Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Video | Order of Mass

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Anonymous, via pxhere.comPaul asks this question in his letter to the Romans and provides one of the most beautifully reassuring passages of scripture.

This section of Romans 8 is often chosen at funerals to speak of the never failing promises of God. “If God is for us who can be against us?” The answer is that nothing in heaven or earth can separate us from the love of Christ.

These beautiful words of assurance however mustn’t slip into a naive Protestant mind set, based on a misunderstanding of the text. What this passage is not saying is that, once we’ve given our life to Christ and been baptised, salvation is guaranteed no matter what you or I do with our lives from here on in. This is to abuse the scriptures and misrepresent Paul and his spiritual reflection on the salvific work of Christ.

Paul makes it very clear in Galatians 5:19–21 that there are indeed actions that we take that can deny us heavenly glory.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

The only thing then that can separate us from Christ is ourselves. However, even if we fall and fall badly, our Lord always provides a way back for those willing to take it.

The sacrament of confession allows us a way back into the promise of God’s never failing love and assurance of salvation. As Paul says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

To understand what Paul is actually saying here in Romans, we need to look at the list of things which he says cannot separate us from Christ in response to his rhetorical question. The first list asks: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Paul is writing to the Church in Rome who are beginning to experience the persecutions and martyrdoms that will mark so much of the Church’s life throughout the centuries. Paul’s emphatic answer is “No!” Things external to ourselves cannot undo what God has done. Whatever may happen to the body through persecution by ridicule, rejection, torture or even martyrdom cannot undo Christ’s work of salvation in us.

What to the world might look like an absolute disaster and failure in a battered and persecuted Church, is in fact none other than a reflection of Christ’s journey to Calvary and an act of atonement for the salvation of the world. All who follow Christ are called to pick up their cross and follow him — an element of suffering is to be expected.

Paul’s theology of the cross doesn’t end with the atonement, important though that is. He sees more going on which is revealed by his second list of things that cannot separate us from Christ:

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul’s also sees the Cross as a moment of victory, a victory against all principalities and powers. A victory over Satan and his corrupted angels, the demons. Here Paul shares a common thought with John who carries the theme throughout his gospel of the Cross being the place where Christ is lifted up to glory. We are victors with Christ over the demonic elements that once held us in slavery to sin and death having been over come by Christ on the cross.

In Colossians 2:14–15 Paul says:

having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.

We may well often have to “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” as we have given into temptation but what we cannot claim is the devil made me do it — he doesn’t have that power over us anymore.

Although our sanctification then is played out on the back drop of the spiritual warfare in the heavenly realms, we can be assured that nothing in heaven or earth can wrestle us out of the arms of our Lord. Therefore we have a wonderful promise that we should remind ourselves of and treasure in our hearts. The love of God, revealed in the sacred heart has not passively waited for our return but actively sought to find us, bear us home and restore us to an even greater dignity than we had before.

This is love and it is this perfect love that drives out all fear. The fear of death, hell, the principalities, powers and eternal separation from Christ. The depth to which we know of such love will reveals the faith or lack of faith we see in our Church at the present time.

However, for those who have grasped these spiritual realities we trust that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”