Sunday, 4 October 2015

Divorce and Remarriage, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:2-16; Gen 2:18-24
For the next three weeks, bishops from across the world are gathered in Rome for a special synod devoted to the family. Marriage and the family, as we all know, are rather broken realities in our modern society. Divorce is a much more common phenomenon today than it was when our Lord spoke against it.
I’ve not spoken about this in the 8 years I’ve been here, so its about time, and I want to reaffirm a few things today:
First, that the Lord Jesus meant what he said about remarriage after divorce being adultery;
Second, that such a second marriage bars someone from receiving Holy Communion;
Third, that this is necessary in order for children to have a stable environment;
Finally, that marriage is still a good worthy of being pursued, even with the challenge that such commitment involves.

I want to start with the words in our first reading from Genesis that, “it is not good that man should be alone”(Gen 2:18). These words indicate a desire for union that is written in our nature, a yearning to not be alone that is satisfied in many things: in prayer with the Lord, in human friendship, but it finds a particular physical completion in the exclusive loving union of marriage. Thus we heard the Lord Jesus quote that phrase from Genesis about a husband and wife becoming “one body”(Mk 10:8; Gen 2:24).

All love involves giving of ourselves. We give our time, our energy, and more. Marriage is that unique self-gift where someone gives their EVERYTHING to someone, in a mutual self-gift that brings many rewards.
But, once you have given yourself to another, in totality, for life, you cannot then take back that gift. If your wife become sick, you are still married, still given to her. If she becomes poor, she is still your wife. If she is unfaithful to you, she is still your wife. If she goes off, she is still your wife.
Now it is true that sometimes there are reasons a couple have to separate, either temporarily or permanently. Often there is an innocent party left behind, with much suffering.

But even if you separate and civilly divorce, nonetheless she is still your wife in the eyes of God. As Pope Francis said last week, there is no such thing as “Catholic divorce” (plane interview, 28/9/2015).
If we look at Scripture, as quoted on the insert sheet in the newsletter, it says very clearly what a separated or civilly divorced spouse is called on to do: “remain single or else be reconciled to” your spouse (1 Cor 7:10-11).
You are not then free to give yourself to another, because you have already given yourself to your spouse –even if she no longer appreciates that gift, even if you no longer live together.
You are not then free to commit yourself to another, because you are already committed.
If you have said “till death do us part” to one woman, you cannot say that to another while she still lives.
Thus Jesus says, “The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery” (Mk 10:11).
Thus the Church says that a person who remarries (while their spouse is alive) commits a public act that bars them from receiving Holy Communion (Catechism 1650; 2384). Bars them until they amend this aspect of their life.

How shall I conclude? By acknowledging that this is a very hard teaching. Every walk of life has its cross to carry, but this call to “remain single (1 Cor 7:11) rather than remarry can be a heavy cross.
This said, a romantic union in marriage is not the only way to fulfil the desire spoken of in our first reading, the desire to not “be alone”.
And, faithfulness to God, faithfulness to the vows made, will bring with it strength and grace, and ultimately all faithfulness to God is rewarded, not just in heaven but in this life too.

The joys of marriage are only possible because of this hard teaching about commitment. A union that didn’t claim to be for life would be a very much lesser thing than marriage, it wouldn’t really be the “one body” union the Lord Jesus speaks of. If this lifelong commitment is abandoned then what is being abandoned is the beauty of marriage itself. And with it, a stable environment in which to raise children. And thus the Church tells us that the Lord meant what He said.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Jealousy, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Num 11:25-29; Mk 9:38-43.45.46-48
I want to speak about two things today: Jealousy and Thanksgiving.

In both our first reading and in our Gospel text we heard disciples of the Lord being jealous about supernatural gifts that were given to others. The young man ran to Moses to complain that the supernatural gift of prophecy had been given to two men who weren't in the Tent (of meeting) -the two men had been given something, and the young boy didn’t think they should have it. Similarly, in the Gospel we heard how John complained to the Lord that the gift of casting out devils had been given to someone who wasn't in their group. In both cases we can detect jealousy about what had been given to someone else.

Now, jealousy is an odd sort of thing. These days I often find myself getting jealous of young men with hair. I still have some hair, but not as much or as thick as it once was. And I find myself jealous.
So, what is jealousy? St Thomas defines jealousy as a type of SADNESS that we experience at the good of another.
I see a young man with hair, and instead of being happy for him, happy that he has hair, somehow, I feel sad instead.
St Thomas adds further that the reason for such sadness is that we somehow imagine that the reason I DON’T have something is because this other person has it. The young man not only has hair but he has an iPhone 6S –and there is a limited number of those to go around, so I somehow feel that his having it means I don't. And I feel sad.
And sometimes, as in today's Gospel, we can feel sad in jealousy because even though we DO have something we don't want others to have it TOO, we are POSSESSIVE, we think that someone else having something nice DETRACTS from my having it too. To return to that Scriptural example, John had the gift of casting out devils, but he was sad that this gift was also being shared by others -his jealousy was linked with a possessiveness about it.

Such a sadness is a silly thing, even if it's a real thing. It can consume us and stop us enjoying the goods things we have because we are focussed on the good things that OTHER people have. It's a sadness, a sadness that leaves us sad. But there is a remedy: giving thanks.

Let me note four things that happen when I give thanks:
First, my giving thanks renders back to God the thanksgiving that I OWE Him.
Second, I become happier by focussing on what’s right rather than on what might seem wrong. I shift my focus away from my sadness at others, and shift my attention to what I have myself. And in giving thanks to God for it and in remembering that I have it, and I enjoy it more. And I become happier.
Third, my thanksgiving to God for his gifts to me frees me of the possessiveness linked with jealousy, because I recall that I don’t truly possess any of these things -they are talents on loan from God.
Finally, my turning back to God reminds me of His goodness towards me. Nothing in life makes us happier than knowing that we are loved (c.f. My previous sermon quoting Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino, n.iii). And nothing reminds us that we are loved more obviously than seeing the signs of such love, and giving thanks to God focuses exactly on such signs.

To sum that up. Jealousy is a real thing, but not a good thing. It is a sadness in me when I see someone else with something good.
The remedy is to give thanks. Thanks in the morning, thanks during the day, thanks, especially, as habit at the end of the day before going to bed.
Thanks: To see the good that I HAVE, not what others have; to see it as a sign of God’s love for me; to rejoice in seeing that good, and to rejoice in knowing it as a sign that I am loved.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

No Sermon this Sunday

Today we have a pastoral letter from the Bishops of England and Wales for Home Mission Sunday

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Meeting Christ In the Cross, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 8:27-35
When Christ hung upon the Cross very few people recognised Him for WHO He truly was.
In terms of what He WAS: He was the Son of God, He was the Messiah, He was the Chosen One they were all waiting for.
But, in terms of what He LOOKED like: He was battered, bruised, bleeding, ugly.
There was one person, however, and St Mark’s Gospel makes a point of noting it, there was one person who at that very moment, in the Messiah’s weakness and ugliness, that recognised Him. St Mark notes that the centurion who stood at the foot of the Cross, who had seen Him suffer, had seen how He reacted to all that happened to Him –that centurion was moved to faith in Jesus. This pagan centurion declared, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”(Mk 15:39). It was precisely at that most UNLIKELY moment that the centurion confessed who Jesus was.

That account of the centurion is recorded for us by St Mark, and the account we heard in today's Gospel text was also from St Mark. Many commentators note a deliberate parallel St Mark gives in these two confessions. The confession we heard today by St. Peter also truly recognised Christ, with St. Peter saying, “You are the Christ”, the Son of the living God (Mk 8:29, cf Mt 16:16). St Peter’s words didn't recognise Him at the Cross, but the words of the Lord Jesus at that moment pointed St Peter towards the Cross. The Lord’s words followed St Peter’s confession of who He was by declaring that the Christ was going to suffer and be killed, and referred directly to the “cross”(Mk 8:34).

St Mark is doing this very deliberately. The confession by the centurion of who Jesus was AT THE CROSS, and, the prophecy of the Cross to St. Peter at the moment when St. Peter is recognising WHO Jesus is, this all has a profound point:
WHO Jesus is is intrinsically linked with the Cross.
You cannot recognise the TRUE Jesus without recognising that He is the One who has come to die, come to die for us. He is “the suffering servant”(Isa 53), suffering with us and for us.

There are many practical points about how this applies to us, but let me note this one:
When we meet Jesus we often don't recognise Him, and we don't recognise Him because He comes to us in the Cross.
In contrast, when something nice happens to me, when the sun shines on my day off, when someone leaves me a nice cottage pie for my lunch, when my real ale tastes good -in these and many such moments I think: God is good, God is real, and I sense that I have met Him in that moment.
Other times, however, when He meets me in the Cross, I don’t recognise Him:
Someone asks me to do something when I'm already busy, my patience is tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting Jesus as He had His patience tried on the Cross, I fail to realise that this, too, was a moment I could have met the Lord.
Again, someone is rude or abrupt to me, my love is tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting Jesus as He had His love tested when people said insulting and rude things to Him as He hung on the Cross, I fail to realise that this too, was a moment I could have met the Lord.
Again, when I was sick and weak after my hernia operation this summer, my inner strength was tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting the Lord who was weak on the Cross, who offered His sufferings for others as He hung on the Cross, instead of offering up my sufferings, I fail to realise that this too was a moment I could have met the Lord.

So, let us each ask ourselves when we recognise the presence of the Lord Jesus in our lives.
Because if we know Him for who He truly is, if we know Him as the One who suffered for us and even now is with us, then we shouldn't be surprised to recognise Him in tough moments as well as easy ones. Both are “blessed” moments –but in different ways.
And St Mark’s deliberate connection of the identifying of WHO Jesus is with the CROSS should remind us that it is often on the Cross that we find Him still today.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Harvest Festival, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

James 2:1-5; Isa 35:4-7; Mk 7:31-37
Picking up on our second reading from St James, and thinking of our parish Harvest Festival this weekend, I’d like to spend a moment today considering how we look at “the poor” and how we look at ourselves.
Now it’s a noteworthy point that very few people I meet think of themselves as rich. I meet very few people who say, “I’m rich, I’m comfortable, I don’t know what to do with all my money”.
Instead, I meet parishioners who say things like, “We’re not going to be able to repair such-and-such this year because we’ve not got the money”.
Or, even if they’ve managed to go on holiday, might say something like, “It’s been wonderful to go on a proper holiday this summer, we’ve not be able to for years” -aware that money feels tight.

Such observations are real. And they indicate a true sense of not having the funds we would like to have.
However, a harvest festival is a moment to try and step back and see the bigger picture, and realise that for almost all of us in Shaftesbury, we need to acknowledge that there are most people in the world are much poorer than we are.

In our second reading St James said, “it was those who are poor according to the world that God chose”(James 2:5). Who were those “poor”?
The Israelites in slavery in Egypt, under the harsh yoke of the Pharaohs.
The Jews starving in hunger, wandering in the desert.
The captives in Babylon, homeless and driven from their land.
And, thinking of the imagery in today’s Gospel and first reading, “the poor” were:
The blind, the deaf, the lame.

And what did God do for such “poor”?
He gave the Jews a Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.
And the Lord Jesus gave sight to the blind, and healed the sick.

But, let us note, though St James repeatedly berates the wealthy for not caring for the worldly needs of the poor, nonetheless, the REAL blessings he says God offers the poor are something else.
He says that God chose them “to be rich in FAITH and to be heirs to the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him”(James 2:5).
That kingdom, the one established in the New Covenant in Christ, is an eternal kingdom in HEAVEN.
And the poor he speaks of are rich in “faith” because they have allowed their lowliness to be something that causes them to humbly reach out to the Almighty.
In contrast the Scriptural imagery portrays the rich as self-satisfied, as proud, and as not aware that they need to reach to the Lord.

To conclude, do we think of ourselves as “poor” or as “rich”?
In comparison to much of the world, most of us need to acknowledge that we are “rich” in possessions and thus need to be generous with them.
But, before the Lord, we are “poor” and needy, and the manner in which the Lord raises up the lowly is reminder that we need to be sure we remember our poverty before Him, because it is when we do that He raises us up too.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Sunday, 23 August 2015

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Josh 24:1-2.15-18; Jn 6:60-69
The Gospel text and today’s first reading give us two of the most powerful Scriptural accounts of choosing for or against the Lord.
In the Gospel we heard how the people WALKED AWAY from the Lord Jesus. They had heard Him give His promise to feed them with His flesh in the Eucharist and they said, “this is too much, who can accept this intolerable language”. And they walked away. Walked away from the Lord, right there before them.
In the first reading we heard of Joshua, who succeeded Moses in the Old Testament. Joshua was the one who led the Jewish people into the Promised Land. And he told them that they had to choose: in this NEW land would they follow the gods of that land, the false gods of the Canaanites etc, or would they hold with the one true God, the God who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, led them through the Red Sea waters, feed them as they wandered in the desert, and finally brought them to this new land?

WHO would they choose to follow? Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15)
And all “the people answered, ‘We have no intention of deserting the Lord’ ”(Josh 24:16)
The truth, however, as the years ahead would show, was that the people were repeatedly unfaithful to the Lord, constantly mixing a bit of worship of the true God with a bit of worship of the pagan gods.

When we read the Old Testament the need to be faithful to the ONE God, and to not mix it up, and to not serve false idols, is a continual refrain. It is the FIRST of the Ten Commandments that God gave them, “You shall have no false gods”. And yet it was a commandment that He had to repeat to them many times. They served false gods (1) by sacrificing to them, and also (2) they served false gods, as the Old Testament prophets protested, by serving the false idols of money, gluttony, and sexual immorality. And the Lord Jesus would later put it, “You cannot serve both God and money” –you have to choose.

The question I would have you consider today is this:
Which are the false gods you are most frequently tempted to serve in your own life?
Let me suggest two:

First, “the god of being middle class”. This god manifests himself in the pursuit of a certain lifestyle, with defining your life, and defining the success or failure of your life by whether you meet certain middle class criteria, rather than defining the success or failure of your life by whether you live the life the true God calls you to.
This might manifest itself in your concern about your house, or your car, or the school your child goes to, or the exam results your child obtains.
In this and other concerns do you think of them asking by yourself (1) whether you are achieving the middle class dream. Or, (2) do you ask yourself what God would be asking you: have you used the talents He gave you to full effect, but then been humble and content with the results that came.
The middle class god is, I suggest to you, the dominant false idol of Shaftesbury and we need to ask if it is him we serve, or the real God.

Second, a very different god, another god who is much around in this land: “the god of non-commitment”. I hear what the Bible says, what the Church says, and I just don't commit. Non-commitment is another dominant idol of our day: not hostility to the Gospel, but a refusal to engage one way or the other.
Does this God rule your life? Is that where you offer your worship?

To conclude, what are we to do if we realise we have been serving a false idol, either one of these two or another?
Well, the true God, the God who is worshipped in THIS shrine, is a God who offers us many second chances. He has manifested His authenticity in His miracles, His deeds, His gracious words in Scripture. And as often as we turn back to Him with sincere hearts, He will accept us.

So, hearing the call of Joshua, “choose this day who you will serve”, let us make the words of Joshua our words too: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.