Tuesday, 28 June 2011

2nd Sunday after Pentecost 26 Jun 2011 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Pentecost 26.6.11 Eucharist as source of strength

When Joshua takes over from Moses as leader of the Israelites, the people tell him to ‘Be strong. Do not fear’( Joshua 1,18). Good advice certainly, but I can imagine Joshua saying, ‘Well, it’s easy for you to say: Be strong. How would you like to lead the way into furious battles and the like?’

In the Church we give each other a lot of advice. And in the Bible, the writings of the saints and teachings of the Church there is much instruction and exhortation about what we should do and avoid doing.

It is all good material. We know that we ought to do these things. But we sometimes doubt that we have the strength to do them.

We are so weak as individuals that we cannot easily just be courageous, or generous, or self-sacrificing as though it were an everyday thing.

We can do these things but not in our own strength. We can do them only if we are supported and sustained by the grace of God.

Like Peter walking on the water: he could do it when he forgot himself and focused on Our Lord. When he turned the focus back on himself he began to sink. So it is with us in many things.

If we set out to be kind to everyone we meet, just by our own willpower, we may not last long. But if we are fortified by the grace of God so that His kindness (and other good qualities) fill our hearts and minds – then we can make some progress.

So it is we come here to this Mass. We come here for several reasons, but one is to ask for the graces necessary that we can be the sort of disciples Our Lord wants to have.

We acknowledge that we cannot do it alone. Only by His help. And so we ask for that help in whatever form it is needed.

And He provides on request. He gives us His life-giving flesh in Holy Communion. This flesh is divinised; it is God in physical form and when we receive it we will be transformed within. We will find new courage and other virtues brimming over within us, at least for a time.

Because we are weak we are not able to ‘hold’ divine grace for long. We are small containers for such greatness. So we have to come back again and again to be fed once more, and sustained a little longer in the battle of life.

Over time we can grow stronger in a more permanent way. Our character can be developed to the point that we find certain things easy which once would have been impossible.

We commit less sins, less often and less serious, as we become accustomed to holding more and more of divine grace within. And we do more good, by the same process.

The Gospel today speaks of a divine banquet to which we are all invited. At a banquet we can eat more than usual. Normally good manners require us to be moderate in what we eat. But in spiritual terms we can take as much as possible from this particular banquet. The more of the life of God we can imbibe the better for us and everyone.

We have to be strong to be disciples of Christ these days. There are many trials and pitfalls. It is so easy to give up or just paddle along at our own speed. Always more seems to be asked of us. How can we cope? It is all possible by the power of grace. And we are given that power, so we cannot complain.

Only if we stop believing, or seeking, or coming to the fount of grace will we lose what we had and it will seem more impossible than ever. So we keep doing these things and we see progress.

May the Bread of Life sustain us to the end.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Trinity Sunday 19 Jun 2011 Sermon

Trinity Sunday 19.6.11 God’s day

Today could be described as a day specially for God. We have ‘days’ to mark all sorts of things, so why not a day for God Himself?

Let us consider some aspects of His greatness.

Where does God come from? It is hard for the lesser to understand the greater. When did God start? Who made God? He did not start. No one made Him. It is very hard for us to grasp that something can have no beginning. God exists of Himself without cause. He contains existence within Himself. He is not just someone smarter or bigger but the basis of reality itself.

We cannot expect to understand beyond a certain point. We say what we can say and the rest is mystery. Far from reducing His credibility this actually increases it. If God could be easily explained He would not be that far superior, when in fact He is vastly, infinitely beyond us.

We cannot exhaust the mysteries but we can enter them like a garden where there are endless avenues to pursue.

All this gives us a proper sense of inferiority, which may sting the pride a little, but on reflection it is actually a comfort to have someone so strong to take refuge in. If humanity were the smartest reality around we really would have something to worry about!

Having established all this we then marvel that He cares for us even individually. The God who made all this actually cares what happens to each one of us. He came down to earth to share our human nature and raise us up to live with Him.

God is not so far away as to be unapproachable; not so close as to be equal. We need the right mix of reverence and filial trust.

One of the most mysterious things about God is His Trinitarian identity. How can there be three persons in one nature? Each of us is one person and one nature. If we had more than one person inside us that would make us a split personality, and that is a disorder. But there is no disorder in God.

Three persons make perfect unity in one nature. There is an infinite love into which we are drawn.

All three persons have every perfection. We attribute things to one Person more than another but all three Persons have full possession of whatever God possesses.

So if we say, for instance, that the Holy Spirit has wisdom, we understand that the Father and Son also have it. Or that if God the Son is present in the Eucharist then so are the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The Three Persons love each other eternally. From this we learn that we should also love one another. And when we do love that it be according to God’s definitions and standards. Love is not our own property to be dealt with as we please.

Drawn into His love we discover our purpose on earth and are more likely to be able to heal the earth, so lacking in love at present. Yes, exploring the reality of God does help. We are never wasting time to get in touch with the Source of our being, who is also the End of all our activity.

In heaven they praise God constantly. On earth they ignore Him (speaking generally). This is obviously not how things should be. If not enough people are praising Him then we must double or treble our praises – that God be glorified, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Pentecost Sunday 12 Jun 2011 Sermon

Pentecost Sunday 12.6.11 Real change

Pentecost is a fuller-than-ever before revelation of the plans of God to save us, and therefore a day to rejoice. God had intervened many times before but never to this extent. All the covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, were leading up to this. Even the work of Christ Himself was not complete until Pentecost.

At Pentecost we see that God desires an internal change in people, in the way they relate to Him, in the way they live.

When the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles they were changed forever. They were given in that moment a new and deeper understanding of the reality of God, and though they believed before now they reached a new level of faith and with it, charity.

Receiving a new awareness of God, like a brand on the soul, they forgot their previous fears and were able to proclaim the Gospel to anyone, receptive or hostile.

So we talk of the Holy Spirit putting His seal on us, marking us for life. We belong to God once and for all. (Our sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are meant to express the same reality as Pentecost, but do not always carry the same conviction. Sometimes only later do we grasp the full impact of sacraments already received.)

The apostles could not not preach the word of God. They knew too much to keep quiet about it. They had discovered the formula that would set everyone free and bring universal happiness.

The same must happen to us. Pentecost is about conversion, of moving form darkness to light, from ignorance to knowing; from not-caring about our neighbour to caring. Caring in the spiritual sense; wanting him to know what we know, the goodness of God. Not being patronising but simply pointing to something that anyone would benefit from.

For the apostles the deeper conversion and the bolder proclamation seemed to be as one movement. Once they reached a certain level of awareness they could not keep that awareness bottled up.

We need a deeper conversion. No matter how well we know God now we could all use an increase. And when we are converted enough we will find ourselves like the apostles, ready to go through fire and water to make Christ known to the world.

We do not have to wait till we are perfect to make known the glory of God. Even if there are no St Peters or St Pauls about we already know enough to know which direction we must head. We encourage each other to holiness, by prayer and example.

We can make progress even if we are only limping.

Different people have different needs for what has to be done.

Whatever our particular problem: habitual sin, doubt, anger, unforgiveness... this is our seeking at Pentecost. The change may not come on Pentecost Sunday itself, but if we keep seeking it will come. And the more the light of God gets inside us the more transformed we become, and the more powerful agents of evangelisation.

The Church vis-a-vis world seems to be always in the same position. We have so much to offer but the world does not really want to hear it. Through fear we can be huddled in the Upper Room saying, I’m not going out there.

But if we are really filled with the Holy Spirit we cannot not live it, and this is the beginning of proclaiming it. It must show.

Therefore, may that same Holy Spirit fall afresh on us and all who seek Him this day, and in due time on those who do not seek Him - but would if they knew better.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sunday after Ascension 5 Jun 2011 Sermon

Sunday after Ascension 5.6.11 Heaven

We mention heaven a lot in our prayers and speaking of our faith. We hope to go to heaven. We talk of people being in heaven. How much do we really know about it?

First of all we know it does exist; there is such a place. It is true we are vague about some of the details of what it is like, but that is only because we have not yet experienced it.

It is also because it is a place of such beauty that it is beyond ordinary words to describe it. Just as when the saints have a mystical experience of God they cannot tell us what happened because it is beyond words (cf St Paul and his being shown heaven 2 Cor 12,2-4). At times we experience something of the beauty of creation when we contemplate say a large mountain range, or the breadth of the sea, or the vastness of the stars in the sky.

These things are beautiful but they are only a taste of far greater beauty beyond.

Cartoonists always portray heaven as people floating about on clouds and playing harps. This conveys what many would fear – that heaven is a vague and shadowy sort of place, lacking in the reality that we have here on earth. In fact Heaven would be more substantial and more physical than earth. (As CS Lewis wrote in his book ‘The Great Divorce’... people new to heaven cannot walk on heavenly grass at first because it is too hard). If the earth, riddled with sin as it is, can still display so much beauty what must heaven be like, which has seen no trace of sin?

So there is great physical beauty in heaven. But better than this we will find there a moral beauty: namely, that in heaven the will of God is done by all without exception. There is no trace of malice, nastiness, coldness, selfishness, insults, bullying, violence and all similar things that we take for granted in this life.

This is harder to imagine than the physical dimension. We have never experienced such peace and harmony, yet we know that it is theoretically possible and certainly desirable. Heaven is the place where we will see it, if we don’t ever achieve it here.

And this is the place to which Jesus has ascended, paving the way for us to follow! Can we dare to hope that we can reach such a place? We are not used to being that lucky. In this life some things go our way, and some not. We get used to a kind of mixture of good and bad outcomes. We are not used to thinking about being totally happy all the time. But this is what our faith tells us. It is true even if we can’t grasp it.

Heaven is trivialized not just by cartoonists but whenever people speak of it as just a place where people go when they die – the great bowling green in the sky etc.

This trivializes heaven in two ways: one by greatly understating its true grandeur and two, by assuming that everyone has automatic entry.

We can enter there, but only if we live and die in union with Our Lord. Only if we do His will on earth and/or are truly repentant for offending Him.

We live in hope, not just a wishful thinking, but a real certain hope that we will experience this place, a certainty that increases every time we call upon the power and love of God to forgive and strengthen us.

So there is such a place and we are nearly in it. By God’s grace we will get there, our true home.