Septuagesima Sunday 24.1.16 The Promised Land
The Israelites took 40 years to reach the Promised Land. If they had walked in a straight line it is estimated they would have got there in 11 days!
The main reason that things took so long was that they continuously rebelled against God, either by complaining, or disobeying, or doubting Him.
If they had simply kept their heads down, their mouths shut, and done as they were told, they would have arrived much sooner.
So we are much wiser than they were? Highly doubtful. The human race in every generation seems to repeat the same sins, and for the same reason.
Pride, stubbornness, lusts of the flesh - all have their impact. God is routinely ignored, mocked, disregarded. And we make things much harder for ourselves as a result.
If we could think of our lives as a pathway from earth to Heaven then the straightest line would be one which required humility, obedience, gratitude and the like.
Clearly our ancestors did not take that straight line. And we are not doing much better. But we could do better.
This is one of the reasons we come here – to receive wisdom, and mercy, and grace for the future.
And it is why the Church gives us seasons like Septuagesima, and Lent, and Advent – penitential seasons, which actually cover 13 out of 52 weeks.
So much time is needed to address the problem of Sin. Sin is that peculiar thing that takes us backwards when we want to go forwards.
I met a lady once who thought it was a pity that the Church starts every Mass with a mention of sin. She thought this was too negative a note on which to start.
It is a pity that we do sin, but while we still do we must mention it, because it does so much damage, and puts at risk whether we even reach the Promised Land.
Confessing sin is ‘negative’ but we do it to achieve a positive result. We clear away whatever is false, and that leaves us only what it is true.
If we could remove all sin we would still need to pray to remain on the right path.
If there were no need for Penance there would always be need for humility.
When saints pray they do not have a lot of sin to confess, but they do express a lot of humility. They see how inferior they are to God. And they ‘confess’ that point.
Even in Heaven the angels and saints show profound humility, knowing that they are there only because of God's goodness.
This is how we seek to be. The more we humble ourselves the more we can be raised up.
We have to work on it like the athlete (Epistle) or the labourer (Gospel) and keep at it.
It is not easy getting this right, but it is worth every effort.
And if we do find ourselves improving in holiness we never say ‘that is enough’, and ease off.
We want to make the path to Heaven as simple and straightforward as it can be. We have enough trouble with the sins of others without adding any of our own.
And we want to reach the end of our quest, where all our yearnings and strivings will be fulfilled.
We are used to having a desire than satisfying it. For example, if I am thirsty I have a cold drink and I find it refreshing. But once the thirst is gone I have no more enjoyment from the drink.
With God, there is for us a constant state of yearning, yet also enjoying as much of Him as we possess. We are always thirsty, and always relieving that thirst. That way our joy is always at its fullest.
We can begin this process now, and experience it much more fully in Heaven.
It is a lot better than travelling backwards through sin!