Thursday, 14 September 2017

14th Sunday after Pentecost 10 Sep 2017 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 10.9.17 Holiness

Seek first the Kingdom and all these other things will be given to you.

Our Lord is exhorting us to get things in the right perspective. Are we right with Him?  This is the main question to be addressed.

Am I ready to meet Him if I were to die today? Is my soul in a fit state to go before Him?

This is more urgent than whether or not I have enough to eat, or to wear.

The soul is more important than the body; eternal life more important than food and clothing.

So we set about being right with Him. If we are living good lives we continue with that, and still seek to improve.

If we are living lives of sin then we repent, the sooner the better.

We need mercy if we are bad, and grace if we are good. In either state we cannot do it without God.

Grace will enable us to live good lives, helping us to want goodness for its own sake; and seeing through the temptations of the devil.

We will see that the rules God places on us are not burdensome restrictions, but actually a source of joy.

We generally distrust rules and laws when they come from human authority.

But when they come from God it is another matter.

He is always going to be right. If He says thou shalt not something we had better shalt not!

This is not widely known. Many are trying to be happy by getting around God's laws.

No, it is holiness that leads to happiness. Holiness is the new thing. Purity, truth, kindness, gentleness; these are the qualities everyone is looking for. Sin is obsolete!

We can dismiss it all as ‘religious’ language, just the right thing to say, but it is meant to be lived out; waiting to be discovered.

See also the epistle: the fruits of good and evil (Ga 5,19-23).

When we keep God's commands everything falls into place. Like a machine where every part is doing its job.

We can discover this for ourselves individually; and even better if it becomes communal – the kingdom of Heaven, where there is no angry word, no violence, no theft, no impurity, no evil of any kind.

If we do not enjoy such a state it must mean we still need mercy. Mercy will restore us to a state of grace, if we sincerely seek it.

The truths of our faith should be obvious, but we still manage to miss them. The devil obscures the truth and we can miss it.

The present world is filled with confusion as to right and wrong.

We have to clean out the sin, not just partially but completely. Flesh v Spirt, we must decide. Realise there is more to this than most people think about.

To get into Heaven we have to be purified of any and every trace of sin.

We claim the present moment: this moment, and from now on. I will not delay any further.

Either we have lived a good life, or we are sorry we have not. But if we have not, we will keep that firmly in the past, and make a new start at this moment.

It is not just saying ‘Sorry’, but changing attitudes and behaviour.

If motivated by fear (eg on a sinking boat) it may be difficult to generate heartfelt sorrow at that point. We may be too hardened to turn back.

We have to cultivate a spirit of contrition now.

Such that if we did survive a shipwreck we would live differently for the rest of our lives. God knows if we are sincere or not, but if not, He can help us to be so.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

13th Sunday after Pentecost 6 Sep 2017 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 3.9.17 Thanksgiving

In these troubled times… where is God? People ask this from different angles. The unbelievers are mocking… where is this God of yours?  The believers are pleading with God to show His hand (maybe not too much all at once!).

We can find God in the midst of all the smoke and confusion.

We can follow the example of the one leper who returned (today’s Gospel), loudly glorifying God. This is what we are doing at each Mass, and in general throughout our lives.

We praise God for His goodness, a goodness which is infinite and unchanging. If He hides His hand it is never because of any malice or weakness on His part.  He is supreme at all times, supreme in goodness and in power.

 Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration (Jm 1,17)

He is never arbitrary. He does not push a button, saying, I think I will give so-and-so an extra rough time today.

He does let things go to some extent. He does not intervene at every point where we might think He should. We tend to want a quick fix, like instant coffee. Fix it, Lord, don’t make me work through all the hard stuff.

He does offer us other ways out of trouble, such as obeying Him, trusting and praying, and doing penance.

Much as we are inclined to throw down tools and have a tantrum with God, we must resist such a course. We can express anguish with Him, tell Him how hurt we are, shed tears before Him. We can do all that, but in a respectful way that affirms our ultimate trust in Him.

Constantly we realign ourselves with Him, reaffirming His reality, His goodness; recalling that He did not have to make us, or save us, and does not have to take an interest in us. But He does all that simply because He wants to.

Then He pays us the further compliment of expecting us to be active disciples in His service. He is giving us a position of responsibility, not given to all His creatures.

We can thank Him for that too, even though it makes life harder.

Our thanksgiving is not an awkward add-on but an expression of trust so that thanking and asking are woven together and go with each other

Just to see the trouble in the world makes us immediately turn to prayer of petition.

At the same time we thank Him, in advance, because we know He hears us. Our Lord put this in His own words, praying through His humanity: Father, I know that You always hear Me (Jn 11,42).

If we complain, it is like tramping in with muddy boots, when we need to be very quiet and still, if we want to find out what is happening. Be still and know that I am God. (Ps 45 (46), 10).

If we sin (worse still) we are breaking this vital connection, cutting the rope to which we cling, biting the hand that feeds us.

If we have union with God, all else falls into place. If we give Him the time we would see that He does prove Himself, with a lot more to come.

Like the leper, we come before Him extolling His goodness. We would extol Him even if we are not healed, because He is who He is. If He does not give us one kind of blessing He will give us another. Always good, because that is His nature.

All glory be to Him.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

12th Sunday after Pentecost 27 Aug 2017 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 27.8.17 Word and Deed

The challenge to us as Catholics is to live out in reality what we believe in the abstract.

It is easy to imagine good things like a perfect world where everyone is friendly, honest and kind, and there is not an angry word spoken all day.

We find that reality falls so far short of this. Yet we believe the gap between reality and belief can be closed.

In the Church we have word and sacrament. The word tells us what is in Heaven, and what ought to be on earth.

The sacraments bring Heaven to the earth, and begin to transform reality as we have it.

So we feel good when we go to Confession or Holy Communion, for example. We are not just thinking about good things; we actually receive them.

We feel better, and we behave better.

Our religion is not just words or concepts, all hot air as some would have it; but actually translates into action.

If we find a man lying bruised and battered by the side of the road we help him.

It is at such times we find how committed we are. We think we are loyal and faithful disciples, but when put to the test we may not come through as well as we expected.

The Master we follow will make us stronger disciples.

We ask Him, in the first place, not to give us too many hard situations to deal with!

If something difficult does come upon us, to give us the grace needed to deal with it, to rise to the occasion.

We do not know our own depths, either good or bad. What we can say for certain is that we will be strengthened by prayer and sacraments, and thus be far more likely to come up with the right response when the test arises.

So we do not just talk about feeding the hungry, but actually feed them; not just talk about justice, but live justly.

We learn from books, and can learn a lot from holy books; but our faith has always been orientated to the practical. If we cannot make it happen there is something missing.

The grace of God, working in us, will carry us over the divide between theory and practice.

By this grace, whatever is commanded is also made appealing.

With the help of grace we will think the right thoughts, and want the right outcomes. Our affections will be properly ordered.

We reach a point where we want to help the ‘man by the side of the road’, more than we want our own comfort. This much the saints demonstrate to us, always wanting to do more in the Lord’s service, even if it meant more suffering.

We might say we will never be so advanced as the saints, but if we let God take possession of our hearts and minds we will change.

The part-time Catholic never sees this and begrudges even the most minimal observance.

For us, who do seek to go more deeply, it is still possible to be just drifting, not fully engaging with the presence of God.

It is easy to relegate our faith to a corner of our lives. Given that we are dealing with God Himself it has to be the central issue. Anything else we do has to fit in around this most important of realities.

We still do other things, like getting married, going to work, buying and selling - but the perspective is always from God's point of view.

We are dealing not just in ideas but actual reality. We make the ideas happen and this gives our words more authority, and our actions more power.

All of which makes a stronger Church, which is good for us and everyone else, as we hope they will come to know.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

11th Sunday after Pentecost 20 Aug 2017 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 20.8.17 Holding firm

St Paul reasserts the basics in today’s epistle. In the light of moral crises and general decline we need to go back to those basics and hold on tight.

When we are in a battle, and seem to be pushed back, we tend to re-group, hoping to find new strength.

If we retreat it is not to admit defeat, but to rebuild and come back out again. The Church is in that state at present, and has been many times before.

We have our ‘backs to the wall’. We are probably losing more than we are winning, as far as influencing the world goes - though there is a lot of good happening which is under-reported.

But certainly if we go by the numbers we are declining in many key areas – Mass attendance, vocations, Catholic percentage of the population.

And the wrong numbers are going up - depression, abuse, suicides, atheism, general moral decline – addictions, abortions, homosexual behaviour etc.

The first thing for us is not to change sides. So many have left, having been baptised and confirmed, but still gone. This is part of the test. The real disciples will hold on. The weaker ones will take flight.

We worry about those who leave, for their own salvation; and also because we miss the contribution they could make.

And they serve as a temptation for those still here also to leave. Why am I still here when all my family and friends have gone\?

We are still here because the basic data of our faith are still true, and cannot become untrue.

God the Son became man, was born, and died, and raised, and ascended, and will come again.

In that process He has established the Church, which speaks infallibly for Him, and which makes Him present through the sacraments.

This is where we draw the line. No further retreat from this is possible. These things are the certainties on which we rely, no matter what else anyone says or does.

We do not go by polls, or by sentiment, or crowd mentality. Crowds are notorious for getting it wrong – crucify him, crucify him.

This will do wonders for our own faith; we will never leave if we dig in firmly enough.

And it should have a flow-on effect in retrieving the lost, and winning new members.

We have the responsibility to hold on in this present time of crisis.

We are confident of the ultimate victory because Christ will come again, even if only a remnant still believes.

We hold on, with awareness of the seriousness of the conflict, so we put all our energy to the task, much as if we were in a physical battle.

There is a certain desperation in the effort; but no desperation in the beliefs themselves, in which we can be serenely certain. There the truth is as clear and strong as anything could ever be.

We build up our knowledge of the faith, so that we can put in a good word when possible. We are usually outnumbered, but we do not let the numbers fool us. We will be mocked and ridiculed, but no amount of mocking and scorning can put Our Lord back into the tomb.

Nothing can keep Christ down, nor His followers, if we hold firm.

If anyone wants to say we are winning at present, the principle remains the same. We would then have to guard against complacency. We will have neither complacency nor despair. In all weathers we hold firm.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

10th Sunday after Pentecost 13 Aug 2017 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 13.8.17 Pride

Many people, in these times, suffer from a lack of self-esteem, a sense of their own worth.

Many even commit suicide, thinking that nobody cares for them one way or the other.

We are supposed to feel good about ourselves. Even better still we are supposed to be good; and that is the surest way to feel good.

Being good, and feeling good, come as we learn how God regards us; when we see ourselves as created by God, loved by Him, and valuable to Him. If we are valuable to God we must be somebody, and so we are.

This is ‘good’ pride, when all we are and have is bound up with God. In due proportion we can take pride in our work, our houses, our appearance, our community etc. This is all fine as long as these things do not become false gods.

We are planets to God’s sun. He is the centre, and we revolve around Him. He is the reference point at all times.

Constant prayer and practice will be necessary to enable us to keep this perspective; to end any rebellion within us, and at the same time enhance our sense of worth.

We find ourselves happy to be created beings. We might bristle at first, wanting to assert independence; but we come to appreciate God's goodness, and are happy to be subservient to Him.

We are happy once we have trimmed the excesses of minds and hearts; pulled heads in, as regards our self-importance; simply accepting what we are; just happy to be any part of God's family.

Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvellous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul.
Ps 130 (131), 1-2

Not everyone accepts the status of created being. Especially not the devil. The source of his sin was pride. He thought himself better than God, or at least more important. He wanted to be god himself; so he created his own empire.

This has been the problem ever since. All sin springs from pride, the wrong sort of pride.

Wrong pride is when we exclude God from the picture, and set up in business for ourselves; as though to say: I am the most important person around here.

This leads to lots of sin, and disorder. The world is so much infected with sin that we can take things as normal which are very much abnormal.

A world where most people lie, and get angry, have impure desires, carry grudges, cheat in business, and put themselves first – this is how it is, but is not how it is meant to be.

It is meant to be as it is in Heaven, where everyone is lost in awe of God, and obeying freely - Our Lady being the supreme example.

She can help us in this direction.

Pride can get at us even when we are doing the right thing. The Pharisee (Gospel) was too pleased with himself, thinking his goodness was the result of his own efforts.

Even if we do something virtuous, it is only by the grace of God.

The sins are our fault; the good we do is from Him.

Sins happen when we assert ourselves against God. Repentance is when we get back into right alignment with Him.

The publican got all this in his brief prayer: Lord, be merciful to me a sinner (Lk 18,13) .
On every point we have to be right with God – in thought, word, deed, ambition, desires, self- understanding, fitting in with others, taking our place in God’s overall plan.

All this follows from a true understanding of how things are set up – which comes with humility.

May the Lord keep us – or make us – humble, enabling us to appreciate our true worth in his sight.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Feast of the Transfiguration 6 Aug 2017 Sermon

Feast of the Transfiguration 6.8.17

We can feel good and feel bad at the same time. How do you feel, we ask each other. It depends what we look at. We are happy if we think about some things; unhappy if we think about other things. Both situations apply, at any time.

It makes us happy to think about God and His goodness to us. It makes us unhappy to think about all our various problems, personal or more general.

The Transfiguration, which we celebrate today, is one time, comparatively rare, that God shows His glory to us below; a miraculous display making a very welcome relief to the usual humdrum of our existence.

Such a revelation will always make us happy. It is a reminder from God that our reasons for joy greatly outweigh our reasons for sadness.

The occasional moment of ecstasy lifts us above our normal patterns of thinking, and gives us new energy for the future.

We do not ‘see’ God very often.

This is, for one part, because He is so much beyond us, in His infinite glory. We simply cannot take Him in. It is like trying to empty out the ocean using a bottle.

Further limiting us is our sinfulness. We have spread darkness by our sins, thus making it harder still to perceive the presence of God.

Our perception being thus dulled, we spend much of our time feeling gloomy and miserable about our various problems.

God, having mercy on us in our miseries, throws us a lifeline. He assures us at critical times that what we have believed about Him all along, is still true.

The consolations may be short and rare, but they connect us with a reality that is permanent and always close – the goodness of God, and His saving will towards us.

The negative feelings can be dissolved in the greater reality.

We keep our eyes (the eyes of faith) fixed on Our Lord, as did Peter when he began to walk on water. When he lowered his gaze, he began to sink (Mt 14,29-30).

We cannot generate consolations at will, but there are certain things we can do to bolster our sense of God’s goodness, and closeness - lots of prayer, reflection, meditation, noting His miracles, small and large.

Thus we develop a level of trust in Him, that He will never leave us abandoned.

So if you ask me how I feel, I feel good and bad at the same time, but the good is much deeper and more enduring. This is how St Paul can exhort us to ‘rejoice always’ (Ph 4,4).

Drawing upon that reservoir of joy we can change our thoughts and feelings. A sense of order and peace descends upon us. Anticipation of better things to come will sustain us.

This is not just wishful thinking, or playing with words. It is a real fact - that God is close to us - from which we draw strength.

We are told, especially when nervous, to take deep breaths. Our breathing is generally too shallow. In the spiritual world, we take ‘shallow breaths’ when we pray hurriedly and in a distracted manner.

If we really allow ourselves to be still and know that He is God (Ps 45,10), we will see more with the eyes of faith, and perceive with the heart.

We will not let sadness prevail. We must not be like the millionaire living as a miser. We call upon the riches we possess. We find consolation for every trouble, while troubles still last, eventually entering our own share of transfigured glory.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

8th Sunday after Pentecost 30 Jul 2017 Sermon

8th Sunday after Pentecost 30.7.17 Means and Ends

In the movies the bad guys will use bad means to get their desired objective. They will shoot you in the back if it suits them. The good guys would never do that!

As Christians we have to be good all the time, so we cannot use evil means to get to a good end. Many think that the end justifies the means, but no, it has always been Church teaching that we cannot do evil to achieve good.

For example, Euthanasia. We hasten someone’s death to spare him pain. A good end but the wrong means.

To achieve good we must do good all along the way. The end and the means converge.

All our actions and intentions must be good, as being united with the will of God, who is incapable of evil, either intent or action.

The temptation will come to us to bend the rules, to cut a corner, so that we can reach the desired objective more easily. We are tempted to improve on God's way. Recall Moses, who was told to speak to the rock and it would bring forth water. He hit the rock instead, trying to improve on the instructions – for which he was severely punished (Num 20,8-12).

Whereas, if we go with God's way, slow as it may seem, the overall effect will be far better.

They even tried to tell Our Lord how He could improve on things (Mt 16,23-26). Peter is trying to talk Our Lord out of His prophesied death. It does seem a natural response, but not the right one.

Our Lord took a longer route, giving up His power (temporarily). How can it be better to be nailed to a cross, than to be doing miracles? But it was better.

Constantly, we are tempted to break God's commands: Thou shalt not commit adultery. People say that is too hard altogether, so they do commit adultery in one or other form of impurity.

Thou shalt not steal: the people defraud and cheat each other, and all to gain some sort of temporal advantage.

We all lose out when God’s ways are ignored. Repeated sin brings trouble on the whole society, making us insecure (for example, having to lock our houses, being afraid to go out at night).

If we would obey instead, we would save ourselves a lot of trouble.

Better to be honest, and wait for the daily bread that has been promised.

We have to exercise some trust here - just try it and see what happens.
I will not steal, cheat, lie defraud. I will treat everyone as I would want them to treat me. With integrity, justice etc.

It can go two ways for us if we obey God in all matters. It might lead to prosperity, an increase in our fortunes; or it might lead to adversity and apparent failure, in which case the blessings will be in another form, less obvious, but sooner or later it must come good.

There must always be a way out of every problem without resorting to sinful behaviour. People will say this is not the case. But it has to be true, whether we can see it or not.

So we are going to do this from now on – live in the spirit not the flesh (epistle). We will be the good guys, not shooting anyone in the back.

It is highly possible someone will shoot us in the back, but even that will be made right by God.

As Scripture puts it in many places – for example - The last shall be first (Mt 20,16); those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. (Ps 124,1); those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy (Ps 125,5-6); many are the trials of the just man but from them all the Lord delivers him (Ps 33,19).