Friday, 28 November 2014

Last Sunday after Pentecost 23 November 2014 Sermon

Last Sunday after Pentecost 23.11.14 The end of everything

We come to the Last Sunday of the Church year.

The prayers and readings naturally put us in mind of the last stages of time; the last moment of our lives; the last moments of the world itself.

It is an exciting, perhaps frightening topic. How will it all end?

Each year we say the same thing: I don’t know where this year has gone.

We have a sense of time rushing away. This should translate into a sense of urgency that we make sure we are ready for our own ‘going’. If time goes so fast then that must mean the end of my own life is approaching fast.

But it is easy to miss that connection; to amble along as though we have forever to get our spiritual affairs in order; to put off indefinitely the settling of accounts for when the Master returns.

The end of the year gives us a chance to contemplate the end of our lives and the end of the world.

‘End’ can have two meanings. End as in ‘finish’; and end as in ‘purpose’.

We could just avoid thinking about the certain end (finish) of our lives, and carry on as though it will never happen.

Or we can face matters squarely and say that while I still have time I will organise myself so that I am living life as it is meant to be lived. I am living for the end (purpose) until the end (finish).

The purpose of our lives is made clear in our Catholic faith - that we are created by God to know, love, and serve Him; to live in such a way that according to the talents He has given each person; and the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we will spend every moment in accord with His holy will.

This we do for all the time that remains for us, whether short or long.

Many believe in God but act as though He is not there. Maybe they think they will deal with Him when the time comes (death). But we have to deal with Him now. The principle of crossing each bridge as we come to it works for some things but not death and judgment.

Am I ready to die today? This is a question which must always be before us because we might die today. We can never say with certainty that we will be alive 24 hours from now.

The language of today’s Gospel, and similar biblical passages, is meant to stir us into a closer consciousness of these things.

Human nature is inclined to complacency. If the sky is blue and there is no earthquake or volcano actually in process we can sit back and say, It all seems plain sailing. Plenty of time to reform my life.

But even if there were no judgment it would still be the best thing to live in union with God and His holy will.

We want to be ready anyway, not just to handle crises that might emerge, but because it is the best way to be. We have discovered the end (purpose) of our lives before the end (finish).

The ‘threat’ passages of the Bible are conditional. If enough people actually do repent the terrible things foreshadowed need not happen.

The passages are there just so the things they describe will not need to happen.

We can take all the trauma out of dying and judgment, just by getting things right in good time.

If we put it off and put it off eventually the time will run out. One more year will go by and we will no longer be here to wonder where it went. Where then, did we go?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

23rd Sunday after Pentecost 16 Nov 2014 Sermon

23rd Sunday after Pentecost 16.11.14 Patient trust

The fallen angels rebelled against God because they thought they were equal to Him, or better.

Humans do much the same thing. They will challenge God, put Him on trial, tell Him what He should be doing.

Human beings are capable of many things but we must remember where it all comes from.

It all hinges on this: can we believe we are created by someone higher than ourselves; or do we think we have just happened into existence, with no one above us?

We are tempted by the devil to throw off all subservience to God and so decide our own destiny.

This temptation is at its strongest when things go wrong for us, or when we meet difficulties.

It needs time for faith to show its fruits. We have become accustomed to things happening at lightning speed (eg computers). But we cannot always have lightning speed in matters of faith.

In fact some things take centuries or millennia to happen.

We have to let God do things His way. He is not obliged to tell us anything.

We can ask Him to make His power and goodness evident and He will do that. But there are times when He will leave us in the mists of unknowing, giving us a chance to grow in wisdom and faith.

We have to be patient with God.

Some of God's blessings are mainly for the future. Resurrection of the body is a case in point.

Many will say they don’t believe in life after death because they have never seen anyone come back.

Some people have come back, not least Jesus Himself. But the point is that God has it within His power to raise the dead, whenever He pleases. It is no harder for Him to bring a person back to life than to create a life in the first place.

So far resurrections are rare, but we are told that all the dead will rise up on the last day. We will see then what we cannot see now.

It is so arrogant if we stand before God and say, I don’t believe this or that, because it does not fit into my time scale or my experience.

We know nothing before the majesty of God (See Job 38-42).

We believe in God, Creator of all that is, seen and unseen.

The unseen things are often more important than the seen. But what we have seen is a huge indication of what else there might be.

As we contemplate any part of God's creation we are left wondering: Where did all this come from? It must have been from a higher intelligence, and a benign intelligence as well.

If we can humble ourselves - like the woman who touched the hem of His garment (Gospel) - we will receive what we ask, or at least equivalent blessings.

We need a Saviour, someone smarter and better than we are. And we have Him. From Heaven comes the Saviour who will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into glorious copies of His likeness (epistle, Ph 3).

It is God's wish (in His time) to restore the soul and raise the body of each person; also to recreate the world, freeing it from the effects of sin.

Are we still along for the ride or did we get out along the way because of some grievance with God; still trying to tell Him what to do?

Just stay on board and we will come out alright.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica 9 Nov 2014 Sermon

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica 9.11.14 Unity

We live in an age where the rights and liberty of the individual are considered paramount.

Today’s feast gives us a much more corporate and balanced understanding of the matter.

The Lateran Basilica is the Cathedral church of Rome. It is therefore the central church in the centre of the Church, the church which more than any other in the world represents the unity of the Catholic Church.

This unity is something which partially we have, and partially we are still praying for.

Our unity stems from Christ Himself. He founded the Church which would be a visible link with Himself. Those who belong to this Church are united with Him and with each other.

Our Lord said He would found the Church on rock and now we have become a big rock. Not, however, a rock that is meant to crush, but to be a foundation on which we can stand.

The existence of the Church gives us a secure foundation for our individual lives. Without the Church we would not know Jesus Christ. It was the Church that gave us the Bible. It was the Church that has preached and taught the Gospel in every age since the time of Christ.

Many challenge the Catholic Church’s claim to teach the truth. We do not make this claim out of any sense that we are better or smarter than other people; only that Our Lord has guaranteed that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church in all important matters.

This is divine activity not human. We do not claim credit for it; we simply recognize the action of God when He does act.

Unity of Christians does not require that we all agree on everything – just the essentials.

We can have cultural differences regarding clothes, food, music and the like. We can have different personal preferences, for all sorts of things.

But we cannot have different beliefs when it comes to basic doctrines and practices.

Many Catholics in fact do not believe the same things as the Church teaches; nor do they observe the Church’s rulings on certain matters of morality or sacramental practice.

This is one of the perils of living in an individualistic age. We have the right to think for ourselves but not the right to pit our own individual wisdom against the wisdom of God Himself, as revealed through the Church.

So we can think for ourselves but there is still only one right answer (on the basic things at least).

Some will say that doctrines are not so important; that it is what we do that counts.

There is, however, no need for conflict between theory and practice; between having the right doctrines and living them out in practice.

We will not step over a poor man at our front gate so that we can go to Mass.

Nor will we feed the poor man, and then not go to Mass.

We can do both. We can meet all obligations to God and Neighbour, by the help of God’s grace.

Today, we give thanks for the unity we already have, and we pray for what is still lacking.

Our Lord Himself prayed for the unity of His disciples, as we see in John 17,21… that they may all be one.

He must have been looking into the future when He prayed that prayer!

What a tangle we have made of it, as of most issues.

Only God can answer His own prayer. We can help by not forgetting that we have a corporate as well as an individual identity.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

21st Sunday after Pentecost 2 Nov 2014 Sermon

21st Sunday after Pentecost 2.11.14 Complete Forgiveness

Today would normally be All Souls Day, but because it falls on a Sunday, the day of Resurrection, its observance will be kept tomorrow.

However, we can still think about the souls and pray for them.

The souls in Purgatory have been forgiven for their sins, but are not yet ready for Heaven because they still carry some scars from those sins.

To enter Heaven it is necessary to be free of all imperfection.

In the light of today’s Gospel we can think of one imperfection which just about everyone would suffer from: namely, the difficulty of forgiving those who offend us.

If the souls in Purgatory have this problem we pray for them. We pray for ourselves that we can sort this out before we die.

An ‘offence’ is anything that upsets us whether the other person was intending it or not, or even aware of it. Forgiveness is more about our state of mind than the other person’s.

Each indulged feeling of resentment is a blockage to the love and mercy of God. It has to be removed, to let the grace flow.

We can use reason. In calmer moments we see that a lot of our resentment is unnecessary and it blows over quickly. eg a minor traffic incident.

Other times we would have good reason to feel aggrieved at the way someone has treated us.

It may be much harder to forgive in these cases, eg someone steals your life savings, or harms someone you love.

But we are told: Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not.(Rm 12,14) And: … if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.(Rm 12,20)

We find this hard, yet, in the light of today’s parable it should be easy. All we have to do is pass on a small fraction of the love God has already extended to us.

He has forgiven us a large debt; can we not forgive a much smaller debt?

Reason tells us this much,

But we have passions which reason cannot easily control. If we had never sinned our reason would be in control all the time. But our thoughts and feelings are all over the place as a result of sin, and living in a sin-infested world.

We may know our resentments are silly and illogical but we still have them. We need divine grace to clean out the system; to enable us to think and feel as we should.

We need the grace to think like Jesus Himself as He hung on the Cross, and could still pray for those putting Him to death!

That is ordered thinking. If ever someone had a legitimate grievance it was Jesus in this position. This was the most unjust act ever committed in history, or that could ever be conceived, and yet He can calmly forgive it, giving full rein to divine mercy.

We could not do this by ourselves but we can do it with His help.

If we open ourselves to His forgiveness (and He included us when He said: Father, forgive them) then we are going to be able to do the same as Jesus did.

We will have nothing but goodwill towards those who have offended us, wanting them to know the mercy of God as we have known it.

How do we know if we have forgiven everyone? It may not be possible as a lot of our hurts are subconscious and may be way in the past. But it is more the attitude of forgiveness that we are cultivating. We can then forgive everything without necessarily even knowing what it was.

Forgiveness does not require that the offenders are sorry; only that we do not resent what they have done. We pray that they will be sorry where they need to be. We hope they are saved, and we will be glad to see them in Heaven. Strong stuff, but possible in the strength of Christ’s saving sacrifice.