We spoke last week of Zacchaeus the tax collector and we referred to him in the words of Cardinal Newman as one of those who walk by their own light. There are all too many in the world who do this, who: pace round and round in the small circle of their own thoughts and of their own judgments.
Zacchaeus the tax collector was just such a man – pacing round and round in the small circle of his own making – collecting gold and silver pieces as he went.
When Jesus found him he was up a tree, a fitting image of the life he had been leading. All too many people are like that, wouldn't you agree? Maybe even you and I?
And what are we to do about that? What can we do about that? The answer is very little! There is very little we can do about most things in life but we must do the little we can. Zacchaeus climbed a tree. That’s all he could think of doing – just a little thing, really. And curiously, that’s all Jesus wanted him to do – the little he could.
Jesus ‘looked up and spoke to him’. Zacchaeus responded and ‘hurried down’ and in the sudden joy which came upon him repented of his sins and welcomed the Lord into his life.
And Zacchaeus teaches us something else – I am responsible for myself first – and here I am touching on an area which has become extremely relevant to my own life. Let me explain.
A priest told me recently that if he were asked to draw a picture of his fifty years of priesthood he would have to draw a line from the top left to the bottom right of the page. I was shocked and saddened but I knew precisely what he meant.
He went on to say: Whatever it is we are doing as priests, it’s not working! We baptise them, celebrate first Reconciliation, first Holy Communion, Confirmation – and never see them again. And people say, ‘They might come back’; but I have seen no evidence of that.
You parents, and grandparents, and great grandparents know what I am talking about; the sadness of seeing children, grandchildren and great grandchildren being lost to Christ - just drifting away, not interested – and worse still, becoming duped by the empty, evil promises of a world which delivers only confusion, brokenness and unhappiness.
As a priest I see it constantly and it is very scary. Families who were once at the heart of parish life – gone, as well as their children. Even those who are still connected to the Church are giving signs of tiredness, weakness, doubt and for the flimsiest of reasons will suddenly turn their back on the Church.
And so I come back to my earlier statement: I am responsible for myself first. Before I worry about my son or my daughter or my grandchildren or husband or wife I am responsible for myself first. Though all around me fall away from the fullness of the true Faith let me, at least, do the little I can to keep it safe in me.
Every day at Mass, just before Holy Communion, I join my hands, bow my head and pray quietly: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death gave life to the world; free me by this your most holy Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.
Keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you. Let me always hear the words of Jesus to Zacchaeus addressed personally to me: I must stay at your house today. Only then will my heart be filled with the joy which makes discipleship possible, and which keeps it faithful.
It all starts with me [and with you, and you, and you]; never mind what the world does. I will make efforts to understand what the Church teaches and why she teaches it; I will familiarise myself with the scriptures; I will say my prayers; I will attend Sunday Mass faithfully; I will confess my sins regularly; I will financially support my parish; I will open my life to the needs of my brothers and sisters; I will be ready to die for Christ and his teachings because I believe in the resurrection of the dead.
We are prepared to die rather than break the laws of our ancestors.
The King of the world will raise us up, since it is for his laws that we die, to live again for ever.
When he neared his end the fourth brother cried: Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him; whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.