Gloria Dei vivens homo – A living man is the glory of God

Let us ask Our Blessed Lady, Queen and Mother of the Church, to guide our reflections on the Word of God this day.

In our contemporary experience, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones can only be compared with the terrible genocides of the 20th Century: the killing fields of Cambodia and that of Rwanda, terrible events that have left behind awful moments of accumulated skulls and other bones, testimony to man’s inhumanity to man, and to the reality of potential evil. These are not sights of every day. We screen our children from them; we would prefer that they did not exist and we are ashamed of their significance.

So it is that Ezekiel’s horrific proclamation: “Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel” is intended and does shock his hearers and even today those who hear his words.

Here today, who do I identify the “vast quantity of these bones” with? The Prophet’s words resonate with me. I feel their dryness, their deadness and their lifelessness. I feel them as a member and pastor of the Church, and I feel them as a human soul. We would not be here if everything was beautiful in the garden that is our Catholic Church. We know we live in painful and critical times. We recognise that many have written us off as a shrivelled, desiccated stump of a once healthy tree. We are struggling on many fronts and it is not easy to maintain confidence that we will regain the vital flourishing of our foundation.

We are all familiar with the inevitability of the ageing process. Like me, many of you will have asked where the years have gone, and who is that white haired imposter who appears each morning in the bathroom mirror in substitution of the dynamic teenager of a twinkle of an eye ago! And yet we have also known those of great age, who like Moses reach the end of their lives with “eyes undimmed and vigour unimpaired” (Dt 34:7). Perhaps you can recall those elderly relatives and friends, who, despite the limitations of old age, retain the great interest in life, a penetrating intelligence and vitality that puts us to shame. Thus is the Church. Her age is undeniable and she is presently injured by innumerable self-inflicted blows. And yet she is bloodied and unbowed! She staggers like a drunken man, but a cold shower of sobriety is being administered, for which, despite shock and pain, we must be grateful.

During his recent meeting with the Bishops of Korea Pope Francis exhorted them with these words: “You are also called guardians of hope... You guard this hope by keeping alive the flame of holiness, fraternal charity and missionary zeal within the Church’s communion.” Earlier the Holy Father had written in Evangelii Gaudium: “An evangelising community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and become involved.” (24)

The bones in Ezekiel lose their dryness, acquire flesh and sinews, and are covered with skin again, but they lack the one essential thing: life. Our Church does not need window-dressing or better public relations. Like the bones in the valley we too need life, and life comes from the breath of God, from his life-giving Spirit.

Matthew tells us that the Pharisee wishes to “disconcert Jesus”, to catch him on the back foot, to make him feel uncomfortable, but perhaps it is he, the Pharisee, who is really uncomfortable, ill at ease in his self-righteousness; perhaps it is he who is looking for a way forward and who is implicitly begging Jesus to throw him a life-line. When he asks about the “greatest commandment”, perhaps it is the same thing as asking, as others do, what must I do to obtain eternal life? In his reply Jesus is uncompromising: first, it is a question of love, but a love that requires “all your heart”, “all your soul” and “all your mind”. His reply is a challenge to the Pharisee, and a challenge to us, both as a Church and as individuals, as a human soul. Ours is a jealous God, a tenacious lover from whom we cannot extract ourselves easily, who will not give up until he has all of us: heart, soul, mind.

Let these be transformed by faith, and let us indeed proclaim this for all to hear. You and I are not in this, as a soft option, a satisfying intellectual game. I am in it for life. I live for what I can get out of it, to discover why and for what purpose I exist and have being. I cling to the words of Iranaeus: Gloria Dei vivens homo – A living man is the glory of God. This I believe is the true reality and the prospect of eternity. It is a great vision, much greater than a valley of dry bones, rather a Church of living souls!

Let us beg the intercession of Mary, Our Queen and Mother, that her divine Son may grant us the graces necessary to come alive in Him, truly alive in Him to the glory of God the Father.