Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sermon for Passion Sunday 25.3.07

Passion Sunday 25.3.07

The epistle speaks of the superior nature of Christ’s sacrifice as against bulls and goats etc. His blood is far more effective in cleansing from sin. So the new covenant is superior to the old.

We offer this blood every time we celebrate the Mass.

We are very fortunate to have such an effective ‘bargaining tool’.

We can come before our Heavenly Father and say, Father I have sinned, but I can give You something which is going to be pleasing to You. It is the fragrant offering of Your Son.

He is highly likely to forgive us when we have such a powerful sacrifice advocating for us.

Yet, just offering a sacrifice may not be enough. We know from the Old Testament that God often rejected the burnt offerings of the Israelites – because they were not sincere, just going through the motions.

They saw the sacrifices as a way of buying their way out of trouble, but they had no intention of changing their lives.

As we offer the sacrifice in Mass we must get two things right.

1) The sacrifice will ‘work’ for us only when we align ourselves with the qualities of the Victim.

We cannot offer a humble, loving Christ if we are ourselves proud and resentful.
We must change ourselves to be the same as that which we offer!

The Victim is meant to represent us. He cannot do that if we are not interested in being represented in that way.

2) Also that we must be consonant with His manner of offering. His blood is poured out on the ground. We do not have to do that at Mass, but we should at least be prepared to invest ourselves in the process. His blood is spilled for us. We must be willing to put all of ourselves on the altar with Him. How can we offer the Mass half-heartedly, casually, as though there were nothing at stake?

We have to get down on our knees and weep and wail a little bit, at least figuratively.
Be really sorry for our sins, really grateful for mercy, really determined to eradicate faults.

Perhaps we would like to be forgiven but not to change anything about ourselves. Ah, that is the temptation is it not?

To offer the sacrifice in a perfunctory way: not really having our hearts in it.

In the Gospel today we see a typical passage indicating how much Our Lord had to struggle to get through to people. How they opposed Him at every point and resisted the obvious graces He was offering.

His blood is shed in vain for those who will not accept Him.

He wants to save them, but they put themselves out of reach
As I reflect on 25 years of priesthood, I think of the eucharistic sacrifice, this central plank of priesthood and the life of the Church.

I must have offered Mass at least 10000 times, and in my life received Holy Communion many times more again!

Yet, what good has it done me? I know that in none of those times have I been as fully receptive of Our Lord as say one of the great saints, such as St Therese of Lisieux.

There is always progress to be made. That I, and each one of us, can enter the sacrifice more fully, with more Christlike qualities, and with more intensity of offering.

It is so easy simply to ‘do’ Mass, and to be the same when we finish as when we started.

This must not be. We are to be transformed by this close encounter with the Lord Himself and be made into pure bread ourselves, free from sin, fully given over to the Lord as victims with Him.

The power of Christ, Priest and Victim, can make us so.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sermon for 4th Sunday of Lent 18.3.07

4th Sunday of Lent 18.3.07 Prosperity

Some Christians hold to what is called the Prosperity Gospel. They believe that if you have sufficient faith in God then He will bless you with material and physical blessings.

You will have good health, a long life, and a large bank balance. And then you go to heaven as well.

Sounds too good to be true? It needs a little correcting here and there.

We don’t say that to be healthy and wealthy is a bad thing. It is not compulsory to be poor and sick if you are a Catholic.

It’s just that earthly happiness is not guaranteed to the disciple of Christ.

We may achieve it some of the time. It comes and goes. If we have it, fine. If we don’t have it, also fine. St Paul said he could cope with full stomach or empty, rich or poor.

Happiness, to a Catholic, is a state of union with God. If we are in union with Him we are happy; if not, unhappy.

It does not matter if we have ten houses and twenty cars – if we are apart from God we are miserable, or at least we should be.

Some, it is true, have so far forgotten the importance of the spiritual life that they would look exclusively to the material world for their satisfaction, but these people are lost.

Many people, Catholic or otherwise, would judge God by their own standard of comfort.

If there is money in the bank and food in the fridge, then God is good.
If there are bills piling up and sickness, then God is not so good - maybe He doesn’t even exist.

With this approach faith goes up or down like the stock market. There is no real logic in this position.

Either God exists or He does not. If He is good when He blesses us with food then He must still be good when He withholds food.
The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.(Job)

Why does God not guarantee earthly happiness?

1) Because this earthly phase of our lives is preparation for something better.

The miracle in today’s Gospel, the multiplication of the loaves, is a sign of this. The people were ready to crown Our Lord King because He could give them free food.

But He was about to teach them that they should look for food that lasts, heavenly food.

Happiness does not consist in having lots to eat. You can eat ten dinners a day and still be empty inside, hungry for something more. What is it? It is union with God. Only He can fill the void.

2) Because to get to where we are going we have to travel light, and not become attached to our surroundings or possessions.

The more attached we are to the things we have now the less we are seeking what we could have.

We have to be like pilgrims, ready to move, anxious to press on to our final home.

It is because of this tension that we have Cross as well as Resurrection in this life.

God sometimes appears as God of the Resurrection, blessing and healing and multiplying,

and sometimes as God of the Cross, taking away from us, asking for discipline and sacrifice.

Whichever side is uppermost – joy or sorrow – it is still the same God, no less real.

We have to be patient with Him while He leads us to where we need to be. Otherwise we will never have more than a superficial understanding of Him and never be able to love Him properly, let alone cope with life.

We are very fortunate people, but we cannot guarantee happiness on every point at every time. Not yet, but later, Yes.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sermon for Third Sunday of Lent 11.3.07

3rd Sunday of Lent 11.3.07 Purity

Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Just to think of our bodies as houses of any sort would be some progress.

Because we do to our bodies what we would not do to our houses.

Sexual impurity is like bringing in the rubbish bin and tipping it over the lounge room floor, and no one would do that, but nearly everyone it seems suffers from impurity.

Not just in this generation but ever since Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness. Original Sin put us into disorder so that our passions and desires are not in the right place.

And the disorder concerning the human body itself is one of the worst affected areas resulting from the original sin.

St Paul addresses his generation and says that any sort of impurity should not even be mentioned among the saints.

What about now when indecency of every kind is spoken of, displayed and even paraded down the main street? Plus we have television, films, and internet to magnify the occasions of sin.

It is hard for us to keep our eyes averted from so much obvious indecency, but we must do so.

Purity, like all the virtues, comes from God and is planted inside us when we receive the Holy Spirit.

We are made pure by our baptism and this is confirmed in Confirmation.

We have the gift; we just need to develop it.

We need in our society, not just the commandment, which is not enough by itself. We have to re-educate, rebuild what has been lost.

People just forget who the real God is. Impurity in all its forms is really idolatry, the worship of a false god – be it the god of pleasure, of attempted independence, of the human body itself.

They say: what is wrong with taking pleasure in the human body? Nothing, if it is in union with God’s will, and everything if against God’s will.

Remember we are HIS temple, not our own. We would not bring false gods into this church; nor can we use our bodily temples to worship false gods.

They say: yes, but there are worse sins than impurity. What about justice? Fine, we will attend to justice too, but we must also be pure. We cannot justify one kind of mortal sin by saying we don’t commit another kind.

They say: But it’s only my body; it’s not really me that’s doing these things. I am still a good person.

Our bodies R us. We understand this when it comes to violence. If I am bashed in the street, I don’t say, Oh that was just my body, it wasn’t really me.

But if I commit adultery, I say, Oh that’s just my body doing that, it wasn’t really me.

In other words I am still a good person even if I let my body do impure things. No, it cannot be.

I am what I do, and what my body does, I do, and therefore I am impure. And the temple needs a steam clean.

And when we get that clean we will feel a lot better.

We need to get our houses (temples) in order so that we can desire things the right way round and experience what it is God is trying to give us.

So far we haven’t been waiting around long enough for Him to have a chance to reach us.

May the Lord help all who struggle in this area and enable us to take control of our own bodies – a vital step on the way to holiness.

‘Use your body for the glory of God’ (1 Co 6,20)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Lent 4.3.07

2nd Sunday of Lent 4.3.07 Transfiguration

The Transfiguration is Our Lord’s way of assuring us of His glory in the midst of His degradation.

While He (or we) go through suffering there is always that backdrop or foundation of glory to sustain us in hope and joy.

The question is: will we hold on or give up when things get difficult?

If our first introduction to Our Lord was seeing Him on the Cross, we might not be inclined to join whatever religion He was starting. Yet how wrong we would be, and how deceptive appearances can be. We have to look deeper to find the glory that is there.
As did St Lawrence who could joke with his executioners in the midst of excruciating pain (and many other martyrs have shown composure and joy in similar moments).

So when we see Our Lord on the cross we are always aware of His resurrection, and that the Cross is temporary.

This is how we are meant to see our own crosses in this life.

We have trouble coming to terms with suffering. We hate it and find it very hard to say anything good about it.

Yet our religion teaches us that suffering is good for us, and we should not only endure it but actually embrace it.

Take up your cross each day and follow Me, says the Lord. And He means take up with both hands and full will, not just a sort of half-hearted reluctance.

Our mistake is that we don’t focus enough on the glory side of suffering. We focus on how much it hurts.

If we were to be thrown to the lions tomorrow we would be thinking about lions’ teeth and blood and pain etc.

When St Felicity was thrown to wild beasts she was in such a state of ecstasy that she did not even know it was happening. She came to consciousness and said, when are they going to start proceedings, only to be told that she had already been mauled by one of the beasts. She was focused on glory and this greatly diminished the suffering.

The Scriptures exhort us everywhere to look to future glory as the anchor for what we go through now.

And they tell us that what we go through now is trivial by comparison with future glory.

Also that what we suffer now can be good for us by purifying us of earthly attachments, atoning for sin, and helping others to be saved.

We will be more certain of future glory which will seem not like some far off thing but the main focus of our whole lives. We long for heaven like the deer yearns for running streams. This life is like crawling through the desert. Heaven is the water we seek.

Not only that, we will see the good that suffering united with Christ can achieve. It is a pure form of suffering, softened by divine consolation, and useful for others.

If you were asked to suffer some intense pain for a period of time and promised that your pain would bring world peace and an end to all cancer, would you not consider the suffering worthwhile?

You might doubt your strength to do it, but you would will to do it, and then God could provide the rest.

A lot of our trouble is not with suffering in principle – we are capable of making sacrifices – just that we don’t see the good that it does.

The transfiguration is a reminder of the spiritual world around us and an encouragement to trust that any suffering, cheerfully offered in union with the cross, is going to do some good somewhere. And the more suffering and the more cheerful the more good it does. (cf great saints, saving many souls, many miracles).