Monday, July 30, 2007

Sermon for 9th Sunday after Pentecost 29.7.07

9th Sunday after Pentecost 29.7.07 Atonement

Our Lord weeps over Jerusalem, knowing its obstinacy and the punishment it is going to reap. If only they would repent, come to the party, then they would know happiness like never before.

So we sigh and weep over the current world, for much the same reason. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Some would argue that religion should be a cheerful affair and will not admit any kind of gloom. So we have to put a bright and breezy interpretation on whatever is happening.

Our Lord said once that there was a time for feasting and a time for fasting. When the Bridegroom is taken from them, that will be a time for fasting.

We agree that we should be joyful, cheerful, hopeful in general. But this cannot be in any sense a flippant denial of obvious reality. We cannot just say, Don’t worry, Be happy. We need to have at least a section of our lives where we are mourning for Jerusalem, weeping for our sins, and positively making atonement.

It’s as if in the Church, we have different tasks, and at any one time at least some part of the Church needs to be mourning, praying for mercy, atoning for all the sin going on.

This would restore some balance. Of course we can weep for sins without denying the joy of our faith, or the basic goodness of Creation. It is the goodness of God that we affirm when we lament that He is not known and loved.

Someone seeing a Christian weeping might say: So much for that religion; it obviously does not bring happiness. But that would be simplistic.

The weeping is part of the process of bringing things around to where they need to be.
We still have Good Friday, or indeed any Friday, as part of our whole scheme of things. We can stop weeping only when everyone stops sinning. We will not have complete happiness until that happens.

Granted we should not be gloomy and miserable beyond this precise theological sense. We cannot excuse grouchiness and grumpiness just on the basis that there are sins going on.

But a measured sense of grief, an awareness of the offended majesty of God, these are essential to the life of the Church. Thus we have Fridays and Lent, and psalms of lament, and constant asking for mercy.

Not least the Mass itself which is first and foremost a plea for mercy.
Is it not a celebration? Certainly, but we can never (not yet anyway) have ‘just’ celebration, because there is still the need for fasting.

Fasting, reparation, penance, weeping for sins – these are not just outpourings of emotion, but powerful spiritual weapons which will actually change what is happening. When we really get into the prayer we can change the course of events.

It would be an insult to God to expect Him to be happy with how things are now. We will pay Him greater honour by setting about fixing things. The first stage in that is focusing on what is wrong, and committing it to prayer. It is not lack of faith, just pinpointing the problem.

We might be tempted to feel overwhelmed by all the things that are wrong, but we submit everything to the infinite mercy of God.

The fact that in every age there have been atoners for sin, at least some people who have recognized the need (cf story of Abigail and David, 1 Kings 25 (or 1Samuel 25)), is what has kept this world afloat.

May it float a little longer and even start to sail a little bit, with the help of our tears of repentance.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sermon for 8th Sunday after Pentecost 22.7.07

8th Sunday after Pentecost 22.7.07 Conversion

This corresponding Sunday in a year’s time the World Youth Day will be on in Sydney. There is much excitement and build-up to the event.

The Latin Mass will be represented by the Juventutem movement.

Some traditionalists are sceptical of such events, worrying about such things as irreverence to the eucharist, hosts being left on the ground etc.

While some of the things that happen will be far from ideal, we can still expect good things to come from such an event.

There will be conversions to the faith, and that is always a major priority.

The Church, wisely looking ahead (to 2028) is hoping to hold those conversions and help those presently young to grow old without losing any of the fire.

A conversion is not meant to be a supernova, a brightly exploding star, beautiful for the moment but then darkness.

It is more like the bottom row of bricks on a wall, that can be built on continuously and get better and better with time.

If you are converted at 20 and filled with enthusiasm you should be twice as good at 40 and four times as good at 80.

The good thing about the big events is the expectation is higher and people are more inclined to go beyond their usual cautious responses.

The Pentecostals have been doing this for years with their altar calls. It is not wrong to capitalise on high emotions, if the end result is conversion and salvation.

But we have to make sure that the good resolutions made at such times will stick.

How to do this? The readings today call for a clear grasp of the relationship of the flesh and spirit (epistle), material world and spiritual world (Gospel).

The essence of the matter is that we need to live in the flesh and material world with a totally spiritual understanding.

If the flesh is operating outside of the spirit’s control then our life is out of control.
If we put money (or any material thing) above the life of heaven, then we are in danger of losing our soul.

We can look for help to those who have done it best – the saints. During each week we celebrate saints who have left everything to follow Our Lord. The consistent feature of these saints is the totality of their conversion.

They literally left everything to follow Him. They turned their lives upside down and never looked back.

Many of them were rich, young, of noble birth, looking at very comfortable lives, and they gave it all away to work with the sick and the poor. Or they left their palaces and lived in caves. Many of them gave away their lives either in martyrdom or strenuous service.

Overdoing it, many would say, but not really ‘over’, just doing what Our Lord said.
The rest of us are ‘underdoing’ it!

Conversion calls for a life which maintains that sense of drastic realignment. We cannot just tinker around the edges of things if we have been converted. We have to grasp the new life with our whole being - dive into the pool, not just put our toe in.

This means making significant breaks with patterns of sin. If we have lived in the flesh, addicted to sinful behaviour, we have to break completely with those things, not just reduce them a little bit.

The saints show us the way. Renounce altogether impurity, gluttony, vanity, 7 deadly sins, and seek only Christ.

We don’t all have to be monks and nuns, but we do all have to be holy. We cannot all live in caves, but we can all keep our hearts and minds pure for God alone.

The main point is to grasp the totality of what conversion means. We do not look back to Egypt; only forward to Heaven.

So everytime we hear of World Youth Day, all of us of whatever age can think of conversion, seeking it for others, renewing it for ourselves, living it like the saints.

Monday, July 16, 2007

7th Sunday after Pentecost 15.7.07

7th Sunday after Pentecost 15.7.07 Sing to the Lord

In welcoming Latin Mass choirs to Adelaide this weekend let us consider the place of sacred music in the liturgy and in our lives.

Why do we sing? For our own pleasure, yes, but when it comes to sacred music a lot of other things are happening.

We enjoy singing and hearing sacred music, but it also gives glory to God.

We can never exhaust the praises of God. He is infinite in glory and we could never say or sing all that can be attributed to Him.

The angels in heaven sing ‘sine fine’, without end, and our singing is just switching into their chorus.

Our singing has the further effect of lifting us to heaven, helping us to transcend our normal daily lives and filling us with inspiration.

This helps us to think better thoughts, and live better lives.

The epistle today reminds us that the wages of sin are death, and the Gospel that we must be like good trees, bearing good fruit.

One reason we sin is we do not see God clearly enough. If we could see His face we would never think of sinning.

We are like the Israelites who became bored and distracted when Moses left them for a time, and they made the golden calf. This symbolises all sin. We make false gods when we lose sight of the true One.

So we need ways of staying connected to God. Our worship is one of those ways.

It takes discipline to push ourselves out of bed in the morning, to pray a little longer, a little harder, to come to extra Masses - yet if we do these things we will feel a lot better and stronger. We are then fortified to go back to the outside world.

Our singing/worship is part of the effort we make to worship God. It is re-connecting to God, drinking from the source.

The way we feel when we hear this music is how we are supposed to live the rest of the time. There are times when we are really inspired that we feel like we could love all humanity; we are filled with goodwill.

Those feelings can die down very quickly. We want to lock them in so that the good feelings become good habits (virtues). And we become like the tree – firm under pressure, and bearing good fruit.

So our singing is more than just a nice sound. It is vital in making contact with heaven, in receiving help from heaven, and in gaining entry to heaven.

All the while giving glory to God, and pleasure to us.

It is something worth doing to the best of our ability. Any mistakes we make in singing will, we trust, be absorbed by the angels in their perfect and never-ending praise.

The psalms are themselves songs to God, and they exhort us to sing constantly. For example, Ps 95: O sing a new song to the Lord, sing to the Lord all the earth. O sing to the Lord, bless His Name.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Summorum Pontificum

6th Sunday after Pentecost 8.7.07 Summorum Pontificum (released 7.7.07)

Today we celebrate the Pope’s Motu Proprio enabling a freer celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass.

We hope the Mass will be celebrated more widely, and now free of any taint of being considered somehow disobedient, divisive, subversive.

Hey, we are only praying after all!

The clarifying of the status of the Mass will, the Holy Father hopes, lead to an increase of unity within the Church.

Everyone should be happy. The traditionalists are gaining something; the moderns are not losing anything (along the lines of ‘You are not losing a daughter, you are gaining a son’).

There is in the end a fundamental unity between Catholics of every opinion and taste: that we want God to be glorified and souls to be saved – ever the two ends of the Church.

We believe here in this community that this particular form of the Mass (and other sacraments) does give both glory to God and certainly helps souls to be saved, not least our own souls.

We have discovered the beauty of this rite, and we hope now that many others will also.

I will not go into all the technical details here, but review rather how we can understand this Mass and benefit from it.

The Mass is transcendent. It lifts us out of ourselves and our daily routine; taking us to the very courts of heaven. One day within Your courts, Lord, is better than a thousand elsewhere.

If this is escapism it is the best kind, because we are escaping to a real place, and better than here.

One hour of heavy duty contact with the Power, Love and Goodness of God, with Mary and all the angels and saints. It is a good way to fill in an hour.

And the benefits are immense: Grace for every kind of need; a Sacrifice which atones for all human sin; a Communion with the Body and Blood of Our Lord, which sanctifies us.

A lot of what happens in the Mass is Mystery to us. We don’t know the inner workings of God’s mind, but we get used to entrusting things to Him.

Whatever happens we must be better off after one Mass than otherwise.

So we hope to take full advantage of this new freedom for the Traditional Latin Mass.

We hope it does appear in every parish, and that every priest will learn to say it, thus enriching their own priesthood.

But we cannot be confined just to counting numbers of people or Masses. Sure, the more the merrier,

but we know we have to live the Mass as well as go to it.

We have to make our own interior participation in the Mass as worthy and complete as such a great event requires.

We have to be as humble as we look as we bow and kneel before the Almighty.

We have to be as charitable as Christ Himself, who pours out His life for us.

We have to be as joyful as the angels, worshipping before the Throne of God.

We have to be as zealous as the apostles; as hopeful as the prophets; as long-suffering as the martyrs, as pure as the virgins.

We are mixing in all this company; we have to play the part!

We live like citizens of heaven to prove we are worthy to go there, and to bring some order to this troubled planet. Not to mention that heaven is our true home, so we have to get used to it.

The most beautiful thing this side of heaven, said Fr Faber of the Traditional Latin Mass. It is a good deal the other side (that is inside) of heaven as well.

May it be multiplied indeed, in its frequency, and its fruitfulness to the world.

Long may it live and flourish, until it merges into the heavenly liturgy which knows no end.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sermon for Feast of Most Precious Blood 1.7.07

Feast of the Most Precious Blood 1.7.07

Some people faint at the sight of blood. It is impossible to see blood with indifference. It has such importance. It represents, and in a sense is, life itself.

We can die from loss of blood. If we do start to bleed we instintively try to arrest that flow. We are holding on to life itself.

The loss of blood is death; the receiving of blood is life (as in a transfusion).

Today we honour the Blood of Christ. In doing that we recall how His blood was lost, and how regained – lost on Calvary; regained in the Resurrection.

The loss or shedding of Our Lord’s blood was part of His sacrifice for our sins.

He made Himself the sacrificial lamb, a perfect sacrifice both in His humanity and divinity.

It is pleasing to the Father, not only because of who/what is sacrificed, but the generous impulse behind the sacrifice.

Not many lambs will volunteer to be killed but the Lamb of God does.

It makes the sacrifice (already perfect) more impressive still.

This blood is precious because it is divine, and because it is given from a motive of love.

God is offended by human sin, but more than appeased by this supreme act of love and generosity.

It would be like breaking someone’s front window and then buying him another house (and better one) as a recompense.

We do not deserve this from Jesus, but we are grateful for it.

His death saves us from death – eternal death. He therefore wins life for us. If we do not die eternally we must live eternally.

But there is more than that. It is not just that now we go to heaven when we die. He changes us, changes the way we live, makes us more alive, starting now.

He gives us a blood transfusion when we receive Him in Holy Communion.

By our communion with His blood, we learn to become like the One we receive. That is, we become people ourselves willing to lay down our lives for others.

If we let His blood mingle with ours we are going to be changed, for the better.

Ever wonder why the Church has so many martyrs? They are the ones who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, who have learnt to love as Jesus did.

This is a natural consequence if we let things go that far. (1 John 3,16: We know the love of God in this way: because He laid down His life for us. And so, we must lay down our lives for our brothers.)

Of course we are always tempted to limit our participation in the sacrifice of Christ’s blood. We are quite happy to be forgiven; not necessarily happy to be changed.

When we are willing to die for the brethren, able to love like that, we are fully alive.

Dying for others can also mean just the daily round of doing what we have to do, putting up with others’ faults, misunderstandings, insults etc.

This is probably harder in many ways than being eaten by lions.

In any event we are enabled to love by offering and receiving this Precious gift, the Blood of Christ. And each time we hope to be more pleasing in the sight of the One we have offended, and who is calling us to union with Himself.

We offer His blood to be saved from death; we drink His blood to become more fully alive.