Friday, 27 March 2015

Passion Sunday 22 Mar 2015 Sermon

Passion Sunday 22.3.15 The perfect sacrifice

People of every age and culture have felt the need to offer some sort of atonement for their sins.

It is something written in our nature, to want to set right what we have made wrong. This is what is operative when we are troubled by our consciences.

False religions had only a dim view of God and of sin.

The Jews of Old Testament times had finally the right God and mostly the right idea of sin, but they were still restricted as to how they could set things right.

They offered sacrifice to God but the sacrifices did not have the power to cleanse from sin.
God accepted them at the time (when they were offered with sincerity) but He was preparing to give them (and later generations) a much more effective sacrifice.

God would give Himself as the sacrifice to be offered back to Himself! God the Son would offer Himself as Victim and God the Father would accept the sacrifice.

Finally the human race had found a way to set things right. The Blood of Christ would cleanse from sin all who participate in this perfect sacrifice.

We owe a debt to God for the sins we have committed, a debt we could never repay by anything we possess.

But the blood of the Lamb is precious and infinitely valuable. If we offer that Blood we can please God more than our sins displease Him.

We offer Christ to the Father but also Christ takes us to the Father: Father, look upon X or Y; be pleased with him/her as you are pleased with Me.

This cannot, however, be merely a ritual action. We must join to the action the appropriate contrition of heart and mind. We must be sincerely sorry for our sins and desire to be set free from them;

Free as to guilt; and free as to not being addicted to them.

This is what is meant by being cleansed. We are clean all the way to the inside.

It is hard for us to shake off habits of sin and wrong ways of thinking we have picked up over the years.

But it can be done, and each Mass should help. It is at Mass most of all that we enter into the perfect sacrifice. We are not perfect but what we sacrifice is. That perfection will rub off on us and yield at least an improvement.

Christ’s own attitude inspires us. We are not used to seeing that sort of generosity.

How many people would die for you, or pay your debts? We are moved by His generosity not just as an inspiring idea, but as we commune with Him we take on some of what He has.

We ourselves become more generous, more loving, more able to make sacrifices for others.

We come to see things differently; we are no longer slaves to sin. Distorted ways of thinking are set straight.

This happens especially at Mass. When we participate in Mass we need to enter the experience as something vitally concerning us. We are not just spectators of an event which is off somewhere else.

It is easy to miss all of this. Not to see our sins; not to see the Mass as more than a ritual; not to see that only through the Blood of Christ can we be saved.

The vast number of Catholics who do not attend Mass indicate how dimly these things are understood. If people really knew what happened at each Mass they would be breaking down the door to get in.

For us who do attend, may we also understand, and each of us enter more fully into the perfect sacrifice – offered for our own sins and those of the whole world.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

4th Sunday of Lent 15 Mar 2015 Sermon

4th Sunday of Lent 15.3.15 Perseverance

This Sunday is about the half-way point of Lent. When we are half-way to something we may need encouragement to persevere to the end.

We may have forgotten why we set out, and we are not yet in sight of the desired destination.

So we can lose hope.

This Sunday (Laetare) reminds us why we did set out and helps us to focus once again on the final goal.

The Israelites made a physical journey, which brought them both physical and spiritual freedom.

They were freed from the actual physical slavery of Egypt, and freed (if they took up the offer) from the spiritual slavery of sin.

The movement of the journey symbolises the change of status. Let us move from here to there – here, being the place of sin; there, being freedom from sin.

It is not a physical movement for us because all places on this earth seem much the same from a spiritual point of view.

For us it is a spiritual re-location, moving from habits of sin which we learnt early in life, and which we see everywhere around us – moving to a ‘place’ where there is no sin.

Well, we have never seen such a place – and that is just our problem with discouragement.

We might doubt that we can ever get there, being conscious of our own frailties and the general frailty of the human race.

So Our Lord comes and give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, food for the journey - heavenly food which will sustain us and give us the hope and courage we need to stay on course.

Our lifetime is often referred to as a journey. We are born; we travel for a while; then we die. (Birth to Death)

We could see another journey in this process: the moving from slavery to freedom. (Death to Birth)

This journey is much harder to trace as it involves a certain amount of back-tracking and zig-zagging! And it is harder to finish also, as sinlessness is an elusive destination.

But we see how good it would be to reach the land where no one sins. We all want to go to Heaven, which is such a place. But if we can why not make some Heaven here?

We need a lot of encouraging. It is possible if we really apply ourselves, but how much reminding we seem to need.

We see the Israelites had great difficulty both remembering why they had started on the journey, and also living by the new rules.

Forgetting and Remembering seem to be at the heart of the matter.

It is only when we forget our origin and our destination that we behave disgracefully.

When we remember we are humbled again and ready for anything.

This is one reason we have the Holy Mass, the Rosary and all the devotions. We say the same things over and over again because we need re-assurance. These things are always true and always within reach, but somehow we may not be looking or listening.

Is God harder to find than He should be? It is largely our own doing if it seems so. The less we sin the clearer He becomes; the clearer He becomes the less we sin… and so on.

If He hides Himself it is only to prompt us to search harder; also to remind us that we cannot settle in the desert. This is a pilgrimage not a destination. Anyone who seeks only earthly happiness has missed this point. We cannot stay here, and should not want to.

Instead we press on for the Land which is Promised to us, ultimately Heaven, and for this life as good as we can make it.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

3rd Sunday of Lent 8 Mar 2015 Sermon

3rd Sunday of Lent 8.3.15 Vigilance

When we read the New Testament we get a strong sense of the perfection that is required of a disciple of Christ.

For example, in today’s epistle we are told to live in charity, to avoid even a mention of impurity, and to live in the light.

Many other passages say the same sort of thing.

By a sort of unofficial agreement many Christians have decided to take these instructions very loosely, reasoning that it is not possible to live them, so they should not be taken too seriously.

This has led over time to an erosion of spiritual fervour in the Church, to the point that today many Catholics-by- name have only a very remote connection either with the Church or with Our Lord Himself.

How did we get to this place from where we were at Pentecost, when there was such enthusiasm and commitment?

We have allowed the devil to rob us of our inheritance.

The Gospel describes how a person can be set free from sin only later to return to even worse sin.

This is exactly what has happened to many Catholics. They have been baptized and so freed from original sin. They have confessed their own sins, for a time.

But now they have left the Church altogether and are wandering in a spiritual desert, neither looking for God’s mercy, nor thinking that they need it.

The devil has robbed them of the treasure they possessed. How does he do this?

Some, as in the parable of the Sower, give up the faith as a result of adversity – tragedy, disappointment, some sort of mistreatment from another Christian - and they leave the Church.

But God remains God and all we ever believed about Him remains true. If I have a major disappointment, no matter how great, it cannot change God Himself.

He will compensate us for our sufferings; somehow He will make it right. But we have to be within reach of Him for this to happen.

We have to be prepared to wait on the Lord to see what He is doing. He will surprise us with joy, repeatedly. Cf Easter Sunday after Good Friday.

Others (as in the parable of the Sower) simply drift away, caught up in the affairs of the day.

Neglecting prayer and penance, gradually forgetting God altogether, they are at the mercy of whatever currents are flowing.

Today’s Gospel reminds us of the need to maintain our faith in prime working order. We service our cars. We have our teeth checked, eyes, ears … but what about our souls?

These more than any other part need to be in good order. The state of our soul defines our position with God. We are either in union with Him, or not. This means ultimately we spend eternity in heaven or hell.

If we neglect spiritual matters we risk losing everything else.

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Mt 16,26)

Today there is so much confusion in the Church about these matters.

Who has spread all this confusion? Various humans have contributed, but behind it all is the cunning Tempter, seeking to rob us of the treasure we have received.

It is very sad that he has had so much success.

He can be resisted if we apply ourselves, but we do have to realize there are many pitfalls, and some of them are very subtle.

We must ensure that we do not, for any reason, abandon our faith. And that we maintain a pattern of prayer and sacraments such that we are always vigilant.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

2nd Sunday of Lent 1 Mar 2015 Sermon

2nd Sunday of Lent 1.3.15 Transfiguration

The Gospel of the Transfiguration puts before us the dramatic contrasts we experience in this life – such contrasts as between joy and sorrow, security and fear.

It is very hard for us to ignore what our senses perceive. If something frightens us, for instance, it is hard for us to summon forth courage to face the problem.

It is hard to believe in more than we can see, and hard to hope for good outcomes when all indications suggest otherwise.

I say ‘hard’ but not impossible. With grace and faith we can do all these things.

Our Lord supplies all that we need, if only we hold firm enough to ask Him.

We really need to be able to do this almost every day as we negotiate various disappointments, sufferings, setbacks, and fears.

And that is just in our personal lives.

We also have to think as the Church, with all the problems we encounter. We feel like a boat on the ocean, tossed about so many difficulties – persecutions, confusion of beliefs, internal division and human weakness in general.

We could have a huge lack of confidence with all these factors in play.

So it is good to be reminded that we believe in a God who is all-powerful and all-good.

The Transfiguration is one of those times when God gives us a glimpse of His greatness.

It is very brief but should be enough to re-ignite our flagging spirits.

He has the goodness to want to save us from sin and death. He has the power to overcome those twin enemies which have caused us such distress.

Their power looks very strong to us, even invincible (the senses, again!). But Our Lord puts them in their place.

This is My Beloved Son. He connects humanity with divinity, giving us a way above all our troubles. We can all find refuge in Him. He is Victory, seen from any angle.

And He is just as real and as close as He ever was.

Peter said, It is good to be here. So we can say, it is good to be here, wherever we are; because we can call on Him in any place and He will not be far away.

So we wonder how we manage to get so downcast as we do.

It is because we do not reflect deeply enough on His presence.

He wants us to trust in Him, and we have less excuse than the apostles had for doubting Him.
They did not know how the story would end, but we do.

It is like watching a film for the second time. It is not so scary because we know that even though Our Lord was put on the Cross He would rise again.

We still manage to be afraid, however, and to have all the other negative reactions.

So this Gospel and this season of Lent are put before us, to steady us down and help us get back on track.

Why do you doubt, you men of little faith (Mt 14,31)? No matter what our senses present to us, we will survive, holding on to the Saviour.

This applies to both present day problems, to each one’s lifetime, and to the whole Church in general.

We cannot understand all that God is doing, but just hang on anyway.

Keep the right perspective and all becomes clear. See the steadfastness of the martyrs and other saints.

See Mary at foot of Cross. It really does come right if only we stand our ground.