The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A - 6th July 2014

One of the things that is becoming more and more familiar in Ireland is that we can no longer presume that those we meet believe in God. There was a time when practically everyone believed not only in God, but was also a member of the same church. That is no longer the case. As the politicians are quick to remind us, we live in a multicultural society. There are, of course, many advantages to living in such a society; and there are also challenges. One of the big challenges, from the point of view of faith, is how we can speak about our faith to people who believe differently, or, indeed, not at all. How do we continue to believe what we believe when we find ourselves surrounded by so many other, and different, opinions and points of view. How can we, as it were, keep going?
This same difficulty is to be found in the middle of today’s readings. The community that Matthew was writing for lived out their faith in a context that is not all that terribly different from the situation in which we find ourselves. Every day they were faced with people who didn’t accept what they believed and who didn’t understand what they were trying to live out in practice. The reality of many of their number going their separate ways was a familiar one to them. One of the really big questions for Matthew’s community was how to continue to be a Christian when those around you aren’t?
The gospel reading we have just listened to faces this question and provides us with a sort of road map for being a disciple which encourages us to draw close to Jesus, to draw our strength from him when we are faced by troubles and difficulties. To do this is something that only makes sense to believers in Jesus; to those who don’t share our belief, it just isn’t an option; and yet, that is what we, as believers, are called to do – to unite ourselves as closely as we can with Jesus who is our way, our truth, and our life. 
This is the most basic attitude of the disciple: to have a close relationship with Jesus: a relationship that is nurtured through prayer, through acts of loving, and especially through the life of the community.
St. Paul, in today’s second reading, explains this in terms of the fact that we have received the Holy Spirit who helps us to keep our focus, as he puts it “on spiritual things”. This does not mean that we should, all of a sudden, become theoretical or non-practical or other-worldly. The Spirit that has been given to us is the spirit of love; it has been given to us to carry out acts of loving; it has been given to us in this world to be used in this world – putting the focus on spiritual things is, actually, about being very practical. Putting the focus on spiritual things is about finding the rationale behind what we do as Christians; it is never about replacing the practical acts of loving with vague ideas. Putting the focus on spiritual things is about identifying in our lives that we are the chosen children of God; we are God’s people; we are not only followers of Christ, but, as St. Augustine reminds us, we are Christ. Each one of us individually, and all of us together, are aspects of the Body of Christ, the church, the community of believers, that is the presence of Christ in our world. The spiritual things we focus on are what provide us with the “why” we act as we do. It is the reason we are continually sent out to those who feel unwanted and unloved.
It is by our embodiment of these spiritual things – practical acts of loving, that we begin to proclaim our faith. Our faith is based on loving which can never be understood by explaining its constituent parts; loving can only ever be understood by experiencing it. We are sent by Jesus, not to describe our faith, but to show it off. We are, quite literally, to be the signs of God’s love – our way of loving is to reflect, and to point towards, a greater love which is the great gift that we have received when God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son.
This is why Zechariah’s daughter of Zion rejoices and shouts for joy in today’s first reading. It is the knowledge that she is loved in a way that no one can ever take away from her. We too, are loved in that way, and it is our life’s task to discover it more and more. It is also our life’s task to help others to see it, and this is where Christians have an increasingly important voice in our society. We certainly do have a multicultural society in which acceptance and tolerance are important values; but we also have a society in which people feel increasingly isolated, undervalued, and alienated. This is why we cannot keep silent and why we must keep our focus on those spiritual things, and never tire in reminding our world that God loves each and every one of us.

Article posted on 6th of July 2014

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