My headmaster in Secondary School, Mr Denis Jones, left me in no doubt of his high expectations. He said so often, in Welsh tones that brooked no argument. He never said precisely what great things he was expecting, but as a Welsh-speaking chapel-goer, I think he would be rather pleased to know I had been appointed to serve a Welsh-language congregation.
Last week, Deacon Steve reminded us that faith alone is not enough to see us through the gates of heaven. For us who know that Jesus asks us to do great works of mercy, we will be judged on our generous response. Today’s Gospel continues the same theme – God is not looking for people who says “yes” with their lips, but with their actions. You don’t have to read much of the Gospel to know that God, like my old headmaster, expects “Great Things” from his followers.
So here’s a deep question. Why should we do what God wants?
We could say it’s a point of principle. God is in charge of the Universe and knows exactly what is good and right at all times. So if we do what God wants, it must be the right thing! This is certainly true, but it’s a bit high-faluting…
Or we could say it’s in our own best interests. God is going to judge us and if we haven’t done what God wants, we will find ourselves with the goats on the left, separated from happiness for all eternity. But stressing that God is our judge feels a bit scary; it gets in the way of the even more important message that when we fail, we can say sorry to God and have another chance to get things right.
Pope Francis offers us a different answer. We should do what God wants because this is what makes us beautiful! If we follow the message of Jesus to the best of our ability, we will “appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of [the] goodness and beauty…” If we listen to the message of Jesus, we will have great wisdom on tap. If we follow his way, we will discover a “life to the full”. If we open our hands before God and truly pray for the help, the grace, which only God can give, we will be enriched.
You can’t watch many adverts on TV before you are told you will become beautiful, or attractive, if you use a certain perfume or deoderant. The people who make Lynx even claimed that angels would fall from heaven for a man so fragrant! It’s a seductive idea. But what truly makes you memorable?
We know that when other memories fade, stories of great heroes persist. We know of mighty warriors of old like Alexander the Great, or Boudicea. We remember those blessed with great wisdom, Solomon and Aristotle. We tell stories of saints who went on great missionary journeys like Thomas and Patrick, who defied rulers and public opinion like Agnes and Clare, who laid down their lives for others, like Maximilian Kolbe and Margaret Clitherow. We recognise in the stories of saints, a life which has been touched by the fragrance of heaven.
If we live our life following the teaching of Jesus and the moral guidance of the Catholic church, we will not fail to become beautiful human beings. Pope Francis puts it like this: “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love.” If we live out these values well, our very lives will radiate forcefully and attractively, causing others to ask us about the light which guides us.
A few become famous globally. Others in our own community. Become great doesn’t mean trending on BBC News. It means being known by those who you can inspire. To achieve Great Things, you needn’t make the Ten O’Clock News. You need only touch ten lives.
I think both St Paul and Mr Jones were well aware of the temptations faced by good persons – the temptation to be mediocre, to lower ourselves to the standards of the world around us. This is why Paul reminds us that whatever others said around us, in our own minds we must always be conscious that virtuous behaviour is always to put the needs of others first. It’s why my headmaster, knowing that well-behaved boys are teased for being goody-goody and bright pupils are mocked for being swots, wanted to affirm that I was on the right path.
People of St Philip Evans, I am expecting great things of you!
I am expecting that you will pray at least a short word of praise to God every morning and evening, even when you don’t feel like praying.
I am expecting that you will put the needs of others first, in your families and in the community, each day, but especially when you sense the last straw is at hand and you deserve some “me” time.
I am expecting that when you feel tempted to skip church on Sunday for some social invitation, you will explain to your friends that because it is the Lord’s Day, God must come first in your life for one hour a week.
The ordinary people around us will say this way of living is foolish, but we are no ordinary people.We are the sons and daughters of the living God, children of the King of the Universe. I am expecting Great Things of you, so that each life in this parish shines with the light of God. Don’t let me down. Don’t let God down. Don’t let yourself down. I’m expecting great things of you. Be great!
Bonus material for the web:
Like anyone concerned for justice, God looks at us hoping we will do the right thing, working for each other’s well-being.
Like any proud parent, God longs to be able to say, “Well done my child!” The more we live like Jesus, the more God sees us reflect the image of his well-beloved and only begotten Son.
Like any responsible parent, God wants us to succeed not so much for his pleasure as for our flourishing. He wants us to be truly good and morally beautiful. This was reflected in our official school prayer, which asked God’s help that we “may go forth from this place as brave and merciful persons, to play our part in the larger life of the world.”
Still unsure that you are called to greatness? Don’t just take my word for it! Pope Saint Leo said: “Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom. Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.”