Thursday, 28 January 2016

Septuagesima Sunday 24 Jan 2016 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 24.1.16 The Promised Land

The Israelites took 40 years to reach the Promised Land. If they had walked in a straight line it is estimated they would have got there in 11 days!

The main reason that things took so long was that they continuously rebelled against God, either by complaining, or disobeying, or doubting Him.

If they had simply kept their heads down, their mouths shut, and done as they were told, they would have arrived much sooner.

So we are much wiser than they were? Highly doubtful. The human race in every generation seems to repeat the same sins, and for the same reason.

Pride, stubbornness, lusts of the flesh - all have their impact. God is routinely ignored, mocked, disregarded. And we make things much harder for ourselves as a result.

If we could think of our lives as a pathway from earth to Heaven then the straightest line would be one which required humility, obedience, gratitude and the like.

Clearly our ancestors did not take that straight line. And we are not doing much better. But we could do better.

This is one of the reasons we come here – to receive wisdom, and mercy, and grace for the future.

And it is why the Church gives us seasons like Septuagesima, and Lent, and Advent – penitential seasons, which actually cover 13 out of 52 weeks.

So much time is needed to address the problem of Sin. Sin is that peculiar thing that takes us backwards when we want to go forwards.

I met a lady once who thought it was a pity that the Church starts every Mass with a mention of sin. She thought this was too negative a note on which to start.

It is a pity that we do sin, but while we still do we must mention it, because it does so much damage, and puts at risk whether we even reach the Promised Land.

Confessing sin is ‘negative’ but we do it to achieve a positive result. We clear away whatever is false, and that leaves us only what it is true.

If we could remove all sin we would still need to pray to remain on the right path.

If there were no need for Penance there would always be need for humility.

When saints pray they do not have a lot of sin to confess, but they do express a lot of humility. They see how inferior they are to God. And they ‘confess’ that point.

Even in Heaven the angels and saints show profound humility, knowing that they are there only because of God's goodness.

This is how we seek to be. The more we humble ourselves the more we can be raised up.
We have to work on it like the athlete (Epistle) or the labourer (Gospel) and keep at it.
It is not easy getting this right, but it is worth every effort.

And if we do find ourselves improving in holiness we never say ‘that is enough’, and ease off.

We want to make the path to Heaven as simple and straightforward as it can be. We have enough trouble with the sins of others without adding any of our own.

And we want to reach the end of our quest, where all our yearnings and strivings will be fulfilled.

We are used to having a desire than satisfying it. For example, if I am thirsty I have a cold drink and I find it refreshing. But once the thirst is gone I have no more enjoyment from the drink.

With God, there is for us a constant state of yearning, yet also enjoying as much of Him as we possess. We are always thirsty, and always relieving that thirst. That way our joy is always at its fullest.

We can begin this process now, and experience it much more fully in Heaven.

It is a lot better than travelling backwards through sin!

Thursday, 21 January 2016

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 17 Jan 2016 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 17.1.16 Divine and human

People question Our Lord’s divinity. How can a man be God? A man cannot be God but God can become man; that is, take on human nature.

This is surprising, but not so much so when we consider that God will go to great lengths to save us from sin and death.

And He chooses to save us by becoming one with us; teaching us by His example how we should live; and taking on our sufferings; suffering with us so He is not just telling us what to do, but doing it Himself.

People find reasons for not accepting Him, being addicted to sin and the status quo, thinking Heaven too far away, both in time and distance.

The miracle of Cana demonstrates Our Lord’s power, and symbolises movement from human to divine. Water becomes wine. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. Humanity is taken up into divinity.

To be upgraded like this can be a challenge we do not want to meet. So we tend to dig in and stay where we are. Ask a 3 year-old who is playing in the sand: would he still like to be doing this in twenty years’ time? He would probably say yes. But the 23 year-old would be bored playing in the sand. So we really do want to graduate to higher things.

O God…grant that, by the Mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His divine nature, who vouchsafed to be made partaker of our human nature.

What does this mean, to share in the divine? We are not gods, but we take on certain of His attributes (such as Love), which we express within the limits of human nature.

We are still human, but much better than before. We are able to cope with more things, with less frustration, less likelihood of sinning, or even making a mistake. We are more in tune with the sufferings of others; we have more desire to share their burdens.

It is not just that we do what God wants us to do, but that He is actually expressing His divinity through our humanity. We are transformed into copies of the divine. Not as good as the original, but a lot better than we would be otherwise.

Various forms of goodness will come out more obviously. And various sins and faults will disappear.

Our Lord gives us access to His richness through the sacraments, especially Holy Communion. In the sacraments He regenerates, revivifies. When we are forgiven our sins we are made new again each time. It is like a re-birth. The more expectantly we encounter Him the more difference will be evident.

Ever since Adam and Eve the quest of the human race has been to move from rejecting God to accepting Him.

The question we all face: Do you want to stay in sin and degradation? Or do you want to risk moving to a higher level, less familiar, but where you are promised a much greater happiness?

We must each answer for our own self. We may have more than one chance to get this right, but we do not have forever. We must not leave it too long.

People generally do not realize either the scope of what they are offered, or of how much they have demeaned themselves so far by refusing the offer.

We have been content simply to graze like cows, not worrying what else there might be, just eating our version of grass. We are called to much more and much higher than that. Let Him turn us into wine – the highest quality we can be.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Holy Family 10 Jan 2016 Sermon

Holy Family 10.1.16 Healing a broken world.

Mary stored all these things in her heart! She knew a lot anyway, but she could still add to it.

The mysteries of God's working among us take a lot of understanding. If even Our Lady has things to learn, what must that mean for the rest of us?

People of little or no faith will make demands of God. If He exists, let Him show me! Or angry accusations: why does He let such and such things happen?

First lesson: we cannot tell Almighty God what to do. He is a great deal smarter and better and more powerful than we are.

The smartest thing we can do is agree with Him before we start. He is always going to be right. And whatever way He deals with the situation is always going to be the best way.

Mary agreed with Him at the Annunciation, and now during the childhood of Our Lord, and then more again during His adult life.

We have the benefit of having the whole story laid out before us. The temptation for us is to be too hasty in hearing the story but failing to give it its full significance.

One thing we need is Patience. The Holy Family teaches us this virtue.

They went about their work without trying to set the world on fire – yet that was the ultimate aim.

God had a message to deliver but was in no apparent hurry to deliver it.

Not only did it take a long time for the Messiah to come to the world; even when He had come He was content to wait thirty years before making Himself known.

God is teaching us patience – be prepared to wait for the desired blessings. And trust – God does not forget His promises. And humility – He knows best.

God put Himself in the position that He asks us to take! He was prepared to wait years for what had to come. And He wanted these things more than we do: I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (Lk 12,49).

If we want to solve the world’s problems - of which there are many - one of the best things we can do is attend to the basic daily obligations we have.

There is great power in a lot of people doing God's will in small humble ways.

In fact if we all did this, or at least a sizeable number of people, we would see a great improvement in the state of the world.

If we would obey His commands about family life: such as charity to each other (epistle), not committing adultery, being generous in having children, looking after the very old and very young (no euthanasia or abortion) - these things add up, and present the world with a strong witness.

Our Lord was not wasting time by spending so long in Nazareth. He was showing us what we have to do to help Him save the world.

Just be attentive to whatever obligations we have. Do them well. Do them again and again. And we have a revolution (of goodness).

We don’t try to set the world on fire, and so we do set it on fire (with love for God and man).

There are two levels to what is happening here:

One is that the family has its own very useful purpose (such as making good citizens).

The other is that the family provides the means for faithful humble service to God from millions of His children. This service to God will win His graces which will in turn have a healing effect on all that is wrong with the world.

Jesus, have mercy on us. Joseph and Mary, pray for us.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Holy Name 3 Jan 2016 Sermon

Holy Name 3.1.16 The centrality of Christ

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1,15-20)

This passage bears out how important Jesus Christ is; how central to the plans by which the world runs.

Some people say the world just happened along by itself, without being created or designed.

Our belief is very different. We say that the whole thing has been planned in the mind of God. And planned in such a way that even the things that have gone wrong (because of sin) have been accounted for. Christ is at the centre of all reality.

He is not just another person. And He did not start just another religion. He is uniquely the only Creator and Saviour, the one in whom we dwell, the means by which we reach salvation.

He is not an option, a peripheral figure that we can take or leave.

We rely on Him for everything. To say we don’t need Him would be like the branch saying it does not need the tree, or the fish saying it does not need water.

Whenever we think we can get by on our own we have forgotten where we came from.

We cannot do anything except by God’s permission, not even breathe! The people that deny Him can do that only because He lets them. And He lets them so they might make use of the extra time to repent – as many have done over the years.

We cannot do this thing on our own. We cannot get ourselves to Heaven. We cannot bring ourselves back to life.

Only God can put the spirit back in the body. And only God can restore holiness to the spirit.

So we acknowledge the name of God, the whole significance He has. He is there at the start and the finish, and every point in between.

Many try to build a world without God, and they go to great lengths to try to keep Him out,

But they cannot stop Him from existing, or from having the ultimate importance which He has.

So they rage against Him, in demonic style. This is why there is so much blasphemy.

He is worth hating if He is not loved. The fact that His name is cursed more than any other bears out His centrality.

To have Him or not have Him is the difference between life and death, Heaven and Hell.

So we come in at this point and do all we can to honour Him, to realize His importance; to make Him known to others.

We submit, like the wise men, and kneel before the Saviour.

And then we discover how it all fits in. Once we acknowledge His sovereignty and supremacy, it all becomes clearer.

Every knee shall bend before Him. We do so now, and willingly.

At least if His disciples can be clearer about His importance it gives everyone else a better chance of realizing it.

And when it comes to prayer what doors will open when we realize how explosively powerful is His Name.

When we utter that Name, with full awareness, we are calling upon all the power and love in the Universe. Good things will happen, even if we are not sure what they will be.

We long for the day when He will be recognized in all His glory.

In the meantime, Blessed be God. Blessed be His Holy Name!