Wednesday, 30 March 2011

3rd Sunday of Lent 27 Mar 2011 Sermon

3rd Sunday of Lent 27.3.11 Expelling the demons

The Lord expels the demons. In one sense this is an instant thing; in another sense a long, long process requiring patience and application, a kind of spiritual surgery.

Christ is the ‘stronger man’ of the Gospel. He has removed the previous strong man but (as Our Lord warns) the devil will return if he gets half a chance.

In victory Our Lord dismantles the structures the devil has set up. The devil has kept the human race in slavery to sin. Our Lord sets the captives free by first forgiving the sin and then removing every trace of it, even the desire for it.

Thus the epistle: there must be no impurity or even hint of it. You have been set free from such things. No more darkness. Don't mix light and dark. Don't even think of it.

We should have the same horror for every sin as we have for some sins (eg if a gunman shoots people at random we can all see that is wrong; but we do not all see that abortion is wrong, or blasphemy, or refusal to forgive enemies.)

We are born for the light but we hanker for the dark; we want to go back to Egypt. We do not like the discipline or harshness of desert life, which requires a lot of sacrificing and abstaining as we ‘de-tox’ from sin. The new discipline can be painful but only at first, until we realize how much happier we are. (Thus the Israelites eventually preferred the Promised Land to Egypt).

It is hard for us to be free from sin entirely because the sin already committed darkens our intellect; makes us confused in judgment.

We do not always see clearly what is what. We find it hard to distinguish right from wrong. So that when we face a choice it is not so easy to decide.

The material or physical domain is clearer: eg that smoking is bad for you. But the moral or spiritual domain is harder to penetrate. Funny that some messages are acceptable and not others. We see anti-smoking signs everywhere. But when did you last see an anti-adultery advert on the back of a bus? Why do we advertise against less important evils and let the more important ones go?

When it comes to sin we dimly perceive that it will harm us (or others), but we manage to push that knowledge to the background. We find excuses - just this once; not really doing anything wrong etc.

And then the will is weakened - which means that even if we do see what is wrong with an action we just can't be bothered. The wrong is so much easier, so much more pleasant. I’ll repent another day.

Jesus has come to set us free from all this.

It is not as easy as being let out of jail. We are messed up inside; the wiring is wrong. So it is a process rather than a moment to get this fixed.

We need to get back to the state of sanctification achieved in baptism; so that we can think, act and speak as integrated beings with all systems working properly.

The more we turn to the light, the more we ask for grace, the more likely we can be strengthened, and from that stronger position make further progress.

We become less likely to commit the sins we used to commit, and more able to respond positively to God’s will (cf Our Lady).

And our poor society which is so much in darkness... where we are allowed to believe in God but not allowed to say so! We try to get the full truth into the open. Consequences follow actions. If we ignore God we will have chaos on all fronts, as we already see.

The battle rages on. May each of us find the freedom that is offered to us, so that all we think say and do will reflect the new life of Christ in us.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

2nd Sunday of Lent 20 Mar 2011 Sermon

2nd Sunday of Lent 20.3.11 Living in hope

With the Transfiguration we see the glory of God mixed in with His suffering. It is hard for us to discern God in the suffering. We can take any amount of joy, but find it hard to reconcile belief in a loving God with suffering.

There are things we can say in support of suffering: it purifies us, forces us to pray more, to consider what really counts, and so on. These arguments are true but they can be perceived as too theoretical to one in the actual grip of suffering. Abstract consolations may not be much help if your family has just been buried under the rubble of an earthquake.

Sometimes it is better not to use words, just be silent for a time. The abiding truths still abide but the one suffering needs time to let things sink in.

For ourselves too, it does not mean we have lost our faith because we grieve. Look at the tears of Mary on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. She knew Our Lord would rise but still grieved.

The Transfiguration consoles us in our trials. The event was intended to strengthen the apostles against the experience of the Lord’s Passion. It seems as though it did not succeed in their case but it can work for us.

We can remember the glory of the Lord when we are going through dark times. We remember that times have been better and will be again.

For Our Lord it took only three days to rise; for us a lifetime, for the human race centuries.

Our entire lives are an experience of the Cross insofar as so many things are not as they should be.

A pall of sadness and darkness hangs over the world. It should not be there. The whole process of our lives as disciples is to lift that pall, disperse the dark.

The first thing is to ensure that we ourselves are not subject to it. We suffer from it but we are not conquered. Cf 2 Cor 4. Knocked down but never out.

The second thing is: we let the light of Christ shine through the darkness. For once the truth will be the right side up. Ever since the resurrection we have the victory established. But it has to be grasped and propagated in the here and now.

We have won the war but the fighting goes on. As if the ceasefire has been declared but they do not cease firing. Certainly the devil does not cease to fire.

The devil is being driven back to hell but he will take as many with him as possible.

Or to take another image, we are rich but we don’t know it. We are like the missing heir that can’t be found to be told that he has inherited millions. So we live like paupers, still slaves to sin when we could be free.

We have been robbed of the good news. So we must tell people how lucky they are.

Suffering there must be for the time but we absorb it, not allowing it to have greater prominence than necessary. We are neither defeated by it, nor deflected from our goal.

It may be hard to see a glorious future with all the trouble around, but we know there is one.

The Transfiguration is a celebration of hope. It is an anticipation of better things to come.

May the Lord sustain us in hope through this long night of waiting.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

St Joseph's Day Mass

There will be no Mass at St Monica's on Saturday 19th March as I will be taking part in the Solemn Mass for St Joseph, 8.30am at Holy Name, St Peters.

1st Sunday of Lent 13 Mar 2011 Sermon

1st Sunday of Lent 13.3.11 To dust we shall return

On Ash Wednesday we receive the ashes with the words, Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

We know that there is more to us than dust, insofar as we have immortal souls. So if my body returns to dust yet I live on in my soul.

But our bodies are dust and this is a timely reminder against vanity and any false sense of independence.

Our bodies - which we go to so much trouble to make look good and which we pamper with comfort – share the same matter as the rest of nature.

We must never forget our dependence on God for life and all we have.

Without Him we would still be dust. As it is He will let us return to that state as a penalty for our sins, and as preparation for a more glorious re-making.

We are frail creatures; frail in two senses.

One, our physical duration is so brief and so vulnerable. We could be killed at any moment and in all sorts of ways.

Two, in the moral sense, that we set ourselves for big things only to fail very easily. Who can avoid sin altogether for any length of time?

So we accept the reminder of our lowliness and resolve to live with that always in mind.

We ‘remember’ our status before God to prevent ourselves from becoming proud.

We are tempted to put ourselves on equal terms with Almighty God.

This is what Adam and Eve did. They were told they would be like gods if they ate the forbidden fruit. It was a lie but they believed it.

Every sin since that one has been an assertion of human pride against God. God tells me I cannot do such and such a thing; I say, who does He think He is to be telling me what to do. I do the forbidden thing and I become aware I have damaged myself.

It happens every day. We forget our place. We forget we are made of dust.

The saints and spiritual writers of earlier ages would write about the human condition in very unflattering terms.

They would say things like.... You will consider yourself as a snail that soils everything with its slime, as a toad that poisons everything with its venom, as a malevolent serpent seeking only to deceive. (St Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary)

These days the emphasis is more on affirming people, telling them they are special, unique, precious etc.

Both descriptions are true because they are talking about different aspects of the same reality.

We are special etc in terms of how God values each one of us. We are immortal souls destined (or at least meant) for eternal union with God.

But we are worm-like insofar as we choose to assert ourselves against the God who creates us and insult His infinite majesty with our pretensions.

And even if we were good all the time we would still infinitely inferior compared with the majesty of God. We are so far below Him.

Thus again we recall we are dust. It keeps us in check for as long as we can remember it.

In the present era the concept of worship of God for His greatness alone has been diminished. God is addressed in more familiar language, more like an equal. Yes, He does want us to approach Him but always to remember our dependent status. We are no more equal to Him than an ant to the solar system.

We can still come rejoicing into His presence, however, all the more grateful for His mercy and His good intentions towards us.

When we realize how easily we might not exist and how totally we deserve to have been wiped out before now, we really can sing His praises with conviction.

And we become more resistant to the snares and wickedness of the devil who tries always to flatter us and bring out our pride – which leads to sin and degradation.

We will not fall for his tricks again. When we humble ourselves we are exalted.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Quinquagesima Sunday 6 March 2011 Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday 6.3.11 Full commitment

The Gospel today contains two very remarkable prophecies from Our Lord. He tells the apostles that He is going to Jerusalem to be crucified; and having done that He will rise again on the third day!

Both statements were entirely outside the expectations of the apostles. In fact the first one was so surprising that they never even thought about the second one until after it happened.

The first prediction raises two questions.

Why would anyone want to crucify someone who does so much good? And, why would Our Lord willingly go to be taken by such people? Normally people try to escape their pursuers not calmly seek them out.

About to enter Lent we can ask these questions again and apply the answers to ourselves. We find that we are called to follow Our Lord to His rejection and death, and then to share in His resurrection.

Why would anyone want to kill someone who does good? It does seem a bit silly but it happens all the time as we see. And what drives the process is the jealousy and malice of the devil. He hates all that is good and stirs up the same hatred in others.

And there are other reasons: like people protecting their vested interests of power, wealth, and just not wanting anything to change.

Why would Our Lord go to meet this death instead of trying to avoid it? Because He wanted to take on the power of evil head-on and defeat it (which He did).

Peter pleaded with Him that it must not be. This is the response most people would make and they still do make it. It is the response of worldly wisdom which tells us that we must look after ourselves first and not go looking for trouble; at all costs to protect our lives from danger.

Master, you have a good thing going here; why spoil it?

Today the world says to the Church: you have a good thing going (in many ways). Why not remove the Cross and then maybe we would join you. We can understand the command to love and make peace, but we cannot abide sacrifice or difficulty. Religion is a good thing but it must not be taken too far.

We are being reminded here of the radical challenge of our faith; that we are playing for high stakes.
If we are to be disciples of a crucified Lord we cannot expect total ease and comfort. There have to be some ripples along the way.

It has always been a problem for the Church that each generation has to be convinced all over again of the need for total commitment. Always there is a temptation to reduce Christian commitment to a comfortable minimum.

Who is this Jesus of Nazareth to me?

Every year, especially at Lent and Easter we confront these questions. We have to answer ‘Yes’ all over again each time. Lethargy and apathy are never far away and they will creep up on us if we relax the vigilance. It is so easy for us to go off the boil. We need Pentecost every day.

Total commitment does not mean we all have to give sermons in the street, but merely to get right whatever we have to do.

It is usually little things; avoid sins, and occasions of sins. Do not blindly follow what other people do. Avoid immorality, be honest in business, be truthful in giving and keeping your word. Be kind and courteous to everyone. (cf Epistle. Love is always patient and kind)

If your friends ridicule you, get a different set of friends. Take the ridicule as sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

Almighty God does not do things by halves. His suffering and His joy both shock us in the extent to which He takes them.

Like the apostles many today can make nothing of these words. They cannot or do not assimilate it.

But we must base our lives on them. We follow Him to Calvary and beyond, to eternity.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Ash Wednesday Mass time

Mass on Ash Wednesday will be at 6.45am (not the usual 8am time)

Ashes will be distributed before Mass.

Masses at Holy Name will be at 11am and 6.30pm.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Sexagesima Sunday 27 Feb 2011 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 27.2.11 Our true home

We have been thinking much about the earthquake in Christchurch just last Tuesday, and of course we pray for everyone concerned there, the living and the dead.

We think, what if it happened here? Disaster seem to be everywhere at the moment. We (in Adelaide) have been spared but who knows what may be coming?

As Christians we know we are supposed to be ready for anything as far as death and destruction goes.

But it is always legitimate to pray to avert disasters, to be delivered from evil. So we make that prayer as well.

But while we pray for the least possible number of things to go wrong we also must be ready for anything that does happen, including loss of property, or loss of life (of others or even our own).

We must cultivate an attitude of detachment from all things and all people. Detachment does not mean indifference, as though we could not care in the least what happens to anyone or anything else.

We are supposed to care for other people and (in the right way) for property, but detachment means we see that compared with God and with eternal life, everything here on earth is less important.

For example the premature death of a person is a tragedy in one sense, but if that person goes to heaven the tragedy is only relative. Heaven is a better place to be.

Our relationship to Heaven is a strange one. Heaven is our true home, we are told. It is the place that Our Lord has gone to prepare for us (John 14, 2-3).

It is a place of every delight, most of all the delight of seeing God face to face. A place where every tear is wiped away and no further disappointment or heartbreak is possible. A place where we will be reunited with all those who have gone before us ‘marked with the sign of faith’.

In the epistle today St Paul tells us what he can about Heaven. Unfortunately he cannot tell us much because there are no words to describe what he saw. But it was very good, we can be sure of that.

As we can tell Heaven has a lot to recommend itself. Yet we do not want to go that place today, or tomorrow, or anytime soon. Most of us at least, even if we believe in it, do not want to go there!

There is a legitimate reason for not wanting to go to Heaven too soon - if God wants us to stay here on earth for a time to do His will.

But apart from that reason we should be straining and striving with all our power to get to our true home. Like the deer that yearns for running streams; like the watchman waiting for the dawn.

The prospect of Heaven is a very real one, and it is very consoling when we let it sink in. However, because of the time factor it can sound like a very far-off consolation; like being told you will feel a lot better in a hundred years time!

Is there anything we can do to bring heaven a little closer to us now? Two things.

One, make heaven around us by the way we live. If we live by the values of the kingdom of heaven we will experience a much deeper peace and joy even in this trouble-prone phase of our lives.

Two, if the main delight of heaven is union with God, we have that already in this life. We can do various things to increase that union: prayer, sacraments, adoration, good works. We will not always feel His closeness but we can at least ‘know’ He is there through faith.

This will be enough heaven-on-earth to hold us together till we get to the actual place.

O Lord, deliver us from all evil here and bring us safely to our true home with Thee.