Thursday, 23 March 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent 19 Mar 2017 Sermon

3rd Sunday of Lent 19.3.17 Spiritual warfare

The greatest command we are given is to love God with our whole hearts and minds (Mt 22,37).

This should be easy, given that God is the source of all that is good and loveable, and therefore should be attractive to us.

But sin has entered the world and clouded our vision; and we make some very poor decisions, many of which are further sins, clouding matters even further.

People are not born loving God (Our Lady a notable exception). Original sin means that we love ourselves first, and others (including God) as we can fit them in. There is not much love for God, not to start with anyway.

We follow Israel over the desert in this Lenten season. In our case the arrival point is a fuller knowledge and love for God.

We have escaped from Egypt, crossed the river, and we do not look back.

We are free, but not yet out of danger. Just as the Egyptians chased the Jews into the desert, so the devil chases us.

He fights hard. Today’s Gospel describes how he gathers reinforcements after one defeat, and comes back even harder.

The enemy will attack in waves. He will not let up. He wants our soul; to drag us down to hell. We must remember that at all times.

It does not look like a furious battle. We cannot see it. But we go too much by physical appearances, and in this case more than ever.

If the sky is blue and the grass is green, we say all is well. No sign of trouble.

Out of our sight, but all around us, the good and evil angels are fighting over each one of us. Over our souls, for the will, the soul of each one, our basic loyalty.

Till the hour of our death.

For us at the ground level, it amounts to trusting and obeying God.

Trusting Him that as He has rescued us a million times before, He will do so into the future.

Obeying Him in all things whether we like the command or not, or whether we can see the point of it; but conceding that God is likely to know better than we do!

This is progress across the desert for us. This is our part in the battle. We fight just like lower ranked soldiers by immediate and complete obedience to whatever command we receive.
(as did Our Lady and St Joseph).

We come to love God as we see the beauty of His will, and how doing things His way makes sense of everything.

If the Israelites had obeyed and trusted God, they would have crossed the desert a lot faster than the 40 years it took.

As we grow stronger, the way becomes clearer, and the Church becomes, as we are supposed to be, the light of the world (Mt 5,14).

Presently the devil runs rings around people. He should not have so much freedom. We have given it to him; we have made it easy for him by questioning and complaining about everything.

The whole society is infected. For too long the devil has had his way.

Everyone is vulnerable. Anyone can fall, even if previously strong. We have to keep up the vigilance, all the way to the end.

The Church as a whole, and each member, has the obligation to love God first, to seek Him above all things. To give clear teaching and example to all, especially the young.

We will not let the devil back in. It is all the way forward from here.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent 12 Mar 2017 Sermon

2nd Sunday of Lent 12.3.17 Believing is Seeing

Why did the apostles run away, when the mob came to arrest Our Lord?

The apostles did something we are frequently tempted to do – to doubt our faith.

We think we believe something, but when put to the test we find our belief is only partial.

If the apostles had really trusted in Our Lord by this time, they would have stood there with Him, confident that He would look after their interests, as He always had done.

Countless times He had shown His power. Why should this time be any different?

We have the advantage over the apostles that we know how the story continued; that He had not lost His power; that He let Himself be captured and crucified, but all the while had power to break free; and even when killed, had the power to come back to life any time He chose.

So why do we still doubt?

For one thing, we are too heavily influenced by our physical nature. We put so much weight on what our senses tell us, and so little weight on what our spiritual nature can tell us.

People will say: Seeing is Believing. They demand proof – of God's existence; of promised blessings, such as eternal life; of any claimed miracles.

Many things cannot be proved in the sense that we can go to a laboratory and make precise measurements.

That does not necessarily make them untrue, however.

Reality goes much deeper than physical reality. People who demand physical proof are presuming that the material or physical is all there is, but there is no way to prove that claim!

We know there is a lot more than can be seen, heard, or touched. For example, love, or peace or courage- not just religious matters - are entirely beyond physical measurement; yet we know they are real.

For another thing, we let our feelings dominate our reason. The apostles felt afraid, so they ran away. Disciples of Christ have been running away ever since.

If we feel good, then our faith is high; if we feel bad, our faith is low. This is to be ruled by our emotions. If we are worn down by too many disappointments, we can lose hope, cease praying, and eventually even believing.

We need to have a faith which is so strong that we can believe, in all weathers, all circumstances, no matter how unfavourable they look or feel.

Our faith is in God, not in appearances or circumstances.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel: Why did Our Lord give His apostles a glimpse of His glory? It was to fortify them against what they would soon experience, in seeing His degradation.

They were to be strong enough to survive the crucifixion, and go beyond.

And, knowing the event would be recorded for later disciples, it forms a reference point from which we can all benefit.

You may be face down in the dirt; despised by all; no money, no friends etc – yet the glory of God has not diminished, and it is all around us. So we can trust in that same God who has always rescued His people from trouble.

Believing is Seeing. When we believe it enough we will behave in such ways as to enable miracles to happen, and the good to prevail.

We do not seek the signs or consolations for themselves, but understand they will be more frequent, as side effects. What we really want is the certainty of a faith that will never waver.

We will not run away.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

1st Sunday of Lent 5 Mar 2017 Sermon

1st Sunday of Lent 5.3.17 Values

The Lenten fast is symbolic of our need to hunger for the right things.

We forego the immediate delights of the sense of taste, to remind ourselves there is something better to eat if we are prepared to wait for it.

The something better is no less than God Himself. Taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 33,8). Are we hungry for union with God? We should be, but it may take some working towards such a state.

We are very physical creatures, heavily influenced by the present circumstances. We are uncomfortable with the metaphysical and the remote.

Many reject religion for just such reasons. They cannot wait around to find out if it is true or not; they must have their desires fulfilled here and now.

Even concepts of life after death can be limited by our earthly viewpoint. Funeral notices talk of the deceased going to be with loved ones; or engaging in the same activities they enjoyed while alive, such as sport, or food and drink.

Heaven is perceived as a vague state of paradise. Interestingly, such notices rarely mention God.

We will be with loved ones in Heaven, and there will be enjoyable things to do, but there is something far better still. The real joy of Heaven is the possession of God.

He is the basis and source of all our happiness. He it was who created the people and the activities we love.

All He has created is as a drop in the ocean compared with Himself. So to possess Him is to have more than the whole world at once.

Thus Our Lord can say: Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt 4,4); and Seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be given you (Mt 6,33).

The mistake of the human race all this time has been to stop too soon; to stop short of God Himself by becoming too absorbed with something He has made.

In this life, and even in the next, we have sought our happiness in lesser things.

Admittedly it can be hard to acquire a taste for God, but He will help us to do that.

Fasting is one such way we approach this taste. When we fast (or do any form of penance) we are training ourselves to see that we can actually survive without the things we thought we needed.

We train ourselves to see beyond immediate physical or emotional sensations, and seek the Divine Infinity beyond what we can see.

It has to be a daily process - prayer every day, sacraments when possible. We work God into the normal flow of our lives, not just restricting Him to certain times and occasions.

We have to keep doing this, just as we do with other acquired tastes or talents. If we do three French lessons and then stop, we will never talk French. If we pray only when we need something, we will never get to know God.

A clue to finding the centrality of God is when we face things like danger of death. If we are on the Titanic as it is going down we will be thinking of larger issues, not just passing pleasures.

We might promise God that, if He spares us, we will serve Him day and night from now on.

We just need to make that promise when there is no crisis; to see it as a normal part of our existence.

The longer we stay on the right path the clearer the reality will become. It is vital that we not give up too soon, as so many do.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Quinquagesima Sunday 26 Feb 2017 Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday 26.2.17 Human side of Church

Peter opposes Our Lord in His plan to allow Himself to be crucified. Human wisdom is seen to be deficient as against the Divine Wisdom which sees all things. Humanity, in general, gets a lot of things wrong. It is only when humanity is coupled with divinity that it can operate properly.

Many have left the Church, or refused to join it, because of such human faults eg lack of charity, sexual sins, hypocrisy…

But to judge the Church only on the human side is a mistake.

The Church is the Body of Christ and He is its Head. The Church has Our Lady as Mother, and she is also a member of the Church.

If we look at the Head of the Church we see miracle upon miracle, and total love and goodwill operating. Look at the Holy Family, the saints – and we see order, peace and every good quality.

If we look at some of the members of the Church we see selfishness, scandal, fighting, unforgiveness etc etc.

It is easy to see why people would want to leave the Church if we see only the faults.

But we must see the whole picture. The Church is instituted to make humans share in the divine; so that we can rise above our faults and gradually be Christ-ianised, made copies of Jesus Christ Himself.

There will be a lot of ugliness evident in the meantime but we are processing to the final stage. It is like a building site where all looks chaotic now but will eventually be a nice straight building with gardens and pathways. So the Church is in process of becoming the perfect Bride of Christ, the City of God.

We, who are still in the Church, have two tasks.

One is to remain faithful. We do not allow any negative experience to cause us to leave the Church or lose our faith. We do not always know why God allows certain things, but we entrust the government of His Church to Himself, and keep our own place within it.

Nothing is improved by jumping ship. Better to stop the ship from sinking.

Two, we must try to improve our own humanity. We may be human but we do not have to be hopeless! We can improve with a little application and lots of grace.

God knows we are human; and He even knows what that is like, because He has taken on human nature.

But when joined with the divine we see that humanity can be freed from its usual failings and reach greater heights.

This is exactly the idea of the Incarnation and what it means for all humanity.

Some suggest that we make the Church’s commands easier, so that we have more chance of keeping them. This is an appeal to the Church to be more ‘human’.

It is really a selling short of what humanity can achieve. God the Son did not become human so that we would continue to wallow in our sins; and then try to say that they are not sins anyway!

He came that we may have life and have it to the full (Jn 10,10). This means that our human nature would be perfected by contact with the divine; and that the whole Church would be a place of intense holiness.

Much better than making the rules easier would be to keep the rules as they are, and live by them, with divine grace acting in us (which is what sacraments enable).

The rules - at least the most important ones – are divinely instituted so we are not free to change them anyway.

We hold firm, to our beliefs, and our hope. We improve the human, at least for ourselves, and we hope the same for others.

We see the divine, and this helps us cope with the human.

All the while the Lord forms us to be His Bride.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sexagesima Sunday 19 Feb 2017 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 19.2.17 Perseverance

St Paul knew that whatever strength he had all came from Christ.

He tells us how weak he is; while we would be saying he is a great deal stronger than the rest of us!

But the point still holds: we can get by only with the help of God's grace.

Whoever we are, whatever the task or the problem we face, it is always and only by the grace of God that we can hope to make progress.

St Paul had remarkable perseverance. How many people would keep on the same path after all that suffering - shipwrecks, floggings, imprisonments etc? (2 Cor 11 and 12)

He was being motivated by a higher power, no less than the love of God. The love that God has for the human race was overflowing onto Paul, and enabling him to do these things, and willingly. He did not count the cost: For me life is not a thing to waste words on (Acts 20,24). He was never afraid of dying, on the contrary looking forward to being with Our Lord (Ph 1,23). Full stomach or empty – it was all the same to him (Ph 4,12).

He was centred on God, to a degree which is extraordinary for its rarity; but logically, he is doing only what we all should, but hardly anyone actually does.

This is what saints do, and what they teach us – that faith in God is the most important reality in our life, and it is only logical and natural that it should take precedence over everything else.

We are not all called to be as important, or as good, as St Paul, but we can each fulfil whatever role God has for us.

So that we can say at our final judgment: I did not bury or neglect the talents I was given. I did not refuse the call; I did not simply seek my own comfort.

Paul ran to the end of the race; so must we. He was one of those alluded to in the Gospel who persevered to the end, bearing manifold fruit.

We can be a little more like Paul, and a little less like everyone else.

We could be that, we feel, if we had the strength of conviction that Paul had… but where do we find that? Again, the grace of God. God gave Paul special revelations to drive home the point, and then expected him to live out that certainty.

We are not likely to have anything so dramatic as a vision of heaven; but in more subtle ways God will give us what we need, at least for each day as it comes (daily bread).

We go back constantly to first principles: We belong to God, we are answerable to Him; we are here to do a job for Him. None of this is for self.

This is what Paul knew all along.

Our life situations vary. We cannot be all travelling on ships, proclaiming the Gospel. Most people marry, and live in a house, and have babies. That is God’s will for most of His children. Only that we should not become so settled in such a life as to forget that we are pilgrims – we, and those who belong to us.

This is not our true home (Heb 13,14).

Every day we must go back to first principles, and re-position ourselves. Lots of prayer and reflection are needed. We do this every day because, as we see, so many fall away (cf Gospel - Parable of Sower); lest we become complacent.

If we do these things, our faith will grow, and our enthusiasm. It will seem more and more the natural thing – to put God first. That is all it takes.

May St Paul, and all the saints, help us to do as they did. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Septuagesima Sunday 12 Feb 2017 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 12.2.17 Working for God

Imagine a town where everyone is suffering from poverty. A rich man comes and seeks to alleviate the poverty of the town. He could just give them all a pile of money; or he could give them work, for which he would pay them. It is this latter way that God takes with us.

He could simply put us in Heaven, but He wants us to work our way there.

The work itself does not save us. What saves us is that by working we are putting ourselves in an ongoing lifegiving relationship with God. Like a branch to the vine (Jn 15, 1-17).

And we do this for as long as we have - from the moment of conversion to the moment of death. All time belongs to Him, and we fill it with our response.

Once we start we do not stop: He who has put his hand to the plough, does not look back (Lk 9,62). The servant should be still at work when the master returns (Lk 12,37).  From now on you will be fishers of men (Lk 5,10)

And St Paul, in the epistle, speaks of the need to run to the end, not slacken off.

We must not be alarmed by all this talk of work. Work is not a burden when motivated by love.

The love of God will act on us; will motivate us so that we want to do what He wants us to do. People put themselves out for those they love. As Christians, we love everyone; or at least Christ does, and we are learning to do as He does.

No one is unemployed in God's kingdom. The old, the sick, the disabled – all can contribute. It is simply a matter of doing, or enduring, whatever is required.

‘Work’ in this sense is much more varied than paid work. If someone asks you, socially, what you ‘do’, you could reply ‘I work for the Lord’. This could mean, I cheerfully offer up my sufferings; I pray for the conversion of sinners; I go to Mass to glorify God – it is all work.

We know there is a reward for this, and in fact it is far more than we deserve.

We are doing only as we should (cf the servants (Lk 17,10)). We are obliged to be and do good, even if there were no reward.

But there is a reward. It is represented by the denarius of the parable. We all receive the denarius whether we come in early or late. It is eternal life, and happiness.

Applying the parable to our situation, we could say that all the workers are paid ‘too much’; even the ones who came early, and worked all day.

We might be tempted to envy those who come in late, and find Heaven. But we are all being treated better than we deserve, since we are nowhere near good enough (by our own merits) to go there.

We are all the latecomers in that sense. Only by the grace of God are we saved.

First He forgives us; then He gives us work to do, for which He provides motivation; then He rewards us with more than we deserve.

All we have to do is turn up for work, to show enough interest for Him to do the rest.

We are more fortunate than we usually think ourselves.

So let us work on, not counting the days or hours, until the time of reckoning.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

5th Sunday after Epiphany 5 Feb 2017 Sermon

5th Sunday after Epiphany 5.2.17 Judgment

There will be a judgment at the end of time. Many are probably very hazy about the idea that their lives are to be judged by a higher power.

Today individualism is the dominant creed. People think they have the right to set their own course, and define their own end as well (eg the right to suicide).

Most people fear death, but there are probably not many today who fear judgment after death.

When we talk of judgment, immediately the question arises, But what about Mercy? Is not God merciful? How then we talk of an adverse judgment?

God wants to be merciful, certainly. He wants all people to be saved (1 Tim 2,4).

Judgment is what remains when mercy is not accepted. It is on offer, all the time, to everyone. For various reasons a person might not accept the mercy. In such a case Judgment (adverse) is all that remains.

There are many reasons why people might not accept mercy from God.

They might be hard of heart, refusing to repent, to turn away from a life of sin. If they persist in this state to the end of their lives there can be only Judgment, not mercy - not because God has suddenly become harsh, but because they do not want any fellowship with Him.

God will not force union with Himself. There has to be that moment of consent from each person before the salvation process can take effect.

God will not override free will but He will put a lot of things in front of each person to induce repentance.

He has been putting things in front of us since the Fall, with extra intensity from the time of the Incarnation. He has given us His Son, the Church, the Sacraments, the Saints, and time for each one to repent. These things are given generally to all, and also He gives specific signs to individuals, according to their circumstances. To ignore all the signs right up to the end is indeed hardness of heart.

Or people might be presumptuous. They believe in God, and hope to go to Heaven, but do not make any serious effort to please God in their lives.

This shows a disregard for God, which is certainly not ‘loving’ Him - the first commandment.

Or they might be despairing – feeling so guilty about their lives that they dare not approach the throne of mercy. But no sin can be greater than God’s mercy. There is no sin unforgivable if there is genuine contrition. Like the prodigal son we are welcome to approach Him.

God does not love evil but He does love evildoers - not because they do evil, but because they are in need of being saved.

Those of us trying to be good can feel that God is being too patient with evildoers, but we have to remember that salvation is His main aim.

It is better for the good to suffer for a time, so that more of the (presently) evil can repent; better this than to wipe out the evildoers before they have a chance to repent.

Then, of course, some of us would have been ‘evildoers’ of one sort or another in the past, and now we can be glad we were not wiped out!

Mercy is there for all who believe in it and want it. And God wants it more than we do! Yet, sadly it is easy to miss the urgency of the whole thing and live as though there were no tomorrow, or at least no hell.

We do have to face Our Lord in judgment but it will not be terrifying if we live constantly in His grace during this life.