Monday, 31 December 2012

Sunday in Octave of Christmas 30 Dec 2012 Sermon

Sunday in Octave of Christmas 30.12.12 Waiting

The Jews waited a long time for the Messiah. Even when He came He took another thirty years before beginning His public life. Even then He was in no apparent hurry to make Himself known.

Now we have been waiting 2000 years for Him to come again.

He does come to us in the sacraments but there His presence is veiled, partially hidden.

So between hiding Himself and making us wait what is He trying to tell us in all this?

The underlying point is that the workings of God require a human response to be complete.

If He hides Himself from us; if it seems to us that He takes too long to move to the next stage - He is forcing us to seek Him. The seeking heart values more fully that which it seeks.

That is one part of the answer. Another part would be that we have clouded the issue by our sinfulness, our wilfulness, our refusal to accept with childlike trust those things He has offered us.

We have impeded His revelation. The Jews spent 40 extra years in the desert for their disobedience; and later generations have not been any wiser.

God has been rejected in every form in which He has come or shown Himself. Rejected from the Crib to the Cross, and beyond.

When He does not find faith He is less likely to work miracles. And he wrought not many miracles there, because of their unbelief. (Mt 13,58)

So He is hidden, partly to make us look for Him; partly because we have obscured His presence. We have made it harder than it needed to be.

If we seek Him we shall find. Having found Him we must stay with Him, building up our faith.

We are not sure of the timing of His interventions (such as the Second Coming) but it is always better if we are humble, expectant, waiting... like Simeon and Anna.

They were patient; and they persevered for years. Just waiting for the Messiah. If more people were like them we would have a very different world.

We are active in the waiting process. There are things we do not know; things we cannot know; things we do not need to know – but if we stay at our post God can use us.

It is as if He would say, Is there anyone around here who believes in Me? When He finds one of exceptional faith He can use that person as a launching point for further revelation. Thus Simeon and Anna, or more generally Mary and Joseph.

Can we be such people? Yes, and we should be.

Think of Simeon and Anna standing around in the temple for decades. Just praying for the Messiah to come. We could imagine someone saying, in today’s equivalent: Go and get a life! Go and do something more useful etc...

For our part we are not sure sometimes if our prayer is doing anything or not. Some things are very slow to happen, such as when we pray for a change of heart, or change of mentality in a society.

We just hammer away, making ourselves receptive to the grace of God.

In any event it is always best to be faithful. What if Simeon and Anna had died without seeing the Christ? They would still have gone to heaven, and seen Him from there. There are many generations who have died without seeing the next major intervention from God. But we all make part of the chain of faith that covers the whole of salvation history.

And the trust we show in Him is more important than whether we see the outcome.

So we stand at our post, and wait.

Christmas Day 2012 Sermon

Christmas Day 2012

Christmas is a feast that inspires a lot of hope. Once God has taken on human form it must make a difference to the human race, we would think.

Yet we see that humanity has not improved much from one generation to the next; even after Christ has come. Yes, there has been a lot of good fruit but the world has not been transformed as much as we would have hoped.

The first Christians would have expected a lot better result than this. When are those swords going to be converted into ploughshares? When are the lion and lamb to lie down together?

The world gets worse, if anything.

Can we still celebrate? Certainly, yes. For two reasons.

One, the mere fact that Jesus has come is something to celebrate. To have Him on our team must be a good thing. Just the fact that He is here. We may not see how it is going to work but we have to be on the winning side if He is on it.

Two, we are not just talking theoretically when we ask, Can the world get better. We are able to cause it to get better, or at least influence things in that direction. We don’t just think about these things - we actually get in there and do them. We change the course of events by the way we act.

At the individual level it may not look like we can achieve much, but what we do can make a difference. Remember the widow’s mite, or the boy with just five loaves and two fish.

We hope for a flow-on effect so that whatever we do as individuals will then be picked up by others and generally things change for the better.

People would get on board if they could see His miracles again.

It is hard to get people motivated at present because they don't believe that things can get better. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If everyone sits around saying it can't improve they will not pray and, of course, things will not change.

But if we pitch in and say, Let’s change this - it will change. It takes a little daring, a little foolishness for Christ’s sake to do this.

We go against the tide if necessary. We call on the power of Christ to change the way we think, act, and speak. We believe we can change ourselves, especially if we seek it. If we can get that far, why not the rest of the world? That can change too.

So it comes to this: Believe in the change and you will get it. Wish it and you will get it. This is not like the fairytales- where you make a wish and it comes true - but very real. Faith, where our desires meet the will of God, can indeed make things come true.

So we start praying with greater fervour, and we keep praying, even if there are no visible results. We claim the power of Christ and let it go to work for us.

We overcome any tendency to cynicism, doubt, or inertia.

We kneel before Christ in humility, in faith, in expectation; not just once but constantly, always keeping alive the expectation.

We have never seen the fulness of salvation yet, but the only reason for this is that not enough people have asked for it.

It is not that it can not be done; it just has not been done.

In economic jargon they talk of consumer confidence. If everybody spends then we have more production, more jobs, more wealth. If the consumers do not spend we have depression.

We can have spiritual depression too. If not enough people ‘believe’, then there is not enough prayer, not enough change. So we have to ‘spend’ up big. Spend some time praying!

Jesus Christ has come among us; helping us to finish what He has started.

4th Sunday of Advent 23 Dec 2012 Sermon

4th Sunday of Advent 23.12.12 Salvation

St John the Baptist tells us to prepare the way for the Saviour; to make the road straight and clear.

There is a refreshing simplicity about this. God wants to save us; we want to be saved. So why not just get on with it and make everything as direct as possible?

Yet we find in practice that it is not so simple; that far from clearing the way to salvation we are tempted to put extra barriers in the way – false gods, sinful behaviour, neglect of prayer and sacraments, generally living too much for this life and forgetting the next.

If we agree with God and go with what He wants we have salvation with all its attendant blessings – healing, peace, joy, unity...

If we put barriers between ourselves and God; if we think up reasons for why we should not have to do what He wants then we deny ourselves all the above blessings and we get a lot of misery and trouble instead.

How simple it sounds just to agree with God and go with Him, yet how hard we make it.

We need His grace to help us overcome our pride and self-will, to enable us to give the simple assent to whatever He puts before us.

We struggle with our own sinfulness and we try to break free. That is one level of the problem.

But we find there is another level as well. Even if we did obey God on every point and lived perfect lives we still would not immediately see a better world.

This is because there are millions of people defying the will of God every day; and the cumulative effect of this is that the world does not run as it should (not even close).

And we are caught up in that world. So we suffer from the fallout of other people’s sins even if we did not commit any sins ourselves.

We are then tempted to throw it all in and join the others. Why should I be keeping the rules and living on the straight and narrow when others are out doing what they like?

This is when we are really tested as to how much we love God. It still remains true that blessings will come to us if we obey Him, but we have to go on stand-by; we have to wait a while to see those promised blessings.

Until we can remove the blockage. Until that happens we will have to suffer some of the fallout.

Many Christians wonder why they have to suffer so much when they are living good lives (or at least as good as most people get).

It is not that God has abandoned us; nor that He is punishing us. He is asking us to do as He did when on earth – to carry the Cross; to be willing to endure the fallout of other people’s sins while still trusting in God to bring His plans to completion.

Or to put it another way: He asks us to be willing to obey Him at all times no matter what the consequences may be. Trust, obey, do not hold back; do not doubt or fear; just go with the momentum and let God’s will be done.

If enough people did that we would see major change in the world. In any case each of us must do it, even if no one else does.

This much is for our own salvation and sanity. We just hope the rest of the world comes along too. But to let it be done according to His word is always the best policy anyway.

That is our prayer, as it needs to be our attitude.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Mass times

Christmas Day, Tue 25th, Mass at St Monica's: Latin Mass 8am (no 6.45am)
No Mass at Hindmarsh Christmas Day.

New Year's Day, Tue 1st, Latin Mass: St Monica's 8am (no 6.45am)
No Mass at Hindmarsh New Year's Day.

Sunday Masses and other weekdays as normal through Christmas, New Year period.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent 16 Dec 2012 Sermon

3rd Sunday of Advent 16.12.12 Valley of tears

St Paul tells us in the epistle to ‘rejoice always’. Yet he also tells us in other places that this earthly life is an ‘exile’ from our true home, implying that we cannot expect to be completely happy in this life.

And we have one of our most common prayers, the Hail Holy Queen, referring to this earth as a ‘valley of tears’.

Certainly we have much reason for tears, either in our own lives or in the world at large.

So which is it to be, rejoicing or tears, or both? How can we rejoice always when so much is not as it should be?

If we are talk of valleys of tears we could say there are two kinds of tears. There are tears without hope, and tears with hope.

The tears without hope are for those who see no way out of their present troubles. There is no God, no salvation, no heaven as far as these people can see. They suffer without relief. All they can do is seek some sort of happiness wherever they can find it, but they do not expect much.

The tears with hope are the tears we shed as people of faith, understanding that any sufferings we endure are only temporary; only stages along the way to a glorious eternity, where ‘every tear will be wiped away’. There are no tears in heaven.

But there is much reason for tears along the way. We are allowed to acknowledge that things are wrong. Being joyful does not mean we have to pretend that nothing bothers us.

We can and should be upset at certain things, eg abortion, blasphemy, injustice - but we do not allow any evil to rob us of our faith, or hope of better things to come.

Our Lord Himself shed tears over Jerusalem when He contemplated the destruction it would bring on itself. It was so unnecessary; they could have avoided that fate.

But as He shed those tears He knew that He would make things better by His actions. He could see the glorious tomorrow as well as the sad today.

Tears of sorrow are not necessarily tears of despair.

Our Lady shed tears at Calvary, but not because she was despairing. She knew her Son would rise again, but she still felt His pain, and the rejection He would experience.

We acknowledge what is wrong; we feel the pain that must come with that. But we also pray in certain hope that what is now wrong will be set right. The blind shall see, the deaf shall hear; even the dead shall rise; and most of all, the evil can be converted to good.

We have to rejoice at so much promise, so much possibility of salvation.

The more we embrace the joyful hope the more capacity we have to take a share in the suffering.

No one minds a little bit of pain if we can be sure that we will feel better soon afterwards.

In this earthly exile the pain is more than a ‘little’ and the better times are not necessarily ‘soon’, but the principle is the same.

We are thrown into the midst of a disordered world so that we can help to bring order. We are ambassadors for Christ, bringing His healing into effect, particularly on this very point of offering hope.

There are many who have the suffering but cannot see the joy. They are in a ‘valley’ with no sky. For them we must proclaim and demonstrate that there is Hope.

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy, the Psalm says (Ps 126). And so it shall be for us.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

2nd Sunday of Advent 9 Dec 2012 Sermon

2nd Sunday of Advent 9.12.12 Breaking free

St John the Baptist launched his enquiry of Our Lord while still in chains. That is symbolic because ‘chains’ are often used as an image for our sins and the effect they have on us. Unless the Lord break the chains we remain in captivity. John’s enquiry effectively becomes: are you the one who can break these chains?

John was not much of a sinner himself; his chains were only physical. God sometimes broke physical chains as well (cf the release of Peter from captivity in Acts) but His main concern is spiritual.

We can be free physically but heavily ensnared by sin and its trappings.

In Our Lord’s time, the Jews expected a messiah but they thought he would be another King David who would set Israel free from foreign forces.

Our Lord, however, was more interested in another sort of liberation – from sin. It was because of this different emphasis that He was so much misunderstood, and has been ever since.

A spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution. So we hear of repentance, and living differently.

There are two stages in breaking free.

The first is removal of the guilt of sin. If we are guilty of sin our greatest need is forgiveness. Unless the Lord forgive us we cannot enter His presence. We would never be able to reach Heaven.

So we ask for His mercy and it will be freely given.

The second stage is to be set free from attachment to sin. Even if we are forgiven we might still want to commit the sin again. We have a certain hankering for sin, called ‘concupiscence’. We are attracted to sin even though we know it is wrong; even if our minds reject the sin we still want to do it.

We can be addicted to certain types of sins, like lust or anger. We confess them but still do them again. This is slavery.

It needs prayer, grace, the power of the sacraments to break the chains, to set the soul free.

When we confess we also ask Our Lord to take away these sins, in both senses - the guilt and the desire to re-offend.

And as we come into freedom that we be filled with desire for the good which is the opposite of the sin. (cf Mary, conceived without sin – she not only avoided sin; she had no desire for it)

The world has a different idea about sin. It says, the best way to deal with guilt is to deny it. Accept yourself the way you are, faults and all, and just get on with life. It is human nature to do these things; so just accept it.

If we hold such a false notion then we need to be set free from that too. What Christ commands He also enables. He came to save us, not by half, but all of us, even to the very centre of our desires.

This is real freedom; the whole package that God is offering us. He is setting us free in every way. If we were literally slaves and suddenly let go we would not walk about with some part of the original chains still hanging on to us. We would cut them off completely.

So with sin. If we are to be free of sin, to live as children of God, there can be no compromise. We are a new creation. This is what Our Lord was demonstrating.

He healed the sick and even raised the dead; but His main interest was in people’s souls. He wanted people to experience not just freedom from physical pain, but to come to full humanity as lived by Himself.

So no more sin, nor hankering for it; we are free and we will stay free.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

1st Sunday of Advent 2 Dec 2012 Sermon

1st Sunday of Advent 2.12.12 Judgment

We have these dramatic gospels in Advent, which remind us that strange and terrifying cosmic events are prophesied.

Yet people can still be complacent. They laughed at Noah, it is said, for building a boat on dry land.

It is so easy to procrastinate. I will do it tomorrow, or next year. Especially easy to put off repentance. I will get my life in order... someday.

We can hear a gospel that talks about cosmic upheaval but then look out the window and see peace and calm. We react (too much) to what we can see and not enough to what we know. Spiritual life requires the ability to see with eyes of faith.

It is hard to get people to repent unless the actual events start happening, and then it may be too late.

All this is not helped by the fact that there have been so many false predictions about the end times. Yet despite all that falseness the true prophecies remain in place and awaiting fulfilment.

There is a further problem that in these times people think they do not need to repent. In their minds either they have not sinned; or they think that God has already forgiven them.

There is huge complacency on these matters, even among Catholics. So few Catholics go to Confession; nor even talk of these things. Our whole vocabulary has been reworked; the unpleasant words have been excised. (Words like sin, hell, devil, repentance, penance) People honestly think that Vatican II removed these things. No, they are still with us.

Ironically there is a parallel call to repentance but on much less important matters. If we don't change the way we live the temperature will rise by 2 degrees by 2020 etc! Same style but different message.

The Church says, If we don't change the way we live we might go to hell. But this message is laughed at. Why laugh at hell but take climate change seriously? Because too many people are locked into a this-world only view.

Maybe their laugh is a nervous one. They don't believe in these things because deep down they know it might be true and they hope it isn’t.

It is alarming today how casual people are about the faith and how negligent of basic things, like the need to confess sins.

They mistake generally being likeable for holiness.

We must get this right. If there is sin we have to confess it, stop it, atone for it; tell each other to stop; and find what we should be doing instead.

We encourage each other to holiness.

We get on the ark instead of laughing at it.

We don't want to go to the other extreme where we put so much fear into people that they despair.

We just need to be healthily aware of the reality of sin - its presence and dangers - but also that it can be forgiven and overcome.

So we face judgment but we need not fear it. Not because we presume it will be ok, but because we can make it certain that we are saved. We do all that we have to do to be ready.

Advent is a time for this focus. Advent has been buried by Christmas in recent years. This is explainable in that Christmas is for joy and Advent is for penance. Who needs penance anymore? We do. It is good to be joyful but it must be a well-founded joy and not one prematurely claimed.

To be totally free of sin – now that would be something to be joyful about!