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Feeling Graceful?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sermon for the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

How does St Paul know?

How does he know if you enriched by Christ in all utterance and in all knowledge? How does he know that the testimony of Christ is confirmed in you, and that you come behind in no gift of God?

Or perhaps this isn’t a message for you. Perhaps it’s just for the Corinthians.
If that’s the case, then why do we still read that passage today?

[PAUSE]

It must surely be relevant to us, and if it is then our question still stands. How does St Paul, or we, or anyone else know that we have been enriched by Christ in what we say and know? Sometimes we do feel enriched, but there are many times that we don’t. If you’re tired and the world has been very hard on you, if you’ve fallen into misfortune, lost someone very dear, if you’re bored and restless, confused and not really understanding life, how on earth can you know that you are enriched by Christ?

The fact is that feelings don’t come into it.

This is grace, not feeling.

[PAUSE]

Feelings are very important because they provide us with information about how the world affects us. We feel happy when we see someone receive a lovely present. We feel fear when we see someone in peril, devastated if they lose their life, overjoyed if they are saved. The trouble is, feelings just are and we can’t force them.

This is a mistake that many people make. They say that in order to love, you have to feel it. If that’s true, then this isn’t the love that God wants us to share. The love that God wants us to have for Him and for each other is something we do, not something we feel. As any married couple knows, the first feelings of love pass away to be replaced by a love that exists by living that commitment with their spouse. There may be tough times, feelings may run high, the relationship may get strained, but the couple that seeks always the good of the other even when times are tough is actively loving.

You have to love, despite your feelings.

[PAUSE]

The same is true for grace.

What is grace?

There is a sense in which it means God’s favour – His favourable disposition upon all who love Him, but it is more than that. God’s grace does something. St Paul says to St Titus,

[T]he grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ…

God’s grace justifies us, teaches us, helps us look for hope and points us to Christ. Grace is very much God’s gift to us of His active presence with us and within us.

This is why the sacraments are so vital because they distribute to the whole Church and to each Christian that active presence of God working His will.
Perhaps this is why we often don’t feel it – after all, it is God doing the work. But we are being enriched by Christ to do His work, to know the One God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost better.

We demand to be able to feel things because we are sceptical. Feelings are a way of knowing that something is true within us. However, that’s a false belief. We often feel things that aren’t true. A man can’t feel like a woman because he has no idea what feeling like a woman must be like. We can’t feel like God, because we have no idea what power or knowledge He has. We also don’t feel things that are true. We know we ought to feel sad when someone dies, but we don’t and we feel guilty. We need to take our feelings with a pinch of salt.

[PAUSE]

What we do need to do is have faith and allow it to grow. If we aren’t feeling particularly faithful, then we need to pray along with the father of the possess child, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” But then we need to bypass the feeling and trust in God to work His will. We need to acknowledge what we feel, but then pass to what we believe to be true, that God is faithful even when we are not.

If we don’t feel enriched, we pray and then pass it to God.
If we feel ignorant, we pray and then pass it to God.
If we feel weak, we pray and then pass it to God.

In passing it to God, we pass the reality of our situation over to Him and to the grace that He has given to us in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Mass. Likewise, priests pray to God in the grace of their ordination. Married couples tap in to the grace of their marriage through prayer. The penitent may not feel forgiven when leaving the Confessional, but if they have confessed their sins in penitence and faith, then they are forgiven. God is faithful when we are not. The dying can receive comfort in their last hour when God imposes the grace of Holy Unction and they can depart in His peace. Their families too, in their profound grief, can trust that God will receive their loved ones into their keeping.

[PAUSE]

The sacraments are for us to receive grace even when we don’t feel grace-full.

All we have to do is reach out to God in fidelity and He will give that grace. We must receive it in humility and hope, not expecting what we want to happen, but expecting fully God’s goodness to be worked out some way. We Christians always have Hope to go with our Faith and Love.

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