Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lenten Attitudes: 2 Attitudes To Ourselves

The kids have finally managed to persuade you to take them to Zeppo’s Amusement Arcade. You’ve navigated the Dodgems and the Teacups and you’ve sampled the local delicacies - toffee apples, ice cream, candy floss, popcorn and the like. Now, you are being persuaded to enter the Hall of Mirrors. How do you feel about going into the Hall of Mirrors, especially since you are full of all that food?

How do you feel about the Hall of Mirrors anyway?


As you know, the mirrors are designed to distort your reflection. As you walk through the hall, one mirror magnifies your head to make it look as if you’ve been blown up like a balloon. Another squashes your reflection and makes it look as if you’ve been sat on by a hippopotamus. Other mirrors make you tall and thin, or make your tummy protrude, or make your feet look like canoes!

Finally, you come to a mirror that makes you look normal. Actually, as you look a bit closer, you look a bit better than normal. Come to think of it, you do actually look drop-dead gorgeous in this mirror!

Is this mirror a proper mirror, or is there something wrong with it? It’s not as obviously distorted as the others, so perhaps it’s a normal mirror. But do you really think that it is a proper mirror? How would you know?


We are often presented with distortions of individuals as if they reflect reality. We can look at celebrities and get a very false idea about what they are like when they appear on camera. Television very rarely presents us with anything other than a caricature of a celebrity. Yet it is very interesting to see some celebrities start to live in order to fit their image.  Why do we then buy shampoo on the strength that it is endorsed by a particularly stunning celebrity when we know that that celebrity is probably held together with gaffer tape and Polyfiller in order to achieve that look?

Not only are we presented with the idea that we are gorgeous, but we’re also presented with the idea that we can have anything that we want and it will only make us better. And why? Because we’re worth it, as L’Oreal would have us believe!

Fashionable Science, too, seems to suggest that we can be perfected with new organs, and plastic surgery, and injections and liposuction et c. Some scientists are even talking about the possibility of immortality!

It all seems rather worrying. The prospect of having our minds downloaded into a robotic lookalike of Kelly Brook or Tom Daley is horrid, principally because we would cease to be ourselves.


This idea of distortion lies at the centre of the sins of Gluttony and Pride. With Pride, we are accepting that a certain image that we have of ourselves is true. However, that image has been distorted by Sin, the World and the Devil. One of the effects of our Original Sin is that the view we have of ourselves is fundamentally distorted. We cease to see ourselves as we truly are. For many people this means seeing themselves as “better” than other people, even when it is meaningless to make any comparison in the first place. Yet for others, the same sin of pride makes them believe that they are irredeemably worse than anyone else. In both cases, the sin is to accept something as true which is actually not true. It makes God out to be, at best, mistaken and, at worst, an out and out liar!

It is God who sets the truth because God is true. He is the only being Who can be said to truly exist because He is the only source of all our being. God has searched us out and known us. He knows our downsitting and uprising and discerns our thoughts from afar. He has created us in His own image, but that image has been marred by our sin, and we need to be aware of it. Not one of us is irredeemable, for God sent not His Son into the World to condemn the World but that the World through Him might be saved. The whole World is capable of being redeemed through the Precious Blood of Christ.

While Gluttony is very much like Avarice in that it deprives other people of what they need, it is very much related to pride because it distorts our wants into our needs. We may be aware that we would like a large cappuccino with semi-skimmed steamed milk produced by cows on the south side of the Isle of Wight, but Gluttony convinces us that it is our right and a bodily need for us to have things our way. Witness the fuss in a restaurant when a diner orders gazpacho soup and, complaining that it is cold, sends it back to be heated! Not only is the diner a glutton for assuming that he can get what he wants, but the other diners who look down on him snobbishly with derision are full of pride and self-satisfaction because they know that gazpacho soup is to be served cold. Pride and Gluttony go hand in hand and reveal our attitudes to our very self.


If we are to enter into a true and loving relationship with God, then we have to base that relationship on truth. We cannot hide the truth from someone we love, nor would we want to. If we are absolutely honest, then we know that, we don’t really know ourselves at all well. We even have to rely on God to show us who we really are, and that’s not always a pleasant sight until we accept it in humility. We have to hold onto our trust in God. Indeed St John reminds us, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be : but we know that, when He shall appear , we shall be like Him; for we shall see him as He is”.

If Life is our Hall of Mirrors, which mirror are you looking in now? How is it distorting you?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lenten Attitudes: 1 Attitudes To Things

Sermon Preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis Rochester on the First Sunday in Lent

The time has finally come, and the demolition team has arrived to begin the deconstruction of the now defunct St Cedd’s Monastery to make way for new housing. The first blows of the wrecking ball take out the bell tower and the Oratory roof. Subsequent blows remove the dormitory walls and the kitchens.

As Geoff the foreman co-ordinates the destruction, he notices on a ridge well out of the way the cowled figure of an aged monk staring out at the demolition. Geoff walks over to the monk.

“I’m sorry Father,“ he says genuinely, “this must be very hard for you to see your old building demolished.” “Indeed it is,” says the monk, his ancient face made more sombre by the sadness in his eyes, “I left my iPod in the dormitory.”

Even monks are not immune from the fashions and fads from secular society, it seems. How many adverts do we see on the telly that bombard us with the latest thing and the must-haves?

It’s fascinating to watch the language here. What is a “must-have” and why must we have it? What is it about this Xbox console which makes its purchase so important, so vital, so necessary that life is not worth living without it? This sounds like a lot to live up to. We seem to get sucked into this mentality very easily. We even use shopping as a remedy to cheer us up and call it retail therapy. Yet, when we look at the clutter of our lives, we don’t understand why our possessions or our desire for possessions really help us feel better.

St Maximos the Confessor says, ‎'He who forsakes all worldly desires sets himself above all worldly distress.' DFS and Foxy Bingo Dotcom have other answers.

Our attitude to our property tells us much about how we expect to find true happiness. Our Blessed Lord Himself observes “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Society often presents us with two choices with regard to property: we may have something and thus be expected to want more or someone else has something and we are expected to want what they have. We are encouraged into Avarice or Envy by big companies so that employees can reasonably earn wages. The trouble is that these employees are also subject to the same temptations to Avarice and Envy as everyone else and so require higher wages. Sounds a little bit circular, doesn’t it?

It is important to be clear about the attitude that we should have towards possessions and property. We read very clearly in Genesis that God creates and enjoys His creation and that He Creates Mankind and expects Mankind to enjoy His creation. There is nothing wrong with possessing, using and enjoying what is part of God’s creation. Indeed, that’s the original idea! However, there is a fine line between enjoying God’s creation and nurturing selfishness.

The Lord says to the Rich Young Man “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” While showing clearly that none of us are perfect without Him, Our Lord is making the point that carving up the world into “things that are mine” and “things that I want” is not the way to view the world. It prevents us from being perfect.

What does the Lord mean by “perfect”?

He means reaching the purpose that God has created us to fulfil. Our attitude to what we have stops us from being what God wants us to be. Our selfishness actively stops us from being happy.

How on earth can we happy being envious? Envy is surely the most miserable of sins. There’s nothing to enjoy about it. At least, with Gluttony, you get to enjoy your food. There is nothing to enjoy about Envy. Avarice may make us happy for a while.

However, things decay and the Lord again says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal : But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”

We cannot be truly happy until we see ourselves apart from what we claim we own which is how God sees us. This is why we need to learn to be flexible with our belongings. Like the money changers in the temple court blocking access to the worship of God, it is our attitude to our belongings that clutters our pathway to the Divine.

So what is the antidote?

Should we be as violent as Our Lord is when He throws the money changers out of the temple precincts? We don’t need to be as extreme as St Francis who even threw off the clothes he was wearing to be free from ownership, but we certainly do need to be firm with ourselves. The best remedies against avarice and envy are to be temperate in our taking and generous in our giving. The more temperate we are, the more we can spot when we are being selfish. The more generous we are, the less attached to material things we become and we are able to prize more the Presence of God in our lives.

How much more of God are we willing to make room for in our lives?

How generous are we going to have to be?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lenten Attitudes: The Preamble

Foreheads have been blackened with a smudgy mix of burnt palm leaves and oil. That old call to remember our fragile state of being and how it will one day dissolve into component parts and be no more recognisable as ourselves has been issued and we find ourselves in the time of purple and violet. Lent is here and we are required by our love for God to reflect on our lives.

Much of what makes us who we are is how we approach the things of life. How we react in certain situations, how we cope in the long term, how we view the outside world reveals much of who w are, warts and all. We are, however, not completely transparent to the world nor even really to ourselves. Our search for what consciousness is is clouded by the long shadow of our own consciousness obscuring the facts of our existence and our understanding of that existence.

However, we can begin to reflect upon our fragile being by kneeling before God and considering our attitudes towards our lives. Our attitudes to Things, to Ourselves, to Others, and to God need to be considered, and considered very deeply as it is within these that we find the Eight Deadly Sins. In our attitude to Things, we find the sins of Avarice and Envy; in our attitudes to Ourselves, we find the sins of Pride and Gluttony; in our attitudes to Others, we find the sins of Lust and Anger; and in our attitude to God we find Sloth and the monastic sin of acedia.

I will be preaching in Rochester on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Sundays of Lent and intend, with the help of God, to speak on these four attitudes. On the fourth Sunday, I will be leading Mattins with Deacon Mass in Dartford, but perhaps I will try to reflect on our attitudes to our parents for Mothering Sunday.

It's worth remembering that we really are very, very fallen, corporately and individually. But we really, really are loved by God. A good reflection on our attitudes with Him holding our hand will bring us only closer to Him