Tuesday, 31 August 2010

14th Sunday after Pentecost 29 Aug 2010 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 29.8.10 Total trust

When the earthquake happened in Haiti in January this year a local source said that in terms of religion Haiti was so many percent Catholic and so many per cent Protestant, but 100% Voodoo!

No doubt an exaggeration, but it has been a problem for the Church in many parts of the world that the Catholics in those places often hold another religion (and by necessity a false one) alongside of the Catholic religion. It is hard to convince people to give up something that has been part of their culture for a long time.

It can be a problem right here in Australia too, where it may not be voodoo but we are tempted to put our faith in other things besides God – perhaps money, insurance, friends, superstition, ... fate, destiny, the luck of the draw...one’s own abilities, working harder...

The thing we all have to learn is that we cannot improve on God. There is one God and only one. Every other ‘god’ is a false one. To try to work in other gods with the real God is to gild the lily, to try to improve something which is already perfect.

Today’s Gospel about lilies in the field tells us plainly to have trust in God alone, and reminds us how helpless we are to change things from how He ordains them.

But if we do trust Him we will receive everything we need for our welfare and enjoy great security as we go.

How comforting this passage is and yet how hard for us to live by this principle.

We are always tempted to try some other angle besides prayer, faith, and trust. Just a little improvement. I am sure God has my welfare at heart but just in case He forgets I will try a little of my own initiative.

So we tell a few lies; we cheat at business a little bit; we look to our own welfare in a way that seems wise to us, but actually if we disobey God in any of these details we are making things worse.

It amounts to going to false gods if we look anywhere else than to Him.

We are allowed to - and supposed to - exercise human wisdom and industry in terms of working for our bread, making plans for the future.

If you insure your house it does not mean you lack trust in God. If you seek a career which will likely provide you with a steady income that does not mean you doubt God will provide.
He uses these things to give us our daily bread over a longer term.

However the false part would be if we place total reliance on these things and never pray to God for His help.

I could be rich through business acumen and think that I do not need God, but I still need His help to maintain the economy that makes me rich. We see if the stock market crashes that wealth can be wiped out suddenly. Or one’s health can collapse, or war could break out etc.

So we do need God no matter how secure or clever we might think ourselves. And thus we turn to Him in the simplicity of the birds of the air and ask that He feed us.

And we remove from our houses all the good luck charms and new age trinkets and anything bearing a trace of a false religion. And we resolve to be honest in business and in speaking and living the truth.

We cannot improve on God; we can improve our relationship with Him; draw closer to Him and come to a more secure faith in Him.

This is what Our Lord is telling us to do today and He will help this to happen as He feeds us with Bread from Heaven.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

13th Sunday after Pentecost 22 Aug 2010 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 22.8.10 Salvation – not to be taken for granted

All ten lepers were healed, but only one returned to give thanks. This one was saved as well as healed. He received the cleansing of soul as well as body. The other nine had only bodily healing.

He was ‘saved’ because he recognized the work of God in what had happened to him, and was prepared to submit himself in gratitude to the power of God. By casting himself at the feet of Our Lord he was expressing a willingness to be His disciple, to accept whatever terms or conditions might be further required of him.

This is what ‘salvation’ means. We are saved when we are in a state of grace; in a state of union with God – and this can be the case only when we are willing to trust, obey, serve Our Lord; when we are sorry for offending Him, and grateful to Him for favours received.
It is an ongoing interactive state – dwelling in grace, or as it is sometimes put: He is dwelling in us.

The nine lepers represent much of the human race who take God for granted; which also means they take salvation for granted.

They have no gratitude for God for the gift of life, nor anything that the world provides in its bounty – food, wine, fresh air, friendship, health, music etc.

They might say there is no God and these things happen by themselves. Or they might say there is a God but rarely give Him a thought. They are too busy enjoying life, or coping with it, to see beyond to the Author of it all.

For the same reason they do not consider the meaning or purpose of life. They take that for granted too, just making the best of things according to their own selfish perspective. Some will even say that life is a burden which they never asked for, resenting rather than being grateful.

They have no consciousness of sin against God; they see no need to change the way they are living. This is the nine lepers and probably at least nine million Australians.

Today’s Gospel is usually seen as an exhortation to thanks, but it is also a wakeup call to deeper issues of our whole attitude and way of relating to Almighty God.

We have much to thank Him for, from the daily blessings we receive in this life to the far greater blessing of eternal life, the happiness of which will greatly exceed any happiness we have here.

The disposition of being grateful is necessary to be in a state of grace. If we are angry with God or indifferent towards Him it is very hard to be in union with Him. But if we are prepared to trust Him at all times (including when things go against us) we can then live in habitual union with Him (the state of grace).

The more we value something the more grateful we will feel. If we are conscious of our need we are inclined to be very grateful. Receiving spiritual graces can be overlooked if we are too focused only on physical or material blessings.

Many would be glad to have physical health restored but may be indifferent to having their sins forgiven. Yet the latter need is far greater, only not so easy to discern.

It is the same God who gives us all blessings – spiritual and physical. It is the same God who sometimes deprives us of one blessing for the sake of giving something greater still (such as when He removes a false attachment to lead us to a better knowledge of Him).

We cannot begrudge Him the right to decide what is best for us. We would not even have existence if He had not given it to us! The more simply and humbly we come before Him the better it works. We learn from that one leper who is immortalized for all generations as the model of humble gratitude before God.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Feast of the Assumption 15 Aug 2010 Sermon

Feast of the Assumption 15.8.10 He has looked upon His lowly handmaid.

As we follow through the mysteries of the Rosary, beginning with the Annunciation, and finishing with the Assumption and Coronation of Mary, we can see that in a lifetime this humble girl from Nazareth travelled a long way.

It is always interesting to trace the lives of famous people and see what they were like early in life and how they arrived where they did.

Often it is a strong inner drive that makes them persist where others would give up. The Virgin Mary had strong inner drive too but not for her own worldly success. She did not want to be Queen or Empress or any title that the world could give. She wanted only to give herself totally to God; to be attentive in all things to His will.

It was precisely her lack of self-seeking that brought her so far. God could see that of all the people He had created Mary was the only one who cared nothing for herself; whose heart totally belonged to Him.

If we were all like that how much improved the world would be!

But one person like that was enough for God to fulfil His plans of sending His Son to be our Saviour. Mary agreed to be His mother, and then either was with Him or near Him at every stage of His earthly life, including the Cross.

Her role did not end with His birth, as some Christians would have it. She was a vital co-operator in God’s plans.

The entrustment of John (and all other disciples) to Mary at Calvary was not just a housekeeping arrangement by Our Lord; it was to give her full scope as Mother of each and all disciples.

She was to be the new Eve, the Mother who would convey life to her children; not physical life but spiritual; therefore more important.

She is highly and personally relevant to each of us. It is tragic and wasteful that she is so much neglected by most Christians; even these days by most Catholics.

Protestant Christians have always had trouble with her, thinking that any attention paid to her is honour stolen from God. Many Catholics have moved over to this way of thinking and are very reluctant to give her more than a passing mention.

Mary herself would be the first to say, Don’t honour me – if it were just a matter for her own gratification. But because it is God’s will that we honour her she would say, Do it, for that reason.

In honouring her we honour Almighty God. Every prayer we make to her she passes straight onto Him. She is the last person in the world to be competing with God. Others might retain praise for themselves, but not she.

She still thinks nothing of herself. She is truly humble, not just putting on an act. Thus the Magnificat prayer (today’s Gospel) speaks of God looking upon her lowliness and lifting her up. She is still lowly as far as her own spirit is concerned, but she lets God hold her as an example to the rest of the world.

And she is not just an ornament to be admired. She is very powerful in the spiritual domain and sends the devil and his legions scurrying. With what weapon? Humility! Her deep and total humility is the source of her power and is the ideal weapon to defeat the devil who (exactly opposite) is consumed with pride. The humble are directly in line with the power of God, being open to receive His help. The proud are unable to call on His help because they are in a state of disorder.

As we honour Our Lady in her moment of triumph let us call on her as often as possible. She has much to give, and will not refuse us.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

11th Sunday after Pentecost 8 Aug 2010 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 8.8.10 Hearing the word

At present we are having an election campaign, which is hard to miss! The air is full of words with promises, denials, accusations, counter-accusations.

And apart from elections at any time we are saturated with gadgets, phones, ipods... There is a concern now that people are dying on the roads because of too much distraction from these devices.

It may be hard to discern the truth out of so many words and so much sound. One could question whether there is any truth to be found, and some would say no indeed, there is not.

We Catholics believe that there is a word worth listening to; so much worth listening to that it is imperative it must be followed. This is the word of God. This is the one true word in the midst of so much falsehood. And this word of God says: Don’t listen to the other words, the babble of voices.

Don’t fall for the false philosophies that you will hear of – the ones that say that the human race is just one species among many, that there is no God, no order to this world, no purpose for being here. The ones that say that we have a right to determine our own way in this world and are answerable to no system of truth. The words which propose things we know to be immoral or against the will of God.

Hear the word of God – the ancient cry of the prophets. Thus says the Lord....
Hear and obey. It is an old formula and it still works. But as of olden times there are many who refuse to listen; who would rather kill the prophet than do what the prophet says.

In the Gospel today Our Lord heals the deaf man. We have always understood this action to be symbolic. He takes away our deafness; opens our ears - so that we can take in the life-saving word of God.

For the word to take root in us we must develop a certain discipline. We must prepare the ground to give the seed a chance to grow.

This is why the noise of the world is dangerous for us: it can stifle any chance we have to think, to find out the real truth.

The word of God is not always obvious; it cannot always be grasped immediately. To take in His word fully requires more than just something going in our ears. There has to be an engagement of the whole person.

We can keep Him at arm’s length; hear but not hear (as Our Lord said of the Jews). We can adopt a defensive attitude. ‘Whatever I hear or read I am not going to change what I am doing.’

We must be fully engaged. Like Our Lady – see how she was able to respond so quickly at the Annunciation. It was because she was already predisposed to hear the word of God.

So with St Joseph, who responded so readily to the messages he received in dreams.

We can be like that if we prepare the ground for the seed to fall. We can be willing listeners, ready co-operators.

Part of the overall balance is to avoid the harmful words, the wrong messages.
Not taking in too much media, dangerous ideas, false entertainment, or conversation etc.

We can reflect that the great saints of our Church history did not have radios, televisions, phones, computers etc. It must have given them more peace, and more time to think.

The less error we take in the more room for truth. We just need to make room for His word; let Him come among us; become familiar with Him. This is why we need to pray, to reflect on our faith.

We let His word determine the way we look at life. We then see that from all the words spoken there is indeed one that is true. We can find peace amidst the babble of voices; direction amidst the chaos.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

10th Sunday after Pentecost 1 Aug 2010 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 1.8.10 Pride

The first sin ever committed was one of Pride. Certain of the angels, falling in love with their own beauty, rebelled against God and became fallen angels (devils). From that time they have been tormenting us and trying to get us to do the same thing. And sadly they have a very high success rate.

The fallen angels had one thing right – they were truly beautiful; they were worthy of admiration. But to admire the creature while forgetting the Creator is a fundamental error and must always lead to trouble.

We must always acknowledge the Creator; acknowledge where we come from and to whom we hope to return. All things come from Him and all things are accountable to Him. He can be denied, ignored, insulted and many other things, but He cannot be made to go away. He is always there and no matter how much a being may rebel it is always God who has the last word.

By acknowledging Him I do not mean merely obedience; I mean praise as well. To give God His ‘due’ would be to sing for all eternity of His goodness – which is what they do in heaven.

There is a rightness about praising God which is borne out in the Psalms. Praise the Lord in his holy places: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to the multitude of his greatness. Praise him with the sound of trumpet: praise him with psaltery and harp. Praise him with timbrel and choir: praise him with strings and organs. Praise him on high sounding cymbals: praise him on cymbals of joy: Let every spirit praise the Lord. Alleluia. (Ps 150, for example).

It is not that God is vain, and needing our attention, as another person might be. It is just that there is an objective rightness, a right order about things, when the creatures praise the Creator.

The world would run a lot better than it does if this rightful amount of praise was offered. (Dignum et justum est).

Which brings us to today’s parable of the Pharisee and the Publican – respectively representing pride and humility.

The Pharisee is proud because, although he does certain good actions, he thinks himself responsible for his own goodness. He regards himself as self-sufficient; not properly grasping that anything good about him is only possible because the power for good comes from God.

The Publican is humble because although he has done the wrong thing he gives proper acknowledgment to God as the One to whom he must answer, and he re-connects with God, reconciles with Him, thus going home ‘at rights’ with God.

To sin is to deny God, at least temporarily. To ask His forgiveness is to switch back into acknowledging Him, to re-connect, and thus come more fully to be what we are.

We cannot exist properly without God any more than fish can live without water, or birds without air.

The proud do not think they need God. They think they are sweet enough by themselves. Atheists make a boast of their own self-sufficiency. They laugh at us for needing someone else to lean on.

But believers can suffer from pride too (such as the Pharisee). We can try to be good in our own way, and even if we succeed in doing something good there may be little or no merit, if God has not been honoured.

The motive by which we do our actions has a great bearing on how valuable or effective they are.

St Therese tells us that something as simple as picking a pin off the floor can save a soul if done for the glory of God.

So we must try to be good, and do good, all for God and His glory.

It is comforting to know that obscure, humble actions can be so powerful because that is what we are doing most of the time. We would like to do something spectacular to help the world, but we are usually thrown back on just doing the usual things, day in and day out.

We can make those things powerful by the proper attitude of humility. Even our repentance can be powerful by being genuinely sorry we have offended God.

Humility unlocks the full power of God. The first sin is reversed and all its ugly results begin to be set right.