Under the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars
Today we turn to the heart of all religion – love of God and love of neighbour.
One of the problems facing church practice today is that some people may see it as restrictive of their freedom. I mean that for the duration of the service , people might feel they are in a kind of straitjackcet; something akin to a heavy smoker finding himself/herself being pushed out of an increasing number of public places that will cater tolerate the habit.
The fact that many people (and priests too) feel compelled to light up when they leave church would seems to prove this point. I think another reason for uneasiness in church is that people are not taking a sufficiently active part in what’s going on. The resultant inactivity is found to be oppressive. People can simply feel restless and agitated. In a club or even at a concert (if it isn’t too high- brow) you can talk and be normal but in a church its not like that on the whole, though you do notice people confabbing with one another from time to time. People are somewhat immobilised in church.
We live at a time in which people don’t like too much formality, it’s the age of the casual dresser. Yet why do even mildly respectable pubs and clubs insist on a dress code but we don’t have any such for a sacred place?
More and more you hear discussion about the distinction between formal religion and spirituality, usually in favour of the latter. I think this is particularly true of young people. To appreciate this you have to see how uncomfortable the groom and groomsmen are at a wedding when stuffed into new black suits and shiny shoes for the first time in years. And of course to make it worse they’re standing up in front of a church congregation.
All this has something to do with changes in manners in modern times. Old fashioned formal manners have long been discarded and are now seen as completely outmoded. Has the same thing happened to religious practice? Is it seen to belong to a bygone age?
Lets look briefly at the significance of God`s word addressed to us today – and its certainly from a bygone age. Here in the Old or First Testament – the Book of Exodus completed approx. 3,000 years ago, you find a marvellous sense of human solidarity.’Welcome the stranger and look after the powerless.’ Why ? Well the question again is why would you exploit your brother of sister, the text asks. Even if you have a cloak as a surety give it back to the person in the evening – in those days a cloak was part of mobile sleeping arrangements. What we have here is simply the sacred writer in the tradition of Moses interpreting the mind of that great love which is at the heart of the world and which we call God.
Now move on another thousand years from that moment and two thousand years looking back! Matthew presents us with Jesus as the new Moses communicating God’s love for the world afresh. When Jesus Christ spoke the Father’s word on earth as we heard in the Gospel scene today – he was quizzed by one of the Pharisees on what people’s priorities should be. And Jesus said ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind. This is the first, the second resembles you must love your neighbour as yourself.’
This is why if a Moslem or anyone else says they are honouring God by killing or injuring their brother or sister, their religion is false – or at least their individual interpretation of it.
The way we access this God of love is by turning towards prayer of the heart. For St. Teesa of Avila, prayer is the way into relationship with God and it is also a crucial ingredient in our love for others.People with a deep interior life are deeply sensitive to the needs of those around them.
Love of God overflows into love of neighbour – think of Mother Teresa, Mary MacKillop or Padre Pio.
I will end with a quote from an unlikely source on this topic.It is taken from a modern British writer called Doughlas Coupland and the novel his called ‘Life after God’.
‘Now here is my secret:
I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again…My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and can no longer make it alone.I need God to help me give, because I am no longer capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.’
There is no doubt that modern women and men are in need of God more than ever. There are a lot of people like Doughlas Coupland around.