Sunday, 19 March 2017

3rd Sunday Lent, Year A

Jn 4:5-42; Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-8
I want to share with you something that I’ve been thinking about this last week, something that may come as bad news for some of you. And the thing is this: there is not going to be chocolate in heaven. Now, some of you may hear that and think that you've ALREADY given up chocolate for Lent, and you are already counting the days until your next chocolate bar on Easter Sunday morning, and yet NOW you hear me say that there will be no chocolate in heaven either! Of course, there are some of you who have not given up chocolate, and are not particularly upset about this because you've given up BEER for Lent, however, to you my news is that there will be no beer in heaven either!

I make this point to highlight something being taught in all three of our readings today, because our readings focus on the question of WHAT will truly SATISFY this, on the question of what it is that we HOPE for. Our first reading (Ex 17:3-7) referred to the thirst of the people of Israel as they wandered in the desert, and how God satisfied that thirst with water flowing from the rock. But that satisfaction of thirst was a symbol of the deeper SPIRITUAL thirst that only GOD can satisfy, that neither chocolate nor beer can satisfy. There will be neither chocolate nor beer in heaven because what will satisfy us in heaven will be God Himself, in His fullness. This spiritual thirst is what we heard Jesus referring to in our Gospel text, the thirst that Christ said He Himself would satisfy: "anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again" (Jn 4:14). This water will become "a spring inside... welling up to eternal life"(Jn 4:14). And what is this water, this spring? It is the life of the Holy Spirit.

The pouring of that Spirit into our hearts was referred to in our second reading from St Paul to the Romans. He spoke also about how a Christian must be “looking forward”(Rom 5:2) not to things of this world but to the ultimate glory. And he said that "this hope is not deceptive"(Rom 5:5) . Referring to the Holy Spirit, and making yet ANOTHER reference to something being "poured" out, he said that this “hope” of future glory was not deceptive "because the LOVE of God has been poured into our hearts" (Rom5:5).

Now, the "love of God" is something that we need to have a profound grasp of if we are to appreciate what HEAVEN will be like.
There are two senses in which we can speak of the "love of God": (1) the love that He has for us, and, (2) the love that we have for Him. Both of these produce an effect in us, a transforming effect, the transformation of complete joy. As I've said to you before, even in this life, we all know something of the relationship between love and joy. Concerning love “for us”, the experience of knowing that somebody else loves us is an experience that fills us with joy. Similarly, the experience of loving someone else, especially the experience of loving someone else who we know loves us, this experience fills us with JOY.
And, the deeper that love the deeper the joy.
And, Heaven is the place where this experience will exceed anything we now know because it will be an experience not at our finite human level but an experience of the INFINITE love of God.
In the face of such an experience the pleasures of chocolate and beer will be left behind.

To bring this to a conclusion, why are we talking of this in Lent?
In part, because people across the world are preparing for Easter baptism in this season, baptism that will bring them that outpouring of that regenerating water, with the Holy Spirit.
But, for all of us, the season of Lent is a season to purify and test what it is that we have our "hope" set upon, to test what it is we are attached to. The fasting and self-denial of Lent, the giving something up for Lent, should help purify us of an excessive attachment to the pleasures of this world and remind us of the "hope" of spiritual joy, and of the hope of that joy in life eternal, such that we “will never be thirsty again”(Jn 4:14).

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Giving Things Up for Lent, 1st Sunday of Lent

This Friday I spent almost the whole school day at St Catherine’s Primary School, talking to them about Lent, so I thought I might share with you what we spoke about.

I talked with them about ‘giving things up for Lent’. I asked them, if you say, “I’m going to give up hitting my little sister for Lent”, does that mean that when Lent is over you give her big huge WHACK? After all, Lent would be over, and you were no longer giving that up.
No, we were all agreed, it wouldn’t then become right to hit your little sister.
Now, this is important to note, because it tells us something about ‘giving things up’:
The things we are giving up are things that are GOOD in themselves, they’re not things that are sins -things that we should never be doing anyway.

‘Giving things up’ is a small form of fasting. So why do we fast? There are a number of reasons.
The first of those reasons, is to be in union with Jesus in the desert. The Lord Jesus, as we heard in that Gospel passage, went into the desert and fasted and prayed for 40 days. The Lord Jesus had times when He fasted and times when He feasted, and so His disciples have seasons when we fast and seasons when we feast. The path to a fulfilled life lies in following Jesus. Lent is 40 days in union with Him in the desert, fasting, at least by doing the small fasting of ‘giving things up’.

But what is fasting? When we fast we take something that is good in itself, namely food, and we don’t eat it.
We don’t do this because food is bad -it’s not like giving up hitting your little sister.
Food isn’t bad. The problem isn’t with the food, the problem is with ME. I am attached to things, and to food, in a way that simply isn’t right. All too easily I get over-focused on THINGS.
As I said to the children at St Catherine’s, if I stuff my face with chocolate, if I’m focussed on my iPad and my TV, do I see the people around me? No.
And if those people around me need my help, do I see? No.
I am UNABLE to love, because I’m focused on the wrong things.

What fasting achieves, is it FREES me from my self-absorption and so frees me to LOVE.
What fasting TRAINS me in is self-control and self-discipline, which are really important because I need them all the time in my dealings with others.
So, that growth in inner freedom is a second reason why we fast.

A third reason we fast is to offer the Lord a sign of our sorrow for our sins.
I pointed the children towards Jesus on the cross (sadly we don’t have a crucifix here for you to see in this church, though we should have)
And I explained to the children that what hurt Jesus the MOST wasn’t the physical pain, but the wounds to His love that we make by our sins. Every sin rejects His love.
I gave this example to this children: if you’ve really upset your friend, you can show you want to make things right by giving him something. If you and your friend both know you love Dairy Milk chocolate, and you give your friend your bar of Dairy Milk, that gesture of love, that act of ‘reparation’ helps heal the wound we have caused.
And that’s another important reason we ‘give things up’ for Lent.

So, in summary, there are three things that characterise this holy season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Its not about doing one OR the other. For someone to say, “I’m going to so something positive for Lent rather than give something up”, would be like saying, “I’m going to love God rather than love my neighbour -you need BOTH!
So let’s each add a little extra prayer, resolve on that thing we’ve given up, and spend this time: (1) in union with Jesus in the desert; (2) freeing ourselves from our attachments, so we are freer to love and give to others; and (3) offer reparation to the wounded Heart of our Lord

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Worrying. 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 6:24-34
We just heard in today’s Gospel text a beautiful example of Our Lord’s intimate and compassionate knowledge of our human nature. We heard Him speak about WORRYING –that thing that we can spend so much time and effort doing.
Over these past weeks we’ve heard Our Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount:
Sometimes we hear Our Lord’s words uttered as words of authority, of command;
sometimes we hear Him speak hard words that we know are not easy to follow.
But today, as I said, we hear this same Lord, who was and is both fully God and fully human, we heard Him speak very human words to us:
words about worrying, words that show He knows exactly what we are like.
Most of us have at least some occasions when we worry,
Some of us regularly lie awake at night worrying.
And worrying is an odd thing:
it’s not like planning or decision making when we actually ACHIEVE something,
when we actually become better able to deal with what we must do.
No, worrying does not help us in any way. As Jesus beautifully put it, “Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single hour to his span of life?”(Mt 6:27)
And yet, we DO worry, and we often spend great energy worrying.

Let me make three points.
First, the Lord points out that we often worry because we’re focussed on the wrong things in life.
He says, very directly, that we focus too much on material things. And so He warns us that “you cannot be the slave of two masters... of both God and of money [mammon]” (Mt 6:24).
And the simple remedy He gives us is that we need to repeatedly remember that, “life means more than food and the body more than clothing”(Mt 6:25).

Second, there is the issue of whether we worry about things with a SELFISH focus, or with a focus that is on OTHER people.
Most of us have probably had moments when we realise that so often when we worry about something we worry about it because of how it will affect ME, not about how it will affect others -that even when we worry about family our worries can be filled with anxiety not for THEIR sake but because of some way in which we fear matters will affect us:
affect our time, our reputation, or something else.
This is one aspect of worry that the Lord calls on us to identify within ourselves and to seek to “let go”, to detach ourselves from our SELFISH attachment, and to attach ourselves instead to GOD:
“see ye first the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33).
The remedy to this is to be bold enough to seek to (1) love others first, and (2) love God first and foremost, because when we do this our worries often take on a much REDUCED significance.

Third, and finally, there is the issue that our worrying is caused our lack of trust in God. And here the Lord Jesus berated His disciples for being “men of little faith” (Mt 6:30). He pointed out that God cares for the flowers of the field and the birds of the sky, and yet God loves US much more than either of these.
This type of worry can often be rooted in a sort of mistaken attempt to do everything ourselves and by our own power.
The remedy to this is to (1) call on God’s grace, (2) trust in His strength, (3) trust in His plan for our welfare.

“So do not worry about tomorrow”, and as more literal translations put it in a beautiful parody of our own worrying: “tomorrow will worry about itself” (NIV) “tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (RSV),
“Each day has troubles enough of its own”.

Priests are not immune from worry, as I’m sure you’re aware.
Not even popes are immune from worry. As Pope John XXIII supposedly used to pray each night as he pondered the problems in the Church, “It's your Church, not mine, Lord. I'm going to sleep now”.
If we seek to (1) put God’s things first, (2) focus on the eternal values and not the merely material ones, then we should be able to take the good pope’s attitude for ourselves:
it’s His world, His problems, and we can entrust them to Him.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Who is my Enemy? 7th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year A

Mt 5:38-48; Lev 19:1-2.17-18
Today we heard the command from the Lord that we must, “Love your enemy”.
There is, what I consider to be, a very interesting point here, and I want to note that, as well as indicate WHO my enemy is, WHY I must love him, and HOW I must love him.

The point I consider interesting is this: the Lord bluntly acknowledges that we have “enemies” in life. There is a certain false caricature of the Lord Jesus that pictures Him as cuddly, and fuzzy, and out of touch with the harsh realities of life.
Yet, here He is, bluntly acknowledging that we DO each have enemies in life.
Now, maybe this doesn't surprise you. Maybe you have a mother in law, and it is self-evident to you that you have an enemy in life.

Let us consider, then, my first question: WHO is my enemy?
Maybe you might answer this by saying, it's the person who is always out to thwart my plans, to ruin what I am trying to do, to interfere with my projects, to do me harm, to rejoice in my downfall..

What, however, would be the description the LORD would use to describe my enemy?
As we know, the Lord was asked, “and, who is my neighbour?” But it doesn't seem He was ever asked, “and who is my enemy?”
Rather boldly, I'm going to tell you what I think the Lord’s answer to this question would have been.
The Lord, we might recall, frequently answers questions by turning the question on its head. And, if He was asked who my enemy was I think, He might have said:
Who is my enemy?
My enemy is “my neighbour”.
And, once I have identified my enemy this way, it becomes obvious why Jesus says I must love him.

Yes, my enemy might be seeking my downfall.
But, his primary identity, even before he started seeking my downfall, is that he is my neighbour.
The same good God loves both of us.
The same "Father in heaven... causes His sun to rise on bad men as well is good, and His rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike”(Mt 5:45)
and we might add, that Jesus died out of love for those who killed Him just as truly as He died for those who followed Him. He died for Caiaphas and Pilate as much as He died for Peter, James and John.
So Jesus concluded, "You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect"(Mt 5:48), i.e. love your enemy just as your heavenly Father loves him.

And finally, HOW do I love my enemy? After all, for some reason he IS my enemy. What does loving him mean PRACTICALLY?
To love someone means to seek his welfare, to seek his good (c.f. St Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II Q28 a3 ad3).
I cannot seek his death, I cannot seek his stumbling, I cannot seek his failure.
-such things are not to will his ‘good’.
Sometimes, I might seek his correction, including pointing out where he has wronged me.
But always it involves me doing this, and other things, for HIS benefit, because it is good FOR HIM. This is love. This is love for my enemy.

If I would love the good God who loves me,
if I would love those whom the good God would have me love,
then I must love not merely the brother who is agreeable and pleasant to me,
I must love not merely the neighbour who is at least not un-pleasant to me,
but rather, I must love my enemy .

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Seeing Hidden Wisdom, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

1 Cor 2:6-10
Today I want to tell you about a secret.
Its not my secret. But at many times in his letters St. Paul speaks about a “secret”, a hidden truth revealed, its repeated feature if how he describes what has been made known in Christ.
He says at one stage (1 Cor 15:51), “I tell you a secret…”, speaking of the resurrected of the Body that will occur to everyone at the end of time: namely, that we shall all be changed, with new different glorified bodies.
He says another time (Eph 3:3-9, also 1:9), where he uses the word “secret” 5 times in just 6 verses, that God had a hidden plan to unite all peoples in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, and that this was His secret plan from the dawn of time.
He says this also elsewhere.
But today I am thinking about this because we heard him speak, in our second reading (1 Cor 2:6-10) of the “hidden wisdom” that has been “revealed”.
-a "secret" or "hidden" wisdom that is hidden no more -it has been revealed in Jesus Christ,
However, it's also true that in each case it remains hidden from most of humanity because people fail to see it -even though its been made known.

My point to you today is this: the hidden, the unseen is actually the more important.
The unseen is actually what will last forever.
Let me know a comparison between God and love in this regard:
Love cannot be seen.
God cannot be seen.
Love is visible in its effects, as God is visible in His effects, but neither can be seen directly while we live in this world
Yet, both love and God are what give meaning to everything else.
And, as scripture says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) -so it's hardly surprising that this analogy of both being unseen while both cause the meaning of everything holds.

To come back to St. Paul's text: St. Paul says that they crucified Him because they didn't recognise this hidden wisdom. The “masters of our age”(1 Cor 2:6) rejected Him because they didn't see what was there to be seen.
We, too, can reject what is most important if we fail to have our eyes truly open.

Today, this day, even without pausing to make the conscious choice,
I can allow myself to get so caught up in busy-ness that I fail to see what is important in the midst if the busy-ness. I can busy cooking lunch, or busy unlocking the church doors, busy, busy busy, and I can fail to see and value the PEOPLE who are before me.
And I fail to truly value the people for what they are because I fail to truly see GOD, and see how God chooses and loves these people, and wants me to love these people.

BUT its not just busy-ness that does this to me.
Laziness, failing to mentally engage with the world, with the TRUE hidden meaning of the world, there is a type of mental laziness that fails to see what is before me, fails to see what God has shown me.

The REMEDY to this isn’t complicated.
We’re already here at Mass, so we have the truth before us -but how to see it?
It involves that interior attentiveness that we call ‘contemplation’.
It involves regular times of prayer, when I wake in the morning, when I go to bed at night, and pausing to re-find Him during the day.
None of this is complicated. But when we don’t do it, we become like those who “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8) because they failed to see what He had shown them:
“the things no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him”(1 Cor 2:9)
-the “hidden mysteries” He has already told us about, that give meaning to everything else.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

No sermon this week

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Jesus is the 'Blessed', 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Mt 5:1-12
If someone was to say to you, "You're a Christian, How does Jesus tell me I should live?"
I imagine that most of us would START by saying, "Jesus said that you must love God and love your neighbour". However, the point I want to make to you today, is that this is NOT what Jesus said -this is not how Jesus STARTED His explanation of how we should live.

We just heard in today's gospel text how Jesus started His great moral discourse: The great Sermon on the Mount –the long moral discourse He gave near the start of His ministry; and over the next few weeks we are going to hear some of the details of that moral discourse, of that description of how we are to live.
But my point to you today is that Jesus STARTED His moral discourse by addressing something else:
The question of HAPPINESS: How and where do we find happiness?

We just heard ‘the Beatitudes’, ‘blessed are the poor in spirit… etc’,
People often find the Beatitudes rather odd, or not helpful, to be calling the mourners ‘happy’ etc.
I want to point out to you a very ancient teaching about the Beatitudes, but one that most of you may not have heard about, despite the fact that Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis have all taught this point:
The point is this: the Beatitudes describe Jesus Christ.
They do not so much describe a package of moral behaviour as they describe a PERSON. They are, as Pope St John Paul II put it, the “self-portrait” of Jesus, of the Lord describing Himself to His disciples. As quoted in the newsletter, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have made the same point, and it's actually the ancient Patristic interpretation of this text.
‘Blessed are the meek’. Who is THE Meek One? Jesus Christ
Who is the Pure of heart, who is the Merciful, who is the Peacemaker? Jesus
Who is the afflicted, the poor of spirit, the one hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Jesus
Who is the one who suffers? The Lord
In all of this is described our crucified Lord, the Lord who pointed out the path of the Cross to us, who showed us that it is only the Royal Road of the Cross that leads to the Resurrection, that leads to TRUE happiness.
People look for happiness in money, and sex, and pleasure, and beauty.
But it is only TRULY found in Him who Blessedness itself.

What IS true ‘Blessedness’?
True happiness, "blessedness", consists in sharing the very life of God, seeking God and becoming what Scripture calls “partakers in the divine nature”(2 Pet 1:4).
God is happiness itself because (1) He is love, and (2) He is loved, in (3) perfection.
To BE loved, to KNOW we are loved, and to GIVE ourselves in love –this is true spiritual JOY.
In the relationship of the Father and the Son: He is eternally loved and eternally knows Himself to be loved, and rejoices in this in the Holy Spirit.
This is the glorious goal that we are called to, and it is in as much as we possess this that we possess happiness.

BUT to live that out involves turning this world upside down.
To live this out involves dying to ourselves, that we might give ourselves in love.

So, to come back to the opening question: How did Jesus start His explanation of how we should live?
He started it by addressing the universal desire for happiness.
He came to bring true happiness, inverting the values of this world on their head,
dying for us that He might offer a path to follow to a resurrection.
Dying to self-seeking that we might live in meekness, humility, suffering.
Dying to selfish false happiness that we might live in true happiness, the happiness found in Him alone.

Quotes on the Beatitudes by the last three popes:

The Beatitudes “are invitations to discipleship to communion of life with Christ” since they are a “sort of self-portrait of Christ” (John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (1993) n. 16)

“In truth, the blessed par excellence is only Jesus. He is, in fact, the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice. The Beatitudes show us the spiritual features of Jesus and thus express his mystery, the mystery of his death and Resurrection, of his passion and of the joy of his Resurrection. This mystery, which is the mystery of true blessedness, invites us to follow Jesus and thus to walk toward it.” (Pope Benedict, Homily for All Saints, 1st Nov 2006)

"In these words is all the novelty brought by Christ, and the whole novelty of Christ is in these words. In fact, the Beatitudes are Jesus’ portrait, his way of life, and they are the way of true happiness, which we also can live with the grace that Jesus gives us."(Pope Francis, General Audience, 6th August 2014)