June 21 2015 12th Sunday of the Year (B)

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)                         

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Urgent recall for return to inner and spiritual life and personal knowledge of Christ

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Job 38:1, 8-11). Here your proud waves shall break. This reading will be best remembered in Ireland for Charles Steward Parnell’s use of it in an election campaign in Cork in 1885, in which he said: “No man has the right to fix the boundary of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country, ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no further’, and we have never attempted to fix the ‘ne plus ultra’ to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood, and we never shall.” Parnell’s use of Job 38:11 is not quite that intended by the original author. In its original setting today’s reading occurs at the beginning of God’s reply to Job. Throughout the book Job was protesting his innocence all through his terrific sufferings and lamenting the lack of understanding by his would-be comforters. He refused to admit that his misfortune was due to any personal sinfulness on his part. He sought audience with the Almighty himself. God’s response does not address Job’s question, but stresses, rather, divine omnipotence, far removed from anything Job can know or do. One of the deity’s responses is God’s power over the chaotic watery abyss at the creation and ordering of our known universe. In Middle East mythology the primordial sea is represented as a monster from which our world duly emerged. This is also the background to the present reading, where the origin of the world is described as a birth from the womb of chaos, with God acting as midwife, commanding the primordial sea stay behind the bounds set for it by God, and not to swallow up the earth so lovingly created by God. God’s might is shown by his power over the mighty sea. In Jewish tradition the sea continued to remain as symbol of destructive force, even in New Testament times. The present reading is chosen to go with the Gospel text on Jesus’ calming of the Sea of Galilee.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 106[107]). O give thanks t o the Lord, for his love endures for ever.

Second Reading (2 Corinthians 5:13-17). Now the new creation is here. This reading is part of the central section of this letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Through faith Christians have been given the great gift of seeing the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Belief in this may be a cause of pride, so Paul reminds Christians that we have this treasure in clay jars, and fidelity to it comes from God’s extraordinary power, not from human effort. Mention of weakness has Paul think of his own frailty, and the mystery both of Christ’s death and the resurrection at work in him. It is by dying to what is earthly, worldly, in us, by dying to ourselves, that we can live as true Christians. Paul lives by faith, but the thought of death has him reflect on, and contrast, this passing life with eternal glory. “For what can be seen in temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:18). This takes Paul to the desire of eternal life, but also to the knowledge that he, as all of us, “must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that we may receive recompense for what we have done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10). Paul is motivated by two truths — the fear of Lord by reason of his accountability for his actions, and the love of Christ who has died for us. Paul’s sense of responsibility requires that he speak plainly to his church, without fear or favour, and speak about central truths of Christianity, the truth that the Christian life is about the inner life, not externals. He had his eye on events in Corinth where already there were a number interested mainly in externals (in Paul’s language “outward appearance, not in the heart”), such as social standing, eloquence, charismatic speaking in tongues. Paul’s love for Christ urges him on, love and the belief that as the one man Christ had died for all, all have died, that is Christians are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, which implies that they die to all sinfulness and external show and live the new internal life in the risen Lord.

            In today’s reading, in language not altogether clear at first glance, Paul spells out what he means. He no longer judges any person by externals (“according to the flesh”), by worldly standards. Once he may have known Christ “according to the flesh”, that is in Christ’s human existence or more probably at his death, in human and in Paul’s eyes, a crucified criminal. Matters have changed for Paul with regard to Christ by reason of his belief in Christ’s resurrection and all it stands for. With Christ’s resurrection there is the vision and the reality of a new creation; the old order has passed away, and this is true for anyone who through baptism is “in Christ”, humbly united by grace to the transforming power of Christ’s resurrection. In him all is new; a terrible beauty has been born.

            Here Paul reiterates once again his vision of the new life, the new humanity, in Christ. But as Paul has already made clear, a vision without one’s feet on the ground, without awareness that we carry this treasure in clay vessels, can be treacherous, leading to concentration in externals.

Gospel (Mark 4:35-41). Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him. Jesus’ teaching in parables in the text in Mark’s gospel preceding this episode took place in Galilee, on the west side of the lake or Sea of Galilee. The other, the eastern, side of the lake was the Decapolis, gentile territory where Jesus will work a miracle on the Gerasene demoniac. After a day’s preaching, and probably tired, Jesus indicates to the disciples that they go by boat to the other side. The reason why mention of other boats being with them is not given. The Sea of Galilee is in the Jordan rift and has mountains nearby, and storms can arise unexpectedly. The purpose of this episode in Mark’s gospel is to indicate the power, almost divine power, of Jesus in calming the storm. The disciples would have known of the symbolic might of the sea from biblical (one example of this in the first reading from Job) and from the then current Jewish tradition. Not very much earlier (in 2 Maccabees 9:8) the death of the tyrant Antiochus IV was reflected on as follows: “Thus he who had just been thinking that he could command the waves of the sea, in his superhuman arrogance … was brought down to earth and carried in a litter, making the power of God manifest to all”. Jesus “rebuked” the storm as he would act in an exorcism, casting out demons. He chides his disciples for their lack of faith, a feature often encountered in Mark’s gospel. Mark is not just chronicling events. He is writing to confirm the faith of a church tossed by the storms of persecution, and calling for faith in Jesus who is present even when he may appear to be absent or asleep.

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day

Urgent recall for return to inner and spiritual life and personal knowledge of Christ

The gospel reading reminds us that Christ is always with his Church during any storm, and that he calls for faith in his presence and even chides his followers for weakness of belief. Paul gives an insight into some events in the early church at Corinth where some time after he had preached Christ to them, presenting Christ crucified, a number had turned to externals. Paul is at pains to recall them to essentials, to a personal knowledge of Christ, of the crucified and risen Lord, active by his grace within them, to interior Christian life rather than external show. . A call to such personal knowledge of Christ is very much in keeping with the advice given in a poem handed down in Irish folk tradition. It is in the form of teaching to a young person beginning life’s journey: “Young man or woman, now as you begin your life, pay careful attention to my advice. Before you become too old, get a personal knowledge of Christ – Sara dtiocfaidh iomad ded aois, Bíodh aithne ar Chríost agat”.

            A central message in the readings is about a personal knowledge of Christ as our saviour, still living among us, a personal acquaintance with him, not just knowledge about him. Today’s liturgical readings, and the invitation in the second reading to be on our guard against getting lost on externals, is also an invitation to recall what Pope Benedict XVI has addressed to us in this discourse to the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin three years ago, in 2012. This is also the fiftieth anniversary of this closure of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, and when referring to the documents of this Council Benedict recalled that the primary aim of the Council in these documents was to stress the interior Christian life of the followers of Christ. The Video message of Pope Benedict to the participants at the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012 presents an ideal opportunity to reflect on the relevant message of today’s liturgical readings and we may well recall his message three years later as being still addressed to us today. Pope Benedict XVI had a great knowledge, admiration and love of the work of the early Irish monks on the Continent. He expressed this in his Video message to the Dublin Eucharistic Congress. It was touching to see the aging and frail Pontiff speak so passionately on the significance of the Eucharist in our lives, and its call for a personal knowledge of Christ. He addressed and greeted all who had gathered in Dublin from Ireland and all who had come from afar to support the Irish Church with their presence and prayers.

            He then goes on to recall the abiding message of the Second Vatican Council, and of its documents. Based upon a deepening appreciation of the sources of the liturgy, the Council promoted the full and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic sacrifice. At our distance today from the Council Fathers’ expressed desires regarding liturgical renewal, and in the light of the universal Church’s experience in the intervening period, it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities. The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ’s love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and “active participation” has been confused with external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal. In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognize anew the mysterious presence of the Risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life. The Eucharist is the worship of the whole Church, but it also requires the full engagement of each individual Christian in the Church’s mission; it contains a call to be the holy people of God, but also one to individual holiness; it is to be celebrated with great joy and simplicity, but also as worthily and reverently as possible; it invites us to repent of our sins, but also to forgive our brothers and sisters; it binds us together in the Spirit, but it also commands us in the same Spirit to bring the good news of salvation to others”.

            When speaking of the Eucharist in words addressed to the whole Church, but with relevance also to Ireland, the Pope uses the technical term “Eucharist”, a word he uses five times in all. This is not a term in popular usage among Irish Catholics, or in many other countries as well. Irish Catholics do not speak of going to or attending Sunday or daily Eucharist. They go to Mass and have done so over the centuries. The Pope seems to have been conscious of this usage when addressing the Church in Ireland specifically. Here he changes usage and speaks of the Mass, as follows: “Moreover, the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, his body and blood given in the new and eternal covenant for the forgiveness of sins and the transformation of the world. Ireland has been shaped by the Mass at the deepest level for centuries, and by its power and grace generations of monks, martyrs and missionaries have heroically lived the faith at home and spread the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness well beyond your shores. You are the heirs to a Church that has been a mighty force for good in the world, and which has given a profound and enduring love of Christ and his blessed Mother to many, many others. Your forebears in the Church in Ireland knew how to strive for holiness and constancy in their personal lives, how to preach the joy that comes from the Gospel, how to promote the importance of belonging to the universal Church in communion with the See of Peter, and how to pass on a love of the faith and Christian virtue to other generations. Our Catholic faith, imbued with a radical sense of God’s presence, caught up in the beauty of his creation all around us, and purified through personal penance and awareness of God’s forgiveness, is a legacy that is surely perfected and nourished when regularly placed on the Lord’s altar at the sacrifice of the Mass.”

            Pope Benedict goes on to contrast this glorious history with the more recent scandals of child sex abuse that had hit the Irish Church, and attributes them in part to a lack of personal contact with Christ. He ended his address by reiterating that the work of the Vatican Council was really meant to overcome this form of Christianity and to rediscover the faith as a deep personal friendship with the goodness of Jesus Christ, and prays that the Congress will be for each of those he addresses a spiritually fruitful experience of communion with Christ and his Church. The Holy Father’s words merit serious reflection, recalling as they do the Apostle Paul’s call to the Corinthians.

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