Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Septuagesima Sunday 20 Feb 2011 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 20.2.11 Working for the Lord

We are sent into the vineyard to work. Here we are, just minding our own business and the Lord summons us: I want you. Come and work for Me.

And in the epistle, St Paul gives some indication of the intensity of work required: comparing himself to an athlete in training. It is hard work, and long. If we think of a whole lifetime in the Lord’s service. For some people that would be fifty years plus. (depending on time of conversion and length of life).

He wants us to work for Him for whatever length of time we have left, and with full intensity. To invest ourselves in the process. Our energy, commitment, time, all converging for this purpose.

Of all the things we do in this life - to follow Our Lord is the most important. Whatever else we are or do, to be His disciple is the biggest thing we are involved in.

Why respond to Him? There is a choice, but then there is no choice.

He is the most important Person we will ever have to deal with. We have to please Him more than we please anyone else. When we die we will be meeting Him not anyone else. Our approval rating will depend on what He thinks of us. He is the one to watch.

(Just as what makes a sin a sin is that it offends Him. He is the standard of judgment. With Him we are alive. Against Him we are dead.)

It is hard work because it requires so much of us. It requires discipline, practice, perseverance, daily prayer, the Mass, the sacraments, penance, good works, generosity with time and talents.

Then keeping an eye out for the needs of others, habitually putting others ahead of ourselves, being happy to go without things for the greater good.

Being ready to die for Him at any moment, never denying Him, never forgetting Him nor being ashamed of Him. This is a big commitment.

And all these things apply all the time. It is not so easy to get all this right and to keep it going.

So we are tempted to water down the requirements of ‘working’ for Our Lord; to offer Him a partial response, and argue to ourselves that we can do no more.

Instead of watering it down we should acknowledge the full commitment and ask His mercy for any lack on our part of fulfilling our duty.

This is why we are always asking Him for mercy. We fall short. If we are athletes running then we often run out of steam; or sometimes we run in the wrong direction.

All can be forgiven. The parable of the labourers in the vineyard puts before us the possibility of mercy. Those who are absent without leave for much of their lives can be reinstated at any moment provided they are willing.

Here another temptation assails us: envy. Those who work longer in the Lord’s service might be envious that others can get in so easily. Like the older brother envied the younger brother in another parable.

But the ones who work longer are the really fortunate ones. They spend their lives well, and even in terms of earthly happiness they will have the greater share (peace of mind, sense of fulfilment etc).

It is hard work but if we are really passionate about something we work on it.

We have only so much energy. We can at least get the priorities right and give our best to the most important activity - working for the Lord of the harvest.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

6th Sunday after Epiphany 13 Feb 2011 Sermon

6th Sunday after Epiphany 13.2.11 Leaven in the bread

When Our Lord was born at Bethlehem very few people knew the event was happening or how important it was. Forty days later the Lord came to His Temple and again very few knew there was anything special about the event. Only the faithful Simeon and Anna were able to recognize His presence.

God seems to like understatement. He likes to do things which can be recognized by those on the right wavelength, but which will be missed by others.

The Gospel today presents the two parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in the bread. They both speak of the Church as increasing in size and influence over time.

We have achieved the increase in size over the centuries, and to some extent the influence but we could do a lot better in both aspects.

In the present day world, so secular minded, it seems strange to many people that the Church should be taken seriously.

There are people who honestly think that religion has been relegated to the past and we have now emerged into a highly rational era where goodwill and dialogue should be enough to carry us through.

To us who have faith how strange it is that we have come to such a point that the God who made the world and who keeps it in being should be denied any say as to how it should be run!

To ignore God is like hanging from a rope over a ravine and then starting to cut the rope.

Religion is an entirely private matter, people say. But it is not so. There is a huge public dimension to religious belief or its absence.

For one thing what people believe in private will affect what they do in public. If we all think it is OK to steal, for example, that is what we will do in practice.

For another thing, God does exist and He cannot be removed from existence by anyone no matter how much they might want Him to go away.

For another thing we are going to suffer consequences if we break His laws. It will fall back on us. It has already. Look at the divorces, the abortions, the alienation in our society, the suicides, the stress of life - all caused by or flowing from sin.

Society at present is doing its best to self-destruct with repeated attempts to change laws relating to marriage, family life, moral values. Things were bad before and they are getting worse. Self-evident long-standing truths are being swept aside in the face of modernism and relativism.

And so the role of the Church is to rescue the world from itself. To be the leaven in the bread. Not by force but by persuasion - persuading people that they should live in union with the will of God.

It is a tall order to change other people’s minds. Especially if the change is towards a more rigorous and demanding way of life.

Beginning with ourselves the first thing is not to give way to the false thinking of the world. We lose so many from our ranks because they listen to the false gospel instead of the true one. We must arrest the slide. Nobody leave!

To resist the false seductive doctrines of the world we must be careful what we imbibe. Just as we are careful what we eat, so we must monitor closely what we read, watch, listen to. If we take in too much falsehood we can lose our faith. Many have so far.

Then with prayer and good reading, good listening etc we take a firmer grasp on the truth and live by it.

We then become the leaven in the bread. Attitudes of others will change if we are strong and we hold firm.

It will be possible only by God’s grace. This is the mystery. Just like a seed becoming a tree. Somehow it happens. Somehow the world will recognize its Creator and Saviour!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

5th Sunday after Epiphany 6 Feb 2011 Sermon

5th Sunday after Epiphany 6.2.11 Being good

Good versus evil. Why does God allow evil or suffering? Why do the good suffer?

Evil is a fallout from good. God is good; He creates things good, even the devil to start with.

At the highest level of good are those things that resemble God most closely. These are the creatures which are endowed with free will; which have the ability to obey God and to love Him (humans and angels).

Those creatures without free will obey God and reflect His glory but they do not know they are doing it. They cannot express love for God as a free act.

Whereas we and the angels have the ability either to go with or against Him.

If we decide to go with Him it can be at the level of obedience, doing what we have to do; or we can go further and give Him our full allegiance and trust, surrendering our wills to Him.

So we can marvel at a sunset but we could marvel even more at a person who has submitted graciously to God’s will. This is a higher thing.

We say Cyclone Yasi (recent cyclone in Australia) was destructive but we do not say it was ‘evil’. We know a cyclone has no will, no personality.

But if a person causes harm we do say he is evil (unless mentally impaired) because he is exercising his free will against the will of God.

Why does God permit evil then? Evil has to be possible if there is to be a freedom of choice. God wants some part of His creation to know what it is to be able to love. If we had no choice we would be unable to love. He must think it is worth it to risk our wrong choices for the sake of at least some of His creatures getting it right.

Thus evil is tolerated - for a time – until the Last Day, when the wheat and the tares will be separated.

What about brutal murders, rapes, tortures, famine, disasters? Is it worth having freedom if we are to have these things? But would you want to surrender your free will for the sake of removing wars etc?

There is a way that we could remove evil and yet retain our precious freedom, and that is simply that we decide to do good instead of evil; that we use our freedom for good.
This is what God wants us to discover, and why He has been patient with us all these years.

What if others do not decide to come with us? We may be good but others will persist in their evil choices.

Then we have the chance to be more good still, to go to the level of self-sacrifice for the sake of loving God, enduring the evil that others do and letting His mercy work through us to bring others to conversion.

This is what the saints did; what Our Lord Himself did in His humanity; giving His free will to the Father, the ultimate expression of love.

So we see a deeper level of God’s creative goodness – that He uses some of His creatures who exercise freedom in the right way, to call back those who have been using it wrongly.

At least some evildoers will be converted - which is better than destroying them.

We are inclined to dwell on how much we have to suffer in this life; to dwell on the negatives.

Yet we are very fortunate to have been created human. We could have been tadpoles, mosquitoes, or not created at all. Being human we have the chance to exercise free will for the glory of God and the improving of the state of the world.

This is a radically new way of looking at life. But if we take this path we will know great happiness even in this life.

So let us be good. Not just good in not obviously breaking laws but in this surrender of our wills to God, thus exercising our full humanity.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

4th Sunday after Epiphany 30 Jan 2011 Sermon

4th Sunday after Epiphany 30.1.11 God never sleeps

Our Lord was asleep in the boat. Many people would say He still is asleep, as they express frustration that He does not seem to hear their prayers!

It is impossible that He would sleep, forget, lose interest etc.
There must be some other explanation, but it can never be that He has forgotten us.

It might look like He is doing nothing but it cannot be nothing. It must be ‘something’ and that something is going to bring about the best possible result.

Results of prayers are complex things. There is more than one person involved and different people want different things. If God wants to bless one person with a certain result it may be other people have to be disappointed.

For example, the death of a loved one. People cannot always be healed. There is a time to die. If the person dying goes to heaven it is better for him/her. But there is a cost for those left behind. They suffer grief. Good results can have painful side effects.

God works for the best result in the overall situation. So I cannot have everything I want from my own self-interest, but I will get the best result for the whole situation (in which I will benefit) if I pray sincerely.

He never sleeps, so we must override any personal disappointment or frustration which might tempt us to abandon prayer. We pray on, through all weathers, trusting that our prayer will make the world a better place than it would have been if we had not prayed.

We do not usually know what the precise result of our prayer will be but it must always be in the direction of improvement, provided we pray with trust

Taking all in all we see that the work of God is heading towards a good result. Sometimes it might take centuries or millennia to achieve. And the people who live during these years might say: I don't see the finish; I don't believe there even is a clear finish.

The problem is that we are (in general) so far away from Him. Thus the prayers which are made are from too great a distance, and too thin.

God never sleeps but He will often be silent. His silence will mean it is up to us to make the next move – which will usually require some kind of repentance and realignment with Him.

Often there will be no answer to prayer unless the one praying makes a serious repentance.

We cannot just waltz in at any time and say, Fix it, please. There has to be a correct well-ordered relationship with God. He is not at our beck and call. We can ask only for things which are His will and which are in accordance with the way He normally operates.

Thus we cannot ask for frivolous miracles. But we can always ask where there is need and where human resources have been exhausted.

There must have been an element of panic when the disciples woke Our Lord. He rebuked them for that - not for asking Him, but the way they asked.

The way we approach Almighty God is more important to Him than the actual thing prayed for. He wants us to desire Him more than whatever that thing is.

So if our prayer for whatever intention brings us closer to God that prayer has ‘worked’ no matter what other circumstances may result.

May our prayer, from which we never weary, be acceptable in His sight.