I was asked to share yesterday’s sermon. Credit is due to St. Thomas Aquinas and Fr. Andrew Pinsent, both of whom I pinched ideas from. With a smattering of my own conclusions…
“love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” A simple command yet notoriously tricky to keep and one which can cause the eyes of Christian critics to roll. Partly because we Christians have failed to practice it. But also because it goes against human instinct. Why should we love an enemy? St Thomas Aquinas answered well.
Aquinas argued that evil is not a thing to hate, because it isnt a thing at all. Rather evil is the absence of something, the moral good. At it’s heart then evil is empty and parasitical. Evil people/states may rise up and appear powerful if unchecked but because they are built on nothing substantial, will ever collapse on themselves like rotten fruit. Hating evil is stupid then in a philosophical sense. We aim anger at nothing – at the absence of what is needed – the moral good. So we should oppose evil but never feed it. To counter an enemy the choice is simple; either multiply his hate with your own or defeat that hate with love, the wrong with right.
We humans love trade “I’ll do this for you, you do this for me” yet in reverse it causes problems. “You did this to me- so I do it to you”. See how the cycle of evil/hate arises? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Jesus says break the cycle. That is why we turn the cheek. Jesus is not endorsing pacifism -suggesting we don’t oppose evil- only stressing the cycle must be broken by those who, by grace, rise above hatred.
This distinction is crucial. Because evil thrives when good people do nothing. When ‘turn the other cheek’ becomes an excuse for moral cowardice. Abuse survivors know that abuse occurs within triangular relationships. You don’t just have victim and aggressor but also passive observers. Those who know evil is occurring but do nothing to help. We might consider those institutions (and it was not only the church) which, to their eternal shame, did nothing as children reported abuse in the 20th Century. Or how German citizens looked the other way when Jews, Christians and other hated people were sent to their death. I find it unthinkable but many a parent has known a child is in danger from a spouse but done nothing.
This past week Mary Doolan, the Scottish midwife sacked for refusing to perform abortions, gave a talk to the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. She lamented how Christians today have so often become passive observers to widespread abuse in society. Most remain silent, not only in the face of abortion, but weapons sold to terrorists, the breakdown of the family, the assault on marriage, the rise of a puerile and violent entertainment industry and so forth. So many evils have grown up in the last fifty years, within a supposedly Christian culture, because Christians surrendered without a fight. ‘Looked the other way’ as vice was declared virtue by a sick and indulgent culture. And what of the decline of the Church in this era? The same rings true. Turgid lukewarm bishops, the type who assault the faith from within, only remain in post when propped up by silence from the pews. When we do nothing in the face of evil we are complicit in it. The evil goes unchecked and it grows.
As Christians we have a duty to God; a two-fold response to the Gospel. First we must cultivate the ability to rise above the level of hatred. To stand authentically for holiness, truth and love, that we might then use this ‘better way’ as a weapon in the fight against evil; standing for truth against error, for God against the world/devil. And if this fight is lacking – we are not about God’s work. And if we slip into resentment, bitterness, aggression or any other vice- we are not about God’s work. If we are silent when evil is growing we are not about God’s work.
So we have a choice. Be passive observers as the church falls further to the atheistic secular culture of our day without and internal threats to the faith within. And you only need look at the rising division and hatred in current politics to see what a bad idea a nation without faith is. Or wake from our slumber, put on the armour of Christ and become the sort of intentional disciples who converted England once before and formed our Western Culture. A missionary church of martyrs and saints. People living out the faith with passion and prepared to suffer, if necessary, to proclaim Christ crucified. A people upholding virtue and fighting vice.
What you will be is up to you. But I know this. The era of comfortable Christianity is now over (thank goodness -it was ever a wicked sham fuelled by intolerable compromise with the world). And the the battle for the future of Western culture is upon us. And if Christianity is to triumph, over radical Islam and militant secularism, then Sunday only Christians are no good. We need intentional disciples. Those who will actually battle the threats. So who is really for Christ?
My hope, in this year of evangelisation within the parish, is that we will each do our little bit, in however small a way, in this place for Christ. That we might be part of the solution to the problems in our day. I hope we will hold together for Christ, seeking to authentically live out of faith by ever turning the other cheek but never being so weak or ineffectual as Christians that we embrace moral cowardice.