|Cardinal Pell in 2009 Preaching in Cork,Ireland|
Last Sunday, in typical good form and with even more of his genial good humour than usual, he delivered this powerful Homily, which is a classic - starting with gentle humour and steadily winding up with forceful teaching, before delivering a knockout blow at some post- Conciliar nonsense.:
"9th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney
Deut 11:18, 26-28, 32; Mt 7:21-27
By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
6 March 2011
This year it seems that the Feast of Easter is celebrated as late in the year as is possible. We know that the date of Easter is still controverted with Western and Eastern Churches celebrating on different days.
Our situation is not as bad as it was in 387 when St. Augustine observed that Easter was celebrated in Gaul on March 21st, in Italy on April 18th and at Alexandria on April 25th. The earliest dispute was between those who followed the Jewish method of dating the Passover, celebrating the Paschal (or full) moon, on a fixed day of the lunar month and those who believed the celebration should be on the following Sunday. The ancient Church opted for a Sunday.
The two major schools of Christian theology in ancient times were at Antioch and Alexandria and they moved in different directions after this initial clarification. Antioch accepted the Jewish reckoning, while Alexandria developed their own system always placing Easter after the vernal equinox i.e. the spring date when night and day all over the earth are of equal length. Rome came to follow Alexandria.
There was trouble when the Roman missionaries came to England in the 590s, where the established Celtic Churches followed a different dating practice. As late as 651 Queen Eanfleda of Northumbria, following the Roman rule, celebrated Palm Sunday on the day her husband King Oswy was celebrating Easter! In the fourth and fifth centuries the Church of Rome would have forbade us to celebrate Easter on April 24th, as we do this year, because for them April 21st was the cut-off date!
I am not sure that this is of any particular use for your spiritual or moral development, but it helps explain why I could not find any evidence that I had preached on this gospel text on any earlier occasion.
Today's passage is almost at the end of a long section of particular instructions, which Our Lord gave to his inner circle of disciples rather than to the general public, often known as the Great Instruction. It runs through chapters five to seven and concludes with Matthew noting that the crowds were deeply impressed, because Jesus taught authoritatively, not like their scribes.
One characteristic of much of the Great Instruction is the prominence Jesus gives to reward and punishment. Some high minded commentators, well formed in the Christian tradition and perhaps influenced, even unknowingly, by the eighteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, teach that virtue should be its own reward and that acting for a reward makes an act less good or moral.
Our Lord did not follow that line at all, promising men and women the salvation that comes from God alone (which is offered to those who enter the Kingdom, purchased by Jesus' blood). This is an immense blessing which requires an appropriate response from us; a turning to God or a conversion.
No one is claiming that we merit the prize of heaven, although our good works do merit some reward, because the happiness of heaven is far beyond anything we might attain through our own efforts.
I like this gospel passage, because Our Lord is saying that doers rather than talkers will enter the kingdom of heaven. As someone who has to do a lot of talking, the message is not entirely reassuring, but I am happy to endorse the priority of deeds over words. As a child I was told that talk can be cheap and that personal integrity is needed, a congruence between what we are and what we say.
Popular wisdom takes up this theme too. "You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?" it asks. An Irish friend claimed that the next saying was Chinese, but it sounds Irish to me: "There's a lot of noise on the stairs, but no one coming down"! By a coincidence this passage about the doers rather than the sayers entering the Kingdom has some relevance for a discussion which took place at a recent clergy meeting.
You all know that later this year the entire English-speaking world will adopt a single new translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal.
The peoples' parts are not much changed, but the priests' parts have more important changes. One controversial point is the translation of the words of consecration where Jesus' blood is described as being poured out "for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins".
The Latin words are "pro vobis et pro multis" which we now translate as "for you and for all". Often language groups translate this, following the Latin more closely, as "for many". What should the new translation say?
The presidents of bishops' conferences were consulted, opinion was divided, but eventually the decision was that in future the priest will say "for you and for many".
One priest was upset by this (and he is not alone) and has asked who were excluded and why they were excluded. It is not a bad question and the answer is in today's gospel.
Jesus died for everyone in the sense that salvation is offered to all, but Our Lord was also very clear that some refuse that offer. In fact he also seems to suggest that only a few enter and that most miss the cut. Let us hope this is not the case. The people who are excluded are excluded by their own refusal to enter the narrow gate, by being merely talkers rather than doers and refusing to build their lives on the sure foundations of faith and good works. Solid foundations will ensure that our houses will not fall over in the floods and storms. Jesus did not promise salvation to everyone.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. "
Lucky the Archdiocese that has such a Bishop!