Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Week 3 Tuesday (Year 1)

Readings: Hebrews 10:1-10; Psalm 40; Mark 3:31-35

We heard last Saturday that Jesus' relatives, hearing what was happening, set out to seize him because they believed he was 'out of his mind'. Today, it seems, they have tracked him down and are outside, waiting. Presumably their care for him is sincere, though they may also be moved by humiliation and embarrassment (what were the neighbours saying, we can wonder). Presumably also they wanted to take him home and ask him to rest until whatever was going on inside him and around him calmed down.

Sigmund Freud thought that all religious belief and practice were symptoms of mental disturbance. Faced by too much anxiety, unable to bear too much reality, paralyzed by fears, people club together in the collective neurosis of religion and so find security and comfort. It is striking how often religious people are patronised by others who reassure them that they are tolerant of their need for 'the comfort religion gives'.

But the last thing true religion gives is comfort. There may be ersatz forms of religion that offer some passing comfort, ways of finding identity and meaning through group rituals and shared convictions - these are found everywhere in human life, not just in the cultural phenomena that are called 'religion'. Think of football crowds, political demonstrations, pop concerts, and many more: religions too of course can be used in this way.

But in response to those who tell him that his family is waiting outside, Jesus says that true religion means doing the will of God. There is no peace in doing the will of God, except the peace that the world cannot give. The will of God is that we have life and have it to the full: that means movement, growth, change, learning, adaptation, suffering, sacrifice. In Sunday's gospel we heard again the opening words of Jesus' preaching: 'repent and believe in the gospel'. It means 'change your mindset, see things differently, open up to what is coming and to what is beyond'. Far easier to rely on the external practices of religion and the artificial comfort they give - animal sacrifices and vegetable offerings, sin offerings and burnt offerings - than to accept what the will of God asks, namely the offering of ourselves (heart, mind, soul, strength) out of love for Him and for His people.

Today's first reading helps to spell it out: Jesus has come to do the will of the Father, and the will of the Father is that we be consecrated to Him, and that consecration is established for us (who could never do it for ourselves) in the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all. This is the heart of the Catholic faith, the once and for all sacrifice of our sweet and adorable Saviour by which the world is redeemed.

But it may be that what strikes some most about this gospel passage is the presence of Mary, alongside his brothers and sisters, outside asking for him. We see that she who had given herself completely to the will of God was also called to enquire, to wonder, to question, to seek him out. We can take her 'asking for him' to mean that she needed to ponder once again in her heart the things that were being said about him, much more difficult and ambiguous things now than the splendid mystical prophecies that accompanied his birth.

But so it is always for the believer, for the one who seeks, as Mary did, to do the will of the Father. It means remaining open to what is yet to be revealed, paths along which we are yet to be called. It means being ready to think again and adjust the picture of the world which we have already constructed. It means being prepared for deep disturbances of heart and mind (like Mary, at the annunciation) if we are to enter into the height and depth, the breadth and length, of the mystery of God's love. It means turning away from sin which shuts doors and ends stories, and believing in the gospel which opens doors and begins new things.

The cost, of course, is 'not less than everything'. And that price will be regarded, normally, as crazy.

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