Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Birth of John the Baptist sermon

Birth of John the Baptist 24.6.12

John the Baptist is exalted as one of the greatest saints in our Church history because of his closeness to Christ.

Most saints follow Christ; John preceded Him. It was harder in that sense for John to do what he did because he did not have the benefit of the sacraments or of the knowledge of Jesus’ life.

It is hard enough for us to imitate Jesus once we know what He did, but how to do what He did in advance!? That is John’s glory.

In his birth, in life, and in death John shows forth a very different way of doing things from the normal worldly view. In all three areas he reflects or highlights the greater glory of Jesus, who did the same things a little later.

The birth of John, today’s special focus, was an event surrounded by strange wonders. The appearance of the angel, the message of the angel, the naming of the child, the fact that he was born to parents who would not be likely to have a child. All of these things applied also to Jesus.

John led the way; he was the precursor.

In his life he lived apart from men, in a strange way, intensely holy. He was different from others so that they could become like him. We do not all have to live in the desert and eat locusts but we do all have to give our whole attention to the will of God.

In his death, he was put to death unjustly. An innocent man being murdered by guilty men, in the name of the law; for political expediency.

And he did all this without actually knowing what was to follow.

In this he can be a help to us. We have the knowledge of Jesus Christ and all that He did. We also have the help that comes to us through the sacraments and the Mass. Yet still there are things in the future that we do not understand; and we never know what is going to happen next in our own lives.

Thus we also have to know how to live a certain way without knowing fully how it will turn out.

This takes faith, as well as hope. It takes trust in the goodness of God.

From John we learn what happens when someone gives himself fully to the will of God, in humility and trust, and letting God do the rest.

Four lessons in particular:

One, that as Zachary and Elizabeth had to wait for their son, God will sometimes make us wait before He answers our prayers.

When we really want something we pray harder for it; so by withholding things from us for a time God is forcing us to pray harder, which is good for us.

Two, that when He does answer a prayer He will answer it beyond our expectations.

Zachary and Elizabeth did not know what God was planning, but they prayed for a child and got more than they expected; more than they would have dared to hope. And so it will be for us, if we persevere.

Three, that only to the humble will He grant such favours. Zachary and Elizabeth were humble, not powerful on the world stage. God uses the little and the obscure. Not those with military power or brilliant intellect etc, but just humble people doing the right thing, trusting in God, cooperating with His will.

As with the Loaves and fishes: bring what you have and let Him multiply it.

Four, that once we have made ourselves available for His purposes He will do the heavy work. All we have to do is stand there and let His power work through us. If we do not impede Him through sin or obstinacy He will work wonders through us too.

May the voice in the wilderness finally be heard, and Christ be welcomed as never before.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 17 Jun 2012 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 17.6.12 God searches for us

We have just had the feast of the Sacred Heart and the Gospel today reinforces the same theme of the great mercy of God, and His intense desire to save us.

He is not content to leave people for lost while there is still a chance of finding them.

We feel sympathy for other people in proportion to how well we know them or love them.

Most people in the world we do not know; but God knows them all! And if something bad happens to anyone anywhere He feels the pain of that person. (Even if He is punishing them.)

Add to this the much greater grief He would feel when a person commits sin, or stays defiant against the offer of grace and mercy. (We should feel worse about that too but we tend to focus only on the physical suffering of people.)

If someone we loved was lost we would go looking for that person. Since God loves every person He therefore does the same thing; only His version of ‘looking’ is much more detailed than ours. He does not rest with restoring bodies; He wants the soul as well.

We can easily visualize the Good Shepherd going in search of sheep. But how in practice does Our Lord ‘go out’ looking for sinners?

He speaks through the Church; through the Bible; through other people; through circumstances; in all sorts of ways. Also He can plant thoughts in our heads and sometimes strong emotions in our hearts. We have to discern all these things because it may not be God talking but sometimes at least it certainly is the Shepherd seeking us out.

Human ‘sheep’ are much harder to catch than actual sheep. The different ways in which a person can shake off one of these messages, or even years of them, are many.

How many times would a person express something of a sentiment that ‘I must get around to that sometime, go to Confession, or go back to church, or be reconciled with my brother etc...’

It is easy to snap out of one of these resolutions and come back to ‘reality’ so called. The true reality is found in the spiritual world. When God speaks to us we have reality at its fullest and we should respond.

People say sometimes, If God would show Himself to me and tell me what to do then I would do it. They demand a miracle or something spectacular when they should be reading the signs that God puts before them every day.

If I come across a poor man at my gate I don't need a revelation from God to know that I should do something to help him.

If my life is in disorder because I am breaking all the commandments, I don't need a special announcement that I should repent. The message is there, in the circumstances themselves.

It is difficult to reach lost sheep but it does happen, and many have come to the Good Shepherd when He has called.

We can help the process by responding ourselves to His call in our own lives, getting rid of what sin still lurks there.

Further we can help by adopting the Heart of the Shepherd that feels such love for every stray person.

We cannot directly love every person but we can at least desire their salvation and many of our prayers are geared towards that, eg the Fatima prayer... lead all souls to heaven.

Our prayers for fellow travellers in this earthly life will help them to find the right path, also ensuring that we do not ourselves lose it.

The Sacred Heart is not just a statue. It is a Heart that moves with its own intensity. It goes out to sinners and speaks to them in their hearts as well as minds. Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

2nd Sunday after Pentecost 10 Jun 2012 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Pentecost 10.6.12 The greatest miracle

Today, in the wake of the feast of Corpus Christi, the Gospel parable of the Banquet invites us to further reflection on this great reality of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the greatest miracle of them all insofar as other miracles are only what God does; while the Eucharist is what He is.

The ease of the miracle may deceive us as to its importance. Most miracles are hard to come by but the miracle of transubstantiation occurs all over the world every few moments.

The fact that it is so common should not devalue it in our eyes. It is vital, if this miracle is to take its full effect, that we maintain a sense of wonder in its presence.

Objectively, Our Lord is present whenever the bread and wine are changed into His body and blood.

Subjectively, His presence will act on us according to how each person responds. Our disposition is everything as we deal with this sacrament.

We need a hunger for this food, for the bread from heaven.

Many would think they have no need of this food because they have enough satisfaction from the earthly pleasures they are pursuing.

For us who do come to Mass regularly there is a danger that we will see the Mass and Holy Communion as just another routine, not really expecting anything to change, either in our own lives or in the world.

But each Mass is a whole new miracle; and each Holy Communion is a new encounter with Our Lord with all sorts of possible effects for the individual receiving Him.

We need to be as engaged as possible in the process, hoping to improve each time our degree of commitment at the Mass and our hunger for the things of heaven in receiving Holy Communion.

God is there on the altar – but are we present in the pews? Many are not here even physically. The rest of us may be present in body but not in mind and heart. We have to make sure we have really turned up before the full power of the eucharistic miracle will take effect in us.

People say that God is remote and silent and that He leaves us to our own devices. But we have His presence close to us, as close as food which can be eaten.

Yet we may not be hungry for that food. Good will follow only if we receive in the right way, interacting with Our Lord, humbly and expectantly.

We cannot be just spectators at a Mass, looking on as though what is happening does not concern us. Although a church might look something like a theatre with the pews being where the ‘crowd’ sits and the sanctuary being where the ‘stage’ is – in fact each member of the ‘crowd’ is a direct participant in the sacrifice and the sacrament; both offering and receiving Our Lord.

What change can we expect from this miracle? Growth in personal qualities such as charity, trust, generosity... a greater faith, a greater hunger for the things of God, leading to further encounters.

Also a greater love for God, appreciating Him for His own sake.

What is the good of adoring the Blessed Sacrament, some will ask. Could we not spend our time better mowing our neighbour’s lawn or otherwise helping someone in need?

If we get in touch with our Father, our Saviour, our God we can still mow the lawn and all the rest, but whatever we do we will do it better; and we will make better decisions in general about how to use our time.

Let the question be: What’s the good of ignoring the Blessed Sacrament, missing the most important thing of all as we chase after less important?

The Eucharist is a mystery; we have to move into it at our own speed, growing in both understanding and love.

Many reject what they do not understand, simply because they do not understand it. We must rather let ourselves be taken up into the Mystery, going through the veil of outward appearances to the great goodness within.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Trinity Sunday 3 Jun 2012 Sermon

Trinity Sunday 3.6.12 Quest for unity

Many people are searching for God; many others are not sure if He exists or not.

There is much confusion about His existence; His nature; the way He intervenes or not in human affairs; the way it all works.

Many would say they believe in a God ‘of some sort’ but would not know how to describe or define Him.

Nor would they know how to approach Him with any confidence.

With so much confusion about it might seem that to explain the workings of the Blessed Trinity could make matters even less clear – if we bring in a lot of difficult terms and phrases.

The technical information might seem dry and unhelpful but it all has its place.

The best way to understand God for most people would be in terms of how He impacts upon us.

In evangelising others we would tell people that God is personal, something like we are, only much better.

The Persons of the Trinity are perfect in every way, not subject to the frailties and changing moods and whims which we experience.

If this seems to put God beyond reach it is not the intention. His perfection is not a barrier so much as an invitation for us to join Him.

We like the idea of a personal God, to whom we can relate. But we have to accept that we must relate on His terms rather than our own.

If we are to seek a personal relationship with God we must see such a relationship as He sees it.

In general we could say the human race settles for too little in the manner of personal relationships and of love.

Many people would think that the highest form of love is with another human person, usually to be sought in marriage. In books and films the story often ends with a marriage and that is seen as self-evidently the right place to end the story. The greatest possible happiness has been reached. What more is there to say?

Nothing, except that marriage is not the ultimate happiness even if it is the happiest marriage ever - because we are made for God, and our hearts cannot rest until they rest in Him. Of course it is better if we have good human relationships but they are never enough as such.

Our ultimate need, whether we realize it or not, is to be in union with God, loving and being loved by Him. If we have this we have discovered the Trinity. To be in relation to God is to share in the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are doing this even if we do not understand all the technical terms.

We find God through prayer, sacraments, reading the signs, trusting Him to steer us through each event, finally coming to see Him face to face, but preparing all the time for that encounter.

The more seriously we seek Him in this life the more we will understand Him and the more ready to spend eternity with Him.

We already relate to Him personally. The images of the Trinity can help but would never be enough by themselves.

God is not a triangle. Nor a perfect circle. He is much better than any image we can think of.

It is all about getting us closer to God than we otherwise were. Far from thinking that God is distant we learn more and more that we have no life apart from Him. We are not only created by Him; not only to return to Him; but nothing even in our non-religious activity falls outside His holy will.

The Trinity was not invented for our purposes but we are glad all the same to be included. God does not need us but He is happy to have us along.

May He help us to know Him better, both personally and technically, and finally to live in perfect union with Him. Glory to the one God and three Persons. Father, Son and Holy Ghost.