Sunday Week 31 Year A
“Now priests this warning is for you’, says the prophet Malachi in the first reading, ‘You have strayed from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your teaching’. This is a strong condemnation of priests. Now I don’t want to use this homily to condemn myself, nor do I want to spend it condemning you. No, but religious when it’s badly taught can do a lot of damage. It can even ruin people’s lives. How many people have been scared by bad experiences in Church. Too many people have a fear of confession because of something a priest said to them when they were a child. Yet God is supposed to love us, liberate us, make us fully alive.
There is a big difference between religion as it is taught today and as it was when I was a child. Then you never questioned; you didn’t ask why: and if I did ask my mother she would resort to the standard answer: ‘because I say so’. ‘Mum, why do I have to go to Church’. Answer: ‘Because I say so’. But in truth I never asked questions. To some extent there were no quetions to ask. Religion as then taught wasn’t meant to provoke questions. It was the same for adults; My parents if they wanted to know the answer to a moral problem they went to the priest, and he told them.
Today so much has changed. A child is encouraged to ask questions. Today when you go to a priest with a moral problem instead of answering the problem for you, he ought to throw the ball back in your court: “what do you think”. So, we are now being encouraged to ask questions and to think for ourselves. But, you know, thinking for ourselves is not easy. It’s so much easier to have someone tell you what to do, then do it. So, when your child asks you: “why should I go to church on Sunday?” be happy! Be glad, because the child is thinking.
It can happen that a child turns into an adult and never asks questions: never asks: ‘why do I go to church on Sunday’? And if they’re not asking that question then there not asking lots of questions. Questions that are vital: like who is God for you? who is Jesus Christ for you? For some these are non-sensical questions: they’d reply: ‘God is God’! What else can I say’.
The way we understand God is usually formed in childhood. The greatest influence on our image of God will be our parents, teachers and the local priest. The image of God we have as a child will stay with us until such time as we chose to either accept it or change it. But it can happen that the image of God that we grew up with isn’t really right. God was sometimes used by parents as a threat: when all else fails bring God in, the ultimate deterant: ‘if you don’t put your tongue in, God will leave it there’. ‘Or, if you cross your eyes any more, God will keep them like that’. ‘If you don’t do this or that God will not be pleased’. An adult may have to acknowledge that his or her image of God is still a threatening one. But isn’t the image we find in the Bible.
Time and time again we are told that God is Father. In the Old Testament as well as the New. In both todays readings: the first and the Gospel, God is called Father. God is loving, kind, forgiving and all merciful Father. It is one thing to hear these words, it’s another to believe it. For too many people God isn’t so understanding, nor forgiving. Rather he is a harsh Judge.
We cannot help the childhood images with which we grew up. But as adults we can question them. It’s not wrong to question. On the contrary it’s good. And the question we can be asking ourselves is: do I really believe what Jesus Christ says: do I really believe that God is my loving Father, who in spite of all my faults and failings doesn’t judge or condemn me; this is the correct and adult view of God.