Sunday, 29 November 2015

1st Sunday of Advent, Year C

Lk 21:25-28.34-36
Christmas is less than a month away!
For some of us, this approaching date is a matter of excitement and hope. The people I will meet, the presents, and more!
For others of us, it is an approaching deadline, a time to panic, a time to feel uneasy in the stomach. The people I will meet, the presents, and more!

It occurs to me that this is rather similar to the way that different people think about the Second Coming of Christ, about the End of Time.
For some of us, to mention this is to give a cause for hope, for anticipation. I have a friend who will frequently and eagerly tell me about the latest prophecies he has heard of on the Internet, of visions, and even of how various natural disasters seem to all fulfil private revelations.
To such people, thoughts of the Second Coming are all “GOOD news”: when the Lord returns all will be put right.

For others of us, the mention of the End of Time is a real conversation-killer.
It means that everything we are now enjoying will be ended. How will you know who would have won I’m a celebrity, get me out of here if Time ends before the end of the season?
Worse, such people think of all the BAD things that the Lord warns us will accompany the End Times, some of which we heard recounted in today’s Gospel: “on earth nations in agony… clamour of the oceans and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world”(Lk 21:25-26) –it will all be something we will need to have, to use the Lord’s words, “the strength to survive”(Lk 21:36).
In addition, many worry they they are not prepared: the Lord warns that we need to “stay awake”(Lk 21:34) –but what if I'm not ready when He comes?

So, which approach is right? Is the Second Coming good, or a matter of fear?
Well, it is something of BOTH.
But, fundamentally, the Church starts our Advent season with thoughts of the Second Coming, not to frighten us but to give us HOPE.
Such hope, however, is only received as “good news” if we have our hearts rooted in the right things.

The Second Coming, like Christmas, can either frighten us, or delight us.
Primarily, a Christian should LOOK for the return of Christ.
If we named after Him, Christian;
if we follow Him;
and if we recognise that all that is WRONG with this world lies in how it is estranged from the Lord Jesus, the One through whom it is all made
–THEN we should YEARN for His coming with rejoicing.
I want Him to come at the End of Time, to vanquish suffering and evil, to fulfil the time when “your liberation is near at hand”(Lk 21:28).
I want Him to come at Christmas, to bring peace to all my troubled relationships,to my weariness, to my loneliness, to my problems.
I want Him to come to me in this Mass, that I might experience today a deeper grasp of the reality of all that His Coming can bring.

Let us take a moment today to ask ourselves whether we think of the Coming of the Lord with fear or with hopeful expectation.
And let us deepen and purify our hope by recalling that nothing I experience now, nothing I fear to lose, nothing can compare with “what God has ready for those who love Him”(1 Cor 2:9).

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Natural Law: How human reason can discern the truth: Talk 3 of 'Knowing Right from Wrong' talk series

7.30pm Thursday Nov 26th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

Autumn 2015 Talk Series: 'Knowing Right from Wrong'

A series of 7 evenings looking at different aspects of the moral life, Thursdays 7.30-8.30pm, in the parish hall

All talks will be by our parish priest, Fr Dylan James, who lectures on moral theology at Wonersh Seminary
The talk series will be preceded by a film evening on marriage

Audio and powerpoints slides of talks will be available online as the talks are given

Film: “Marriage: God’s Design for Life & Love”, from St Anthony’s Communications (43mins)
7.30pm Thursday October 22nd

(1) Post-Vatican Two Morality: What Changed? From legalism, through chaos, to virtue
7.30pm Thursday Nov 12th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(2) Sin and the Pursuit of Happiness
7.30pm Thursday Nov 19th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(3) Natural Law: How human reason can discern the truth
7.30pm Thursday Nov 26th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(4) Marriage and Sex
7.30pm Thursday Dec 3rd

(5) Contraception and Natural Family Planning
7.30pm Thursday Dec 10th

(6) Environmental Ethics
7.30pm Thursday Dec 17th

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Terror, Islam, and Christ the King, Year B

Jn 18:33-27; Dan 7:13-14; Rev 1:5-8
It's now been just over a week since the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Last Sunday we prayed for the victims, and for peace.
During this week a good number of you have asked me rather heartfelt questions, more than one of you with tears in your eyes, wanting to know what we, as Catholics, should be thinking about this. So today I'm going to make a few comments.

My first point needs to be this: Not all Muslims are terrorists. Within Islam there is an even greater divergence of opinion than is to be found among Christians: For example, some Muslims hold to the passage of the Koran that says the Jews and Christians shall be saved, “shall have their reward with the Lord”(2:62). Other Muslims, however. point to texts in the Koran that condemn Christians to Hell, the “abode of fire”(5:72) for holding that Christ is God. Similarly, when we think of the atrocities that occurred in Paris last week, and the Beirut bombings of one group of Muslims against another group of Muslims, and the attack in Kenya earlier this year that singled out Christians for execution, it is important to note that not all Muslims believe terrorist violence is appropriate.

My second point, however is that even given the divergence of opinion within Islam, Christianity and Islam believe very different things, including very different things about peace and violence. Even if you look at the Old Testament Christian Scriptures, the Christian Bible simply does not have texts that can be used to justify violence in the way that Islamic texts can be used. Those who imply that all religions are the same can only make such a claim by failing to look at what different religions teach. For example, we might look at the origins our two religions, and note that the Lord Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher; but Mohammed was warlord. The followers of Mohammed claim that his victories in battle are the sign of God’s approval. The followers of the Lord Jesus claim that His healing the sick and His rising from the dead are the signs of His Divine Power.
This said, we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that many Christians have not been true to what Christ taught, many who CLAIM to invoke the name of Jesus have abused His religion to foster, as Pope Francis put it last Sunday, "violence and hatred"(15th Nov 2015). Our religion allows war in self-defence; our religion does not allow many of atrocities that have been committed in its name.

My third point, however, is to focus this on the matter of what today’s feast of Christ the King tells us. The point is this: What sort of king is Christ?
He is a king who allows Himself to be WEAK -He reaches down to us in our weakness and shares in our state. As we heard in our Gospel text, “my kingdom is not of this world”(Jn 18:36) -He allowed Himself to be arrested, tortured and crucified. Islam finds the display of God weak and crucified on a crucifix to be blasphemy. Christ, in contrast, says that this is what shows the depth of His love: that He laid down His life for His brethren (Jn 15:13); that He allows Himself to be weak for our sake.
He is a king who SHARES His kingship with us. As we heard in our first reading, He has “made us a line of kings”(Rev 1:6). The word, “Islam”, means submission, and its followers are “slaves” of Allah. Christ, in contrast, called His followers His “friends”(Jn 15:15).
He is a king who FORGAVE from the Cross, forgave from His position of weakness, saying of His killers, “Father, forgive them…”(Lk 23:34) -and in our hearts we must be willing to forgive, even the Paris attackers.
Finally, let us not forget, I the wake of such horror, that His kingship is “ETERNAL”, it “shall never pass away”(Dan 7:14) -as we heard in our first reading. If media reports make us fear hordes flooding into our nation to attack and overwhelm us, then we must not lose hope: His kinship will never end, and those who hold true to our weak, loving, forgiving king, will share in His “eternal sovereignty”(Dan 7:14).

To sum that up: Not all Muslims are terrorists; many Muslims believe such attacks are abhorrent.
But Christianity and Islam are not the same: We worship a Christ who allows Himself to be weak, to share His Kingship, who loves, who forgives, but whose reaching down to us does not alter His power, and whose allowing Himself to die does not change the eternal nature of reign.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Praying for the Dead, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 13:24-32; Dan 12:1-3
This past year 22 practicing members of our congregation have passed away. As a community, we feel their loss in many ways: in empty seats around us, that once were filled; and most of all, obviously, by the absence of their physical presence among us. The month of November is the month of the year when the Church particularly focuses us on the dead. I want, today, to remind us of how we should face death, and what we should think about the dead, and do for them.

Our first reading and gospel text both focus us on future hope, a hope that our Catholic Faith holds for those who have died. The gospel spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus in glory at the end of time, “coming in the clouds with great power and glory… to gather His chosen”(Mk 13:26-27). The prophet Daniel similarly spoke of the end of time, “Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace”(Dan 12:2). These are two of many texts that remind us that when we think of the dead we should be thinking of a FUTURE for them, not just a past. In our atheistic society it is popular to have “remembrance” services to remember the dead, but a Christian holds to more that just remembrance –we also hold a future hope. And when we hold to such a future hope we grieve in a different way: grieving with hope is not the same as grieving without hope.

Let me focus this more practically and note that there are two “works of mercy” that we are called upon to offer for the dead. The first is the “corporal [bodily] work of mercy” of “burying the dead”. Our Christian religion values the body, believes that we will be resurrected to glorious bodies at the end of time, and so we honour the bodies of those who have died in our burial services. (Thus the Church calls on us to bury the ashes of those who have died if we have a cremation.)

But there is a long-term work of mercy we are called upon to offer: the “spiritual work of mercy” of “praying for the dead”.
As our first reading reminded us, some will be punished in the final judgment rather than rewarded. Our hope thus calls on us to pray that our loved ones with receive MERCY in the judgement. This is an important and on-going thing to pray for.
When I die I hope that people won't say, “Oh, he was a good priest, he doesn't need us to pray for him”. NO! If people love me I hope they will PRAY for me, rather than just presume I'll be OK. And I hope they'll CONTINUE to pray for me, the same way I continue to pray for my grandma who died nearly 20 years ago –I still love her, and still pray for her.
Such prayer does not imply distress or anxiety, but rather a simple awareness that our prayers do good for those who have died. And if we love those who have died then we should naturally want to work for their good, to pray for them.

Our prayers also do something else for the dead: they assist them in the purifications of Purgatory. Heaven is a place of perfection, and apart from a few exceptional saints, almost all of the dead must be purified in order to be ready for heaven. The prayers of the living assist with this purification. Tradition teaches that this happens in two ways: both by offering CONSOLATION to the dead while they are engaging the the difficult purifications; and, by SPEEDING this process of purification.
In praying for the dead we follow the practice of the Early Christians, and the practice of the Jews who lived at the time our Lord. As the second book of Maccabees puts it, we pray “that they might be released from their sins”(2 Macc 12:46). And, we do all of this out of our HOPE in the resurrection. As Maccabees also says, explaining WHY someone prayed for the dead, “if he had not hoped that the dead should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. But because… of the great grace laid up for them it is therefore a holy and pious thought to pray for the dead”(2 Macc 12:44-46).

So, to sum that up, let us not forget those who have died. If we love them, let us continue to do good for them: let us pray for them. Such prayer helps US by keeping our hope for them alive in their hearts. And such prayer helps THEM, that “those who lie sleeping in the dust… will awake to everlasting life”(Dan 12:2).

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 12:38-44; 1 Kgs 17:10-16
Today I'd like to reflect on the value that our actions have in God’s sight, which is often very different from the value our actions appear to have in the sight of the world.
Today, in our nation, is Remembrance Sunday, when we remember all those who have died in the wars of the past century. Among the thoughts that can arise at such moments can be the question of what value sacrifices in war had. Pausing to see the value of deeds in God’s sight rather than our own can help to give us a most important perspective.

One way of considering the issue of the value of our deeds and the value of someone’s sacrifice would be to return to the ‘measuring’ criteria I referred to in last week’s sermon for All Saints:
as I said then, the value that GOD puts on our actions depends on the LOVE with which we do them (c.f. St Thomas Aquinas ST II-II q184 a1). And the love of family and love of country that motivate someone’s deeds in warfare is one way of considering their value.
However, most the time we can tend to want to evaluate actions in terms of their OUTCOME, their results, their consequences. The problem with trying to do this is that we can never see all the effects of our actions, so how can we make that the criteria for judging their value? The Scriptures give us another model, as we hear of in the two widows in our scripture readings today.

So, let us look at these two widows and evaluate their actions according to the two different criteria I mentioned: results, and motive.
Let us consider the first widow, who helped the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. What were the RESULTS, the effects of her deed?
What she did, as we heard, was she chose to generously feed Elijah, even though she had so little food that she thought she was preparing a final meal for her and her son before they died.
The results, however, were very different. The ‘results’ were that GOD worked a miracle and rewarded her generosity by miraculously re-filling her “jar of meal” and “jug of oil” until the rains came and the drought was ended.
One point we can draw from this is that the PRIMARY agent acting in the world is the LORD. And He can draw great things even out of our small efforts.
AND He can do this, and does do this, even working in a world of suffering and evil.
So, we should persevere with our good deeds, even when we can't see what outcome they will have.

The second widow, praised by the Lord Jesus, is praised slightly differently.
We are never told the outcome of her deeds. What was her money used for after she gave it to the Temple? We simply don't know.
Nonetheless, the Lord praises her for her generosity, “they have all put in money that they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on”(Mk 12:44).
The Lord looks on what she has done and praises her, regardless of the outcome of her deeds, simply because of the good motive with which it was done.
God, likewise, will look kindly on us for good deeds that WE do with a generous heart.

So, to conclude, in whatever we find ourselves called upon to do in life, let us take these two widows as examples:
Let us give generously, doing the right thing, even when we cannot see the outcome. Because the value of our deeds, and the outcome of our actions, ultimately lies in the hands of God, who can do much more with our deeds than we can imagine.