Thursday, 30 June 2016

6th Sunday after Pentecost 26 Jun 2016 Sermon

6th Sunday after Pentecost 26.6.16 False gods

God can hide a great deal of reality behind a humble exterior. To look at a consecrated host, just to go by appearance alone, we may not see anything so remarkable.

Behind that appearance is no less than the presence of God Himself, who made the whole universe; God in all His infinite power and goodness.

So also God can hide Himself in His actions. As Our Lord works His miracles, there is a much deeper meaning behind each of them.

In the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, we see the mystery of the Eucharist foreshadowed.

He feeds a crowd of people. So far so good. The sheer abundance of the miracle indicates He has the power to feed, without limit of number or time. He can feed all people for all time.

And not just with ordinary bread but Heavenly bread, which does far more.

God can do more than we generally realize. His goodness is not fully evident to us (our earthly eyes could not cope with the sight of His full glory). His ways are mysterious; we do not always understand His reasons, though we do understand His general intent.

We have to make a decision. Are we to pursue the knowledge of God, and seek to draw closer to Him? Even though it will mean travelling along dark pathways, and facing all sorts of difficulties?

Or shall we simply take from this life whatever we can get our hands on? In other words, pursue false gods?

False gods are many. They come under general headings: like power, pleasure, wealth.

The false gods have a certain advantage, insofar as they appeal to the here and now. One does not have to be very deep to want pleasure, status etc. These are things everyone wants, at least to start with.

But we come in, with the Gospel, and say: No, folks, you should not want those things (instant delights), but instead be worshipping this mysterious one true God, who will lead you into deeper and deeper truths.

Many bail out, and take their chances with this world.

We are tempted one way, and challenged the other.

If we accept the challenge, we will save ourselves a lot of the damage that the false gods can do to us. And we will have clearer consciences, with a greater sense of self-worth.

For which purpose we take the heavenly food along the way, to keep close enough to God, so we can navigate our way, making progress in insight, and understanding.

We have the miracles to remind us of His power to provide for us what we need.

We have the very poor track record of false gods, on the other side, to remind us not to follow them.

They bring, after an initial fleeting happiness, only emptiness.

Supposing I love money. If I have all the money in the world, with cars, houses, everything money can buy. So what then? There is a hunger within us that only the true God can satisfy.

We can still enjoy the things of this life, but in a way that is balanced and moderated. Our desires will not control us; we will control them.

We have hardly started to realize how desirable God is; how much we hunger for Him. So we have to cultivate that understanding; feel the hunger, and take the heavenly food, with all that follows for our daily lives.

His commands will become light, a joy to keep, once we understand them.

We will not begrudge Him our obedience and attention, but will take every chance we get to draw closer to Him, and to our final destination, Heaven itself.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

5th Sunday after Pentecost 19 Jun 2016 Sermon

5th Sunday after Pentecost 19.6.16 Unity in Prayer

The teachings on charity, as contained in today’s Gospel (Mt 5,20-24), are demanding, but are not meant to be out of our reach.

Our Lord is raising the command on charity to a higher level. Now, not only do we do not kill our brother; we do not even call him a fool! Such is the level of unity and concord that Our Lord desires for us – especially for those who profess to be His disciples.

And even more so again for those who approach Him at the altar of sacrifice, as we do now.

He wants us to understand that the way we approach Him in prayer does have a bearing on the outcome. He wants us to be united with each other – in faith and charity.

When we come to Mass we are pooling our faith and charity, which should give more power to our prayers.

The more people praying the better; the more faith and charity the better.

Thus the instruction in today’s Gospel that we should be reconciled with each other before we offer the sacrifice.

We naturally pray for certain results: for people, for events, for the state of affairs in the Church and the world.

But we find that our prayer is not strong enough to move some of these mountains. Sometimes, of course, a prayer is not answered because it is not according to God's will.

But there must be times when prayer is not answered because it is not presented in sufficient faith, nor with sufficient unity among those praying.

God wants us to be absolutely one with each other as we approach Him.

When we pray we need to be on the same wavelength as God is. If we are filled with hate, resentment, unforgiveness and the like - and then we pray for peace - the prayer will fall short.

But if we are in tune with Him on those areas, there will be a communion of spirit, a oneness of heart and mind, and the prayer is more likely to be heard.

The requirement to be reconciled before we offer the sacrifice is difficult in practice, but we can at least be at one with everyone else present, in terms of what we desire.

As St Peter tells us in the epistle today: ‘… be ye all of one mind’.

We do not have to agree on everything, but on the main things we must agree – we have the mind of Christ, and we agree with Him (therefore, each other).

This unity of sentiment is something that should apply everywhere, but especially here at the altar, where we are so much in God’s presence.

Implied in every prayer is another prayer – Lord, make us one with Thee; free us from sin, and look favourably on our offering.

(May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands… means may He accept the congregation making the offering. It is beyond question that He will accept the offering of Christ, but the congregation is another matter.)

When prayers are not answered we are tempted to say that God is not doing anything, but the fault is more likely to be with us.

And that fault will include any disunity between us.

So we ask for forgiveness for all the sins in this area - for being selfish, closed to God's will, for putting our will ahead of His.

We ask for whatever intentions we bring to prayer, but also for the underlying things we need to pray more powerfully.

We ask that we can be a unified body, with Christ (His Body, in fact); full of charity, faith, and every virtue, all firing strongly.

May He hear our prayer as He makes us one.

Friday, 17 June 2016

4th Sunday after Pentecost 12 Jun 2016 Sermon

4th Sunday after Pentecost 12.6.16 Voluntary captivity

The miraculous catch of fish tells us two things: that this is a Man we can rely on. It would be worth our while to get to know Him better.

And that when He promises something that seems extremely difficult it will happen.

The thing that seems extremely difficult is that the apostles are to catch large numbers of people (to be fishers of men).

If we transpose to our time, the same two lessons come through to us.

Firstly, with regard to whatever personal needs we have – God can meet those needs. He has the power to work miracles, and as well to arrange circumstances to a favourable outcome.

So we should cast our cares upon Him and not be surprised when things work out better than we dared to hope.

Secondly, with regard to converting others, we are supposed to be doing that.

We feel inadequate to the task, because of our own personal limitations; and then the difficulty of overcoming the various forms of resistance that we encounter.

In working this miracle Our Lord must have acted upon the fish to make them behave as they did. So He acts on the people of our time.

Admittedly they are a lot harder to move than fish, because they have free will; and because they have sinned, their judgments can be faulty.

There is so much cynicism, scepticism, and diversity of ideas – many of which are false, but probably appealing.

People in general do not want to be ‘caught’. Yet by various graces acting mysteriously many have come to voluntary captivity.

It has to be voluntary. That is the glory of the whole thing; but also what makes it very difficult to achieve.

One comes to a moment of conviction. Convinced by His miracles, but even more by His presence, His words, His actions. To have seen Me is to have seen the Father (Jn 14,9).

At any moment it is possible for anyone to begin (or resume) to follow Him.

It is a matter of trust. That is the crucial element.

If we just do what Our Lord tells us: Put out your nets – without too much argument - then we will see miracles in our midst too.

We sign up as recruits, ready for anything, not trying to calculate too much.

We give Him complete control. We can make certain plans, within the context of our vocations (eg getting married). But we put everything in His hands. Whatever He allows to happen will sort itself out somehow. We do not try to tell Him what to do.

Each of us can say: I am what I am. I do not envy others or look down on them. I hope that one day I will hear the words: Well done, good and faithful servant (Mt 25,21).

We can take comfort in the words of today’s epistle: Not that I count these present sufferings as the measure of that glory which is to be revealed in us (Rm 8,18).

It all comes back to Jesus Christ. If we follow Him we have everything; if we do not follow Him we have nothing (and even worse than nothing, eternal torment).

He is so good we need nothing else. He is so good we cannot bear to be apart from Him.

The miracles are not of themselves the main point. But they can help us to decide.

They remind us of the power and goodness of the One in whom we invest such hope.

They remind us that we can achieve great things ‘against the odds’.

The only factor holding up the desired progress is that we have the freedom to resist God's plans towards us.

May He send the necessary graces upon us, so that we cease from such folly, and instead give Him that voluntary allegiance in which lies all happiness.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 5 Jun 2016 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 5.6.16 Retrieving the lost

When Our Lord went to the Cross He was of course in much pain.

Despite that pain He was still able to speak to the women of Jerusalem, to His Mother and St John; to the Good Thief; to His Heavenly Father. In all these communications He maintained perfect composure, and goodwill.

He was more concerned for others than Himself. His concern extended to the eternal welfare of those around Him, as He asks forgiveness for them.

Salvation of souls was always the main reason He had come, and He did not forget that even in the midst of His pain.

This shows the infinite love of God in operation. The measure of love is how much one would be prepared to suffer for the sake of the beloved. In God's case we see He is prepared to go a very long way.

We are supposed to operate on the same principle, which could only happen by His grace acting in us.

Our Lord can see the good that is in each person – either what is there, or at least ought to be there. Everyone is made in God’s image. No one is created evil. If they go that way it is their own decision.

He wants to see that goodness emerge, so the person is actually as always meant-to-be.

Some people need a lot of repair and polish to get to that state.

With this in view, Our Lord goes after the lost sheep, never withdrawing His offer of mercy.

We tend to regard people according to how they impact on us; being generally indifferent, even inclined to hostility if we think someone has offended us.

So it needs a lot of grace for us to see other people in the same way that Our Lord sees them.

And even as to loving one’s own self there can be difficulties.

Consider how many people think their lives worthless, even to the point of suicide.

No one is insignificant to God. One may be disregarded by other people, but never by God. If people could see themselves with the same value that God Himself puts on them, they would not be throwing their lives away – or their souls.

Again for this we need grace. It is hard to think straight when we are in the depths of sadness, but if we seek the Lord He will make Himself evident.

We will see ourselves in a more positive light, and will find it easier to live by God’s will.

Our sins have no place once we realize how important we are to God.

And sins against our neighbour have no place once we realize how important that person is to God. We can hardly hate someone whom God loves!

We might think certain people are beyond saving, and maybe we don’t even want them to be saved.

But God gives us a different picture. The worse the person is the more God will pursue him (The Lost Sheep).

We see then that just as a human soul has immense value to God; so the human capacity to love is also immense, if largely untapped.

We are still imprisoned in worldly ways of thinking.

Bitterness, anxiety, refusal to forgive – these can all prevent people from rising like eagles, which they would do if they only knew the full truth.

We find the grace we need in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which feast we have just celebrated.

All His good qualities are infinite, so there is always more we can draw upon.

He will lead us to the right way of seeing - self, others, and God.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

2nd Sunday after Pentecost 29 May 2016 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Pentecost 29.5.16 Spiritual hunger

May this Holy Communion bring about a perfect union with Thee, the one true God, and at last enable me to reach eternal bliss when Thou will call me. I pray that Thou bring me, a sinner, to the indescribable Feast where Thou, with Thy Son and the Holy Spirit, are to Thy saints true light, full blessedness, everlasting joy, and perfect happiness. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen. (St Thomas Aquinas)

Happiness from above can be understood only if we are see it in its mysterious and subtle workings.

The Gospel speaks of our being invited to a banquet (an image of Heaven). At this banquet we will eat heavenly food (Holy Communion).

The benefits of heavenly food are deeper and not so obvious to a worldly mind.

If we were offered a choice between this food and earthly food, we might be tempted to take the earthly food.

We know what it is to be physically hungry, and we might say that is more urgent than to be spiritually hungry. Or, if we acknowledge the spiritual hunger, we might say we can deal with that any time, but for now I need food, or some other physical need.

From a worldly point of view it is easy to scoff at invisible benefits.

‘You want me to be good - well I am that anyway, or at least I could be with a little effort.’

People minimise the effort involved in living a truly good life; and they also minimise the eternal dimension of their existence – not really facing the choice between Heaven and Hell.

Their goals are firmly in this life, not the next. They seek all their happiness here, and therefore have a very limited vision of the happiness offered by the Gospel.

So our invitations to the banquet are often thrown in the bin! Even a free meal is rejected.

But we have accepted the invitation. What do we expect to gain from being here?

There may not be obvious change. We would hope to leave this Mass a better person than when we came. It might take many Masses to make a visible difference. Some of our faults take a lot of extricating.

We must not be quick to dismiss these hidden workings of grace, just because they are not visible or instant.

Many things in nature move slowly (like the growth of a tree); this is one of them.

Works of art might look easy but there is more to it than we can see. So in the spiritual world we are dealing with the greatest Artist of all. Like the artist God must sometimes move carefully and slowly. So He does with each of our souls.

The invitation to the banquet is more than just a casual offer… Oh, if you are not doing anything else, come on over…

It is life and death. We need to come to the banquet, otherwise we will die!

We will die spiritually, and be eternally separated from God, if we do not come.

We were made by God, and we all have a yearning for Him (hunger).

We can bury the spiritual hunger under other experiences, looking for worldly distractions and fulfilment in short-term goals.

But no earthly good can remove or satisfy this deeper need for God.

This is the way we are made; we cannot change it. (Of course, we don’t need to change it.)

For us who do see this need, we still might place other things before it.

The heavenly food will do these things for me: Let this Holy Communion be to me an armour of faith and a shield of good will, a cleansing of all vices, and a rooting out of all evil desires. May it increase love and patience, humility and obedience, and all virtues. May it be a firm defence against the evil designs of all my visible and invisible enemies, a perfect quieting of all the desires of soul and body. (St Thomas Aquinas)

These are the things we should be asking for. Many do not see this. Each person has to find his own way forward, and respond to the invitation.

The bread from Heaven will work on us, and in us, filling our hunger.