2016 has been a remarkable year; a year where hatred and violence have dominated the news, a sad year, one for which we must lament. It feels like a godless year. This week’s savage murder of Fr. Jacques in some ways adds to the feeling of godliness-less; there is something truly awful, sadly not unique, about a priest being murdered in the sanctuary. Brother Roger of Taize was murdered whilst at prayer, Oscar Romero was brutally murdered in El Salvador in 1980. All three men, Fr Jacques, Brother Roger and Archbishop Oscar Romero were simply doing the things that men and women of God do each and every day; reading from Scripture, praying for the world, celebrating Christ’s presence amongst us in word and sacrament. They were doing the ordinary business of the Church, through which the extraordinary love of God is declared.
The offering of God’s love is, put simply, your vocation and mine.
It strikes me that the events of 2016 and, especially those of the last week invite us to answer to answer a very straightforward question:
‘When times are tough, when violence and injustice seem to reign supreme, how should we respond and relate to the world around us?’
And, maybe, today’s readings help. Both Paul and Jesus inhabited a deeply troubled world, a world where people were often put to death for their religious and political beliefs. Indeed, both Paul and Jesus were put to death. In fact, they both knew that they would be put to death.
St. Paul writing to the Colossians suggests that whatever else is going on around them that they ‘seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.’ To my mind the things that are above include perfect justice and, perfect peace. If we were to wind the reading from the epistle on a few verses Paul suggests the following as a rule for Christian living: ‘As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion and kindness, humility, meekness and patience……... above all clothe yourself with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’
St. Paul insists that the Christian community, even in the face of atrocity, must always be open, inclusive and outward looking. It is to be an example to the wider world simply through its very existence; meeting together, praying together, participating in the sacraments together are in themselves all acts of Christian mission; but they also the goods which equip us to go out into the world, free from fear, and get on with the ‘dirty work of holiness.’
The only alternative choice to compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness and love, is isolation and withdrawal. We can, like the rich man in the gospel, seek to cut ourselves off from the world and focus solely on our own happiness and enjoyment. We can regard material security as a safe guard. We can, like the rich man, deceive ourselves pretending such an approach will benefit our very souls: ‘And I will say to my soul, Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But, ultimately this is the strategy of the ‘fool.’ Our real goods are prayer, scripture and the Eucharist, or word and sacrament, if you prefer. These are the things that sustain and equip.
The opposite of foolishness is wisdom, and so if we are wise our response, in the midst of darkness, should be to recommit ourselves to living as God would have us live; relationally, with compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness and love. These should be the characteristics of our common life as the Church and they should also be the virtues we take out into the world as we engage in the ‘dirty work of holiness,’ Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown