11th / 12th August 2018

posted 13 Aug 2018, 02:10 by Parish Office

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(11 & 12/8/18)


What have we got to do in order to get to heaven?  It’s not quite as simple as some people think.


Throughout the Gospels, there are various isolated phrases which people can quote out of context and use them to let themselves off the hook.  Today we have two:  “everybody who believes has eternal life” and “Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever”.  But it’s only when we put together everything Christ taught that we get the full picture.


Let’s look first at “everybody who believes has eternal life”.  What does this mean?  Some think it just means that you have to believe in Jesus, but that it doesn’t demand much of them.  St Paul wrote, in the Letter to the Romans, about the importance of faith (which Luther famously mis-interpreted).  St Paul’s point was that we put our faith in Christ who saves us.  We don’t earn our way into heaven by our own effort independent of Christ.  But then St James, in his letter later on in the New Testament, had to correct perhaps the opposite extreme:  people who thought they just had to believe, but didn’t really have to live out that faith.  This is the example he gave:


“If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?  Fatih is like that:  if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead” (James 2:15-17).


We could perhaps also quote the example of the parable of the sheep and the goats, where it is those who failed to take care of those in need who found themselves on Christ’s left, and told to depart to the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.


So when Christ says, “everyone who believes has eternal life”, He means that belief should lead to action.  And today, as two thousand years ago, being a good Catholic means that we care both for the poor and for the unborn.  If we follow the ideology of either the left or the right in politics and let that superceed our religion, then we’ve made an idol out of ideology.  As they often say, the Catholic faith is “both...and”, not “either...or”.  We care for both the poor and the unborn, not just either one or the other.


Let’s have a look at the second phrase of Christ:  “Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever”.  Do we take it in a narrow, literal, way, by thinking that if you receive Holy Communion just once in your life, then everything is sorted and you will go to heaven?  Do I need to answer that question?  There’s almost a hint of an answer in the first reading:  Elijah was told by the angel to get up and eat, so he did, and then lay down again.  So the angel told him to get up and eat again, and then Elijah had the strength for the journey to Horeb, the mountain of God.  But don’t take that literally either, and now think that we have to receive Holy Communion just twice in our lives, and then we will be alright.  Holy Communion, the Bread of Life, is food for the journey througout life, and, for those who are able, it is the last sacrament they will receive as part of the Last Rites before they depart this life.


Now just imagine for a moment that you’re the devil.  You hate the Eucharist, you hate the priesthood and you hate humanity.  So if you managed to finally get someone to give up going to Mass, would you then move in straightaway with the attack?  Or would you hold back, maybe for years, and perhaps give the person less temptations than before, so that your victim actually has a sense of peace?  Then, years later, you might decide to have some fun with your victim, with him or her never thinking to join together the dots, and putting the blame on something or someone else.  In our  battle with evil, we are not dealing with a machine, where you press this and that happens – we are dealing with a being with intelligence.  And as any soldier will tell you, in warfare, bombs and bullets are not the only weapons.  Part of the assault is psychological.


We can look through other parts of the Gospel and find other things that we are expected to do as Christians, but I won’t cover all of those today as well.  But to the simple question of what do I need to do to get to heaven, one of the best answers was given by Our Lady at the wedding feast at Cana:  “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).