Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Sunday, Shaftesbury

Jn 20:1-9; Acts 10:34,37-43
I want to speak today about the importance of meeting The Lord Jesus, of having an encounter with Him.
Today is Easter Sunday, when we recall how The Lord rose from the dead three days after He had been crucified.
But I wish to speak this morning, not so much about Him, as about the change that meeting Him, meeting him after His resurrection, the change that that encounter produced in those who met Him.

One of the things that is clear in the accounts of all four of the gospels is that the disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from dead. Even though He had predicted it: predicted that He would be arrested, be crucified, and then that He would rise on 'the third day' -even so, they didn't expect it. It's as if His being put to death had squashed any hope that they had had of His being the triumphant messiah-king.
Their not expecting it is shown in the way that each time someone is told that someone else has seem The Lord 'risen', instead of accepting the statement they doubt it, or just go on with their lives anyway (like the two men who headed off to Emmaus, despite having heard the report that He had Risen), or others, like Peter and John who insisted on going to look for themselves.

Peter and John went to see, for themselves, that the body was not in the tomb. The empty tomb is half of the proof of the resurrection: no one ever claimed to FIND the body, not there or elsewhere; if anyone had MOVED the body they would certainly have said so when people claimed that He had risen; and if the disciples themselves had HIDDEN the body then we would expect that at least one of them would have confessed when they were martyred.

The other half of the proof is what we heard St Peter refer to in our first reading: the WITNESSES who MET and SAW Him after He had risen from the dead.
The brief Gospel text we heard this morning didn't give an account of the Risen Lord appearing to anyone -we'll hear that recounted in the following 6 weeks of Eastertide.
But what St Peter's preaching already indicates is that something had changed him: changed Peter from being a sad and dejected and cowardly man, a man who had disowned Jesus three times rather than risk being arrested with Him -changed Him into a joyful, confident leader who preached to crowds about what he had seen, about how he and those with him had witnessed The Lord after He rose from the dead: "we are those witnesses -we have eaten and drunk with Him after His resurrection from the dead"(Acts 10:41).

Their encounter with The Risen Lord changed them.
And it changed them in such a way that they became witnesses to everything Jesus had done and said, witnesses who went out and told others about Christ. They told others of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and their preaching presented Christ to others in such a way that they too "encountered" Christ.
Those original witnesses had encountered The Lord PHYSICALLY -as we heard St Peter say, they had eaten and drunk with Him, very PHYSICAL things to do. Whereas those they preached to, those they presented Christ to by their witnessing and testimony, those people encountered The Lord SPIRITUALLY -a real, if different, form of encountering Him. A different form of encountering Him, but a real one, one that meant they entered into a 'personal relationship' with the Risen Lord.

And the point is this: that through their testimony you and I have also been given an opportunity to encounter Christ still today.
And just as the first disciples, who thought they knew Him before He died and rose, and then came to know Him in a wholly new way went they encountered Him in His risen state, in a similar way,
even though you and I might think we already know Him,
even though you and I might think we already have a personal relationship with Him,
-even so, every day we called upon to meet Him anew, to encounter Him anew, to rediscover Him.
This is why Pope Francis said to the world in Evangelii Gaudium, "I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day"(n.3).

Encountering the risen Christ transformed the first disciples.
And we, if we will listen afresh to their testimony, to what the witnesses said,
and accept it openly in the power to the Holy Spirit,
Then we can encounter Him anew ourselves,
And be transformed as truly as were Peter, John, Mary Magdalene and all the rest.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Easter Vigil 2014, Shaftesbury

Gen 22:1-18
Every Easter we recall, and celebrate, Christ’s victory.
Tonight I want to focus on one of symbols of that victory, namely, the victorious lamb.
This year, and we vary it every year, our Paschal Candle has a wax image of Christ represented as that Lamb:
He was, we know, the lamb that was slain. But, in this image He is pictured not dead but “standing”. But, nonetheless, He is pictured “slain” also –he has a sword sticking into Him. Both these parts of this image are taken from the book of Revelation that refers to the Lamb in glory of Heaven. The text describes the throne of God, of how all the earthly powers cast their crowns before Him, and there, standing before the throne, is the Lamb, the Lamb “standing, as though slain” (Rev 5:6).

He is pictured this way IN HEAVEN. i.e. he is FOREVER “slain”
–forever He stands on our behalf as the one slain for us, the one forever presenting this sacrifice on our behalf, what is therefore the one “eternal” sacrifice (Heb 9:11).
-the one eternal sacrifice that is the very same sacrifice, the very same Christ, made present in the sacrifice of the Mass upon the altar here.
But, note, though He is presented as “slain” He nonetheless “stands”
–forever He is victorious, forever He is triumphant, forever He “stands” having defeated Satan.
And so, in this image, He carries His triumphant banner.

The “lamb” is the pivotal sacrificial animal in the Old Testament.
In the Passover, it was a lamb that was sacrificed: 'Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old” (Ex 12:15). And, if you recall, the blood of that sacrifice was smeared upon the doorposts of the houses of the Israelites, so that when the mysterious Angel of Death (or ‘destroyer’, Ex 12:23) passed over Egypt it would see that these were households faithful of the Lord, faithful to doing what the one true God had commanded them, in this case: keeping the ‘passover’ ritual, so that the Angel of Death ‘passed over’ them and spared them.
The Passover is symbolic at many levels, but in terms of sacrifice, it is symbolic of our need to have our sins ‘passed over’ –WE TOO need some sacrificial blood that will be the sign smeared on us, so that we too might have our sins ‘passed over’.

There was a ‘type’ a ‘foreshadowing’ of this, in our second reading tonight: Abraham, Isaac, and another lamb.
Isaac didn’t know what was happening, of course as it turns out Abraham also didn’t know what was going to happen either,
But Isaac DID know that if they were going to sacrifice they needed a lamb: “here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen 22:6)
He, himself, was to be sacrificed, to be the lamb.
But, as Abraham said, in words he may well have not expected to come true, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”(Gen 22:8)
And so Isaac’s life was spared.

As I preached some years ago, those words of Abraham echoed down the centuries as a prophecy, “God Himself will provide the Lamb” –the Lamb to be our sacrifice, the Lamb to take away our sin.
So that, when John the Baptist saw the Lord Jesus by the River Jordan he cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God”(Jn 1:29), -Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.

What we celebrate tonight is that there was such a ‘lamb’.
A lamb who was the burnt offering for our sins,
Who, through sacrificed, was not defeated,
Who rose again, Who is forever victorious, who “stands” forever before the throne on our behalf.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday, Shaftesbury

Jn 18-19
"My kingdom is not of this world" -so The Lord declared to Pilate.
And yet, everything in His words and deeds, and in how St John describes the narrative for us, makes it clear He is a king:
He has a crown -albeit a crown of thorns.
He has a royal purple robe -even if it is put on Him in mockery.
And He reigns from a throne -the throne of the Cross, a throne unlike any other, for a king unlike any other.

His "kingdom is not of this world". But what is His kingdom about? And what sort of a king is He?
The answer that The Lord Himself gives to Pilate is that it is about "truth".
This might seem like a rather odd and abstract foundation, especially for modern people living in a relativistic age where, like Pilate, it is felt that there is no such thing as "truth".
But why does Jesus die?
For a lie? For a fantasy? For an opinion?
No. For truth.
But, What "truth"? The truth that is Himself, He who said, “I am… the truth”(Jn 14:6). But let me note three subsidiary but foundational truths:

The most foundational truth? The truth that He loves us.
This is not a mere wish, or dream. He, and the Heavenly Father, have made this clear by His choosing to undergo the death of the Cross. The Cross stands as an eternal sign that He loves us.

Another truth: The truth that we are sinners in need of a saviour.
This is not a fashionable truth. But the Cross is not about fads or fashions. It is about something that lasts through every age -even if men in some ages pay less attention to it than men in other ages.

A third truth: The truth that He is merciful.
Mercy is not the same as love, it is a particular manifestation of it, as Blessed Pope John Paul II said: mercy is love in action.
Mercy sees sin and sees the sinner. Sees the horror of the reality for all that it is.
And yet, mercy makes a choice: the choice to forgive. Not a pretence that the sin wasn't really there, not a pretence that it didn't really matter. No. Mercy see it. Knows it matters. But chooses to keep loving us anyway. Chooses to forgive us.

Which brings me back to His kingdom and kingship not being of this world.
Kingship, I think it's true to say, is frequently seen as being a thing about power.
And how is the power of Christ's kingship exercised?
We might note the sort of 'inner' power of character that enables Him to forgive so thoroughly. It takes strength to forgive.
We might note an 'outer' power too, the power that works the coming Resurrection. The power that is not defeated in death.
And, unlike worldly kings, it is a power that is eternal. Worldly kings and their kingdoms rise and fall. Whereas: the kingship of Christ was before the Creation of His world, will last until He judges the remnants of His world at "the end of the age", and will remain forever in "the new heaven and the new earth".

"You are a king then?"
Yes. But not like other kings.
A king of truth, of love, of redemption, of mercy.
A king truly worthy of having us come and serve Him, of having us come and kiss His feet.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Maundy Thursday: no sermon

There is no Maundy Thursday text this year because our deacon preached.

Last year's sermon can be seen: here

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Passion Sunday, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 26:14-27:66
In reflecting on the significance of what we have just heard I would like to draw our attention to four physical events that surrounded Our Lord's death. Four events that Matthew records to highlight the cosmic significance of the Passion.

First, "there was darkness over all the whole earth"(Mt 27:45) from the sixth to the ninth hour. Such a physical darkness was a sign of the great evil humanity was wreaking by crucifying its Creator on the Cross. This darkness was not just in Palestine but, as Matthew says, "over the whole earth" and pagan writers elsewhere recorded it: The (gentile) Greek historian Phlegon, and the (gentile) Greek Apollophanes, Dionysius the Areopagite likewise declares that he saw it in Egypt at that time, and Lucian the Martyr also notes how it had been recorded in the (secular) Annals of ancient Rome.
[references in: St Robert Bellarmine, 'The Seven Words Spoken on the Cross', Book II, Chapters 1 & 5.]

Second, the earthquake. The very earth itself seemed to recoil in horror at what was done to its Creator: "the earth shook, and the rocks were split". Humanity had little appreciation of what it was doing, but the creation itself somehow sensed it.

Third, "the graves were opened; and the bodies of many saints rose, and after His resurrection they went out into the city and appeared to many"(Mt 27:52-53).
We can consider this event from two angles:
Literally, we might note the historical reliability of this reported event: the gospels might be accused of fabricating events that fit an overly-tidy picture of what they want to portray. But this event is so peculiar, so odd, that none of the saints and scholars of the Church can quite agree about it, it is so peculiar that Matthew must be recording it because it really happened. For example, in terms of theologically describing it: the event is problematic in that it seems, at first glance, to have the "saints" rising before Christ rises, even though Scripture elsewhere makes a big deal out of Christ being the first, the "first born from the dead"(Col 1:18: 1 Cor 15:18).
Then, more importantly, it's symbolic significance: this raising of some of the "saints", it was a sign of the general resurrection of the body that Christ's death was to open up as a possibility for all humanity, that because of His death we might have a possibility of life after death. And this partial resurrection of a few of the "saints" was a sign of this.

The forth and final event to draw your attention to: "the veil of the Temple was torn in two"(Mt 27:51 c.f. Mk 15:38). Again, we can note this symbolically and literally. Literally, let us cast our minds forward and note that when St Peter first proclaimed the Good news at Pentecost "a great many of the [Jewish Temple] priests became" Christians (Acts 6:7). Why should those who were among the leaders of those who crucified Him so instantly become his followers? One explanation is that these same Jewish Temple priests saw and experienced their own horror at their Temple veil tearing in two at the moment of Christ's death.

Let me close, however, by drawing all this together by noting the symbolic significance of the Temple veil being option in two. The opening of this veil opened our way to heaven. As the letter to the Hebrews (9:12; 10:20) says, Christ Himself, by His sacrificial death, has entered the inner holy of holies, taking not the blood of bulls or calves, but His own sacrificial blood. His sacrificial offering has thus made "purification" for our sins, an "eternal redemption". He is the Lamb who takes away our sins.
He has opened for us the way to paradise, a way that our sins had closed.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Confession, 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A, Shaftesbury

Ezek 37:12-14, Jn 11:1-45
I imagine that many of you will have seen the news clips of the Pope going to confession last week. Of course, Pope Francis is not the first pope to go to confession! But he was actually FILMED doing the whole thing (no sound recording, of course!), dropping into a confessional box on his way to hear confessions himself, and a film of the pope going to confession may well be another 'first'. And it seemed to really interest the media. What did the Pope say? What sort of sins did he have to confess?
Well, he's told us before that he goes to confession every two weeks. And, in case you hadn't noticed, month-for-month he's actually talked more about the importance of going to confession that any documented pope.
So, why does he go? Why should you go? And, how can you go better?

Our Scripture readings for this Sunday give us some powerful symbolic signs about sin.
We have the first reading, from Ezekiel, of the dead being raised from their graves, an Old Testament symbol of the people of Israel being raised from their sins.
Our Gospel text spoke of another rising from the dead, of Lazarus. That, again, is deeply symbolic, with the command that the Lord said of Lazarus, "Unbind him, let him go free", that is said of us too, of our sins. And note: just as the command of the Lord was put into effect by others, who mediated that unbinding, we likewise have our sins unbound through the mediation of Christ's Church, by the priest in the sacrament of confession.

Pope Francis tells us that he goes to confession because he knows he needs to experience God's mercy. As he says in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, "How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!"(n.3), to know the joy of the "encounter"(n.1) with the Lord in this way.
For some of you, I know, confession can feel like a burden, like just a duty. But it shouldn't do!
At last year's Synod on the New Evangelisation much comment and reflection was made about the experience of many of the new youth movements in the Church, of how many young Catholics have REDISCOVERED the practice to Confession that their parents' generation had 'cast off'. And that re-discovery has been of a uniquely important way of 'encountering' the Lord. And such 'encounters' are the whole "goal" of Evangelisation (Instrumentum Laboris, 2012 Synod of Bishops, n.18). Which is why the Synod bishops spoke of Confession as "The PRIMARY sacrament of the New Evangelisation" (Cardinal Dolan c.f. Synod Proposition 33).

This has been my own experience. It has been the experience of many of those around you here. But, what if it has not been your OWN experience? How can you make it so?

First, we need to see our sin.
Second, we have to bring that sin to Christ, for Him to forgive it, to cleanse, to make us new.
Now, often that two moments happen together. It can be a new encounter with Christ that shows us ourselves, including our sin, in a new way. That can't be forced on you, or on anyone. But, if we are aware that it is out there, that it is a possibility, then we have to look to Christ to bring it about.
So now, as our Lenten liturgy is getting ready for its final Passiontide season, the image of Christ Crucified, Christ who loves us, Christ who shows us what a good and pure and clean and loving life looks like -seeking to encounter Him, seeking to encounter Christ on the Cross can bring all this together:
The meeting Him;
The seeing our sin -in comparison with His goodness on the Cross;
And the desire to come back to Him in forgiveness.
The new examination of conscience in this Sunday’s newsletter, on the virtues Christ shows us on the Cross, is given to you to help with this. Please look at it, please come to confession this Wednesday night with the five priests here to hear your confessions, and know anew that encounter Pope Francis speaks of: "How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!"(n.3)

Thursday, 3 April 2014

An Examination of Conscience for Lent, reflecting on Christ’s Suffering and Passion on the Cross

“The Cross exemplifies every virtue” (St Thomas Aquinas)
How do our lives compare with what Christ has shown us?


5 STEPS FOR A GOOD CONFESSION
1. Examine your conscience -recall the sins that you have committed since your last good confession.
2. Be sincerely sorry for your sins.
3. Confess your sins to the priest.
4. Make certain that you confess all your mortal sins and the number of them.
5. After confession, do the penance the priest gives to you.

ACT OF CONTRITION

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

Sins of omission:
“In what I have done, and in what I have failed to do”-sins of omission may be more serious than sins of commission
e.g.Have I omitted to say my prayers?
or, Have I omitted to look for and respond to the needs of family?
Thought: “In thought, word, and deed”
e.g. Even if I did not gossip in word, did I judge someone in my thoughts?
Each area of my life should be considered:
e.g. My family, my friends, my work, my prayer, those I work and live with etc.


Christ loved us on the Cross: “Greater love than this has no one than to lay down his life for his friends”(Jn 15:13)
How have I failed to love?

Christ put our needs before His own, that we might be saved
“Each of you must think of others’ needs before your own”(Phil 2:4)

Have I been attentive to the needs of my neighbour, and the needs of my family?
Have I been lazy in helping others?
Have I been generous in giving to others?
Have I used people for my own ends and advantage?
Has my conversation been focussed on my own pleasure, or on others?
Has my humour been insensitive to others?
My Family:
Have I been more focussed on myself than on the needs of others?
Have I spent time with my family? How have I manifested my concern for them? Have I been forgiving and tolerant of them? Have I scandalized them by a bad or lazy example?
Punctuality and Discipline:
Have I wasted other people’s time by being late?
Have I sinned against God and the congregation by being late for Mass?

Christ forgave His murderers, even as He hung on the Cross, saying, “Father, forgive them”(Lk 23:34)
Have I been slow to forgive others?
Have I harboured resentment, grudges, and hatred in my thoughts?
Have I nurtured imaginary angry conversations?
Have I lost my temper?
Have I borne hated for another?
Gossip:
Have I judged others in my thoughts?
Have I damaged the reputation of another person by my words, attitude, or looks?
Have I repeated accusations that might not be true? Have I exaggerated?
Have I failed to defend the reputation of others?
Have I failed to keep secrets?
Lies: Have I lied or exaggerated?

Christ did the will of the Father, saying, “Not my will by Yours be done”(Lk 22:42)
Have I sought God and His will above all else, or have I put other priorities ahead of him? (e.g. friendships, ambition, comfort and ease)
Have I got so caught up in the things of this world that I’ve forgotten God?
Have I risked losing my faith/piety by bad company, bad reading, cowardice, or pride?

Christ was patient on the Cross, bearing it for our sakes
How have I carried my cross?
Have I been willing to suffer in my service of others?
Have I grumbled and complained? C.f. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing”(Phil 2:14)
Have I been impatient with people, family, events, sufferings, sicknesses?

Christ trusted in the Father, even as He died on the Cross, saying, “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit”(Lk 23:46)
Have I trusted God, especially in times of difficulty?

Christ “despised earthly riches”, becoming “poor for our sake” (2 Cor 8 :9)
Have I ranked money and riches too highly?
Have I been overly concerned about my own comfort and well-being?
Have I been resentful of my lack of money?
Have I cheated, stolen, or failed to pay my bills on time?
Have I wasted money?
Have I envied or been jealous of the abilities, talents, ideas, good-looks, intelligence, clothes, possessions, money, friends, family, of others?

Christ “despised earthly pleasures” that He might give Himself in love for us
Have I been overly attached to pleasures of food or sex?

Have I eaten more than I need?
To how serious an extent?
Have I spent excessive money on food?
Have I drunk alcohol excessively?
Have driven after drinking?
Have I eaten greedily and with little consideration for those at table with me?
Have I given money to help the hungry?
Have I regularly practiced fasting and self-denial, especially on Fridays?
Have I abstained from meat on Fridays?
Have I always fasted an hour before receiving Holy Communion at Mass?
“Whoever looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28)
Have I viewed other people as mere sexual objects rather than as persons to be loved?
Pornography: On internet? or TV?
Have I entertained impure thoughts?
Impure Acts: Alone, or with another?

Christ prayed, even as He hung on the Cross
Have I neglected to say my daily prayers?
Have I entertained distractions in prayer?
Have I attended Mass each and every Sunday?
Have I done unnecessary servile work on a Sunday, or bought or sold things on a Sunday?
Have I made a prayerful preparation before Mass and a good thanksgiving after Mass?
Have I received Holy Communion while in a state of serious sin?
Have I neglected to seek Confession before Holy Communion?
Have I taken the Lord’s name in vain? Or used other foul language?

Christ allowed Himself to be mocked by the soldiers, spat upon, and publically striped of his clothes
Have I been overly concerned about what others think of me? Have I allowed this to motivate my actions?
Have I lied or exaggerated to make myself look good?
Have I wasted undue time and money on clothes and appearance?

“Christ was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross”(Phil 2:8)
Have I been content with my lowly position, or have I resented the role that Christ asks of me?
Have I refused to admit my own weaknesses?
Have I dwelt on the failings of others?
Have I judged others, in my thoughts or words?
Have I ranked myself better than others?
Have I refused to learn from others?
Do I despise others of different race, class or culture?
Have I been stubborn? Refused to admit I was wrong? Refused to accept that another person had a better idea?
Have I been arrogant?
Have I held others in contempt?
Pusillanimity –false humility:
Have I neglected to use the talents that God has given me?

Christ endured all things upon the Cross,
Have I persevered in the work God asks of me?

Have I made good use of my time, or have I wasted time needlessly? E.g. TV or internet?
Have I planned good use of relaxation and recreation, knowing that I need to rest well?
Have I gone to sleep on time?