Trust in The Lord
This Sunday's homily at Leigh-on-Sea from Father Kevin was one of those that seemed to speak directly to me. All week I have been thinking about my own witness to the faith with concern for the degree to which I am prepared to follow the teachings before me. I sometimes feel sad that people are upset by what they think the Church teaches, usually because they do not fully understand it. Trying to explain it in love is always a daunting task (especially in light of the fact that in today's society, the message is so counter-cultural), though my experience is that informed teaching is usually received with great joy (as people tend to be able to recognise the truth when they hear it, even if they don't like it). Of course, occasionally people just do not want to hear you. When this happens, I feel like a bit of a failure, I feel like I have let them and God down. I also sometimes get upset because people take offense, even Catholics, who are sometimes surprised by one aspect of the faith they didn't know about before, sometimes feel enthusiasm for the faith, especially if it differs from what they understood (i.e. it challenges them to be better), is akin to "ramming it down their throats". I find it difficult to see how this is possible, especially on social media as one always has the option of not reading what others post. I make no apology for my zeal, my faith is an endemic part of who I am, like it or loathe it. I am personally always striving to understand better, so I welcome challenge. I think many people, wrongly, feel judged or feel they fall short of the mark, this always causes me to recall the words of GK Chesterton:
"Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."
People tend to view the frankly heroic model of morality advocated by a lived Christian life as something near impossible to maintain. They miss the point that it isn't about achieving perfection so much as striving to be all that we can be. Indeed, we all fall, but is that any reason to capitulate in any avenue of human endeavour? The Church is a raft for sinners, not an exclusive club for the perfect (cf. Mt 9:12), though we do have the role model of Mary to show us that perfection is possible, with grace. We are called to be saints. I would hate anyone to feel that they were judged; Jesus pointed out sin and called people to repentance, but He did not condemn anyone who repented of their sin:
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” ~Jn 8:11As heralds of the Gospel, we have a duty to speak of the moral consequences of sin, and the Church provides an excellent moral guide to aid with our discernment, so such honesty is born of a real love that manifests itself in concern and responsibility, not any sort of superiority (or at least it shouldn't be). Whatever the case, I do feel sad about this. Sometimes I feel isolated too and this leads to my questioning whether my approach may be wrong. At the moment, I am thinking a lot about my own family, my estranged father and brother, with deep sadness about how things have worked out, and this hurts me and makes me melancholy. I feel that disagreements protracted over decades have affected our children in ways which will now never be mended, and these disagreements have become the reality of our lives; a lack of grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins. It is not how I hoped it would be and it all makes me feel very sad. My father's sin, leaving his wife (my mother), betraying his vows, having an affair, and ultimately abandoning his family is uncondonable. His moral position utterly untenable, and I am shamed by him and his actions so deeply. Reflecting on what should or could have been and relating it to what is causes me deep sadness, though in many ways I am at peace that I no longer have to deal with his duplicity and inherently mendacious nature. Surely I would be nothing short of remiss, were I to in any way condone or accept what he has chosen? In all good faith and care for his own well being, I have a duty to call him to repentance for his actions...This is Christian love. It is not easy- it is easier to just paper over the cracks. It doesn't not cover up what has happened but seeks to deal with it in the individual's best interests and ultimately, the salvation of their soul!
Some conversations with perfectly lovely, reasonable people, about Church teaching may swiftly lead to a position of antagonism. In the vacuum of solid teaching in which we exist in the Catholic Church in England and Wales, people inevitably develop all sorts of ideas about what the Church and Pope Francis have said...None of which tend to be based in fact. Often people became quite offended when they were confronted with direct quotes and facts from the Magisterium. They seemed happier to dismiss the teachings of the Church than change their own perception on the issue. The lack of humility displayed before 2,000 years of history, tradition and teaching is something that often frightens me a little. I have often found myself in that position, but have always striven to understand what the Church is teaching and why it teaches it.
I've met many wonderful teachers of the faith over the years, able to engage with the subject, and to proclaim the Gospel with great love and tenderness that seldom offends. I have always looked up to them and tried to emulate them. However, Fr. Kevin reminded me in his homily that Jesus' words were often discordant and grated on the sensibilities of his contemporaries:
"Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”" ~Jn 6:60.My interlocutors may not like the fact that the Church does not agree with them about women priests, divorce, fornication, homosexual acts, and neither does the Pope, but the truth of the Church's teaching is supposed to challenge us with ideas that contradict our cultural perceptions and force us to think about things differently. Certainly this is what Jesus was constantly doing in His teaching, one of the hallmarks of which was to plough up the ground; to turn thinking upside down, as can be recognised in practically all of the parables, from the Good Samaritan, to the Prodigal Son, to the story of the Rich Young Man. Here is a transcript of Father Kevin's homily for your enjoyment & edification:
DOMINICA XIX PER ANNUM
The first thing I do when I get out of bed in the morning - after praying the Morning Offering - is to switch on the radio; I like music to accompany me. In the morning it’s Radio Three, and if I listen to the Radio before going to bed, its Classic FM. The reason for this is that if you’ve ever listened to Radio Three late at night you will know that in the interests of inclusiveness, or multiculturalism, you are often treated to what can only be described as the Devils Jukebox. That’s obviously only my view, but try it sometime and you will agree. Of course, I’m aware of that Latin dictum: De gustibus non est disputandum….regarding taste there can be no dispute….or beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Christian culture has informed our understanding of beauty so that it reflects the Creator and as in the liturgy here, we appreciate that which is noble, dignified and holy. In other words, it won’t grate on our sensibilities in the way that some art or music does. Our ears and eyes may need tuning to appreciate something which is unfamiliar.
Those who heard Jesus while he was on earth probably had similar experiences when they heard Him speak. For some, His words were music to their ears. For those not on his wave-length, his words would have sounded not only harsh, but discordant, like the cutlery-caught-in-the-machinery I sometimes hear on the late-night radio. For the Prophet Elijah, the voice of God was heard, not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the stillness. How does the Word of God sound to me when I listen to it here at Mass or when I read the Scriptures? Is it like my morning diet of gentle comforting Classics; or is it the sound of something strange and challenging that I need to stick with in order for it to become part of me and change me. Do I perhaps pick and choose the words I like and which give me comfort whilst ignoring the teachings that I find disturb the picture I have constructed about God and the living of my Faith? Am I like one of those pick and mix customers in a sweet shop, or am I prepared to embrace the whole truth.
The people of Palestine who listened to Jesus had much the same reaction as my late night experiences of Radio Three. It must have all sounded rather challenging, Love your neighbour and do good to those who persecute you, when the Jewish Law was an eye for an eye! What Jesus was asking, and is asking still, is for an unconditional surrender to Himself. Music to those on the way to salvation, but jarring dissonance to those not on that path.
The central question of the spiritual life is: what matters most to you? The Prophet Elijah is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible, not just because of his amazing adventures - read about it them in the Book of Kings - but because his very name gives away what he is about. Elijah - el-i-a-hu - Yahweh is God. Our name should give away what we are about; not specifically our Christian name but the fact that we are called Christian. Or perhaps better that we ask what is most important to me in my life, what is it defines me? Is it my family, is it my job, is it my good name, is it money, is it pleasure? What is it that matters most to me; when I answer that question then I basically know who I am, and what I am finally about.
Both Elijah and Peter have their eyes and their lives so fixed on God to such a degree that they cannot function without him. Unless they trust Him, they fail. That’s why I presume they have been twinned in the Readings of the Mass this Sunday. To make sense of the jarring notes of God’s Word, we need eyes attuned to the Divine. When Peter takes his eyes off Jesus he begins to sink. When St Thomas More was incarcerated in the Tower, awaking trial and his certain execution, he began to sink too. Was he in fact right in what he was doing. Was he being arrogant in his stance again the King and his new religion? Above all he was in fear of his life and his death and as a traitor, an enemy of the State. He takes hold of the Gospels and read the paragraph we have just heard and he penned these lines to daughter Margaret:
And though I should feel my fear, even to the point of it overthrowing me, yet shall I remember how St Peter with a blast of wind did begin to sink because of his faint faith, and I shall do as he did, call upon Christ and pray for Him to help. And then I trust He shall set His holy hand upon me and in the stormy sea, hold me up from drowning.This unconditional Faith in God is what holds us throughout life. Whenever something sounds hard, challenging or discordant, He who is the composer and author of all our happiness will hold us up by the hand, help us not to sink, and say to us: Why did you doubt?
Friday is the celebration of the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven. She is called Star of the Sea because she guides us through the turbulence of life and the storms of this world, safely homeward. We begin to prepare for her great feast by asking her continuing light for our journey to the heavenly home.
You can download Fr. Kevin's homily as a podcast, as well as previous week's here.