13 August. Saturday, Week 19

Saints Pontian and Hippolytus optional memorial

1st Reading: Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13, 30-32

Each individual is personally responsible to God, to practice personal integrity and not hide behind the virtues of our ancestors

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right, if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statutes, and is careful to obsere my ordinances, acting faithfully, such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God. If he has a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who takes advance or accrued interest; shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Gospel: Matthew 19:13-15

The kingdom of God belongs to such as these little children

Then little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. ” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.


Personal responsibility: duty and privelege

Ezekiel highlights our personal responsibility in a way quite novel in his day. Before him, merit and responsibility were largely seen in collective terms: Israel as a whole was either faithful or unfaithful. By contrast, the prophet Ezekiel focuses on the conscience of the individual. In his eyes, too many people sought to justify themselves by the virtue of the community or of their ancestry, while their own hearts and practices were against the Lord’s will. Or else people were blaming their sorrows on the mistakes of the ancestors and failing to look into their own hearts for renewal. He first takes the people to task for a proverb that they repeated as a way to shift blame from themselves. They should never again say: Because fathers and mothers have eaten sour grapes, their children’s teeth are on edge. Ezekiel insists: If your teeth burn with an acid taste, it is because you yourself ate the sour grapes. Only the one who sins shall die, only the virtuous person shall live, everyone belongs to the Lord. He then reads an examination of conscience to the people and puts to them a serious, adult stance on personal responsibility.

The gospel provides a new context for this. We hear Jesus say, “Let the children come to me. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” As we allow the impact of today’s readings to be felt in our lives, we realize that our following of the Lord must be clear and simple, pure and spontaneous like that of a child. Note that what Jesus draws our attention to is the candour of children, rather than their traditional Jewish duty of unquestioning obedience to parents. The focus of his ecclesial image is more familial than patriarchal .

Jesus and the children

We’ve just read the story where parents brought their children to Jesus for him to lay his hands on them and say a prayer. Parents instinctively want what is best for their children. They recognize Jesus as someone through whom God is working in a life-giving way, and so they bring their children, their loved ones, to him. In our own times, parents who have an appreciation of Jesus and his message and life will have the same desire to bring their children to him. They recognize Jesus as God’s unique gift to us and they want that gift for their loved ones because they want what is best for them. When parents try to bring their children to Jesus they often meet with obstacles of various kinds. In this morning’s gospel those obstacles take the form of Jesus’ own disciples who tried to prevent parents from bringing their children to Jesus. We find a struggle in the gospel between those who are trying to bring children to Jesus and those who are trying to stop children from coming to Jesus. The disciples are resisting the desire of the parents for their children. In the midst of this struggle, Jesus is not a passive spectator. He insists, against his disciples, that the children be allowed to come to him. The gospel assures us that in our own struggle to bring our loved ones to the Lord, and to bring ourselves to him, the Lord is always working with us. The strength of his desire to have others meet with him and, thereby, find life will overcome the various obstacles that are placed in the way of our loved ones coming to him. We need to trust that the Lord will find a way of bringing people to him, in spite of the resistances that may be there, of whatever kind. [MH]

Saints Pontian and Hippolytus, martyrs; also of St Fachtna, bishop.

Pontian and Hippolytus (2nd-3rd century) both suffered martyrdom through being sent to hard labour in the mines of Sardinia, in the persecution under emperor Maximian in the year 235. One had been pope for five years, the other an antipope for 18. They died reconciled. Their bodies were brought back to Rome and buried as martyrs. Hippolytus had been a rigorist who fought for an ideal Church composed only of pure souls separated from the world. He and his group remained in schism through the term of three popes. His writings are our main source for knowledge of the Roman liturgy and the structure of the Church around 200 A.D. Fachtna of Tulachteann, Co. Cork (6th century), established the monastic school of Rosscarberry. Before that was one of the pupils of Saint Ita, and founded a monastery (Molana) on an island in the Blackwater, near Youghal. He is patron saint of the diocese of Ross

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