Sunday, 26 September 2010

Centenary, Mass of Anniversary of Dedication of a Church, Shaftesbury

2 Chron 5:6-11.13-6:2; 1 Cor 3:9-11.16-17; Lk 19:1-10
We are here today to celebrate the solemn dedication of the church 100 years ago, and it great to have so many here today. I want to start by referring to a historical memory that someone told me.

In the buildup to this centenary a number of people have been offering their memories of our parish history, and I was very struck by a recollection from someone whose family has lived here for many generations, someone who told me how his parents told him part of what it meant to be a Catholic here before the church was built, even before the FMI priests came here:
to be a Catholic here in Shaftesbury meant walking the 6 miles that it took to get to Mass in Marnhull –and they had to go to Marnhull because there was no Mass in Shaftesbury. And I think that memory alone helps illustrate what the building of this church was about:
the building of this church was about people who knew their Catholic Faith well enough, and valued what their Catholic Faith told them, to know that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was something worth making the effort for, and, worth constructing a building that would be set apart for the Mass.

But there is something else that a Church is, something that it is BECAUSE the Mass is offered here, and that something was echoed in two of the Scripture readings we just heard:
a Catholic church is the dwelling place of God –a place where we meet Him.
In our 1st reading (2 Chron 5) we heard of how the Temple of the Old Testament was built and how the glory of the Lord filled the Temple, the glory of a presence that was brought through the actions of the priests.
This happens even more fully in the dispensation of the New Testament:
In keeping with the command of the Lord Jesus that we “do this in memory of me”, when the priest repeats the words of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, "This is my body... this is the chalice my blood", the promise of Christ comes true and He dwells among us: The bread and wine change and become His very self: His Body and Blood, His Soul and His Divinity.
And so, because the Mass is offered here, God dwells here in His tabernacle, as He dwells in the tabernacle of every Catholic church across the world.

This is something that we as Catholics value highly, and something that Catholics frequent suffer to acquire. Across the world today, and down through the years, Catholics have made many sacrifices to be with God in the Eucharist:
Today, in many parts of Africa or South America people walk long hours to get to Sunday Mass;
In our own country, in centuries gone past, during the Penal years when it was illegal to be a Catholic in this country, people made great risks to get to hidden Masses and to shelter priests who would then offer them Mass;
In centuries before that, when the Catholic Faith was first being established in this land, when King Alfred the Great was driving out the pagan Vikings and building the abbey here in Shaftesbury, to achieve that people made sacrifices by donating for the building and upkeep of the abbey;
Even before that, in the very beginnings of Christianity, we know from the first historical records of the universal Church that the first Christians set aside houses from the very beginning to be dedicated for the worship of God;
And, as we are commemorating today, when this church was built a hundred years ago, people sacrificed time, money, and work, that there might be a sacred place for the Mass, that there might be dwelling place of God among them.

But, my final point and concluding focus is to point out that God dwells among men, and we build churches that He might dwell in them, SO THAT He might then also dwell in our hearts.
As we heard in that 2nd reading, “You are God’s building”, you are His dwelling place.
The people who journeyed to get to Mass in Marnhull, the people who built this church, they did so in the hope that God would also dwell in them, with the resolution to make Him welcome in Holy Communion.

All of this leaves a legacy for us, and a call for us to put that legacy to good use: the example of our forefathers in the Faith should prompt us to seek to value the Mass more, to love Jesus in the Mass more. Last week, when Pope Benedict was here, he spoke repeatedly of the need to rediscover the place of God in society and in our lives. As we recall today what has been bequeathed to us in this sacred building, let us seek to value and love what they loved: to love the good God who dwells among us in the Eucharist.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year C, Papal Visit Weekend, Shaftesbury

Lk 16:10-13
Contrary to fears, there have been huge crowds to great the Pope these last few days on his visit to Britain.
From our own parish: 5 young people were among the privileged few at the special youth gatherings with the Pope. 8 other parishioners are presently awaiting the Pope’s arrival for Mass in Birmingham. And yesterday, I was with 16 more from the parish who went to pray with the Pope in Hyde Park -all from sleepy little Shaftesbury!
I’m sure that most of you will have caught something of the atmosphere by watching on the television. But, I found myself surprised as I watched his arrival on Thursday, and even more when I was up in London, I found myself surprised at the emotion, the inner excitement and thrill that the visit has produced within me. I’ve seen the Pope before in Rome; I’ve shaken his hand; before he was pope I even had breakfast with him at the German college in Rome –he was actually not only very courteous but funny: he told a number of jokes, and I can remember thinking: here is a German with a sense of humour!
So, I’ve seen this man before, but seeing him come HERE felt palpably different. And meeting the man who was not-yet-pope is not the same as seeing the man-who-has-become-pope, who has become the Vicar of Christ on earth. And judging from what I saw of all the crowds in London, we all felt the same –no one even complained about the 6 hour wait after getting through security.

As I said last week, it’s a great privilege for us that the Holy Father is visiting our land.
And, it’s a great joy to see the crowds that have come to see him.
And hopefully that is something we feel at an emotional level as well as something we acknowledge with our heads.
But, the question I would put to you this morning is: will Britain heed what he has come to say? And will WE heed what he has come to say?

Today’s Gospel, by either providence or chance, gives us a text that pointedly focuses us on a major part of the Pope’s message to us:
“You cannot be the slave both of God and of money”(Lk 16:13).
And, ‘money’ here does not just mean cash –it means those things and that lifestyle that is rooted solely in the here and now.
The Pope has spoken very directly to us of the dangers of the secular society, of trying to build a world and a life as if God did not exist. I’d like to quote to you some of the Pope’s words, that he addressed directly to young people but hold for all of us in different ways by extension:
“I would like to say a word to you, my dear young Catholics of Scotland. I urge you to lead lives worthy of our Lord (cf. Ephesians 4:1) and of yourselves. There are many temptations placed before you every day -- drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol -- which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive. There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Glasgow, 16th Sept 2010)

Do we “put aside” what is worthless?
Do we, as Catholics, value things in a way that is visibly different from the rest of Britain?
Because, if we are not living differently from people who don’t believe in God,
if we value money in the same way as people who don’t believe in God,
then, what judgment do Christ’s words in the Gospel place upon us? “No servant can be the slave of two masters... You cannot be the slave both of God and of money”(Lk 16:13).

As the Pope said, it is “the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you” that lasts. And, if we are convinced of that truth then we should not expect to find our daily happiness in the passing pleasures of this world, but we should expect to find it in the love of the Lord.
Let us hope, and pray, that the visit of the Holy Father to our land will inspire not only the British people to think again about what the value, to re-discover the place of God, but make us think again too.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Papal Visit, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury

I want to say a few words about the Pope's visit to our country next weekend, I want to start doing so by making an analogy between the Pope and Moses -who we heard about in our first reading (Ex 32:7-14).
Moses was on the mountain with the Lord God, and, as we just heard, God is greatly displeased with the people he had “brought out of Egypt” because, as He told Moses, the people “have apostatised”(Ex 32:7). To "apostasize” means to deny your religion, and in the case of the people of Israel they had apostatised I no longer worshipping the God who brought them out of Egypt and instead making a golden calf and worshipping that. As one of the psalms puts it, “They exchanged the God who was their glory for the image of a bull that eats grass”(Ps 106:20). Moses pleaded with God to spare the people, and “so the Lord relented”(Ex 32:14), as we just heard. Moses then went down to the people carrying the tablets of the law (Ex 32:15). And, I imagine that many of the people were not pleased to see Moses again, they were not pleased to have the law brought to them. And yet, Moses went to them, Moses brought the law of them, because he cared for the people, and by his care he saved the people.

The Pope is coming to England. He is coming to a people who, while they are not worshipping the golden calf, they have by and large stopped worshipping the Christian God that the people of Britain once knew. He is coming to a people who have apostatised. He is coming because he cares about the people of England, just as Moses cared for the people of Israel. And, just as Moses carried the law to the people, I expect that one of the things the Pope will be bringing will be the call to return to the law of God.

Now, it might be wondered WHY the Pope is coming to England. Certainly, there are many people who have warned him not to come, there are many people who have told him that he will not be welcome here. And the Pope knows this. Many people in the Vatican have warned the Pope not to come: but the Pope is coming because he WANTS to come, he feels he NEEDS to come, he knows that he has something that he needs to say to us - I do not know whether he will be saying that by what he does or what he says, or even merely by his presence -but I am sure that he is coming because he has a message for us.

The Pope receives invitations to go to many different countries, and his decision to accept the invitation of our government to come to Britain must surely be because he thinks Britain is an important place for him to come. And he does not think that we are an important place to come because he somehow mistakenly thinks we are deeply religious country that WANTS him to come. I think that it must surely be the opposite, he feels a need to come because he knows that Britain is NOT religious, he knows that Britain is one of the most secular countries not only in Europe but in the world. He knows that it is important that Britain acknowledge the Lord again, because many other countries, in different ways, look to Britain. By coming to Britain the Pope is coming to the centre of the secular versus Christian fight. Britain is a country and culture that has been trying to build a society without God: this does not mean that our people necessarily wicked or malicious, but they have been trying to live as if God was not there. By coming to Britain the Pope is trying to tell the people of our land that we would be happier, that we would be better, if we turned to the Lord.

For us, as Catholics, it is a great privilege for us to have the Holy Father come to England. The present Pope may not have some of the movie star charisma that John Paul II had. But his coming to England is important not because of his personality, but rather simply because of who he is as Pope: the fact that he is the successor of St Peter, the fact that he is the Vicar of Christ on earth. And it is a great blessing for us that he is coming, even if he comes in the midst of great hostility, even if he comes to be martyred by some Englishman.
For us, it is important not only that we support him in his task to remind our country of God, it is also important, for ourselves, that we make the most of this opportunity of grace: it is still not too late to decide to go to London and join some part of those cheering crowds that will greet him, or to stand along the road and cheer him as he goes by. But at the very least, let us take the opportunity to join with this visit in prayer, by watching him on the television, by praying with him as he comes to pray with us.

God sends his messengers to his people in every age: he sent Moses to his people when they apostatised, he sent the prophets to his people when they forgot Him, and this week He is sending us His Vicar. Let us be sure that we are ready to welcome him.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 14:25-33
What does it mean to “hate” my “father, mother, [...] brothers, sisters, yes and [my] own life too”?(Lk 14:25)
This same Jesus who said this also told me that I must love my neighbour, even love my enemy. And, the 4th of the Ten Old Testament Commandments, that Jesus Himself reiterated (Lk 18:20), commands that I love my “father and mother”. So, why does He here say I must “hate” them?

Well, part of the reason Jesus says "hate" concerns Hebrew grammar: At a grammatical level, Hebrew, the language of the ancient Jews, lacked the ability to form superlative or comparative forms in the same way that we can in English. So, unable to say that we must love Jesus “the most” or “more”, Jesus says this, Jesus expresses the superlative, by saying that we must “hate” everything but Him. (see weblink below)

But, grammatical points aside:
This statement by the Lord is teaching us a pivotally important truth: we must have nothing that we put before Him. This truth has many consequences, for one thing: If we do not love Him properly, then the entire edifice of love of others will be a building built on a faulty foundation.
Let me give the example of the love of friendship. I have many friends, people whose company I enjoy, people I feel a ready and immediate affection for. But enjoying their company is not the same thing as loving them: loving involves the gift of self to another, the sacrifice of self in the service of the needs of another –and this is the type of love that there must be in a true friendship, or in any true loving relationship.

If I only love someone for what they give to me then I do not actually love them -I just enjoy using them.
In contrast, the best foundation to build my love of someone on is the love of the Lord Jesus. If I seek to love someone as Christ loves him, BECAUSE Christ loves him, THEN I will love him in the most perfect way possible. But this means that I must love Christ first and foremost. And, and this is important: if I want to love my “father and mother” I must want to love God more than I love my “father and mother”. If my parents, or anyone else, puts themselves between me and the love of God then they place me in a false conflict, and TRUE authentic love of them will require me to put God first.

The Lord Jesus must come first. This is half of the message of today’s Gospel. The other half of that message is that putting Jesus first is hard, a commitment, a sacrifice.
It is so difficult that before seeking to follow Him, He says that we must contemplate the cost and decide whether we will go through with it. Like the man who didn’t finish building the tower because he lacked the money, or the king who couldn’t fight his enemy because his army was too small, we can often fail to truly follow Christ because we haven’t thought through what it means to put Him first, we haven’t thought through the fact that following Him means “carrying [my] cross”(Lk 14:27).

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us three simple examples of things we can love in a way that prevents us from following Him: worldly possessions, comfort (unwillingness to carry my cross), and family.
All of these things can and should be loved, but each loved in a way that is proper to them, not in a way that makes them rivals to loving God.
If I love any of them more than I love God then I will not love them properly, and, I will do a disservice to God, the Lord and Creator –who deserves to be put first.
Whereas, if I love God first then I will order my love so that I can enjoy possessions and comfort while not letting them become a pursuit that makes me unwilling to carry my cross, and, if I love God first, then I will love my neighbour and my family with that Divine love that is purer and greater than the love I could possibly hope to give them myself.

The grammatical comment noted above about “hating” father or mother etc is well expressed on the following website:
“Hebrew grammar doesn’t have a comparative form or superlative form of adjectives and adverbs. In English we say, "Apple pie is good; apple pie with ice-cream is better". Lacking a comparative Hebrew says, "Apple pie with ice-cream is good; apple pie without ice-cream is terrible". Now when we come to express the idea that we ought to love God more than we love anything or anyone else, that our love for God ought to be greater than our love given elsewhere, Hebrew says we ought to love the one and hate the other. Because Jesus is Hebrew, thoroughly Hebrew, he says that to become his disciple we must hate parents, spouse and children. (Luke 14:26) He means that compared to him all earthly ties come second. However important our bond with other people, none is as important as our bond with him.”