Sunday, 21 August 2016

No Sermon this Weekend

Fr Dylan is away

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Beauty of Our Lady, Assumption, Shaftesbury

Rev 11:19-12:10
On today’s feast of Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven we think about Our Lady’s being taken up to heaven body and soul. Of course, ALL saints will have bodies in heaven at the resurrection of the dead, but what is different about Our Lady is that HER body was taken up to heaven directly upon her death. And, when her body was assumed it was obviously transfigured and glorified into the state of the glorified bodies that is their heavenly state. I want to say a few words to try to illustrate the glory of Our Lady's heavenly state, and to do so by referring to the BEAUTY of her heavenly body. I want to make that illustration by quoting some words that I heard a few years ago when I went to Lourdes, the words that St Bernadette used when she described how Our Lady looked when she appeared to her in her visions: St Bernadette referred to the BEAUTY of Our Lady:
She was “gracious and smiling”[1], she said
Years later she would recall: “her eyes were blue”[2],
“So beautiful that when you’ve seen her once, you can’t wait to die and see her again”[3]
“When you’ve seen her, you can’t love this world any more”[4]
Speaking of her beauty: “Ah! If men only knew! Ah! If sinners only knew!”[5]
After that, all her life, St Bernadette never found statue that looked beautify enough to be Our Lady.

I want to comment on this at both a simple and at a technical level.
At a simple level, this beauty of Our Lady’s heavenly body is exactly what we should expect:
The Lourdes vision identified Our Lady as “the Immaculate Conception”;
We should expect the form of her heavenly appearance to match this Immaculate-ness. Her soul was sinless; Her soul was beautiful; How could her body be otherwise? When her body was assumed into heaven it was glorified and beautified even more.

To think of this more techincally:
Theology tells us that the soul is the form of the body;
Philosophy tells us that matter is always proportioned to form.
For example, if you want a chair, the form of a chair cannot work in the matter of jelly
-the form of a chair needs matter like wood or metal

To consider a more human application, in the Resurrection of the Body:
The Resurrected Body will not be like our present body
–it will be glorified, transfigured, free of suffering etc.
But just as we will each have faces that are different and distinct,
So will our bodies be different,
And our bodies will each be appropriate to our souls.
In heaven, our degree of glory will depend on the degree of merit we gained on earth,
and that degree of merit is measured very simply, says St Thomas Aquinas,
is measured by the degree of love, of divine charity, within us.
Our beauty of our bodies will be proportioned to the love in our souls.

And Our Lady, she who was conceived “full of grace”,
She who cooperated with that grace all through her life such that she GREW in grace,
She who cooperated with grace and the plan of God such that,
as the prayers of the Church express it:
“the birth of Christ your Son DEEPENED the virgin mother’s love for you,
and INCREASED her holiness” (Common of the BVM n.1, prayer over gifts)
How beautiful must she be?
She was born beautiful as “full of grace” and her body was planned to be appropriate to that fullness of grace,
by God’s foreknowledge and predestined plan.
Then she was transfigured in Heaven at her assumption to be EVEN MORE beautiful still,
to correspond to the even greater grace that had grown in her.

If WE would be beautiful in heaven, we need to strive to reject sin, strive have grace fill our weakness.
Even in this world, we see how a beautiful soul carries it body with a type of gracefulness & charm;
in heaven, this will be even more so,
and this is what we see in the Lourdes apparition of Our Lady and in so many other apparitions of Our Lady, in the portrayal of her Assumed glory: “Her eyes were blue”, she was “so beautiful”, because she was and is “the Immaculate Conception” and is thus now in glory in heaven.

[1]Rene Laurentin, Bernadette Speaks (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000), p.572.
[2] P.448.
[3] P.557
[4] P.567, also on p.437: “I made the sacrifice of not seeing Lourdes again... In heaven it will be more beautiful”.
[5] P.321

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Trust and Faith, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury

Heb 11:1-2.8-19
I want to say a few words about faith, because people often say odd things about faith.
People sometimes say that faith is a kind of vague thing, or that is a ‘leap in the dark’.
Actually, it’s something simple and concrete.

If we want to know what faith IS we should look at someone who had faith.
This what we heard St. Paul do in our second reading from Hebrews –and he looks at Abraham.
Abraham and Sarah were old, beyond the age of childbearing.
Yet, God promised Sarah she would have a child.
And, God promised Abraham he would be the Father of a great nation
He told Abraham to leave the land he was happily living in, and go to a new land.
A better land that God promised him. The Promised Land.
What shows that Abraham had faith?
It was how he RESPONDED to what God told him that showed his faith:
He TRUSTED in the promises God gave him -this is what faith is all about.
And, What showed that he trusted? He fact that he went out WITHOUT YET SEEING the promised land

The Catechism gives us the same simple truth about the nature of faith:
‘Faith is man’s response to God’ (CCC 26) –response to what He has told us

What does this mean for ourselves?
It means that we, too, must respond to what God has said
We, too, must trust in His promises

That raises the question of “What are His promises?”
I’d suggest two mistaken approaches to faith in our own lives,
First, we can let our faith be too vague –‘we don’t know what God wants us to do’
-‘we don’t know what God’s really like’
-faith is just a feeling, ‘I’m a trusting kinda guy’
This empties the Gospel of content, empties it of its power to save
Second, we can falsely imagine that God’s promises are about things He hasn’t actually said:
“I’m going to get that promotion, God want me to get that promotion, I BELIEVE I’m going to get that promotion”
“God wants my husband to stop being a useless couch potato, just sitting there, I BELIEVE he is going to change”
-I’m sorry, God did not make these promises, so, it’s not a matter of FAITH
-these are good things to pray for and beg God for,
but they are not a matter of Faith –there was no promise

Right now, I’d like to know whether what my new parish will be like:
will I enjoy it? what will the people be like? how much harder will I have to work?
But God hasn’t promised to show me these things.
There ARE things He HAS promised me, and has promised you:
Heaven as the end goal, if we love Him, if we trust Him, if we seek His forgiveness daily
To be with me and strengthen me: ‘I am with you always’; ‘I will not leave you orphans’
That all things work to the good of those who love the Lord
What He asks is that I trust Him now. That I accept that His mind is bigger than my mind, that He knows better than I know.
Just as He promised Abraham the Land, but Abraham did not yet see it
He has not shown us every detail of our own futures
–we know the end destination of those who trust in the Lord: Heaven
-but, we do not know the pathway by which He will lead us there

Faith isn’t a leap in dark. Faith is our response to the promises God has made,
and what ‘having faith’ means is that we trust in His promises.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 12:13-21; Eccles 1:2;2:21-23; Col 3:1-5,9-11
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What does a man gain for all his toil under the sun?” (Eccles).
Ecclesiastes is one of my favourite books of the Bible, because it is a remedy to many mistaken views of what it means of be a Christian.
Often, the impression is given that being a Christian means having your brain extracted and wandering with an unexplained grin. ‘Jesus wants you for a sunbeam’. You MUST be happy if Jesus loves you!

In contrast, the book of Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoheleth, or the book of ‘The Preacher’, a book that is part of every Christian’s Bible) faces the harder realities of life. It’s a book that was written by someone having a really BAD day. It progressively looks at every aspect of human existence, and says that it is ALL meaningless, all pointless, ‘all is vanity, and a chasing after the wind’.
Pleasure –is not enough
Youth and beauty –seem nice, but they fade
Money –brings as many difficulties as reassurances, and can all be lost
Whatever a man builds, ultimately turns to dust.
Or, as Jesus said to the rich man in the parable, when you die, ‘whose will your money be then!’

Qoheleth, in the midst of his rantings, does not understand, but he concludes at least with a certain truth: at the end, what is left? To ‘fear God and keep the commandments’.
-sometimes that IS all we can figure out, and it is wise (if cheerless) advice.

The early Fathers of the Church looked at the book of Qoheleth as an example of what life is like without Christ: meaningless, vanity.
The problem Qoheleth poses is this: What does a man gain for all his toil?
The answer is laid out in Colossians, as we heard in our second reading, “You must look to the things of Heaven, where Christ is” (Col 3:1)
And, as our Gospel text recorded, Christ’s parable told us of the pointlessness of trying to ‘store up treasure’ in this world, but He also told us of another treasure: to be “rich in the sight of God” (Lk 12:21).
If a man toils for THESE riches, he will never lose them, they cannot be corrupted.

Life has meaning in Christ because He is the SOURCE of life, the pattern and purpose of it. The world was made for Him.
It is only if we see the divinity of Christ that all life’s toil can have meaning –meaning because it is united to Him.
WORK –He created it, He gave it as one of the first gifts to Adam and Eve in the Eden. He gave it dignity by sharing it as a carpenter in Nazareth.
If we work WITH Christ and FOR Him, offering our work to Him, then it have a value and reward that last forever. The same work we must do for earthly lords we can transform to a higher end by offering it to Him.
AGE, PAIN, and DISCOMFORT –these were not part of God’s original plan for us.
They are with us because of the effects of Original Sin. But because of the Incarnation and the Cross, they are things that point to Christ. As with work, we can offer it to Him, with His strength, as a prayer for ourselves or for others.
JOY too –you don’t have to have a permanent brain-dead grin on your face,
but joy is part of what God wills for us, it is a fruit of love, and a fruit of the love we can have for the Lord –if we do all things with Him and for Him.

‘Vanity of vanity, all is vanity’ –so it can seem, without Christ
‘What does a man gain for all his toil under the sun?”
If he works for himself –little, and nothing when he dies
If he works for his neighbour and family? Hopefully, love
If he works for God, which includes our duty to work for neighbour and family but elevates it to a higher end,
He gains a reward that will never end

Sunday, 24 July 2016

No Sermon this Weekend

Fr Dylan is away

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Martha and Prayer, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 10:38-42
As I think you all know, I'm moving. And one of the things of have been realising these last few weeks is that moving is hard work, is complicated, and brings plenty of stress. I've been busier these past few weeks than I've been for a long time, and that is presumably going to just accelerate as I head to my September moving deadline. Some of you have told me how you move every two years and have a confident, calm moving strategy; others have told me stories that feel more like mine at the moment.
There is a particular point I want to make about this: at a time of extreme busy-ness, when our time is squeezed, when our thoughts are all jumbled, it can be easy to forget to pray and to forget God. And this temptation is as real for a priest as it is for anyone.
So, what should I do when time is pressed, when it seems impossible to give time to God in prayer? Well, These are the days when it is MORE important to pray, not when it is LESS important. Praying CHANGES our lives. It brings ORDER and CALM to our day. It makes us USE the time we have BETTER.
As a consequence, many saints describe how prayer causes us to GAIN time, not lose it. St Josemaria used to speak of the “multiplication of time” that prayer brings.

The words of the Lord Jesus in today’s gospel text about Martha and Mary are on this theme.
Many of you, like me, feel a strong sympathy for Martha. Stressed, working, feeling that all the burden has fallen to her: “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving by myself?”(Lk 10:40)
People often refer to our Lord’s reply to Martha as a condemnation, but, my theory is that it is actually a word of consolation. Yes, it includes correction, but:
It is a correction that seeks to bring her to the consolation that Mary already enjoys.
It is a correction to bring her to that spiritual recollection that would enable her to work and pray at the same time.
It is a correction that would bring love into her work, not just duty and effort.
It is a correction that would enable her to have the Lord God present in her work, the Lord who loves her present in her work, to have the joy that comes from knowing we are loved –to have this present as she works.
This is correction that aims at consolation.
“Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so ,any things, and yet few are needed, in fact, only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part”(Lk 10:41-42).

What has Mary “chosen”?
She has chosen prayer, recollection, to be with the Lord and to focus on Him.
This is what we all need to do too.
And, the only way to do this is to have times and patterns in our day when we dedicate ourselves to prayer and prayer ALONE. Not just praying while driving, not just praying while walking, not just praying while doing other things. But rather, praying for praying’s sake. Praying because it is worthwhile and necessary in itself. To be with the Lord simply in order to be with Him.
I would call on all of you to take the reading of this Sunday’s Gospel as a moment to review what pattern of prayer you have. When in the day and the week do you set aside just for God? 5 minutes in the morning or night? A longer period?
It is only if we have explicit dedicated times of prayer in our lives that we are able to bring that spirit into the other parts of our day, into our work and rushing.
It is only in as much as I have dedicated times of prayer for prayer’s sake, that I am able to ALSO pray while driving, pray while walking, pray while working.
And, in all that, to know the presence of the Lord in my work, to know the joy of being loved by the Lord in my work.

So, when moving, when stressed, when time is squeezed, this is the time to rededicate myself to the importance of prayer. “It is Mary who has chosen the better part” (Lk 10:42) –let us follow her example.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Jesus is the Good Samaritan, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 10:25-37
WHO was the Good Samaritan?
We’ve all heard the parable about him countless times, and we might well think we have nothing new to learn about it.
But I want, today, to offer you an interpretation of the parable so ancient that it has been largely forgotten. When the original 12 Apostles died, the generations of bishops and writers who came after them are given the title, ‘the Fathers of the Church’. These ‘Fathers’ were all unanimous in how they interpreted the parable, and in WHO they thought the Good Samaritan was:
The Lord JESUS is the Good Samaritan.
And, when we hear the parable with this understanding, his actions in the parable acquire a whole new level of significance
You can read about the Fathers’ interpretation in the collection the Catena Aurea

The Fathers start by noting that the man going from Jerusalem to Jericho signifies ALL of humanity, departing from Paradise (signified by Jerusalem) and going to the world (Jericho). Fallen humanity has departed from God.
The Fathers then interpret the brigands who assail the man as the demons assailing us; and the wounded state they leave him in as the wounded state we experience our fallen human nature in -prone to sin, weak, inclined to evil.

Humanity, weakened by having departed form God, wounded in our inclination to fall and fall again in sin, humanity needs someone to come and rescue us.
And Jesus comes, He is the ‘Good Samaritan’.
(1) The oil and wine that given to the wounded man are symbolic of the Sacraments that He gives for our healing and strengthening.
(2) The man is lifted up “on to his mount” -symbolic of how the Lord Jesus lifts us up:
As Isaiah prophesied, He “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa 53:4);
and, He has lifted us up in the sense that He helps us carry what we cannot carry alone -all of our daily toils.
(3) The two coins He used to pay the innkeeper: the Fathers interpret these, too:
He paid the debt our sins;
He has paid them with everything He had to give: two coins symbolising His humanity and His divinity.
(4) He is the one who “took pity” (Lk 10:37) on us.

To sum up:
That man who was laid upon by brigands, that man is humanity, you and me.
The one who came and recused us, the Good Samaritan, was the Lord Jesus.

You and I, if we are Christians, are called to imitate Christ.
Which means that the closing verse of the passage, “Go, and do likewise”(Lk 10:37), takes on a whole new level of significance.
Our “neighbour” is, in fact, you and me.
Christ has “taken pity” on us. We should do the same to all those in need.