Sunday, 17 August 2014
Sunday, 10 August 2014
Last week I spoke about how The Lord looks at us in our difficulties, with compassion.
This week I want to speak about OUR need to look at Him, especially in difficulty.
The Gospel text we just heard is one that is powerfully symbolic of our need to look to Jesus. We heard about how the disciples were in their little fishing boat on the storm-tossed sea, and then they saw Jesus walking towards them, walking on the water. Then Peter, responding to the call of The Lord, stepped out onto the water, stepped out into the storm, and walked on the water TOWARDS Jesus.
The point I want to reflect on, however, is one that the patristic commentators note, that Peter then SANK into the water. Why did he sink? Well, the text tells us: "as soon as he felt the force of the wind he took fright, and began to sink" -he looked AWAY from Jesus and TOWARDS his problems, and he began to sink. But then looked again towards Jesus, calling "Lord, save me!", and The Lord lifted him up.
And this holds a symbolic lesson for how we too can sink: we sink in our problems in as much as we don't look towards Jesus, or, we walk on the stormy water when we keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus.
Let me briefly note how this works in three types of problems, three types of storms in my life.
First, the storms that are caused by my own mistakes. Lots of my problems are caused by my own incompetence, my own weakness, my own mistakes. I start something and then make a mess of it. Now, as long as I am just looking at myself, and looking at my problems, as long as I think it is all about MY effort, then I sink. I stare at my problems and they just seem to become bigger and bigger. But when I look to Jesus, i see something all together different, something good, and, in addition, He lifts me up with a strength that is beyond me.
Second, there are the storms caused, not by my weakness and incompetence, but by my sins. Now in these I can sink in a different manner. In my sins I can look solely to my guilt, and risk despair. When I could, and should, simply look to Jesus, tell Him I am sorry, tell Him I resolve not to sin again, and have Him forgive me.
He lifts me from the mire of my sins, and my guilt is left behind.
Third, and finally, there are those storms in my life that come from a source a simply do not know. And about these I never really understand. I can wonder why The Lord allows it, just as the apostles might have wondered why He sent them away from Him onto the sea -did He not know the storm was coming? Why did Jesus allow the storm at all? He could have calmed it, after all, He did eventually. I just don't know.
But I DO know that if I look to Jesus I can weather any storm.
So, to summarise.
Peter could walk on stormy water as long as he looked to Jesus.
But he sank when he looked away.
And you, and I, as long a WE keep our eyes on Jesus, turn to Him in prayer, turn to Him in repentance, turn to Him in the sacraments, then you and I can also walk the stormy waters of life.
Sunday, 3 August 2014
I'd like to say a few words today about how we can know that God cares about us in our problems, how we can know that He wants to respond to our needs.
Maybe your problems are small, just in need of a holiday rest, or maybe your problems are big. Regardless, God cares. God looks down from heaven, He sees you, He knows you, and He cares.
Let me start by referring to our second reading, where we heard St Paul recounting how, in his various trials, and the difficulties of those he was writing to, that "Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ"(Rom 8:35), and he made a further point that I want to elaborate on: He referred to the "love of God made VISIBLE in Christ Jesus"(Rom 8:39) -this is the point, something has been made VISIBLE in Jesus, something that shows that God cares.
Let me make a contrast:
The Ancient Greek philosophers of Athens taught about what God was like, about His essence, about how He was not a material body like us, about how He didn't suffer or have limitations, and how He didn't FEEL things like emotions.
The God of the Hebrews likewise had manifested Himself as being utterly transcendent, being beyond human capacity to comprehend, "my thoughts are above your thoughts" (Isa 55:8) was a repeated refrain. He revealed many things by what He DID; His actions SPOKE about what He was concerned about -but as to what He might be like in His very ESSEENCE, in that respect He remained largely unknown.
That changed in Jesus Christ: In the incarnation, God Himself, in the second person of the Trinity, took human flesh. And in that taking of flesh He showed what God was like.
When God took flesh, when He lived in our human nature, which of our vast range of possible human emotions was He seen to experience and manifest? Because the emotions He experienced, the manner in which He emotionally reacted to things and to people, this shows us what God is like. And our gospel text for today gives us one of a number of examples in the Gospels which refer explicitly to His inner life, referring to His emotions.
The Gospel we heard today described the emotion He felt on seeing the hungry and needy crowd: It said that "He felt COMPASSION for them"(Mt 14:14). And this is a word that is used repeatedly in the Gospels when the texts refer to the emotion or passion He experienced in seeing people in need.
Sadly, although our Mass translation texts sometimes translate the word as ‘compassion’ (e.g. Lk 10:25-37, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C), the text today rather weakly translates the word as “pity”: the Greek word is actually splangchnizomai from the Greek word splangchna for bowels or entrails, which indicates that the Lord Jesus felt all churned-up inside, in His guts. He didn't see the crowds in need and then coldly and INDIFFERENTLY help them, no, He FELT, and felt-with them -that is what 'compassion' means, to be with-passion, to feel-with someone.
Jesus feels-with us in our needs.
He was hungry in the desert, He was thirsty and in pain on the cross, He was sad and wept when Lazarus died -any emotion or trial YOU are going through HE feels with you. He has taken our human nature and has compassion, 'feeling-with' us.
AND, before I conclude: He not only FEELS with us, He DOES things to remedy our problems.
So, we can say with certainty, that whatever your need is, He is DOING something about it. He is reaching out to assist you, assist you in a way that He knows even better than you do
Today's text from Isaiah and our Gospel text both speak of The Lord FEEDING the people when they were hungry. And this is but own of many examples of Scripture showing us that The Lord is a powerful God, an active God -He sees and responds to our need.
So, to return to my opening question: how do we know that God cares?
Because He is not unknown. He has manifested Himself. He has taken flesh and has compassion, is feeling-with us in our troubles.
Sunday, 27 July 2014
As many of you are aware, I've been on holiday, and before that I was on my annual retreat. And when on retreat, as usual, I spent days of in silence, prayer, and self-examination before the Lord. This year my particular petition, the thing I was asking of the Lord in a specific manner, was that I might grow in love for my parishioners, love in the form of compassion.
Now, that might seem a pretty obvious thing for me to ask for, 'love' being the most important of all the things I could ask God for -after all, charity is hailed as the “Queen of the virtues”.
And yet, what did we just hear King Solomon ask for when he was told whatever petition he requested wold be granted? He didn't ask for love, instead he asked for wisdom.
So, if I was as wise as Solomon, shouldn't I have asked for wisdom not love?
Let me throw you another thought: There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Seven gifts given to us that we might be perfected -but not one one them is charity! Four of them concern the intellect (counsel, understanding, knowledge, wisdom) and this is what Solomon was asking for: Wisdom.
So, Solomon didn't ask for love, he asked for wisdom. Why is wisdom so important?
Well, let me note that love has a ‘form’, a ‘structure’ if it is to be TRUE love, and wisdom gives us that form. The Holy Spirits gifts form this within us to ENABLE us to love, even if love itself isn't one of the seven gifts.
As many of you can remember, the 1960s refrain was, "All you need is love".
And a lot of unwise behaviour has been followed from the 1960s onwards (and before) becuSe of an unthinking understanding of what 'love' is.
Love is not just a feeling, a sentiment, there is true and false love.
To give a child everything it wants, because you want it to be satisfied, this is not true love.
To lecture a child continually all day long, because you want the child to learn, this is not true love.
True love has a balance, a ‘structure’ -as I just said.
Let’s come back to Solomon, and consider WHY he wanted to be wise: he didn't want wisdom as thing in itself, so he could sit in a lotus position, feel smug about him knowledge, and be by himself. No, he wanted wisdom IN ORDER THAT he might govern the people well.
Wisdom is ordered to something else. In his case, ordered to good action in government.
In general, wisdom is ordered to that right action that blossoms in love. If it is true wisdom, it will lead to true love. And if wisdom is lacking, there will not be true love -just a well-intentioned but misguided sentiment.
And, on a point of detail, the four intellectual gifts of the Holy Spirit concern different types of 'knowing' with respect to theoretical and practical things, with respect to earthly and heavenly realities.
To bring this to a practical focus: What does this mean for ourselves?
I doubt that there is anyone here who doesn't realise that they need to love.
We need on one level to have God's inner help to strengthen us to give ourselves in love
-and so inner strength, 'fortitude' is one of those first three gifts of the Holy Spirit that help us to do this in different ways.
But, what today's reading from Solomon should remind us is that, if we are to love, we don't just need the inner strength from God to do so, but we need to PRAY to Him for the inner wisdom to know true and false love, the wise and the unwise ways to be affectionate to our neighbour.
As the prayer of Solomon in the book of Wisdom prays, "Lord, give me the wisdom that sits by your throne"(Wis 9:4)