Homily on being placed with the saints

We must never forget, that the heart of our faith as Christians is that we meet God in and through Jesus. As he said “To have seen me, is to have seen the Father”. (John 14:9) This means that we can feel God the Father’s love and compassion for us in a very real way, as we hear Jesus speaking words of comfort and wise advice, and as we see him dying for us on the cross. But our danger is that this gives us such comfort that we fail to see the challenge in much of what Jesus says; and we fail to realise that the God whom he teaches us to call “Father”, is also the God who is, as we heard in the reading from Hebrews (12:18-24) “Nothing known to the senses”  – an immense and powerful force way beyond our understanding.

We need to remember all this as we hear Jesus’ parable today. He appears to be simply giving wise advice on how to be polite and modest at dinner parties, but actually, like all of Jesus’ teaching, this is more about our relationship with God. Yes, there are places where Jesus teaches us that when we are with God, it is he who will sit us down and serve us; but in this teaching that is certainly not the case. Instead, he is warning us not to take God’s welcoming love for granted, as if we could walk into heaven and say “Hello God”, and walk right up and sit down beside him as if we were the most important person in the room. Now I’m sure that you can see how wrong that attitude to God  is, yet we do meet people who do take God for granted like that, don’t we? And perhaps we sometimes can be a bit like that too. It’s one thing to know that God loves us and always hears our prayers, and quite another to take that closeness for granted, and forget who we are talking to.

Two things follow from this. The first is that we must be careful when we pray, not to spend all our time speaking to God, and never giving God time to speak to us. Of course there are times when we’ll want to pour out our story to God, especially when something upsetting or distressing has happened to us, or when we’re in pain or great sadness. God will always listen. But we also need to develop what our 1st Reading calls “An attentive ear”… maybe we should call it “A listening ear” .

This must apply to the whole of our life and not just to our times of prayer. Sadly, when we get busy with our life, or our work, or our problems, it is easy to forget to be sensitive to what God may be saying to us in and through everything that we experience, not just so-called religious things.  The reason why we are encouraged to have “times” of prayer each day, as I mentioned last week, is to help us to make all of our life more responsive to God’s presence, rather than limiting God to only one area of our lives. If we think it’s all right to rattle off a few prayers, and then forget about God and his will for us the rest of the time, then we have missed the point, haven’t we?

This leads on to the second thing I want to say, and that is the importance of developing an attitude of humility in all that we do. Now true humility is not getting agonised about our sins or our failings, instead it’s much more about having a sense of humour about ourselves – not taking ourselves too seriously. I love the story of the new Head Teacher of a very posh school for clever girls, who introduced the radical idea, that these clever girls should be taught the value of failure. She pointed out that instead of agonising about failure and getting steamed up about trying to get perfect results, the best way forward in life is to see our failures not as things to beat ourselves up about, but as some of our best learning experiences. That, you see, is true humility.

The kingdom of God, that we pray for every day when we say the Our Father, is a place where everyone has an equal place and is equally valued. Life with God is not about scrabbling to reach the top of the tree, but about realising that everyone is equally precious to God even, and perhaps especially, if they think of themselves as a failure. That is what the reading from Hebrews says, doesn’t it? “What you have come to is… the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven…. You have come to God himself… and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect.”

 Notice that! Not, you have to make yourself perfect to be a saint; but you have been “placed” with the saints, and even they, the holiest of all people, have not made themselves perfect, but have been made perfect….. by God.  That is the kingdom we belong to, and it should affect every aspect of our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homily on Mary & Death

For us Christians, the day someone dies is also the day when we meet God face to face. As St Paul says “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12) That’s why we sometimes call the day of death our heavenly birthday. For me, the 12th June is a date I cannot forget, because it is the day my mother died over 40 years ago. I hope and pray that she is now with God in heaven, as I remember the words of St Paul from our 2nd Reading today (1 Cor 15:20-26) “Just as all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ” Notice that! We Christians do NOT believe that people pass automatically to heaven. Eternal life with God is a gift given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God dies to defeat death, and so bring us to eternal life with him.

 I’m reminding you of all this standard teaching on the faith, because from the very earliest times Christians have celebrated death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as her entrance into heaven. And just as I can remember the date of the passing of my earthly mother, so they remembered, and have passed on to us, the date – the 15th of August – of the passing of the mother that Jesus gave to us all as he died on the cross. As Mary stood at the foot of the cross, Jesus said to his dear friend John, the only disciple brave enough to stand with her “This is your mother”

 Now we might say “Yes OK.”, and leave it at that. But the Church tells us that Mary is more important than that, and that we need to think and pray regularly about her part in bringing Jesus to the world, if we are to understand more clearly what it is that God offers us through Jesus. A famous Dominican writer, Fr Timothy Radcliffe, points out that when someone asks us home to meet their mother, we’re actually being offered an even closer friendship with them. This may well have happened to you? Think how in this situation, the Mother tells us stories, sometimes embarrassing ones, about her son or daughter from when he or she was younger; and thus we learn things about them that we never knew before.

 Some of the stories of Jesus in the Bible, including our Gospel today (Luke 1:39-56) are clearly one’s that do not come from Jesus, but from Mary : stories she must have told the first Christians, so that they could learn more about how God works through Jesus to bring us to eternal life with him.

 The three most famous stories are told at length in the Bible, and so are clearly very important. They are first the story of the Angel coming to Mary, then Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth (our Gospel today) and then finally the birth of Jesus and the few stories we have of his childhood. Mary’s part in all this reminds us that even the most ordinary human beings, like you and me, can be filled with the Holy Spirit and used by God in wonderful ways. They remind us also how God chooses to become fully human, in Jesus, to be a baby in the womb and a child in his mother’s arms. This is the most remarkable thing about the Christian Gospel that we easily take for granted.  God choosing to work in a special way in one of us, Mary, in order that he might be born as one of us, Jesus.

 Thus we are taught two things. First, that God does not work in us just in a spiritual way, but that he uses our flesh and blood humanity to bring his love and glory to the world – just as he worked in Mary. Second, that, although we are called to a personal faith in Jesus, who died for us, part of the way we are linked to him is by being living members of his family. Remember what Jesus says to us. “I no longer call you servants… I call you friends.” (John 15:15) and in another place Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35). That is what we are called to be ,with Mary our mother, a family supporting and loving one another, and together bringing his message of love and salvation to those around us and to world.

 Finally, of course, the message for today is that when we die, we do not die alone. We are drawn through the love of God fully into the family of God that we have been part of whilst on earth. We cannot really ever understand what life after death is like, but we can know that somehow the best things about being human, loving and caring for one another, are something we will experience with God for ever after we die. Before Christianity, life after death, if believed in at all, was an entry into a shadowy ghostly world to be feared more than welcomed. Death for Mary, and for all the family of Jesus is quite different, an enter into life and love and glory. That is what we celebrate today.

Enfolded in God

Frances writes on the Readings for the Feast of the Assumption:- In one way we expect the Feast of the Assumption to be all about Mary, as we celebrate the significance of her unique contribution to the salvation of the world in the incarnation. It is therefore about her triumph. In another, it reflects on her humility, as one insignificant peasant woman responds to her God. Yet in another sense, the Assumption is not really about Mary at all, but rather about God and his action in her and through her. It is precisely in and through Mary that our whole understanding of God shifts from traditional expectations of any gods or God, and in our case takes our faith origins in Judaism way beyond the understanding of so many of its people. Yet ,as we shall see, this understanding that we inherit, of God revealed in Jesus the Son of Mary, was there all the way through Jewish history, just waiting to be unveiled. The Assumption is also primarily about the Church, the culmination of Mary’s gift to the world of Christ. Mary’s story and ours as Christians are irrevocably entwined, and each of us is enfolded in God.

 

It will be easiest to begin with the Gospel. (Luke 1:39-56) Immediately after the visit of the angel, Mary goes off to visit her cousin Elizabeth to rejoice at the pregnancy of this formerly barren woman. In a passage heavily plagiarised from Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2, we find Mary voicing her joy at the divine action in the vision of a deity whose power and majesty will be demonstrated, not amongst the great, the rich or powerful, but rather in the humble, the hungry and the downtrodden. In short, God manifests himself both to Hannah and centuries later to Mary in ways which overthrow normal understandings of the divine. That this great manifestation should be rooted in that most significant thing for any nation’s thriving – the birth of children – and also to those believed barren and therefore despised, since they were unable to fulfil their most fundamental role in society, is significant. God has touched and made fecund the core of his creation. It will be the story of Israel’s, and our, continual refashioning. It is about the victory of God.

 

This too is what is celebrated in our Reading from 1 Corinthians (15:20-27). For those without belief in Christ, either in the ancient world or even today, physical death represents a stunning and bleak end, the wiping out of a human existence. Ancient paganism had no sense of what we call ‘eternal life’. The very best one could hope for was for some shadowy existence in Hades, some lingering sense of the person, but no more. Even in first century Judaism, ‘resurrection’ would all have been tied up with the eagerly awaited eschaton, the full reign of God on earth, when Israel gained supremacy over all the nations and ruled the roost. The Christian claim that through the bodily resurrection of Jesus after his death, we all have life with and in God himself, living as divine creatures, was and is something quite other. It means that the dark oblivion which threatens every creature is swept away and that believers are party to the life and eternally creative energy which is the being and nature of God himself. For the citizens of Corinth, living in a vibrant lively city with two ports and a myriad of peoples and ideas, few things would have been more stark and sobering than to walk outside the city walls to its roadside cemeteries. For hundreds of them, death was an ever present threat, annihilation literally at a bend in the road. Paul’s magnificent promise that Christ had overcome death itself, and that he is more powerful than any earthly king, and that he can with utter certainty subdue all that gets in the way of our ultimate union with the Father, would have had immense appeal for the Christian community, and been a powerful propaganda tool. They too, like Mary Christ’s mother, have the promise of life in God.

 

Our Reading from The Apocalypse (11:19; 12:1-6.10) needs to be understood in its context. John, its writer, wrote to Christian communities in south-western Turkey to reinvigorate their faith at a period when they might have been flagging under persecution, or even becoming complacent. ‘The woman’ he speaks of here is the Church, in a sense the offspring of Mary. It is a Church under threat of annihilation from the Roman authorities with their many gods – the ‘huge red dragon which had seven heads and ten horns’ – a representation of the city and its empire stretched out to control the Mediterranean. John has taken well known stories or myths of battles between true princes and usurpers and used them in his own ‘myth’ making of the battle between good (Christianity) and evil (Rome). He wants his readers to understand that our God will triumph in the end. His message for the beleaguered churches lies in the dramatic story of God’s rescue of the male child and his mother. They may appear very small and vulnerable, as indeed they are; but Israel’s story, from which Christianity emerged, is that it is precisely the humble, lowly and insignificant who God chooses to work through, and in whom he will triumph.  It has always been the Christian story, and in our day when we feel threatened by acts of terrorism or other forms of oppression and hatred, it is good to remember that this great feast celebrates precisely these moments, and our origins in Mary Mother of the Church. “There is no need to be afraid; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

God’s gift of eternal life now

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :-  It is very difficult to understand how the Christian message gradually took off and became such a dominant feature in the Greco-Roman world. The fact that under Constantine the Great it would become the official religion of the state is near incredible, given its almost insignificant beginnings. What was it that proved so attractive and so compelling that it eventually surpassed the powers of the ancient Roman gods and became in its turn so powerful?

Was there, is there, something supremely attractive  about the Easter story of the resurrection of Jesus to eternal life and thereby of his gift of this to all of his followers which turned so many ancient men and women in the direction of Christianity, even making martyrs, witnesses to the faith, of some of them? If we think of present day life as insecure and uncertain, and indeed it is – despite all the benefits of improved health care, insurances against theft, house fires and other disasters – then life for the citizens of the ancient world was much more precarious.

Greco-Romans lived with appallingly high mortality rates and about two thirds of the children would not live to see their fifth birthdays. Most adults died by about 45. Ancient cities were perilous places, with frequent fires and building collapse which killed the occupants. Famine and food riots would have been common and the threat of wars and invasions were fairly frequent if you lived in what we call Eastern Turkey. Illness and disease was rife, as there was no knowledge of cleanliness in the fight against infections and of course no antibiotics. Taxes were ruthlessly extracted from the poorest by armed taxmen and hundreds could be sold into slavery, often by their families, to pay their dues. If this mortal life was very tough, death for pagans meant obliteration. Jews believed in eternal life, but only as a continuation of this life with the military triumph of the Messiah and good times for Israel. The Christian message was different, it taught that even now we live eternally in the presence of God, of Jesus the Son, who died and rose so that we all might live eternally with God. Death for the Christian is never the end, merely the beginning of a transformed and glorified existence with God.

This of course is the vision of the writer of the Apocalypse (7:9:14-17). John wrote this glorious picture of the millions of the redeemed praising God and significantly mentions their rescue from hunger and the heat of the sun which so relentlessly dried everything up, their crops included. He spoke of the sacrificed Lamb who would lead them to streams of living water, no small gift in lands perpetually short of water and used to surviving on brackish and polluted supplies, and of the end to tears of mourning and the constant loss, and the funerals which blighted their lives.

Indeed, when we hear from Acts (Acts 13:14.43-52) of part of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey to the southern and central parts of Turkey, we find a remarkably similar picture. They had come from Cyprus under the instruction of the Proconsul Serguis Paulus who had given them a sympathetic hearing and who owned estates and had influence in the area. Our account includes the details of conflict between Paul’s Christian mission and that of the Jews who seemed to have been able to attract converts from paganism to their beliefs. Archaeology has shown us the extent of Roman infiltration into this area in the many Greek inscriptions which have been discovered both on public buildings and tombstones, and we know that pagans were increasingly looking for something more than the impersonal relationship accorded them by the Roman gods. Many had become adherents of Isis or Mithras, both eastern gods with a moral imperative attached to their worship and in competition with Christianity. Pagans of status attracted to Judaism could not convert to that faith because of its ritual requirements and separatism, so we can see the attractiveness of the Christian call. Luke makes very clear that it was the promise of eternal life in Christ which was very attractive to the new believers who, the Greek tells us “Rejoiced and glorified the Lord” (rather than the Jerusalem Bible ‘Were happy and thanked the Lord’) a phrase so in tune with the Apocalypse’s sense of eternal life embracing this mortal life and the next.

In our Gospel, (John 10:27-30) we find Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple. This is part of John’s very lengthy portrayal of the many disputes Jesus has with those in authority in Judaism, most especially surrounding the claims he made to having a special relationship with God, the one he called his Father and to whom he claimed complete unity and identity. Significantly Jesus promises his followers ‘eternal life’. Now this is not for some future date when they will have proved their worth, he deliberately uses the present tense. “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me, I give them eternal life and they will never be lost.” Followers of the Lord are already living here and now the life of heaven by God’s gift. They will live it eternally with God post mortem, but even now this is something the believer is already initiated into. We live in a changed reality. Jesus goes on to make clear that this gift of eternal life, so different from that of the Jewish promise, is not simply his gift alone, but that of the Father; “The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Father.” For Jews and their sympathisers such a claim would have completely upset and altered hundreds of years of teaching and belief and Jesus goes on to press home precisely the nature of the seismic shift in his understanding of the God-Man relationship, with his ultimate claim “The Father and I are one.” This means that all of us, and all of his original hearers, so used to a colossal void between God and humanity, are brought close in Jesus, and all those terrors to which we are all constantly a prey are defeated.

Homily on God in the emptiness

People often tell me that the most moving ceremony of Holy Thursday is what happens after the Mass is over. In some churches the emphasis is on the place of light where the Watch of Prayer till Midnight takes place ; but although that is very important, I think that what happens in the rest of the Church is more significant for most people : and that is the stripping of the altar.  In Eynsham we do this whilst everyone is still in their place in the main part of the church, so that they can actually see the altar, and the sanctuary around it, gradually becoming a place of desolation and emptiness. Only then, when the place that is usually the focus of light is dark and empty, do we turn to the one place of light in an otherwise darkened church.

It always reminds me of the great words from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) that we hear on Palm Sunday where he talks of God in Jesus “emptying himself” This is the heart of our faith: that God, who is all-powerful and quite beyond our reach, chooses to become like us, so that he might draw us into his love. So we are called to find God not just in light and glory, but also in darkness and emptiness. St Paul goes on to say that God chose “to assume the condition of a slave, and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” We often find this difficult to grasp. We think of Jesus as the Son of God, as our Lord and Saviour, and so he is; and so we find it very difficult indeed to think of him as choosing deliberately to be completely like us.

This is the problem with the foot-washing too. This would have been the task of the lowliest slave which is why the disciples are so shocked. But when the priest imitates this action, everyone chosen has already washed their feet, and so there are no dirty smelly feet of the kind that Jesus would have encountered, and so the ceremony although significant loses some of its bite! In the same way, most images of the crucifixion, of the death of Jesus on the cross, rarely convey the real horror, the pain and, even worse, that sense of desolation, of emptiness, that Jesus must have felt in his heart. He must have asked the question we ask when we see pictures of innocent people suffering in war “Why, why do people do this kind of thing? How can anyone be so cruel?”

I sometimes hear people say, “Ah but it was different for Jesus. He knew that Easter would happen, that light would eventually break through the darkness.” But surely this is not the case. He had hope maybe, for he had identified himself with the suffering Servant of Isaiah, the great reading we hear on Good Friday. It begins by describing the terrible suffering he must endure, but ends “His soul’s anguish over he shall see the light and be content” (Isaiah 53:1-12) Yes he had hope, but it was hope as any human might have, it was not the certainty he would have known as God; for he has emptied himself of that power to become like us.

Our problem is that we so often think of Jesus in glory, that we begin to think that somehow the suffering he endured didn’t hurt him in the same way it would hurt us. Indeed there are some who might even take it further, and imply that Jesus didn’t really suffer and die but just appeared to. A view that was condemned many years ago. This then has been a problem for Christians down through the ages so that we can hear St Augustine dealing with it in the 5thC when he wrote, “When something is said of the Lord Jesus Christ which would refer to a certain lowliness unworthy of God, we must not hesitate to attribute it to him, since he did not hesitate to join himself to us…. he wished to make his own the words of the psalm as he hung on the cross and said “My God my God why have you forsaken me.” (Discourses on the Psalms 85:1)

It is the same problem that we face when we celebrate Mass. We use the word “celebrate” deliberately, because it is a great joy that God has chosen to come to us in the Bread and Wine, the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood. But we need to remember what St Paul says of this ; that “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death”  Note that, because it is so important! In the midst of the wonder and glory of his Risen Presence, we are called to proclaim not that glory, but all the suffering that he chose to undergo in order to be one with us. Yes we say it, but how easily we forget it, which is surely why all the ceremonies once a year before Easter are so important for us.

 

We may not know, we cannot tell

What pains he had to bear

But we believe it was for us

He hung and suffered there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dignity for the outcasts

It is a sad fact that we humans tend to divide people into two groups – those we like or admire or care about in some way – and those we dismiss as bad and evil and beyond all care. For most of the people in the time of Jesus, that was the position of the woman in our Gospel today(John 8:1-11) caught in the act of adultery – often a woman who sold herself for this purpose. Jesus had already challenged the whole idea of who was good and who was bad, by saying that we are all sinners. But those out to get Jesus wanted to show him up to the people as someone actually condoning evil, and thus they ask him the question. Should she be condemned to death as the law at that time demanded and treated as an outcast, or not?

You might ask how this story takes us to the Work of Mercy I want us to think about today – our duty to bury the dead. The point is that we are called to bury the dead whoever they are, not just our own family or friends, but anyone, even those that  society might think of as outcasts – as the woman taken in adultery had become. Remember how Mother Teresa began her work, by caring for those in Calcutta who were dying on the streets. Instead of being left to rot in the gutters as food for the vultures, she enabled them to die surrounded by the love of their fellow human beings, to die with dignity. Here in England, of course, we do that by paying tax to the State so that anyone who dies with no-one to pay for their funeral can still be buried with dignity; but Calcutta or Oxford, it is the same principle.

But actually our duty to the dead goes further than this. Our modern world in Britain tends to think that death is a private thing, just for family and close friends; but we Christians do not agree with that. For we believe we are all part of one human family, responsible for one another; and we see every death as an opportunity to pray for the one who has died. This will include getting to the Funeral if we can, or having a Mass said if we can’t, and sending a sympathy card either way.  Of course we can’t apply this to everyone who dies, but we certainly ought to apply it to neighbours and work colleagues and not just limit it to family and close friends.

We believe as Christians, that we are responsible for one another, indeed another of the Works of mercy is : to pray for the living and the dead – all that we know of – not just some of them. So if we hear of a death on the TV or online, our first action must be…  to pray…  NOT to sigh and say “How sad”. We may do that too, but always our first response should be to pray, because every person who dies needs God’s mercy and love

 But what are we praying for? Well we have the answer to that in our 2nd Reading. (Phil 3:8-14) Paul prays that he may “know Christ and the power of his resurrection” and “be given a place in him”. And that is what we want for everyone who dies; for none of us know Christ fully when we die, and some hardly know him at all; but we believe we will all meet him in death, and we want our prayers to help those who have died to accept fully the love Jesus has for them, the love he offered them when he went through death himself on the cross. We want our prayers to help them in death to accept fully the offer of life that Jesus gives them, so that they can pass through the process of death, which we call purgatory, to eternal life in him.

Please remember that a funeral should not be a private thing just because you are sad. It was the mistake I made for my mother. A Funeral is bound to be hard for those nearest to the one who has died, and so sometimes people want to suggest something very private to save them the pain, It is actually a mistake, the pain is there whatever kind of funeral takes place, and in the end the presence and prayers of all of us at the funeral actually sustain and support them in their grief. Music is important too, for though it often makes people cry, such tears also bring healing. And when those closest cannot sing because of their grief, our singing and praying lifts them up into the mercy and love of God.

Praying for the dead is not just a good thing to do, it is actually our Christian duty. It may bring back memories of our own grief, but that is a burden we should be prepared to bear because, just as people supported us when we were mourners, so now we must support them. For we are all one people, one family, and Jesus died for us all, for you and me, but also for the outcasts.

 

 

On the Christian response to danger and death

I have friend who lives in Paris with his wife and little 5 year old daughter who has been much in my prayers since the terrible events there on Friday. They are safe, but the whole horror of human violence hits one especially hard when it is so close to home. It could have been London! And it reminds us all of the thousands of others who are not safe, and who cower in refugee camps, or on the side of the road, as they flee the fighting in the Middle East. I saw a chart this week showing how dangerous different animals were to us humans. The animal that kills most humans might surprise you, as it is the mosquito; but the next most dangerous animal on the list is our fellow human beings – the terrifying cruelty and carnage that we can inflict on one another.

 

Being a Christian, saying our prayers, coming to Mass, does not mean we are safe from such dangers. Indeed more Christians face death for their faith than those belonging to any other world religion. So perhaps one of the things we most should pray for is not safety, but courage. Courage to serve our fellow men and women, even those who oppose our way of life, however hard it is, and courage to face the future, however hard the road.

 

This week we celebrated three saints all noted especially for their courage. Faced with Attila the Hun rampaging with his army towards Rome, St Leo went out and negotiated with him. Determined to bring his Orthodox Church in Ukraine into union with Rome, St Josaphat did it, but was eventually murdered by his enemies; and my own St Martin faced a hard life as a Bishop setting an example of love and service in the midst of many who opposed him.

 

Two of our readings today (Daniel 12:1-3 & Mark 13:24-32) use very colourful language to express the dangers that all of us face, if not in this life, then in the moment of death – the end of all things for us. They both use the same phrase to describe it  – “times of distress”. And Jesus goes on to use the classic imagery of his age to describe all this. Of course such language is not to be taken literally – the clouds and the angels are images to describe heaven – but they express a deeper reality hidden beneath. But both passages go on to tell us that whatever we face, in the end, we will be with God.

Jesus says very clearly, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” And “words” here means a lot more than just words. Words, for us humans, express at their best, as they are in Jesus, the heart of what we are, the thing that makes us more than just flesh and blood and bone. Words are the outward expression of all our thoughts, our hopes, our stories. Words mean beauty in art and music and dance. And words, of course, are what we use to express the love and care and compassion that Jesus teaches us to share with others, however hard life may be.

 

Coming to Mass will not in itself give us the courage and holiness of the saints. For if we are not open to the grace and power that is present here, it will not help at all. But if we are open, then all that we need to endure whatever comes, will be given to us, even if at the time, we feel nothing. We won’t be perfect of course. In the end all of us will face God, knowing that we did not do as much as we could have done; but we also know, as our 2nd Reading says, that Jesus has “achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying. (Hebrews 10:14) So at every Mass, if we are open to it, Jesus is “sanctifying” us – which means making us holy. Holy enough to face whatever we have to face, and to endure it!

 

Unlike the terrifying nonsense of some fundamentalists, (Christian as well as Muslim) we do not believe that we will be wafted to paradise, the moment we die. We believe that all of us have to face a reckoning before God ; for, being sanctified, being made perfect, is not and will not be an easy process for any of us, and I doubt that some very evil people who kill others will get through it, which is why I believe in hell. Coming to Mass, and opening ourselves up to God, and then living that out daily, is what we need to help us on our final journey. It means that we need not be afraid.

 

The words of the hymn that follows expresses all this well.

Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
We wait the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Our longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.