Is there a God-shaped hole in your heart, which nothing else can fill?
Are you looking for an opportunity to explore the meaning of life?
No. No. And again, most definitely, no!
If you’d asked me those questions at any point in my teenage or adult life, the answer would have always been the same – a clear and definite no. That might surprise you. But here’s the thing – we’re all built differently!
It’s a classic move by a platform preacher to ask about the God-shaped hole in your heart, because most people will answer ‘yes’.
The famous Alpha course sells itself as ‘An opportunity to explore the meaning of life.’
In fact, I’m guessing that many of you joining us for this Mass have taken part in Alpha or responded to a preacher offering you divine help for that hole in your heart. Great! You are merchants of shrewd judgment, and you have been restlessly seeking the pearl of great price until you have found it and ‘sold out for God.’ Well done!
That’s not my story.
I was a boy very happily stumbling through life, exploring what was on offer, when I made an unexpected discovery – my ‘treasure in the field’. I grew up very happily in South Wales without God being part of my life. I was sent to Sunday School and had Religious Education at day school but I never stopped to ask if I believed God was there until my gran died, when I was 11. Then, through an experience of prayer, I discovered God was real – but so what?
In my childhood I was a bookworm, and not very interested in playing with other children (despite my Mum’s best efforts). That might sound boring but I was happy – and the worst fate that could befall me (in the days before the internet) was running out of things to read. When I went to university, I joined the student Catholic Society. They had talks – which were interesting! They had prayer events – which were crucial! But they also had social events. I wasn’t so interested in those, but being on the society committee meant I had to get involved; and that was the best thing that could have happened to me.
Part of God’s plan was that, through becoming a member of His Church, I would be transformed from a bookish individual who didn’t care much for other people, to someone with a wider social circle who could draw the best out of me. Through the student Catholic society, I made friends, received a kiss from a girl for the first time in my life, and – of course! – fell in love. If all of that hadn’t happened, I doubt I would have been accepted for seminary, let alone become a priest! But slowly, painfully, God helped me to discover that relationships with other people are important.
God has a plan, and St Paul sets it out wonderfully in the reading we’ve just heard from his letter to the Romans. In fact, this text includes my favourite verse of scripture, which I used on my ordination card: “God turns all things to the good for those who love Christ Jesus.” God’s plan is that we should be CALLED, JUSTIFIED and GLORIFIED!
We are called – called by God to know him, love him and serve him. Some of us know that we’re missing something until we find God. Others don’t, until God finds the right way to call us. That’s why the Kingdom of Heaven is like both the purposeful merchant and the serendipitous stroller in the field. If you know, deep down, that God is calling you to something right now, but you are resisting – yield! Let go, and let God!
We are justified – which means although we are not perfect, we can be perfected by God. St Paul reminded the Romans that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’. God wants to forgive us! Jesus died so this could happen! Once we have responded to God’s call, we must keep asking God to rescue us from our brokenness. That means receiving baptism once in a lifetime, receiving forgiveness through the ministry of a priest at healthy intervals, and making a daily examination of conscience where we ask God to make right what we cannot repair by own power. Do you need to be put right with God? If you are resisting the call to be baptised or go to confession – yield! Let go, and let God!
The journey doesn’t stop there! We are called to be glorified. The Eastern Christians have a wonderful word for this – theiosis! It means being radically transformed until we reflect the perfect image of God. And how do we carry the glory of God? It is to God’s glory that we bear much fruit! For many of us, this is through good works of charity, helping our neighbours and bringing love to the places we walk. But we also bear fruit when we are ready to speak of God’s love to a world which needs to find it – a world of people looking for something to fill their hearts or unsuspectingly waiting to stumble over God’s presence.
Since September, I’ve been living with a brilliant group of young people. Sion Community takes on a small group of young adults each year who want to learn to spread the Good News of Jesus in a Catholic context. Our ministry year comes to end this week, and some of these young people are moving on to careers or to seminary. Others are remaining with Sion Community to continue this work into the future. Today is our last broadcast Mass, and it’s been my privilege to share God’s Word with you and with them over these last four months that we’ve been broadcasting. Please keep our ‘class of 2020’ in your prayers as they continue their journey from glory to glory wherever God sends them. With their help, I’d like to share one final message with you:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a patient who has a pain in her heart and doesn’t know what’s causing the problem…