Monday, April 30, 2007

Sermon for 3rd Sunday after Easter 29.4.07

3rd Sunday after Easter 29.4.07 Reform of society

St Peter offers a radical plan to take over the world. No, not with the usual guns and bombs, but with humility, simplicity, forbearance.

If you are a slave and your master treats you terribly, then serve him with a smile.
If you are a wife and your husband is awful, then win him over by the purity of your life and the mildness of your disposition;
And so on for every Christian in any sort of difficult position. Don’t just complain and take revenge as most people would, but transform the situation in a Christ-like way.

Do what Christ did when they were crucifying Him. Accept the insults and the injustices, by way of offering a perfect sacrifice, and then let that perfect offering bear fruit in changing those who are crucifying you.

(Obviously there must be limits to how much injustice one can let go, but as a general attitude be willing to forgive and forebear).

This is a very cunning plan to win the world over. Unfortunately it has never been put into operation on a wide scale. A few people have done what St Peter said: they are now called Saints.

The majority of Christians continue to operate on worldly wisdom, which is Don’t get mad, get even. So the world lurches on, unredeemed, and conflict and hardness of heart hold sway in most places, including most homes.

How can we break open the hardness of heart of the world? Only by repeating the sacrifice of Christ, by being pure of heart, by loving those who hate us, by turning enemies into friends.

But, you will say, I have tried that and it does not work. Sure you tried it, but for how long? Many will give up very quickly on this path because it takes supernatural perseverance.

To make ourselves into a sacrifice seems to go so much against the grain, yet it is the tried and true way of making a difference.

Just as in a military battle someone who sacrifices himself can open a way for his comrades, so in the spiritual world, we need people who are willing to make sacrifices – if not to die, then to die to self. To be living witnesses of Christ’s love, inspiring all around.

It may not always bring about conversion but it will sometimes, and it is a lot more successful than the worldly method, which just makes things worse.
(Witnessing to the faith is not just preaching; most of it is quiet endurance, no words at all)

This approach is alluded to in the Gospel where the Church’s time on earth is compared with a woman in labour. Painful but fruitful. A lot of pain leads soon to a lot of joy.

So the Church, in pain, brings forth converts. People who have been living in darkness suddenly see the light and are transformed.

St Peter’s battle plan is a brilliant one, but too many have broken ranks and not enabled the plan to take full effect.

We must re-form ranks and let this plan work in us and on those people around us who need converting.

We may not see the change in our lifetime. We may not see the good we do. It is a battle fought over a whole universe and the whole span of human history.

But change will follow. The seed that dies does not see the harvest, but there is one all the same. So for us, to pay now and enjoy later (to reverse the popular advertising line).

This brief time of sorrow will give way to eternal joy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Easter 22.4.07

2nd Sunday after Easter 22.4.07 Church and world

Last week we were reminded of Our Lord’s intention to build up His apostles and disciples into a fighting unit, fully convinced of their faith and able to make inroads into the unbelief of the surrounding world.

Ever since, the Church has been attempting to do this, to make converts of as many people as possible and to convince the world that Christ is risen, and thus Saviour of all who unite themselves with Him.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, reminding us in a different image that Our Lord gathers us into one body, one flock – for our protection, for one thing, but also to go out again to bring others into the flock.

We are a flock being protected, but not in the sense of being huddled together in fear. We are more like a fortress where we both gather strength and prepare to make further sorties into the surrounding world.

We are not a passive flock but very active (or at least supposed to be).

We are the Church which goes into the world, not the World which comes to church!

We are not just people who ‘go to church’, but rather people who ‘go to world’, from the Church in which we are firmly embedded.

Our identity as Catholics, members of the Church, is our most fundamental identity.

We may be other things, like president of the indoor bowls club, or longest serving bar attendant – but to be a Catholic Christian is far more than any other description that could be placed on us.

It is even more important than our family identity, certainly more important than our racial identity, or academic achievement or good looks or whatever other way we distinguish one person from another.

So, with this identity firmly established we go to the world. We may feel afraid of the world, feeling heavily outnumbered, perhaps.

Or we may feel the world is beyond repair, people being so set in their ways that nothing we could say or do would change them.

No. Fear and doubt are two qualities that have no place in the flock/fortress of Christ.

We have those qualities removed by constant exposure to His grace, and we are recharged to go out into the world and make converts.

If we take enough of His reality into our hearts and minds we cannot fail to make an impact when we go back outside.

We believe Christ is risen, and we believe everything else that He wants us to believe about Him – such as His teachings.

One of the objections to the teachings of Our Lord is that they are unrealistic, set too high for ordinary consumption.

So we have to water them down if we are going to have any hope of reaching people, especially children and young people.

Not a bit of it. It is the world that is unrealistic, setting its sights too low, living like animals when they could be living like angels; putting the things of the flesh over the things of the spirit.

And this can be our problem too. We might be bringing worldly thinking into the church instead of Church thinking into the world.

How can we train ourselves to be more Church-centred, more Christ-like? No short cut. Just lots of prayer and good reading and self-discipline and sacraments.

So what’s it like being a Christian? Don’t know, haven’t started yet.

Well, we have started, but we are like frightened sheep too much of the time, and we need an injection of courage and charitable aggression to get us on the attack.

We can convert the wolves that would devour us, or at least pluck a few sheep from the wolves.

Good Shepherd, gather us and send us forth in Your grace!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sermon for Low Sunday 15.4.07

Low Sunday 15.4.07 Faith

Faith comes to different people differently.

I wonder why Our Lord did not appear to the unbelievers like Caiphas and Pilate etc. Would that not have converted them?

He appeared only to His own disciples, to confirm rather than convert them.

There are two types of conversion required. The proud need humbling and the timid need reassuring.

The latter is much easier to achieve. Our Lord worked on this group, His timid disciples, and put new heart into them

As for the proud and the rebellious, they would need a lot more work. Some of them would be beyond any reaching, having sold out to the devil long ago.

Others no doubt were converted, eg, as at Pentecost, those who were cut to the heart at Peter’s words.

But the initial appearances were not for the rude gaze of the public but reserved to those who had established some sort of right to the see the Lord – those who at least had some love for Him.

They were reassured and given the gift of strong faith, although they still needed Pentecost to make really sure.

Our Lord’s plan was to build up strong disciples who in turn would convince others, even some of the proud and rebellious.

He was not ignoring the proud, just approaching them indirectly. They would have their chance to repent, but for now it was vital to get the Church up and running.

So it has been ever since. We are the Church, we are the collection of timid and doubting apostles who need reassuring. The way we operate sometimes we could not convince a flea of the truth of Christ’s resurrection!

So He comes to us; He convinces us of His reality. Touch and see, it is really I.

And we are convinced, partially at least, and so the Church becomes at least a little bit stronger and we have more chance of converting some of the hard cases.

The battle is fought at two levels.

The Church itself has to believe. That is one major battle.

And then the Church has to convert the world. That is another major battle.

Both are hard to win. If we could win the first the second would go a lot better.

As it has been so far for 2000 years the Church has limped into the battle with only moderate faith and has had only moderate success in converting the world.

The more we believe these things to be true the more powerfully we will proclaim and live the word.

And the converts will come rolling in, as they have at various times in Church history – eg St Francis Xavier.

So our task today, and in this Mass is to let ourselves be convinced by the Lord’s appearances to us.

He does not directly appear but comes to us through the infallible word of scripture and through His real presence in the Sacraments.

It is not through the physical senses that we are convinced but through the soul and its faculties.

Why does He not appear physically to us? It would help us no end.

Blessed are those who have not seen… Their love is greater for having had to do it the harder way.

What He denies us in sense experience He supplies other ways.

He can move in our souls to give us the certainty of faith, to form us into apostles who will go through fire and water for love of Him and to convince others.

No more doubt. We can’t afford it, either for ourselves or for the harvest of souls that is waiting the word of life from us.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sermon for Easter Sunday 8.4.07

Easter Sunday 8.4.07

Our Lord rose in the body. It was necessary that He do that because otherwise the victory would not be complete.

The devil would have no part of Our Saviour, and to leave him the body would have been like giving him a trophy.

It was impossible for the Holy One of God to suffer corruption.

The devil must have been left wondering that all his plans has come so unstuck.
Just a few hours earlier Jesus had looked a wreck. He was dead; His body was mutilated by all the punishment; His followers had scattered.

Then suddenly Jesus is back alive, His body is glorious (even better than before) and His followers have regrouped with new heart.

It is a lesson for us that things might look dark but God can shed light very quickly and nothing is impossible to Him.

The devil is decisively defeated here. Death has lost its sting. The gates of heaven have been thrown open and ordinary people can enter there.

But the devil has one card still to play. Deception.
He can rob us of the joyful assurance of our final victory, and he does this by planting fear and doubt in our hearts.

Despite the triumphant rising of Jesus the world is still shrouded in darkness. We simply do not believe in this event as fully as we should.
We do not give it its full weight and value.

Why do we doubt it? Some doubt that it happened.

Others (probably our position) believe in it as an historical event, but doubt that it has direct relevance for us.

It’s all very well for Jesus to be rising from the dead, but I am still going to be afraid as I face my death.

I don’t feel fully confident that I will be committing my life into His hands; that the same power by which He rose will also raise me.

Curious breakdown of faith just when we need it.

The devil has got at us and tricked us into thinking only by the standards of the flesh.

We believe only what we know or have experienced. Beyond that we are unsure.

But we should not limit belief to what we have seen or been through.

God is not limited to our experience. He can do a lot more things than that.

We are dealing with a powerful Creator who has brought life out of nowhere.

We have to pitch our thoughts towards Him and His unlimited power, rather than the very limited world of the flesh.

So we should not doubt or fear. The only fear of death should be whether we are ready to meet the Lord in judgment, but never for a second doubt His power to raise us again.

This feast is very much inviting us to look higher than usual. To look beyond the limits of the flesh and the usual way that things happen.

The raising of Christ is in one way a miracle, because it is such a spectacular event.
In another way it is ‘natural’ because it is how thing had to be. Death could not hold Him. It would have unnatural if He had stayed in the tomb!

This event sets a whole new tone, and a new precedent.
From now on anyone who is identified with Christ will rise in Him. The faith is in Him rather than ourselves. I certainly could not raise myself from the dead; but He can do it easily.

This is a great feast we celebrate. We have trouble letting its full import sink in. We are accustomed to playing down good news and being cautious, but this is one story we can and should believe.

Don’t let the devil rob you of your place in heaven, or your peace of mind now.