TWELFTH Sunday, A – 21/22 June 2008
Jeremiah 20, 10-13; Psalm 69; Romans 5, 12-15; Matthew 10:26-33
"Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in haven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father."
What a wonderful promise! Jesus gives his instructions to the Twelve and gives them, and us through them, this wonderful promise that is at the very heart of the Christian faith. That really is all we have to do, just declare ourselves to be openly in favour of Christ and his Gospel of love.
It doesn't seem much, does it? And yet if we look at it in another way it is everything. We declare ourselves openly for Christ and of course we then have to start living accordingly. If we do not, but go back to our old ways of life we are giving counter-witness and will have disowned him; this will mean that he will disown us, as he says in the second part of his saying.
The plain truth is that if countless numbers of people down the generations had not openly declared themselves for Christ and suffered the consequences of doing so, and quite often this meant torture and death; then we would not be here today. There would be no Church building; there would be no community of Christians. The Church of today is built on the foundations of those who openly declared themselves for Christ in the past.
A famous man of the world was asked if he was a Christian. His answer was,
"Yes, but not very offensively." He meant that he did not allow his Christianity to interfere with the company he kept or the life of pleasure.
It is a bit like the Spaniard who when asked by a priest if he was a Catholic was quite indignant and said: “Of course I am”. The priest then asked him if he went to Sunday Mass on a regular basis. The Spaniard said, "Father, you know, I'm a Catholic, and not a fanatic."
There are three principal ways we can deny Christ.
We can deny him
- by our words,
- by our silence and
- by our actions.
Each of us has had moments like Peter when the cock crows; moments when we are deeply shamed by our open denial of Christ. We are put on the spot and we openly deny him. “I don’t know Jesus. I am a modern man and not a religious fanatic to manifest my faith in this way.” This is denial by words.
There are other times when we deny him by silence, by our failure to speak up. We see we are out-numbered or we are afraid we will be ridiculed and so we say nothing, but that means that a grave injustice is done, the name of Christ is mocked or an opportunity to witness Him missed.
We also deny him by our actions by living the sort of life that is unworthy of a Christian; by basing our life on lies; by manipulating others; by cruelty; by a life of ease; by pressing down the poor, by neglecting our religious life and religious activities.
Maybe you have all heard of the famous book “Tom Brown's Schooldays”. Tom Brown was very popular at his Public School; he lived with about a dozen other boys in one of the school's dormitories. He was very influential and was the undisputed leader of his gang of friends. One day a new boy came to the school. When it came to bedtime the new boy innocently knelt down by his bed to say his prayers.
Some of the other boys began to snigger, a few others began to laugh and joke, one even threw a shoe at the kneeling boy. That night Tom didn't go to sleep straight away. He lay awake thinking about what had happened to the new boy. He also began to think about his mother and the prayers she had taught him to say each night before going to bed, prayers he had not said since he came to school.
The next night several of the boys were looking forward to having fun with the new boy. But that night something totally unexpected happened. When the new boy knelt down to say his prayers, Tom knelt down also. The whole atmosphere of the dormitory changed.
Jesus tells us that He will declare Himself for those who declare themselves for Him. One of the reasons Jesus made this statement is because bearing witness to Him or not bearing witness to Him can have a profound effect on those around us.
Perhaps the most important area in which this happens is in the home. The deciding factor for Tom Brown was the influence of his mother's example. Because he was so impressed with her faith he in turn gave witness to others and influenced them profoundly. And how it is in our houses? Do we give a witness?
It has been said that every Christian occupies some kind of pulpit and preaches some kind of sermon every day. This is never more true than of parents in the home. Bishop Halder Camara from Brazil used to repeat: “You are the only Gospel some people will ever read.” Shouldn’t be this a motto for us all”.
In the course of the last twenty-six years since I was ordained I have talked to thousands of young people. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity I’ve asked them about prayer.
I have been very impressed with the answers and even more so by the depth of their prayer-lives. Mostly they pray because they were taught to do so as young children. But I have been equally saddened by the fact the most of them have told me that prayer is practically a taboo subject in the home.
It is easy and it is truly wonderful to talk to young children about prayer. It is more difficult, but much more rewarding, to talk to teenagers and young adults about prayer.
What many Catholics are lacking is the vocabulary to deal with these things and I think that this is one of the reasons why we shy away from talking about anything to do with religion.
An important thing is to get people talking about their faith and to feel comfortable doing so. How many people would like to share their faith with others? How many are simply embarrassed by such a proposal? Somebody in the past told us that my faith is my private and personal almost intimate and secret matter. And we believe it, and we are ashamed to share our faith.
One of the most important things that ought to be discussed by the members of every family in which there are teenagers is how to make that transition from childhood forms of prayer to ones that are more suitable for adult life.
The most helpful thing for our young people would be to hear how their own parents struggled with this transition. They want to know what prayer is, and how you do it, and how it can give meaning and purpose to their lives.
This is something that really needs to be talked about, this is a duty that no true Christian should neglect, this is precisely the sort of thing that Jesus is referring to when he tells us that we ought to declare ourselves for him in the presence of others.
And what about the moral and ethical problems we are facing in our daily life? Do we dare to talk about this with our kids and teenagers? Do we give the witness to Christ and his teaching, do we acknowledge Him before our own families? Or we rather deny Him in our words, in our action or silence, and in what we have failed to do - also?