Thursday, 26 January 2017

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 22 Jan 2017 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Epiphany 22.1.17 Simple Faith

In biblical stories it often happens that the people, in some sense on the outside, had more faith than those on the inside.

The Jews were the chosen people, but often the Gentiles would display greater faith, as in today’s Gospel (Centurion).

The sinners would sometimes show more faith than the apparently righteous, eg the Publican and the Pharisee (Lk 18,9-14).

Perhaps, for those on the inside, pride can take hold, and they can forget their relative nothingness before God.

We, as churchgoers, could stumble in this way. We might think, that because we go to church and pray other times, that we somehow have more right to heaven than others.

But it may be that the people out now, shopping and walking the dog, not going to Mass – they might get to Heaven before we do (presuming, of course, that they come to repentance).

The solution for us is not to stop the ‘religious’ things we do, but make sure that our interior attitudes match the exterior appearance. If we look religious, we must be religious.

We seek a genuine faith (like that of the centurion). How did he do it? How can we do it?

We can learn from the ‘outsiders’ a certain directness and simplicity.

Faith requires a sense of wonder at the power of God; a child-like humility and simplicity in believing that God, who made all things, can do anything He wants, here and now, no matter how improbable it may look by ordinary standards.

We need to have that power of wonder no matter how educated or sophisticated we may be.
We could have multiple academic qualifications but still have to say the sun rises in the east because God makes it so.

To maintain that simplicity, as we get more immersed in the world, we have to keep praying, and reflecting.

Many do not keep up the prayer, and they become embarrassed by their faith, fearing the ridicule of their peers.

Having simple faith does not mean that God is simple, nor is the one with faith; only that there is a direct link between us and God.

God is infinitely complex and mysterious, and we ourselves are mysterious enough, but simple faith means that we can directly believe in God, and entrust all things to Him.

The important thing is that we do not grow remote from Him. He does not fade with time, but our faith might! Our faith can fade, but not the realities we deal with.

People abandon God in droves, but that does not make Him any less.

We will not abandon Him. We keep our faith, and we grow in it. We humble ourselves before God, acknowledging our nothingness before Him.

Before Him we have nothing to plead for us, except our sorrow for sin, and the redeeming action of our Saviour.

Our faith will become stronger with simplicity. In the face of adversities of any kind we can call upon that faith. Many things might go wrong, and we need to be a house built on rock (Mt 7,24-27).

Our faith is in God, not in circumstances. We do not believe only if the last thing went right, but because He is what He is.

God does not change. I could lose all my money and thus lose faith (happens all the time), but the only thing that has changed is my bank balance.

We give up too easily. He needs stronger disciples, and we need to be stronger for our own sake.

A simple faith can be simply asked for, and it will be given. And then, all the other graces to put that faith into practice.

Only say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 15 Jan 2017 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 15.1.17 Sacrifice

Our Lord revealed Himself slowly when He came among us.

God had come to His own people. He did not advertise the fact that He was God. He wanted to win people over to the idea, and they would be changed in the process.

He spent a long time in the private life at Nazareth; and that teaches us the value of getting the little things right; of making sure our private life matches our public professions. And the immense importance of the family in God's plans.

Eventually it was time to go out into the public arena and be more explicit about His intentions.

The miracle of Cana was His first public miracle. It meant that forces opposed to Him, demonic and human, would now work harder to destroy Him.

It was a decisive step towards Calvary, because that is where it would all lead.

Cana to Calvary. We could say that Salvation came in two stages:

The first stage is symbolised by the turning of water into wine (Cana). God takes what is good, and makes it better still. Such as family life, exemplified in the Holy Family. Such as other miracles of Our Lord where He healed the sick, calmed the storm, raised the dead.

The miracles of Our Lord were given as indications of His desire to do good, to repair, to enrich, heal, bless, increase, to overpower evil with good.

This display of power was just the beginning. He had other things in mind, and they would be revealed when the people were ready to receive them.

With His earlier miracles it was a problem that people would seek only the practical benefit of the miracle, and miss the deeper significance.

When He fed the thousands with bread they wanted to make Him King, but only in an earthly sense. He had to escape from them, because they did not yet understand (Jn 6,15).

Our Lord could have gone about indefinitely healing the sick and feeding the hungry. But He was looking for a more permanent change in the human situation.

He shows a greater love. He lavishes things on us, and that is love to one degree. But to go further and allow Himself to be killed as a sacrifice – that is the fullest possible love.

The water to wine is the first stage. God enriches, beautifies etc.

The turning of wine to blood (Calvary) is the second stage, whereby God gives us a still more powerful drink.

Not just to refresh and rejoice, but to transform us into copies of Himself - such that we are prepared to lay down our lives, or at least appreciate what He has done.

This being transformed is much more impressive than just receiving a plate full of food. It shows us the full extent of salvation to which we are called.

It is not just going to Heaven but being made fit for Heaven.

This was Our Lord’s plan all along, and Cana was a major part of its revelation.

We all want physical blessings, water into wine.

Not everyone wants the next stage - to be a martyr, or to suffer for much of their lives. Yet we come to accept it, and even rejoice in it, with sufficient exposure to the grace of Christ.

Gratitude for the first stage of salvation - the many miracles and blessings - will put us in the right path.

If we are attentive enough to God's interventions around us, we cannot help but move to a deeper commitment (the second stage), and be ready to give of ourselves in a sacrificial way.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Holy Family 8 Jan 2017 Sermon

Holy Family 8.1.17 School of Love

God tells us to love one another, and to love our neighbour. Our neighbour is anyone with whom we come in contact, whether regularly or once only.

He knew we would find that command difficult so He gave us the family as a kind of training ground for growth in charity!

We can practise on those we see every day; learn to love them despite their faults; and try to make ourselves more agreeable to them despite our faults.

It is not so easy to love others as it sounds. Other things we try to be good at require practice. Cricketers practise in the nets and work on their technique. Musicians practise all the time. Every profession requires study and application.

Loving our neighbour requires practice too. We learn from where we went wrong… I shouldn’t have said that… I should have been more considerate… I should not have ignored that person etc etc.

These things are every day challenges and we all face them whether we live in a family or not, but the family setting is more intense because the members are thrust together.

If we are learning from all this - both the successes and the failures - we are on the way to becoming better Christians, growing in holiness.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. It could seem to us that their holiness is way out of our reach.

Two members of the family never committed a single sin, and it is unlikely the third member committed many.

There never would have been an argument in that family. Is that a realistic model?

Well, to compare again with other things we do, we can gain crumbs from the table of the masters.

We will never play tennis like Federer or sing like Pavarotti, but we can learn at least some tips from them, and improve our performance.

This also works for the Holy Family. If every husband spoke to his wife like he was Joseph and she was Mary, how many arguments would that cut down? He will not be as good as Joseph but he will be better than he was.

And the same can be said for every other relationship: parent-child, child-parent, brother-sister, in laws as well.

We are in the business of improving, growing in holiness. We learn as we go.

Children are raised in families (ideally, according to God’s plan) so that they can mature spiritually as they mature physically and mentally.

They learn to give way to others (siblings especially); to share their possessions, to forgive injuries. They learn that the whole universe does not revolve around them; that they are part of a much larger family of people, God’s people in fact.

They also learn to obey lawful authority, beginning with their parents.

Family life - when it works - is the best formation, and this is why God established it.

All things should be done in love and in proper order, as the epistles of the New Testament will constantly teach.

Again, ideals are not usually reached, but we can gain crumbs from the table. We learn to make the best of whatever we have.

Many people are refined by the fire of unhappy family life and still turn out alright.

Many will repent afterwards for the damage they did in earlier life.

Lost ground can be made up.

If all else fails we must learn, as individuals, to love even if not loved in return. We have to pray for the conversion and salvation of every person, however unlikely we might feel it to be.

And, always looking to ourselves, removing the plank from our own eye first. Always self-reflection is required.

The family teaches us when it works, and when it does not. We can see what should have happened even if it did not. We will get it more right each time - with the grace of God and the prayer of Mary and Joseph.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Octave Day of Christmas 1 Jan 2017 Sermon

Octave Day of Christmas 1.1.17 Remembering

Last night, New Year’s Eve, many people would have spent the time in drinking and general dissipation, trying to forget their sorrows.

It is one way to approach reality - trying to forget it, or avoid it.

There is a better way, however. Instead of trying to forget, or drugging ourselves against reality, why not take it head on, armed with the grace of God, and subdue it, make it work for us?

This is what the Church is doing through the liturgical year – claiming all time for God, and reminding us of how He has used it for His purposes. He is the Alpha and the Omega.

We don't need to forget; we need to remember - remember His mercies to us so far, and His future promises. We need to fill all time - every hour, every day - with the grace of God; so that whatever happens will be according to His will, and His kingdom be more fully present in the world.

Time is sometimes seen as an impersonal thing that rolls on regardless, and takes us in its course, like it or not. It is true that it will advance without our consent, but it is also true that we can get the better of it, by claiming it for God’s purposes.

It is not so much how long we have as how well we use it. Think of the many saints in our Church history. A lot of them died young, either through martyrdom or sickness. Yet they achieved so much in their short time on earth.

The intensity of their love was the key. They used the short time they had for God’s purposes.

And Mary - whose role we especially honour at this time - she gave every moment to God.

Her story did not begin at the Annunciation. She had already prepared herself for future glory by being in a constant state of union with God.

She may have been surprised to learn that she was to be the Mother of God, but she was ready for it insofar as she was already totally available to do His will.

And so should we be available. Our time is His time.

We always hope that the new year will be better than the old one, better than all the old ones.

We can go a long way towards making it so.

We can make it better than any previous year by increasing our own personal availability to do the will of God; by asking Him to take control of every moment that awaits us in the future.

What makes a year ‘good’ anyway? We might have better health; more money; more success at various ventures – but, following the example of Mary and the saints – are we doing the will of God or not? That is what makes any period of time ‘good’ – if it was used for what God intended.

‘Years’ are not put there for our own amusement; they are the backdrop of God’s saving plan unfolding in the world. Time is for Salvation. Time enables people who do not know God to come to knowledge of Him; for people who have drifted from Him to come back to Him.

Any use of time that does not fit in with that overall objective is a waste.

This is a long way from the view that time is something to be buried under a kind of unconsciousness.

It is better if we are fully conscious, always alert and aware of the presence of God. Even if we do not know what will happen next, we can make sure we are ready for whatever it is -

by giving every moment of time back to Him.