Sunday, 14 February 2016
Past sermons for the first Sunday of Lent can be read:
For this liturgical year, Year C:
from 2013, on the difference between 'giving things up for Lent' and 'giving up sin';
from 2010, on the 'joy' of giving things up for Lent
And from other liturgical years:
from 2008, possibly my most popular sermon in why we should give things up for Lent,
from 2012, on why we should give things up even when life seems tough already,
from 2011, on being a 'cheerful giver' in what we give ups for Lent,
from 2009, on why fasting changes us in a way that is different from a secular de-tox diet
Sunday, 7 February 2016
In a few moments it's going to be my great pleasure to receive Kate Lavan into Full Communion with the Catholic Church. As many of you know, Kate and Dominic got married here 8 years ago, attend here with their daughters Emma and Louisa, and Dominic chairs the parish finance committee. This is a lovely moment for us as a community.
It's also a useful moment for all of us to consider the significance of what this act implies, and what it should remind all of us who are already Catholic.
Every Sunday Mass we all stand and recite the Creed together. This Sunday, as a pivotal part of the symbolism of what she is doing, Kate will stand in front of the congregation to recite that with us.
That Creed summarises the Christian Faith.
Neither you nor I wrote it, rather, we RECEIVED it. It was handed on to us. The Latin word for ‘handing on’ is ‘traditio’, from which we get the word, ‘tradition’. As Catholics we hold that what the Lord Jesus said, did, and taught, is something we only encounter by this very process of ‘tradition’, or it being ‘handed on’ to us.
In our second reading we heard St Paul describing this process, saying, “I taught you what I had been taught myself”(1 Cor 15:3). He then recited a credal formula summarising the Resurrection of Jesus. He handed on what he had first received. He made an act of tradition. And by that act he enabled others to receive it. By that act he made it possible for others to hear and know the Christian Faith.
What does it mean to say, “I believe”?
It does not mean, “this is what I think myself, this is what have seen myself”.
No. When I say, “I believe you”, I am declaring that I TRUST the witness who is telling me something. I declare that I ACCEPT what they say, because I trust them as a RELIABLE witness. I declare that I accept what they say, even though I haven't seen it for myself:
This is the nature of faith: to accept what we have heard, even though we have not seen it for ourselves.
As St Paul’s letter to the Romans puts it, “Faith comes from what is heard”(Rom 10:17).
I, personally, know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, died on Calvary, and rose in the third day.
I, personally, saw NONE of these things.
But I trust the witness of ‘the Church’, that body that included the 12 Apostles, Our Lady, and many others.
I trust the witness of ‘the Church’, that body which did not just exist 2000 years ago, but still exists today as a living spiritual organism.
I trust the witness of the Church, and so I come to Faith in all that she holds, all that she received from the Lord Jesus.
And by that act of faith I know many things more than what I have seen with my own eyes.
I have never seen Africa, but I trust the witness of those who tells me it exists.
I have never seen what the Bible records, but I trust the witness of the Church which passes on to me the truths revealed in Christ Jesus.
This is also what Kate will shortly declare. She will say, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God”.
Some of those things, many of those things, I have sought to explain to her in preparing her for this day.
But there are other things that she, no doubt, does not yet know in any detail.
But she knows enough to choose to accept the package. To choose to accept it because she trusts the witness, the Church founded by Christ, the Church that Christ has promises to infallibly guide in her teaching so that what she hands on to us she hands on with our any error..
That’s NOT an easy step to take.
But it's of the nature of true faith, to accept the package, because we trust the witness.
And it's necessary if we are to have access to what Christ wants us to hold on to.
And, it's what the congregation does every week when we recite the Creed.
We declare that we hold, we “believe”, what has first been passed on, “traditio”, to us.
So as we give thanks for Kate taking this step.
Let's also give thanks for all that we ourselves are able to know and hold on to by that same act of faith.