Sermons from St Faith's

Repentance and Conession
Fr Neil Kelley: Third Sunday in Advent 2007

“At the end of life, we will be judged by love alone”

These are words written by S John of the Cross, whose Feast we celebrated in the Church last Friday.

“At the end of life, we will be judged by love alone”

Is St John using the word love described love, as in, “at the end of life we will be judged by the God, who is love, alone?”

Or is he saying “at the end of life, we will be judged solely on the amount we have showed love?”

I guess it may be a bit of both.

Judgement has rather gone out of fashion in today’s world where we have made God something or someone we want him to be in order to suit the way our lives are.

Cardinal Hume tells the story of a priest preaching at a funeral. At one point the priest says: I want to talk about judgement. People naturally started looking worried and dismayed! Judgement, he said, is whispering into the ear of a loving and merciful God the story of my life that I have been unable to tell anyone else. And it is in the telling of the story of our lives, with all its ups and downs, that the process of healing begins.”

I think that is a very helpful way to approach the business of God’s judgement.

If only we could be a bit more honest in our lives we, and the world we live in, might be better for it.

Many of the problems that exist in families, church communities, and even within ourselves, are due to a lack of honesty. We ignore what our real desires and emotions are saying to us… we wear the mask of humility but secretly harbour feelings of power and status and then wonder why we are crippled with jealousy and envy… we fail to tell someone how we find them, or something they have done difficult and then wonder after a while why friendships have broken down… we hide our fear of women or gay people in the church using the pretence of tradition and the Bible.

St Teresa of Avila in her writings talks about the fact that we spend much of our life fragmented by hundreds of different desires. In so many different ways we can’t cope with honesty.

Advent prepares us to celebrate the greatest gift God has given to the world. The gift of peace and reconciliation – in Christ Jesus our Lord. There are all sorts of demands on our time: there is a lot going on for many of us – but if we take the Advent message seriously, then before we do anything else, we will first make time to be still, to reflect and to pray.

Last night a good number gather for a service of prayer and meditation: with music from the requiems of Benjamin Britten, Durufle, Preisner and Verdi we meditated on the themes of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. We focussed on a large picture of the Last Judgement which many have seen in the Sistine Chapel. Our poetry and prayer reminded us that in life and in death God is with us, the God of judgement, yes, but the God of mercy too.

Advent must be a time for searching, for honesty. It might be a time to change, for each one of us as we grow day by day need to be challenged and changed as we grow in God’s love. Reality can be frightening. We can often kid ourselves that we are more perfect than we really are, or that we are more caring than we really are. What matters most is not looking at our imperfections and weakness, dwelling on what is wrong; most importantly in God’s eyes is a desire to do better – a heart that is open to change and renewal. A fresh start.

On Saturday evening there will be a service of penance and reconciliation – an opportunity to reflect, to be still, to ask God for his mercy and forgiveness. At the end of the service there will be the opportunity for those who wish to make a personal confession and to receive absolution. Many who have been to Confession have realised the importance of that individual encounter with God. We can sit at home, eat bread and drink wine, and remember the Last Supper – that’s not the same as sharing the Eucharist within the Christian Community. So too in the Sacrament of Reconciliation God speaks words of forgiveness directly to the penitent. The Sacramental Life of the Church is given to us to help us on the path of holiness – to bring us back to our loving Father. Advent is an ideal time to make Confession of sins in preparation for Christmas.

Confession makes no sense though unless we have a proper understanding of sin, that is, things which separate us from God and neighbour. The concept of sin is counter-cultural: the idea of moral guilt and accountability goes against the present grain of Western European civilisation. True confession requires above all honesty and humility but we have to get rid of some pride first.

C. S. Lewis (in “Mere Christianity”) said “According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

If we are down at heel and someone tries to help us, we sometimes say proudly, no thanks, I still have my pride. As if it is something to be proud of!
Despite the many hundreds of times we have said the Our Father, praying “thy will be done” there is still a bit of Frank Sinatra in each one of us – did he not sing “I did it my way!” That’s often our song too if we are honest.

“At the end of life, we will be judged by love alone”

We may deceive ourselves from time to time, we may deceive others; we can never deceive God. He knows us and loves us and wants nothing more than for us to be reconciled to him. John the Baptist challenges us to repent and to change.

Repentance is about the future, not the past.

Do we want to walk with God into a bright future, or stay stuck in the past?

“At the end of life, we will be judged by love alone”

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