homily – March 29

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Just a few words on our first reading from Jeremiah. He was not a popular person. He could be called a defeatist. He encouraged the king not to resist the invasion by the Babylonians, an invasion that would bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. This was all in God’s hands. Jeremiah confronted king and people with the fact that they had been unfaithful to their covenant with God; they had broken their relationship with God. Now they were facing the consequences of that break. But Jeremiah wants them to know this national crisis could be the occasion of a national renewal, an opportunity to renew their commitment to God, to the law and to the relationship their sins had shattered.

In today’s reading Jeremiah offers the people a vision of the new possibilities to be found in a new covenant. He promised that after a time of suitable collective repentance God will restore the people and enter into a new covenant, a new bonding with them. This new covenant offers the people forgiveness; God would remember their sins no more. God, through Jeremiah offers a defeated, exiled people the strength and hope they need to go on.

In every age people get caught up in correctness, exactness, precision. Every word, every gesture must be just so. If I miss one First Friday or First Saturday I have to start all over again. How many chain letters and prayers have your received in your e-mail? Pass this message on to 12 others within 24 hours and you will be blessed – or else.

Say your prayers, do the rituals just so and things will be ok. Jeremiah encourages the people to move beyond such ‘correctness’. The most important word in his message is the word ‘within’. It’s a word that calls us to interiority. Externals are important but it is what is within us that matters most. Jesus made this point time and time again to the people of His time.

The best example I can use to express this sense of interiority is to ask you why you are here today. Are you at Mass because of obligation? There is an obligation to be here, to keep holy our Sabbath day. But are you here because you must be here or because you want to be here? Are you here because you have a sense of gratitude to God for the blessings with which you have been blessed and you want to give thanks for these blessings? Are you here because you want to be with other parishioners to praise and thank God? Are you here because of your own struggles and your need to be nourished by the Bread of Life, our daily bread, to give you the strength to go on? All these are examples of interiority – the law written not on stone but on the fleshy tablets of our hearts.

The same can be said of our life of prayer. Are we caught in the trap of thinking our prayer must be said so many times with strict attention or are do we see prayer as a open gentle conversation with God. If our prayer life is, what one saint described as “heart speaking to heart” then we have caught the spirit of interiority.

St. Paul calls us to grow to full maturity in Christ. Such growth helps us to move beyond ‘having to do things’ to wanting to do them, wanting out of a sense of a deep desire to deepen our relationship with Christ.

Interiority helps us to come to grips with the words of Jesus in today’s gospel about the grain of wheat dying to come to life, those who love their lives losing their lives.

As we continue to celebrate this Mass – here because we want to be here not because we must be here – we can pray for ourselves and for each other that God in His goodness will put His law within us, on the fleshy tablets of our hearts and we will all come to know the Lord, the Lord who remembers our sins no more.