Thursday, 24 November 2016

Last Sunday after Pentecost 20 Nov 2016 Sermon

Last Sunday 20.11.16 Happy death

If nothing else in our lives we can at least get the ending right.

Deathbed conversions are possible, though it is not recommended to leave it that late.

We can speak of a ‘happy death’. It means a death which is well-provided for in spiritual terms.

If we die in a state of grace we will be saved. Since we do not know the time of our death the only way to guarantee a favourable judgment is to be always in a state of grace. That takes the sting out of death, or at least the worst of the it.

We can then speak of death as merely falling asleep, which is how the Church speaks of it: falling asleep in the Lord (1 Th 4,14)

To be always in a state of grace means that we are constantly interacting with God, having His grace work in us, inspiring us to do His will, giving us the strength to avoid every kind of sin – and this all day and every day.

We recall the parable of the faithful servants, who are at their posts doing the master’s business at all times, ready for his return. (Lk 12,36) Or the wise bridesmaids who always had enough oil to keep their lamps lit, waiting for the bridegroom (Mt 25,1-13).

Our Lord gives us these images, not to frighten us, but to prepare us; to wake us up and inspire us.

He is not trying to trap us; far from it. He wants us to be saved, more than we want it.

The warnings are there to remind us of how important it is that we get our lives on the right note; and especially at the end.

That is His purpose in keeping these things before our minds; lest we grow complacent or distracted with the passing of time.

Union with Him is the paramount concern at any moment. He is the pivotal point. With Him we are safe; away from Him we are lost.

We return to union with Him, or increase that union, through the sacraments, and keeping the commandments.

We do not let ourselves be distracted from this main point, even if the times are turbulent, or become even more so.

We do not fully understand the prophecies such as in today’s Gospel. The general point of these prophecies is to ensure that we brace ourselves for a certain amount of conflict, and not be too alarmed by anything that happens.

The devil will throw everything at us. But we shall prevail against him, if we read the signs (Gospel), keep calm, and draw strength from Our Lord. Then we have nothing to fear.

At one level we have to find natural disasters scary. But only at one level. The thing that we really have to be afraid of is to be separate from God.

Fear him who can cast both body and soul into hell (Mt 10,28).

We can also go some way to reducing the severity of the threatened disasters by making sincere repentance and reparation. If enough people repented there will be no need for disasters (cf Gen 18,16-33: what if there are five good men in the city?)

We can defuse the threatening prophecies, and bring to fulfilment the more hopeful ones.

To be ready every day, to meet the Lord, in whatever form He might reveal Himself – this is the plan. We do not need to know exactly what He has in mind; just be ready to play our part.

Happy death, happy life. To live and die in union with the Lord!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

2nd Last Sunday after Pentecost 13 Nov 2016 Sermon

6th Sunday after Epiphany (readings) 13.11.16 Evangelisation

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a large tree which has emerged from small beginnings.

This can be interpreted as a reference to the Church, which started with just a handful of disciples, and has grown to be over a billion people.

Bigger, not necessarily better; but the ‘better’ part we are working on.

Our Lord offers the Church as a place of refuge for the birds of the air – the people of the world.

There are seven billion people in the world, so it must be that most people do not belong to the Church. This means that most people are travelling without seat belts, trying to work their way through this life without the benefit of the Church’s teachings (the word of God, properly interpreted); and without the grace available through the sacraments.

Most would say they can get by quite well, thank you; and many would say that the Church is the last thing they would want to be helping them.

It is easy to say we don’t need something if we are not aware of what that thing can do. Someone in a previous century probably would have dismissed the idea of telephones, or cars, or planes, or even learning. But we benefit from all those things once we are introduced to them. All the more can the Church benefit us.

So much of the dismissal of the Church is done through ignorance; people settling for too little too easily.

Then, of course, many people who are members of the Church do not fully appreciate the advantages they enjoy.

So we have a long way to go still, to extend the kingdom of heaven to cover the whole world.

We who do seek to extract the full meaning of belonging to the Church, have an obligation to make known to others the treasure we have discovered.

The whole process of evangelisation is based on this. Our Lord wants every person in the world to belong to His Body, to take refuge in Him. (Come to Me, all ye who labour and are heavily burdened…Mt 11,28)

To evangelise does not mean getting up in the street and giving a sermon. Speeches do come into it; the spoken word is important, also the written word. But most evangelising is done by example.

See how they love one another, was a comment in circulation regarding the early Church.

It is not all our fault that so many do not want to belong to the Church. A lot of it is their own lack of response to the signs God gives them (eg the beauty of nature, the many miracles He works in everyday life, the disorder of lives apart from Him…)

But some of it is our fault – insofar as we are not shining images of Christ; insofar as we commit sin and so impede the progress of the Gospel as a healing remedy for the world.

It is commonly said of churchgoers that they are all hypocrites; that they do not practise what they preach.

We admit the latter point. It is so much harder to do than to say. But ‘do’ we must.

There is no escape from our obligation to display by our lives the beliefs in our hearts.

First we believe; then if we believe enough we will act on those beliefs; and then at least some of the rest of the world will want to join us, by the power of our united witness.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2, 46-47)

Those were the days; but these can be the days too!

We are surrounded by people who do not know their right hand from their left (Jonah 4,11), and we need to offer them the word of life (and the bread).

May that tree continue to grow, offering its protection and fruit.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

3rd Last Sunday after Pentecost 6 Nov 2016 Sermon

Third Last Sunday after Pentecost 6.11.16 Salvation (Readings 5th Sunday after Epiphany)

At this time of the Church year we pray especially for the dead.

We pray for their salvation (a favourable judgment at the point of death); and their sanctification (purification from sin, if required), so they are ready for Heaven.

This prayer is important work. If the final destination for everyone is either Heaven or Hell, it is immensely important to get this right.

With rescue missions people try desperately to save as many as possible, eg from the rubble of an earthquake. This is the same idea, but much more important still.

Salvation (rescue) is necessary because something has gone wrong.

Plenty has gone wrong with this world, and it all goes back to what happened in the Garden of Eden.

Eden was the prototype of Heaven. Everything was in place and at peace. The inhabitants had everything they needed or ever could need, and most of all they had complete unity with God.

The first sin shattered that unity and took with it many of the other blessings. From then on we have been suffering sickness, pain, death, alienation, loss of direction, and so on.

Salvation means restoring all these things to their original state.

The best thing about this original state was that it was no effort to be good, or do good. It came naturally.

It was the way human nature was created, to live peaceably and comfortably in the presence of God. It was not meant to be the toilsome business it has become.

We reclaim Paradise (or claim Heaven) when we live in union with God, despite the many difficulties of living in this very un-paradise world.

With the grace of God working in us we can discover and express His goodness in every situation no matter how hopeless things may look.

And we discover His grace working in our own selves, enabling us to do things we never could before – such as loving difficult neighbours, overcoming sinful habits…

Salvation is getting to Heaven as a destination, but also overcoming the various obstacles on the way. Salvation is both a destination and a process.

Salvation means being good; or if we are not good, then at least being sorry for that; being sufficiently contrite to receive the saving mercy of God.

We have to work for our salvation, because of the difficult conditions surrounding us.

We work out our salvation in fear and trembling, as St Paul put it (Ph 2,12).

We make it the central question of our lives, using the time we have, to grow in grace and union with God.

The closer we get to God the easier it becomes to serve Him. The closer we come the freer we are to control our own desires and decisions. We are no longer slaves to sin and bad habits; we find being and doing good comes more naturally – as it was always meant to be.

While we go through this we pray the same for everyone else – living and dead.

For various reasons a lot of people do not regard the issue of salvation as important. They might think Heaven is a foregone conclusion, not something to worry about. They might think there is no Heaven. They might think there is a Heaven, but they themselves have no hope of getting there.

For all of these categories we pray. The grace of God can break through in each case.

In terms of today’s Gospel, may the final harvest be a lot of wheat and very few weeds.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Feast of Christ the King 30 Oct 2016 Sermon

Christ the King 30.10.16

Politics is always in the news - current issues, opinion polls, preferred leaders; and just now the American Presidential election is causing a lot of interest. A lot of speculation takes place about who is going to run a country.

If people are upset with the candidates for the top positions it could be said to be their own fault. The candidates in many ways reflect the values of the people.

Imagine a country which was almost entirely Catholic in identity and practice. We would then expect a higher standard of political leaders. We would not have the corruption, internal fighting, and lying we have now.

People lie in politics because they lie everywhere else; if people who seek to rule are greedy and grasping it is for the same reason people in general are greedy and grasping.

It does not have to be so, and is definitely not so in one government at least. This is the government that comes from Heaven itself – the rule of Christ the King.

To get to this position He did not need to win an election. His power comes from His being God, and therefore creating the world and keeping it in being. This would be enough to establish absolute authority, but there is more still.

His power comes also from His human nature, triumphing over sin and death, and earning the right to rule all other humans from this pivotal role that He holds.

He has the keys of life and death in His hands; no other human ruler could stand before Him, much less overrule Him.

Whether we live or die eternally, depends upon the relationship we have with this one Person.

He is Somebody, if anyone ever was!

In this case it is not the ruler being like the people he governs, coming up from the ranks. This ruler sets His own standards, and then offers to lift the people to His level.

We derive our values from Him; not He from us. His rule is one of complete integrity, every virtue overflowing.

If we would heed His authority we would share in those virtues, we would be more like He is: honest, kind, forgiving, loving, generous, etc.

Our whole society would be transformed to look like Heaven. The Kingdom of heaven will have come among us.

It is there for us to discover, to unearth, as we bring our lives into subjection to the true King.

He wants us to discover Him through obedience.

He could show Himself to the world and force obedience, but He wants us to discover it for ourselves.

A light has dawned. As the sun rises to the middle of the sky and increases in heat and light, so Christ becomes more and more prominent as more people give Him allegiance.

We must do our bit to make Him known. Politicians have their volunteers who help with the advertising. We must do some advertising for Jesus Christ, most of all by the way we live.

If we cannot convince others we can at least guarantee our own salvation, and make a little bit of heaven in our own sphere.

The surrounding world may be crazy, but not my house! We can go against the tide.

It is our privilege to know Him; now we must make Him known, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, who restores all things in Himself, and brings His kingdom among us.