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Homily for the Joint Confirmation for the Western Block (Deanery) of Gunma



Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time


September 13, 2015

First Reading: The Book of Isaiah 50:5-9a
Second Reading: The Letter of James 2:14-18
Gospel Reading: Mark 8:27-35

Confirmation, which we’re about to celebrate, is the sacrament through which the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are conferred on those who have become adopted children of God through baptism. The seven gifts are shown in the prayer the bishop says: wisdom and understanding, right judgment and courage, knowledge and reverence, and wonder and awe in God’s presence. Today I’d like to take up one of them, the gift of knowledge.

Let’s look to today’s Gospel. Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” Peter made an admirable confession of faith. Then Jesus foretells his passion and death. He plainly said that he would suffer many things, be rejected and killed. This was totally beyond Peter’s comprehension. Appalled by the Master’s outrageous statement, he began to rebuke Jesus. In return, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:27-35)

What kind of God did Peter believe in? He must have thought that God is the Omnipotent and should be free from suffering, mourning and pain. It was the furthest thing from Peter’s mind that the Messiah, the Son of God sent from God himself, would suffer many things, be rejected and killed.

However, it is the suffering and mortifying God that the Scriptures present. Christianity indeed is the religion of the cross. At the heart of our faith is the faith in the cross. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “To give his only Son” means that Jesus was crucified. Jesus, on the cross, breathed his last crying, “Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34) How did the Father in heaven feel as he watched his beloved Son dying? Surely it must have been “gut-wrenching”!

The God we believe in is not “the God who never suffers” but the God who does suffer and ache. The Book of Jeremiah includes the following verse: “Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:20, cf. NKJV) The latter part of this verse used to be translated in literal Japanese style as follows: “For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the LORD.” (cf. KJV) “My heart yearns for him” had been translated as “my bowels are troubled for him.” That is exactly the same as saying it’s gut-wrenching!

This sentiment of God is also revealed in the Book of Hosea: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:8-9) Here, God is almost answering his own questions and writhing. He has been hurt and upset by Israel’s infidelity and betrayal. At the same time, his heart is full of compassion for Israel. Sin is sin. But he wants to forgive his beloved people. There is a struggle between anger and compassion in his heart. We must take this image of God to heart. In the end God’s anger gives in to his compassion. His forgiving love triumphs over his punishing justice. The result was the incarnation of Jesus and his cross.

Let’s go back to today’s Gospel. Jesus says: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” We all want to enjoy a life of peace and comfort. Taking up our cross means going against the desire. But we must put away this way of life led by our old self. Christianity is the religion of the cross. We, the disciples of Christ, are called to follow these words of his.

“Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus every day” reminds me of the following prayer known as “Mother Teresa’s Prayer”:

Deliver me O Jesus from the desire of being esteemed.
Deliver me O Jesus from the desire of being loved.
Deliver me O Jesus from the desire of being honored,
and being praised, and being preferred to others.
Deliver me O Jesus from the desire of being consulted.
Deliver me O Jesus from the desire of being approved and popular.
Deliver me O Jesus from the fear of being humiliated,
from the fear of being despised, from the fear of being rebuked.
Deliver me O Jesus from the fear of being slandered,
from the fear of being forgotten, and the fear of being wronged.
Deliver me O Jesus from the fear of being ridiculed and suspected.
Amen.

For Mother Teresa, I would say, taking up her cross was living like this prayer. As you’re receiving the sacrament of Confirmation today, use this opportunity to think it over: “What is the cross for me personally? What does ‘denying myself and taking up my cross’ mean to me?” That is a significant challenge to be addressed for the rest of our lives. Let us pray that we can respond faithfully to this call from Jesus.


Note: All the Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition (NRSVCE), copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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