20th Sunday after Pentecost
In today’s epistle, St Paul once more takes us by surprise, opening up for us one of those amazingly beautiful truths – totally incomprehensible to the world – namely that in the midst of evils and sufferings, the truly Christian soul has no reason to lose heart. On the contrary, right there, when things are bad, really bad, we must sing psalms, making melody in our hearts to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things (Cf. Eph 5:15-21). Without faith this is not possible. But with faith all is possible. The fundamental truth upon which this attitude rests is that we have within us the very power of the Divinity. Almighty is God, and whoever puts faith and trust in Him shares in that omnipotence. What’s more, the most decisive battle in the war has already been won. Jesus Our Lord won it for us through His passion and resurrection. We have only to walk in His footsteps.
The Apostle does not hide the dangers: The days are evil. The times have changed little since then. Those, like these, were evil, meaning that we are beset on every side by evil which strives to trip us up and pull us down. Walk circumspectly: not as unwise, but as wise. This expression sends us back to the words of the Lord who commanded us to be wise as serpents and simple as doves (Mt 10:16). We must never think that, because we are with God, we can just say or do anything. No, circumspection is one of the additives to the virtue of prudence without which it cannot function properly. Making proper decisions involves considering all that surrounds us; it also involves foreseeing, as much as possible, the future.
But the Christian soul is also commanded to redeem the time. What is it to “redeem the time”? We have all lost so much time in our lives, the greatest losses being in the areas of sin and other foolishness. As Psalm 13 tells us, those who live as if there were no God are perfectly useless. And so whenever we have sinned in the past, we have lost precious time. The good news is that it can be redeemed by the grace of God. Yes, the grace of God is omnipotent, meaning that it can restore what was lost, repair what was broken. Divine Love is so powerful that in an instant it can make up for a lifetime of sin and brokenness.
The apostle also insists that we must give thanks always for all things. Another stunning expression, in that while there are many things we spontaneously think of as being gifts to be thankful for, there are also many others for which giving thanks would be an unthinkable reaction. But Paul is clear: give thanks always for all things. What can he mean by all things if not all things, including the unfortunate, difficult, unpleasant, and even unfair events of life? This attitude is truly the key to our leading a fully Christian life in this world of sin and injustice. There is no occasion, no situation, no event in which we are dispensed from giving thanks to God and singing in our hearts to Him. It is indeed a complete re-education that we must undergo in order to see things in the light of God and His eternity. It is this which transforms our outlook on life and allows us to approach the hard realities with serenity.
Those hard realities are many today and they seem to increase with almost each passing hour. They touch upon our most fundamental liberties, not just religious but even human: the fundamental right to make informed medical decisions without undue pressure or coercion from authorities both civil and religious and without the risk of losing one’s job; the right of free association and movement within one’s own country; the right to not be tracked and under surveillance like criminals; the right to worship and access churches and sacraments at all times without the danger of seeing them mixed with dubious pagan rituals; the right to not be segregated from fellow citizens and fellow Christians because of medical decisions made in conscience and according to international law, and the list could go on. While we strive to resist and overcome by legal and political action these growing injustices, we have the duty at all times to give thanks to the Lord for allowing us to find ourselves in the midst of what may very well turn out to be the gravest peril to civilisation ever seen. It is certain, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice. Will we allow ourselves to be cast down into that abyss? Have we already done so? Time will tell, and it won’t be long now before we know for sure. One thing is sure, in the midst of it all, we must constantly give praise to God, and sing psalms to His glory. What a fascinating thought, one which changes perspectives and helps us to understand from the inside the joy the martyrs had in going to their prisons and death.
Throughout the month of October at Matins we read the story of the Holy Maccabees. These brave men fought against Greek oppression that had deprived them of their sacred ceremonies. They could have complied with new and unjust regulations, they could have pretended to go along and await better days. But they knew they were fighting not only for personal rights, but for the very existence of their people and their posterity. Indeed, a salutary thought for us all to remember: when a certain, inalienable right is at stake, the lack of resistance to oppression is not an act of virtue but an act of cowardice, for those fundamental rights are not ours to bargain with. If we do not stand up for them, they will be lost and future generations will scorn us for have traded away what did not belong to us.
At the end of his battle speech to his compatriots, Judas Maccabeus spoke thus: Gird yourselves, and be valiant men… for it is better for us to die in battle, than to see the evils of our nation, and of the holy place: nevertheless as it shall be the will of God in heaven so be it done (1 Macc 3:58-60). Those final words give us cause to stop and reflect: Nevertheless as it shall be the will of God in heaven so be it done. In other words, it does not matter what happens to us. God does not demand success, but fidelity. And many are those in the history of the Church who failed in the eyes of the world and even of the Church. But God and His eternity knows them well, and they shall shine as stars in the firmament for ages to come.
Perhaps in our struggle for justice and truth, we shall find ourselves deprived of liberty or sent into exile. It would not be the first time. Such was the lot of the Saviour Himself, the Apostles and Holy Martyrs. And we know that we have often deserved such treatments, if not for our defence of the truth, at least for our past sins. Then it is that we must emulate those Jews who were taken in captivity to Babylon, a section of whose song of praise is given to us in today’s introit. Blessed art thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers… for thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true… For according to truth and judgment, thou hast brought all these things upon us for our sins… Everything that thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment… Take not away thy mercy from us (Dan 3:26 and sq).
Whatever the future may hold, my dear Friends, let us obey the Apostle’s command, let us sing in our hearts to God at all times. Let us say to the Lord, as we just sang in the alleluia verse: My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will sing and I will give praise to Thee, my Glory. And let us never forget Our Lady’s pressing plea at Fatima: Pray the Rosary every day. Pray it with the faith of the centurion in today’s Gospel. He believed the word of Jesus and his faith obtained the miracle. So let us believe that our prayers can save the world, even in this late hour. At Fatima, Our Lady said that victory would come late, very late. But her Immaculate Heart will triumph. May we never fail at our post. Amen.