Monday, 19 September 2011

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

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Ezekiel 18:25-28; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32

St Paul is writing to the Christian community in Philippi, a community which he himself founded. In fact, this was the first Christian community in all of Europe.

St Paul is writing from prison in constant danger of death. His tone is fatherly and pleading, serious, concerned and inspiring. He is addressing the community about something much deeper than itself; he is speaking about communion, what he calls: our life in Christ.

We can easily imagine him sitting in his prison at a rough table writing on a sheet of parchment. He has already been writing for some time and little by little he begins to be absorbed in what he is writing. Once more, in his mind's eye, he stands among his beloved brothers and sisters in far away Philippi and opens his mind and his heart to them. He speaks to them of the life and love and Spirit they have in common: their life in Christ.

Hearing his letter today two thousand years later we ourselves are quietly drawn back through the ages until we, too, find ourselves standing side by side with the Philippians listening to what Paul has written and conscious that we, too, share their life in Christ. We recognise this life  which  is offered undiminished to every man and woman of every age who seeks to become a disciple. Truly it is: our life in Christ.

The origin of this life is, of course, the Blessed Trinity. If we are in communion with one another it is because we share in the communion of love that possesses the Trinity - Father and Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is the Father who sent his Son, born of a Virgin, to draw his people into communion with him through the gift of the Holy Spirit won for us through his passion, death and resurrection.

For Paul this communion is the prized possession of the Christian community and must be valued above all and preserved at all cost and so he pleads with them to reflect on it: If our life in Christ means anything to you

The beating heart of communion is exactly what St Paul says - our life in Christ. When we are in communion we share in the very life of God or, as we used to say, we are in the state of grace.

Just as the life of God in us is a saving reality so the absence of that life, through grave sin, is a reality which leads to eternal loss and, in normal circumstances, can only be restored through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Though our being in communion is an invisible, spiritual state it does manifest its presence externally in a very clear way and this is precisely Paul's preoccupation as he speaks to the Church in Philippi.

He instructs his people that to live in Christ should mean also behaving, thinking, and loving like Christ. He calls them to be united in their convictions and in their love; to have a common purpose and a common mind.

Again, this brings us to the basic question of the source of the communion he desires for his people. How can the Philippians who, like us here in this church (with all our different backgrounds, needs, personalities, educational standards, and so on), be united in their convictions? How can they have a common purpose and a common mind? Or to put it more boldly: How can they all (and we) become like one another?

His answer to these questions is daring and liberating: In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus. I repeat: In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus.

Is this not the evangelising challenge of the present age as it was for Paul two thousand years ago. This is your challenge and mine - to surrender our opinions, our minds to Christ and to accept his teaching, his mind.

Communion is much more than a feeling; it is an objective reality based on the truth revealed by Christ to and in his Church. Regrettably we have had painful examples of what happens to those who break communion by holding convictions which are at odds with those of the Master. Look at what happened at St Mary's in Brisbane! And what do you think will happen to those three hundred Austrian priests who are dissenting from the 'mind of Christ' and destroying communion?

Let me finish by recalling St Paul's plea and even daring to make it my own: be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing which would make me completely happy.

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