Tuesday, 31 January 2012

4th Sunday after Epiphany 29 Jan 2012 Sermon

4th Sunday after Epiphany 29.1.12 True faith

Our Lord rebuked the apostles, not for waking Him, not for asking Him to still the storm, but for doubting Him.

How many miracles had they already seen, and yet they could still doubt? So what can we say, when we have so many more miracles to call upon – and we still doubt?

Our Lord wants and expects that we would believe in Him at all times, all weathers, without doubt, fear or compromise.

The Gospels are insistent on our total commitment. If you put your hand to the plough, do not look back. If you love father or mother more than Me, you cannot be My disciple. If you do not sell all you have and follow Me you cannot be perfect. And many more to the same effect, all calling for a complete dedication on our part. If we would follow this Man it must be without conditions on our part.

He, for His part, promises great happiness to us; but only after we take the narrow and winding path.

On what basis can we trust Him? Miracles we have seen or heard about; also just the ‘miracle’ of the everyday world, which we take for granted yet even the ordinary is extraordinary insofar as it is all designed and kept in place by God; and would collapse in a moment if He withdrew His creative will.

It is only our sin which causes us to doubt. If we had never disobeyed there would be no such thing as an atheist or agnostic. There would be no such thing as a fearful disciple. Sin puts us into darkness, and from that darkness we declare our doubt. But if we could come into the light we would see again.

One way to have more faith is to commit less sin!

We doubt His word because other people lie to us. We doubt His fidelity to us because other people let us down.

But Our Lord is not ‘other people’. He is entirely His own category, a new humanity, where truth and reliability become the new ‘normal’.

Faith can grow through experience. Each time we experience an answer to prayer we can store that away in our memory, and we will then have stronger faith to deal with the next crisis. Collectively as the Church we can borrow from all the miracles that have happened and they can serve to increase our faith.

In practice our faith has a way of going up and down, like the temperature; whereas it should only go up, never down. We might believe in Him one day when things are going well; then we are down again the next day because things are going against us; then we are back on top the day after.

This is allowing circumstances of the moment to influence us. But we are dealing with rock solid, unchanging truth. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

The certainty that we seek is ultimately a gift from Him. He can plant in us a certainty that will enable us to withstand the deceptions of the world, the emotional fluctuations caused by changing circumstances, the cunning of the devil.

If we seek this gift it will be granted to us; and more abundantly still if we act on it.

Who is this man, that even the winds and the sea obey him? Nature obeys Him always, but people only sometimes. We can do better. The more we obey Him the more we will believe. The more we believe the more we will obey – a new humanity free from doubt and fear.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 22 Jan 2012 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 22.1.12 My soul shall be healed

The centurion realized that it would be a simple thing for Our Lord to heal the servant, because He had authority over creation. The centurion himself could make men come or go by his word. Our Lord could go further and make the winds and the waves obey Him; make sickness go away; even make death go away and bring back to life!

Not everyone has a sick servant but just about everyone has a sick soul.

What is the soul? The very core of our identity where our secret desires and aspirations for good or evil are found - the best and the worst of our true self.

(Next time someone asks you: How are you? If you answer for the soul you can say I am a conflicting mass of desires and aspirations. Don't ask.)

Our souls need healing so we bring them to the Lord. And we say to Him, By a word You can heal it.

The soul is much harder to heal because it is so complicated in its mixture of good and evil.

Speak the word, whatever word is necessary. Lord, You have all power, even over whatever is lurking down there, whatever bad habits I have picked, up whatever structural damage I have done by sin over the years... whatever it is you can heal it.

What word is it that He has to speak? He has already spoken it many times over - in the Gospels; in the Church’s teachings; in a thousand sermons we have already heard.

Love your neighbour, forgive your enemy, feed the hungry, seek first the kingdom, praise God with all your voice.. and many more.

Do any of these things and your soul will be partially healed. Do them all and it will be fully healed.

But we ask for more than this. We are asking for a direct act of intervention by God that He would reach down and touch our soul; that He would heal us right here and now, even in this Mass of all that is wrong with us in that spiritual sense.

He is willing to do that. We cannot always be sure He wants to heal the body but we can be sure that He never desires us to sin or to remain in sin. He must want to heal us at that level.

Yet we discover a resistance in ourselves. We might deny that we need healing. Many would deny they have any sickness. People say their soul isn’t sick because their soul is sick!

We might be unwilling to be healed; as much as we know it would be better for us.

Part of the damage we have done to our souls is that we have developed a desire for sin, like an addiction. We want to be freed and we want to stay captive at the same time.

We can come anyway and say, Lord, overrule me even in my resistance or my denial; sweep it all away. Override my will. I give you even that.

Speak the word that will make me want to be healed; the word that will give me a greater sense of Your reality and goodness.

We cling to sin because we sense in some way it will make us happy. But if we have a choice between two things that will make us happy we will choose the one that gives more.

Sin has muddled us so that we misjudge which course is better. One option brings a lot of trouble the other great peace and joy. Let me see clearly and then let me choose, by which time I will choose rightly.

So we are saying a lot there in those few words. Domine, non sum dignus

We admit the sickness and we are closer to receiving the healing.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 15 Jan 2012 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 15.1.12 From sorrow to joy

We see that life is a mixture of joy and sorrow but we are asked to believe in a life where there is only joy. This stretches our imagination but it is true; in heaven it is all joy and no sorrow.

It is not so hard to believe in total joy if we consider how it all started. God, the perfect Creator, created a perfect world. All was good and happy. Until sin came and upset the balance and since then there has been lots of trouble.

Christ came to rectify things. His changing of water to wine symbolizes the healing or improving of the status quo.

But there is great tension here because His way of improving things has not been believed or accepted.

People refuse to believe that things can be better than they have been. They believe in neither a past innocence nor a future one. Cynicism.

Also they refuse to change their ways, to repent, to humble themselves – all of which are necessary for the ‘changing of water to wine’ in their case. Each sinner is changed only when truly repentant.

This tension leads to a lot more suffering, even to the necessity of death for Our Lord and His disciples. Thus wine turns into blood.

The changing of one substance into another is very familiar to us as Catholics.

At every Mass we believe the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Wine is recognized as a festive drink. If turning water into wine was an improvement what can we make of turning wine into blood?

It is an improvement also as we commune with Christ, drinking His blood, but it foreshadows suffering for us.

We cannot have the restoration of all things without some share in the ‘cup of suffering’ of Our Lord. This is the tension.

If we look at the progress of the Mass we see a certain progression. We begin by acknowledging our sinfulness, which we do in some detail.

We then offer the gifts of bread and wine, in atonement for our sins, believing that they will be transformed and increased in value by the action of Christ Himself.

We then celebrate that we have been set free from sin, at least in principle, and in festal style eat and drink in celebration – thus Holy Communion.

We see that we are ritually travelling from a rather desolate state of sin to a much happier state of union with Christ.

This is the same path we travel in this earthly life, moving from our present valley of tears to the glory of heaven.

While we are in the valley it is hard to see the glory, but the Mass takes us there in a shorter time. Every time we offer the Mass we are seeing in a compressed time our whole life story.

This gives us hope.

The water goes into the wine (becomes wine) indicating our good fortune in being united with Christ. The wine becomes blood indicating how hard life can be but also effecting the actual freedom that we seek. So in spite of - or even because of - the suffering, we do arrive at pure unalloyed joy. This is where we are now, somewhere in that process. In this Mass, and in life as a whole.

The better we offer our contrite hearts the more speedily and fully the joy will take over. It is ultimately only our sin which makes us unhappy. If we had no sin we would have complete happiness in our union with Christ.

Let us drink the cup, with all that it contains. Till we reach the eternal banquet.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Feast of the Holy Family 8 Jan 2012 Sermon

Holy Family 8.1.12 Charity

The epistle today gives general guidelines which would be applicable to all Christians about how we should behave towards each other.

If we are to be Christian we must behave like Christ, having His mind and heart. If we cannot be as good as Christ we must at least strive to be, and be sincerely sorry for when we are not.

On the feast of the Holy Family we apply these words especially to our own family inter-relationships.

If charity is always important and necessary it is particularly so in families, where people live in close proximity for so much of the time, and where the potential for great happiness or unhappiness is at stake.

When a family lives something like according to these ideals there is peace and harmony and a good chance that the children of such a family will grow up to a bright future. When there is a severe defect of charity in family life there is much misery and the children can suffer as to their future development.

Think about the sins you confess most often in Confession. How many of those would be committed against other family members? Most people spend a fair proportion of time at home; so it follows that a lot of their decisions for good or evil will be on the domestic front.

Some would argue that home is a kind of a neutral zone as far as morality goes. I have to be nice to people at work, but at home I can be my natural self – the argument would run!

No, there is no neutral zone when it comes to the obligation of charity. The commandments do apply at home and even more so because of the foundational role of the family.

For instance, a parent has a greater obligation to be charitable to the children not only because the children are other people - ‘neighbours’ so to speak - requiring to be loved, but also because there is a teaching or example factor involved.

Husband and wife are required to love each other anyway, but all the more so to be models for their children to imitate.

So charity at home is even more necessary than it is in other places, but it is still necessary in those places too.

And here we could say that our concept of family must go beyond the one we live with to include all members of the Body of Christ, actual and potential.

Of course we cannot love everyone in the world to the same degree as we love those closest to us, but we can at least observe whatever charity requires of us in each case, and most of all desire earnestly the salvation of every other person.

We should love those in our own families but not in an insular or exclusive way as though only our own families matter and the rest of the world is not our concern.

True Christian love is inclusive. We can love people in different ways and degrees but in such a way that no one is left out or abandoned.

The Holy Family was way above average as far as loving-one-another was concerned. They set a high standard which probably no other family can reach, but we can at least draw closer to that standard.

We may have lapses of charity but we cannot excuse them by saying it is impossible to be charitable in all places and times. It is possible because the grace to make it so is available to us. We just have to ask.

In our present world the traditional family is under attack. We must defend all the values involved here; and most of all we must make the family ‘work’ by showing forth to the world the degree of Christian charity which is expected of us – by Christ Himself.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help us!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Octave Day of Christmas 1 Jan 2012 Sermon

Octave Day of Christmas 1.1.12

Last night, New Year’s Eve, many people would have spent the time in drinking and general dissipation, trying to forget their sorrows.

It is one way to approach reality - trying to forget it, or avoid it.

There is a better way, however. Instead of trying to forget, or drugging ourselves against reality, why not take it head on, armed with the grace of God, and subdue it, make it work for us?

This is what the Church is doing through the liturgical year – claiming all time for God, and reminding us of how He has used it for His purposes. He is the Alpha and the Omega.

We don't need to forget; we need to remember. Remember His mercies to us so far, and His future promises. We need to fill all time, every hour, every day, with the grace of God; so that whatever happens will be according to His will and His kingdom be more fully present in the world.

Time is sometimes seen as an impersonal thing that rolls on regardless and takes us in its course, like it or not. It is true that it will advance without our consent, but it is also true that we can get the better of it, by claiming it for God’s purposes.

It is not so much how long we have as how well we use it. Think of the many saints in our Church history. A lot of them died young, either through martyrdom or sickness. Yet they achieved so much in their short time on earth.

The intensity of their love was the key. They used the short time they had for God’s purposes.

And Mary, whose role we especially honour at this time; she gave every moment to God.

Her story did not begin at the Annunciation. She had already prepared herself for future glory by being in a constant state of union with God.

She may have been surprised to learn that she was to be the Mother of God, but she was ready for it insofar as she was already totally available to do His will.

And so should we be available. Our time is His time.

We always hope that the new year will be better than the old one, better than all the old ones.

We can go a long way towards making it so.

We can make it better than any previous year by increasing our own personal availability to do the will of God; by asking Him to take control of every moment that awaits us in the future.

What makes a year ‘good’ anyway? We might have better health; more money; more success at various ventures – but, following the example of Mary and the saints – are we doing the will of God or not? That is what makes any period of time ‘good’ – if it was used for what it was meant for.

‘Years’ are not put there for our own amusement; they are the backdrop of God’s saving plan unfolding in the world. Time is for Salvation. Time enables people who do not know God to come to knowledge of Him; for people who have drifted from Him to come back to Him.

Any use of time that does not fit in with that overall objective is a waste.

This is a long way from the view that time is something to be buried under a kind of unconsciousness.

It is better if we are fully conscious, always alert and aware of the presence of God. Even if we do not know what will happen next, we can make sure we are ready for whatever it is.

By giving every moment of time back to Him.

Christmas Day 2011 Sermon

Christmas Day 2011

In the lead-up to Christmas we say that we are awaiting the birth of Christ; soon He will be born.

Yet we know very well that He already has been born, and that was a long time ago. So why do we act as though His birth is something in the future, to be looked forward to?

He has been born in the past but we still have to come to terms with it, to unravel the mystery.

So by going back ritually to His birth we hope to take this event more to our hearts, to assimilate it - an incredible fact, but true anyway.

It is a stranger fact still, perhaps, that He has come yet we do not see the effects. His birth is ignored. He came to heal the world of sin - which is essentially ignoring God; but when He came the world ignored Him; in other words, continued to sin - and still does, at a great rate.

So we have to go back and back until we get this right. We put ourselves in the position of the people of Israel who longed for the Messiah to come; of the shepherds who in their humility and simplicity hoped for better times. Of the wise men who recognized a good thing when they saw it.

We are child-like enough to believe that there can be a change in the human heart, the way that people live.

Christmas is for children, they say. Well we are like children in our sense of wonder and hoping for better things to come.

We can see all the brutality and falsehood in the world, but we are still able to hope and look to heaven and say: Father, You can save us.

The Israelites waited for the Messiah. We are doing the same thing in many ways. Though He has come it is largely as though He has not. Our prayer is not that He come to the world but that the world take Him seriously.

It starts with us. By reliving His birth, we are opening our hearts and minds wider, to understand our need of the Saviour, to recover that sense of wanting, longing, desiring passionately the coming of God.

Many would shrug their shoulders, and say, So what? What difference does it make? And looking at the world they are, in a way, right. But the reason it has not made a difference is that people have been shrugging their shoulders for 2000 years!

We have to believe that change is possible, and then persevere in that belief until the change happens.

So we say: Come Lord, not for the second time, but for the first time, so we can finally get on the right footing to receive You.

People observe that it is sad that children grow up and lose the magic of Christmas. It is never as exciting for an adult.

But adults can still get excited, not because we want to rush to the Christmas tree and open our gifts, but excited in hope that Maybe this year the world will respond as never before to the birth of Christ.

This is the gift we really hold out for. It is better than any material object we might have hoped to receive. It is harder to achieve, but yet we cannot fail to hope knowing the power and goodness of the One who has come among us. And knowing further that the only barrier to this result is indifference on our part.

It has not happened - this does not mean He has failed; nor does it mean - it is not possible. It just means His offer has not been taken up.

We can do our part by desiring, hoping and accepting all that Our Saviour has brought to us. Our joy is not yet in the fulfilment but in the anticipation, knowing that it is coming closer.