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Friday, October 14, 2011

The retreat and a sermon from Oxford

- Max von Sydow plays chess with Death in The Seventh Seal

That Creighton University online retreat has begun - while it's possible to make the retreat at any time, to be in sync with the liturgical year, one starts in the fall. The next few weeks (5, 6, and 7) are about sin. I hate this part of the retreat, especially the use of the word "sin" .... it seems so dated and over the top and reminds me of the flagellants in The Seventh Seal - eek!

But today I was reading a sermon that Keith Ward preached at The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford (see their sermon archive), and I was struck by how he explained the badness that I think the retreat is referring to. Here's a bit of what he said ......


[...] Human greed, hatred, pride and the lust for power, have corrupted the human world, and destroyed the lives of millions of people by the gross injustice, exploitation and violence that are the tragic marks of human history. It is these things that fall under divine judgment, for they have frustrated God’s purpose that humans should learn to live together in understanding, kindness, and love.

If we ever come to see our lives as they really are, in the context of God’s eternal purpose, we will see our complicity in the failures and corruptions of the world, and we will see the destruction and death that follows from our seemingly small acts of selfishness and greed. To see that clearly, with all its horrific consequences for the world, is already a form of judgment, for it is to see what we could have been and what we have failed to be, and the terrible consequences, both for others and for ourselves, of our failure. If we ever see that clearly, our problem would be how to go on living with ourselves and with knowledge of the world’s tragedy and our failure to deal with it in ourselves and in our daily lives with others. At the very least, it would seem, there would need to be some form of punishment. That punishment would involve coming to see and in some way to feel the harm we have done. It would involve some form of attempted recompense and personal penitential sacrifice, however inadequate that may seem.

The sermon is pretty long, but I wanted to post another part of it that has to do with universal salvation. Like Hans Urs von Balthasar, I like to hope no one goes to hell, and in fact I'd like to believe there is no such place at all, even for those people that CS Lewis thinks want to go there of their own free will (I really hate that idea). Keith Ward seems to agree with me (I think). He also has a view of how people can try to be good .....

The nature of God’s love is spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount, where we are told to ‘be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5, 48). The sermon spells out that perfection, and it includes love of enemies (Mat. 5, 44), and forgiveness which is elsewhere said to be without limit (Mat. 18, 22). God cannot be less perfect than we are called to be, and so we must believe – and this is indeed good news for most of us – that God loves even God’s enemies, and forgives them without limit. Whatever love of enemies is, it is not torturing them in flames forever. It has to include caring for their welfare, never giving up on them, and endlessly seeking to turn them towards life and joy, if at all possible (and all things are possible for God) ....

What is that beginning of the path to salvation? We cannot know - remember Jesus’ teaching that we should not judge, for we do not know the secrets of human hearts. But we may suppose that God requires the pursuit of a number of things by those on the way to salvation. First, we must be open to the truth as it seems to us to be. Truth must not be distorted by prejudice, hatred, or selective and partial judgments. We must follow our consciences, even if we happen to be objectively in error, though we must also always seek to make our consciences, our moral sense, more sensitive and informed. Second, we must seek to respond to the claims of altruism and benevolence, and turn from selfishness and greed. Third, we must find some liberation from the imperious claims of anger, hatred, passion, and attachment to possessions and pride. We must be selfless and mindful, compassionate and non-attached, and in that way become sensitive to the beauty and wonder of the world. Fourth, knowing the weakness of our hearts, we must be penitent for our failures to seek truth resolutely, to practice altruism genuinely, and to achieve fullness of life. We must be aware of our limitations and failures, as far as we can, and yet resolve to go on with patience, endurance, and hope in facing the challenges our lives bring to us.

Sometimes I find being a person so daunting, even given the fairly upbeat take of people like Keith Ward. Must go drink coffee :)


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