Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on Trinity XII

Order of Mass

Greek Orthodox icon (Modern, anonymous, from orthochristian.com)For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

We all like to share a bit of good news. The end of the madness relating to this ‘pandemic’ would be nice, perhaps the birth of a child, good exam results and university places or job appointments.

The ‘good news’ encountered at the heart of the Gospel message is to be shared for the salvation of our souls. However, this ’Good News’ is counter-intuitive and therefore difficult for the disciples, especially Peter to get his head around.

The good news of the Gospel is simple. To be a disciple of Christ is to embrace the cross and the suffering that goes with it. We might have some sympathy with Peter and his response to the shocking nature of what Our Lord had to say. Who would not want to prevent a loved one from suffering and death?

Yet the rebuke Peter gets from the Lord is astonishing in its forcefulness. In a moment Peter goes from being named ‘The Rock’ upon which the Lord will build his Church to being told ‘get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me.’ More accurately ‘you are a stumbling stone to me’ our Lord makes a pun of his name. Peter’s thinking moved him from being the rock to build on to being a stumbling stone in the way.

The cross that our Lord says we must embrace is an instrument of torture — the cruellest form of death available to the Roman occupiers. In modern parlance we might say embrace the guillotine, the firing squad, the electric chair or even more controversial, the Liverpool Care Pathway.

The strength of Our Lord’s response to Peter is in measure to the consequence of his actions. The only means of salvation for humanity was for our Lord to go to Calvary. To oppose that was to stand in the way of God’s will for the salvation of the world, and unwittingly side with Satan. It is corrupt human thinking.

A disciple then is one who primarily follows his master. Yes, it requires knowing the faith and assenting to correct doctrine, as Paul states in our reading from Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We should engage our brains, but the emphasis of the disciple is that he is a follower.

The following of Christ is none other than the way of the Cross. There is no escaping this path if we wish to save our lives. Of course our natural response is to flee from hardship, suffering and especially when we are asked to give up our lives, but that is exactly what our Lord asks of us, to take up our cross and follow him.

Here is the paradox Christ reveals to us.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

The Greek for the word that is translated as life is ‘psyche’. It can be translated as soul and carries the meaning of the whole of our being. So we should read, ‘What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul or very being.’

Why would you give up your soul for the world, beautiful though it is; the world that is temporal, here today and gone tomorrow? What sort of madness gives up his eternal soul for that which is passing away?

Ask any older person and they will tell you that life is very short, some days may linger but the years pass with worrying speed. The physical world cannot save our souls and is incapable of providing us the happiness that our entire being longs for.

There is only one way to live, to follow Christ, fleeing conformity to the spirit of this world. We do this by taking up the cross, dying to the self — the old Adam — so that we might be made alive in Christ. And as St Paul says: “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”