August 12, 2019 Length: 18:00
Fr. Gregory Hallam reminds us that placing our ultimate hope in net gains through life is an exercise in futility, because, in the end, all that we have accomplished, all the disasters we have avoided, will not endure death, and within a century or so will most probably not even be remembered by our descendants.
What is our lot in life? What are our expectations? Happiness or Suffering? Pleasure or Pain? Gain or Loss? Success or Failure? All these things we shall have in different measures and at different times. However, we like to think that we can, by ourselves, steer our lives towards happiness, pleasure, gain, success; but we know, more often than not, that eventually we shall have to deal with those things that we do not choose and which are not pleasant: suffering, pain, loss and failure.
But, this really misses the point of what we should be truly aiming to achieve and what we should truly be aiming to avoid. Why? Because temporal benefits and adversities alike are all transient and subject to mortality. Placing our ultimate hope in net gains through life is an exercise in futility, because, in the end, all that we have accomplished, all the disasters we have avoided, will not endure death, and within a century or so will most probably not even be remembered by our descendants.
What we should be aiming for and avoiding are not transient temporal things, subject to death, dust and forgetfulness, but something much better and permanent, even eternal. The paradox is that the more we pursue these more enduring goals, the better our life will become on this earth. How so? What are these priorities? ….
I suggest that these goals are purification and the struggle against evil. It is no wonder of course that these are not very popular themes today in public discourse, unless expressed in strictly mythological forms. Consider the enduring popularity of the Lord of the Rings, the Narnia stories, the Dark Crystal, the Labyrinth. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table or more classically, the horrendously wonderful stories of Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm, particularly Snow White. In these stories it is always the pure and chaste knight or yeoman who successfully subdues the monstrous ogre or the dragon with its golden hoard and fiery breath.
Maybe the popularity of such stories witnesses to the fact that despite the anti-religious assumptions of modernism in the west, the human spirit is indeed very familiar with these spiritual themes. What is now increasingly forgotten, however, is the lifechanging question that all these stories raise: “How might evil be defeated and good prevail?”
… which brings me to the lily, symbol of purity and chastity in the person of Our Lady, the Ever-Virgin Mary and the name taken today by my granddaughter in baptism. Lilies adorn this church today in honour of the Mother of God whose falling asleep we shall celebrate later this month in the feast of the Dormition or Assumption of Our Lady, her Ascension after death and crowning as Queen in Heaven. It is she who, through her obedience to the Word of God by Archangel Gabriel, brought forth Christ from her womb, God-the-Word-made-flesh. This chaste woman, the Ever-Virgin Mary, the New Eve, dealt that great Satanic serpent a great blow. She conceived by the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the Christ Child, who in his Resurrection, broke down the bars of hell with the iron rod of the power of God Himself, liberating the captives, more especially, you and me. This is what St John prophesies in the Revelation (12:1-5).
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labour and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.
The Lily, therefore, although fragile as a flower, is certainly not fragile in the person of Our Lady. Her immaculate purity, her total obedience to the God of Love, makes her stronger than any Knight, ancient or modern. She overcomes evil by making it possible for her Son to be born, by teaching the way of obedience to Him, (“Do whatever He tells you … “ [John 2:5] she says at the wedding at Cana in Galilee) and by voluntarily taking upon herself the terrible grief and loss of Christ in His Passion, as a sword piercing her own soul also (Luke 2:35). Surely this purity is an invincible weapon against the world, the flesh and the devil … all of which of course we have renounced for Christ in Holy Baptism, both for ourselves and for our children, and, most happily today, for Lily.
And isn’t that the point? We have the means at our disposal and by divine grace to defeat evil and cultivate goodness. The more we resist evil and the more we cultivate goodness, the stronger we come in that goodness, which is Christ Himself, to resist evil … and so on and so forth … it’s a virtuous circle, a virtuous circle of victory and glorification, whereby we can be crowned in heaven as victors along with Our Lady.
What’s this got to do though with the politics of war, with global warming, with escalating levels of world poverty, with the epidemic of drug misuse, with spiralling mental misery and sexual exploitation? Everything. Absolutely everything. Let’s face it, we bring many of these evils upon ourselves by the standards we both uphold and compromise in our communities, societies and across our world.
Ultimately, it’s individual human beings who make decisions for good or ill, who make a difference or who don’t, who serve themselves or others. All that starts with the values we each live by and the faith that inspires them; or the lack of faith that cynically spoils them! - faith, that is, in the power of God to transform human lives, including of course, our own.
Lilies appear in one highly significant place in the New Testament. The text has to do with the purity and trust in God that removes anxiety and helps to create the society we long for by refocussing our attention away from ourselves and, instead, fixing this on Christ. Living by this, His teaching, we clothe ourselves and this world in indestructible Life-Giving glory of God, a glory stronger than kings, even Solomon, and a fitness for paradise – a kingdom on earth as in heaven. We all carry lilies now. This is what Our Lord Jesus Christ says to His followers:
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Where is your treasure then?