Sunday, 1 March 2015
In our first reading we heard about Abraham and Isaac, and hearing of how Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac is always a little problematic. I'll return to that issue in a minute, but I want to first point to the fact that there are three different sacrifices being alluded to in our liturgy today.
First, there is the sacrifice of Isaac. That Abraham was willing to give up his son, even though he loved him dearly (Gen 22:2).
Second, there is the sacrifice of Jesus, the one eternal son of the Divine Father. As we heard in our second reading, what proves that the Father loves us is that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son for us (Rom 8:32).
Further, in the gospel, we heard of how Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, shown in glory to Peter, James and John. And remember the context: the Lord Jesus had just predicted that He would be crucified (Mk 8:31), had just revealed the horror that lay in wait. And He shows them this vision of future glory to sustain them through that horror.
Now, we might note that His predicting His passion, and preparing His disciples for it, shows that it was part of His plan. So it was not just that the Father was willing to sacrifice Him for us, but that it was His loving plan to allow Himself to be sacrificed for us –to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.
There is a third sacrifice alluded to in our liturgy today, however, one not referred to in our Scripture texts, but one implicit in today’s liturgy:
Our Lenten sacrifices: the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we are making. The things we are giving up for Lent.
And this vision of the transfigured Christ on the mountain top is offered to us as a reminder of the Easter glory that lies ahead for all believers making their Lenten sacrifices.
Let me return to Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. This seems horrific to us. But why does it seem horrific? After all, many nations and religions in history have sacrificed their children in pagan religions. This, in fact, is the point. We got our idea that child sacrifice was wrong FROM this event. Abraham didn't originally know this. Abraham did not yet know it was wrong to sacrifice his child, the religions around him sacrificed their children, and so he expected to do the same -as the historian and Scripture scholars point out. BUT in this definitive act God taught Him that He, the one true God, did not accept the sacrifice of children. Thus in the centuries after the Jews knew to oppose the child sacrifice that surrounded them, as we oppose it today.
To conclude, there is a Lenten lesson for us here.
On one hand, that God is a god of goodness, not a god of child sacrifice.
On the other hand, that He rewards those who are WILLING to sacrifice to Him, as He rewarded Abraham for his faithfulness by giving him the Promised Land, and countless descendants (Gen 22:17).
You and I need to be willing to make our Lenten sacrifices, to persevere in our giving things up, in our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent.
It's often not easy to make such sacrifices. So let us resolve to be willing to make sacrifices, as He was willing to sacrifice Himself, that we might have our humanity transfigured in Easter glory just as He showed His humanity transfigured on the mountaintop.
Saturday, 28 February 2015
Sunday, 22 February 2015
This week we have started Lent. Lent comes around every year. This year, however, I find myself not in the mood for Lent. I’m not in the mood to enter into a period of 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It somehow feels as if we have only just had Christmas.
So, as I’ve been thinking much of this past week: I’m not in the mood.
But I’ve also been thinking that maybe this makes Lent all the more important for me this year. I was thinking about the phrase in the Gospel we heard, where St Mark describes the Holy Spirit as “driving”(Mk 1:12) Jesus out into the desert for His 40 day trial. I too need to ‘driven’, and when I need to be ‘driven’ its probably all the more important to remember WHY, to remember what Lent is all about.
This year, in the “Year B” lectionary cycle, the image given to us for Lent is that of Noah and the flood, as we heard in both our first and second readings.
The flood was 40 days, and Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness was 40 days, and our union with Him in Lent is 40 days.
The flood was to wash away sinful humanity, just as Jesus went into the temptation to do battle and vanquish sin, and we enter into Lent to purify ourselves of sin.
St Peter, in our second reading, adds a baptismal interpretation to the flood: the flood washed away sin and this was a symbol, a prefiguring, a “type”(1 Pet 3:21), of how baptism washes away sin.
I, like most of us, had the stain of inherited Original Sin washed from my soul in baptism when I was a baby. But, because I have re-dirty-ed my soul many times in sin, what I need is a new washing, and this is what the season of Lent is about.
And this baptismal symbol from Noah and the flood is therefore a hope-filled vision of the cleansing that Lent is about.
So, to recall, how does Lent do this? By the three ‘remedies for sin’: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As Christians we are called upon to take up some form of each of these remedies (not one OR the other -they work together so use them together).
Fasting: when I “give something up” for Lent I am engaging in a small form of fasting. Just as, as we heard St Peter say of Jesus, “in the body He was put to death”(1 Pet 3:18), in a parallel way I put to death my bodily desires in fasting that I might be purified of my sins, and rise a new man.
Prayer: I don’t give things up just by private will-power, but by the power of Jesus, in union with Jesus who prayed and fasted in the desert for 40 days. So, I take up some small additional extra prayer in this season. Maybe just an extra daily Hail Mary, maybe daily Mass, maybe rosary, maybe Friday Stations of the Cross.
Finally, Almsgiving: the battle with sin isn’t just about me, it’s about me and my neighbour, and so I give to the poor in some fashion. Maybe the spiritually poor, in a good deed, or maybe financially as we do today in our Lenten retiring collection for Mary’s Meals. www.marysmeals.org.uk
To return to where I began: maybe you are like me, and you’re not really in the mood for Lent. Well, life not about living according to your moods: Let’s take up the opportunity, the graces that are offered to us in this season.
Let’s take this hope-filled baptismal image of the cleansing flood, and even if we haven’t done so yet, let’s resolve to take up the three Lenten remedies for sin. We were made clean once in baptism, by grace. By grace, In union with Jesus in the desert, we can again be made clean by these three tools of the season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Thursday, 19 February 2015
Sunday, 15 February 2015
In won’t preach a full sermon today because we have an appeal at the end of Mass from Mary’s Meals -which is one of my favourite organisations, and I’m delighted that we have someone to come and speak to us about it. Mary’s Meals: http://www.marysmeals.org.uk
Let me offer a brief thought, however, connecting our Scripture readings with that appeal.
Our readings today are the second week in a row that we have heard about the Lord’s attitude to those who are sick. In particular, this week, we hear about the Lord’s attitude to a leper.
Sickness is pretty disgusting.
When WE are sick then WE become pretty disgusting.
In fact, one of the children was recently describing his (only a boy could rejoice in being this disgusting!) symptoms in a recent cold, and it was gross, it was disgusting, it made the sweet little child seem much less sweet! And that was just a cold!
In contrast, our readings today speak not of someone suffering from a cold, but of a leper. A disease that can frequently make people unpleasant to look at, disfiguring the skin and worse.
And my point to you is this:
the Lord Jesus did not shy away from the leper, did not get repulsed by his leprosy. Rather, He continued to SEE the PERSON who was suffering; He continued to LOVE the person who was suffering.
Mary’s Meals gives food to the hungry.
And desperately hungry people can be unpleasant to look at too -bloated stomachs, pain-filled faces, etc.
And they can be far away.
And we can choose to not look at them as real people.
Or, and this is the point, we can choose to see the person in need, not just see the need that they have.
And seeing the person we can move to help them, raise them up from their need, so that they are no longer unpleasant to look at.
This is what Jesus did to the leper.
And it is what we can do for the hungry, by our offerings that feed them.
Sunday, 8 February 2015
We just heard in our first reading how the prophet Job complained about his problems. And it occurred to me as I was reading this that Job was clearly not an Englishman. He was not an Englishman because he actually said it like it was.
Our short text doesn't tell us, but let us remember Job’s situation:
He had lost everything: his flocks and herds had been destroyed, his house too, and all his children. In addition, he was covered from head to toe in boils and pain. And then three friends came to visit him.
Now, if he was an Englishman, when theses three friends came to see him, and asked him, “How are you?”, he would have replied, “Fine, thank you”.
In fact, I've often noted that when I visit people in hospital, when they are obviously NOT fine, they nonetheless say, “Fine, thank you” -its just the English thing to do. As the saying goes, “Mustn’t grumble!”
What I like about Job, however, is just how fully he DOES grumble. And, as a Christian, I take heart that our Sacred Scriptures include texts like this that fully acknowledge the difficulties of life. Unlike some Eastern religions that say that suffering is an illusion, and unlike some Western materialistic lifestyles that try to cheerily pretend its not there, CHRISTIAN religion says suffering is real, its bad -and also teaches that it wasn’t in God’s original plan for creation, it’s a result of the Fall in Original Sin.
So Job miserably says, “Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service,
his time no better than hired drudgery?...
Lying in bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’
Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’…
My life is but a breath,
And my eyes will never again see joy”(Job 7:1-4.6-7)
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Job should be our model in everything: we need to have patience, and there are many times when we should spare our neighbour by adopting a "mustn't grumble" attitude. But we do need, like Job, to squarely confront the reality of our suffering.
What Job has to teach us, however, does not end in himself. As the Fathers of the Church taught, he points to Christ -even though he didn’t know Christ.
MY POINT to you today is that we can only come to Christ, can only bring our WOUNDS to Him if we first ADMIT that they are there. If we spend our lives like polite Englishmen, and say, “I’m fine, thank you”, then Christ cannot heal the wounds that we each carry inside of us.
And the DEEPEST wounds, the wounds that need healing for ETERNITY, are the wounds in our souls: the weakness we feel, the burden we carry, the sins that need forgiveness.
Let me highlight one phrase from today’s Gospel text, when the disciples tell the Lord Jesus how the crowds related to Him. They said, “Everyone is LOOKING for you”(Mk 1:37).
What about us? Are we, likewise, “looking for” Him in our need?
And let us remember the REASON the people were looking for Him: because they saw how He CARED for the sick and the suffering, cared for people like poor Job. Christ did not move among them as some powerful regal lord who was INDIFFERENT to their pain. Rather, as the texts say time and time again, He had “compassion” on them (e.g. Mt 14:14). And as the many texts record, that compassion expressed itself in how He SPOKE to them, how he LOOKED at them, and what He DID for them. In particular, how often He cured them.
And though He only sometimes cures our bodies, He ALWAYS wishes to give us that deeper healing for the wound WITHIN.
So, to sum that up. Let us not be overly-polite Englishmen. Rather, let us be like Job. Let us admit our need. And let us bring that need to the Lord, because He cares.