Tuesday, 27 January 2009

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 25 Jan 2009 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 25.1.09 Heal my soul

We have adapted the centurion’s prayer. We pray that the Lord will heal not our servant but our soul. A simple transposing of prayer? On closer inspection we realize that it is actually a lot harder to heal a soul than a servant. A servant might have only one illness, but our soul can have several ailments at the one time, and some of those very hard to set right.

A typical human soul might contain traces of all of the seven deadly sins: pride, gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sloth, envy... expressing itself in not-loving of neighbour, not taking up one’s cross willingly, definitely not forgiving those who offend one (cf today’s epistle).

So it is harder to heal a soul than a servant. Harder, not for Almighty God, but for us. To be healed in the soul means we have to want to be healed. It means that if we are proud, for example, we have to want to be humble. If we are lustful we have to want to be pure in mind and heart. If we have enemies we have to want to love them. We have to want Him to heal every shadow of sin, every bad habit, root out every bit of darkness and poison. There is, in fact, an awful lot of healing requried.

Only say the word! Can that possibly be enough? Well, it is enough if we take it from God’s side. He wants to heal us of these things, and He can clean out a soul just as easily as He can do everything else, being Omnipotent.

The only thing that makes soul-healing hard is that we might not want to be healed, having become attached to bad habits and false attitudes.

Those very things will incline us to want to stay as we are. So the sickness of soul can mean we want to stay sick in soul! I may think I want to be healed but in fact I have set up barriers to how far the Lord can reach in and change me.

‘Heal my soul’ is saying things I do not fully understand. Therefore, an implied part of the prayer is ‘Lord, help me to understand what I am saying, what I am asking for; to understand, agree with it, and want it.’

If my soul were healed totally I would be a saint and on fire with holiness and right into the fray, not just dabbling around the edges as usual.

Every time we line up for Holy Communion we are signing up for that change within us. Theoretically we agree with it, but to get right down to detail is a lot more demanding.

It might take more than one time to get it right. We receive Holy Communion many times without obvious improvement. Something is not getting through. It cannot be any lack in the power of God; it must be something in our desire to receive what He is offering.

It is His power and our effort. We cannot save ourselves, but we can put ourselves in the way of being saved; can seek healing for our souls. The more seriously we do that the more we can expect to see results.

Most people are ‘good’, so most people say. But look at the typical interaction between people and see the fruits. How much nastiness, bitterness, and anger there is, even in a family where everyone is supposed to love each other. There is a lot of bad fruit about if the fruits of charity are supposed to be evident. The epistle today will make us suitably ashamed of what we are not getting right. Yes, we do need healing.

We need it and we want it, or we want to want it. May each non sum dignus move us closer to where we need to be.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Re Mass times

There will be no Latin Masses at St Monica's from Monday 19th Jan to Friday 23rd Jan inclusive. Normal programme resumes on Saturday 24th Jan.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 18 Jan 2009 Sermon

2S after Epiphany 18.1.09 Cana.

We just have Christmas and then we have Easter.

It is said that Our Lord was born so that He could die. His death was to be the defining moment of His saving mission.

So the quickness of the time between Christmas and Easter can serve to remind us how quickly a course of action, once embarked upon, will come to its conclusion.

The Gospel story today is a major defining point in the course of Our Lord’s life. It was His first public miracle.

Being public it meant that the public would get hold of the news and start to influence events.

As well as excitement there would be opposition and hatred.

Our Lord had, in effect, signed His death warrant by working this miracle.

As water turned into wine, so wine would turn into blood - His own Precious Blood.

Jesus would be killed because He was such a threat to the kingdom of evil.

And as they treated the Master so they would treat the disciples.

As Cana was a point of no return for Our Lord, so we face a point of no return once we commit ourselves to being His disciples.

This happens at our Baptism or at such time as we fully grasp what it means to follow this Master.

Once the hand is laid on the plough.... (No man who loves father or mother more than Me is worthy of Me...) Again and again we see the radical demands of Our Lord on the disciple.

We may stumble as disciples, and lose fervour, and even sin.

But there is a basic irrevocability about our position. We know there is no escape from being His disciple because, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go’.

No matter how difficult it is to be Our Lord’s disciple there is nowhere else we can go, because this is the Truth. We are compelled to follow.

So we also have a death warrant out for us!

Through the history of the Church the best disciples have been put to death (or failing that, have spent themselves in His service).

So if there is no time of persecution there is still a kind of martyrdom as we spend all our energy in His service.

There is always the temptation to tone down the demands of being His disciple, so that we can have a comfortable life, without attracting attention. But that is to be a lukewarm disciple, or no disciple at all.

The good disciple is prepared to die for his Master.

Even if death does not come, there is a permanent willingness to die.

The saints inspire us, and remind us of what is at stake.

It may sound melodramatic to talk of dying for Christ when we consider what happens in our daily lives.

Much of what we do is routine, very ordinary - like washing the dishes, putting out the rubbish, filling in forms.

But the principle is the same.

Our Lord said: He who is faithful in little things will be faithful in great.

It is not every day that we are asked to die for Him, but it is every day we are asked to put up with inconveniences, little crosses that come our way.

What are these if not preparations for bigger challenges that may be lurking ahead of us?

Perhaps we are not strong enough to die for Christ, just yet, but we can work towards that strength by faithfully doing the tasks each day brings to us.

Our prayer then is not: Lord, save us from death, but, Lord, make us worthy to die for You.

Our first instinct is self-preservation. But with deepening understanding we change that to self-immolation.

The water was changed to wine, the wine to blood, and we are changed from cowardly, half-asleep disciples to full-grown, fully-committed warriors.

The die is cast, there is no turning back, not even looking back. There is only forwards.

Our fate is sealed, yes, but it is sealed for eternal happiness!

Monday, 12 January 2009

Feast of the Holy Family 11 Jan 2009 Sermon

Holy Family 11.1.09 Unity

The Holy Family was perfectly united, with God and with each other, and thus forms the model of all families to follow.

Unfortunately not all families achieve this unity and many families are torn apart, not even getting close to the Holy Family’s level.

Still there is benefit in knowing what ought to be happening as we can work towards it and ask for divine help to move us in that direction (just like we pray for peace even though we are a long way from it).

God wants us to be united with Him and with each other.
(Thus the two great commandments: Love God and Love Neighbour)

Those who are without a family have the Church.
That might sound like cold comfort but if the Church were running as it should the family concept would be very powerful.

Nobody should feel excluded. When families are close that is good - but love should go beyond blood relationships to find everyone else. No member of the human family should be outside the family of God.

Unity begins and ends with God. The Blessed Trinity is a family of Persons.
Unity is perfect with God and loses something in the translation, but in our case it can always be increased or restored.

God wants us to go with this idea to the point that we will desire union with everyone else, even those who are presently our enemies.
It is hard to love our enemies, and we don’t desire their society, even slightly, let alone wanting to be in close union with them.

However, if the love of God exercises its unifying force on us we learn to pray for the person underneath the unattractive surface and pray the mercy of God will make that person all he/she needs to be. By the time this happens we will be glad to know and be in union with said person .

So the Church constantly prays for unity among her members, and along the same lines for those outside the Church to come inside.

Desire for unity is just a slight variation on asking for union with God for our individual selves - which we do all the time as when we ask for mercy or help.

Wanting to be in union with God ourselves extends naturally to wanting others to be in union with Him.

We may strike an emotional barrier there, but the mercy of God will cleanse our hearts of petty malice and desire for revenge etc, and inspire us with a higher vision.

We want peace in the family and we want the family to get bigger, embracing all people everywhere.

It is possible to hide behind a narrow concept of family, caring only for the immediate circle and letting everyone else fend for themselves.

No, we can love the immediate family the most, and this is natural and what God intends. He asks only that we not stop there, and go to others as well.

As Christ came for all, it is understandable that we cannot erect barriers to keep other people out.

This does not mean a false inclusivity that would disregard all distinctions. There can be reasons why a particular person is not allowed to receive the Eucharist, for example. But this is not exclusive. Rather our desire is that everyone be at rights with God and thus included in the Church.

Even when we are divided at present we long for an eventual union. To this union the Holy Family inspires us and assists us by divine grace and powerful intercession.

So we address them: Christ, have mercy on us. Holy Mary and Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Feast of the Holy Name 4 Jan 2009 Sermon

Feast of the Holy Name 4.1.09

Have you ever rung a doorbell and been nervous about what sort of reception you would get from the person who answers the door? Or rung a telephone number with a sense of mingled hope and dread?

That feeling might help us understand the different ways in which we can invoke the Holy Name of Jesus. Is He to be loved or feared? Do we march up to Him with full confidence ready to slap Him on the back or do we hide from Him fearing His anger? The answer comes somewhere in between.

He wants us to love Him but in a reverential way. One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is ‘fear of the Lord’, which does not mean fear as we normally understand the word, but as giving due reverence to One who is so much holier than ourselves.

He wants our love but we must be reverent at the same time. We must be submissive, contrite, trusting, confiding in our approach to Him; at the same time asking for mercy for sins, and daring to ask for other favours as well (such as our daily bread).

Is it still love if we have to be so careful how we behave in His presence? (This is a point that confuses many modern thinkers. They reason that if we are in our Father’s house, we should be able to do pretty well anything we like. Not so simple.)

Our love for God is more like the love of child for parent, or servant for master. It is not a love between equals, but it can be a very strong love for all that.

We can be at home in His presence but not forgetting His great dignity and importance.
Thus we show reverence such as kneeling and keeping silence and this - far from constraining our love - actually increases it.

So we ring the doorbell of heaven itself, when we call on the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is something we do often, but should never do lightly.

To call a name is to summon that person. Hey, Fred... Fred will look up. Do we say, Hey Jesus? Some do, but it is a mistaken familiarity. We say, O Lord Jesus. Notice ‘Lord’ – it is a statement of respect. He is Lord, we are the servants.

We summon His attention but with due sense of awe that we are able to do such a thing.

We would probably be nervous about addressing a famous person... head of state, movie star... but can be overly bold or casual in addressing Almighty God.

But having said that He does want us to approach Him freely, confiding everything in Him, reaching out like the woman to touch the hem of His garment.
Once having established due reverence we can approach Him unlimited times. In fact He wants us to call on Him all day every day. There is no limit. He does not tire of us provided we come with the right attitude.

If we get the right balance between familiarity and respect we are harnessing great power and great love.

We are summoning the Creator and Saviour of the whole world. There is no problem He cannot solve, no sin He cannot forgive, no grace He cannot provide.

The story of Peter and John healing the lame man in the power of the Holy Name is a foretaste of what could come: Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus stand up and walk. What does Peter ‘have’? Not the name, but access to the name. So do we have that. And when we call it is like having the whole universe in our hands. We can do much good if we realize with whom and with what we are dealing.