HOMILY: SUNDAY 24 ‘B’ 2018 (HOME MISSION SUNDAY)
In recent months and weeks – and even more so in the past few days – news of the widespread abuse perpetrated over many years in the Catholic Church has weighed down on us very heavily. It seems to me impossible not to take this into account as we keep ‘Home Mission Sunday’ today. How hard it is to have confidence to speak to others about the Faith, let alone be bold evangelists, when the Church is, rightly, under such fire. What are we to say, what are we to do, how are we even to live with ourselves in these circumstances?
The disarray that we are having to come to terms with is, I think, highlighted, in a very unnerving way, by the illustration I have put on the front of this week’s News-sheet. The illustration shows us the Suffering Servant – traditionally understood to be the Prophet Isaiah, or the faithful Remnant of Israel, or Christ, or the Church of the New Covenant – as he is beaten and reviled by the enemies of the Lord. That is, we may say, how things have always been: the One who witnesses to goodness and truth and beauty in a fallen world is bound to suffer rejection. Though in God’s purposes, the Suffering Servant – as we see supremely in the Passion and Death of Jesus – will finally be vindicated. He will not be disgraced.
But now, we can hardly deny that those who angrily revile the Lord’s Servant have some right on their side. Men and women of integrity are scandalised at both the abuse and even more the ‘cover-ups’ they see as having taken place for so long and in so many different places in the Body of the Church that claims to be the Lord’s Servant – the Church called to proclaim, with a prophet’s voice, the goodness, truth and beauty of God.
So, what are we to say, what are we to do, how are we to live with ourselves in these circumstances? In today’s Gospel, the way forward is pointed out to us. Jesus asks those around him: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Surely the answer to that question – for all of us – must be: ‘You are the One who unfailingly gives meaning and purpose to my life’. Christ in his Passion and Death makes clear that he knows tragedy and disaster ‘from within’. Or the same truth in some words I am sure I have quoted before: ‘Christ leads us through no darker rooms than he went through before’. At this time, we have not only to look to ourselves – important as that is; but above all we have to look to Christ, in whom we find the human face of God.
St Bernard of Clairvaux puts his finger on it in one of his Homilies: ‘From the contemplation of ourselves we gain fear and humility; from the contemplation of God, hope and love….When we contemplate ourselves, sorrow brings salvation. When we contemplate God, we are restored’. To communicate that truth to others must be our mission; and we can go out from our celebration of ‘Home Mission Sunday’ with integrity, if we make that our message.