Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for 19thSunday in Ordinary Time
Year C: Wisdom 18:6-9; Ps 34; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass with a Baptism)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
With the 18thcentury philosophical movement called “the Enlightenment”, however limited enlightened, and continued with the Atheism of our time, Christian faith widely came to be held as something irrational, made redundant by empirical science.
Empirical science is good, and has its primary cause in God. But it can only inform us about objects inthe world, available for experimental examinations. God, on the other hand, is not an object in the world. When empirical science is the rational approach to objects and causes within the universe, faith is the rational approach to Being itself; to God, who is the one enabling the world, all causes and everything in it, including us, to exist. And therefore, gives meaning and purpose to everything, when everything as well did not need to exist at all.
This is underlined by our readings for today. Faith is to believe in something, to “put … trust in” something to be true, as said in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom. It proves “the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen”, according to the magnificent meditation in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. We believe in the existence of God and, above, his love, i.e. his will of our communion with him, and salvation from the blind alleys created by us humans when we do not count on God, but only on ourselves. Thus, our faith also is a belief in someone, a trust.
As reasonable beings, humans have always sought God. This is called “natural religion”. Our responsorial psalm exalted us to “taste and see” the Lord’s goodness. But this presupposes not only a divine revelation, but also that God makes himself accessible in our natural, in-worldly reality and literally gives himself to us, by becoming human and through his Holy Spirit granting us a share in his life. This gift is grace. And grace is what makes Christian faith unique among religions. Christian faith is supernatural, i.e. gives us as parts of the natural access to whom, in superseding and enclosing everything natural remains unseen, but whom we hold as true and trust that he will come to us.
In today’s gospel Jesus Christ, God who really has come to us, uses imagery to present himself and the Church, which he founded as our vehicle on the road he constitutes to God the Father. So that our faith better can become our only treasure where our heart, i.e. our very personal core and depth, will be. Jesus is the master of the house and all faithful are his servants, preparing to stand before him on the Last day.
The house is the Church, the breakthrough of holiness in human history, with Jesus’s hidden presence in her unchanging teaching and seven sacraments, and where Jesus’s authority is delegated to a few head servants, stewards, with a certain responsibility; i.e. the teaching office by the bishops in communion with St. Peter and his successors. And absolutely not to rule, but to convey the Christ whom the apostles learnt to know, so that each one of us can grow in a personal relationship to Him as he really is, and not to a product of ourimagination or manipulation.
Being Catholic is to allow the trust in Christ to be transformed into a trust in the Church. A trust indeed put to test when some stewards and their helpers turn out to be lacking both faith and will to live it. But the right attitude to such trials is to remind oneself about what God truly wants with his Church: to always keep Christ’s way to eternal life open. And that he therefore always is present in her, no matter the sinfulness and deficiencies of servants on all levels. Our readiness to listen to, and obey, the Church in that which she continuously teaches about God’s plan and the path to God, actually expresses our unmoved trust in Christ, her head.
The Church is the Lord’s house, not a cafeteria with products to choose between. Therefore, one cannot, as some unfortunately do, accept the teaching of the Church on some areas – like e.g. on honesty, charity, justice or that Jesus wanted the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist as we have them – and on the same time reject the teaching on other areas – like e.g. the sanctity of life, on body and sexuality or that Jesus wanted an all-male sacrament of orders. Doing this is the temptation of a culture worshipping the golden calves of individualism and individual choice, and what at the moment is fashionable, instead of God.
The Church is not there to confirm what we want or feel, albeit so strongly. The Church is not there for use when it suits me – a little sacrament here, a fitting service there. The Church isthere to make us holy, to turn sinners into saints, sharing in God’s eternal life starting here and now; to strengthen us by the sacrifices needed for holiness. As the English, Catholic, 20thcentury writer G.K. Chesterton has put it, regarding this, the Church’s loving, but so ungrateful, task: “I don’t need a church to tell me I’m wrong when I know I’m wrong; I need a church to tell me I’m wrong when I think I’m right”.
Today, Jesus reminds us that we are not individuals floating around in the universe for a short while with the sole purpose to construct ourselves. Instead, we are members of his household with other faithful, those who believed before us, all saints in heaven, and those who we hand the faith to. With a vocation to allow him to increasingly live within us; to transform not only us but all our relations and contexts, drawing everything closer to holiness, to Him. Jesus reminds us of this through the act of baptism of a child we are now about to conduct.
By receiving this sacrament, little Max will be freed, indeed die, from the guilt and destiny of original sin haunting the whole of humanity, and given a new life, a second birth, in Christ, through becoming member of the Church, Christ’s household, mystical body, with an option to share in Christ’s resurrection.
The responsibility for giving God’s incarnate and living word good conditions to grow in Max, is now held by his parents, god parents and this parish, until he is old enough to take on the task by his own. Let us all now begin taking this responsibility by carrying forward our intercessions and thanksgiving. In faith; the trust God wants from us to bestow upon us all the joy and life he has promised. Amen.