Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sermon for First Sunday of Lent 25.2.07

1st Sunday of Lent 25.2.07 Jesus, God and Man

I read a recent commentary on Our Lord’s time in the desert, which said that Jesus went into the desert to find out who He was!

This is typical of a lot of modern scriptural commentary which tends to downplay the divinity of Christ, portraying Him to be not only human but a rather dithering human at that.

In this school of thought, Jesus was not quite sure of anything much, just groping along, and eventually being crucified.

The Church has always been far more confident in the identity of our Saviour. He was God and He knew it, from the moment of His conception.

In fact, Jesus had the beatific vision throughout His earthly life – so much for not knowing who He was!

But yes, He was human. One person, two natures – divine and human.

And we should not play down His humanity. He did experience temptation, but did not yield.

Even in the matter of temptation, however, there is a difference. We must remember that Our Lord was without original sin. Therefore He was operating without the disturbance of passion which we experience.

He could be tempted, but it was more like the tempation faced by the angels – or by Adam and Eve. Was He for or against God?

He was not going to be tempted at the level we experience it – like whether to steal or lie or commit impurities. Jesus was far beyond that. As if He could have impure thoughts about a woman – being God Himself!

The devil would have more sense than to try.

But to tempt Him at this higher level – that the devil did attempt. In the desert, as recorded today, and even more acutely in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Still without success, but it was the best the devil could do.

Jesus went into the desert, not to find out who He was, but to begin the process of restoring humanity to the state it should never have lost.

When Adam and Eve sinned we were plunged into darkness.

Now the time had come when God would begin to bring us back into the light.

Jesus started His public life in the desert as a symbol of where the human race stood. Very barren, very empty, desolate, wild. No fruit.

He would change all this, and this was the first step.

As the new Adam He leads humanity out of the desert and into the fertile garden of union with God.

He shows us the way, and He paves the way by doing what we must do: listen to the word of God and obey it; do not put the Lord to the test; and have only one God.

This is the formula for life. Jesus lived it as well as taught it.

He became like us so we could become like Him.

To say that Jesus is human does not mean we have to bring Him down to our level, and make Him as weak and confused as we are.

Rather, He is human as human should be, and He will raise us up to His level. This is what salvation means,

and this is what is happening to us.

He not only knew who He was, He remembered, and when put to the test was easily able to dismiss temptation.

We are sorely tried in this life, but if we remember we are children of God, destined for heaven, we will act with appropriate dignity and choose life over death.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday 18.2.07

Quinquagesima Sunday 18.2.07 From the heart

Certain contradictions can occur in the course of our spiritual lives. A Catholic coming or going from Mass might get into an altercation in the car park even with other Catholics going to the same Mass!

It is funny in one way but also serious, as it just reminds us how hard it is to internalise our religious beliefs. We can do the externals fine but to get those same realities into our hearts and minds is another matter.

Love is the necessary quality, as explained in today’s epistle, 1 Corinthians 13.
St Paul says that even if he let his body be burnt in martyrdom it would count for nothing if he has not love.

There has to be that commitment from the heart, to make the external actions fully authentic.

Churchgoers in general, and Latin Mass Catholics in particular, are often accused of being pharisaical. They say we only care about the externals – the incense, the singing, the genuflections etc – and having got those things right we don’t care about charity or anything else for the rest of the week.

We would admit to lacking in love certainly, but would protest we are not entirely wrapped up in externals.

The externals are meant to help us with the internal things, not replace them

Our genuflections, bows, signs of the cross, devout posture, keeping silence in church – all these should help us to reach the reality they signify, a genuine reverence and love for God, extending to love of neighbour.

The more exactly we observe God’s will the better. So we do both. We do the ritual things and we love one another.

With regard to Lent the same issue can arise. I can give up sugar in my tea, or chocolate biscuits, or whatever else.

This kind of sacrifice is meant to help me to become a holier person not to replace the need for holiness.

It is no use if I give up sugar but keep the poison of uncharity in my heart. But giving up something I like should help me to find charity. I give up one short term delight for a much greater one (eternal life).

Penance will help me to grow in self-control and to remind me what I am really seeking in life. I am not here just for my own comfort and entertainment. I am here to do God’s will and I am not here for long. The Lenten penance reminds us of our true purpose and the shortness of our stay on earth. We hunger for the lasting delights of heaven.

What I want is mercy not sacrifice, Our Lord said. He meant He did not want fake sacifice replacing mercy. Really He wants both. The sacrifice (if properly understood) will help us achieve mercy – mercy towards others and mercy for own sins.

May the Lord help us, this Lent, to come closer to the full internal acceptance of all that we profess externally.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday 11.2.07

Sexagesima Sunday 11.2.07 Our inheritance

Esau, son of Isaac, is one of those people who has gone down in history for one big mistake he made. He was so hungry one day that he agreed to give his privileged position to Jacob, his younger brother, in return for an immediate meal of soup. He thus made himself a lesson for future generations in not trading a long term goal for a short term gain. (Genesis 25,29-34 and Hebrews 12,16)

We are tempted to do the same thing as we travel through this life. Our ‘birthright’ is that we are children of God and we have an inheritance waiting for us – a place in the kingdom of heaven.

We can be robbed of our inheritance by the various forces acting on us – all originating with the devil, the great Deceiver.

When we look at the world we see that there are many people who are not living as children of God, in various ways stunted in their spiritual growth, held captive to one or more besetting sins. People suffer from all kinds of addictions, false beliefs, chasing after false gods, looking in the wrong places for happiness.

Thus we see before our eyes today’s parable (Sower) lived out. This parable gives three different ways of selling our birthright and ending up with nothing.

Some people don’t listen to the word of God, or they don’t have it told to them. These people live as though there were no God, seeking all their happiness in this life. They are not aware that they are destined for eternal glory.

Others have some exposure to the word of God and may even be His disciples for a time, but they give this away either because they cannot cope with the sacrifice required or they seek other short-term delights.

Only some persevere to the end (and we must be among this number) and yield a harvest many times over.

Only this last group can live with true human dignity, aware of who they are, and holding on to that birthright, giving it up for nothing or no one.

In short, we must not let the devil rob us of what we have. He will offer us anything else if only we give up our privileged position.

As we approach the season of Lent we can look at our own lives and see where we may suffer from stunted spiritual growth, where we may be lacking in full response to the word of God.

Do I suffer from addictions to false ways, besetting sins, chasing false gods, always trying to take the easy way out, always seeking my own comfort and pleasure above all else?

We not only do not want to lose heaven, but even in this life we want to live as free children and not as slaves of sin.

The New Testament is always telling us to break free from sin, not to go back to Egypt.

Who would go back into slavery after being released? Answer, Christians.

How do we avoid all these pitfalls.

1) Keep the vision, remember the long term goal, and reaffirm it every day. I am a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and I will live as such this day.

2) Be watchful at all the attempts the evil one will make to deceive and distract us.

3) If we have a particular area of weakness, where sin comes easily to us, we may not be able to break free from this straight away.

So we have to work on it a little bit. Avoid obvious occasions of sin. Seek counselling or spiritual direction if necessary. Use the sacraments for extra strength. Develop the practices of penance and self-denial. Keep life as simple and clear as possible. If we must live in the world then may as little as possible accumulate on our souls. We travel best if we travel light.

We can tackle the big problems with a combination of keeping the long term view and inching our way through the short term struggles.

By His grace we can conquer (My grace is enough for thee… today’s epistle).

Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday 4.2.07

Septuagesima Sunday 4.2.07 Salvation

St Paul mentions that he is working on his faith like an athlete prepares for an event. In another letter he says he is working out his salvation in ‘fear and trembling’.

St Paul does not take his salvation for granted mentioning in one place that he himself could still be lost.

Today people would politely laugh at St Paul and tell him that no one as good as he is could possibly be lost.

It is fashionable today to see salvation as highly probable, bordering on certain, for most people.

You would (in this view) have to be very bad not to be saved.

Still there are some who see themselves as so bad that they could not be saved.

So we have the situation where some are so good they don’t need saving, and others are so bad they cannot be saved!

The readings today speak to both groups and try to draw people away from the extremes.

The people who think they are so good they hardly need to be saved from anything are not actually sinless.

It’s just that they have lost the sense of sin. They are still committing sins but no longer consider what they do to be sins.

This is because of eroding moral standards in our society, which enable what used to be considered outrageous to be normal now (eg living together before marriage).

Unless you rob a bank or kill someone you are without sin. If you are as good as most other people then you are a good person and guaranteed salvation!

St Paul and other saints call us to a much more sober view of reality. Anyone can be lost and it requires vigilance to ensure that we stay in a state of grace.

The people who think they are so bad that they could not be saved are reminded frequently that God is merciful and desires their salvation.

The Gospel today speaks of those who come in at the eleventh hour and are still paid the full reward – that is, eternal life.

It is right to be ashamed of our sins and humble before God. But not so self-absorbed that we lose sight of God’s mercy and desire to save. It is by His grace we are saved and healed. Nobody is so bad as to be beyond the power of God to change.

So people have to come in from the edges to a more balanced position. We are neither too good nor too bad; neither certain of salvation nor certain of damnation.

We can make salvation certain and this is what St Paul was setting out to do.

He was working out his salvation.

‘Work’ has two senses.

1) The work of vigilance to make sure that we are confessing our sins and uprooting them. If we fall we acknowledge it, we get up and we go on. We are not overwhelmed with guilt; nor do we deny guilt – through it all the grace of God carries us.

2) The other aspect of ‘work’ is that we should be productive in God’s service.

Our Lord referred to those who heard and kept the word of God as yielding a harvest, even a hundred fold.

If we think we are too good or too bad to worry we are not being productive. But if we have a healthy awareness of our weakness and of the Lord’s mercy we can then be productive each day as we take the opportunities for good that present themselves.

So we come, individually and together, to the final payment, the one denarius of eternal life.