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Back to School already?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent (Mattins)

Around about the end of July, many shops will proudly announce their new season called “Back to School”. Given that the school year has only just ended, it seems rather an unkind reminder for those who have to go back to school, especially teachers!

For many people, school days are not the best days of your life. There is a great fear in having to learn something, especially when you don’t want to learn that thing. When have you had to solve a quadratic equation in your life? When has your knowledge of ox-bow lakes or the chemical composition of sulphuric acid actually been useful beyond the pub quiz? Well, you never know…

What’s the point of learning things that you don’t want to learn?


One of the concerns that many have about religious belief is the idea that it indoctrinates people. We can certainly see how some Muslims are indoctrinated into beliefs that are damaging to themselves and certainly to others. Christians, too, are not immune and some people find themselves being bullied into belief by Christians who seem to derive their worth by forcing their religion on others. There is now such thing as spiritual abuse in which religious belief is used to control another for selfish or secular reasons, or even to enforce beliefs that aren’t actually necessary to the Christian Religion.

The process of Indoctrination involves teaching children a set of beliefs uncritically. What does that mean? Should we be allowed to question whether or not God exists? Should we be allowed to think that Our Lord and Saviour is not present in the Sacrament of the Altar? Of course, we should! It’s part of our human condition that we are free to question whatever is presented to us. God gives us free-will and we are not truly human unless we use it. Indoctrination is therefore dehumanising.

The son of Sirach talks of the benefits of pursuing the Wisdom of God. “Wisdom exalteth her children, and layeth hold of them that seek her. He that loveth her loveth life; and they that seek to her early shall be filled with joy. He that holdeth her fast shall inherit glory; and wheresoever she entereth, the Lord will bless.”

We are presented with good reason to seek after wisdom and this means careful study of the Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church. What we do notice from this is that we are being presented with the choice whether or not to seek after this wisdom. Wisdom is there like the pearl beyond price lying hidden in the field. People will sell all that they have to possess it for the search for Wisdom is a search for God Himself and His wisdom is expressed perfectly by His Word – Our Lord Jesus Christ! “They that serve her shall minister to the Holy One: and them that love her the Lord doth love. Whoso giveth ear unto her shall judge the nations: and he that attendeth unto her shall dwell securely.”

Seeking wisdom is hard work but we know that because living is hard work especially in this sinful and fallen world. “If a man commit himself unto her, he shall inherit her; and his generation shall hold her in possession. For at the first she will walk with him by crooked ways, and bring fear and dread upon him, and torment him with her discipline, until she may trust his soul, and try him by her laws. Then will she return the straight way unto him, and comfort him, and shew him her secrets.” This is why we often dread learning: it challenges cherished beliefs and lifts us out of our comfort zones.

We can also fear learning because we can be shown up for being wrong. The fact that we are free to believe does mean that we can be wrong. The son of Sirach tells us that if we go wrong, Wisdom will forsake us, and give us over to his own ruin. “Observe the opportunity, and beware of evil; and be not ashamed when it concerneth thy soul. For there is a shame that bringeth sin; and there is a shame which is glory and grace.”

The beauty of the love of God means that if we go wrong, there is always a way back to Him. In healing the paralytic, Our Lord shows that sins can be forgiven very easily by God. In so doing, He shows up the wisdom of the Pharisees as being defective. Their love does not go far enough. The Pharisees will strain at a gnat in order to prove someone wrong and yet swallow a camel by refusing to see that it is love that fulfils the Law, not blind obedience to it.

If we can go wrong, if we can even doubt the existence of God Himself and thus be convinced to lose our salvation, how can we be certain of anything?

The answer is Faith.


Faith is a type of knowledge because it is given by God. We can doubt that He exists but then we need to turn to Him and ask for our faith to be strengthened. God is always approachable. Yes, our faith can be tested to breaking point but, that’s true of any belief that we have. Our knowledge is imperfect and the imperfect vanishes away when the perfect comes. What we think we know is only a shadow of what is. Our freedom to think can certainly challenge that Faith but if we are willing to recognise the Holy Ghost as the One Who walks alongside us albeit invisibly, then we always have the way to God.

This does mean that we need to be patient with those who go astray because it could so easily be we that go astray. No, we must not accept any heresy or deviation from the Wisdom of God, but we must recognise God’s gift of freedom of thought to everyone even if it means their rejection of God – that’s the pain of love. Our only recourse is to bear witness to the Faith that is once delivered to the saints revealed by Almighty God written for our edification and taught by those who seek His Wisdom in humility and love. And let us use our Lent to go back to school and learn the Truth of God in Faith, Hope and Love.

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