Sunday, 29 May 2016

No Sermon Today: Corpus Christi

You can read an old sermon for today's feast, drawing on Pope Benedict's patristic interpretation of "Our Daily Bread", here

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Trinity Sunday



Today, when we hear that today’s feast is the “Trinity”, its very easy for us to make the mistake of thinking that today’s feast is an irrelevance.
Talk of three persons, one divine substance, a “procession” of the eternal Word, let alone a ”spiration” of the Spirit, can all seem like technical terms of little real significance.
It is worth recalling, therefore, that the doctrine of the Trinity is one that many of our fellow Christians across history, and even today across the world, have been persecuted and even martyred for. The truth of what the Trinity articulates is not merely something technical.

The religion of Islam, for example, claims that the doctrine of the Trinity is not only illogical but is blasphemous. They say that God is one, and refer to a specific sin called ”shirk”, which is the sin of joining partners to God -i.e. joining Jesus and the Spirit as “partners” to the one godhead.
Judaism, likewise, holds that the claim that Jesus is God is blasphemy. As you may recall that it was precisely for this claim that the Lord Jesus was condemned to death as a blasphemer, when the High Priest heard Jesus’ claim to be God, tore his robes, and condemned Him to death as a blasphemer (Mt 26:65).
The protests of Judaism and Islam should remind us that there is something very significant in today’s feast.

God is one, and there is no other.
This is the first and central truth that God worked to reveal in His dealings with His chosen people. In maintaining this truth Judaism and Islam hold to the core that we too, as Christians, maintain.

So why do we need to maintain something more?
Why does the doctrine of the “trinity” matter?

On one level we can say it matters because Jesus says it matters:
He claimed to be God. He pushed the point such that He was crucified for this claim.
He, further, taught about the Holy Spirit.

On another level it matters because of what it teaches us about how God relates to US.
The truth that Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father, took flesh, became one of us, died on the Cross for us -this truth tells us something vitally important about how God relates to us:
He is transcendent; He is all powerful; but He has also chosen to fully engage with us, as one of us.
This isn’t just a truth about a one-off event 2000 years ago on the Cross, but a truth that daily, continually, impacts on how the Lord relates and engages with me today.

And the truth that the Spirit He sends is likewise fully God is also a truth about how God chooses to engage with us:
The Spirit He sends is not just a thing FROM Him, but is truly HIM.

So, to conclude, the doctrine of the Trinity matters.
I can pray to God on the Cross, God who is one with me in my weak suffering flesh;
I can behold the God who is not only almighty but has allowed Himself to be weak for my sake;
But I can ONLY do this because of the truth of the Trinity:
That the Word who, as St John’s Gospel starts by proclaiming, the Word was not only “with” God in the beginning but “the Word WAS God”(Jn 1:1) and IS God,
and so I can know today that the Lord Almighty is with me.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Pentecost, Year C



Acts 2:1-11; Jn 14:15-16.23-26; Rom 8:8-17
Today, on the feast of Pentecost, we remember a colossal CHANGE that occurred to the first Christians on this day over 2000 years ago.
When the Holy Spirit came upon them they had been timid and fearful and were hiding in the Upper Room. They had seen the Risen Lord, repeatedly, and yet it somehow hadn't been enough to change them in a way that SENT them out to tell the crowds. The coming of the Holy Spirit transformed them. And, as we’ve been reading from the Acts of the Apostles these past weeks of Eastertide, the coming of that Spirit launched a whole wave of activity in what was then called, “the Church”:
They told people about Christ and about the words of Christ, they baptised people into Christ’s baptism, they took this out across the nations, sanctifying people with the gift of His presence in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, appointing bishops and priests to govern the new Christian communities across the world.
They had been timid and in hiding. Yet, now, they did all this so boldly that they endured persecution and martyrdom.
They were changed, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is, likewise, a change that the Holy Spirit is supposed to produce in you and in me.
Our second reading today, from St Paul to the Romans, challenges us in this regard. The challenge concerns what our “interests” are in. Are our interests spiritual or unspiritual?
I was thinking of this in an example I saw in a lot of newspaper headlines these past weeks, where it seems that the biggest concern of some people has been how to watch the latest season of Game of Thrones on TV, without a Sky subscription.
Is this the meaning of life? Is this what our “interests” should be concerned with? Is the arrival of the latest Game of Thrones season the “change” I have been looking for in life?

The change that our second reading and Gospel text calls us to is a different kind of change. It is the change that is the culmination of the whole Paschal Mystery that Lent and Easter are aimed at. Why did the Lord Jesus choose to be born, teach the crowds in Palestine 2000 years ago, to suffer and die, and rise again?
It was to achieve what we heard St Paul talk about, it was to enable each one who comes to Him, each one who is formed by His Spirit, to have a share in being what He is by nature:
“a son of God”, “to share in His glory”, to be “children of God”.
This is not something we can achieve by our own power, we can only do it by His Spirit. And His Spirit is sent to bring us to Him,
to form us into His image,
to draw us into all that He gave and taught us.
That is why we heard the Lord say that what the Holy Spirit would teach us and remind us were the very things that HE had “said to you”, and to dwell in us in order that the Father and the Son would dwell in us and “make [their] home” in us.

Let me close by focusing this on the TYPE of change you or I might be looking for:
If the only change you are looking for is the next season of Game of Thrones, or something similar,
then you are NOT looking for something that will change YOU, you just want to remain the same couch potato you are already, you just want to change the things AROUND you -not to change yourself.

If, in contrast, you are not just looking to change some of the details AROUND you, but are actually looking to change YOURSELF, then your “interests” might indeed be in the “spiritual things” St Paul speaks of.
And if we want such a change, an ever deeper and deeper change, if we want to truly be conformed to the “image of the Son” by the power of His Spirit, then the change we recall today that occurred to the first Christians at Pentecost can remind us that such a change can be in us too.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Peace, the Holy Spirit, and Love, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year C



Jn 14:23-29
There are many things that we all want in life, some of which we are more aware of at certain times than at others. Among the things we want is peace, the peace that comes when our striving ceases, when discord is ended, when all is at right.
In the Gospel today we heard the Lord Jesus promise His disciples two things: Peace, and, the Holy Spirit. I want to say a few words today about why these two things go together, because this will help us understand how to attain TRUE peace, -the peace that the Lord said “the world cannot give”(Jn 14:27), but He can.

If we want to acquire peace it helps to know what peace is. And I was reading about this in the seminary library this week: St Thomas Aquinas defines peace saying, “Peace is nothing else than the tranquillity coming from order”(ST II-II q29 a2).
The problem, is that there is a threefold DIS-order in my life:
I have a lack of order within myself, so that my intellect and will battle with by desires -my intellect tells me to get out of bed when the alarm clock rings, and by body says otherwise.
I also have a lack of order in my relationships with other people.
And, thirdly, I lack order in my relation with God, specifically in sin.

The Lord offers me the gift of peace, peace in each of these three areas. But, if you noticed, the offer of peace He made came AFTER the offer of the Holy Spirit: It is the Holy Spirit, who the Lord Jesus sends, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us peace.
But HOW does the Holy Spirit bring us peace?
Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit, if we let Him live in us, bears fruit, 12 fruits in fact (c.f. Gal 5:22). The first of these fruits is love, that comes with the indwelling of God who is love. The second is joy, that comes as the naturally rejoicing in the possession of God who is love. And the third is peace, a peace that perfects and stabilises our joy, and a peace that flows out of the possession of love.

I noted a minute ago that there are three types of disorder in my life, each opposing peace.
It is the presence of LOVE that orders EACH of these disorders.
In myself, love, meaning the presence of the DIVINE love within us, puts order into my desires, so that I yearn for the RIGHT things. And, yearning for the right things I have an inner harmony.
Similarly, with my neighbour, love gives me harmony in my relations with my neighbour.
And, most pivotally, when the Divine love is within me, and I love God our Creator above all things, as He has repeatedly commanded us to do (e.g. Mt 22:37-38), this love heals the disorder in my relations with Him too.

The presence of love is therefore what brings us peace, peace at every level of our being.
It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that brings us the Divine love.
And, it is the Lord Jesus who promises both of these gifts to His disciples.

Everyone here who has been Baptised and Confirmed has already received the fullness of that Holy Spirit. But that doesn’t mean we’ve allowed it to bear full fruit within us.
And peace is one of the fruits we haven’t let fully develop within us.
Before I conclude today can I ask you to think about some of the areas in your own life where you lack peace:
Maybe in relationships with family, or other people;
Maybe in the restlessness that comes when we are striving for something that keeps eluding us;
Maybe, more obviously, in sin.
And think, in that situation, of how the presence of greater degree of LOVE would bring you peace, the “peace which the world cannot give”.
And invite the Holy Spirit, who IS love and BRINGS love, to dwell more fully in that part of your life.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Love Wills the Good, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C



Jn 13:31-35
Today, I'd like to offer some very simple but practical thoughts about what it means to, “Love one another, just as I have loved you”(Jn 13:35) –the “new commandment” we just heard.

Let me first note two very common mistakes that we can make about “loving” someone.
The first, is to think it all about emotion. To think that I am only loving someone if I FEEL loving towards them. It is important to note a distinction made in moral theology between “affective” love in our emotions and “effective” love in our deeds. What the Lord wants from us is not primarily about feelings but about choosing, in our will, good deeds for others.
The second common mistake, one that is common in many of us who are trying to be “better”, is that we reduce loving people to a list of tasks, a list of “to do” items for others. Feeding the children, washing their clothes, smiling at someone etc. Love, however, is more than a list of tasks.

For some time now I've been trying to focus myself better in this regard, and to do so by drawing on the definition of love that is given by the ancient philosopher Aristotle, elaborated by St Thomas Aquinas, and taught in the Catechism:
“To love is to will the good of another.”(St Thomas, ST I-II q26 a4, cited in CCC 1766).

What does this mean?
It means that my will looks at another person, sees some “good” that they do not have but would be better off with, and “wills” that good to them by some effective deed on my part.
For example, I see someone lonely and I will the good of “companionship” to them by choosing to listen to them.
If I have a nice feeling, and emotion, then that helps, and it might indicate that both my behaviour and my emotions are successfully integrated together. But, love itself is about the WILL and what I choose for that person, not a feeling.

This notion of love involves something else, it involves LOOKING at the other person, and seeing what THEY need, seeing what “good” that they lack.
Love is therefore not just a list of tasks on MY agenda, but a response to what I see in needed in someone else.
Obviously, despite the fact I said love us not all about tasks, it does nonetheless involve a great many tasks: babies need to be fed, families need a wage-earner to get them money to live on, etc
But the difference between “loving someone” and “fulfilling a task” is this very point:
That I am oriented towards the other PERSON, not towards the task as such.

Now, you might think I am stating the obvious, and in many ways I am!
But, I am also trying to state what can help purify and deepen our love.
We can purify our love by focussing our intention better, by seeking to habitually orient ourselves to people as people, to look at them and ask ourselves:
“What ‘good’ do I need to be willing to this person now?”
And focussing ourselves this way will infuse our actions with a new quality.

Let me close by noting another obvious point: love involves sacrifice.
To think of others, and what is good for them, involves not thinking of ourselves.
And no one shows us this more clearly than the Lord Jesus. He sought the “good” of our eternal life (c.f. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life’(Jn 3:16).)
For this end He was willing to leave heaven, live in poverty on earth, suffer, and die for us. In all of this He sought our good, not His own. In all of this He looked at our needs, not His own. In all to He looked to see the “good” we needed, and He willed it to us.
Let us therefore, “Love one another, just as I have loved you”(Jn 13:35).

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Making a Better Confession (Talk)



The audio is above, and the notes I used to give a talk for the London Faith Forum on 'How to Make a Better Confession' can be downloaded here



The talk refers to different examinations of conscience which can be viewed as follows, in each case the page also has a link to download it as a Word document:

For parishioners, based on the seven deadly sins, here

For teenagers, here

For children, here

For priests, here