Thursday, 22 February 2018

1st Sunday of Lent 18 Feb 2018 Sermon

1st Sunday of Lent 18.2.18 Desire

The body and soul are not meant to be in conflict with each other, but there is conflict, because of some wrong turnings people have made.

The first sin broke the order of things, and from then on the lower would rebel against the higher, and this is all around us now.

When the physical order is pursued as the highest good we have a major breakdown in the system. Even in ourselves we find no peace and calm my soul may win because my body craves to sin.

We crave for forbidden pleasure when the allowable pleasures are enough, by far, to fill us with joy. We don’t need anything forbidden but we go after it all the same.

We ask the Lord to help us in this Lenten season. He had perfect balance between body and soul. He did all this for our sake.

He was teaching us, and at the same time enabling us to operate at the higher level, which He would set.

All who come into harmony with Him will share in that new order whereby desires and objectives will come back into proper order.

We will take on a more spiritual view of reality and therefore restore what was lost. What was lost at Eden is coming back.

The fasting, and other penance we do, atone for our sins and set straight what was crooked. When we sin we grasp what is not ours; when we fast we are giving back what is ours, a kind of reversal. This is symbolic largely, but it will make a real difference.

Unfortunately the world, infested with sin, does not take Lent seriously, nor Fridays, nor any call to repentance.

This is itself the result of sin, and the weakness that comes with it.

The world trumpets pleasure and its pursuit, going from one thing to another, no time to think. For the world it is Mardi Gras all Lent, indeed all year.

The world achieves some deeper insight, for instance in valuing human love, but setting that as the highest goal still falls short of God, and cannot yield complete happiness.

It takes discipline to look further all the time, and not just sink into the present moment, but if we can look further we will discover a great deal.

If we add prayer to fasting we will start to sense God's presence more strongly and we will find new horizons opening. We will not necessarily have a change of life situation, just a higher quality of love and wellbeing.

We are not leaving the real world, just making the world more real.

We can fast from sin too. We learn to hold back, not necessarily doing the first thing that occurs to us.

This is the whole principle of holiness. The Cross comes before, and leads to Resurrection.

And of martyrdom: Take my life and give me a better one.

We are encouraged to want more. Restrain from earthly things, yes, but when it is a matter of spiritual goods, then the more we want the better.

God wants us to have this desire and it will be fulfilled, if only we can override the false and misleading desires.

We can take control of a large part of this, not just drift, nor be buried in the world.

We are putting back what has been broken. May the Lord complete His healing work in us.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Quinquagesima Sunday 11 Feb 2018 Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday 11.2.18 Messiah

The Jews had been waiting a long time for the Messiah to come.

At first they expected a military leader, along the lines of King David, who would win the battles and free the nation from oppressors. Our Lord did not fit this model.

But, having Him in their midst, they noted that He was capable of providing some very useful blessings, such as health for the sick, food for the hungry; He could even control the weather (cf calming the storm). So they wanted to keep Him close and handy, for the benefits He could provide.

But for Our Lord Himself, these miracles were just interludes on the way. He had a very clear idea of what sort of Messiah He was, and where He was headed.

In today’s Gospel He tells what is going to happen. But what He says is so unexpected that His disciples cannot take it in.

We, who come later, now know what sort of Messiah He was, and why He died - but even for us, with the benefit of hindsight, it can still be a struggle.

He came to restore human nature in Himself, to unite it with the divine, to lift it to a higher plane; to enable a response from the human side which would otherwise not be possible.

He came to change us on the inside, to make our hearts and minds like His own.

We are meant to be like Him. Like Him, at least as far as our capacity can cope.

He will not force salvation upon us. He offers it to us; He gives us the way to achieve it, teaching us what is required, giving us grace to motivate us; and forgiving us when we go astray.

We would probably settle for salvation being handed to us on a plate. Just present this certificate at the door of Heaven, and be allowed in!

But that would not do, because we would not yet be transformed in our inner selves. Salvation comes from the inside out, we could say. Our hearts and minds are changed to be Christ-like, and that is what gives us entry to Heaven.

He purifies us, and lifts us to higher things – a higher standard of behaviour, and a higher destiny.

This kind of Messiah not everyone wants.

People do seek improvement and renewal, but not necessarily on Our Lord’s terms.

They prefer false gods, easier to manage. They prefer their own morality, much less demanding.

Above all, they do not like the idea of suffering, and will go to great lengths to avoid it.

People generally still want a Messiah who will do their bidding, whether to remove an oppressive invader, or just tidy up day-to-day troubles.

We do not generally want to reorganize our whole lives.

He leaves it to us to decide. Our response determines whether or not He can save us.

It is our glory that we have a choice, though sometimes we might wish we did not have such a privilege. That way we could never be lost.

But having the choice, and choosing the right way, gives us greater glory.

The Messiah came to bring each and all people to this glory. He is still working towards that conclusion. Let us help Him to help us, by turning towards Him on every possible occasion.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Ash Wednesday Mass times

Ash Wednesday Mass times

6.45am  St Monica's, Walkerville

7am,   9.30am, and  6.30pm (Solemn)  Holy Name, Stepney

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Sexagesima Sunday 4 Feb 2018 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 4.2.18 Perseverance

If we fill in the Census form we put down ‘Catholic’. By all means put it on the form, but it has to be a lot more than that.

Many ‘Catholics’ are just ‘on the books’ – Catholic in name only, not at present available for service.

The challenge to us, as we approach another Lent, is to make sure we are fully mobilised and ready for action, and to deepen our existing commitment.

To be the fourth category in the parable of the Sower, the one that bears a rich harvest.

The middle two categories of that parable could be summarised as those who give up the faith because it is too hard, and because it is too easy!

Too hard, because when trouble comes as a result of following Christ the disciple gives up the struggle. And too hard, because the moral demands seem to be set very high.

Too easy, because being Christ’s disciple can be easily watered down to being indistinguishable from anyone else.

Too hard? The grace of God makes it easy, or at least manageable. The key to the process is to see the following of Christ as a joy rather than a chore.

With sufficient help from Him we come to see that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Mt 11,30).

The closer we come to Him the more we start to see things His way, and we simply agree with His will.

We do not kill, for example, because He does not kill. We do not commit impure actions, because He is all pure; nor lie because He is all truth.

Temptation loses its power as we grow stronger in understanding of what is at stake.

Too easy? We are tempted to say it is easy to follow Christ because we can allow ourselves to be just the same as everyone else.

What happened to John the Baptist, with his locusts and wild honey? What happened to Our Lord with His forty days fast? No need for such extremes anymore – some say.

We have re-interpreted being a disciple of Christ to mean one who makes no trouble for anyone else. A very mild interpretation of the Gospel.

Did Christ come from Heaven to teach us this? That to follow Him is to be the same as those who do not follow Him?

It is not so easy as that, but it is not so hard either, when we understand that following Christ is the happiest possible course of action at any given time.

He is the source of all goodness, so to be near Him is to be near a goldmine; and anywhere else is a bad place to be, by comparison.

He makes it ‘easy’ for us, or at least easier, in proportion to how often and how seriously we ask Him.

If we stop praying we stop receiving the graces, and then we fall into either the ‘too hard’ or ‘too easy’ trap.

St Paul spells out how much trouble he took to stay on his course (epistle). He was called to a lot more than the average disciple, but the principle applies to all of us: My grace is sufficient for thee (2 Co 12,9).

We have to be like soldiers, ready for action at any time, and never disputing orders.

If Christ is first, everything else finds its proper place. That is all He is asking of us. Just let things be as they are supposed to be, and God knows how that is; so we just let Him tell us!

And thus we deliver a harvest of good works.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Septuagesima Sunday 28 Jan 2018 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 28.1.18 Hope

We begin the season of Septuagesima, which means ‘seventy’. It is poetically that long to Easter Sunday (literally, only 63 days). We count down 70, 60, 50, and finally the forty days of Lent.

We respond to countdowns to big events. They build up the excitement and the tension.

As events go, whether or not we are saved is about as exciting a question as we could ever face. Do we spend eternity in Heaven or Hell?

The Church gives us this stretch of time to symbolise the larger actual quest for the Promised Land, Heaven itself.

The Israelites were trying to get into present-day Israel; we are trying for a much bigger prize still, but the mechanics of the choice are much the same.

We have to battle through a lot of heat and dust to get to the beautiful gardens. We endure thirst and weariness while dreaming of cold running water.

In the penitential seasons we balance two opposites at the same time.

As Our Lord said, there is a time for fasting and a time for feasting (Mk 2,19-20).  We celebrate every Sunday the ultimate victory of the Resurrection. But in times of penance we also acknowledge the struggle that we have to make to get things right. We fast and we feast; we mourn and we rejoice; we cry and we laugh.

These are all part of life - at least life as we have known it so far. It has always been so, but it will not always be so.

There will be a time when we have only the positive half of these contrasts. When we have arrived in Heaven there will be only feasting, rejoicing and laughing. Every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21,4).

Knowing this, it should help us navigate the sufferings of this life. We see all that we have suffered as part of the larger picture. By comparison with the joy that awaits us it is very small indeed (Rom 8,18).

Thus strengthened, we never abandon our faith. The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard tells us that the early comers - despite their narrow attitudes to the later workers - did work to the end of the day. And for that they received their reward.

St Paul expresses the same idea in today’s Epistle: he runs the race to the finish. He strives like an athlete, bringing his lower desires to focus on the higher achievement.

(Our society understands the need for discipline in some areas, such as sport, but misses it in the area that counts the most – the spiritual life.)

People who do not have this hope to sustain them, might believe themselves abandoned, and their lives meaningless.

We are not abandoned because we have the whole company of Heaven with us.

Our lives are not meaningless because we are engaged in the biggest break-out in history – breaking free from the captivity of sin.

We keep the end in view, and then we have enough energy to fight the here-and-now battles.

We look to the end of the day, the 6pm of the universe, when the accounts will be reckoned. We work with a quiet determination to see this thing through. Not celebrating too early, not slackening off one second before time.

We are wary of the sweep of the devil’s tail. A retreating army is very vicious to anything in its path. Whatever time remains for us we use to consolidate our grip on the victory – making it more certain when the end comes, and in the meantime to bring forth more of its fruits.

May the Lord help us in this particular path for the next seventy days. And help us to see, in that symbolic stretch of time, a key to handling the whole of life. 

Thursday, 25 January 2018

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 21 Jan 2018 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 21.1.18 Faith and Charity

If I have faith to move mountains but have not love I am nothing (1 Co13,2). 

When it comes to asking for things in prayer we might regard God in a somewhat impersonal light, as though His will is fixed and there is nothing we can do to move it, so we might as well leave Him to it - in other words, not bother to pray.

This is not how He wants us to see it. He does not want us to be fatalists - those who believe that fate is fixed irrevocably - but rather to pitch in, and have an influence on how things turn out.

There is much that we cannot control, and we certainly do not get all the things we would like, but repeatedly we are encouraged to ask for what we need. God would not tell us to ask for what we need if it never could make a difference.

Always there are so many good causes to pray for. It is not selfish that we do this, as much of our prayer involves the wellbeing of other people; and also we want God’s own order to be established.

Charity is at the heart of the matter. The supreme commands are that we love God and Neighbour. Our prayer for whatever intention should flow from these commands.

Loving God, we come to trust Him that He is always working for our best interest. Loving others, we come to see them as God sees them, to want for them what He wants.

We come closer to the pulse of Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, the Sacred Heart, seeking out the stray sheep, the prodigal sons, the victims of the robbers - with great compassion, in which we come to share.

At the same time we develop a greater faith that God has the power, and will use it for the best. The centurion of today’s Gospel had this kind of faith. To him it was straightforward that God would give a simple command, and a good result would happen.

We want what is best for each person, and we believe that God will bring it about if we ask Him. Sometimes it takes a lot of asking because the problem is much deeper than a simple illness, as in today’s Gospel.

We learn to pray for more than just physical short-term blessings. We have a better idea of what is best.

The prayer would be more powerful if more people were praying. We need a stronger, more uniform approach. The whole body needs to be at prayer for each other, for the other members of the body. If one suffers [we] all suffer (1 Co 12,26).

God is pleased when we ask Him for favours, but even more pleased when we seek to be near Him, when we seek Him for His own sake.

If we are prepared to go to this deeper level He is more able to bless at the earlier levels.

Close to God is the best place to be, and from that place come wisdom, generosity, goodwill, mercy, and all other related good qualities. If we can plant ourselves there, all else will follow on.

Let us then pursue vigorous prayer for a range of intercessions, physical and spiritual, individual and communal, temporal and eternal.

It all comes together in the mind and heart of God, where we position ourselves.

Only say but the word, Lord…and we will be healed, and from that will other healing come.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 14 Jan 2018 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 14.1.18 The new wine

The miracle of Cana is an extension of the Epiphany, another ground-breaking revelation of the power of God, working now through the adult Christ.

Thus begins a series of many public miracles, each of which sends out a challenge to each person: are you with Me or against Me?

The Jews were divided over Him. Some believed, others always wanted more proof.

We should not believe too readily every claim of religious phenomena, but on the other hand we should not be sceptical to the point of rejecting everything in advance.

We cannot restrict God. It is His creation after all, and He can intervene at any point and in any way.

So He can turn water into wine, walk on water, make it come out of a rock, make it part in the middle, and make it go quiet in a storm – all of which He has done.

Generally God lets the world run on the laws that He has put in place. But He always has the right and the power to override those laws.

Miracle or not, ordinary or extraordinary, the most important thing for us is to be in union with Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Are we prepared to put our faith in Him as the one and only Saviour of the universe, or are we going to try to level Him out with other possible saviours – thus reducing Him to no more than a source of inspiration?

Other religious figures can be inspiring in places, but they do not work the miracles that Christ did, especially raising people from the dead, not least raising Himself! How many people can do that?

And all that He does is good. He does something advantageous for the people receiving the miracle; and for everyone else He gives a taste of what salvation is like.

He solves problems, such as today’s shortage of wine; and even better still He helps people come to faith. This coming to faith is a greater blessing than whatever the miracle brought about.

Turning water to wine is a symbol of what He is doing for us. He is enriching us, upgrading us to something better.

From now on this is how we do things around here. This is the New Covenant taking root.

Human nature itself has been upgraded in Christ’s human nature. Other elements of creation may be receiving an increase in quality too. All nature longs for the fulness of Christ’s salvation (cf Rom 8,19-27).

The miracles will come, when needed, and for our good.

In the face of so much power and goodness, we come to take God seriously.

We come to realize that a miracle is being worked in us, a miracle of transformation, whereby we become people of charity, and all the other virtues mentioned in today’s epistle (Rm 12,6-16).

Drink the string drink (that is, receive Him fully, without condition) and we will ourselves become the new wine, as in perfect.

It has to be a full acceptance. We cannot half-believe, or half-commit.

He will help us with this. It may not be as quick as the Cana miracle, but if we show signs of commitment He will build us up in all the virtues, another miracle of transformation. Why did we leave it till now to become the best wine?!