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Don’t be presumptuous!

July 31, 2014

Thursday of Week 17 (July 31st 2014)

Jeremiah 18:1-6 Matthew 13:47-53

I mentioned yesterday how being a prophet, speaking out against a corrupt or immoral society, is always likely to encounter opposition. This has certainly been true within the Catholic Church when individuals and groups have sought reform or have highlighted corruption. Saint Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus at a time when the Catholic Church was reeling from the effects of the Protestant Reformation. The Jesuits have always sought reform in the Church, emphasizing that reform begins with the individual. This is why, from their foundation, Jesuits have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and nowadays also a vow of obedience to the Pope.

And when they founded, in order to avoid getting involved in the corruption that had infected many local dioceses, the Jesuits deliberately set up their own separate organisation to win converts through preaching and teaching, independent of the control of local bishops, owing loyalty directly to the Pope.

Interestingly, the Jesuit promoted the idea of reforming the Church through individual conversion, and this links rather nicely with the first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah. God is described as being rather like a potter working with clay. When the individual item being made goes wrong, the same clay is used again – it is not thrown away: it is literally re-formed to make something that is perfect. Our Father in heaven does not give up on frail human beings. When they go astray, he continues to work on them, trying again in a different way.

Jeremiah was inspired to describe this image as a call for the re-forming of the Chosen People, to bring them back to God. The same can be seen to be true with the reforms made in the Church after the Reformation, with God re-working the human clay to root out abuses and make the Church focus again on its divine mandate to win converts; and today, we see Pope Francis looking to reform, to make the Church relevant to our modern times so that it can once again achieve its core mission of reaching out to people so that they will come to Christ.

This in turn is linked to the parable Jesus tells us in the Gospel. Once the fisherman has hauled in the net, the catch needs to be sorted.

The series of parables we’ve been hearing the last couple of weeks – weeds growing up amongst the good crops, buying a field to get the treasure, leaven in the flour, selling everything to get a perfect pearl – all these stories have a similar theme, and it is this: God chooses those who are given the gift of faith, but the catch can bring in a variety of Christians:

• Some take their faith seriously, and spend their lives working to conform themselves and what they do to the example of their Lord, Jesus. These are the specially selected fish placed in the basket.

• Others pay lip service and take it for granted that they’ll get to heaven just because they call themselves ‘Christian’ – this is a particularly dangerous misunderstanding of the idea of predestination – that once you’re baptised you’ll be OK, that God forgives regardless of how we lead our lives. That is the sin of presumption. These are the individuals at risk of being hauled in then thrown away,

Again, it was the Jesuits who emphasized the false teaching of those Protestants, who after they split from the Church, misinterpreted the Doctrine of Predestination with the false idea that because we know that God chooses those he wants to save, then once you’ve been chosen it’s a free ticket to heaven, without the need to lead a good life because the decision had already been made. Mistake.

• Sometimes amongst the Faithful there may be found corrupt and sinful individuals, evil influences, corrupted by the Devil, hiding in the Church for their own devious purposes: I’m sure you can see these weeds as the people who betrayed the trust of the Faithful in the shocking abuse scandals in the Church; these are the weeds allowed to be amongst the good seedlings for a time, but then gathered up and burnt at harvest-time.

Today’s word from Jeremiah, today’s Gospel, and the history of the Jesuits all remind us that although we have been chosen by God, we still need to persevere in leading a good life and worshipping God if we are to receive our heavenly reward. And we have a duty, all of us, to ensure that the Church does not go astray by tolerating sin or doctrinal error but faithfully stays with the Truth revealed to us by our Lord Jesus.

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