Echoes of the Word 5th September 2016
Sometimes, Jesus’ words in the Gospel are very troubling, at least at first bring, and this is one of those times. Is he really asking us to hate those things and people that we hold most dear in our lives? Other passages in the Scriptures (not least ten Ten Commandments) tell us that this cannot be the case, at least not in this simplistic and literal sense. Our family, our own lives, and our possessions are all most fundamentally God’s gift to us, given so that we might more easily find our way to him through the world. In this sense, all of the things Jesus mentions can help us in our quest to be his disciples. The problem comes when we see things not as means, but as ends in themselves; things can then stop helping us to find Jesus, and can actually shut him out. Remember Jesus is writing at a time when many new converts might have been sorely tempted to abandon him under pressure of their families.
We might make our own the Collect for the 17th Sunday of the year:
O God, protector of those who hope in you,
without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy,
bestow in abundance your mercy upon us
and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may use the good things that pass
in such a way as to hold fast even now
to those that ever endure.
The Victory of the Cross, a reflection
This month we celebrate the feast of the Triumph of the Cross (14 September), and the day after that of Our Lady of Sorrows (15 September). At first sight these might seem to be odd celebrations. Why do we want to dwell on Our Lady’s Sorrows, rather than focussing on her joys? Why do we stay with the Cross, rather than joyfully moving onwards to the bright new light of the resurrection? Isn’t this simply morbid?
If we want to look at the Cross, and at human sorrow, in a different way, one place to start is with the words of St Paul in his letter to the Romans. Paul opens the letter by explaining that he has long wanted to bring the Good News to Rome, and at one moment in his opening words he comments that: “I am not ashamed of the Good News; it is the power of God saving all who have faith.” These are challenging words. No one usually feels the need to apologise for good news, let alone suggest that there might be something shameful about it. But Paul explains that the Good News which he proclaims is bound up with what God has done to save us. It is as though he feels an immediate need to develop the powerful words about Jesus being truly human as we are and being raised up from the dead in the Spirit with which he opens the Letter to the Romans. The invitation to each one of his readers to realise that they are God’s beloved and that he wants them to be saints needs something to complete it.
Paul knows that the Good News is not simply the cheerful news. He knows that God’s action in the world, action which is still continuing today, is having the effect of saving us – not simply cheering us up, or comforting us in difficult times. The cross is not simply the sign of Jesus’ humility, of his full acceptance of the human condition, as the Letter to the Philippians that we hear on the feast day explains. It is what God’s love looks like when projected onto the human condition. Nothing is held back, and all is given. And when the same suffering enters into our own hearts – as it entered into the heart of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows – we are invited by looking at the Cross, and by contemplating her suffering, to see along with that suffering the love of God that comes alongside it, the same love of God that is both love for God and, what is more, God’s very own love that comes into our hearts so that we can make it our own – and with it the resurrection and the Holy Spirit.
Fr Luke Beckett OSB