One of our students was sent an email this week mocking the Catholic faith. This is something most of us face at some time or another, don’t we? And it is easy to begin to believe some of the things they are saying, for the Church is far from perfect. It’s why I find Father Ted funny but a little difficult. It’s a bit too near to the truth!! Let’s face it, most of us find it pretty hard to stand out from the crowd, to be different. It’s why some students drop out of going to Mass (except when they’re back home). They just don’t want to find themselves associated in the mind of their friends with something others can make fun of!
But of course it’s not just students who try to avoid being mocked or laughed at for being Christians. We all face the same problem to some extent. In a world that increasingly makes fun of almost everything, the church and religion are always good targets aren’t they? On the surface our readings today suggest that we just have to put up with this mockery. Our 1st Reading (Zeph 1:3. 3:12-13) and our Gospel (Matt 5:1-12) speak about us being humble and gentle. But perhaps St Paul in our 2nd Reading (1 Cor 1:26-31) begins to give us a bit of help when he tells us that God has actually chosen “those whom the world thinks common and contemptible”
Let me explain why I think that helps, by talking about myself. There were quite a lot of things I didn’t like about myself as a child, things that made me sad or scared. But I was lucky, I had parents who supported me and loved me. Yes, I could be naughty and angry and bad-tempered, but they always let me say sorry, and I always knew that I was forgiven. This was a good start, but then as a teenager I found out something else. I discovered that not only did my parents love me, but also that the supreme power, the creative force, underlying the universe, God himself, also loved me, and not only loved me but forgave me when I failed and was always present in my life.
This is the heart of what our Christian faith is. To know that we are loved by God. That’s why Jesus can say “Happy” or “Blessed” are “those who mourn”, are “those who are persecuted”. “Blessed are you when people abuse you… and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account”
So that’s the way forward – building and strengthening our faith that God loves us. That’s why we pray. That’s why we come to Mass. To build up in ourselves, and in one another, the truth that God loves us, that nothing can separate us from his love.
Paul goes even further in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (12:7-10) where he talks of something in his life, something about himself that he longed to get rid of. We don’t know what it was, for he calls it “a thorn in my flesh”, and people have guessed that it might be some big sin, or some disability, or a speech impediment, or some physical disfigurement. He says that he prayed and prayed for it to be taken away. Perhaps you have done the same? And eventually he had to learn to live with it, just as one has to learn to live with the mockery of others. Paul says that what helped him were these words from God : “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Grace is the word we use to describe God loving us and giving himself to us. “Amazing grace so sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” Famous words from a famous hymn, but absolutely no use unless we make them our own, unless we say to God in the midst of any struggles and difficulties that we have. “God… you love me. Jesus .. you love me… Holy Spirit.. come to me and show me that love in everything I face” But it’s no good simply doing this alone. That’s part of it, but we humans also need one another. The more we support others with love, the more we will receive, and as we grow in our awareness of the love and support of others, we will understand more how God loves us. Sadly our fellow humans can fail us, for all of us are imperfect and have to accept the imperfect love of others. But God’s love never fails. His grace is unending. Like a spring of water that never runs dry, so we can drink and drink and still find there is more when we need it.
Remember too that God has chosen especially to give us his love and grace through the sacraments, through his presence with us at Mass as the Body and Blood of Christ. He has surely done that because he knows that to fully receive his love, we need to receive it with others in an atmosphere of common love and faith and prayer. His grace is there. We have only to accept it, and to know that nothing can separate us from that love, nothing in all creation. In that love we can face mockery, laughter, and even our own sins and failings. That is the glory of the Christian faith. That is what redemption means!