Thursday, 29 September 2016

19th Sunday after Pentecost 25 Sep 2016 Sermon

19th Sunday after Pentecost 25.9.16 The Church – charity and clarity

We are invited to the wedding banquet. Some accept, some refuse. Once in the banquet, some conform, some do not.

It is hard to get people in, and hard to keep them once we have them!

The banquet can be taken as an image of the Church. First we must join it; then we must conform to its teachings (wedding garment).

We are called individually by Christ Himself: Come, follow Me.

We answer the call as individuals, but we cannot follow Him only as individuals. He incorporates us in His Body, the Church.

If we are to be in union with Him, we must also be in union with the rest of the Church.

This is His desire - that they may all be one (Jn 17, 21)

The unity, if achieved, will have two aspects. Unity in charity, and unity in clarity (of belief).
We will learn to love one another, and to believe the same essential truths of the faith.

Unity in charity: we treat each other well. We think as well as we can of each other. At the very least there is always goodwill for the other person. Even if we think someone is a major sinner, we still have goodwill for him insofar as we want him to be saved.

Take the symbolism of a large number coming to Holy Communion and the union that expresses; how can we have differences from each other, hold grudges etc (epistle)?

Unity of belief: we look to the Church to teach us what to believe. We have no other way of knowing what is what. We could not work out for ourselves all the intricacies of the creeds and catechisms; all the finer points of faith and morality.

We rely instead on the accumulated wisdom of twenty centuries – the Bible itself, the writings of Councils, of saints and popes. No one person could match that or supersede it, though many think they can!

Chaos results when people try to outdo the Church in wisdom. We are always tempted to take an easier path if we can choose for ourselves.

We learn to think as members of the Church, not just as individuals.

It requires of us that we be humble both in attitude (charity) and belief (faith).

There is discord around us, both in the Church and the wider world. We can find order and peace in Christ Himself.

We go to Him first. We submit our intellect. He knows better than we do, surprise!

And our will. We submit totally to Him, and go along with anything He says, or does, or gives, or withholds.

Then we are in a better place to deal with any difficulties that arise.

If we are unhappy with the way the Church is headed, we draw closer to Our Lord, desiring the best for all, ourselves included.

Those with higher responsibility have a harder task, and need more prayer. Whether we think someone is doing a good job or not, is not the issue. Simply pray for him.

This is why we pray so often for our leaders, the Pope and the Bishops. We pray that everyone, high and low, overcome any deficiencies, and themselves come closer to full unity with Christ.

We do not feel superior if we think we are more right than others on some issue. We remember our own sinfulness and ask for mercy; for us and them.

We pray for the Church to be as pure, holy and wise as she needs to be. Remember we have a commission - to baptise all nations. Or to fill the banquet hall.

To get people in, those already in have to learn to behave. That is our task now. May the Lord who invites us, give us all necessary graces to fulfil His will.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

18th Sunday after Pentecost 18 Sep 2016 Sermon

18th Sunday after Pentecost 18.9.16 Sorrow for sin

The sick man has his sins forgiven, and is restored to health.

Once again we see in action the abundant mercy of God, restoring a person to a new beginning.

We are encouraged to trust in God's mercy. The prayers of the Church, prayers of the Mass, and prayers used in private, are constantly asking for that mercy.

We are taught that God is infinitely merciful; that He will forgive any sin, that He goes looking for lost sheep (Lk 15,1-7); that He runs to meet the returning sinner (Lk 15,20). All this would make one think that salvation must be an easy matter.

But on the other hand, the same sources warn us that God will punish sinners, and that punishment might even be eternal (Hell). Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ (Mt 25,41)

Is He going to forgive us or punish us? The key is how sorry we are for our sins. It is not so much the size of the sin as the size of the sorrow!

Sorrow is not something that can be measured as a quantity. I might think I am sorry, or hope I am, but not really be so. Only God would know the true state of my heart and mind.

It could be just fear that makes me say I am sorry, but I might really be still attached to the sin.

If we go to the Sacrament of Confession, it is a pre-requisite that we have firm purpose of amendment, sincerely intending not to commit the same sin again.

We can build up true sorrow by meditation on the malice of the sin; on the harm that it does; on the goodness of God; on the ingratitude which continuing sin reveals. We can make various devotions and prayers which will help us to see things in a clearer light.

We could, for example, consider the sufferings of Our Lord as He approaches Calvary; the sorrows of Our Lady as she sees all this; we are hurting her as well.

Sin is not something that can be casually dismissed.

The fact that forgiveness is so readily available could lead to its being cheapened – as when a free event might not be taken as seriously as one where we have to pay to be admitted.

We need to realize the largeness of both the sin and the mercy.

All sin (even lesser sin) offends the Infinite Majesty of God; this all the more underlines the immensity of His mercy, which is ready to forgive any sin.

If we grasp that sin is large and mercy is large, we are more likely to reach a sufficient level of sorrow to make us grateful, and determined not to re-offend.

We hope to reach perfect contrition – whereby we are sorry because we have offended God, not just because we are afraid of punishment.

But what of the punishment? Does the merciful God punish sinners? Yes, in two senses.

1) If there is still a chance for repentance, the punishment will be a way of forcing people to re-assess their priorities.

When God deprives people of health, wealth or status, it is a wake-up call to consider how much they value other things above Him.

The same applies to communal punishment, as with natural disasters, diseases, even wars. A whole community of people might re-think their way of life.

Souls in Purgatory see their lives in full clarity, and are aware of their excesses. Their punishment serves to purify them, to be ready for Heaven.

2) For the souls who die impenitent, only Hell remains. The punishment cannot save them; but it does serve to warn us not to make the same mistakes.

There is no contradiction between Mercy and Punishment. Mercy is God's essential position, but Punishment is what we have insofar as we refuse to engage with that Mercy.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

17th Sunday after Pentecost 11 Sep 2016 Sermon

17th Sunday after Pentecost 11.9.16 Loving the loveable

We are told we have to love God – the first and greatest commandment. It is a strange thing that we have to be commanded to love.

Normally we would think of love as something that happens spontaneously. We would not need to tell Romeo that he has to love Juliet! He loves automatically, without being told. The attraction of Juliet is enough to bring forth the love from him.

Yet Romeo, and the rest of us, do have to be told to love God.

By use of reason we can work out that God must be much superior to Juliet, or any part of His creation. The beauty we see around us is just a glimpse of the beauty of the One who makes all this possible.

Logically, we know we should love God more than anyone or anything else – and this is just what the commandment means. But given our human limitations we tend to cling to lesser objects to love, and fail to make the great leap to God Himself.

People search for love, but that usually means human love. They might find their ‘soulmate’, but they stop short of finding God.

It is really only God who can fill the soul; who can satisfy our deepest longings. Loving other people is a good thing, and that is also a command; but it is not the full story.

We are created by God to know, love, and serve Him. That is our destiny, our fulfilment; discovering which is like a bird learning to fly, or a fish to swim.

Yet we can find it hard to love God.

For one thing He can be difficult to perceive. We cannot see Him, hear Him, touch Him.

Then He can also be difficult to ‘read’, as in we do not always know His will, or His mind, on a particular subject. He does not always tell us either. Sometimes it seems He leaves us hanging in suspense.

Many people give up the hunt, and settle for whatever happiness they can find in this earthly domain.

That is a big mistake, though we understand the temptation.

If we hold on, hang in there, we will discover enough of God's goodness to enable us to make further progress.

We can learn to love Him. Like all difficult things it becomes possible with His own help.

He is a long way away from us, in the heavens; but He is also very close. In fact He is even inside us, helping us to think, to feel, to know, to decide various things.

With His help we set out on a path, a path that will take us all the way to eternity.

We learn to love Him whom we cannot see, and to trust Him whom we do not always understand.

He stirs up in us a desire for the infinite (that is why we feel so inspired by oceans and mountains, and the like).

And He steers us through this life, with all its disappointments and uncertainty, with a sense that we can feel He is close, even if there is a lot more we do not know than we do know.

By small steps it becomes achievable. We cannot explain every single thing that happens, like all the suffering in the world; but we can come back to this point: that if we would do things God's way, a lot less of those things would happen. The more people joining in, the less things would go wrong.

It is always better - no matter what questions we have - always better to go towards God than away; always better to obey than disobey; to pray than not to pray.

Doing this for a time, we will find it is as natural to love God as to love the people or the things He has created. We no longer need to be commanded to love; it will come naturally.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

16th Sunday after Pentecost 4 Sep 2016 Sermon

16th Sunday after Pentecost 4.9.16 Pharisees

To be a ‘pharisee’, as the term is used, means that we look down on others; judge them harshly; think ourselves to be free of fault.

People like us, who go to church, who keep at least the externals of religion, are often so accused.

Do we really think we are better than everyone else around?

We should not see ourselves in such a light, but rather as fellow sinners, all in need of salvation, and grateful that we have that hope.

We do not need to know who is better than whom, but simply that all of us need the mercy of God; and we ask for that mercy – for ourselves and others.

Whatever we do right, we do by the grace of God, for which we are grateful. Whatever we do wrong – that is our own fault, and happens when we do not seek the grace of God.

Others will be better or worse than we are on certain points. We do not keep score; we simply wish that every person will come to a better relationship with God than they presently have.

We rejoice (with the angels) when a sinner repents. We grieve when someone goes the other way, away from God.

As in today’s Gospel we are prepared to take the lowest place, so long as we can be at the Banquet. In humility we are happy to be the least of all, so long as we can still be included.

The saints have a way of seeing themselves as the worst people around, when everyone can see they are really the best.

But their humility was real, not feigned. They judged themselves so harshly because they could perceive the infinite holiness of God, and by comparison they were lowly worms.

So we all need grace and mercy; and that is our wish for each other, as in today’s epistle, where St Paul prays that everyone will come to know the infinite goodness of God.

We remind each other of the prophetic call of John the Baptist: There is the Lamb of God (Jn 1, 29).

We all need to do this, and we hope we all do it.

If we remind each other of the need to be right with God, that can be seen, not as a hypocritical judgment, but in the light of genuine help… cf to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant etc…

We should all be humble enough to receive correction, encouragement, or anything that will help us on our spiritual way.

But we are told we must not judge. This is often taken too far, as though to mean we can never tell anyone ever that something is wrong.

This would be abandonment of moral responsibility; a false ‘tolerance’. Sometimes we have to point out evil, for the sake of enabling the good.

It is just the same as we would put up a sign to warn people of danger on a road.

The Church warns against evil, and encourages good. In this we seek the happiness of people.

To say that someone is on the wrong path is not to condemn or hate the person, but to seek the best outcome for him.

It is a false charity to ignore the laws of God, because when people do that chaos results (as we see everywhere).

We understand human weakness, and we will not stone anyone to death; but we still must all acknowledge the place of God.

So we hope from all this that we are not pharisees. We admit that our behaviour is not as good as our beliefs, but the solution for that is to improve our behaviour, not reduce the beliefs.

We hope this for everyone; those presently in the Church, and those outside, who should be in the Church.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

15th Sunday after Pentecost 28 Aug 2016 Sermon

15th Sunday after Pentecost 28.8.16 True life

The young man was brought back to life, and all were rejoicing. A physical resurrection is certainly a spectacular thing, and much to be desired; yet the Church has always believed that forgiveness of sins is a greater thing.

We tend to make too much of the physical life, and too little of the spiritual. It would be better to die young in a state of grace, than to die old in a state of sin.

We often hear, of one who has just died, that he ‘lived life to the full’. That might mean, in reality, that he indulged in a lot of life’s pleasures, but not necessarily that he did much good; especially the sort of good that God would have expected of him.

Did he develop his character as his life progressed? Did he receive and put to use the various gifts and talents with which God was blessing him? Did he multiply his talents like the good servants in the Gospel parable (Mt 25,14-30)?

There are others, again, who may live a more respectable life. They are not out getting drunk and stealing cars. Yet they ignore God completely in their lives, and set their own personal goals as to what they are going to do with their lives. This is not ‘living’; it is a form of death.

Our Lord said: I came that they may have life, and have it to the full (Jn 10,10). Fulness of life means essentially spiritual life.

Spiritual life needs to be cultivated, and protected. Nothing can kill the soul unless we consent to its death by choosing sin. Choosing to sin is like spiritual suicide.

Most people reject suicide, but quite freely commit sin after sin. Yet that is suicide.

Or at least, roulette. Sin is dicing with death - eternal death.

Yes, we can make a comeback from sin, but we can never be fully sure we have time for that; and there is the further problem that we could be so hardened by sin that we may not even want to come back.

We are truly alive only if fully engaged with God, calling on His wisdom, serving Him, trying to please Him. If we do sin, we quickly repent and get back on track, learning from the experience.

We can be fully alive spiritually even if not able to be physically active. We could be 89 years old, and not able to get around much, but still give God all we have (Lk 21,1-4 the widow’s mite).

It may be that sickness and pain is all we have to offer, but this can be more pleasing to God than someone who can get around, but never gives Him a thought.

Identity with God's will is the crucial thing. We want what He wants. He knows what we need, and how it all ties together.

We come to see our lives not as the personal pursuit of happiness, but entirely at the service of God, like soldiers.

Soldiers, and pilgrims. Soldiers ready to be sacrificed; pilgrims ready to move on quickly.

We do not fear physical death because it is not the end. We fear sin far more.

If we must cling to life, let it be above all spiritual life.

If God spares us physically, even then it is not just to seek personal goals, but be seen as a further chance to serve Him. We do not cling to this life just to have more pleasure.

We cannot measure how alive we are in these terms. We have no way of measuring spiritual life. Sufficient to say that every move towards God will make us more alive, and every move away will be a kind of death. We can get it right with His help.

May we live to the full, spiritually, and eternally.