“I can’t be bothered ” – Feast of Christ the King 2011

 

“I can’t be bothered”. I don’t know if you ever feel like that?  I do, especially this time of year. Perhaps it’s a natural response to the winter darkness, when hibernation seems a good idea. Perhaps it’s a response to the hassle of Christmas. So much to do; constant demands on one’s time and on one’s wallet. Then there’s all the everyday demands on one’s energies – and sometimes one gets fed-up of trying and failing, fed-up of being knocked back, fed-up of the same old round. “I just can’t be bothered this year”.

 

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people.

The traditional prayer for this Sunday was understood as a reminder that the Christmas pudding should be made now, if it is to be ready for Christmas dinner. There was a custom for every one in the household to have a go at stirring the mixture, full of good fruits, as the Collect says. But it’s also a reminder to “be bothered” with Christmas and with all that it means. Our will is that aspect of us that wants things, that makes decisions, that deals with determination and persistence. It can speak of steadfast purpose or even of stubbornness. It’s quite a toddler virtue. Heaven help the passerby who gets between Victor and the toyshop. It’s quite the opposite to “I can’t be bothered”; apathetic, drifting, bored – the classic teen syndrome. The old spiritual writers talked about the sin of accidie, or sloth; a sort of boredom and fed-up-ness that corrodes the soul; a sort of depression that leads us to miss opportunities for good works; that slowly and surely kills our spark of love for God and anyone else. So we pray today: “Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people”. Like the fire that is nearly going out, we rouse ourselves to get the poker going, and put some more coal on.

 

That they, plenteously bearing the fruit of good works, may of you be plenteously rewarded.

It’s a beautifully culinary image: if you put in lots and lots of currants and raisins and mixed peel and stout and rum or whatever your recipe requires; and if you do all the hard work of cleaning the fruit and stirring the heavy mixture; and if you have the patience to wait during the long steaming, and then again till the pudding matures; you will be rewarded on Christmas Day with gastronomic heaven. Of course not every one likes rich pudding; and often those who like it best are not the ones who have done all the hard labour; but no image is ever perfect. It’s nice to think, though, that your Christmas pudding is teaching you a spiritual lesson: you get out of life what you put in; we are not meant to be slothful couch potatoes, but as stirred up and full of good fruits as that most beautiful of desserts.

In our Gospel today, the King judges the people of the world, and divides them into sheep and goats. What is the criterion by which he determines the blessèd and the cursed? The practical love of the neighbour. Did you feed the hungry, water the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoner? No fancy questions about scripture or theology or who you slept with. The measure of your love for God is the way you treat your neighbour, and especially the way you are a good neighbour to the needy. Then as now, there must have been loads of chancers willing to exploit the generosity of others. It’s very annoying, and you begin to say, “I can’t be bothered”. But we should be bothered! And perhaps we need to stir up not only our wills but also our imaginations, so that instead of making excuses we find ever new ways of loving God in our neighbour. It’s not necessarily about money. But we can give kindness; patience; time; attention; kindly thoughts and kindly words.

Frederic Ozanam was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris during the 19th century. Paris is a city of contrasts: he was surrounded by intellectuals, all talking about politics and values and putting the world to rights. But everywhere he went he met poverty. All the talking was not going to feed or clothe the poor. So he founded a society of fellow-Christians in order to serve Christ in the poor, performing the practical works of mercy described in today’s Gospel. He named his society after another Frenchman who had cared for the poor in his part of Paris: St Vincent de Paul. And as you know, the work continues all over the world, as ordinary people share resources and go out to help their neighbours. It would be a harsher place if they said, “I can’t be bothered”.

There was a children’s hymn in the old book, which ties it all together very nicely:

We have a King who came to earth to win the world for God,

and we, the children of the King, must follow where he trod.

The banner that our King unfurled was love to every man,

so we must try to show that love in all the ways we can.

(Margaret Cropper)

 

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