Monday, 31 March 2014

5th Sunday of Lent - Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

One thing we could never say is that St Paul beats around the bush. What could be plainer, more direct and more confronting than: People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God.

There you have it! Unspiritual people cannot please God. They run the circuit of their busy days – at work, at home, on the golf course or in the garden; it doesn’t matter where they are or what they are doing – they rarely or never think seriously of God. They are materialistic people. They are pretty well totally absorbed by the material circumstances of their lives.

After a while their whole life takes on an atmosphere of materialistic concern for the here-and-now and this ‘atmosphere’, like a thick fog, wraps itself around everything in their life.

Eventually good is what is good now; bad is what is bad now. I can’t spend time praying because I am too busy, I have to make the cake for the fete or get the lawn cut; I can’t go to church because I have to drive Johnny to footy practice; I can’t have this baby because it will wreck my career. Every question is decided according to what is good for me now – and tomorrow I will decide all over again.

In the life of an unspiritual person the practical, the material, the ‘facts’ always win out. Take for example the girl who laid out the facts for me about why the baby had to be terminated. It had such and such a disease, it would not live long after birth and if it did it would not have much quality of life, etc, etc, etc. The facts, the facts, the facts.

Spiritual people are interested in facts but they rate the truth more highly. They say, ‘The life within your womb is an innocent, human life. It is not your life, nor is it the life of your husband. It is a third life, an innocent life, and innocent human life must never be taken.’

That is the truth! And thank God there are so many women who recognise this truth and who despite every difficulty refuse to abort their child.

The unspiritual person knows and lives by the facts; the spiritual person knows the facts but lives by the truth. That is the basic difference between them. And what a huge difference that is!

Consider for a moment how the life of one who lives in a totally unspiritual way simply has no direction – it is not going anywhere – it has no future. And because it has no ultimate future it has no ultimate meaning. No matter how healthy and wealthy these people may be, no matter how materially successful they may be, they are heading over the cliff into the abyss of eternal nothingness along with all material things. They have no hope because the material things which possess them have no hope. No wonder they can never be pleasing to God.

The life of the spiritual person, on the other hand is immeasurably different. His life has a centre, a direction, a goal and a meaning. The spiritual person knows that he comes from God and that God has given him a path to walk which securely leads back to him. The spiritual person uses material things but knows better than to put his trust in them.

If you would like to know, to clarify for yourself to what extent you personally are spiritual, and to what extent you are unspiritual (because not many of us are entirely one or the other), then there is a rule of thumb you might find useful.

Since unspiritual people do not really believe in spiritual things, though they might find it useful or even necessary from time to time, to pretend they do, they find that doing spiritual things is a big waste of time.

So the first rule of thumb is: unspiritual people don’t pray. For them prayer is one of the biggest wastes of time ever invented, especially private prayer. Private prayer drives them mad. It is one thing to go to church on Sunday where they can catch up with friends, be seen as church-goers, and find out the latest gossip, but private prayer, at home, by themselves, is out of the question.

[On the subject of church: I was staying in a presbytery in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago and there was a funeral in the church next door. I found it interesting to watch those who exited from the church during the service to make phone calls to friends. These were not urgent calls, they were social calls – I could hear them from my room. You see, it seemed that sitting in a church was for them a big waste of phone time.]

So each one of us can almost infallibly judge how spiritual we are by the quality of our private prayer. When all is said and done we give time to the things we consider important. Talking the talk is common; walking the walk not so.

If St Paul in his letter to the Romans is forthright when he says: People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God; his words to the Galatians are even more so: Don’t delude yourself into thinking God can be cheated: where a man sows, there he reaps: if he sows in the field of self-indulgence he will get a harvest of corruption out of it; if he sows in the field of the Spirit he will get from it a harvest of eternal life.

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