We are made in the image of God. Yet, our ways are not His ways. When we come into contact with other people, so often there is discrepancy between type and class. We give precedence to those who have more, to those who are stronger, to those with more followers, with more airtime, more money, better cars, more educated turns of phrase, and so on. We see it everywhere – and not just around us, but inside us.
Slowly but surely, we begin to want to be like that too. Some people even pay money to get more ‘likes’, so that they look more popular, we alter our image to make an impression, we strive for all those worldly things – material goods and the praise of other people. These things are vacuous – they are smoke and shadows. They pass by swiftly, and we are gone.
Christ came to cast out sin, the darkness of humanity that lives within us all. Can we begin to comprehend the radical and disturbing actions of Christ as He favoured the poor, the sick, the weak, the downtrodden, the materially bereft? Even in today’s world, such an attitude disrupts the consensus view. The success of the world is not the success of the Christian.
We look at the saints and we see selflessness. We see the gift of giving on an heroic and aggressive level. This selflessness is a form of poverty, and it was mentioned by Christ in the beatitudes: ‘blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit…’. For the saints, success is to be found in being Christ-like, to resemble Him, to be His ambassador in a real way. They empty themselves so that they can be filled with Christ. For a precious few, this process was so all-consuming that they bore the stigmata. It is easy for us, who so naturally judge on physical appearance, to think that these are the closest saints to Christ, but there are others, too, who bear the imprint of Christ: the imprint of love, of giving, of speaking out for the truth, of healing, of action against inhumanity. This is what we count as success: how like Christ are we?
St Paul wrote in today’s second reading at Holy Mass: ‘…it was those who are poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be the heirs to the Kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.’ We sense the pregnancy of this promise in the works of charity. By our reaching out to others in selflessness, and by disregarding the judgments and inequalities of this world, we are able to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven to which we are called home.
In today’s responsorial psalm we have a template of the nature of God’s love: He is faithful to us when He doesn’t need to be; He ‘…is just to those who are oppressed’; He ‘gives bread to the hungry’ and ‘sets prisoners free’. ‘It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind, who raises up those who are bowed down, the Lord who loves the just, the Lord who protects the stranger.’ All of this is a kind of handbook for unity and equality. How different the world would be if we took heed of these words.
We needn’t go far to witness inequality; it is all around us. Christ is challenging us to cling to Him in faith and, through this action of love, become more like Him, who emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant. We are called to cast aside judgment and the need for power. We are inspired by His example to make our success a thing not of this world, but of the next. This, unlike our human template of service, is the service love and joy. ‘You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry Abba Father! It is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’
Abba Father reminds us of the beginning of the ‘Our Father’ prayer. When Christ told His disciples how to pray, and He said what He said, the disciples would have been shocked to the core. The word Jesus used was not like anything used before to address the High King of heaven, the God of ages, the Lord of all. He used the word ‘daddy’, or ‘dad’, a deeply personal and intimate expression of the word ‘Father’. This, which is somewhat lost in today’s world, is one of our ways into praying to God our loving ‘dad’, and beginning to grasp that we are his children. When we cry ‘Abba Father!’, it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. This cry we make through prayer, but we also make it in our actions of love and dedication to Him. We think of St Mother Teresa in her unswayable love for the poor, and we can attribute to her actions the words: ‘love is as love does’. It is not enough to nod at St Paul’s words in today’s reading and agree with them, yet not allow them to change your life. Christ is waiting to change your dry, weary land into a spring of water, your desert into thirsty ground. When cast aside the dryness of injustice, judgement and hypocrisy, we are testifying to Christ in a way that opens us up into children of God.
We do all of this with joy, we do it because we want to do it, because we are his little children. We recognize that it is good for us and for those around us. But the action of charity, of love, is also a powerful means of praising God. So it is no surprise that the psalm response we use to umbrella these works of greatness (found in the responsorial psalm) is ‘My soul, give praise to the Lord.’
This work is the seed of our inheritance as children of God, and the field of our lives. So let us listen to the words of God in our life, and through Scripture, and become the children He has created us to be. As today’s Gospel Acclamation says: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening: You have the message of eternal life.’
Today’s Gospel is according to Mark 7:31-37. Perhaps we can take the reflection, as above, and apply it to what Christ is saying to you, here and now. We warmly invite you to read through the passage, re-read, and ponder in quietness, and listen for the message of eternal life. Do not be afraid to place yourself in the text… walk around in the story. What is Jesus saying to you?
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark.
Glory to you, O Lord.
Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said, ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’
The Gospel of the Lord.
Photo: Students at our Cistercian College, Roscrea. We aim to be a ‘school of the Lord’s service’, in keeping with the teaching of St Benedict in his Rule for Monks.