2012 Sunday 24

Sunday 16 September: Conventual Mass celebrant: Fr Alexander Bevan, O.S.B.

Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Last Sunday we were invited to reflect upon the freedom and inheritance we have received from Jesus Christ as adopted children of God.  This Sunday, we are called to consider more carefully the practical consequences of our Christian faith.  We have received the invitation to follow Christ to become truly free and receive our inheritance; but what does following Christ mean?

As a student I remember travelling on the Jumblances after Easter to Lourdes.  We would travel with the sick and handicapped and spend a week staying at a specially converted hostel.  In each group there would be around a dozen VIPs as they were called – many of them terminally ill – and some helpers (usually two for each VIP) and then a doctor and two nurses.  The group was made up of people from across the country who had never previously met each other.  Within a short period of time, however, everyone knew each other.  What struck me most, though, was the cheerfulness of everyone.  There never seemed a cross word or a sad look.  Even though the journey was long, the work grueling and our guests were often in pain – there was never a grumpy face.  I will always remember the hard work of the nurses and the doctor, who had to bear the bulk of the burden for the week.  24/7 they gave their week – voluntarily – to serve others.  They seemed the most cheerful and the most upset when the time came to say goodbye at the end of the week.  Perhaps for them, they saw in that week what they felt all their work was about – serving others.

Service lies at the heart of our readings today.  Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah comes from a passage called the Servant song.  It describes an aspect of service we might not particularly like.  “I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard”.  There is not hint of resistance to difficulty and trials.  Service involves self-sacrifice.  No more do we see this evident than in the person of Jesus, to whom Isaiah directs us.  He is the Servant king, who offers his back to those who strike him during his trial before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.  His face is the target of insult and derision.

We acknowledge through our Christian faith that Jesus is the one to offer us true freedom.  He is the Son of God.  Through his suffering we have won an inheritance as adopted children of God.  The challenge for us is to become like his children; we are to follow him.  As St James points out to us in our second reading our Christian faith cannot be something empty.  Ours is not just faith for Sunday.  Our Christian faith is to be lived.  “I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds”.  Our faith needs to be genuine if we are to become children of God worthy of an inheritance.

In the Gospel, Jesus spells out to us the consequences of this – the consequences of living out our faith: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his Cross and follow me”.  The call to follow Christ is a call to service, a service which is often hard.  We face this often in our lives.  We can experience this in the time we give for those we love; in the misunderstandings we face with those we love; the disappointment and heartache in our families with someone who doesn’t respond to our love.   We preserve, though, because of the genuineness of our love.  To be a genuine follower of Jesus involves the Cross.

For all of us who may find our daily lives hard to bear at times, we are invited to be reminded that we have a God who does not stand apart from our suffering.  He has suffered with us.  He has come amongst us to transform our lives into a life with him forever.  We are his adopted children.  The inheritance he has promised us as his adopted children leads us along a path that he has trod.  It is the path of Christian discipleship – of service to others, to serve as he has served – so that we may reach the place of our inheritance.

As the readings continue, we are encouraged to find that the Cross is not the end of the story.  The Suffering Servant in Isaiah cries out, “My vindicator is at hand”.  In Jesus the story of the Cross is not the end.  The Cross leads us to the empty tomb – the wonder of the Resurrection – the joy of Easter Day.  Our lives of service lead us to our reward.  We need to be reminded of this reward in our daily lives.

Our opening prayer at Mass connects the life of service with the experience of God’s mercy in our lives.  Through our service to God and others, we experience the redeeming grace of the Cross.  This grace transforms us and makes us more his children.  We become children of God.  We become worthy of an inheritance.  No more so do we experience this gift of his merciful grace than through the Sacraments; the Sacraments in which we offer our service to God.  Through the Sacrament of Confession especially we beg pardon for our sins and receive his forgiveness.  Through this Sacrament of the Mass, we receive the body of Jesus into our hearts, so as to be fed and become more like him who leads us to our Father.

We should never think that the service we offer to God through the Sacraments, through this Mass, through our service to others, goes unnoticed by our Father.  The gift of grace is alive in us then – transforming us and making us new.  Among the doctors and nurses who served those I was with in Lourdes it showed in their amazing cheerfulness of heart.  He has come that we too may have “life to the full”.  We pray that he may look upon our service to him at this Mass, and so be filled with the joy of his healing grace in our lives.

© Ealing Abbey, copyright 16 September 2012