Tuesday, August 11, 2020

This doesn't apply to me

One thing that has become quite apparent to me over the last few months is that many of the British people seem to have lost the ability to be agreeable.

One such manifestation of this is of a large "charity" beach party in the Romney Marsh area during which social distancing was not observed and after which the beach was utterly covered in litter. The organisers have pledged £750 towards the clean up, but one does question what people were thinking, or weren't thinking.

Clearly the whole pandemic situation has brought much confusion to light in our society. We've had expert pitted against expert; we've had advice which has been denounced; and we've had laws which have been ignored by government officials such as Dominic Cummings. It seems quite clear from the reports of his paper-thin excuse that Mr Cummings thinks that the rules don't apply to him.

The wearing of masks has been required in this country. In the US, the wearing of masks has not received universal legislation but remains as a guideline policed by busybodies and the arbiters of social justice. 

We see here two extremes: one is a law that is being ignored; the other is a recommendation that is being enforced. It is a very tricky situation and it means that we really do have to see where our commitments lie.

Our Lord looks at our hearts to make His judgement of us. Our underlying motives are as clear to Him as the daylight. He will know whether we comply with laws out of commitment to the community or disobey them out of selfishness and some belief that the law doesn't apply to us. He will know whether we insist on a recommendation out of respect for a very particular situation or whether forcing someone to comply is an instance of virtue signalling to make us look morally superior.

The Christian has a duty for the good of his community. This is not just a Benedictine thing; it really is a Church-wide thing. Our motivation can only be for the love of God and for neighbour.

There are those who refuse to wear masks because, "the Lord will protect me. I just need to have faith!" To them, the Lord says, "do not put the Lord thy God to the test." We might be delivered symptoms from the disease but we might pass the disease to others.

There are those who will insist that everyone wears masks whom the Lord will describe as straining a gnat and swallowing a camel. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for not wearing a mask.

The Christian commits to the unity of the Church. The Ignatian idea of the local church as being the people gathered around their bishop is a strong model which bears witness to the Gospel if Christ. It only works when the people obey the bishop and the bishop serves his people. The same is true for the relationship between parish and priest. We have to exhibit that commitment in our church working. If the bishop is celebrating in green then his priests should be celebrating in green out of a genuine desire to effect that sense of unity visually.

Of course, for any rule, recommendation and piece of advice there are exceptions and exemptions: that's reasonable. If we seek to use an exemption then we need to examine our heart carefully to see if, deep down, we want the exemption in order just to do our own thing. We can dress our reason for exemption with many convincing words and careful and clever reasonings but, ultimately, we have to be sure that our exemption would be better for the whole community than not.

Either we pull together or we come apart in the storm. Either we work together to contain the virus or we lose more lives to it. Either we seek the good of the community or the community suffers.

If we want to be truly community-minded then let us be so for the sake of God and of our neighbours. The exemption from Love is Hell.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

The wolves behind

Sermon for the ninth Sunday after Trinity

When a clergyman leaves his post there is often great sadness. The good clergyman will be missed and he will receive many goodbyes from those who love him. It is also an occasion of concern: will his replacement be any good? The good clergyman will be concerned with who comes after him. Surely it's none of his business, though. He surely doesn't get a say in how the parish is run after he's gone, does he?

[PAUSE]

St Paul is leaving and will never see Asia again so he calls the priests and bishops of Ephesus together to bid them goodbye and to warn them. There are wolves coming.

The concern of the good clergyman is that his flock will cope with his departure. He knows that he must move on and that his flock must continue without him. He knows that his parish is not about him but must be directed towards God. His departure may be sad but it should not be devastating. 

[PAUSE]

The good clergyman will have prepared for his departure by being faithful to God in the exercise of his duty and teaching his flock in the Catholic Faith. The parish that is well-educated, seeks to love God and neighbour, and prays together will know God better. This means that they are protected from the wolves. What wolves?

[PAUSE]

Our Lord speaks of the ravening wolves that will attack the flock and St Paul remembers this. These are the fake bishops and priests. They may very well be validly ordained and have all kinds of qualifications; they will be very charismatic and charming; they will appear to be the real deal. They will have only their own interests at heart.

St Paul takes great pains to show that he has worked hard for the Church. He does not live off of charity but makes tents to sell and earn his living. He has been concerned with supporting the weak - those who are poor physically, and those who are poor spiritually.

By this, the Church can recognise a good clergyman. This is not the clergyman who vaunts himself, his clothes, his learning, his connections, or his authority. This is the clergyman who comes to serve, to give God's grace freely, to preach the Gospel and show how to live the Gospel.

In recent years, the good name of "bishop" and "priest" has been sullied by those who live off of those titles, who mislead to their own advantage and who have performed abominable acts on the innocent. The bishop who is not a chief servant is in danger of damaging the flock. Of such a bishop, the Lord says it would be better for a millstone to be tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea.

[PAUSE]

No clergyman is a perfect human being. They are human and not one of them is infallible. The good clergyman will be as ready to confess his sins as those whom he teaches to confess their sins. The good clergyman will be aware always of the responsibility he bears to the Church and will beg for prayers that he may not turn into a wolf but rather serve it to his own detriment.

And he will teach the flock well so that, when his time comes to leave, they are prepared for the possibility of a wolf behind him. 

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Dreaming of more than in Heaven and Earth

Sermon for the eighth Sunday after Trinity

What is a university for?

You might say that universities are places engaged in a search for knowledge and which impart this knowledge on those who would pay for it.

Yet it seems, at the moment, there are strong opinions on university education. Some see a good university as a place where they can develop their own theories and thus better understand the issues so that they can fight for what's right in Society.

Others see universities as wastes of taxpayers' money studying silly subjects which don't actually mean anything except the prospect of a better future just by having a degree. 

Certainly, Science is being sneered at by some because it is not providing answers to the Coronavirus problem. There seems to be different scientific advice as to whether masks should be worn, how long it will last and whether we will ever be able to stop the social distancing.

There are a lot of answers out there and a lot of squabbling as to who is right.

And into this Areopagus walks St Paul.

[PAUSE]

What does St Paul make of the university? He hears debates, lots of theories and lots of gods. He even sees people hedging their bets by making sure that the unknown god isn't forgotten, just in case.

St Paul points out that the god that everyone has forgotten is God Himself, the Creator of all things.

We hear him speak powerfully about God, of Jesus and about resurrection.

What's interesting is that the learned men aren't convinced. Some laugh, some would hear more, but St Paul is unsuccessful in bringing the Athenian academics to faith compared with his success in Macedonia. Of course, some believe, but there is no mass conversion of the Areopagus.

And that's a good thing. The academics are behaving wisely.

[PAUSE]

One of the main obstacles to know what's going on are conflicting reports. We see this all the time. On Social Media, we see news and fake-news; we see memes and video clips, and we are tempted to listen only to those views which support our beliefs and reject the views which don't as fake.

That's lazy and it leads to divisions.

The same is true for Christianity.

To often, we seek to divide ourselves on issues which may be of great importance. In order to make a better judgement, we have to listen to the other side carefully. Our Lord Himself warns us that we first have to cost out any project before we start.

If we don't think carefully then we can end up hating people from a knee-jerk reaction to what they say. That's not on. We can hate nobody - God says so. If what we hear and see on the news and social media makes us hate others, then there is something deeply wrong. We need to be critical, listen to opposing views and think about them properly, not just give in to who shouts the loudest.

[PAUSE]

When we preach the Gospel, we have to remember that we will not reach everyone straight away. Some people will resist to the bitter end. As Christians, we are part of God's university. We seek to know Him better. We seek to teach people about Him. We have no need for a university degree in order to do this from our hearts - the graduation to Heaven will be enough.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

When the spirit of freedom stops the clock

Sermon for the seventh Sunday after Trinity

On our travels with St Paul, St Silas and St Luke, we meet three spirits. The first prevents them from spreading the Gospel in Asia. The second proclaims the Most High God. The third sends these saints to prison.

Only one of these spirits is not the Holy Ghost.

[PAUSE]

It's interesting that the spirit proclaiming the name of God is not the Holy Ghost but a spirit of divination. It is the Holy Ghost Who stops the saints from going into Asia and, by driving out this spirit of divination, has the saints thrown into prison.

It looks like the Holy Ghost is not a spirit of freedom.

[PAUSE]

At critical times in History, people have lifted their heads and said that there was something in the air. Major revolutions have followed with great turmoil and then sighs of relief. The crowd hails the new spirit of freedom; poems are written; statues are carved; pictures are painted. Until the next revolution, of course. Then a new spirit takes over; poems are censored; statues torn down; paintings are defaced.

And round and round we go.

And we Christians worship a Spirit Who constrains us, stops us from doing what we want,  and will even drive out spirits which mention His Name. Is our God not concerned with our freedom?

[PAUSE]

The girl is possessed by this spirit of divination. It might be speaking the truth but there is no way this poor girl is free. Human beings are not meant to be possessed. She is not free to be herself.

Too often we think that freedom means that we can do what we like. We think that freedom means that there is nothing holding us back from getting our desires. We think freedom means answering to no-one, eating what we want, sleeping with whom we want, and so on.

This is not what God wants. We cannot be free like this because God created us to be what He wants to be. And we don't want to be what He wants us to be.

[PAUSE]

We are like a clock - one of those old fashioned proper clockwork clocks with cogs and gears and hands and weights.

In that clock, there is a special device called the escapement. It regulates the clock and is responsible for the "tick-tock" sound. It consists of a wheel that is attached to the weights and a balance which is attached to the pendulum. The balance regulates the wheel: without it, the wheel would spin freely and the clock would be useless.

Without the wheel, the clock would be stuck.

And we are like the clock.

[PAUSE]

God has created us for His purpose, but we have damaged ourselves. Some of us struggle against God's law and are like a clock which throws out its balance. Our lives spin fast and free, but we cease to be what we are meant to be. We lose our very selves in our own pursuit of happiness.

Some of us become infected by evil spirits so that we become like the clock whose escapement wheel cannot turn. We are stuck, rigid, at the pleasure of the Devil. 

We need both the balance and the wheel in order to function for God and so find true freedom.

[PAUSE]

The balance of the Holy Ghost means that St Paul can't travel into Asia but must suffer imprisonment. As a result of his restrictions, a girl is saved from an evil spirit and a gaoler and his family are brought to Christ. The temporary loss of physical freedom is the tick which results in the tock of the spiritual freedom of others. 

In accepting regulation by the Holy Ghost we operate better as servants of God and find the freedom to do what we are meant to do, just as the clock is meant to tell the time.

[PAUSE]

Too often, what we think is freedom is anything but. False freedom leads to enslavement by our own short-sighted view of reality which leads us to reject God. True freedom accepts limitations so that we become what we are meant to be.

 And God alone tells us what we are meant to be. We are meant to be happy in Him.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

A Hymn to God the Father



Apologies for the odd lengthening of some notes. I had to turn my own pages which is not easy!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Credit where credit is due

Sermon for the sixth Sunday after Trinity

Your job as a waiter in a restaurant is going well. The customers are nice and the chef is just the right side of demanding. The food is good and the company genial.

Just before closing, you approach a man to settle his bill. He takes out his wallet and from it produces a shiny gold credit card. "I have this!" he says proudly, "it's accepted by all the best places!" Immediately, he gets up and tries to leave. 

Has the bill been paid?

[PAUSE]

Of course, you protest that you haven't put the bill onto the card and that just waving the card at you doesn't pay the bill. There has to be sufficient credit on the card in order to pay.

As you run his card through the machine, there is a beep and the card is declined. It doesn't matter how flashy the card is, if there is no credit on it, it is no good.

[PAUSE]

And that's the attitude that the Apostles are up against. They are faced with Jewish Christians saying that, in order to be saved, all men must be circumcised. This is why the very first Council of Jerusalem gets called by St James: how do gentiles become Christian?

St Paul tells us that circumcision availeth nothing and uncircumcision availeth nothing. Using a bodily scar as proof of your salvation is like the shiny credit card. It doesn't work if there is no credit. We cannot expect salvation without a change in our hearts. This is why St Paul tells us to circumcise our hearts.

[PAUSE]

The conclusion of the Council is that gentiles do not need to be circumcised but they do need to live lives of chastity and not eat food sacrificed to idols. For many gentiles in Jerusalem, this will be a big deal because it involves a change in lifestyle. It means turning away from sin and idolatry and towards Christ. These are painful and demanding changes that will put these gentile Christians directly at odds with their culture and their families. It is every bit a commitment to the church as circumcision is to the Jews.

[PAUSE]

It is only in Christ that we are saved from the debt of our sins. He is the credit on our cards: it doesn't matter if those cards are gold-plated or not. Nonetheless, we have to live lives of faith in order to recognise the value of this credit. We will not be saved by outward gimmickry but by knowing and loving God.

[PAUSE]

When the Day of Reckoning happens, will there be enough on your card? How do you know?