6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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In the second reading of the Mass today St Paul declared, “We have a wisdom to offer those who have reached maturity”. He adds that this is not a philosophy of our age, but the hidden wisdom of God. St Paul adds that this wisdom is not something that this age would be aware of.

His words amplify a comparison which marks the Gospel reading today. There is a parallelism presented in the Gospel passage which reads: “You have learnt how it was said”/ “but I say this to you”. It is repeated a number of times and is the particular construction of this passage of Scripture.

The Lord is drawing a comparison between what his listeners would have known from the teaching of the Law of Moses, handed down to them by the scribes and Pharisees, and his own teaching.

He has, as we heard, not come to abolish the Law or the teaching of the Prophets, but to “complete them” or, if you like, take them to a new level.

My brother and sisters, I would like to reflect on this question with you today. The question I wish to propose to you is: What is shaping the patterns of our thoughts?

St Paul said that what he offered was not a philosophy of the age, but the hidden wisdom of God. Are our patterns of thought shaped by the philosophy of the age or by the wisdom of God?

It is hard not to be influenced by the thinking of the age. For example, some of the controversial moral issues of our age are presented so constantly and effectively in the media that we cannot help but be influenced by a worldly way of thinking. We do start to wonder: why shouldn’t we let people who have a same sex attraction get married? We come to accept that to deny them this so called right is being discriminatory or homophobic. We are fed stories of how it all seems to work – like the nice pictures in the newspapers recently of two men who had babies born to them by surrogate mothers in Thailand. The papers showed contented scenes of them feeding their newly born children.

Our emotions are drawn to let them have children to their same sex relationship. This is the wisdom of the age.

In the Gospel the Lord says some very challenging things which would have been offensive to his listeners, and offensive to the thinking of our age. For example the Lord taught in the Gospel today, “everyone who divorces his wife makes her an adulteress”.

We would rather take a more gentle and compassionate stance. We would be conscious of offending or seeming to exclude some people. In the survey about attitudes to marriage for the upcoming Synod many voices have been raised to allow remarried people to receive Holy Communion at Mass. The Church’s stance can appear hard and uncompromising. However, it is based on the teaching of Christ.

How can we receive this teaching?

I believe the essential issue here is how our minds formed: are they formed by the world around us or formed by divine wisdom?

We are naturally children of our age, we need to become spiritually children of God. Our minds need to be enlightened by divine wisdom.

I would like to propose a way in which this can occur.

Holy Spirit

The mediator of divine wisdom is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that “the Spirit will lead you into all truth”. We need to invoke the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us towards divine wisdom.

This requires firstly that we have a certain humility whereby we can say that we do not claim to be the arbiter of truth. We come before God and acknowledge that our minds are fallible and our thoughts may be far from the ways and wisdom of God.

You may recall the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “as the heavens are high above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts”. It can be a good and salutary thing to say: “Lord, I know so little, my understanding is so limited, enlighten my mind with your truth”.

We do need to acknowledge that wisdom and truth ultimately come from God. Our human minds, marvellous as they are, are very fallible and can easily be led astray. 

Sacred Scripture

The second key to receiving divine wisdom is to pray over the Scriptures. Not just to read the Scriptures but to learn to sit before the Scriptures that they may speak to our hearts and enlighten our minds.

The Church has promoted the tradition of what is called Lectio Divina, a way of reading and praying over the Scriptural text.

Pope Benedict recommended this practice in his Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini. He quoted the Father of the Church, Origen, from his Letter to Gregory, where Origen says, “devote yourself to the lectio of the divine Scriptures, apply yourself to this with perseverance. Do your reading with the intent of believing in and pleasing God. If during the lectio you encounter a closed door, knock and it will be opened to you.”  Origen then adds: “By applying yourself in this way to lectio divina, search diligently and with unshakable trust in God for the meaning of the divine Scriptures, which is hidden in great fullness within”.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, our ways of thinking are being shaped by the world. We need a strong antidote to this. We Catholics need to become listeners to the Word of God in Sacred Scriptures. We need to come asking God to open the doors to us that we might learn from him.

Pope Benedict in Verbum Domini urged Catholics to read the Sacred text and then ask: “what conversion of mind and heart and life is the Lord asking of us?” He then goes on to quote from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2)

We need to allow our minds to be washed daily with the Word of God. We know that the world around us has such a pervasive influence. Our culture is losing its Christian heritage and a dull secularism is resting over the minds and hearts of people. We must daily attentively listen to the word of the Lord to ensure our minds do not become conformed to the world around us, and we must have the humility to ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds with divine wisdom.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 15 February 2014