10th / 11th July 2021

posted 12 Jul 2021, 02:00 by Parish Office

 Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (10 & 11/7/21)

It isn’t an easy life being a prophet. At the time of the first reading, Israel was divided into two, with a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. Amos is sent by God to preach in the north, in Samaria. But he’s not greeted by a large-hearted Yorkshireman, saying, “Welcome t’northern kingdom”. Instead, he’s told to go back to the south where he belongs. Nothing changes. Because the message he has been preaching is one of repentance to avoid disaster, rather than saying things are wonderful, the priest Amaziah doesn’t want him around. The message of God isn’t always welcome, and it isn’t always about saying how wonderful we are. At times it is consoling, but at other times it is challenging, or if you prefer, it is difficult.

We are often used to hearing the Beatitudes, promising blessing and reward for righteous behaviour. But in St Luke’s Gospel, we have both blessings and curses. The last of the curses says this:

“Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) Clearly the prophet Amos was doing his job, because this wasn’t how he was treated – he preached a tough message. Instead, the last of the beatitudes is more appropriate to him:

“Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6:23)

Moving to the time of the Apostles, Christ prepared them for what they may have to face, good or bad. Their mission had to be pure, relying on God, and not looking to feather their own nest. It’s no good for them to be accused of only being in it for their own benefit. We know, of course, of the scandal of Judas Iscariot, who used to help himself from the contributions to the poor. Christ sent them with the absolute bare essentials. They were to rely on divine providence – God will provide for their mission, rather than carrying around two big heavy suitcases. They’re also not to go fussily around from house to house, saying, “I didn’t think much of the dinner yesterday, so let’s find somewhere else a bit better.” So poverty, contentment with what you are given, and also the personal poverty of the messenger, are themes. They haven’t got university degrees in the theology of evangelisation. They go, like the prophet Amos, as messengers sent by God. They are messengers, and the authority comes from the One who sent them.

The Archbishop is focusing, as he said a while ago in his pastoral letter, on evangelisation, and that’s a task we’re all called to. Part of the task is for us to see, not only what advances evangelisation, but what currently hinders it. What are the areas we need to let go of, whether in our personal lives, the way we run parishes, the way we conduct ourselves? It’s important to discuss these things, heated though some of the discussions might get.

Do we need to go back to a simpler way of life? That, of course, is part of the attraction of some of the great religious orders, where they often take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Benedictines also take a vow of stability, which means that they will live in the same religious community for the rest of their lives, rather than moving from religious house to religious house. What about taking prayer and fasting more seriously? Today, there are only four compulsory fast days: Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the two Cafod fast days, whilst previously there were more. In the past, when there was greater poverty and food supplies were less reliable, there were more fast days. Someone once told me that when he was growing up, eating and fasting were dictated by what was available: “We fasted when there was nothing, or when the food our mother cooked was inedible”. When you’ve lived a hard life, you want a bit of a rest from that. If you haven’t lived a hard life, you probably wouldn’t normally want to choose it. But if we are too attached to our comforts, we become lazy and the mission of the Church suffers. “[The] road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 6:13-14).

It’s not always easy following the Lord. Amos was told to go away, the Apostles had to wander from place to place with few possessions, and we are called to live a life that is, at times, in contradiction with what the world holds dear. But we do so because following the Lord is better than anything else, and the rewards are truly out of this world.