It is easy to miss the one thing that is important for Jesus in our Gospel today. (Mark 2:1-12). What is it that moves Jesus to declare that this man’s sins are forgiven, and later heals him so he can walk off home? We might expect it to be his faith, but it isn’t. It’s not “his” faith that Jesus notices. No, what Jesus notices is the faith of the four men who have gone to such lengths to get their paralysed friend to Jesus. So the Gospel reads “Seeing THEIR faith, Jesus said …..etc”
We already know the power of the crowd to effect the actions of others. We may think we are more mature than that, able to make our own mind up without reference to what others think; but actually, we are fooling ourselves if we think like that. Even if we are not influenced by the way the crowd thinks, out there in the world, we are certainly influenced for good or ill by the groups around us whom we choose to listen to, family, friends, colleagues, fellow-Catholics, the papers we read, the TV programmes we watch etc.
God knows that we are like this because he created us. We are a social animal. That’s why God when he comes to us as Jesus deliberately chooses a social activity through which he promises to come to us and be with us in the most powerful way of all – the activity we call the Mass. Of course God is with us as individuals in all sorts of ways, but we are very foolish if we ignore this, the supreme way he has chosen for us, as he comes to us as a gathered people, in a real way, his presence in the Bread and Wine. And Jesus added another way when he said “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20)
This is important as we think about how we are going to mark Lent as it begins this Wednesday. Yes, we will choose to do individual things, to give up this or that. But much more important is what we choose to do together. That is how Lent began. It was the church, the people, gathering around those preparing for Baptism, joining in their lessons and prayers, and like a great crowd at a game of football or whatever, willing them on to glory. This year, at St Peter’s, at the suggestion of some of our people, our Lent Course, is going to be a much more explicit sharing of each other’s faith. Various people have been persuaded to be on a panel and answer questions about aspects of their life as Christians. One of them said to me, “But I am not a very good Catholic, I have made lots of mistakes and my faith is not very strong.” “Good” I said, “We do not want people who have got it all sorted, rather those who are struggling like us.”
There are other ways of keeping Lent together if Tuesday evenings do not suit. Monday’s Stations of the Cross, Wednesday’s Half hour of silent prayer after Mass, Saturday night’s Holy Hour, or any Weekday Mass, are some suggestions. And if you can only do things at home, then The Walk with Me Booklets are in effect a communal thing as you will know that many others are following with you.
I want to finish by commending to you two other communal activities that need your support. The first is LIFE for which we have a 2nd Collection today. So many women are pressurised into an abortion by the people around them, even sometimes unthinking GP’s. LIFE offers people a chance to think through this without undue influence from the outside world who think a quickie abortion solves all the problems. LIFE does not pressurise people, but tries to make sure they consider all the options before they decide what to do. It also tries to educate young people before they reach this crisis point so that they too do not simply take what they think is the easy option.
The other organisation is the Oxford Marriage Preparation Group that runs all day Courses for couples preparing to get married in a Catholic Church. Of course, these couples could just sit down and talk to an ancient old priest like me, but to meet other couples who also want to link their faith to their marriage, and learn more together about the challenges of the married life, is much more effective and encouraging. We will hear a little more about this at the end of Mass.
So let’s remember today how much our faith can help others, and never think of going it alone.