Monday, August 27, 2007

Sermon for 13th Sunday after Pentecost 26.8.07

13th Sunday after Pentecost 26.8.07 Thanksgiving

People often complain about life and how hard it is. One of the suggested remedies is to count one’s blessings.
Go out and smell the roses, and get in touch with beauty again. This will ease the stress and remind one that life is worth living.
The Gospel of the ten lepers is a standard reminder of the need to give thanks to God for His many blessings to us.

Giving thanks is not just good manners.
Nor is it a cunning way of wrangling another blessing: Thanks for that one, Lord, now can I have another one...

It is more fundamental. It is part of our whole alignment with God in a state of union of being. We are one with Him, and thanks comes naturally in a loving united relationship.

Thanking Him will flow from an attitude of trust that whatever He allows or causes to happen is somehow the best thing for me at that time.

We tend to complain about a lot of things that happen, and we drift back to the question: Why would God do that to me? A loving God? Many reject God at this point.

If we do manage to stay around we can deepen our grasp on His presence in our lives, and this is surely one of the most crucial things to get right. We can’t be in a position where we might have lost the faith by next week if enough things go wrong at the same time. We need to be so cemented in the faith that nothing can move us and all that happens is absorbed in the deep trust between us and God.

This is what St Paul meant by thanking the Lord at all times and the message is repeated many times in Scripture.

We might think it is pious exaggeration, but no, they mean it. We thank the Lord at all times, at any given moment, for His providential love which is shining upon us and working for good.

This puts us in a much better frame of mind, but that is not the main reason we do it. We do it because it is true and because the doing of it actually restores the harmony necessary between Creator and creation.

The very act of thanking Him opens the channels of communication and the love of God can enter in more freely.

It is hard even for God (who can do everything) to answer prayers when they are put in such a complaining and doubting way.

The hardest thing for us is to hold our nerve when things are going badly. At such a time we need to make an affirmation of faith and trust (the Scriptures are full of them) and then wait to see the improvement.

If we go the other way and abandon hope things will continue to go badly and worse still.

But if we hold firm, just like in a battle, then we start to turn the tide.

We could do this for the whole world if enough people would take up the same message.
Our problem as the human race is we have never been united enough. A few people are praying in faith at any one time; the rest are charging like the Gadarene swine.

Yes, some terrible things happen but we can reduce those things by keeping a very close united front with God. It is because we have not stayed close that so many things have gone wrong.

If we do stay close there will be a general improvement in both our attitude and in the things that actually happen.

We must not be distracted by what goes wrong, but keep focused on the simple and unchanging truth that God is Good. All thanks to Him.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sermon for 12th Sunday after Pentecost 19.8.07

12th Sunday after Pentecost 19.8.07 Love of neighbour

It is too hard to love our neighbour we might say, aware of the many faults that neighbours have, which make them hard to love.

But it would be no use trying to convince God it is too hard to love neighbour because He already does. He loves all the people we don’t.

He loves them so much He died on the Cross for them.

So we will make no headway if we want Him to change His commandment. The only remedy is to ask Him to help us love our neighbours. From the abundance of His love can He send a little our way and enable us to love where we previously could not.

This will enable us to have mercy for the weakness of others, and at the same time wanting them to reach their best (which is how God deals with us).

There are two kinds of people, a man once said to me: those who put people first and those who put the system first.

The ones who put the system first are the ones who go by the rule book. They insist on everyone conforming to the rules. Break the rules and you’re out.

The ones who put people first are the ones who overlook the rules and let people find their own way.

Both approaches can be taken too far; excesses lie in every direction.

If we insist on the rules too much we run the risk of crushing the bruised reed. If we punished everyone with every fault we would be back to hanging people for stealing sixpence.

At the other extreme (which is pretty well where we are in our present society) if we let people do whatever they please we are doing them no favours. One man’s freedom is another man’s injury. And this way people will not achieve their full dignity or status as sons of God.

We want to get things exactly right. To love neighbour as God does is to want what is best for that person ( not whatever he might feel like, but what God wants for him).

This does require a respect for the ‘system’ which happens to be God’s system and therefore the best for all concerned.

Granted we don’t trust systems in general, finding them impersonal and arbitrary etc, but when God has made the system it is a different matter.

So we do not have to lurch from one extreme to the other. We can have the best of both approaches.

We can have absolute respect for both the dignity of the other person and the rightness of God’s order.

And the truth in both the theoretical and practical sense is found in a meeting of the two.

I love my neighbour best when I am introducing him to God. This can be done in a number of ways, but basically means that God is working through me in some way in every interaction I have with another person.

People will protest, Why bring God into it? Indeed how can we leave Him out, because only in Him does the whole system make sense.

Only through God can we have that exalted understanding of human dignity. Otherwise we are just ‘collections of molecules’ as a politican recently asserted.

Knowing how important people are, but without going to the other extreme of letting everyone be his own god, we can then get the right bearings.

We love one another by obeying God ourselves and by encouraging (forcing in some cases, eg children) others to do the same.

So we realize that the command to love neighbour is not so far out of our reach; it just requires a gradual convergence on what is true and good in each person and each circumstance.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sermon for 11th Sunday after Pentecost 12.8.07

11th Sunday after Pentecost 12.8.07 How to work a miracle

There is a certain stand-off between Almighty God and a sizeable part of the human race.

Many people challenge God, as to His existence, His will, His reliability in a crisis. They will say that they prayed for something at a certain time and God did not hear them. So they cut ties with Him. If He comes back on track and works a miracle for me, fine, I will reconsider. Otherwise not.

Today: How to work a miracle. The answer can be put in just two words: Obey God.
The human race says to God: You work me a miracle and I will obey You from now on.

God, for His part, says: You obey Me first and then I will work you any number of miracles.

This is the dilemma. Unless one of us gives way we will continue to be at odds, and the world will continue to limp along in all sorts of disease and disorder.

God can and wants to do all sorts of good things for us. The Gospel story of the healing of the deaf and dumb man is, like the many other miracles of healing, a symbol of the complete work of salvation that Our Lord came to achieve.

Yes, He delighted to cure sickness, to restore order, just as we like to repair something damaged or broken.

But He wanted to do much more for us than just to get our hearing back to full volume.

He wants to heal us in such a way that we regain all that Adam lost, and share in all that He, the second Adam, has won for us. No less than full union with God in our souls.

He came that we might have life, and have it to the full.

In His determination to give us this fullest blessing He will sometimes withhold lesser blessings, by way of forcing us to look further.

So, for instance, when He worked the miracle of the loaves and fed the multitude, the people thought this was great, and pursued Him because they wanted more food and wanted to see signs and wonders. He, however, wanted them to look further than just bread for the stomach, physical comfort, and to look at their lives and the way they were living – loving neighbour, forgiving enemies etc.

Why does God not grant every prayer? Because if we could have everything we wanted we would be asking for the wrong things. We would just have free food, free beer, no work, all sport, and so on. We would all be like Samantha in Bewitched and just conjure up whatever we felt like.

God knows better. He does not want us all to be magicians. He wants us to be faithful children, trusting in Him, submitting all our needs to Him, accepting His decisions as to what is good for us, what is necessary for the greater good.

In a word: obey Him. If we only do that the whole world opens up before us. We cannot tell Him what to give us, but He will bless us beyond our expectations. We will see miracles. Healing, transforming, above all conversion of life. We will be like the charcoals in the thurible, red-hot with the love of God and able to send off sparks in all directions.

This is the ultimate blessing from Him, when we are living in union with Him. He will withhold other things until we realize and accept this fact. Let us end the stand-off and come to Him readily.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sermon for 10th Sunday after Pentecost 5.8.07

10th Sunday after Pentecost 5.8.07 Our true identity

The epistle (1 Co 12) exhorts us to develop a communal sense of identity. We each have our place in the Body of Christ, different gifts, different roles. Strictly we have no identity of our own. We are automatically included in the team. We were never meant to have a separate agenda, any more than a part of an engine would think of itself separately from the rest of the engine.

Where we differ from parts of an engine is that we do have separate consciousness, but if we submerge that to the common good then we will reach our highest point. It is like being told: You have a separate mind, will etc, but submit that to the good of everyone else, and be humble and obedient enough to go along with whatever that requires. If you do that you will be exalted. If you try to go your own way you will come to nothing.

It is a test, and we are sorely tempted to go the individual road. The one who tempts us did go that road. Some of the glorious angels could not submit but wanted to assert their own individuality; so they crashed. If Lucifer had stayed loyal, how powerful he would have been.

The team identity actually enhances us. If I played for Manchester United everyone would be impressed, but if I just wore a red shirt and kicked the ball around the park by myself it would not count for much. So we actually gain prestige from belonging to the Church. The most powerful outfit there is, because the only team with God as captain and actually playing for the side.

The only hope for being ‘somebody’ is to converge with others in being the Church, as it is meant to be.

Thus Our Lord teaches us: humble yourself first and then the exaltation will come.
This requires a major shift of thinking.

We are so accustomed to thinking of ourselves as individuals – what suits us, what it cost us etc.
And then it is harder to join the ‘team’ when we can see that other ‘players’ are not thinking of the team identity either. We can sense the selfishness of others and we don’t want to join with them. So it gets very complicated.

Only remedy is that we all come in from the outer; we all climb down from excessively individual positions, and start to find out what we can do as the Body of Christ.

The main point is not to fear that we are losing anything of our precious ‘identity’ if we submit to Christ. No more than a branch lying on the ground would lose out if it suddenly became joined to a tree.

Catholics are accused of ‘leaving their brains at the door’ when they come into worship. Is that true for you? Do you feel you are not capable of thinking because you submit to the Magisterium? Of course not. We use our power of thinking to conclude that the Magisterium
is right. We choose what we believe as much as any freethinker.
We are free thinkers too. Free to pursue and embrace the truth. It should not come as any surprise if the truth has been largely codified in an existing body such as the Catholic Church. God intended us to look for the truth, but He did not intend to hide it from us. The truth has been looked for and it has been found.

We are fortunate to come in somewhat later on the scene and find out that other people have done a lot of the hard thinking for us (establishing things like the divinity of Christ). We can think those things through, but we will find they are right anyway.

No, if we are to use our brains, it will be to recognise that our true identity is found in a larger body than our own individual one – found in the Body of Christ.