Sunday, 2 August 2015

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jn 6:24-35; Eph 4:17.20-24
As most of you know, I’ve had some minor surgery recently, for a hernia. Even with a few complications, a hernia is a MINOR problem, and I don’t intend to exaggerate my suffering, but, the unpleasantness of the process was grim enough to remind me of a few lessons.
I remember lying on the hospital bed and just wanting the experience to be OVER:
wanting the pain to stop,
wanting the nausea to stop,
and I won’t give you other details, but I just wanted the symptoms to stop.
It was only later, when those symptoms subsided, that I remembered what it was to feel normal and well again.
When I was sick I’d had this yearning to not be sick, but without a clear thought of what it felt like to be normal again.

I offer that to you as an image of how we yearn for God, but don’t really appreciate what it is that we are yearning for.
We yearn for something more in life, even when we don’t quite know what more we are seeking
-just as I yearned to not be sick, even while I’d lost that clear awareness of what it felt like to be well.
Or, let me put it this way:
The SAINT who has FOUND God, realises what he was looking for
even more than the SINNER who knows he is looking for something but has forgotten what the experience of finding God is like.
I can realise that I am sick in my soul, but not quite be sure what I need to be healthy.

In our Gospel text today we heard the Lord Jesus warn the people that they were yearning for the wrong thing, “for food that cannot last”(Jn 6:27).
The people knew they were hungry, but the Lord told them that they were hungering for the wrong thing.
They were hungering for a WORLDLY fullness,
not the eternal heavenly fullness that He alone can offer.
You and I, likewise, can realise that we are hungering, can realise that we are seeking something more in life:
But are we looking for a passing, earthly, feeding?
in comfort, in pleasure, in riches, in a career?
or looking for a feeding that will satisfy us for eternity, in completion?
in a life of cheerful self-sacrifice, in holiness, in grace, in the sacraments?

To return to my analogy with my being sick:
when I was sick I didn’t know what I was seeking for in wanting to be well,
I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be well,
I couldn’t remember because I was sick
and I relied on the nurses and doctor -they got me well again.
The Lord is like the doctor.
He still knows what its like to be normal and healthy,
and He knows the food I need to eat in order to get healthy.
And what is that food?
Nothing less than Himself. HE is the “Bread of life”(Jn 6:35), He says.
If we would be satisfied with the Bread that is Him,
we must choose to NOT be satisfied with this earthly life. We must choose, as St Paul said in the second reading, “not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live”(Eph 4:17),
and instead to choose to trust the words of Him who has shown in His own resurrected glory the vision of what it means to be well again, what it will look like if we feed ourselves on Him.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Holidays, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 6:30-34
I want to say a few words about how we still need to be attentive to the needs of others, even when we’re resting, even when we’re on a holiday.

Like anyone else, I need time to rest to recover from work. As you probably know, I’ve just been on retreat and then on holiday, restoring both my soul and my body. And, with the school holidays about to begin, families all across the UK will be heading off to different places to have a vacation.
But there can be an easy mistake to fall into with such times, namely, to think that it is a sort of selfish “me-time”. And, of course, a real danger with this is that our selfishness can ruin a whole holiday, so that we return in need to another break again!

In the Gospel text we heard today how the Lord Jesus acknowledged His apostles’ need of rest: “He said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’.”(Mk 6:31).
This isn’t the only time we hear such a thing of the Lord. The Gospels often record how He Himself would often get away from the crowds early in the morning, to go to pray.

So, they needed rest.
And the Lord took them away to get some rest.
But, the people ruined the plan:
When they crossed the lake they found that “people [had seen] them going, and many could guess where”(Mk 6:33), and there was a crowd of work waiting for the Lord and the apostles when they got off the boat.
The Gospel text doesn’t tell us how the apostles reacted. I’m pretty sure they were disappointed, maybe annoyed.

The point I wish to draw your attention to, however, is how the LORD reacted:
Not annoyed, not disappointed, rather, “He had COMPASSION on them [the crowds]”(Mk 6:34).
The Lord’s outlook in life was so other-focused, so focused on the needs of OTHER people rather than Himself, that even when tired and in need of rest He STILL managed to stretch Himself even further to serve others.
This is a HARD lesson for us to learn.
But, if we can take it on board, it can help change and IMPROVE the way we rest.
If our rest has a ready WILLINGNESS to be interrupted, a willing ACCEPTANCE of still being attentive to others, then:
Firstly, we won’t have the IMPATIENCE and irritability that accompanies a selfish ME-time.
And, our rest becomes part of a more big-hearted and content approach to life.

Life’s not all about me.
And even my time of rest isn’t all about me.
So, whether we’re on holiday,
Or on a day out
Or taking a stroll through the town,
We too need to be other-focused, like the Lord, who “had compassion on the crowd” -even when they interrupted His vacation.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 6:7-13; Amos 7:12-15
At first glance, the Gospel text for today would seem to be very unrelated to the life of a normal parishioner. But I want to point out that we can make some important applications to ourselves.

In the text, the Lord appointed the Twelve and sent them out with authority over devils, and told them various things not to take with them, no bread, no coins etc.
In addition, we might note that they were not expected to be welcomed: they were given instructions on how to respond when they were rejected, namely, to shake the dust from their shoes. This has been the typical lot of many of those sent by the Lord, as we heard with the rejection of the prophet Amos in our first reading.

What does this have to do with us? What comparison can we apply to our own lives?
First, the notion of being sent.
While we might feel that we have carved out our own pathway in life, actually, the Lord has had a plan for us. Even if we have got to our present situation by sin and repeated vice the Lord nonetheless is able to works His plans even through this, through what theology calls His “permissive will” -He permits certain evils in order to draw greater good out of them, and His plan for us marks out a path, even when the path seems very crooked when viewed from our angle.
Whatever our state in life, there is a sense in which we are called to it, or to turn the angle around, sent to it.
Am I sick? Well, I can say that I am being sent to carry this with patience and love, and with offering it up for the benefit of others.
Am I in sin? The primary “devils” I am being appointed to cast out are those in my own heart. I am “sent” to this task.
And your job. In this too you are “sent”, sent to do it well, to do it for God’s glory.
Whatever our state, there is sense in which we are sent to it by the Lord.

Second, we might note that we are called to not live a life of worldliness. Pope Francs is frequently reminding us of this, as he did in his recent encyclical: that we are to live in this world in such a way as to not be overly-attached to the things of this world.
Thus the injunction to carry no coins, no bread, no haversack, has a symbolic meaning for all of us.

Third, and lastly, He supports us in the task He sends us to.
The Gospel text notes that He worked miracles supporting them as they were about their task: devils were cast out; sick people were cured.
For us, too, the Lord is working for us, supporting us in whatever He has sent us to do.
And as a final aspect of this, let us note the fact that He supported the Twelve by sending them in pairs -they were to have the support of another. And WHO is the ‘other’ that is paired with us in whatever are sent to? Surely, in its deepest sense, it is the Lord Himself, by my side.

So, to sum that up. We are each “sent” to our state in life, to live it well, to live it in love, to offer it up God’s glory. We are to live in an un-worldly manner, even as we are sent through this world heading to the next. And third, He supports us in our task, He is the ‘pair’ by my side.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

2 Cor 12:7-10
I will only speak briefly because there is an appeal at the end of Mass.

In our second reading we heard St Paul pass on the promise from the Lord that he was given:
“My grace is sufficient for you: my power is made perfect in weakness”, to which St Paul adds, “For it is when I am weak that I am strong”

This principle has been reiterated many times by Christians, and it holds not just for us as individual believers in the Lord but also for us as an organization and as a church:
In those centuries and cultures when the Church has been outwardly powerful and materially wealthy she has also been inwardly weak in her spiritual life.
Whereas, when the Church is persecuted and poor she returns with renewed vigour to the source of her REAL strength: the Lord Jesus.

At the end of Mass today, accompanying the insert sheet in your newsletter, Dominic Lavan, the chair of our parish finance committee will indicate that our parish income is far from being at a point of strength:
we are running at a structural deficit.
In some ways this is a good thing, an opportunity:
It can help us not be complacent about the parish and about the parish finances;
It can help motivate the parish finance committee to be even more careful stewards of your money
-and they have been increasingly careful in recent years.
But, it’s not a viable thing if the parish is to have a long-term future,
And so I urge you to listen carefully to Dominic’s words at the end of Mass.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sunday, 14 June 2015

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 4:26-34; 2 Cor 5:6-10
At the 9am Mass we just celebrated our First Holy Communion Mass, with ten children making their FHC this year.
As I was looking at the readings for today, and also thinking about the FHCs, a similarity occurred to me:
Our readings speak about things we don’t see, but nonetheless know to be true, know to be true because God has said so.
Holy Communion is likewise a reality we only know because God has said so.

In the Gospel we heard the Lord Jesus speak about how the Kingdom of God is like a seed that grows unseen in the soil. It is growing under the ground long before its springs forth its first shoot, long before the farmer sees it. In the same way, the Lord is at work in many things in our lives even we cannot see Him.
How do we KNOW that He is at work, and not just abandoning us?
Because He has said so.
The Lord speaks repeatedly of how He watches over us. I saw a flock of birds recently, and thought of the Lord’s words, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”(Mt 6:26)

In our second reading we heard St Paul; speak about how, in this life on earth, we live “exiled from the Lord”(2 Cor 5:6). He then adds, almost casually, a hugely important point: “we walk by faith and not by sight”(2 Cor 5:7).
To walk by faith rather than by sight means that we do not SEE where we are going. And yet, St Paul says repeatedly in this passage that we should walk “full of confidence”(2 Cor 5:6).
How can we have confidence if we do not see?
Because we have the words of the Lord, the promises of the Lord.
And these promises enable me to keep pressing onwards, trusting that He is by my side, trusting that He is guiding me, trusting that He is strengthening me.

Let me turn again to Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is definitely not something known by “sight”.
It is known by “faith”, by which is mean, known by believing the words Jesus said about it: “This is my Body, This is my Blood”.
By “sight” it looks like just bread, and tastes like just bread.
But the Lord has said otherwise, empathically.
And like the seed growing unseen, Holy Communion is not seen. But it is real, just like the unseen growing seed under ground is real.

So, to sum up today’s simple point:
God works in many unseen ways, but He works truly.
He has told us this is how He works.
And, even if He WANTED to show us how He works we would be able to grasp it because, as he Himself said, “My ways are not your ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”(Isa 55:8-9).
But thoughts He has, and ways He has, and He works even when we do not see it.