You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger. I am a daily laughing-stock, everybody's butt. Each time I speak the word, I have to howl and proclaim: 'Violence and ruin!' The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision, all day long. I used to say, 'I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more.' Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.
Second Reading Romans 12:1-2
Think of God's mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.
Gospel Reading Matthew 16:21-27
Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. 'Heaven preserve you, Lord;' he said 'this must not happen to you.' But he turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God's way but man's.'
Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.'
Sunday Reflection 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (03.09.17)
Ingrained Habits and Attitudes
How aware are we of deeply ingrained habits and attitudes? They may have become so enmeshed with our personality that we hardly realise the extent of the influence they bring to bear on our attitudes and daily decision-making. It may be only when we are unexpectedly challenged on an issue to which we have a deep attachment, that we become aware of how ingrained that attachment has become! Elections for either local or national government offices are a prime example. Religious affiliations, for a long time, used to be as ingrained as political affiliations but many believe this is no longer true.
St Peter, in Matthew's Gospel for the 22nd Sunday of the year (16: 21-27), gives us a first-class example. Just previously, responding to Peter's Holy Spirit inspired proclamation of faith in his Divinity, Jesus had nominated Peter as the principal foundational member of the Apostolic College. When, later, Jesus startles his apostles by foretelling his approaching suffering, death and resurrection, Peter's Jewish and deeply ingrained understanding of the promised Messiah takes over: "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you," Peter quietly says to Jesus.
The explosive nature of Jesus' response: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as do human beings" must have taken Peter by surprise and he falls silent.
The Jewish people are characteristically deeply aware of their history. Despite their previous experience of centuries of deportation and enslavement by other nations and, more recently, their subjugation by the Roman Army, the Jewish people still believed that God would keep his promise to their father Abraham. They believed that God would send a mighty warrior to lead them to the freedom they desired. That God-sent warrior would be their Messiah. This precious belief had handed on from generation to generation despite almost continuous persecution and terror.
Jesus was not asking his newly gathered disciples to make some minor adjustment to their inherited understanding of God's promise. He was challenging them to completely rewrite their understanding. Peter was not alone in finding this challenge difficult to comprehend. No matter how often Jesus repeated his teaching: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me … whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it", his words were met with bafflement and disbelief.
Are we, in the late 20th and early 21st century, seeing a minor refection of this incomprehension in the Catholic Church today? When Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the Church adopted his monarchical structure of governance. While empires and rulers have come and gone, the Catholic church has been the last absolute monarchy not only in the West but pretty much anywhere else in the world. Now, Roman Catholicism's monarchical structure is imploding, a process that has been under way for some decades.
Catholics continue to believe that The Truth, invested in his Church by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, remains whole and entire. What Catholics question is the manner of the Church's presentation of this Revealed Truth, together with its consequent directives, to both believers and non-believers.
The election of the first-ever Jesuit pope is for many Catholics, throughout the world, a providential moment. Pope Francis is clearly allowing the crumbling of the present form of governance and organisational structure of the Catholic Church to continue. He clearly believes that it does not faithfully reflect the model of ecclesial life found in the New Testament and recorded in the early centuries of the Christian Church.
In his 2013 apostolic exhortation 'Evangelii Gaudium' (The Joy of The Gospel), Pope Francis seeks to implement the principles and methods for his vision and his blueprint for the renewal and reform of the Church. Francis is laying the foundations for the reformation of the government of the Church. The theologian and journalist Fr Thomas Reese S.J. has listed what he considers to be Pope Francis' five great achievements:
The Pope evangelises by emphasising compassion and mercy.
He allows open discussion and debate in the Church. It is hard to exaggerate how extraordinary this is.
He has moved the discussion of moral issues away from rules to discernment, relying on God's grace in the lives of imperfect people.
He has raised environmental issues to a central place in the Catholic faith.
He has begun to reform the Curial structures of the Church. He is trying to change the attitude of all the clergy, especially that of bishops, that they are not princes but servants - as Jesus came to serve and not to be served.
By encouraging the use of synods in the dioceses as well as regions of the world-wide Church, the Pope is opening up the possibility for dialogue and discussion involving all God's people and not just male clergy. He is making it possible for all voices to be heard through the process of discernment. This is clearly his aim for the 2018 Synod dedicated to Young People, vocations and the Faith. By way of preparation, the Pope has launched a worldwide on-line process of discernment, thus making it available to all young people, including non-Catholics. He wants them to share their hopes and concerns.
Jesus' words to Peter and his subsequent explanation to the apostles of what lay ahead for him, as well as those who chose to follow him, was undoubtedly frightening. In a not totally dissimilar way, Pope Francis's words and decisions have brought fear to some senior clergy and laity within the Church. These, like the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus's day, believe that they can stop the present implosion by a strict and rigid adherence to moralising norms and liturgical rubrics. They are obsessed by a needed to control and rule the Baptised through the ranks of Ordained ministers.
As we know from the Gospels, Jesus needed to repeat constantly his vision in the hearing of his apostles and the people at large. Despite doing so, we know that many of Jesus' followers saw his crucifixion on Calvary as the end of the line. Perhaps this is a good moment to read it again and reflect upon Luke 24:13-35 - 'The Road to Emmaus'. Let's be clear, as Jesus walked with those two despondent disciples, so he walks today with his faithful people. We can equally be sure that he walks with his Vicar on Earth, Pope Francis.