Tuesday, 27 April 2010

3rd Sunday after Easter 25 April 2010 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Easter 25.4.10 In the world but not of it

An old saying, ‘In the world but not of it’ is suggested by today’s readings.

There are two distinct meanings of ‘world’ in our spiritual vocabulary.

In one sense we see the world as the object of evangelisation; as when Our Lord commissions us to go out and baptize all nations.

We recall that Our Lord came to save the world; or more precisely that He wants the Church to fill the world; everyone in the world to belong to His body. (The Church is not just a dry institution, as often perceived, but a living family in union with Christ.)

The other sense sees the ‘world’ in a more hostile light. As in the phrase ‘the world, the flesh and the devil’, meaning those things which endanger our salvation.

And we speak of the danger of being too ‘worldly’, looking for pleasure, money, comfort etc and not looking for heaven. As Our Lord put it: what use is it to gain the whole world and lose one’s own soul?

So to look more closely at these two meanings of ‘world’:

1) In the first sense we engage the world, by way of trying to convert it. We obey the law, pay our taxes, we become involved in the community according to time and talent (and God’s will). We do whatever is good and useful; but without ever becoming too engrossed in worldly things, as can easily happen.

The law of God is always paramount. Whatever we do in the world must be pleasing to Him, and always referable back to Him.

I cannot set my own ambitions, eg to be Prime Minister, without asking God first.

We recognize autonomy for the world in areas such as government, law, and the economy, but maintain that all areas are subject to God’s oversight.

If we were to take our faith seriously enough we would override worldly practices eg working on Sunday. Catholics should exert a greater political clout on the surrounding society. If we had more committed members we would achieve this. Thus a Catholic would never take part in abortions, or any immoral activity, nor support any such activity.

If we had more real disciples we would change the world. As it is the world changes us.

Catholics generally will follow the world and thus we get tangled up. We have the numbers, but not the commitment. (Just think Catholics make up about one in six of the whole world; that should give us a lot of clout.)

From now on, we are going to be strong.

2) ‘World’ as source of temptation. The world essentially runs on false principles or no principles. Systems emerge which enable mutual self-interest to be satisfied, eg economic practices which encourage dishonesty and greed; morality based on convenience rather than God’s will. A dog eat dog world where the strong trample the weak.

We have to rise above this, to let our light shine. This may be an evil age but by your lives you should redeem it. (Ephesians 5,16)
We don’t just sit back and be passive and take what the world offers. We don’t watch their television, go to their parades - we give them our parades and our television!

We ‘impose our view’ because it is God’s view. It just needs more assurance and clarity on our part.

Christ is going away (Gospel) not abandoning us but hoping we will catch on and prepare a kingdom for Him. If we took our instructions carefully enough we would be ready for Him (cf parable of talents - we multiply what He has entrusted to us).

In the world but not of it: we do not hide away from the world but neither do we succumb to its false ways. With the light of Christ we win the world for Him.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

2nd Sunday after Easter 18 April 2010 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Easter 18.4.10 ‘Catholic’ Church

We say we believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’, that is, that the Church covers the whole world, not being restricted to any particular place.

We have come to see the word ‘Catholic’ as a kind of brand name. What sort of Christian are you? Oh, a Catholic one. Sometimes we hear people referred to as ‘Catholic Christians’, to distinguish from Lutheran Christians or Baptist Christians etc.

In the phone book or in street directories you will find ‘Catholic’ listed alphabetically after ‘Anglican’ and before ‘Lutheran’. This will give the impression that all the various ‘churches’ are of the same status and reduces ‘Catholic’ to a brand name, whereas it really means the whole Church, or the only Church - that Church which covers the whole world, thus leaving no room for any other.

Our Lord refers in today’s Gospel to His flock. He has only one flock, to which He wants all people to belong. He did not establish several flocks to give the sheep a choice; only one flock, which He would guide and bless.

We have become accustomed to a proliferation of ‘churches’ but this is not Christ’s will, and must be seen as a tragedy of division.

Variety may be alright in some areas. We can barrack for whichever football team or drink whichever kind of beer, but we are not free to pick which church to belong to.

(The Vatican recently clarified that other groups calling themselves ‘churches’ are not really so but can be called ‘ecclesial communities’.)

The Church has always taught that there is ‘No salvation outside the Church’. This raises the ire of individualistic minded people who then say, No one is going to tell me where to belong or what to do...

But to say one has to belong to the Catholic Church is just another way of saying one has to be in union with Jesus Christ.

There is no other place we can find Jesus Christ in His full reality than in the Catholic Church. He will make Himself known in other places but only so that the ‘sheep’ there can find their way to the one flock, the one Church.

This topic arouses great emotion because of the confusion of issues involved. It is further complicated by the fact that Christians outside the Catholic Church are often better at living the Christian life than Catholics. Individual Catholics are often disappointing in the way they live, but this does not detract in any way from the role of the Church.

The Church is meant to be perfect even if it is not. No amount of sin and failure by individual Catholics can change the status of the Church as the place where Jesus Christ desires to be found.

In the meantime, of course, we address the sin and try to improve how well we live by the Gospel. The Church is ever in need of renewal and we take our part in that. (‘Renewal’ means renewal in holiness, not looking for new doctrines or liturgies)

We pray therefore for growth in the Church, in numbers and in holiness.

It would be easier for those outside to want to come in if they could see greater holiness in the current members. So we try to show them that.

Some would object that ‘one’ Church is too restrictive, and does not give scope to all the different cultures and ways of doing things. We are not saying that every Catholic has to be the same on every point. We need to have unity with Christ, and to have unity in matters of faith and morals, and in liturgical and sacramental practice. There is plenty of room for variety in matters of food, clothing, music etc.

The crucial thing is that we have full union with Christ. He unites all things in Himself. What is false will give way before Him; what is true will find fulfilment in Him.

He is the First and the Last. Let us gather around Him.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Low Sunday 11 April 2010 Sermon

Low Sunday 11.4.10 Faith and sorrow

My Lord and my God! We know that God can do anything He wants; that He has power to make or unmake the universe; that He has control over all that happens, even when He is permitting something against His will.

We know that He is good and loving, and looks after our best interests.

Yet somehow we still manage to doubt Him when we face a crisis of some sort. We believe all these things in principle but are likely to abandon our beliefs under pressure of circumstance.

Intellectually it is simple. God is good and wants to do good to us.
But emotionally we get tangled up very easily and fail to make progress.

What we need is a faith which combines the mental belief with the trust from the heart; so that I know God can do anything; and that what He chooses to do in this particular situation will be the best thing possible (even it is not what I would have thought of myself).

Faith has to be in God, which means more than just believing He exists, but believing in His will as being the best possible thing for me. There is a huge temptation to be disappointed in God if He does not ‘come to the party’ on a particular prayer intention.

Believing in Him must mean that I can never be disappointed in Him; there must always be some other explanation for what has failed to happen, or what has gone wrong.

We must cultivate this trust in every possible way – thanking Him for past mercies, praising Him for His goodness, discerning His will as best we can.

Thy will be done... we say it a million times, but we don’t fully mean it. We have to start meaning it and loving it as well. Learn from Jesus in the Garden; He meant it. He was not just saying a polite form of words.

We are on an adventure with God. His will unfolds before our eyes. We do not know what is going to happen next. We do not need to know. We just have to let Him take control; the less resistance we offer the better.

My Lord and my God becomes not just a metaphysical statement of belief but a statement of total trust.

St Thomas experienced a moment of realization, a quantum leap of faith. He emerged from the fog.

He was humbled at the same time. As when Peter, in the wake of the miraculous catch of fish, said first, Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man. It was a sudden awareness of his own smallness as against God’s greatness.

We could equate the realization of our sins and a growth of faith as being part of the same movement. They both require that we are more aware of our true place before God – which is on our knees, figuratively at least.

The Divine Mercy devotion is a complete abandonment to His mercy, which is undeserved, and we have no actual claim on it apart from His goodwill towards us. In growing sensitivity to Who He is we are more ashamed of our sins and less likely to sin again.

This is the breakthrough. The miracle is not so much that God is willing to forgive but that we finally wake up to what we have done. They shall look on the one whom they have pierced and mourn for Him.

Our greatest help to having more faith is God Himself. He wants us to believe in Him, to trust in Him and to receive mercy from Him – all stages on the way to total union with Him in heaven. He will give the gift of faith to all who seek it; He will have mercy on all who ask for it.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Easter Sunday 4 April 2010 Sermon

Easter Sunday 4.4.10

Our Lord came all the way from heaven and spent some time with us on earth, and then returned to heaven.

As St Paul puts it in Philippians chapter 2, He gave up equality with God and was treated as a slave even being put to death. But God raised Him up and gave Him a name above every other name.

If we think of Our Lord on Good Friday He was at the absolute low-point of degradation; then think of Him on Easter Sunday as glorious and triumphant; then a further triumph again as He ascended to Heaven a few weeks later.

We could think of these three events as stages of victory.

The first, Good Friday, was a victory over sin. By going willingly to the Cross, Jesus was reversing the sin of Adam.
Adam’s sin was to put his will before God’s. Jesus reversed that by submitting totally to the will of the Father: not My will but Thine.

Sin is taking what is not ours; the opposite of sin is to give back to God what is ours, even what we would be entitled to keep. Our Lord’s sacrifice of His life was totally voluntary. It was the Father’s will but it was not forced on Our Lord.

(It was a victory over sin also in the sense that Our Lord overcame and outmanoeuvred the devil and all his human assistants.)

The second stage of the victory is what we are specifically celebrating today, the Resurrection.
We could call this the victory over death. But for this event we would be resigned to thinking of death as a permanent state and the last word on our lives. How sad it would be to think of death as the end of a person. Indeed there are many who do think this but they are mistaken.

Our Lord’s resurrection tells us there is life beyond the grave, and it is available to all who unite themselves to Him.

So taking these two phases of victory together we have victory over sin and death. One leads to the other. It was sin that brought death into the world; it is the absence of sin that brings life back where it had been forfeited.

The third stage of Our Lord’s victory was His Ascension to heaven. This event is somewhat underrated, being overshadowed by Easter, but it is important for us all the same.

We are promised resurrection but not just to life on this earth. We would not want to live here forever if the world remains as it is. We are raised to a better world, where there is no suffering, and only joy – the world of Heaven.

So we share in every stage of Our Lord’s Incarnation: but our experience to date really only tells us about the first phase, the degradation of sin; the other two stages – the resurrection and ascension we can only anticipate.

This is why so many people in our own society have little or no faith in life after death. They see life lived here in a cynical materialistic way and regard ‘religion’ as pie-in-the-sky.

When we encounter suffering or disappointment in any form we face a point of decision. Do we abandon hope and turn away from Our Lord (as so many do)? Or do we hold firm in the knowledge that what we are feeling is ‘Good Friday’, but the ‘Easter Sunday’ and ‘Ascension’ experiences are coming shortly after.

It is easy to turn cynical but if we can resist that temptation we have a whole world of joy and hope before us. And firm in that new understanding we can evangelise others, being messengers of hope. Do not be afraid. He has gone before you. You will see Him again.

All praise to the Risen Lord!