SERMON FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.
sorry, I haven't been near my computer for a week. This sermon will be preached tomorrow (Sunday) in a convent of Poor Clares.
Today, there are three lessons.
The first lesson is about God, through Elijah, rewarding the generosity of the widow of Sidon. The second lesson is from the Letter to the Hebrews which, for those acquainted with the Eastern rather than the Western understanding of the Liturgy, is clearly about the Mass. The Gospel warns us not to be pre-occupied with the external trappings of religion and points to religion in its most authentic form by giving us the story of the widow's mite. What theme can unite these three lessons into a coherent whole? I believe the truth of these three lessons can be summed up in one word: and that word is “HEART”.
The “heart” is a symbol for what is most central and profound in a human being. It is the point in which God's creative activity makes the human being an image of himself. God is Love, and, therefore, the most characteristic activity of our heart is “love” because we are made in God’s image. It is at the level of the heart that we decide whether to love as sinful creatures or as members of Chrisr’s body. The heart is the centre of the person’s appreciation of what is good, true and beautiful. It is the centre of his deepest motivations. It is what makes a person a human being rather than just a superior kind of animal.
The centre of our religion is the Heart of Jesus. Let us think for a moment about that heart. Since the Incarnation, it is the human place where God the Father, in an eternal act of self-emptying and self-giving Love, pours everything he is into his Word, making him his Son. It is where the Son surrenders all his being to the Father in the same eternal act of self-giving Love; but, since the Incarnation, this divine Love of his is also accompanied by his own human love in perfect harmony with the Divine. In this way, Christ in his human nature shares in the very life of the Blessed Trinity, and that is also our destiny too. That being God's purpose, the Heart of Jesus also becomes a fountain through which our Father in heaven pours out his Love on the Church, into our hearts, on the whole human race and on all creation, a Love which, in Jesus becomes human too, because of the Incarnation. The whole of creation is sustained by a love which is both human and divine and which wells up from the Heart of Jesus.
So, Jesus loves with the love of God that is infinite and unchanging, and with a human love that, by its very nature, grows and deepens and becomes stronger as he exercises it. Thus, although his human love is in perfect harmony with the divine from the very beginning because of the Incarnation, it grew and matured as he matured in Nazareth and became ever stronger as he obeyed his parents and loved his neighbour in his day to day life. His love continued to grow during his public ministry, being strengthened by opposition , temptation and trials, as well as by his friendship with his disciples. However, in his suffering and obedience unto death of the Cross, he reached new heights and depths of love. As his self-giving was total, it did not merely melt into past history: it became a permanent characteristic of his resurrected personality; so that you cannot think of the cross without the resurrection or of the resurrection without the cross, or see an image of the resurrected Christ without the wounds he bore: the wounds in his hands, feet and side showing us, not only what he has done for us, but who he is. . Thus he became eternal high priest and sacrifice for us in our separation from God and the perfect channel through which the human race can pass through his death and resurrection into the very life of the Blessed Trinity. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it in the second lesson, “It is not as though Christ had entered a man-made sanctuary which was only modelled on the real one; but it was heaven itself, so that he could appear in the actual presence of God on our behalf.” Using the language from other parts of the Letter to the Hebrews, at Mass, we approach the heavenly Jerusalem and listen to God’s Word just as really as when Moses listened to God on Mount Sinai; then ,together with the angels and the saints, we make Christ’s sacrifice on the cross our own; and, by passing through the veil of the sanctuary, which is Christ’s own flesh received in communion, we enter into the presence of God the Father where Christ’s own blood is sprinkled in our favour. Thus, the sacred Heart of Jesus is characterised by a total sacrificial love for the Father and for us, which is offered to the Father and poured out on us. This love is nothing less than the Holy Spirit and Christ’s human love in complete harmony with it..
We receive God’s love in many ways, but the very central moment for receiving this love is Holy Communion because his love is inseperable from his total gift of self.. The words of the archangel Gabriel to Our Lady can be applied to us, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with it shadow.” Mary answered, “ I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
In Aramaic her answer is covered by one word, “Amen” and this is what we say when God’s messenger, the priest, says, “The Body of Christ.”
In communion we receive Our Lord into our heart where he takes up residence. Thus St Paul says, “I do not live, but Christ lives in me.” Most of us are aware that Christ lives in our hearts when we receive communion, but we forget this only minutes afterwards. We become spiritual schizophrenics, with Christ in our heart, but our minds are often no less secular than the minds of our pagan neighbours, because the mind’s way to the heart is blocked by our sin and lack of faith.. When I was a little boy, a theme of sermons was the loneliness of Jesus in the tabernacle where no one visits him. This is nothing to the loneliness of Jesus in our hearts. After all, for Christ, the tabernacle is his place of work; but he is in my heart as a permanent home. If you were to ask the fathers of the desert tradition how are we to become holy, they could answer, to bring our minds into our hearts where Christ is. Hence the importance of interior prayer, for everybody: Just as baptism demands conversion, either before, during or afterwards, so communion demands contemplation, either before, during or afterwards: it is part of the complete experience of communion.
With Christ in our heart, if our minds permits it, he will transform our hearts into a replica of his heart, and we too will love both the Father and our neighbour with the love of Christ which is both human and divine. When we see saints like St Martin de Porres and Mother Teresa, loving their neighbour, they stand out from merely generous people because they are loving with the love of God being at one with Christ in their heart. The difference between their love and that of the non-saint is quite obvious to ordinary people, even to people of other faiths and none... The difference has its root in what is going on in the heart All this is illustrated in the Gospel where pious Jews are contrasted with the widow and her mite.
There are those whose heart is empty of God, so that, in things religious, they are not really seeking God at all. They spend their time looking at themselves and how they appear before men. They become pre-occupied with appearances, how beautiful they look, the vestments they wear the impression they make. There are also those who really want to give God something, but only after they have what they want. They seek their own comfort or their own interests, and only want to give to God what is left after their own will has been satisfied. Neither of these is fit to be a disciple of Christ because their hearts are divided.
In contrast, there are those whose main preoccupation is that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, and they are ready to sacrifice all that God’s will be done. This is illustrated in the Gospel by the widow and her mite who give to God everything she has to live on.. Those who accept communion in this spirit can truly say that they do not live, but it is Christ who lives in them. Like Christ, their love grows and deepens as they practise it. Like Christ, the more they share in his death through obedience, the more they will experience the resurrection. Like Christ, they will love the Father and their neighbour with the love of God which is also a human love. Their Christianity will shine through, and Christ will be visible on earth.
If we love with the love of Christ, then we will love one another, and Christ will be visible to the world in the life of the Church. In St John’s Gospel, the Church is truly visible only when Christ is visible: when we are united by love, and this happens only when it is held together by ecclesial love. Without that love, it appears only as one institution among others, often a very pathetic institution. Christian unity is a unity of Christ-filled hearts because ecclesial love is the outward sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. When we sacrifice love in order to strengthen some other aspect of unity, like orthodoxy or unity of jurisdiction, then there are schisms and heresies. As one Greek Father said, “Orthodoxy without love is the religion of the devil.” Where there is love, there jurisdiction isn’t a problem.
Where do we start? We shall leave this Mass with Christ reigning in our heart. However, we must recognise that there is a barrier between our heart and our mind, a barrier formed by our lack of faith, by our sin. This barrier has to be broken down through constant prayer and humble obedience, following in the footsteps of Jesus.. We must make sure that Christ continues to reign in our heart. When that happens, our Christianity will shine through, and our own hearts will become a source of salvation for others We shall be called peacemakers and sons of |God. Let us get started today to break down that barrier. We shall then be like the widow and her mite, rather than the others in the Gospel.
BALANCE OF THE HEART by a Coptic Monk
BALANCE OF THE HEART by a Coptic Monk