Friday, February 19, 2016

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

During the course of Lent I will be looking at the vows we make at baptism and renew at our confirmation, Lent having its origins as a season of preparation for baptism. Last week at our Ash Wednesday services I spoke about the first, which is: 'Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God? I reject them,' and talked about how Satan is consumed with desire to tempt humanity into joining in his rebellion against God, fuelled by an implacable hatred of his Creator, and determined to wound him by preventing us from ending where we created to be for all eternity – with God in heaven. This evening we look at the next of those promises: Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? I renounce them.

Let us begin by asking ourselves the question as to what is evil? Many would suggest that it is anything that causes them or another discomfort or pain; and in this age when the ideology of individualism is so prevalent, many would argue that anything that acts to prevent a person doing exactly as they please is evil. The first can end with equating a rainy day when you hoped for sunshine with evil; and the second often neglects the duty one has to the common good, and often justifies the claiming of greater and greater rights for the individual with no thought at all to the responsibilities that person might have to others … or that indeed wanting something is not the same as being entitled to it; or that not all the things a person wants can be for their good and that satisfying those desires may cause harm to the person when they get them.

However, in discussing evil in the context of our baptismal promises we must do so in light of the preceding question, which had to do with the devil and his proud rebellion. We must therefore consider moral evil. And what is that? Well, God is good; and all that he wills for us is good; and any behaviour that is disobedient to his will is evil. We know God's will for he has written his laws in our hearts, as St Paul tells us in Romans; this is what we call the 'natural law.' And in addition he gives us his laws by way of revelation, given to us not only in the Sacred Scriptures but in the good and Holy Traditions of the Church his Son established, and whom he said his Holy Spirit would lead into all truth. Revealed law never contradicts natural law; it can not, for both have the same divine author.

But, as is made clear in our baptismal promises, evil seeks to deceive us. It will even try to tell us that what is good is evil and what is evil is good. Evil is not afraid to call the Church's own teaching evil, even where that teaching is most explicitly based on words that came from the lips of Christ himself; although, of course, often this will be phrased in such a way as to claim it is not Christ they condemn, but rather the interpretation that his Church has placed upon his words.

A further deceit is given example to in the modern phrase: 'well, you have your truth, and I have mine.' As if truth was in some way a subjective thing, dependent like beauty on the eye on the beholder; what a profound lie! Something is either true or it is not. It can not be true for one person and not for another. It may be a matter of taste as to whether one person prefers chocolate ice-cream and another vanilla. But it is not a matter of opinion that ice-cream is a dairy based product served chilled. That is a matter of fact. And so it is with truth. Something is either true as a matter of fact, in which case it is true; or it is not in which case it is a lie. And most certainly God's laws cannot be true for some and not true for others. We either accept them as true, for us and for all men, in which case we walk in the light; or we do not, in which case we are deceived and we walk in darkness.

This is so obvious a thing, it almost seems at times that people wish to be deceived. Why would that be so? Well, of course, there are a great many thing we do wrong – and let us call them what they are: sinful and evil - that we can find quite pleasant. And so even as we wish to do them, we do not wish to be condemned for them; so we are all too ready to believe that not only they are good, but that those who try to tell us otherwise are the ones who are evil. And this is how evil corrupts us. It begins with lies and deceit; but our consciences know that what we do is wrong, no matter how seductive the lie is. But if we continue in it, the evil corrupts our consciences so that we may truly come to believe our evil is good. But we cannot be held guiltless in this; for even if we had never heard God's holy law, he had written his natural law in our hearts; and in order to be taken in by the evil and corrupted by it we first had to willingly reject God's will for our lives.

That is why we must go continually back to the source. We must refresh our hearts and minds and souls and consciences and spirits with God's word in Scripture, we must strengthen ourselves by partaking frequently and worthily of the Sacraments he blesses us with through his Church, and we must spend much time with him in prayer, listening to him as a child listens to a wise and loving Father, asking his pardon for where we go wrong, and his grace and strength to do better in the future. For it is only with his help that you can renounce the deceit and corruption of evil; and I pray that all here will dedicate the rest of their lives, with God's help, to the battle to do so; even as I ask that you pray the same for me. . Amen

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