Wednesday, 31 August 2011

11th Sunday after Pentecost 28 Aug 2011 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 28.8.11 Healing the deaf

Why did Our Lord have to groan in the process of working this miracle? Healing deafness, if it were just a biological matter would be very easy for Our Lord. But the deafness that He really wants to heal is the obstinacy of the human heart, whereby people do not want to hear the truth.

All of us, who possess the Gospel, know the frustration of trying to convey the message to people who do not want to hear it. It could be a parent trying to tell children, or a teacher trying to tell students... if only you knew, if only you would listen... but often the resistance goes on.

Speak Lord Your servant is listening... as Samuel said to God, we must say in our time. That we be habitually attuned to the sound of His voice, in whatever form it might come. That we will be able instinctively to discern what is truly the word of God from what is false, from the voice of the world.

Before it demands anything of us, the word of God is Promise. He tells of His great love for us, and demonstrates through miracle that He is faithful to His people in every generation.

He instructs us that we can securely base our lives on His will; and if we do that He will bless us in abundance.

This is where one breakdown occurs. We do not believe the Promise. We launch into other lifestyles because we think that God is inactive or indifferent.

Then we come to the word of Command. God tells us to do certain things and avoid doing certain other things.

We fear this word too, because we fear the loss of freedom involved. We do not want to be restricted in our behaviour. We see the commands of God as a burden or a nuisance.

So we block out His word. We switch off the ears.

In all this God tries to heal us: to help us listen with the right attitude so that the words once again impact upon us. He heals us of the accumulated distortions of the years of our own lives and the centuries of the human race.

He wants to heal the abuse of the freedom, without taking away the freedom. To heal us of all the falsehood we have taken in over the years. False values, false logic.

For example, the arguments today over moral matters. People support euthanasia, or homosexual marriage.

They will say things like: a thing is ok if enough people think it is ok. So the newspapers hold a poll and if say 60% say yes to euthanasia then it must be alright. But where does that leave the voice of God? Or the objective value of human life which cannot be determined in a poll?

Or where, if they define homosexual behaviour as simply a preference does that leave the objective nature of man and woman – as written in out nature by God Himself?

So there is a lot of deafness around - false thinking - and it all compounds with one error paving the way for another.

Our Lord wants to heal our deafness. It requires unlearning all the errors we have picked up. It requires that we re-establish the basic principles involved.

We are here now with ears pinned back, wanting to hear the truth, willing to change anything.

First, may the Promise of the Lord sink deep within us: that we can be reassured of His unending love for us. We do not have to hide from Him.

Then, that we can hear His words of command, not as a burden but as a liberation. They are based on our true nature, so we will never feel more ourselves than when obeying this word from God.

Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

10th Sunday after Pentecost 21 Aug 2011 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 21.8.11 Reasons for hope

Take any large city and put 100,000 people into the main square. They could go on a rampage of destruction like the London riots, or they could go on a display of peace and goodwill, like in today’s World Youth Day finale in Madrid.

People are capable of both good and evil and we are not sure ourselves which way the general trend will go.

There is good in us but also bad: like two conflicting principles the two forces battle it out for supremacy. Sometimes one wins; sometimes the other.

The current WYD event will be interpreted differently by Catholics. Some will see it as a great sign of hope. Others will be more sceptical and say that once all the atmosphere has dissipated things will go back the way they were.

We cannot be naively optimistic in our assessment of human nature. We know there is a big difference between hugging a stranger in the euphoria of a big event and actually translating that sentiment into daily practice.

Yet whether or not people in general, or one person in particular, will improve – though it is an open question, it is not simply pot luck, a toss of the coin.

If we hit on the right formula we can make a spiritual improvement in our lives a certain result. We can guarantee we will become better people.

What is the formula? Union with God. People united with God are good and will do good things; no other way can we make sure progress.

We must be people who are humble enough to remember their origins (like today’s publican of the Gospel.)

He offered no fancy speeches, no bribes or inducements – he merely brought himself and cast himself down at the Lord’s feet.

It was genuine contrition, from the heart, and that is where its value comes from. Of all things that God asks of us it is this. If we cannot please Him in all things we can at least be genuinely sorry that we have not done so.

So, asking for mercy is the first prayer we need to make. Once we are forgiven we can then move on to other things.

If we remain humble we are always well placed to recover at any point if we have slipped and to reach greater heights if we have held firm.

God is not averse to using a bit of showmanship to get His point across. After all, consider some of the miracles He has worked in human history: such as with the Israelites in ancient times, the early Church in the time of the Apostles, and in the last century with appearances from Our Lady.WYD is just another spectacle, in one sense, but no less compelling for that.

But in the end no amount of signs and wonders can make a person humble unless the person himself consents.

This is where each of us (and we can only do this for ourselves) has to make the same prayer as the publican, if not in the same words, at least in the same sincerity.

This simple act will unlock great spiritual power.

So we can have hope for the human race and it is not just a toss of the coin. But it does depend on the individual response of millions of Christians, so it is a very sensitive business and could go in all directions at the same time.

At least we know what we have to do: Be contrite. That is the first thing and the building block for all else.

9th Sunday after Pentecost 14 Aug 2011 Sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost 14.8.11 Society in tatters

‘English society in tatters’ read the newspaper billboard. It was referring to the riots during the past week. It implied that England was finished - certainly an exaggeration!

But at another level, less visible, their society may be in tatters after all. What about all the other problems? Even if there is no violence on the streets we still have alienation, divorce, abortion, drugs, suicide, etc etc.

And why do we have all these things? Some would say because we have economic inequality, the haves and the have-nots. Or racial troubles. These may be a factor.

But a more basic reason still is that English society, and all ‘western’ society does not sufficiently honour and obey the laws of God.

Any society, any group of people that breaks God’s laws - there will be disorder.
Cf epistle.

Why is it only when it spills onto the streets do we see it as a crisis? It is a crisis when in a quiet suburb people quietly drive up in their cars and walk into an abortion centre and have their babies killed. But that is seen as ‘normal’. So normal that the people who protest about this are considered the troublemakers.

The Gospel today refers to the impending destruction of Jerusalem, an event which did happen forty years after the time of Our Lord. The Jews, like everyone else, reacted to visible crises. When there was an actual invasion or a plague they would start repenting.

In the epistle a different generation of Jews were punished for turning to ‘forbidden things’, false gods. The punishment is sometimes quicker in coming than others but some sort of disorder must result whenever a people turns from the true God.

We might have control of the streets, but not of the underlying things. They are much harder to control. No amount of police on the streets will make people love one another, or worship the one true God. Maybe we need more priests on the street! Maybe not.

We certainly need more ‘religion’ on the street, if we understand that to mean genuine religion, the true faith: Not preaching, but everyone doing the will of God, on the streets, in homes and business places and everywhere. No lying, stealing, blaspheming, sexual aberrations etc.

This is what we need if we are going to get those ‘tatters’ back to shape, to restore a whole and healthy society.

Many would howl in protest that religion is the very last thing we want. It just makes people feel guilty, they would say. This is to look at the human side only.

With some justification people have trouble trusting priests and preachers. Most messiahs are false, after all. Only one can be true, and we know who that is.

His rule is not oppressive. We are never tempted beyond what we can bear, (Epistle). Everything He would tell us to do or not do is manageable and would bring happiness.

The streets would be safe and so would every other place. The peace of Christ would reign there.

In the meantime, if we can't fix our society the next best thing is to atone for it. Lord, please don't wipe us out. Give us more time (as the prophets of old would intercede.)

A holding action may be the best we can do at the moment.

We can avert chastisements by sincere repentance. Even a few can save many.

We don’t have to wait till there is an army at the gate or gangs on the street before we start praying. If we get in early enough these things will not happen at all.

Lord, have mercy!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Mass for the Assumption

Mass for the feast of the Assumption is at St Monica's, the normal time of 8am for Mondays.
There will be a sung Mass at Holy Name Church, 6.30pm.
Happy Feast Day!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

8th Sunday after Pentecost 7 Aug 2011 Sermon

8th Sunday after Pentecost 7.8.11 Living in two worlds

The unjust steward is praised for his cleverness, not for his dishonesty. Our Lord’s point is that the criminals of the world are smart at knowing their objective and in carrying it out. He is saying that we can learn a lesson from them. If we set ourselves to be good, we need to be equally smart (wise) in knowing our objective and how to attain it.

What is our objective? To get to heaven. Our objective in this life is to make the next life! We are on earth so that we can get to heaven.

This is seen as crazy by those who think this life is the only one we have. Why sacrifice anything? Why put off to tomorrow what you can have today?

But our view is guided by divine revelation. This life on earth is merely the prologue, the introduction to a much longer and fuller life in Heaven.

Here, we are on a pilgrimage. We have no lasting city here. We are tempted to settle down and live like it is all we have; and many Christians do succumb to that temptation, forgetting all about their original destination.

But we are called back by the word of God, repeatedly reminded that we have no business here other than to further our progress towards Heaven, our real home.

It is a pilgrimage, or a race, and we should see everything in that light. We must keep the end in view. ‘End’ in both senses – in time and purpose.

We might resent all this because we want some happiness now if it can be had. We are glad at the thought of being happy after we die, but can we not be happy before death as well? This is the not unreasonable question many Christians put.

Yes we can be happy in this life, and God means us to be so, but we cannot demand unlimited happiness just yet. On a journey we cannot have all the comforts that we expect when we arrive at our destination.

So a certain discipline is required from us. Always we are being asked for restraint and self-denial. We can feel exhausted by that. The way to heaven is steep and winding while the way to hell is wide and smooth. It is hard to be always climbing and going against the tide. And we might feel a certain resentment that it is so hard. But there is consolation at hand for this feeling.

We find, as we focus our thoughts on heaven, not only does it become clearer as a destination but also the way we think about this life changes too.

We are not so grasping, so greedy, so anxious to cram every possible pleasure into a limited time. Self-restraint becomes easier because we realize that anything we deny ourselves here we will receive back a hundred-fold.

And also we find that there is happiness simply in living well, and wisely. We experience peace and tranquillity – and these are no small things.

Even non-religious people will acknowledge that to be happy within is worth more than possessions or external achievements. A poor man in his hut can be happier than the king in his palace if he has peace of mind.

If having heard all this we still feel we are being cheated of something, then we know we are not yet thinking with the mind of Christ. We are still looking through worldly eyes; analysing what it will cost in worldly terms. How much wealth, popularity power will I have to give up, to be His disciple?

Our faith is not a burden, something to be cast off like uncomfortable clothing. What a time I could have if I didn’t have to go to Mass, to pray, to worry about judgment etc. But this is to forget (once again) our final objective.

Where we hope to go is so good that it is worth any sacrifice in this life. Though, as we see, this life can be happy too, when we get in the right way of understanding it.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

7th Sunday after Pentecost 31 Jul 2011 Sermon

7th Sunday after Pentecost 31.7.11 Forming character

The Gospel speaks of trees bearing good or bad fruit. If we are to be trees then we must be those that bear only good fruit.

We take it for granted that things in nature will do what they are supposed to do, without any argument.

But we also take it for granted that people will be sometimes good and sometimes bad; that it is very hard to predict what we will do next.

The problem is that we are not yet seeing human nature as refashioned in Jesus Christ. We are still thinking of the ‘old man’ in force before Our Lord came to renew human nature.

We still tend to look at Our Lord and His teaching as being out of our reach. A nice theory, and in His case, a perfect effort, but for the rest of us ‘mortals’ it is not seriously to be expected that we could do the same thing.

In fact, however, being good is our ‘true’ nature. It is what we are designed for, just as a bird to fly or a fish to swim, or a tree to bear fruit.

There was no ‘original sin’ of fish whereby for a time they were unable to swim; but there has been such a time for humanity - the time from Adam to Christ.

But, Christ having come, we now have a repaired human nature, not only repaired but improved upon the original. This is not generally understood; so we continue to live in slavery when we could be walking in glorious freedom.

With Christ dwelling in us it should happen over time that our character changes. We become Christ-like, of one heart and mind with Him. We start to see things as He sees them, to think, speak and act as He would do.

It may take time because every repair operation does. But there is a certainty about the process whereby we cannot fail to improve in our overall virtue if we let the power of Christ act upon us.

The biggest hurdle for us is just to believe this to be possible. Part of the slavery to sin to which St Paul alludes is that it lowers our expectations of what we are capable.

We can get a sense of what is possible by looking at life in Heaven and the life of Our Lady on earth.

Heaven. If we think of heaven nobody sins there. But why not? Because in heaven everyone would be so totally in union with the mind of God that no one would want to sin. But how can we get to heaven if we think that sin is normal or acceptable behaviour? We have to prepare for heaven by rooting out all impurities presently in us.

Our Lady. She was good all the time and we might ask, how could that be possible? How could anyone be like that? Simply because she understood that goodness was the natural course and also the greatest source of happiness.

We think that sin is a kind of short cut to happiness: that to cut a few corners on God’s law is better for us than to follow His line strictly. But Mary would tell us otherwise. The more we obey Him the more fully we experience the joyous freedom of a bird in flight.

So we can agree with the basic idea that to be good all the time is better than being good some of the time. We would understand this in every other area of our lives eg that cars should run; meals should be edible, travel should be safe....we want these things to happen and we notice the slightest imperfections.

But we don't see it in the whole way of living itself!

Jesus has made humanity new in Himself. Now He invites us to experience the new life and the new way of life which this involves. It will make us a lot happier than we have been so far!