Thursday, 22 September 2016

18th Sunday after Pentecost 18 Sep 2016 Sermon

18th Sunday after Pentecost 18.9.16 Sorrow for sin

The sick man has his sins forgiven, and is restored to health.

Once again we see in action the abundant mercy of God, restoring a person to a new beginning.

We are encouraged to trust in God's mercy. The prayers of the Church, prayers of the Mass, and prayers used in private, are constantly asking for that mercy.

We are taught that God is infinitely merciful; that He will forgive any sin, that He goes looking for lost sheep (Lk 15,1-7); that He runs to meet the returning sinner (Lk 15,20). All this would make one think that salvation must be an easy matter.

But on the other hand, the same sources warn us that God will punish sinners, and that punishment might even be eternal (Hell). Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ (Mt 25,41)

Is He going to forgive us or punish us? The key is how sorry we are for our sins. It is not so much the size of the sin as the size of the sorrow!

Sorrow is not something that can be measured as a quantity. I might think I am sorry, or hope I am, but not really be so. Only God would know the true state of my heart and mind.

It could be just fear that makes me say I am sorry, but I might really be still attached to the sin.

If we go to the Sacrament of Confession, it is a pre-requisite that we have firm purpose of amendment, sincerely intending not to commit the same sin again.

We can build up true sorrow by meditation on the malice of the sin; on the harm that it does; on the goodness of God; on the ingratitude which continuing sin reveals. We can make various devotions and prayers which will help us to see things in a clearer light.

We could, for example, consider the sufferings of Our Lord as He approaches Calvary; the sorrows of Our Lady as she sees all this; we are hurting her as well.

Sin is not something that can be casually dismissed.

The fact that forgiveness is so readily available could lead to its being cheapened – as when a free event might not be taken as seriously as one where we have to pay to be admitted.

We need to realize the largeness of both the sin and the mercy.

All sin (even lesser sin) offends the Infinite Majesty of God; this all the more underlines the immensity of His mercy, which is ready to forgive any sin.

If we grasp that sin is large and mercy is large, we are more likely to reach a sufficient level of sorrow to make us grateful, and determined not to re-offend.

We hope to reach perfect contrition – whereby we are sorry because we have offended God, not just because we are afraid of punishment.

But what of the punishment? Does the merciful God punish sinners? Yes, in two senses.

1) If there is still a chance for repentance, the punishment will be a way of forcing people to re-assess their priorities.

When God deprives people of health, wealth or status, it is a wake-up call to consider how much they value other things above Him.

The same applies to communal punishment, as with natural disasters, diseases, even wars. A whole community of people might re-think their way of life.

Souls in Purgatory see their lives in full clarity, and are aware of their excesses. Their punishment serves to purify them, to be ready for Heaven.

2) For the souls who die impenitent, only Hell remains. The punishment cannot save them; but it does serve to warn us not to make the same mistakes.

There is no contradiction between Mercy and Punishment. Mercy is God's essential position, but Punishment is what we have insofar as we refuse to engage with that Mercy.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

17th Sunday after Pentecost 11 Sep 2016 Sermon

17th Sunday after Pentecost 11.9.16 Loving the loveable

We are told we have to love God – the first and greatest commandment. It is a strange thing that we have to be commanded to love.

Normally we would think of love as something that happens spontaneously. We would not need to tell Romeo that he has to love Juliet! He loves automatically, without being told. The attraction of Juliet is enough to bring forth the love from him.

Yet Romeo, and the rest of us, do have to be told to love God.

By use of reason we can work out that God must be much superior to Juliet, or any part of His creation. The beauty we see around us is just a glimpse of the beauty of the One who makes all this possible.

Logically, we know we should love God more than anyone or anything else – and this is just what the commandment means. But given our human limitations we tend to cling to lesser objects to love, and fail to make the great leap to God Himself.

People search for love, but that usually means human love. They might find their ‘soulmate’, but they stop short of finding God.

It is really only God who can fill the soul; who can satisfy our deepest longings. Loving other people is a good thing, and that is also a command; but it is not the full story.

We are created by God to know, love, and serve Him. That is our destiny, our fulfilment; discovering which is like a bird learning to fly, or a fish to swim.

Yet we can find it hard to love God.

For one thing He can be difficult to perceive. We cannot see Him, hear Him, touch Him.

Then He can also be difficult to ‘read’, as in we do not always know His will, or His mind, on a particular subject. He does not always tell us either. Sometimes it seems He leaves us hanging in suspense.

Many people give up the hunt, and settle for whatever happiness they can find in this earthly domain.

That is a big mistake, though we understand the temptation.

If we hold on, hang in there, we will discover enough of God's goodness to enable us to make further progress.

We can learn to love Him. Like all difficult things it becomes possible with His own help.

He is a long way away from us, in the heavens; but He is also very close. In fact He is even inside us, helping us to think, to feel, to know, to decide various things.

With His help we set out on a path, a path that will take us all the way to eternity.

We learn to love Him whom we cannot see, and to trust Him whom we do not always understand.

He stirs up in us a desire for the infinite (that is why we feel so inspired by oceans and mountains, and the like).

And He steers us through this life, with all its disappointments and uncertainty, with a sense that we can feel He is close, even if there is a lot more we do not know than we do know.

By small steps it becomes achievable. We cannot explain every single thing that happens, like all the suffering in the world; but we can come back to this point: that if we would do things God's way, a lot less of those things would happen. The more people joining in, the less things would go wrong.

It is always better - no matter what questions we have - always better to go towards God than away; always better to obey than disobey; to pray than not to pray.

Doing this for a time, we will find it is as natural to love God as to love the people or the things He has created. We no longer need to be commanded to love; it will come naturally.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

16th Sunday after Pentecost 4 Sep 2016 Sermon

16th Sunday after Pentecost 4.9.16 Pharisees

To be a ‘pharisee’, as the term is used, means that we look down on others; judge them harshly; think ourselves to be free of fault.

People like us, who go to church, who keep at least the externals of religion, are often so accused.

Do we really think we are better than everyone else around?

We should not see ourselves in such a light, but rather as fellow sinners, all in need of salvation, and grateful that we have that hope.

We do not need to know who is better than whom, but simply that all of us need the mercy of God; and we ask for that mercy – for ourselves and others.

Whatever we do right, we do by the grace of God, for which we are grateful. Whatever we do wrong – that is our own fault, and happens when we do not seek the grace of God.

Others will be better or worse than we are on certain points. We do not keep score; we simply wish that every person will come to a better relationship with God than they presently have.

We rejoice (with the angels) when a sinner repents. We grieve when someone goes the other way, away from God.

As in today’s Gospel we are prepared to take the lowest place, so long as we can be at the Banquet. In humility we are happy to be the least of all, so long as we can still be included.

The saints have a way of seeing themselves as the worst people around, when everyone can see they are really the best.

But their humility was real, not feigned. They judged themselves so harshly because they could perceive the infinite holiness of God, and by comparison they were lowly worms.

So we all need grace and mercy; and that is our wish for each other, as in today’s epistle, where St Paul prays that everyone will come to know the infinite goodness of God.

We remind each other of the prophetic call of John the Baptist: There is the Lamb of God (Jn 1, 29).

We all need to do this, and we hope we all do it.

If we remind each other of the need to be right with God, that can be seen, not as a hypocritical judgment, but in the light of genuine help… cf to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant etc…

We should all be humble enough to receive correction, encouragement, or anything that will help us on our spiritual way.

But we are told we must not judge. This is often taken too far, as though to mean we can never tell anyone ever that something is wrong.

This would be abandonment of moral responsibility; a false ‘tolerance’. Sometimes we have to point out evil, for the sake of enabling the good.

It is just the same as we would put up a sign to warn people of danger on a road.

The Church warns against evil, and encourages good. In this we seek the happiness of people.

To say that someone is on the wrong path is not to condemn or hate the person, but to seek the best outcome for him.

It is a false charity to ignore the laws of God, because when people do that chaos results (as we see everywhere).

We understand human weakness, and we will not stone anyone to death; but we still must all acknowledge the place of God.

So we hope from all this that we are not pharisees. We admit that our behaviour is not as good as our beliefs, but the solution for that is to improve our behaviour, not reduce the beliefs.

We hope this for everyone; those presently in the Church, and those outside, who should be in the Church.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

15th Sunday after Pentecost 28 Aug 2016 Sermon

15th Sunday after Pentecost 28.8.16 True life

The young man was brought back to life, and all were rejoicing. A physical resurrection is certainly a spectacular thing, and much to be desired; yet the Church has always believed that forgiveness of sins is a greater thing.

We tend to make too much of the physical life, and too little of the spiritual. It would be better to die young in a state of grace, than to die old in a state of sin.

We often hear, of one who has just died, that he ‘lived life to the full’. That might mean, in reality, that he indulged in a lot of life’s pleasures, but not necessarily that he did much good; especially the sort of good that God would have expected of him.

Did he develop his character as his life progressed? Did he receive and put to use the various gifts and talents with which God was blessing him? Did he multiply his talents like the good servants in the Gospel parable (Mt 25,14-30)?

There are others, again, who may live a more respectable life. They are not out getting drunk and stealing cars. Yet they ignore God completely in their lives, and set their own personal goals as to what they are going to do with their lives. This is not ‘living’; it is a form of death.

Our Lord said: I came that they may have life, and have it to the full (Jn 10,10). Fulness of life means essentially spiritual life.

Spiritual life needs to be cultivated, and protected. Nothing can kill the soul unless we consent to its death by choosing sin. Choosing to sin is like spiritual suicide.

Most people reject suicide, but quite freely commit sin after sin. Yet that is suicide.

Or at least, roulette. Sin is dicing with death - eternal death.

Yes, we can make a comeback from sin, but we can never be fully sure we have time for that; and there is the further problem that we could be so hardened by sin that we may not even want to come back.

We are truly alive only if fully engaged with God, calling on His wisdom, serving Him, trying to please Him. If we do sin, we quickly repent and get back on track, learning from the experience.

We can be fully alive spiritually even if not able to be physically active. We could be 89 years old, and not able to get around much, but still give God all we have (Lk 21,1-4 the widow’s mite).

It may be that sickness and pain is all we have to offer, but this can be more pleasing to God than someone who can get around, but never gives Him a thought.

Identity with God's will is the crucial thing. We want what He wants. He knows what we need, and how it all ties together.

We come to see our lives not as the personal pursuit of happiness, but entirely at the service of God, like soldiers.

Soldiers, and pilgrims. Soldiers ready to be sacrificed; pilgrims ready to move on quickly.

We do not fear physical death because it is not the end. We fear sin far more.

If we must cling to life, let it be above all spiritual life.

If God spares us physically, even then it is not just to seek personal goals, but be seen as a further chance to serve Him. We do not cling to this life just to have more pleasure.

We cannot measure how alive we are in these terms. We have no way of measuring spiritual life. Sufficient to say that every move towards God will make us more alive, and every move away will be a kind of death. We can get it right with His help.

May we live to the full, spiritually, and eternally.

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.