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The Thirty Second Sunday of Ord Time C
The Promise of Resurrection (Lk 20:27-38)
The Sadducees posed Jesus the most fundamental question of all: what is the point of life?
Since they thought death ended everything why may they not enjoy life to the full here and now? Human existence had no further purpose at all. For many today this is probably a normal disposition. However most thinking people, believers included, at some time or other, must have posed the question: what is life all about?
The way in which Jesus chose to deal with the Sadducees is very instructive. He was not dismissive. He gave an excellent reason for maintaining the faith whichhe and seemingly the Pharisees then professed. He was setting the tone echoed years later at 1 Pet 3:15: Peter urges his Christian readers to be prepared always to give a reasonable account of the hope that is in them, but with gentleness and respect. If people ask genuine questions, with the intention of understanding the answers, then fruitful exchange is possible. But if they try to be clever, and they are not looking for the truth, but for an argument or a superficial exchange, then it is better not to get involved. Cardinal Newman who spent so much of his life defending the faith maintained that one could not convince people like that by any argument. But he was accused himself in 1864 of having subjected Charles Kingsley to such an overdose of logic and erudition that he had humiliated him. That was an odd accusation. Kingsley was professor of modern history at Cambridge and a very public and appreciated figure, devoted to the social transformation of society. He had basically accused Newman and all Catholic priests of being disinterested in truth, or effectively of being constitutional liars. Newman insisted that pure logic was not the way in which people came to salvation. He quoted Saint Ambrose in his most famous works to this effect: non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum-not by disputation did God choose to save his people.
St. Paul on the Resurrection
In today’s second reading St. Paul speaks of receiving the faith with reverence, very mindful that faith is a gift not given to all. He speaks of bigoted and evil people who would destroy it. He knew the problem well, having been faced with it at first hand in Corinthian (1 Cor 15) and Athens (Acts 17). Those very clever folk had decided that the resurrection was a myth in Athens. The Corinthians tried a new explanation of the old doctrine, preferring the refined philosophical Greek commitment to the immortality of the soul as the best solution for defending a dead person’s ultimate survival. But Paul’s position was privileged: he had encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), and took Christ’s rebuke delivered to him then so seriously that he mentioned his unworthiness of faith many times later. The risen Christ had asked him: ‘why are you persecuting me?’. The true conversion of a once sceptical or cynical person is a great witness. There are many famous examples of this from Augustine to the present day. Persons are not just souls: they are human beings constituted of body and soul, and the body is not an unfortunate adjunct to something more important like an immortal soul. In this world, our self identification with all our memories, and our identity for recognition by each other and the relationships that are uniquely ours, come through our body. I can only say ‘I’ because I am ‘me’ with all that makes me unique, and that identifies me. Every person can say the same thing. There is no relativism here. We are unique in ourselves; nobody else knows me and experiences me in the way that I do myself. This is as mysterious as it is real for anyone who cares to think about it. And a safe absolute!
Fading Faith Today
Probably at no time since the Reformation and the French revolution has there been such a public cessation of belief in Europe as in our own time. We have seen the major efforts especially of the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI to address and redress the situation. Most of the attacks against the traditional faith seem to have much to do with sexual morality and family life. We experience every day in our own families the departure of brothers and sisters and other relatives who once professed the faith that we actually profess by our presence here at Mass this morning. How very easy it is to deny faith and how very hard it is to defend it. The devil has all the best tunes. And there is a sort of universal tolerance, spelled out as: all is tolerated so long as we who believe do not condemn others who take a different position on faith and morals…..but probably mainly on morals. The onus remains on the believer to continue to show respect and reverence, sympathy and understanding, and gratitude that the gift of faith received is a gift retained.
Here next week in Boarbank we have a conference on Faith and the Arts. For long the Church was the greatest patron of the arts. And that too needed to be reformed when people only went to Mass because of the splendour of the architecture and music and paintings and sculpture. When things were too elaborate it all became theatre. And the little people were lost. But the other extreme is also possible: indifference to the intended beauty of the liturgy that can lead to vulgarity and alienation. These questions were addressed very carefully during the Second Vatican Council. The resurrection of the body is intrinsically associated with the way we live in this world…humans are made in God’s own image and likeness. Our Lord wept over the impending destruction of the beautiful temple in Jerusalem and all the people there, and, and when he preached he used exquisite language and the most evocative imagery, truly poetic. You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. A better description of believers, and what belief is all about, has never been given. A happy Sunday to you all.
Rev Richard J.Taylor
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK