod or the like; – not to mention the omnipresent mobile phone, more than just a symbolic link with our network of contacts.
With the exception of the i-pod, I’m no stranger to any of the above. I do consider myself, lucky, though, to be just old enough to remember a world before email, and before everyone carried a phone around with them. At the moment I don’t get to watch much TV, but over the years, I have – like most of you, I’m sure – had my favourite shows on TV that I didn’t like to miss. I must admit, though, sometimes after sitting in front of the television for an hour or two, when I have got up and go to do whatever it was that had just been put on hold, I have said to myself, “Gee, there’s an hour of my life that I’m never going to get back!”
Today’s readings issue a real challenge, I believe, to a generation like ours that is completely saturated by the influence of “social” media, both the older and it’s newer forms. In the middle of the second reading, Saint Paul says: “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind” [that is, the mind of Christ]. In our day, almost 24/7 we are under the influence of what is coming into our minds through the TV, through the internet, and on our phones. And we have to recognize the force that that has on us and on our thinking, and believing. With that subtle pressure, it’s so very easy to just BE like everyone else. To think like everyone else – to believe like everyone else. When sociologists give reports they give the rather unfortunate statistic that on almost everything, Christian people (Catholics included) pretty much share the same values as everyone else. That should be an alarming statistic – unless our world has suddenly reached perfection! We should well ask the question, then: “have we modeled ourselves on the behaviour of the world around us? Have we failed to let our behaviour be modeled by Christ?”
There is a temptation to soften the hard edge of Christianity. We see this when we romanticize people like St Francis of Assisi. What Francis did was absolutely shocking to his family and most of his friends; shocking too for many in the church, priests and bishops included. The sight of Francis and his companions in their poor clothes, begging for food, earnt them heaps of scorn, suspicion and ridicule.
But those things are nothing new for followers of the Lord! We have, in our first reading today, the lament of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is ruing the day he accepted his vocation. He says that, as a result of following the Lord’s call, he is a daily laughing stock, everbody’s butt! As the prophet of the Lord he had to speak what God told him. And far from being some cosy, comfortable, message, God made him speak hard words, difficult words for the people to accept. Jeremiah summarizes that he had to speak “Violence and ruin!” to the people in God’s name. And so all that this has earnt him is insult and derision.
Jeremiah tries to ignore the Lord; to ignore his vocation as a prophet. He said to himself, “I will not think about [the Lord]; I will not speak in his name any more.” In other words, for Jeremiah it would have been far easier just to conform with the world around him – to go with the flow – rather than to speak the challenging words that the Lord asked him to say to His people. BUT, poor Jeremiah, ignoring his vocation wasn’t going to work. The effort to ignore the Lord “wearied [him]” he said, “I could not bear it.”
When we are living our lives, going about our daily things, perhaps doing what everyone else is doing, from time to time we’ll feel a gentle nudge inside ourselves. Perhaps it won’t be like “fire imprisoned inside our bones” like it was for Jeremiah. It might be as simple as that thought that I’ve felt after wasting too much time in front of the TV.
The gentle call of God in our hearts will force us to make some choices. The first choice we have, is like Jeremiah’s: we can ignore the call of God, or at least we can try to! And I think, our modern entertainment culture allows us to quite successfully drown out most of the subtle movements of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
But if we don’t ignore the movements of the Holy Spirit, then we need to wrestle with St Paul’s command to let our behaviour be modeled – not by the world around us – but rather by our new mind (that is, the mind of Christ). Jesus himself rebukes Peter for thinking in a purely human way, and for not being willing to accept the way that Jesus was presenting – a way that includes suffering and death.
When Jesus asks us to renounce ourselves – he’s asking us to renounce all that is false; all that the world makes us that is contrary to the way of God. He’s asking us to renounce our misuse of freedom; to renounce our selfish tendencies; to renounce all those things that have covered over the original beauty we had when we were made in the image and likeness of God. Renunciation – according to Jesus – is not about surrendering freedom, but in truly finding it, in the way God intends.
So, let’s be open to the challenge of the word of God to us today. If you are hearing the Lord speaking to you, calling you, inviting you in some way, to a deeper life in Him, what are you going to do in response?