The battle within - Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page
Home > Archbishop > Homilies > The battle within - Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

We have witnessed in our time the increasing amount of regulation with which we must contend. Anyone in business or a profession knows that there is now a vast array of regulation with which they must be familiar and are required to meet. This great increase in regulation is a result of efforts by authorities to meet complex social demands. Often there is an ethical issue underlying the matter – respect for individual rights, protection from harm, ensuring justice. Where a problem is identified, a set of regulations are developed to manage the problem. Governments respond to community concerns about an issue by developing a set of regulations. By their nature these regulations are detailed and exacting.

In an increasingly complex and interrelated world, regulation becomes necessary to ensure the smooth running of society. There is now a new vocabulary in vogue: governance, compliance, risk management, duty of care, work, health and safety.

As the compliance industry develops it has become more sophisticated. No longer is it satisfactory that, as they say, the boxes are ticked, now the matter of compliance has moved from the letter to the spirit. Compliance is now seen as a matter of culture in an organisation. People are expected to embrace the spirit of the regulatory regime. Individual commitment is expected to its values and not just obedience to its requirements.

This has a more sinister aspect. For example, developments in computer technology, like facial recognition, are now used in repressive regimes like China to monitor citizens, and control even their private lives. We are all subjects of surveillance as recent exposures on the use of data from social media has revealed.

At issue in all this is human freedom, and respect for the dignity of the person. What is becoming apparent is that regulation and compliance is about changing and directing behaviour. It can so easily move into control of people’s lives.

This development in our global culture stands in stark contrast to the Christian approach to the human person. Christianity respects the freedom of the individual. Christianity upholds the dignity of each person. Christianity is not about control or manipulation. The focus of Christianity is to teach and then encourage response. In the end it recognises that each person must make their own decisions, and be responsible for the choices they make.

We notice in the Gospel today that when the Lord was aware that his disciples were discussing who was the greatest among them, he took them aside to instruct them. He taught them saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” He provided a different perspective. He offered them divine wisdom. He spoke of a moral truth.

The Lord countered wrong attitudes by providing insight, by seeking to enlighten their minds. Christianity teaches the truth about way human life is to be lived based on divine revelation, particularly as articulated by the teaching of Jesus. This teaching, which has been systematised in the Catholic Catechism, offers a way of understanding virtue and right living grounded in the instructions of the Lord and witnessed to by his own example. Jesus lived what he taught. He is a model and an example to us.

The Lord – and also Christianity – does not require compliance, but a change of heart. Christianity avoids external behavioural control and rather appeals to the inner spirit of the person. Behaviour is improved not by living according to regulation or law, but by an interior change.

St James addressed this in the second reading. He says that social disharmony comes from vices like jealousy and ambition. These flow from the interior of the person. He later describes a truth that I am sure we can all understand. He says: “Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves?”

What he says is true. We all know of the passions and wrong inclinations that lie in our hearts. They can suddenly rise to the surface: a pang of jealousy, a flash of anger, a touch of bitterness, the darkness of despair.

Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom spoke of the jealousy of the wicked person against the virtuous person. The desire to bring them down, to destroy them. Sadly, we witness this when we see people’s reputations being publicly destroyed. Indeed, rumour and complaint can be used to undermine the standing of a good person in an organisation or more broadly in the society.

These passions and evil desires lie in our hearts, in the depths of our being. On a daily basis we all experience the battle within.

St James speaks of a very important antidote to these interior struggles: he speaks of the need to pray, to turn to God. However, he quickly adds that the prayer needs to be pure, and warns against praying, as he says, “for something to indulge your own desires”. 

Prayer is important. Prayer opens the mind and heart to God. In prayer we reorient ourselves from the horizontal to the vertical. We turn from a worldly way of seeing things to have the opportunity to be exposed to heavenly truth. We engage ourselves with God.

In one of the Beatitudes the Lord said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” To truly see God we need to be pure in heart. Our prayer needs to flow from a heart purified of earthly desires.

We are all engaged in a battle within. We cannot manage this struggle alone. We need the help of God. We need divine grace. For this grace we must humbly beseech God. We must pray from a pure heart.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 23 September 2018