Sunday, August 30, 2020
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Liturgical Color: Green
First reading: Jeremiah 20:7–9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 63:2, 3–4, 5–6, 8–9
Second reading: Romans 12:1–2
Gospel: Matthew 16:21–27
This week we are given to meditate on several painful passages of Scripture that most of us would rather not think about. They speak of our painful encounter with God and His will, for mankind in general and for us in particular. This is, as it were, where the rubber meets the road, and our rubber does little to soften our contact with the much more durable pavement of God’s road, upon which we must travel if we would reach our heavenly destination.
In his meditation on this week’s First Reading, St. Jerome seems to have captured the dilemma of the prophet, who is faced with an impossible task: to bring someone in denial of God’s will and warning to full realization of his sins, to repentance and obedience to the Lord before it is too late. For the day of judgment is approaching, and there will be no escape.
Jeremiah says here, in effect: “As I am crying out and saying that the Babylonian army is coming and that the sword of the enemy will plunder us all, the word of the Lord is turned against me as a derision and a reproach, since they believe that the tardiness of a prophecy’s fulfillment is tantamount to a lie. For this reason, I have decided within myself that I will no longer speak the word of God to the people of God, nor will I name his name. I am overcome with shame and embarrassment, however, at making this foolish resolution, because what feels like a burning fire is ablaze in my heart and enclosed in my bones, and I am altogether undone and therefore unable to bear it.” For a divine word conceived in the soul, which is not then uttered through the mouth, burns in the chest. This is why Paul said, “If I evangelize, no glory redounds to me, for the need to preach the gospel is incumbent on me. Indeed, woe to me if I fail to preach! If I do so willingly, I have a reward, but if unwillingly, an office is entrusted to me.” (St. Jerome, Six Books on Jeremiah 4.23.2–5, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
There are many examples of this terrible anguish among the saints. St. Faustina Kowalska (see her Diary I.23–25), when she felt herself engulfed with the purifying flames of Purgatory on earth (which she called Hell itself, because of her suffering’s long duration and the despairing emotions she experienced under its influence) felt cast aside by her beloved Jesus because she was unworthy to be in his presence. Jesus himself, suffering on the cross, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — not because he had any sin to expiate, but because he had taken on our sins and was suffering for us. He was, in effect, showing us what Hell would be like if we do not repent and turn to God. So too, Jeremiah, who finds God’s warning rejected by the king, his counselors, and all the nobles. They are so attached to their privileges that they cannot recognize the fact that God is about to take away forever what they most cherish, in punishment for their turning away from Him in favor of a transitory earthly reward.
We, too, are given this passage of the Holy Spirit’s word that we may know the sorrow we impose on all in Heaven when we refuse the time God gives us for repentance and continue to vaunt our own will and chase after ephemeral earthly rewards.
The Psalm for this week speaks of the desire of the heart for our Lord that calls us to a life of union with Him. This is the response that Jesus wants from each of us, that will help to lighten the load of his cross.
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God. But how do we accomplish this? Do we suppose that Christ has left us with no path, no means, no aid to accomplish what he has called us to?
2030 It is in the Church, in communion with all the baptized, that the Christian fulfills his vocation. From the Church he receives the Word of God containing the teachings of “the law of Christ.” From the Church he receives the grace of the sacraments that sustains him on the “way.” From the Church he learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle.
2031 The moral life is spiritual worship. We “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” within the Body of Christ that we form and in communion with the offering of his Eucharist. In the liturgy and the celebration of the sacraments, prayer and teaching are conjoined with the grace of Christ to enlighten and nourish Christian activity. As does the whole of the Christian life, the moral life finds its source and summit in the Eucharistic sacrifice. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
In the paragraph following (2032), the Catechism sets forth the Church as today’s prophet, who speaks to us in the name of the Lord: “To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.” We do well, then, to listen to the divine message and obey the Lord, even as we live in the midst of the world and its affairs, with its agendas and political parties. The Church’s sacraments will sustain us as we take on this responsibility.
“How the mighty have fallen!” (see 2 Samuel 1:19). We hear the lament loud and clear in this passage. Simon Peter, the “Rock” whom Jesus has just praised as the recipient of a divine revelation, suddenly becomes a “stumbling stone” to God’s will that allows Satan an advantage.
The difference is one of grace versus nature. When Peter speaks what the Father has revealed to him, as he did in verse 16, he is the sturdy foundation stone that keeps the forces of darkness at bay. But when the same Peter speaks from the standpoint of weak human nature apart from divine assistance, he is a stone that causes others to stumble. (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)
Suddenly, our Lord begins to speak of suffering and death as he prepares to walk into the lion’s mouth in Jerusalem and receive the enmity of the Jewish authorities for daring to show them up for the hypocrites they are. Peter’s reaction is perfectly understandable. So how could the Christ, the Son of God, tell him that he is “not on the side of God, but of men”? Because suffering and dying for us sinners is exactly what we need, if we would be saved. Then, in the next verse, Jesus tells us that this not only true for him, but for ourselves: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
So unless we follow the same path and accept the same horrible treatment that our Messiah receives — or to put it in the interpreted language of our First Reading, to allow ourselves to be purified and cleansed through suffering — we cannot stand in his presence. Jesus, being sinless, has no need of purification, but we are full of filth and “dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). How can we withstand the Judgment unless we accept the price of purification? We speak of Purgatory as something of the world beyond the grave. But here our Lord and Master is telling us that our purgation must begin now, while we are still living. Or do we suppose that his forgiveness will take care of what remains in our hearts even in the unaccomplished future?
Jesus will eventually return as the Son of Man, accompanied by the angels of heaven, and will render his verdict on the lives of everyone. He will be the world’s final judge, the one who determines the eternal destiny of all. The basis on which we will be judged will be our conduct (see Psalm 62:12; Romans 2:6). From the perspective of Matthew’s Gospel, this will entail a judgment of our words (Matthew 12:36–37), our thoughts (ibid. 5:28–30), our actions (ibid. 7:21), our willingness to forgive others (ibid. 6:14–15; 18:35), and our commitment to works of mercy (ibid. 25:31–46). (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)
This, then, is the biblical meaning of our call to the Christian life. Do we accept it? Do we fulfill it daily?