Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Passion Sunday 25 Mar 2012 Sermon

Passion Sunday 25.3.12 Receiving the Messiah

It has been a long time since God the Son came to the earth. Around 2000 years.

If it was an incredible thing that God would become Man and dwell among us, it must be also an incredible thing that His coming could have met with so little enthusiasm from the human race.

He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. They did not receive Him as the true Messiah, much less as the true God.

They questioned Him too much and were not humble enough to accept the simple truth. It was reasonable to ask questions at first but they kept on questioning, long after He had proved Himself by words and actions.

And people today try to reduce His importance by speaking of Him as just one other saviour along with others; as just a do-gooder; as someone who meant well but did not quite know what He was doing.

Even those who have received Him as Messiah and God generally have not received Him in sufficient depth.

We have not sufficiently understood that His becoming Man was meant to change completely and forever the way we think and act.

Many Catholics who might be happy to profess belief that the Word has come among us and died for our sake etc – do not realize that these facts mean He has transformed human nature.

So the ‘old man’ is dead; the new is here in its place. The old man of anger, lust, gluttony, envy etc is dead. The new man has only love, peace, joy, kindness and the like.

If only more people had believed in Him then, and since. If only those who do believe in Him now would let that belief translate into their daily lives.

The old saying still applies: Christianity has not failed; it has never been tried!

During the week a report was released into the Irish Catholic Church and its handling of sex abuse cases.

The report said, naturally enough, that the Church in Ireland needs to lift its game and observe the very highest standards of behaviour and accountability.

But this does not go far enough for the critics. For them it is not just enough to say, Do better. They say the whole culture of the Church is wrong. We should not have celibacy, for instance.

Catholic teaching is routinely portrayed as unrealistic, especially on sexual matters.

No, we are not unrealistic in our teachings. The unreality is on the side of those who do not accept that in Christ we are made new.

If we think the Church’s teachings are too hard it is because we have not grasped the fullness of His coming, the power of His grace working in us.

It is not the laws that need changing; we need changing! And we are changed as the goodness of Christ comes into us through prayer and sacrament, through our full and much overdue acceptance of Him as Messiah, Lord, Saviour and God.

We are not being asked to change ourselves by our own strength; merely to let the grace of God carry us.

In this way we put the old man to death and let the new man emerge.

God is prepared to forgive any sin, including the sin of not welcoming Him when He came to us.

In admitting that we have done a fairly shoddy job of welcoming Him so far we will in that very act of admitting be opening our hearts and minds to receive Him more fully.

As we prepare to re-live His crucifixion let us not repeat the rejection which caused that event. We re-live the event so that we can say, Never again. Never again will we miss the presence of God when He comes. From now on we give Him every possible recognition and response. His sacrifice is not in vain.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

4th Sunday of Lent 18 Mar 2012 Sermon

4th Sunday of Lent 18.3.12 When new is good

We often move from the old to the new. Like new televisions, cars, gadgets.

Traditional Catholics distrust new things when it comes to some of the changes we have seen.

But with covenants (epistle) it is definitely better to move from the old to the new.

The old covenant was mainly for Jews and was really only for this world - the land, their own nation etc;

But the new covenant gives us the infinite territory of heaven and for all eternity, and is meant for all nations.

God was always generous, always merciful, before the time of Christ; but all the more so now. The blood of Christ works better than the blood of animals.

We should see this as progress but we do not always see what is better.

The Gospel today describes the miracle of the loaves. When confronted with Our Lord’s miracles people often did not understand the depth and completeness of what was being offered them.

They could see only the material gain. Give us bread, land, victory over the Romans. They were not concerned with things like goodness, or whether they were charitable to their neighbours etc.

A lot of people have come to my front door since I have been a priest: asking for money to buy food, petrol, accommodation... it is reasonable to want those things.

But I have never had anyone come to ask how to be a better person; to ask for help with loving their neighbour more!

Those who would stop with the physical are stopping too soon, not understanding their own needs. They do not realize the hunger of their own hearts.

They do not see that they are failing in their most basic obligation: to love God with their whole hearts.

But everyone wants food.

Suppose we did have enough of everything, what then? We still have to work out what is the purpose of our lives. Is my life complete just because I have the biggest house and the biggest television on the market.

Do you know where your life is going, or where you are going when you die?

Many would not be able to answer that question clearly, confining themselves to purely material and physical aspects.

When the conversation turns spiritual they are likely to say: Now you are talking religion, and we all know that is just a matter of private opinion...

Just let me have a few things and enjoy myself a bit. When I die I will take my chances then.

They are not worried at all about what happens after death; only the next day, or next few years. They are stopping too soon in their understanding of Our Lord’s miracles and of what He is offering them.

Even He had difficulties getting through to people on this level. They were happy to stay with the old, and not worry about the new. Give me bread by all means, but don't start telling me about love or kindness etc. And anyway these things are ‘private’.

Where are we in all this? We are fully accepting of the new covenant. Taken to its fullest extent this means we should not worry about our living conditions provided we are in a state of grace.

Yet we do worry far more about our earthly status than the state of our souls, generally speaking.

We have lived in a world which largely ignores God so we buy into this mentality, and chase after money, and all the same things everyone else chases.

Never again. We take the bread Our Lord offers us, at both levels. We see that He provides food for us to eat and all our various physical needs. We thank Him for that. But we go one step further and see that He also offers us eternal life and the grace to live this life in union with His will. This is the extra step that so few take. We will take it, with the help of His grace.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

3rd Sunday of Lent 11 Mar 2012 Sermon

3rd Sunday of Lent 11.3.12 Spiritual warfare

Our Lord referred to the devil as the prince of this world. Yet we call Our Lord the King. Who is running this world? The King or the Prince?

Both, in different senses. Christ has absolute power because He is Creator and Saviour and as God has the first and last word on everything.

But the devil has power too insofar as he influences people to think and act in a certain way (bad!); and we see this everyday in all sorts of situations. Any human behaviour which is not according to the will of God could be taken as evidence of the devil’s power.

He operates only by deceit. He is the father of lies. But he gets a lot of mileage out of those lies and a lot of people believe him – at least far enough to doubt the word of God. He sows confusion and doubt at every turn and the damage that results is the world that we have.

The glory of Christ is not lessened in any way by this but it is dimmed to our sight. We should be able to see that glory and we should be looking for it.

When Our Lord casts out demons it is symbolic of the total movement He is beginning.
He restores a man to himself. The devil deprives us of the full use of reason and will. Our Lord restores those things – to one person, and potentially to the whole human race.

To be restored means we actually see what is what, which way is up, as the scales fall from our eyes.

Deliverance from demons can mean the removal of an actual demon. Demons can be present in a place or person exerting their nasty influence. One demon less is a good thing.

More generally we are delivered from evil insofar as we learn to see, think and desire the right things in the right way and the right proportion. So we are not addicted to anything, not enslaved to anything. We all need that much deliverance.

So today’s epistle: No fornication, or covetousness nor any other sin. We think: how can I be that good? Sounds like it would take a great effort. These are not just abstract commands.

We can be that free of sin if only we allow the power of Christ to come into us.

How do we connect to this healing power? The kingdom of God is among you, Our Lord said. And in today’s Gospel: Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.

We need the grace that comes through prayer and sacraments, which will enable us to grow in virtue; less inclined to sin; more in control of our lives.

It is like a battle where we might win in one place and lose in another; gain here, lose there.

The gaining of the ground in our case is found in greater peace and self-control, not just by effort of the will, but carried on eagles wings, lifted to a higher level.

Every prayer and every act of penance can help in this direction

We do pray; we come to Mass, and we receive various sacraments - yet we do not expect to be any different. This also is a deception of the devil. He has tricked us into thinking that we must stay as we are, and the world must stay as it is.

We can be better than we presently are! This is not meant as a burdensome demand but as an invitation to freedom. We can rise to a higher level. It is not impossible and it is not even hard. It is just what happens when the stronger man overcomes the weaker one, when Our Lord displaces the devil.

Let’s believe in that freedom and explore it; not falling in to the various pits that the devil has dug for us. He does not belong in this place. He has been cast out but he has wormed his way back in. No longer will we let him deceive us.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

2nd Sunday of Lent 4 Mar 2012 Sermon

2nd Sunday of Lent 4.3.12 Seeking God

When Our Lord was on earth it seemed He was not anxious to show forth His full glory.
Even when He rose from the dead He did not show Himself to people like Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas... He could have really embarrassed them!

We might wish He had done that because it would make our job easier, the job of convincing unbelievers.

He did appear to His disciples, however. Why only to them?

He appeared only to those who loved Him, to restore their faith. Their faith had taken a battering, but their love remained.

This gives us an insight into how God works. To those who love Him; to those who seek Him with humility – He will make Himself known.

We often have doubts about God - His existence, His closeness to us; whether or not He will keep His promises. We worry about the future. Often we are weak in faith and low in confidence.

But if we seek Him in love He will reassure us. It may not be through any spectacular sign but it will be something to remind us of His presence.

If we love Him enough we will recognize the signs.

By contrast, many today will demand proof of God’s existence. They do this in an aggressive way, which turns out to be entirely the wrong approach.

It might seem logical to make such demands. If He works a miracle I will believe; if not I will not. But who is anyone to make demands of God?

It may sound logical but there is no love in such an approach, let alone humility.

If we loved Him we would see miracles. Or, better still, our love would enable miracles.

But if love is lacking even the miracles will not convince. How many miracles did Our Lord work in His public ministry? He raised the dead three times; cured the sick countless times; showed His mastery over nature several times; and yet still the people would ask for a ‘sign’. Yesterday’s miracle was no good. They wanted another one today. I suspect it would be the same for the hardened unbelievers of today.

People who love Him do not keep asking for a sign, only for mercy for having offended Him; for help in coping with our troubles; thanking Him for past help.

We are among those who love Him (or should be). We welcome miracles when they come but we do not seek them as an end in themselves.

To those who love Him He will make Himself known, and will work through them.
(Though we should note that it will not be all an easy ride because those who love Him will also be called upon to suffer with Him.)

Today’s Gospel tells of the Transfiguration: Our Lord revealed His glory, but only to three apostles. A very small audience. Not even the whole twelve, and certainly not the general public. It was a privilege for just those three.

It teaches us that the way to the centre of our faith, to the mysteries we believe in, is not the heavy-footed clumsy style of the curious - Give us a sign - but the humble, unquestioning, uncomplaining way, seeking not a sign but deeper trust.

Someone listening to this could say: Ah, you Christians are just playing games. You cannot produce a miracle so you talk about mysteries.

And if they say that they will be all the more frustrated, and the more obscure it will become to them. Humility is essential.

This is not like any other branch of ‘science’. Discoveries can be made here only by those who are in the right frame of mind and heart.

If we have love we will also have faith.

And where does love come from? From being humble enough not to make demands, content to wait on God to make Himself known, in His way, at His time.