In this morning’s Gospel we discover an unnerving fact. Even amongst those who walked with Jesus were a number who, despite claiming to be his followers, were actually his betrayers. Not that Jesus was fooled by them; He knew that in their hearts they neither believed nor loved him sufficiently. That despite counting themselves amongst his disciples they did not belong to him but rather to this fallen world and to the enemy. It has ever been thus which is why the name Judas is infamous. Which is why we face, once again, disgusting reports in the media regarding clerical sexual abuse and its cover up by those in authority.
It is easy to lose perspective in life. To get so wrapped up in the wrong stuff that we lose sight of the bigger picture altogether. The danger is that life then gets frittered away with pointless distraction or worse. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had this problem; they scrutinised the Jewish law in minute detail but often forgot the overall purpose of faith- to grow in love and holiness. So when a Pharisee attempted to draw Jesus into a long winded theological debate, asking ‘what is the greatest commandment?’ Jesus shut him up by cutting to the chase: “love God with all your heart and neighbor as yourself.” Our Lord wanted us to understand that our faith and our salvation ultimately boils down to how well we fulfill these two simple commandments.
For Jesus the very meaning of life is to cultivate, in the few short years given to us, sincere love of God and neighbor. Do this and you will flourish in accordance with His will. Refuse and you will soon fall into sin and misery. Understand then that all the law and prophets, all the external trappings of faith, all the creeds, devotions and rules, important as they are, only exist to direct us into a living relationship with God. Authenticity of faith – not how well we keep rules- is what really matters.
Why? Because only authentic love of God brings the necessary super-natural grace to enable us to be transformed, to overcome sin and learn to love others as he loves us. Which is to state that Sanctification is the point of religion. The process of our our becoming holy. And only when we understand this can we realise that our life is given as an opportunity to grow in personal holiness. To choose God. The point of Mass, of private devotion, of fasting and feasting, charity, marriage and family, of business and recreation; it all boils down to this; an opportunity to grow in holiness. Each day presented as an opportunity to demonstrate a love of God and neighbor. But do we take them? Do we choose them? Do we seek them out? Do we act on them? Or is our love selfish, twisted and miserly. Are we simply too busy serving self and seeking hedonistic pleasure of the sort that leads away from God’s love? Away from sincere holiness of life?
Nobody likes financial crashes but they do at least remind us life isn’t about money. We are foolish if we seek fulfillment in material possessions. There is nothing wrong with riches but every miserable millionaire reminds us wealth doesn’t ultimately buy happiness. For we are spiritual creatures; made to love God and care for others. And so it is only when we choose a life of virtue over vice, the path of inner holiness, that we find joy. True peace belongs to those who become a living icon of Christ.
Whenever we put someone else first, or are generous with time or resources, even in small ways, we grow in divine likeness. But the opposite is also true. When we choose to serve self alone, or turn from God’s revealed truth, we diminish. The purpose of life is to choose. No matter our age, occupation, or circumstance, we get to decide, each day, where our heart belongs. We can love God and grow in holiness or grow in selfishness and come to hate him and his Word.
Let me end with a grave warning for all who claim to be Christian but are not growing in personal holiness. The Pharisees lost their faith, and Judas damned his soul to hell, even whilst they claimed to believe in God and follow him! So don’t become the idiot who imagines ‘being Catholic’ is about belonging to the institution not offering a heart of love to the Lord. Don’t be the hypocrite who subscribes to faith verbally but with insufficient love for it to make a difference in the way their life is lived. And above all do not become the monster, many of whom seem to have been ordained in recent years, who behave one way at Mass but another (even abusively or in a way that hides abuse) outside of mass.
Such people are not friends of God who slipped up. They are enemies of the faith whose hearts are obviously set on things not of God. Frauds whose hearts belong to this fallen world not to Christ. For no heart beating with authentic love for Jesus could sexually abuse a child, or cover it up, and then enter the sanctuary to offer Mass. It seems many clergy have been charlatans who profit from the body of Christ but whose faith is sham. In them we discern none of the authentic holiness Jesus called for. They must be rooted out.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day, like the compromised and Christians of our day, were religious but had no living faith in God. It made for a sorry situation because religion without faith is utterly rotten. It stinks every bit as much as a marriage without love. How easy to go through the motions of faith but without the one thing that can save you; sincere love of God and neighbour.
So when you pray, when you go to Mass, when you humbly confess your sins or prepare conscientiously to receive Communion; when you wrestle with your passions through fasting and self-denial; when you try to live your faith- in other words—however imperfectly— do it for love of Him. Else you might as well leave and not come back. God sees into your heart and soul. And it is only those who really do love him with sincerity who count as his disciples.
My prayer in these dark and difficult days for the church is that our little parish, made up of sinners though it is, will be a place of authentic devotion and faith. That we may keep alive what is being lost elsewhere. Let us do our best to love God and our neighbour as our self. Let us strive to be authentic followers of him.