A man came on Tuesday to fit a Water meter. “Oh I’m a Catholic.” He said “But I don’t go to Mass. I am into astronomy.” I sighed inwardly, aware that here was another person who thought that belief in God and science were opposed to one another. Then I said “Oh yes? Did you watch Wonders of the Universe? Fascinating! Made me believe even more in God!” He looked a bit astonished, so I added “Did you know that the Big Bang theory of the beginning of the Universe was first put forward by a Catholic priest?” “But I thought that was Stephen Hawking?” he said. “No, no” I said “Hawking only showed that it was mathematically correct.”
Sadly, both he and I had work to do and could not continue the conversation further, but it just reminded me once again how many people there are who do not believe in God because they think we think God is some magic man in the sky who created the universe in 7 days! The Pope recently said to some of his fellow students whom he studied with in his youth that he felt that his generation knew a lot about God but had failed to communicate that knowledge to others. I couldn’t agree with him more, for I meet so many people like that Water meter man who really have no idea what they’re talking about when they say that they do not believe in God.
The problem is that in order to understand God we have to use human words to describe him. So we talk about God as “him” which is as misleading as talking about God as “her”; and we speak of him being “in heaven” when strictly speaking God isn’t “in” anything since he is everywhere. He is infinite and eternal – two words that actually we cannot really understand at all since we are in time and space and have a beginning and an end and God doesn’t.
Look at our 1st reading today (Isaiah 55:6-9) and you’ll see an example of the strange way we talk about God which more or less contradicts itself. Isaiah has God saying “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways.” But if this statement is true, then strictly speaking God does not communicate in speech because his ways are not our ways. No, he communicates in the invisible medium of thought, and even then his thoughts are way beyond the way we think, and it is only because God wants us to understand him that he reveals himself in ways that we can just about grasp, as he does to Isaiah.
Jesus knows this about God, which is why we find some of his parables so difficult to understand. Today (Matthew 20:1-16) Jesus tells us the story of a landowner who pays his workers who only work one hour the same as those who work all day. Why on earth is God like that? How unfair? It reminds us of other stories which are equally strange – the one where God throws a party for the wicked son who comes back home and appears to ignore the good son, or the saying that God allows his sun to shine on the good and the bad alike. Perhaps only a loving parent can understand this a little. Think of the way parents often make more effort to love the child who is bad, than the child who is good. Love never gives up, love goes on loving even when all seems lost, and that’s the point. To love like that, beyond reason, is to be like God.
Today is the Sunday when we are called to do more to communicate our faith to those around us. This can be a very hard thing to do can’t it? The last thing we want to do is embarrass ourselves or our friends by “going on” about religion. Many of us even find it hard to actually go public on the fact that we are Christians, afraid that we will be asked difficult questions that we can’t answer, or face mockery for being superstitious idiots with stupid ideas who should face up to the fact that science “proves” there is no God. Of course it does no such thing, and many great scientists are Christians, like the priest who I spoke of earlier. But that doesn’t stop people abusing us in that way as part of their general dismissal of anything they don’t understand.
Even more infuriating to me is the idea that everyone is entitled to their own opinions provided they don’t force them on anyone else. That’s the sort of private Christianity that allowed Hitler to make Germany Nazi. Christianity expresses some absolutely essential truths that other people need to hear; that we are only a very small part of the Universe ; that spiritual things are more important that material things; that love and goodness are not easy and have to be worked at; that all men and women must be treated with dignity and compassion because each is a precious part of God’s creation. I could go on and on.
In our new Mass we have some new Dismissals that make it much clearer that what we have learnt and received at Mass we must try to share with others. Do you know how most people decide to come to Mass? They decide because someone asks them if they would like to come. It is such a simple question, but it can change a person’s life. Do it!