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08/13/17 Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Chapters nine through eleven of St Paul's Letter to the Romans are a theological thorn bush.

In these chapters, St Paul deals with a problem that caused him personal anguish on an emotional level and throughout history has caused theologians countless headaches on an intellectual level.

He is facing the mysterious question of why the Jewish people as a whole did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. God had been patiently getting them ready for the Messiah's arrival for almost 2000 years, and yet when Jesus came, he caused controversy and rejection more than joyful welcome. Paul lists all the privileges that the Chosen People had received from God throughout the Old Testament, privileges unique to that nation. He calls to mind the unique role that God gave the People of Israel in the history of salvation, gradually preparing them to give the world its Savior. But then he spends the rest of these chapters wrestling with the mysterious reality that the nation as a whole did not recognize and accept the Messiah when he finally came. Many individuals did - St Paul is one of them, the Blessed Virgin Mary is another, the other Apostles did too - but not the whole community of Israelites as a community. Why not? Was God somehow unfaithful to his promises, did he abandon his Chosen People, couldn't he have changed their hearts?

In coming weeks, we will follow his reflections and conclusions, but today we can already see one implication of this mysterious reality: faith, the faith which puts us in a right relationship with God, is not something automatic. Rather, each one of us must take personal responsibility for it. Otherwise, we may seem to be close to God on the outside, while on the inside we may be far away from him.

This is one reason why many non-Catholic Christian denominations condemn the ancient, Catholic practice of infant baptism.

For them, faith is a personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ, and baptism is the symbol of that commitment.

And so, for them, it makes no sense to baptize a baby who is too young to be able to make a personal commitment. 

Of course, they are forgetting that faith is much more than just a "personal commitment" - though it is certainly nothing less. Faith is first and foremost a gift of God, a gift of God's grace. This is the difference between faith and self-help. Jesus saved us while we were still sinners, and his saving love changed our hearts - not the other way around. When we baptize babies that's what we are focusing on: God's unconditional generosity in offering us salvation not as a reward for something we did, but purely out of love. The Gospels tell us about many parents who asked Jesus to come and heal their sick or dying children, even though the children couldn't ask for themselves. Just so, Catholic parents, through the sacrament of baptism, ask God to come and give his gift of grace to their newborns, who are too young to ask for it themselves.

So the non-Catholic Christians who criticize infant baptism are confused about that point, they are forgetting that friendship with Christ begins with God's free gift of grace. But they aren't confused when they criticize Catholics for being so caught up in external rituals that we sometimes neglect our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Parents who have their children baptized, for example, but then never teach their children how to pray, are only doing half their job. And our non-Catholic brothers and sisters are right to call us to task for it.

If we don't personalize the faith we received at baptism, we may end up missingGod's most important actions in our lives.

What can we do to rejuvenate and deepen this personal relationship with Christ that is so important for our growth into maturewise, and joyful Christians?

We need to follow the example of Elijah in the First Reading, and the example of Jesus himself in the Gospel.

We need to go up to the mountain, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, in order to spend time alone with God, to be able to hear the "tiny whispering sound" of his voice, to renew our strength, to find out what he wants to say to us.

There are many ways we can do this. Here are three ideas.

First, every Catholic should go on a yearly spiritual retreat, even if only for one weekend a year, even if only for one day a year, to spend some quality time with the Lord, one-on-one.

Second, we also need to spend time in personal prayer every day. We easily find ten minutes for so many things - why is it so hard to find ten minutes in the morning and the evening to spend exclusively with the Lord? The very fact that it is so hard is proof that we really need it.

Finally, a privileged moment of intimate, personal contact with our Lord happens every Sunday at Holy Communion, when we have those precious moments of silence to speak heart-to-heart with the one who loves us and gives himself to us. The sacred space of this church is like Mt Horeb - set aside for personal encounters with God. And so we should always treat it with great respect.

If we don't take time to cultivate our personal relationship with Christ, chances are we will be swept away by the fire and the earthquake, and miss out on the wonderful plans God has for our lives.



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