22nd Sunday Reflection
An awakening reflection: The building rose into the heights, a veritable tower of Babel reaching to the heavens and beautiful to behold; shimmering white marble, a Taj Mahal set in the thirsty sands of the desert. I was led inside and upwards into the dizzying heights of the roof, and there I stood upon the spiralling scaffolding that led into the heart of the domed roof. But now I could see more clearly the places of rot and decay and a dread touched my heart as the rotting wood of the scaffolding gave way under my feet. I reached out with both hands to cling to the wooden crossbeams that supported the walls, but these also were rotting and pulling away from their anchoring nails. Downwards I fell, level after level as all the supporting crossbeams shattered, one after another. Finally, the falling stopped as my feet touched the foundations of the building. Not only was I unharmed, but once more I was in my youth, strong and virile. Now I recalled the challenge at San Damiano directed by the crucified Christ to our seraphic father, St Francis of Assisi: “rebuild my church, which as you can see, is falling down”.
You have seduced me Lord, and I have let myself be seduced, the anguished cry of Jeremiah as he tries to come to grips with God’s mission in his life. This is the cry of grief and confusion at what Jeremiah sees as the indifference of God to the apparent victory of violence, evil, and godlessness.
In our Gospel, we hear the same anguished cry of Peter as he recoils at the revelation of the Messiahs’ impending rejection, brutal humiliation, and murder, as he blurts out, “God forbid it, Lord! This must not happen to you.” Then that incredible harsh rebuke given to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on the divine will, but human ambitions.”
Then Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, deny yourselves, take up the cross and follow me”. This cross is the staff of Christ, as the staff of Moses, this is the staff of authority and renewal that brings water to the desert, the staff of penitents, judgment, and enlightenment.
This is the antithesis of the staff as a weapon of war, the staff of self-reliance and ambition, and the staff that claims the land as personal property. St Francis, little brother, and fool of Assisi understood so well this danger of relentless acquisitiveness.
God is abundantly clear; God’s way is not the way of violent power and retribution. The Messiah has come to bring an end to the circle violence by the greatest power in the universe; the power of love and light.
We also struggle to make sense of the love of God with the evil that we see in the world around us, or the oneness of God with the fragmentation of creation; an apparent dilemma. Yet in the letter of St Paul to the Church at Colossae there may be an answer to this dilemma; “He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross, and having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
This is the promise and our faith: Love and light ultimately triumph over evil, violence, and darkness. This is our only weapon. The illusion of Satan, of Shaytan, the accuser in contention with God in bringing order out of chaos, lies shattered….” and God looked upon creation and it was good.”
What does this revelation ask of us? What is the most important investment you can make with your life? Jesus poses some probing questions to challenge our assumptions about what is most profitable and worthwhile.
Conscience and the Church
In the pre-Vatican days, we rarely heard anything about conscience. When it came to moral decision making our minds were made up for us by church authorities. They told us what was right and wrong. Our job was to obey without question. All moral issues were viewed in a clear cut black and white fashion.
Then came Vatican II, which brought to the forefront the issue of conscience and its vital role in our search for Truth. The document on the ‘Church in the Modern World’, stated clearly the important role of conscience in the life of the Christian.
Deep within their consciences, men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For they have in their hearts a law inscribed by God. Their dignity rests in observing this law, and by it, they will be judged. Their conscience is people’s most secret core and their sanctuary. There they are alone with God whose voice echoes in their depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and of one’s neighbour.
In every decision of life, we are making ourselves a certain kind of person. The kind of person we are, our character, determines to a large extent the kind of future we will face and in which our children will have to live; the kind of relationships we will have.
It is possible that some can gain all the things they set their heart on, only to wake up suddenly and discover that they missed the most important things of all. To get to the top of the ladder and find it was resting against the wrong wall. Of what value is a large bank balance to mend a broken heart, or to cheer a lonely person; can it replace a lost love, a broken family, or a lost friendship?
Jesus asks the question: What will a person give in exchange for his life? Just like our relationships with each other, it is also possible to give God our money, but not ourselves, to give lip-service, but not our hearts.
A true disciple of Jesus has found the treasure of great value and gladly gives up all that he or she has in exchange for an unending life of joy, peace, and happiness with God who gives without measure. This is the joy and peace that God offers us today and which cannot be diminished by any particular sadness or loss or even an apparent victory of violence, evil, and impiety. Jesus proclaims, “The Kingdom of God is at hand”.
So we are called to live our Christianity as a lifestyle, a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. We must reject any clever “religion” which seeks to avoid this lifestyle itself. This clever religion has allowed that one could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain, and still believe that Jesus is their “personal Lord and Savior.” The world has no time for such silliness anymore. Our suffering and the suffering of the Earth is too great.