Sunday, 25 January 2015

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B




Mk 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5.10
I’d like us to consider today what were the FIRST recorded words said by the Lord Jesus.
Because in today’s Gospel, St Mark gives us what he portrays as the first PUBLIC words of the Lord, the first words He said to the crowds, the first words indicating His MESSAGE.
In contrast, I looked up what we heard in the Gospel last week, which recorded from St John the start of the Lord’s public life, and had His first words as, “What are you seeking for?”(Jn 1:38) -words that’s that weren’t His message addressed to the crowd, but were words addressed in a personal encounter -words that point out how the Lord Jesus satisfies what people are seeking for. This, in fact, is a point that St John repeatedly notes in the various encounters he records between people meeting Jesus. Time and again: People meet Jesus, they sense something in Him that will satisfy, and so the question from Him, “What are you seeking for?” sums this up.

Back to St Mark, however, and those first PUBLIC words, words to the crowds, encapsulating His message. The Church presents them to us today along with our first reading from the prophet Jonah. In Jonah we heard of how Jonah went to Nineveh and brought a call to repentance, and of how the people responded to that call by “renouncing their evil behaviour”(Jonah 3:10).
And the point is this: the first public words of the Lord Jesus LIKEWISE brought a call to change: “Repent and believe the Good News”(Mk 1:15). More fully: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent…”(Mk 1:15) -this, as St Mark very deliberately portrays it, sums up the whole message of Jesus and His mission.

Let me be emphatic about a point: MEETING JESUS brings an automatic call to REPENT, a call to change my life.
I noted last week that Samuel couldn’t recognize the call of the Lord because he didn’t yet “know” Him (1 Sam 3:7). I noted also that just as the first disciples were prepared for the call to “follow” Him (Jn 1:43) by first being called to “come and see”(Jn 1:39) -to spend time with Him. And I said that you and I need to spend time with Him daily by reading the Gospels and praying.
There is, however, something MORE that happens when I spend time with Jesus, when I get to know Him. And what happens is this: I automatically start to compare His life with mine; to see how I don’t measure up to the love, the compassion, the generosity, the hard work, the perseverance, and so forth, that I see I the Lord’s earthly life.
And so, to spend time with the Lord automatically brings a call to repentance, a call to change.
And I receive that call to change from the same One who empowers me, by His grace, to be forgiven for my past and enabled to live differently for the future.

(pause)
So, to sum that up with reference to those first public words that St Mark records Our Lord starting His public mission with:
When Christ came He didn’t just come as another prophet. He came as the fulfillment of all that was promised. And so He said, “the time is fulfilled”(Mk 1:15). He came as the living embodiment of God’s reign on earth, and so He said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand”(Mk 1:15). He came calling us to a new way of life, and so He said, “repent”(Mk 1:15).
And so last week’s Gospel with the PERSONAL call to spend time with Him as the foundation of the call to “follow” Him, is actually making the same point as this week’s Gospel with the PUBLIC call to “repent” and enter into a new way a life -a new way of life that is now possible because we have met Him.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Moral Theology 4: The End Doesn't Justify the Means, audio

Lecture to London ordinariate clergy formation



Moral Theology 3: Mortal Sin, audio

Lecture to London ordinariate clergy formation




Sunday, 18 January 2015

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B




1 Sam 3:3-10.19; Jn 1:35-42
We heard in our first reading about how God called to Samuel, and something that you and I need to remember is that, right now, the Lord is calling out to you and me. He has something to say to you, now. Something that is relevant to your time and place. Maybe a message of consolation, of strength in your pain. Or maybe a message of direction, advice to persevere or advice to stop.
The problem, however, is that we so easily fail to hear what God is saying. And, on this point, today’s readings give us some useful indicators.

Samuel had the voice of the Lord speaking to him from heaven, speaking more directly than you or I are ever likely to experience. And yet, Samuel wasn't able to recognise the call of the Lord.
Samuel was, it would seem, a good boy: He did his master’s bidding. He came running to him.
But, he didn't recognise the call of the Lord.
Why? The text we heard gave the reason why, “Samuel had as yet no knowledge of the Lord”(1 Sam 3:7).
Now, let us recall, Samuel was a Jew; son of devout mother; he lived in the Temple. And yet he didn’t “know” the Lord. Just as you are I can be Catholic without really “knowing” the God that our faith gives us access to.
And, if we do not really know the Lord then we cannot recognise His voice calling to us.
And how do we get to know Him? By spending time with Him.

On that point, moving on to today’s Gospel text, the text does not yet have the Lord issuing His call, “Follow me”(Jn 1:43) –that call is recorded in the next verse, and what is recorded in today’s account is an important preparation for that call.
In today’s account we heard about how disciples of St John the Baptist went to Jesus and asked Him, “Rabbi, where do you live?”(Jn 1:38). Now, they weren’t just curious about whether He had a flat or a bungalow! They wanted to know HIM.
And they knew they had to spend TIME with Him to know Him.
And, having spent time with Him, having gotten to know Him, they were ready to hear and accept the call to “follow” Him that He then gave them.

I began by saying that the Lord has something to say to you, something relevant for you today, in your current circumstances. And, like Samuel, we can struggle to “know” the Lord well enough to able to hear His call.
Well, the point is this: there two things I am recommending to you today to address this: (1) prayer, and (2) reading the Gospels –the Gospels being the part of the Bible that most directly tells us about the Lord, so that might “know” Him.
Let me be more specific still, and suggest to you a daily pattern to follow (one that many of you already use, and a good number of you do even more than this):
(1) daily reading a paragraph of the Gospels, and
(2) then spending 5 minutes in prayer: silent, private, talking to God and listening to Him.
And inside today’s newsletter is a list of 7 excerpts from the Gospels, to take you through each day this coming week, so you can make this week the start of something new.

5 minutes is short enough that every single person here should be able to achieve it.
But I’d also assert (and I think I can say I witness this in many people) that 5 minutes a day can be enough to start you out on a new trajectory.
A new trajectory that can start you on a path such that you might hear what the Lord is calling out to you –just as Samuel was eventually able to say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”(1 Sam 3:10).

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Baptism of the Lord




Isa 42:1-4, 6-7; Mk 1:7-11
I’d like to say a few words about the connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit and new beginnings.

In the Gospel text we heard how Christ initiated a new beginning: the new beginning of His public ministry, and He did this in the waters of His baptism.
That event was a new beginning that Christ began for us, not for Himself but FOR US. Christ did not need to be saved, did not need it be baptised, did not need to receive the Holy Spirit. He did this FOR US.
For us, and in us ,baptism works a new beginning: dying and rising with Christ in the baptismal waters. And whenever we do an act that renews our baptism we are renewing that new beginning yet again.

The Gospel account of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us of someone pivotal that is needed for our new beginning: the Holy Spirit.
And we can trace the activity of the Holy Spirit in creation and re-creation throughout salvation history:
The book of Genesis tells us how the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters, at the creation.
And the Holy Spirit was working for the RE-creation too: The gospels tell us how the Holy Spirit came upon the Ever-Virgin Mary when she agreed to the Archangel's request for her to become the mother of God. "And the Word became flesh" -and the RE-creation of our fallen creation was begun.
The prophet Isaiah had foretold, as we heard in our first reading, foretold that the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in the deeds of the Messiah would be one of the signs of His having come (Isa 42:1-4, 6-7; c.f. Lk 4:14ff).
Upon the cross, as He died, the Gospel tells us that Jesus "breathed forth His Spirit" (Jn 19:30) upon His embryonic Church as they stood at the foot of the Cross.
The birth of the Church, in that further act of re-creating, was enacted at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples in the form of flames of fire.
But, before that, was the event in today's Gospel, the Baptism of The Lord, when the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in His humanity, to sanctify our common humanity.

We can similarly trace the activity of the Holy Spirit in our movement from sin:
First, the Holy Spirit CONVICTS us of our sins (Jn 16:8), enabling us to see what we have done wrong, enabling us to see our NEED of a new beginning.
And the coming of the Holy Spirit is initiated in BAPTISM, as was manifested in Jordan River in Christ, for our sake, and was taught by the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”(Acts 2:8).
And it is continued in CONFESSION: The Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles that they might impart the forgiveness of sin (Jn 20:22-23), as their successors (priests) still implore the coming of the Holy Spirit as they utter the words of absolution, saying “…sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins…”
The Holy Spirit enables us to resist future sin, to start again -not by our power, but by His.
The Holy Spirit enables a new beginning, again, and again, and again.

And as we have started the New Year now in January, let us recall with that our new beginning in baptism, in the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Epiphany




Mt 2:1-12
Today we recall the wise men, the “magi” who came from the East to worship the baby Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I'd like to describe to you what most scholars considers to be the reason WHY they KNEW to come and do this. No-one else came, no other long list of foreign kings and dignitaries came. So why did THESE men come? The gospel text tells us that these men came because they saw the star (Mt 2:2). And yet, EVERYONE would have seen the star, but only these few knew what the star meant?
Why?
They knew because they had been attentive and listened to other things that the Lord had said. But what?

The two things we know about these men are that they were from “the east” (Mt 2:1) and that they are called “magi”, which doesn't mean so much ‘magicians’ as ‘wise men’ of the religion of ‘the east’: magi of the the pagan seer ‘Zoroaster’.
As we know, God had been preparing His Chosen people, the Jews, for His coming as the Messiah, for His birth.
But, God had also been preparing other people to come to recognise this Jewish Messiah, recognise Him because He was to be the saviour of ALL peoples. And, one of the ways He prepared others to recognise this Jewish Messiah as their Messiah too was in a prophecy made by the pagan seer Zoroaster. Zoroaster said, as we can read in their pagan texts,
“A VIRGIN will conceive and bear a son, and a STAR will appear blazing at midday to signalise the occurrence… When you behold the star follow it… Adore the mysterious child, offering him gifts with profound humility” (the magi Zoroaster).
And so, they saw the star, they brought gifts, and they did homage.

We can note this as an example of the Christian claim: there are elements of truth in other religions, but they are only verified as true in as much as they lead to the FULLNESS of truth, lead to Him who said He was truth itself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”(Jn 14:6).

So, these wise men came. But they only were able to do what they did because they were attentive to what had been said. If they hadn't been attentive then they would have been like everyone else and just seen a star without knowing what it meant.
We might make a comparison with the the other small group that the gospels record as having come to do homage to the baby king of the Jews: the shepherds (Lk 2:15-16). They also had heard a message, from angels. They too listened and obeyed.

And let us note something else that both the wise men and the shepherds had in common: JOY at finding Jesus (Mt 2:10-11, c.f. Lk 2:20).

Let me close by applying this to ourselves.
We, too, have heard a message from God, handed down to us in the Scriptures.
We, too, can choose to either be too busy to pay attention (like those who saw the star but didn't know what it meant),
Or, we can be attentive to the call of the Lord, come to Him, and find joy in worshipping Him.
He is the fullness of what we are yearning for. And we can find it, and find joy in it, if we are just attentive to what has been made known.
“Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ ”(Mt 2:1-2).

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Pastoral Letter on the Holy Family

This weekend there is a pastoral letter from our Bishop, +Mark O'Toole of Plymouth, which should be available at the Diocesan website at some time