Thursday, 27 August 2015

13th Sunday after Pentecost 23 Aug 2015 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 23.8.15 Thanksgiving

It is possible to take Almighty God for granted. As soon as we have whatever we ask from Him we are gone. This is ‘Gimme’ praying – Gimme this, Gimme that!

It is treating God like a servant or a secretary. When things go smoothly enough for long enough we can forget all about Him.

Instead we should thank Him – thank Him often and eternally.

To thank God is not just good manners; nor just an insurance that if we thank Him for the last blessing we are more likely to receive the next one. No, we thank Him because it is right to do so. It is something that needs to happen, and we need to do it.

Dignum et justum est. It has to be done. There is a kind of cosmic balance involved. God gives goodness out all the time. The creation, receiving His goodness, needs to return it in the form of thanksgiving.

To take God for granted is to become alienated from Him. We may not mean Him any offence; but we will surely be separating ourselves from Him.

We see plainly the consequences of this separation in the various disasters around us on the moral sphere. If we do not acknowledge Him we will have a distorted view of reality and humanity.

This in turn will lead to lots of sin and destructive behaviour.

How much better the world would run and how much happier we could be if we did acknowledge God’s centrality and superiority.

While it is right to see God as close to us, and providing for our needs, we must maintain a sense of His majesty and not forget that He is God.

We are tempted to fashion our own version of God, like the golden calf – a god who will make no demands on us.

When we thank Him we open ourselves to a transcendent view of reality; and break free from just the material and physical concerns of this world.

Then we find our true status before Him – we are infinitely inferior, and very fortunate that He treats us as well as He does.

If we humble ourselves before Him we will be exalted. But even when exalted we still remain grateful.

We are lucky He even made us in the first place. We had no claim upon Him then, and even less now that we have sinned. So we can at least be grateful. If we make it to Heaven it will be only by His mercy and grace. There the phrase ‘eternally grateful’ will apply.

In today’s Epistle we are reminded that Salvation is free gift. If we receive it gratefully and humbly the gift will take effect.

The moment we think we can do it ourselves it all starts to fall apart.

Our world denies God at every level, and many people pride themselves on doing that. And some want to stamp out every trace of recognition of God.

We must do the opposite of all that and bring Him back into public view. We must be the light on the hilltop. It is imperative that He be made known – because it is right and fitting; because we need it for our own sake; and because those living in darkness need it.

One man came back to say ‘thank you’. This has been our story ever since. The Mass is an expression of thanks, among other things. Where would we be without Jesus Christ and His sacrifice?

But we are not without Him and therefore in a very fortunate position. Gratias agamus Domino Deo Nostro!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

12th Sunday after Pentecost 16 Aug 2015 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 16.8.15 Where is God?

In the face of suffering, and especially injustice, people ask: Where is God?

Let us locate Him, and find out exactly where He is, and what His intentions are.

The Good Samaritan represents Jesus Himself, as the one who comes to relieve suffering.

God has deep compassion for all who suffer, and He seeks to bandage them up – to apply the remedy needed for each problem.

He also bandages up spiritual, emotional, mental problems, not just the physical. He is concerned for every corner of human existence.

People will say: No, he does not heal us. He lets the sufferings continue and leaves us to our own devices.

It is true that not every problem is solved immediately, nor exactly as we would wish it; but we can discern God’s intentions and His way of acting in our world.

Sometimes - many times - He does work a miracle and all is set right (eg the various healings and raisings from the dead in the Gospels).

But most of the time God shows His love for us by teaching us how to love.

There is a saying to the effect that while it is a good thing to give a hungry man a fish, it is better to teach him how to fish!

We could say the same thing for how God loves us. He does help us directly, and often with a miracle; but His main way of healing us is to teach us how to do what He would do, to love as He would love – to be ourselves Good Samaritans.

If there is a hungry man at my front gate I don’t just pray he get fed; I feed him myself. And this pleases God because this way two people benefit, the one receiving and the one giving.

If we can solve even one problem it is an improvement. We cannot solve every problem or save every person from hunger etc, but we do what we can and where we can. Even one good action will have an atoning effect, and will contribute to better structures in our society.

God is concerned for everyone - the one suffering, and the one who should be helping, and the ones who should be concerned for the overall workings of our society.

He loves us first, and this, if we let it take effect, must spill over into our own attitudes and actions.

Our attitude will be kinder and gentler. Our actions will be practical and helpful.

We will learn to love the unlovable – those who oppose us, who hate us, who persecute us.

We seek, as Jesus did, to bring them the mercy of God, to bring them to a change of heart.

Charity towards them will mean prayer for their conversion and offering the word of truth. Some of them at least will convert.

So it is not just a matter of praying that God do something, though we always pray. We have to see that we are involved in the equation. God wants to heal us of our problems at the same time as the people more obviously in need of help.

He heals us of hard-heartedness, selfishness, indifference to the sufferings of others.

God could rain down food on the hungry, give sight to all the blind, heal every sickness – all in a moment. But most of all He wants to change the way we think; to change our minds and hearts.

So this is ‘Where God is’, as so many ask.

We ask God why does He not do something? He asks us: why do you not do something?

It begins with me. It is always tempting to put the onus on someone else, but I have to learn to be Christ-like. It is not so hard as we might think: He loves us first; and He give us the grace we need for every situation.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

11th Sunday after Pentecost 9 Aug 2015 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 9.8.15 The gift of speech

He has made the deaf hear and the dumb speak (Mk 7,37). Our Lord, in working miracles, also had a deeper message. In this case the miracle symbolises His desire to open the ears of everyone to hear the word of God; and loosen the tongues of everyone to speak that word.

The greatest privilege of speech is not that we can talk to each other but that we can talk to God, and hear His word to us.

He has made us to be able to do this; we must not misdirect the power.

The misuse of the tongue must be in the top ten sins. Speaking evil to, or about, others - lying, blasphemy, gossip, insults, angry disputes, yelling - how much that is false, unkind, or destructive is spoken by the tongue.

The power of speech is explosive; it needs a lot of harnessing, as explained in the epistle of St James. The tongue is a small thing but it can do a great deal of harm. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind but no man can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. (Jm 3,7-10)

To be able to speak is a privilege, and a sign of the higher status that God has invested in the human race. It is up to us to use the gift wisely according to God’s intent. It will help if, before we speak, we first listen: Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening (1 Kings 3,10).

He intends that every word we speak should be edifying and constructive. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen….Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Eph 4,29-31)

We thank God for this gift and with His help we seek to eliminate the misuse.

In one way we have to tighten the use of the tongue – eliminating gossip etc. In another way we need to be loosened – in proclaiming the Gospel, encouraging, instructing, charitable correction.

We can be afraid of what others will think. So when we need to speak we may not, eg to correct an injustice.

St John the Baptist leads the way in a long history of courageous prophets who, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, found the right words.

Our Lord promised us that the Holy Spirit would give us the words to speak when taken before kings and governors (cf Mt 10,19)

If we are to speak good things there has to be goodness in the heart first. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries (Mk 7,21)

The Lord heals the whole person, not just one part of the body.

If we are healed within we will not make so many uncharitable or bad-tempered remarks, and the like.

Nor will we say too much. We will be like the wise man who keeps his counsel (cf Prov 29,11).

We will say the right thing, in the right amount, and in the best possible way.

Only the Holy Spirit can help us to do all this.

In a world which is noisier than ever before, where we are immersed in technology that enables more, but not necessarily wiser communication – we must maintain an interior silence.

From that silence, where we let God’s word act upon us, we are then qualified to speak.

May His word be heard and proclaimed among all His people!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

10th Sunday after Pentecost 2 Aug 2015 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 2.8.15 Fear of the Lord

The publican had it right because he acknowledged his nothingness before God.

The pharisee was presumptuous and proud. He declared himself righteous before God and that is a dangerous thing to do. True goodness is very exacting and is not something we should presume we have. And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone (Lk18, 19).

So we pray like the publican. We do this every time we offer the Mass. We use more words and ritual, but we are in essence repeating the publican’s words: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Every time we offer Mass we are renewing our share of the covenant; and bringing forth from God a new act of mercy on His part.

As often as this memorial sacrifice is offered, the work of our redemption is wrought. (Secret, 9th Sunday after Pentecost).

The mercy of God is current and immediate. We claim that mercy for the world. Lord, your people rebel against you non-stop, so we intercede nonstop, that you have mercy and win them over.

God has made a covenant with His people, and we are included in that. It is not, however, a covenant between equals.

God is superior to us in every possible point. What we have is only a sharing in what He has.

By the workings of grace we participate in God's life. We must never forget for a second that we are made by God, and kept in being by Him; and this so we can do His will, and live with Him forever in Heaven.

This is how things are set up. It will work fine if we keep our place, but if we break away at any point we will know great misery.

The covenant is in our favour because God gives far more to us than we give to Him.

Even what we do give is really His anyway (eg old sacrifices of animals or crops; and now His own Son!) Our giving does not add to what He already has, but He is pleased with our gratitude.

In a world which ever more ignores, insults, and disobeys God we go back to basics. My lifetime is as nothing in Thy sight (Ps 38,5)

Some will say that we do not have to abase ourselves before God. We can stand and look Him in the eye. No more need to kneel or bow before Him. They consider these things demeaning and not befitting our true status as children of God.

True, we are children of God, but children are supposed to honour their parents.

And all the more should we honour God as Father, and infinitely above us.

To show Him honour is not to contradict our status; it is an expression of that status. We are sinners brought in from the cold to dine at the Father’s table.

Even if we lived entirely good lives we would owe Him honour; but because we sin it becomes all the more necessary that we get back on the right footing with Him.

So our worship takes on a penitential flavour. We proclaim His greatness and our own nothingness.

Then, having restored the correct balance in the relationship, God can act in us and through us as He pleases (epistle).

The right attitude we seek is called Fear of the Lord. This is not fear, as in being afraid. Rather it is a healthy reverence; a sense of awe and wonder, which leads to joy; to a sense of relief and gratitude that we can enter God’s presence, despite being so unworthy.

God wants us to rejoice in His presence, to enjoy the good things He has given us; and to flourish in the light of His face.

Having entered in, God wants us to act like princes, His children, in showing the same bounty to others that we have received. Thus we want others to know what we have found.

We are all sinners and all called to greatness.