Thursday, 24 September 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost 20 Sep 2015 Sermon

17th Sunday after Pentecost 20.9.15 Loving God

The need for religion is often disputed along the lines that a non-religious person can be just as good, or just as useful, as a religious person.

One often hears a statement something like this: I have one neighbour who is kind and good but does not go to Mass; and the other neighbour goes to Mass but he is a drunkard and dishonest etc. The inference is that religious observance is essentially a waste of time. Just be good and that is all you need.

And beliefs do not matter either, under this approach. Whatever you believe makes no difference as long as you treat other people well.

But it does matter what we believe, and religious observance is important and necessary.

We have to worship the right God. To say that it does not matter which God we believe in would be like saying it does not matter which woman is your wife! Identity does matter.

For the two ‘neighbours’ we can say that the one who goes to Mass should let himself be changed by the grace of God and so live a better life. The one who does not believe or does not practise his religion – if he is as good as claimed - he will be better still if he learns to pray and give due honour to God.

The first command is to love God. We do not satisfy the first command by keeping the second. The first command has its own obligations.

To love God with one’s whole heart, soul and mind means a lot more than lending your lawn mower, and bringing in someone else’s bin.

It requires each of us to give God our whole allegiance; to seek Him out; to express trust in Him at all times; to pray to Him; to give Him praise and thanks; to express sorrow for offending Him; to take part in the Mass; to submit every thought and desire to His will.

God does not need our love but we need to give it.

This is the stage that is often missed as we leap instead into action, often misdirected, motivated by self rather than by God.

Unless we are seeking to do His will perfectly we cannot claim to love Him according to the first and greatest commandment.

We find Him in our neighbour but we must also find Him in Himself.

All this takes nothing away from love of others but should add to it.

If we give due honour to God we have much more chance of achieving real love of neighbour, which includes: forgiving those who offend us, praying for those who persecute us, seeking to bring others to faith… being willing to sacrifice any of our own preferences for the greater good.

Our love must be practical (Jm 2,16). We cannot just wish our brother well; we must actually help him, if we can. On the other hand if we are thinking only at the level of physical or material need we can overlook the deeper meaning of our actions.

Neither command is as easy as it sounds, but keeping either one will help us to keep the other.

We must be assured that to spend time in prayer to God; studying His ways; revising our behaviour in the light of His will – all these things are not a waste of time. They are in fact essential.

If we are not in union with the One from whom all else comes how can we expect to get other things right?

Yet so many are running about ignoring God because they have no time for Him. They race about so busily, even on Sundays.

Only with God’s help can we love Him in the way that He desires. May He give us that help.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

16th Sunday after Pentecost 13 Sep 2015 Sermon

16th Sunday after Pentecost 13.9.15 Know thyself

St Paul prays that we come to know God as He really is.

And the Gospel exhorts us to humility. Humility is knowing myself as I really am.

If I know God as He really is, and myself as I really am, things will work much better.

If we knew God better we would be more likely to obey Him. This in turn would bring His healing power into the world – a world which is so lost but does not have to be so.

Knowing God: this is not easy at first, because He is invisible and we cannot approach Him as easily as we can another person.

We can grasp mentally how good He must be but this does not easily transfer to the emotions. We do not easily feel His goodness.

We can approach in various ways. We can thank Him for His blessings; that is a start. All the beauty of our world; all the things we take for granted. Whoever is behind all this must be Someone!

Then if we actually obey Him we will start to see the marvellous order of His providence at work. People blame God for all that goes wrong, but it is only our disobedience to Him that causes all the trouble.

If we start to walk in his ways it will become clearer. With growing confidence in Him we will accept His will without complaint, and with complete trust. Then we will see many graces at work, presently obstructed by disobedience and lack of faith.

Whether we understand all the details or not we will go with Him to the finish. Nothing will separate me from the love of God. (cf Rm 8,39)

Knowing self: Any status we have is because we are created by God. Even our very existence is from him and any value we have could only be from Him.

Many try to detach themselves from Him, to run independently. This cannot work for long.

We humble ourselves before God. Humility is not lowering ourselves to be something less, but more a trimming of all the vanities we put on ourselves – till we finally get to the real person.

Vanities – the games we play to try to impress others, or to disguise our faults.

If we remove all them we discover what is underneath. We may be afraid there will be nothing there, but in fact what we find is someone made in God's image.

We try to impress each other, when in fact our real dignity lies in being children of God, redeemed by blood of the Lamb. He calls us friends (cf Jn 15,15)

One potential vanity is namedropping, casually mentioning important people. Well, we can all say, I know God. He calls me His friend!

The fact that others can say the same thing does not make it any less real for me. I don’t need to put you down to be important myself. We can all be important and still humble. The humility is not inflating oneself in any false way; simply sticking to the truth.

The truth is impressive enough if we would let ourselves look at it.

This gives us a new way of seeing ourselves and others.

No more looking down on others – for being poor, or not good enough, or any reason. We are all created in God's image and meant for salvation.

We learn to see the true image in each person and not fall into the usual traps.

Finally we shall know as we are known (cf 1 Co 13,12).

Thursday, 10 September 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost 6 Sep 2015 Sermon

15th Sunday after Pentecost 6.9.15 Conversion

Our Lord restores the son to his mother. If we take the mother to be the Church and the son to be individual sinners then we can see what this miracle symbolises.

This miracle causes great excitement as it naturally would. To see a miraculous healing is one thing. To see a dead person come back to life is even more spectacular.

Our Lord could have done this every day of the week, but we have only three cases recorded in the Gospels (this young man, the daughter of Jairus, and Lazarus).

He intended to raise everyone from the dead eventually; but for the time being He had another priority – to raise from sin!

It may not seem so to us but to be forgiven from sin is a greater thing than to be raised from the dead.

This is because sin is a greater evil than death. Death is only the penalty for sin. It is Sin which is the ultimate evil.

To be raised from sin is the more immediate problem. It is like the difference between curing the symptom and curing the disease itself.

But there is a snag. Not everyone wants to be forgiven; nor to give up the life of sin.

Sin is addictive and can be very hard to shake off. There are some sins which we will find easy not to do (eg bank robbery, murder) but others which are much harder to avoid (eg uncharitable words and thoughts).

This is true even for those who are disciples of Our Lord, who are trying to live good lives.

It is even more difficult for those who are not His disciples, who hate or ignore Him.

How can they give up sin when they do not even believe in Him, or may not acknowledge that they have any sin?

It is hard even for God to get through to some people.

He could easily override their will and make them sorry; but He chooses not to do this.

He wants to win people over by love rather than by force, so He works on them in a more subtle way - which gives them the chance to refuse.

To be forgiven we have to make a voluntary acknowledgment of our sorrow. It is His grace and mercy at work, but we have to make a response for the process to be complete.

It has to be voluntary, and this is where the blockage occurs.

God will work in mysterious ways around each person, but will not force them.

Sometimes - out of the blue as it seems to us – people will convert and repent, and be much happier in the process.

We rejoice in this but we need it to happen more often and more quickly.

There are millions of people throughout the world who are right now in a state of sin, and this would be in many cases mortal sin. They need rescue.

This is a crisis bigger than anything that makes our daily news. It may not be a visible problem but it is very real.

We can help by standing firm in the state of grace, constantly praying and doing penance for the conversion of others.

This is one of the Church’s major purposes for existing – to be a Mother for lost children.

Prayer will make conversions more likely to happen; and the more prayer the more good will follow.

The Church prays collectively all the time for the conversion of hearts and minds, for true sorrow for sin to take root, and for the mercy of God to complete the process of forgiveness.

Once forgiven each person then becomes responsible for helping others to reach the same point.

We are here because we have been fortunate enough to discover the workings of God’s grace. We have a duty to be grateful for that and also to do whatever we can to direct that grace to others.

Lord, have mercy!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

14th Sunday after Pentecost 30 Aug 2015 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 30.8.15 Spiritual maturity

God gives us what we need - that is what He thinks we need not what we think we need. (We have to read the fine print!)

We want money and cars and houses. He wants us to have humility and patience and generosity.

He does give us the material things too, but most of all He wants us to have the right idea about what we really need. So He says, Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and all else will be given you besides.

He wants to save us by transforming us, changing the way we think, the way we value things; and this is preparing us for heaven.

He wants us to reach the point where we would be more likely to ask for humility or similar virtue, more fervently than we would ask for a new car etc.

We are allowed to ask for the things we need for basic comfort and dignity – enough to live on; food and shelter etc. But when it comes to more luxurious things we have to be prepared to live without them, if God so wills it.

Even the basic things we cannot guarantee fully, because circumstances might not permit them (eg war, famine). But we can always ask, and we are more likely to receive if we ask, than if we do not.

God wants us to understand that to possess Him is more important than to possess the various blessings He can give. He is greater than anything He has made, so we should be happy with Him. If we find ourselves murmuring with discontent it must mean we do not properly value God Himself.

Why does he withhold blessings? Sometimes He wants to give us different blessings, so if He refuses one thing it is only to give us something that will be better for us.

One thing in particular that He wants to bless us with is our ability to trust Him. He does not tell us much about the future. He lets us discover it bit by bit. This is frustrating for us as we would like to know certain things in advance. But He wants to keep us trusting in Him. So we have to pray our way into the future.

It is ironic that we trust other people more than we trust God. eg pilots, surgeons. We let them do more than we let God do.

God is proving us, refining us, seeking to bring us to spiritual maturity. So that we learn to relate to Him in a smooth consistent way, covering all times, not just when we have a pressing need.

We ask and thank all in one continuous motion. And what we ask takes on a less selfish quality, including the needs of other people, and that the plans of God unfold (His Kingdom come).

An example of this prayer is found in Our Lady at Cana. Son, they have no wine (Jn 2,3). No fuss, no panic. Knowing He would do something.

Once we have reached this higher level of spiritual maturity it turns out we are more likely to get the things we would have wanted in the first place.

The saints are the people who are most likely to work miracles. Yet they worry the least about what they have. This should tell us something.

How to get what you want. The first thing is to want something higher (Kingdom) and then we go back to getting what we want, only now trimmed of all the selfish excesses.

This is how God saves us. He leads us to this after we have gone every other place.

We are grateful that He has denied us a lot of things to give us what we have.

We navigate our way through life ignorant of so much, but we make progress to the final fulfilment. In Heaven it will be more straightforward!