S. Francis de Sales on Charity

S. Francis used to say, “I hear of nothing but perfection on every side, so far as talk goes, but I see very few people who really practise it. Everybody has his own notion of perfection. One man thinks that it lies in the cut of his clothes, another in fasting, a third in almsgiving, or in frequenting the Sacraments, in meditation, in some special gift of contemplation, or in extraordinary gifts or graces; – but they are all mistaken, as it seems to me, because they confuse the means, or the results, with the cause.

“For my part, the only perfection I know is a hearty love of God, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Without these there can be no real perfection. Charity is the only ‘bond of perfectness’ between Christians, the only virtue which rightly unites us to God and man. Such union is our final aim and end, and all else is mere delusion.

“No virtues, however great they may seem, are worth anything, without charity; – not even such faith as could ‘remove mountains’ or ‘understand all mysteries;’ which has ‘the gift of prophesy, or speaks with the tongue of men or angels;’ which ‘bestows all its gifts to feed the poor,’ or endures martyrdom, All is vain without charity. He who lacketh charity is dead while he liveth, and all his works, however fair to the eye, are valueless, seen from the point of eternity.

“I grant that austerity, meditation, and all such practices are admirable means whereby to advance towards perfection, so long as they are carried on in and through charity. But it will not do to seek perfection by any other means – rather in the end to which they do but lead, else we shall find ourselves halting in the midst of the race, instead of reaching the goal.”

taken from The Spirit of S. Francis de Sales Bishop and Prince of Geneva by Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Bellay. tr. H.I. Sidney Lear, London: Longmans, 1921: 1-2

Sermon for Evensong (Trinity X)


‘Remorse  is the negative presence of God in the soul, as grace is the positive presence of God. Remorse is incomplete, for it is self-disgust divorced from God; but remorse can become sorrow, and then hope, the moment the soul turns to God for help.’
Fulton Sheen Lift up your Heart 1942: 17
“Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
We all of us sin, a lot, in what we think or say or do, or indeed do not say or think or do. If we say that we have no sin then we deceive ourselves. The simple fact is that I am a miserable sinner; I am to be pitied for the wretched way in which I do or do not do things. I am no better or worse than any of you, we’re all the same in this, and yet somehow God has called me to serve him, and to say this to you, and he calls each one of us to live out our baptism in our lives.
Possibly the hardest thing to learn is the fact that God loves us: he heals us, and restores us. Most of us if the truth be told struggle with this world-shattering truth – God loves us. We don’t feel worthy of the love, that we are good enough to be loved in the first place, or that we can do anything back.
It is, I suspect, the work of a lifetime and beyond to try and come to terms with the fact that God loves us, that he gives himself for us, that he loves us so much that he opens his arms on the Cross to embrace the world with his healing love. This is what Grace is, the free gift of a generous God, who loves not because we ARE worthy of His love, but that through His love, we may BECOME worthy of it. His grace perfects our human nature, and because we are loved and forgiven, healed and restored in Christ, we can love and forgive others; we can share in Our Lord’s work of healing and reconciliation. God takes the initiative so that we do not have to, he does what we cannot so that our nature may be transformed by him, but first it needs to be accepted, so that it can transform us, and we can then transform others, and eventually transform the whole world.
This is exactly what the Church has been doing for the last two thousand years, saving it, one soul at a time, showing the world that God loves it, and helping it to experience that love as a reality in its life, the one true reality. It all started with a young girl in Nazareth hearing the words ‘Hail, full of grace the Lord is with you’ this is how much God loves us, a God who takes a risk, and uses ordinary unsurprising people to be extraordinary, to do extraordinary things and live extraordinary lives. It is strange and surprising, and it’s not what we would expect to happen, but that’s just how God works. He can take the raw material that in earthly terms is not terribly promising and do things with it. God uses us the people of God to serve him in the Church and the World, to make us saints who may enjoy his closer presence for all eternity.
God loves us, so that we can love each other and love Him, with a love that is costly and pure and generous, a love which forgives the sins of others just as we ourselves have been forgiven. This is the love that can change the world, by transforming our human nature, perfecting it by the Grace of God, rather than abolishing it, so that we can have life in all its fullness, so that we can be prepared for a life of beatitude in Heaven in the closer presence of God.
It is this radical revolutionary love which lies at the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ, it is from this gospel love that the Church’s concern for the world, and politics, and social action flows, for these are not an end in themselves, but a means of bringing about the Kingdom of God among us in all its fullness. We are called as Christians to participate in something radical, revolutionary, and world-changing, something which scared the Roman Empire, and which has outlived it; it is by no means perfect, or the finished article – that’s the point: the Church is a work in progress called to transform the world. It will fail, it’s made up of human beings like us; the Church has been failing ever since Peter denied Our Lord three times, and it will continue to do so, as it cannot rely upon itself and its own strength, but rather upon the God who loves us, who heals us and restores us. In his strength and his truth, we may live out our faith, our hope, and our love, and through His grace transform the world that it may sing praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday of Year C: A Sermon about Stuff


The poor in spirit are those who are so detached from wealth, from social position, and from earthly knowledge that, at the moment the Kingdom of God demands a sacrifice, they are prepared to surrender all.
Fulton J Sheen The Cross and the Beatitudes, 1937: 54
There is a profound difference in quality between the possessions that we need and use, and actually enjoy, and the accumulation of useless things that we accumulate out of vanity or greed or the desire to surpass others
Fulton J Sheen Way to Happiness, 1954: 45
The world around us tells us constantly that if you want to be happy, to be yourself fully and most really then what you need is more stuff: a new car, a mobile phone. It’s the latest model – it’s been improved, you can’t do without it! The world tells us this and we listen, we take it in and we do what it says. We all of us do this, I’ve done it myself. It says you can have what you want TODAY, we’ll even lend you the money for it and charge you an interest rate which is usurious and wrong. It will make you and your family happy, in a way that nothing else can.
Nothing could, in fact, be further from the truth. Salvation by stuff has never and will never work. It leaves us empty, craving more and more, never satisfied. Hence Our Lord’s teaching in this morning’s Gospel: ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ (Lk 12:15) Wanting more stuff is never a good idea; Our Lord tells us this and warns us against it, and we do not listen.
So He tells us a parable – there’s a man who’s got loads of stuff, he’s well-off in worldly terms, he has done well. All he’s interested in is keeping his stuff, building bigger barns into which to put stuff, so that he can sit back, and relax and take life easy.
Then he dies, quite suddenly, and learns that important lesson: you can’t take it with you when you go – you can’t put pockets in your shroud, and when you are dead then stuff doesn’t really help you. It may buy you a swankier funeral, a more expensive coffin, a more expensive hearse to transport your dead body, but basically you are dead, and even if you spend thousands of pounds having your head frozen in liquid nitrogen, you are still dead. Money and stuff can’t help you with that. It has never been able to, nor will it. So Our Lord encourages us to be rich towards God, and to turn away from the world and its vanity.
In St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, just after this morning’s second reading finishes we read this:
 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ (Col 3:12–17)
This is the life which stores up treasure in heaven, when we have ‘Set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Col 3:2) This is what a Christian life really looks like, when lived out in the world. This is the sort of radically different life which can and does both change and transform the world: offering it a way that is different to the way of stuff. It is the way of love and forgiveness, of knowing that as Christians that we are loved and forgiven, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. That we can be a community which lives out this radical love and forgiveness in the world to offer it a new way of being, which turns the ways and values of the world on its head. It is that radical, that revolutionary, and that revolution has to start right here and today. We are listening to Our Lord speaking to us through His Scriptures; he calls us to live this life for our own good and the glory of the God who made us, the God who loves us, and the God who saves us: to be free from the tyranny of stuff and sin, and to live for him.
This then is what the Church is meant to look like, and be, and live out in the world, like a lamp set upon a lamp stand or a city upon a hill, shining, attractive, a light amidst the darkness of this world, a radical alternative, life in all its fullness. So let’s live it, together.
That is why we have come here, today, to be fed in word and sacrament, to be fed by God, to be fed with God, with His Body and Blood and His Word, so that it may nourish us and prepare us for heaven, so that it can transform our human nature and fill us with the Divine life of love and forgiveness, which we can start living out here and now and change all the world, so that it may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

A Thought for the Day from Pope Francis (Lumen Fidei 60)

Let us turn in prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of our faith.
Mother, help our faith!
Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call.
Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.
Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith.
Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature.
Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One. Remind us that those who believe are never alone. Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!