Thursday, 28 February 2013

2nd Sunday of Lent 24 Feb 2013 Sermon

2nd Sunday of Lent 24.2.13 The Presence of God

The apostles had a brief glimpse of the true glory of Our Lord and it had a deep effect on them.

Peter was so affected that he proposed staying there indefinitely. I think any of us would have had the same wish. If we could experience heaven for a few moments we would certainly not want to come back to earth.

The experience of glory was brief and the apostles had to return to their normal schedule, and worse still, the opposite sight of Our Lord being tortured and crucified.

In our own spiritual lives we have probably all had certain ‘ecstatic’ moments when we have felt very strongly the presence of God, the assurance that all is well and will be well.

But these moments pass quickly and we are left for the rest of the time with either a bland experience of just feeling ‘normal’ or frequently of feeling worse than normal due to suffering of some kind.

We would like to feel good all the time but we can't have it, not yet anyway. In Heaven yes, but not here. Here we have to slog it out, grinding away each day, trying to make ends meet, emotionally, calling on our faith to sustain us through the hard times and the drab times.

We learn not to rely on our feelings, which are very difficult to steer where we want them, and instead build up our faith.

If our faith is strong enough we can cope with anything, rain or shine, and proceed with a kind of steady even pace through all situations.

This is the state God Himself wants us to reach, and it would explain why He does not give us more obvious signs of His presence.

After all He could give us a Transfiguration experience every day but He does not seem to want to do that.

He wants us to work our way towards Him through the darkness. We will appreciate Him more if we have to do a bit of work to find Him!

So it is that moments of ecstatic glory are very rare for us on this earthly pilgrimage, but we can compensate for this by growing in faith.

This will mean that we do not need to see the glory of God around us because we will see it with the eyes of faith. Or, to put it another way, we will simply know that He is there and that knowledge will be enough to sustain us.

He is always present; His love endures. He never leaves us however much we may think He has.

To think that He has left us is the constant temptation that we face. We tend to be discouraged so easily; we have to be tougher as disciples.

This is what Our Lord was doing for the original Twelve disciples and He is doing for us.

He is promising us that if we put our trust in Him, even without seeing – He will reward us with a gift of strong faith, so strong that we will be able to hold firm under any pressure.

We may have weak faith to start with but if we only approach He will build us up. So we could adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament, for example, and we might feel no great joy in doing that, but He will bless us all the same, and we will be stronger for the experience.

What we lack in feeling we make up for with knowing, and that knowledge will be so secure that we will feel, if not joyful, at least confident that things will turn out as they should.

Perhaps God will do more things to make Himself known in this very irreligious time. We would welcome any sign He gives, but we do not rely on the signs. We believe anyway and we act on that belief, growing stronger all the time.

Till we are strong enough to see Him in all the glory of Heaven.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

1st Sunday of Lent 17 Feb 2013 Sermon

1st Sunday of Lent 17.2.13 Innocence

We can meet fire with fire but it is sometimes better to meet it with water – to put the fire out.

When confronted with the evil of the world we might respond in kind but it is far better to respond with good and so defeat it, as Our Lord resoundingly defeated the devil in the temptation scenes.

It is possible to look on this world as a jungle in which we must eat before we are eaten. Under this approach success would appear to belong to those who are the most ruthless, and most determined to finish at the top.

Many a Christian will be tempted to abandon the ways of Christ, the apparent humility and gentleness of the Saviour – for the sake of making their way in the world. Being meek and gentle, for instance, how far can one get in business or politics like that?

The temptations the devil put to Our Lord in the desert amount to this kind of thinking. If you are going to get anywhere in this world - the devil is saying – you have to cut a few corners; tell a few lies; break a few promises. Do things my way and you will be Somebody.

Our Lord replies with the simplicity and directness of divine truth: Man lives by the word of God; we cannot tempt Him; we must worship and serve only Him.

He refuses to descend into the sordid world of the devil, the world that so many people occupy.

He offers us instead a purer world with clean air and the beginnings of heaven, if we are prepared to trust Him.

The importance of being innocent! Innocence is one of our greatest weapons. It might seem like weakness at first sight but is actually a great strength. It is strength because it puts us in close union with God, the Source of all strength.

Our Lord, through His complete innocence, was able to recognize and dismiss evil. Our Lady also was able to crush the head of the serpent through her being sinless.

We are not so fortunate and not so innocent.

But the next best thing is to be forgiven of our sin and cleansed of it. So we seek that remedy.

We seek to get the poison out of our system, the poison of sin. Sin has crippled us. Now we want to stand tall and walk free.

We want to re-discover lost innocence, to turn around wrong ways of thinking. It is very hard when false ways are ingrained but it can be done with exposure to the light, to the truth.

Innocence means doing things God’s way. Thus we find ourselves to be more alive; more in tune with the source of all power; free of the weakness of sin.

We are better off without sin as we are better off without sickness. Would you rather have a headache or not, a stomach ache or not, arthritis or not...? Of course we prefer health to sickness. So it must be in the spiritual world. We prefer innocence.

This is how Jesus overcame the devil. I don't need your deviousness, your falsehood. I can do better with the truth, from above.

So we drink in the goodness, the simplicity of divine truth and it clears the way for us.

We may be persecuted by evildoers. We may not get to the highest places or be in the world’s richest elite. But we will be rich in the grace of God, and be storing up heavenly treasures.

Lent is the way to Easter; the Cross leads to the Resurrection. This is the path we are on. If we cannot avoid the Cross we will certainly encounter the Resurrection.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Quinquagesima Sunday 10 Feb 2013 Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday 10.2.13 Charity

The word ‘love’ has many shades and meanings, so some prefer to use the word Charity to distinguish between the higher forms of love involving divine gifts - and the everyday form of ‘love’ which can mean you love your dog, or even that you love ice cream.

‘Charity’ has its problems as a word also, because it has been narrowed down in ordinary language to mean helping the poor; and while that is a good thing to do, the theological word Charity has much richer meaning than that.

Charity means the love of God operating in us, helping us to love Him first of all, and then others in the light of our love for God.

The ultimate expression of love is not a romantic matter at all. It is a willingness to die for the other person. This is worth more than all the sweet words and flowers in the world.

Taking this to the divine level we see the highest image of love in our faith as the action of martyrs – being roasted alive, eaten by lions, torn limb from limb etc. And the greatest martyrdom – Our Lord Himself on the Cross.

If you asked people to pick an image of love how many people would pick the Cross, but that is the strongest expression of love possible.

Today’s epistle defines perfect charity (1 Cor 13). We can say we love someone only if we are prepared to suffer for that person’s wellbeing.

We are still learning to understand love at this highest level. We tend to stop too soon, as with other spiritual realities. We are being taught both the way real love operates and its possible scope. It is more demanding than we thought and it is also more far-reaching.

We cannot stop until we love God; to regard Him as the first and last; to submit all and every aspect of our lives to Him. It all belongs to Him anyway.

Initially this sounds abstract and out of reach. Who can tell a couple in love they should love God more than each other? Yet it is the truth.

The human love is a stepping stone to higher things, just a glimpse of what real love is. We aint seen nothing yet as far as love goes – in terms of what we will experience in heaven.

This is why people become cynical about love because they base their beliefs on what they see people do to each other instead of what God has done for us. They say there is no God but they have stopped looking for Him..

No wonder people had trouble understanding Our Lord. When He predicted He would be crucified the apostles could not make any sense of that. If you know you are going to be crucified then you should do something to avoid it. That is what human wisdom would say. But divine love is different.

He loves us enough that He would rather die to set us free from sin than keep His life and see us die instead.

This is real Charity. It never loses any intensity with the passing of time or the number of people loved.

Would we be willing to die for a bunch of strangers? Probably not yet. But this is where we must head.

God loves us first - a love which changes us and increases our capacity to love Him in return. And then we can take in the Neighbour and we do get stronger. Even our capacity for sacrifice increases.

May the Lord help us understand, receive, and return the gift of Charity.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Sexagesima Sunday 3 Feb 2013 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 3.2.13 Engagement

A young lady during the week was travelling on a plane which had to descend rapidly to restore the right air pressure. It was a scary experience but they were not really in danger. She said, You see this kind of thing in the movies; you don't expect it to happen to yourself.

We might be moved by what happens in a film but we still feel detached from it. We know we can walk away when the film is over.

We can be ‘detached’ from real life too but we really cannot afford to be.

The parable of the Sower describes different levels of real-life response.

The parable sets out four groups of responses. The second and third categories are the most common, for those who identify as disciples. Either through fear of suffering, or through being lured away by worldly pleasures, or both, we can be detached from the full engagement with Our Lord to which He calls us.

We try to have it both ways; to be disciples of Christ but also to seek our own happiness here in this life. This is to be half in and half out, to have one foot in each camp.

(It is possible to be happy in both spheres but we cannot do that by only half committing to Him. Only by full commitment.)

So how do we get from the pitfalls to the final category: those who are fully in union with Our Lord and bearing a rich harvest?

We have to let ourselves be engaged with Him.

It is like that experience where finally it is happening to me, not just someone else, somewhere else, but ME.

We are in the middle of the story. When we witness Our Lord being crucified we are not just watching from the side but we also are crucified with Him, or at least willing to be.

This is why the apostles ran away; but that is not an option anymore..

This is an interactive experience. It may be more than we wanted but we will eventually be glad to have gone through it all.

Coming to Mass, for example, can be a fairly remote experience, a little like watching a film. One could just ‘watch’ a Mass; let it pass in front of us, without becoming much involved.

Or one can be fully immersed in the drama that is happening; see the Mass as a direct personal encounter with Our Lord. This is a very different matter.

He knows all our secrets, all our hopes and fears. He wants us to understand this and engage with Him, encountering Him in all His aspects, crucified and risen.

He can do this with each of us at the same time. We do not know each other’s detailed dramas but we can pray that each one of us arrive where we need to be.

Each person is a different story but what He wants is our attention, our engagement, our heart and mind riveted on Him, seeking what we should do. Speak, Lord, your servant is listening, Please tell me what to do. Give me courage when I am afraid; give me wisdom to seek the full treasure not just part.

He will do this if we let Him; if we seek Him out. But not if we are just watching from the side.

We have to get to that fourth group. Only by grace; we could never do it ourselves.

In practice it means ironing out all our bad habits and faults; attending to every detail of our daily lives. We may not have major sins to repent of but we could all use improvement. Gradually we extricate ourselves from the snares around us, the wrong thinking, the false goals – and only the Lord remains. Having got so far we make sure we stay there, again with His help.