'John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'
Luke 7. 33,34
Those of evil minds desire to make anything the virtuous do seem evil. Do not be led astray by such as they.
my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father,
Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
Gospel reading today contains the well-known parables of the Lost Sheep and the Missing Coin. Each remind us of the great love that God
has for his children – so great that when one is lost he will go to
great lengths to bring that lost soul back to him. And we know, of
course, what those great lengths consists of. The Son of God, the
second person of the Blessed Trinity, took flesh and was born of a
Virgin so that he might save us from our sins – dying on the Cross
so that he might do so. There are no limits to which God will not go
in order to bring the lost back to him.
was it necessary that Christ should die for us? That is something
that all should know the answer to, for it is basic Christian
doctrine. It was because in the sin of our first parents relationship
was God was damaged and needed to be restored. And we have some
examples of that break in our readings today. Consider the words that
we heard speaking through the prophet Jeremiah: 'Now
it is I who speak in judgement upon them. For my people are foolish,
they know me not; they are stupid children, they have no
understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good
they know not.'
Because of the Fall we became skilled in doing evil and did not know
how to do good; but the Father loved his children anyway and sent the
Son into the world to save them.
consider the words of today's psalm: 'The
fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ Corrupt are they,
and abominable in their wickedness; there is no one that does good.
The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the children of earth, to
see if there is anyone who is wise and seeks after God. But every one
has turned back; all alike have become corrupt: there is none that
does good; no, not one.' Andwhen
the psalmist speaks of people saying there is no God, he is not
talking about atheists – there were no atheists in the ancient
world. He's talking about those who are denying the One, True God who
had revealed himself to them and going off to worship idols and carry
out the abominations demanded by those false religions.
of course, idol worship was not then and is not now limited to bowing
down to figures made of stone, wood, or metal. As St Paul reminds us
through gluttony we can, for example, make an idol of our stomachs.
Anything in our lives that we put before God is an idol – whether
it be a false religion, a false understanding of religion, or some
ideology that places man's wishes and whims over and above the right
worship of God and right relationship with him. That is what the
psalmist was speaking of; and the result is that people become
corrupt and do not do good. And still God sent Christ into the world
to suffer and die on the Cross for us. So that each and every one of
those lost sheep might be brought back to the fold.
when you think of the lost sheep, who do you imagine it might be?
Someone other than yourself? No - it is each and everyone of us; we
are all lost sheep. We are all sinners in need of salvation whom
Christ came into the world to save. Never make the mistake of
thinking that you are doing well and it is the other person, someone
you think worse than you, who is the lost sheep. That is to fall into
the error of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the
Publican. Remember that it is the Publican who stands at the back of
the synagogue, beats his breast, and says 'Lord, have mercy on me for
I am a sinner' who goes home justified, not the Pharisee who thinks
he is a fine upright fellow.
must always keep in mind the words of someone who was a former
Pharisee, St Paul, whom we hear say today: 'Christ
Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of
Note that he is not speaking merely of his former life, during which
he had done terrible things, and committed many great sins in his
persecution of the Church. No, even though at the time of writing he
had left that all behind he says 'I am the foremost of sinners' –
present tense. He realises that despite all he has done to spread the
gospel, he remains a sinner, in need of Christ's salvation. And he is
not unusual in this – great saints always recognise that that are
also sinful men and women. Perhaps that is why they are great saints.
And if such as they recognise how much they need to repent, how much
they are in need of God's mercy because of their sins, how much more
must we recognise it, we who are far from being anywhere near as holy
as they were during their lives?
yet, despite our sins, despite our lack of holiness, God reaches out
to us. He reaches out to us as the shepherd searches for his lost
sheep. He reaches out to us as the woman searches for her lost coin.
He reaches out to us as the Son upon the Cross, dying for our sins. I
pray that all hear will enter into the embrace of the one whose arms
are opened wide for us upon the Cross and be saved; and I most
especially ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.
The news is full of the terrible events in Cavan. I try to avoid too much of the details. The headlines tell me enough – enough to say a prayer for those who died and those who loved them who have been left reeling by what happened. I don't feel the need to know more. Indeed, I don't think it is good to know more. It is enough that I know something terrible happened. Too many details can only wound.
I heard a woman on the radio talking about it, an expert on murder/suicide. She agreed with me about it not being good for too many of the details to be made public. Not for the same reason that I thought it be kept more private, that it may in some way hurt those who see and hear about such sad things; and for the privacy of the family. She worried that too many details might spur on copycats. But she didn't say if there was anything to show that such awful happenings were influenced by hearing about them in the media.
She did say that such events were thankfully rare. They happen on average about twice a year. That is still too often, I think – being rare isn't enough; it should be a thing unheard of. But I suppose we have to take our blessings where we find them.
I thought her work must be very frustrating. Her studies have led her to identify some common features in such cases. The perpetrators are predominantly male; there is most often some history of mental illness; and they have often suffered a recent job loss or reduction in status at work. But this information doesn't help much with prediction or prevention of such occurrences. After all, half the country are men; a huge percentage of the population have had some brush with mental health issues; and, the economy being the way it is, unemployment and fewer hours at work are common.
So, as I said, it must be a frustrating area to study. She knows enough to be able to look at these cases after they have happened and say which are typical. But not enough to be able to say to the authorities: 'Go to such-and-such a house; there is a man there who is struggling. Help him now and something terrible can be stopped.'
The truly sad thing about these events is that they almost always involve families. Something happens and a previously loving husband and father does something worse than when Cain struck down Able. It only makes it sadder to think that something had snapped in the person, that in the wholeness of their health they would be more horrified by their actions than anyone, because the victims are the people they love most in the world; and that an intervention at the right moment might have prevented the whole thing.
And so I feel sorry for the perpetrator also. And I say a prayer for them as well as those they hurt. What else can I do? What else can any of us do?
Since therefore, brethren, we asked of the Lord concerning the dweller in His tabernacle, we have heard, as a precept concerning dwelling there, “if we fulfil what is required of a dweller there.” Therefore must our hearts and bodies be prepared as about to serve like soldiers under holy obedience to these precepts; and whatsoever our nature does not make possible let us ask the Lord to direct that the help of His grace shall supply. And if we wish to escape the pains of hell and attain to eternal life we must hasten to do such things only as may profit us for eternity, now, while there is time for this and we are in this body and there is time to fulfil all these precepts by means of this light.
I often think that the words of St Benedict apply as much to those outside the monastery as those within. Every Christian, after all, lives in some form of a community of faith. The parish, for example, is also a faith community - is it not? And so there is value for all in reading the Rule, whatever their circumstance of life.
As an aid to those who wish to read a little part of it daily, it has been broken down into shorten readings for each day. Above is today's. I think there is much wise counsel to be found there. Consider the words: 'we must hasten to do such things only as may profit us for eternity, now, while there is time for this and we are in this body.' They bring to mind for me the parable of the rich fool:
"The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
Luke 12. 16-21
Life is short, eternity is long, and tomorrow may never come. Now is all we can be sure of. And that is the time, to paraphrase St Paul, for us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2.12)
The topic of modesty has been somewhat on my mind of late. And not because our sweltering Irish summer weather has folk going about with hardly a stitch on! No, it was because of a new 'social justice campaign' that got a few mentions in the media. Stop reading now if you blush easily … and if you're still reading, don't say I didn't warn you! The campaign styled itself as 'free the nipple' campaign.
It was was launched by a few people who decided that it is a matter of grave injustice that men can go topless in public while women can not and that equality demands that the female of the species should have the right to stroll around naked from neck to navel while out and about if she so wishes. The idea isn't gaining much traction, I think. And small wonder. There are enough real issues relating to social justice in this country and the world. Public nudity isn't one of them.
Also, when it comes to the issue of men and women and going topless most I think realise that the simple explanation is that men and women are physically different. Trying to suggest that this is injustice is a bit like trying to claim that the lack of urinals in women's toilets is somehow discrimination. It is true that they aren't there, but they're not there for a reason, and that reason is rooted in physical reality.
One of the weaker arguments I heard put forward in favour of it was that in other European countries that sort of thing wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. Oh really? Even if it were true, what sort of an argument is that? It is essentially the 'everyone else is doing it' that children try to make to their parents when they are laying down the law. My dear old mother, may she rest in peace, had a great response to that sort of thing: 'and if everyone else threw themselves off a bridge, would you want to do it too?'
But anyway, it simply isn't true that this is common practice abroad. I'm just back from my holidays in France and I didn't see the like anywhere – not even on the beaches. In fact, I was struck by how modest people were when it came to changing into their bathing costumes. None of your wrapping a towel around yourself and hoping there wouldn't a gust of wind like we do here ! I was at several lakeside beaches while there and was astonished to see folk trooping to the loos to changes into their costumes before a dip and to towel off and get dressed again after.
It was so obviously the done thing that my family and I felt that our Irish towel-wrapping ways would be somewhat exhibitionist – so we changed in the loos, behind a locked stall door, like everyone else! It was a bit of an effort, true. But we figured it was worth it. Modesty, after all, is important.