Thursday, 28 August 2014

11th Sunday after Pentecost 24 Aug 2014 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 24.8.14 Centrality of Christ

The healing miracles of Our Lord always have a symbolic effect as well as the practical help He is giving to the person concerned.

So in this case (the healing of the deaf and dumb man) Our Lord symbolically takes away our deafness (our inability to hear His word) and our dumbness (our inability to proclaim His word).

The epistle reminds us of the essential central message of the Gospel which we have heard and must hold on to no matter what. That Christ has died to set us free from sin and risen to lead us to eternal life.

This is the message we must ‘hear’ and ‘speak’. We ‘hear’ it insofar as it sinks into our consciousness and becomes part of us, something we will never lose.

And when it has become so much a part of us that we no longer doubt its truth we will be able to live by it and proclaim it.

The message ‘Christ has died, Christ has risen’ is not just central to the Gospel but needs to be central to the whole of human existence.

Many people either do not believe this message or they regard it as only a side issue (even if they believe it is true).

No, it is central to everything. Without Christ doing what He did we would still be in our sins and unable to look forward to heaven. And the world would have no hope.

The world does indeed have hope, but not enough people see where that hope lies.

So the Gospel needs firm believers, who can hang on even if the sea is rough, and there is danger of being thrown overboard.

We must have mental clarity about what we believe and why.

We must not see ourselves as just one religion among many; as just one alternative stream among many others. We could be bamboozled by the variety of different religions and philosophies so that we end up saying everyone is right.

No, there is only one God and only one Saviour. And only one Church, the Body of Christ.

We face various temptations to loosen our hold on these central truths.

We might doubt God's power, or love, or the likelihood of His intervention. We might think, in the midst of some crisis, that He has left us out to dry. And we might resent that, and lose our inclination to pray.

Or, we might believe it all but not see how central it is, being preoccupied with other things.

But we must keep that central focus and get back to it.

Which is why we read the Scriptures and offer the Mass, forcing ourselves back to the centre, back to the drawing-board in a sense.

It might seem monotonous sometimes, but there is no other way that progress can be made.

If we start from any other place it will be the wrong place and the wrong results will follow.

Our ears are opened to hear… this time the word will sink in a little further than ever before.

And the further it goes in the more our tongue is loosened to proclaim, and praise, the wonders of God.

We cannot keep the word in once it has reached a certain point. Cf Pentecost, saints, Old Testament prophets- Jeremiah ‘a fire within’ (Jer 20,9).

Deepening our belief in the central message will enable us to cope with our own crises better, with less doubt and more confidence.

And will enable us to proclaim the word of life with such force that more people will convert to belief, and themselves enjoy the new certainty of truth.

May the Lord continue to open our ears and loosen our tongues!

Friday, 22 August 2014

10th Sunday after Pentecost 17 Aug 2014 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 17.8.14 Fixing faults

Some people avoid church with the excuse that churchgoers are all ‘a bunch of hypocrites’. They make a virtue out of not being as bad as we are. No, we cannot claim virtue because someone else is worse than we are.

Each of us has an obligation to be good, as good as we can be. This means to practise what we preach, to put into practice what is true.

We come to church to remind ourselves what is true, and to derive the grace that will help us to live by that truth.

We admit we have faults, but we are trying to fix them. That is the difference between a hypocrite and a repentant sinner. The hypocrite is content to hide behind a veneer of holiness. The repentant sinner actually wants to be free of his sin.

Those who measure their holiness by looking at others are mistaken. The only way to measure holiness is to look at Christ. He sets the standard.

Are we living like Him? At least as much as we can; and always seeking to do better - which includes that we would not look down on others.

Nor would we use the faults of others to excuse our own. Such as saying:
At least I am not as bad as him over there.
Or, I do not do the things that others do. Therefore what I do is not too bad, considering.
Or what I do is not as bad as what I could do. I actually exercise restraint, so I should get some allowance for that.

If we are to compare ourselves with others, there may be some benefit if we can learn from the good example they give. But when it comes to their faults we cannot use those faults to excuse our own.

What we must focus on is improving our own behaviour, attitude etc. I want to be a better person than I was yesterday. Whether I am better or worse than someone else is not the point.

We do not excuse our sin but confess it. We humbly ask for God’s mercy.

Today there are low expectations of personal holiness. There is a confusion between holiness on the one hand, and self-acceptance on the other.

Talk of sin or guilt is avoided because it might damage someone’s self-image.

It is true that God loves us whether we are good or evil. It is true that each of us is made in His image and therefore of unique importance. It is good to feel good about ourselves, to have a healthy self-image.

But none of these things excuse us from trying to correct faults.

The Pharisee had a good self-image (too good). He thought he was close to perfect.

His fault was that he could not see fault. He could have said, Lord, I thank you for making me in your image (and that is no small thing); but I am sorry for offending you. Then he would have had it right.

Whereas the publican asked for mercy and received it.

One was a hypocrite; the other a genuinely repentant sinner.

The best way to feel good about ourselves is to be right with God, thus to share in His goodness. It feels good to be good, not in a smug way, but simply that everything then fits into place.

We will not become proud and sanctimonious (another excuse to avoid improvement). Part of getting everything right is remaining humble (cf the saints).

As we have just celebrated the Feast of the Assumption let us call on Mary, always holy and always humble, to help us be good, and feel good!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

9th Sunday after Pentecost 10 Aug 2014 Sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost 10.8.14 Walk a straight path

The Israelites spent forty years in the desert, which was a lot longer than the actual distance they had to travel required. They were being punished for their disobedience and general complaining attitude.

There were many setbacks, such as mentioned in the epistle where 23000 were killed in one day.

They would have arrived a lot sooner if they had obeyed.

The Gospel speaks of a different generation of rebellious Jews, those of Our Lord’s own time, reminding us that human nature can be much the same from one generation to the next.

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem: If only you had responded to the constant offers of mercy; if you had read the signs, taken the hint!

We are like the people in the desert insofar as we have been set free (Baptism) and are still seeking the Promised Land (Heaven). We need to read the signs also.

God wants to make it as easy as it can be. This was always His intention. He encourages us to call on Him. He is not hard to reach. He will hear any plea for mercy, any cry of contrition.

Yet we make such heavy weather of it. In the desert we are tempted. The devil offers attractive alternatives. Would you like to eat, drink etc… so the seeds of discontent and rebellion are sown.

And we start saying, Who is this God that keeps telling us what to do. Or in our time, What is this Church that dares to intervene in my life?

Every act of rebellion ties another knot. If we are lost we might get more lost if we do not find the right exit. Every time we sin we are adding a few more steps we have to travel to freedom.

And when the whole human race is sinning, around the clock, the chaos increases greatly.

But at any point we can still cut through to a direct route: just by resolving that from this moment onwards, whatever else I have said, done or thought, I will obey God totally. So help me, God.

This is the beginning of the way home. We can make a straight line even if we have been going around in circles for years.

Just because the world is in a sorry state does not prevent us from being good disciples. In fact it can act as extra incentive. The more things are wrong the more I must try to set them right.

The more insane the world the more sane must we be.

Whatever others do I will do as Christ says. If they laugh, let them laugh. If they kill me, let them do that. I am going to walk that straight line. To the Promised Land, to Heaven.

God wants it to be easy for us, but in a certain way He makes it hard. Of those closest to Him He will ask them to take on a share of the world’s suffering in atonement (not punishment) for sin. It is a privileged sharing in His own suffering.

If we love God enough we don’t mind doing this. (cf St Laurence, whose feast we acknowledge today).

We are suffering from the fallout of sin but there is a pure thread through the middle of that which enables us to keep eyes fixed on the final objective, and this will enable us to hold firm.

We hope and pray that everyone will recognize the signs and respond. Meanwhile, we live simply, carrying such extra weight as the Lord entrusts to us. But always fixed on that final goal.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

8th Sunday after Pentecost 3 Aug 2014 Sermon

8th Sunday after Pentecost 3.8.14 Restoring order

In the world at the moment there is possibly even more bad news than usual with major trouble spots in Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine.

And we have the centenary of the First World War to remind us that human nature does not change easily.

How to stop the killing? Everyone asks. Not that killing is the only sin, though it tends to be the most spectacular.

But how stop sin in all of its forms? We have to go extra and ask that question, not expecting merely political solutions to hold much water.

It has to be a root healing at the soul level. There has to be genuine repentance and a turning to the Lord. It is His world, so we have to go to Him to learn how to run it.

How to do this? The readings today call for a clear grasp of the relationship of the flesh and spirit (epistle), material world and spiritual world (Gospel).
The essence of the matter is that we need to live in the material world with a totally spiritual understanding.
If the flesh is operating outside of the spirit’s control then our life is out of control.
If we put money (or any material thing) above the life of heaven, then we are in danger of losing our soul.
So we seek the right balance. The spiritual perspective will help us both advance our own salvation and also go some way to healing the world of its troubles.

In the face of so much bad news one could lose hope. But we do not do that. We pray more not less. We pray like we really mean it.

If things get worse we pray better. If less people turn up to pray we pray longer. If others are dispirited we re-affirm our hope.

The Church often faces externally bleak situations. Think of Good Friday itself. How did the apostles and disciples feel on Good Friday evening? How much tempted to despair they would have been at that time. So much they did not understand, did not know. A solution looking so improbable.

From Good Friday to Easter Sunday, just 36 hours from death to life. This is our eternal consolation. We feel like it’s Good Friday but we know there is an Easter Sunday on its way.

Any setback can be absorbed and transcended; and we will see better days. When we suffer defeat we think victory. When we have a victory we build on that and expect another victory.

We don’t go by how things look but by how they are. And how they are we work out from faith.

There are certain good ‘things’ which are always in place and available to us to call upon. Such as that the whole world is made by God, and ruled by Him.

He permits evil to happen but it is always under His control. We do not always know why things happen but just to know that it He is in control is a comforting thing.

We must do our bit to set things right. We can at least be on the right side. The majority of people were mocking Our Lord on the cross. Only a few were prepared to stand with Him. We want the numbers to shift so that everyone is under the cross paying homage and no one is mocking Him. Every knee shall bow…

We need to be as wise in doing good as some people are in doing evil (Gospel). The only way to reclaim the world is through the spiritual channel, conformity to Christ, acknowledging His sovereignty.

All divisions between people cease once they are in union with Him.