Frances writes on this weekends readings :-
What is the homily at the Mass for, what purpose does it serve? Is it as some seem to think a period of respite from the liturgy in which one can drop into snooze mode or is it something altogether more significant and demanding? The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 133 responds thus: The Church ‘forcefully and specifically’ exhorts all the Christian faithful….to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Here then is the clue to our understanding of the Mass homily, which Pope Benedict takes up in Verbum Domini, reminding us that the Church is the home of the word and in his insistence, following Sacrosanctum Concilium on the significance of the homily in explaining and interpreting the scriptures. The Catholic faith has never been about blind following of the Lord, but about informed reading and understanding of God’s word under the guidance of grace. The use of our God-given reason is then essential in the development of faith and of our coming to an ever growing maturity in our relationship with God. This places an awesome responsibility on the priests to study and expound the scriptures to us and on our part to continue those studies and to grow in faith. As we were reminded at the Second Vatican Council, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Jeremiah the prophet learnt painfully the demands of this journey in faith as we see from our first reading, (Jeremiah 20:7-9). True prophet of God, as opposed to those false prophets at court; sycophants of the king who only told him what they wanted him to hear and served their own interests; Jeremiah, a man closely attuned to God stuck his neck out and opposed the current trends which favoured religious syncretism and had turned away from the God of Israel. Jeremiah saw that it was bringing disaster on his nation and stood out against the trend to his own detriment. He paid a heavy price in imprisonment, exile and the threats of his contemporaries. As he himself said, there were times when, completely fed up he thought it best to deny the promptings of his soul but then “there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones”. Jeremiah’s restlessness for God forced him to follow the rocky and uncomfortable road to the truth, not the quiet life of the ignorant or lazy who were only prepared to keep their heads down and not risk the uncertainties the quest for a deeper understanding of God can bring.
St Paul(Romans 12:1-2) addresses the need for the convert from paganism to change from the ways of the world around him. This is not simply slavish imitation that is called for; as we see, it is the effect of “your new mind”, or as the RSV puts it “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Either way, the meaning is similar, becoming a Christian makes demands upon our brains; it is not like paganism which had no belief system just liturgical practices. Being a Christian is about our growing ever closer to the heart of God: “Know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.” Our faith, our belief and worship of God is interactive and we study the scriptures in order to enter into the mind of God and to live like him.
Clearly this was a hard lesson for the first disciples to learn too, as we see in our gospel (Matthew 16:21-27). Acknowledged by Peter as the longed for deliverer of the nation, the Messiah or Christ, Peter was horrified when Jesus explained the implications of this great state. Unlike those who looked for the easy fix of a bloody revolution and a change in earthly power structures, Jesus knew that his way, the way he had chosen out of his deep knowledge of the Father, would end in his passion, and death on the cross. The redemption of sinful humanity would be at the cost of his own life as he lived out to the fullest the sacrificial love of God for a fallen world. It must have come as a complete bombshell to his closest followers, despite his previous anti-establishment behaviour and the miracles which showed forth the kingdom among the poor and needy. Jesus then went on the indicate precisely what the lives of true followers must be like; a taking up of the cross and an emptying of self after the pattern of God the Son who casts aside divinity for us.
In making our studies of the scriptures; in the renewing of our minds after the pattern of God, we will be called to make choices; informed choices which lead to actions which will vary enormously depending on our personal circumstances and on those around us. But unless we decide, quite wrongly and in opposition to the scriptures and the teachings of the Church, to live lives rigidly divided up into discrete segments rather than aiming at being a whole we will know that we have done the best we could in the sight of the Lord. Sometimes knowing you have done the right thing will be quite clear, sometimes it will become so through much suffering and difficulty; but, provided we make the attempt to live our lives out after the pattern of the ‘Word’ who became flesh for us through an ever deepening attachment to his teaching I believe we shall not go far wrong. Be Aware: this advice comes with a warning – it will not make for a life of ease, it is not made for the pleasure seeker, but the thinking Christian believer will find within it a lasting joy. When the Son of man comes in glory he “will reward each one according to his behaviour.”