7th Sunday in Ordinary Time A - 19th February 2017 - St Joseph's Church, Galliagh
Mass for Catholic Guides of Ireland NW Area
The mission statement on your website is very clear and inspiring - provide a challenging Guiding programme within a safe environment, to enable all girls and young women to develop their full potential. I know that, even though you are the CGIs, there is not much reference to God except in your logo and association badge. But today's Gospel is part of Jesus' mission statement from his first big address to his followers at the Sermon on the Mount – and Jesus is certainly offering a challenging programme to enable everybody to develop their full potential.
So the challenge for you is now how you squeeze some religion into your branch of the international scouting world. Rather it seems to me that your mission statement says what you want to achieve but includes the assumption that the message of Jesus in today's Gospel actually provides an ideal context for the best development of potential. Indeed you actually do your great work because you believe that, without the Gospel message as guide, young people cannot achieve their full potential!
But that is not as easy as it might seem on the surface! After all, the world in which we all live offers models of femininity and success that are very seductive ad attractive. But so much of the culture of every age is not driven by what makes young women great but by what makes rich adults even richer. The models of beauty are sold, not because they are always good for women but because they are good for those who sell ideals and good. You are worth it, obey your thirst, life is too short to say no – these may sound good. But they are designed primarily to benefit L'Oreal, Sprite and First Choice holidays rather than the consumers. They may promise you heaven on earth – even though we know the truth that the human beings need much more in life that make-up, fizzy drinks and fancy holidays. The millions of people who lack clean water and adequate food must find much of our advertising and celebrity culture a sick joke.
So, as Catholic Guides, you stand somewhere in the middle between the real culture in which our young women are growing up and the fact that, as St Paul says in our second reading, the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. In the Gospel today, Jesus quotes two examples from Jewish law that were seen as being sensible – and he says that his followers are aiming for a much tougher ideal. Seeking revenge and hating your enemies may be fine in the world of politics – but it is not good enough for those who are made in God's image and likeness. You must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. If you are Catholic Guides, that is the path down which you leaders need to be guiding young women, for their sakes and for the benefit of all.
Last July in Krakow at World youth Day, Pope Francis addressed 2.5 million young people.Among the things he said was a reference to how our culture can paralyse us in many ways. I quote him:
I like to describe it as the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa. In other words, to think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa. A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of videogames and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear. A sofa that allows us to stay home without needing to work at, or worry about, anything. "Sofa-happiness"! That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, which can cause the greatest harm to young people. And why does this happen? Because, little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull.
He asked the huge crowd whether that was what they wanted – and they roared back 'No!'.And then he added
The truth, though, is something else. Dear young people, we didn't come into this work to "vegetate", to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom. We are not free to leave a mark. We lose our freedom. This is the high price we pay. There are so many people who do not want the young to be free; there are so many people who do not wish you well, who want you to be drowsy and dull, and never free! No, this must not be so! We must defend our freedom! [i]
So Jesus is not talking about making life difficult for people. He tells you that you can be great, you can leave a mark – not by becoming famous for becoming famous, but by generosity, by loving your enemies and by believing that you are capable of great things. Jesus asks you to be beautiful on the inside and not just on the outside, to be good and not just to be good at things. Help our young people to believe that they can experience joy and not just fun. Help them believe that they are capable of generous, maturing, committed, life-giving relationships and not just a world that tells me to take.
So Jesus asks you and your leaders today, 'Do you have any ideals other than those that the world of popular culture offers?' You are not just offering what everybody else offers and doing so under a Catholic heading. You are not just offering the usual things and a little bit of prayer on the side. You are claiming to offer a different vision of what human greatness is, of what womanhood can be – and the skills for living with our feet on the ground and our heads in the air. Like the salt of the earth that Jesus refers to in the same sermon, if you lose your taste, you will be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
Thank you for all the work that the Guides do to help our young women grow and blossom in a beautiful but often dangerous world. Thank you for helping believe in themselves and to believe in a God who believes in them. Help them to build community rather than superiority. Help them to believe they can then love their neighbour as themselves. Help them to behave as temples of the Holy Spirit and not just as descendants of the apes. Help them to find peace with their past and who they are – and to be peacemakers for so many of their contemporaries who struggle with the pain of being human.
And they can be real Guides for their friends and for others.[i] http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/july/documents/papa-francesco_20160730_polonia-veglia-giovani.html