This weekend, I had the experience of listening to two sermons on one gospel reading. I went to mass twice (polishes halo, checks horns to see if sharpening needed) - last night as a scheduled reader, this morning as a dutiful Catholic.
The gospel reading centred on the line, "Love one another as I have loved you."
Last night's sermon was given by an expansive American priest - his heart was in the mass and in the sermon and it showed. He started off by calling it a nearly perfect gospel reading: the only factor marring it was the timing - Judas had just left to betray Jesus. He then went on to state that loving one another as Jesus loved us wasn't the fluffy proposition it is often suggested to be, because loving as Jesus did meant following the way of the cross, not as in "my cross to bear", but dying those little deaths. He told us, "Think of the people who make you crazy." And he told us that loving them as Jesus loved us means explaining something to them one more time, listening to that problem one more time, letting them push us out of our comfort zone one more time: not rolling our eyes or whingeing behind their backs, but really being *present* for them in that time, in that place. And he even pointed out that when we talk to God, we might sound just a wee bit like those needy people we go on about (squirms uncomfortably).
It was a *wonderful* sermon. He acknowledged our feelings of annoyance and dislike as being human, but told us that we needed to move through them to something bigger, to seeing Christ in each one of those people that make our lives difficult. What made it really work was that it was something he was passionate about - and he was right in there with us. It was a sermon that said, "You're human, feeling that way is normal, but we're here to love one another, so push through it." It left you feeling ready to do just that.
Today, Fr Voldemort, in a sermon that would have kept Freud and Jung busy for months, went on about how, instead of feeling distressed when we feel nothing at church, we should feel relieved because "We shouldn't trust our feelings. Feelings are subjective." Well, so is your opinion. Frankly, my feelings have told me far more about what is really going on than my head ever has.
Love is action, he said. Not untrue. He used Mother Teresa as an example: "She found the poor repellent. But she reached out to them anyway." Now, I don't know if anyone else has a problem with this, but I do. You CANNOT see Christ in anyone *if you find them repellent*. They are mutually exclusive states. Love does not mean feeling a tight bond with someone, true, but it means that *you understand that they are a child of God* and acknowledge that in them - which means you *feel* respect, openness, interest in who they are and the stories they have to tell. Being repelled by them is in direct opposition to being open to them - love is far more than doing what you're supposed to. Mother Teresa has just fallen at the first hurdle to sainthood, and you've fallen into a Kantian fallacy, Fr V.
After that, on to the liturgy. "That is why we should guard against making our liturgy exciting and entertaining." London Oratory Choir, darling? They qualify as 'entertaining', and I know you approve of them. Followed by one of the best lines of all time:
"WE ARE NOT IN CHURCH TO ENJOY OURSELVES."
Leaving aside the argument that "daily life is your temple and your religion" (Gibran) and all you do for God should be done with love, warmth and joy, what is the resurrection about? Joy. So, really, yes, we are there to *celebrate* Christ, re-present Him in the Eucharist and enjoy our fellowship, whether we choose evangelical services or a Latin Mass.
To round it off, Voldemort destroyed his entire argument by using Our Lady at the foot of the cross as the ultimate example - even using the phrase, "a sword pierced her own heart". News bulletin: *FEELINGS* DON'T GET DEEPER THAN THAT. Her grief must have been beyond anything someone who isn't a parent can understand. And even though she *loved* her son (with feelings, just to clarify), she *let him go* and engaged with everything his life brought her: joy, worry, the everyday blessings and the sword. She felt every inch of it, and was transformed as a result.
And don't you think that *Jesus* felt that love for us? In what moment in the Gospel do you see him repelled by the poor, the lepers, the adultress, the marginalised?
THAT is your mistake, Fr V. The way to love is to *engage* your feelings, not deny them, as you do, and insist that we should. The way to love is to grow *through* them: the anger, the pain, the hurt, the joy, the grief that are all part of our human experience, and rightly so. "Doing it anyway" should be a stage, not a way of life. Spiritual dryness, the same. To be fully human, we need rain to grow - and we need to be that rain for others.
Of course, this sermon took this particular angle because it is Fr Voldemort's way of being, his particular struggle. And to him I would say this: because you hold feelings in fear and contempt, your feelings own you. Every day, more of the anger leaks out round the edges of that cool surface persona, and takes away a little more of the man you could become. Don't let it destroy you.
I know you don't want to hear it, that you will dismiss it. But I say it because you are my brother in Christ, and even though you drive me crazy, I'm feeling the love right now...