Saturday, 9 July 2011

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9.11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Belief in God would soon die out if people did not experience him. This is why, try as they might, the enemies of God will never succeed in exterminating the Faith. Just when they think they are winning the battle, right under their noses, some of their own number suddenly admit that they have come to believe.

Even in our day, with the proliferation of those who believe themselves too mature, too enlightened, or too scientific to believe in the God we lesser mortals have surrendered our lives to, they discover to their horror that other atheists are experiencing conversion.

The mysterious fact is that people experience God - at home, at work, in church, in prison, in professional institutes and research laboratories, and everywhere else - because you just can't stop God.

There is a story that Napoleon, speaking to a cardinal, threatened to destroy the Church. The cardinal allegedly replied, 'We have been trying to do that for centuries and we've had no success at all.'

The mistake the enemies of Christianity make is that they think God is just an idea they can erase, discredit, supersede, destroy. But God is a living Person, three Persons, in fact.  The idea of the Trinity is not just an idea, it is a living reality who reveals himself to those willing to enter into dialogue with him. This 'revealing' has the further consequence of drawing the willing into communion with him; a communion which delivers a confidence, a happiness and a peace which nothing else known to man can deliver.

In this context we do well to identify the difference between knowing something and experiencing something, or in this case, someone. Today's liturgy is full of examples of both these aspects of a healthy religious faith. Take for example the very objective way St Paul informs us that if we live unspiritual lives we are 'doomed to die' while if by the Spirit we put an end to the misdeeds of the body 'we will live'.

His words are undoubtedly true and instructive and important, but hardly likely in themselves to bring about a deep faith. It is only when we experience this dying and living in our own lives that our faith becomes full-blown.

Consider the kind of faith that can produce the exuberant words of the Responsorial Psalm:
I will give you glory, O God my King,
I will bless your name for ever.
I will bless you day after day
and praise your name for ever.

The Lord is kind and full of compassion,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
How good is the Lord to all,
compassionate to all his creatures.

These are the words of someone who has experienced them. They are not formulas or creeds or intellectual statements; they are the joyful outpourings of a heart moved by personal experience of the living God.

Let me ask you - when you hear the words of the psalm I've just quoted do you find your heart nodding in assent? Do you find yourself saying, 'Yep, that is so true! He is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love. How good the Lord is'? Are you able to join with the psalmist and say from the heart:

I will give you glory, O God my King.
I will bless your name for ever.
I will bless you day after day
and praise your name for ever?

Jesus was able to exclaim from out of the living and intimate experience he had of God: I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.

And many times, as a hospital chaplain, I have been in the presence of Christian men and women whose extremity of suffering was shot through with inexplicable joy and profound gratitude to the Lord. Theirs was no merely notional faith, no dry intellectual assent; theirs was an expression of true communion with the God of compassion and love.

The Communion Antiphon today calls each one of us to approach the Lord in this very personal way: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord...

Taste … see … no one can taste for us, or see for us.

Jesus puts the invitation another way: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.'

Those suffering men and women in the hospital had come to Jesus. Most probably they had lived their lives close to him for many years and now, in their painful suffering they experienced his abiding presence as more significant than their pain. They had learned from him and discovered that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

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