Saturday, 20 December 2014

4th Sunday of Advent, Year B

Sunday, 14 December 2014

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

Jn 1:6-8,19-28; 1 Thess 5:16-24
If you were given the opportunity to stand before the European Parliament and tell them what you thought was wrong the modern world, and, more particularly, what you thought was wrong with Europe, what would you say?
Two weeks ago Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament and told them what he thought. (You can read a summary here). Many people were surprised at what he said. I, too, was rather surprised when I read his diagnosis.

As we all know, Pope Francis has spoken much about poverty. He has also spoken a lot about evangelisation. However, when he spoke to parliament the issue he focussed on was LONELINESS. He said that Europeans have forgotten that they are “beings in relationship”, instead, they think of themselves as primarily being individuals. And, unsurprisingly, we have created a society of isolated, lonely, individuals. And he attributed the neglect of the poor, the neglect of the elderly, etc, to all be symptoms of this more general social problem.

We are all lonely. And a great many people have sensed the truth of his words, because you can be lonely when you're alone, but you can also be lonely in a marriage, and lonely in a house full of people. You can be lonely in a crowd.

Pope Francis attributes this to something even deeper, namely, to the fact that modern Europe has forgotten God. We have forgotten the One who is our Father, the one in whose image we are all made, and so it is hardly surprising that we have forgotten the deep identity that binds us all together as a family, that makes us –“beings in relationship” (as he put it). We ARE “beings in relationship”, we ARE all made by the same one Lord, but we live in a world that does not SEE it.

On a different note, in the Gospel today we heard about something else that was not seen, was not recognised, namely, John the Baptist told the people that there stood among them, “unknown to” them (Jn 1:26), the One they were waiting for. The Church gives us this text today to give us a reason to “rejoice” as our entrance antiphon and second reading put it (1 Thess 5:16): rejoice because, even while we wait for His Christmas coming, He is already present among us.
Holy Mother Church knows that the preparations for Christmas can be an ordeal in themselves; she knows that we need to be reminded of a reason to “rejoice” –and the reason we are given today is that He who we long for is already with us.

Let me draw this to a conclusion by tying those two thoughts together:
I can live the final couple weeks before Christmas in a lonely isolated state, even if I am in the midst of people, full of nothing but pre-Christmas busy-ness. Or, I can recall the presence of the Lord. I can recall that every Christmas card is being written to a person made in His image. I can recall that every present bought is for a person that God wants to relate to as their Father. I can remind myself that every person I am tempted to PUSH and shove past in a queue is actually someone who is called to be part of the same spiritual family that I claim to belong to.
And if I do that, then I will have less of that sense of loneliness that the Pope speaks of, and I will cause less of that loneliness in others, and I will “rejoice” in the presence of the One who “stands among you, unknown to you” (Jn 1:26).

Sunday, 7 December 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B

2 Pet 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8
Last Sunday somebody picked me up on something I said in my sermon. If you remember, I was preaching about the fact that the Second Coming, the end of time, could come at any moment. And I said that if Jesus came back this afternoon it would make me realise how many of my priorities are all wrong.
Well, this person asked, wouldn’t I be aware of my SINS if the end of time and the Final JUDGEMENT were to arrive this afternoon? Wouldn’t I be asking myself when I’d last been to CONFESSION and whether that confession had been ADEQUATE enough, or whether it had only been half-hearted?
Well, I said, that would be a different sermon. In fact, today’s sermon.

As I said last week, the Church starts our preparations for Christmas by reminding us of the Second Coming. So, as we heard again in our second reading today, St Peter warned that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” in the night (2 Pet 3: 10, c.f. 1 Thess 5:2; Mt 24:43). There will be a judgement. And so St Peter warns us to “live holy and saintly lives” (2 Pet 3:11) “while you wait”(2 Pet 3:14).

In a related theme, today’s Gospel text has the call of St John the Baptist to “prepare a way for the Lord”(Mk 1:3). That call was issued to prepare for Jesus coming as the Messiah 2000 years ago; and it is re-issued to us today to help prepare us for Christmas –when Jesus can come again into our hearts.
At the end of time He will come whether we want Him to or not –come as Judge.
But now, and at Christmas, when He seeks to come as our loving Saviour, He will ONLY truly come IF our hearts are READY for Him.
And our hearts prepare for Him the same way St John the Baptist said back then: REPENT –turn from your sins, as we do especially in the sacrament of Confession.

But, it seems to me, there is an irony, a difficultly, in seeking to prepare for Christmas by turning from our sins. And the problem I see is this: a great many of us get so caught up in worldly busy-ness before Christmas that we are even LESS able to pause and see our sins than we normally are. As the saints down the ages have frequently warned us, worldliness clouds the intellect, it stops us seeing clearly.

So how do I clear my intellect? How do I remove the fog of worldliness?
One important way is to recall that all these worldly things will not last. As we heard St Peter say, at the Second Coming the sky will roar, the elements will catch fire, and the earth will burn up (1 Pet 3:10) –and all our worldly Christmas purchases will burn up with it.
My possessions, including by Christmas ones, will be burnt up and be gone.
My bodily beauty, such as it is, will all be burnt up and be gone.
The only possession that I will have left is whatever love is, or is not, in my heart and soul.
That, and my sins. My sins will be with me -the sins I have not repented of, the sins I have not confessed to have them wiped away, those sins will cling to me as I face the judgement.

We are not reminded of this just to frighten us. We are reminded of this because it is true. And, in particular, we are reminded of this TODAY because it is essential if we are to enter into Christmas with a heart centred on God, a heart full of love and not a heart full of possessions and turkey.

Let me bring this to a very practical conclusion: Go to confession before Christmas. We are frequently recommended to go at least once a month. We should especially go before Christmas and Easter. Next Saturday morning there will be a visiting priest here for confessions. The Monday after that we will have 5 priests here in the evening for confessions. There will be Polish confessions here the Sunday before Christmas before the Polish Mass. These dates are in the newsletter -note them in your diary. And, before that, think of the burning fire on that terrible Day. Think of what will and will not endure in your life.

Because if we focus on what endures (love endures (1 Cor 13:1)) we will also focus on what is most important for making the Christmas festival true and happy. Let us “Prepare a way for the Lord”(Mk 1:3).

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Moral Theology Lectures to Ordinariate

Below are links to lecture notes for my Moral Theology lecture series for the London Ordinariate clergy formation course 2014-15. Click on the title of the lecture to download text for the lecture.
There are also AudioBoom links to hear them on audio

Lecture 1: Introduction to Moral Theology
2nd Dec 2014 morning

Lecture 2: What is Virtue?
2nd Dec 2014 afternoon

Lecture 3: Mortal Sin
20th Jan 2015 morning

Lecture 4: The End and the Means
20th Jan 2015 afternoon

Lecture 5: Natural Law
17th Feb 2015 morning

Lecture 6: Contraception and the Natural Law
17th Feb 2015 afternoon

Lecture 7: Various Specific Issues
10th March 2014
Divorce and Remarriage & Holy Communion
Sex Change and Transgender articles

Lecture 8: Hearing Confessions
21st April 2015


Sunday, 30 November 2014

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B

Mk 13:33-37; 1 Cor 1:3-9
I was talking to a friend earlier this year, and he causally made reference to the fact that the Lord Jesus might come again in glory at any time, that, in fact, He might be coming this afternoon. And I, quite spontaneously, without really thinking, said, “But I’ve got some things I need to finish first”.
And as I said that, I realised that that is just how I’ve often heard other people refer to the Second Coming of Jesus: as something they don’t want to happen just yet. “Go away Jesus, could you come back later, maybe Tuesday? There are a lot of things I need to do first. I’ve not written any Christmas cards, I’ve barely started to think about presents, and basically I’ve just got a lot on right now.”

Now, when phrased like this, it obviously sounds silly. It is not for us to be telling God when He can or can’t come in glory.
And yet, it is with thoughts of the Second Coming that the Church starts our Advent preparations for Christmas: We are to start our preparations for the celebration of the anniversary of His birthday, of His FIRST coming, by thinking about His future SECOND Coming.
And when we do that a lot of things change their focus. Let me note three.

Firstly, when I think about the fact that Jesus might come, that time might end this afternoon, it suddenly changes what I think is really important. All my priorities shift. So, for example, I might still be aware of the Christmas cards I’ve not sent –but I’d be MORE aware of how much or how little LOVE I have put into those cards.
And I’d still realise that I hadn’t bought many presents yet, but I’d more clearly realise the extent to which this expressed (or not) a lack of love or concern for the people I wasn’t ready for.
So, my priorities would shift if I recalled that Jesus is Coming.

Secondly, I’d be less STRESSED about many of those details. I’d value those details in a different way, in some things I’d value them much MORE -because of the re-focusing on what they mean to others, and what they mean to God. But in MOST things I’d value those details in a way that was less focused on myself and my achievement and was thus less STRESSFUL.

Finally, with all of my life presented before me in the judgement, I think I’d be more aware of what I need to be GRATEFUL for. In our second reading we heard St Paul saying that he “never stop[ed] thanking God for all the graces you have received”(1 Cor 1:4) –and he moved straight from that thought to the revelation of the “last day, the day of the Lord Jesus”(1:8). Seeing things in the light of eternity is a good way to be less focused on our problems and more focused on what God has given us, what we have to be thankful for.

To sum that up: We are to start our Advent preparations for Christmas by thinking about the Second Coming in glory at the End of Time –a moment that could be any moment. Thinking about ‘the end’ helps us re-focus on what is important, and at Christmas it is precisely those ‘important’ things we need to be have before us. So, as we heard the Lord say, “Stay awake, because you do not know when the time will come”(Mk 13:33).

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Christ the King, Year A

Mt 25:31-46; Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17.
Today we keep the feast of Christ the King. I've been pondering this week that being a "king" is a rather old-fashioned concept. And I've been thinking that Shaftesbury is a rather old fashioned kind of place, and we probably have a much higher percentage of monarchists here that there are in other parts of the country.
But, and this is my point today, what KIND of king do we picture Jesus to be? Because His kingship isn't just a cosy nice traditional piece of symbolism. I want to make three brief points: how His kingship is modern, how it is old fashioned, and why it is so vitally important that we think of Him as 'king' at all.

First, His kingship is 'modern'. And by this I mean that He respects our freedom. He lets us do what we choose. He is not a tyrant. So on one level, He is like a modern king in a democratic state.

Second, however, He is also old fashioned. Although He leaves us free to choose whether or not to follow Him, He will also judge us for our behaviour -judge us on how we have USED that freedom. Both our first reading and our Gospel text described Him as judging and separating the sheep from the goats.
Let me specify this further and note that He will judge us according to HIS standards rather than according to our own. In the Gospel description of the judgment, both those who were praised and those who were condemned were told that they had not seen the truth in their actions. So, those who had failed to feed the hungry hadn't realised that they were failing to feed Christ, but The Lord didn't say, "That's alright, I realise you didn't realise it was me you were neglecting". And the Lord didn't say, "That's alright, I realise that you followed your own principles, and that's what counts". No, He condemned them. He condemned them because what they did was wrong. He condemned them because they should have known.
When Christ comes He will judge by His standards, not by ours.

Finally, why is it good for us that He should be king?
It's good because we NEED to have someone in charge in life.
As we know, most of our contemporaries live as if there was no greater purpose in life, as if there was no one watching over us, as if there was no one caring and guiding us.
In contrast, to acknowledge that Christ is King is realise that there IS someone in charge. Someone in charge of the universe;
someone in charge of directing, in Providence, the events of life -even through suffering;
Someone in charge of my life and what happens to me.
And this is a great realisation. It means I am not alone. It means I am not just left to my own devices and my own strength or weakness.

HOWEVER it brings with it a practical conclusion. If I am to acknowledge that He is King then I need to submit myself to Him as His subject. And this is a very old fashioned, non-democratic thing.
But if I am to benefit from what His Kingship brings then I must commit myself to being His subject. I must accept what He teaches, strive to live His commands, call on His mercy when I fall, and rely on His strength amidst the trials of life.

So, to sum that up. Having a "king" may seem the kind of cosy nice traditional thing that we in Shaftesbury "go for". But with Jesus it means something very specific. He is a modern king in that He leaves us to be free. He is an old fashioned king in that He will judge us for how we use or misuse our freedom. And it is GOOD that He is our King, that He is in charge, because He is the loving shepherd of all who choose to be His subjects.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Purgatory, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

See dropbox sheet on purgatory and another on indulgences

I want to speak about an important way to love, a way that, sadly, many people seem to have forgotten about today, namely, the need to love those who have died by praying for them.
Now, I'm not saying that people don't care about the dead any more. But it does seem that people have lost sense of part of what is INVOLVED in love for them, namely, praying for people who have died. One of the 'seven spiritual works of mercy' is to pray for the dead.
So, let me point out the three things that the dead need our prays for.

First, they need our prayers for MERCY in the JUDGEMENT.
When I die I will stand before the judgement seat of God. It will be decided whether I will be sent to Hell or Heaven.
Part of problem today is that we tend not to really believe in Hell any more, so that we just gloss over the words we heard the Lord Jesus say, as He said many times, of this place where "there will be weeping and grinding of teeth" (Mt 25:30) for all eternity. Likewise, our modern world is so unwilling to face death that we avoid texts like the one we just heard from St Paul referring to our end coming like a “thief in the night”(1 Thess 5:1-16).
We tend, instead, to picture a comfortable middle-class Western lifestyle that will continue past death with no awkward realities like ‘judgement’ getting in the way.
But the simple truth is that I will die. And I will be judged.
And it is the prayers of the living that will assist me in receiving mercy in that judgment. This is what the Jews of our Lord's own time believed (2 Macc 12:42-45). This what the early Christians believed, so we find St Paul praying for a dead man called Onesiphorus that "the Lord will grant him mercy"(2 Tim 1:18).

Second, after the particular judgement, if I am to go to heaven I will still almost certainly need to be PURIFIED of my sins, to be ready for the perfection of Heaven. This purification happens in the place that the Church calls 'Purgatory'. It involves CHANGING us, and like any change it is difficult and painful. The classical image for this is of FIRE, as St. Peter puts it, being purified in fire as gold is purified in fire (1 Pet 1:7) –the impurities burned away. Thus the new Catechism quotes St Gregory referring to this "purifying fire"(CCC 1031). Many of the saints have seen visions of this, the earliest recorded being to St Perpetua, who was shown a vision of her brother in this place of "gloominess", "thirst", and "pain", and yet she was also shown how her prayers brought comfort to him in that refining fire -like water in a desert.
So, our prayers for the dead bring them COMFORT in their time of purgation.

Thirdly and finally, the souls in Purgatory need our assistance to SPEED them through this process, to SHORTEN their time there. Thus we read in the book of Maccabees that sacrifices were offered in the Temple for the dead "that they might be released from their sins"(2 Macc 12:42-45). Because if I am there I will not get out until the temporal debt has been paid for my sins.

And because our loved ones are now outside the same 'time reference' as ourselves we should CONTINUE to pray -thus I still pray for my Grandma who died two decades ago, even though that was long ago and even though she was a lovely woman. I pray for her because I still love her, and I expect all my prayers to be counted on her behalf.

Finally, HOW should we pray? Which prayers should we offer? There are some suggestions indicated in the newsletter insert sheet (and last year's sheet on indulgences), but I think the important thing is that we should prayer REGULARLY, even if it is only Hail Marys and Our Fathers.

So, there are three things that the prayers of the living assist the dead in:
Mercy in the judgment; comfort in the purging fire; and in a shortening of the time in that fire.
To failure to offer this assistance is to fail to love.
But to be faithful in offering this assistance is to show both our love and our belief and hope in the resurrection of the dead.