Saturday, 8 July 2006

'And they would not accept Him'

Some thoughts from this Sunday's homily:

‘And they would not accept him.’

In some ways I find today’s Gospel rather comforting. Anyone involved in preaching the Faith knows that so often the seed falls on hard ground. This was even the case for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was ‘despised in his own country’ and ‘could work no miracle there.’ Most committed Christians will sympathise with His amazement at the Nazarenes lack of faith.

In commenting on our readings, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa (the Preacher to the Papal Household) says that modern Europe is 'for Christianity, what Nazareth was for Jesus: "the place where he was raised" (Christianity was born in Asia, but grew up in Europe, a bit like Jesus who was born in Bethlehem but was raised in Nazareth!) Today Europeans run the same risk as the Nazarenes: not to recognize Jesus. The episode of the Gospel teaches us something important. Jesus leaves us free; he proposes his gifts, he does not impose them.’ God forces no one but gives us the freedom to choose.

‘And they would not accept him.’

Pope Benedict arrived in Spain today for the Fifth World Meeting of Families. Although historically Spain is one of the great centres of European Catholicism, over the last century the Church there has frequently been under attack. Most recently, since 2004 a Socialist government has governed Spain. So far its achievements include: same-sex marriage legislation; fast-track divorces (divorce was illegal in Spain until 1981); limiting religious education in state schools; supporting embryonic stem-cell research; easing abortion laws; reducing public funding for the Church; allowing transsexuals to legally change their gender without undergoing surgery; issuing birth certificates that no longer refer to ‘father’ and ‘mother’ but rather ‘Progenitor A’ and ‘Progenitor B.’

For a country that is 94% Catholic, that’s a pretty dismal record and the Pope will undoubtedly remind Spain of the importance of strong family life and the timely relevance of the Church’s teaching. The Pope sees Spain as the front line in Europe’s battle against ‘creeping secularisation,‘ the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ and the ‘eclipse of God.’ Not surprisingly, although many are excited about the Pope’s visit, this will not be as easy as his recent visit to Poland in honour of his predecessor and anti-Catholic demonstrations have been organised. 'A prophet is despised in his own country among his own relations and in his own house.'

‘And they would not accept him.’

When I turned on Radio 4 this morning there was an item about Cardinal Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who has recently spoken out against recent legislation that questions the dignity of human life. He noted that ‘the Church is at risk of being brought before some international court if the debate becomes any tenser, if the more radical requests get heard.’ Indeed, ‘even talking about the defence of life and family rights is being treated as a sort of crime against the state in some countries - a form of social disobedience or discrimination against women.’

One example is the Church’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research. The basic principle is, of course, that human life begins at conception. The Church supports stem cell research if the stem cells are obtained from adults (usually from umbilical cord blood, skin, bone marrow or fat). This research can lead to important medical and scientific advances. The problem occurs when the stem cells are obtained from human embryos, which have normally been ‘farmed’ in IVF clinics and are excess to requirements. This process involves the killing of the embryo, which is just as much a human person as you or me, even though it’s at a different stage of development. Using living embryos for experiments is as inappropriate as using grown adults for such tests. Consequently Cardinal Trujillo recently said that embryonic stem cell research is on the same level as abortion (killing innocent human life) and that Catholics who participate in it risk excommunication. This has been greeted by widespread opposition – but this is what we can expect when we speak as prophets to a hostile audience.

‘And they would not accept him.’

Today’s Gospel reminds us that faith is not just a private possession. We don’t just keep it to ourselves. The Truth revealed to us by God is meant to be shared – and when we see the Church attacked we need to be ready to respond. We have to bring God into every area of our life, into the public domain, even if we meet with opposition, even if our home country rejects us. As the Lord tells Ezekiel, ‘whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.’ Others have a choice to follow or reject God, but we have a duty to preach the Gospel of Salvation, whatever the reaction.

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