Thursday, 25 September 2014

15th Sunday after Pentecost 21 Sep 2014 Sermon

15th Sunday after Pentecost 21.9.14 Conversion

The son is restored to his mother. A marvellous event in itself, and also for what it suggests – the restoration of many sons to their Mother, the Church.

Jesus heals with a word. And so in the sacrament of Penance He heals with a word of forgiveness.

We are accustomed to hearing of the wonders of the Lord. In the Gospels, it seems that every chapter contains a miracle. We hear these and we believe them.

Yet somehow, perhaps with a tinge of sadness, we do not expect such things to happen to us.

Nothing happens to us, it seems! But we still need miracles. There are a lot of things in the world that are not as they should be. And they are beyond our power alone to change.

The miracle of forgiveness is still with us, and happens all the time. Someone goes to Confession and is restored to life, given back to Mother Church. There is no public celebration, but it is a great thing all the same.

We might believe in this much of a miracle. But can we go further and believe that large-scale conversions of sinners and unbelievers can happen in our day?

We are tempted to discouragement as we see the size of the problem and think it is too big to be overcome. For example, as we contemplate the loss of the younger generations to the Church. We can feel the sadness of the woman of Naim, but we cannot seem to get the happy ending that came to her.

We are at a fork in the road. We have a decision to make. How to react. Do we give way to despair, or do we change things for the better?

We can adopt a come-what-may attitude, leaving things to turn out as they may. Or we can apply ourselves to vigorous prayer and action to bring back the lost children.

Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear (Is 59,1)

As far as miracles go, that of converting sinners is the most urgent. The other ones are important too, but Conversion stands at the very heart of the matter.

To be at rights with God is more important than physical safety, good health, having food to eat etc. If we have Him we have eternal life.

Do we believe that the Lord can, in our time, bring about the conversion of a sinner?

We believe it can happen, and it does happen. But we also are prone to discouragement and to ease off on our prayer as our expectations contract.

We can be so knocked about by the difficulties we see on all sides that when it comes to pray we lack confidence.

We might think certain individuals, or certain types of people, are too hard to convert.

Yet miracles do happen.

We must be concerned for the danger that faces souls who are distant from God.

Moved by this concern and remembering the power of God we commit to prayer.

We lament whatever is wrong, but only as much as necessary to motivate us to action.

We pray to save as many as we can. And act in whatever way will help.

We focus on the goodness of God rather than the evil of the world. Our confidence and energy rise as we do this.

We talk of better days the Church has seen. If those were the days these are the days too. With the Lord’s help we will make them so.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Exaltation of the Holy Cross 14 Sep 2014 Sermon

Exaltation of the Holy Cross 14.9.14

Every organisation has some sort of emblem or logo that announces who it is. The most recognizable symbol of the Christian faith is the Cross.

The choice of the Cross might seem a strange one, given that it highlights suffering. And most organisations would not try to attract interest that way.

Yet we have crosses everywhere. In churches, homes, on rosary beads, large and small. And we make the Sign of the Cross at regular intervals. We are thus reminded of how central the Cross is to our whole lives.

There are those who would tell us to remove the Cross. To the Jews a scandal, to the Greeks, madness, as St Paul puts it.

A ‘scandal’ to some because it emphasizes death, and apparent defeat. ‘Madness’ to others, because why would you emphasise pain when pleasure is the quest?

Many admire the general teachings of Christianity but cannot endure the idea of sacrifice or suffering. Take the cross away and all will be fine, they say. So people have always been trying to take Christ off the cross; others trying to take the Cross away altogether.

We will not try to remove either. Instead we hope to honour and exalt the Cross; to understand and live by it. For what it is, and what it has done.

What it is: The Cross is both the worst and the best moment in human history.

The worst because it is when the human race tried to murder God.

The best because it is when humanity (in the person of Jesus, as Man) made the most perfect response to the will of God.

What the Cross does: it reconciles humanity to divinity. So perfect was the human response (in Jesus) that all other breaches with God (past, present and future) would be more than compensated for by this one perfect act.

The Cross makes it possible for all our sins to be forgiven, on request. It is like having a bank account that never runs dry. In this case it is mercy not money that we can draw upon.

The more we appreciate what Our Lord has done for us the more fully His action will save us.

Consider: that He did not have to die for us at all. It was not His problem that we were in sin. He could have stayed in the comfort of Heaven and let us go our own way.

Consider further just how painful His death was. He died in His humanity. He was not miraculously preserving Himself from pain. He was allowing Himself to feel the full extent of nails, thorns, whips etc.

And even worse, the emotional pain of rejection and ridicule.

And worse still, the realization that even this sacrifice would not be appreciated by future generations.

All this for our benefit.

We acknowledge with reverence and awe the contrast between His love for us and our lack of love for Him.

And as we realize it we can resolve to narrow that chasm. We will never love Him as He loves us, but we can at least draw closer.

And instead of piling on lashes and thorns to Him by our own sins we can offer Him consolation, as did Veronica and the women of Jerusalem.

And further, we not only stand with Jesus, but we also share in His suffering to the extent that we make Him known in our place and time.

Thus the Cross is everything to us. It is our salvation and our way of life. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Ga 6,14).

Thursday, 11 September 2014

13th Sunday after Pentecost 7 Sep 2014 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 7.9.14 Law and Covenant

Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity, and that we may worthily obtain that which Thou dost promise, make us to love that which Thou dost command (Collect prayer of today’s Mass)

We pray to love the laws of God, because they express the love God has towards us.

St Paul, in the epistle, explains the relationship between Covenant and Law. The basic point is that while we should keep God’s laws that itself will not save us. It will make it more likely that we are saved but salvation itself can come only from God’s free gift to us.

Catholics are accused of trying to earn their salvation, by doing lots of good works, as though to impress God enough to let us into Heaven.

This is not the case. We regard salvation as a free gift of God, but we understand that to receive that gift we have to do certain things and avoid certain other things.

This is where the laws (or commands) of God come into operation.

The laws are there to help us know what to do: eg go to Mass on Sundays, help those in need, forgive those who harm you… And avoid certain things: do not steal, do not lie, do not commit adultery…

If we get these things right most of the time, and sincerely repent when we get them wrong, we are pre-disposing ourselves to receive the free gift of salvation.

If we were to neglect all these commands then there is the danger that we will forfeit the gift that has been offered to us.

Take a simple example: you have a rich friend who lends you his holiday house for free for two weeks. If you take the offer of course it is understood that you would look after the house and leave it in a tidy state etc. If you trash the house you will not only not get the offer again but you would be likely to lose the friendship.

So it is with our relationship with God, with the difference that He is more forgiving than the average person. We can restore a damaged relationship with God, but even there we have to do certain things, like Confession, penance, change our behaviour.

It comes down to this: God loves us, but we may not love Him.

To love Him we have to know Him. This is a lifetime work as we experience His love in many different ways. As we recognize His blessings we express Gratitude, like the one leper who came back.

Gratitude makes us want to please God in all things. Not to impress Him with how good we are, but simply in response to His goodness to us.

If we do not respond to His love we could lose our covenant relationship with God. He will not stop loving us; but we might stop loving Him. This is the way to Hell. We have to be aware this is possible, so we can take the proper steps to avoid such a fate.

To be saved is not that difficult if we simply keep the will of God in view. He will provide the grace to do the right things and avoid the wrong things.

He will enable us to receive and retain the gift of salvation.

We are on our way to Heaven and we will complete that way, simply by doing His will; or at least by confessing our sorrow for not doing so, and making another start.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

12th Sunday after Pentecost 31 Aug 2014 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 31.8.14 Vulnerability

On Friday we recalled the Beheading of St John the Baptist. It is still going on today, in the Middle East. (We have not made much progress!)

To be Christian requires that we identify with Christ. He allowed Himself to be put to death.

He made Himself vulnerable to the hatred of men (and the devil).

We must be vulnerable with Him. It may happen to us one day that we are put to death for our faith. If which case we should not value earthly life higher than our allegiance with Christ. We would rather be united with Him than try to live longer here on earth.

We make ourselves vulnerable for His sake - to death, to ridicule and mockery, to whatever comes.

It may occur to us we would like an easier religion. Many have abandoned faith in Christ for just that reason. They want an easier life. But they will regret their choice sooner or later.

To identify with Christ, with all its perils, is still the best investment we can make. To be with Him is the best place to be in a crisis (cf Storm at sea. Jesus is in the boat with us Mt 8, 24-27).

In our weakness is His strength. If we are with Him we can be sure His power and goodness will prevail, even if it means temporary or apparent loss for us.

But why did Our Lord allow Himself to be mocked and crucified? Our Lord is identified with the Good Samaritan in today’s parable.

He came to help us, the victims of robbery, insofar as the devil has robbed us of our innocence.

Our Lord helped people at different levels.

At the physical level He healed their sickness, fed them with bread, saved them from danger.

At a deeper level He forgave sin. He heals us by His mercy, and the sacraments - represented by the oil and wine applied to the wounds.

Once rescued we will live free from sin. If we do happen to sin again we can be rescued again (Sacrament of Penance) but gradually we learn not to let the robbers (devils) get the better of us.

At a deeper level again He made of His body a perfect sacrifice for sin, so that all sin could be forgiven (wherever there was true contrition).

And then He calls those He has healed to imitate Him in His suffering. The greatest healing is to learn to love as Our Lord loved.

This leads to the fact that we must also be Good Samaritans, helping other victims.

This means practical help of which there are many forms, and we pitch in with that in whatever way we can.

But it also means helping by conveying the spiritual presence of Christ.

This is where the suffering, or willingness to suffer, is necessary.

The greatest need our neighbours face is not physical but spiritual.

If we are to love our neighbours we must be prepared to risk a certain amount of suffering on our part. It is one thing to give a few dollars to a poor man. But would I suffer for him; would I die for him? Our Lord would, and did. He will help us to grow to the point that we would do the same.

When we have reached such a point we have been rescued twice – first, raised from our own degradation; and then enabled to help rescue others.

We thank Our Lord, the Good Samaritan, for both stages of the rescue - both privileges that we did not deserve. Let us be as worthy as we can of His trust.