Thursday, 31 January 2013

Septuagesima Sunday 27 Jan 2013 Sermon

Septuagesima 27.1.13 Work for the Lord

What does it mean to work for the Lord? People in the vineyard are helping to make wine. What is the wine we make for God?

Work takes many forms; unpaid or paid, some of it more noticeable, some less. To make a table, for example, is work that is easy to see; but to be a good host, putting someone at his ease, for example, is less obvious, yet still a form of work.

The work we do for God is more of the second type, largely invisible, unmeasurable. So much so that we often wonder if we are doing any good at all.

In another Gospel passage (Jn 15) Our Lord says: I am the vine you are the branches. If you bear fruit I will take it and I will prune you to get even more. In other words He will work us as hard as possible. Is this a bit mean of Him?

When we consider what the work is and also consider that a lot of people are not working at all - we realise the urgency. Overtime is required here. We do not begrudge being pushed hard into this kind of work because the good it can do is enormous.

When there is a crisis on (eg fire or flood) people rise to the occasion and happily work around the clock. Well, we have a crisis all the time in the spiritual world. Always souls are in danger, and (unlike in a natural disaster) usually they do not know it.

The ‘work’ we do in this case takes in things like prayer for conversion, suffering for souls, generally taking up our crosses - humble, obscure work that often no one else knows about; and we ourselves may not grasp its full significance. But if it is offered to God for His purposes it can be immediately effective in terms of doing good.

The good that we do may not be immediately visible but we can see the fruits in more general terms: the fact that sinners convert, that lives are saved, that miracles happen; that we achieve unexpected victories in legal battles over pro-life matters, etc.

A thousand inputs, a thousand outputs. If I say a rosary it will probably do good to someone, somehow: maybe help a sinner to repent, an atheist to believe, a sin to be avoided, an accident prevented.

We trust that we are doing good and this gives us more energy for the cause. We cannot restrict to just certain hours and days; this is a lifetime.

Our Lord is asking us to be on the alert, ready for anything. The harvest is rich but the labourers are few.

The harvest is rich because it contains all souls: souls to be saved, sinners to be converted, addictions to be overcome; the kingdom to be established.

The labourers are few because relatively so few people understand this spiritual view of things. Many would have no idea that their lives here on earth are meant to be ‘working’ for God.

All are called, firstly to be harvested, then to be labourers. Once saved, we immediately go to work to help save others.

The harder we work the more Our Lord will take from us. In fact we will probably have to suffer more. But then the more we understand the whole idea the more willingly we enter into it.

Recently we had the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. He is a good example of a very zealous labourer, who took no account of his own suffering. He was fixed totally on the goal of harvesting souls, of building up the kingdom of God.

He saw fully what we see partially - the joy of working for God, as well as its urgency.

Whatever age we are now, however much time we have left, this is where we need to be. Whatever other work we have, this is the most important.

So to work, until the job is done!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 20 Jan 2013 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 20.1.13 Miracles

There is nothing like a miracle to revive our faith and put some spark back into us. We should not need miracles to bolster our faith, but they do have that effect all the same.

Our faith should be such that we believe and trust in God anyway; but after a miracle we really believe. Take the raising of Lazarus. Imagine standing there and see a man who has been dead four days come out of the tomb.

We could say that each miracle helps to build up the stock of our belief. Just to know that so many have been worked will help sustain us in hard times.

And in those times when a miracle is not forthcoming the reality of miracles will help us to keep a steady trust in God.

If we pray for a miracle and don't get one we still should believe in God. We tend to have very short memories for His blessings; such that unless things go well for us we are inclined to think He has abandoned us, or somehow His power has dried up.

This cannot be the case. God is unchangeable; He cannot have less power than before, nor be somehow less faithful to His promises. It is, however, highly possible that we have less love for Him than before. And that will suggest some of the solution.

So we should keep asking for miracles. We can't always specify just which one we are going to get, but we believe that dealing with Almighty God we are dealing with infinite goodness and wisdom.

He will find a way of blessing us whether by natural or supernatural means.

We must not allow our faith to cool or to lessen in any way. The only way to prevent that is to pray unceasingly, like the early Church when Peter was imprisoned. They worked up a miracle on that occasion (cf Acts 12,5ff).

We can make miracles happen by the intensity and consistency of our prayer.

Who made the Cana miracle happen? Our Lady. Notice that she did not have to use a lot of words. She was so close to God that she did not have to travel far to be heard. And we can be closer than we have been.

So which miracle do we ask for? A lot of it is already done for us – in the Church’s prayer, especially the Holy Mass. During the Mass we make many requests of God. Such as, that He guide and bless the Church, that He give us increase in faith and numbers; that He protect the Pope; that He give light to sinners...

Then there are prayers such as the Rosary, chaplets, novenas. All these prayers involve asking for the intervention of God, ordinary or extraordinary.

All of us would have a million things to pray for. Just think of your own problems, those of your family, extended family, wider acquaintance, parish etc.

We can help each other here. You pray for my miracle and I will pray for yours. And we all lift each other up. It’s like taking up a collection. Suppose we need to raise a thousand dollars. No one has that much. So everyone puts in five, ten, one, fifty cents and eventually we reach the target.

We need a stronger sense of vitality in the Church so that we can all help each other to believe a little more; to be a little stronger; a little less inclined to panic. Notice it is ‘a little’ of everything. Not out of reach, just a matter of re-adjustment.

When Jesus turned the water into wine He signalled that God’s intervention in the world will increase from this point on.

Always He will bless us; even if leading us the long way round.

May He hear our prayer as He strengthens our capacity to pray.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Holy Family 13 Jan 2013 Sermon

Feast of the Holy Family 13.1.13 Our social nature

Suppose a king wanted to make something of one of his lowly subjects and he took him aside and said: I will give you great riches and a big castle to live in. If you are generous with others I will give you even more but if you are not generous with others I will take away what I have given you.

This is broadly how God deals with us. He has given us so much, physical and material blessings galore. He has made something of us. Without Him we were poor; now we are rich.

But His greatest blessing to us is not in the things themselves but in the fact that we can become like Himself, to be givers rather than receivers.

In such a way that the more we receive from Him the more we want to give it away to others, cf many saints, some of whom were actual royalty (eg Elizabeth of Hungary).

He has made us not just individual units to relate only to Himself but also given us a social dimension whereby we must relate to each other.

We must give love as well as receive it. (And if we don't... we might lose the lot)

This is the fulness of our development.

It is for this reason He has established the family as a basic social unit to give each person the experience of being loved, and learning to love.

At first, as babies we can only receive love; we cannot give it. Gradually as we get older we can learn to see the needs of others and try to help them. Eventually most people start their own families and the process goes on.

Every part of family life reflects something of God’s presence. He has entered our world and is right there with us at every point – even and especially when things don't work as they should.

He is with us in our suffering – the suffering of grief whereby families are divided by death, but consoled by the knowledge that the dead are in His care. Also the grief and anxiety for family members who have lost their way and need conversion and reconciliation.

He is with us in setting right quarrels, dissensions, disobedience (see Epistle).

And He is with us as we try to defend the traditional family against the furious assault of modern humanism.

Families are places of formation, so it is not surprising that very few families have reached perfection.

We are put in families to have the rough edges knocked off; to learn to forgive others; to learn to share what we have; to learn that we cannot always have everything when we want it etc.

For all the imperfections of families we are far better off with them than without them.

The fact that God Himself would enter family life and stay there for thirty years indicates how important He regards it for our spiritual formation.

So we rejoice that God has called us to this extra level - to discover that ‘I’ am part of a larger world, of which I am not the centre, yet I am important all the same – this is an important discovery.

We reflect back to the Source of all blessings. It is God, who has blessed us most of all by teaching us how to give, not just receive.

The perfection of the Holy Family is not meant to frighten us away, rather to invite us to come and share what they can give us.

May our families, and all families, experience healing and hope on this Feast.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Epiphany 6 Jan 2013 Sermon

Feast of the Epiphany 6.1.13

This feast continues the celebration of the Birth of Christ, with a little more emphasis on how His birth is received by others.

The wise men symbolise the gentile nations, thus the rest of the world besides the Jews. Christ has come for the whole world, not just for one race.

There can be only one Saviour once we understand the nature of the salvation that is proposed.

The Jews saw the Messiah in military/political terms. He would save their nation from the dominance of other nations. That would be a kind of salvation and it would make sense to see such a saviour as being only for them, not for other nations.

But if salvation is concerned with the spirit of man, then nationality becomes irrelevant.

The Chinese man and the Portuguese woman and the English child all have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, the one and only Saviour (and hence Judge) for the whole human race.

Our common humanity is a much stronger link between us than our ‘nationality’. It is often noted how our world is ‘shrinking’ as far as news items are concerned. The massacre of children in the USA; the rape and murder of a woman in India – these things happen so far from us and yet they seem relevant because they involve human beings; and indeed that is enough reason.

Christianity is often described as a ‘western’ or ‘European’ religion. The implication is that outside of certain places Christ is not relevant.

It will further be said that Christians should not take their religion to other places that already have their own gods and their own ways of doing things.

This is absurd if Christ is the only Saviour and only Judge for the whole world. He transcends national borders because He is aiming at the human heart and everyone has one of those.

The wise men are representing all these human hearts, all these people in all these places and times.

Not everyone is so wise as to seek the Christ Child. Many, indeed, avoid Him or try to kill Him.

Herod represents all those who reject the offer of salvation; who prefer to keep their own vested interests; who are happy with the gods they presently have (in Herod’s case, power and prestige).

It might have been easier if Our Lord had made Himself known more obviously but we see on reflection that His relatively secret coming was designed to separate the humble from the proud.

The humble would seek Him no matter how far they had to travel, while the proud and the self-sufficient would stay where they were, if not actually try to kill Him.

Only those who are prepared to kneel before the Christ Child can be admitted to His kingdom.

We kneel before the Crib; we kneel at Mass; especially when we receive Him in Holy Communion.

Humility is vital to the process. The more we recognise our nothingness without Him the more eagerly we will receive Him.

Jew or Gentile, man or woman, slave or free – each has the chance to accept salvation or to reject it.

It is our common humanity that joins us here. Humanity needs to be joined with Divinity and that is precisely what happened when God became Man.

Without losing any of His divinity He enriched humanity. We receive a share in His divinity if we are humble enough to see our need.

We do not assert our importance as against any other person. We are just glad to be included in the merciful plan of God.