Thursday, 30 January 2014

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 26 Jan 2014 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 26.1.14 My soul shall be healed

We have taken the centurion’s prayer and changed it slightly. Only say but the word and my soul shall be healed.

It sounds like a simple transition from servant to soul but healing a soul is likely to be a lot harder than healing a servant. The workings of the soul are much more complex than the workings of the body.

And the servant probably wanted to be healed; but with the soul we are not so sure.

Healing of the soul takes in things like desires, ways of looking at things, habits, addictions... to be healed of those things takes quite a bit of readjustment.

Would we like to have our sins forgiven? Yes.
Would we like to avoid all sin in the future? Yes to that too. Easy to want that.
And that is what a healed soul would be like. No more sin, not even desire to sin.

But to reach that state it would have to mean we live in a different way - with new habits, new ways of doing things. We may not be so glad to give up so much.

Israel was glad to come out of Egypt. It was turning its back on slavery and oppression and setting out for a new freedom. So far so good. But then after a while the austerity of the desert did not seem so appealing and some of them hankered to go back to the pleasures they were familiar with.

So in our repentance we might miss the things we used to do, the people we used to mix with, and wish we could have some of those things again.

We want to be forgiven but we also want to keep sinning, at least for some sins, where we are too attached to them. We need more healing. Say but the word, Lord.

But also help me to cooperate; to avoid resistance. If I have to cut my hand off to avoid sin (figuratively speaking) give me the resolution to do that.

If it was a matter of a physical illness we would probably cooperate with any process required.

So with the soul, we have to let the medicine take effect. To be cured of some wrong attitude or practice is going to take a certain amount of cooperation on our part, eg giving up old friends, reducing occasions of sin, joining a support group etc. We make sure that we are doing everything we can to overcome the sin, to let the grace of God work in us fully.

Over time we are changed - the way we think, the way we look at things; and now the right thing seems better than the wrong eg chastity to lust, peace to anger, kindness to selfishness.

And the new way of looking at things actually becomes our own, not just pious words, but part of us.

Our ability to want the right thing is part of the soul’s proper functioning. When the soul is healed we will see things the right way up.

If we had a choice between a healing of the soul or the body we should take the soul every time. This may be against inclination. The needs of the body are so pressing and with the soul we always think we can leave it to another day.

Jesus can heal us from a distance as He did the servant. In our case the ‘distance’ is how far we are from wanting what He wants. He can draw us closer to His way of seeing things.

He can help us to trust in Him more fully so that we are no longer clinging to the old life of sin but ready to launch out into the unknown ‘desert’.

So that once for all we can turn from Egypt and walk in trust. I don't know what is out there but I know it is better than where I have been.

It is the Promised Land. And we are going there.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 19 Jan 2014 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 19.1.14 Joy and Sorrow

Holy Mass can be ‘said’, ‘offered’, ‘celebrated’ – different terms can be used.

It is a question of what is being emphasized. To say the Mass is celebrated is to focus more on the joyful aspects of the Mass – that Christ is risen, that we can go to heaven, that God is watching over us etc.

To say the Mass is offered is to focus more on the sacrificial nature of the Mass, that in each Mass we are present at Calvary, re-living His saving love for us.

We could satisfy both points of view by saying that the Mass is first and foremost a sacrifice, but a sacrifice which leads to joy.

The joy cannot be had without the sacrifice, so to that extent our joy is muted and there is a sombre element. But if the sacrifice is made then the joy is unbounded.

Eventually in the heavenly banquet we will have only joy and no note of sadness.

But while still in this earthly pilgrimage, this ‘valley of tears’, we cannot escape the ‘sacrifice’ factor. We must still do some more suffering before everything is fully in place.

There are shades of light and dark. The wedding feast of Cana brings out these different shades.

Wine is festive; a wedding is joyful; there is much to celebrate.

On the other hand Our Lord knew that when He worked this miracle He was setting in motion the process by which His enemies would eventually bring about His death.

There is both a joyful and a sorrowful aspect to this event.

And so at the Mass. In the Offertory of the Mass a little water is mingled with the wine to be offered.

This tiny bit of water represents humanity being joined with the divinity of Christ.

The water is absorbed in the wine and so our humanity is absorbed in the divinity of Christ, and we are greatly enriched in the process.

So far so good, a very joyful state of affairs.

But at the Consecration the wine turns into blood and this indicates that our joy is not complete until we have negotiated our own level of commitment required.

If this is a banquet it is one with a cloud hanging over it. Just as the Last Supper was a banquet but also had a sombre note. Jesus knew He would be betrayed and crucified the next day.

We have so much going for us but we know we still have to suffer certain things and we will face trial and temptation, being assailed by doubt, fear, worldliness etc.

Ideally we should have such a strong hold on the reasons for joy that we are not worried about the sufferings we must still encounter. This attitude we learn from the cheerfulness of the saints in their sufferings.

We need to deepen our degree of discipleship so that we believe the good things enough to be able to endure the bad things.

We need help at both levels.

Help to grasp more fully the joy of the Resurrection, Pentecost and all the truths of our faith; so that these truths take complete hold on us; that we be immersed in them.

Help to grasp the depth of suffering and sacrifice required for the will of God to be achieved.

So that we believe the good things enough to be able to endure the bad things.

We are happy enough to drink the festive cup; committed enough to drink the cup of suffering.

Each time we come to Mass, with all its shades of light and dark, the grace of God is acting on us and bringing us to a better understanding of all that is happening, and needs to happen.

The more we commit to the sacrifice the more joyful we become. The more joyful the more we can commit.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Feast of the Holy Family 12 Jan 2014 Sermon

Holy Family 12.1.14 Doing God's will

From the fact that Our Lord spent so much time in His family before setting out on His public ministry the Church concludes that the family is very important in God’s plan of things.

We might say there are two ways of saving the world. One is the more obvious method that Jesus used of preaching, healing, finally offering Himself in sacrifice. These actions all pointed in a certain direction and led to a visible result.

But another way of saving the world for Him (and for us by imitation and participation) was to live the ordinary life completely in union with the will of God. This is no less than teaching us how to live – a necessary piece of knowledge to everyone.

Jesus did ordinary things as a child and mostly they probably looked ordinary. But there was a perfection about all His actions because they were completely in accord with the will of His Father, and offered to His glory.

So with Mary, who also lived a sinless life. It was not just that she kept the rules perfectly but that every action was offered to God’s glory and according to His holy will.

And St Joseph, also for him we understand that the greatness of his contribution was not so much his actions as that he did them so willingly as God directed Him.

All three members of the Holy Family had a job to do and they did it. And the ‘job’ was to do the will of the Father at every point, whether they understood it or not.

Jesus always understood what He had to do. Mary and Joseph had to work it out sometimes (as in today’s Gospel) but they always obeyed and trusted, even when they did not understand.

All this is meant for our instruction. Wherever we come in the scheme of things the overriding principle is always the same: that at any moment and every moment we should be seeking and doing the will of God.

It does not matter if what we are doing is public or private, large or small - as long as it is what God wants and we do it for love of Him.

It may not seem to us that we can make much difference to the progress of the world, even less its salvation - yet we can make a great difference if we keep to this simple principle.

We each make up some part of the Body of Christ and it is a unique part. There is no one else exactly like you in the whole of God’s creation. He made each one of us for a purpose.

Like parts of the body or members of a team if we each do our role the whole unit will function smoothly. But if one part is missing or not performing all will suffer.

We are very small players on a very big field but we can still know that our contribution is unique and pleasing to God. It pleases Him if we do what He wants, simple as that.

We might argue that the Holy Family is out of our league and therefore we are not obliged to try to be like them. But we can and must operate on the same principle, doing ordinary things well, doing them as perfectly as we can – both to please God, and to help everything else go smoothly.

All the rest of God’s creation do His will perfectly. The stars and planets, the fish and the birds, the mountains and the rivers – they all give glory to God and do what they are supposed to do.

Of course they have one big advantage over us – they don't have a choice! We have the freedom to rebel, yet to have that freedom and still choose to obey - this gives God the greatest glory.

May the Lord help us to know our place and to live it, thus to advance His glory and His saving plans.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Feast of the Holy Name 5 Jan 2014 Sermon

Feast of Holy Name 5.1.14

When we want to get someone’s attention we call his name. This is a form of summoning the person.

So when we call on the Holy Name, the name of Jesus, we are summoning Him to be present. We do this in emergencies, but we can do it at all times. The more the better.

We have been saying in the Christmas season that God has come to us. So He has. He comes as Saviour; He brings Himself close to us. But we have to do something to receive Him. He wants to give but we have to receive. For all the effort He makes to be with us we have to make some effort to be with Him.

So He gives us a way of reaching Him. He gives us His name to call upon. If we call that name reverently, and in faith, then great power will be released in our midst. The holiness and goodness of God will be evident.

To meet the Saviour at close quarters is to be saved. Our salvation is advanced every time we call upon Him.

Salvation is a process which has many levels. It means ultimately going to heaven; but it also means being able to overcome our sinful habits in this life; being set free from addictions; becoming more Christ-like in the way we live; and even transforming the world till it becomes the kingdom of God.

All this and more, from merely saying, Jesus! His name is the key to the lock. We have the door but how to open it? Call on His name.

We have other ways of making contact with Him. All our prayer and sacraments will do this. It does not matter so much by what title we call Him, as long as we make contact with His Person. He is the only Saviour, and no other will do.

We do not call on Bob or Sam when we need our sins forgiven, or huge problems solved. We may call on other people for lesser needs but only Jesus can cover the ones that really count. .

St Peter said to the onlookers after working the miracle with the crippled man. By this name and by no other can we be saved.

This man - even the winds and the sea obey Him. Even life and death: Lazarus come out.

The more devoutly we pray the more devoutly we will pray – that is, one contact with Jesus will make us stronger in faith for the next one. We grow in knowledge and love of Him.

His name is not magic but sets in train a sequence of causes and effects which will bring about the desired result. Magic acts outside of the person but Salvation works within and through the person.

We are progressively saved as we come to know His will in all its aspects, and be more willing to serve Him.

The crippled man stood up; so can the crippled human race!

All who are still bound up with sin and darkness can walk free, ‘walking and leaping and giving praise to God’.

The more people calling on this name the more obvious will be the effects.

At present tragically the Holy Name is much blasphemed.

This is another reason to call on His Name – to atone for the blasphemy. We apologize on behalf of the human race, and we pray that Jesus will hear the proper use of His name from those who love Him.

And that a more direct sense of His importance will spread through the world.

Blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be His holy Name.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Sunday in Octave of Christmas 29 Dec 2013 Sermon

Sunday in Octave of Christmas 29.12.13 God's time scale

God saves us but too slowly for our taste sometimes. We are impatient for His intervention.

When Our Lord came to the earth the people who believed in Him must have expected a quick improvement in their situation. The Messiah has come - a decisive intervention by God. Now, surely, things will start to improve.

Yet God was in no hurry to show His hand. Here was Jesus, but very much hidden away in an obscure town, a humble home, and not performing miracles or drawing attention to Himself.

He was just growing up, experiencing the human condition, sanctifying the ordinary. Just doing things that had to be done, like everyone else. This is a lesson for us, certainly, that the ordinary can be turned into an offering to God.

And another lesson, in the matter of patience. We tend to want external solutions. We would love a solution from above for the world’s problems; that God would work a few miracles and make things happen. Generally He does not do that. Sometimes He does (eg Fatima – miracle of the sun); but usually it seems we have to go the long way round, patiently discerning and applying God’s will.

So Jesus grows to manhood and we think: Now we are going to see some action! But still He works quietly, telling people not to say who He is. And though now working miracles He still allows people to doubt Him, as for example, the Pharisees quibbling about technical details.

It seems Our Lord was not prepared to go too far ahead of the people’s response. Unless they responded He would not show His full power. He was trying to gain their confidence. Philip, have I been with you all this time and still you do not know Me?... How much longer must I bear with this generation...?

Gradually the pressure built up and Our Lord was captured and killed. This is hardly what one expects from a great messianic figure. Again it might seem that God is taking a long way around of solving the world’s problems. His ways are not our ways!

Then He rises from the dead but even now not for general triumph, appearing only to His disciples. His plan is to build up the Church slowly and surely; then to set it on its path. Slow and steady growth like the human body. From very small to full maturity.

This is what God seems to want. It is the way He makes us, and the way He saves us.

We want to save the world yet all we are doing is everyday things like putting out the rubbish and washing the baby! We believe these everyday things we do can advance the cause of salvation, reflecting the hidden life of Christ.

And on the longer term scale we wait, like Simeon and Anna. Nothing ever seems to happen, we think, yet when we look back we see that a great deal has happened.

Two reasons God makes us wait:

One, to give us time to absorb His grace; to save us through our participation and not simply to act outside of us.

Two, the tremendous opposition to His plans. Things would have gone a lot faster if the human race had not committed so much sin.

Like Simeon and Anna we are ready for anything, never giving up.

Most people are not called to set the world on fire; but even if we are so called most of the time it is routine. Even saints would have done a lot of ordinary things. Only the spectacular things get recorded.

Everything will eventually get into its place but it might take longer than we want. When things are going slowly we might be able to help speed them up; otherwise we leave the timing to God.

Another year, another decade, another century. We are ready.