Tuesday, 28 September 2010

18th Sunday after Pentecost 26 Sep 2010 Sermon

18th Sunday after Pentecost 26.9.10 Forgiveness

The greatest miracles are the ones we cannot see. God can do many miraculous things. He can make a whole universe just with a word. We see the signs of His creative power everywhere around us, with accompanying beauty.

But greater still than all the physical miracles is the miracle of forgiveness, when God chooses by a separate act to pardon a sinner and restore that person to spiritual life.

When Our Lord raised the dead and healed the sick it caused a sensation, but the greater miracle was that these people were also forgiven their sins.

And in churches all around the world sometimes physical miracles happen, but greater miracles happen in confessionals when years of sin can be wiped away by a single confession.

Forgiveness is a greater miracle because it involves a greater use of God’s intervention.
With physical processes He is usually content to let things follow their normal course; but with forgiveness He personally intervenes each time a sinner repents and grants the necessary new life in the soul.

It is a miracle because forgiveness is a departure from what ‘ought’ to happen by normal laws.

As with a physical miracle if I, for example, fall from a height I would normally be killed but God could act in such a way to keep me alive. So with a mortal sin I would (all else being equal) be forever separated from God; but He can choose to spare me that fate and give me another chance.

God is under no obligation to forgive our sins; it is something He chooses to do. We have no claim on Him apart from His good nature.

The fact that He does forgive so freely and so often should not prevent us from seeing it as a miracle and being suitably grateful.

Because of the relative ease of obtaining forgiveness we can fall into various errors:

We can take forgiveness for granted, simply presuming on God’s mercy to cover any damage I may have done. Thus people decide that they do not need to confess their sins, nor even be sorry for them. God will forgive them anyway, they reason.

Or one can lose sight of sin itself as a crime against God and nature, deserving of dreadful punishments. If forgiveness is taken for granted so can sin be taken. It is just a normal part of life and not worth worrying too much about, people reason. So again there is a refusal to confess or even try to correct wrongdoings.

We must not presume on God’s mercy. Yes, He is willing to forgive and will forgive any sin no matter how atrocious – provided there is genuine contrition on the part of the sinner.

The miracle will be forthcoming, but we must play our part as well. Just as in the physical domain we can pray for protection but still have to exercise due care (eg in driving a car) so in the spiritual life we must exercise ‘due care’ in doing our best to avoid sin and please God.

With due humility we acknowledge our sin and the penalties we deserve. We then ask for mercy, knowing it will be given, but no less grateful for that.

We can come back to life many times in one lifetime. If we are truly grateful we will sin less often and less seriously. We will be chastened by having to ask for mercy so often and will (always with God’s help) find more resistance to further sin.

This is the miracle we need more than any other. Let us ask for it as often as we need it, and be duly grateful when received.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

17th Sunday after Pentecost 19 Sep 2010 Sermon

17th Sunday after Pentecost 19.9.10 Love God and Neighbour

The greatest command is to love God and the second to love neighbour as ourselves.
All other commandments and laws come under the umbrella of these two.

What does it mean to love God? It can be difficult to know quite how we relate to God. He is so much greater than us, and so much out of our normal range of knowledge and feeling. Our relationship with Him can seem very vague.

How love what or whom we do not understand?

We can come by two roads: the high and the low.

The low road is simply to obey Him. Our Lord said once: if you love Me you will keep My commands. If we keep His commands it proves at least that we are trying to please Him and that is some kind of love. So we do that. Day by day, piece by piece... just do the next thing right. Seek to please Him. Not expecting to understand everything all at once, but just to obey Him.

The high road is to be in communion with Him, through prayer, sacrament, in some cases mystical union. Like being immersed in the sea of His love. Lost in Him. Opening ourselves to the infinite reality of God, and always seeking more of Him, never being able to exhaust His fullness. Yielding to Him; complete submission, complete union.

We can employ both these approaches. We can be hard-headed and practical; doing what is there to be done.

As to the path of union, most of us are not very mystical but then we have the liturgy to lift us up to higher places, even if we don’t have much imagination. Just to be here at Mass is to enter the depths of God.

We need both approaches: we cannot be just doing tasks. God wants us to know Him, as much as we are able. He wants us to be friends not servants.

Then again we cannot ignore duties in the pursuit of high spiritual experiences.

Taking the high road and the low road: We see Him in the small and the big things; from the circumstances of every day to the overall cosmic view of His plans.

We come to value Him more. He is not just a vague presence out there somewhere, but our most valuable possession by far.

And the Neighbour? We love what God loves, if we love Him at all. The strongest argument for loving neighbour is that God loves that very same person, and we would have a hard time explaining to God why we disagree with Him.

Of course we can list off the faults of another person but so can God. The ‘love’ we are required to exercise is not the romantic emotional love, such as being ‘in love’ signifies. Our love of neighbour can also be divided into a matter of duty in individual details and a little of the mystical as well.

The mystical side: Our neighbours, being human, are spiritual beings and therefore mysterious to us. We must respect this dimension and leave it to God to work His wonders in the other person’s soul.

Our main task is not to interfere. We pray for others to receive whatever God wants to give them, and we must not resent if He is generous to them.

God is a lavish giver and we must not allow any pettiness to curtail our goodwill towards others.

And as to duty, loving the other is simply doing whatever the situation requires, as in the case of loving God.

These commands are high enough to inspire us and low enough for us to be able to reach. What God commands He also enables. With His help we do as He commands.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

16th Sunday after Pentecost 12 Sep 2010 Sermon

16th Sunday after Pentecost 12.9.10 The secret of holiness

One of the requirements of our Catholic faith is that we must try to be good at all times and in all places. We are never allowed a ‘day off’ from the requirements of holiness.

This could sound like an intolerable burden. Yet Our Lord said His yoke was easy and His burden light. (Mt 11, 30)

And St Paul tells us that we are never tested beyond our strength. (1 Cor 10, 13)

Yet it remains true that there is no ‘day off’ or ‘time out’ from holiness. In practice we might take time out but we are not allowed to.

So can we be good all the time?

We can learn something from the example of Our Lady. She never sinned in her whole life, from conception to death. Not one sin, not so much as one uncharitable thought or loose word! Is it possible?

Sometimes we are tempted to sin and we manage not to. For example if I am tempted to say something in anger, I can manage to keep my mouth shut but it comes as something of an effort, and my anger would probably register in other ways, such as coldness of manner or impatience of gesture.

But with Our Lady, not even these things would have happened. She would not have been walking about like a time bomb ready to explode as we can feel ourselves to be.

The ‘secret’ of her success lay in her closeness to God, to the Source of holiness.

We define holiness in terms of how close one is to the nature of God.

If we act in a God-like way, such as being charitable, generous, chaste – then that is being holy. If we sin we are acting in a way other than God would act in the same situation.

Our Lady was so close to God in her thoughts, in her heart, mind and soul that there was no possibility of sin occurring to her.

It was not by some supreme effort of willpower that she avoided sin. It was natural to her to pick always the God-like way of responding to whatever happened.

This is the way we must travel. To be holy all the time means we must draw closer to God Himself and draw from His nature to transform our sinful nature.

This process will happen by a gradual change in the way we see things; the way we think.

If we see holiness as a burden it is a sure sign that we are not seeing reality as it really is. Our spiritual eyesight is suffering a blockage. We need to be healed of whatever is not registering properly.

Thus the epistle reading today where St Paul prays that the Ephesians will be strengthened with a power which reaches their innermost being; that they be able to understand more clearly the height and depth of the love of Christ.

We note that it is an interior process that needs to happen. There is something inside each person which needs to change. This is St Paul’s prayer and it is our prayer for ourselves and each other.

May all of us come to see as God sees, as Our Lady did see in her life; and countless other saints also.

It will be painful sometimes to unlearn some of the false worldly ways we have accumulated. But each sinful habit discarded is a glorious liberation and paves the way for further spiritual progress.

We must always remember that to sin in any form is not ‘normal’ behaviour; it is a deviation from the norm. Holiness is the normal state. We were created to share the life of God, and even His nature. Drawing from His nature it is not so hard to be good all the time.

15th Sunday after Pentecost 5 Sep 2010 Sermon

15th Sunday after Pentecost 5.9.10 Restoring things

Our Lord gives back the son to his mother. He restores life and the event occasions much joy, as we can imagine.

He had the ability to raise the dead and could have raised everyone if He had wanted to. He could have emptied out every cemetery in Israel.

But He does not normally restore life in that precise way.

He came that we might have life, and have it to the full. Usually He lets physical death take its course. He gives us life to the full, firstly by enabling the departed soul to reach heaven; and then at the end of time restoring the body to full glorious life - not the life of pain and suffering we encounter here, but Heaven in all its glory. Lazarus, and the young man of Naim, and the young daughter of Jairus – all brought back to life - would have had to suffer the same things as before. But in heaven all tears are wiped away; there is no more pain.

Our Lord is more interested in the life of the soul than the life of the body. To Him the greatest enemy is sin; whereas for most of the human race sickness would be a greater concern.

So when Our Lord comes across someone who is sick His first concern is for the person’s soul.

God creates and He takes pleasure in what He has made. He also likes to re-create; to restore things which have been damaged in some way.

We ourselves take pleasure in restoring things – be it houses, gardens, cars, books, works of art. There is a real pleasure in making beauty out of something that was distorted or corrupted.

If we are restoring something we will be meticulous in our approach. So is God meticulous in remaking man, His primary creation.

His mercy will forgive the sin and His grace will enable the person to rise above sin in the future.

He also can restore whole societies. As we worry about declining moral standards; about the loss of marriage and family values which threaten the foundations of our society – we can also extend the presence of Christ by living according to His word.

The more we cooperate with Him the more we restore the world from death.

The fight is essentially won through holiness of life, through our own absolute fidelity to the will of God, doing what He wants us to do.

This enables the holding on to the values we have, and recapturing them; and where possible reclaiming those who have abandoned Christian morality.

Our private behaviour must match our public declarations. Individual and communal behaviour must reflect the same values. Lots of people doing the right thing, in small things, everyday things – this will transform our communities.

We live in fragmented times; we must not be discouraged. Above all we must not go over to the ‘other side’ abandoning what we have held so far.

Avoid pollution, we are told, because it is the only planet we have. Far more so must we avoid the pollution of sin. The only way to save the planet is to live by God’s laws.

We can make this world truly beautiful by lives of holiness – which means simply living as God wants us to live. The ugliness of sin will give way to beauty, as death gives way to life in the raising of the young man.