22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 3, 2017.
1 Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
The path to true contentment
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
When God invited Jeremiah to be His prophet, Jeremiah demurred and lamented his lack of experience and his young age, “Ah, Lord God! Behold I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”(Jer 1:6) God responded by assuring him of His abiding presence and help against his adversaries, “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” God also touched his lips and assured him that he would never lack the words to speak, “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”(v.8,9)
Jeremiah received divine assurance of God’s presence, God touched his lips and assured him that he will have the right words to speak at the proper time, and God assured him that his adversaries will surely not prevail against him.
In today’s First Reading we hear the same Prophet Jeremiah lamenting and regretting that he is called to preach God’s words to the rebellious Israelites. He is unhappy with his calling, his message is hard for the people to accept, he is being mocked by all, and he cannot keep silent about the messages from God, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped…All day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me…Violence and outrage is my message…It (God’s message) becomes like fire burning in my heart…I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
It is clear that God’s gifts alone are not enough to guarantee our true happiness. We need something else in addition to receiving God’s gifts – we must strive to make use of these gifts to please God and not ourselves. The Prophet laments the difficulty of the message and the insults that he has experienced in the hands of his countrymen because of this message, “The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” He loses his happiness the moment that he begins to deliver God’s message for his own sake, seeking to please himself by the results of the message and not serving God and others for God’s sake.
The Responsorial Psalm reminds us of that timeless truth of our intense hunger for God, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” Nothing can satisfy this hunger for God no matter how much we have of that thing. We will always be wanting more; but the more we get, the more we want and the less content we are. It is not more of God’s gifts that makes us happy but our striving to use that which we have to know, love, and serve God more for His own sake. God, who desires our happiness more than we desire it, will always give us gifts and invite us to use them all for His sake if our happiness is going to be authentic and deep.
How can we both receive the fullness of divine gift and use it all for God’s own sake? Our Lord Jesus Christ is the answer because He alone has lived His life perfectly for the sake of the Father and it is by His grace alone that we can also receive the divine gifts and live for the sake of the Father. He did not become man, embark on His ministry or go to Calvary for His own sake but for the Father’s, “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Peter tries to dissuade Him by appealing to the Father, “God forbid, Lord, no such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus rebukes Peter for thinking as human beings and not as God thinks. Man thinks of happiness as having and preserving all that he wants; God’s path of happiness is that shown by Jesus – using all that He has for the greater glory of God, to please the Father alone and not Himself, “I always do what is pleasing to Him.” (Jn 8:29) Hence the words of Jesus that point us to the path of true happiness in this life and in the next, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s world, how easily we try to find happiness by getting more natural and supernatural gifts? We hardly ask if the more we seek is pleasing to God or not. We have more pleasure, power and possessions and we are still left unhappy because we want more. We never seem to be satisfied. If our striving in the spiritual life for more spiritual gifts have left us unhappy and discontented, then we must ask ourselves one question: for whose sake am I striving? Is this for my sake or for God’s greater glory?
St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading that we can indeed go against the direction of the world and, following in Christ’s footsteps, make an offering of ourselves to God so as to please God, “I urge you, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” By offering ourselves to God for God’s own sake, we can “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” The path to authentic happiness is in our complete self-offering to God through, with, and in Christ Jesus with the sole purpose of pleasing God and not ourselves.
Jesus had only one human life to live in the one body that He received from the most Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the same life that He gave on the cross and the same body that was raised from the grave. He shares with us all His own cross so that, like Him, we never follow and serve Christ for our own sake. By participating in His own suffering, we also participate in that love and grace that seeks only the Father’s greater pleasure, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
When we feel weak and unable to seek to please God, when we are so focused on getting more in this life and to please ourselves, we can turn with confidence to Mother Mary. The one and only desire in her Immaculate hearts was to please God in all things with all that she had and not to please herself, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it be done to me according to your word.” She never thought about what it would cost her or what was in it for her at the moment of the Annunciation, during Jesus’s infancy and ministry, during his prediction of His passion and death, on Calvary and in her days with the early Church. A confident prayer, “Mary, please help me to do (or endure) this for you,” surely kills the breath of self-seeking tendencies in us and places Jesus Christ in the center of our hearts because Mary was and is all about God and not herself.
The God-Man who shows us the way to true contentment and who alone makes it possible for us to do all for the sake of the Father comes to us in our Eucharistic celebration today. He alone can make us truly happy. He wants to make us truly happy. He comes to us with many gifts. Let us beg of Him all that we need in life for ourselves and for others. Remembering that having more gifts does not guarantee deep happiness, let us use these gifts by His grace to love and serve Him for His sake alone. This is how that deep abiding happiness will be ours in this life and in the life to come.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!