Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter 2011

Apologies to the golfers amongst us who may have heard this story.

'I think we've found it, sir,' cried the caddy to his golfer as he stood over the ball in among the trees, a long way from the fairway. 'That can't be it,' said the golfer, 'this ball's too old.' 'Well it is a long time since we teed off,' replied the caddy. An hour or so later the group had made it to the next hole and were walking toward the green. However, the golfer was getting frustrated at the caddy who kept looking at his wristwatch. Finally he said testily, 'Will you stop doing that. It's too distracting. I don't care what time it is.' Looking suitably apologetic the caddy replied, 'Sorry, but this isn't a watch. It's a compass.'

Once upon a time the Churches had a monopoly on spirituality. If you wanted to connect with God the way you did it was to go to Church. Now it is very different. The traditional church is but one voice amongst many offering a "spirituality". So much so, that for a time some claimed that the Christian church was on the way out. That of course made all the churches nervous and defensive. Even so, a personally discovered sense of the divine is essential even for a church goer. Organised religions can be very sterile places if they are just systems of belief to which we assent without question. There has to be a personal, intimate experience of the divine in our lives if our gathering as a Church is to be life-giving. The claim of that experience is the basis of the success of many of the newer churches. And that experience is not easily found within the walls of Churches for people of this generation. So we have all kinds of spirituality blossoming, eco-spirituality, men's spirituality, women's spirituality, and many others.

People do discover that a purely individual spirituality, however we might describe it, is not all they need. God is certainly there responding to our personal hunger in all these movements. But God also has a hunger for the fulfilment of all humanity and all creation. God wants us to be part of the divine life of the Trinity.

Jesus says in the Gospel today those uncompromising words, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except by me" (John 14:6) Those words have often been taken in a very exclusive sense that only his disciples, or only Catholics, or only Baptists, could get to heaven. But Jesus was by no means excluding all those faithful people who went before him nor all those who came after him did not have any chance of knowing him. That was not his agenda. The background to John's gospel helps us here. It was written in the last years of the first century when the Christians were coming to terms with their expulsion from the synagogues. They were regarded as heretics by their compatriot Jews. Also the growing persecution of them by the Romans put them on the defensive. Here in John they are reassured that Jesus, inspite of all the weight of their religious monotheistic tradition, is nevertheless, the one to follow. They did follow him. Some even to death by martyrdom. Like them our conversion is to know him. For whoever has seen him has seen the Father.

Last week I spoke of the great loss that St Peter experienced at Jesus passion and death. And the depths to which he sunk personally. Before that we heard of the loss experienced by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and their rediscovery of Jesus in the breaking of bread. We do have to enter the depths of our own darkness sometimes if our faith is to be real. It is often only when we are stripped of all our sureties that there is room for God to speak to us. And God's light can shine on our darkness and loss. That is where our prayer, meditation and contemplation enables our personal encounter with the divine. And there is no one way to do this. It is very personal.

One image that is used to describe our situation is that of roots and wings. Religion is our roots, spirituality is our wings. Our roots give us stability and provide nourishment for our life. Our wings like those of a bird that can fly in and out of the branches of the tree give us freedom and opportunity to grow. We need both. Or to put it another in another image we need both water and fire. The water of baptism establishes us as the people of God and provides the solid foundation for our life together. The fire of the Holy Spirit renews us and makes us free to live a life of love and service. The one is predictable, the other is passionate. It is Easter and Pentecost. A current illustration of this would be the new translation of the Missal. Many years of work and discussion and argument go into making sure it is done well. But it is all a pointless formality unless those who use it are living a life of love by the Holy Spirit.

We are celebrating Easter in these weeks. The Easter of the water Baptism. We will finish the Easter season celebrating Pentecost and the fire of the Holy Spirit who works where it will. Golf balls sometime land where they will. The golfer may need a compass to find the way. We follow Jesus our Way.

Fr Graham