Wednesday, 24 February 2010

1st Sunday of Lent 21 Feb 2010 Sermon

1st Sunday of Lent 21.2.10 Learn from the Master

When we see a master of his craft doing what he does well we say, He makes it look easy.

Whatever the skill someone can do it better than anyone else, be it ice skating, singing, writing, lawn bowls.

If ‘being good’ could be called a skill then we have the Master of that skill in Our Lord Himself.

Today, in confronting and defeating the temptations from another master, He makes it look easy.

To each temptation presented to Him Our Lord simply answers with a word from Scripture and that is the end of the matter.

If only we could do it as easily as that. But we allow ourselves to get tangled up by the prospect of quick happiness which temptation essentially offers.

Eat this and you will be happy; gratify your senses; why deny yourself anything? Don’t let a few old commandments bother you. Don’t let the Church or the Pope tell you what to do.

So, all too willingly, we listen to the temptation and succumb.

Our Lord went into the desert to represent us all. He was captain of the team and the team was called humanity. He went in on our behalf. Previously our win-loss record against the devil was very poor, but this time it was a win for the humans.

In achieving this victory He changed the balance of power. The devil’s grip on the human race had been loosened.

The devil is also master of his craft, that of tempting. He was defeated by Our Lord but he surveyed Our Lord’s followers and thought they looked a ragged enough bunch and would still be ripe for temptation.

So he has been throwing things at us ever since, in any and every way possible trying to deflect us from the main task of getting to heaven.

He will use flattery or intimidation, either holding out to us the delights of worldly happiness or the horrors of worldly rejection.

Many a disciple has fallen for his deceptions, some totally, others partially. We ourselves have fallen many times and greatly regret the fact.

We could regard the season of Lent as a kind of training period. Those skills the masters make look easy take a lot of practice.

Even the best have to be practising all day to keep their talents at the highest level.
We learn from our mistakes (or sins).

We practise resisting temptation, practise finding the right thing to do in each situation - in short, being holy or good.

It does not come automatically. Many think that if they are not robbing banks or killing someone they must be good people, but it is not so easy as that.

There are more subtle sins: like making snide remarks about people; being envious of others’ good fortune; wasting time on trivial matters; chasing after false gods like money or status; sins of omission - and a thousand other things.

Could any of us go through even one day without committing some sort of sin? Our Lord went through His whole life, but He was the Master. It was easy (relatively) for Him.

Is it possible for us to be like Him? It is itself a temptation to say that we cannot help what we do; to say that we are only frail humans so we cannot hope to be good beyond a certain point.

No. We may not be as good as Christ but we can be a lot better than we have been in the past.

We may never reach master level of this craft but we can rise up through the ranks and especially in the training time of Lent we resolve to do that.

Ultimately, any one sin less is a victory; any one sin more is a disaster. If we call on the grace of Our Lord we will make great progress over time. We will despatch temptations as easily and directly as Our Lord in today’s Gospel.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Quinquagesima Sunday 14 Feb 2010 Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday 14.2.10 Giving up sin

Approaching Lent we wonder what we should give up. Sugar in the tea, butter on the bread, television programmes...

Of course what we really should give up is Sin.

That is the point of the whole operation. We give up the legitimate things to gain self-control so we can give up the illegitimate things.

It would be far better if we spent Lent covered in sugar and butter, and without sin, than with no sugar and butter but covered in sin.

One temptation for us is to think that if we have made an effort to give something up, that means we have done enough, and we can then go on sinning the same as normal.

All our energy goes on the sacrifice and we have nothing left over for the real contest.

This must be what Our Lord had in mind when He chided the Pharisees: What I want is mercy not sacrifice.

Alternatively we might be tempted to think that we can overcome sin without any sacrifice of a penitential nature. This is to overrate our own strength.

We need to practise making voluntary sacrifices because we have disordered desires, and we need to practise re-ordering them.

If we are faithful in small things we will be faithful in bigger.

Desire is at the heart of it all. What we desire determines the way we act.

What we are trying to teach ourselves is to desire God above all else. This has always been the first and main commandment - to love God, but we get distracted by a million other things, and we lose God in there somewhere.

Penance helps to remind us of what is really important.

If I am hungry for food, it reminds me that I am even more hungry for the food of heaven.

If I reduce my interest in trivial and wasteful activities it reminds me that I am here to save my soul, to get to heaven and to help others get there too.

We can consider what loving God requires from today’s epistle, where St Paul says that even if he does apparently good things like prophecy, or even laying down his life - without love it would mean nothing.

It seems that the motive behind our acts is the crucial thing. The motive we most need to have is to please God.

I could give a thousand dollars to the poor because I am looking for a tax deduction, or because I love God and know that it would please Him if I helped these people. Only in this second case is the gift of Charity working at its best.

This is what St Paul is advocating - that our ‘love’ be without self-interest and totally to please God. Of course it will probably please the other person; it is not that we are indifferent to them but God comes higher still.

St Paul is appealing for a right ordering of desires, getting things the right way up and this is the only way to make things work properly.

Penance is part of the process of getting things the right way up, of re-ordering our desires to the way they should be.

We could see what we give up for Lent as a gift back to God. He has given us so much and we have often reached out our hands for forbidden fruit. Now we can give Him something that we are allowed to have, but for love of Him we give it back.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Ash Wednesday Mass time

Mass on Ash Wednesday at St Monica's, Walkerville, will be at 6.45am (instead of the usual Wednesday time of 8am).

Masses at Holy Name, St Peters, that day will be 11am and 6.30pm

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Sexagesima Sunday 7 Feb 2010 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 7.2.10 Vision of heaven

As one saint said, It is only a foolish traveller who would forget his destination and stop instead to idle his time in some pleasant field along the way.

On most trips we undertake we would remember where we are going and we would arrive there, yet the most important trip we are all on is the one that takes us to heaven and not everyone, it seems, does arrive there.

It is possible and all too easy to be distracted and fall somewhere along the wayside. The parable of the sower and the seed describes at least three ways in which the traveller can be diverted from his path.

He may not even get started. He may give up because the path gets too difficult. Or he may give up because he finds other pleasant things along the way and just forgets where he is trying to reach.

To keep the vision of heaven foremost in our minds is quite a challenge, yet it is essential we do this if we want to guarantee we will arrive there.

St Paul had a vision of heaven, which he alludes to in the epistle today. He cannot tell us much about it because there are no words for such things. We have words only for everyday things and visions of heaven are too rare for words to be developed.

So we have something of a problem here. We have this place, Heaven, which is so marvellous that it is beyond our powers to describe or even to imagine, and because it is so far outside our normal experience we find it difficult to think about or to focus on. We are then inclined to fall back on more familiar things, and this is where we can become derailed.

We are inclined to limit our quest for happiness to the things of this world and let the next life wait until it comes... Heaven can wait, as the saying goes.

But if we are too immersed in the things of this world we may miss out on heaven altogether, because we will become distorted in our values and desires. We will find false gods to replace the true God.

We will make all sorts of compromises trying to make this life as easy and comfortable as possible, avoiding anything which seems too hard, and seeking pleasures without worrying whether they are permitted or not.

It may seem the promises of heaven are too vague and too distant to be compelling; that we need something more tangible, more here-and-now.

Heaven is not vague, however. It is a very real place. Just because we have trouble saying much about it does not lessen its beauty. The reason we cannot say much about it is that it is so good it is beyond our limited experience.

It is not too good to be true; it is too good to describe, but it is true all the same. It is truer than a lot of things we find on earth!

We need to nurture our belief in heaven and our hope of arriving there. The virtue of hope is a confidence that we can arrive in heaven, assisted by the mercy and grace of God. If we keep on course on a daily basis, trusting in God’s providence, we will arrive on time, whatever time He has decreed for each one of us.

We experience glimpses of heaven in this life, in certain ecstatic moments, in foretastes of the glory of God through His creation here; in experiences of love and joy. These are enough to drive us on to seek the fullness that can only be known in Heaven.

Anything short of that is not enough, and we must not settle for it.

This is not our true home.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Septuagesima Sunday 31 Jan 2010 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 31.1.10 Answering the call

The older we get the more memories we have, the more people we have met and lost contact with along the highway of life; the more we can muse, Whatever happened to so-and-so? How did he end up? Is he still alive even? etc

When we ask, How did this or that person ‘end up’, we do that with particular relevance in relation to the Faith.

From a class of Catholic children in the 1960s (as in my case) how many would still be practising the faith? How many have fallen by the wayside in terms of faith, however much success they might have achieved in other spheres?

We fear the answers may not be very comforting. We live in an age of widespread scepticism and even outright denial of the faith. That does not make the faith any less true but does bring home to us how easily the ‘precious pearl’ can be thrown away.

St Paul alludes to this in today’s epistle: he confides that he has fears for his own salvation. He, the great Paul, who is one of our most exalted saints, yet considers that he may still end up in hell! Today no one is allowed to talk about going to hell like that; it just isn’t polite.

But it is possible all the same; possible for anyone no matter how highly thought of to lose the plot, to fall out of union with God through one or more wrong turnings, leading at some point to mortal sin, unconfessed, unrepented.

So here we are now. Whatever happened to us, people might ask. They haven’t seen us for years. Maybe they would be surprised to know we are in a church right at this moment. Somehow he never seemed the type for that!

But we have ended up here, and if we are wise will stay here – in the safety of the flock of Christ, answering the call of the Good Shepherd, seeking the mercy of the Prodigal Father who welcomes back the straying child.

We are here, however we got here, however many twists and turns our lives may have taken. We are in the right place and will not leave it.

[For the young, of course, you have not had twists and turns yet, and you don’t have to have them either. It is not compulsory to spend some part of your life in the wilderness. Best to stay here and grow in grace as long as you live.]

All of us are called to be labourers in the vineyard. Whether early or late we must answer that call. In fact, because God is merciful, He gives people usually many chances. We can reject His call at various ages and still come in before the end. If we do we will be saved.

But it is better to answer the call as soon as possible.

For one thing it gives us more chance to serve Our Lord, the Master of the vineyard. We may think that to serve Him is going to make life harder, but He explains that His yoke is easy and His burden light. The serenity of conscience that comes from serving Him far outweighs the ill-gotten gains of a godless life. We are happier if we are in His employ than if we are outside.

Further, by coming in early we have more chance to help others find their way in. Many have lost their way; so we will bring many back into the fold by our prayers, works and sufferings. We will let the power of God work through us to call sinners to repentance.

Further still, the more we learn about this work the less likely we are to throw it away in some late-life rashness. It is possible to be lost but it is not likely if one follows basic disciplines and has frequent recourse to prayer and sacraments.

So this is how we ended up [so far]. A surprise ending perhaps, even to ourselves, but the best thing that could have happened. As we may not be finished yet, and some of us may have a long time to live, we cannot rest complacent, but persevere to the end (like St Paul’s athlete); persevere in the Lord’s service, where we are paid much more than we deserve.