Monday, June 25, 2007

Sermon for Birth of John the Baptist 24.6.07

Birth of John the Baptist 24.6.07

The human spirit often shows great resilience in time of crisis. The way people survive things like wars, attempted genocide, and natural disasters is impressive.

For example, people went on having babies in the midst of World War II.

Some people ask, how can you bring children into a world which is so marked by trouble and which faces such a bleak future?

But there in the midst of it all, we still have children – expressing hope for the future.

Today the Church celebrates a birth, a birth of a very special child.

It is also an expression of hope. We know the path this child took, so his future is past to us.

However, we relive this event so that we can recapture the feeling of hope and wonder which the people of that time felt.

Here a special child is born, accompanied by all sorts of signs and wonders – the angelic appearance to Zachary; who is struck dumb; the advanced age of Elizabeth; the mysterious choice of name; the meeting (in the womb) of John with Jesus, and the recognition of Mary by Elizabeth as Mother of the Lord.

These are all very familiar to us and may be dulled by repetition, but if we face them in their full freshness we can experience some of the excitement of the time.

And that in turn will revive our own sense of wonder at God’s providence, and our own hope for the future.

We know the story of our salvation, but do we let it fill us with hope?
Or do we in fact let the adversities of our time weigh us down and lead us nearly to despair?

Do we not feel with the psalmists that God’s mercy is past, that He may have worked wonders in previous ages, but where is He now?

We face the present world in all its complexity and its denial of God.

We look for signs of hope and they can be found.

They can be found at any point of the long story of salvation which stretches from Adam, Noah, and Abraham to the present day.

When we look at any part of this long chain we can celebrate that particular thing and all the rest that goes before and after – and be revived in hope.

Where we stand right now it is (as usual) unclear what the future will be.

But by expressing and renewing our hope in God’s power to save, we are going a long way to making that future take the right course.

We can form the future by the response we make now to God’s will.

John the Baptist did this himself by being faithful all his life. Other saints also.

‘John’means ‘God is gracious? Is He ever, with unmerited salvation being offered so fully.

John’s life did much to introduce and facilitate the flow of God’s grace. He lived his own name.

His death was also glorious, (prefiguring that of Jesus) and so he remains one of the most revered saints in the Church.

He will help us follow our path from birth to death, straying neither right nor left.

Hope - as solid as the One in whom it is placed - will be the foundation of our lives.

Whatever difficulties we face, they are as nothing compared with the power of God.

Even if bombs are falling, salvation is still found in Christ.

So we go on having children, gaining degrees, ordaining priests, living lives – all time is in God’s hands. We must be faithful and watchful stewards making the most of whatever time we have.

We thereby prepare the way for the Master to return.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sermon for 3rd Sunday after Pentecost 17.6.07

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 17.6.07 Lost sheep

This parable of the lost sheep goes against our normal worldly thinking.

99 out of 100 is not bad. Any bishop would be glad to have 99% of his diocese working as it should,

but this parable is telling us, No, you cannot be happy if even one of your number is out in the cold.

This makes sense if we think of the Church in the same light as a family.

Suppose a family of say two parents and six children had to make a sudden exit because flood waters were coming.

You would not be happy if one of the children could not be found. Nobody would say: well, I have five out of six children in the car. Five out of six is not bad.

Of course, you would be frantically looking for the lost child.

We realize that the value of a person is not mathematical. There is something irreplaceable about each person.

We cannot simply interchange one person for another.

In practice, though, we do this all the time (when we do not know people very well). We talk of victims and survivors of an accident, but it is just numbers to us if we don’t know who the people are. We can manage to raise some sympathy for those suffering, but we do not feel the devastating loss that others closer to the scene would feel.

We care about only those we know. Well, by that logic, God knows everyone of His children, and therefore cares about each one.

This is why Our Lord could give this teaching. To Him every person is important. Just as (or more so) your children are important to you, or your best friends etc.

He knows and loves each person passionately. It is therefore imperative that He as Good Shepherd would set off in search of a lost sheep.

To the rest of us it is one out of a hundred, so who cares? To Him it is like one of your children missing from the car.

He wants to convey to us a sense of the importance of each person.

We have this in the pro-life movement. Society does not care about abortions because they are just faceless numbers.

God, who created the soul of each baby at conception has a very different view.

We can be pro-life, but still very impersonal in the way we can classify people, taking them in general, not allowing for particular exceptions.

This is especially important with regard to evildoers, to sinners.

We can dismiss people so easily, but the Good Shepherd is not so quick to write people off.

OK it is very hard to love some people, when they have caused so much harm, but we have to remember their unique identity.

God did not create them that way and He is trying to rescue them from whatever ditch they have fallen into.

He is trying to free them from Satan’s clutches.

We naturally want people to be saved from physical harm; we should want it all the more from spiritual harm.

In any case, once the lost sheep comes home, he will change and become likeable.

When St Paul was still Saul, the average Christian would not have liked him much, but afterwards they came to love him. So for any lost sheep of today.

So we need to love more, to have the Heart of Christ in us, the Sacred Heart that burns with love for each and every person, writing no one off, wanting to find and bring home.

If we do not want that much, or don’t care much, our hearts have become hard. We are lost sheep ourselves to that extent. We need forgiving for our hardness of heart, and an infusion of divine love to make us search out the lost. Who cares? Anyone who has the heart of Christ within.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Pentecost 10.6.07

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Corpus Christi octave) 10.6.07

Today we continue our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Gospel presents us with an image of the banquet. Those first invited refuse to come, while those invited later take their place.

This is a reference to Jews and Gentiles, but has application in every age.

Everyone is invited to the banquet which is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, but not everyone comes.

In the news this week there has been a lot about the Church’s right to exclude certain people from receving Holy Communion.

This parable (in another version, Matthew 22) goes on to say that one of the guests was found without the proper wedding garment, and then thrown out.

The ‘wedding garment’ in our time means that yes, everyone is welcome to the feast, but before we can partake each person must be willing to conform to what Our Lord is asking of us.

We cannot simply walk in off the street and take Communion, as though it were a natural right.

Holy Communion is a privilege, not a right. No one can presume to claim a privilege.

We receive Our Lord by His permission, which permission is in the province of the Church to give or refuse.

The Church makes clear that those who are separated from Jesus Christ by being in a state of mortal sin are not free to receive Holy Communion.

This is not a new teaching but goes back to St Paul (cf 1 Co 11).

These people are ‘excluded’ but not necessarily forever. The point of the exclusion is to excite them to repentance and re-inclusion into union with Christ and His Body, the Church.

So, yes, everyone is welcome, but everyone is also under the obligation to accept the invitation on Our Lord’s terms and not their own.

Holy Communion is not a free meal just given out to anyone who happens to get on the line.

It is meant only for those who have at least some appreciation for what they are receiving.

Communion is the celebration and increase of Union.

Union is what must be achieved first. This comes through repentance of grave sin, and then a humble acceptance of Church authority.

One of the politicians involved in the recent issue is quoted as saying: ‘I’d like to see the Church try to stop me from receiving Communion’.

This is a very belligerent and ignorant approach. Of course it is easy to receive Communion physically, just a matter of going to another parish. He can receive physically, but is it pleasing to the Lord?

Will Holy Communion do him any good? No, it will make matters worse, because it will be sacrilegious.

The spiritual state of things must be considered foremost.

So for us, we might be tempted to receive Holy Communion regardless of the state of our souls. Nearly everyone in the church does receive these days.

But if in doubt it is better not to come, or to seek a blessing rather than the sacrament itself.

Think of it as a process of reconciliation. If I am not ready just now, I can work on whatever has to be changed so that I will be ready as soon as possible.

Everyone is welcome. Some have to do certain things before they can receive Communion. They are being excluded for a time, so that their ultimate inclusion will be everything it should be.

As we give thanks for the existence of this great privilege, and humble ourselves before the greatness of the One who offers Himself in this way, let us all accept the invitation and the terms on which it is made.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 3.6.07

Trinity Sunday 3.6.07

People asking about the Latin Mass are often puzzled by the fact that we pray in Latin. Why would you want to pray in a language you don’t understand, they ask.

Well, one solution to that is to learn the language as some of this congregation is doing!

But a more complete answer is that when it comes to prayer we do not have to understand every word that is spoken, nor even hear every word.

When Moses went up Mount Sinai to speak with God, the Israelites below did not hear what was said, nor would they have expected to.

They had a sense of God’s majesty and did not expect to be privy to His every word or thought.

They grasped that God was Mystery. They knew that they did not know everything.

Prayer is more than cognitive. It is an engagement of the whole person - body, mind, soul, spirit. So we can be praying even when we do not know or understand the words that may be involved.

Thus in the Latin Mass (indeed any Mass) there is a lot going on beside the words being spoken. We are entering the presence of God Himself in all His majesty and glory, and exchanging with Him a whole range of thoughts, sentiments, feelings, desires, and generally being transformed by being so close to Him.

Part of what goes on is the use of words, some of which we understand and some not; some of which we hear and some not.

The priest is not wired for sound in the Latin Mass – silence has a place, even silent words.

Coming to Mass should be understood as an overall experience: it is like entering a world bigger than we are, and just taking in as much as we can. Like entering an art gallery, or looking at the stars in the sky, or eating at a banquet.

We cannot hold all the treasures of God, so we come back another time for more.

We have all eternity to work out what we did not understand here. And guess what: we will never exhaust the mysteries of God even then, because infinity means just that – no limit.

It is appropriate today especially to consider the infinity of God, and to appreciate how lucky we are to be allowed into His presence.

The Israelites at Sinai were told that if they came too close to the mountain they would die. Imagine if we were told that: if you come too far into this church you will die! The majesty of God is so great you will be incinerated.

Well, we are not threatened with that. In fact, we are encouraged to come in, and even sit at the front. Come to Me all you who labour… etc.

Approach by all means. But come with reverence, with a sense that you are on holy ground, that the One you are approaching is greater than anything or anyone by a long way.

If you would feel awe meeting the Queen or even the Prime Minister, what must we feel in meeting God?

Once we do approach, we are swept up in that communion/communication which is so beneficial for us.

As we contemplate God as Trinity, we understand that there is between the Three Persons an infinite love.

And we are included in that love, like logs in a raging river. Tossed about, but this is a joyful experience not a frightening one.

To be loved like that, in a way far greater than human love, is our desire, even if we don’t know it.

God knows what we want. He created us to need and want this love, and He has ever since been telling us where to come to receive it.

We may not understand everything that is said in this place, but we allow ourselves to be lifted into the experience. Enjoy the flight.