Homily at the Celebrate Catholic Family Conference in Cardiff – Feast of St Catherine of Siena
What would you do if you really loved me?
That might seem like a strange question – especially to those of you who haven’t met me before today. Yet we seem very capable of providing other people with answers:
- If you really loved me, you’d be ready on time.
- If you really loved me, you’d remember my birthday.
- If you really loved me, you’d call more often.
Let’s face it, none of us like being nagged into doing things by other people. And they clearly don’t understand the pressures I am under. That’s why I wasn’t ready, didn’t call, forgot your birthday. I do care, honest!
In fact, while we are busy telling other people how to love us, what about God?
- If you really loved me, you wouldn’t have let my granny die yet.
- If you really loved me, you’d have stopped me getting ill.
- If you really loved me, you’d have kept my family together.
Whoa! Listen to the words of St John. “God is light, there is no darkness in him at all.”
In the Old Testament, the Book of Job tells the story of a man suddenly afflicted by every possible woe short of death. Job refuses to curse God but does put his complaint into a prayer. God’s only answer is to ask Job, “Can you create a universe and keep it running?”- it reminds me of the scene in the film Bruce Almighty where Bruce, who is standing in for God, tries to answer every prayer on earth with a Yes at the same time, and chaos breaks out.
Seems to me we’re not given the option of believing in a God who runs the world the way we would like it to be, Perhaps God can’t fix everything to everyone’s satisfaction. If God could only fix one thing for you, what would it be? Might it be death itself? What if God could fix things so we could live for ever in a place of happiness? What if God could find some way of forgiving our sins and opening the door to heaven?
Oh… hang on, wasn’t it Easter a couple of weeks ago? This sounds rather familiar.
Every time we celebrate Mass, at the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest declares: The Mystery of Faith! This is an invitation for us to declare that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. But it also reminds us of another mystery, that those of us gathered at the Lord’s table have been given this gift called faith! We are the “mere children” to whom Jesus showed his Father, not like the grown-up people who think they are too sophisticated to believe in God.
If you are familiar with C. S. Lewis’s Narnia chronicles you might remember the terrible phrase in the later books – “Susan was no longer a friend of Narnia”. A woman who had once believed in God had let her faith slip to take on the values of the world around her.
I can’t give you the gift of faith. But I am going to assume that because you are here at a Christian weekend, you have already received that gift, at least in part. That childlike part of your heart senses that God is all good, pure light, worthy of your faith – listen to it! And when you are tempted to blame God, repeat to yourself: “God is light, there is no darkness in him at all.”
It’s not for us to tell God how to love us. Rather, if God is who we think God is, God is the only One with the right to say to us, “If you really love me, here’s what I want you do so.” A yoke is a collar for steering a beast doing useful work. We cannot put on the yoke of Christ without accepting that God’s choices are better than ours. It’s when we take on the yoke of Christ that God truly becomes our king. Only then can we ask in prayer, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
There was a woman, whose name was Catherine, whose heart asked that question with childlike simplicity. She was the 24th child in her family – though in the 1300s, half of those children didn’t survive for more than a few months. Her parents said, “If you really loved us, you’d marry your widowed brother-in-law.” but Catherine refused: she wanted to dedicate her virginity to Christ. God honoured her choice, and took her deeper. At the age of 16, she became an associate member of the Dominican religious order, and shut herself up at home to live a life of prayer. But at the age of 21, God spoke to her. “If you really love me, you’ll help the poor and needy.” Whatever deep experience she had of God, it propelled her out of her religious cell and into the midst of the sick and poor people of the city of Siena. It even propelled her into the world of politics, where most famously she called upon the Pope, then in exile in France, to have the courage to return to Rome!
This year’s Celebrate theme is “Seek first his kingdom”. St Catherine did – but it took time for God to prepare her for her final mission, and she was deeply misunderstood by her family along the way.
If you are going to seek God’s Kingdom, you need to set your own crown aside. You no longer have the right to tell anyone, except yourself, what they “ought” to do in the name of real love. Christ’s yoke is light – the actual Greek word in the Bible means something like “well-fitting”, tailor made, a yoke for your own personal circumstances. But it is still a yoke.
How can we put on the yoke of Christ? The first step might be to forgive God for not doing things your way. God cannot sin in the sense of “wrong doing”. God cannot be responsible for darkness. But the word “sin” can also mean to “lack something”, and God can lack the vision that you would have for God.
The second step is to ask how we need to change our expectation of other people. Our parents, our spouse, our parish priest, can’t always love us in the way we hope for. So we choose to forgive them not only for their actual faults, but for failing to give us everything we hoped for from them.
The third step is to ask how we need to change our expectation of ourselves. “Lord,what would you like me to do? Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come.” This is the prayer of everyone who seeks God’s will. We may find that God is asking us to get out of our comfort zone and do something practical – or even to talk about our faith with other people, in the hope they come to share it too!
One final thought. 18 years ago, St John Paul II named St Catherine as one of six patron saints of Europe. I wonder what thoughts that word, Europe, stirs up in you right now?
- If you really loved me, you’d want my Polish wife to be secure.
- If you really loved me, you’d want my son to have a good chance of getting a job.
- If you really loved me, you’d get on with running the country without involving me in all these elections and referenda!
Each one of us who is baptised shares in the work of Christ the King. It is our privilege and duty in our British democracy to exercise our share of this Kingship by voting, and voting prayerfully. There are times for debate and times to unite. As a nation, we are given a window to choose; then we must make the best of the choice made by the majority, and do so with good will.
What would you do if you really loved me? The very word “love” is so rich that the possible answers range from “I’d pray for your ministry” to “I’d give you a hug”. But I’m not the important one here. It’s about Jesus. What would you do if you really loved him? Seek first his Kingdom!
I am grateful for some inspiration from the Huffington Post, where Dr Margaret Paul speaks of what people who love would or wouldn’t do, with the consoling message that if they won’t, it’s about them not you!