Sunday Reflections

August 31, 2014
August 31, 2014

Twenty second Sunday of the Year

Synopsis

Introduction: The readings for this Sunday remind us that Christian discipleship demands self-control (“Deny yourself”), the willingness to suffer (“take up your cross”), generosity (“to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God”), and readiness to follow Jesus by obeying his commandment of love. Today’s readings explain how this Christian mission should be accomplished. Jeremiah, in the first reading, is a certainly a prototype of the suffering Christ.  In the responsorial psalm (Ps 20: 11-13), the psalmist manifests his profound trust in God, just as Jeremiah himself does. In the second reading, Paul advises the Romans and us (Rom 12:1-2): to ‘’offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God by explicitly rejecting the ungodly behavior of the world around us and by discerning and doing the will of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes his disciples by surprise when, after Peter's great confession of faith, he announces that he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." After correcting Peter’s protest, Jesus announces the three conditions of Christian discipleship: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” 

Life messages

1: We need to be extremophiles for Christ: True disciples of Christ are:  a) extremely compassionate; they are: willing to visit the infected and the sick in hospitals, the incontinent elderly in nursing homes, and AIDS patients in hospices; b) extremely humble; they are able to see that every good gift comes from God alone, and that His gifts to us of personal talents and resources should inspire gratitude, not pride; c) extremely patient; they are committed to working with challenging children, adolescents with problems, young adults who are struggling with their faith, with the intellectually challenged and with those suffering dementia; d) extremely forgiving; they are willing to forgive not just once, or twice, but again and again, because they know that God has forgiven them again and again; e) extremely loving; they willingly visit people in prisons, in retirement homes, and  in homeless shelters; f) extremely faithful; they are living out a committed, trusting relationship with God, with spouse, with family and friends.

2: We need to ask these questions as we examine our conscience. A true disciple asks, "Am I willing to sacrifice something for the kingdom?"  How can I offer even the day-to-day sacrifices of my Faith that demand things I don't want to do?  Can I sacrifice some of my time in order to visit a homeless shelter or soup kitchen? Can I sacrifice my job security and refuse to "go along" with a policy that is unjust? Can I sacrifice my need to be in control and let Christ do with me whatever he may will? Can I refuse to let my children watch television programs filled with sex and violence or put restrictions on the use of their cell phones and Internet use? Can I insist on daily family prayer, take my whole family for Sunday Mass and enroll my younger children in Sunday school and my older children in parish youth programs and parish activities?

Twenty second Sunday of the Year : Jer 20: 7-9; Rom12:1-2; Matthew 16: 21-27 

Anecdote

1: Valerie Price, Maximilian Kolbe and Dom Helder Camara:  Here is the story of three Christians who accepted the challenge of Christian discipleship given in today’s Gospel, by “denying themselves, taking up their crosses and following Jesus." Twenty-three year-old Valerie Price went to Somalia to work as a nurse. She wanted to help people who had nothing. She wanted to offer them a better way of life. Valerie was concerned about her safety, but nothing could stop her from doing her work. She was put in charge of a feeding center in Mogadishu. Through her efforts, children who had been near starvation were fed. Valerie even established a school so the children could learn and have some hope for the future. She became nationally known for her committed service.  Valerie, however, was killed by armed bandits outside the school she had started.   She was willing to risk her life to help other people. 

Maximilian Kolbe was born in Poland. It seems that his early years – while good – were not that remarkable. He was devoted to Mary. He became a priest.  His faith was important to him. But when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Kolbe saw the writing on the wall.  He knew that if he were to be a person of Faith – and be true to his Faith – he would probably have to suffer.  In February 1941, because he spoke out against the horror of the Nazis, he was arrested and imprisoned at Auschwitz.  On July 30, 1941, a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz, and in retaliation, the commandant of the camp lined up the inmates of cellblock 14 and ordered that ten of them be selected for punishment. They would be consigned to an underground bunker and starved to death. Ten men were selected. One of them, Francis Gajowniczek, cried out in tears, “My poor wife and children! I will never see them again.” At this point Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to take his place. The commandant accepted his offer, and so Fr. Maximillian Kolbe assumed his place among the condemned. By August 14, Kolbe was dead, his body cremated in the camp ovens. 

Dom Helder Camara was an Archbishop of the poorest and least developed Archdiocese of Brazil.  But he has been described as "one of the shapers of the Catholic Church in the second half of the twentieth century." Early in his life, he was part of a conservative political movement inspired by Italian Fascism. But as he became more and more involved in pastoral work in Rio de Janeiro, he became increasingly affected by the poor. In trying to relate the message of the Gospel to their sufferings, he underwent a radical conversion which finally reached the point where he himself was labeled a Communist and called “the red bishop.” His was an outspoken witness for peace and social justice in a land ruled by a brutal military dictatorship. Dom Helder’s message was reflected in his style of leadership.   Instead of a pectoral cross of gold or silver, he wore a simple wooden cross. He moved out of the bishop’s palace and lived in a much poorer house.  He encouraged the training of lay catechists and opened the seminary doors to lay people and women. His own door was always open to any who sought him, and he presented himself as truly the servant of the people. His house was sprayed with machine-gun fire, his diocesan offices were repeatedly ransacked, he was banned for thirteen years by the government from any public speaking, the newspapers were not permitted to mention his name, and even the Church in Rome continually questioned his orthodoxy. When he retired as Archbishop of Recife, his conservative successor reversed nearly all his initiative. He died on 27 August 1999, aged 90. But his spirit lives on.  

Valerie and Maximillian Kolbe and Don Helder Camara did not choose to suffer – they chose to live the Gospel, to be true to the covenant God offered them. Valerie wanted to serve the poor – she didn’t want to be shot to death. Maximillian Kolbe wanted to preach the Gospel in every way possible – he didn’t want to be starved to death. Don Helder Camara wanted to be with his people – he didn’t want to be reviled.

2: Jesus’ call to be extremophiles or "extreme-lovers." Probably, you've never met these creatures called "extremophiles." This is because they are extremely small microorganisms which live in environments where the Fahrenheit temperature ranges either from 170 to 215 degrees (water boils at 212 °F), or several degrees below freezing point -- or in acidic media. One such extremophile is Pyrococcus furiosus. Pyro is only one of many microorganisms attracting the attention of scientists today. Biotechnologists are learning a lot from such microorganisms living way out there, in dangerous places like hot springs, polar ice caps, salty lakes and acidic fields. They live in conditions that would kill humans and most plants and animals. Extremophile microbes are also busy industrialists, reports The Futurist magazine, because they produce enzymes that are enormously useful in the food, chemical, pharmaceutical, waste treatment and other industries. Suppose you need an enzyme to replace bleaching by Chlorine.   If so, you contact Diversa Corporation, a California biotech firm, which tells you that a bleaching enzyme produced by a Pyro and some of his hyperthermophilic relatives living in the steaming geothermal springs of Yellowstone National Park could provide an alternative to chlorine in paper-whitening processes. (Cynthia G. Wagner, "Biotech Goes to Extremes," The Futurist, October 1998). Today's reading points us to the Greatest Extremophile of all time. In the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus reveals himself to be an extremophile, showing his disciples that "he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (Matthew 16:21). When Peter objects to this extremely painful prediction, Jesus rebukes him sharply: "Get behind me, Satan! ... you are setting your mind not on Divine things but on human things." He then tells his disciples: "If any of you wants to become my follower, you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (16:24-25).

Introduction: The readings for this Sunday remind us that Christians are called to live their lives in a different way from others around them. Christian discipleship demands honesty, the willingness to suffer (“take up your cross”), generosity (“to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God”), and readiness to follow Jesus by obeying his commandment of love. Today’s readings explain how this Christian mission should be accomplished. Jeremiah, in the first reading, is a certainly a prototype of the suffering Christ.  In the responsorial psalm (Ps 20: 11-13), the psalmist manifests his profound trust in God, just as Jeremiah himself does. In the second reading, Paul advises the Romans and us (Rom 12:1-2): to ‘’offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God by explicitly rejecting the ungodly behavior of the world around us and by discerning and doing the will of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes his disciples by surprise when, after Peter's great confession of Faith, he announces that he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." After correcting Peter’s protest, Jesus announces the three conditions of Christian discipleship: “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Unless we constantly remind ourselves of the demands of this difficult vocation from God, we will fail to be the kind of disciples that Christ expects us to be.

The first reading: Jer 20: 7-9:  The prophet Jeremiah lived from about 650 B.C. to about 580 B.C. Most of his work was done in Judah's capital, Jerusalem. Jeremiah was sent by God, "to tear up and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow" (Jer. 1: 10). He tried to keep a people who lived in an atmosphere of political intrigue and backstabbing faithful to God. Jeremiah was regarded as a traitor by his own people because, as God's mouthpiece, he had to foretell the dire results that would follow from their plan of revolt against the mighty power of Babylon. So he became depressed and complained bitterly to God. The English word jeremiad means an elaborate and prolonged lamentation or tale of woe. Today's passage in the first reading is the purest of jeremiads. In it, Jeremiah accuses Yahweh of tricking him and offers us a powerful description of someone suffering for obedience to his conscience. 

In the second reading, Paul advises the Roman Christians that they must live their Christian lives in such a way that they differ both from the Jews and from the pagans. St. Paul calls them to adopt an attitude of sacrifice in their worship of God.  In order to do this, they must explicitly reject the behavior of the world around them. Paul tells them, and us (Rom 12:1-2): “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” to God.  Paul then explains that the sacrifices that should be offered are not the animals or grain of Jewish Temple worship, but their bodies "as a living sacrifice ... spiritual worship."   In this way, by non-conformity to their own age, they should differ from the Jews and the pagans as we, in our turn, must do. Like Paul’s Christians, we, too, must "discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect, "and then do it. 

Exegesis
"Get behind me, Satan!” After Peter had confessed his faith that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus, in today’s Gospel, explained to the apostles what Messiahship and discipleship really meant. Jesus realized that, although he had predicted his suffering and death three times, his disciples were still thinking in terms of a conquering Messiah, a warrior king, who would sweep the Romans from Palestine and lead Israel to power. That is why Peter could not bear the idea of a suffering Messiah. It was then that Jesus rebuked him so sternly, "Get behind me, Satan,” in an attempt to nullify this temptation to shrink from the work for which He had come. It was the same kind of rebuke as those He had delivered to Satan in the wilderness. Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: "Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It's your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go."  Satan is banished from the presence of Christ, and Peter is recalled to be Christ's follower.   Like Peter, the Church is often tempted to judge the success or failure of her ministry by the world’s standards. But Jesus teaches that worldly success is not always the Christian way.

Three conditions of Christian discipleship: After correcting Peter for trying to divert him from his way of the cross, Jesus declares three conditions for his disciples: a) deny yourself b) take up your cross and c) follow me. A) Self denial means evicting selfish thoughts, desires and tendencies from our hearts and letting God fill our hearts. It also means being cleansed of all evil habits, enthroning God in in our hearts and sharing that God with others. B) Carrying the cross with Jesus always means pain and suffering. But our sufferings become the cross of Jesus only when we suffer by serving others selflessly or when we give ourselves -- our health, wealth, time and talents – to others until it hurts us, or when we join our physical, mental or emotional sufferings to Jesus’ and offer them with him to the Father in reparation for our sins and those of the world, or when we work with the Spirit purifying us through our personal sufferings or penitential practices. C) Following Jesus means that, as disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God by obeying Jesus' commandment of love. To follow someone who has asked us to "take up our cross" daily seems foolish.  But in the words of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “to be a fool for Christ is the greatest compliment the world can give. You and I are in good company, because most of the saints embraced the Cross of Christ and were considered fools for doing so.”  

Losing life, finding life: Matthew was writing for the Christian community in the bitterest days of persecution – A.D. 80-90. Hence, he emphasizes Jesus’ teaching that a man who is faithful may die for his faith in Jesus, but in dying he will live. The man who risks everything for Christ finds life.  On the other hand, the man who abandons his faith for safety or security may live, but he is actually dying. History is full of noble souls who risked their lives for the sake of others. If certain scientists had not been prepared to take risks, many a medical cure would not exist.  If mothers were not prepared to take risks, no child would ever be born. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that there are constant opportunities for us to choose to be true to the Gospel.  But the world is essentially opposed to the Gospel and those who live out its truths.   Archbishop Desmond Tutu was questioned once as to whether or not he was a politician.  He answered “No, I am not. I am a church person who believes that religion does not deal just with a certain compartment of life. Religion has relevance for the whole of life, and we have to say whether a particular policy is consistent with the policy of Jesus Christ or not, and if you want to say that that is political, then I will be a politician in those terms….My role, the role of people of Faith, is to be able to say: 'Thus saith the Lord.'"

Life messages

1: We need to be extremophiles for Christ: True disciples of Christ are:  a) extremely compassionate; they are: willing to visit the infected and the sick in hospitals, the incontinent elderly in nursing homes, and AIDS patients in hospices; b) extremely humble; they are able to see that every good gift comes from God alone, and that His gifts to us of personal talents and resources should inspire gratitude, not pride; c) extremely patient; they are committed to working with challenging children, adolescents with problems, young adults who are struggling with their faith, with the intellectually challenged and with those suffering dementia; d) extremely forgiving; they are willing to forgive not just once, or twice, but again and again, because they know that God has forgiven them again and again; e) extremely loving; they willingly visit people in prisons, in retirement homes, and  in homeless shelters; f) extremely faithful; they are living out a committed, trusting relationship with God, with spouse, with family and friends. 

 2: We need to ask these questions as we examine our conscience. Does my Church offer a Faith strong enough to command a sacrifice on my part? Do I have enough Faith to offer up a genuine sacrifice for Christ's sake? Can a Church in today's self-centered culture ask its people to sacrifice something for the sake of the Gospel? Jesus' challenge to all would-be disciples requires more than a "feel-good" spirituality. A true disciple asks, "Am I willing to sacrifice something for the kingdom?"  What made it possible for first-century Christians to choose a martyr's death? What has kept generations of Christians from losing faith and falling apart when confronted by the violence and hatred of this world? How can I offer even the day-to-day sacrifices of my Faith that demand things I don't want to do?  Can I sacrifice some of my time in order to visit a homeless shelter or soup kitchen? Can I sacrifice my job security and refuse to "go along" with a policy that is unjust? Can I sacrifice my need to be in control and let Christ do with me whatever he may will? Can I refuse to let my children watch television programs filled with sex and violence?

Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (akadavil@gmail.com) and published in the CBCI website by the Office for Social Communications. You may contact akadavil@gmail.com for weekday homilies, and a dozen more additional anecdotes

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