Thursday, 30 October 2014

Feast of Christ the King 26 Oct 2014 Sermon

Christ the King 26.10.14 Our response

This feast was established in 1925 to re-assert the authority of Christ on an increasingly complicated world.

Pope Pius XI was pointing out something that should have been obvious – that Christ is ruler of the world, transcending all national boundaries and cultures. If you are a human being you come under His authority.

It is His world; He made it; He keeps it in being. Many want it otherwise, but no one can escape His ultimate authority. At some point each person has to come to terms with Him, if only at the point of death and judgment.

With this being so, nations or states should obey the will of God in setting their laws, which should not go against the higher law of God. And the citizens of the world should see obedience to God as more imperative than obedience to the law of their land.

It is hard to get even one person to obey the law of God. It is harder by far when we are trying to organize millions. But it does help if we can see the whole picture.

This feast gives us a chance to recall the essential simplicity of choice that we have.

No matter what we call nations – be they republics, monarchies, colonies – or what we call their leaders – presidents, prime ministers, kings – when we get right down to it we have two choices.

Imagine going to vote and before you are just two choices – are you for Christ or against Him? Yes or No, Heaven or Hell. Do you accept or reject the King?

This is what it comes to, no matter what other structures are in place.

The authority of Christ is absolute but He prefers not to use force. He wants to draw people to Himself by love.

He is like the husband looking for his adulterous wife, as God looked for Israel (cf Hosea).

This is His preferred way of doing things. He could easily force our consent, and punish us if we refuse, but He wants to convince us to give our own consent to His plans.

With His help this is what we are doing. We vote for the King. We want things to happen exactly as He wants them (Thy will be done). May His kingdom come among us. May this world reflect as fully as possible the world of Heaven, where there is obedience to God, and love between neighbours.

God wants a covenant relationship with us, a peaceful kingdom where wolf and lamb are at peace (Is 11,6).

We are a long way from that. But in any case we know what we have to do. We identify with the King whether He is being crucified or exalted.

To cling to the truth, to hold to what is right, is not only the best, but the only thing to do.

Most people today reject the Kingship of Christ. Some would do this outright; others would do it indirectly by following the crowd, keeping up with the trends. It is easy to lose one’s faith if we do that.

Many even have the audacity to declare that God does not exist; that they can govern themselves. (If there is no god then humans are the highest intelligence around; and that is frightening!)

Pius XI probably did not achieve what he wanted but this feast has helped to give us a foundation to build on.

We go higher than elections and polls and go to where the truth is to be found; and also the grace to live that truth. There is great joy in such a life.

And we save as many as we can from falling in the pit - which is where people go when the blind lead the blind (Mt 15,14).

Long live, Christ the King!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

19th Sunday after Pentecost 19 Oct 2014 Sermon

19th Sunday after Pentecost 19.10.14 All are invited

With the Synod on the Family in recent days there is much discussion about the Catholic Church.

It is said that we are not welcoming insofar as we put restrictions on who is eligible to receive Holy Communion.

We do this because as St Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 11,29 - he who eats unworthily of the body of the Lord will bring harm on himself.

This refers to what we have come to call ‘sacrilegious Communions’, which are themselves another sin on top of the already existing sin.

As far as ‘welcoming’ or being ‘hospitable’ goes should not the host warn the guest if something he reaches out to eat would harm him?

And the Church goes further, in our concern for each person, to warn against sin of every kind. In this we follow Our Lord, who taught that if our hand should cause us to sin we should cut it off, and if our eye, then pluck it out (Mt 5,29). He did not mean it literally but He did mean us to take the lesson that sin is not something we should treat lightly.

This is just the plain Gospel, so if we are to proclaim the Gospel we cannot leave this part out.

We also proclaim the mercy and compassion of Christ. We believe He is merciful but we understand that we must make some effort to break with our sin, and not simply presume on His mercy to cover all the damage we create. He forgave the woman caught in adultery but also told her, Go and sin no more (Jn 8,11).

We exclude no one who has a serious desire to come to eternal life.

Some will have to do certain things before they can receive Holy Communion. If their lives are in a state of mortal sin they must break free from that sin. This requirement is represented in today’s parable by the wedding garment. Everyone is welcome to the banquet but only if they are prepared to keep the rules of the banquet (wear the special garment).

These days many call for full inclusion in the Church but also claim the right to hold different beliefs from the Church. This is not possible. We must be either all in or all out – just as if we were travelling on a boat - and that is an image for the Church.

Everyone is meant to be a member of the Church, which is just another way of saying ‘child of God’ or ‘disciple of Jesus Christ’. We are all called to these things. It is not as though the Church is for some and not others.

We help each other to be ready for the banquet. We are all sinners, so we all need help (cf epistle).

If we sin we do not despair but we work on it, knowing there must be a way free, because it is God’s wish to set us free.

He can help me with whatever my particular problem is. We do not have to be perfect to be here, but at least not defiantly sinful.

The Church does not hate sinners, not even the worst sinners. We wish them to be saved, and we leave the doors open for them to find their way to God.

We will help anyone who wants full communion with the Church to achieve that.

This is as inclusive as it gets. We offer not only full membership but full union with God, and a future place in Heaven.

It is not necessary to change our teaching to be compassionate to sinners; compassion is already in our teaching. The best favour we can do those outside (and inside) the Church is to live by the truth that God has revealed to us. That truth includes mercy and gentleness, so no one will come to any harm. We all stand to gain.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

18th Sunday after Pentecost 12 Oct 2014 Sermon

18th Sunday after Pentecost 12.10.14 Healing on the inside

Our Lord is challenged as to His authority to forgive sins. He responds by healing the same man of his sickness. He thus indicates that He has a great deal of power at His disposal. He can demonstrate only so far as human vision is capable of going. But the inference is that He can do a lot more things that are beyond human capacity to perceive.

The overall message is that He is someone we should trust. You could safely buy a used car from this Man! The car would run.

Our Lord is showing us He has the power and the desire to heal the whole person, body and soul.

He wants to give us as much as we are prepared to receive. There is no limit to His power but there usually is a limit to how receptive we are. We tend to obstruct the grace of God because we cling to our present state.

He offers light, we prefer the dark. He offers freedom, we prefer the chains of sin. Why do we prefer the negative alternative? It is what we know. We are afraid of changing too much too soon, so we cling to our vices. Sometimes we want to be healed and we have flashes of brilliance. Other times we do not want the healing and we crash back into sin.

We think this is normal, this zigzagging between good and evil. We don’t believe it is possible to be good all the time. Partly we don’t believe it; partly we don’t want it.

But with whom are we dealing here? Someone who can put together the whole universe.

The crowd were impressed when Our Lord raised the sick, or the dead. Who is this Man? What is He not capable of? He could have worked a lot more miracles. He could have raised every sick person and every dead one, for that matter. With just a word, or a nod.

There is no doubt of His power; yet still we may not respond. We can still be stuck in a very narrow vision of what is possible in our own case.

It can be that we have little expectation, and little desire, to change our lives. We would not mind changing circumstances, such as having less problems; but we don’t expect our attitude or behaviour to change.

So we resist His power to heal us on the inside, even if subconsciously.

We do want to change, after all. We want it and we don’t want it. We accept His grace and we resist it.

We find we need His help to receive His help! Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief (Mk 9,24).

Transform me within, so that all my desires and thoughts will be according to Your holy will.

If possible, heal my body too. The body is the one thing we cannot guarantee because it is subject to frailty and must eventually die. Still it is always worth a try to seek bodily healing through prayer.

But it is always God’s will to heal us in the soul. He may will us to stay sick in the body, but never would He want us to remain in a state of sin.

We are not condemned to a lifetime in jail – we can walk free from selfishness, pride, lust, and all the rest.

Our Lord proved He had great power. He also has the knowledge of where we most need healing. He knows our deepest need and can meet it.

Our deepest need is this: to be forgiven for our sin; to be totally cleansed of its effects; to be transformed so that we now desire good as much as previously we desired the fruits of sin.

This is the happiness to which we are called. We will achieve it if we let Our Lord deal with us on His terms not ours. Let Him take us to places that we may not have wanted to go, or thought possible. But when we get there we will be glad we did.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

17th Sunday after Pentecost 5 Oct 2014 Sermon

17th Sunday after Pentecost 5.10.14 Full unity

There is a solution to all the world’s troubles and it is not just tolerating each other’s errors!

We are called to peace (epistle). Peace is not just the absence of killing but a complete unity between people, not just co-existence but faith, faith in Christ, belonging to the Body of Christ.

The human race is meant to live in joyful unity, every person on the face of the earth acknowledging their Creator and Saviour. (And Mary as Mother, also.)

We might as well get all of it right if we are going to get any of it right.

The usual idea is to reduce religious belief to its lowest common denominator where it becomes no more than a noble sentiment (eg that we should all live in peace).

But in fact religion makes sense only if it is followed through to its logical conclusions. If we believe in a God who made us, who saves us, who makes certain demands of us – how can we then proceed as though He does not feature in our decision-making?

It has to be true religion, of course. False religions muddy the waters. But there is truth that needs to be discovered and believed in. How else can we understand the world?

The true religion is that which teaches that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah and is Himself God. (epistle and gospel)

Religion is often reduced to the private domain. You can believe whatever you want but don’t try to get me to believe it… But there is only one truth in these matters. Many beliefs but only one truth.

St Paul is asserting in today’s epistle the oneness of all these crucial points. One Lord, one faith, one baptism… and we would add today, one Church (Catholic).

This is a call to everyone to find out who they are, what they are, where they came from and where they are going. It is all explained through this oneness of faith.

To see this is to be on the way to the solution. It is the only hope for the world.

People suppress this truth because they think it will be divisive. And they also think it is too hard to live by.

In recent centuries the false idea has arisen that people can be governed without reference to God (separation of Church and State). Many in the Church hold this false idea.

Yet God is Lord of all His creation. Jesus Christ is King of kings, Lord of lords.

He must be acknowledged if we have any hope of having the right laws, and the right way of conducting ourselves.

We cannot reduce Jesus to just one among many solutions. We cannot restrict Him to the realm of private belief. He must be at the centre of all our decisions, personal and communal.

If the King is not obeyed we have a very unruly kingdom - and that is what we do have.

We should not wish him other than He is. If we align ourselves with Him we will see every blessing, in this life and the next.

It needs a lot more confidence from those who do believe. We may not be that strong in belief but we have to grow into the fulness of faith.

St Paul is praying this for his people because he knows that many of them will be wobbly in faith. They will need encouragement to hold on to the life-line they have been thrown.

We ask the Lord to sustain our faith when everyone is telling us we are crazy.

The things we believe do not get any less true. We can ask for the easiest possible ride but we cannot expect an armchair ride all the way. More like a roller-coaster ride, but eventually at rest.

May the Lord deliver and sustain us, until all is complete.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost 28 Sep 2014 Humility

16th Sunday after Pentecost 28.9.14 Humility

God makes us all and we believe He has a special purpose for each one.

We have a role to play that is unique to each person. Apart from any role each person is a unique soul and important to God, even if not valued by other people.

So every homeless person that dies in some isolated place is of great importance to God.

For our part we all want to serve God, and be useful to humanity.

Sometimes we wonder why God does not give us more gifts so that we could be more useful.

For instance, if we had more knowledge we could cure cancer, or solve other problems, or invent new things.

We would all like to be more gifted than we are. Maybe brighter, better-looking, more capable in general, braver, maybe richer. And younger… and on and on we could think of qualities we would like more of.

And most of these we don’t get! We have to put up with how we are, and that is usually very limited.

Some people are exceptionally gifted, and that is, as the word says, ‘exceptional’. That means everyone else is not exceptionally gifted.

We are probably part of ‘everyone else’, not setting the world on fire.

One reason we can see why Almighty God does not entrust us with all these gifts is to keep us humble.

There is a danger that if we had too many abilities we could give way to pride and use those abilities to work against the will of God.

Human history gives many cases of talented people advancing their own cause and not the Kingdom of God. All of history’s tyrants, for example.

Of all the qualities we have, the most important is that we be in union with God Himself.

Union with God is our life itself. We are dead spiritually if we do not have that.

I could be the best tennis player, the smartest scientist, the most witty conversationalist; but I am not even alive if I do not have God’s life in my soul.

To be aware of this is to be humble, the quality highlighted in today’s parable (take the lowest place).

Humility is knowledge of God’s infinite greatness and my own nothingness by comparison.

We all take the lowest place in relation to God Himself. We do not concern ourselves with comparisons with other people.

Others may be more or less gifted than I am. Let them be. My task is to be exactly who and what God wants me to be.

This is the best way I can serve humanity; also the best way to find happiness.

The saints give us the example. All saints are noted for their humility. Our Lady, the greatest saint, was also the most humble.

She was sinless, meaning she never opposed her will to that of God. Every sin is an act of pride on our part.

Mary’s humility enabled her to be totally an instrument in God’s hands and meant that He could entrust her with such important tasks as she had.

If we are truly humble we can expect to be entrusted with more gifts (cf parable of talents).

If God can see that we are capable of basing everything on His will He is more likely to trust us with greater things.

If we break from His authority we will lose whatever gifts we had.

It is hard for us to be indifferent to human esteem. We would all like to be thought well of by others.

But here again we are far more likely to be esteemed if we are in right relationship with God.

We will then be more useful to others because we have more grace working within us and we will achieve greater things.