Sunday, 27 April 2008

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A, Shaftesbury

Jn 14:15-21
We heard Jesus’s goodbye words, and as I’ve said before, when we say goodbye to someone, especially if we're not going to see them for a while, people often try and say something important, something that they want the other person to remember while they are separated. Such words can be particularly important when someone is dying.
The words in today's Gospel are such farewell words. Jesus knew that he was going to die on the Cross, that he would be rising and ascending to heaven, leaving his disciples. And at the Last Supper he gave them his farewell discourse.

Part of what he said was a simple, but final, request, and Jesus emphasised it by saying, "IF you love me...". His love for us requires a response from us. And what he asks of us is total, "If you love me, keep my commandments". And he had earlier summed up his commandments saying, "I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you"(Jn 13:34).

What’s different about the part of the text read this year is: His final wish that we keep his commandments is linked with the two things that we heard him announce. He said that he would send his Holy Spirit, and that he would come again.

Part of the reason why we want to keep Christ's commandments is that we hope to see him again. If you never expect to meet someone ever again, then you are naturally going to be less concerned about what they wanted, because they'd never know whether or not you'd done what they asked. But with Christ we believe he will come again, because he has told us so, and if he will come again then it does matter that we do what he asked of us. We hope to continue and perfect that relationship which the apostles enjoyed while he was on earth, but the promise of eternal life with him only holds if we keep to the commandments he gave us.

The Spirit is given to us to enable us to keep his commandments. Alone, by ourselves, we are weak and we sin -we break his commands, we fail to love. We can be selfish and petty, impatient and irritable, careless and thoughtless of the needs of others. It’s only with the strength of the gift Christ promised us, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we can hope to keep his commands. That's why one of the titles given to the Spirit is "another helper", the Advocate who remains at our side. The apostles had Jesus physically with them to encourage them, teach them, and correct them. We do not, but as Christ said, "I will not leave you orphans". This is true not only because he will come again, but because while he is gone his Holy Spirit is here with us.

That passage spoke of the Trinity, of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are a communion of mutual love. The action of the Spirit in us forms us into the likeness of Christ, drawing us into the life and love of the Trinity. If we’re faithful then Jesus's words will be true of us at the end of time when he comes again, "On that day, you will understand that I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you". But this can only be true if we have kept his commands, if we have responded to his farewell request, if we have shown that we love him.

Christ's farewell request could hardly have been simpler: to love. But the motive calling for us to follow it is demanding and uncompromising. He says, IF you love me, and he said that on the night he was preparing to die for love of us, to show us what true love really means. When we look at Christ on the Cross, as we see him on every Crucifix in every Catholic Church, we see his love for us, and surely this must awaken a response in us, a response that seeks to return love for love. And the response he asks is clear enough: keep my commandments.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

4th Sunday of Easter, Vocations and Shepherd, Shaftesbury

We had our parish meeting of Sunday, which I’m happy to say seemed to go very well –a positive and constructive spirit seemed to characterise the whole event. The immediate follow-on from that is the survey form you’ve each been given –please fill it in and return it, it will enable us to know where our parishioners come from, why you come here, and where in N. Dorset we should have and not have our future churches.
One point I indicated at the parish meeting was that our diocese faces a huge crisis in priestly vocations and thus in the huge of available priests. At present we have 65 priests. We know who they are, their ages, and when they will reach 75 to retire. We know that in 10 years time 33 of them will have retired. That means our number of priests will drop in half. That’s going to be a big problem. That brings me on, very urgently, to today’s sermon.

Today, across the world, its vocations Sunday, the day when the church calls on us to pray for vocations to the priesthood especially.

If we think where priestly vocations come from, we might think of many natural factors, like family. But ultimately a vocation, a calling, is supernatural, it is the result of a call form God. And God tells us that those callings come as a result of our prayers.
Jesus said, ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest’. .
This time last year I was in my home parish of Paignton, and I was very aware that prayers of people there are a major reason why I received my vocation.
How often do we pray for vocations? How often do YOU pray? You want a priest in this parish. Do you say a rosary every week for the specific intention that one be called?
And if you don’t pray, are you still going to complain if you don’t get a priest? If in 10 years or 5 years or 2 years there is no priest here –will you complain if you didn’t pray?

I’d like to make a point of comparison: in the USA they used to be in the same situation as us, it seemed that numbers of priestly vocations were in terminal decline. But NOW, numbers are up, and the average age of vocations is down, i.e. more YOUNG men are coming forward.
But this statistic is not uniform, it varies from diocese to diocese. And when people compare the difference between the successful diocese and the ones that are failing is frequently attributed to Eucharistic adoration for vocations. Some dioceses promote it heavily, and their vocations have returned. Other dioceses are dying instead.
A priest friend of mine is in Kansas, and his diocese is about the same size as ours, it has 65 priests, and it used to be like ours, without vocations. But now, while we have 2 seminarians they have 36. I.e. Your PRAYER can make a difference.
If the heart and soul of a parish and diocese is turned to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament then priests will come.

Encouraging Vocations. Sometimes people are reluctant to encourage vocations because they think young men today will not be happy as priests. They envisage loneliness, or lack of money. Or, they see a young man and think: He could be something BETTER than a priest.
Sometimes these thoughts are well-intentioned, but they are misguided. There are lonely marriages, there are poor people who are not priests –these are not reasons to be embarrassed about the priesthood. But most fundamentally, they are reasons that, to some extent, are based on a lack of faith.

If I have faith, then I know that my own priesthood is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. But I can only see that if I have faith. If I seek to follow the Lord but am looking backwards over my shoulder at the glamour of the world, then of course I will not be happy. But the glamour of the world will pass, the beauties of flesh fade, power and money are not things worth sacrificing a vocation for. They do not last. Only love of the Lord lasts.
God calls most people to love Him by means of loving their spouse (cf JPII teaching).
There are others he calls to cleave to Him directly, with what Scripture calls “an undivided heart”. And for a priest, that means that I must love the Church His spouse as MY wife too, because I am configured to Him. I don’t love perfectly, but I know that I will find happiness nowhere else.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A, Shaftesbury

I'll only offer a brief thought today because we have a mission appeal at the end of Mass:

Do we take in the reality of the Res’n, or is it just a rumour, as it had been to those 2 men on the road to Emmaus? They’d already heard, but they only treated it as a rumour.

When Jesus Christ appeared to the 2 disciples on road to Emmaus, it made a big change in them:
From Despair to hope”
“faces downcast”
“Our hope HAD been” –past hope
“so SLOW to believe the full message of the prophets”
changed to:
“Hearts burned within us”
“set out that instant” –late, dark, dangerous road to travel
but urgent and full of joy
They understood the Scriptures –that ordained that Christ should suffer, and so enter into his glory

What impact does faith in the Resurrection make on us?
Change us?
Cause for hope?
Focus of whole understanding of life?
Is Resurrection central to our thinking? Or is it just a rumour, like to the 2 men.

Do we understand that death and resurrection is the plan of God? As the 2 men came to understand?
That it is His victory over the sin and suffering that man has inflicted on himself and on God’s once perfect creation

There are many reasons to believe: There are many records of those he appeared to
Do we let it change us?
If not, then we are ultimately despondent, like the 2 men on the road, and Jesus’s words to them also hold to us: “You foolish men”. Foolish because not paying attention, not seeing what he has done for us, “so slow to understand”