Monday, 31 August 2009

13th Sunday after Pentecost 30 Aug 2009 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 30.8.09 Thanksgiving

The Mass is essentially an act of propitiation: Lord, we deserve to be wiped out, but please don’t. What saves us from being wiped out is the intercession, mediation of God the Son.

We are not just asking for ourselves but He asks for us: Father, don’t wipe them out. This adds a great deal of power to the prayer.

We could all pray at home, Lord forgive us. But to come here and have Christ ask for us, it becomes a much better prospect.

Of all blessings we seek Mercy is the most important and the least deserved. It is the one that sustains all others. God will bless us with many things but mercy is the most essential.

The leper was saved, not just healed. It was more than just a physical makeover. So with us. With all the things we ask for, we must remember that our eternal salvation is the most important and, in a sense, the only one worth having.

To be truly aware of how valuable mercy is we need an awareness of our guilt; a sense of true contrition. If we make light of our sins we will make light also of mercy, but if we see the true state of things we will be as relieved as the Prodigal Son when he was welcomed home, expecting to be thrown out on his ear.

The more contrition we have for offending God the more grateful we are for being forgiven. The more aware we are of His blessings the more we thank, and the more likely to receive.

So the Mass is also an act of Thanksgiving. We ask for mercy and we give thanks for it at the same time.

We are lifted up as part of the voice of the whole Church and swept into an act of thanksgiving, just by being part of the Mass taking place.

Again, as with the atonement, it is Christ Himself who gives thanks on our behalf. As man He stands at the head of all humanity and thanks the Father for redeeming the human race, in which Christ also shares.

He makes up for what is lacking in our response, and He also helps us in the course of each Mass to become truly thankful, as well as truly contrite.

Attending the Mass is a kind of enlightenment for us, a 'defogging' experience, as the fog of ignorance, apathy, indifference , insensitivity is lifted from us.

When we truly understand what is happening we would be both contrite and grateful. At present we are somewhere near the place but we need more clarity.

Confident of receiving God’s mercy we are then more able to trust Him in other matters as well. If He would give us the greatest possible blessing it is not so hard to realize He will give us the lesser blessings as well. By lesser blessings I mean things like health, food, friendship, the good things in life... wine, sunshine, sport, hobbies etc. We receive these things as well as mercy – we have much to be thankful for.

Thus St Paul says to give thanks in all circumstances. This means to give thanks even when things go wrong; even when we experience frustration, disappointment, heartbreak...

How be thankful for these things? Because we come to understand that God is working through all events and circumstances and what may appear to be a dead end to us is really a door opening to some other blessing. We give thanks for the blessings that will arise from whatever has just happened. We thank in advance, or simultaneously with the petition.
To ask is to receive, remembering that from God’s point of view everything is geared towards our final salvation.

So, gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro! Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God!

Monday, 24 August 2009

12th Sunday after Pentecost 23 Aug 2009 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 23.8.09 Identity

Loving others – do we have to? Apparently yes. It is in today’s Gospel of the Good Samaritan and peppered through many passages in the Scriptures.

OK, we have to, but why? Why do we have to love those who do not love us, or even who mean to harm us, or those who are just generally unlovable?

These questions come from the wrong angle. They presume that ‘I’ am the reference point. Other people have their value insofar as they affect me favourably. Those who are good to me are valuable; those who are not good to me have no value.

But I am not the reference point; God is. It is His will that must be done, not mine.

It is much emphasized today that we are unique beings, important to God. We are not just individuals, however. Our importance also is that we are part of a team, the ‘team’ in our case being the Church, the Catholic Church; or even more impressively, the Body of Christ.

We are joined to Christ and therefore to each other. If one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers. If I have a sharp pain in my right elbow, would my left elbow rejoice at that? Hardly. If my right elbow is hurting then I am hurting.

So with the Body of Christ. We must be in sympathy with each other because we belong to Him. (And those outside the Body should be in it, so we include them in our concern as well.)

If we understand God’s view of who we are, we see that though we are loved as individuals, He did not intend us to live isolated from others. To be indifferent to others or hating them is definitely not the plan.

God wants us to be very aware of the importance of other people and to take our place in helping them. And I mean really help them. Help them spiritually, to be saved.

The only use many can see for the Church is its charitable arm. We feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless, etc. We do that and so far so good.

But that is not our primary point. What we are really after is to save their souls. Almost a faux pas to say that these days, not recommended for the dinner table. ‘Nothing wrong with my soul, thank you.’

It is still true, however, that every person, no matter what their current status, is in need of saving; needs to know God; is meant to go to heaven. Even if they don’t know or agree with this it is still true.

To love others is to be concerned for their spiritual welfare. This is our driving concern.

When we look at other people we are looking at souls. If I am in a queue at the checkout and I am muttering at the slowness of the people in front, then I am seeing them as ‘objects’ whereas really they are ‘subjects’ each one having an immortal soul.

If you were in an antique shop and holding a valuable plate... don’t drop it! Well, don’t harm that valuable soul!

We might want to be famous, to be acknowledged. But the real status is to be a person who loves others and to know where you come in the team. You may be obscure and people don’t even know your name, but if you are doing what God wants then you are the happiest person alive.

The Good Samaritan was humble as he went about doing what he had to do.

We do not ask Why we have to love one another; we are the same flesh; our fates are intertwined. The only legitimate question is How? What shall we do to help? Help can take many forms – action, prayer, sacrifice, forgiveness... God will make it plain to us what is required, once we have the will to love.

Monday, 17 August 2009

11th Sunday after Pentecost 16 Aug 2009 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 16.8.09 Strong in faith

These days atheists get a lot of publicity. A lot of people are quite proud to be known as non-believers in God. There seems to be a kind of status about it. They like to be seen as people who have the courage to throw off the chains of religious observance and face the world, alone and confident.

If we follow carefully the statements of atheists we detect a strong current of anger at (and even hatred of) religion, especially the Catholic religion. And they are angry with God (whom they say does not exist!)

We could say, in a certain sense, that if one believes in God it is because we want to believe and if we do not believe it is because we do not want to.

What I mean is that if we want to discover God (want to believe) He will make Himself known to us. But if we fight against Him and want to pretend He is not there, He will withhold His graces and let us wander in darkness, without the light of faith.

If our heart is pure we will be led by Him to belief, thus the gift of faith. If you seek you shall find.

If enmeshed in sin then I probably do not want to believe in Him. It is more convenient for me to be a law unto myself. In that case I will not be seeking Him and will not receive or retain the gift of faith.

If I ask you, Do you believe in God: Yes, you say. But do you really really believe it?

There are degrees of belief, in our minds and in our hearts. How much we understand Him and how much we love Him – they both need increasing.

We are looking for a deeper and deeper faith to be so close to God that nothing on this earth can disturb our equilibrium; that we are totally aware of Him at every moment; totally trusting, totally obedient, always yielding to His promptings. We need to be so convinced that we can be happy to be torn apart by lions (cf St Ignatius of Antioch), or be ridiculed by others.

People find reasons for not believing/trusting in God. He did not hear my prayers when my mother was dying. He did not help me when I needed such and such a favour. He lets cyclones and fires happen which kill a lot of innocent people etc etc.

But at root they do not want to believe. Questions about suffering etc are not meant to be asked in isolation. We cannot necessarily say why God would allow the death of a child etc. What we are meant to do is take Him whole , as revealed, and trust in Him. Then the more specific questions will sort themselves out sooner or later.

One thing we can say: If we trusted Him more there would be less disasters.

If we are prepared to listen: OK, Lord, I am listening. I may have a few complaints but I am willing to hear from You. We humble ourselves; let Him open our ears; listen to His word - and then we are better placed to explore both the reasons for our faith and to see it at work in daily life.

Our faith continues to grow and increase.

Our disposition is everything. If we are willing to let God in He will come. We have to humble ourselves first and then we will believe.

Having said ‘Yes’ we still have to deepen that response.

We are accused by unbelievers of believing only because we lack the courage to go it alone. No, we believe these things because they are true. St Paul in the epistle recalls us to the evidence on which our faith is based – the resurrection of Our Lord. It is certain fact; our trust in Him is equally certain.

10th Sunday after Pentecost 9 Aug 2009 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 9.8.09 Grace

Our Lord said, If you do good only to those who do good to you, well, even the pagans do that much. He is saying that to be His disciple we have to rise somehow above just the natural response. It is easy to love sometimes and when it is easy there are no medals awarded.

The Epistle today speaks of the Holy Spirit giving gifts to us, and the Gospel of the limits of natural goodness. The pharisee thought himself good by his own efforts, but he was only deceiving himself. We can go some distance with natural good works, such as loving our parents, but without supernatural help we cannot do the more demanding things, such as forgiving enemies, and these things also we are required to do.

The gateway to those higher acts is to admit our inadequacy at the natural level – thus to repent, which the pharisee - too satisfied with himself - was unable to do.

It begins with repentance, admitting that we cannot do it by ourselves. If we open our hearts to God He will give us mercy, and over and above that the grace to do better things.

We will be able to live in His Spirit. And continuously so, not just a once off, here and there, but an abiding state which will last as long as we remain humble and return to Him asking forgiveness for whenever we have failed.

We are in a covenant relationship; and in a dependent state. It works as long as we keep in right balance with Him.

How shall we see ourselves? Are we worthless worms, incapable of good; or are we unique, precious beings greatly loved by God and incapable of evil? Neither view is fully correct; both have some truth.

If we understand our relationship with God as a covenant partnership, with Him being the superior partner, then we see that we are greatly loved by Him and each of us is very important, but also we see that we are capable of sin, and probably do sin quite often.

When we sin we do not become worthless; we still have the basic dignity that God has invested in us, but we are out of union with Him and greatly need to restore that union. So we confess our sins and resolve not to sin again, climbing back into the proper relationship, and able to feel right again.

But our ‘feeling right’ must never become complacency, using God’s love as a licence to do whatever we please.

If we remember our dependence on Him we will be less likely to step out of line.

Independence is a much desired quality. It is nice to have own house, car, health etc. but spiritually it is not possible to be independent of God.

We are inferior to God yet loved by Him. Provided we acknowledge He is in charge things will work fine. He will bring forth fruit from the branch; otherwise we are as useless as a branch lying on the ground.

Even our natural goodness will fall apart after a while, as we move further away from the Source of goodness. The pharisee in the parable would have committed sins, we may be sure, because he was not right with God.

And if genuinely repentant God will fill us with grace, so good must follow.

Thus if we humble ourselves, simply recognize our true status before God, we will be exalted; we will glorify God and do the best for ourselves by becoming what we are, truly children of God.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

9th Sunday after Pentecost 2 Aug 2009 Sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost 2.8.09 Time management

We sometimes wonder what we would do if we had our time again. If I went back to when I was ten or twenty or thirty... what would I do differently than I have done?

At first we probably think we would not repeat any of the sins or mistakes we made then. But on further reflection we might just make different mistakes.

If we cannot go back in time we can go back in another sense. Go back to the basic union with God which should govern all our lives: simply obey Him. Trust in His providence and do whatever He says.

So we can renew ourselves at any time, regardless of age, by returning to this simple starting point.

We can grasp the present moment. We can make this moment an encounter with God, by calling upon Him in prayer, in sorrow for sin, in asking for guidance and grace to steer us forwards.

We want to make this encounter as deep and as powerful as it can possibly be. God, for His part, never changes. He is present to us; but we can vary in our presence to Him from total to zero.

If we do reflect on our past lives we could all see a lot of things that needed to be done differently. It is a painful reminder of how easy it is to take a wrong turning. It is so easy to drift through life without taking full responsibility for our actions, especially in relation to God and His will.

We can learn from our own mistakes and those of others. In both epistle and Gospel today we hear of the Jews (in different generations) missing all sorts of opportunities to get back on the right path.

Too many sins, and too-long delayed repentance, will eventually bring some kind of payback, some kind of punishment.

But why wait around for that to happen? These things are told to us, as St Paul says, so that we will act differently. We will grasp the present moment, the acceptable time of salvation, and find a new direction.

God’s mercy can never be exhausted. We come back and back to the fount of life, drawing as much as we can each time.

We can be renewed each time we do this; so we are able to go back and start again after all. We start again living the life of grace, discovering more and more of the wonders of God.

Each day is a gift from God to be gratefully received by us and returned to Him.

In the short term all of us can say: This very day I give over to His purposes. To glorify Him, to love neighbour. I renew here and now my resolution to serve God with my whole being, every moment of the day and every day of my life.

In the longer term, we can use the time we have to develop our talents, and bring return and increase.

If you are young enough to have most of your life ahead of you, then set your course under His guidance, resolving to be faithful till the end.

We could certainly weep over Adelaide (or equivalent places) when we consider the question of taking heed of God’s will. The time to repent is now, but who knows it? A few, certainly, but still there are so many who are as oblivious to God’s importance as those in biblical times.

We pray without ceasing and offer our sufferings and penances that all can see their way to a new beginning.

For ourselves we go further and deeper. Time is a preparation for eternity. The decisions we make here have a way of being fixed forever. There are certain things we can do only here; later may be too late.

8th Sunday after Pentecost 26 July 2009 Sermon

8th Sunday after Pentecost 26.7.09 The Spirit of adoption

The last two Sundays we have been hearing from St Paul in the letter to the Romans; that in Baptism we have died to sin, and that the wages of sin are death. The message is that we have been set free from sin, and just as a prisoner who walks free would not return to the jail, nor should we return to the captivity of sin.

To sin is foolish as well as being bad. Today’s epistle reading continues the same thought. Nature no longer has any claim on us. From now on we live a spiritual life. We have been adopted by God the Father to be His own children. And He has empowered us to live accordingly.

We are inclined to think of the moral demands of our Christian lives as being a heavy burden. This is because we are still thinking as creatures of the flesh. We are thinking from a worldly point of view and looking at the spiritual message as though it were a message from Mars, something alien and outside of our world.

St Paul is telling us that we can understand the moral demands only if we realize we have become different people through our spiritual adoption. We are actually changed by receiving the Holy Spirit. You are a new person; you have been transformed. You would no longer even want to do the sinful thing. It is not a burden to be good anymore than it is a burden to eat or breathe; it becomes the natural thing to do.

We tend to reduce Jesus’ teaching to ‘have a nice day’, something manageable. Instead of saying it is too hard, we say OK the bar is higher but with His Spirit within us we can jump higher.

It is possible because He makes it possible. We are now creatures of the spirit. So a large part of overcoming sin is simply understanding that we have been changed.

Still we might say: Granted I am a new creature etc, but I am still trapped in the flesh. We need the Spirit to work on us at the level of understanding. He can provide that service too. He can help us to think like new people. Lord, make us see, understand, so that we can make the leap; the ‘leap’ of recognition that enables us to leave the old ways behind.

Bring what is buried within us to the surface so that we can claim the power that You want us to have. And thus to live holy lives.

It is so easy just to muddle along.

Consider perfectionism: everyone has some hobby or area where perfection is sought.
Clothes, house, stamp collection, pet dog... Everyone has something. So do the same for your spiritual life. Redirect the energy. Let God be the focus. Seek goodness.

How good can we be? How far can we go? We hear people advocating positive thinking, as though we can be anything we want if we just set our minds to it. I could be an astronaut, or Prime Minister etc... Not necessarily, because some things are just not meant to be. But we are all meant to be good, to live in union with God. We can all achieve that; and we can all make continual progress to better and better.

It is not such an effort required to be good. Not ‘effort’ as in rowing a boat. More like getting on the high powered vehicle; a speed boat not a rowing boat. The effort is required in just getting into the right groove.

From the Gospel of the crafty steward: the worldly wise show more enterprise in being crooked than we do in being good. At least we should work as hard to be good as others do to be bad!