Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Strength
What makes a person "strong"? Do we equate being strong with being a bully? The wealthy may have power, but are they necessarily strong characters? Or is real strength of character revealed in self mastery rather than mastery over others? All three readings, today, deal with this type of strength.

Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14, 16-18 - In this passage we are advised that real strength comes from God and that this type of strength may be found equally in the poor as in the powerful.

2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16 - 18 - Paul attributes his survival to this same source of strength; even when all others had abandoned him, nevertheless, strengthened by God, he was still able to remain strong and faithful to his mission.

Luke 18: 9-14 - Here we see contrasted two types of strength - the loud, boastful behaviour of the proud Pharisee contrasted with the quiet, penitential attitude of the publican. It takes a great deal of strength of character to acknowledge one's faults, and this contrasts sharply with the Pharisee's approach which only served to confirm that empty drums makes the most noise.

Point 1: - It is appropriate that we consider this subject of "strength" as we greet those who are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. As I remember it, "Confirmation makes us strong and perfect Christians"! Of course, all of the seven Sacraments, each in its own way, help us to be "strong and perfect" followers of Christ. Baptism commits us to Christ's leadership; Penance restores our relationship with God when, through deliberate sin we separate ourselves from that friendship; Eucharist nourishes the relationship; Marriage and Holy Orders consecrate it; and Last Anointing seals it. And I find it interesting to note the parallel that exists between the stages of development in our natural formation and our spiritual development - Birth,(Baptism), awareness,(Penance), growth,(Eucharist), adolescence,(Confirmation), maturity (Marriage, Holy Orders - Religious Profession or Priesthood), Death( Anointing).

Point 2: For a variety of reasons, a good many people still regard religious commitment as a sign of weakness; either they consider it to be a sign of intellectual weakness - invisible God, angels and a soul destined for life after death, and "pie in the sky"!! Others see it as a sign of emotional weakness - people needing a crutch, not being able to stand alone. Sometimes these thoughts are implied in such comments as -"Religion is a good thing for women and children!" - as if to say "grown men are beyond that"!

The reality, of course, is quite different. Strength of character has always been associated with conviction and, throughout history, one of the great sources of conviction has been religion. Some go so far as to say that if it were not for religious conviction, all the wars of history would not have been fought. One cannot deny that there have been many instances in which religious conviction has been put forward as a reason for argument, but in the majority of cases it has been a cover-up for political ambition directed to national aggrandisement.

Conclusion: Genuine religious conviction directs itself to acknowledging that we are related to a God of goodness and strength which enables us to exercise the ultimate form of strength - self-mastery. This belief endows us with a sense of dignity and worth; because of it, we can be regarded as trustworthy and dependable. The religious person has no need for bluster and threat to survive; and religious conviction enables us to deal with adversity without becoming the victim of hopeless grief or futile anger. At all times, it gives us access to the strength of God that gives us self-mastery - This is real strength.! This is the strength that St. Paul describes in his letter to the Philippians as being his mainstay throughout his life..

Scriptural reference" for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. [Phil 4:11-13]