In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
‘Religion is bad’. So say some very secular-minded people and they will tell you all about conflicts in, say, Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, or in India between Hindus and Muslims, or in the Middle East between Jews and Muslims. Then they will go on to tell you all about ‘wars of religion’ and all the other ‘evils’ of religion.
Of course all these conflicts and wars have existed and still exist today. But of course none of them has ever been or is about religion. In reality they are all about people grabbing power, territory and riches in the name of religion. In other words religion has been, and still is today, used by many people as an excuse, a flag, camouflage behind which they can hide their base aims. In fact there is no such thing as ‘wars of religion’, but there have been and are many wars in the name of religion.
The fact is – the Devil works very subtly. He does not openly declare his evil purpose. Rather he works his evil under the sign of the greatest good, that is, religion. He would not choose something openly bad with which to camouflage his evil. That would not be camouflage. If he were to disclose his evil aim openly, in the name of evil, he would achieve very little. The fact that he disguises evil behind the greatest good of religion means that he can achieve far more. Indeed he leads people to misuse the good of religion in all sorts of ways, and not only to grab land, power and riches. For example:
There are those who only use religion as a comfort in times of trouble. When the difficulty is passed, then people forget all about religion.
There are those who make of religion a kind of ‘niceism’, making it into a polite, wimpish convention, soft and soppy, sentimental and namby-pamby.
Then there are those who use religion as a kind of logic to justify their bad behaviour. They say: ‘It does not matter what I do, I’m a believer, therefore I’m saved and God will forgive me’.
Then there are those who use religion to be proud and superior like the Pharisee. They say: ‘Thank God that I am good and not like other people’.
Religion in reality is none of these things. In fact religion, that is our God Who is ‘an all-consuming fire’, as the Apostle Paul puts it, is the inescapable reality Who underpins the Universe. God is the one inevitable meeting in our lives, for we are made to meet Him, made to be with Him, destined to meet Him. When the world is over, whenever that will be, we shall certainly meet Him, for He made us. This meeting is called the Last Judgement.
When we think of this Last Judgement, we should not think of judges, court-rooms, juries, trials or lawyers in robes and wigs. We should think rather of being in the presence of supreme Love. It is the presence of God, that is of supreme Love, that is our Judgement.
Being in the presence of God, of Love, will warm and comfort those who have sincerely tried to follow and live by His teachings. It will utterly rejoice the hearts of those who have strived to reject evil, who have struggled to be both merciful and righteous, as is described in today’s Gospel.
But being in the presence of God, of Love, will be like a burning fire of regret to those who have lived by evil, who have lived in pride and cruelty, with hearts as hard as stone, who saw those in need and did nothing, as is described in today’s Gospel.
The presence of God for those who have tried to follow God’s Mercy and Righteousness is called Heaven.
The presence of God for those who have been neither merciful nor righteous is called Hell.
Too often, when we ourselves fall, we think of God’s Mercy and His indulgence towards us.
Too often, when we see others fall, we think of God’s Righteousness and His Judgement of them.
It would be better to think the other way round. When we fall into sin, let us rather think of God the Righteous Judge and the fate of the goats on the left-hand side. When others fall into sin, let us rather think of the Merciful God Who forgives and the fate of the sheep on the right-hand side. As it is written in the Gospels, and as we sing at every Liturgy:
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Lord have mercy on us all.