Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007
You do not have to be clinically depressed to wonder about what life is all about. It does not matter how deep and firm one's faith is. Life constantly challenges us about where we are going.
Similarly, we can ask what is the point of being a Christian? Here, life constantly challenges our faith at every turn. Our world tells us every day that there is no point. It says religion is all a deception. But it is just not good enough to say to someone who is asking this kind of question to say you lack faith. Or you do not pray enough. Rather, it is taking up that question and living with it that one discovers a depth to faith we had not realised. Such questioning can be the beginning of a more authentic faith.
For much of the time we do rely on the rhythm and routine of our religious practice to carry us along so that we do not have to ponder such deep questions every day. If we did we would go mad! It would, however, be unfortunate if we stayed at that routine level, thinking Christianity is just about adhering to a series of prescriptions.
It has been said that the point of Christianity is to show that there is a point to our lives and every life.* One of the most remarkable insights to come from the Second Vatican Council that has entered into our Church life, and partly into Chruch structure, is that, as Jesus is the light of the world, so the Church is the reflected light of Christ. We are not the light he is. The Church is not the kingdom but proclaims it. We can only reflect that light just as the moon reflects the light of the sun. That Council did not just repeat the theology that the Catholic Church is where salvation is to be found. That theology arose amid the very bitter disputes of the Reformation era. The Council of Trent of the time sought to answer questions like, Who is right? Which is the true Church? The Council tried to go beyond that historical impass which coloured all Catholic thinking from Trent to the present day. Instead it tried to find an understanding of the mystery of the Church in the Scriptures themselves. What is the point of the Christian movement in the world?
I too find myself asking, what is the point of my life? My life as a priest particularly. What have I done with my years? What has been the point of celebacy in my life? Why would anyone take on celebacy in order to serve as a priest today? As we know there are serious flaws in the discipline of celebacy in the the diocesan priesthood. Not the least of these is how does it affect the availability of the Eucharist? But that is a question the Church will not discuss officially although everyone is. You have to have very good reasons to ask someone to take on celebacy as a prerequsite for ordinatino today.
At such times I find it helpful to meditate on the plight of, for example, those Iraqi people who are kidnapped off the street and executed. They were people with hopes and dreams for themselves and their families just like us. What do they think as they are carted off to what they must surely know is certain death? What was my life for if it is to be cut short so unjustly? Each of us can think of more personal examples. We know that kind of ultimate question. We need to reflect on it. If we do we would not take our presence here lightly.
Luke's Gospel is very much a Gospel of a journey. Jesus and the disciples are on the road to Jerusalem with a goal and a mission. The disciples were struggling with the hope that the point of their journey was to liberate Israel from foreign invasion. Jesus was trying to help them understand otherwise. After Jesus' death the disciples on another journey on the road to Emmaus confessed as much: "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). The gospel today reminds us to travel lightly. But have our hearts set on what really matters and be ready for whatever comes.
But is no good saying that Jesus knew how it would all end for him. We do because we know the whole story. No. Jesus was not living a fairy tale with a predestined happy ending. His life was as real as the life of an Iraqi bystander in Baghdad. For he and the disciples any illusions they had about their mission were dashed in Jerusalem. All the disicples' hopes and dreams came to a crashing end on the night of the Last Supper. There was no future that they could see. Then, when they were at their most vulnerable, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them saying, "This my body given for you." When there is absolutely nothing to look forward to Jesus is telling us his love for us. He did that with absolute trust in the Father to hear his prayer no knowing how it would be answered. That is what it means to be a light to the world. "Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen" (Hebrews11:1). The point of our Christian lives is to reflect that light into the dark corners of our lives and our world.Fr Graham
* See "What is the Point of Being a Christian", Timothy Radcliffe OP. Burns and Oates, London 2005.