Wednesday, 24 October 2012

21st Sunday after Pentecost 21 Oct 2012 Sermon

21st Sunday after Pentecost 21.10.12 Goodwill

The epistle tells us to put on the armour of God, so that we can wage the spiritual battle.

Sometimes spiritual battles can be very major and obvious. Most of the time, however, they will come upon us quietly. We may be in a spiritual battle and not even realise it.

Let’s define a spiritual battle as any occasion where we have a choice between right and wrong, and the ‘wrong’ has some attraction for us – to the point that it takes some effort on our part to resist it.

One of the most challenging things we have to do as Christians is described in today’s Gospel – to forgive those who offend us.

The logic of forgiveness is very simple. God forgives us the large debt; we have to forgive each other the small debt (the figures in the Gospel are in a ratio of 600,000 to 1).

When it is made so obvious it sounds easy. If we could carry this parable around with us maybe it would help. But despite how obvious it is we still find it difficult. This is a real spiritual battle, for which we need all the armour we can find.

How to put on this armour? Lots of prayer and then more still. So that we receive the grace of God to such an extent that we will change the way we think/feel towards other people.

Our disposition will be sweetened, enabling us to have more generous thoughts and feelings towards others - to the point that we want others to experience all that we would want for ourselves in terms of the grace and mercy of God. If I want it for myself then I want it for others too.

It is not so easy as it sounds. Consider, for example, the temptation to jealousy. .

If my neighbour wins the lottery while I am struggling to make ends meet, can I rejoice in his good fortune? Or do I resent it, wishing it was mine instead of his?

We should want good things to happen to other people, not begrudge their happiness.

This is particularly so with enemies and ‘those who trespass’.

Worldly thinking will make us want to get even and to wish harm to those who harm us. But the way of Christ is to wish them mercy. We want them to come to repentance and make a new beginning.

It is very hard to love someone who harms us but then if he repented and changed his ways we would find some loveable qualities there. We will rejoice that he has received that mercy.

This is the way Our Lord Himself sees it; and we are created to be like Him. The idea of wishing harm on others or begrudging them mercy - these things are of the devil, who is consumed with hatred and malice; happy only when he can cause misery.

So the lines of battle are drawn. Which camp are we in?

To fight this battle we need every day a fresh dose of goodwill, kindness, and the like. Goodwill directed to everyone, anyone, even our enemies, and especially them; praying for a change of heart.

So it is possible that in heaven a murderer and his victim might meet again! By this time both will have been cleansed of all trace of sin.

A general goodwill is to be cultivated. For any and all people – family members, neighbours, people on the roads, in the shops; the whole mass of humanity. This is why we need spiritual armour (graces), because we would not be able to do this on our own.

Only by His grace does it become possible, and even joyful – to forgive, to bring back life where there has been death.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

20th Sunday after Pentecost 14 Oct 2012 Sermon

20th Sunday after Pentecost 14.10.12 Faith

At present there is being launched a Year of Faith; also a programme of New Evangelisation; also there are commemorations of Vatican II, fifty years on.

All these events deal with the question of how the Church can better proclaim the Gospel to an unbelieving world.

People are lost and confused, there is no doubt; and Christ is the answer, also no doubt. But it is not easy to get the message across.

It is the Church that is commissioned to proclaim the Gospel yet many see the Church in its human limitations and focus on the messenger rather than the message. The message is Jesus Christ. He is the Good News; in fact the Best News.

To all our troubles, all our searching there is a conclusion. He is Christ the Lord. This day a Saviour has been born to us. Behold your King. There is the Lamb of God...

He is the answer to every question, the fulfilment of every need.

The Gospel today (healing of the nobleman’s son, John 4) brings out what He can do. He knows our needs and He can work miracles to set things right.

But do we believe in Him? The nobleman represents us in his various doubts.

First, he tries to tell Our Lord what He must do. Come and see my son. He says this twice.

He limits the power of Our Lord to work a miracle in any way He decides. Of course He can heal from a distance.

Then he does not really believe until he sees the evidence of the miracle.

How full of doubt we can be. Unless we see signs and wonders we will not believe, and even then, only until the novelty of the miracle has worn off.

If we really believed in Him we would not insist on a particular course of action He should take. Rather we leave it to Him to decide what is best. And we say, Thy will be done. And whatever Thy will is, let it be done to me.

Our faith is in Him rather than in any particular outcome of the prayer. This we find hard to grasp.

If we get what we want, we say, God is good. If we do not get what we want, we doubt God’s existence, or His level of interest in us.

No. If He is good He is good all the time regardless of outcomes to our prayers.

This is what it means to have faith in Him. We believe in Him as a Person. Whatever He does or does not do, that is fine with us because we believe in Him.

(Sometimes He challenged His disciples, such as at the Crucifixion; when He left them without clear explanation, expecting them to trust Him all the same.)

If we have faith in Him we can then have Faith, as defined and taught by the Church.

If all the members of the Church believed in Him in this way, believed to the point of absolute trust – then we would not have the contradictory witness we presently give. People would not be able to say, But you do not practise what you preach.

We ask Him now for the faith which leads to Faith, the full identification with His Church; and then for that Church to be able to convince the world where salvation is found – only in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Our Lady of the Rosary 7 Oct 2012 Sermon

19th Sunday after Pentecost 7.10.12  Our Lady of the Rosary

Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Historically the feast was established due to the Lepanto naval battle in 1581 and another reprieve from Islamic advance in 1716.

If God is on our side numbers do not matter, as the Israelites learnt in Old Testament times.

So we call on Mary to help fight our battles, military or otherwise. Her way of fighting is not with swords or guns but with the power of God, to which she has unlimited access.

In a Rosary we ask her fifty times to pray for us. Why do we repeat it so many times? It is not that she is hard of hearing but because we are emphasizing the point. We mean it fifty times as much.

Also we are keeping up a non-stop chorus of prayer. The repetitious nature of the Rosary is helpful here. It is not because we need to convince God or Mary by saying the same thing over and over. It is to keep up a constant prayer. We repeat the words because they are true at every moment and we want to fill every moment with an affirmation of God’s goodness, thus bringing His healing into the world. So the prayer goes on...

The Rosary is a strong petitioning prayer from which we can expect many graces to come.

It is also a prayer of meditation as we seek to deepen our understanding of the faith, the central mysteries which we constantly recall.

We call them to mind so often because they are the most important things that have ever happened in human history and we cannot afford to stray from them.

One of the powerful effects of the Rosary is the change that it brings about in the one praying it. From that change others will come. The final victory will come closer each time a loyal child of Mary invokes her in this special prayer.

We take on the qualities of Mary as we open ourselves to God’s word (Joyful), offering to share His sufferings (Sorrowful) and proclaim Him to the world (Glorious).

When we pray the Rosary we enter the mysteries, not just as a pious meditation but in real practical terms we are advancing the cause of salvation. We are not just thinking about things; we are actually causing them to happen when we pray the Rosary.

We need this prayer in a time when the Church is under attack, often physical but also spiritual, for example the moral crises we face in our present world; the loss of morale, direction and confidence within the Church. It is necessary to go back to the basic mysteries and recover strength.

The more we believe the more powerful our prayer becomes.

Better still if the prayer is prayed with others. The historic victories mentioned earlier were the result of a whole campaign of prayer. If we are to move mountains it needs a combined and sustained effort.

All Catholics should pray the Rosary – one set of mysteries a day; more if possible. We will find it rewarding and so will everyone else. The prayer of one helps all.

We would pray if our country was about to be invaded, or some other obvious crisis emerged. Don’t wait till then! There are crises enough already, and we need to get to work.

We fight the battles and we win them, if we pray this prayer – the Holy Rosary.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

18th Sunday after Pentecost 30 Sep 2012 Sermon

18th Sunday after Pentecost 30.9.12 Your sins are forgiven

Our Lord works two miracles in today’s Gospel story. The first is to forgive the man’s sins; the second to restore him to physical health.

It is the second that attracts more attention but the first that is more important.

Yes, the forgiveness of sin is a miracle, in that it is a direct intervention by God in His creation, causing something to happen which would not happen by natural causes.

If we had a priceless vase and it smashed to pieces there is no way we could restore it to its original value.

But the human soul, even when defaced by sin, can be restored ‘as good as new’.

You could murder ten people and still be restored to a spiritual state of innocence, as though one had never sinned.

The sin can be forgiven; and then the purification of the soul can follow. Admittedly some souls would take a lot of purifying but it can be done.

This is a miracle, one which we may take for granted because it is common; but we need to realise how totally we rely on God for this arrangement. Otherwise after even one sin we would be lost forever.

So we come back to life whenever we are forgiven of a deadly sin; or healed when it is a lesser sin.

Our Lord wants us to draw confidence from this Gospel incident. He has both the power and the desire to forgive us, to put the pieces back together.

But not everyone sees this or wants to see it.

People will dispute His power. Who does He think He is by doing this, the pharisees asked. Does He make Himself equal to God? (Yes, He does)

We can forgive something only if it is somehow an act which harms us. I cannot forgive you if you stole someone else’s pot plant; but I can if you stole mine.

Today people would say, who is this Jesus that I have to answer to him? What has he got to do with it?

Only that He is God, that He has created you, keeps you in being, and would, if you let Him, put you back together again.

Every sin does relate to Him because the whole world belongs to Him. It is His creation, every particle of it.

There is nowhere we could go, not even into outer space, that would be outside His territory.

Most sin is an offence against another person, but all of it is an offence against Our Lord.

Therefore He has the right to give or withhold forgiveness. He is always willing to give it; but not all are willing to ask for it.

Another stumbling block is that many people are unhappy with their lives. They know they could be living differently, but they cannot see how to get out of the rut.

Here the difficulty is believing in the miracles of forgiveness. God may forgive sins but could He forgive mine? Many think not.

His miracle in the Gospel shows that He can and will forgive on request.

It is as easy for Him to heal the soul as to heal the body. He can make a sick person (and even a dead person) stand up; He can put together the shattered fragments of a soul.

The hard part is getting people to believe this, and to seek that new life which is available to them.

Everyone would like physical healing; not everyone wants spiritual healing because there is a fear of what that might mean.

If I let Him forgive me I have to change the way I am living – and not everyone can face that.

Not many people would like to stay on a stretcher if they could be well instead. The same applies to the soul. Why stay sick (or dead) if we can know the true vitality of holiness?

May the Lord raise us to life – in soul and body.