Thursday, 30 July 2015

9th Sunday after Pentecost 26 Jul 2015 Sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost 26.7.15 Punishment

We have two sets of people being punished in today’s readings: the Jews of Moses’ time (Epistle), and the Jews of Our Lord’s time (Gospel).

There were over a thousand years between these two groups. And another two thousand years on to our time.

As the song says, When will they ever learn?

We, the human race, do not seem to make much progress in wisdom or humility, or plain obedience to the will of God.

When people reject God they take up other things which are not only inferior to God but positively opposed to Him.

The worship of false gods always involves blatant immorality because it is, at root, the worship of Satan.

It is often observed today that there is probably more evil on the face of the earth today than at any time in history.

And we wonder in our conversations whether the world is heading for a mighty big chastisement in view of the blatant and continuous insults to God.

We would enjoy seeing some of the evildoers put to rout, as is a frequent request in the Psalms and other Old Testament books.

But we also would be sad to see massive destruction of life (including the innocent).

So we pray for other means to change people’s hearts, not just wiping them out.

We can be like Abraham praying outside of Sodom [If there be ten good men etc…Gn 18,20-33].

We want people to repent. For their sake and for the sake of the world in which we live. It is a lot easier if everyone is behaving.

We should not want enemies to be smitten unless for their good, offering them every chance to repent. So we are not motivated just by vengeance or malice.

Or we can wish them to be smitten for the good of others, as in the destruction of an aggressor (eg an invading army, against which we use force, not out of malice, but to protect the innocent life of those being invaded.)

We can have justified anger against many, but we are obliged to desire their salvation.

As God says Himself: He takes no pleasure in the death of a wicked man; rather let him turn from his evil way and live (Ezek 33,11)

We might have our ideas what God should do but we must leave it to Him to know exactly what to do in each situation, and with each person.

We humans can be harsh or lenient at the wrong times. God will always get it right. We allow our passions to interfere; this is not a problem with God. He is even-tempered!

When God does punish it is not because He has finally lost His temper, but because He sees that it is necessary to use strong methods with certain people.

Some will resist even when punished. They will probably deny it is God at the heart of it anyway (eg they will say an earthquake is just natural forces at work). Or they will take offence at the idea that God would punish, and still refuse to submit to Him.

In the meantime we pray both that people do repent, and that we be spared from destruction. Both intentions will be more likely to become reality if we pray, and pray unceasingly.

We persevere in this prayer whether we think people are going to repent or not. Always at least some will repent, even if not the generality of people. If nothing else we will be reparating for evil done.

Reparation is important and necessary. We are like the people gathered at the foot of the Cross. For pure love of God we are sorry for the offences made against Him.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

8th Sunday after Pentecost 19 July 2015 Sermon

8th Sunday after Pentecost 19.7.15 The way to happiness

We are taught as children not to eat everything in sight; not to be greedy; to consider others, and various other points of etiquette and character-building.

It is good for us to learn manners, but there is also a spiritual parallel here to be learnt.

As we should not reach out too greedily for the food, nor should we for any other perceived benefit.

As we learn restraint and self-discipline in one area so we need to apply it in all areas.

We learn to be patient, humble, generous, considerate of others; and not to be ruled by our appetites.

We need to cultivate these attitudes and make them the basis of our whole spiritual life.

If we are patient with God Himself we will obey Him even when there is no immediate or obvious reward; and even if there is no obvious penalty for disobeying Him.

It is not that hard insofar as God has laid it out for us like a garden. Everything you want, just ring, and you shall have it. The only tiny condition is that you must not touch the forbidden fruit.

And as soon as we are forbidden something we want to know why, and think about how we can get around that command. No matter how much God blesses us we still want to sneak a little more. We don’t want to wait around to be happy. We want to be happy now, as well as later.

So we are tempted to advance our own interests even if it means going against God Himself.
This is the essence of all temptation and all sin.

Sin is snatching at happiness in a way that is too much too soon (like being greedy with food).

If Adam and Eve could not withstand the temptation we are in a worse position because human nature has been weakened by the first sin, and we live in a sin-infected world.

But there is still the same essential simplicity of the choice before us as Adam and Eve faced.

We are still promised happiness if we obey God; and threatened misery if we disobey.

We are no longer in the Garden but God still wants to bless us and make it as easy as possible.

Adam and Eve misfired. Jesus and Mary came along and did better. And now they are helping us to extricate ourselves; to give up slavery to sin and take up holiness of life instead (epistle).

In small and steady ways, in a thousand little things, we can make progress as we throw off the old yoke and take on the new identity.

We can change ourselves if not the whole society.

I cannot stop other people bashing and robbing, lying and killing. But I can stop myself from those things; or even the less obvious sins like speaking ill of others, laziness, pride, anger.

The closer we get to the way of Christ the better we are going to feel, and we can make at least some impact on the whole society, especially if many of us are making the same resolutions.

We must be patient with ourselves also, as we often stumble back into the old ways. We do not give up believing that it is possible to live without sin. It is simply a matter of following God’s instructions.

We learn to recognize the false logic of the devil: Disobey God and claim happiness now – this is the essence of his message.

We have learnt by now not to snatch at the forbidden fruit.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

7th Sunday after Pentecost 12 Jul 2015 Sermon

7th Sunday after Pentecost 12.7.15 Carried by grace

If we came across a large amount of money lying on the ground would we turn it in to some trusted authority, or would we pocket it?

Clearly one action is right and the other wrong.

If we do the right action it might be only for fear of getting into trouble; or it might be because such an action would come easily to us, as the obvious course of action. We have been trained in that much virtue at least.

In life we face several major points of decision and a lot more smaller ones. Every day we would face at least a few times when we have a choice between a better and a worse action.

How we decide will depend on various factors but much will depend on what sort of person we have become to that point, on our degree of character and sense of right.

It is better if we can habitually choose the right course because it has become a matter of course for us to do that. (Like Our Lady, for example).

Our Lord speaks today of good trees bearing good fruit - He wants this to be our habitual and normal state… good people doing good things all day long, without much turbulence.

It is God Himself that enables us to be like this. He gives us grace, firstly sanctifying grace which is the state of union with Him whereby we see things the way He sees them.

Then He gives actual grace which is the special impetus to help us in particular situations.
This is like having ‘wind assistance’. We are propelled in the right direction and carried a large part of the way.

Everyone will hit upon the right course of action sometimes but without union with God (being in a state of grace) there is a danger we will do good only when it suits us (and also make light of sin).

Unless we are in union with God our actions, though ‘good’ by human standards, do not have the supernatural quality that grace would give them. The main reason for doing good is to please God, just as the main reason for being sorry for sin is that sin displeases God.

If we are to be good and do good it requires an ongoing union with God, and then specific interventions by Him which will enable us to handle each situation in the best way possible.

We want to be good in private as much as in public; in our interior attitude as much as in our external behaviour. We want, above all, to be good simply to please God. Our actions, words and thoughts will all reflect His will.

As our union with Him increases this becomes more and more the normal state of affairs.

We come to find that being good is not such hard work as it might first seem, but actually a pleasure.

With heart and mind locked in union with God we find it ‘natural’ to rise above the usual sordidness of human nature.

It sounds easy when put like that, but we find it hard in practice when very few other people are concerned much about God’s will.

We have to go against the wind much of the time, the wind of popular opinion, of what is considered normal.

To be Christ-like in such an environment takes a lot of application but there is a lot of grace available and we can still do it. We go against the wind but the grace carries us where we need to go.

We can be not only good trees but trees which grow as our capacity to understand and carry out the will of God increases.

May He bring each and all of us to this state of happy and fruitful union with Himself.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

6th Sunday after Pentecost 5 Jul 2015 Sermon

6th Sunday after Pentecost 5.7.15 Souls and bodies

The Lord feeds the soul and not just the body. Many are happy to stay with the body and can think only in those terms: seeking pleasure etc.

In John’s Gospel account of this miracle (Jn 6) Our Lord escaped the crowd because they wanted to make Him king. He did not want them to see the miracle simply in physical terms - free food.

He did want to be their king but only in the full sense of what that would mean.

This miracle foreshadows the Eucharist. It is recorded in the Gospel so that future generations will understand the deeper meaning. So what does it mean?

Our Lord has brought bread that will satisfy; such that if we eat this bread we will never die (Jn 6,50).

He is asking us to understand something that we are inclined to forget or deny: that we are spiritual beings, not just bodies but souls.

And the soul has needs that might not be met, especially if people don’t even know they have a soul.

The world at the moment shows forth an even greater than usual insanity, engaging in physical and moral violence, tearing down traditional values. With a riotous self-indulgence, man asserts himself against God, denying His existence, yet hating Him too!

All of this is following the demonic pattern whereby the creature turns against the Creator; the inferior against the superior – as though we do not need the Creator.

But we do need Him even for the physical domain, such as food. And even more we need Him for the spiritual domain.

Without Him we have no meaning, no direction. We owe Him everything – praise, thanks, obedience, adoration.

Not only do we owe these things as a kind of debt, but it is a need within us to do them. It is something built into us by the Creator; something that we yearn for.

We are made for this: to know, love, and serve God - not just impersonally, but in complete union with Him.

It is a command to do these things, but it is also a desire. You shall want to love Him – more of a prediction than a command.

When we have muddled through enough of life and see the futility of all the wrong turnings, we understand that to love God is the right way forward.

Any ambition we might have – for marriage or career or achievement – any and every desire comes second to this one – to love God with all our heart, mind and soul.

Many people don’t know they have this desire, and many would deny it vigorously, but it is still a deep need within them. It is a hunger which ordinary bread, or any worldly pleasure, cannot satisfy.

The Eucharist feeds the hunger by enabling us to know, love and serve God, which in turn makes us happier. It is not the immediate happiness such as would result from ripping into a favourite snack. It is more subtle, working more slowly, but much better for the spirit.

We who do know we have souls are also tempted to put the physical first and the spiritual on hold. And we are tempted to stay with vague notions of God.

Instead we must go deeper, and not be afraid of greater commitment. When we know Him better we will want all the more to serve Him.

We can take it on His word that we do need Him, and He wants to give Himself; but we have to let Him do that; not to be permanently absorbed in the physical.

We are made for something greater; we are souls as well as bodies. With His help may we understand and reach our destiny.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

5th Sunday after Pentecost 28 Jun 2015 Sermon

5th Sunday after Pentecost 28.6.15 Being transformed

The Holy Mass could be seen as an event like others, something which begins at a certain time, ends at a certain time, and then on to the next thing.

But although Mass does fit into a schedule along with other events, it is of an entirely different order. The Mass is meant to change us within as we are caught up in divine and eternal mysteries.

Mass is something much bigger than I am. I can take in other events with a certain amount of detachment, but if I am to participate fully in a Mass I must lose myself in the mysteries.

We do not just ‘go to’ Mass; we are ‘taken up’ into Mass. Each Mass is an encounter with the infinite goodness and mercy of God Himself.

It helps a lot if we prepare for each Mass and put ourselves as far as possible into the right disposition. Today’s Gospel tells us not to come to the altar until we have been reconciled with anyone with whom we have some discord.

It is very difficult to know in some cases just how reconciled we are with certain other people. We may have a chance to be reconciled with those nearby, such as husband and wife. But for those further afield we are not required to go through the address book and ring up every person to say sorry!

We should, however, at least have good will towards all who have offended us. We should want the best possible thing for them, in terms of God's will.

And the best possible thing for them is to be in a state of grace, to be on the way to heaven. As to their earthly prosperity, again it is a matter of God’s will - whatever He wants for them is what we want.

It is tempting to want our enemies to suffer something, but we rise above this, with God's help. The epistle tells us that we should bless our enemies instead of curse them. We wish them in heaven, not hell!

We may be ready to reconcile but the other person may not. In that case we can at least want them to come to a better attitude – mainly with God, and by extension with us.

In terms of disposition for Mass charity is the most important point. It would be safe to say that none of us is as charitable as we should be.

Fortunately it is not just what we bring to the Mass but what the Mass can do for us.

In the Mass we receive the love of God, as we experience the effects of Our Lord’s sacrifice of Himself.

So the Mass enables us to be more charitable than we would have been if we had not come.

The same would apply for other qualities which we need to have: such as chastity, honesty, zeal for the faith, humility.

We can always use more of these qualities. Anything we lack when we come in to the Mass we can expect to have more of that quality when we go out again.

The Mass is a transforming experience if we let it be, if we want it to be.

Even if we doubt we can ever improve in certain areas we must not limit the power of God to our own expectations. Leave the window open for Him and He will come in!

And what we achieve in one Mass can lead to further growth in another.

May the Lord make us one, as we gather around Him!