Monday, 18 October 2010

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Ecclesiasticus 35:15-17,20-22; 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee of the Gospel stands tall in the Temple of God, full of his own importance. He speaks to himself about himself full of himself. The word ‘I’ is used five times. We look on uncomfortably and listen to his disconcerting bragging and we get a sense of the extent to which this man has lost not only the sense of who God is but also the sense of who he is.

The publican at the back, not daring to raise his eyes, somehow reassures us. He acknowledges himself to be a sinner and he recognises God as merciful. All in all we can say, ‘He’s got it right.'

Contemporary culture, like the Pharisee, has mostly lost its sense of God. This loss is of critical importance because man is made in God’s image and likeness, and we can only know ourselves and how we should act when we know God. The more we lose the sense of God the more we lose a sense of who we ourselves are.

As Pope John Paul II used to remind us, the vacuum left by the loss of the presence or awareness of God is then filled by man who tries to replace the loss of God with himself, and soon every man becomes his own God, choosing for himself what is right or wrong. Man can now create his own reality, but whose reality will prevail? The strongest, of course, and the strongest will tell the rest of us what is right or wrong.

Inevitably we end up with the ‘tyranny of force’ or the ‘tyranny of Man’. Instead of obeying God’s plan we are forced to obey another man’s plan. And so instead of life being defined in terms of love it becomes defined in terms of a huge power struggle. Might is right!

We lose at the same time the sense of our identity as human beings and our sense of moral truth. The Pharisee in the Gospel had entirely lost the sense of his own sinfulness. How can this have happened to him, right there in the Temple? The answer is - bit by bit, step by step.

The loss of the sense of God can happen in the Church too, and many think it has already happened in the Western Church. Man has stepped into the vacuum.

For instance, today we think Mass is all about us, me, my needs and my feelings. We forget that Mass is, in the first place, all about God; our service, our worship of God. And so we stop going because ‘I don’t get anything out of it; I don’t like the singing; I don't like the priest.’

So we priests change the Mass to suit ourselves and our parishioners; we try to put smiles on everyone's faces. I was attending a Mass with a friend, a Sister, and we were both amazed at how, during the homily, the priest managed to induce a sort of coma in the congregation. Sister leaned over to me and whispered 'Palliative care.'

Fortunately the 'puppet Gospels' have gone, and so have the 'rock Masses'. But there is still so much joke telling, secular music, entertaining Powerpoint presentations, and 'applause' on any pretext. The rationale is: 'If they won’t come for God they might come if we make them feel good.'

We go from silliness to silliness and end in sacrilege. Many will applaud the novelties but not everyone. The thoughtful members of the congregation will shake their heads and lower their eyes with embarrassment or chagrin.

As the people lose the sense of what they are about at Mass they, too, try to fill the vacuum. Mainly they begin by talking a lot - before Mass, after Mass - even during Mass. Have you noticed how noisy our churches have become? The churches are now 'our' house, not God's house.

I had a housekeeper who, when I met her, had stopped going to church. She was an extremely intelligent and sensitive woman. She said, ‘Father, I constantly had the sense we were worshipping ourselves’.

And noise is not the only symptom of our loss of the sense of God. It was Pope Benedict XVI who coined the phrase ‘ecclesiastical occupational therapy’. He was trying to define the attitude that many were beginning to develop which saw the Church as a place to 'exercise their gifts’ rather than as a place to worship God. And so our churches have become not only places of noisiness but also places of busyness and constant movement.

There’s a fine line between a community worshipping God and a community celebrating itself. Perhaps the Pharisee standing before God celebrating himself is a helpful image for us to contemplate. And perhaps the publican, humbly asking forgiveness from God, is a good image upon which each Catholic community could base its renewal.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Father for this homily. It really challenges those of us who think we know our sins rather than our sinfulness/weakness. Ignorance of my weakness allows me to justify myself before God and become full of myself bit by bit.

Anonymous said...

In july 10th this year the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin ( accredited Vatican Diplomat) accused some priests in his Diocese of attempting to block the increased involvment of Lay people.
Martin was speaking at the ordination of a new priest and the commissioning of 10 new Lay Parish pastoral workers.
He also said that the specific authority of a priest is abused if He does not welcome and foster FULL participation of lay men& women in the activity of his parish.
Father John I sent you my comment on your homily for "30th sunday in ordinary time-year C" I wrote that I felt you both had been very Pharisa'ical in your criticisms (in your homily) of The Celebrant Priest, his homily, and the congretation.
Who are you to judge a fellow Priest who appeared to have a full church attending Mass?

I note you have not published my first comment , perhaps you feel threatened by my frankness.
Why not give the reader the opportunity to read my comment or are you in the Priest category described by the forward looking Arcbishop Martin. as Archbishop.
Please refresh my perspective of you.

Frank O'Neill
Lay Reader , Bible student.
Dublin, Ireland

Fr John Speekman said...

Dear Frank,
Your previous comment was not published because it was never received.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr.John, for your reply, accept my apologies, senior moments can give me beautiful lessons in humility.DG. My problem as a late entrant to the new (for me) world communication of computer contraptions is checking a sent comment to you as it does not record it in my outlook express...I will have to consult my learned neighbour to teach me the way of checking my sent comments to your blog.
My perspective of you is refreshed and gladly so.....good people can be a scarce commodity in this secular world and i like to keep my 'finds'
Incidentiially, at a recent meeting with the Parish Council i raised (your comment) ....very few people now 'come to cofession'
weekly or so.....yet the congretations at Mass receive Holy Communion en masse? There was a marked silence from the group and the chairman 'recorded' my query to 'pass on' to the Parish Priest....that was 3 mnths ago....still silence.
Look what YOU started Fr John.





Fr John Speekman said...

Dear Frank,

Noooo problems and thanks for your (humble) comment. I afterwards thought your earlier comment may have gone into the spam folder but on checking I found it was clear. I've found the best way to make sure comments go in to the blog is to never do it quickly. I have written comments on other blogs which I've discovered never made it there and it was always because I was doing it in a rush.

I doubt there is a priest alive with whom everyone agrees all the time. I sometimes don't express myself cleary enough or simply hold a view others disagree with. I don't mind that and am not phased with people who don't agree with me. In your case I wish I could fly to Ireland and we could have a good meal at the pub and spend the night discussing all these things ... but not to be, unfortunately. Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

Where is your faith Father John,I also would like to 'chew the fat with you'
mind you as i'm not a pub person in my new life i'm sure we could sit in a park and in the company of other creatures and the trees bring our differences in spirituality to life in a new humour.
Oz is hours away from Ireland.... though may be longer if you take a new Airbus....
As many irish are flocking to your country in search of a job and from the vacuum of the recession we created by our common self centeredness( the fall) in believing the promises of The 'Celtic Tiger' (the pied piper of the consumer God).
be welcoming & compassionate to them and in your holy ministry ( reflections) gently reawaken their Baptism from its sleep...ok
On the 25th this month in a Sydney hospital wher she worked my cousin Patrica's eldest daughter Frances ( a young mother living in Sydney) is undergoing dangerous surgery to remove a tumour in her head....Patrica is en is her father, john,both be with Her and family.
Please offer a Holy Mass for Her healing and a Rosary to our Lady/Mother which I will join with you spiritually (as i do for you ....often).



Fr John Speekman said...

I'll pray my rosary this very hour for her and her parents, Frank. And thanks for your prayers for me. I include you in mine.