Sunday, 25 June 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 10:26-33; Jer 20:10-13
We just heard a promise from the Lord that relates to how we are to respond to many of the sufferings of life. He tells us, “Do not be afraid” (Mt 10:26).
More particularly, He tells us to not be afraid of those who can hurt the body but cannot hurt the soul.
There are other passages that relate to the promises He makes us sustain us even amidst the difficulties of the body, but here the focus is on the eternal, the TRULY disastrous damage, namely, whether we would lose or gain our immortal soul.
About this He tells us, “Do not be afraid”.

The deepest REASON why He promises us and tells us not to be afraid lies in the verse before the passage that we heard today. In the immediately preceding verse the Lord compares the disciple to his master, and the fate of the disciple with the fate of the master.
If something happens to the master, and the disciple models himself on the master, then same can be expected to happen to the disciple.
This, it might be said, is both good and bad news.
Bad news, because they crucified the master.
Good news, because the master’s Resurrection will be the fate of the disciple too.
They crucified the body, but not the soul.
The eternal is triumphant in heaven, and now with a new glorified risen body.

To help reflect on this promise in Matthew’s Gospel, the Church offers us today our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. If you recall your Old Testament, Jeremiah had a tough role and a tough life. God had called him to tell the people that their capital city, Jerusalem, was about to be destroyed by the enemy and the people taken into captivity. This wasn't an popular message.
True, he also had a promise of salvation if the people would only repent and turn to the Lord. But the people weren't very interested in that. They just hated him for his message of destruction. And so, as we heard in that first reading, they plotted his destruction. “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”(Jer 20:10).
Jeremiah, however, as we heard, trusted in the Lord. And when the city was destroyed by the Babylonians and the people taken captives, Jeremiah was spared and set free.
God delivered Jeremiah.

This is a two-fold model for the disciple:
The disciple can expect persecution, just as Jeremiah was persecuted for the unpopularity of his message.
But the disciple can also rely on the Lord’s faithfulness to him, if he has been faithful to the Lord.

In its DIRECT application, this means the Lord will raise up the disciple despite the suffering that come from the disciple spreading God’s word.
In every era there is always a different aspect or set of aspects of God’s truth that is not accepted in a particular culture. And that will make the disciple hated, despised, and left suffering in the “body” -the “body” in the sense of those aspects of our life that are transient. Despite such suffering the disciple can confidently entrust his immortal soul and future to God, who will raise him up as Christ was raised.

In its INDIRECT application, this also means that the Lord will raise up His disciple in ALL of the sufferings we endure while following Him. So, when we face bodily suffering, this passage urges us to entrust ourselves to the eternal. Yes, the sufferings of the body are real, but if we endure them with love and patience, then we too will be raised up.
And, as a consequence, this should free us from worry about eternity.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. … Why, every hair on your head has been counted… if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven”(Mt 10:28-33).

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Adoring before Receiving. Corpus Christi

Today we’re going to do what might described as, “one of those weird Catholic things”. As a non-Catholic might observe and describe what we’re going to do at the end of Mass: we’re going to worship what looks like a piece of bread. As the unbeliever thinks: we’re going to take a wafer of bread, lock it up in a metal contraption, and then throw some smoke at it. And it all looks VERY odd to the unbeliever.

This is all something I do so often that I can forget what it looks like to an unbeliever. And yet, it all makes sense to me because of something else that happens at Mass: receiving Holy Communion. And I want, today, to make the point to you that the Adoring of the Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that we’re going to do today is ESSENTIAL if receiving Holy Communion is to make sense to us.
The unbeliever thinks we’re just eating wafers of bread, and he thinks that because he does not ADORE it. And, of course he doesn’t adore it because he does not recognise it for what it truly is, namely, not really an “it” at all, but a “who” -the personal Presence of the Lord Jesus Himself.

Many centuries ago the great St Augustine made a statement that is very relevant in this regard -he was quoted more recently by Pope Benedict (p.83), and Pope Pius XII before him. St Augustine said that no one should “eat that flesh [i.e. the Eucharist] without first adoring it… we sin by not adoring it”.
IF we truly believe what Jesus said, “this IS my Body”, and if we truly trust the faith that all the early Church, and the Catholic Church still today teaches on this point, then because the Eucharist IS the Lord, we must adore it. Thus the Church teaches that the Eucharist is worthy of the same worship that we offer to God Himself, because God has made the Eucharist into His very self. To use the technical term, the Eucharist is give that grade of worship, “latria”, (Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, n.56) that is reserved for God himself.

Now, this is important because, as we sadly all know, it’s very easy to approach Holy Communion forgetting what we are doing. We can be distracted by all sorts of things, receive Communion, and realise that we've got back to our pew and knelt or sat down without really thinking about what we're doing.
How do we avoid this tragedy? By doing what St Augustine said: adoring what we receive. As I've indicated in the newsletter this week, there a simple application of this that was in the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal of 2002, that was translated in 2011, and that I'm afraid to say I've failed to point out to you until today, and that visitors from other parishes can sometimes be seen to do when they’re here:
Namely, to adore before receiving by making an "act of reverence"(GIRM n.160). As some of you have pointed out to me, and as I’ve indicated in the newsletter, you sometimes see visitors from other parishes genuflect before receiving Holy Communion, genuflection being the standard act of reverence to the Eucharist (in the West). But, especially if you're infirm, you can bow, or, conversely, if you're fit you can kneel -as Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have reintroduced in Rome. But whichever you choose, the new Instruction is clear that we should ALL be making an act of reverence, to adore what we are to receive, and to thus be better ready to receive, better focused on what we are doing, better focused on the fact that it is a person, and not just a thing, that we are receiving.

Let me close with an important word about the Benediction we're closing Mass with today:
The practice of adoring what we are to receive isn't just about the moment before receiving, it extends to coming to Jesus in the Tabernacle, to how we greet Jesus in the Tabernacle when we enter Church before Mass begins, and to how we continue to reverence Him there after Mass.
Even more, the practice of adoring Him takes the form of Exposing Him for view in what is called a "monstrance", to gaze upon Him and worship Him. Though we'll only do so briefly at the end of today’s Mass, this Exposition and Adoration is often done for hours on end.
And when we carry the Blessed Sacrament in procession we not only adore Him while doing this, not only reverence Him in a particular way, we also symbolise the manner in which Jesus is with us in our whole procession of life, in our pilgrim journey to heaven -leading us there, but also with us on the way.
Then, finally, He whom we have Adored blesses us in the Benediction, a blessing direct from our Eucharistic Lord, and it is a source of a great many graces.

So, to sum up. What we’re doing today looks odd to the unbeliever, but it’s what helps us recall what it is that we believe. A small act of genuflection reminds us that Jesus is with us in life, in Church, and in Holy Communion. And adoring Jesus exposed in the monstrance helps us adore Him who we would receive.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Trinity Sunday

I want to try and tell you today that the Trinity is not just an abstract doctrine, is not just a riddle about God being three while also being one, about having three persons but one nature.
In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us something that should give us a warm COSY feeling inside.

Let me make a comparison to you:
Let us imagine what our notion of God would be like if we did not know about the Trinity,
and let’s compare that with the notion of God that is revealed to us in the Trinity.

If we want to imagine what our notion of God would be like without the Trinity it’s not difficult:
we can simply look back in history and see what reasonable men thought God was like before Christianity. In particular, we can look to the ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle and so forth.
Because even in ancient times there were men whose reasoning was clear enough that they saw that the pagans idols were fictions,
that there are not many gods but only one,
that he is not a statue but a spirit.
Reason alone, even without the benefit of the supernatural Revelation that comes to us in the Bible and through the tradition of the Church, Reason alone was able to tell those philosophers many true things about God.

For example, they knew that god was one, as I said, that He was spiritual and not material.
That He was the First Cause of all things, the Unmoved Mover who ‘moved’ the world into existence.
That He always existed and never started to exist.
That He had no limits.

But there is ONE thing that we FAIL to find in the ancient Greek philosophers, and that is the notion that God is interested in us, that He loves us.
And we also fail to find in the ancient Greeks any notion of God being RELATIONAL
–something He has to be if He is to love.

And what do we find in the doctrine of the Trinity? What do we find in the Revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ?
We find that love and relationship are the very ESSENCE of what God is:
“God is love”(1 Jn 4:8), Scripture says.

When we say that in the one God there are three persons, we are saying that in His very being there is an eternal loving inter-relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
When the Church professes that the Son is EQUALLY God, as truly God as the Father is,
when the Church solemnly professes, as we say in the Creed, that the Son ALWAYS existed, that though He is begotten of the Father He is “ETERNALLY begotten of the Father, God from God...”,
when we say this we are saying that this loving inter-relationship of three persons is what God is.

So, while it is true that this is not an easy thing to grasp,
that it will always exceed our mere human intellect’s ability to FULLY comprehend,
it is nonetheless a doctrine that teaches us that God is love.
It is a doctrine that should give us a warm cosy feeling inside.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

'The Great Unknown' or, 'The Great Friend'? Pentecost

Today we keep the feast of Pentecost, when we recall how the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in the Upper Room.
To a lot of us, however, the Holy Spirit can seem a little vague. As Pope Benedict put it in 2007, "There are many Christians for whom he [the Holy Spirit] remains the 'great unknown.’” This echoed a sermon of the same title by St Josemaria Escriva (in the mid-20th century).

Let me make a comparison with the other two persons of the Trinity:
If we ask, “What is Jesus like?” We can turn to the Gospels to see Him described. We see Him acting, hear Him feeling things etc
If we ask, “What is the Father like?” We can, by extension, know what He looks like too. Not because He is seen in Himself, for “No one has seen the Father” (Jn 6:46), but because He is seen in His Son Jesus Christ, who is the “image” of the Father (c.f. Col 1:15; Jn 1:18; Jn 14:9, 2 Cor 4:4).
But, if we ask, “What is the Holy Spirit like?” It would be very understandable for someone to say, He’s “the Great Unknown”!

And yet, St Josemaria also taught that, while He seems unknown to many, He is, in truth, “The Great Friend”.
How is He our “friend”? By all that He DOES for us.
Think about it this way:
We can answer the question, “What is the Holy Spirit like?” by pointing to what He does:
He CHANGES us –just as He changed the Apostles from timid men hiding in the Upper Room to BOLD men who rushed out and preached, and added three thousand to the numbers of believers that very day (Acts 2:41).
More generally, we can consider what the Holy Spirit does by saying:
He sanctifies us;
He conforms us to the image of Christ the Son (2 Cor 3:18);
He gives us the power to do what we cannot do alone.

He DOES things. Now, I need to clarify this slightly and acknowledge that all divine action is “the common work of [all] the three divine persons”, with the one divine nature having one operation. And yet, Scripture and tradition ‘appropriate’ certain particular activities to certain persons of the Trinity (Summa Theologica I q 37 a7), with “each divine person performing the common work according to his unique personal property” (CCC 258). And we can see a lot that is ‘attributed’ to the Holy Spirit:
Consider the sacraments: It is by HIS action that the sacraments are effective:
In the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest stretches out his hands over the bread and wine, a gesture CALLING down the Holy Spirit in ‘the epiclesis’, to change bread and wine into Jesus’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Similarly, in Confession, the priest stretches out His hand as His says the words of absolution –so that by the Divine power forgiveness is effected.
The Holy Spirit DOES things!

How else does He “do”?
He is the one who apportions different gifts to the different members of Christ’s Body (c.f. 1 Cor 12:3-13 -second reading of the morning Mass);
He is the one who gives the ‘7 Gifts’ of the Holy Spirit –empowering us to do what we cannot do alone.

To conclude, a good friend seeks our good, our well-being. The Holy Spirit is “The GREAT Friend” because He seeks that ULTIMATE good for us -to make us like unto God.
And, if we would have Him be not ‘The Great Unknown” but “The Great Friend” then, very simply, we need to relate to Him, talk to Him, pray to Him, call upon Him, “Come Holy Spirit..” –a prayer to be on our lips all year!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Away at True Survivor: No Sermon this Weekend

I'm away being chaplain at True Survivor

This photo is from when I joined True Survivor in 2016. As of 2017, I'm now chaplain to True Survivor, Bishop Mark O'Toole is our patron, and Will Hince will soon be doing this full time as part of a registered charity.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Away in the Holy Land: No Sermon this Weekend

Fr Dylan is on a parish pilgrimage in the Holy Land this weekend

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Enjoying Beer with Jesus, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A

1 Pet 2:4-9
I want to talk to you today about 3 things: Drinking beer, enjoying chocolate, & doing these with Jesus.
I want to talk about this for 2 reasons:
First, on Easter Sunday someone came up to me puzzled. He said: “A few weeks ago you were telling us to ‘give up’ things, and that you were not eating chocolate, and that there won’t be chocolate in heaven. But now, you’re saying we should be having 50 days of feasting. I don’t understand! Which is it?”
Second, our second reading, from St Peter, said we should “offer” our very selves as “spiritual sacrifices” to Jesus. Now, many of us somehow think we can “offer it up” when we are suffering, but don’t understand how to “offer up” our rejoicing and our feasting.

Here’s the thing: There is a notion of God that somehow thinks that God is only happy when you are miserable, that a “good” Christian is someone who is miserable and sad.
This, I want to say very clearly, is a heresy, and very damaging one.
In England, it has its roots in the Protestant Reformation and Puritanism. Those of you who know your history will remember that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in England. Puritanism has a very confused notion of pleasure and enjoying yourself, whereas the Catholic view says this:
Nature comes from God’s hands, He made it.
It is to be enjoyed, WITH Him;
But, it is to be enjoyed in the MANNER that He has established:
Beer and chocolate, but in moderation, not in gluttony;
For His first miracle the Lord Jesus turned water into wine, He didn’t turn it into fruit juice.
The problem for us in England, even those of us who are Catholic, is that we’ve been infected with the remnants of this Puritanism: So when we enjoy things, we somehow exclude God from them.
The old TV advert, “Naughty, but nice”, was a modern incarnation of this Puritanism -if something is “nice” is must somehow be forbidden, be “naughty”.
And, the Irish among us can have a different problem: the French Jansenist heresy infected much of Ireland with a similar mind-set: pleasure is bad.

What then is the authentic Catholic position?
When we look to our roots we see that Catholics believe in times of feasting as well as times of fasting.
Both of these are done by unbelievers too: they feast, they diet.
BUT these two things, when done WITH JESUS are done very differently. And this is a CRUCIAL thing to grasp is we are not only to have God through ALL our life, but also if we are to TRULY enjoy things properly.

So, having God in my WHOLE life. How does that work?
First, When I enjoy my chocolate, when I enjoy my beer:
I think of God:
I thank God for them;
I choose to use them in the manner in which God has established, following His moral laws;

I don’t feel any guilt about them -they are from God.
This means I come to God both in good things and in bad.
To emphasise what I just said, it means that I have to use these pleasures in the MANNER that God has commanded:
Moderation, not gluttony: not too much chocolate, not too much beer.
Otherwise I spoil a good thing, and guilt then does become appropriate.
And, even more tragically, the sinner is a slave to his sin, the glutton is slave to his pleasure.
Alcohol owns the drunkard; it is the MODERATE man who is FREE to truly enjoy it. The addict, the glutton, the sinner -none of these enjoy life and enjoy the pleasures of life the way the virtuous Christian can
And the pleasures of the bedroom, these can be with God, or He can be excluded -to our detriment.

In summary: offer your very lives to God, as a spiritual sacrifice (1 Pet 2:4-9)
Offer your 40 days of fasting in Lent;
Offer your 50 days of feasting now in Eastertide -be at union with Him in all things
And give back to Him the life He has given to you.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Vocations Letter & New Evangelisation Message from Bishop

For Vocations Sunday, Bishop Mark O'Toole has issued a pastoral letter which you can read here

It refers to his new pastoral message 'Go make Disciples' which you can read here

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Footprints, 3rd Sunday of Easter

Lk 24:13-35
I want to say a few words this morning about about how The Lord accompanies us in our difficulties.

Often when we are finding life most difficult, it can be at those moments that we fail to see The Lord, fail to recognise that He is with us. When things seem tough, we feel like we're alone.
Maybe when we feel that our work, our labours, our talents, whatever we're doing -we feel like we not appreciated.
Maybe when we feel the physical pains of life -burdens that seem like they just won't go away.
Maybe when we feel cut off and alone in other ways.
Being in difficulty can be a very LONELY experience, and, ironically, it can be something that prevents us seeing the presence of the very ones who might be trying to support and accompany us.

If we think of the resurrection appearance to the two men on the road to Emmaus we see a similar pattern: their absorption in their difficulties, in "all that has been happening in Jerusalem these last few days" (Lk 24:18); about how their hopes that Jesus was the Messiah had been crushed by His arrest and crucifixion. -it seems that they were so absorbed in their pain that they didn't recognise that The Lord Himself was there by their side.
There is one other resurrection appearance when we see the same pattern, when Mary Magdalene is so caught up in her grief and weeping by the tomb that she fails to recognise The Lord Himself until He calls her by name, "Mary"(Jn 20:16).

We don't really know why they didn't recognise Him at first, it's quite unlike the other resurrection appearances in this regard, all we have is this obscure phrase, "something prevented them from recognising Him"(Lk 24:16). My own thought is that it might be linked with the all-too-common human phenomenon of being unable to recognise good things, and recognise The Lord, when we're wrapped up in our problems instead -or, at the very least, I think we can interpret it as being symbolic of this human phenomenon:

In both cases The Lord was there, the Risen Lord was there to console them, but it took some time for them to recognise Him.
Let me note further: it's not just that He was there, but He was there in His RISEN form -I.e. He was there to support and console them. And yet, despite the fact that the very reason He was there was to console them, they didn't see Him.
The point, for ourselves, is this:
We too have our problems, our pains, our experiences of isolation.
We too have these moments when it seems like the very times when we most need The Lord, it seems He isn't there.
But, for us, as for the men on the road to Emmaus, despite what we FEEL like, He is walking by our side. Even more, by grace He is within us, He is strengthening us, He is the One who is enabling us to go forward at all.
This, as I'm sure you've all heard before, is expressed in the old poem, 'Footprints', a version of which is on the sheet in the newsletter and we'll be singing later in the Mass.

But to conclude by bringing this to the Mass:
Those two men "recognised Him in the breaking of the Bread"(Lk 24:35).
We too, if we bring our problems to Jesus in the Mass, when we see Him here before us in the Eucharistic species, this is what enables us to see that this same Lord and God has been with us through everything else. Even when we feel alone, He is by our side.


Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

Mary Stevenson, 1936


Footprints Hymn
to the tune 'Londonderry Air/O Danny Boy' by Dr Robert Atkins, 2004

Upon the shore, I walked with Him at even
And I looked back upon the path we’d trod
And in the sand I traced our way at even
And I was glad I’d walked through life with God:
For side by side we’d journeyed through together
All through the world’s wide wilderness of care
And side by side we’d journeyed through to even:
Safe at His side the Lord my God had brought me here.

But in my joy I caught a strain of sadness
To give me pause when thinking of my way
For on the shore I saw He’d left me lonely
When I had most the need of Him to stay:
When I was tired He’d left me worn and wandering,
He’d left me lone when I was fighting fears,
He’d let me tread the steepest slopes in solitude
Before He came back to my side to dry my tears.

But then the Lord drew near to me in comfort
And in His tenderness He made it plain
That in the times when dread and darkness threatened
He was my shield and shelter from the pain:
For on His shoulders He was gently bearing
And on His shoulders I from harm was free:
The single trace of footprints of the Master,
The single trace of footprints shows He carried me.

So on the shore I walk with Him at even;
I face the latter days of life secure,
For if my pilgrimage reserves me sorrow
The footprints show that He is strong and sure:
If I am near the gates of heaven weary,
No longer strong enough to stride alone
The footprints show that He is there to carry me:
The footprints show the Lord my God will bear me home.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Thomas the Cynic, 2nd Sunday of Easter

Jn 20:19-31
We just heard about the man known as a "doubting Thomas", a person and label so significant that the name and phrase still lives on even in our post-Christian society.
Now, I have a theory about St Thomas that I'd like to share with you. St Thomas is often referred to as the classic skeptic, but I reckon he was actually a cynic.
The difference between a skeptic and a cynic is this:
A skeptic refuses to believe in anything,
A cynic believes in something, namely, he believes in evil, he believes in the worst about everything. If you say it's a nice sunny day, he sees the clouds coming. If you say how nice someone is, he points out his failings.
A skeptic refuses to believe in God because he doubts everything.
The cynic refuses to believe in God because he has been overwhelmed with the thought of evil instead -and this means that St Thomas has a very particular and valuable lesson for us.

My reason for saying Thomas was a cynic is this:
When the others said they had seen the Risen Lord, he didn't say, "Show me his risen body", but, like a cynic, he points to evil:
He speaks of the wounds that killed our Lord, of the experience of suffering, of what has gone wrong.

Now, Thomas wasn't always cynical. Earlier in the Gospels we see him expressing bravery, in fact, uttering one of the bravest statements in the Gospels: When Jesus set out for Jerusalem where He faced certain death, Thomas bravely said to the other apostles, "let us also go, that we may die with him"(Jn 11:16).

But by the start of today's gospel passage, this brave disciple seems to have changed dramatically, he had become cynical, and refused to believe. What had happened in between?
The Cross.
The experience of the suffering of the Cross had shattered his faith.
And suffering can destroy our faith too. We can allow an experience of evil to so overwhelm us that we no longer believe in the existence of what is good

Even though suffering is a time when we need our faith the most, to remind us that we are united to our loving Lord on the Cross, of the happiness that awaits us in heaven, of the fact that we have a loving Father who watches over us, even if we cannot see exactly how.
Just when we need our faith the most, pain can lead us to doubt these basic truths.

(pause) How does our Lord respond to the cynic's doubts?
The Lord points directly to what is worst, what is evil, and says He has triumphed over it.
In response to Thomas's doubts, our Lord showed him His wounds, showed His triumph.
The same Jesus who hung before on the Cross, also appeared to show that He had faced and overcome suffering. Thus Jesus says, "In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world"(Jn 16:33).

This is what enables us to have faith even though we live in a world where there is suffering.
Not because we deny that suffering is real.
But because we see that God has suffered with us, and for us, and even more, that He has triumphed over it, and promises US a share in His victory, if we but put our faith and trust in Him.
That's why St. John says, "this is the victory over the world: our faith"(1 Jn 5:4).

Every religion or philosophy must try to deal with the problem of suffering, but none can do so as well as Christianity. The cross and suffering are unique to Christ.
(pause) When our faith is tested by suffering, as it easily can be, when we feel like giving in to cynicism, we would do well to recall the sight of our Lord showing His triumphant wounds, a display that gives faith in Him credibility even in a world of tribulation.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Proof of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday

We’re gathered here today because of an event that happened 2000 years ago: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
As we know, there are some people who think that the Resurrection never happened. I want to say a few words this morning about why the Gospel accounts of His Resurrection are worthy of having us acknowledge them as recording facts and not recording fables.

There are 3 points to make about the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
First, there is the fact that His tomb was empty. As the newsletter sheet insert from Josh McDowell summarises, there are no other convincing explanations as to how His tomb became empty: it is a fact calling for an explanation.
Second, there is the fact of the existence of the Church as body of people who claim Jesus rose from the dead. That Christians claim this is a fact, but WHY do they claim it? Where did the idea come from? This is another fact calling for an explanation.
The only explanation that coherently fits these 2 facts is that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.
The third point I wish to make concerns the credibility of thinking this, in particular, concerns the credibility of believing the witnesses.

There were, as the Gospels record, certain witnesses who claimed that they saw Jesus after He rose of the dead. Now, as we all know, not everything someone says is to be believed –we need to test the reliability of a witness. And, about that issue, I want to point out that the first Christians were no fools, they knew it was a most remarkable thing these witness were claiming; they tested the claims to see if they were true.

There are 2 points we might test about a witness: was he actually there to see the event he claims to have witnessed? And, is the manner of his recounting straightforward or is it fanciful?
As you all know, we have 4 official ‘canonical’ gospels, 4 approved records of what Our Lord did and said, and of His resurrection appearances.
You are probably less familiar with the fact that there were other texts that claimed to be records, claimed to be ‘gospels’, but the Church tested them and found them unworthy of belief.
Some were dismissed on the simple grounds that they were not recorded by people who were actually there, being written much later.
Others were dismissed because the manner and style of their accounts was fanciful, claiming that Jesus acted more like a magician doing parlour tricks than a Messiah working miracles. So the alleged ‘gospel’ of Thomas has the boy Jesus showing off in front of other boys: they made clay birds, so he made his clay bird come to life![1] Similarly, the alleged ‘gospel’ of Peter alleges a triumphal procession coming out of the tomb, with cross in the procession.[2] While the alleged ‘gospel’ of Bartholomew describes “angels, fiery chariots, and God, descended to earth”[3] as part of the resurrection.

Now, my point is this, the type of description we find in the true Gospels are very different. They are simple, undramatic, matter of fact, the sort of descriptions made by reliable witnesses who were actually there.
It is characteristic of true witnesses that they do not feel a need to embellish their accounts with fanciful details.
So, for example, as we heard in our first reading, St Peter said very simply, “we have eaten and drunk with Him after His resurrection” (Acts 10:41). And, to take another example, the angels who appeared by the tomb are simply described as men “sitting in white”(Jn 20:12) –they are not described as having fancy wings, or fiery radiance. Or, to take a final example, when Jesus showed them the wounds in His hands and His feet, He simply said, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”(Lk 24:37)
–no fake drama, or flashes of lightning.
No need for melodramatics because they were describing what was true, what they had “seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3).

This is why we are here today. We are not here because we think people normally rise from the dead, but because we recognise the unusual nature of this unique event. An unusual event, but the only explanation that fits the facts:
The tomb WAS empty,
the early Christians DID claim He had risen,
and their testimony is reliable.
And those 3 facts give us reason to put our faith in Christ, and to believe that the many things He promised them He promises us too, including what we proclaim in the creed: “the resurrection of dead”.

[1] accessed 5/4/12
[2] An excerpt from the apocryphal Gospel of Peter:
“And in the night in which the Lord's day was drawing on, as the soldiers kept guard two by two in a watch, there was a great voice in the heaven; and they saw the heavens opened, and two men descend with a great light and approach the tomb. And the stone that was put at the door rolled of itself and made way in part; and the tomb was opened, and both the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw it, they awakened the centurion and the elders, for they too were close by keeping guard. And as they declared what things they had seen, again they saw three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them. And the heads of the two reached to heaven, but the head of him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, You have preached to them that sleep. And a response was heard from the cross, Yes” accessed 5/4/12
[3] “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew) is not to be confused with the Questions of Bartholomew, although either text may be the missing Gospel of Bartholomew (or neither may be), a lost work from the New Testament apocrypha. Subsequently, the text describes Jesus descending into hell, and, finding Judas there, preaching to him. Jesus rescues everyone from hell, except Judas, Cain, and Herod the Great. This is followed by a flashback described by a gardener to the night when angels, fiery chariots, and God, descended to earth, and resurrected Jesus.” accessed 5/4/12

The Empty Tomb -Josh McDowell Summary

In the following Josh McDowell examines 5 mistaken attempts to explain-away the Empty Tomb. He concludes that the only reasonable explanation is that Jesus had risen, as the witnesses claimed. Buy his book here

1. The Wrong Tomb?
A theory propounded by Kirsopp Lake assumes that the women who reported that the body was missing had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. If so, then the disciples who went to check up on the women's statement must have also gone to the wrong tomb. We may be certain, however, that Jewish authorities, who asked for a Roman guard to be stationed at the tomb to prevent Jesus' body from being stolen, would not have been mistaken about the location. Nor would the Roman guards, for they were there!
If the resurrection-claim was merely because of a geographical mistake, the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the body from the proper tomb, thus effectively quenching for all time any rumor resurrection.

2. Hallucinations?
Another attempted explanation claims that the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection were either illusions or hallucinations. Unsupported by the psychological principles governing the appearances of hallucinations, this theory also does not coincide with the historical situation. Again, where was the actual body, and why wasn't it produced?

3. The Swoon Theory
Popularized by Venturini several centuries ago and often quoted today, the swoon theory says that Jesus didn’t really die; he merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought him dead, but later he was resuscitated and the disciples thought it to be a resurrection.

The skeptic David Friedrich Strauss – himself no believer in the resurrection – gave the deathblow to any thought that Jesus merely revived from a swoon: “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”

4. The Disciples Stole the Body?
Another theory maintains that the body was stolen by the disciples while the guards slept (Matthew 28:1-15). The depression and cowardice of the disciples provide a hard-hitting argument against their suddenly becoming so brave and daring as to face a detachment of soldiers at the tomb and steal the body. They were in no mood to attempt anything like that.

J.N.D. Anderson has been dean of the faculty of law and director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London. Commenting on the proposition that the disciples stole Christ’s body, he says: “This would run totally contrary to all we know of them: their ethical teaching, the quality of their lives, their steadfastness in suffering and persecution. Nor would it begin to explain their dramatic transformation from dejected and dispirited escapists into witnesses whom no opposition could muzzle.”
Dr. John Warwick Montgomery comments: “It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”

5. The Authorities Removed the Body?
The theory that the Jewish or Roman authorities moved Christ’s body is no more reasonable an explanation for the empty tomb than theft by the disciples. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, why didn’t they just produce the body when the disciples began preaching the resurrection in Jerusalem? Why didn’t they recover the corpse, put it on a cart, and wheel it through the centre of Jerusalem? Such an action would certainly have destroyed Christianity.

Conclusions: The Resurrection is Factual History
Professor Thomas Arnold, for 14 years a headmaster of Rugby, author of the famous, History of Rome, and appointed to the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. This great scholar said: "I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God bath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead." Brooke Foss Westcott, an English scholar, said: "raking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it."
But the most telling testimony of all must be the lives of those early Christians. We must ask ourselves: What caused them to go everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ? Had there been any visible benefits accrued to them from their efforts--prestige, wealth, increased social status or material benefits--we might logically attempt to account for their actions, for their whole-hearted and total allegiance to this "risen Christ ."
Christianity requires an historic cause. It did not exist until about A.D. 30, when it suddenly burst to life, spread like wildfire, and changed the world. What could have started this if not the resurrection, as the early Christians claimed? The Church was founded on the resurrection, and disproving it would have destroyed the whole Christian movement. However, instead of any such disproof, through the 1st century, Christians were threatened, beaten, flogged and killed because of their faith." It would have been much simpler to silence Christianity by putting forth evidence disproving the resurrection, but this could not be done.
As a reward for their efforts, however, those early Christians were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured and crucified. Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking. Yet, they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete confidence in the truth of their message.
So convincing and life changing was the resurrection, that the first Jewish disciples began meeting to worship God together on the first day of the week, the Sunday, and not the traditional Jewish Sabbath, the Saturday.

Where do you stand?
How do you evaluate this overwhelming historical evidence? On the basis of all the evidence for Christ's resurrection, and considering the fact that Jesus offers forgiveness of sin and an eternal relationship with God, who would be so foolhardy as to reject Him? Christ is alive! He is living today. accessed 4/4/12

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Light, Easter Vigil

Gen 1:1-2:2; Baruch 3:9-15.32-4:4
Tonight I wish to speak about the significance of the resurrected Christ as our LIGHT.
Our ritual, our prayers, and our Scripture readings all speak of light.

Let me start by speaking of the opposite of light, namely, darkness.
The fear of the dark is one of the most basic of human fears. We fear the dark for many reasons: it leaves us unable to see the things that we need, it leaves us unable to function, it hides things, and, as psychologists note, we fear the dark because we fear what can lie hidden in it.

If darkness is one of the basic human fears, the reaction of relief that comes when a light is finally turned on is similarly one of the most basic human reactions. Light shows us reality, it enables us to function, it exposes problems, and of course, light gives life to the natural world -plants grow because of it.

What we celebrate tonight is that light triumphed over darkness.
The Gospels record that when Christ died on Calvary darkness covered the earth (Mt 27:45, Mk 15:22, Lk 23:44). We can note that this presence of darkness at His death was symbolic of the triumph of all that causes fear in us.
But the triumph of darkness was only brief.
What was revealed Easter night was the truth that a greater power had been at work throughout, and that the one who allowed Himself to be put to death was indeed, as He had claimed, “the light of the world”(Jn 8:12).

Tonight’s liturgy tells us more than the simple fact that darkness failed to conquer the light.
It tells us, rather, that the brief triumph of darkness over the light was destined to be illusionary, that the light was always going to triumph.

When I blessed the Easter Candle, outside, the prayer declared that Christ, the light, is “the Alpha and the Omega” -Greek words taken from the book of Revelation, words that Jesus says of Himself: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end”(Rev 21:17-18; 22:13 c.f.1:8).
Those words declaring Him to be “the beginning” should remind us of the words we heard in the Creation account from Genesis, where God’s first creative words were, “Let there be light”(Gen 1:3).
We can also recall words that we didn’t hear tonight, that the book of Revelation declares that at the end of time, when Christ returns in glory, “There will be no more night… for the Lord God will shine on them”(Rev 22:5).
He was light in the beginning, He will be light at the end, and He triumphed over the darkness in His resurrection.
It is no insignificant fact that the Gospels record that it was during the NIGHT that He burst from the tomb.

In our own lives we all have moments, sometimes prolonged periods, when it feels that we are in darkness, when it seems that we cannot see the way, when the fear that comes with darkness overwhelms us.

What we recall tonight is that the light is greater than the darkness.
Whenever we find ourselves in darkness we have reason to be confident in turning to “the light”: He has shown that He is greater than anything we might fear.
His light exposes our problems, rather than letting them be hidden.
His light exposes that the traps the Evil One lays for us are less frightening than the darkness make them seem.
His light enables us to see the way, “the way” that is Himself.
And, His light, as in the natural world, His light gives life to our souls.
As the priest’s words prayed when lighting the paschal candle from the fire, “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds”.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday

on Isa 52:13-53:12; Heb 4:14-5:9; Jn 19:28.

It's a great privilege for me to be able to preach today, because Good Friday is my favourite liturgy of the year. I love seeing the family at Christmas. And I know the importance that the Church places on Easter, and I believe the truth of what St. Paul taught: that if Christ had not been raised from the dead then our faith is in vain. But still, I prefer to linger here on Good Friday, and many of us do.

It’s not for nothing that Catholic Churches down the ages are more full on Good Friday than on the Easter Vigil. It’s not for nothing that the PEOPLE’s devotion down the ages has focused on the suffering and death on Jesus.
Part of the reason why so many of us are here today, and the reason that so many people down the ages have stopped to gaze at their crucifixes, is that when we look at Jesus suffering on the Cross, each one of us can see some part of ourselves in Him. Each one of us can say, "I TOO suffer", just as Christ suffers. Whether it is bereavement, illness, loneliness, or whatever personal suffering we endure. Each us is moved by the sight of Christ on the Cross, because we know, ourselves, what it is to feel pain.

But although I am attracted to the sight of Our Lord on the Cross, I am always left with the question, "Why?". What is it that would lead Him to this? As scripture says, it is indeed "scandal to Jews and folly to the gentiles"(1 Cor 1:23).

Part of the answer is in our first reading from Isaiah (52:13-53:12), which clearly tells us that Christ died on the Cross to atone for our sins: "He was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins... the Lord burdened him with the sins of all of us". It is central to our faith that we believe that justice is a very large part of the mystery of the Cross. And we all have times in our lives when we are very aware of our own guilt, and we are thankful that Christ died for our sins. And I could easily preach a whole sermon simply on guilt, justice and the Cross.

But this alone is not enough to explain the mystery of the Cross. Christ could have satisfied the demands of justice in a way that would have been much less burdensome to Him. As God, His actions had infinite merit, and as the hymn of Thomas Aquinas sings, one drop of His blood would have been more than enough to ransom the world's entire guilt. And on the cross there was much more than just a drop of blood shed. Justice was satisfied by the Cross, but it was more than justice that was at work here.

The meaning of the cross that I wish to draw our attention to today, is as a sign and an act of LOVE. The REASON that He so wildly exceeded the suffered he needed to undergo, was so that when we look at the cross, we cannot possibly doubt that He loves us.

I often think that I'd happily rise from the dead for someone, even someone I didn't much like. After all, if I had the ability to do it, it wouldn't be any harm to me. But I'd be much slower to agree to suffer and die for someone. And as St. Paul teaches us, what REALLY proves that He loves us, is that not only did He die for us, but He did so while we were still sinners. (Rom 5:8-9; 1 Jn 3:16).

There are a number of words that Jesus spoke from the Cross, but two words that we heard today from John's gospel, words directed to each one of us, are "I thirst". The thirst that Jesus calls out for us to satisfy, is more than a simple drink. It is a thirst for love, a love from us to return the love He has poured out for us, a love that He displayed on the Cross.

Christ died on the Cross because He knew that the best way to draw a response from us, was to come and meet us in our suffering. As we know at a human level, it is when someone is united to us in our own suffering that we relate and respond best to them.

Those of us who are bereaved know that Christ too was bereaved and wept with sorrow at the death of his friend Lazarus.
Those of us who are insulted, ridiculed or persecuted, know that Christ too was mocked by the soldiers and the crowds.
Those of us who are lonely or distressed in spirit, know that Christ allowed Himself to feel that same distress in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where His anguish was so great that He sweated blood.
We could say the same about those who are beaten, or those ignored or forgotten.
And those of us who feel physical pain, certainly know that Christ was no stranger to that in His crucifixion.

As the prophecy in Isaiah foretold, He was truly "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief". He bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows. And as the letter to Hebrews makes clear, we have a high priest who is very capable of feeling our weakness.
So that in our pain and agony we no longer suffer alone, but in union with Our Lord and God.

And He didn't do this just out of some general love for an abstract concept of humanity, He did it out of a particular love for each of us as individuals too. As He accepted the cup of suffering in the garden, and as He hung on the Cross, He chose to die for each of us. In the beatific vision –the vision that He always had access to as the Incarnate Word, the true Son of God, He saw each one of us, loved each one of us, and accepted and offered His death for each one of us. So that, as St. Paul says in His letter to the Galatians, He “loved me and gave Himself for me”(Gal 2:20).
So that each one of us can say that He died for me, as certainly as if there was no one else in the world for Him to die for.
He died for ME.

As we stop to venerate the Cross today, let us pause to satisfy His thirst for love. Let us recall that the Cross showed His love for us. Let us recall that no-one else in the world or through history has ever shown such a depth of love, no-one else has ever experienced such a depth of pain and sorrow.
As the prophecy of the book of lamentations calls out: "All you who pass this way, stop and see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow"(Lam 1:12),
and we know Christ would be well qualified to add, "is there any love like unto my love".

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Washing Feet, Maundy Thursday

Tonight I will get down on my knees and I will wash the feet of some parishioners.
I don’t do this because I like other people’s feet,
And I think we can presume that Jesus, also, didn’t wash the 12 Apostles feet because He liked feet either.
I say this, because it’s important to remember WHY He did this, and why He did this at THIS moment.

The Lord Jesus was about to die.
He had journeyed far in His 3 years of public ministry: He, the long-awaited Messiah had come: He had cured the sick, He had forgiven sin, He had taught the truth of salvation.
Though they had repeatedly failed to grasp the depth of His teaching, and failed to grasp His meaning when he prophesied that He would die and rise,
That night, He had made His farewell speeches to His chosen few.
And, that night, He had given them the Mass: to be His abiding presence down the centuries;, and to be the means by which His Holy Sacrifice of Calvary would be made present every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

And, then, in the midst of that profundity, He got down on the floor and started washing feet!
And my point to you tonight, is that this sign and gesture on His part was as equally profound as everything else He was about.
Washing feet is not just as act of love, but an act of humility –humility in the sense of that self-forgetfulness that is needed in any TRUE loving. True love needs to be so focussed on the needs of the other person that it puts aside the inconvenience and injustice that is done to us, and just gets on with whatever business love demands of us that moment.

Previously, the Lord has been self-forgetting when He left His Divine glory and dignity in Heaven, to walk among us, and suffer among us, in Palestine.
The next day, he would be self-forgetting in dying for our sins on the Cross.
That night, He had been self-forgetting in giving us His Real Presence in the Mass, because, though he knew men would be cold and indifferent to His Real Presence, would abuse His Presence, would neglect to genuflect, would receive Him in Holy Communion while thinking of a TV show, nonetheless, He also knew that this was the ONLY means by which He could physically contact each one of them, offer Himself to each one of us, as he does in the Mass.

But in order that it should be clear that all of this was not random, that it was all motivated by His humble and caring love, He, as tonight’s Gospel said, “He showed the depth of love”.

So, as I kneel, with whatever lack or height of grace tonight, to face feet, let us recall that this sign shows us “the depth of His love”.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Why did they Kill Him?, Palm Sunday

We’ve had a long Gospel, so I just want to ponder a simple question,
The question is, WHY did they kill Jesus? WHY did He die?

For people who do not believe in God, at all, the questions ‘WHY did they kill Jesus? WHY did He die?’ are a real problem, because they cannot accept what all four of the Gospels all say about this. Instead, they try and pretend Jesus was something they find more acceptable: that He was just a political troublemaker, that He died for reasons of social injustice, or, that it was because He threatened the Roman Empire.
That’s what BBC programmes, the DaVinci Code, and others, try and claim.

But all four Gospels agree on a very different reason why He died:
He died because of who He is –because He is God
As we just heard, it was when He claimed to be the ‘Christ’, ‘the Son of God’, that the High Priest condemned Him. And all through His ministry it was the same: when He claimed to be God, when His actions claimed an authority for Himself that only God has, like forgiving sin, or changing the Law of Moses:
it was when He claimed to be God that the Jews sought to kill Him.

He came to His own and His own rejected Him. The Jews, His Chosen People, rejected Him.
But, we can’t blame the Jews, or blame the Romans, or blame events long ago. Their rejection is only an example of the rejection we make of God every day.
All our SIN is a rejection of God, a rejection of His love –and this is why He died
All the apparent reasons, whether they are political, jealousy etc, are only examples of this basic underlying reason –sin
They rejected His claim to be God. We, by our sin, reject the fact that He is God.
Why did He die? Because of my sin.
Who killed Him? I crucified Him

It is possible to contemplate that truth and feel glum about it, but it is actually a reason for us to rejoice:
That reason –sin, is what makes this event salvific, is what gives this event MEANING for us today.
If He died for other reasons, like politics, then He didn’t die for our salvation.
But if He died because of our sin,
then He died to undo sin –my sin
to overcome sin –my sin
to forgive sin –my sin

Sin is the reality at work on the Cross. Sin is the cause of the Cross, and sin is what was defeated on the Cross.
It is because it was about sin that it’s a cause for us to rejoice, to be glad and give thanks to God.
For in this He has given us a way to be forgiven, a sign and promise of forgiveness-
for all who call upon our crucified saviour.

The claim that Jesus died for a political reason, not a religious one is a claim made by unbelievers today –but it is not a new claim, it is claim repeatedly offered by those who wish to avoid His claim to be God. As we heard, it was claim the Sadducees brought against Jesus –but note, when they met by themselves their trial and concern was about blasphemy and His claim to be God. But when they brought Him to Pilate the brought another accusation, a false charge, of being a political agitator: Thus he was questioned about being the ‘King of the Jews’. But both Pilate and Herod found Him innocent of the charge of inciting political unrest. It was a false charge brought against Him by the Pharisees, and it is a false charge that is still brought against Him today by unbelievers. The Pharisees charged Him with it because they didn’t want to directly face the fact that He claimed to be God. And His claim to be God is what people who will not believe in God still refuse to accept today.

He died because He is God and sin rejected Him. “He died that we might be forgiven, He died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by His precious blood.”

Sunday, 2 April 2017

No Sermon this Weekend

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Mothers and Seeing, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year A

Jn 9:1-41
Today's readings are about seeing, true seeing, spiritually seeing the truth of things.
And about blindness, inner blindness, spiritually failing to see the truth of things.

The blind man who was cured, started physically blind.
He wanted to see physically.
But, he also wanted to see spiritually, he was open to the truth.
And so he spoke to Jesus, and listened to Jesus in a way that was seeking the truth: seeking the truth about whether Jesus was the One who fulfilled that ancient title reserved for the Messiah, the title, "The Son of Man". And he came to see this spiritual truth, not just to see physically.

In contrast, the Pharisees both started and ended spiritually blind.
They started with a spiritual blindness that wrongly blamed the man's sins for his illness, saying to him, "you, a sinner through and though from your birth".
And they also ended spiritually blind, failing to recognize Christ for the Messiah that He is.

Let me make a diversion for a moment and mention mothers, today being Mothering Sunday.
It occurred to me when reading the first reading that mothers often see in a way that is different to how others see things, in particular, they see their own children differently.
Our first reading said, "God does not see as man sees, man looks at appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart".
How often have children found others reject them, others look at "appearances", but then found their mother look at them and see something more, see something loveable? (Of course, we can't pretend that all mothers are perfect, that all mothers do this, but we can acknowledge that by and large this is the experience of mankind -mothers, and a mother's love, sees something more than just the "appearances".)

Let me consider that from another angle, namely, generosity, thinking of the fact that we are called to generosity especially in this season of Lent, this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Generosity changes how we look at people, how we see them.
Do we see Christ in the needy?
Recall the parable the Lord told in Matthew 25, about those who saw Him in the needy, the hungry, thirsty. “In as much as you did it to the least of my brethren you did it to me”(Mt 25:45).
This is a form of spiritual sight, to see Christ in the needy, something that a generous person is able to do.

BUT, it also works the other way, BEING generous changes our capacity to see, habituates us to look outward not inward, and enables us to see Christ in ALL kinds of needs and people.
So, in our Lenten almsgiving, and we’ve had two retiring collections in Lent, this outward orientation changes our capacity to see the truth. An open heart is open to the truth about reality, especially the ultimate truth about Christ.

So, to conclude. We are considering all this in Lent, when we are applying the three ‘remedies for sin’ of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
These actions not only atone for past sins, not only free our heart from present and future sin, they also enable us to SEE with that spiritual sight that is Faith: to see Christ.
They enable us to see, the way a good mother is able to ‘see’ her child beyond mere ‘appearances’, to see her child with love and see what he is called and able to be, not just what he is already.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

No Chocolate in Heaven, 3rd Sunday Lent, Year A

Jn 4:5-42; Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-8
I want to share with you something that I’ve been thinking about this last week, something that may come as bad news for some of you. And the thing is this: there is not going to be chocolate in heaven. Now, some of you may hear that and think that you've ALREADY given up chocolate for Lent, and you are already counting the days until your next chocolate bar on Easter Sunday morning, and yet NOW you hear me say that there will be no chocolate in heaven either! Of course, there are some of you who have not given up chocolate, and are not particularly upset about this because you've given up BEER for Lent, however, to you my news is that there will be no beer in heaven either!

I make this point to highlight something being taught in all three of our readings today, because our readings focus on the question of WHAT will truly SATISFY this, on the question of what it is that we HOPE for. Our first reading (Ex 17:3-7) referred to the thirst of the people of Israel as they wandered in the desert, and how God satisfied that thirst with water flowing from the rock. But that satisfaction of thirst was a symbol of the deeper SPIRITUAL thirst that only GOD can satisfy, that neither chocolate nor beer can satisfy. There will be neither chocolate nor beer in heaven because what will satisfy us in heaven will be God Himself, in His fullness. This spiritual thirst is what we heard Jesus referring to in our Gospel text, the thirst that Christ said He Himself would satisfy: "anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again" (Jn 4:14). This water will become "a spring inside... welling up to eternal life"(Jn 4:14). And what is this water, this spring? It is the life of the Holy Spirit.

The pouring of that Spirit into our hearts was referred to in our second reading from St Paul to the Romans. He spoke also about how a Christian must be “looking forward”(Rom 5:2) not to things of this world but to the ultimate glory. And he said that "this hope is not deceptive"(Rom 5:5) . Referring to the Holy Spirit, and making yet ANOTHER reference to something being "poured" out, he said that this “hope” of future glory was not deceptive "because the LOVE of God has been poured into our hearts" (Rom5:5).

Now, the "love of God" is something that we need to have a profound grasp of if we are to appreciate what HEAVEN will be like.
There are two senses in which we can speak of the "love of God": (1) the love that He has for us, and, (2) the love that we have for Him. Both of these produce an effect in us, a transforming effect, the transformation of complete joy. As I've said to you before, even in this life, we all know something of the relationship between love and joy. Concerning love “for us”, the experience of knowing that somebody else loves us is an experience that fills us with joy. Similarly, the experience of loving someone else, especially the experience of loving someone else who we know loves us, this experience fills us with JOY.
And, the deeper that love the deeper the joy.
And, Heaven is the place where this experience will exceed anything we now know because it will be an experience not at our finite human level but an experience of the INFINITE love of God.
In the face of such an experience the pleasures of chocolate and beer will be left behind.

To bring this to a conclusion, why are we talking of this in Lent?
In part, because people across the world are preparing for Easter baptism in this season, baptism that will bring them that outpouring of that regenerating water, with the Holy Spirit.
But, for all of us, the season of Lent is a season to purify and test what it is that we have our "hope" set upon, to test what it is we are attached to. The fasting and self-denial of Lent, the giving something up for Lent, should help purify us of an excessive attachment to the pleasures of this world and remind us of the "hope" of spiritual joy, and of the hope of that joy in life eternal, such that we “will never be thirsty again”(Jn 4:14).

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Giving Things Up for Lent, 1st Sunday of Lent

This Friday I spent almost the whole school day at St Catherine’s Primary School, talking to them about Lent, so I thought I might share with you what we spoke about.

I talked with them about ‘giving things up for Lent’. I asked them, if you say, “I’m going to give up hitting my little sister for Lent”, does that mean that when Lent is over you give her big huge WHACK? After all, Lent would be over, and you were no longer giving that up.
No, we were all agreed, it wouldn’t then become right to hit your little sister.
Now, this is important to note, because it tells us something about ‘giving things up’:
The things we are giving up are things that are GOOD in themselves, they’re not things that are sins -things that we should never be doing anyway.

‘Giving things up’ is a small form of fasting. So why do we fast? There are a number of reasons.
The first of those reasons, is to be in union with Jesus in the desert. The Lord Jesus, as we heard in that Gospel passage, went into the desert and fasted and prayed for 40 days. The Lord Jesus had times when He fasted and times when He feasted, and so His disciples have seasons when we fast and seasons when we feast. The path to a fulfilled life lies in following Jesus. Lent is 40 days in union with Him in the desert, fasting, at least by doing the small fasting of ‘giving things up’.

But what is fasting? When we fast we take something that is good in itself, namely food, and we don’t eat it.
We don’t do this because food is bad -it’s not like giving up hitting your little sister.
Food isn’t bad. The problem isn’t with the food, the problem is with ME. I am attached to things, and to food, in a way that simply isn’t right. All too easily I get over-focused on THINGS.
As I said to the children at St Catherine’s, if I stuff my face with chocolate, if I’m focussed on my iPad and my TV, do I see the people around me? No.
And if those people around me need my help, do I see? No.
I am UNABLE to love, because I’m focused on the wrong things.

What fasting achieves, is it FREES me from my self-absorption and so frees me to LOVE.
What fasting TRAINS me in is self-control and self-discipline, which are really important because I need them all the time in my dealings with others.
So, that growth in inner freedom is a second reason why we fast.

A third reason we fast is to offer the Lord a sign of our sorrow for our sins.
I pointed the children towards Jesus on the cross (sadly we don’t have a crucifix here for you to see in this church, though we should have)
And I explained to the children that what hurt Jesus the MOST wasn’t the physical pain, but the wounds to His love that we make by our sins. Every sin rejects His love.
I gave this example to this children: if you’ve really upset your friend, you can show you want to make things right by giving him something. If you and your friend both know you love Dairy Milk chocolate, and you give your friend your bar of Dairy Milk, that gesture of love, that act of ‘reparation’ helps heal the wound we have caused.
And that’s another important reason we ‘give things up’ for Lent.

So, in summary, there are three things that characterise this holy season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Its not about doing one OR the other. For someone to say, “I’m going to so something positive for Lent rather than give something up”, would be like saying, “I’m going to love God rather than love my neighbour -you need BOTH!
So let’s each add a little extra prayer, resolve on that thing we’ve given up, and spend this time: (1) in union with Jesus in the desert; (2) freeing ourselves from our attachments, so we are freer to love and give to others; and (3) offer reparation to the wounded Heart of our Lord

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Worrying. 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 6:24-34
We just heard in today’s Gospel text a beautiful example of Our Lord’s intimate and compassionate knowledge of our human nature. We heard Him speak about WORRYING –that thing that we can spend so much time and effort doing.
Over these past weeks we’ve heard Our Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount:
Sometimes we hear Our Lord’s words uttered as words of authority, of command;
sometimes we hear Him speak hard words that we know are not easy to follow.
But today, as I said, we hear this same Lord, who was and is both fully God and fully human, we heard Him speak very human words to us:
words about worrying, words that show He knows exactly what we are like.
Most of us have at least some occasions when we worry,
Some of us regularly lie awake at night worrying.
And worrying is an odd thing:
it’s not like planning or decision making when we actually ACHIEVE something,
when we actually become better able to deal with what we must do.
No, worrying does not help us in any way. As Jesus beautifully put it, “Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single hour to his span of life?”(Mt 6:27)
And yet, we DO worry, and we often spend great energy worrying.

Let me make three points.
First, the Lord points out that we often worry because we’re focussed on the wrong things in life.
He says, very directly, that we focus too much on material things. And so He warns us that “you cannot be the slave of two masters... of both God and of money [mammon]” (Mt 6:24).
And the simple remedy He gives us is that we need to repeatedly remember that, “life means more than food and the body more than clothing”(Mt 6:25).

Second, there is the issue of whether we worry about things with a SELFISH focus, or with a focus that is on OTHER people.
Most of us have probably had moments when we realise that so often when we worry about something we worry about it because of how it will affect ME, not about how it will affect others -that even when we worry about family our worries can be filled with anxiety not for THEIR sake but because of some way in which we fear matters will affect us:
affect our time, our reputation, or something else.
This is one aspect of worry that the Lord calls on us to identify within ourselves and to seek to “let go”, to detach ourselves from our SELFISH attachment, and to attach ourselves instead to GOD:
“see ye first the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33).
The remedy to this is to be bold enough to seek to (1) love others first, and (2) love God first and foremost, because when we do this our worries often take on a much REDUCED significance.

Third, and finally, there is the issue that our worrying is caused our lack of trust in God. And here the Lord Jesus berated His disciples for being “men of little faith” (Mt 6:30). He pointed out that God cares for the flowers of the field and the birds of the sky, and yet God loves US much more than either of these.
This type of worry can often be rooted in a sort of mistaken attempt to do everything ourselves and by our own power.
The remedy to this is to (1) call on God’s grace, (2) trust in His strength, (3) trust in His plan for our welfare.

“So do not worry about tomorrow”, and as more literal translations put it in a beautiful parody of our own worrying: “tomorrow will worry about itself” (NIV) “tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (RSV),
“Each day has troubles enough of its own”.

Priests are not immune from worry, as I’m sure you’re aware.
Not even popes are immune from worry. As Pope John XXIII supposedly used to pray each night as he pondered the problems in the Church, “It's your Church, not mine, Lord. I'm going to sleep now”.
If we seek to (1) put God’s things first, (2) focus on the eternal values and not the merely material ones, then we should be able to take the good pope’s attitude for ourselves:
it’s His world, His problems, and we can entrust them to Him.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Who is my Enemy? 7th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year A

Mt 5:38-48; Lev 19:1-2.17-18
Today we heard the command from the Lord that we must, “Love your enemy”.
There is, what I consider to be, a very interesting point here, and I want to note that, as well as indicate WHO my enemy is, WHY I must love him, and HOW I must love him.

The point I consider interesting is this: the Lord bluntly acknowledges that we have “enemies” in life. There is a certain false caricature of the Lord Jesus that pictures Him as cuddly, and fuzzy, and out of touch with the harsh realities of life.
Yet, here He is, bluntly acknowledging that we DO each have enemies in life.
Now, maybe this doesn't surprise you. Maybe you have a mother in law, and it is self-evident to you that you have an enemy in life.

Let us consider, then, my first question: WHO is my enemy?
Maybe you might answer this by saying, it's the person who is always out to thwart my plans, to ruin what I am trying to do, to interfere with my projects, to do me harm, to rejoice in my downfall..

What, however, would be the description the LORD would use to describe my enemy?
As we know, the Lord was asked, “and, who is my neighbour?” But it doesn't seem He was ever asked, “and who is my enemy?”
Rather boldly, I'm going to tell you what I think the Lord’s answer to this question would have been.
The Lord, we might recall, frequently answers questions by turning the question on its head. And, if He was asked who my enemy was I think, He might have said:
Who is my enemy?
My enemy is “my neighbour”.
And, once I have identified my enemy this way, it becomes obvious why Jesus says I must love him.

Yes, my enemy might be seeking my downfall.
But, his primary identity, even before he started seeking my downfall, is that he is my neighbour.
The same good God loves both of us.
The same "Father in heaven... causes His sun to rise on bad men as well is good, and His rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike”(Mt 5:45)
and we might add, that Jesus died out of love for those who killed Him just as truly as He died for those who followed Him. He died for Caiaphas and Pilate as much as He died for Peter, James and John.
So Jesus concluded, "You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect"(Mt 5:48), i.e. love your enemy just as your heavenly Father loves him.

And finally, HOW do I love my enemy? After all, for some reason he IS my enemy. What does loving him mean PRACTICALLY?
To love someone means to seek his welfare, to seek his good (c.f. St Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II Q28 a3 ad3).
I cannot seek his death, I cannot seek his stumbling, I cannot seek his failure.
-such things are not to will his ‘good’.
Sometimes, I might seek his correction, including pointing out where he has wronged me.
But always it involves me doing this, and other things, for HIS benefit, because it is good FOR HIM. This is love. This is love for my enemy.

If I would love the good God who loves me,
if I would love those whom the good God would have me love,
then I must love not merely the brother who is agreeable and pleasant to me,
I must love not merely the neighbour who is at least not un-pleasant to me,
but rather, I must love my enemy .

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Seeing Hidden Wisdom, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

1 Cor 2:6-10
Today I want to tell you about a secret.
Its not my secret. But at many times in his letters St. Paul speaks about a “secret”, a hidden truth revealed, its repeated feature if how he describes what has been made known in Christ.
He says at one stage (1 Cor 15:51), “I tell you a secret…”, speaking of the resurrected of the Body that will occur to everyone at the end of time: namely, that we shall all be changed, with new different glorified bodies.
He says another time (Eph 3:3-9, also 1:9), where he uses the word “secret” 5 times in just 6 verses, that God had a hidden plan to unite all peoples in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, and that this was His secret plan from the dawn of time.
He says this also elsewhere.
But today I am thinking about this because we heard him speak, in our second reading (1 Cor 2:6-10) of the “hidden wisdom” that has been “revealed”.
-a "secret" or "hidden" wisdom that is hidden no more -it has been revealed in Jesus Christ,
However, it's also true that in each case it remains hidden from most of humanity because people fail to see it -even though its been made known.

My point to you today is this: the hidden, the unseen is actually the more important.
The unseen is actually what will last forever.
Let me know a comparison between God and love in this regard:
Love cannot be seen.
God cannot be seen.
Love is visible in its effects, as God is visible in His effects, but neither can be seen directly while we live in this world
Yet, both love and God are what give meaning to everything else.
And, as scripture says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) -so it's hardly surprising that this analogy of both being unseen while both cause the meaning of everything holds.

To come back to St. Paul's text: St. Paul says that they crucified Him because they didn't recognise this hidden wisdom. The “masters of our age”(1 Cor 2:6) rejected Him because they didn't see what was there to be seen.
We, too, can reject what is most important if we fail to have our eyes truly open.

Today, this day, even without pausing to make the conscious choice,
I can allow myself to get so caught up in busy-ness that I fail to see what is important in the midst if the busy-ness. I can busy cooking lunch, or busy unlocking the church doors, busy, busy busy, and I can fail to see and value the PEOPLE who are before me.
And I fail to truly value the people for what they are because I fail to truly see GOD, and see how God chooses and loves these people, and wants me to love these people.

BUT its not just busy-ness that does this to me.
Laziness, failing to mentally engage with the world, with the TRUE hidden meaning of the world, there is a type of mental laziness that fails to see what is before me, fails to see what God has shown me.

The REMEDY to this isn’t complicated.
We’re already here at Mass, so we have the truth before us -but how to see it?
It involves that interior attentiveness that we call ‘contemplation’.
It involves regular times of prayer, when I wake in the morning, when I go to bed at night, and pausing to re-find Him during the day.
None of this is complicated. But when we don’t do it, we become like those who “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8) because they failed to see what He had shown them:
“the things no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him”(1 Cor 2:9)
-the “hidden mysteries” He has already told us about, that give meaning to everything else.