Sunday, January 21, 2018

the kingdom of God is near

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I thank the Monsignor for his kind invitation to address you this evening. The Week of Prayer is an important element in the life of the Church, because it is based directly on a command of our Lord Jesus himself that we all should be one, even as he and the Father were One; and it is a tenet of the Christian faith that Christ founded only One Church, as we remind ourselves each time we pray the Creed and affirm that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

Sadly, the unity of the Church is a spiritual rather than a material reality. This of course makes working towards ever greater ecumenical relations between the various traditions in the Church of great importance. The importance of working together and drawing ever closer has always been important. But there is an added dimension to this in the modern world because of the many threats faced by religion in this age – threats that face all traditions and expressions of faith; and threats that we can counter much better if we work together.

The Gospel reading we heard just moments ago – the same Gospel that will be read in all the Churches across this land on this Saturday evening and tomorrow on Sunday – suggests, I think, a matter on which we might do well to work together on. In it our Lord tells us that 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.' By this he means that heaven, in the person of Jesus, God and man, has come near to us. This ought remind us of several things. The first is that there is both heaven and earth, the material and the immaterial. The second is that there is more than just this life. And the third is that our behaviour in this life has consequences in the next.

We affirm this indirectly every time we pray or involve ourselves in some act of worship: why would we say words such 'our Father who art in heaven' if we did not more than believe but know in the core of our beings that we did indeed have a Father who dwells in heaven; why would we take part in the Mass or other Divine Services if we did know in our inner-most hearts that there was a God who is worthy of our praise and adoration? And we affirm this directly each time we say the Nicene Creed in which we state that we believe in God the Father who created all things, visible and invisible.

The idea that the true reality of existence consists of things seen and unseen would have been an uncontroversial one in most times and places. The vast majority of people in all the cultures of the world from the beginning of time down to the present age have regarded this as the most obvious of truths, something that they know not only by the use of their rational minds but also because it is something that their heart speaks to them. But our age is unusual in that it possesses a small but vocal minority who insist that what is not visible is effectively some kind of mass delusion. We might regard them as the spiritually blind. And of our charity we must pray for them; for God calls us to love all people. But charity does not demand that just because they reject the spiritual realities, their often made demand that all others must lives as if the immaterial does not exist is one we must accede to.

How unreasonable what they ask is may be demonstrated by the following analogy. It is as if a person who was born blind refused to accept the idea that others could see; or, having been born seeing and lost their sight, decided that their memories of being able to see were a dream or mistake and the true reality was the darkness they now inhabited. Those who could see would, naturally, feel sorry for such as these and do all that they could do to help them. But they would regard it as ludicrous if they were to insist that all people should live as if sight were an illusion, never speaking of the things they could see, and wear blindfolds in public, and only remove them occasionally, and then in private and briefly, in order to indulge themselves in their fantasies of sight.

But ludicrous though it is, it is exactly this that the spiritually blind ask us to do when they argue that things unseen should be treated as being unreal when it comes to how we live in this world; that, for example, when it comes to educating our children we should agree to a secular model over a denominational one; or when it comes to matters of public debate, we should leave our faith at the door and discuss things solely in secular terms and particularly that we should vote only as if secular arguments were the only ones with any merits.

But we can not do that. Just as those who can see cannot reasonably be expected to live as if they were blind, neither can those who are aware of the spiritual realities be expected to lives as if they were not.

This is not to try and force religion upon others. It is simply that, just as it would make for a dangerous world indeed if the vast majority who could see tried to live as if they were blind, so too it would make for a dangerous world if those who understand the true reality of things seen and unseen were to allow themselves to be bullied and browbeaten into operating solely on the plain of things that are seen.

Indeed, so much of much of what is wrong with the world today has been caused by our reluctance to stand up for what we know to be true. We meekly yield ground when we are accused of trying to force our beliefs on others; and seem not to notice that in doing so they are demanding that we live our lives according to what they believe instead.

We owe it to God, ourselves, and also to those who do not believe not to allow this. The only sensible way to live in this world is in accordance with what we know reality to be; and not according to how some falsely regard it to be. This is something that Christians can work on together. This is something that Christians must work on together. And it is my prayer, during this week of prayer for Christian unity, that this is something that Christians will work on together, not just this week but always. Amen.

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