Thursday, 25 April 2013

3rd Sunday after Easter 21 Apr 2013 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Easter 21.4.13 Making Christ known

Being a disciple of Christ carries with it certain responsibilities – one of which is that we are obliged to give good witness to our neighbours; to present to them the face of Christ; so that they will see in us something that would attract them also to become disciples.

This is what the apostles and disciples did after Pentecost. They showed forth the power of the Holy Spirit; they lived the Gospel; and so made many converts.

The epistle today tells us we must do the same thing.

We must be good, for its own sake, and for the glory of God; but also to win people over to join us.

We might protest that we are not as good as those first disciples and it is hard enough for us to be good even as individuals, let alone to be so good as to win over our neighbours.

Plus we have to push uphill in overcoming the scandals which are so much publicised.

Plus further the neighbours we are supposed to convince are generally a very hard-headed lot, very sceptical and hard to impress.

So we need lots of grace to cope with all this.

If we were better disciples; if there were a lot more of us – it would be easier to make the momentum that would win people over.

We started with an explosion of holiness at Pentecost but have never been able to recapture that. There have been many saints along the way, and many movements of renewal but it has never been enough to establish the true faith in all the world.

It sounds a hard thing to be better than we are. We know we ought to be better; we probably want to be better. But it is not so easy to become better.

However, fortunately, we can make progress in small steps. If it is hard to get to the top of a mountain it becomes easy if we have a chair-lift. Grace is that lift for us. Through grace we are made able to do things we would never be able to do otherwise.

We do not have to do everything all on one day. We can make great progress just by getting the next thing right; and then the one after that, and after that, and so on.

Any task becomes easier if broken down into small enough bits. And the quest for holiness follows the same principle.

We don't necessarily have to turn ourselves inside out; just get the basic things right. Avoid obvious sins; do the things we are meant to do and do them as well as possible. Offer everything to God, asking Him to bless and increase it. Modify anything in our lives that needs to change, like bad habits.

We want to set the world on fire, but we need only to strike the match from which the larger fire can come.

So if we cannot convert our neighbours by the holiness we presently radiate, we can win them over by another method: by this faithfulness to little things, attentiveness to duty. This will bring about an increase in the grace of God, which will then act on others. Without ever saying a word by way of a sermon or instruction we might still bring them to conversion. Cf.  Wives can convert their husbands without a word being spoken (1 Peter 3,1).

St Paul said to the Corinthians that he did not use philosophical arguments to win people over. He just showed them the power of the Gospel – by working miracles (1 Cor 2,4).

We would do that if we could, and maybe we will rise to that point. But in a quieter way we can already ‘show them’ by the sincerity of our lives.

We must be lights on the hilltop, whether alone, to give hope to others; or better still be part of a whole hillside of lights, when others have joined us.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

2nd Sunday after Easter 14 Apr 2013 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Easter 14.4.13 Good Shepherd

When we see a great crowd of people, it is tempting to see them as an anonymous mass, something like a flock of sheep on the hillside. But in fact, each person is an immortal soul, meant for heaven.

There are billions of people in this world and we cannot know more than a tiny proportion of that number. But God knows them all, and furthermore is greatly concerned for each one.

He knows each person inside out - our name, everything about us, every deed we ever did, every word we every spoke, every thought, fear, desire, hope we ever had within us.

The Shepherd knows His sheep; better than we know ourselves.

We might feel threatened by that. There are certain times we do not want to be known, do not want to come into the light. This is particularly when we have sinned, or when we are aware of some weakness in us.

We are afraid that if certain things were known about us our image would suffer; we would be less popular than at present.

Yet God’s knowledge of us is from an attitude of love not condemnation.

He is ready to forgive any sin on our part; ready to help us correct any fault or deficiency; willing to pour out more graces upon us.

His knowledge is benevolent and will do us good. If we come clean with Him He can help us and we will feel liberated.

So we are not trying to evade him (like Adam hiding in the bushes after consciousness of sin) but joyfully seeking out His will and the grace to put that will into effect.

If the Shepherd seeks the sheep, so should the sheep seek the Shepherd.

We ‘know His voice’ as Our Lord puts it. We are happy to be near Him.

We go to Him when we are asking Him for favours; when we see Him as provider; as powerful and good; when we need something.

The crowds would flock to Jesus when He was healing their sickness. But they were not so keen to be near Him when He would tell them how to live their lives, or what commandments they had to keep.

We must want to be near Him at all times, when we seek blessings and when we need our sins forgiven.

We must not let pride keep us distant from Him.

What He is asking for is complete surrender, complete abandonment to His will, and a higher level of trust.

Even when we do approach Him we can be lacking faith. We can resent prayers not answered; doubt He will hear us this time.

We fear that He will tax us with too much suffering, or otherwise differ in His plans from our own plans.

Yes, we have our own plans, and we can be very attached to them. And the Good Shepherd might overrule us and say, Come, follow Me! Then we are not so happy, but we will be happy if we do follow Him.

Sometimes we want to be our own God. If I am a sheep I am also my own shepherd. I follow myself; I set my own agenda, determine my own course. I will call on Him when I need Him but otherwise I will do it myself.

No, we need complete allegiance, abandonment to His mercy. Till we see ourselves as He sees us. Remember He knows us so much better than we know ourselves.

We live in a world where generally God is squeezed out of the discussion. It would seem that politics and economics is all that matters. When leaders of nations decide what to do next, do they ask: what does God want?

And many people will be like that with their own lives. Who needs God?

But this is the tower of Babel all over again. Trying to build our own civilisation. The tower will not stand.

Unless the Lord build the house in vain do the builders labour (Ps 126,1). Unless we let the Shepherd rule us we will never progress.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Low Sunday 7 Apr 2013 Sermon

Low Sunday/Mercy Sunday 7.4.13

If Our Lord died for our sins He also rose for them.

His death was an offering of Himself in atonement for the sins of the world. A great act of love for the human race which sets free from eternal death.

His rising is also a great act of love because He has taken human nature to a level it has never reached before. Humanity is glorified - at least in part divinised.

We have come a long way. This is a fact not widely grasped – that humanity has changed status since the coming of Christ. God has become human and this has raised the status of humanity, as it must.

We tend to think of the human condition in terms of its weakness and frailty. We have to be aware of that but it is necessary also to realize what a tremendous victory has been won for us.

Many New Testament passages speak of this and call us to grasp our new status. For example: And you must not fall in with the manners of this world; there must be an inward change, a remaking of your minds, so that you can satisfy yourselves what is God’s will, the good thing, the desirable thing, the perfect thing (Rom 12,2).. Or Risen, then, with Christ, you must lift your thoughts above, where Christ now sits at the right hand of God. You must be heavenly-minded, not earthly-minded; you have undergone death, and your life is hidden away now with Christ in God (Col 3,1-3).

If we do grasp this new status we will live in a victorious manner, not just avoiding sin but doing good, living in the Spirit - able to do better things, to love one another, to forgive those who offend us, to be wiser etc. We will be able to live in ways never before thought possible.

The only reason this has not happened is that too many have believed the lie of the devil that it is not possible to be holy, to overcome sin. The devil has tricked us into staying with the old ways – and he has had a lot of success! But no more.

Not by our own strength, but by drawing strength from the humanity of Christ. The waters part in front of us and we walk through. Difficulties come and we keep overcoming them!

So the challenge is to grasp how alive we can be, just how fully we share in the risen life of Christ, the new humanity.

We come to this life in stages. The first thing is to ask forgiveness for whatever way in which we have denied the life of God, resisted His gifts to us.

We ask mercy for ourselves and this is freely given. We make use of the Sacrament instituted in the Gospel when Our Lord breathed on the apostles – Confession/Penance/Reconciliation.

Then we learn to convey mercy to others

By our own forgiving attitudes, showing mercy to those who offend us.

And by praying that they receive mercy from God. We pray for their forgiveness, their conversion, for every good gift to come upon them.

We cannot repent on behalf of others but by our prayer, penances and devotions we apply the love/mercy of God to a particular person, and that mercy will act like a blowtorch, having at least some effect. (The ones prayed for will usually resist but Mercy seeks to break down their defences.)

Whom do we pray for? Everyone. Families, friends, workmates, neighbours, strangers. They are not strangers to God. Anyone and everyone who needs help.

He died for us; He rose for us. He wants the whole human race to realise who they are and what they have.

How tragic that so many still do not know; that so many even oppose the Gospel, and mock it, as they mocked Jesus Himself 2000 years ago.

Even the mockers can be forgiven; can be converted. But it takes a lot of prayer and a lot of belief on our part. So we draw from the infinite love and mercy of Christ and what we find hard to believe or to want becomes possible through Him.

With St Thomas, the doubting apostle, we reach a new level of understanding and having reached there we do not retreat to the old ignorance.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Easter Sunday 31 Mar 2013 Sermon

Easter Sunday 31.3.13 Life in Christ

One of the things we say at funerals, by way of relieving grief, is that we hope one day to be reunited with the deceased person and others we have known.

It will indeed be a great thing to see these people again, but it may be misleading to say ‘re-united’ because we are already united with them. We never stopped being united.

Physical death is a physical separation, but only that. It makes no difference to how much we love the person, or how much they love us. We still identify with them, love them, commit ourselves to their happiness and welfare.

And we are not committing to just a ‘memory’; the dead are still alive. At least if they died in a state of grace – which is another way of saying they died in union with Christ.

And to be in union with Christ is to share His life, therefore to be alive.

If Christ is alive and I am in union with Him - then I must be alive too.

And He is most certainly alive – the main point of our celebration of Easter.

He is Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Rom 14,9)

He is master of both sides of the grave and of every phase of human existence. He has been conceived, born, grown up, died, been buried and (the one thing not yet common) has risen from the dead.

He has paved the way for us to follow. And wherever we are on that spectrum of events, we are in union with all others on the spectrum – including the dead - provided we are in union with Christ, that we believe in Him, love Him, have His life within us.

The dead can be alive (in Christ) and the living can be dead (apart from Christ).

It would be better to be lying in the cemetery (united with Christ) than running around in this life, full of vitality but dead in the soul.

We are still alive physically, and we regard that usually as good fortune, but our main reason for happiness is that we have the life of Christ in our souls.

The soul is the one that really counts. Generally we put too much emphasis on the physical and too little on the spiritual. We need to correct this.

The body, though, is still important. Today it is the bodily resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate. His bodily resurrection is important as a completion of His victory, a demonstration of it.

They could not kill Him without his will; nor could they keep Him dead. Nor could they keep any part of His body in their possession.

The life of Christ is complete in every way, body and soul. He is fully alive and will live forever. And in that life we are privileged to share.

It all depends on how closely we are united with Him. We can improve on that union at any time, and we always need to improve it.

Every time we sin we go backwards; we choose death over life. Every time we repent and make new resolutions we choose for life and we feel the difference immediately.

So we seek Him out, as frequently and as fervently as possible.

The more united with Him the more united we become with each other, including those who have died in Him.

We should not grieve ‘as those who have no hope’ (1 Thess 4,13). We can grieve because we miss them, but only for that reason. The rest is hope and joy.

We rejoice in the union we still have in that both living and dead are united in Christ. And in both cases becoming more fully alive.

It is not just once a year we think about these things. Easter Sunday is a focal point, reminding us of our hope and calling us back to a more active seeking of eternal life. We renew this desire at every possible chance.

He is risen, alleluia!