Sunday, August 16, 2015

Year B Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Prv 9:1-6; Ps 34:2-7; Eph 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Forsake foolishness and put on wisdom. But what is wisdom? In Isaiah we read that “the wisdom of the wise shall perish [and] the prudence of the prudent shall vanish” (Isa 24:14). Building on this verse, St Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, wrote about true wisdom: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 3:22-25).

In our first reading from Proverbs we hear that Wisdom has built her house, prepared a banquet, and sent her maidens to call out over the city an invitation to the simple, to anyone who lacks wisdom, to eat her food and drink her wine (Prv 9:4-5). The invitation to feast on wisdom is given to one and to all. The one who eats and drinks wisdom does so to forsake foolishness and advance in understanding in order to have life, the life that is truly life. To live wisely is to live in such a way that you engage reality, that is, the circumstances you face each and every day, according to all of the factors that together make it up. At center of reality is the Incarnation of the Father’s only begotten Son. Pope St John II began his very first encyclical, Redemptor hominis (i.e., Redeemer of man), promulgated all the way back in 1979, with these words: The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (par 1).

You might be saying, “Okay, fine and well. I have no problem with that.” But I urge you today to consider this question, “Is Jesus Christ the center of my life?”

Faith that is truly faith is so much more than mere belief. Faith is our response to God’s initiative towards us. While it is a gift from God, faith is not passive, which is why we can’t reduce faith to mere belief. A person who has faith seeks to put Christ at the center of her/his life. To have faith means striving to make Jesus the axis around which everything else revolves - relationships, work, success, failure, joy, suffering, etc.

Applying truth to life is perhaps the best way to define wisdom. Too often, despite our mental and verbal professions, we fail to live as if what we profess to believe is true. Our reading from Ephesians tell us, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons, but as wise… because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). It is not easy now nor will it become easier to live as Christians, as those who seek follow Jesus wholeheartedly. We seem increasingly to inhabit a culture that moves between indifference and hostility to our faith. As Flannery O’Connor stated this well, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd.”

Allegory of the Eucharist, by Unknown English artist, painted between 1676-1725

Living according to the wisdom of God revealed in Jesus Christ makes it necessary each day to seek to “understand what is the will of the Lord” (Eph 5:17). As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer).

Out His great love and infinite mercy God gives us various means to receive the grace He so freely seeks to communicate to us. Grace is nothing other than God- who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- sharing divine life with us. In addition to the sacraments, which are the primary means of obtaining grace, God places prayer at our disposal. Priest and theologian Romano Guardini observed, “Without prayer, faith becomes weak and the religious life atrophies. One cannot, in the long run, remain a Christian without praying, as one cannot live without breathing” (The Art of Praying 5-6). Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, whether during adoration or simply before the tabernacle, is a most efficacious way of praying, of communing with our Lord, which is why the spiritual fruit of the fifth Luminous Mystery of the Holy Rosary, which mystery is our Lord’s institution of the Eucharist, is Adoration of the Eucharist and Active Participation at Mass.

What ties our reading from Ephesians to our Gospel today is the last verse: “giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Eph 5:20). The word “Eucharist” is Greek simply meaning to give thanks.

To obtain spiritual maturity we must move beyond mere sentiment. This does not mean that faith does not have an affective dimension. If it is truly faith, it assuredly does. We can’t help but be moved by the goodness and beauty of what God has done for in Christ Jesus our Lord. Who could not be moved, one way of the other, by these words of our Lord from today’s Gospel, which are direct and straightforward: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:53-54). Do you believe this? Have you experienced this for yourself? If so, what difference does it make in how you live each day?

My sisters and brothers, as He does each and every Sunday, even each and every day if we are able, our loving Lord invites us to the Eucharist, the wisdom feast, so that we can experience for ourselves, firsthand, His goodness, His love, His mercy, His wisdom. Let me be frank, what ails us is death. For a Christian death is not just a natural part of life, but is a horrific discontinuity, a monstrous disruption. God did not create us to die, but to live forever. Death came into the world and remains in the world because of sin. St Ignatius of Antioch, a second century bishop and martyr, summed up Jesus’ words to us today very well when he wrote that the Eucharist “is the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Ephesians, chap 20). What gives St Ignatius' words credibility is that he wrote them while being in led in chains to Rome where he died a martyr. He had no illusions about what would happen to him. This is true wisdom, the wisdom of God, which confounds human wisdom.

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