I want to start my homily on a very important topic: the topic of beards. Beards are an integral part of salvation. It is no accident that our saviour, God himself, had a beard. This is not surprising: the Old Testament prefigures this unceasingly: Abraham, Moses, David – they all had beards. And then there are the many references to beards in the Old Testament: the communion of the Church, for example, is compared to the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron. And of course, who of the men saints did not have beards? St Joseph had a beard. St Francis had a beard. Padre Pio had a beard. It’s true, the Archbishop is beardless – so let us pray for him, to enter the beardedness of the Lord.
I discuss this as, for men with beards, there is a singularly distressing line in today’s readings: I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard. For a man with a beard, it is certainly an immensely painful and humiliating vision. And yet – our saviour patiently endured this for us.
This is the link between creation, mercy and works we find in today’s collect: Creator and ruler of all things…that we may feel the working of your mercy, grant that we may serve you with all our heart. To do good works is to participate in the mercy of God which forms part of his work of creation.
But didn’t God create the world and enter his time of rest? Yes that’s true: but the rest of God is his unceasing love, and so his unceasing work for us. Because as we saw in Year 2 Blue this week, there is nothing that exists that is part of our life which is not received as a gift from God. Even our car or computer or our fruit salad – anything we make is taken from the gifts God has placed into the earth for us. And this is why there is not even a question about taking time every day and every Sunday to thank God for the billions of gifts we profit from every day.
But God is also working: like the humblest of humble servants, God is constantly cleaning up after us: cleaning up the muck and mess of our sin which we leave all over the world and over other people. This is the work of his mercy: the sponging up and removal of the evil we have placed in the world by our lacks of love.
This is the reason why we speak of Christ’s suffering in the first reading, St Paul’s emphasis on works, and in the gospel Almighty God’s invitation to us to help him in his work: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. And having reflected on God’s ceaseless humble work for us, we better understand how unreasonable it is for us not to, in thanks to God, spend our life – itself total gift – in the humble service of all.
This is why every Catholic has a service in his or her parish. There is no such thing as a Catholic who has no service to do in their parish. Even if we are not necessarily on a roster, each of us has the duty of humble care of our brothers and sisters. The priest is not there because he is the main one to do the service: he is there as a reminder of us all of our responsibility to give our life for God in the service of others. This is the homework the Lord gives us this week: what service can I choose to do in my Parish? Because like any communion, a parish is not only a place where I get stuff – it is a place where I can give myself to build it up for others.