August 19, 2012

HOMILY for the 20th Sunday per annum (B)

Prov 9:1-6; Ps 34; Eph 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

- preached at Nunraw Abbey in a retreat given to the Edinburgh Divine Mercy group

Sometimes we can think that we need to be perfect to come to the Lord’s Altar. Or we may know people who think that we’re hypocrites, we Christians, because we’re not all saints. Or we might feel hypocritical, unworthy, etc. And yet, Christ came for us; he didn’t come for the perfect. As he says, “I have come to call sinners not the righteous”. That is how a God of mercy behaves. 

We find this sense in today’s First Reading too. Wisdom, who is taken to by Christ himself, the incarnate Wisdom of God, calls the ignorant and the foolish. So, Wisdom calls those who are the antithesis of herself. Hence, Christ who is sinless calls sinners; Christ who is merciful and peace-loving calls the violent, the ruthless, the angry. Why? Because, like the children of yesterday’s Gospel, Christ calls such people to himself because they are in need. They are in need of love, and this is how a God of love acts. 

Our tendency is to avoid those who are different from us, those who antagonize us, and despise us. Some Christians even avoid other people whom they might consider notorious sinners. Who might these be today? For some, abortionists? Or militant homosexuals? Or right-wing Fascists? For others, Traditionalists? Or, perhaps, politicians!

But our God of mercy and love does not avoid nor turn away such people. On the contrary, he seeks them out, he calls them to himself, he prepares a banquet for them. For he has come to seek and save the lost. Thus, he has also come to seek and save us. We, who are so often foolish and ignorant in our ways of thinking and acting: God has come looking for us. 

He has come, as I said, yesterday, to teach us. He teaches us by his Word and by his Sacrament to love. He teaches us to give for the good of others. He teaches us to be merciful. Which means that, ultimately, God is calling us to reach out to those whom we would typically rather avoid. But not from a position of superiority, for we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy, love and instruction. Rather, we are called to reach out to others from a heart that is filled with charity, with love and mercy. 

As sinners, too, this means we should be able to have compassion, suffering with the other who is foolish and ignorant as we are. But as Christians, filled with divine charity, we are also filled with joy because God has been good. We rejoice because God has been merciful to us, and has called us, even though we are unworthy and imperfect, foolish and ignorant, to his banquet. We exult and are thankful because Christ, God himself, wants to teach us, and the goal of the lesson is that through learning to love as God loves we should become divine as God is. 

So, Christ gives us to eat and drink the bread and wine of his love, so that we become drunk on God’s love. And what might drunkards do? They sing and dance in the streets, they cannot repress their happiness. Hence St Paul encourages the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit, to sing and give thanks to God. For it is through their Christian joy, through their lives of love and mercy that they will “redeem” the world. So it is for us. 

If we’re to reach out to others, then, we do so out of love, and through our friendship and joy together, through our hope even in adversity and suffering, and through our laughter and caring fellowship together. Nietzsche once said: “You [Christians] will have to look more redeemed if I am to believe in your redeemer.” Because in a world that often appears hopeless, that is cynical and pessimistic, that feels helpless, we “redeem” the world, and offer it an experience of God’s mercy, when we are openly joyful in the Lord. 

This is possible if we really “walk in the ways of perception”, that is, learn from God’s Wisdom, and live in God just as he lives in us. In other words, this deep joy that redeems the world is possible when we ourselves have first been redeemed through the Eucharist. For the Eucharist is the Sacrament of God’s love and mercy, and through it we are given a share in the life of God, we are given Life. And we are given love, peace and joy. For that is what we find in the Holy Trinity. And when we receive the Eucharist with openness and trust, if our hearts are ready to receive God’s graces, then the Holy Trinity comes and dwells in us. So, heaven is found on earth, in our hearts when we receive Holy Communion. As St Faustina says, the Lord says to us: “But I want to tell you that eternal life must begin already, here on earth through Holy Communion. Each Holy Communion makes you more capable of communing with God throughout eternity”.

What greater source of our joy and bliss, of hope and consolation can there be than to receive the Eucharist? Our whole perspective on life changes when we are opened to heaven in our hearts, and eternal life begins! Hence, it is from this intimate union with God that we learn to love as he does, to be merciful in our dealings with sinners - both ourselves and with others - and, finally, that we have the Spirit-filled joy that will attract others. For our world is in need of joy, hope, and love, and if it is evident that we possess these in abundance, then, at the very least, curiosity will draw them to us. 

The rest, we leave to God, who alone can convert hearts. For he came to call sinners and not the righteous to repentance. So, let us go to him, and eat and drink the Eucharist so that we, in turn, might be made eucharistic.

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