Tuesday, 25 January 2011

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 23 Jan 2011 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 23.1.11 Forgiving enemies

There is a saying: Don't get mad get even. For Christians neither will do. Don’t get mad or even – leave vengeance to the Lord.

In the epistle today: Do not repay injury with injury. Vengeance is Mine, says the Lord.

Our first reaction on being offended is to be like a vigilante committee, taking our own revenge. We are impatient to see those who hurt us suffer in some way.

On further reflection: we leave it to the Lord, as He says.

Even if we do leave it to the Lord we should still not delight in the prospect of their suffering.
I should not be pleased if my enemy is to suffer. What I should want is the conversion of the other person; to turn an enemy into a friend.

As the Lord Himself says: He does not desire the death of the wicked man; rather that he turn from his evil way and live. We must follow the same line. We want our enemies to know the love of God and be transformed.

It is easy in a general way to say I would not wish anyone in hell; or that I forgive everyone who has ever offended me. But when we recall particular people and offences the sense of resentment can return very strongly, even from many years ago. So we realize there is more healing needed.

We have to shift to a Christ-like way of thinking; enter the depths of the Sacred Heart. We are touching the edges of divine love here, getting to an intensity of love far beyond the usual understanding.

Human love tends to be limited. Thus we love those who love us or who have been good to us. God, however, loves those who are evil and have done evil to Him.

Christ wanted His enemies to be His friends, even those who crucified Him.

We draw fire from His heart, a capacity to love far beyond what we have known. It is a completely different way of looking at things.

Can we do this? Is it possible? With grace, yes.

We are already doing this to some degree, for example, during Mass and in some of our prayers - Our Father: as we forgive those who trespass against us; and the Hail Mary: pray for us sinners... We have to say those words if we are to pray the prayer, and if we say the words we have to mean them.

And the whole of the Mass is about praying for the salvation of others as well as oneself. His blood is shed for many... Have mercy on us (not just me).

We let these powerful words and rituals take us to a higher level. We can do whatever God can do insofar as we are joined to Him. The new way of looking at things becomes natural to us in the process.

In any case no one can get into heaven who has not been through this. Every trace of malice or resentment has to be burnt out of the system.

This is where the hot coals of the epistle come in. Those who offend us will have to go through a certain amount of pain even if they are converted. True contrition does mean pain, as we come to an awareness of the evil we have done. It hurts to think back on these things, and those who have offended us will have to suffer that much pain. But the sweetness of being forgiven is far greater.

We all need forgiving; we always need mercy from God and sometimes from other people. Let us not begrudge it to anyone who needs it from us.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 16 Jan 2011 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 16.1.11 Going too far

This miracle at Cana was the first public miracle of Our Lord. He may have worked other ones quietly but this one would attract attention. From this point on He would be like the modern celebrities, unable to shake off the press. And it would be a hostile press in Our Lord’s case.

At Christmas we rejoiced that He was born; that the Saviour was in our midst. But He was still only a baby so we would have to wait a while before He could act on our behalf.
This baby will grow to greatness.

Now the greatness is here. Now He is adult and He has begun to show forth His power, the power which will expel demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, and set in place the New Covenant.

We find in this miracle, and another one, a sequence of liquid changes.

First water is changed into wine. Later wine is changed into blood.

Water to wine: this can be taken to symbolise the enrichment of human nature by the fact that God has adopted that nature. Here we are, just trotting along as the human race and suddenly God Himself wants to join us.

We would get a big enough surprise if some important celebrity told us he wanted to stay at our house overnight... but what if he wanted to live with us for good? We can grasp that God would take an interest in us but that He would actually want to live here as well is a staggering thought.

We have been upgraded by this event. We have been changed from water to wine. To be human after the Incarnation is a big thing.

If it were to stop there we would be happy. We could drink the wine in the six stone jars without a care in the world. But there is a darker side.

The presence of evil in the world means that the ride will be a bumpy one. This is where the second change is required - Wine into blood. The way to be united with God requires sacrifice. It cannot be all fun or joy, while there is still evil to be overcome. We must travel the way of thorns and thistles: the way of the Cross.

This might sound like bad news, but we will be given the necessary understanding and the capacity to suffer in the cause of love. We will be so consumed by the necessity and urgency of the situation that we will not count the cost.

In essence Our Lord saves us by turning us into images of Himself.

We are not saved as though we are spectators watching what He does. We are participants: imitating what He does. We go on the Cross with Him and we rise with Him.

We are enlarged in our capacity to join with Him. We get better at doing that.

We might applaud the turning of water into wine, as people marvelled at Our Lord’s miracles of healing.

But at the turning of wine into blood, we might say, this time He has gone too far. (cf John 6, 60-66, when many of His disciples left Him.)

The drink has gone from being festive to bitter.

But with the drink comes the capacity to receive it and even enjoy it.

It is tempting for us to be part-time disciples of Our Lord, not getting too involved. There for the good times, but when the sufferings come we are nowhere to be seen.

Our Lord asks us to commit to Him fully. To be with Him in the good times and the bad (like a marriage). We can do it if we draw strength from Him.

The cup which contains this bitter drink will give us the power to bear with that suffering. In Holy Communion we drink His blood and promise to share His sufferings; at the same time being strengthened by Him to do that.

May we be there for Him when it really counts.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Feast of the Holy Family 9 Jan 2011 Sermon

Feast of the Holy Family 9.1.11 Lessons in love

Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the model family. They are the ideal in terms of doing the will of God and loving one another.

Most other families don't get these things right; especially the point about doing the will of God.

On the loving-one-another front some families do better than others.

It was God Himself who established the family, from the time of Adam and Eve. And by choosing to live in a family (as Jesus), He further reinforced its importance.

He had certain intentions for us: One was that through experiencing human love in the family setting we would then have a key to understanding divine love. So if our parents loved us as children, that would be an image of God’s own love for us.

Further again, that we would learn in the give-and-take of family life to be less selfish and able to fit in with other people. Learning to love under pressure.

Then there is marriage, which has its own special place. In Christian understanding the marriage between man and woman symbolises the marriage between Christ and the Church.

Within marriage comes procreation, a privileged sharing in the creative power of God.

All these things God intends us to learn and observe in marriage and family life.

It is easy to be cynical about these things as the practice so often fails to reach the ideal. We see that families and marriage are so often torn apart.

We must not allow cynicism to deflect us from belief in the ideal nor from attempts to draw closer to it.

We see that the evil one has power to make disturbance in the most important areas. Family life and its related aspects form a huge battleground between good and evil.

As we do not allow the presence of evil in general to stop us believing in good, nor must we stop believing in the proper working of marriage and family life. In the presence of failure we become even more determined to get things right.

There are two ways we can make things run better:

One, we reaffirm our belief in all the Church teachings regarding family life: no adultery, no contraception, no abortion, no IVF etc. We obey these teachings and we work to influence the political machinery and general public opinion to defend these things, so much under attack.

Two, we work harder at living family life along the lines of the Holy Family. This takes a certain amount of pulling one’s head in: just being humble, giving way to others, washing their feet (metaphorically). Being the least rather than the greatest, and so on.

This will do wonders, especially if it spreads.

Just doing the little things right is so important . We see that Our Lord spent thirty years just living at home. How important this makes the domestic scene.

The little things are more important insofar as they are more common. Only a few times in our lives we are called on for big things, but thousands of times for the little things. They add up to a lot in the end.

Our challenge is to return to our homes or communities and be more like Jesus, Mary and Joseph in these little things. Not working miracles but just being patient, kind, courteous; not seeking one’s own way all the time etc.

Again we are drawn to contemplate the Crib scene. It is a humble scene and perhaps an unlikely-looking one to solve the world’s problems, but ‘humble’ is just the thing when it comes to obtaining and exercising spiritual power.

As we honour the Holy Family may we share in their humility and the power that comes from that.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Feast of the Holy Name 2 Jan 2011 Sermon

Feast of the Holy Name 2.1.11 In this name alone

Peter and John heal the crippled man by the power of the Name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk!

There are many names in the world, of people and things, but only one name out of all of them has such power to work miracles.

When we call upon this name we are calling upon the power of God Himself, the Creator and Saviour of the world. The same power which put this world in place and which keeps it running is contained in that one Name.

We do not call on the name of Bill or Fred or Nigel or Cedric in the same way. We call other names but we do not expect them to heal us, or forgive our sins. We don’t cry out in the depths of our anguish, O Sam, save me, O George, forgive me my sins!

For one thing those gentlemen are not able to hear us unless we are in their presence. And they don’t have the power or authority to grant such requests. But we take it for granted that Jesus can hear us wherever we call upon Him, and that He has ‘all authority on heaven and on earth’.

Among men He is unique. And among ‘saviours’.

He is often ‘demoted’ to be listed along with other admirable figures in past or present times. So He is put in the same list as Gandhi, or Martin Luther King – as social reformers of their times. Or He is listed with other heads of religions, or enlightened figures: Buddha, Mohammed.etc... as just one among others.

But it is impossible to put Him in any list implying equality with others. Others are not God! He is.

Other people may be admirable in their way, and do some amount of ‘saving’ insofar as they improve certain conditions of their time – but no one else comes close to being Saviour of the whole world and potentially of every person in it.

So we need to be clear about who and what we are calling upon when we utter this Name.

It is a name which opens the gate of heaven and brings down blessings upon us. It may work miracles, depending on what we are asking for, but it will always bring some form of improvement in the situation.

It is therefore a Name which must never be used lightly or carelessly, much less blasphemously.

Because of its great power it is hated by the evil spirits and this accounts for the attacks upon the Holy Name.

Just as we don’t pray to Fred or Bill, nor do we use their names as swear words; but the Name of Jesus, yes. It is so used thousands of times a day – a kind of negative compliment. This Name is so powerful it is worth hating if we do not love it.

In this Name the divine and the human meet. God has many names and we can use any of them in our prayer, but this particular Name has significance because it brings home to us the wonder of the Incarnation.

In Jesus God meets Man because He is both. In Him the closeness of divine and human is at its fullest. There is perfect reconciliation and unity between the two natures. Therefore, we in all our human distress can do no better than to call upon Him who understands our human difficulties and has the divine power to make things right.

He is the gateway to Heaven for us, either taking us there or bringing heaven to us. We are healed, forgiven, saved, blessed – always something good – whenever we call upon His Name.

Blessed be God, Blessed be His Holy Name, Blessed be Jesus Christ true God and true Man, Blessed be the Name of Jesus.