Wednesday, 27 July 2011

6th Sunday after Pentecost 24 Jul 2011 Sermon

6th Sunday after Pentecost 24.7.11 Spiritual hunger

One of God’s many blessings to the human race is that He provides us with food – so important to us for enjoyment, and relieving of hunger.

Today’s Gospel (the feeding of the multitude) describes one such occasion when God intervenes miraculously to provide food for thousands of people.

The miraculous nature of the event invites us to look beyond just the physical dimension and see what else God might be saying to us here.

Our Lord explained that the Israelites in the desert had received bread, but that was food only for the body. Now He, Jesus, would provide bread which would satisfy the soul, and would be lasting in its effects. He who eats this bread will never die.

He was talking spiritually. He was talking about the Eucharist, where His own Body would be food for us.

Just like physical food, the bread of life, the bread from heaven would provide energy - for the soul. Eating this bread will enable us to live rightly, to meet all our obligations, to live in joyful hope of better things to come, and all other related spiritual good effects.

When it comes to this particular food from heaven, its value is often missed because it is perceived as too abstract, too far above everyday needs.

Thus it happens that many people are apathetic or indifferent to receiving Holy Communion.

Most Catholics do not receive it even weekly (because they do not come to Mass weekly).

Most non-Catholics would not acknowledge that it is really the Body of Christ.

But of these people there are few who would turn down a good meal. Spiritual hunger is very real but it does not hurt as obviously as physical hunger. So it is easier to put it off to another day.

Are we hungry for the bread of life? Or do we receive it simply because it is part of the ritual?

The attitude of the one receiving this food has a lot to do with the results that will follow.

Two people receiving side-by-side could be receiving something very different. It is the same consecrated Host, the full body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord that is being received.

But if one person is fully believing, desiring to be filled with heavenly grace - while the other is merely going through the motions – there will be different outcomes.

We could say we receive what we want to receive. If we really hunger for the goodness of God we will receive it. If we are indifferent, though Christ be present, we will not benefit from His presence.

(A person in mortal sin will actually be worse off for receiving the sacrament because of the sin of disrespect involved.)

One reason for the indifference of many Catholics to this sacrament is that they think they can be ‘good’ by their own strength. Why bother to go to church and receive a sacrament when I could achieve the same effect by staying home and just making good resolutions?

This is to overrate one’s own strength. Many a good resolution does not see the light of day.

Also it is to reduce our religion to a merely ethical matter, whereas we are called to a life-giving relationship with God, like branches to a tree. Our Lord was not just an ethical teacher, setting out rights and wrongs. He calls us to direct and intimate union with Him. Unless you eat this bread you cannot have eternal life. (John 6,53)

A certain amount of childlike wonder will help here. We must not argue the point: just come, open our hearts and receive whatever it is that God wants to give. Take as much as you can, ‘all you can eat’. And each time we grow in desire and will be able to receive even more the next.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

5th Sunday after Pentecost 17 Jul 2011 Sermon

5th Sunday after Pentecost 17.7.11 Non-competitive love

Much of our world is based around competition and conflict.

We have wars where two sides fight each other for dominance. On the sporting field two teams fight each other. There can be only one winner. In business companies compete for market share. In workplaces employees compete for promotion. In Parliament members compete for votes and influence, and so on and on.

And we are jealous of others for their success or good fortune or talents... because we fear we are missing out, but there is enough for all.

In Jesus Christ we see a new model, a new way of looking at things. The vision of the world that He has left us is essentially non-competitive. It is not just one winner and the rest are losers. Everyone can be a winner.

We put prices on things here because there are limits to available quantities. But in heaven everyone can have enough and there is still more to come.

And Our Lord wants us to see this life in the same light. Not that we stop paying for groceries but that we start to see things in a larger vision, less defensive or grasping for ourselves and more expansive in our dealings with others.

To share what we have, in terms of possessions, is one thing. But even more important is to share goodwill, mercy, kindness.

Imagine standing at the foot of the Cross and seeing Our Lord die. How could we hold back on forgiving others? How could we begrudge mercy to any other at such a time?

If I have an enemy I want him to be my friend. I could want him dead, and that may be where I start, but once I have imbibed the Spirit of Christ I see my enemy in a new light. I see him as a lost soul, a lost sheep straying and needing to be rescued.

Thus I forgive him and this is what Christ asks of us. To see others as He sees them - not in a competitive, vengeful way but in generosity and goodwill.

The Mass is being at Calvary, so here in particular we see Our Lord completely offering Himself to each and all. We can all receive from Him and there is no less for others.

The Gospel today says we must be reconciled with all others before we come to Mass. Let us say that each Mass should make us more Christ-like than the one before.

If we can’t do it all in one day we can at least make progress.
We receive His love and we hope it makes us at least a little more like He is. His blood be in our blood; His heart in ours; His mind in ours.

We have a lot of unlearning to do in this area. From the time we were babies and trying to hold onto our toys we have been trained (by the general tone of the world) to be competitive and defensive in our dealings with others. The way of Christ is very different.

We don't like to be thought naive, to be pushovers. We learn that there are people around who could harm us. To guard against that we develop a rather tough exterior.

We can be cautious without writing people off. We may have to be wary of certain people, who might harm us or swindle us. But we can still desire their salvation. So I will not walk down the rough side of town at 3am, fearing that I might be bashed. But I can still pray and hope that the would-be bashers will come to salvation eventually!

People can be better, and so can trends be better than they are right now. This is not false optimism but a well-founded hope based on the saving power of Christ.

Love is not weakness as it might seem. To love like Christ loves is to be a strong person, certainly to be a better person. May He make us a little more like Himself each time we approach His altar.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

4th Sunday after Pentecost 10 Jul 2011 Sermon

4th Sunday after Pentecost 10.7.11 Transformed

There are two remarkable things that God does for us:
1) that He forgives our sins and 2) that He sends us out to help others to seek forgiveness for their sins.

Both would seem unlikely if we thought about them in advance.

Why should He forgive us so freely? He loves us enough to be able to do that. We should be very grateful.

Perhaps it is even more improbable that He would use us to forgive others. In today’s Gospel, when Peter acknowledges his sinfulness Our Lord does not contradict him but moves on to another matter when He says, I will make you fishers of men.

To be ‘fishers of men’: of course we cannot pull others in by our own authority. What we can do is bring Christ to others by the fact that He dwells in us.

This will work if we are humble enough. Humility is the key.

The moment we think we are ‘good’ in our own strength or by our own virtue, we crumble to nothing. But if we remember on an ongoing basis that it is only by God’s grace that we are still able to walk free... thus we are humbled, and then we can be channels of that same grace to others.

This is how the Church grew. A small band of people experienced the mercy of God which transformed them. Then, on fire with gratitude and maintaining humility this small band went out proclaiming the mercy of God and telling others what they had to do to receive the same thing.

Many believed them and they in turn became proclaimers of mercy and so the Church has spread and still does in our time.

What makes us any different from the people outside? We are not better than they are by any innate virtue. Our only claim to fame is that we have had enough sense to see our need of mercy and to receive it as offered.

We do not set ourselves up as better than the rest of the human race; only fortunate enough to have discovered the precious pearl of faith. And in our relief and joy at finding a way out of misery we want to tell others about it.

We throw out the line like the fishermen and hope to bring in some willing fish. (Real fish do not want to be caught; but the people who are ‘caught’ will be happy.)

We say that the apostles were transformed after Pentecost and it is often said that previously timid men were now courageous. It is true.

But their change from timid to courageous was made possible by a deeper transformation still: sinful to forgiven.

From that point on they were too happy to be worried about their own safety. Courage is self-forgetfulness. So is humility.

St Paul (also an apostle) thought he was the least of all, and many other saints have said the same. They were not just saying that as a polite formality. They really did think it because they could see so clearly their inadequacy in the light of Christ.

The greatest saints are the most humble people. Lesser people think they are more important, and so are less able to transmit the mercy of God. A strange paradox.

The truly humble are able to convey the reality of God to others: by the holiness of their lives, and by the fact that God can work through them.

May we be such people. There is so much need in these times. The harvest is rich. Can we be the labourers to bring them in?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 3 Jul 2011 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 3.7.11 Individual sheep

If we go into or any crowded place there would be lots of people around and most of them we would not know personally. We would not know their names, nor anything about them except for certain generalisations we could make.

It would be a strange thing if we could walk among a large group of people and we found that we knew the name of every person there; and not only their names but everything about them, even their innermost thoughts, fears, hopes, joys and sorrows!

It would be amazing to know all that. There is Someone who does, of course – the Good Shepherd, who knows His sheep, and also those are not His sheep but should be. The ones who are not presently His are the lost ones, for whom He goes searching.

There must be a lot of lost sheep in our present world. If ‘lost’ means anyone who does not fully belong to the flock of Christ, does not give explicit loyalty and obedience to Him, then it must mean most people in the world.

Even if we did know all those people in the crowded place it would not necessarily mean that we loved them as well. But in God’s case, yes, He does that too. He has a personal , vital interest there. His love is infinite, passionate.

To us other people can be just there, of no particular significance. It is hard for us to imagine the burning love of the Sacred Heart, caring so much for each one. But if we think of how important we regard our own lives that gives a clue. Every person in the crowd is just like us insofar as each one regards his/her life as very important. God can see that and He agrees it is important.

He loves each person and desires the salvation of that soul. Every soul is meant to be in the orbit of the Sacred Heart, keeping close at all times.

A planet is happy if it stays in its proper orbit, drawing life from the star to which it is attached. If it loses its orbit it loses everything. So with us – if we stay close to the Good Shepherd we have everything. Away from Him we are in chaos.

Our Lord seeks to bring peace and harmony into the lives of each person but many will reject His efforts, either deliberately or simply through neglect.

Others, like us, will want to cooperate but we make things harder due to our sins and inconsistent behaviour.

What can we do? For ourselves, clean up our own backyard and get our response right. Climb into our orbit. It is not dull to be in a fixed path. There we find stability, the basis to develop our true selves.

For the other people in the crowd - we desire their salvation. We believe in their importance, not necessarily their goodness; acknowledging that they were designed by God to live with Him for all eternity. So there must be something good there. No one is predestined for hell.

We hope they find their place. Increasing the overall harmony. Let us make music together, we could say. The bigger the choir the better it sounds; the better our world becomes.

We desire this – to the point that we will pray for it and make sacrifices for it to happen.

Think of saints like St Francis Xavier who travelled to evangelise complete strangers on the other side of the world. It would have been easy for him to stay home, as it is for us. But he realized their importance simply because they were human and he made sacrifices to bring them the Gospel.

Who cares about all those other people in the world? God does, and so therefore should we.

May the Good Shepherd continue to find, and keep, every lost soul.