Sunday, 17 September 2017

Forgiveness is a Choice, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 18:21-35; Ecc 27:30-28:7
I want to talk about forgiveness today.
Forgiveness is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity, both that we can receive forgiveness and that we must offer it.
Forgiveness, however, isn’t easy. In fact it’s precisely at those moments when it’s most important that it usually becomes most difficult to offer.
So I want to say some words about a few related things: to dispel some misconceptions about forgiveness, to indicate why we NEED to offer forgiveness, and to indicate what we need to do to offer forgiveness.

First misconception. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean saying that what they did didn’t matter, it does mean saying it’s “alright”, and it’s doesn’t mean making excuses for them.
When the Lord Jesus hung on the Cross, as the Gospels record, He offered His forgiveness to His murderers. He didn’t ignore their crime: they’re were committing the greatest evil in human history: they were rejecting and killing God. Yet, He freely chose to forgive them.

Second misconception. Forgiveness is not a feeling, rather, it is a decision.
I must choose, in my will, to forgive the person who has hurt me, long before my emotions have caught up with that. I may still feel anger, but forgiveness is a choice, not an emotion.
I must CHOOSE to forgive.

Third misconception. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
Sometimes I must forgive my brother even though there is no realistic chance of us coming to harmony and talking to each other happily. Yet, my decision toward him but be one of forgiveness.

Fourth misconception. Forgiveness is rarely over in an instant, rather, it is often a long process involving many stages. Often I must renew my decision to forgive daily. I must, repeatedly, look at the evil that has been done to me and at the person who has done it, and say, yet again, “I choose to forgive”.

But why? If it’s so hard, WHY must I forgive?
Well, most importantly, because Jesus commands it. He commands it so emphatically that He says we will not be forgiven ourselves unless we forgive others.
We might also note the logic of this: I need forgiveness for my own sins, so I have no right to refuse it to others. If I say, “But my sins are not as big as the sins of this person against me”, well, I then seeking justice not mercy. And if justice is what I want, then justice it what I will get: condemnation, not salvation.
The Lord make this point so often that I could fill the entire length of Mass by citing the occasions.

Let me close, however, by offering a more human motive for forgiveness:
When we fail to forgive then we deny ourselves the possibility of inner healing.
Often we can see the evildoer merrily continuing on. He doesn’t seem affected. But unless I forgive I can’t let go. I cling to this event. Unless I forgive it will continue to weigh me down and afflict me.
If I forgive, however, a path to a new life is open to me.

Some significant recent books have been written on the healing power of forgiveness. I would like to commend to you one in particular, “Forgiveness is a Choice”, by Robert Enright
We have a few copies for sale in the porch.

To sum up: I forgive because Jesus commands it.
I forgive because Jesus forgave.
I forgive BECAUSE what has been done to me is evil, not pretending that it wasn’t.
I forgive even when my emotions are not with my decision of the will.
Forgiveness is a daily process, but the only path to life and healing.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Milk comes from Cows, Harvest Festival, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A



Rom 13:8-11
Today we’re keeping our Harvest Festival, something that I hope will become a regular annual event in the parish.

Some of you might recall a news report from a few years ago that reported a survey that showed that a surprisingly large number of people didn’t know where milk comes from. A lot of people seems to think milk comes from Tesco, and didn’t have any idea where Tesco got it from! In our increasingly urbanised world it’s easy to forget what happens on a farm. It’s easy to forget where things come from.
And today’s parish Harvest Festival is a valuable way of remembering where things come from.
So, for those of you who don’t know, milk comes from a cow.
But, what we really recall at a Harvest Festival is that all good things come from the good God above.

I want to make two simple points today:
The habit of giving thanks to God changes us in two ways:
It changes our relationship with God, and, it changes our relationship with our neighbour.

In our modern individualistic world we tend to have a rather selfish view of ownership.
We tend to think: this is MY money, I worked for it; this is my possession, I paid for it; no one else has a right to it.
In contrast, when we give thanks to God for our good things we trace that train of cause back further, and more honestly, and we realise that there is nothing I have than I don’t owe to God.
This changes how I feel about my ownership of things, it makes me see my ownership in a more relative sense.
It also implicitly reminds me that other people also come from the hand of the Creator; other people also have a right to the good things of Creation.
When we have this sense we are better able to live that “love” that our second reading says fulfills all the commandments (Rom 13:8-10); we are better able to see other men as our “fellow” men, not as rivals to our possessions.
A habit of giving thanks to God thus prepares us to live love of our neighbour.

Perhaps more obviously, a habit of giving thanks changes our relationship with God.
Again, this is particularly important in our modern world. We live in a culture of immense material prosperity, but in the quest for more and more things, there are two things we can forget:
(1) We can forget the God who makes all things, and by forgetting Him we forget what gives meaning and PURPOSE to all things -and a life without purpose isn’t much of a life, even if it is a life with the latest iPhone.
(2) More ironically, we can forget to enjoy the things we have: the quest to possess more and more frequently stops us pausing to appreciate and enjoy the good things we have. While I’m yearning for the iPhone 8 I forget to appreciate how amazing my iPhone 5 is.
So a habit of thanksgiving brings us joy.

In summary, today we are keeping a Harvest Festival.
This reminds us that milk comes from cows.
It reminds us, even more, that all good things come from God.
This reminds us that there is a Creator, that thus life does have purpose, and that that purpose is to be found in Him.
It remind me that my fellow man also depends on God, and that he and I are thus in mutual relationship, and that I must love him.
And finally, in giving thanks I experience joy because I pause to see the goodness of what I have.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

No sermon this week

Sunday, 27 August 2017

No sermon this week

Sunday, 20 August 2017

No sermon text this week

Our deacon is preaching this weekend

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Looking to Jesus in the Storm, 19th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 14:22-33
I want to speak today about our need to look to the Lord when we are in difficulty.

The Gospel text we just heard is one that is powerfully symbolic of our need to look to Jesus. We heard about how the disciples were in their little fishing boat on the storm-tossed sea, and then they saw Jesus walking towards them, walking on the water. Then Peter, responding to the call of The Lord, stepped out onto the water, stepped out into the storm, and walked on the water TOWARDS Jesus.
The point I want to reflect on, however, is one that the patristic commentators note, that Peter then SANK into the water. Why did he sink? Well, the text tells us: "as soon as he felt the force of the wind he took fright, and began to sink" -he looked AWAY from Jesus and TOWARDS his problems, and he began to sink. But then looked again towards Jesus, calling "Lord, save me!", and The Lord lifted him up.
And this holds a symbolic lesson for how we too can sink: we sink in our problems in as much as we don't look towards Jesus, or, we walk on the stormy water when we keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus.

Let me briefly note how this works in three types of problems, three types of storms in my life.

First, the storms that are caused by my own mistakes. Lots of my problems are caused by my own incompetence, my own weakness, my own mistakes. I start something and then make a mess of it. Now, as long as I am just looking at myself, and looking at my problems, as long as I think it is all about MY effort, then I sink. I stare at my problems and they just seem to become bigger and bigger. But when I look to Jesus, i see something all together different, something good, and, in addition, He lifts me up with a strength that is beyond me.

Second, there are the storms caused, not by my weakness and incompetence, but by my sins. Now in these I can sink in a different manner. In my sins I can look solely to my guilt, and risk despair. When I could, and should, simply look to Jesus, tell Him I am sorry, tell Him I resolve not to sin again, and have Him forgive me.
He lifts me from the mire of my sins, and my guilt is left behind.

Third, and finally, there are those storms in my life that come from a source a simply do not know. And about these I never really understand. I can wonder why The Lord allows it, just as the apostles might have wondered why He sent them away from Him onto the sea -did He not know the storm was coming? Why did Jesus allow the storm at all? He could have calmed it, after all, He did eventually. I just don't know.
But I DO know that if I look to Jesus I can weather any storm.

So, to summarise.
Peter could walk on stormy water as long as he looked to Jesus.
But he sank when he looked away.
And you, and I, as long a WE keep our eyes on Jesus, turn to Him in prayer, turn to Him in repentance, turn to Him in the sacraments, then you and I can also walk the stormy waters of life.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Pretty or Ugly in Heaven?, Transfiguration



Today I would like you to consider what you might look like in heaven, because we will all look different.
Some of us will look better than we do now, some of us will look worse.

Today’s feast of the transfiguration gives us some indicators.
It was given as a vision to the Apostles Peter, James and John, to sustain them through the cross, by giving a glimpse of what He would look like in His glorious resurrection. He had just predicted that He would die and rise again; here He gave them a vision of glory of that future resurrection.
So, by application, let us consider what YOU will look like in the resurrection of the dead.

First, let us note that you will have a body.
The Lord Jesus rose in a body; He ascended with that body into heaven; He still has that body.
Having a body is simply part of what it means to be human.
This truth contradicts certain fashionable ‘New Age’ notions that we will all disperse into nothingness at death, or just disperse to become part of ‘the great life spirit’ of the universe.
No. You will have a body; you will remain a distinct person. United to God, but not absorbed into Him in a way that destroys your uniqueness.

Second, let us note that your future body will not be like your current body.
This difference was manifested in the Lord Jesus by His glory shining through His body.
Fulton Sheen speculates that this glory shining was our Lord’s natural state, and that it took a continuous act to suppress His glory from shining through.
The point is this: the body is proportioned to the soul; the soul is the form of the body.
The Lord’s soul was glorious, and His body was glorious.

What of MY body?
My current body will die and decay, and be no more.
At the end of time, according to Scripture, the Lord Jesus will return “to judge the living and dead”(as we say in the Creed).
With this General Judgement there will be a ‘General Resurrection’ when we will all rise with NEW bodies.
Those new bodies will be made to be fitting for our particular souls, to be proportioned to our particular souls.
When I die, by the deeds of my life, I will have made fashioned my soul to be beautiful or to be ugly, or to have a mixture of beauty and ugliness. My new body will be made to fit my soul.

The saints, in many and various visions on this topic, have described how those with souls made ugly in sin will rise at the judgment, not merely rise to condemnation, but rise with ugly bodies: bodies suitable for them, bodies that physically express what they are.

The Saints, in contrast, will rise at the judgement with beautiful bodies, bodies that physically manifest their virtues and glory.

In fact, already in this world we get a glimpse of this in the way that we can sometimes see someone’s goodness or see someone’s hatred and bitterness manifested physically in their face.

And what of me, in the final judgment?
The purifications of Purgatory might be of some help. If I am not so evil as to merit final condemnation, then the fires of Purgatory will purge away my ugliness.
But, and this is a point worthy of pondering: my eternal glory, WHETHER I am and HOW MUCH I am “beautiful”, will depend on how I live now on earth, will depend on what kind of person I will have fashioned myself to me, how I will have formed my soul.

To sum that up and come to a conclusion:
The vision of the Transfiguration showed Christ’s transfigured state to give His disciples a vision to motivate them through the difficulties of the suffering that lay ahead.
By application, the thought of our own future transfigured state, transfigured in glory or transfigured in condemnation, gives us a motivation to persevere in virtue.
What will you look like in the final resurrection?