Ampleforth Abbey

13 December 2017

Christ carrying the Cross (El Greco)

Homily preached by Fr Hugh Lewis-Vivas OSB at the Conventual Mass on Sunday 23rd June, the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Fr Hugh is College Guestmaster and Chaplain to St Hugh's House.

This is a time of change for many people. Most of the top year and 3rd year have left, the monitors for next year have been appointed and are settling into new roles, and when the present first year come back next term you’ll no longer feel that you’re at the bottom of a very large pile.

Change is something we can’t get away from in life, which is just as well because we need to change and develop as we grow.

When I was your age I thought I had most of the answers, and by the time I was at university I reckoned I was pretty close to knowing just about everything I needed to know about life. But then a funny thing started to happen.

The older I got, the less certain I became of many things. Which isn’t what you’d expect – is it? I suppose it was because I realised that the more I learnt, the more I could see how little I’d known before.

No matter how much we may know about something, we need to have the humility to realise that there’s always room for improvement. And I think that’s also true of the way faith develops.

Ever since God first made himself known to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, our understanding of how He reaches out to you and me has deepened and developed. Just look at the bible.

Many of the stories in the OT are a catalogue of treachery, massacre, racial hatred and ethnic cleansing. So it would be easy to be shocked and disedified if you took them just at face value. But if you look at them as the first steps of a people along the journey from barbarism to civilisation, from a superstitious and fearful relationship with their God and with other nations to one of being loving children, trying to follow the teaching of Jesus, then the words of St Paul from the first reading make sense: you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, there are no more distinctions between Jew & Greek, slave & free, male & female.

No more need to hate and fear others simply because they’re different from us; We’re all children of God. And like all sons and daughters of a loving father, we sometimes take advantage, enjoying all the benefits, but steering clear of anything that might make demands or be inconvenient.

In the gospel we heard The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously and  If anyone wants to be a follower of mine let him take up his cross every day and follow me.

Learning to live with each other, to tolerate each other, indeed, to love each other, can at times seem like taking up a cross, especially since human beings, left to our own devices, can be cruel and thoughtless.

You can't put 60 or 70 young people together in a house without expecting to see many different sides of human nature: the good, as well as the bad.

But just as so much of the barbarism of the OT was a stage in the journey towards Jesus’ more humane summary of the Mosaic Law Love God above all things and your neighbour as yourself, we too all need to look every day at how we live our lives deciding where we need to move on, where to improve.

In the gospel Jesus asked the disciples Who do you say I am? And it was Peter who replied – The Christ of God. That question is also addressed to you and me.

If we really believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and the bible has much more to back it up it than some of the rubbish people believe just because they read it on Facebook or Twitter, then does that belief show in the way we live our lives?

In the often quoted words of Cardinal Newman: to grow is to change, to grow perfect  ...  is to change often. We all have a chance to make a big difference to the lives of other people. With God’s grace may we choose to change for the better.