Tuesday, 18 August 2009

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

My father went to see the priest about the Baptism of his first child. He had not been looking forward to the interview. He wasn't practising the Faith.

The priest asked him to go home and pray and to ask God to help him decide whether he believed or not. He told my father to consider:
  • If you don't believe, stop pretending!
  • If you do believe - practise your faith!
  • Don't drag your faith around like a dead cat on a piece of string.
This question of choosing is just as much a crucial question for you and me as it was for my father, or for Joshua and the Hebrews at Shechem.

Joshua called the People together and said: ... choose today whom you wish to serve ... .

As Bob Dylan sings in Gotta Serve Somebody - 'It may be the devil,or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.'

All we have to do is choose - but this is not as easy as it sounds - even when the People say with one voice: We ... will serve the Lord, for he is our God.

Their decision to serve (we will serve) goes hand in hand with their statement of belief (for he is our God). It makes it very clear that the modern distinction between believing and serving (practising) is totally unscriptural.

'Oh, of course, Father, I believe, and so does my husband. It's just that, well, we don't go to Mass because we don't believe it's necessary. We pray at home. We have our faith.'

Note what the couple is really saying: 'We believe ... it's just that ... well ... we don't believe.'

Ok, so what's going on here? Let me ask this couple some questions:
  • Do you believe you have a grave obligation to attend the Eucharist with the faith community each Sunday? - NO!
  • Do you believe it's a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday? - NO!
  • Do you believe you need to confess missing Mass deliberately before you can go to Holy Communion? - NO!

So now at least we know one thing clearly - this couple do not, in fact, believe what the Church teaches. This is why they do not practise. They may be baptised, they may have been brought up in a Catholic home, they may have attended a Catholic school, but they do not believe what the Church believes.

Please understand me, this is not an accusation! I'm not judging this couple. I have no idea of their spiritual journey and what has brought them to this point. I am merely making a very important diagnosis. This couple does not hold the faith of the Church.

They are living according to their faith but not according to the Faith.

Well, what now? What are some of our options?
  • Go ahead and baptise the child and hope the parents will find faith at some later time and raise the child as a practising Catholic?
  • Give the parents an hour's worth of instruction on the meaning of being a Catholic and then hope for the best and baptise the child?
  • Tell the parents how important it is to attend Mass on Sundays and then baptise the child?
  • Delay the Baptism till the parents come to some faith of their own?
  • Refuse the baptism because they have no intention of raising the child in the practice of the Faith?
My own answer to this very difficult question is that we should offer this couple an opportunity to choose.

This is what my father was offered; this is what Joshua offered the People; this is what Jesus offers his followers in today's Gospel: What about you, do you want to go away too?

On a practical level this will involve a prolonged, prayerful, gentle catechesis similar to the Catechumenate - during which couples can be renewed in their understanding of the Catholic Faith.

Somewhere within this process the couple will choose.

If they choose not to enter the process they have still chosen. All concerned will find this a difficult decision to accept but it must be respected. Jesus, too, experienced the disappointment of watching people walk away.

Faith is a grace-filled choice. We cannot make it for others, nor can we insulate people from the need to make it. This has been one of our most unhelpful tactics in the determination we have to keep people somehow attached to the Church at all costs. We sacramentalise them because we don't know how to evangelise them.

My father chose for the Church he knew so well but which he had left. The faithfulness with which he lived his decision over the years was an example and an encouragement for each one of his children, all eight of whom still practise the faith.

I thank that priest for allowing my father to choose.


Gina said...

What a wonderful, touching homily - and I wish I could read out certain parts of it when talking religion and beliefs with certain friends.
Great homily - you speak the truth!

John said...

Thank your for this great homily!
You are an inspiration!

God Bless You! :)

maria said...

Faith is a precious gift from God. No one preach the Good news to my parents. Yet my father told mum to have my brother and me baptised. My brother left the Church since high school because he think he don't need her. And it's the best gift my father choose for me. The road is difficult to walk, but Jesus is walking by my side.
God bless.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr, I struggle with this all the time as a deacon as my spouse & I are preparing families in baptism class. Many come to the classes,cohabitating or living in a civil marriage with little interest in getting married period let alone sacramentally or others who while they are in a sacramental marriage find little need to practice their faith. My response to them is this....at the end of our journeys, we all be judged. And as Catholic parents we will be asked most likely...I gave you the gift of children, did you lead them to me or lead them astray by your example. We are all seed planters. No one knows if the seeds we sow land on fertile soil, but we should provide fertile soil by our example for those little seeds of faith to flourish. Thanks for the your take on this homily.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr John , excellent Homily, when I was reading the scriptures at Mass today: Joshua's(first reading of todays mass)prophetic teaching on 'service' to the assembly at the spot of the Altar built by Abraham at 'ShecHem', you almost can hear BobDylan singing 'gotta serve' as the opening hymn.
As also one of 8 siblings my Mother and Father were our teachers of faith, mind you they never preached at us ( we got enough of that at church)they taught by example only and the scriptural prayer of the family Rosary and thus we were free from fear to make our choices in Faith. They were 2nd Vatican Council prophets before its Spirit of deliverance arrived in Ireland.Thank God for their gift of Love& wisdom.
As usual your homily spirits me (as others)to comment and I finish with this Eastern instruction from Mother Teresa to co workers to complimentyour Homily today:
" The fruit of silence is Prayer
The fruit of prayer is Faith
The fruit of faith is Love
The fruit of love is Service
and,The fruit of service is Peace

John, I notice you omit the Psalms in the Scriptures of The Holy Mass preceeding your Homily?
Can you arrange to permit the reader to click on the different scripture, in Lectio Divina style? it would work wonders for us all, I believe!

Well Done!

FRANK, Ireland

Fr John Speekman said...

Thanks, Frank, for your comments and suggestion. I guess it's a matter of time which I don't really have. There is only so much I can do with the blog. As things stands it's enough of a commitment of time and effort.

Delima said...

Thanks, Father, for not mincing words and telling it like it is! You always get to the truth of the matter and that is so liberating, as well as helpful for us on our journey to God.

Janet said...

"We sacramentalise them because we don't know how to evangelise them." Exactly. The problem and the solution in a nutshell.

Emmsyo said...

Great homily Uncle John! You really touched a nerve in my struggle with the Catholic Church. I'm still struggling, but now with a little more clarity.