Tuesday, 29 November 2011

1st Sunday of Advent 27 Nov 2011 Sermon

1st Sunday of Advent 27.11.11 Our own Advent

Consider: if we knew that the world was ending tomorrow what would we do? I think we would be looking around for the nearest Confession, saying a few Rosaries, going to Masses, pleading for mercy.

What if we knew for certain that the world would not end for a long long time? So then we might relax and not go to Confession and all the rest.

Wrong answer! We would do the same things as in the first case. Always we should be looking to draw closer to God than we are at the moment - every day, whether it be the Last day or not.

Our religion is not meant to be an exercise of cleverness, timing repentance just in time to make the cut.

Some people repent at the last minute and it is possible to be saved that way, but it is not recommended we rely on that approach. Last minute repentance is better than no repentance, but better by far if we repent now.

We repent, not to beat the system, but so that we learn to love God for His own sake, seeking to please Him at all times. To love Him as He should be loved.

We want to reach that level of spiritual maturity whereby we behave the same whether it is the Last Day or any other day; whether in private or public, in church or outside, on special days or ordinary days.

Our faith needs to be something inside us so that we are not just putting on a performance, but expressing real belief that will govern the way we live - this is genuine religion.

At this time of the year we focus more on the last things: there are warnings and threats worked into that.

If we need to be threatened to turn from bad to good then so be it. If we have moved beyond the need for threats then it is less a matter of fear and more about loving Christ.

The Gospel tells us to welcome the coming of Christ. Hold your heads high. We have nothing to fear if we really love Him.

There is talk of stars falling and cosmic upheavals but the biggest change is in the soul of the sinner, when our own desires change. We are looking forward to an end of sin, light winning out over darkness, a new tomorrow. We can have our own Advent.

We do not have to wait for Christ to come again to see some of these changes. We can anticipate His coming by being fully attuned to Him. So that when He does come in external reality we are not embarrassed, shocked, ashamed, but absolutely at one with Him.

The timing of His coming might surprise us but it will not embarrass us.

We will not fear Him as a lazy servant might fear the return of his master. If we are serving Him every day then every day we are ready to welcome Him.

There are things out of our control, many things, but this much we can do: simply do every action, large and small, according to God’s will.

People will always be speculating about dates. We should not get too excited by predictions; but we should get excited by the coming of Christ, His final glorious coming, and in the meantime His coming to each of us, transforming us within.

Whether He comes tomorrow or in a thousand years time: we are ready to receive Him.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Last Sunday after Pentecost 20 Nov 2011 Sermon

Last Sunday after Pentecost 20.11.11 Love casts out fear

Today we have a rather alarming Gospel passage. All about destruction and upheaval, and what will happen to us if we are not right with God at the time of Judgment.

There are many things we could be afraid about if we allow ourselves to think about them. There are many things that can go wrong.
We could suffer at the hands of other people: war, terrorism, crime...
At the hands of Nature: earthquakes, floods, fires...asteroids
And, most formidable of all, directly at God’s hands: fire from heaven, plagues, threats we have never encountered before.

So, to be sure, a lot of things can go wrong

But then comes the reassuring word: Do not be afraid. Constantly we are told this throughout the Bible. Our Lord Himself says it often: Courage, It is I. Why did you doubt, you men of little faith? Be not afraid...

How can we be so calm when there is so much evil that can happen to us?

One way to avoid fear is just not to think about these things. To be ‘philosophical’. If an earthquake gets me, bad luck. Gotta go some time. If your number is up, it is up. That sort of statement. So much for human and natural causes of evil.

And as to divine punishment, well nobody still thinks that God punishes (they say).

There is a much better way to overcome fear. Instead of hiding from God, trying to keep Him at bay, we can develop love for Him. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4,18). If we have enough love for God we can deal with anything - the fear of dying, of harm, of the unknown, of the future...

When we love Him enough we also trust in Him, that He would not abandon us; that He would help us through whatever difficulty arises, even death itself.

As to the threatened disasters, these will happen only if we do not turn to God, so we do turn to Him and these things need not happen.

Or, if they still do happen, we will be given grace to cope, and come through triumphant.

We become familiar with God; no longer seeing Him as remote. He becomes part of our ordinary life; we communicate with Him on a constant basis. We are at ease with Him, not in a complacent way, but in a serious, realistic way, based on humility and really trying to get things right.

The reason God says such things as in today’s Gospel is to motivate us to true relationship with Him.

He is saying, If you are separate from Me you will have great trouble. But if united you will have joy.

The two alternatives are so different that it must claim our attention.

We have to be aware of the negative as an extra incentive to seek the positive. It is better to focus on the joyful, but not to the point that we deny there is a negative side, trying to sweep it under the carpet.

Fear can be an initial motivation in religious life but we should not stay at that level. Our faith is meant to mature to a higher level, based on love.

If we could increase our holiness and win others over we can rewrite the script for the future.

We are not just passive objects tossed around by fate, but we can actively form the events of the future.

May God bring us to full union with Him and to a world which can welcome His coming without fear.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

22nd Sunday after Pentecost 13 Nov 2011 Sermon

22nd Sunday after Pentecost 13.11.11 God and Caesar

The world financial crisis is in the news, as well as the stock markets and the economy generally. Our society makes a lot of fuss about money.

We spend a lot of time giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, maybe not so much to God what is God’s.

For many people there is nothing at all that belongs to God; it is all for Caesar, all about making money, getting on in this life. Money is all there is.

And this is why it takes up so much of our news services and so much of human time and effort.

We are not getting the balance right. There is too much Caesar and not enough God.

The love of money is the root of all evil, St Paul says (1 Tm 6,10). Notice he does not say, Money is the root of all evil. Money is just a medium of exchange; it facilitates the flow of goods and services. It is just there to serve our needs.

But like anything it can be misused. When it is used as a way of taking advantage of others, improving one’s own position at the expense of others – then we have the beginnings of abuse.

For the world financial system by far the biggest problem is the presence of greed - which can lead to crime, and then every kind of imbalance.

When money becomes a false god in pursuit of other false gods such as status, pleasure, possessions, then we have trouble.

When people love money too much, they love each other too little (to say nothing of loving God.)

The system is in crisis because we cannot and do not trust each other.

We would be able to trust each other if we observed the other half of Our Lord’s command: to give to God what is God’s. If we got back to where it all started. God has given us good things for free, abundant resources (cf the Psalms, such as Ps 104).

To give God what is His: this means in its most obvious sense, to give Him worship, trust, obedience, allegiance.

In doing this much we will be less preoccupied about earthly possessions.

To take the command a little further: one thing that belongs to God is His view of humanity.
We owe it to Him to set up a world where everyone looks out for the needs of everyone else; so that no one is dying of hunger, or lack of shelter; that everyone has enough to live on in dignity.

It is His world and the people are His children. We can give Him the pleasure of seeing His own children looking after each other.

Money is just there to be used for this higher end. We are stewards of all God’s creation and in particular this very powerful agent, which can be used in so many ways.

It is not necessary that we all have the same amount; just so long as everyone has enough. It is not a sin to be rich as long as the person realizes higher obligations, giving God what is His.

The Bible warns us against putting too much trust in riches ‘even when they increase’.

This is another temptation: self-reliance. I don’t need God because I have plenty of money.

The remedy: humility and childlike simplicity. Look how the sun shines and rain falls. Let God be God and look towards Him to provide for us as He does for the lilies of the field.

It gets back to that amount of simplicity. Simply do not grasp more than we need and there will be enough for all.

If we do give to God we will certainly get more back than we give.

In the meantime we will have to put up with the distorted values of the world as so many continue to miss the point. May all see, sooner or later, the futility of such a life, and seek the true riches of Heaven.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

21st Sunday after Pentecost 6 Nov 2011 Sermon

21st Sunday after Pentecost 6.11.11 Enough for all

This parable (The Unforgiving Debtor) makes so much sense when we hear it, yet we find its message so hard to apply in our own lives.

As we hear the story it is obvious what the first debtor should do: forgive the second. Out of gratitude for having been forgiven so much he should have been willing to forgive the second debt (the first debt being 600,000 times greater). A million dollars as against $1.66!

So should we be willing to forgive those who offend us when we have been forgiven so much more by God.

One lesson here is that we should cultivate gratitude for being forgiven. It is no light matter to have our sins removed so easily as it appears to happen.

We do not find it so easy to have our financial debts removed. It would be nice if we could clear all our bills by just going into a room and saying we are sorry! I don’t think many commercial concerns would be so forgiving as God is.

Of course there is some payment required from us on our debts to God, and this takes the form of the penance we do for sins committed and the desire to atone for those sins by doing as much good as possible. So we do not get off entirely free but even here the work required from us is so light by comparison.

We have to cultivate this sense of gratitude otherwise it can be easily lost in the hurry of life. We can have our sins cleared away without much thought, more or less taking it for granted. We are so accustomed to the idea that God readily forgives us we might not stop and wonder what a great privilege it is.

This, presumably, was the first debtor’s problem. He took his forgiveness lightly and did not let it sink into his consciousness. If he had been more grateful he would have been more generous with the second debtor.

We have to be grateful, and generous.

God is generous. He asks us to do a little of the same as He does, only He does a lot more. He can forgive millions, billions of sins a day, and we can find it hard to forgive one sin from years ago.

We need a boost to our generosity of spirit. We need not begrudge throwing a little mercy around. It is not ours in the first place; it comes from God. If we compare it with money a major difference is that Mercy is in unlimited supply.

We can hand out mercy to all comers and we never lose anything ourselves; in fact, we gain.

We come to desire that others receive mercy as much as we want it for ourselves. Our familiar prayers are in the plural – forgive us our trespasses; pray for us sinners now; Lamb of God ... have mercy on us; May almighty God have mercy on us... etc

It would be very strange if we were to say to the Lamb of God: Have mercy on me, and only me! No, we have to wish that mercy on others also, including those who have offended us.

We have nothing to lose if other people are forgiven. We don’t have to fight over who gets God’s mercy. There is enough for all.

To begrudge forgiveness to another is really the equivalent of wanting that person to stay ‘bad’, at least in our estimation. But how do we gain by keeping others bad? If we let them turn good we would like them a lot more and everyone gains. There is enough for everyone and more besides.

So we can pray with true conviction and increasing desire: Lord, have mercy on us.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Feast of Christ the King 30 Oct 2011 Sermon

Christ the King 30.10.11

Throughout history kings have plotted and murdered their way to the throne. Now we do not have so many kings; most countries have Prime Ministers or Presidents. There are not so many murders but still plenty of plotting and nastiness in operation.

Into all this comes a very different sort of King, whose kingdom is not of this world. Not of this world in two senses: that it is not based on greed and violence; and also (sadly) that not many people seem to understand or want this man as their King; the world has largely rejected, and still does reject Him.

The way of the world is to seek power for one’s own benefit. So if I try to be king it is for my benefit not that of the people whose king I will be.

The way of Christ is to be king so that He can serve the people. He is interested in them rather than Himself.

He was humble, riding on a donkey. He washed the feet of His disciples. He was willing to die for them, and to endure much injustice in the process.

Not many kings are that humble, nor that interested in their people.

In the Christian way, to rule is to serve. The Pope is called the Servant of the servants of God. The higher up the ladder we are the more humble we need to be; to be humble enough to recognize that the ‘power’ I possess is only delegated from God and is to be used entirely according to His will. I am only His delegate.

The world would run a lot better if every ruler was like this!

It helps if the people behave too.

We need from both rulers and ruled a change of heart, a change of mentality. For too long we have been thinking the other way, asserting ourselves in a dog-eat-dog world, trying to eat before we are eaten.

But this change has to come from within; it has to be entirely voluntary to take full effect.

It is not just a matter of passing laws or appealing to people’s good nature. There has to be something acting on us that will make us see things differently. This something is the grace of Christ, the same King, who can infuse His grace into us, motivating and enabling us to live in a better way.

An interior renewal of each person is required, so that we will be as humble as the King and as concerned for one another as He was.

The King did what He did to reconcile us with God but also to teach us how to live.
And not only to teach us but to enable us. As we receive Him in Holy Communion and interact with Him in prayer and other sacraments, we are gradually set free from all the false ways we have learnt from the world.

As we take on the mind of Christ we become secure in Him, in His promises of eternal happiness; in His view of the other person, not as a competitor to be overcome, but as a brother in need.

Everyone wishes that the world would run on a more peaceful path than it does; that there would be less crime, war, hate etc. The change can come about only when enough people turn to the King of all creation, and see things His way. This sort of change cannot be legislated. Unless we accept His ways we will continue to grasp for security and happiness in the ways of this world, building houses on sand.

There will come a time when the King returns in glory. At that time those who love Him will rejoice; those who have rejected Him will be dismayed. While there is still time may every person come to a willing submission to Him in their own heart and mind.

May every knee bow before Him and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.