Homily for the 11th Sunday of the Year

2024 11th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B) – usus recentior

15/16 June

Being homed in the One Tree of God’s Kingdom

In December 1837, Newman (still an Anglican, and about 10 years before he became a Catholic) preached a sermon titled “The Christian Church an Imperial Power” as part of a series On Subjects of the Day. In this series, Newman was attempting to show why the world needed the Church. There was, at the time, a rampant scientific interest: Faraday had recently published his work on electromagnetism, Neptune would shortly be discovered as a planet; the stirrings of Darwinian evolution were beginning to unfold. During his lifetime, Newman would see the rise of genetics with Mendel’s experimental peas, the discovery of germs and pasteurisation, the first version of the periodic table and, in the year of his death (1890), the Curies would announce their discovery of radioactivity.

What this rampant scientism did was to increase the scope of scepticism: many average persons, seeing this explosion of scientific truth, thought that there was now no need for religious faith. How could they trust in a so-called “superstition” like religion, when man was beginning to learn more and more about the world “on his own”? Rising secularism and scepticism tainted the intellectual trends. And the far-reaching consequences of this were of grave concern to the young Newman – maybe even as much as they are to us now. And so he embarked on the sermon series to try and help his parishioners not become engulfed by modern ideas that seemed to threaten truth.

He recalled, in those twenty-six sermons (the last of which would be his last as an Anglican, called “The parting of friends”) that engaging both faith and reason were essential in our pursuit of truth; he reminded his listeners of the Divine Institution of the Church, which was not some man-made organisation, or a worldly empire with a united politic. Rather, it was truly the Mystical Body of Christ, in which the whole world was called to settle like birds in its branches, referencing the Scriptures from the Mass today. The wide-reaching hospitality of the Church is such that is can be “a kingdom under which things external to it find shelter”, he says.

Did Newman intend to mean that if the Church is called to be so welcoming that anything in the Name of Christ goes? Is it possible that even contradictory thoughts can find safe haven in the branches of this mystical tree? Can worldly ideology nestle side-by-side with Sacred Tradition? As though he anticipates this question in the listener, he reminds us that the Church, this “one kingdom in all lands” – more an empire than a kingdom, really – “seems to have been intended as the means… by which all lands would be converted”. That is, not left as they were, not allowed an equality with the kingdom or called to coexist harmoniously with offending, opposing or undermining powers. Rather, this kingdom would encounter the world and win it over to the truth.

“Christ’s religion,” Newman reminds us, “was not a mere creed or philosophy” which simply existed and tried not to interfere with the empires of the world, like one way of thinking amongst others. Rather, he says, it intended to be a “counter kingdom” which should rule “without rival”. In a short, powerful line, he says this: “You see that Christ persuades or destroys”, or, in the words of Jesus Himself: “He who is not with Me, is against Me; he who does not gather with Me, scatters”.

This is something that was already prominent in the Lord’s preparation for the coming of the Christ. Ancient Israel was the smallest of the nations; it had no military prestige, and no significant honour among the nations of its own accord. It could not claim that greatness that characterised her neighbours. Her only boast: the Lord had chosen her, lowly as she was, and transplanted her to the heights. Ezekiel sees this “tender shoot” taken by the Divine Hand and planted on the mountains in Israel.

This humble sprig becomes a home to the birds of the world, who are called not so much to marvel at the tree, but at the Lord, Whose Hand chose, planted it and caused it to grow. And what should those “birds” now do? They are given home in the Lord’s covenant with no admixture of error or idolatry. God alone had the power to pluck it up from among the nations and set apart for Himself. Israel would soon see that with God, they flourished, “full of sap, still green”; without Him, they face destruction, ruin and exile. They must, in the words of the Shema, love the Lord with all their heart, with all their mind, with all their strength. They must either be persuaded to be faithful to God, or face the destruction that comes with unbelief. They are invited to the tree, invited to be at home in its branches; they are called to be transformed by its protection, being good inhabitants in God’s hospitality. The tree, rooted in God, flourishes, and the birds nested in it are safe.

And what about us? God has raised up a more perfect tree in His Church, where Christ Himself is the home of every believer. Chosen by the Father before all ages, He is plucked by the Father’s hand and raised to the heights of the Cross. There, He is glorified by the Same Hand that chose Him. He is disregarded, by some, as nothing more than the small mustard seed; now, risen and ascended, He is the home of the faithful.

How do we find a home in this tree, which is the Mystical Body of Jesus, without rival or equal, in a world that trades in counterfeit “truths”?


There are certainly many ideologies, positions and philosophies that are external to the Church’s teaching; many of them – as they stand – are difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with the teaching of Christ. It is important for a Catholic to be able to see these, and understand why it is that a Catholic can’t accept or hold to these worldly positions. They often compromise the truth about God, His Church or about human nature in a way that, if we fell prey to them, we would struggle to be truly faithful to the Lord’s teaching.

It does sometimes happen, though, that we feel tempted to harbour these falsities within ourselves; we could even deceive ourselves into thinking that we can box them off into discrete entities with the packaging of “I’m Catholic, but…” This compromise is often an illusion, which brings about a substantial disintegration in the heart. Slowly, we begin to think that we can decide more adequately than the Church what is fine and what is not; we slide from disregarding what is uncomfortable to ignoring what is essential. This slippery slope can only lead to confusion and despair, letting us lose grip on the branches of that great tree of God’s kingdom. We find ourselves, intellectually and spiritually, homeless, impoverished by selling out to ideologies that promise comfort, but deliver destruction. Moral relativism, which denies the existence of objective truth, conflicts with the Church’s teaching on what is good for man and his salvation. We cannot become slaves to thinking that reduces the teaching of Christ to one among many, and His Church’s voice, merely an opinion that can simply be avoided in favour of other more attractive ones offered elsewhere. We can never support those ideologies that promote the destruction of dignity and life in the form of abortion, euthanasia or the trafficking of persons. We can’t find a home for those ideas that try to undermine the truth of the human person by pretending to include elements of secular gender ideology, which contradicts Biblical anthropology. It is also impossible to admit an idea of “being Church” that disregards the importance of teaching truth contrary to popular opinion, generating a milder form of faith for those who insist on imposing their prejudice on the Mystical Body. We cannot trustfully house in the tree of the kingdom those opinions that appear to villainise tradition, pretending to guard unity while accidentally poisoning the roots. It is difficult to share a branch with those who think that what is beautiful is misleading, or what is revered is harmful. There is room, in Christ, for all these persons, even if their ways of thinking go contrary to the mind of Christ: each person, housed in the tree, is called to conversion to Christ, Who is the truth.

Even when it’s difficult (or especially so!), we need to be humble, and open to having robust (but charitable) conversations that can bring us to true conversion – first to ourselves, and then to others. We need to be broken out of weak compromises we make in the name of superficial peace (which have the capacity to harm our souls, and bring scandal to others). With the help of a good spiritual director, or a good reading list at least, we are called to ascend to the truth on the two wings of faith and reason, as Pope Saint John Paul II put it: a bird in flight, with the full power of both wings, is able to be true to its nature – and will find a refuge in the tree of the Church.

It would be right, also, to do what we can to grow in the human virtues, to seek out those things which are (apparently) the fruit of human industry and let them find shelter within the framework of our faith. We should read the Classics, which have a place in the tree, moving from Homer to Sophocles. We could then take up higher things in Ezekiel and Saint Paul. We will find ourselves, being increasingly enticed to grow in virtue, to grow in a deeper relationship with the One Who is accounted in Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John because there we encounter not just a philosophy, but a Person in Christ Jesus. Sound reading can certainly give us a good picture of human nature; it is good for us to be cultivated, but it is essential for us to be converted. We are allowed (even encouraged!) to while away some time in Narnia, but then we need to return to Nazareth, to encounter the Lord Who has taken our human nature on Himself, and redeemed it. And then with the mind of Christ, we can then read more – enjoying Dante’s Comedy, Dorothy Sayers’ short stories and the Poirot of Agatha Christie (who, herself, was devout to the Latin Mass). We will see how these things that are seemingly external to the Church can find some place within her.

As we grow in this way of reading the externals with the mind of the Church, we can make some advances in combatting the fake conflict between science and religion, between fantasies about human nature and our deep understanding of it. It will be possible for us to minister to a world that still sees the intellectual enterprise as a challenge to eternal truth: even those birds are invited to nest in the Church – but not to remain the same. They – and us – are constantly called to convert and enjoy the true rest which only God can give. With God’s help, we will have courage to reject what is false, cling to what is true and draw others to that truth by the sympathetic influence of a heart that loves God above all things.


While it is good to steep ourselves in the human virtues (through good reading, practice and recollection), we should also keep praying for an outpouring of the supernatural ones through frequent prayer and devout reception of the sacraments. Newman recalls (in his empire sermon) the warlike defence of the ancient kingdoms and empires, which waged war against the visible and invisible forces which threatened the dominion of the King. What then are the weapons of His kingdom? Not “earthly or carnal” ones, Newman tells us, but rather “righteousness and mercy”. You are that Kingdom, too, where the King wants to live mysteriously and sacramentally. Just like the ancient king might be hidden in the palace, so the King of Kings, the Imperial Christ, lives hidden, but certainly, in your heart. While the attacks of the devil threaten His sovereignty in us, we have recourse to the weapons of “righteousness and mercy” present in confession, which make us more conquerors in Christ Jesus. With St Paul, we can battle against those bodily desires, which threaten to lay us low, towards spiritual heights, which take us out of ourselves and present us to the Lord, Who raises us to the top of the mountain to become fruitful for Him.


We all like a good story. It may be one of the reasons that Jesus taught in parables. It made the Gospel, so mysterious and counter-cultural, somewhat understandable to a world still caught up in sin. And analogy and metaphor are essential for learning. What greater image can there be in your work, home or in this church than for each of us to become a living analogue for Christ, in Whose branches we are called to live? As Newman recalls, Christ’s religion is not a mere philosophy or creed; it has to be something lived out in relationship. Pope Benedict XVI echoed these words in Deus cartias est, when he said that “[b]eing a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus caritas est). In living decisively for Christ, we must become something of a parable that points to Him too. It is not a parable about ideas, but about the kingdom; it is more than a kingdom that we serve. We are called to be, in all of our actions and words, and every day, a sign that points toward the King.

We should do our best, then, to live carefully with Christ in us, and to draw others to Him through His grace working within our hearts: it may be a small grain of grace – and we may not know how it grows – but it can be made fruitful for our salvation, and the attraction of others to Him, the Just Judge, the Good Sower. In this, we are not only being transformed by the Lord, but we could offer ourselves to become transformative for Him.

So let’s ask the Lord, then, Who has invited us to be housed safely in His kingdom, to grow in the human and supernatural virtues. Guided by the Church – Mater et Magistra – let us reject what is contrary to truth, and be transformed by Truth Himself, Who is made present for us on the altar. Nourished by Him, Who calls us to Himself, may we grow in our knowledge of the faith and have the courage to assent to it with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength. And, with the prayers of Our Lady, that Immaculate refuge of sinners, and repository of virtues, may we be found worthy to live forever in the Heavenly Kingdom.