Wednesday, 26 June 2013

5th Sunday after Pentecost 23 Jun 2013 Sermon

5th Sunday after Pentecost 23.6.13 Unity in Christ

Be reconciled with your brother first, the Gospel tells us. Be reconciled, before we offer the sacrifice.

We cannot come in here offering love to God if we have hatred in our hearts.

We cannot offer the perfect sacrifice of Christ unless we are of one mind and heart with Him. There must be unity between the one offering and what is offered.

Of course we cannot immediately match the perfect charity of Christ, but we can at least remove the more obvious cases of uncharity.

Thus the epistle tells us to be compassionate to each other, to restrain the tongue from evil, and all similar points.

We must work on these points in between Masses so that when we come to offer sacrifice the next time we will be more ready than this time. And so on into the future.

There should be complete unity among any congregation gathered for the Mass. Yet we know how difficult that can be.

Arguments, resentments, jealousy, disagreements, prejudices... all sorts of things can divide us.

The quickest and best solution is for each person to converge on Christ. He is the one who unites us, who can make Jew and Gentile one, or male and female, or white and black, or any other way of distinguishing one person from another.

If each of us is united with Christ we must therefore be united with each other. We are all meeting at the same place. We converge on Him, taking on His mind and heart, being formed by Him. All that is improper in our hearts and minds is swept away by Him. He gives us His own way of thinking, His own power to love.

We cannot do literally what the Gospel says: go and be reconciled with every other person. There are too many people to consider and too many points of difference to be able to cover all of them. When we can reconcile a quarrel, certainly, let’s do that. But the Gospel is asking us at least in our hearts to forgive everyone who has offended us, and to pray that others will do the same for us.

We all have something wrong with us; we all have sins and faults. If we work on our own faults while encouraging others to do the same we become more Christ-like. We start to look like a united people.

Even one person fixing one fault will help the whole Body of Christ to heal; will make the Church more united.

What we cannot achieve before the Mass will be helped by the Mass itself. We come, all unworthy, to the Altar. Our own personal offering will be limited to some extent by whatever faults we still carry. But if we open our hearts and minds to Christ while the Mass is happening we will be healed. We will be helped to love one another by being here - provided always that we let Our Lord work in us.

If we consider that during Mass we are actually standing at the foot of the Cross - that we have Calvary made present for us – then at such a time we can hardly begrudge mercy to each other.

To maintain an unforgiving attitude to another person in the congregation is to be standing at Calvary and saying: Lord, have mercy on me, but not on this other person here!

We cannot stop the flow of God’s mercy, nor should we want to stop it.

We come to see each other as standing together rather than standing opposed. We are all on the same side here, all wanting the same outcome.

It is only the snares and wiles of the evil one that make us turn on each other in anger. A little reflection and prayer will help us see things the right way up.

Ut unum sint, as the Lord Himself prayed.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

4th Sunday after Pentecost 16 Jun 2013 Sermon

4th Sunday after Pentecost 16.6.13 Beyond the limits

The miraculous catch of fish, and other miracles worked by Our Lord, take us to a higher level than just our own immediate concerns. We worry about the immediate future, like what is for lunch, but He will take us much further than that.

The food that He offers us is not just to take away hunger but to fulfil every desire, for eternity. When He heals one person it is a symbol of the complete healing He offers every person - when every part of our being will be made whole.

We tend to adopt a pessimistic tone to our lives. If someone asks us how we are we might reply with standard phrases: No use complaining; As well as can be expected; Just getting by... There are many such phrases. They indicate that we are not expecting much in the way of happiness. We don't dare to hope for more than a reasonable amount of happiness, as we strive just to make ends meet, to stay out of trouble.

Yet the promises of the faith are so rich and vast. We are promised happiness way beyond what we would ask for, or even be able to imagine.

We would settle for a heaven that was just a bit better than this earthly life. Yet we are asked to believe in a much better heaven than that - so good that there are not words to describe it (cf St Paul in 2 Cor 11, unable to describe his heavenly vision).

How to have the vision and how to keep it? Prayer, especially the Mass, will raise us to higher things.

When we pray we are coming into contact with the extraordinary figure, Jesus Christ, who could inspire such confidence in the apostles that they left all to follow Him, not knowing anything of the future, but feeling they could trust Him.

And so are we led to that same trust. We want to follow this Man even if we do not see how He can do what He promises. The visionary in us is awakened. And we are converted or re-enthused.

We know enthusiasm can wear off with time. In fact, though, the promises are just as real and just as grand as they ever were. We cannot let our tiredness diminish the hope. Eternity does not get any shorter just because I am downhearted!

In eternity there will be no suffering, not so much as a mosquito bite; not a single tear will be shed.

The epistles reminds us that the sufferings we go through are as nothing compared with the joys we await. We would say it the other way round: that eternity cannot be compared with the sufferings because the sufferings are NOW, while the promises seem very remote by comparison.

But a bit of arithmetic will tell us that eternity is much longer than 80-100 years. This may not put money in our bank accounts, or take away pains in the body, but it does help to know there is a larger picture.

So also with earthly joys - they too are as nothing compared with heavenly joys. Earthly happiness is so fickle and fragile. But in eternity there is no disappointment. So much for ‘just getting by’.

We do have to attend to the little things, the daily concerns, the mundane, the humdrum etc. But we see those things as pointers to a much larger reality. The little things do not imprison us; they release us!

St Therese tells us that we could save a soul by doing a little thing with full love of God, eg picking up a pin.

If we are faithful in the little things we will be entrusted with greater.

Leaving all else and following Him we will discover all that is promised to us.

Monday, 10 June 2013

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 9 Jun 2013 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 9.6.13 Lost sheep

In some things 99 out of 100 would be a good result, for instance in a test.

But not in others. If we had six children and one was missing we would not say, well, five out of six is not bad. I won’t worry about the one that is missing! No, we go after the lost one. And so we should go after the spiritually lost.

We, meanwhile, tend to love only those who are lovable. We find it very hard to love the unlovable. We insist that they must deserve our love, have something good about them that is worth loving. We are quick to write people off.

This is not God’s way. He loves far more deeply and distinctively. He knows every detail of every person’s life, whereas we are inclined to judge people on just one offence or one point of difference.

We love those who ‘deserve’ our love but God loves the undeserving too. We can love a bad person after he becomes good. God, however, loves him before he changes. (Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Rm 5,8). He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Mt5,45)).

The Pharisees could not work out why Jesus would eat with sinners. He was trying to change the sinners from bad to good. Like a doctor who visits the sick to make them healthy.

Meanwhile we mix only with those we like and approve of!

It is clear we have a lot to learn from Our Lord and Teacher. We have to un-learn the ways of the world and take on the mind of the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd goes out in search of the lost, however unlovable or objectionable they might be at this moment.

Why does He love them so much? He can see the goodness that was planted in them.

All babies start equal insofar as they have not done anything wrong (yet). If we walked into a room full of babies we would not be able to say, Ah, this one will be a murderer, this one a saint... There is an equality at the start. All are created by God; all are meant for heaven.

It is easier to love people if we look at them in this way. We don't look at their faults but at the original idea when God created them.

The Pharisees were the ones who needed to explain. Why did they not reach out to sinners?

So do we need to explain if we begrudge mercy to one who is presently bad. How could I possibly want someone to stay in his sins?

In everyday life we would help someone in need. If someone is trapped in the rubble after a building collapse a whole host of people try to pull him out.

But would a whole host of people pray night and day for one soul to convert? The need is not so evident.

If we come from God’s point of view it is easier to see; it is a straightforward rescue mission. If we come from our point of view it is hard because our view is so distorted. We want the bad people to suffer for their sins and crimes. We don't want them to have mercy (or at least we are tempted not to want it).

We need healing too, if we think like this. The Good Shepherd will come to us and correct our false thinking.

In fact the more lost someone is the more love he needs. If you are a parent and one child is sick you spend more time chasing after that child than the healthy ones. Just so in the spiritual world.

We realize how much saving we need when it comes to cleansing out the wrong attitudes. We find that Catholicism is a lot more than just going to Mass 52 times a year! There is a lot we need to re-adjust if we are to take on the mind of Christ.

May He find all the lost, including us!

2nd Sunday after Pentecost 2 Jun 2013 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Pentecost 2.6.13 Banquet

The Holy Mass is, among other things, a banquet (Gospel) and we are invited. Normally at a banquet you would expect to get a big meal. Going just by quantity we do not have much to eat in this banquet. The Host would not relieve our physical hunger. Nor does it give us much pleasure in the taste.

So we have to look deeper here. If the Eucharist is a banquet in what way is it so?

Many will have dropped out by this stage: I stopped going to Mass because I wasn’t getting anything out of it. (Not easy to recognise ‘anything’!)

The ‘anything’ that we are supposed to ‘get out of’ the Mass is no less than being formed in the image of Christ, made Christ-like, changed into a better person than I was before. This is a huge benefit, very much requiring excitement and thanksgiving.

When we pray for what we need there are probably not many who would start by praying to be better people.

Yet this is where we need to start because it is the most important need we have; and because it is necessary to get on level ground with God before we can ask for other things. (This is why every Mass begins with confession of sorrow.)

It is good to be good; for its own sake. This is itself the quest - to be sanctified; to be as much like God as we can be; filled with sanctifying grace.

The word ‘sanctified’ might sound chilling and remote. But it does not have to be so. To be sanctified means to be like Christ - therefore kind, generous, approachable, and every other good quality.

At the Eucharistic banquet we are feasting on the goodness of God. We are actually taking His goodness into us and being changed by it.

What is the good of goodness, we might say, if I can't pay my bills and my marriage just broke up, and my health is collapsing? Because if you are good that is the top of the mountain, that is the prize.

The other things do matter, but in their place. St Paul said he could cope with anything, full stomach or empty, poverty or plenty (Ph 4,12)

Would you rather be a good person with an empty stomach or a bad person with a full stomach? We might say: I would rather be good and have a full stomach!

So we may have both. But we cannot always guarantee the physical blessing, whereas we can always guarantee the spiritual.

And we can reach a point where we really don't care so much about the circumstances, at least insofar as they affect us.

The saints often say that they would rather be dead than alive, because being dead would mean they were closer to Christ. But being saints they also had a sense of duty, so that they would have been highly charitable to those around them, making sure they had something to eat etc, even if the saint did not. We can be indifferent to our own comfort but not to that of others.

We come to see there are many variations in terms of benefits from this Banquet. A lot will depend on how much we hunger, and how prepared we are to receive the benefits.

And each time we can get a little stronger. We cannot do all this in one Mass. It is a banquet that is repeated and we have many chances to get this right.

So we hear the invitation to come and we make no excuses. This is the best place to be; this is the best meal that can be had anywhere around here!