Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sexagesima Sunday 19 Feb 2017 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 19.2.17 Perseverance

St Paul knew that whatever strength he had all came from Christ.

He tells us how weak he is; while we would be saying he is a great deal stronger than the rest of us!

But the point still holds: we can get by only with the help of God's grace.

Whoever we are, whatever the task or the problem we face, it is always and only by the grace of God that we can hope to make progress.

St Paul had remarkable perseverance. How many people would keep on the same path after all that suffering - shipwrecks, floggings, imprisonments etc? (2 Cor 11 and 12)

He was being motivated by a higher power, no less than the love of God. The love that God has for the human race was overflowing onto Paul, and enabling him to do these things, and willingly. He did not count the cost: For me life is not a thing to waste words on (Acts 20,24). He was never afraid of dying, on the contrary looking forward to being with Our Lord (Ph 1,23). Full stomach or empty – it was all the same to him (Ph 4,12).

He was centred on God, to a degree which is extraordinary for its rarity; but logically, he is doing only what we all should, but hardly anyone actually does.

This is what saints do, and what they teach us – that faith in God is the most important reality in our life, and it is only logical and natural that it should take precedence over everything else.

We are not all called to be as important, or as good, as St Paul, but we can each fulfil whatever role God has for us.

So that we can say at our final judgment: I did not bury or neglect the talents I was given. I did not refuse the call; I did not simply seek my own comfort.

Paul ran to the end of the race; so must we. He was one of those alluded to in the Gospel who persevered to the end, bearing manifold fruit.

We can be a little more like Paul, and a little less like everyone else.

We could be that, we feel, if we had the strength of conviction that Paul had… but where do we find that? Again, the grace of God. God gave Paul special revelations to drive home the point, and then expected him to live out that certainty.

We are not likely to have anything so dramatic as a vision of heaven; but in more subtle ways God will give us what we need, at least for each day as it comes (daily bread).

We go back constantly to first principles: We belong to God, we are answerable to Him; we are here to do a job for Him. None of this is for self.

This is what Paul knew all along.

Our life situations vary. We cannot be all travelling on ships, proclaiming the Gospel. Most people marry, and live in a house, and have babies. That is God’s will for most of His children. Only that we should not become so settled in such a life as to forget that we are pilgrims – we, and those who belong to us.

This is not our true home (Heb 13,14).

Every day we must go back to first principles, and re-position ourselves. Lots of prayer and reflection are needed. We do this every day because, as we see, so many fall away (cf Gospel - Parable of Sower); lest we become complacent.

If we do these things, our faith will grow, and our enthusiasm. It will seem more and more the natural thing – to put God first. That is all it takes.

May St Paul, and all the saints, help us to do as they did. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Septuagesima Sunday 12 Feb 2017 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 12.2.17 Working for God

Imagine a town where everyone is suffering from poverty. A rich man comes and seeks to alleviate the poverty of the town. He could just give them all a pile of money; or he could give them work, for which he would pay them. It is this latter way that God takes with us.

He could simply put us in Heaven, but He wants us to work our way there.

The work itself does not save us. What saves us is that by working we are putting ourselves in an ongoing lifegiving relationship with God. Like a branch to the vine (Jn 15, 1-17).

And we do this for as long as we have - from the moment of conversion to the moment of death. All time belongs to Him, and we fill it with our response.

Once we start we do not stop: He who has put his hand to the plough, does not look back (Lk 9,62). The servant should be still at work when the master returns (Lk 12,37).  From now on you will be fishers of men (Lk 5,10)

And St Paul, in the epistle, speaks of the need to run to the end, not slacken off.

We must not be alarmed by all this talk of work. Work is not a burden when motivated by love.

The love of God will act on us; will motivate us so that we want to do what He wants us to do. People put themselves out for those they love. As Christians, we love everyone; or at least Christ does, and we are learning to do as He does.

No one is unemployed in God's kingdom. The old, the sick, the disabled – all can contribute. It is simply a matter of doing, or enduring, whatever is required.

‘Work’ in this sense is much more varied than paid work. If someone asks you, socially, what you ‘do’, you could reply ‘I work for the Lord’. This could mean, I cheerfully offer up my sufferings; I pray for the conversion of sinners; I go to Mass to glorify God – it is all work.

We know there is a reward for this, and in fact it is far more than we deserve.

We are doing only as we should (cf the servants (Lk 17,10)). We are obliged to be and do good, even if there were no reward.

But there is a reward. It is represented by the denarius of the parable. We all receive the denarius whether we come in early or late. It is eternal life, and happiness.

Applying the parable to our situation, we could say that all the workers are paid ‘too much’; even the ones who came early, and worked all day.

We might be tempted to envy those who come in late, and find Heaven. But we are all being treated better than we deserve, since we are nowhere near good enough (by our own merits) to go there.

We are all the latecomers in that sense. Only by the grace of God are we saved.

First He forgives us; then He gives us work to do, for which He provides motivation; then He rewards us with more than we deserve.

All we have to do is turn up for work, to show enough interest for Him to do the rest.

We are more fortunate than we usually think ourselves.

So let us work on, not counting the days or hours, until the time of reckoning.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

5th Sunday after Epiphany 5 Feb 2017 Sermon

5th Sunday after Epiphany 5.2.17 Judgment

There will be a judgment at the end of time. Many are probably very hazy about the idea that their lives are to be judged by a higher power.

Today individualism is the dominant creed. People think they have the right to set their own course, and define their own end as well (eg the right to suicide).

Most people fear death, but there are probably not many today who fear judgment after death.

When we talk of judgment, immediately the question arises, But what about Mercy? Is not God merciful? How then we talk of an adverse judgment?

God wants to be merciful, certainly. He wants all people to be saved (1 Tim 2,4).

Judgment is what remains when mercy is not accepted. It is on offer, all the time, to everyone. For various reasons a person might not accept the mercy. In such a case Judgment (adverse) is all that remains.

There are many reasons why people might not accept mercy from God.

They might be hard of heart, refusing to repent, to turn away from a life of sin. If they persist in this state to the end of their lives there can be only Judgment, not mercy - not because God has suddenly become harsh, but because they do not want any fellowship with Him.

God will not force union with Himself. There has to be that moment of consent from each person before the salvation process can take effect.

God will not override free will but He will put a lot of things in front of each person to induce repentance.

He has been putting things in front of us since the Fall, with extra intensity from the time of the Incarnation. He has given us His Son, the Church, the Sacraments, the Saints, and time for each one to repent. These things are given generally to all, and also He gives specific signs to individuals, according to their circumstances. To ignore all the signs right up to the end is indeed hardness of heart.

Or people might be presumptuous. They believe in God, and hope to go to Heaven, but do not make any serious effort to please God in their lives.

This shows a disregard for God, which is certainly not ‘loving’ Him - the first commandment.

Or they might be despairing – feeling so guilty about their lives that they dare not approach the throne of mercy. But no sin can be greater than God’s mercy. There is no sin unforgivable if there is genuine contrition. Like the prodigal son we are welcome to approach Him.

God does not love evil but He does love evildoers - not because they do evil, but because they are in need of being saved.

Those of us trying to be good can feel that God is being too patient with evildoers, but we have to remember that salvation is His main aim.

It is better for the good to suffer for a time, so that more of the (presently) evil can repent; better this than to wipe out the evildoers before they have a chance to repent.

Then, of course, some of us would have been ‘evildoers’ of one sort or another in the past, and now we can be glad we were not wiped out!

Mercy is there for all who believe in it and want it. And God wants it more than we do! Yet, sadly it is easy to miss the urgency of the whole thing and live as though there were no tomorrow, or at least no hell.

We do have to face Our Lord in judgment but it will not be terrifying if we live constantly in His grace during this life.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

4th Sunday after Epiphany 29 Jan 2017 Sermon

4th Sunday after Epiphany 29.1.17 Miracles

It is God who works miracles but we speak of people working them, in a secondary sense. How is it that some have more chance of working a miracle than others?

We associate miracles with the saints, especially holy people.

If Padre Pio is praying alongside of Pete the Pagan, one is more likely to get the desired answer to his prayer than the other.

Even if they used the same words (eg the Our Father). What is the difference? Simply that one loves God more than the other does. Or one is closer to God than the other.

The closer to the fire the more heat generated. Holiness is being close to the fire of divine love.

The divine comes through the human, like the sun through the window. Therefore we need the window to be clean - to have as little as possible impeding the flow of grace from God through us, to the desired objective.

Our Lord Himself had perfect unity between His humanity and divinity, and could summon any power He needed.

He could work any sort of miracle. And they would be clean instantaneous miracles.
He did not stop half the storm one day and the other half the next. He could do it all at once.

Our prayer is not usually so strong.

We cannot stand on the end of the jetty and command the storm to stop. But we might be able to slow the storm down a little!

We might avert some damage, or do some good. It may not look like much of a miracle, but we can grow in faith, and so can the miracles grow in size.

We can do certain things to enable our faith to grow stronger (and hence, more powerful).

1. One thing is to pray with others – so we pool our faith. We must be stronger together than we are alone.

2. Believe we can achieve more than we have so far. We can feel helpless and hopeless, but all things are possible to God. If what we are asking for is pleasing to Him there is a strong chance it will happen.

3. Then pray as much as we can. Prayer is like bringing water to the desert. Our prayer will be like rain, quenching the thirst. We might bring rain, literally, but more importantly, we will bring about miracles in the spiritual order – conversion of heart, a revival of faith and other virtues.

4. Many do not pray because they are discouraged. Thin sowing makes thin reaping, says St Paul (2 Co 9,6). Thin praying makes very thin results.

This is another problem for us. We have enough trouble believing on our own account, but it is likely that many people around us believe even less than we do! We have to work extra hard to make up the deficiency.

5. If we pray enough we cannot miss. We will sometimes ask for the wrong thing, and sometimes things which are not going to happen – but we have to be right at least sometimes.

When we pray with faith and humility, the prayer will have some impact somewhere, and on someone. The world will be a better place because of that prayer. We may not see it, or know what it is, but we can trust.

It is like throwing food to a starving crowd. Someone will catch the food and benefit from it.

And like the loaves of Our Lord’s miracle, the benefits will be multiplied if we have strong faith.

6. We do not pray only to fix problems, though there are so many to pray about.

We pray to praise and honour Almighty God. We know that such prayer will benefit us by bringing His grace upon us, but if our faith is well enough developed we will be honouring Him for His own sake, and not just trying to get favours from Him.

All glory to God who has worked such wonders in our midst!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 22 Jan 2017 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 22.1.17 Simple Faith

In biblical stories it often happens that the people, in some sense on the outside, had more faith than those on the inside.

The Jews were the chosen people, but often the Gentiles would display greater faith, as in today’s Gospel (Centurion).

The sinners would sometimes show more faith than the apparently righteous, eg the Publican and the Pharisee (Lk 18,9-14).

Perhaps, for those on the inside, pride can take hold, and they can forget their relative nothingness before God.

We, as churchgoers, could stumble in this way. We might think, that because we go to church and pray other times, that we somehow have more right to heaven than others.

But it may be that the people out now, shopping and walking the dog, not going to Mass – they might get to Heaven before we do (presuming, of course, that they come to repentance).

The solution for us is not to stop the ‘religious’ things we do, but make sure that our interior attitudes match the exterior appearance. If we look religious, we must be religious.

We seek a genuine faith (like that of the centurion). How did he do it? How can we do it?

We can learn from the ‘outsiders’ a certain directness and simplicity.

Faith requires a sense of wonder at the power of God; a child-like humility and simplicity in believing that God, who made all things, can do anything He wants, here and now, no matter how improbable it may look by ordinary standards.

We need to have that power of wonder no matter how educated or sophisticated we may be.
We could have multiple academic qualifications but still have to say the sun rises in the east because God makes it so.

To maintain that simplicity, as we get more immersed in the world, we have to keep praying, and reflecting.

Many do not keep up the prayer, and they become embarrassed by their faith, fearing the ridicule of their peers.

Having simple faith does not mean that God is simple, nor is the one with faith; only that there is a direct link between us and God.

God is infinitely complex and mysterious, and we ourselves are mysterious enough, but simple faith means that we can directly believe in God, and entrust all things to Him.

The important thing is that we do not grow remote from Him. He does not fade with time, but our faith might! Our faith can fade, but not the realities we deal with.

People abandon God in droves, but that does not make Him any less.

We will not abandon Him. We keep our faith, and we grow in it. We humble ourselves before God, acknowledging our nothingness before Him.

Before Him we have nothing to plead for us, except our sorrow for sin, and the redeeming action of our Saviour.

Our faith will become stronger with simplicity. In the face of adversities of any kind we can call upon that faith. Many things might go wrong, and we need to be a house built on rock (Mt 7,24-27).

Our faith is in God, not in circumstances. We do not believe only if the last thing went right, but because He is what He is.

God does not change. I could lose all my money and thus lose faith (happens all the time), but the only thing that has changed is my bank balance.

We give up too easily. He needs stronger disciples, and we need to be stronger for our own sake.

A simple faith can be simply asked for, and it will be given. And then, all the other graces to put that faith into practice.

Only say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 15 Jan 2017 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 15.1.17 Sacrifice

Our Lord revealed Himself slowly when He came among us.

God had come to His own people. He did not advertise the fact that He was God. He wanted to win people over to the idea, and they would be changed in the process.

He spent a long time in the private life at Nazareth; and that teaches us the value of getting the little things right; of making sure our private life matches our public professions. And the immense importance of the family in God's plans.

Eventually it was time to go out into the public arena and be more explicit about His intentions.

The miracle of Cana was His first public miracle. It meant that forces opposed to Him, demonic and human, would now work harder to destroy Him.

It was a decisive step towards Calvary, because that is where it would all lead.

Cana to Calvary. We could say that Salvation came in two stages:

The first stage is symbolised by the turning of water into wine (Cana). God takes what is good, and makes it better still. Such as family life, exemplified in the Holy Family. Such as other miracles of Our Lord where He healed the sick, calmed the storm, raised the dead.

The miracles of Our Lord were given as indications of His desire to do good, to repair, to enrich, heal, bless, increase, to overpower evil with good.

This display of power was just the beginning. He had other things in mind, and they would be revealed when the people were ready to receive them.

With His earlier miracles it was a problem that people would seek only the practical benefit of the miracle, and miss the deeper significance.

When He fed the thousands with bread they wanted to make Him King, but only in an earthly sense. He had to escape from them, because they did not yet understand (Jn 6,15).

Our Lord could have gone about indefinitely healing the sick and feeding the hungry. But He was looking for a more permanent change in the human situation.

He shows a greater love. He lavishes things on us, and that is love to one degree. But to go further and allow Himself to be killed as a sacrifice – that is the fullest possible love.

The water to wine is the first stage. God enriches, beautifies etc.

The turning of wine to blood (Calvary) is the second stage, whereby God gives us a still more powerful drink.

Not just to refresh and rejoice, but to transform us into copies of Himself - such that we are prepared to lay down our lives, or at least appreciate what He has done.

This being transformed is much more impressive than just receiving a plate full of food. It shows us the full extent of salvation to which we are called.

It is not just going to Heaven but being made fit for Heaven.

This was Our Lord’s plan all along, and Cana was a major part of its revelation.

We all want physical blessings, water into wine.

Not everyone wants the next stage - to be a martyr, or to suffer for much of their lives. Yet we come to accept it, and even rejoice in it, with sufficient exposure to the grace of Christ.

Gratitude for the first stage of salvation - the many miracles and blessings - will put us in the right path.

If we are attentive enough to God's interventions around us, we cannot help but move to a deeper commitment (the second stage), and be ready to give of ourselves in a sacrificial way.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Holy Family 8 Jan 2017 Sermon

Holy Family 8.1.17 School of Love

God tells us to love one another, and to love our neighbour. Our neighbour is anyone with whom we come in contact, whether regularly or once only.

He knew we would find that command difficult so He gave us the family as a kind of training ground for growth in charity!

We can practise on those we see every day; learn to love them despite their faults; and try to make ourselves more agreeable to them despite our faults.

It is not so easy to love others as it sounds. Other things we try to be good at require practice. Cricketers practise in the nets and work on their technique. Musicians practise all the time. Every profession requires study and application.

Loving our neighbour requires practice too. We learn from where we went wrong… I shouldn’t have said that… I should have been more considerate… I should not have ignored that person etc etc.

These things are every day challenges and we all face them whether we live in a family or not, but the family setting is more intense because the members are thrust together.

If we are learning from all this - both the successes and the failures - we are on the way to becoming better Christians, growing in holiness.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. It could seem to us that their holiness is way out of our reach.

Two members of the family never committed a single sin, and it is unlikely the third member committed many.

There never would have been an argument in that family. Is that a realistic model?

Well, to compare again with other things we do, we can gain crumbs from the table of the masters.

We will never play tennis like Federer or sing like Pavarotti, but we can learn at least some tips from them, and improve our performance.

This also works for the Holy Family. If every husband spoke to his wife like he was Joseph and she was Mary, how many arguments would that cut down? He will not be as good as Joseph but he will be better than he was.

And the same can be said for every other relationship: parent-child, child-parent, brother-sister, in laws as well.

We are in the business of improving, growing in holiness. We learn as we go.

Children are raised in families (ideally, according to God’s plan) so that they can mature spiritually as they mature physically and mentally.

They learn to give way to others (siblings especially); to share their possessions, to forgive injuries. They learn that the whole universe does not revolve around them; that they are part of a much larger family of people, God’s people in fact.

They also learn to obey lawful authority, beginning with their parents.

Family life - when it works - is the best formation, and this is why God established it.

All things should be done in love and in proper order, as the epistles of the New Testament will constantly teach.

Again, ideals are not usually reached, but we can gain crumbs from the table. We learn to make the best of whatever we have.

Many people are refined by the fire of unhappy family life and still turn out alright.

Many will repent afterwards for the damage they did in earlier life.

Lost ground can be made up.

If all else fails we must learn, as individuals, to love even if not loved in return. We have to pray for the conversion and salvation of every person, however unlikely we might feel it to be.

And, always looking to ourselves, removing the plank from our own eye first. Always self-reflection is required.

The family teaches us when it works, and when it does not. We can see what should have happened even if it did not. We will get it more right each time - with the grace of God and the prayer of Mary and Joseph.