Tuesday, 31 May 2011

5th Sunday after Easter 29 May 2011 Sermon

5th Sunday after Easter 29.5.11 Whatever you ask...

Our Lord tells us in the Gospel that whatever we ask in prayer will be given to us. There are similar passages in other parts of the Gospel.

Yet we find in practice that we ask for many things which do not eventuate. Can we work out why?

What we ask we shall receive, but there is a footnote to that: the promise applies only if what we ask is in accord with God’s will.

So we can have anything we want becomes we can have anything He wants! This might sound like a real dampener, but on further reflection it need not be so. If we reflect that God loves us more than we love ourselves, and further that He knows better than we do what is good for us - then having what He wants is going to be something worth having.

We learn through prayer and experience how to ask for the right things. Gradually we are transformed in our thinking to be more of the same mind as God. The more we deal with Him the more we come to see things the same way He does.

We might start out asking for material things like more money or a better car, but after a while we are praying for conversion of sinners and forgiveness of enemies.

It may be that we are praying for the right thing but in the wrong way.

So we might pray without due reverence for God’s majesty, or without sufficient trust in His goodness. Our prayer might be more in panic than in love (as the apostles who thought their boat was going to sink.)

Again, over time, we can improve in this area. If we pray consistently we will grow in trust of God to provide all our needs and come to a deeper trust in Him that He will never let us down, even if we may not see the precise way He is going to help.

So we get better at asking for the right thing and in the right way, but what if after getting thus far we still do not receive what we ask?

There are many people who would be praying day and night for what must be the right intention (eg the conversion of one of their children); and they pray with fervour and faith –yet still the request goes unfulfilled.

In these cases the fault does not lie in the prayer or the one praying but in the one prayed for.

If we pray to convert sinners, for example, the sinners themselves will resist conversion and so our prayers may appear to be going for nothing but in fact they are helping to weaken the sinner’s resistance to the grace of God.

Certainly God could override the will of any person but He chooses not to do that. He wants to win the love of each person, not force it. This makes the process a lot longer and harder.

This is why we can feel we are going nowhere but in reality our praying and sacrificing forms part of this long process; and everyday somewhere in the world a breakthrough would be achieved – some long-term prayer objective is being realised.

We would like to force goodness on others, to make them good, but we have to go the long way round and pray for it instead.

We are ‘receiving’ whatever we ask, but it may not come today or tomorrow. We can be confident however that no prayer is wasted and every prayer properly made will contribute to the fulfilment of God’s will.

So, let us pray - for the right thing in the right way and for the right length of time, never doubting, never giving up.

Ask like this, and we shall receive.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

4th Sunday after Easter 22 May 2011 Sermon

4th Sunday after Easter 22.5.11 Pursuit of holiness

In these latter stages of the Easter season the readings focus less on the Resurrection itself and more on the approaching feast of Pentecost.

Our Lord is preparing His apostles (and later disciples) to adjust to a new reality, whereby we would have the full power of His presence but without being able to see Him.

As ‘seeing’ is very important to us, it would take some adjusting, but it can be done.

We are very physical beings, we humans. We are a composite of body and spirit, but for most purposes the body is much more apparent to us and we tend to place more weight on what we experience in our body than anything in the spiritual realm.

(Thus people say: I’ll believe it when I see it.)

Our Lord is laying the groundwork for us to think spiritually, not just physically; to develop the spiritual side of our nature.

This will be necessary for the purposes of believing even when we cannot see with bodily eyes.

It will be necessary also for the purpose of becoming more fully what He intends us to be – sharers in His divine nature; sharers in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

A spiritual view of reality is required. Spiritual as against physical, material.

Not that the physical or material reality is bad; just that it needs to be governed and moderated by the spiritual.

Human beings – we can live like beasts or we can live like angels.

If we are too much in the body, indulging physical desires without restraint, then we are living like animals (worse really because the animals have no choice).

If we live spiritually it means we develop the higher qualities like love, generosity, kindness, patience, self-sacrifice – the qualities which are more obviously a sharing in the nature of God.

We see many examples of both. We hear on the news regular stories about atrocities of human behaviour – brutal murders, road rage, vandalism...

Then we are aware of great acts of courage, of sacrifice, of forgiveness. The same human nature is capable of both. We are complex creatures.
For us, as disciples, generally we are weighed down too much by preoccupations with the physical world – our health, our appearance, our possessions, our pleasures. Too little do we think of the spiritual world – of developing our humility, charity, generosity, of how much we love God.

The spiritual world is all there waiting for us, and this is what Jesus would have us realize. But we neglect it. If we take up Our Lord’s invitation and really seek Him out we will be setting a whole new reality in motion.

We will be activating two things at once: our own spiritual life; and an improvement in the world as a whole - making it a more spiritual place, more like the Kingdom of God.

Regarding personal holiness: we are not proposing some sort of Jansenism or Dualism. We are body and spirit but the spirit is supposed to be in charge.

We need the right balance. We can enjoy ourselves but we also need restraint and moderation. Even fasting sometimes to restore balance.

We must force ourselves to make room for the spiritual dimension. The more we do that as individuals the more likely there can be a new awareness in society; a much-needed, long-awaited improvement in the state of the world.

This will happen only if people (like you and me) will make a serious attempt to live a more spiritual life.

It is hard always to be pushing higher; so much easier to sink back to a comfortable medium. But then again the Holy Spirit lifts us higher so that what might seem beyond us becomes the new ‘normal’. In this way we can make genuine and lasting progress in holiness.

We will not be ‘out of touch’ with reality as the fear is often expressed. We will just have a better view of what reality is!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

3rd Sunday after Easter 15 May 2011 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Easter 15.5.11 Living the Gospel

Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, to refrain yourselves from carnal desires which war against the soul, having your conversation good among the Gentiles: that whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by the good works which they shall behold in you, glorify God in the day of visitation..

These words (from the epistle) contain quite a challenge to us. It is being put to us that we should behave at such a level of holiness that the people around us should be able to recognize the presence of God acting in us.

To achieve this we would have to be somehow different from the surrounding society.

We might object that this sounds like a very difficult assignment.

Of course we should try to be holy anyway, regardless of whether or not it impresses the neighbours; but realizing that so many people today do not know the Gospel; do not realize the richness of what is available to them - then we can see it as an extra incentive to live the Gospel.

The Church today, beset by scandals, has to work uphill to impress the surrounding society. We are so busy apologizing for the wrongs of this or that person that it makes it very difficult for us to stand up and say, This is the way, follow it.

Logically, the message remains the same and is not made any less true by misbehaviour on our part, but psychologically it is much harder to convince people of the truth of what we profess if we ourselves do not live it.

Can we do better? We have to begin, as always, with ourselves. The impression we make on others we cannot predict, but certainly the more things we get right the more likely we are to make the right impact.

Also we could say that if the Church must lift her overall performance on the world stage, there is no other way to that than individual Christians being more attentive to their duties.

If one person suddenly becomes kinder than usual, for example, that is an improvement for the whole Church.

Each of us has the power to improve the Church’s rating in the world by any simple personal advance.

Think of the impact if thousands of Catholics suddenly decided to pray more, to give more to charity, to be more careful how they talk to others etc etc

Big things come from small.

St Peter is encouraging us to remember our responsibility. We are ambassadors for Christ. If we consider ourselves to be His disciples then we are in a sense on public show every time we go out the door and, for that matter, if we stay at home.

Everything we do or say has some bearing on how clearly Christ is being proclaimed to the world.

What makes this manageable is the power of small changes. This much we can handle. It is like we have been given a particular task and all we have to do is that one task – which is to get right our own individual response to the will of God, to obey Him more readily, to get each thing right as we encounter it.
So whether it is being kind to a beggar in the street, cheerfully undertaking an unpleasant task, not giving way to annoyance at the mannerisms of someone else, a word of encouragement... the possibilities are endless. Every day is a stream of opportunities to get it right for Jesus’ sake. (Of course we must also eliminate any negative witness on our part.)

We hope the neighbours can derive something of the reality of Christ from our behaviour.
We do not seek their approval for any vanity on our part, but only so that they can know Christ better.

While He is absent from sight (Gospel) we must make Him obvious by our behaviour. Only by His grace!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

2nd Sunday after Easter 8 May 2011 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Easter 8.5.11 Good Shepherd

Jesus protects the sheep. From what? From the power of evil, from getting lost.

The danger we face is not primarily physical (as with real sheep). For us it is sin. Jesus protects us from that. He protects us from defying Him.

The reason we sin is that we are looking at things from a lack of understanding of the whole situation. We see the forbidden fruit, and we desire it, not worrying about longer term needs.

How can the Shepherd protect us from that? By gathering us in to be close to Him.

He gathers us in, not just to sit on the grass but to be transformed by Him. If we stand close to a fire we will be burnt. In this case to be burnt is a good thing. As we stand near Jesus the fire of His heart will affect us. Not just physically near, but spiritually, opening our hearts and minds to His influence.

As the Epistle puts it: we were to become dead to our sins and live for holiness... this is the new order of things, the new humanity.

Protection comes from the fact that we are no longer under the influence of the evil one. We move away from the world and false ways of thinking.

Our Lord implants in us a different way of looking at things - His own way, His own mind, heart, wisdom, will.

So, for example, if we were in the past inclined to steal, with His heart we see the value of the property to the other person. Now I not only will not steal but I will give my possessions away. Cf Zacchaeus... willing to make fourfold reparation in his joyful grasp of new life.

Or for purity. Before one might have just been seeking pleasure. Now with the heart of Christ we see the dignity of the human person and all that goes with that.

The commandments become real to us, no longer just burdensome rules, but reflecting our own way of seeing things.

Conversely if we do not let Him gather us in we are in great danger of falling away from the faith, falling into sin.

People do not plan to do this. It happens because of a kind of spiritual malnutrition. If we do not keep up with prayer and sacraments, do not take in our daily intake of grace we become vulnerable and then we fall. And from that if we do not return we will fall further.

The sheep will be swallowed up by wolves. We can be swallowed by the ‘world’!

So we have to be humble here and know our limitations. Many do not pray or receive sacraments, thinking that they are strong enough to get by for themselves. It is like driving at night without headlights. In our own strength we are nothing when it comes to spiritual combat.

For us here, we are probably not ‘lost’ sheep in the sense that we have wandered far away from the flock. Yet we also, with our habitual sins and just the stress of modern life – we also need to draw close to the Shepherd to fight against temptations. And we must realize that we could be lost. So vigilance is required.

The Good Shepherd, having gathered us in, forms us in His image, making us Christ-like in our thinking and acting. We take on a new self. We are saved from ourselves, from the old self. The new self is a brand new person.

For this to happen and to have any sort of reality on an ongoing basis we have to renew our commitment day by day.

Our closeness to the Shepherd needs to be more like desperate clinging than just a casual affiliation.

He will look for us even if we don’t look for Him; even if we try to hide from Him. He goes in search of the lost sheep. But why make it harder than it needs to be? We can approach Him and find all that we need.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Low Sunday 1 May 2011 Sermon

Low Sunday 1.5.11 Faith

Christ is risen. But do we really believe it? Let us explore the basis for our faith in Him and in what we know about Him.

Faith comes from hearing, says St Paul, and we have heard the word which has led to our having faith. Other people have told us these things. The apostles, the fathers of the Church, popes, councils, catechisms, our own parents, priests, teachers ... through all these combined sources we have heard enough to convince us of the truths that make up the contents of our faith.

But can we trust what others tell us? We know that a lot of people tell lies, try to deceive us. Or they may be well-meaning but mistaken. Is our faith reliable after all?

There is more evidence for the resurrection than a lot of other things we believe. This far we can reason.

For this story to be fraudulent it would take a lot of organising and the story is so powerful it seems beyond human powers to invent, especially with its emphasis on sacrifice.
The Church’s position holds together, historically, logically.
Not just that Christ is risen, but that He is God, that He has come to save sinners, that He has established the Church, based on the apostles who were witnesses to His life, death and resurrection.

And above all there is the record of sanctity. People have died for the faith and done so in a calm ordered way, not with fanatical recklessness.

And we have all felt God’s closeness at times, our own personal miracles.

But as well as Reason we have Faith. Faith is a direct action by God to give us certainty of the truth that He speaks.

God is Truth, the first and last word. If it comes from Him we must believe it. ‘Truth itself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.’

There are some things in our lives that we just ‘know’ without necessarily being able to explain the basis for our certainty. The gift of Faith operates outside of the normal processes of knowledge.

It is more like ‘intuition’ but stronger and more reliable. We just ‘know’ these things are true. God is lending us some of His own self-knowledge and enabling us to rise above the waters of doubt that surround us.

Although we cannot, like St Thomas, touch the wounds of Christ, we are given the equivalent certainty that he received.

The reasoning processes help but the gift of Faith clinches the matter completely.

The truth we receive must not remain just as a concept in our minds (like saying 2+2=4) but be something we live out in practice.

So we are inspired by the truth of Christ’s resurrection to be His disciples, to make Him known to all nations, to transform the world into His kingdom.

Between the mental certainty and the energy of our response we not only grow in our understanding of the truth but see it taking shape in the world.

It is not just a feeling but a living certainty, not one which comes or goes with changing circumstances, but locked in.

The more we get into it the more true we realize it is.

So if the mountains should fall or if the stalls stand empty of cattle and the crops fail... I still believe and know that it must come right, no matter how long or complicated the path may be.

Our faith can grow stronger and stronger and if it does we will be more able to help others to believe. The truth is there anyway, but the human race needs to come alongside and believe it!