XII Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A – June 21, 2020
Jer 20.10-13; Ps 69; Rom 5.12-15; Mt 10.26-33
Gen 2,4b-17; Ps 103; Rom 5: 12-17; Jn 3: 16-21
III Sunday after Pentecost
1) Fear defeated by trust
In today’s Gospel we listen to the recommendations that Jesus makes to his disciples sent on a mission. He does not only talk about places to go and how to behave, but also about the possibility of persecution and what to do when it happens to the missionaries. Three times Christs invites his disciples not to be afraid.
Inviting not to fear, Christ asks the disciples (including us) to have what is the opposite of fear, that is, the trust that frees from fear. This trust comes from believing that our life, our history is in the hands of God.
Of course, fear, especially that of dying, will always remain, but it will not be the motive for our actions. It becomes the right prudence not to expose us to unnecessary risks. It is useful to re-state that fear – fear means then lack of faith – always coexists with faith. But they are in inverse proportions: where there is faith there is no fear, where there is fear there is no mature and complete faith.
In any case, fear is rooted not only in the fact that, shortly before, the Messiah had told his disciples that he would send them like lambs among wolves. In fact, there is a certain fear that governs our actions. The fear of death and the instinct for self-preservation are what “instinctively” control what we do; we should worry if we did not have them. There is nothing wrong with that; a certain fear of death is right to preserve life. However it is a fact that we all die. Therefore, being afraid of death, knowing that we must die, means living our whole life in fear, that is ,not living, as we might do at this particular time of the pandemic. It means living your whole life in anguish, in the slavery of evil, in the slavery of death, and therefore in despair.
Fear, which is correct to some extent, cannot be the beginning of all actions. It is right to have it. In a car there are brakes but there is also the engine, and the engine of life must not be fear, the engine of life must be trust or, better, the love that puts its trust in those who love us.
For this to happen, let us act like a little child who, if left in a room where the light suddenly goes out, for fear of the dark shouts out for mom or dad. Fear does not create the mother or the father, it send out the cry for help to those who love him and whose love has preceded him. The frightened child confidently invokes the love that generated him and that he knows that can restore his light. Let’s do the same by invoking God the Father whose infinite love gives us the compassion we need to live.
2) Evangelism and compassion.
Faith tells us that our life is guarded by the love of God, who is Father and, therefore, providence.
Today’s Gospel confirms this faith, and Christ reminds us that, if God cares even for sparrows and weak things like our hair, he certainly takes care of us every day.
God is never absent, he is with us in every moment of our life and will be until the end of world. We know that we are in the hands of God, who made his own the human drama becoming flesh to save us. He is always present, is moved and cries, takes part, leans on ours wounds, wipes our tears, and bends over each one of us.
Yet, we often live in fear. In fact, the comforting truth that God with serene look and secure hand guides our history, paradoxically finds in our heart a double contrasting sentiment. On the one hand, we are led to welcome and trust this providential God as the Psalmist states: “I have stilled my soul,like a weaned child to its mother weaned is my soul“(Ps 131, 2). On the other hand, however, we have fear and hesitate to abandon ourselves to God, Lord and Savior of our lives, because, obscured by things, we forget about the provident God or because, wounded by the various sufferings and difficulties of life, we doubt him as Father. In both cases the Providence of God is called into question by our fragile humanity.
On this slender ridge between hope and despair lies God’s word, so splendid to be humanly almost incredible, so true to immensely enhance the reasons for hope. The word of God never assumes such greatness and charm as when it confronts with the utmost questions of man, of each one of us, who asks: “What is and where is my destiny? “. The Gospel tells us that God is here, he is the Emmanuel, God-with-us (Is 7, 14), and in Jesus of Nazareth, dead and resurrected, good Face of Destiny, Son of God and our Brother, God shows that he has “planted his tent among us” (Jn 1:14).
If we accept that the answer is Christ, who dwells in us and we in Him, we are not afraid anymore because fear is won by our being rooted in Love.
If, today, we welcome the invitation of Christ who three times tells us not to be afraid, not only we will live in peace because our heart is consoled, but we will be witnesses of his Gospel of compassion bringing in the squares of our cities and the intimacy of our homes the happy announce that God is among us and tells us: “Do not look after you, let your Lord take care of you.”
Mission is born from the compassion received by God and shared among us. This compassion is not just saying that we pity someone. The word “compassion” comes from two words (Greek and Hebrew) that refer to the mother’s womb. To feel compassion is something that takes us inside, something visceral, and this seems to me to be the only condition to be able to grasp the invitation of Jesus not to fear but to trust God. Mission, the preaching from the terraces as the today’s gospel calls it, is possible only to the extent that it does not become a matter of organization but of compassion.
Therefore, it is right (or at least I hope so) to affirm that the first invitation that the Liturgy of the Word of this Sunday sends to us is to trust God. In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah states “The Lord is with me … the Lord has freed the life of the poor”, but so does the text of the Gospel, which tells us of a life, ours, guarded by the love of God. We read of Jeremiah, besieged by friends and enemies hangry at him. Why? Just because he has announced the face of God and has exhorted the people to confide only in God. For this, Jeremiah is captured, bound, and lashed in the temple. For this reason, Christ has been crucified.
The life of Jeremiah and that of Christ show that it is worth trusting in God. It is reasonable to live this total abandonment and this loving confidence. When we do it, we experience a deep peace and joy. In moments of discouragement let’s look up to Christ and to the long series of saints who have followed him. As an example I’d like to quote Nicodemus who, for fear, goes to Jesus at night. Night is the ideal time for those who do not want to be seen or do not want to be seen talking to someone. Those who are ashamed to show themselves find the ideal time at night. The night of Nicodemus perhaps indicates the fear of being oneself. It indicates the fear of being true. The night of Nicodemus indicates his inability and his fear of being free. It is beautiful that, at the most difficult time, Nicodemus asks for the body of Jesus in the deep of the day as if screaming from a roof.
3) Martyrs are exemplary witnesses of Providence trusting God until death.
I very much like the fact that in today’s Gospel there is also written that nothing will remain hidden or unknown to God, not even the smallest suffering. For us to be “child of God” is a guarantee that also discomfort, suffering or, to the limit, martyrdom enter the design of God the Father. The statement “A sparrow does not fall without God knowing and wanting it” does not mean that we’ll never fall, but that everything is part of the almighty design of the omnipotent and provisional Father. It means: if it happens to you to fall, God knows it. God is within our suffering and we are not abandoned. His presence is a presence of salvation although if it is not perceived, and even if, at a psychological level, it does not make a great impact and we do not feel great consolation. However, within a dimension of faith, there is the possibility of living this dimension of the presence of the love of the Emmanuel, God always with us.
St. Paul compares human and cosmic suffering to the pains of the “childbirth” of the whole creation, emphasizing the “weeping” of those who possess the “first fruits” of the Spirit and await the fullness of adoption, that is, “the redemption of our body.” But he adds “We know that everything is good for those who love God. . . “And beyond:” What then will separate us from the love of Christ? Perhaps tribulation, anguish, persecution, hunger, nudity, danger, or sword? ” to the conclusion” I am persuaded that neither death nor life…nor any other creature can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord ” (Rm 8, 22-39). Alongside the paternity of God, manifested by Divine Providence, the pedagogy of God appears. “It is for your correction (” paideia “, that is, education) that you suffer! God treats you like children; and which child is not corrected (educated) by the father? . . . God does it for our own good in order to make us partakers of his holiness ” (cf. Eph 12: 7-10) (St. John Paul II). With the eyes of faith suffering, though it may still look like the darkest aspect of the destiny of man on earth, reveals the mystery of the divine Providence, contained in the revelation of Christ and in particular in his cross and resurrection.
The important thing is to discover, through faith, the power and the “wisdom” of the Father God who with Christ leads us to the saving ways of the divine Providence. The meaning of the words of the psalmist is confirmed: “The Lord is my shepherd. . . If I walk in a dark valley, I fear no evil for you are with me “(Ps 23: 1-4).
We must Christianly call Providence any experience that is brought to us by what we “humanly” call destiny. With confidence we must overcome our ignorance and with love collaborate in the redemptive work of God the Son. May his Holy Spirit testify in our heart that we are truly the children of God, and that it is reasonable to accept all the events of the “hand” of God.
The testament written by the Abbot of Tibhirine a few months before being martyred, is a sublime example: ” If it should happen one day — and it could be today — that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail so terribly in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down”. (See the full text that is proposed instead of the patristic reading)
At this point, we only have to pray that in the certainty of God’s love for us we find the answer to the questions that no human wisdom can answer. Let’s pray: “That you love me is the answer to every question – let me hear it when the time of trial comes” (Romano Guardini)
4) The consecrated virgins: witnesses of Providence.
In the previous two paragraphs I have tried to explain that Divine Providence reveals itself as the walking of God beside man.
Bearing in mind the Old Testament, I tried to show that the words of Christ reach a fullness of meaning even greater. They are said by the Son who, “scrutinizing” all that has been said on the subject of Providence, is a perfect witness of the mystery of his Father: mystery of Providence and paternal care embracing every creature, even the most insignificant such as field grass or sparrows. Therefore, even more man.
However, it is important to note that each of us should not only be grateful for the provisional action of the Creator towards us, but that we also have the duty to cooperate with the gift received by Providence. Therefore, we cannot content with the values of its meaning, matter and utility. We must look first of all for “the kingdom of God and his justice” because “all these things (the earthly things) will be added “(cf. Mt 6:33).
An example of this co – operation in the design of God’s providential love is the consecration of the virgins, who with the total gift of themselves to God become the reflection of the thought and love of God in things and in history. They let themselves to be impregnated by the wise charity of God and share it with their brothers and sisters in humanity.
That is why the Bishop who presides the Rite of Consecration prays: ” Loving Father, chaste bodies are your temple; you delight in sinless hearts… look with favor on your handmaids. They place in your hands their resolve to live in chastity,… protect those who seek your help…They desire to be strengthened by your blessing and consecration… Through the gift of your Spirit, Lord, give them modesty with right judgment, kindness with true wisdom, gentleness with strength of character, freedom with the grace of chastity. Give them the warmth of love, to love you above all others. Make their lives deserve our praise, without seeking to be praised. May they give you glory by holiness of action and purity of heart. May they love you and fear you; may they love you and serve you… hey have chosen you above all things; may they find all things in possessing you“( Rite of the CONSECRATION TO A LIFE OF VIRGINITY FOR WOMEN LIVING IN THE WORLD).
Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé. (opened on Pentecost Sunday, May 26, 1996)
If it should happen one day — and it could be today — that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail so terribly in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!”
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing: immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with him His children of Islam just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.
In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families — you are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD BLESS” for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
Algiers, 1st December 1993 – Tibhirine, 1st January 1994
 Prior of the Abbey of Tibhirine, Algeria. In May 1996 he was martyred along with other six Trappist monks.