Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

June 7, 2010, 10:46 am
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , ,

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday June 6th 2010

The parable of the sower is one of the most familiar in the Gospels, almost the paradigm-parable, given the most detailed explanation of any. What the sower is sowing is the word of God, the message of eternal life. But people receive it in different ways, some hardly at all, some only superficially or spasmodically, a few profoundly and enthusiastically.

I am currently re-reading an old spiritual classic, “Christ the Life of the Soul”, by Abbot Columba Marmion. He is largely forgotten now, his works to be found only in second-hand bookshops. But he was one of the most influential spiritual writers of his day, a century ago. An Irishman, born Joseph Marmion, he was born in Dublin in 1858, and was ordained priest in Rome on Corpus Christi Day, June 16th 1881. Even before returning to ministry in Ireland, he had begun to feel a call to the monastic life, and in 1886 joined the new monastery of Maredsous in Belgium. He had a hard time to begin with, as a young Irishman in a French-speaking community, but he persevered. For ten years, from 1889 to 1909, he was seconded to the Benedictine community at the University city of Louvain, having a distinguished ministry as prior and lecturer in theology. Many people sought him out as a spiritual guide, including the future Belgian Archbishop and Cardinal, Joseph Mercier, who together with Lord Halifax was a pioneer of reconciliation between Anglicans and Rome. In 1909, Marmion was recalled to Maredsous as Abbot, and he presided over the Abbey during the German occupation of Belgium in the First World War- a time of great stress, since some of his monks were drafted to serve a stretcher-bearers in the trenches, some were imprisoned by the Germans, one was even killed helping the wounded. Marmion’s own health deteriorated and he died in 1923, just short of sixty-five years old.

His writings include the one I have mentioned, together with Christ in His Mysteries, Christ the Ideal of the Monk, and Christ the Ideal of the Priest, as well as countless letters of spiritual direction. The titles alone indicate the heart of his spirituality, Jesus Christ.

What the sower sows is the word, not just a human word, but the Word of which St John speaks: the Word which was in the beginning with God, the Word which is God, the true light that enlightens all men; the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Christian evangelist, the proclaimer of the Good News, has no other Word than this: we preach Jesus Christ. In “Christ the Life of the Soul”, Marmion begins with St Paul’s teaching, in Ephesians, that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in love. God has created us for a purpose, and we shall only find fulfilment in our lives if we understand that purpose, and actively embrace it. The key elements of that understanding are that God wants us to be holy, and that he chose us in Christ.

God alone is holy, by his very nature. The old Jewish idea of holiness, found in the Bible, is that God is in himself infinitely separated from all that is imperfect or impure, dwelling “in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes”, as the hymn says. In Christianity, this is refined by the doctrine of the Trinity, that God finds his perfection in the mutual life and “communion” of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is not simply an almighty Power, he is a wise and loving Father.

Marmion reminds us that if God’s holiness consists in some way in his distance from our imperfection, only God can bridge that distance. He has done so by coming, in the Person of Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, to teach us and to empower us to become holy. Jesus is the bridge between God and mankind, because he is in his own Person both God and man. Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man, we say at Benediction.

Marmion reminds us that it is in Christ that God has chosen us, that we should be holy, and through Christ that we are called to be His adopted children. ‘Christ is always foremost in the Divine idea,’ he says. The Personal union of Divinity and humanity in Christ is, as it were, the conduit through which the Divine Gift of holiness flows into all humanity. He goes on, ‘Our holiness is nothing else but this: the more we participate in the Divine life through the communication Jesus Christ makes to us of the grace of which He ever possesses the fullness, the higher is the degree of our holiness. Christ is not only holy in Himself, He is our holiness.’ Our holiness consists in the imitation of Christ, not just superficially but by a profound inner conformity of mind and will.

‘We must understand that we can only be saints according to the measure in which the life of Jesus Christ is in us: that is the only holiness God asks of us; there is no other. We can only be holy in Jesus Christ, otherwise we cannot be so at all.’ ‘It is to God that all glory must be referred.’ Our goal can only be a participation in the joy that God has in Himself, self-sufficient and free. To suppose any other joy is an illusion.

St Paul tells us to be imitators of God, like beloved children, and our Lord tells us to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. We do this, by taking Christ as our model. We come to know God as we contemplate Christ. In his Divine being, the Son is totally from the Father, in the Father and for the Father. This carries over into his humanity, and shows us how we can see ourselves as totally from God, in God and for God. Also in his humanity, Christ is our model in his works of healing and reconciliation, of teaching and praying and serving.

But Christ is not simply a model. He empowers us, first by being the pioneer who has taken humanity, by his perfect obedience even to the death of the Cross, through his death and resurrection, to the glory that God has promised to all; and then, from his own glory, by sending the Divine Spirit into the hearts and minds of his faithful.

When we became Christians- by being baptised as children, or in adult life- God planted the seed of his own life in our souls. The power of a seed to grow and develop is within the seed itself, not in the soil around it. But poor soil can inhibit the growth of the seed. Through the Sacraments, above all through the Eucharist, Christ seeks to nourish and foster the growth of this seed. Once again, a poor response can inhibit the power of the Sacraments to do for us all they are meant to.

The purpose of Eucharistic adoration, such as we practice in the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, is to focus our attention on Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who has given his Body as food for the soul, who has shed his Blood to cleans us from sin. He took bread and said, “This is my body;” took wine and said, “This is my blood.” He made an identification of himself with the elements he took, and so, believing him, we too make that identification. Of course we cannot see any difference with our human senses, because there is no discernible difference. In the same way, if we had been present in Palestine twenty centuries ago, we would have seen and heard a human being. It is faith that enables us to identify that human being as the Word of God: God in Person, not just an ambassador of God.

When we eat and drink, it is the Lord we receive. When we simply gaze and adore, it is the Lord we look upon and bow down before. May he accept our humble service, and implant himself more and more deeply in our hearts, so that we may bring forth the fruits of his redemptive work. Amen.


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