1st Sunday in Lent 2016
Saint Valentine’s Day
May the words spoken be to the greater glory of God and the advance of the Gospel, in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Everything in our church calendar is so much earlier this year. Here we are on the First Sunday in Lent, which happens also to be Valentine’s Day…only 14 days into February. Christmas seems only to have been a few weeks ago…and it was!
Well, be that as it may, it is the First Sunday in Lent and it is Valentine’s Day. So let’s start with a brief synopsis of who Saint Valentine was and why actually, he remains important in our church calendar, above and beyond the obvious commercial presence this day has in the secular year. As it happens, Saint Valentine and what he is known for, not simply Valentine’s Day, does in fact, relate closely to the imperatives we have for our penitential reflection during the Season of Lent…and indeed, our daily lives as Christian people.
Saint Valentine’s full title in the Martyrology of the Roman Catholic Communion is Saint Valentine of Rome. He was a third century saint and since the Middle Ages has been commemorated on 14th February. Although very little is actually known about him, Valentine is regarded as personifying courtly love. Courtly love, which we know well from tales of knights in shining armour rushing off to do all kinds of heroic deeds to please their ladies, is about chivalry and nobility. Moreover, though, in essence courtly love was considered to be an honourable experience of relationship developed in the context of erotic desire blended with spiritual attainment.
Phew...it’s difficult to even say all that without getting a bit breathless!
What is not mentioned in that list of courtly love characteristics, is the intrinsic element of commitment to one another, which really is the foundation of any robust relationship. Adoration, desire, mutual trust, respect, care, fidelity, communication…these are all necessary ingredients of what might be wrapped up in the word love (not to mention passion, chivalry and honour), but commitment is fundamental to a living love…the commitment to feel and do all those other things we regard as ‘being in love’ and in ‘a loving relationship’. When the commitment ceases, so often does real love in the relationship.
It is here in the meaning of the word commitment that we find the link between Valentine’s Day and Lent…or at least the persona of Saint Valentine of Rome and our living faith…for in a living relationship, giving up and taking on tasks, attitudes, shared burdens and mutual enjoyment, are things of commitment.
In this Lenten Season when we give up some things and possibly take on some new ones, we do so as a mark of our commitment to the way of Christ. In our commitment, we build and strengthen the link between ourselves and God through Christ. If not attributed with this kind of commitment, Valentine’s courtly love certainly implies it.
For our faith to be a living faith, it cannot exist without love, incorporating all the elements of love that come from real commitment.
God commits to us unconditionally in forgiveness, reconciliation and above all his acceptance of us…just as we are. His is real ‘love’. Our baptismal commission is to reciprocate that love, following the Two Great Commandments of Christ…to love the Lord our God and to love one another…that in itself, returns to God the kind of love that reflects true commitment to our relationship with Him.
In our humanity, perhaps the most commonly held sense of commitment is evident in the intimacy of two people in a loving relationship. The law of our country enables men and women to marry and now also, for same sex couples to marry. It’s a legal thing but moreover, it’s society recognising the authenticity of love and commitment by two people who wish to share their lives together fulsomely and wholesomely. It is in our humanity, showing respect, one to another, across the broad spectrum of our society, where in law, no one is excluded from equal recognition.
We know that the church hasn’t reached this point of discernment yet, which is an issue that continues to divide our Communion and exclude some of us from the sacrament of marriage.
You will know that there is much I could say and have said previously about that but suffice to say this morning, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ that inspires my life and draws me to God, is one of complete equality, justice and respect for all by one another, underlined by the teaching of Jesus that God’s love and blessing is for everyone. No one is excluded.
To exclude anyone of sincere faith commitment from any sacrament, be it Holy Communion, forgiveness and reconciliation, baptism or marriage, is in my view antipathetic to the message and intent of the Gospel.
At the heart of the sacraments is God’s love and commitment to us that His Grace Gifts are freely given. In reciprocating that love, we express our commitment to the Way of Christ in all things and therefore, we enable the sacraments to be alive in us. Sincerity of commitment then, regardless of our individual life characteristics, is the key to accessing the sacraments in word and action.
So let’s consider another form of commitment. Today, Father Wayne has just made promises before God and the Church that he will live in a personal faith perspective of prayer and action according to The rule of Life first set down by Saint Benedict some 1500 or so years ago.
The Rule has modified somewhat over time but intrinsically, it is as Benedict wrote it for a community of faith who wished to commit themselves to a life of prayer and action in the Way of Christ. This commitment incorporated some sacrifices and a dedication to a common life that included a cycle of daily prayer, study and work. Just as with a two-person loving relationship, commitment to others in the complexity of our human selves, means compromise, self-sacrifice and devotion to an ideal. This is what Saint Benedict formalised for his monks.
The early communities who lived and now live together have taken many forms and used different Rules over time, especially as they have been formed and influenced by other Saints such as Francis, Vincent, Ignatius and of course, Our Lady in one or other of her dedications to for instance, acts of Mercy and specific miraculous events.
The so-called ‘new monasticism’ is gaining momentum around the world as many of those in Third Order relationships with First Order religious communities, or perhaps other individual and group expressions of Oblation to a Rule of Faith and Life for Religious Orders, come themselves to be regarded as communities of faith, committed to that expression of being in Christ.
This is so for those Benedictine Oblates who become Associates of the Order of the Holy Cross, such as Fr Wayne this morning, with Ken, Andy and myself in this place. Others here in the Society of Saint Francis, or the Confraternity of the Blesséd Sacrament or other self-identified group, re-commit daily to their professed intent to follow Christ in the way their Rule of Faith and Life enables them.
Commitment! This is as it is for all Christians. Personal, individual Commitment to Christ as it is marked out by Baptism and lived out in our personal prayer and daily living, including our regular participation in the sacraments of the church.
Jesus was challenged by commitment. He had to struggle with figuring out God’s will for him and his ministry and as the Gospel passage today tells us, Jesus spent forty days Jesus wandering in the desert while being tempted by Satan to deny his Father and to fall into sin. What kept him firm in his faith was his commitment…his commitment to being in an active relationship with his Father, seeking the truth and the right way forward. Here we see a part of the real commitment of Jesus, which leads eventually to his death fully embracing that commitment.
Christ and our life in him is about commitment…it’s all about commitment.
Why do we come to church every Sunday? Fellowship, morning tea and the words of Jesus that when two or three are gathered together he will be with us…these are in themselves all good reasons to go to church…but really, we choose to come to church out of a commitment to worship God and give thanks for the reality that we are all loved by Him and to give back through our commitment to Him in Christ, our acknowledgment of that love.
There are at times good reasons why we don’t make it to church here or elsewhere and I certainly don’t judge anyone in that regard but for our sense…our wish I assume…for our commitment to be authentic, especially in our faith tradition, gathering for Eucharist is above all other things we might like or want to do on a Sunday morning, especially at times of particular commitment focus such as Easter Day and Christmas Day.
In our worship tradition here there are numerous times when we want to be in church together as a faith community. We want to participate together in the sacraments that nourish us and feed our faith…and we do that because as followers of Christ, we are committed to and needy of those sacraments to keep us whole in body, mind and spirit.
“We do not live by bread alone”, says Jesus to Satan in St Luke’s Gospel. He turns away from the riches of this world promised him if he denies his Heavenly Father, stating that to be all that he is meant to be, the Holy Spirit must infuse, guide and strengthen him for something greater than worldly wealth…his taoanga, his precious richness, that he teaches us how to embrace, is the eternal love, care and everlasting relationship that is found through the mutuality of commitment between God and each one of us.
Commitment is that at the core of our faith, as it is at the core of any loving relationship. That sense of commitment is central to our penitential reflection activity of Lent, be is through prayer, study or fasting…or whatever we choose as something focused to mark out this season, just as we were marked by the Sign of the Cross on Ash Wednesday when we take into our hearts the words, “From dust you came and from dust you will return.” These are salutary words that acknowledge our human existence but within the whole of our being, they incorporate our spiritual selves. In this act, we are committing ourselves to the hope and trust in the promises of Christ.
Just so, commitment is central to the kind of love characterised by Saint Valentine and this is what brings what has become a commercial artefact into focus for our expression of faith, where an honourable love, a profoundly felt committed love of one another, can be seen also by us, from and for God who through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, gave us the ultimate expression and gift of love…given for each one of us equally and is fully committed…committed for all time.
In the Name of the father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.