Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sexagesima Sunday 23 Feb 2014 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 23.2.14 The cost of being a disciple

Our Lord tells us that if we are to follow Him we must be like a king going into battle and see if we have enough resources to win the battle (cf Luke 14, 26-33).

The effort in setting out for a task must be proportionate to the importance and difficulty of the task in question.

If I plan to climb a mountain, for instance, I need all the protective clothing and equipment etc.

If I plan to follow Our Lord what do I need? As far as equipment goes we do not know. In fact we do not know much at all about what the future will bring in being His disciple; except that if we trust in Him He will bring us safely to where we need to be.

This element of trust is the one key ingredient that will enable us to cope with every crisis that comes and emerge even stronger for the experience.

To leave all and follow Him is what He asks. We have romantic images of the apostles leaving their boats and walking off with Him. Later we have saints, such as St Francis of Assisi, leaving the wealth and status of his father’s house and taking on a whole new way of life.

It does not sound like the apostles and other saints did spend much time planning for the future. They just trusted Our Lord and then went with Him.

Yet Our Lord tells us not to follow Him unless we have considered what it will cost. Something of a paradox.

What He wants from us is an absolute trust and obedience, but He also wants us to understand that He is not taking us on a picnic.

There will be sufferings - thorns and thistles on the way. He wants us to be aware of this suffering, at least in a general way, so that we are not surprised by it, not giving up too easily.

The Gospel today explains how many disciples who set out do not persevere to the end. Some give up because of suffering; others give up because of false joys.

Either they find it too hard, or they find other things too easy, too alluring.

They fall by the wayside.

The only way we will persevere to the end is if we:

One: answer the call immediately and wholeheartedly

Two: set ourselves for the long haul. I am going to follow Him, not just today, but for all my life. Whatever it costs, however much it hurts, I will stay with Him.

There will be costs, as St Paul describes in the epistle today (2 Cor 11-12). We will not have to suffer as much as he did but we will experience some of those things.

If not physical torture there will be at least physical discomfort, like getting up early for Mass, or praying when it would be easier to do other things.

And there will be emotional costs, such as being ridiculed and thought out-of-date.

Then also we might have to wait a long time for a reward, or even for an improvement in the situation.

And the more heavily we commit the more likely we are to suffer (thus St Paul and all saints).

So there is a huge temptation to say, I will be only a little involved.

This is where the trust factor comes in. If we trust Our Lord we do not ask what the cost will be. We know there is a cost, and it will be a heavy one, but we also know that it will be as nothing compared with the compensations He will provide us - eternal reward eventually, and before that the joy of being in union with Him.

We will stay on course till we bring in the harvest, or finish the race, or arrive home – by whatever image - we will, having left all to follow Him, receive tenfold in return.

Ash Wednesday Mass times

Ash Wednesday Mass (this week, 5 March) will be at 6.45am St Monica's

(There will be no 8am Mass that day)

Holy Name Masses will be at 11am and 6.30pm.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Septuagesima Sunday 16 Feb 2014 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 16.2.14 Hard work

We now begin the pre-Lent season of Septuagesima.

Penitential seasons remind us that there is a certain amount of effort required in being a serious disciple of Our Lord. It is hard work sometimes.

And then if it is not hard enough anyway we put extra burdens on ourselves in terms of voluntary penance. Why do we do that? It is like running around the oval loaded with weights.

In the epistle St Paul likens himself to an athlete who runs hard, seeking to win.

There is always a temptation to pull out of things which are hard, which require an effort on our part. We naturally want things to be as easy as possible; but with God’s grace we manage to overcome inertia and even find pleasure in doing the work of the Lord, hard as it often is.

We might envy those who seem to have it easier than we do. They do not have to make the sacrifices we make, for example in going to Masses, praying every day, doing penances, always watching our behaviour etc.

There are Catholics who go to Mass twice a year (Easter and Christmas) and never think of making any special effort to comply with God’s will.

They just presume they are going to heaven. And there are others who are even less religiously observant than that.

And they might be right! Maybe they will go to Heaven, with so little effort; while here we are turning up in all weathers and going through all sorts of things; all the while not sure of our own salvation (lest I myself be lost – epistle).

If they do get to heaven part of the reason for that will be the sacrifices we are making. In our deeper moments we realize that it is certainly a privilege to have the faith, to be chosen at an early hour to go and work in the vineyard. It is not grapes we are gathering but souls.

It shows that Christ trusts in us to give us a greater share of that work.

And when you look back on your life would you not like to be able to say, I did run the race; I did take the Lord seriously. Rather than, I had a good time; I looked after myself with every pleasure, moral or immoral, and I am now hoping to sneak in with last minute repentance.

Which would you rather be able to say?

Preparing for Lent we realign ourselves for another stretch of penance. Is it all worth it? For the prize, yes. The reward is worth waiting for.

And what else would we have done with our lives? Regrets, I’ve had a few... Surely our greatest regret will be the opportunities we missed to advance the will of God; the sins we have committed, or good actions omitted.

Whatever time left to us we can use well, letting any past regrets stir us on to better things.

God implants in us the mercy which He has towards His own children. We get a share of His desire to save. We come to see people in a more compassionate light.

A lot of the wrong people do may not be entirely their own fault, when we allow for upbringing and other factors. In any case we hope they can come right before the end.

Even in fictional stories we hope the various characters have a happy ending. All the more so we hope that real people will attain the happy ending of Heaven. And we can help them to do that. It is a privilege and a challenge. May the Lord of the Harvest give us the necessary grace.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

5th Sunday after Epiphany 9 February 2014 Sermon

5th Sunday after Epiphany 9.2.14 God’s ways are not our ways

It is good for us to pause sometimes and consider the greatness of God.

We believe He created the world and all that is in it. Further, that He knows and understands every detail of that creation including everything that happens to each one of us.

He is dealing with billions of people and thousands of years and He is aware of it all.

And then we come along and try to tell Him what to do! We should not do it and we cannot do it. We just do not know enough to be able to direct an infinite intelligence.

We need to learn the same lesson that Job learned. After forty or so chapters of questioning God’s wisdom, Job realized he should have kept quiet. And he repented in dust and ashes (for his complaining spirit).

On the other hand we are encouraged to ask for what we need; only that we should do that with due reverence and humility, always being ready to defer to God’s longer vision.

We do not want to go to the other extreme of seeing God as so remote it is not worth trying to reach Him.

Sometimes He will give us what we ask instantly. And sometimes it looks like the prayer is not being answered even for years at a time. It is in this latter situation that we are tempted to tell God what to do.

One of God’s ways we find particularly hard to grasp is described in today’s Gospel – the wheat and the tares. We cannot understand why God would let evildoers have such freedom and for so long; that a person can go for decades doing damage to others, and seemingly escape punishment.

We have an impatience to see justice done. There are two things we have to remember:

One, we have to be patient regarding time. We need long-term trust in God’s wisdom, not expecting that everything can be sorted out immediately.

Two, we have to be very large in our vision. If we want God to smite our enemies, for example, it may be that we need smiting more than the enemy. We have to be careful what we wish on someone else. We must learn to bless, not curse.

Ultimately we must desire the salvation of other people even those we do not like; even those who directly harm us.

This takes a largeness of heart that just may not be there until we cultivate it.

There are people who think everyone who has ever died is now in heaven. That is not likely to be true. But it is a good thing to want, all the same.

We do not want anyone to be lost, even though we think there are various people who probably are lost. Thinking it and wanting it are very different matters.

If I don't want my enemy to be saved, Lord, make me want it – as You already do.

We lose ourselves in the larger vision of salvation that God Himself had, and this will save us a lot of heartburn as well as making us better Christians.

The Epistle today tells us how we should all get along. If Christ is our focus how can we have any discord between us?

The idea of us all singing psalms and giving way to each other might sound idealistic, but what else can a group of people be like who all seek to follow Jesus Christ?

Our spiritual growth requires that we shed any past limited perspectives on how God should act.

We trust Him totally, as to when and how to act. And if we do not yet trust Him then we ask for the grace and wisdom to be silent in wonder before His much greater wisdom.

We cannot make Him less than He is. Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal. We do not even need to try.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Purification of the BVM 2 Feb 2014 Sermon

Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary 2.2.14

The Jewish Temple was built in honour of Almighty God, and many prayers were said to Him in that place, and sacrifices offered.

It is ironic then that when God Himself entered that Temple (as in today’s Gospel) He was not recognized!

This has been the story all along. The human race was created to know, love and serve God but from a very early point, and ever since, has forgotten that basic purpose and pursued other goals.

Of course, if He had come as Malachi puts it in today’s Epistle, in great splendour and glory –then He would have been recognized; but more in terror than in love.

As with the Christmas story just a few humble people are given the privilege of witnessing the Saviour coming, of the Lord Himself coming to His own temple.

The Lord comes quietly before He comes in a more spectacular way. For one thing to give us more time to prepare for Him; and for another reason that unless we learn to recognize Him in the little things we will never be ready for Him in the big ones.

It seems He is being too subtle for a dull and crude humanity. Why does He not work more obvious miracles, we might wonder. (We can note that even when He did work lots of public miracles they still crucified Him!)

We see in the example of Simeon and Anna a certain way in which God wanted to be welcomed. They were in tune with Him, through lives of humility and prayer. They did not make demands on Him; they were prepared to wait on Him, trusting that He would know what to do.

Those in tune with Him are able to perceive God and His actions.

They are able to recognise Him in His less obvious manifestations and able to understand His saving plans and His use of time.

To us at first it seems God is slow to fulfil His promises; but when we are immersed in Him we do not quibble about how long things take. We see simply that all time belongs to Him, as do all generations and all nations - making a huge collection of things to bring into order, all under His saving will.

The best we can do for ourselves and for advancing His will is to be humble before Him; asking for His favour, rejoicing when we see it: and when we don't see it we rejoice in the hope of its coming.

For Simeon and Anna this was their day, but it would not have been their day unless they had prayed every other day before it. They had prepared for the day with humility and faith.

And that is what we must do likewise; always turning up to the ‘Temple’, whether we see anything happening or not.

And this is how we evangelise the world, so far from knowing its own God when He comes into their midst.

We carry Him in our hearts as Simeon took Him in his arms.

And the light will spread, as it has done already.

The Church has to use the subtle approach, appealing to the patience and humility of any who would seek Christ.

We cannot accommodate the world’s desire to have everything at once – if we would be assured of heaven we cannot demand unlimited licence in this life.

We must be very patient ourselves and teach patience to any who are willing to learn.

So hold onto your candles. Hold firm through it all and one day your day will come.

And another day the entire people of God will be rewarded. When He comes again.

May the Lord keep us faithful till then.