Aug 31, 2014

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Prophet Jeremiah was sent by God with a message that no one wanted to hear and which Jeremiah did not want to say. When the Lord first chose Jeremiah, he was reluctant. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Be not afraid … for I am with you to deliver you.” Jeremiah stood in the court of the Lord’s house and prophesied destruction for Jerusalem. A priest, upon hearing it, beat Jeremiah and imprisoned him. The next morning, the priest released him and Jeremiah prophesied again. This time his prophecy of destruction was against the priest. This is why Jeremiah complains that he can’t keep in the words that the Lord has sent him to say. He cannot contain his prophetic mission. Yet, he struggles with his emotions of fear and discouragement. At the same time, Jeremiah is open to the Lord’s movements. There is a mystery involved in choosing what the Lord has chosen without being deprived of interior freedom. So although Jeremiah complains to the Lord, he nevertheless accomplishes his mission and even praises the Lord while he is complaining to him!

Jesus, in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, has just been revealed by Peter’s confession to be the Messiah. Then Jesus immediately declares to his disciples the essential elements of his mission: to suffer, be killed and rise on the third day. The extent of their shock is evident in Peter’s response: “God forbid, Lord!” Jesus is quick to correct Peter’s attitude, precisely because the Son understands what the Father’s will is and why it is important. Jesus chooses what his Father has chosen. He is not forced by some external decree or some unbreakable power such that he is not free. He has chosen this in perfect freedom. But he still experiences real human emotion in regard to his death. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Father whether the chalice might pass him. St. Luke adds that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground (Lk 22:44).” But Jesus also prays, “nevertheless not my will but yours be done (Lk 22:42).” There is no imperfection in his will. He is just as committed to his mission as we heard in today’s Gospel. Just before he goes to the Garden, he will have already made an irrevocable liturgical offering of his body and blood to be given over for the remission of sins. He is not withdrawing his offer in Gethsemane, but acknowledging his emotions and even beginning his suffering for our sake.

What about us? Jesus tells us that we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, follow after him and even lose our lives. It is an easy thing to follow God’s will when it pleases us, when everything is glorious, attractive and all that we do ends in triumphant success. But Jesus says we must take up our crosses. He will tell Peter after the resurrection, “When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go (Jn 21:18). Here is the paradox: Jeremiah’s words will later be recognized as the inspired words of a prophet. His words will remind us that God has called us to fulfill his will. And we learn that God’s plan for us is greater than we can possibly imagine, especially when things are difficult. Peter’s death becomes his glory. Jesus’ death saves us from slavery and sin and even conquers death itself. In losing our lives we will save them. Crosses are not merely heavy burdens which can be set down whenever we wish. They are not simply unpleasant but rather irrelevant. Crosses are instruments for the purpose of crucifixion. Death. Unless we are willing to be crucified we will not be glorified. Unless we die to ourselves we will suffer the eternal death.

The very thought of our crucifixion, of dying to ourselves, is fraught with fear and desperation. So, St. Paul “urges” us “by the mercies of God to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” so that we “may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Rom 12:1-2).” It is a really hard thing to do. That is why we prayed that God would place in our hearts the love of his name and nurture in us what is good by deepening our sense of reverence. Having these emotions, whether of uncertainty, fear or discouragement, does not make us unfaithful, but without the grace of God we will be unable to move forward in doing his will. The reality is that we understand all too well how difficult it is to remain faithful to our call to holiness. We know that we are weak and prone to stumble and fall. We stumble often through sin. And our sin makes us stumble all the more. Our sin makes our hearts become selfish. A heart that is self-focused, turned in on itself, will miss the call to holiness that God places in it. We will lose the ability to join the Psalmist in pining and thirsting for God. We become parched, lifeless and arid – but we no longer know it. Like the priest in the Book of Jeremiah, we no longer recognize the truth when we hear it. Even worse, we rationalize and ignore it. We carry on with life, even our religious practice, but we are no longer able to discern God’s will. Our reverence fades and the love of his name dries up in our hearts.

There is a remedy. When Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow him, he also knew how frail we would be. He knew how often we would stumble and fall to the ground. The question is, are we ready to give up the whole world and hand our life over to him? What good is our spiritual worship if we refuse to let go of our sins? How quickly he will raise us up if only we let him! Jesus is waiting for you. He is waiting for you to choose him above everything else. He is thirsting and pining for you. Will you deny yourself and confess your sins to him?

Should you wish to confess your sins, we have regular confessions here on Saturdays at 3:00pm. I am always available, however, at any other time. You may also inquire at the office for an appointment and you don’t need to tell anyone why you wish to see me. I’m happy as well to meet at any time, even after parish office hours. Now I will leave you with this thought from St. Peter of Joseph Betancur, better known in Guatemala as Santo Hermano Pedro: “Only one soul do you have and if you lose it, what then will you do?”

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