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?

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