Sunday, October 9, 2016

PRAISING THE WONDROUS WORKS OF GOD: A sermon for the Twenty-Eight Sunday in Year C (Luke 17:11-19)

I don't know who made this painting! I will update it as soon as I find out.

As usual you can listen to the sermon here.
Very few of us are familiar with lepers.  We may have seen pictures but thank God it is not a disease that is found here anymore.  It was a living death.  Some have suggested that our modern fascination with zombies is an echo of our forefathers’ horror of lepers, the real walking dead.  The Gospel taught our ancestors to show compassion and charity to lepers and in many places they founded hospitals to that end.  They listened to the Word of God and put that word into action.  They acknowledged God’s mercy to them by showing mercy on the weak and vulnerable.
They understood that following Christ means giving testimony to want He has done for us above all by how we live.  There can be no separation of our Faith from our private lives.  We cannot be Catholic only in private or only on some issues.  It is all or nothing.  While there are many areas that Catholics can disagree with one another over e.g. immigration, taxation, water charges etc., the fundamental moral teaching is not for negotiation.  The Church does not get her moral teaching from Revelation (that which has been revealed to us above all through Christ and His Apostles) but rather Revelation affirms, expands and deepens what we already know by reason.  That is, Revelation affirms the Natural Law.  The Ten Commandments are a condensation of the Natural Law.  As an aside if anyone ever wonders why there are Ten Commandments then simply count your fingers.  The Ten Commandments were revealed to a people that was largely illiterate.  There is a lot more to right and wrong but most of our morality is an ‘unpacking’ of those Ten Commandments.  Of course our Lord added another commandment that we love one another as He has loved us.  This we could not know by reason but only by Revelation.  It required revelation for us to know about the important of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile, of imitating Christ in His humility and obedience.  This is why our Lord said that not one iota, not one little dot, of the Law would be changed and that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil, that is, complete it.
Now we must not confuse the Natural Law with the Laws of Nature.  The Laws of Nature are what rule the physical world and are studied through the disciplines of science: physics, chemistry and biology.  The Natural Law is what rules the moral world and it is studied by moral philosophy and moral theology.  The Natural Law is known not so much by experiment (unless all of human history can be understood as an experiment) but it is perceived by reason reflecting on what it is to be human and on the experience of conscience.  Conscience is that capacity of the soul to reflect on and examine our actions, to hold them up to inspection and judge them.  Conscience is not infallible but it is a capacity that we must form and foster, educate and nurture so that it becomes ever more sensitive.  The best education and formation a conscience can get is to be informed by the Word of God in the Catholic Faith.  Indeed to listen to an educated and well-formed conscience is place one’s ear next to the mouth of God.

It is conscience that tells us about the demands of the Natural Law which is also the will of God.  For instance, conscience that tells us, without too many arguments or without much thought, that it is always wrong to deliberately and directly take an innocent human life.  That is why we expect a man to go to prison for shooting his neighbour but not for shooting his neighbour’s duck.  The fact that we are fallen of course has shaped how different societies have understood that Law.  The more civilised the society the wider the understanding of the sanctity of human life has become.  It is said that an atheist once while visiting the South Sea Islands commiserated with a Chieftain on how Christianity had damaged his culture.  The Chieftain listened patiently and then said “You see this rock? Before the Christians came I would have killed you with it and eaten your brains.  It is because of the Christians that you are still alive.” Christianity widened our understanding of ‘innocent human being’ to the utmost.  Yet there remains a constant battle against those who would narrow that understanding again.   Some Catholics call them pagans but I call them barbarians because it is back to barbarism they would take us.
It is the conscience, aware of the Natural Law, that affirms that one ought not to speak badly of others, that it is wrong to take what does not belong to you, that one should not covet not only what one’s neighbour owns but that one should not covet his or her spouse as well.  It is the conscience, attentive to the Natural Law, that recognises that the abuse of anyone, especially the young and vulnerable, is deeply evil.

To say that there is a Natural Law is to say there is an objective moral order.  It is Objective because it is outside ourselves and not dependent on our ideas or feelings.  It is Moral because it concerns the actions of all conscious and sentient persons.  It is an Order because it has structure and it is complex.  Indeed it has a beauty all of its own.  That is why the Israelite King Jeshoshaphat led out his army by singing of the beauty of holiness and he won the victory without lifting a sword. This Natural Law was taken for granted up until a few centuries ago when there began a great decay in the intellectual life of the West.  Now it is openly rejected where once it was taught as truth.  This is why our intelligentsia are so distant from the rest of us mere plebs.  Instead of upholding the idea that there is a Natural Law, an objective moral order, that binds us always and everywhere they have erected various theories of law and morality where whatever the State says is legal is also moral unless, of course, they don’t like it. There are some ideas so stupid only really clever people will believe them.
While I was chaplain to UCC I asked a young Catholic student who was doing a Masters on human rights about where those rights came from and she was unable to answer me.  She didn’t know because they had never told her on her course, the question wasn’t raised.  I explained to her that human rights theory grew out from, is founded on, the theory of the Natural Law and that therefore one cannot merely claim a right one has to show that it is in accord with the Natural Law.  It was by the Natural Law that the Nuremberg trials were held because there was no International Law to try the Nazis for what they had done.  What the Nazis did to the Jews was truly evil but it was legal under German Law.  Much of our legal tradition was based on this Natural Law but that is being dismantled and rejected.  It does not suit the social engineers and ideologues who run our country and much of the West.  They want to be able to do what they must because they can.  They want no limit on their actions except the approval of their own followers.  Where once society held up the virtues for us to emulate and extolled moral goodness now we are subjected to the idolatry of personal freedom and the monstrous worship of depravity.   This goes hand in hand with the rejection of Christ and His Church.  One cannot behave as one wishes and still hold to an objective moral order, a Natural Law nor can one hold to Christ and His Church.  Reject the Natural Law and one necessarily rejects Christ.
There is a battle for the soul of our own nation and that of the whole world.  That is where the matter of the Eight Amendment to our Constitution and other issues come in.  Either we give glory to God, proclaim His Truth and uphold what He has established or we deny Him by our silence and inaction.  The Nazis and Communists came to power in various countries because the good stood by and did nothing when they had a chance to make a difference.  The moral order in our society is under revolution and we are called to action.  A soldier who sits in the trench during a battle might as well be siding with the enemy.  It is not just a matter of voting in the right way or for the right politician.  If you do not speak up and get involved in resisting the evil that is threatening this country and the lives of the most vulnerable then you risk forfeiting Heaven.  We cannot expect a welcome from God if we have stood by and allowed His children to be murdered.  You would not welcome such a person into your home so why should God?

1 comment:

Young J said...

Thank you Rev. Forde, what you preached applies to my country. It is not only listened to the inhabitants there, as I share this on my social platforms, but to those who will agree to their conscience here.

It is very deep but appreciated.


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