Monday, 23 February 2009

Quinquagesima Sunday 22 Feb 2009 Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday 22.2.09 The greatest of these is love

St Paul makes an interesting point in his discourse about charity. If I give away all that I have, and even give my body to be burnt... yet have not love, I am nothing.

We might think that giving away one’s possessions must be a good act, and therefore must make the person giving a good person. Surely, even God would be impressed with such an action? Apparently not.

Man looks at appearances; God looks at the heart.

If I do a generous act but am not generous in my heart then I am doing a purely mechanical act and it cannot convey any spiritual merit or make me any better than I was before.

But if my heart is moved by some desire to please God (thus, charity) then the same action will take on a whole new meaning. This explains why the widow’s mite was worth more than the spare change of the rich.

(It also explains St Therese’s little way and the whole idea of how one obscure person can do more good than an army of do-gooders).

Charity as a virtue is that quality infused in us by God, a direct sharing in His own inner life, that motivates and enables us to do good. It begins with wanting what He wants; desiring what is good – what is in the mind of God. As He loves my neighbour so I will come to love the neighbour too.

This is how we can live up to the high standards set by St Paul: being patient, kind, feeling no envy, never perverse, nor proud, nor insolent, cannot be provoked, does not brood over injury, takes no pleasure in fault of others... sustains, believes, hopes, endures to the last.

It comes to what we want, rather than how we feel. Charity is an act of the will essentially. It is what we want to happen; what we are trying to achieve that counts.

Charity is the point on which we are judged. At the end of our lives God will ask us what have we done, and why did we do it? It is what is in our hearts that counts.

If we have kept the flame of charity alive, at least partially, then we have done enough to be saved. If the flame has gone out, then we have died inside and cannot be saved. Love God, Love Neighbour. If we get one right the other will follow.

So it is vital we cultivate that flame, that divine gift, and make sure that it increases.

We can pray for Charity, that God will grant us more of it, and our prayers public and private always make this request.

We can exercise Charity and we must, or through lack of use we will lose it. Our hearts will grow cold.

All the while we are trying to make our acts of charity more perfect in terms of their motivation. We do good to please God above all else. This would not be widely understood.

We might think that we do good to please people. If I feed a poor man I am trying to please him, and rightly. But I am also and even more so doing it to please God because He wants me to do it.

With this extra layer of understanding we can offer all things to God’s glory, not just obvious acts of charity but every act that we do, and even everything that happens to us. To please Him becomes our life’s work, and in that light everything else makes sense.

May the Lord open our eyes, as for the blind man, to see this truth.

Ash Wednesday Mass time

Ash Wednesday Mass time:
Please note: Mass on Ash Wednesday (25th Feb) will be at 7am instead of the usual 8am, at St Monica's, Walkerville.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Sexagesima Sunday 15 Feb 2009 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 15.2.09 Robust disciples

The parable of the Sower gives us a spectrum of possible responses to the call to be Our Lord’s disciple.
He says, Follow Me, and it is then a question of how far and how seriously we will each do that.

We can either be terrible or brilliant, or somewhere in between, fair to middling. These are the categories of achievement put before us in the parable. The worst category is the first, who just never got going. The best is the fourth, who produced an abundant crop.

In between we have what is probably the vast majority of Christians, muddling and middling between the worst and the best; sometimes being outstandingly good, other times crashing.

If we are In-between we worry too much about the short term view and lose sight of the ultimate goal. We are either trying to avoid pain or we are seeking pleasure – not wrong objectives per se, perfectly natural behaviour; but Our Lord is asking us to look beyond; to follow Him into the unknown and trust that He will do the best thing possible for us.

Do we dare to trust Him? If we do He will lift us out of mediocrity to a higher level, the fourth category, those who yield a rich crop.

All sin at root is either avoiding duty or seeking forbidden pleasure. It is an attempt we make to find happiness elsewhere than the will of God.

We follow Him, yes, but we do not entirely trust Him. We think His ways are rather too strict and we look for short cuts to get to the same destination with less effort.

How rise above this? Only by God’s grace. Only if we let Him lift us out of the mire, and put us on higher ground.

He will enable us to trust Him; to trust that as far as pain goes, anything we suffer in this life is very minor compared with the joy that awaits us (I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. Rom 8,18
Or, For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 2 Co 4,17)

And as far as pleasure goes, if we wait on Him, if we avoid the temptation to sin, He will give us much greater pleasure even in this life. The joy of being in union with Him. With heaven to follow. (And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of My name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. Mt19,29)

St Paul in the epistle speaks of the thorn in his flesh. We all have those. They are to prevent us being too happy with this life as we find it. We are inclined very easily to sink back into complacent acceptance. We need things to go wrong to remind us that this is not our true home, that we have to pack up from our roadside camp and keep going on the pilgrimage.

When we complain about how hard life is we are forgetting we are merely pilgrims, mistaking the journey for the destination.

Let us ask for the grace which can lift us out of the mediocrity of wanting only an easy life, free from pain and full of pleasures – to lift us to the higher vision, harder to imagine, but much more real, the life of union with God.

Our Lord needs strong and good disciples. He is patient with us in our weakness, but why stay weak if we can be strong? We will never not need Him, but having Him we can be and do much better.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Septuagesima Sunday 8 Feb 2009 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 8.2.09 Persevering to the end

Our Lord’s purpose in telling the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard was not to make the first last and the last first, but rather to make everyone first.

His purpose in coming to the world was to save as many as possible, preferably everyone.

The parable was aimed at the Jews, in particular the religious leaders, who had become complacent about their relationship with God, thinking that God cared only about Jews and hated everyone else.

Whereas, in fact, God loved all races, and gave preference to the Jews merely to use them as a spearhead or springboard to reach the rest of the world.

The result of the parable story: that everyone gets one denarius can be understood as meaning that as long as we are all saved, what does it matter if we came in early or late, provided we make it in the end?

The Jews should not resent the Gentiles being saved also. The ‘religious’ people should not resent the sinners being saved. The early workers received what they were promised and what they wanted – they have no ground for complaint.

Those of us who come to Mass, even on weekdays, go to Confession, pray the Rosary, do various devotions and penances... we work hard for our faith, and we hope for a reward, and the reward will be given us if we persevere.

But if others come into salvation at the last minute, even on their deathbeds, should we resent that? Of course not. That is a moment of joy. The angels in heaven rejoice more over one sinner who repents than over 99 who stayed faithful.

We are not in a competition with anyone. We want simply that everyone, or as many as possible, can be saved. Whether early or late, no matter, provided they escape the snares of the devil.

One of those snares is precisely the temptation to envy and bitterness. Remember the older brother in another parable, the Prodigal son. He resented that his younger brother was being forgiven and fussed over, while he himself had never strayed.

Bitterness at the good fortune of another makes no sense in the light of God’s generosity in mercy. He has infinite supplies of grace and mercy to give, so we are in no danger of running out. It is not as though we are fighting over some limited quantity, such as food in a time of famine.

The devil will tempt us to turn this life into a tragedy of self-pity. Why do I get the worst of everything? Why does everyone else have an easier life than I have? Why should my brother or my neighbour get to heaven when he has had the best of this life too?

Yet all the while Our Lord holds out to us the free gift of eternal life. If we were all offered a million dollars would we take it, or would we argue about how much others are getting?

Why not just take what is offered and be grateful?

It is so simple if only we see it. Only the stirrings of the devil can make it so hard as we find it.

In any case, if we are the early workers, it is the better position of the two. Because we have the privilege of serving the Lord in our lifetimes, and can share His cross. Our reward will be greater for that, and also it gives Him greater honour.

It also gives us a chance to contribute to the salvation of others and that is a worthy task.

So the earlier we start the better, the longer we toil the better. Early workers must persevere to the end. The reward will be worth it. For those who came in late – give thanks for God’s mercy and use all remaining time in His service.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

4th Sunday after Epiphany 1 Feb 2009 Sermon

4th Sunday after Epiphany 1.2.09 Praying as one

It always pains me to think that on a Sunday morning, while many Catholics take themselves to Mass, a great many more stay home in bed, or are out playing soccer, or walking the dog and not giving due worship to Almighty God. And then of course there are all those outside the Church who may have some knowledge of God but are not giving Him due honour on this His special day.

It pains me because I know God would be disappointed with the lack of recognition He is receiving. Further because it means that people who do not pray sufficiently are going to be experiencing a lot of unnecessary misery in their lives, and the world is going to experience a lot of unnecessary trouble.

Further still, that the things I am praying for are less likely to happen because there are not enough people praying with me.

Our Lord said in the Gospels: Ask, and you shall receive. (And there are several similar passages). If you have faith enough you could move this mountain into the sea, for example.

We have all been inspired by such passages and launched into confident prayer only to find that the mountain does not move, and in the case of less dramatic petitions that the problem does not improve in any visible sense.

We can then feel rather deflated and maybe even give up praying - which is one reason why so many no longer come to Mass.

Why does it not ‘work’ when we do as Our Lord bids us? Why do not the mountains move, and our problems remain firmly in place?

One answer lies in the fact that some prayers require more than one person to be praying them, and they require to be said more than one time.

When the objective of the prayer is a hard one it takes a lot of people to be knocking on the door.

Think of a very heavy object which could be pulled by a rope, but not just by one person pulling on the rope. If we had say fifty people pulling together then we could move that object, but one person on his own will make no obvious progress.

A lot of our prayer is like that. We make some progress when we pray alone for conversion of sinners, healing of sickness, peace on earth... all good things to be asking for.

But imagine how much more progress we would see if ten or twenty times the number of people presently praying would join us as well.

We have a few people at this Mass. What if this church were now full?

What if a church such as this could be left open 24 hours and people from all around would come in to pray and worship God?

It is obvious that with more prayer being offered more good things would happen.

If enough of the world’s population prayed with faith then we could expect mountains to be toppling into the sea. At least the mountains of sin and suffering would be greatly reduced in size.

Since we do not have this situation what must we do, we the little flock? We pray for all we are worth, as much and as well as we can. And one of our prayers is, Lord, bring us more helpers to pray with us. We are going down, Lord, in a sea of indifference and doubt.

Awaken, Lord, our faith and trust, so that we can fill our churches with adoration and intercession.

It is not necessarily that we lack faith when our prayers are not answered: it might just be there are not enough people to pull on the same rope. So we do what we can in the meantime. We support each other; we keep coming; we keep praying.

Every prayer makes things better than they were before. We must pray like never before in these difficult times. May the Lord sustain us.