Seems a long time ago now that Harry Potter was all the rage, but it is worth remembering the good message the whole series of books reveals especially in a world that seems obsessed with self-advancement, of what is happening to me personally inside!
There was a programme exploring this some years ago that was euphemistically entitled ‘modern spirituality’! It appeared that the term “spirituality” nowadays embraces such a diversity of meaning as to be virtually deprived of any significance and value at all. Instead it has become the catch-all term for self-advancement. Literally anything which makes me feel fulfilled and which plays its part in the building up of the individual self esteem and sense of well being can now be called spirituality, be it yoga – karate – gardening – classes in self-awareness – psychological counselling – foot massage or acupuncture. Most of the people who went in for this sort of spirituality were scathing of traditional religion and worship. They were not interested in corporate activities or the worship of God. For the majority, what mattered was the self; the fostering of a private well-being, the individual, isolated from his fellow men and women.
Now there is nothing basically wrong with all these activities as such. The problem is that we humans love to give things that help us more praise than is their due. To turn them into gods. There have been times when I thought Harry Potter was heading in this direction. He had turned out at times through his stories to be a rather introverted teenager convinced that no-one could understand or believe some of the things he was feeling. In this sense the author has expressed through her stories the common feeling of many teenagers. The sad thing is that many adults get stuck in this teenage mould and end up like individual pills each wrapped in tin foil – hermetically sealed.
You can imagine how I cheered when Dumbledore – the greatest and best wizard in the story – advises Harry very strongly to trust his friends and share everything with them. Indeed he goes further and points out that the relationship he has with his friends is the one thing that the wicked power will not be able to understand and thus will not be able to defeat! The story is, thank goodness, not sentimental about this. The friendship Harry has with Ron and Hermione has many difficulties, and they certainly do not always agree. And that makes it even more valuable of course. True friendship never simply makes us feel good; it always challenges us as well.
This is exactly what St Paul is talking about in our 2nd Reading (Romans 13:8-10 today when he speaks of “the debt of mutual love”, the love that “is the answer to every one of the commandments.” I was struck by the idea that true love is a debt. It is something that we receive and can never really repay and that we give knowing that there is no way it can really be given back. In other words, the true life of God and with God cannot be the subject of calculation: of what I can get out of it or what I will get back if I give it. It is just all gift, or to use the technical term, it is just grace, and nothing else.
The other image that is worth thinking through is the main one from the 1st Reading. (Ezekiel 33:7-9) The idea that we are called to be “sentries” for one another. It reminds us, as does Harry Potter, that there is a battle going on between good and evil and that all of us may be in danger. The modern idea that every one can do their own thing as long as they don’t hurt anyone is nonsense for two reasons. First, because there is no way of knowing whether what we do will effect someone or not. Who would have thought that I could be killed by someone else smoking near me? Second because anyway actually everything I do and say and think actually does affect others whether it appears to or not. “No one is an island.” we are all inter-connected, and the idea that there are things I can do that will not affect anyone else is a dangerous nonsense.
So we need to be sentries, to stand on watch, looking out for one another and we need to ask God to give us the courage to warn others when we think they are wrong. Harry, Ron and Hermione disagree, but they disagree as friends. They know that their disagreement springs from mutual love, from trust in one another. They are actually joined in a solemn bond of friendship and support which we hope (see the next book) will end in the defeat of the evil that threatens them.
But note those last words – a solemn bond. In our Gospel (Matt 18:15-20) Jesus reminds us that such things have an eternal significance “I tell you solemnly whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven.” True friendship, real support for one another, actually makes God more present in the world. When we think we can go it alone, we are alone, when we work together with our friends then not only do we have them with us, but we also have the power of God working within all that we do. That is true spirituality, not seeking our own holiness or spiritual high, but losing our lives in love and finding, as we do so, that God is there with us.