With God-talk we need less to know what we’re talking about than to know who it is we’re talking about!
I pray that in what I share I can be a window into the God I love and serve and into his words just read to us at this eucharist.
The words were about holiness and love for Isaiah said one seraph called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” and John said God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
If we believers are to be windows to God it’s through holiness and love that show we don’t just know what we’re talking about we know who we’re talking about, for when we know God personally he shows through.
One of my heroes is South American, not Guyanese though but Brazilian. He’s an icon of holiness and love called Helder Camera whose cause for canonization as a Saint has been opened this month by Pope Francis. As a bishop he spent his life in the service of the poor, abandoning his palace and giving away Church property to provide land for the homeless. When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint, he used to say. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.
He was, as you can tell from that comment, a controversial Churchman, a pioneer of the social gospel in our day, taking the church out of its buildings and sacristies to be alongside hurt and need in the community.
Yet when Helder Camera tells the tale of his life it’s the mystical rather than the practical which takes precedence. He writes of how encounters with the Holy Spirit kept changing him and how a very big change occurred near the start of his ministry through the visit of a French friend. The two toured Rio’s shanty towns and Gerlier his friend suggested Helder’s talents would be far more use in the service of the poor than anything else. Camera writes of that transformative conversation: And so the grace of the Lord came to me through Gerlier’s presence. Not just through the words he spoke: behind his words was the presence of a whole life, a whole conviction. I was moved by the grace of the Lord… thrown to the ground like Saul on the road to Damascus.
I thought of this graphic description when I followed our first reading on how Isaiah’s encounter with holiness had practical effect. The seraph [who had cried of God’s holiness] touched my mouth with [a live coal] and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
I wonder if today you recall the impact of God’s holiness upon you in your recent life experience? Whether the Lord is inviting from you that sort of painful cleansing as his springboard into a new realm of service?
I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Once or twice in my life that’s happened to me. It happened when I was an undergraduate at Oxford studying Chemistry and stumbled across a Church with holy worship and a holy priest which so impacted my life that I accepted a call to priesthood. Or again when a letter from a priest called John Dorman came rather as a surprise of the Spirit inviting me to consider training Amerindian priests in the interior of Guyana. Or again when I encountered the spiritual force of the lady who in the end became my wife through whom once again my life moved forward in a new and more fruitful direction.
God is holy and loving. He is different to us and yet he is the same. It is his sameness we encounter in the love spoken of by St John. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Whilst his holy difference from us wakes us up and shakes us out of complacency his love is unconditional and affirmative.
To use a bathing analogy, one quality, his love, is like a hot bath. The other, his holiness is like a cold shower bracing us for fresh action.
On this feast of the Holy Trinity we celebrate both qualities of God, holiness and love, difference and sameness, and for ourselves the call to confidence in him and humility before him.
Confidence in God, knowing God’s love, is the basic treasure, which undergirds all we are as godly folk. It’s among the most urgent needs of Church members today. Those drawn into his service are moved to do so by finding such confidence, the confidence that the following of God’s call will bring about God’s provision so you have to follow it, at whatever cost.
I wonder if you’re sensing such a call, such an invitation at this time from the Holy Spirit? Don’t neglect it! Follow it!
If confidence in God is the one pole of godliness humility before God and people is the other pole, as 2 Corinthians makes plain when it talks of believers having ‘treasure in earthen vessels’.
How can we be effective instruments of a holy God without humility, readiness to attend to God in unfashionable lower places, witnesses to the humility of Christ present hidden away especially in the hurting and needful? This is the underpinning of all Christians are about as the servant hearted folk we are, gifted with healing ministry from the Lord earthed in that under rated most humble ministry of listening. The holy, loving triune God wants to work in us and through us. We need both humility and confidence in him to be such instruments. As Christians hoping to witness and point to a God who answers prayer we need to know what we are talking about - we need to know who we’re talking about and pointing others to. I believe it’s as we listen to God faithfully in prayer that we’re best skilled up to listen to him speaking in our needy sister or brother.
We can only point authentically to him if we ourselves are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory… coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit to come back to 2 Corinthians (3:18). Such transformation comes from contemplation of God as the holy friend he is and there’s no ‘quick fix’ about it.
Getting more of God in our life requires dedication and determination, even if it will end up being a grace given from above. But this much is clear, our apostolate, our sense of being ‘sent’ as Christians, will be utterly ineffective unless it comes as an overflow from what is growing within us.
What are we doing, then, I ask you, to cultivate the interior life? We welcome God Sunday by Sunday in word and sacrament. How are we savouring that gift in prayer day by day? In our discipline of bible reading, study, self examination and service to those in need?
Where people are meeting deep down with God in Jesus Christ and he is taking hold of them, all that they say and do will be permeated with him. Think back on people whose lives have touched your life and shaken you out of complacency and apathy, the holy people who’ve influenced you for good and for God.
Is there a greater force or influence than that of holiness?
The devil is very keen to distract those of us who work hard for God from the prior work of spiritual renewal. There is so much to do – so much human need out there - that we want to sail out there and serve it without giving the attention we need to give to the interior life.
Let Mother Teresa have the last say. It’s not how much we do that matters but how much love we put into what we do.
Come, Holy Spirit, through this eucharist and show us our need of the love and holiness which is yours alone so that together we transmit it to others.