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Practical Catholicism

August 31, 2014

22nd SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (A) (31st August 2014)

Jeremiah 20:7-9 Romans 12:1-2 Matthew 16:21-27

In the first reading we find Jeremiah calling on God for help because knows what the right thing is to do, but he is frightened of the consequences.

In the second reading St Paul is writing to Christians in Rome who are about to suffer terrible persecutions. He tells them that despite everything, they should abandon the ways of this godless world and as a result discover what God really wants for them.

Poor old St Peter yet again got it wrong in today’s gospel, and had another telling off from Jesus. Our Lord knows that following the right path will certainly be painful, but human thinking, trying to avoid difficult decisions, fudging fundamental issues of good and evil, or resorting to violence and brute force are the wrong way to go.

Our Lord, his prophet Jeremiah and his apostle Paul, all three followed their consciences, did what was right and suffered terribly as a result.

But what about us today? What about the real problems facing us? Who is going to do God’s will, in words or actions, to proclaim God’s truth? This is the real test for each of us. A test of faith. It’s where the rubber hits the road.

What if society has lost its way and what is needed is advice on how to do what is morally right, and that advice is not going to be welcomed by the powers that be? That is not easy.

But that, dear friends, is the world us practicing Catholics live in. If we are to have any chance of changing this fallen world, we have to engage. We all know that our faith is likely to be a stumbling block, because the way we place God at the forefront of our lives, our outlook on life, so often seems to conflict with the way wider society views things.

What are we to do?

It’s very difficult when the people in charge – our political leaders nationally and locally, our managers, our customers, our friends and colleagues are in denial about reality, and are caught up in the false world of double standards and weasel words, trying to justify the unacceptable, with everyone pretending everything is fine when we Christians can see it’s an immoral shambles.

For people are living in such a crazy, sceptical and hostile world, the last thing they want to hear is moralizing from some self-righteous dissident. That’s the Christian’s dilemma we Christians face all the time: how can I be involved if it means having to follow rules and procedures that compromise my integrity? How do I have the courage to do what is right? Because we know what happens to whistleblowers and people who stand up for their principles, for people who fight the system in a blame culture. And in all this, we have responsibilities – not least families to look after. Surely, we can’t risk everything by making a fuss?

This is a constant issue for God-fearing people. Jeremiah lived at a time when Jewish society and politics had become decadent, and people were at a loss about how to put things back on an even keel. In such circumstances people grasp at straws; frightened people need to blame someone, and they always seem to turn on the weak and vulnerable, especially foreigners. Same as today.

Jeremiah was speaking out against the political wisdom of his time, the scheming and warmongering of politicians; the nationalistic jingoism of the times made him very unpopular, even hated. Same as today.

Yet Jeremiah did speak out. Indeed, he complained to God that he had been exhausted trying to resist the urge to speak out.

What are we to do? Following Jeremiah’s example, following St Paul’s advice, heeding the prophecy made by our Lord, the answer is always the same. We must trust in God. We must be guided in our daily work by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Lord. And we can expect it to be painful. BUT…… God will always be by our side. If we don’t believe that, we’re wasting our time being here. That’s what it’s all about. We believe that God is with us, we believe in Jesus Christ, God made man, who is also called Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Incidentally, this message from God was given to St Joseph in a dream when he was facing a dreadful dilemma – what should he do about the girl he planned to marry, but who’d told him she was pregnant. Should he quietly divorce her? Or should he listen to God and, despite the consequences, do his best to look after her and the child? St Joseph chose to do the right thing.

God will always be by our side. With us all the way through it all, even if we don’t realise it.

But how do we know that we are inspired by the Holy Spirit? Again, this requires complete trust in God. In practical terms, when you are faced with a difficult decision, a moral dilemma, a conflict of interests, you have to do two things. First, if you can, do your homework before making any decision: find out what the Church teaches, seek advice from others. And secondly, as a thread running through all this, pray for guidance. I have done this on many occasions, particularly with the many moral dilemmas I faced in actions and decision I had to make in the thick of this evil world.

This is what the Church calls the ‘primacy of conscience’. Our own informed conscience is the ultimate authority – indeed the Catechism clearly states that each of us “must always obey the certain judgment of his or her conscience” The Church teaches that we must make spend our lives working to gain a properly informed conscience.

And many of us know that combining our faith and reason in this way really works. But what about in an emergency, suddenly being faced with a difficult choice? This needs a simple, spontaneous prayer like “Father in heaven, I am your servant. Inspire me with your Holy Spirit to do the right thing.” The inspiration I have indeed received in these circumstances does not mean I suddenly develop a halo or I feel some tremendous and confident power. We must pray in and with true humility. “Father, I am in your hands. Do with me what you will.”

So often, my own cry for help has produced surprising results. I don’t always realise it immediately; I may even feel hard done by, and unjustly treated. Or that I’ve not done enough. So, so often, I find the words that follow on from Jeremiah’s reading today come true: that through it all, the Lord has been at my side protecting me; that those who rejected me have been left completely at a loss as to how to get out of the mess they have created for themselves; and that they are finally exposed and disgraced for what they did.

And here’s a final practical tip. In a fallen world, sometimes it is better to work quietly and unseen. This world has been described as “enemy-occupied territory”. In such circumstances, a lot more can be achieved by discreetly operating ‘behind enemy lines’, within the system, quietly getting on with what we know is right. Sure, it will takes more work to go beyond the minimum of simply following the procedural rules, it may prove more difficult or painful, but as our Lord said:

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”

This is the Christian ideal we ask for in the Eucharistic Prayers when we hear the priest say the words,

“Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity.”

It’s about ordinary Christians working in the world with God’s help. It is a cry for God to help, wherever, whoever, whatever we are in this world, to devote ourselves to God and serve our neighbour selflessly, regardless of the cost. And it’s the saints in heaven, whom we aspire to join, that prove the power of this prayer being answered throughout history.

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