Wednesday, 29 August 2012

13th Sunday after Pentecost 26 August 2012 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 26.8.12 Where are they?

The other nine, where are they? In Australia we have about ten per cent of Catholics who come to Mass every Sunday. That comes to one in ten, just like the Gospel story.

Why should we ‘come back’? To say ‘thank You’ to God. To express our joy. Gratitude is good manners and also good business.

If we thank Him we are more likely to get another blessing. This could sound cynical; but not if we understand that we need a continuous relationship with God; not just episode by episode; only when I have a problem.

I will come only when my life is falling apart otherwise why should I come? We don’t call a plumber unless there is something wrong.

God is not just a fix-it person. It is a covenant relationship (cf epistle) based on love and union. This is what saves us; that He unites us with Himself.

Thanksgiving is a regular part of the whole cycle of communication. It is also an essential part of receiving the whole range of gifts. We need to know what we are freed from.

He has removed my leprosy - my sin. He has restored me to wholeness, re-admitted me to the community. The more glad we are the less likely to reoffend.

The one leper who came back would be less likely to reoffend.

It is hard to stay grateful once the euphoria wears off.

We can simply forget what we have received. In trouble we might promise anything: Lord, if you get me out of this I will be good for six months.’ But once we are out of danger we go back to old ways.

We have to get past this stage and see that God is there for us all the time.

We need to see the spiritual life like a fish sees water. It needs to be our whole milieu, central to our lives, not just something we call on every now and then.

To look back in a long gaze and see where we have been. All of us here now have either come back from somewhere bad, or we have been here all along. In either case we can be grateful that we are here now.

The more deep-rooted the gratitude the less likely we will ever leave the protection of the Good Shepherd.

When we die He will know us as His own.

People often hold grudges against God, especially for the death of loved ones. This is the opposite of gratitude; we actually resent what He has done. If we have developed a strong covenant relationship with Him it will be easier for us to cope.

We do not make just knee-jerk reactions but develop a continuity of understanding. Thus we can ‘rejoice always’ and cultivate this ability. We may not be happy about the last thing that happened but we understand that everything comes to good sooner or later.

Either we get what we want, or if not, then something else good is coming.

The attitude is more important than what actually happens.

If something goes well we say God is good, but we should also say the same thing if something goes bad. God remains the same either way; it is just a matter of coming around to the good result.

His goodness is everywhere; it only needs us to recognize and bring it to light; and then live by that light.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

12th Sunday after Pentecost 19 Aug 2012 Sermon

12 th Sunday after Pentecost 19.8.12 Good Samaritan

We sometimes hear in the news that a ‘good Samaritan’ has been assaulted or even killed as a result of his intervention in a situation, trying to help.

So there are dangers in helping out, in getting involved. Is it worth it?

Christ Himself could be considered a Good Samaritan. He intervened; He came to help out some people in trouble (the human race); and was killed for His troubles. So maybe He should have stayed ‘at home’ - in Heaven.

Was it worth His intervention? It appeared He ‘failed’ insofar as He was put to death; yet that is the very thing that saved us.

From the death of Christ: apparent defeat but actually victory. His resurrection was a victory, but the Cross, even by itself was also a victory. A victory of Love over Indifference.

The apostles and the martyrs have followed His example. It is a Good Samaritan act to preach the gospel, to spread the faith. It is an intervention, trying to help. And it can mean death.

Arguing from a basic kind of prudence, they would have done better to have stayed at home; the apostles should have gone back to fishing.

On deeper reflection, however, we see that there is a spiritual value to certain actions, whatever their apparent consequences at the time.

Our interventions may not ‘work’ by human standards but yet still be a victory.

If our intervention is motivated by love it will have the merit of being a sacrifice, in imitation of Christ. This is the greatest kind of love, and the most powerful – to lay down one’s life for another (Jn 15,13).

The apparent object may not be achieved. For example, I could intervene to save someone who is being assaulted and I might be killed myself. Not a success. But the love that one showed in trying to solve the problem will bring spiritual benefit to the helper and others.

There is a risk element in helping another. The Church cannot offer a detailed list of what to do or not to do in each case. We need the gifts of Wisdom, Prudence, and Counsel at such times.

The general point is that we should not expect in this life to have complete personal security or comfort. We are at times going to have to sacrifice our comfort and sometimes even our safety in getting involved in the lives of others.

The driving principle is what does Christ expect of us? We are, in effect, images of Christ; trying to replicate what He did, on a much smaller scale. We would die for the truth, or to save another. Or, if not called upon to die, at least spend ourselves in the attempt.

We cannot help everyone in the world; we cannot fight every battle. But if we are filled with the Spirit of Christ unselfish behaviour will come naturally.

Worldly prudence will tell us to make sure we are safe at all times. The Gospel will say we cannot be safe at all times, or even most of the time.

We are not required to go looking for trouble, but there will be times when we do put ourselves at risk, which, even if miscalculated will not be wasted.

We can still be as wise as serpents. Otherwise we will be answering all the scam emails, giving away our bank account numbers to every stranger!

We must be cautious in general, but not to the point of wiping out all risk.

It is just as well that Jesus Christ did not stay at home. Just as well that the apostles did not go back to their previous jobs. Just as well that we are being formed in the same mind and learning to be good Samaritans in our time.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

11th Sunday after Pentecost 12 Aug 2012 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 12.8.12 Back to basics

Because there are so many religions about people become confused and many end up saying that all religions are false, because they all contradict each other, and it seems no one knows with certainty what is true and what is false.

It is necessary that we be clear what we believe and to be reassured that we have very good reason for believing it.

Our religion is not just legend, but based on historical fact.

At a certain place at a certain time a certain man died on the Cross and shortly after rose from the dead.

Of all the things which have happened in human history why should we concern ourselves so much with one man who lived in Israel 2000 years ago?

A man like other men but on certain details very different. The most pronounced difference was that He proved Himself to be also God, gradually revealing this to His disciples; then rising from the dead to make the point fully.

He taught His apostles and gave them power, sending finally the Holy Spirit who would take them to a higher level, making them the fully operational Church - which then has the task of believing the things He taught and did; maintaining those beliefs; and then spreading them.

All of which stages we find difficult – the believing, the maintaining, and the spreading.

This is difficult because there is so much scepticism about, which attacks our beliefs and also is resistant to being converted.

But while there are many difficulties we can do much to strengthen our beliefs by going back to the basic truths elaborated by St Paul in today’s epistle (1 Cor 15).

It is as though St Paul is saying to the Corinthians: I will not always be with you but you have the teaching; go back to that.

These things do not change. The death and resurrection of Christ - two of the most important events in human history. They still apply, they are still relevant. In fact they have exactly the same relevance now as they had then.

Normally things lose relevance over time. If I told you that Julius Caesar has been assassinated or that Napoleon has invaded Russia you would not be likely to roll over in surprise. These items have lost their relevance because they are old events, not news.

But with the death and resurrection of Christ we could have the 6pm news every night and start with the latest trouble spots in the world and the latest sport, and put in there: Christ has died; Christ has risen.

It is not a new piece of information but in terms of relevance it is more relevant than all the other things.

We have heard it all before but we have to do it all over again: in that we have to regroup, and re-grasp the central mysteries,

So that our whole lives are based on union with this Man; so that every step be with Him, guided and strengthened by Him. It is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me (Ga 2,20).

The world is flooded with news like never before but nothing can take away from the Good News.

How to spread it? If we believe it enough ourselves it will change our lives and that will be the witness to others. Nothing attracts a crowd like a few miracles, and the true faith lived out in real charity.

We believe all the truths which the holy Catholic Church believes and teaches. Our beliefs are not just vague ideals but fully applicable in our daily lives.

We have to be strong to be able to resist the errors of the age, the mockery of unbelievers; to be able to hold firm through our own personal crises; and then by our lives win others over.

All of which is hard but it is also manageable: if only we look in the right place for help; if only we refer back to what we were first taught and believed; and is still true.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

10th Sunday after Pentecost 5 Aug 2012 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 5.8.12 Competition

If you are in the Olympics is it better to run the fastest you ever ran in your life and finish fifth; or is it better to run a slower time than you normally do and finish first?

There is much focus on winning these days, but the real focus should be on how well we perform. It may be that another competitor is better than I am, but if I perform well I should be pleased with that, especially if it is the best I have ever performed.

This gives us an insight into today’s Epistle and Gospel.

In the Gospel we have the Pharisee being smug about himself because he considers himself better than the publican standing nearby.

He relies on the obvious faults of the publican to justify his own lack of effort to be truly holy. He is satisfied with the general appearance of things; the general impression that others would have of the matter.

What should the Pharisee have done? Not worry at all about whether he is better or worse than the publican, but simply evaluate himself in the light of God’s mercy; seek to overcome whatever faults he has and do better for the future.

When I go to Confession I should not be concerned for the sins others confess, but my main focus is what do I need to do differently in my life?

We can learn from what happens to others, both from their sins and their virtues; but we must concentrate on seeking our own improvement; especially not using the failures of others to justify our own.

If others are holier than I am then I can rejoice in that.

If you love God more than I do then I am glad for your sake. For me it should be an incentive to increase my own efforts. Outdo one another in showing honour (Romans 12,10)

It is all healthy if we are competing for the glory of God. Let us maintain between us a high standard and make it even higher.

It is not relevant who is the holiest person around; what counts is that each of us is striving to improve on our own level of holiness.

This ties in with the Epistle: if you have certain gifts give thanks for them; use them for God’s glory. If you have five talents and he has two don't think yourself better than he is; and if someone else has ten talents don't be jealous. Just run with what you have and it may be increased.

What a scourge jealousy is and also complacency. I look down on those I consider worse than I am, and envy those who are better. This is not the way.

The Body of Christ, like any body, needs all its parts to work together.

The focus on one’s own holiness is not self-centredness in the wrong sense. It is a rigorous humility which refuses to excuse avoidable weakness and which seeks improvement - not to impress others but to give greater glory to God.

The saints never sought to be holy just to receive the praises of other people; but because it was the only fitting way to give something back to God.

In the fulness of God’s plans we will not only be individually holy but holy as one body; meaning that the Body of Christ will function as one unit, with each part playing its role, like the instruments of an orchestra.

In this case the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. When we give our best - which includes a complete lack of jealousy - we will be brought together by the Holy Spirit in one harmonious whole, pleasing to God.

This is what we ask for today, as we all take the part of the publican: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

9th Sunday after Pentecost 29 Jul 2012 Sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost 29.7.12 Divine punishment

There is a saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. I think we might as well say that those who remember history also are doomed to repeat it.

The human race makes very little progress in moral or spiritual development. We are terrific at inventing new technology but terrible at learning how to live according to God’s will.

Today’s Gospel has Our Lord reflecting on the way things unfold in human history. He laments that Jerusalem has not and will not take advantage of the lessons it has been given from past generations. They will make the same mistake as their ancestors in putting to death the prophets; only this time they will go one further and kill not just the messenger but the son (cf parable of the vineyard).

Here we have God lamenting that He (God) will have to inflict such a severe punishment on people that He loves.

In recent times a belief has emerged among Christians that a loving God would not ever punish His people. He is too gentle, too forgiving for that.

Yet we have abundant biblical stories where He does just that; and also many times since biblical days when clearly a divine punishment has taken place (eg the Second World War, prophesied at Fatima).

We can think it won’t happen to us, but it has happened before and we (taking everyone together) are doing our best to bring on even bigger punishment than ever before.

It is not as though God is bad-tempered. He is not like us in that if we push Him so far He will finally snap; for example He will forgive the first 499 times but not the 500th.

He does not reach boiling point (like we do). He has perfect control of His thoughts, so that His actions and reactions are always the best possible in the circumstances. He sees, with perfect wisdom, that we are heading down the wrong path.

When He sees that other avenues are not working He will allow a punishment designed (in love) to bring us to our senses.

Just as parents have to punish their children sometimes so a loving Father must punish us. He does not enjoy it but it has to be done.

He gives us a lot of freedom and a lot of time but there comes a time when intervention is necessary.

We naturally pray that He spare us the full force of the punishments we deserve. And this prayer is heard (cf the ten good men in the city, Genesis 18,16-32).

No doubt prayer on our part has averted many disasters; but we have to keep praying and like never before.

As well as praying we must repent. If we had repented in sufficient numbers before we might have saved ourselves a lot of the disaster we have seen. And then we really would see the blessings, uninterrupted.

God is much happier to bless than to smite. But the way to allow Him to bless - and only bless - is to go with Him not against Him.

Thus Jerusalem could have been spared. But they would not listen and we are not listening now, as a society at least.

In the meantime a certain few, ten good men, must do what they can. This is where we come in.

We pray to hold off the disasters, and that by peaceful means the people will repent and enjoy rich blessings.