Sunday, September 10, 2023

How To Inherit the Earth: Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost


"The Virgin Mary with the Apostles and other Saints" Fra. Angelico, National Gallery, UK.

My dear brothers and sisters,

Meekness is the virtue that St Paul recommends to us today in this reading from his letter to the Galatians. However, meekness has not been in fashion since at least 1789, the year the French Revolution broke out. We have been living in revolutionary times ever since then; which is to say, our very way of thinking has become revolutionary. And meekness, is not counted as a virtue among revolutionaries. To revolutionaries, meekness is for the weak. The strong, they take things, they change things, by force. And bear in mind, revolutionaries don’t imagine that they are engaged in anything wrong. On the contrary, very often they may argue for things that objectively, seem very good, even desirable. The problem, however, lies in the fact that they then set out to achieve what they see as good by force. “Meekness is going to get you nowhere”, they argue.

And so, we live in a revolutionary world, where we are always rebelling, and trying to overthrow the systems that we do not like, the authorities that we are opposed to, things that we do not agree with. We know what a better world looks like, and how we can get there. But what this has done is only create more problems for us. Following Pope Benedict XVI, one could argue that this is because the revolutionaries, taking pride in their own strength, effectively usurp the powers of God. It is to God alone that the power to create utopia exists, and this is what revolutionaries seek to do, create a utopia, and perhaps without realising it become Gods in their world. In Christian terms, the revolutionary is a Pelagian. He does not believe in Grace, and it is for this reason that the revolutionary world, that is to say, the contemporary world, is so ugly. And do not imagine that the revolutionary is only some kind of leftist. On the contrary, all of us participate in this revolutionary thought and we need to beware of this tendency that we nurse within our hearts.

The self-imagined strength of the revolutionary, however, is in fact a weakness, because he relies on his own strength alone.  Indeed, it is the meek, who are in fact truly strong. Remember that being meek does not mean accepting everything and doing nothing. To be meek is not to be fatalist. On the contrary, as St. Paul urges us in his letter to the Galatians: “if a man be overtaken in any fault, you, who are spiritual, instruct such a one”. Do not forget that the spiritual works of mercy consist in instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, and bearing wrongs patiently. In other words, the meek are required to know the truth, and act according to the truth, counselling and even admonishing those who are in error, even if it hurts them. They are required to bear witness to the truth. If the consequences of these counsels and admonishments result in a distasteful situation for the meet, they have to deal with these situations patiently, sometimes even to the point of death as was the case with St. John the Baptist, and all the saints of our Holy Mother the Church. The meek may not know worldly success, but they are doing their bit to realise the kingdom of God, and it is eventually God who will take the decisions, in His own time, to realise His kingdom. As St Paul advises us “in due time we shall reap, not failing”.

And yet, how do we know that we shall reap? We know that we shall repeat because we will have been following the counsel of the true King of the world, Jesus Christ, who in the words of the alleluia is “Rex magnus super omnem terram” a great King over all the earth. A king, who, as we have read in the gospel today, has the power of life and death, and can give life even to the dead.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, it falls to each of us to be meek in this revolutionary world. Affirm what is just, what is true, regardless of the consequences. This is what it means to sow in the spirit. However, let us bear this in mind and never forget, that to sow in the spirit, we need to always pray for the grace of God for the strength to be meek. For this reason, let us turn to Our Lord and pray: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine.

(A version of this homily was first preached in Portuguese at the Church of Conceição Velha, Lisbon for a congregation following the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, following the 1962 Missal.)

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