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2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Quite a few years ago, I was visiting the headmaster at our parish primary

school. I hadn’t been a naughty boy – I can’t remember the exact reason. The

deputy head then happened to bring along two boys that had been caught

fighting. The head questioned the first boy, and then got the second boy to tell

his side of the story. After that, he then gave them such a telling off that I

thought the two boys did well not to burst into tears.


Sometimes, our view of God the Father can be that of a strict headmaster,

someone that we avoid because we are scared of what He might have to say to

us. Sometimes, people use the phrase, don’t they, of “Oh, he’ll put the fear of

God into them”, and perhaps certain programmes we might have watched or

films we have seen might give us the idea of God being a God of thunder and

lightening.


When Christ is transfigured on the mountain, you can imagine this sort of thing

going through Peter’s mind. The Lord is radiant in glory, with Moses and

Elijah appearing at His side, and Peter makes his comment about putting up

tents. It says that Peter “did not know what to say; they were so frightened”.

Maybe James and John were too dumbfounded to speak.


The Old Testament speaks about “the fear of the Lord”, and in the psalms it

says that, “The fear of the Lord is the first stage of wisdom; all who do so

prove themselves wise” (Ps 110 (111):10). If I may sound a bit controversial,

the fear of the Lord is an important concept. In fact, when the new translation

of the Rite of Confirmation came out a few years ago, one of the changes was

that, whilst previously one of the prayers spoke about “awe and wonder in

God’s presence”, now it speaks of the “fear of the Lord”. So what is this fear

of God all about? You might think, well, Father, you’ve already preached

about hell once before, so is this where the conversation is going? On this

occasion, no. We need to understand what “the fear of the Lord” is, and what it

is not.


So if we see it as just being like a scared animal quivering in a corner, then that

is not a very good way to think of our relationship with God, including God the

Father, and that is not what “the fear of the Lord” is all about. Rather, it is

about having an appropriate respect for God. In the first reading, Abraham is

put to the test, and, once he has passed the test, it says that the angel of the Lord

said to him, “Do not raise your hand against the boy ... Do not harm him, for

now I know you fear God”. By that test, Abraham had showed that his fear of

God, his desire to do what God wants, was greater than even his innate fatherly

instinct to protect his son. We can unpack it a bit and show that it says that, for

Abraham, God is God – His ways comes first, regardless of what he was

planning. If God says so, then that’s what we’re doing, even if I don’t

understand why.


That then needs to be the underpinning of how we relate to God – appropriate

respect, avoiding the two extremes of either cowering in a corner, or, at the

other end of the spectrum, becoming over-confident and telling God what to do,

or arguing that our way is best. And when we look at the Our Father, the prayer

given us by Jesus Himself, the second line of the Our Father says “hallowed be

thy name”, which means we are praying for appropriate respect for God, for

His name, and of course for holy places and things. In this parish we are

privileged in that the church can be left open during the day for people to come

in and pray whenever they want to, whilst in other parts of the country,

churches have to be locked. In one of the parishes where I was on placement in

Birmingham, the Parish Priest said to me at the time that he never wanted to

have to lock the church, but on one occasion someone tried to set fire to it, so

after that it was locked and alarmed. But wouldn’t it be great if in society, it

was taken as the norm that churches are respected, that Christ is respected as

the One who guides everyone’s life and informs the laws of the country?

Around a hundred years ago, a convert son of the Archbishop of Canterbury,

Robert Hugh Benson, wrote a novel called The Dawn of All – that’s “all” as in

“a” “double ll”, as in everything. It begins with a bad priest who is seriously

ill, and who suddenly gets transported to the 1970s, only to discover that

England, as well as the rest of the world, is in the process of rapidly becoming

Catholic again. All the old cathedrals are back in Catholic hands, the monks

have moved back into Westminster Abbey, and the government consults the

Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster on important matters of legislation. There

are still pockets of resistance, strong at times, but in many ways it is truly a

golden age. When we pray, “hallowed by thy name”, we pray not only for

God’s name to be held in appropriate honour and respect, but also for

everything that unfolds from that.


“The fear of the Lord is the first stage of wisdom; all who do so prove

themselves wise” (Ps 110 (111):10). Next week, we’ll explore another

dimension of the Our Father, and if you want to read The Dawn of All, it’s

available for free on the internet – all perfectly legal.

 

Curious about exploring things further?  If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at stjoseph.thame@rcaob.org.uk

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