11 & 12th December 2021

posted 17 Dec 2021, 05:40 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” (11&12/12/21)

Following on from last Sunday’s theme of getting our house in order in preparation for the coming of Christ, today St John the Baptist continues in a similar theme. The ordinary man or woman in the street is to look after the poor and those in need. The tax collectors are to avoid adding extra onto what they charge for themselves. The soldiers are to be content with their pay, and not misuse their power to take money off the general populace.

There seems to be the running theme of money here; perhaps, indeed, the love of money. It chimes well with the theme of Ebenezer Scrooge, who at a time of poverty in Victorian Britain was not only harsh with the poor, but also so loved amassing riches that it seems he only grudgingly spent them on himself. You know the story well: a man who manages to turn his life around after seeing how money has corrupted him, even depriving him of getting married, and if he doesn’t change, he risks dying unloved, unmourned, and with worse to follow in the next life.

There is also a true story that took place in the middle of the nineteenth century, also concerning riches – the Great Train Robbery of May, 1855. Edward Pierce plotted together with various accomplices to steal £12,000 in gold bullion from a train heading to Folkestone. The plan was elaborate, and in its execution he could have ended up falling off the top of a railway carriage. They managed to get away with the gold, but he was arrested, tried and found guilty. Unfortunately, he managed to escape on his way to prison. It was a crime that shocked Victorian society: not just because of the amount of gold that was taken, or the audacity of the plan, obtaining the necessary keys to get to the gold, and getting enough lead shot to replace the gold to cover his tracks - there were other crimes involving large sums of money and elaborate plots also taking place around the same era. What so shocked Victorian society was that it was an attack on progress, the progress that had been brought by the railway, which they believed would eliminate all sorts of criminal behaviour and make us into a better society. People were slowly learning the hard way that technology does not necessarily mean the moral improvement of society. As the criminologists Barnes and Teeters were to write in 1949, “Most offenses are committed through greed, not need” [quoted in the novel The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton]. At the time of Vatican II in the 1960s, the Council re-affirmed that technology alone will not stop crime, yet even today, we can sometimes fall into the trap

of thinking that if we just get the right cameras, the right laws, and the right paperwork, then crime will be a thing of the past.

St John the Baptist knew better. He knew that the battle needs to be waged in the human heart. There is a need for moral principles – one of the problems we have today is that people don’t think morally – they do something because they feel like it. It’s a bit like the slogan “Just do it”. No. Don’t. Stop and think. Our moral thinking is also today paralysed by the idea of not wanting to judge others. But there are two dimensions to judging: we can’t know with certainty people’s background and why they act the way they do; we can’t assess their moral culpability – we have to leave that to God. But what we can judge is that certain things people do are wrong. Otherwise, what’s the whole point of a criminal justice system? But sin and breaking the law are not always the same thing. There are things that are a sin, which are not against the law. It’s not illegal, for example, to miss Mass on a Sunday. And there can be certain times when it’s not a sin to break the law – not always, I hasten to add. But there can be at times unjust laws that have no authority and run contrary to God’s Law. When that is the case, they can be broken with a clean conscience. God always comes first, not the sometimes mistaken or badly-framed laws put together by human parliaments. As St Thomas More said, “I am the king’s good servant, and God’s first”.

St Paul famously said, “ ‘The love of money is the root of all evils’ and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds” (1 Tim 6:10). Perhaps today we can examine our own hearts. What are my attitudes towards money, towards acquiring material goods, and looking after those in need? To what extent do I follow the bad examples around me, and to what extent do I allow my faith to shape my life, and influence wider society? What do I need to bring to the Lord in confession this Advent?