Fr Neil’s homily for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, 8 August 2021

Picture via pxhere.comThey shall be taught by God…anyone who has heard and learnt from the Father comes to Me.¹

The genuine, heartfelt search for God will not lead to a plurality of destinations but to the singular divine truth that is Christ. Christ is the clearest revelation of God, his divine will, the nature of creation and the true state of humanity.

Yet how am I to hear and learn from God? Far too often we have a simplified understanding of learning. We often think that learning is just about imparting information. The teacher gives the student information and the student remembers that information and thus has learnt it. But this is only one of at least three forms of knowing. If our knowledge of something lies only in the propositional stage of description then it remains only in the realms of intellectual ideas. Knowledge that remains ideas alone are open to debate, acceptance and rejection. How often have you come across a person who as a real twisted view of God or who thinks the idea of God is too extraordinary to accept?

The propositional form of knowledge is essential but cannot stand alone. For example, there are many people who live in landlocked countries and who have never visited the sea. You might try to describe to a person who has never seen the sea what an ocean is like. It could be vast, wet, deep, tidal, cold, inviting, fun, and yet also dangerous for those who do not respect it. You have given the person an idea of what the sea is like — but it remains only an intellectual idea in their head. Others might say to them, “No the ocean is not like that,” describing something different.

What you want to do is invite that person to come and view the sea. Propositional knowledge becomes observational knowledge. When they look at the sea for the first time they will compare your description to what they observe and see how well it matches up. They almost certainly will understand the limitations of your description of the reality that they observe. This observational knowledge changes their perception and understanding, but it is still inadequate.

It’s difficult to be on the coast, especially in summer, and not want to jump into the water! This is what we might call immersive knowledge. Only by this engagement with the sea are they able to experience what you have tried to describe, when saying the ocean is inviting, fun, cold, wet and the need for a little healthy fear. All three forms of knowledge are essential and enable us to be changed by the learning experience.

These three ways of knowing have a dynamic interplay with each other that enables us to discover a clearer image of what we thought the ocean was and to be changed in ourselves because of the engaged relationship with the sea.

These three ways of knowing are critical if we are to hear and be taught by the Father who leads to Christ as ‘the Bread of Life.’ There has been a recognition that for too long we have taught catechesis seekers, First Holy Communion and confirmation candidates in a manner that sees faith as information to impart, forgetting the observational and immersive ways of learning.

This propositional approach alone has given ideas to people, especially the young, that are competing with the thinking of wider society that is often in opposition, overwhelming, louder, persistent, popular and which justifies some of our more base desires. We have often left the teaching of the faith to our Catholic schools and children’s liturgists forgetting the observational and immersive knowledge of the faith lived out at home as well as at church.

Descriptions of the God in whom we believe are vitally important as they provide the language and boundaries by which we can explore a relationship with God — they are our doctrine. But this doctrine, these propositions, are not enough on their own. When Christ was asked which was the greatest commandment he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”² True knowledge of God requires the engagement of our entire being, heart, soul and mind.

Evangelisation, giving a reason for the faith you have, necessarily has a great deal of propositional knowledge about it. But our children and those who are truly seeking will also want to see whether our words match up with our actions: how we act towards one another, within our families, at work, in leisure; do we pray; are we reading the scriptures; how do we act around the celebration of the mass? This exposes others to the observational knowledge of our claims and is a critical part of the journey of knowing whether or not we do have a relationship with Christ.

The immersive knowledge is to be open to the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit. It means our engaging in prayer is not just a matter of reciting set words as if they were magical formulas but a communing with God in which words may not be used at all. It is the reading of scripture not just as a historic document but in a spiritual manner in which our heart and the heart of Christ speak to one another³. It is to believe — meaning to hold dear, esteem, trust and love — Christ who is by his grace and mercy made present in the sacrament of the mass. It is to believe that this is food for the journey, the bread of life that is life itself which aids us on our pilgrimage to him who is our heart’s desire. It is to ascend the mountain of God and enter into his holy presence.

“Anyone who has heard and learnt from the Father comes to Me.”

¹ John 6:45
² Luke 10:27
³ Cf “Heart speaks unto heart”, the motto of Cardinal St John Henry Newman