Thursday 29 February 2024

2nd Sunday of Lent 25 Feb 2024 Sermon

2nd  Sunday of Lent 25 February 2024 The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration was meant to strengthen the apostles for the sufferings they would endure on Good Friday. If they could recall the glory of Christ, which they had seen for themselves, they would not have panicked on seeing the Crucifixion. That was the logical reasoning.

The apostles, however, did not remain constant under pressure, though they did become strong enough at Pentecost a few weeks later.

With the same idea the Transfiguration is offered to us and the whole Church.

We do not always react by the laws of logic. We believe in God, and we believe He can work miracles to rescue us from trouble, but when we are in the heat of battle we can lose that belief.

We have so many miracles we could call upon, yet somehow they lose their power over us.

We need a reference point to which we can always return, and that is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13,8).   We need not just the miracles but the One who can work the miracles!

How can we be strong enough that we will never lose what we have gained? Overall victory is assured but we want to win the battles too.

We keep records, at least in our heads; we remember what we have seen, and then we bring it out when needed. This is one reason why we have liturgy, the constant re-enactment of a whole host of miracles, centred on Jesus Christ, what He can do and is doing for us.

Under Josehp the Patriarch the Egyptians had enough to withstand the famine (Gen 41,49). So we put away in storage all our reasons for believing, and we bring them out when our world appears to be falling apart.

We face many ordeals, and we can buckle under the pressure, but we have these reserves to call upon. We not only survive, but flourish.

People in general are not outstanding in faith, so it is easy to operate at that level, and accept that as normal.

But that is not how it is meant by God. He wants us to have a lively active trust in Him, as a matter of course.  And He wants to see the whole Church, buzzing with faith and other virtues.

We can always correct past lapses and grow in strength. If we ran away on Good Friday we will not run away next time, or the one after that.

The Transfiguration could be seen as a kind of pivotal miracle, around which all others place themselves. It is a certain reference point which never diminishes.

Think of a time of your life when your faith was at its strongest. Such times are rare and can be a long time apart; but they don’t get any less true with the passing of time.

We might allow the passing of time to erode our beliefs. Memories can fade.

We face some sad experiences along the way. Loved ones die; we have other misfortunes and setbacks. And then there is the world and all its tragedies and troubles.

Who can believe under such pressure, but then again who can fail to believe, given the miracles we have?

In our faith we get used to seeing beyond appearances. We learn to see the complexities of situations and are not easily swayed, especially not to sin.

The main temptation we face is to give up our faith as just too hard, and try to make our own way through life, with maybe some reference to God, but mostly not.

So many do this and it brings all sorts of disorder, and still plenty of fear, which is what they were trying to avoid.

In Christ we have order, peace, certainty – we have all we need to see off various problems and to make progress to eternity.

Thursday 22 February 2024

1st Sunday of Lent (B) 18 February 2024 Sermon

 1st Sunday of Lent 18 Feb 2024 Temptations

Lent is a time of waging war on Sin. Jesus was tempted by the devil to settle for a lesser goal, to be distracted from higher and better things.

This is how the devil tempts us, to take lesser gods and expend all our desires on them.

It helps if we have a clear concept of life’s having a start and a finish. We say life is short but then live like it goes forever, ignoring what happens after death.

Many have a vague idea about life after death, but do not see the urgency of getting this life into order. They become absorbed in this life, but do not know what it is for!

We live in a world which is ordered by God. He hears our prayers and He interacts    strongly, without taking away our free will.

People think God is remote. No, indeed. He is aware of everything. He knows if a sparrow falls from the sky (Mt 10,29). He knows what we need, but often awaits our asking for it.

He wants us to have a lively and continuous conversation with Him, learning as we go, growing in love and trust towards Him.

In the coming of Christ to the world, God reconciles humanity with divinity, and this gives humanity the best exposure it has ever had to true goodness, with all its flow-on effects. Such as peace, happy families, fulfilling lives etc.

He give us many blessings from which we can learn, and then become grateful.

We learn to obey God and to see why that is necessary, and the best thing to do.

Choosing our own course may seem the obvious way forward but, as we see, it leads to more and more trouble.

We live as disciples of Christ with the knowledge that He is nearby, and never forgetting there will be a day of reckoning.

Instead we read the signs and repent. Like Nineveh, like the Prodigal Son, like Mary Magdalene, and thousands  since, who have come to the Saviour and found new life.

Reading the signs we have direction and the way to complete the path.

God knows our human frailty so He does not ask more of us than we can bear.

However, we will find that our capacity to make sacrifices will increase, and then we will be loaded with more responsibility (cf Mt 25,28, give the one who has ten talents even more). He will also give us many consolations on the way.

We must not be too attached to the temporary blessings of this life. They are like refreshment points along the way, but not themselves the end of the journey.

We give up things in Lent to acknowledge that we want the heavenly food instead. We do not live on bread along but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt 4,4).

We learn to live in two worlds at once, this world and the heavenly world. We live by the laws of the heavenly world, at the same time being responsible citizens here on earth; doing all we have to do, but inwardly longing for our true home in Heaven (Ph 3,20).

Whenever we came to faith and baptism, that was getting on course. Everything after that is staying on course – to Heaven.

We make it hard for ourselves whenever we choose to sin. Sin is like being on a journey and then suddenly going sideways or backwards. It does not make any sense, but the temptations are strong, because previous sin clouds our minds and weakens our wills.

A strong dose of clarity from Heaven will enable us to resume the straight path!

Thursday 15 February 2024

6th Sunday Ordinary Time (B) 11 Feb 2024 Sermon

6th Sunday Ordinary Time (B) 11 February 2024 Inclusion

It is not a nice thing to be excluded from communities where we would like to be included; to be victims of prejudice or bullying. Somehow, just not one of the gang.

Jesus can heal that sense of exclusion as well as He can heal our physical complaints. The ‘leper’ is restored to his community. Physical healing symbolises the spiritual healing which restores our relationship with God. Sin moves us away from God, and sometimes a long way. Repentance will bring us back.

God does not want anyone to be excluded; He came to save sinners (1 Tim 1,15). He came that they might have life, and have it to the full (Jn 10,10).

For Him and for us, the Church is the ultimate society to which we need to belong. The Church is God's family, and where all of us become one family. We are made one in Christ, brothers and sisters with each other, whatever other relationships we may have.

Salvation amounts to this: that we are saved if part of God's family (the Church), and unsaved if not – always with the door open for any person to enter, or re-enter.

We may not be able to heal physical illness, but it is always possible to heal the spiritual illness of being separate from God.

On this World Day of the Sick, as we pray for all forms of sickness, we give special priority to the spiritual ‘leprosy’, whereby whatever separates a person from God and the Church can be rectified.

We all belong in God's family, even if rejected from other places. Family is one place where they have to take you back! So is the Church, insofar as we must be prepared to welcome sinners. I have come for the sick not the healthy (Mk 2,17).

Many would say that they do not need God or the Church; they have enough human support already. No matter how happy we might be with human love and friendship we still need the divine connection. Our hearts are made to rest in God (cf St Augustine)

Others might say that the Church as they have experienced it, is not welcoming. We must be charitable to all and at all times. Charity means that any differences can be handled in concern for each other’s soul - and under the umbrella of Church teaching, which connects us with Our Lord.

We go to Jesus as the leper did and submitting to whatever He wants us to do. Jesus wants to save us to the point of complete unity with His will.

This is what makes Heaven heaven; everyone agrees with Christ, and therefore with each other.

Does the Church reject anyone? No, we want to help everyone get to where they need to be with God. For some a measure of repentance or instruction may be required, but they are not being excluded. We rejoice with all heaven (Lk15,7) when a sinner repents or when a prodigal son returns. (Lk 15, 11-32).

Unity with each other will emerge as we each draw closer to God. Then we find what is likeable about each person, even people whom we would have found it hard to like.

We welcome all who want to find life, just as the Lord let all come to Him; and they were so numerous the doors and windows were blocked. Cf when they had to lower the man through the roof (Mk 2,3-11).

Jesus is the leper Himself insofar as He is rejected. In which case we need to let Him back in – to His own family, He came to His own but His own did not receive Him (Jn 1,11). We must reverse that rejection.

Thursday 8 February 2024

5th Sunday Ordinary Time (B) 4 Feb 2024 Sermon

5th Sunday (B) 4 Feb 2024 Reward

What is my reward, says St Paul, for preaching the Gospel. It is this – to be able to do it for free; because he does not need a reward, possessing the ‘reward’ already insofar as he could not be any happier, already knowing Christ Jesus.

Well, the only thing he could have better than he has it now is that others would take up what he is offering them – that they too will discover the joy of the Gospel.

We know there is a pleasure in doing good to those in need, relieving suffering of others, we enjoy giving in itself.

It touches a chord within us and this is understandable if we reflect that we are created by God in His image, and He certainly likes to give; He is doing it all the time; it is His nature.

Some giving has a cost. If I give you my last piece of bread then I am foregoing the benefit which that bread would have done me. But is that not the noblest expression of humanity, sacrificing oneself for another.

We put up statues for people who do that. We do not put up a statue for someone who spent his whole life looking after himself!

But there is another way we can give, whereby it costs us nothing. That is, if we have so much of what we are giving it can never run out. This is what happens in the spiritual world. We can do good for each other, pray, encourage, evangelize, catechise – all things which can benefit both the giver and the receiver.

This is how heavenly grace works. God can give all day and still have more to give.

This is what St Paul had discovered. He could never run out of heavenly joy, and the more he gave it to others the more joy he felt.

Apart from making us feel good there will be a deeper effect on us, as we become more generous by nature; and with that will come other good qualities like cheerfulness, patience, charity etc,

God is generous, and He will make us so as well. We can note that in Jesus’s case He could have helped people all day long without costing Himself anything. But to take away the sin of the world He did suffer a huge cost, in His passion and death.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Lk 6,38).

One snag we find when people don’t want to receive the free gift. Free beer they would stop for that but not for Free eternal life!

They know there is a catch with the latter, that it does require some personal commitment. But even then the fine print is joyful. The joy of giving outweighs the sacrifice.

We possess the treasure in the field (Mt 13,44), and at least the beginnings of eternal life. Learning from St Paul’s example, we cannot be otherwise than happy if we possess a share in the infinite graces of Heaven.

There will be hard times and bad days, but the overall direction is Up.

With practice we develop the virtues we need to go through adversity, when joy is hard to find. As we see in the first reading from Job.

He was in a very low point but he did manage to come through; so by the end he had his material fortunes restored, and a much deeper understanding of God's ways.

We hope to come out happy in the end, always happy and never otherwise. It is not a fairy story; it is just what would have been in place a long time ago, if enough people had believed it. And a glorious future is achievable by the same logic.

May His Kingdom come.

Thursday 1 February 2024

4th Sunday Ordinary Time (B) 28 January 2024 Sermon

 4th Sunday Ordinary Time 28 January 2024 Authority

Unlike the Scribes He taught them with authority. (Gospel Mk 1,22)

Authority comes from the same word as Author.

The author of a book has authority over whatever goes in that book. He can make characters live or die, be old or young, and he controls the outcome of the story.

God has written a book, we might say, and we are the characters in it, though in our case we are not fictitious; we actually exist.

The characters on the page have taken on a life of their own.

And we do not always obey the Author. In fact we question Him and argue with Him, and for many people there is a long-term alienation from God.

For His part, He persists with the work He has begun. He will not be deflected from His purpose. He came to save, and save He will.

I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (Jn 10,10).

He created us to love Him and so that He could love us. He wants to share what He has.

God has created many types of creatures. Of them all only humans and angels have the power to address God directly, with full comprehension

We do not understand all the mysteries of God, but we can at least grasp His existence and its significance for us.

It is always going to be better for us if we accept His authority and work with it, rather than against it. This is because He knows so much better than we do the best way forward.

The whole story of salvation is of people going this way and that, some coming, some going.

If I go my own way I am putting my script over God’s; but I do not have His authority, only wishing I had.

It is a great privilege to relate to Him regarding His plans. We are not just pawns on the board; we have a voice.

We cannot use our voices to overrule God but we can become more familiar with His ways of working, and facilitate the flow of His grace and mercy in all directions.

The Jews of Our Lord’s time did not believe in His divinity thinking him just another human, subject to God. Admittedly it must have taken a while to sink in, as the idea of God living among us was so strange at the time.

He can do it if He wants. Some will say it is impossible that God could become Man, but not if He decides to do it. If He is God then of course He can change things, or intervene, in any way He likes.

He did not make arbitary changes, acting on a whim. He always knew exactly what He was doing, and what each situation required. He was working to the Master plan, which was mainly about salvation – winning souls, turning the hearts and minds of people to worship and obedience to the one true God.

Does God's book have a happy ending? We have some say in that. If we let Him work His wonders upon us and through us we will experience great happiness in this life and more again in eternity.

It just needs enough humility that we will remember our created status. We are not gods ourselves, only people looking for God.

He will help us to find Him and then to work in a creative partnership whereby we are both part of the story and also helping to write that story.

We participate in our own salvation and can help others find their place in the same narrative.

This is a strange teaching, perhaps, but it has authority behind it. Its Author is Truth itself.

 

 

 

Thursday 25 January 2024

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time (B) 21 Jan 2024 Sermon

3rd Sunday (B) 21 Jan 2024 The Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God is close at hand (Gospel). The kingdom is not any particular place on the map that we could point to. It is more a matter of how we live than where we live.

Any place where people are resolved to live by the will of God, and consciously acknowledge His goodness and primary importance – that place is the kingdom of God.

Where the will of God prevails, where there is no stealing, adultery, blasphemy etc, where indeed God is regarded as King by the people.

We have become accustomed to the sad reality that people deny God the homage and obedience which He should receive.

People talk of a secular Australia, whereby it becomes increasingly ‘normal’ to push God to the side.

God is fighting back! He calls some of the apostles today, making them ‘fishers of men’. God will speak through the apostles, and later the disciples, to put His case to humanity.

He has created us, and called us, and where necessary forgiven us – when will we acknowledge that? He is asking us to take Him seriously and put His words into practice whether we are the only one, or one of many.

Whether it is easy or hard, whether it looks like we are winning or losing, we pray without ceasing for good things to happen, always according to God's will.

God wants us to make Him obvious. People deny God because they claim they cannot see any evidence. We can give them evidence by the way we live. And this is how God always wanted it to happen. In the early Church people wanted to join in the fellowship of the disciples, so many signs and wonders they worked (cf Acts 5,10-12).

We lost some momentum somewhere along the line. The Church is always battling on many fronts and often reduced in power, yet that power is available to us if we call upon it.

The kingdom is where God is recognized as King; where His will is law, where people think the right thoughts, have the right desires and attitudes, and actively help each other in need.

We have some of this now, but need a lot more.

We are not here for our own benefit but to do a job for God, and that job is to make the places we inhabit one part of the Kingdom of God. If we can get our own house right, or street, or nation - no place too small or too big.

It is not easy to do what it says in the second reading – to be involved in the world but not become engrossed in it. We get better with practice.

The first reading give us a case study of how positive change can be achieved, even quickly.

Notice God's desire to forgive. And Jonah’s desire that the city not be saved (Jonah, not yet in the sprit of things!). And the people did come around. We have to want that for others. Usually prayer for the conversion of others is not so quick in its success, but we chip away as required.

We pray for the kingdom of God to come every time we say the Our Father.

We would not know ourselves if the will of God prevailed everywhere; it would be a lot happier than it is now.

The kingdom will more likely permeate through individual responses rather than come down ready-made.

It is something we have to fight for, as valued achievements usually are. God will honour any efforts we make in His name.

We are the fortunate ones, called before the eleventh hour, preparing the way for others to join us.

May His kingdom come!

 

 

Thursday 18 January 2024

2nd Sunday Ordinary Time (B) 14 Jan 2024 Sermon

2nd Sunday Ordinary Time (B) 14 Jan 2024 Body and soul

Sometimes people wonder why Adam and Eve were punished so heavily for just one sin. After all, anyone can make a mistake!

It becomes clearer when we realize that before the sin Adam had perfect control of all his thoughts and feelings; he did not suffer from the sort of weakness we experience now.

So the sin he committed was far more serious than it seems to us. It was a major breach of the established order which he knew. It was not just a matter of ‘eating an apple’.

Because of that sin the harmony the human race had enjoyed was shattered. From that time on flesh and spirit would be at war with each other, and concupiscence (sinful desire, tendency to sin) would be a dominant presence.

This is why we experience, as even St Paul did (Romans 7,18-19) that conflict between what we mean to do and what we actually do. We make good resolutions, then find that we cannot carry them out. We do not have full control of our desires and actions.

Should we despair of this? No need. We have a remedy for disordered desires, and that remedy is Jesus Christ.

He was the Second Adam, the New Man. He restored to us the fully integrated human nature possessed by Adam before the sin.

Jesus Himself was sinless. This means not only that He kept all the various rules and commandments, but He did so easily. It was easy because He had perfect control over all His thoughts, words, actions. He was not struggling to keep the rules – it came ‘naturally’.

Natural, because Jesus was able, without effort, to want the same things as God wanted.

We tend to view commandments as an imposition, as hard to keep, and not very desirable either. We are not allowed to do certain things we do want to do, and told we must do certain other things we do not want to do.

If we had what Jesus had, we would never see God’s commands as a burden, but as a delight. ‘Lord, how I love Your law’ (Ps 119, 97).

We can come to this same state by joining ourselves to Jesus. This is what we do when we pray, or receive a Sacrament, and especially at Mass.

We are transformed as we draw closer to Him, study His word, pray to Him. We take on His mind, His heart, His very nature.

We cannot be divine but we can be human, and Jesus was both. We become human as He was human, fully obedient to God, fully integrated, a ‘whole’ person (another way of saying ‘holy’).

Salvation is not just a keeping of a whole set of rules, arbitrarily imposed on us. It is a becoming of the person each of us is meant to be.

We realize we have not been deprived of anything by being Christian, but actually enriched. We are the lucky ones to come so close to the heart of all truth and beauty.

The closer we come to Him the better it gets.

So we joyfully answer His call as demonstrated in the first reading (Samuel) and the Gospel (Andrew and Peter).

In the second reading, (1 Corinthians 6) the Church’s sexual teaching, so much criticised and questioned, is seen to make sense, as being the proper understanding of body and soul.

Once again the passions and desires are able to be controlled and channelled according to our true human identity.

Critics of the Church will say we are out of date. No, we are ahead of the times, being able to find a remedy for disordered passions, and reclaiming holiness of life as the new normal.

May we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity (Offertory prayer at Mass)