Here is today’s sermon which deals with how we might best respond to the abuse crisis. The Gospel passage was the sermon on the mount.
In last week’s Gospel Jesus delivered the first half of his sermon on the mount and gifted us the beatitudes. This Sunday we move to the latter half of the most famous sermon ever preached where Jesus enunciates the laws of his Kingdom, the laws of our Christian faith; and it becomes obvious his laws are different from all that went before. Under Mosaic law people sat as judges to ensure grievances were heard. Debts were paid, sinners punished. Christ offered no such comfort. He said we should forgive not prosecute, turn the other cheek not sue. This startling difference between the two systems becomes even clearer when we realise the word translated cheek is, I am informed, better translated jaw. Christ was referring not to a little slap but a heavy punch! So even in cases of extreme violence Jesus says God’s will is for retaliatory passion to be subservient to the example of love.
The reason for responding to hate with love, violence with peace, lust with purity, was explained by Aquinas. He understood that when we respond to evil with evil it’s like fighting fire with fire- the whole world burns. Respond to evil with evil and all that has happened is evil has multiplied, your enemy drags you to their level. Soon both sides in any conflict have grievances and reasons for revenge. And you are no better than them. But meet hatred with love and you lift yourself to higher ground. Now your enemy may, or may not, be changed by your expression of love, regardless you are now in the place of moral, ethical and spiritual superiority. You have become the solution not part of the problem.
Doubtless you follow the logic. But let us not pretend it’s easy. One only need experience a family quarrel or boundary dispute to recognise the human lust for dominance. We like to get one over other people. And when faced with genuine evil, say murder or abuse, to forgive at such moments requires superhuman strength. Ultimately what we need is grace. Help from God that comes only from being united with him. This underlines the point I made last week- namely that our allegiance to Christ means conforming to his will.- that is to say living by his commands not our own version of that or our own fallen standards. You cannot achieve sanctification with one foot in the church and the other in this fallen world. Many attempt it but it is always detrimental to faith. Ultimately the gap is too wide to straddle and the problem isn’t that you fall down the middle, rather you always fall back- hard- on the world’s side.
That has been the main problem for the church in the modern age. Not enough people have been living authentic lives of faith. Too many have attempted to compromise with the world. And the fruit of the compromised 20thCentury Christianity is seen in a widespread loss of supernatural faith, banal and shoddy liturgy, poor catechesis and faith neither lived nor taught well in the home. And at the extreme end of the mess we have the monstrous abuse crisis supposedly being dealt with in Rome this week.
Now I wish I could stand before you and say that I am optimistic of change but, like many who have followed this narrative closely, I cannot. Sadly my trust in the hierarchy is shattered and too many of the figures surrounding Pope Francis seem mired in controversy and scandal. It is depressing. Let me be blunt here – we face a serious crisis. Too many current bishops have duped the faithful, have abandoned Christ and lived double lives, have become worldly, even weasly, managers as opposed to shepherds of the flock; more interested in political narratives than upholding the faith of the ages. Hence we find them silent on abortion but vocal on plastic straws!
Understand that Christ detests these men, in their unrepentant state. We know this for certain because we know that he detested the similar corrupt religious leadership of his own day. Because, and make no mistake about this, these compromised prelates have more in common with the scribes and Pharisees who plotted against Jesus, out of love for wealth and influence, than with the authentic disciples who laid down their lives in humility for the church. Isn’t that the truth? That so many modern clerics are far more like the scribes and pharisees who Jesus called a brood of vipers than the apostles on whom he founded his church?
What is the answer? How do we get the better bishops, better priests and better laity we need? A good place to start is the sermon on the mount. For it was against a background of corrupt religious leadership that Jesus delivered this radical sermon. As an alternative. And note that he did not seek to reform the current leadership, he simply ignored and bypassed them. And sought out instead a new generation of saints. The answer to the corruption in his day would be cultivated from grass roots up. And it would come one life at a time. As a person answers Christ’s call to live faith authentically so he builds his church, so the solution is made present. For only then are people and homes and children truly transformed and made Christ-like. Only then do we create a fresh generation of saints by grace.
Understand that we are at a place of deep crisis where sticking plasters are of proving of no use. What we need is drastic reform. We need to start over as a church and go back to basics. Living out the beatitiudes and the sermon on the mount. For only by grace and authentic holiness can we hope to move away from the squalid standards of this world and begin to see the fruits of the kingdom. Only be bcoming the solution not part of the problem, as Aquinas would say.
The abuse crisis makes me very angry- I want to respond with violence, rage and hatred. I want to thump a few prelates on the nose. But that will only make me part of the problem. And so I need to be honest and humble and see in my own sins the problem too. Yes my compromise hurts Christ. My sins are contributing to the mess. So I must take myself to confession, and bring my anger to God and respond to the evil we see with love, to the fallen standards of others by seeking a better standard for self.
It is Sexagesima Sunday. Lent is nearly here. For God’s sake let us use it to deepen our faith, renew commitment and embolden our resolve. We cannot solve the wider church problems in Pembury. But we can, at least, make this little church a place of authentic discipleship. And ultimately that is all Jesus asks of us. From little acorns grow mighty oaks.