5th Sunday Lent C - Homily 5

 Homily 5 - 2019 

I enjoy the sheer poetry of tonight’s First Reading from Isaiah, and I love its message even more. To me it’s saying, “Forget about the good old days. They’re gone. What is exciting is what is about to happen.” Isaiah had God saying, “See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can’t you see it?” Well, no, I can’t. Can I feel any hope as I look towards the future? But then, hope, real hope, is not a factor of my anticipation of the future. Real hope springs from reading the heart of God.

I have no idea what the Church’s future will be. From our present vantage point it looks bleak – ranging from loss of confidence in the hierarchy [with the exception, perhaps, of Pope Francis], to an unprecedented level of negativity in the population at large towards most things catholic.

When Isaiah, way back in his day, had God speaking of doing a “new deed” for his Jewish people held captive in Babylon, I wonder if its beneficiaries thought of it as good or bad news. As we think of our Church tonight and its possible future, will any [thoroughly necessary] new deed on God’s part take the shape of a general cosmetic overhaul or something much more like drastic surgery? And then, how might we recognize God’s Will, God’s dream? And, unless we recognise it, how can we cooperate with it?

At this stage, St Paul comes to my aid. If Isaiah’s First Reading thrilled me, I love Paul’s comments even more – not for their poetry, but for the sheer enthusiasm of the man. I don’t know if Paul ever had any clear idea of what shape the future might take. My sense is that he trustingly left futures and outcomes totally in the hands of God. As he wrote: “I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” With worries about the future out of his way, he was free to concentrate his energies firmly on the present.

I love his observation, “All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death”. For Paul, Christ was not a pretty picture hanging on the wall, or a statue on a pedestal in the church surrounded by candles. Christ was real – his friend. He knew him; he loved him; and he trusted him. “All is want is to know Christ … and the power of his resurrection”. I am not sure what he was referring to there; but my sense of the risen Christ, drawn particularly from John’s Gospel, is of one who, on the day of his rising, greeted and gifted the men who had abandoned him, including the one who had denied even knowing him, with a greeting of Peace, the gratuitous offer of forgiveness, and responsibility to continue his mission to bring forgiveness and peace and mutual solidarity to the world.

Paul knew that life in a sin-scarred, still only partially redeemed world, would inevitably be marred by suffering, by violence and grief. Christ had experienced that. Paul wanted to face that inevitability with the same responses shown by Jesus to his suffering – trust in the power of God, forgiveness, an unshakeable, almost blind hope in people, universal love and utter non-violence. [And if that does not ensure the demise of clericalism, what will?]It is hard to choose that way – and most people don’t. Such choosing certainly has is price, but a price that is surely preferable to its alternative. Yet our world [and our Church] overwhelmingly prefers to wallow in chaos, despair, bitterness, hostility, hatred and violence – than deliberately go the way of Jesus.

If we cannot control the future, we can live the present – and, in the process, not only find breathing-room, but a quietly persistent joy. And that, essentially, may sum up God’s dream for our future.

“All I want is to know Christ – and the power of his resurrection – and to share his sufferings…”