Sunday, 26 February 2017

Worrying. 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 6:24-34
We just heard in today’s Gospel text a beautiful example of Our Lord’s intimate and compassionate knowledge of our human nature. We heard Him speak about WORRYING –that thing that we can spend so much time and effort doing.
Over these past weeks we’ve heard Our Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount:
Sometimes we hear Our Lord’s words uttered as words of authority, of command;
sometimes we hear Him speak hard words that we know are not easy to follow.
But today, as I said, we hear this same Lord, who was and is both fully God and fully human, we heard Him speak very human words to us:
words about worrying, words that show He knows exactly what we are like.
Most of us have at least some occasions when we worry,
Some of us regularly lie awake at night worrying.
And worrying is an odd thing:
it’s not like planning or decision making when we actually ACHIEVE something,
when we actually become better able to deal with what we must do.
No, worrying does not help us in any way. As Jesus beautifully put it, “Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single hour to his span of life?”(Mt 6:27)
And yet, we DO worry, and we often spend great energy worrying.

Let me make three points.
First, the Lord points out that we often worry because we’re focussed on the wrong things in life.
He says, very directly, that we focus too much on material things. And so He warns us that “you cannot be the slave of two masters... of both God and of money [mammon]” (Mt 6:24).
And the simple remedy He gives us is that we need to repeatedly remember that, “life means more than food and the body more than clothing”(Mt 6:25).

Second, there is the issue of whether we worry about things with a SELFISH focus, or with a focus that is on OTHER people.
Most of us have probably had moments when we realise that so often when we worry about something we worry about it because of how it will affect ME, not about how it will affect others -that even when we worry about family our worries can be filled with anxiety not for THEIR sake but because of some way in which we fear matters will affect us:
affect our time, our reputation, or something else.
This is one aspect of worry that the Lord calls on us to identify within ourselves and to seek to “let go”, to detach ourselves from our SELFISH attachment, and to attach ourselves instead to GOD:
“see ye first the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33).
The remedy to this is to be bold enough to seek to (1) love others first, and (2) love God first and foremost, because when we do this our worries often take on a much REDUCED significance.

Third, and finally, there is the issue that our worrying is caused our lack of trust in God. And here the Lord Jesus berated His disciples for being “men of little faith” (Mt 6:30). He pointed out that God cares for the flowers of the field and the birds of the sky, and yet God loves US much more than either of these.
This type of worry can often be rooted in a sort of mistaken attempt to do everything ourselves and by our own power.
The remedy to this is to (1) call on God’s grace, (2) trust in His strength, (3) trust in His plan for our welfare.

“So do not worry about tomorrow”, and as more literal translations put it in a beautiful parody of our own worrying: “tomorrow will worry about itself” (NIV) “tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (RSV),
“Each day has troubles enough of its own”.

Priests are not immune from worry, as I’m sure you’re aware.
Not even popes are immune from worry. As Pope John XXIII supposedly used to pray each night as he pondered the problems in the Church, “It's your Church, not mine, Lord. I'm going to sleep now”.
If we seek to (1) put God’s things first, (2) focus on the eternal values and not the merely material ones, then we should be able to take the good pope’s attitude for ourselves:
it’s His world, His problems, and we can entrust them to Him.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Who is my Enemy? 7th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year A

Mt 5:38-48; Lev 19:1-2.17-18
Today we heard the command from the Lord that we must, “Love your enemy”.
There is, what I consider to be, a very interesting point here, and I want to note that, as well as indicate WHO my enemy is, WHY I must love him, and HOW I must love him.

The point I consider interesting is this: the Lord bluntly acknowledges that we have “enemies” in life. There is a certain false caricature of the Lord Jesus that pictures Him as cuddly, and fuzzy, and out of touch with the harsh realities of life.
Yet, here He is, bluntly acknowledging that we DO each have enemies in life.
Now, maybe this doesn't surprise you. Maybe you have a mother in law, and it is self-evident to you that you have an enemy in life.

Let us consider, then, my first question: WHO is my enemy?
Maybe you might answer this by saying, it's the person who is always out to thwart my plans, to ruin what I am trying to do, to interfere with my projects, to do me harm, to rejoice in my downfall..

What, however, would be the description the LORD would use to describe my enemy?
As we know, the Lord was asked, “and, who is my neighbour?” But it doesn't seem He was ever asked, “and who is my enemy?”
Rather boldly, I'm going to tell you what I think the Lord’s answer to this question would have been.
The Lord, we might recall, frequently answers questions by turning the question on its head. And, if He was asked who my enemy was I think, He might have said:
Who is my enemy?
My enemy is “my neighbour”.
And, once I have identified my enemy this way, it becomes obvious why Jesus says I must love him.

Yes, my enemy might be seeking my downfall.
But, his primary identity, even before he started seeking my downfall, is that he is my neighbour.
The same good God loves both of us.
The same "Father in heaven... causes His sun to rise on bad men as well is good, and His rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike”(Mt 5:45)
and we might add, that Jesus died out of love for those who killed Him just as truly as He died for those who followed Him. He died for Caiaphas and Pilate as much as He died for Peter, James and John.
So Jesus concluded, "You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect"(Mt 5:48), i.e. love your enemy just as your heavenly Father loves him.

And finally, HOW do I love my enemy? After all, for some reason he IS my enemy. What does loving him mean PRACTICALLY?
To love someone means to seek his welfare, to seek his good (c.f. St Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II Q28 a3 ad3).
I cannot seek his death, I cannot seek his stumbling, I cannot seek his failure.
-such things are not to will his ‘good’.
Sometimes, I might seek his correction, including pointing out where he has wronged me.
But always it involves me doing this, and other things, for HIS benefit, because it is good FOR HIM. This is love. This is love for my enemy.

If I would love the good God who loves me,
if I would love those whom the good God would have me love,
then I must love not merely the brother who is agreeable and pleasant to me,
I must love not merely the neighbour who is at least not un-pleasant to me,
but rather, I must love my enemy .

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Seeing Hidden Wisdom, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

1 Cor 2:6-10
Today I want to tell you about a secret.
Its not my secret. But at many times in his letters St. Paul speaks about a “secret”, a hidden truth revealed, its repeated feature if how he describes what has been made known in Christ.
He says at one stage (1 Cor 15:51), “I tell you a secret…”, speaking of the resurrected of the Body that will occur to everyone at the end of time: namely, that we shall all be changed, with new different glorified bodies.
He says another time (Eph 3:3-9, also 1:9), where he uses the word “secret” 5 times in just 6 verses, that God had a hidden plan to unite all peoples in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, and that this was His secret plan from the dawn of time.
He says this also elsewhere.
But today I am thinking about this because we heard him speak, in our second reading (1 Cor 2:6-10) of the “hidden wisdom” that has been “revealed”.
-a "secret" or "hidden" wisdom that is hidden no more -it has been revealed in Jesus Christ,
However, it's also true that in each case it remains hidden from most of humanity because people fail to see it -even though its been made known.

My point to you today is this: the hidden, the unseen is actually the more important.
The unseen is actually what will last forever.
Let me know a comparison between God and love in this regard:
Love cannot be seen.
God cannot be seen.
Love is visible in its effects, as God is visible in His effects, but neither can be seen directly while we live in this world
Yet, both love and God are what give meaning to everything else.
And, as scripture says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) -so it's hardly surprising that this analogy of both being unseen while both cause the meaning of everything holds.

To come back to St. Paul's text: St. Paul says that they crucified Him because they didn't recognise this hidden wisdom. The “masters of our age”(1 Cor 2:6) rejected Him because they didn't see what was there to be seen.
We, too, can reject what is most important if we fail to have our eyes truly open.

Today, this day, even without pausing to make the conscious choice,
I can allow myself to get so caught up in busy-ness that I fail to see what is important in the midst if the busy-ness. I can busy cooking lunch, or busy unlocking the church doors, busy, busy busy, and I can fail to see and value the PEOPLE who are before me.
And I fail to truly value the people for what they are because I fail to truly see GOD, and see how God chooses and loves these people, and wants me to love these people.

BUT its not just busy-ness that does this to me.
Laziness, failing to mentally engage with the world, with the TRUE hidden meaning of the world, there is a type of mental laziness that fails to see what is before me, fails to see what God has shown me.

The REMEDY to this isn’t complicated.
We’re already here at Mass, so we have the truth before us -but how to see it?
It involves that interior attentiveness that we call ‘contemplation’.
It involves regular times of prayer, when I wake in the morning, when I go to bed at night, and pausing to re-find Him during the day.
None of this is complicated. But when we don’t do it, we become like those who “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8) because they failed to see what He had shown them:
“the things no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him”(1 Cor 2:9)
-the “hidden mysteries” He has already told us about, that give meaning to everything else.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

No sermon this week

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Jesus is the 'Blessed', 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Mt 5:1-12
If someone was to say to you, "You're a Christian, How does Jesus tell me I should live?"
I imagine that most of us would START by saying, "Jesus said that you must love God and love your neighbour". However, the point I want to make to you today, is that this is NOT what Jesus said -this is not how Jesus STARTED His explanation of how we should live.

We just heard in today's gospel text how Jesus started His great moral discourse: The great Sermon on the Mount –the long moral discourse He gave near the start of His ministry; and over the next few weeks we are going to hear some of the details of that moral discourse, of that description of how we are to live.
But my point to you today is that Jesus STARTED His moral discourse by addressing something else:
The question of HAPPINESS: How and where do we find happiness?

We just heard ‘the Beatitudes’, ‘blessed are the poor in spirit… etc’,
People often find the Beatitudes rather odd, or not helpful, to be calling the mourners ‘happy’ etc.
I want to point out to you a very ancient teaching about the Beatitudes, but one that most of you may not have heard about, despite the fact that Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis have all taught this point:
The point is this: the Beatitudes describe Jesus Christ.
They do not so much describe a package of moral behaviour as they describe a PERSON. They are, as Pope St John Paul II put it, the “self-portrait” of Jesus, of the Lord describing Himself to His disciples. As quoted in the newsletter, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have made the same point, and it's actually the ancient Patristic interpretation of this text.
‘Blessed are the meek’. Who is THE Meek One? Jesus Christ
Who is the Pure of heart, who is the Merciful, who is the Peacemaker? Jesus
Who is the afflicted, the poor of spirit, the one hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Jesus
Who is the one who suffers? The Lord
In all of this is described our crucified Lord, the Lord who pointed out the path of the Cross to us, who showed us that it is only the Royal Road of the Cross that leads to the Resurrection, that leads to TRUE happiness.
People look for happiness in money, and sex, and pleasure, and beauty.
But it is only TRULY found in Him who Blessedness itself.

What IS true ‘Blessedness’?
True happiness, "blessedness", consists in sharing the very life of God, seeking God and becoming what Scripture calls “partakers in the divine nature”(2 Pet 1:4).
God is happiness itself because (1) He is love, and (2) He is loved, in (3) perfection.
To BE loved, to KNOW we are loved, and to GIVE ourselves in love –this is true spiritual JOY.
In the relationship of the Father and the Son: He is eternally loved and eternally knows Himself to be loved, and rejoices in this in the Holy Spirit.
This is the glorious goal that we are called to, and it is in as much as we possess this that we possess happiness.

BUT to live that out involves turning this world upside down.
To live this out involves dying to ourselves, that we might give ourselves in love.

So, to come back to the opening question: How did Jesus start His explanation of how we should live?
He started it by addressing the universal desire for happiness.
He came to bring true happiness, inverting the values of this world on their head,
dying for us that He might offer a path to follow to a resurrection.
Dying to self-seeking that we might live in meekness, humility, suffering.
Dying to selfish false happiness that we might live in true happiness, the happiness found in Him alone.

Quotes on the Beatitudes by the last three popes:

The Beatitudes “are invitations to discipleship to communion of life with Christ” since they are a “sort of self-portrait of Christ” (John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (1993) n. 16)

“In truth, the blessed par excellence is only Jesus. He is, in fact, the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice. The Beatitudes show us the spiritual features of Jesus and thus express his mystery, the mystery of his death and Resurrection, of his passion and of the joy of his Resurrection. This mystery, which is the mystery of true blessedness, invites us to follow Jesus and thus to walk toward it.” (Pope Benedict, Homily for All Saints, 1st Nov 2006)

"In these words is all the novelty brought by Christ, and the whole novelty of Christ is in these words. In fact, the Beatitudes are Jesus’ portrait, his way of life, and they are the way of true happiness, which we also can live with the grace that Jesus gives us."(Pope Francis, General Audience, 6th August 2014)

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Religion Causes Peace, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

1 Cor 1:10-13.17
I want to say a few words today about why religion is a force for peace and good in the world.
As we all know, the reverse is often asserted, we are often told that religion divides and brings wars. And sadly, as we heard in our second reading today, there are real divisions: we heard St Paul berating the early Christians for the factions among them. And in different ways there are divisions among the Christians churches today, which is why we’ve been praying for unity in this annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The divisions among us are, rightly, seen as something that contradicts the very message we proclaim, and make it more difficult for us to proclaim that message with conviction. In the light of this we might recall that The Lord Jesus, on the night before He died, prayed that His Church might be one, "in order that the world might believe”(Jn 17:21).

Let me note three things, however. First, the divisions within Christianity are often exaggerated by our non-Christian critics. Yes, they are real. Yes, they are problem. But when unbelievers point to them and say things like, "Religion is the main cause of wars in human history”, they exaggerate to a point that has lost touch with the facts. Don't look at it now, but I've included in the newsletter an article summarising some statistics (that you can check further online here) that indicate that actually the vast majority, 93%, of all wars have not been about religion.

Second, it is religious figures more than any other that are the forces for peace and reconciliation in human history. We might think of ancient figures like St Francis of Assisi. We might note that throughout European history it is the Saints, it is the men and women of religion, of GOD, that people have turned to to resolve civil conflicts in communities. Just recently America observed Martin Luther King Day, and we might take him as one of many examples of RELIGIOUS leaders, CHRISTIAN leaders who used peaceful means to resolve discord and injustice.

Thirdly, on a deeper level, let us think about the TYPE of unity and peace that we proclaim as Christians:
The unity and peace Christians proclaim is not primarily a HUMAN unity and peace, it is rooted in something else:
It is union with God, union with the most important being that grounds everything else, that gives a peace in us that enables peace with others.

Let me take an analogy from family life. If a man argues with his wife, argues with the most important human being in his life, then there are consequences: all of his other relationships are thrown out of kilter. If he subsequently resolves his problem with his wife, resolves the problem with the most important person in his life, then all of his other relationships are able to re-acquire balance and their proper place too.

God is even more foundational to our existence than a wife is to her husband.
God is the one our very existence comes from. God is the one who gives us life and grace and strength. God is the one who teaches us how to live and behave.
Our relationship with God is the one we damage whenever we sin.
And, God is the One who, as the ground of everything, is the One who can forgive us, forgive us in a way that restores all our other relationships.

So, to bring this to a focus and conclusion, this is why, far from being a cause of division, God is the One we need to turn to, above all, to heal our divisions:
To have, as ‘little ones’ (Mt 18:3) before Him, the humility to put other people before ourselves, rather than put ourselves first -which is the source of so much human division.
To have, as little ones before Him, the detachment to let go of pet peeves and ideas and preferences that we can often most clearly recognise as small when we place them before the Almighty.
To have, as His inner gift, the love to care enough about the OTHER rather than the self that we enter into dialogue and LISTEN to the other.
Whether the divisions at issue are social, political or religious, this is why being at union with God is the heart of any lasting solution to be in union with each other --far from religion being the enemy of peace, religion is its only solid foundation.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

on Jn 1:29-34
At every Mass, the priest raises the consecrated host and we say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof", and I imagine that many of us can say those words without thinking about what they mean -which would be a great shame, because they are profound words that today's gospel has much to tell us about.

What must a non-Catholic think as he hears us say those words? He might see that we are getting ready to go to Communion, and what do we say? "Lord I am ready”?" No! We say the very reverse, AND YET go and receive anyway.

And the reason we receive anyway lies in the very nature of WHO it is that we are receiving, who it is that the priest declares the host to be.
The priest says the words we heard spoken by John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world" (c.f. Jn 1:29), because the host is one and the same Jesus Christ who John identified 2000 years ago.

The phrase "The Lamb of God", might seem a bit obscure to us, but it was very significant to the Jews that John was speaking to. They knew the role that the lamb had played in their history and still played in their religion, and to call Jesus THE Lamb of God was to proclaim His saving role from sin.

When Moses and the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, it was the blood of the sacrificed lambs, posted on their doorposts, that caused the angel of death of recognise and spare them. Every year they commemorated this in the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb in the Temple (Dt 16:5-6), recalling (1) their liberation from Egypt, and (2) the covenant bond that God formed with His people, and (3) the communion this gave between God and His people. The Lamb was THE most significant Old Testament animal of sacrifice.

The Lord Jesus is the TRUE Lamb of God, because His sacrifice on the Cross is the complete and total satisfaction for our sins. This sacrifice (1) liberates us from the slavery of sin, (2) restores our union with God, the union broken by sin, and (3) this new union is completed by our receiving the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion –a pattern that was also present in the consuming of the Old Testament sacrifices.

This is what we should recall in the Mass. We, as a congregation, the say the prayer, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us...", and at the same time the priest BREAKS the host. This is a symbol of Christ's body being broken on the cross, of His being the eternal sacrifice for sins.
It is because HE is the one who takes our sins away that we are able to receive Him, even though we ourselves are not worthy of Him.

This said, we do need to prepare, and we do need to be ready if we are to receive Holy Communion.
If we wish to have the benefits of the forgiveness that Christ's sacrifice can give us, then we must repent of our sins.
St.Paul tells us that those who eat “the Lord's supper” unworthily are eating condemnation upon themselves (1 Cor 11:28). Following this teaching of Scripture, the new Catechism(1457) and the Law of the Church(canon 916) remind us, that if it is a serious sin in question: we must repent and go to confession before we receive Holy Communion. If our marriage state is irregular and unresolved, it must be addressed before we can be ready to receive Holy Communion.
Because we cannot acknowledge Him to be the lamb who takes our sins, if we do not also desire to have our sins taken away.

But ultimately, it is because of who He is that we are able to receive Him. Because we will never be fully worthy on our own grounds, we can never repay Him what we owe Him. We can receive Communion because of the love He has lavished on us, and His sacrifice for us, a sacrifice that can HEAL those who turn to Him,
And so we say in prayer the words once said by the centurion to the Lord Jesus, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul SHALL be healed.”(Mt 8:8)