Friday, 20 September 2019

14th Sunday after Pentecost 15 Sep 2019 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 15.9.19 Security

The best kept secret is: that obedience to God brings more happiness than does disobedience.

Or similarly that trust in God brings more peace of mind than doubting Him.

Or generosity brings more satisfaction than hoarding one’s possessions.

One could go on through all the different polarities; the pattern will be the same.

The epistle today lists the good fruits that come from God and taking Him seriously – charity, joy, peace, patience, chastity.. and also the bad fruits that follow whenever we try to do it without God – quarrels, dissensions, envies, murders etc.

We live in a world where most people do it the wrong way, and this creates a lot of chaos.

All the more reason we must do it the right way: obey God in all things; trust Him at all times; give of ourselves rather than try to hang on to our false securities.

This we must do even if we are the only one; even if we are ridiculed by all around us.

It is the best way and the only way to make sense of it all.

God will provide whatever is needed for all who put their trust in Him.

It is a bit more complicated for us than the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (Gospel). But the principle is the same.

God provides for us but we have to do some work ourselves. He does not just deliver things ready-made from Heaven. We can use some human ingenuity to arrange things. (Even human ingenuity comes from God).

He provides in ways that involve us and require our cooperation.

For example, He sends rain to water the earth, and we meanwhile will plant the right crops, learning as we go. Then we turn those crops into food and we eat the food. So God has provided, and we have received; but also we have participated in the process.

We are tempted to accumulate resources for ourselves (especially money). Our Lord warns against too much self-reliance. Do not be like the foolish man who thought all he had to do was build bigger barns (Lk 12,16-21).

We can pile up money but it will not save us from sudden death or incapacity, should they come.

Did warriors strong around me throng, they could not stay [death’s] power.

God expects us to trust Him, not the assets we may have. We cannot cover every detail, no matter how hard we try; there are too many things that could go wrong.

Preoccupation with our security will paralyse our response to God. He expects us to walk in trust, wherever that takes us, even to the miraculous.

With God on our side who can be against us? (Rom 8,31)

If we obey Him and are generous with our possessions, we will see the path opening before us.

We have to obey first to get the full effect. This is part of our ‘participation’. Many will demand a sign from God before they give Him any consideration. They want manna from Heaven; they do not want to exert themselves in faith.

God, for His part, will withhold blessings to see if we can trust in Him.

He can do more with humble and contrite hearts.

If we do follow the general principles then we will see results.

If we cannot achieve a miracle we will benefit from trying. But we have much more chance of seeing a miracle if we live as God directs.

Our true and only security is in Christ. Give Him an obedient and joyful response and there is no telling how much good can come from that.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

13th Sunday after Pentecost 8 Sep 2019 Gratitude

13th Sunday after Pentecost 8.9.19 Gratitude 

Your faith has made you well… the leper who came back must have had enough faith to enable him to interpret his experience as an encounter with God, and he responded accordingly.

He was passionately moved in gratitude, throwing himself at Our Lord’s feet, acknowledging more than just a physical healing.

He was glad to be healed but he was able to see deeper; that in Our Lord here was someone to compel one’s attention; to whom one should profess allegiance.

This is what Our Lord means by being ‘made well’ –  every part of the human person working in unison, body and soul coming together.

To be healed means healed in soul as well as body.

Faith is the ability to discern the workings of God in our lives. Sometimes His working is powerful and instantaneous, and we rejoice in that.

Other times it is much more of a grind and we have to persevere in prayer and trust for ages, maybe all our lives, before we see the desired change. This would apply to big prayer projects like world peace, conversion of sinners.

Faith will hold us together, enabling us to sense God's presence and activity behind the scenes, if not in full view.

We know that God does not change; does not forget us; does not go back on His word. He does not have changes of mood, as we do. We do not have to wait for God to be in a good mood before we place our requests before Him. He is always the same.

We come to a state of union with Him whereby we believe just as strongly when things go our way and when they do not. It is this union which enables us to see beyond just the latest circumstance.

We see the plans of God unfolding before us. Whether things happen quickly or take centuries - we thank God for all of it.

The other nine lepers presumably did not have enough faith to be able to make the spiritual connection. They took the healing for granted… just one of those things… and did not derive the spiritual benefit that was there for them if they had sought it.

Worse still, people often hold grudges against God, because of misfortunes they experience. This is clearly not the best way forward. We must not resent the One who is perfect goodness.

At such times we have to raise our eyes to the larger picture. Sufferings and disappointments of every kind can be absorbed in God's nature, simply who and what He is.

Our prayer becomes one event, not just random episodes according to need, but a continuous state of harmony with God.

We call on Him, but without needing to shout – like Our Lady at Cana: Son, they have no wine. That is asking for a miracle, but without raising one’s voice.

If the one leper could turn into millions of disciples who believe to the point of death; who come back every day to say Thanks, who throw themselves at the Master’s feet and promise loyalty!

This would be progress. It would mean, among other things, more daily miracles, and less lag time before major breakthroughs would follow.

When we question or complain we are blocking the works, making it less likely that prayers can be heard.

Instead let us keep a reverent silence and simply go to work on the prayer that is respectful, grateful, and will move mountains (Mk 11,23).

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

12th Sunday after Pentecost 1 Sep 2019 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 1.9.19 Loving our Neighbour

We must love our neighbour, whoever that may be, and whatever love requires in each situation.

Our neighbour could be someone we see all the time, like family; or a stranger we see only once.

What love requires may not necessarily be what the person wants from us.

Sometimes love requires that we refuse a request, or that we correct the other person’s behaviour.

One situation that often arises is that people come to churches to ask for money. We should generally refuse such requests because a lot of the claims for help will be untruthful; and we run the risk of being overrun with other people doing the same thing.

We will be accused of being un-Christian if we do not give, but we must seek the best path to take.

The Church has structures for helping the poor, and we should encourage the proper use of those structures. This will keep due order and reduce fraud.

We work for the overall good of each person and of the whole Church.

This  is how God expresses love for us - He works to an overall plan.

We believe He hears our prayers; yet He does not always give us what we ask, nor does He always give it immediately.

We might lament this apparent inaction on God's part, but we can be assured He is working for our overall good.

He will give us what is best for us, and in the way that is best.

We can apply the same logic to our love for others. We will give what we think is best and in the way that is best for each person. We do not have God's infinite wisdom, but we can seek His guidance for the best response in each case.

The whole Church is charitable, materially and spiritually.

The spiritual help is always more important, but we must attend to material help also.

It is no use preaching to a man if he has an empty stomach. We feed him first; because simple charity requires it, and it will put him in a more likely mood to receive the Gospel.

Many would resist the spiritual help, but they need it, even if they do not know or do not want.

The Church is seen as helpful in the material domain, but not for its spiritual value.

But we must pursue the spiritual side of the matter. We must instruct the ignorant and admonish the sinner, two of the spiritual works of mercy. Ignorant and sinful people will not usually admit they are in those states.

This is where we have to overrule sometimes. We hope that those whose requests we refuse will not be embittered, but come to a proper spiritual understanding of their position before God, and see their way to a higher destiny.

In our prayer we ask this of God, acknowledging that He knows best; and while we cannot understand all His ways, we do see the general pattern to which He is working.

That everyone, including ourselves, will see our ultimate happiness as union with God, and all other needs along the way as subservient to that.

We do not find this easy as urgent needs press upon us. We do not find it easy to convince other people that this is their situation.

But it is true for everyone, and God Himself will not allow us to forget it.

He could rain down every conceivable material blessing on us, but He knows that would distract us from the main task, which is to have our sins forgiven, and right relationship with Him restored.

May we find the right balance; that all our giving and receiving be according to God's holy will.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

11th Sunday after Pentecost 25 Aug 2019 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 25.8.19 The necessity of faith

The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light (Is 9,2),  a verse used at Christmas time. And today, the deaf discover hearing (Gospel).

Our sense experience is limited enough for spiritual matters, even when all five senses are operating well.

We see but not perceive, hear but not understand (Mk 4,12). We do not see or hear what is really happening as we are too much immersed in the world.

It needs a special work of grace to enable comprehension on the part of each person.

Some do not hear the word often enough (or ever).

Others hear it time after time, but familiarity with the message can sometimes dull the comprehension. This could be a problem for the loyal Catholics who have been turning up at Mass for decades.

Breakthroughs can be achieved, however. It could be the atheist, the lapsed Catholic, someone holding to a false religion; and sometimes even the practising Catholic.

A moment of realization is reached; Christ is the Saviour of the whole world; and He has come among us. And risen.

Once reached, never let go. It has to become part of our lives, ingrained in our world view, something that we can recall at any time or place. This is what St Paul is urging in the Epistle reading: hold fast to what I have preached to you.

If we had to believe our faith only for a short time, say a week or a month, we would sail through easily.

But having to hold firm over a lifetime means that we have to face a lot of temptations and distractions.

We can forget that this earthly life is only the way, not the destination. It is too easy to try to make this life the endpoint of all our hopes and plans.

Many do exactly that, and relegate their faith life to something that belongs to long ago and far away – a childhood memory, a time when life was simpler. They ‘outgrow’ their faith, thinking they have made a mature decision.

But the faith is still true! As when the angels appeared to the shepherds, as when you received your first Holy Communion, as when the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Others again will talk of the faith as though it is just another subject that might or might not be pursued – like learning the guitar, or French – a matter of taste or inclination.

No, Jesus Christ cannot be reduced to an option. He is all there is; the whole universe is under His authority.

Yes, He can be ignored (for a time) but that is never a good idea. It is to negate the whole basis of our existence.

We believe in Him because our lives depend on it (eternal lives). We need Him for eternal life; and we need Him for this life. If we give Him the prominence He deserves from us we will be assured of reaching Heaven on the one hand, and making the best of this life on the other.

It is tragic that on both counts – final salvation and living in the present – so many do not find Him. They have eyes but do not see; ears but do not hear.

We pray ceaselessly for the grace of God to penetrate the fog that lies over the current world.

God is never asleep, never away. He can always be reached.

And He wants, more than we do, that people will grasp His presence.

May He not give up on us, and may He keep pouring forth His grace and mercy to penetrate even the deepest fog.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

10th Sunday after Pentecost 18 Aug 2019 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 18.8.19 Knowing our place

The fallen angels were expelled from Heaven for not knowing their place before Almighty God.

They thought they were equal or better than God but then found they could not stand before Him.

Each of us faces the same choice: will I acknowledge God's importance, worship and obey Him; or will I assert myself against Him?

We have just enough intelligence to be dangerous. We have God-like qualities, but in much smaller quantities than He has them. So we can solve problems, create things, invent things. Mankind has achieved much in terms of buildings, technology, medicine, transport.

And sometimes we are morally good, in terms of compassion for suffering, helping those in need, rejecting evil in various forms.

But anything we can do God can do better. We should never let our achievements go to our head, as though we did it by ourselves.

This, however, is what people are inclined to do, in every age.

From Adam and Eve thinking they could be like God; to the Tower of Babel where men sought to raise a monument for their own glory; to those who would kill God’s own Son to steal his inheritance (Mt 21,38). All this is human rebellion against God, a futile assertion of human rights against divine.

The Pharisee of today’s Gospel suffers from this problem. He talks to God as a near-equal, as though his goodness is something God should be grateful for.

The Publican gives us the way forward. He acknowledges his sin, and asks only for mercy.

When we fit in with the true order of things, all will go well.

All the trouble in the world can be traced to sin, and all the sin in the world stems from a lack of humility before God, a lack of understanding our true position before Him.

He wants us to share in His creative power, to exercise our free wills in union with His own will

But this must always be, for our part, from a subservient position.

We never dare to tell God what He should be doing; we merely ask that He do certain things, but always deferring to His greater wisdom and goodness.

If we do this long enough we come to grow in love for Him. It is not just that we obey Him, as though grudgingly, but we come to rejoice in our relationship with Him.

We see in God the fulness of all that is good and loveable; all that is beautiful.

As we love His works on earth we come to love Him who made those works.

Our own creativity and ingenuity will be more likely to come to the fore if we are in right relationship with God.

Our intellects and wills have been damaged by sin. Coming back to God through repentance will repair a lot of the damage that has been done.

We will think more clearly and love more strongly. We will have all our priorities in the right balance.

Most of all we will have the right understanding of ourselves as standing before God.

We will be humble, grateful, respectful of others, on all points seeking to advance God's view of the world.

This will make us ready for Heaven and more useful on earth.

We cannot get by without God, or in opposition to Him. It is His universe and we are in it only by His generosity.

Instead, every knee must bow before Him and every tongue confess (Ph 2,10-11). The humble shall be exalted.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

9th Sunday after Pentecost 11 Aug 2019 Sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost 11.8.19 Punishment

If the people will not repent there will be trouble. This message, in various words, forms the essence of many prophecies, of biblical and more recent times.

God reserves the right to punish His people, if they will not listen to His word and act on it.

In the Epistle today we are reminded that God punished the Jews of Moses’ time; and in the Gospel, more than a thousand years later, Our Lord foresees another punishment for the Jews of His time.

And our time is similarly addressed in terms of punishments - which have happened, such as World War II (prophesied at Fatima) - and which might still happen if the people do not repent.

It seems that people do not like repenting, in any age. The allure of sin is strong.

And there are ways of avoiding the issue.

1) In an age that trusts too much to science, events such as cyclones, floods, fires, earthquakes are considered merely ‘natural’ events which cannot be avoided; they have nothing to do with ‘religion’, it is said.

If there had never been sin we would still have Eden-like conditions. Nature would obey Man and would never harm him. As it is Nature rebels because Man rebels against God.

Even more so the destruction caused by man against man is the direct result of alienation from God. People without God will certainly seek to harm each other.

2) Then, there are people who say that God would not punish anyone. He is too forgiving for that.

But punishment is not the same as refusing mercy.

The Lord punishes to direct His children back to the path whereby they can receive mercy.

He will forgive anyone who is sincerely contrite.

The idea of punishment is to lead the guilty party to a clearer understanding of what is happening.

Why cannot God just keep forgiving? Because there has to be an attitude change in us, a real sorrow for our sin.

He teaches us the value of restraint, honesty, self-sacrifice – all the things which are better for us than gluttony, self-indulgence, theft, and all the wrong things.

God blasts away the false gods, and replaces them with His true self, and order is restored.

This is all to give us something better than we had before. He is preparing us for Heaven.

3) What sort of God would punish? A loving and wise God, who can see all the details near and far, who can work for the best interests of His people.

4) What about good people, those trying to do the right thing? Why should they suffer? Well, no one is totally good, and we all need purifying of some sort; but even if we were totally innocent, we can still grow in love of God, and help atone for the sins of others.

As we come to love God more we are moved by a desire for right order to prevail; that God be honoured for who He is.

At first we do not want pain, but we come to see the larger view and are prepared again by God's grace to take our part.

We are happy to take some of the pain of this earth, in rebellion against its Creator and Saviour. We do this to help settle that rebellion, and remove the need for further punishment, which simple obedience will achieve.

Nothing compares with God, and the possession of Him is paramount. It all comes back to this point.

Once we grasp this, sin loses its hold on us. Then the happy prophecies can unfold such as: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. (Is 11,6).

Thursday, 8 August 2019

8th Sunday after Pentecost 4 Aug 2019 Sermon

8th Sunday after Pentecost 4.8.19 Confidence

The steward is praised for his ability to use what he had to advance his own cause. To apply this in a spiritual light, we have a lot which we can use to our own advantage spiritually.

We have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, sacramentals, the Liturgy, the intercession of the saints, the workings of grace. We have all these things going for us, yet we still can think we are all alone and unaided.

At any time we can invoke God's presence and He will come to our aid, enabling us to conquer any sort of opposition or obstacle.

We will be strong enough and wise enough to find the best way forward.

We can take this opportunity to ask for an increase in our confidence – to be more confident of God's help; and of our own ability to work with that help.

When fear restricts us we miss many opportunities for good. They say that evil flourishes when good men do nothing. Well, there is a lot of ‘nothing’ going on in our Church.

As to confidence in God we have the power of prayer and the sacraments to make Him present to us. We have thousands of years of miracles and wonders, with God showing His ability and His will to advance His plans for us.

As to confidence in ourselves, as the Psalm puts it: With my God I can scale any wall (Ps 17 (18),29).

If we are Moses going before Pharaoh, or David confronting Goliath, or John the Baptist correcting Herod – at different times we have to do difficult things, even dangerous things.

God is at our side always.

He can work miracles directly to clear the way for us; or He can work through us, putting the miracle inside us, as it were.

This is His usual preferred method.

So we participate in His work. We solve our own problems with God's help and in union with Him all the way.

Many will try to sort it out themselves, a kind of rugged individualism which is really pride.

We find many stories where God has used people who may not have seemed adequate for the role: Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, Esther, the Apostles, St Paul etc.

God values humility, the recognition that we cannot get anywhere without Him. Once we do recognize that we can make great progress.

When someone dies young people will say, What a waste  - they had the world at their feet; they could have achieved so much.

Just so, when someone lives the full measure of years but never connects with the will of God  - what a waste of potential.

We have so much at our disposal in terms of grace; we can receive it; we can make it go to work.

The Epistle tells us we are sons of God, not just servants.

We have a share in God’s royal dignity. We can do so much, if only we stay anchored in His will.

We can be easily distracted or waylaid, lacking confidence in God, and in ourselves.

The steward shows us the way. Use what we have, and see it multiply.

Who knows what graces the Holy Spirit might yet release in us if we let Him?
You have to be in it to win it, the saying goes. We have to be engaged in the search for God to find Him fully. If we are receptive to His initiatives, anything can happen (cf the Incarnation!)

For some things God waits on us to ask, and if we leave things undone He might leave them undone too, until we work out that He wants our engagement.

God wants us to call on Him for help, while being prepared to act ourselves, trusting in Him to supply what we cannot.

In this mode of operating, we can make our way to eternal life.