Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: GET BEHIND ME, SATAN!
By: Fr. Benedict Agbo
Homily for Sunday August 30 2020
* Jer 20 : 7 – 9, Rom 12 : 1 – 2, Matt 16 : 21 – 27.
It has become a known fact today that history repeats itself. So many people, unknowingly are retracing the lane of their forefathers and unfortunately making the same old mistakes. Take for instance, if the current embroglio between the Federal Government and Nnamdi Kanu – led IPOB is not well handled, there could be a repeat of the 1966 mayhem. The historical events of the scriptures are even more repetitive because their messages are not spatio temporal but ever relevant in every generation. Take for example again, the statement by Christ that ‘The harvest is indeed great but the labourers are few….’ Many bishops would be making a very big mistake, watching the vocation boom in places like the Eastern Nigeria, to think the harvest is great but the labourers are now many. The fact is that not all you see wearing white soutanes are labourers in the vineyard.
One such statement Christ made that will continue to be relevant to us theologians is : ‘Get behind me Satan!’. And let me warn us that this statement is not referring to the occultic or heathen but to the deeply religious and spiritual – the Church leaders and the so called religious men and women. Satan does not mean Devil but any obstacle to the message of the Cross. It was made to Peter – the leader of the apostolic college. It was such an interesting passage where Peter passed the theoretical exam of faith and failed the practical exam of discipline just a minute later. I said it elsewhere that ‘Christianity begins with faith, grows with discipline and matures with love’. Remove discipline and sacrifice from Christianity and you will see that what is left is a “Satanic religion”. Christianity has its spiritual and human face. For the first Pope to be called ‘Satan’ in today’s gospel, friends, calls for a lot of sober theological reflections.
B. THE THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS
Christ’s message is clear in today’s gospel : ‘If any man would come after me (ie be my disciple), let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ . This statement has the following theological antecedents as found in last Sunday’s reading : the great Confession of Peter (of Christ’s messianic mission) and the great Commissioning of Peter (as the rock and key holder of the Church of Christ). Let us just concern ourselves today with the theological postlude /aftermath of today’s statement :
(i) MORTIFICATION – Christ said : ‘You must deny yourself’ from what Pentecostals usually call ‘your heart’s desires’.
(ii) CROSSIFICATION – Christ said : ‘You must take up your own cross’ – Your own cross means those hard and unpalatable situations you may meet in the course of your Christian witnessing surrendering to them as the will of God. Example, you don’t have to abandon your “Catholic faith” as a lady because there is scarcity of husbands.
(iii) FOLLOWERSHIP – Christ said ‘You must follow him’. He told Peter to get behind him as soon he wanted to lead him. We must never be tempted to lead God. That is the greatest disaster in Christendom. Modern day theologians, I am afraid, are trying to lead God.
The meaning of ‘Satan’ is the obstacle to the will of God. Failure to discern and follow the will of God always lands any Church or individual into the quagmire of Satanism /humanism – that is, not being on the side of God but of men or of demons. Christ concludes by saying : What does it profit a man or a Church if he secures prosperity or wealth and forfeits salvation?
C. SPIRITUAL WORSHIP
The recommendation of today’s 2nd reading is apt here : ‘Present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship’. The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity (especially celibate chastity) and obedience remain the spiritual beacons of every real Christian Church.
The knowledge of the Cross is the sublime renewal of the Christian mind. According to Raniero Cantalamessa, ‘The Cross is God’s powerful ‘no’ to sin… It has been planted in the middle of the Church and the world and no one will ever be able to uproot it again or substitute it with other principles’. Bishop Michael Eneje summarizes Christian spirituality with these words : ‘Hate what you like and love what you hate’. The greatest illusion of modern day version of Christianity is the illusions of pleasure – eating pleasures, drinking pleasures, sexual pleasures, wealth acquisition pleasures, power acquisition pleasures, etc. According to Vima Dasan, ‘That human success can be achieved without suffering is not just an illusion but a lie – It is a lie repeated by many yet repetition does not transform a lie into truth’. The more we hear such cliches among Christians like : ‘It is not my portion’, we identify with this flight from the Cross and sufferings. When St Augustine ‘s mind was finally renewed from this dictatorship of worldly pleasures he confessed : ‘Late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient and new ; late have I loved you! For behold you were within me and I sought you outside and in my ignorance fell upon those lovely things you have made… ‘.
The present generation of politicians and even Church leaders in Nigeria are the products of government take over of schools. This take over happened more dangerously in the spiritual than in the physical – in the ideological than in the physical. Since the forces of humanism struck Western Europe in the 18th century, Religion has continued to go down the lane of existential priorities and Europe will live to regret that in no distant time. In Nigeria, the problem of Christianity is even a case of aborted pregnancy – our politicians did not allow Christianity to take root before the government take over of schools. Today our Youths are so confused and caught in a tangled web of neopaganism (just look at ‘Akatakpa’ masquerades blocking all movements in the Urban areas of places like Nsukka and you will understand what I am saying). Fr Emma Onuh of blessed memory caught the picture when he said some years back that ‘An uneducated public is safer than a miseducated one for the same reason that makes a badly trained baboon a more known threat to the ecosystem than the rest in the forest’. Today, what we see in Nigeria and many African nations is the dictatorship of bribery and corruption ; high level of consumerism among the legislators, high level of inefficiency and mediocrity among the executives and high level of corruption and injustice among the Judiciary.
The present generation of Church leaders, I make bold to say, are also caught up in a tangled web of what Pope Benedict XVI has called “the dictatorship of relativism” and I will add, “liberalism”. I am afraid the massive influx of Nigerian priests to Europe and America, if care is not taken, may begin to do more harm than good to the growth of faith in this part of the world. It is worrisome that it is at this time when a lot of spiritual, moral and dogmatic teachings of the Church are being queried by the global North ( the Western world) that the Nigerian Church is enmeshed in this ideological import and export. The consequence is that most of our Seminary formators are victims of a kind of theological bifurcation. The mixture of variant theological schools ( Roman, German, American, African) have left the Church never more confused in matters of faith and doctrine than now.
Only a spiritual revolution will save our society today. Christ said : ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?’. We need to imbibe the discipline of followership. Our Igbo proverb says : ‘Onye buru Chi ya uzo, o gbaguo onwe ya n’ oso’ – it can be very frustrating to attempt to lead God.
* Story of a man who wanted to get rid of his shadow until he was advised by a wise man to go and stand in the shadow of a tree.
My advice is that we try to stand in the shadow of the tree of the Cross of Christ. If we don’t, Christ will still tell you what he told Peter : ‘Get behind me, Satan!’
Happy Sunday dear friends!