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His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY ORD TIME
SUNDAY FOR LIFE IN ENGLAND
Today we are asked by our spiritual leaders to think about and pray about human life, from conception until natural death. We are to think about how we experience life and how we can enhance it. We all know how people love life, especially when they are financially safe, in good health and rejoice in good personal relationships. This is doubtless true of ourselves. We also know how precarious life is when these things do not pertain. Now government bills are proposed for euthanasia as was the case with abortion. Life can be estimated very differently in our multi-cultural world.
We are in constant need of help to keep our focus right. Looking at the Commonwealth Games at the moment in Glasgow we are helped to admire humanity at its very best- and be grateful that even if we ourselves have our very real athletic limitations we belong to the human race which is capable of such magnificence. We admire especially the place afforded to people with handicaps. The biblical background attested in today’s readings at Mass also helps us to keep our thinking straight.
Solomon and Wisdom (1Kgs 3:12)
King Solomon was gifted with wisdom. The most common feature of all human experience is that we can talk to each other. Speech presupposes what is fundamental to human nature: intelligible communication. This is a mighty presupposition. Yet it is fundamental. And talking presupposes sharing the world with each other. We experience the world in the same way basically. Not only is this true for us in our own moment in history; it is true for our interaction with the past. We can recognise in those who went before us basic experiences similar to our own. The ancients could communicate in a consistently intelligible way. In our world there would be very limited interest in archaeology if it did not tell us about the way ancient peoples lived and interrelated. One of the great advances made in archaeology in the last couple of centuries was the deciphering of ancient languages, like Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Old Accadian cuneiform. People then, like us now, could read and write. Suddenly we have access to these long forgotten peoples of the past. We are now able to put our questions to these ancient civilisations. And they are, all unknowingly to themselves, answering these questions for us. The world of the past is opened up for us and becomes part of our world of the present. The global village was not just achieved by the means of modern communication techniques. It was the fruit of scholarship based on the belief in the intelligibility of those who went before us sharing the same human nature that we do. What we shared and share is vastly more important than what divides us culturally. If this phrase taken from relatively recent ecumenical endeavour is now a simple truism it was already so for those pursuing the historical sciences through sheer interest in knowing about our ancestors. We now know the historical Jesus far better because we know the detail of the cultural world in which he lived.
Wisdom-1 Kgs 3:5.7-12(Today’s Mass)
When Solomon was gifted with wisdom everybody was expected to know what that gift meant. Wisdom is universal. It is the language needed to preserve civilisation; it is life considered from conception until natural death. People do not need to be gifted with faith to talk sense and perceive the importance of this understanding of life. The church may not be able to preach the whole gospel to non believers but it can address the indispensable conditions necessary for life through common human experience, the language of love. This is not just fine phrases; it is relationships lived out as selfless commitment. Exclusivity is no part of it. Nice to see Pope Francis the other day pick up his own tray and sit anywhere in the Vatican canteen. That is wisdom. The world has noticed.
The Scribe who becomes a Disciple (Mt 13:52)
In our Gospel today we are presented by Matthew with the scribe who becomes a disciple. He is the one who listened to Jesus the purveyor of wisdom through the parables. Have you understood all this? (Mt13:51). The parables draw upon life and experience. The scribe does the same. There is plenty of room for individual interpretation. The dragnet emphasises the necessity of good faith and perseverance and discernment. One must take care of the gift received. First of all the gift of life is paramount. Wittingly or unwittingly people put it in peril every day. At least in our own world there is now more respect for the environment. Pollution is seen as the diminution of the quality of life. We cannot live without beauty. And while people in one context could and would destroy everything for selfish ends, in another context these same people would obviate anything that diminishes what they love and what makes for their flourishing. For instance Henry the Eighth destroyed the marvellous monasteries for money for war, leaving behind bare ruined cloisters. Yet he passed an act of parliament in defence of preserving the woods- after he had finished cutting down so many oaks to make his ships for war. (In 1543 by the Act for the Preservation of Woods, Henry VIII legislated that trees should not be felled unaccountably- the first eco-legislation in English history! Cf. Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Last Office, W&N, 2008, p. 234, n.4). We encounter a similar mentality often enough among those who favour legislation concerning the beginning and ending of human life. They even reject conscience clauses for those who refuse to engage in seemingly medical malpractice. Such legislation is hardly necessary in ecological discussions. Though too often the protest of indigenous Amazonians can be ignored by oil and logging companies, protected as they are by governments profiting from such exploitation. These are the less happy aspects of unbridled capitalism.
Today the long intercessions have come from the Bishops’ conference. Hence the sermon is much shorter! Joy for all!! Amen.
Rev Richard J.Taylor
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK