Tuesday, September 23, 2008

26th Sunday of the Year

This weekend we are back in the vineyard - though this time we are not with the workers, but with the owners family. One lad agrees to work but doesn't, while the other refused to work, yet does.

The basic message, so familiar from the life of any family, is simple and clear: when words and deeds do not match, it is the deeds which matter.

So often we find it so hard to say what is truly on our hearts. We find it hard to say sorry, yet we will undertake acts to heal rifts with others. We find it hard to admit that we are in the wrong, yet we will quietly correct ourselves. Like the typical teenagers in the parable we claim that we know best, yet follow the advice we are given anyway.

Words are important, deeds more so. We might win an argument, yet convince no one. The most persuasive argument will always be our example. We can tell our children to be honest, but if they see us being dishonest, then they will learn the example, not the words. We can gather together each week and profess our faith, but if that does not make a difference to our lives, who will ever think it is something worth sharing.

By their fruits shall you know them, says Jesus. St Francis of Assisi said to his followers 'Preach the Gospel - use words if necessary'. Deeds speak louder than words.

-- Post From My iPhone

Saturday, September 20, 2008

25th Sunday of the Year

It is sometimes said that there are two topics of conversation which should never be aired in polite company. One is politics and the other is religion. So, to bring both religion and politics together is especially dangerous.

Some recent research, published in the newspapers underlies this. While most people believe that everyone has a right to believe what they wish and practise whatever faith they wish, this is all best kept to themselves, and in particular religious leaders should not 'meddle' in politics.

Yet they do. In America, where Church and State are separated by the Constitution, there is much discussion of the influence of the 'religious right', and whether Catholics can support politicians who vote in favour of abortion.

I don't want to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of policies, and the Church in England and Wales, while often speaking on political issues has never - so far as I can remember - supported one party against another.

So let's look at principles, because that is what today's Gospel helps us to do.

I gave always been struck by what CS Lewis wrote about this. He was asked whether a truly Christian society would be left wing or right wing, socialist or conservative, and he answered that he believed there would be something to both please and annoy both sides. In terms of family life, individual morality and so on, the Christin society would look quite conservative, promoting marriage, children, families, the sanctity of human life. Conservative values. On the other hand, in terms of social policy, economics, education, health care, the Chtleistian society would look quite socialist, providing generously for the weakest in society, and taxing the richest to provide equal education, health services for all. And so when the Christian votes be or she needs to put both considerations in the balance.

And so to the Gospel.

Here we have the labourers in the vineyard paid the same rate whether they worked all day or just for one hour. Now the political mind looks at that story in terms of fairness and justice. On the one hand it could be said that the parable undelines the rights of the employer, the vineyard owner, to do what he wishes with his money - to pay what he likes to whom he likes when he likes. No place for unions or regulations of a minimum wage here. But on the other hand another political mind may disagree and say that the parable underlines the need for all to be supported, everyone to receive a basic wage, all to be given a living income whether work is available or not.

Which is right? Well both and neither. The Gospel deals with political issues, but also does far more.

Political life and questions are about fairness and justice, about rights and entitlements. They are all important in their own way. The Church supports struggles for justice, the promotion and protection of human rights – the right to a living wage and the right to own property.

But the Gospel is about more – far more. The Gospel is not about rights – but about responsibilities. It is not about justice and fairness, but about love. It is about doing what is right, but also about doing more than is needed.

The Good Samaritan does not only stop to help, but he takes the wounded man to the inn. The man owed a great sum of money does not only give the debtor time to pay, but wipes out all the debt. The vineyard owner does not only find work for those seeking it – but pays them more than they are due.

The Church must challenge politicians. It must promote human life, human rights, peace and justice – but it can never be restricted to them. For God’s love is greater, more generous, than any legislator or political policy could ever be.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Holy Cross Day

This weekend we celebrate the Victory, or the exaltation of the Cross.

It has often seemed to me a matter of great wonder that an action of such pain and suffering and brutality should have become the subject of some of the most moving artworks, and some of the most poignant music in the history of humanity.

In the first few centuries, Christians were so appalled by crucifixion that they never portrayed it in art. Yet the cross was a constant theme of prayer and reflection. St Paul talked of glorying on the cross of Christ. St John, in today's Gospel, clearly sees the cross, the resurrection, anf the ascension all as one - the raising up of Christ. In the second century, St Justin, points out how the plough, the ship's sail and even the form of the human body echo, in God's creation, the form of the cross.

And so for us the cross is sign of hope, sign of refemption, sign of victory because it welds together two interwoven truths of our faith - suffering and salvation.

We are saved through his suffering, and when we suffer, he suffers with us.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

23rd Sunday of the Year

The evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any

These words of Jesus, taken from the Old Testament Law, are plain common sense. When there is a dispute, a disagreement between two people, it is very difficult if not impossible to distinguish who is right and who is wrong. If there are more than two or three witnesses, then there are other eyes, other ears, and other voices to say who is and who is not right and true.

But today's Gospel is about far more than settling disputes. Jesus is teaching us that our faith, our belief, our worship is not an individual matter - far from it. To be a believer means to be part of a community, even more than that, a communion, to be part of the Church. It means, in a deep sense to be part of the Body of Christ - and he dwells in us because we are part of his Body.

While Christ may always be near to us in our private prayers, it is when two or three or more are gathered in his name that he is most fully present. While the Spirit may guide us to right decisions in our lives, it is the Church in the person of the priest who can bind and loose, who can release us from our sins.

As the Poet John Donne wrote, "no man" - no person - "is an island, entire of itself". All of us are connected together, most especially in the Church, and just as it is only by the word of several witnesses that we can have certainty of the truth, so it is that by the Faith of several witnesses, we receive and share and live the Truth himself.