HOMILY WEEK 09 01 – Year II

Faith, Trust and Participate:

Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions

(2 Pt 1:1-7; Ps 91; Mk 12:1-12)


“The last act is the greatest treason. To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”  That statement by  T.S. Eliot, in his play “Murder in the Cathedral” fits today’s liturgy like a glove.

In that light, the title of this homily, Faith, Trust, and Participate, captures the dynamic message of today’s readings. In the words of 2 Peter, we are destined to nothing less than participate in the divine nature – to in a way, become God!

There is a definite pattern to our lives in Christ – belief in him leads to a more personal faith in him, which leads us to place our trust in him, which then leads to surrendering to his will, which ultimately leads us to experience here and now the very same divine life Jesus shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit – to in a way “become God.” Can it get any better than that? And what holds us back from the experience?

The parable of the vineyard is all about that sad reality of rejecting this wonderful offer. Jesus is addressing that parable to the high priests and scribes, the very religious leaders who should have been most prepared to welcome him as the long-awaited Messiah. However, after a long history in Judaism of infidelity to the Mosaic covenant, choosing instead of humbly doing God’s will of trust and love, to fall for the false gods of over-attachment to possessions and pleasure, prestige and fame, power and control, they could not let go and let God into their lives, even when he called them out directly as hypocrites, and so rejected Jesus, the Son of God.

These scribes and high priests were simply continuing what their ancestors did to all the prophets – only now they would be rejecting the very Son of God, the Messiah, just as Jesus recounted in the parable. Their reaction to that parable – very typical – they wanted to arrest him, and in the end destroy him.

The late Gerald May wrote a book entitled “Will and Spirit.” In it he puts forwards two possible paths for us – to be willing and humbly cooperate with God’s grace, or to be willful, stubbornly insist on doing our own will and go our own way. That was the way of the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees.

Psalm 91 points us in the opposite direction – to place our trust completely and humbly in God, and God will “show us God’s salvation.” That is akin to Peter saying we will participate in the divine nature.

Peter goes on to spell out what that salvation and divine nature is. The precious gift of faith in Jesus involves a litany of goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness (being like God), mutual affection, and finally, love. As St. Paul would say in his writings, there is no law against any of these things, and no law needed to enforce them – they are all gifts of faith to be enjoyed leading us to share in the very divine life of God’s own self – a dynamic relational dance or perichoresis between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The book and movie The Shack strives to illustrate and give some idea of that divine relationship with a black motherly figure playing God, an earnest caring young man as Jesus, and a lively young Asian woman as the Holy Spirit.

What is ironic is that the high priests, scribes and Pharisees who thought they were being religious and holy, actually ended up rejecting God. Why? Because they had created God in their own image out of their greed for money, fame and power and were doing their will in God’s name, rather than being open to God’s will and accepting who God really is in Jesus (humility, mercy, compassion, unconditional love, forgiveness and total non-violence). After centuries of lusting after their false gods, they simply could not recognize nor accept Jesus as the one who would bring them into a genuine relationship with the true God of Israel.

What is just as unfortunate is that this sad reality and rejection continues to this day in all kinds of ways – the most obvious being addiction which is cunning, baffling and powerful. In our society and in the church, the false gods of money, fame and power continue to entice people, wreak havoc and hurt, and push way the very kingdom of God that many profess to be living.

I can attest to this from personal experience as a young missionary Oblate. When sent up north, ordained and educated, I lacked self-awareness into who I was at that time. I did not know I was impatient, stubborn, controlling, a workaholic, had a messiah complex, a deep fear of failure and Mr. Fix-it as a way of being, to name a few of my defects of character.

It took a lot of hard knocks, honest feedback from others, and the help of the 12 Step program to get through to me and crack me open so that, as Leonard Cohen sang, the light of God could come in and set me free. I guess I was able to live the saying, “Name it, claim it, don’t blame it, tame it and we can aim it!” Now, after much healing has happened, I can honestly say I have “seen the salvation of God,” am “participating in the divine nature” and would have it no other way.

The invitation is put before us today – choose to be wilful, stubborn, live in denial, opt for these false gods and get trapped in illusion or addiction, or be willing, humble, put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and participate in the divine nature with peace and joy as its hallmark.

The White Fathers evangelized St. Charles Lwanga and companions of Uganda. Servants of King Mwanga, they were executed for rebuking the king for his cruelty, debauchery, immorality, murdering an Anglican missionary for “praying from a book,” and refusing to allow themselves to be ritually sodomized by the king.  The vengeful king, determined to stamp out Christianity, ordered Charles and his twenty-one companions (the youngest, Kitizo, was only 13) put to death. They died between 1885 and 1887. Most of them were burned alive after being tortured.

They were certainly true disciples of Jesus, who shared in his fate, and the fate of St. Paul. However, far from stamping out Christianity in Uganda, within a year of their deaths the number of catechumens in the country quadrupled, and by 1890 was estimated to be ten thousand. St. Charles Lwanga is the patron of Catholic Action and of black African youth, and the Ugandan martyr’s feast day is a public holiday in Uganda. What an inspiration these, our fellow believers and true disciples of Jesus, are for us and the world.

The Eucharist is that invitation shaped as a sacrament. It is an act of faith and trust in the God of Jesus Christ in which we see the salvation of God through God’s Word and participate in the divine nature through intimate communion.

May our celebration today be a firm decision to believe, trust, and participate in the divine nature of God.

Updated: June 3, 2024 — 4:39 am

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