Thursday, 26 February 2015

1st Sunday of Lent 22 Feb 2015 Sermon

1st Sunday of Lent 22.2.15 Perfect contrition

Lent is a time to get over sin and discover its opposite, which is grace. Mary, full of grace. What must it be like? To be totally free of sin.

Many people today think they are free of sin, but they are sadly mistaken.

They deny that they have sinned, or that there is such a thing as sin.

People are unclear what the laws are anymore. Do the Ten Commandments still apply? Yes, they do.

Or they will disclaim responsibility. They will say they cannot change from the way they are. They will keep doing as they do till the day they die.

‘I am only human’ now means I am linked with Christ’s humanity so we can draw upon His strength when we face temptation.

Others again will presume they are forgiven without the need to confess, relying on the love of God to clear up any damage.

Indeed, we should rely on the mercy of God. But first we must acknowledge that we have sinned.

Then we can repent, with a firm purpose of amendment of our behaviour and attitudes.

Repentance means that we have come to a genuine sorrow for the sin, and a desire not to sin again.

We can get better at this. The sorrow we feel for sin is called contrition.

Contrition can be perfect or imperfect.

Perfect contrition is being sorry for our sins because they offend God.

Imperfect contrition is being sorry mainly because we are afraid of punishment.

The imperfect can be made perfect. We can (and should) grow in our appreciation of what is involved.

How to make more perfect confessions? One thing we can do is to contemplate the Cross of Christ.

When I sin I am causing Him to suffer; I am putting in a few extra blows.

When we force ourselves to see this we do back off. Not just because we are afraid of punishment but because we are beginning to love Him.

We have a greater sense of His identity and His goodness. We do not want to harm something that is perfect.

We would not deface a work of art (even if we do not like it).

All the more so we would not offend the perfection of God. We come to see sin as unthinkable.

Gradually we form a better grasp of God’s own lovability. This will strengthen us greatly.

So we contemplate Our Lady, who was conceived - and lived - without sin. She was above all this: sin would never have even occurred to her, so absorbed was she in God’s goodness.

We call on her help to retrieve what has been lost. It sounds so obvious when we spell it out but we find it so difficult in the heat of battle to remember these basic truths.

We do not precisely know how sorry we are for our sins, but we know we can always become more so. Sorry enough that we will never sin again, or at least a lot less often.

It is no loss of happiness (as we might fear). Sin brings only the illusion of happiness. True contrition brings the real thing.

Hail Mary, full of grace - help us this Lent to share in that grace which you discovered so abundantly.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Quinquagesima Sunday 15 Feb 2015 Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday 15.2.15 Remembering

During the week (12th Feb) we had the feast of the seven founders of the Servite order.

They lived in the 13th century and went off to isolated places to contemplate the sufferings of Our Lord on the Cross, and of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross.

These are not things that people do every day. If you said to someone today that you were going off to contemplate the sufferings of Our Lord they would probably think you were crazy.

Yet it is something we all should be doing, if not to the same extent as monks and hermits, at least to the degree that it makes an effect on our lives.

We have all sorts of memorials in our world – acknowledging such things as wars and battles, new discoveries, important people and events. The hope is that we can learn a useful lesson from each memory, and where possible, apply what we have learnt.

Of all past events which need remembering and applying, the death of Christ stands alone.

As to learning lessons there are many from this event:

One, a lesson of gratitude. We have to be grateful that His death has atoned for our sins, and opened the gate of Heaven.

Two, we learn that greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends. A teaching which is reinforced in today’s epistle (1 Cor 13): that love is essentially sacrificial, an outwards movement from self to others.

Three, we learn not to try to tell God what to do. The apostles tried to discourage Our Lord from going to the Cross. This was the natural human reaction, which we probably would have done too - but it was not the right reaction.

The apostles did not understand that Our Lord was saving us by His death, which indeed is not the normal way of solving problems.

Four, we learn from the gravity of the event the damage our own sins do, and so repent.
How can we see the sufferings Our Lord received and not be moved to true sorrow?

With the Cross we are facing something beyond our full understanding. We can understand the general idea that God loves us enough to do this for us. But to understand it in our hearts as well as our minds is not so easy.

We will get better at understanding as we are immersed in it. With constant repetition, returning to the scene, we hope to deepen our understanding and response. Our eyes will be opened, the eyes of our souls.

Every Mass, every crucifix, will be a chance to remember a little more firmly each time.

And we have also the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, the practice of self-denial… all to drive home this point.

Also Lent and Holy Week. We must not think that because we know the story we can skip over it.

Some Christians ignore the crucifix because - they reason - Christ has risen, so there is no reason to dwell on His death.

But as we see, His death does need a great deal of dwelling on. The Servites left their riches and gave their whole lives to the task. If someone is remembering it makes up for all those who forget; and our own forgetting. The full meaning will dawn on us someday.

So we relive these events at every Mass, and call them to mind at other times.

The more people remembering the less people sinning. The more we grasp the Cross, the more certainly we rise from death.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sexagesima Sunday 8 Feb 2015 Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday 8.2.15 Learning from the Saints

The epistle today gives detail of St Paul’s extraordinary life and ministry. When we hear of such things, or stories of other saints, we are inspired but we might also be discouraged.

We might think we could never be that good, as good as such a saint, and so then abandon any ideas of improvement.

But, as with other spheres of human activity, we naturally look to the best for inspiration.

People watch the Grand Slam Tennis and the World Cup soccer etc because they want to see the best performers in each field.

The saints are like that. The saints are the A-league of how to live.

We may never be that good but we are highly likely to improve on what we presently are, if we turn to them for inspiration.

The basic lesson the saints teach us is to give all that we have to the task, to give one hundred per cent at all times.

This might sound too demanding yet it is what we would do in any area of interest.

If we are drawn to a particular interest we like to do better at it, whether it be art or music or gardening – anything we have a passion for.

These things, however, we could live without. We do not have to garden, or play tennis etc but we do have to love God. It is something built into our nature.

He has made us in such a way that we have a thirst for Him (like a deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is thirsting for Thee, My God (Ps 41,2)).

To refuse to do this would be like refusing to eat or drink. It is something we need; it is not an option.

This is something we did not ask for, just like we did not ask to be born. But we can be glad all the same that we have this opportunity.

The way to express this love is the same as we fulfil other needs, gradually, bit by bit.

To eat, for instance: we eat only a bit at a time. We cannot take all our life’s requirement at one meal.

So for love of God we can love Him completely by getting the next thing right in each case.

We do not have to climb a high mountain in one step. We merely have to deal with each situation as it arises, and find the option which most pleases God.

Most of what we have to do in life is not spectacular but the ordinary everyday things.

This is why St Paul emphasises humility as the key ingredient in his own life.

It is not the shipwrecks etc that he wants to talk about but the fact that whatever he has achieved was by God’s grace, and only by that grace. He trusted in God at every point, and the help he needed was always there.

And this is how we get by also. We cannot do this by our own strength, and yet we can do it - if we call on that divine strength.

We can and we must do this; not just opt out because it is too hard.

We are promised heaven if we head in this direction.

If we give God everything we have at any given moment then He will give us more capacity to love, each time we do that.

If we keep this process going, gradually all in us will be of Him. This is what the saints achieved, and what they inspire us to imitate.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Septuagesima Sunday 1 Feb 2015 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 1.2.15 Answering the call

The parable of the labourers in the vineyard is often associated with the need to pray for priestly and religious vocations.

Certainly we need to do that, but the call to work in the vineyard must not be seen as applying only to the priests and religious.

Every single person in the world is called to go and work in the Lord’s vineyard.

First, by becoming a disciple; and then by giving one’s whole life to His service.

Everyone is meant to be a disciple of Our Lord; and every disciple is meant to be a red-hot, switched-on disciple.

Not just a passenger or a spectator, but fully engaged in the Lord’s work.

This does not mean replacing priests and religious, but simply that each person has a role to play.

This role can be understood in two stages. The first is the general overall commitment. I would do anything for the Lord. Die for Him, follow Him, give up anything He asks me to…etc etc.

Then it becomes more specific. Not everyone is called to leave all their possessions and walk about as the apostles and other saints did.

Most disciples are called to live in houses, in streets, and go to work, like other people. But they do not think like other people. They think like Christ. (cf epistle, a whole different view of life, of values, of meaning).

Being a disciple can mean many things. It could mean being sick for a long period of time. It could mean being imprisoned by persecutors, or being put to death simply for being Catholic.

As long as we are giving complete authority to God to direct our lives, we are going to be good disciples.

We do not have to compare ourselves with others (as they did in the parable); we simply do what each one is required to do.

If the generality of disciples are fervent it will not be difficult to draw from that number some who will take on more specific roles such as priests and religious.

Our problem with ‘vocations’ at the moment is lack of faith in the broader population of Catholics, so there is a much smaller pool to draw from regarding religious vocations.

This would be fixed in a moment if there were more fervent lay people.

So we find we are all working in the vineyard, by all doing whatever each is meant to do; in general willingness, and then in matters more specific to each person.

The sooner we answer such a call the better for each person, and for the whole Church.

Those who come in early should not envy the late-comers, because there is actually more happiness in serving the Lord than in wasting our time in worldly pursuits.

The sooner we find focus and direction the greater our chance for happiness.

When we ask the Lord to send labourers to His vineyard we are still thinking of priests and religious, but we are also asking for all disciples to find their proper place.

So many are drifting through this life without really understanding that they have this very specific call directed to them.

How many think of ‘religion’ as just a minor part of their lives, if that much?

Our young generally have been given too much freedom to define their own future, and many of them have come to grief, not knowing how to handle that freedom.

Our prayer is that the young will heed the call; and those who have already answered the call will be refreshed by the grace of God, enabling them to persevere to the end.