Predikningar

A Christianity with Secularized Teachings Loses Both God and People (Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B, 2024-05-12)

Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ

Homily for Seventh Sunday of Easter

2024-05-12

Year B: Acts 1:15-17, 20, 21-26; Ps 103; 1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11-19

St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Today’s Gospel reading is an extract from the so-called High Priestly Prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper. Its message operates on two different, but interrelated, levels.

The first level concerns the apostles and their ministry. When Jesus prays for their consecration, i.e. for them to be set apart specifically by God, for God, he uses the language of the consecration ritual of the Old Covenant’s sacrificial priests in the Jerusalem temple. He now commissions the apostles to fulfil that priesthood as priests of the New Covenant, mediating the final, eternal sacrifice of Christ and its fruits. So that the world may receive Christ through the Church; live in God and he in us, as our second reading from the First letter of St. John put it.

The authority of the Apostles remains through the bishops, their successors, in one, unchanging faith, through all times. The fact that the Apostles saw themselves as bearers of an office is confirmed by the description in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles of the first episcopal ordination.

The second level of Jesus’s message is addressed to all believers in all times, using the fruits of the first level as nourishment. First, Jesus prays for us to become one, as he is one with the Father in a love bond he calls the Holy Spirit. Sin is what divides: us from God and each other, as well as within, between what we know to be good and true, and what we do out of fear of our ego being unsatisfied when life in time ends.

Then Jesus speaks of the “world” hating him and those who will follow him. This does not refer Creation, for everything created is good, as created by God. He means everything in Creation governed by values from the Fall; man’s inclination to put his own interests first, and make himself God, the one who determines what is good and evil. This is the disposition we call original sin, and when we allow it to affect our thoughts and actions, the good in Creation is distorted; used against its own purpose.

Of course, those who cling to “the world” and its values will resent us who do otherwise. That is why Jesus speaks of being hated and persecuted. He was, because he showed God as one who does not bless what we humans want God to bless, but who through love and forgiveness calls us to repent from what we make divine, the absolute centre of our lives, to what is truly divine.

If we allow our faith in Jesus Christ to show in what we say and do, we will also be hated, or at least not as liked as if we had refrained. The part of us gravitating towards “the world” seeks “likes” to boost the ego. But in the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus says, ”Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.” A later, secular saying, used by e.g. Churchill, clarifies that a man without enemies has stood for nothing.

We are not waging war on the world and do not aspire to have enemies. But to think that it is possible to avoid disapproval while taking a clear stand for Christ and his Church, is to forget two things: the reality of sin and what he who died on the cross, as consequence of that reality and rose miraculously after three days, is calling us to do.

The world’s disapproval, or at least the absence of praises to us, becomes our spiritual sacrifice, our cross to carry, in the footsteps of Christ. And thus, a great honour. Claims from within the Catholic Church that Church teachings must become more “modern”, which means adapted to the spirit of the time instead of the Holy Spirit, i.e. more aligned to the world’s values, seek temporary popularity. They downplay the reality of sin, and thus the nature of grace as a supernatural gift and an indispensable but effective help to be able to follow the Church’s commandments, albeit with effort and struggle. Such thoughts want to throw off the cross and escape sacrifices, and are, to quote Jesus himself, not the thoughts of God, but of humans. And therefore, cannot save.

Empirical studies, both in Sweden and abroad, show how such a Christianity ends up with empty churches and few vocations to ministry, The world and its apologists do not want to hear counter-messages to their own – they do not love diversity that much! – but they will of course not come to churches to hear a similar proclamation to their own, a one that all daily can find in media, politics and commercial marketing. Why should they? They are just happy for the voluntary silencing of the irritating voice of truth, but truly disrespectfully, yes, even with contempt, they will leave Christian communities rejoicing in their lowered thresholds and “inclusiveness” to die.

Jesus makes it clear that we shall not draw back from the world just because we do not live by its values. This is shown by the fruit of his sacrifice; the Church as God’s instrument for transforming cultures of the world. God wants more people to believe and enter his Church and become building blocks of the kingdom he starts building here and now and will perfect at the end of time. It is not a comfortable or easy mission. But a mission he entrusts our faith, i.e. our trust in him and his power, to carry.

For every person who rejects the teachings of the Catholic Church, there is one who silently receives the message, but whom we may not always see, nor do we need to when God does.

Whether we believe in him or not, God as the sheer act of Being gives existence to everything, sustains everything in existence, and has a plan for everything. A plan to which we are free to say yes and with his loving and active help, mainly through the seven sacraments, free to try to live more fully and make more people part of it. But a plan to which the answer “yes” and the answer “no” do not give the same outcome, contrary to what many, unfortunately also Christians, deceive themselves and others today.

The great and unique thing about Christian faith is that God is not distant but has become one of us to show us who he is, and whom he calls, and gives himself to help, each one to become. Jesus Christ has not remained in the distant past, but by his resurrection and ascension has made his and the Father’s Spirit available, to be with us always. When he now offers himself to us in the Holy Eucharist, he wants to enable us to offer him to the world, for its conversion and salvation. Amen.

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