Thursday, 27 July 2017

7th Sunday after Pentecost 23 Jul 2017 Sermon

7th Sunday after Pentecost 23.7.17 Character

We are promised a very great reward at the end of our lives, eternal joyful life.

But we would like a little more happiness before that. We might have a feeling that we are not being sufficiently compensated in the short term.

We love the idea of heaven, but is there anything sooner?

Well, reward comes in many forms. Our Lord promised His disciples that if they forsook father, mother, etc they would be repaid a hundredfold …even in this life (Mk 10,29-30).

Not a hundred times more assets, but in terms of satisfaction we would be a hundred times happier than if we remained attached to all those things.

We find that in this life we can have a workable level of happiness. While we do not usually feel like dancing in the street, there is a steady sense of contentment that enables us to proceed in hope of better things coming.

If we do things God's way we will experience love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Ga 5,22).     We will have these things in ourselves even if they are not in surrounding circumstances.

If we need extra incentive we are told (epistle): the wages of sin are death. Sinful life leads to sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy (Galatians 5,19-21).

We keep a slow and steady pace, realizing that whatever difficulties we encounter are permitted by God for our purification.

And to increase our capacity to enjoy eternal life. This can be called the building up of a Christian character. The suffering enables us to direct ourselves to longer term goals. We recognize the transient nature of earthly happiness, so we look beyond for something better.

Christian character means that we understand doing good and being good, not just as obligations, but arising from a purity of mind and heart which seeks to please God.

In such a person there is a consistency between thought, word and deed - all of which are designed to please God, whether they be public or private, and whether or not they will receive approval from others.

This is our reward! If we are developed to this point we find that goodness will flow naturally from a proper relationship with God – like a branch from a tree (Jn 15, 5).

Or like a tree which bears good fruit (today’s Gospel). We bear good fruit because we are good all the way to the inside.

The goodness asked of us is more than just doing a few helpful deeds around the place, like bringing in the neighbour’s rubbish bin, or lending the lawn mower.

The good asked of a disciple of Christ is much more demanding. It requires us to love God above all else, meaning to put His will ahead of one’s own at all times.

This requires all sorts of things, like forgiving enemies, helping the poor, never losing our temper, always being humble etc.

It takes constant prayer and interaction with God to be like this; to get the right perspectives, so that we are not looking for instant delights all the time, but able to go the whole distance.

And to see that our religion is our whole life, not just a part thereof, or an external gloss.

The wages are coming. Not in money, but in interior joy; simply being good, and the peace that comes with that.

We are then like a bird in flight, or a fish swimming. We have discovered our true identity -  a child of God, a disciple of Christ, operating at full capacity, as we were always meant to be.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

6th Sunday after Pentecost 16 Jul 2017 Sermon

6th Sunday after Pentecost 16.7.17 Multiplication

There are so many things to pray for. We could not even list all the situations that need prayer, let alone make the prayer. Even just one person, picked at random, would provide us many things to pray for, as every life has its dramas and crises.

Accordingly we can feel overwhelmed by the size and number of the problems we face, and give up before we start, as far as praying goes.

We feel with the apostles: How can we feed so many? And as to five loaves and two fish, what use is such a small amount of food?

Our own helplessness can work in our favour by forcing us to look elsewhere for solutions.
We look to God because only He can supply the power needed.

How much prayer is not made because of discouragement, or lack of faith? If that prayer had been made, who knows what would have been achieved? There is nothing to lose, at least.

When we pray for a person or situation we are handing over the five loaves of our faith and trusting in Our Lord to multiply that offering, making it abundant in its results.

Every prayer we make has implied in it another prayer: that what we pray will be taken to God by Our Mother Mary and the saints, and so made pleasing to Him.

Our prayer becomes more credible and our small offering becomes more formidable. Multiplied in its intensity the prayer will be more likely to make things happen.

Five loaves become thousands of loaves, enough to feed thousands - an image of the abundance of God, and His ability to make more from less, or something from nothing.

We should never allow discouragement to hinder our prayer. Rather we keep that prayer coming, day and night.

We bring what we have. There is much in the world we cannot control, but we can control our own attitude, our generosity of heart, our expectancy of God's help. These are things we can increase.

A lot of the situations we pray for involve the free will of other people, and that is a very hard thing to harness (even God finds that difficult!)  But I can at least bring my own free will to comply with God’s will, and that is the recipe for success.

Our prayer has to be constant, filled with faith and hope, and made from a pure and generous heart – all things which themselves need prayer. If we are serious, God will help us at all levels at once - our own personal disposition, and the actual things we pray for.

We pray for everything at once - large and small, spiritual and material. Simply that God’s goodness be evident everywhere.

We pray for big things, like salvation of souls – the dead, the dying, all who most need the mercy of God; conversion of sinners.
For physical needs, like freedom from war and disaster.
For everyday things, like finding the car keys, safe travel.

It is hard work, but life is short and in the context of eternity who can object to a little bit of exertion.

The scene of the Gospel is repeated a thousand times in our lives: we see a big problem and we do not see the solution.

We bring forth what we have (faith, hope, trust) and we let God work the miracle that is needed.

We remember to thank Him and make sure that each miracle goes into the stock of our memory for the next time we need faith.

With the apostles, we say: Lord, teach us to pray (Lk 11,1). And then, hear our prayer.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

5th Sunday after Pentecost 9 Jul 2017 Sermon

5th Sunday after Pentecost 9.7.17 Generosity

There is a general tone set in today’s readings, and many similar passages, that we (as disciples of Christ) should put in more than we take out; give more than we receive.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  (Lk 6,32-34)

This is the whole nature of God Himself, in creating us; and then further, in saving us. He is giving more than He could ever receive from us.

To be His disciple we have to adopt the same pattern: we lend without expecting to receive back, we bless those who curse us (Rm 12,14); we go the extra mile for the sake of the other person (Mt 5,41). Above all, we forgive those who offend us (Mt 6,12).

This was the way Christ lived on earth, and the constant lesson He gives us who seek to follow Him. He came to serve, not to be served (Mk 10,45).

We are tempted to say that all this is too hard; and it is not fair either. If someone comes and robs me, and bashes me up, I am supposed to bless him?

Too hard it may seem at first, and many simply dismiss these teachings as poetic ideals.

But God does not command the impossible. The difficult maybe, but not the impossible

We can find our way into this by drawing upon the much greater love that God has given us. cf parable of unforgiving debtor (Mt 18,21-35).

I can forgive because God has forgiven me a lot more. I can love because God has loved me a lot more.

We draw the extra ‘fuel’ from Christ Himself, as we receive from Him in the sacraments, and through prayer. This is our daily nutrition. This is how we become strong enough to find such seemingly unlikely qualities.

At the same time we nourish our minds also. We keep at the forefront of our minds the teaching of Our Lord. We do not dismiss it as an impossible ideal. Nor do we just drift away from it, following worldly wisdom instead.

The world keeps religion for just a few ceremonial occasions, and then goes back to pursuing its own goals, without a thought for God.

It is our job, not only to live like this, but to show it to the world; to be a light on the hilltop (Mt 5,14).

We have become accustomed to the idea that the disciples of Christ are very different from Christ Himself. The disciples of Christ are a kind of mixture of the spiritual and the worldly, good and bad at different times.

This is what it has become, but not what is supposed to be.

We have to raise the standard; keep the vision where Christ Himself put it.

And then draw upon the grace and power of God to lift us to the required level. This will maintain in us the constant willingness to give rather than to receive.

As to our enemies, those who do not love us: we hope that the love of God will act on them and transform them. So enemies become friends.

We are ready to disperse God’s blessings generously. How can we be stingy with His gifts?
Why be envious because I am generous? (Mt 20,15)

Even if others do not change, there is great benefit for us to have these attitudes, to draw from the wellsprings of Christ. His charity nourishes and sanctifies us.

The blessings from Heaven are like rain - which falls anyway, not because of our efforts, but for our benefit. Grace is like that, with the difference that we can guarantee receiving it on request - which may not happen with rain.

May His blessings fall upon us now, as we call upon Him.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

4th Sunday after Pentecost 2 Jul 2017 Sermon

4th Sunday after Pentecost 2.7.17 Conversion

Peter is overawed. He sinks to the ground before the Lord. He is doing what we should all do. In every Mass we say Domine, non sum dignus.

It is true. None of us is worthy, even if we were sinless, because we are still so inferior to God.

We humble ourselves, primarily to glorify God. It is His goodness we are acknowledging, and how far He is above us.

As to us: we will never be worthy but we can go some way to be less unworthy, to give God the best we can give.

Grasping the goodness of God, we are more likely to behave according to His will; to behave not only in external compliance, but with an internal desire to please Him. Because we are so caught up in wonder, we do not, or would not, seek to overrule Him,

Some sort of revelation is required - a ‘Peter’ moment. Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man.
This is a moment of clearer than usual insight into the state of things. I have been doing the wrong thing, or been on the wrong track for a long time. Maybe I can come back.

This could happen in various ways. God has the whole universe and all its forces and processes at His disposal. He is an artist with many brushes and paints to call upon.
For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. Wis 7, 25

A bad conscience is hard to live with, but it can be buried under a lot of transient experiences, and false gods.

The noise of our present society is partly to drown out the voice of conscience, and the voice of God. All the noise in the world, however, cannot avoid coming to terms with God at some point.

It is better to listen to Him than to try to hide from Him. The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made. (Ps 145,9)

When we pray for conversion of sinners this is what we mean – that each person will have a moment of truth, a realization of his own nothingness, and the infinite goodness of God.

Then, when humbled enough, they will be ready to be filled with His grace and live a new life.

Post-conversion brings other problems. If we have been converted we have to keep working on our level of holiness.

We need to be always in a state of readiness, like a well-maintained vehicle that can be used at any moment.

There are so many points to consider, so many moral demands, and situations we meet.

There are so many ways to go wrong; but also so many opportunities for growth.

We may be going well in one area of our lives, not so well in another one.

We need to maintain an intensity of commitment, not giving way to discouragement.

Whenever we need encouragement we go back to the basics such as in today’s Gospel.

We recall God's power to do anything.

We recall His willingness to engage with us; indeed it is all for us in the first place.

Note that Peter requested Our Lord to leave, but He did not leave. Nor does He leave us.

He is prepared to stay, and work on the sinners! He hopes that each sinner can be turned into a saint. This was the whole idea of His coming in the first place.

We are continuously converted towards Him, growing in holiness; thus being more likely to draw others into the Church – fishers of men.