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What would you think if someone claimed to be a poached egg?

January 19, 2013

Mgr Louis McRaye is the oldest priest in our Diocese, now  98 years old. A lovely man, I was astonished to find that during the 1930s he was tutored at Oxford University by the  outstanding Christian apologist C. S. Lewis. I said, “Let me shake your hand, then I can say I shook hands with a man who shook hands with C.S. Lewis.” Quick as a flash, Mgr. McRaye replied, “Oh certainly not. He would not shake my hand. He was at a different College!”

I quoted CS Lewis in my homily last night for his forthright analysis of what it must means when someone says they forgive someone else’s sins.

The Gospel referred to is Mark 2:1-12                    

Let me tell you about a remarkable Christian from the Church of England who has been a major influence on Christians, including Catholics, over the last 75 years. You may have heard of him. No, I’m not talking about Blessed John Henry Newman. I’m talking about someone called C. S. Lewis. He lived between 1898 and 1963. He was born in Belfast and baptised into the Church of Ireland, which is part of the Anglican Church. However, he stopped going to church when he was a teenager. Lewis went on to become a brilliant academic at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. And it was whilst working at Oxford that he became close friends with another academic, who happened to be a Catholic, whose name was J.R.R. Tolkien.

 And as you all know, Tolkien was the world-famous author of, amongst other things, the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien lived as a child near Sarehole Mill at 264 Wake Green Road – about a mile away from here, and he would stand on the railway bridge 100 yards up from our railway station here in Hall Green, reading the strange Welsh words he saw on the trains passing through, which later triggered his imagination to write about Elvish, the weird language of The Middle Earth in The Hobbit.

 It was the influence of his Catholic friend Tolkien and other Christian friends which led C.S. Lewis, at the age of 32, to start practising his faith again.

 Lewis’ faith became very strong and it had a profound influence on his life. During and after the Second World War he became famous for his writing and radio broadcasts as a ‘Christian apologist’. Now, that doesn’t mean he was apologizing all the time! The original meaning of the word meant someone who explained things. Lewis himself said that he was “a very ordinary layman of the Church of England”, but he took it upon himself to explain the meaning of Christianity in ordinary ways for ordinary people. He wrote many marvelous books for adults that explain Christianity which are still read today. I would recommend them as being really inspiring.

 But one of the things Lewis said was that no-one became a Christian because they had read books on theology. He said that what needed to happen was for Christians to take a full part in the world around them so that others would come in to contact with a Christian view of the world. Which was indeed his own experience of returning to the faith after meeting Tolkien and other Christians at Oxford. Lewis said this was the way in which people became active Christians, by coming into contact with Christians who lived out their faith. And it was only once they were active Christians that they might perhaps consider reading books to learn more about Christianity.

 So Lewis’ advice was that Christians should spread the Christian message through whatever they did in their ordinary lives – the world needs Christian bus drivers, Christian nurses, Christian teachers, Christian shop assistants, and so on. And he said that because he was a professor of English literature, he would practice what he preached by using his talents to write entertaining books for children that would introduce them to Christian morals in a way that stimulated their imagination, in a fun way rather than the miserable way so much stuff is presented in church. And so today Lewis is probably most famous as the man who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia.

 In today’s gospel, Jesus unashamedly reveals to people that He is God. Jesus did not limit Himself to healing physical illnesses – astonishing miracles in themselves – but he also delivered spiritual healing: he publicly forgave the sins of those people He helped. For the scribes we heard described in the gospel this evening, this was nothing but outrageous blasphemy. Because only God could forgive sins. They could only see the man Jesus. But we now know that Jesus is indeed God.

 So, on this first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, as a sign of the unity there is to be had between Christians of different traditions, I would now like to read to you an extract from Part 19 of C.S. Lewis’ book called ‘Mere Christianity’, in which he ponders on Jesus’ claims to be God:

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