a better way

On Wednesday evening at the pro-Cathedral Advent reflection hour I suggested that if we Christians feel at home in the secular society that surrounds us then there is something wrong with us.

However if we flee from the secular world creating a Christian ghetto we have also misunderstood the call to be followers of Jesus.

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that Christians are in the world but not of it, but that’s our reality. Christians follow Christ who is the king of a different kingdom. We are called to live in a way that is not dictated by the fears and fashions of a secular world.

Jesus reminds us that His kingdom is not of this world and that his followers would often feel alien even among family and friends – as T.S. Eliot puts it in Journey of the Magi: “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation / With an alien people clutching their gods.”

There is a powerful English poem that communicates this difference vividly. Cecil Spring Rice’s words were later set to music by Gustav Holst creating the popular patriotic hymn I Vow to thee my Country.  The poem highlights the tension between the two realms: the earthly kingdom achieved by military prowess, and the life of God emphasised in the second stanza:

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Across the twenty Christian centuries, some remarkable people have embraced the reign of God while living fully in the world. These powerful witnesses remind us that gentleness and peace lived with fidelity of heart and intimate friendship with Jesus Christ is the ultimate life.

The problem we have in the midst of complex twenty-first century pressures, is that try to build earthly kingdoms using the predominant methods and measures of capitalism and commercialism reducing the life of Jesus to an existence of ritualism, moralism and legalism.

We disciples of Jesus will often feel like aliens in our surroundings even with those closest to us struggling to understand us as we seek to keep Christ firmly in our gaze.

The problem with not feeling at home in society is that we can be left feeling homeless in this world, but we take heart when we find companionship with others who also seek Christ.

An Invitation:

Set aside a few minutes to ponder Jesus’ words in today’s gospel as he reminds us that we will feel out of place in this world, and whatever we do may be criticised. This is why our measure of success must not be how people react to what we say and do. Our only measure of how we are doing is our desire to walk with Jesus the pattern and path of his life, often being misunderstood and even suffering and death. This is our path to resurrection.

Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘What description can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place:
“We played the pipes for you
and you wouldn’t dance;
we sang dirges,
and you wouldn’t be mourners.”
‘For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He is possessed.” The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet wisdom has been proved right by her actions.’
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14 Responses to "a better way"
  1. I enjoyed this reflection very much as I often feel alienated in the community I live in so I take heart from your words Father John. Can you tell me what the Pro – Cathedral means?

    • Thank you for your creative reflection this morning, Father John. I appreciated your eclectic array of insights including the perceptions of T.S.Eliot, Cecil Spring Rice and Gustav Holst.
      It is my opinion that our special gifts of faith and hope will assist us to evolve our
      in depth understanding about how diverse people can live together and love one another in the Spirit of the Gospel. The globalized world is moving in profound ways … we will each write its history with our own lives.

  2. Thank you, Fr John. A beautiful message of assurance in accessing the hope, faith and God’s grace for our time when we try to cope with living in the secular world with its increasing tensions, troubling issues and temptations to turn our attention and energy from living a working faith in Christ. Today’s Advent message is truly a soothing balm. Pax et bonum

  3. The feeling of not quite belonging is so evident at this time of the year when the World is so focused on the hype of this season and We try to show the reason WHY we are celebrating.
    This prayer of Cardinal Newman is giving me hope ;
    God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
    I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it – if I do but keep His Commandments.

    Whatever, wherever I am I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about. Therefore I will trust Him.

    Cardinal Newman

  4. Thank you Father John. “I vow to there my country” has such wonderful words of encouragement and is always so uplifting when read or sung. Somtimes it is difficult to live in this world of ours and I certainly need help to live with courage in making the best decisions

  5. Thanks Fr John, today’s reflection is so helpful. I can feel like an alien amongst a loving family group on Christmas Day and There is no mention of Jesus, his birthday !! But I never deny God, the family know I am a believer so I feel if there is one witness in every family that is visibly open about their faith without being judgemental then it keeps that connection with God going. We don’t know what is deep inside every persons heart, they may have a faith in God but don’t share it openly. We need to cherish our family and friends, even if it is difficult, God wants us to love one another.
    Happy Christmas to Fr John and everyone.

  6. Thank you Fr John, very helpful to first be able to identify the awareness, through your reflection, that I already experience of not feeling completely at home in this cultural milieu. Secondly that this is an alright place to be and to acknowledge it. For it is here and now in this place I must trust Jesus and, in the struggle to follow him, to know that he will complete the work of going from selfishness to selflessness that he has begun. Thanks God bless Rick

  7. I look forward to your words and the comments from the readers. Yes, I too have felt alienated from society and even family occasionally. I take heart in knowing I am not alone. We all need reminders that God is truly with us at all times. Thank you everyone.

  8. I look forward to your words and the readers’ comments, It is comforting to know that others feel as I do, alienated sometimes. May we always remember that God is always with us

  9. Unless you become like little children.
    Look at any group of five/six/seven year olds. How happy they are, non judgemental and at peace.

  10. Thanks john for todays reflection. Being both real and active in the world but remaining true to a calling that is higher than what the world offers seems to be one of the great challenges of the Christian life. Today’s message and the Newman prayer Jane offered were very inspiring. I recall the words of FR Phil King-Turner who many years ago reminded me that God calls us to be the best we can be in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. It is enough to do well “where we are placed” rather than constantly striving for something “other”. Today’s readings again remind me to be real in my circumstances trusting as the Newman prayer suggests that in this space God has work for me to do whether I see it or not

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