Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Unsocial Media

This little blog is being a little quiet at the moment as I am concentrating on a largish project at the service of my diocese as well as my usual day job. I still intend to publish sermons as best I can - first and foremost I must be subject to the Holy Ghost.

I expect my readership to shrink somewhat as I have just jettisoned Facebook for the time being. As it happens, I feel much better for doing so!

My reason for leaving was a meme featuring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka with the caption to the effect of "So tell me why you bemoan being unable to read when you're spending so much time on Facebook. "

I have recently become embroiled in too much self-defence of my traditional stance on human sexuality and in defence of the welfare of women under threat from legislation mindless of the bleeding obvious, of my defence of why I'm not Roman, and my defence of why I'm not in communion with ACNA. I find this constant self-defence deeply limiting from the work that I want to do in promoting and preaching the Catholic Faith.

Facebook is a sea of noise and I might liken it to a nineteenth century opium den with the opiate in this case being the dopamine addiction which craves "likes" and approval from people for the sake of that approval. Given also the imperious, arrogant, and illogical attack I received from a former student when I railed against the CofE's recent approval to sanction transgender rights above the safety and welfare of women whose rights are being eroded by this legislation, I feel justified in my decision to deactivate my account for a while.

While I am appreciative of positive comments, I don't want to write for the sole aim of becoming popular, but rather in answer to the deep longing I have for the truth which can only be found in the Holy Mystery of the Triune Godhead.

I therefore crave the indulgence of my readership if I am not as forthcoming with my posts as I have been. May God prosper the work of my hands and my mind. St Anselm and St Odile, pray for me!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Working out Love

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Why is it so hard to love other people?

Have you ever tried to count the number of negative thoughts that we have against other people? It’s an interesting exercise, and one that is good discipline especially when examining ourselves ready for confession. Somehow we need to step back from what we’re thinking and actually look at the thoughts themselves, their content, their direction, their origin.

Often it’s not very pleasant. Yet, how often do we forget that God knows every thought of our hearts? Further, how much more do we forget Our Lord’s words, “whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

That’s a bit of a worry, isn’t it?

[PAUSE]

We have to face facts: we are fallen beings. Our thoughts are fallen. Even the very best of us have thoughts that are not palatable and which would make the most horrible Horror Film look like the Care Bears’ Picnic. How can we really love other people? How can we want our worst enemy honestly to be our brother?

The mistake that we make is that love is not a feeling that we should possess. It actually comes from what we consciously want to happen. The love that we need to have for other people is rooted in the desire and longing to do good for other people. You’ll hear people say, “the pathway to Hell is paved with good intentions.” They’re wrong, the pathway to Hell is paved with selfish desires masquerading as good intentions. That which is truly Good has its source in God and returns to God bearing fruit in abundance.
We have to want other people’s good in order to do love. St Peter says, “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”

As Christians, we must be all of one mind, that is to support each other in that intent to do good. We gather together to pray and receive Christ and that must be where we receive that common mind to bring the love of God into our communities and for those who live around us. In receiving Our Lord in the sacrament, we are united with Him and must seek to be of one mind with Him. We need to look to agree, not insist on disagreeing, but always to submit our thinking to what Our Lord teaches us in His Church.
We must love as brethren. We will not see people as our brothers and sisters initially, and certainly not without the grace of God, but we can purpose to live our lives as if they were our brothers and sisters and allow any grace that God gives us to grow.

To do this, St Peter tells us to be pitiful by which he means that we should look upon our brethren as people who have fallen and are in the same dire need for Christ’s salvation as we are. We should not berate them for their shortcomings, but live with them as they must live with our shortcomings. St Peter is telling us to be sympathetic – in fact this is the word he uses in the Greek!

We need to be courteous, considerate of where others are. This does not just mean opening the door for a little old lady, but rather to be aware of what help or assistance someone else might actually need. It means to take active thought for other people in their situations. It means that we need to be friendly, approachable.

We have to repel evil by not letting it take control of us. If someone does something evil to us, why on earth should we allow the amount of evil to increase by doing the same? We can only ever hope to fight Evil with Good, and we can only know what is truly Good by being of one mind with God.

[PAUSE]

Yes, our secret sins may well be aired in public, but surely, if we’ve tried to be compassionate, sought to do good, looked out for others, surely they will look at us with the same compassion. But then, it’s God who will look at us with pity, compassion and, above all, mercy, forgiveness and love. We may and should cry for our sins, but our tears will be wiped away because we have shed them for the love of God.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Judging the judgement of judging

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

As Christians, we do have a duty to point out right from wrong. In ecclesiastical language it’s called “admonishing the sinner” and it is one of the spiritual works of mercy. Yet, how afraid we are of doing so these days! In likelihood, here in the U.K., we will not be sliced to bits with a large sword, though too many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are suffering this. No, in the U.K. to pull someone up on sin is a different form of death called “social death”.

If you say to someone, “that’s sinful!” Before banning you forever in their social whirl, they will look you right in the eye and say, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.”

That’s what Our Lord says in St Luke’s hearing.

Yet St Luke tells us that Jesus also says, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”

This puts us in a bit of a bother. If we are not allowed to judge that someone has sinned, then how can we accuse them of sin, and thus forgive them? Surely, if we see someone about to fall into a hole, we must say to them, “look out, you’re about to fall into a hole!”

[PAUSE]

In telling us not to judge, non-Christians are effectively telling us that we have no right to call them up on sin. They base this on the fact that we commit the same sins as they do, and receive the same benefits from them. As far as they are concerned, we are walking on the same path as they are and, if there is a hole, we’ll fall into it too. So, logically, if they think that we are on the same path as they, there can’t really be a hole or else we all fall in.

Yet sin is still sin. Murder, adultery, wilful deception, even lusting after another person’s property are sin. That’s not going to change. If these things separated man from God thousands of years ago, then they will still separate us from God now. It’s not because we’ve changed, but because God does not change. We are sinners, therefore how on earth can we tell people that they’ve sinned? Hadn’t we better keep silence?

[PAUSE]

Jesus says, “Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?”
This is the thing. Are we blind? No. We know what sin is and, if we’re good Christians, we will be examining our lives daily for the very thing that separates us from God. It is only those who fail to recognise their own hypocrisy who will fall into ruin with those who will not turn from sin. If we see sin in others but not ourselves, then we can only fall into the same hole as the others.

When Jesus says, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged,” He is warning us not to be hypocrites, but to be humble. We are not to judge based upon what we think is right and believe ourselves to be perfect, but to judge based upon not just upon what God says, but based upon Who God is, for God is what it means to be good. The letter of the Law killeth, but the Spirit giveth life. The word that we hear God speak in Holy Scripture needs to be the Living Word in our understanding of it.

Our judgement is to be based upon mercy. God’s mercy is precisely His steadfast love for all sinners, and this is what we should have too if we are seeking the Good that is Christ. If we must accuse someone of sin, then it needs to come from a deep-seated, passionate, loving concern for their well-being. It can’t be lukewarm, academic, and certainly not from a place of self-righteousness. Nor can we ever force them to repent because that takes away the freedom to choose. There are too many people who try to blackmail people out of their sin emotionally – that’s not on because love does not insist upon its own will.

[PAUSE]

Repentance is the way back to God. We are to change our minds, acknowledge that we are on the wrong path and head towards His light. By living in that light, people may indeed see the way out of their own sin. Of course, we need to be able to see that light first. There might be a beam blocking the way!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sleeping through humility

Sermon for the third Sunday after Trinity

All good parables start with a king, don’t they? A powerful king sits on his throne surveying his wealth and power. He has conquered five new cities to the south and repelled the rebels. He has acquired an oil field in Texas. Gold has been discovered in his territories. The neighbouring kings bring him tributes of the finest treasures that they possess. His has three sons and seven grandsons who sit with him watching him govern the might of his kingdom. This is the world he has made for himself.

All good parables have a begger, too. There is a beggar who sits at the church door. He manages to get enough money for food. He listens to the church music during the day. He has made friends with the regulars that walk past the church daily. At night, he can usually find somewhere protected and quite comfortable to sleep. This is the world he has made for himself.

Who’s happiest?

[PAUSE]

At night, the king dreams restlessly. The rebels take back control of the cities. The oil field runs dry and the gold mine has only fool’s gold. The kings are plotting against him. His family plot his overthrow. This is the five hundredth night in a row. Will he ever get a good night’s sleep?
But the beggar, in all his poverty, is sleeping well, isn’t he?

No. At night the beggar dreams restlessly. His past is still with him. His demanding of his birth right from his father; his running away from all who love him; his squandering the money on a life of wine, women and gambling. He dwells on these from day-to-day. He has them in front of him all day, and at night, his failures whisper in his ear. He can’t go back. He just can’t.

As the king suffers sleepless nights worrying about his wealth, the beggar suffers sleepless nights taunted by his personal failures.

[PAUSE]

Both the beggar and the rich man have to live in worlds that they have created, and they let these worlds define who they are. They are both enslaved and devoured by the weight of what they have added on to their very selves, materially, mentally and spiritually. Their world eats them up leaving only a fa├žade, a shell drunken on worry and concerns from the world. Both men need to find the joy of humility.

Humility isn’t about being the lowest of the low. It’s about realising that, despite those things we’ve done with our lives, they need not define us. We do have a hand with God in our creation, and we’re not finished yet. Every day, our decisions and interactions with God and the world around us shape us more, but so many people leave God out of the equation – and that includes Christians.

Humility is about accepting the truth – the truth of how our desires to build our world enslave us and stop us from being truly alive; the truth of our failures which haunt us and stop us from growing. We cannot allow either of these states to make us drunk with worry and concern to the extent that we forget God and forget who we are. Humility says that, although we have a hand in who we are, God is the Creator, first and foremost.

St Peter says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”

[PAUSE]

We need to look at ourselves critically, but honestly in the love of God. We must take responsibility for the way we shape our lives but trust in the knowledge that, with God with us and as we participate faithfully in His life and love, all that happens will work out to our good. “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

Both the king and the beggar need to learn humility. The king needs to see who he is without the riches. The beggar needs to see who he is without his self-inflicted poverty. Such realisations can only come about by letting go of the vision and realising the truth in God. Kings and beggars are equal in the offer of salvation that God extends to them with pierced hand.

[PAUSE]
Our growth in this life is turbulent and unsettling, but that is the price of transformation. To find true joy in Our Lord, we must learn to accept that we need to change and alter the course of our lives towards Him: that transformation causes distress and turbulence in our lives. There will be sleepless nights of realisations, but bringing them to God in an honest prayer, we can trust Him to bring us to perfection, no matter who we may be.

How are you sleeping lately?