Thursday, 25 August 2016

14th Sunday after Pentecost 21 Aug 2016 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 21.8.16 Seeking the Kingdom

In the Garden of Eden God provided everything needed. It was there for the taking, and would still be there if we had not sinned.

There was no working week there; every day was a holiday. If there was work to do it would have been entirely pleasurable and easy. There was no pain or sickness, nor death.

(This much sounds like Heaven to us, but Heaven is actually much better again.)

When expelled from the garden much of that set-up collapsed, but the basic idea remained that God would provide for us. Only from then on we would have to experience suffering, as we felt the friction between good and evil.

So has been our history ever since.

We have, with varying success, sought to bring ourselves back to God (individually and communally).

We have confessed our sin, made good resolutions, performed good works, and now find ourselves reminded (Gospel) of the need to seek first the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is that place where everyone obeys God trustingly and lovingly, where no one cuts corners, or even less would cheat or exploit another.

We are still a long way from that world, but we can establish the kingdom at least in this part of the world where we find ourselves.

The difficulty is that in a world where God has been lost to view, people generally do not seek His will, nor keep His laws; resulting in much chaos.

We must hold firm while the ground seems to be shifting beneath us; we still reaffirm and recommit to the basic understanding that only in God can we find happiness.

The closer we can get our politics, our economics, our social and moral landscape to His will, the better for all.

If we cannot make the world a visibly better place, we can at least be purified of our own sins, and thus made more ready for heaven.

The purification required is that we would have a complete trust and love of God, and like small children would trust in Him always to provide.

Thus, as in the Gospel, we cannot be too preoccupied with worldly things – food, clothing etc. We are so narrow in our concerns, so short-sighted, so selfish - compared with what we are really offered by God.

We have become cynical in our adulthood. We doubt that genuine goodness is possible, or in any event that it won’t be to our advantage in such a world.

But we do not give God enough chance to show He means his word,

How can we say He does not provide when we disobey Him so continuously?

Piece by piece we must give him our whole lives, our whole world. He has dominion over every part of this world, but we do not let Him rule unless we turn away from sin.

God will help us. When He expelled us from the garden it was always with the idea that He would give us something better; and that has been the promise ever since.

He wants to help us get this right. It is a complex operation, always correcting and re-directing our desires – but it can be done, with the help of grace.

We crucify nature, with all its passions (Epistle) and come to share in super-nature. We are no longer bound by the constant quest for short-term pleasure; seeking instead a higher order of happiness.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

13th Sunday after Pentecost 14 Aug 2016 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 14.8.16 The goodness of God

The lowest level of faith is when we believe in God if the last thing that happened was favourable; and we cease to believe in Him if the last thing to happen was a disappointment.

We have to do better than that.

We need a faith which is robust, indestructible. If the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church, nor must they prevail against any one of us.

Faith is a direct relationship between me and God. It does not depend on any other circumstance, or even on any other person.

If God never changes nor should our faith. We hold a constant relationship with Him no matter how much circumstances may fluctuate.

We are not accustomed to being so logical or so cool. Our emotions usually have too much influence to allow us to be so detached.

But like all spiritual qualities, faith can be increased, and this is part of our prayer today – that our faith will be as strong as it needs to be.

God never changes, but we do. On this point we must never change – that we have certain, unwavering trust that God will always be there for us; always working for our good and that of the whole world.

If He appears to have deserted us it cannot be so. He has His reasons, whether we understand them or not.

When we pray we tend to focus on our troubles, and what we need. If we have many needs, we may feel overwhelmed, and we might carry that feeling into our prayer, with the result that the prayer lacks conviction. We ask God to help, but we do not really think that He will.

If instead we begin the prayer with focus on God and His attributes, leaving aside for the moment our many needs – then we will experience a big difference.

The three young men in the furnace spent their time praising God! (Dan 3) The holy man Job, on hearing he had lost everything, said: Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1,21). The grateful leper returned praising God at the top of His voice (Lk 17,11-19).

Focusing on God, rather than ourselves gives us an entirely different viewpoint. We are beginning the prayer in strength rather than weakness.

The Church has always understood the need for prayer of praise.

It is easier to praise after receiving the desired blessing, but we should train ourselves to do the same both before and after the result.

Glory to God in the highest… Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (Ps 150)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34 |
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Psalm 105:1 |
And countless other such exhortations.

It might seem superfluous to tell God of His own goodness, but it is an expression of love, and also it serves to remind us of His goodness, and that in turn will strengthen our faith.

When afraid or sad, or in any negative state of mind, we need reassurance. The praise of God will gradually revive us.

At first it might sound just like words, but the deeper reality will seep through and give us more courage, hope, joy etc.

This will be so especially if we praise God regularly, and work it into our normal patterns of thought. If we are always extolling the goodness of God we have a much stronger basis for understanding what is happening around us, and for absorbing any suffering that comes our way.

Our troubles will melt in the light of God's goodness. If He is so good how can anything bad have power over us? It cannot, and therefore we must be happy, even if we did not know it!

Let us imitate the leper, and all the other people in the Bible who have expressed great joy at the goodness of the Lord.



Thursday, 11 August 2016

12th Sunday after Pentecost 7 Aug 2016 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 7.8.16 All in need

We can feel sorry for other people with the various problems they have.

Feeling sorry for others is generally a good thing insofar as it is motivated by genuine charity. We do not want others to suffer, just as we do not want to suffer ourselves.

It could be, however, that our sorrow for others has a tone of superiority about it. If I see someone has a problem I do not have, such as a particular addiction, I might feel superior to him (like the Pharisee towards the Publican, Lk 18,9-14).

Our Lord said that we should remove the plank from our own eye before the splinter from our brother’s eye (Mt 7,5).

Taking today’s parable of the Good Samaritan, we might see ourselves in the role of the Good Samaritan, the one providing the help; or at least the one in the stronger position.

If we can provide the help we should do so, but first we need to see ourselves as the man lying by the side of the road.

We also are in need of being rescued, healed, forgiven, set free etc.

Some have more problems than others, but we all need the mercy of God; and that is where we must start.

We all need Salvation. We all need to be in union with Jesus Christ, and that is our first concern.

The man by the side of the road symbolises all of us – robbed by Satan of our true status; turned into outcasts when we should have been sharing in God's kingdom.

Our Lord comes as the true helper, giving us the thing we most need. Once lifted up by Him, cleansed of sin, re-orientated in our thinking by the Holy Spirit – we are then able to help each other; but always with that awareness of our frail humanity.

We can help each other make progress.

The whole of our lives, and the whole of human history, we have been trying to get back what we have lost.

God wants to restore us, even more than we want it (cf the father waiting for the prodigal son to return Lk 15, 20).

But such is sin, that once we have been led into the darkness, we do not always welcome the light. (cf Jn 3,19: men loved darkness more than light because their deeds were evil. Or: If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth (1 Jn 1,6)).

We do not always want to be ‘patched up’; still being attached to the sin.

So it takes an extra dose of grace to break through our defences, to the point that we will willingly turn away from all sin.

Once we do let Our Lord lift us up, we are then more desirous of helping others to know what we know.

If we have faith we want to share it, because we see how much good it can do.

Of course we should practise practical charity; helping the poor, the sick etc.

If that was all we had to do it would be easier, but we are also called to help others spiritually, and that is more demanding.

The idea of rescuing people spiritually is not new, but in the present secular climate we will be accused of imposing our views on others.

We impose nothing; we merely point out that there is a Saviour, and the good He can do.

He is the real rescuer, no matter what human intermediaries there may be.

Let us at least not stand in the way of what He wants to do. Let the Saviour save; let the Good Samaritan stand us all on our feet, as children of God.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

11th Sunday after Pentecost 31 Jul 2016 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 31.7.16 Hearing and speaking

Our Lord heals the deaf and dumb man. We take this symbolically to say that He opens our ears to hear the word of God; and opens our mouths to speak only what is good and edifying (Eph 4,29).

As a philosopher once observed, we have two ears and only one mouth; and this suggests that we should listen twice as much as we speak.

How many times do we say the wrong thing – false, unfounded, uncharitable, unhelpful? How we shoot our mouths off.

If we spent as much time listening as we do talking; if we really listened, to discern the word of God in the midst of all the noise and clatter round about, we would be much more settled, much more at peace; and many good effects would follow from that.

So we ask Our Lord to touch our ears, to hear what God is saying.

We do not hear the voice of God directly, but there are other ways we can find out what He is saying.

We have the Bible, the Catechisms, the Creeds, the Saints, Popes and Councils of the Church; the written and living word of God – all telling us what God wishes us to know

Then there is just about an infinite amount of written and audio material available today; some of it highly misleading; but if we are firmly grounded in the teaching of the Church, we can learn to separate the good fish from the bad (cf Mt 13,48).

We can also learn from our life experience. We learn from both the good and evil around us – what to do and not to do respectively.

And we ask Our Lord to touch our mouths, that we may speak always the best thing to say in each situation – all that is truthful, charitable, wise – as close as possible to what Our Lord Himself would say if He were in our place.

We will not let careless and loose words damage the cause.

We know how hard it is to control the tongue (cf James 3,1-12). We will improve in control if we have listened first; if we are settled in prayer, and strengthened by the grace of God.

If we are more at peace within ourselves we are less likely to be attacking others.

The monasteries had it right all along. Lots of silence, and much damage is avoided. How much sin results from loose talk.

Yet our social life is based on lots of talking. Silence makes people uneasy - and if not talking they have gadgets making sound.

We have to learn to step back from the ways of the world, and take a more spiritual view of things.

The rest of us have to live outside of monasteries, so we have to work out how to speak without sin, and without compromising truth and charity. Also we have to be discerning as to what we hear (or read, or watch).

We do not just listen to anything that happens to go in our ears; nor let just anything escape our mouths. We filter both.

We are quick to listen, and slow to speak (James 1,19). We speak only when our minds, and hearts, have processed what is about to come out.

Gentleness does not have to be weakness. We can speak to different people in different ways, as Our Lord did. He was gentle with sinners, and harsh with the unrepentant. In all cases He was aiming at the good of the person He was addressing.

We find it very hard to be angry, and still speak with charity. (Be angry and do not sin – Eph 4,26). We can get better at this with lots of prayer, and again, listening to the word of God. The saints would say what God told them to say. We want to learn how to do that.

‘Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.’ (1 K 3,10).

Thursday, 28 July 2016

10th Sunday after Pentecost 24 July 2016 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 24.7.16 Human respect

When Sts Peter and John were brought before the Jewish authorities in the early days after Pentecost; and charged with making Jesus Christ known, they replied, ‘we must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5,29).

If we put man’s opinion ahead of God’s, this is called ‘human respect’. It is a sin and a very common one – widespread and deep-rooted.

We learn from the saints not to worry about what others think of us, not at least if we are doing God's will.

Peter and John were flogged for their defiance, and they rejoiced to have the honour of suffering for Jesus Christ (Acts 5,41).

Often it is our own side that can persecute us. We expect it from the world, but even within the Church - from our own families, friends, colleagues – we can be ridiculed for our attempts to uphold God's will.

It takes courage to go against the opinion of the majority, especially when we have to do that again and again. It can be very wearing.

People will question our sanity, our integrity, our relevance. They will accuse us of being uncharitable, judgmental, out of touch, and so on.

We understand that anything we say or do must be based in charity and wisdom.

But we must also be totally firm in holding onto the truth, as revealed by God, through the Catholic Church.

We do not judge others, as to their motives, or as to what factors may be acting on them; but it is often necessary to identify certain things as wrong, and others to be right. We must not be afraid to call black black and white white.

We seek to please God, not man. We are glad to please man when possible, but sometimes we have to do things which will offend someone; but we do them for a higher cause, eg in opposing abortions.

Many would argue that we must get people onside before we can preach to them. Yes, we are as friendly as we can be, but not at the expense of God's truth.

It is better to state the truth openly, and then set about helping everyone come to terms with it.

If we put God first it is not to deny anything to other people. We understand that by giving God His true place everyone will benefit. The Truth will set us free (Jn 8,32), if ever we let it.

The Publican in today’s parable states an important truth when he identifies himself as a sinner.

If we started all our communications with that note it would help. Humility keeps us firmly grounded, and more inclined to give God His proper place.

If we are to deal in truth it must start with ourselves. I am a sinner; therefore, I should stop being so.

There may be other people who do worse things than I do, but this does not excuse me from a rigorous pursuit of holiness.

People will tell each they are ‘good’. But are we good in God’s estimation, or is this merely words, social pleasantry?

It all comes back to what God wants. What does He think of me, of what I do etc?

We maintain a contrite and humble attitude before Him, and in gratitude for His mercy we seek to please Him.

And, in the process, we are prepared for the disapproval of others, even those close to us.

Do we please the Lord? We cannot always tell. But if we seek His help we must get better at doing so. At the end of it all, may we hear the words: Well done, good and faithful servant. (Mt 25,21).

Thursday, 21 July 2016

9th Sunday after Pentecost 17 Jul 2016 Sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost 17.7.16 Weeping over Jerusalem

We feel a strong sense of sadness for the present state of the world - increasing violence on one hand; social and moral collapse on the other hand.

We have a double sense of sadness: one, for the bad news itself, such as people getting killed in terrorist attacks, accidents, disasters etc.

And two, for what causes the bad news to happen; which is the constant denial of God by the world.

The greatest evil in the world is not this or that disaster but Sin, the defiance of God Himself.

We will never hear that on the news.

And it is very common. A vast number of sins are committed each day, and for a long time past.

If we had never sinned we would not have all this damage, not even sickness or death.
Through sin death has entered the world (Rm 5,12).

People are aware of the suffering but draw the wrong conclusions. There is so much trouble it proves there cannot be a God, they will say.

What it really proves is that we cannot afford to ignore God!

The people also weep, but only for what goes wrong, not for what is causing the wrongness.

In their failure to see the true God they turn to false ones.

There will be more trouble as long as they refuse to learn. The Jews in Moses’ time did not listen (Epistle); nor the Jews in Our Lord’s time (Gospel); nor the people of our time.

Even if people accept the reality and the authority of God they might say that sin is inevitable. But as the Epistle says we are never tempted beyond our strength (1 Cor 10,13).

So we weep at both levels: for the trouble itself, and for what causes it.

Our weeping is not just lamenting, but also purifying; motivating us to make sacrifices for the sins of the world.

We put ourselves on the line to share in Our Lord’s sufferings. It is our major work in life, to assist in any way possible to call people back to the truth.

The message is, simply: Behold your God!

People generally resist this message, but we announce it all the same; if not by direct statement, then by our own living out the belief; and - through our prayer - building up a store of grace for the world.

Somebody needs to do this; to pray, to weep, to repent. We can do this for ourselves and others.

Day and night we intercede for sinners, for mercy. Every Mass is such a plea, for the grace that we can all see whatever error there is in our ways.

We maintain a sense of the urgency of the whole matter. It is a big problem, but it can be solved. Salvation can be achieved despite all the confusion.

If nothing else - if we do not see any success - we will be like old candles, extinguished in the service of the Lord.

Others can take up where we left off. Eventually God will intervene strongly, in His time.

While we are still alive we do all in our power to avoid sin, and call on the grace of God to bring all people closer to Him.

If others defy God we will acknowledge Him. If others insult, we will praise. We will be as humble as they are proud, as generous as they are selfish, as attentive as they are careless.

Eventually our suffering will be transformed: Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! (Ps 125,5)

Thursday, 14 July 2016

8th Sunday after Pentecost 10 Jul 2016 Sermon

8th Sunday after Pentecost 10.7.16 Trust

It can be difficult for us to trust in God on the one hand, while taking the blows of life on the other.

At the weaker end of faith, we are tempted, when we have a misfortune to take it as a betrayal on God’s part; to think that He has left us high and dry.

He might have helped before, we say, but not this time. This is a feeling we can have many times, even if we have seen past crises resolve themselves.

We apologise to God for doubting Him, but we might still do it the next time!

We know, deep down, that God has not abandoned us. We know that He is absolutely reliable, and this reliability does not depend on the last thing that happened, whether it was good or bad for us.

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13,8). He does not have good days or bad days (as we do).

He never forgets who He is, or what he is doing; never gets confused; never has to deal with conflicting thoughts, as we do.

We have to rework our minds to take this in, because it is so different from our normal experience of human nature.

People can let each other down all the time, so we can think that God is the same as the rest of us; when in fact He is a great deal better and stronger than the rest of us.

We can also survey the future in a similar negative light. We can think of all sorts of thing that can go wrong.

This is not how it is supposed to work.

As disciples of Christ we are supposed to be of very strong faith; where even in a dungeon awaiting execution we are absolutely convinced of God's existence, goodness, and reliability; of the need to serve Him - and that not grudgingly, but in a spirit of praise, love, and thanksgiving.

Everything that happens is an expression of God’s will, either directly what He wills, or at least permits.

Feelings of doubt are just a distraction, a waste of time and energy, when we could be getting on with better things.

With Him and me working on the problem, especially Him (!) we will sort out whatever the problem is.

If we have this attitude we are far more likely to stay calm in a crisis; to inspire others to a similar level of faith; and to get a favourable outcome in the matter that concerns us.

So this is what we should be like, but how do we reach such a state?

It all comes from God. He will give us the required level of faith if we show enough interest; if we make clear that we are willing to receive it.

God will see if we are serious or not; and help us to become serious if not yet.

We ask His pardon for not getting further before this. In His mercy He gives us always a new moment to begin, or resume, our quest of faith.

We hold firm. We don’t stop going to Mass, praying, receiving sacraments, just because something goes wrong; even if it is the worst thing that has ever happened to us.

We dig in deep. We shall not be moved. We will not be fair-weather disciples.

Eventually it will be only sunshine, but for now we have to survive a few storms. We still have to see off the enemy.

What is good reminds us of the eternal goodness of God. What is bad reminds us of what has to be overcome. The good is permanent, the bad is temporary.

We have to drill ourselves in this so we know it as part of us, like being able to speak a language, or count to ten.

We just know these things to be so.

We know it but we let our emotions get in the way. May the Lord give us faith which goes beyond emotions. This faith is available on request.