Monday, November 26, 2007

Last Sunday after Pentecost 25.11.07 Sermon

Last Sunday after Pentecost 24.11.07 Punishment.

It may seem strange that we preach that God loves us, and if we love Him in return we will have great blessings --- so far, so good – but if we fail to love God in return we will be boiled alive in both temporal and eternal punishment! Or words to that effect.

But how can it be that if God loves us He would punish us so severely for not loving Him?

Well, a comparison might help. If I am lost in the desert for three days I would become very thirsty. I lack water. I am deprived of something I need and eventually I would endure agony for not having that thing. Yet we still say water is good.

So if I lack God, I am deprived of something I need. It will cause me agony eventually. It is not a neutral thing to lack God, any more than to lack water or air. It must do me harm.

The various ways the punishments of this life and the next are portrayed to us in Scripture and preaching are attempts to bring home to us that we have a vital need for God, and if we do not possess Him we will suffer agony.

God does not throw missiles on us because He suddenly loses His temper - His patience suddenly snaps and He turns from being benevolent to malevolent. No, it is impossible that God could have moods.

What is happening is that, after a certain point, if we deprive ourselves of God’s grace there will be a reaction. There will be trouble in this life and the next. There will be anguish and distress as the soul realizes its loss, like the pain of grief multiplied a thousand times.

So God in His love gives us readings like today’s Gospel, not to frighten us but to call us to repentance, so we will not have to go through such things.

We don’t need a lecture on the horrors of thirst to realize we need something to drink; but we do apparently need a lecture on the horrors of being without God to realize we need to be with Him.

It is not that God suddenly ceases to love us, rather that our lack of love for Him will at some point start to register.

God, for His part , will remain faithful and always willing to receive the repentant sinner. He will exert His grace to bring about change of heart and replenish the love which has been lacking in us.

When this happens we will avert all the disasters as simply as a good drink takes away thirst.

People say, I don’t believe in that kind of God, that would punish like that. But they are missing the point. It is the same God as they want to believe in, the God of love and mercy, who desires the best for His children.

The point they are confused over is the human response. If God loves us and we do not love Him in return, we are dying of thirst, hunger, cold... you name it.

All the more reason we should believe in Him. Like saying we don’t believe in water because it hurts so much if we don’t have it. All the more reason we should appreciate it.

As we prepare for Advent, and more contemplation of the end of the world, let us be clear where we stand. Looking down the barrel of eternity we can spend it with God or without Him. One is very joyful, the other is very awful. The choice is clear. At least let us be clear that it is no fault of God that we need Him so much!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

25th Sunday after Pentecost 18.11.07 Sermon

25th Sunday after Pentecost 18.11.07 (6th Sunday after Epiphany readings) Growth through humility.

The power of the humble prayer. The littleness of the seed symbolises the powerlessness we feel as we confront the huge obstacles around us. Yet just as the seed turns into a tree, so our contributions, however slight they may seem to us, can also turn into a tree and bear fruit.

So all you widows and mothers praying away for your children and all of us as the Church, herself a Mother, pray day and night for the return of all the lost sheep and the claiming of those sheep who have never had a home.

We must never be discouraged by the apparent odds against us but press on just as a seed does what it has to do and does not stop to ask itself whether or not it can!

Humility is one of the primary virtues we need and seek for our own spiritual growth anyway, but it is also necessary for the growth of the Church.

We pray realizing our own nothingness alongside the majesty of God and we ask Him to supply the power we could never produce of ourselves.

The power, that is, to convert sinners and convince people that their true life is found in the fold of the Church.

This power expresses itself in us, most of all in the ability to do what we have to do. Not so much in spectacular things, though they will happen sometimes, but rather in the faithful attention to duty over many years.

It is this sub-structure of the Church’s life - millions of Catholics doing what they have to do – that will enable the tree to grow.

After all, the growth of a tree is not a quick thing, but every time you look you see that it is bigger. So with us: just keep doing what we have to do and every time we look the Church will be bigger (and better).

Humility is the key to recognition of the desirability of God. Once we see that we cannot provide all our own needs we look to something higher and we find it in Him.

Our simple, faithful, humble devotion to Him will keep us on course and will enable others to discover Him.

The miracle of conversion. God wants to be known by all, and loved by all, yet He will not reveal Himself in full glory. He reveals Himself subtly and gradually. He wants us to find Him by reading the signs and by obeying Him step by step.

Here again, this appeals to our humility. We might assume that God, having all that power at His disposal, would just work miracles until everyone believed in Him.

He could do that, certainly, but He does not want to overwhelm people with His presence, rather work gently and quietly to call them to Himself.

Those who are pure and humble of heart will find Him and will come to know Him more fully – slow growth, like a tree.

The proud and the self-sufficient will scoff at such subtle realities and want quicker solutions. Either God works a miracle in front of me now, or I will not believe.

This is not the way a tree grows, nor the way God operates. Trees do grow, and God does make Himself known, but not usually all in one day. The unbelievers just have to look more closely at how the system works.

We, meanwhile, maintaining our humility, and praying day and night, will be doing the best possible work in allowing His grace to work, bringing about change, adding branches to the great tree, which is His Church, His kingdom on earth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

24th Sunday after Pentecost 4.11.07 Sermon

24th Sunday after Pentecost 11.11.07 Good and bad

The problem of having wheat and tares side by side is that the wheat might be corrupted.

So many Catholics have lost their faith by following the lax ways of the world around them.

What we have to do is keep the fire burning, maintain the intensity of our faith, without becoming insular, ghettoish, holier-than-thou, or writing people off – in fact we have to convert them.

If you put good and bad people together it can go either way. In fact what we have in practice is that some bad people become good and some good people become bad, and others stay where they are.

What we want (and obviously God wants) is that the bad people become good, and the good people stay good.

We have to stay good to such a degree that we not only are strong enough to resist evil, but to overcome it.

That takes a lot of faith, a lot of prayer and a lot of application.

There are two obvious areas where we are breaking down in the Church as of now:

One is that churches are empty most of the time, locked most of the time. Every church should be open, people say – to which the answer is that we cannot do that because there is too much vandalism around. To which the answer is that vandals can only operate in an empty church and there should be someone praying around the clock in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

In other words we need more people in churches, praying, atoning, adoring. This chorus of prayer will reach heaven and bring many blessings upon the earth.

The other breakdown area is that Catholics are not sufficiently involved in the cultural, moral aspects of our society.

When an issue arises like abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, cloning, same-sex marriages, we have to rise up and be counted.

Bad men flourish when good men do nothing.

There are so few who attend meetings, vigils, rallies etc. Not everyone can, not every one can go to every event or deal with every issue. But speaking generally, we are an apathetic lot.

The two areas of breakdown are related. If we don’t pray we will not act. We gradually lose any sense of outrage. If we don’t act our prayer will become remote from our ordinary lives and we will see ‘Church’ as just something we do on Sundays.

I say outrage, but then we have to balance all this with charity. We are not meant to kill or harm evildoers, but rather win them over.

People will go with the flow and be influenced by what others around them are saying and doing. If most people went to Mass, most people adored the Blessed Sacrament, then others would join in. They would feel they were missing out if they did not.

How can we heal these areas of breakdown? We have to pave our own way here. Our first thought is to let others start something and we might join it. Each of us has to be first to cultivate enthusiasm. We cannot all run out and start a movement and that is not required. We are not all called to do everything. Each one must take stock and discern what is required of ‘me’ at this point.

The main quality lacking is zeal for the cause. We must pray more, and from that foundation we must all do more. Doing precisely what will become clearer from the prayer.

Never losing sight of the overall point that we must try to convert others, without despising them. We share the compassion of Christ for the sheep without a shepherd. We want what is best for others and the best is Christ. On the Last Day may there be only wheat and no weeds.

Monday, November 05, 2007

23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Sermon

23rd Sunday after Pentecost 4.11.07 Resurrection

They laughed at Jesus when He said the girl was only sleeping. But who had the last laugh? We have since learned to call death ‘sleep’, as when in each Mass we pray for those who have gone before us and ‘dormiunt in somno pacis.’

Jesus has power over life and death and to Him it is just sleep. He can call forth life as easily as waking someone up. Death might look permanent to us but to God it is no more than falling asleep.

We have to let our view of death be absorbed in His and let ourselves be freed from the prison of lack of faith.

In that prison we are overcome with fear and doubt, but once outside in the sunlight we can see a lot further, and we see that death dissolves like morning dew in the face of God’s majesty.

Death looks permanent because it is as far as we have experienced so far, but that is just our limitation not God’s.

God has times and places for His miraculous work. He had told us clearly that we will rise again, and He has made it known that this earthly pilgrimage is only a short phase to a much longer eternity. It is therefore not His normal plan to bring people back to life on earth. There has to be a time to leave this life and go to the final place.

When He does work a miracle of resurrection or healing it is to remind us of His power. He could easily go through the entire local cemetery and bring everyone there back to life, but that is not in the best interests of everyone. (especially not the ones who are already in heaven - they would definitely not want to come back).

So we should not wish the dead back with us, but rather wish we were with them. All in due time.

The main point for us now is to realize that God has complete power over life and death. Death is no more of a stumbling block to Him than it was to create the universe, which He did by a mere word. If He can create from nothing just by a word, then bringing back to life is another mere word.

Many sceptics would say there can be no resurrection (because they have never seen one). But looking around at all the other signs of God’s creative power we can infer that resurrection is highly likely to be within God’s reach.
If it did not happen it would not be because God lacked the power, but simply that He did not want to raise people.

As we see He does not generally want to raise people back to this earthly life, but He does very much want to raise them to eternal life.

And He wants us to believe in His power and desire to do so. So that we do not let the sadness of death diminish our faith in Him nor our desire to reach heaven.

Our problem is just that we cannot have everything all at once, and we are like children impatient for their birthday gifts as we wonder why this, and why that; instead of just letting God take control.

As the woman in the crowd demonstrates, it only takes one touch to receive a blessing from God. He is not difficult to extract favours from; the difficult part is getting us to believe in Him and not be imprisoned in worldly thinking.

So as we begin November let us believe in God as Lord and giver of life: cf Creed… Dominum et vivificantem. And pour out prayers for life to return to those who sleep in death, that they will not only rise in body but in soul, free from sin and every form of suffering. And for the living that they will rise in soul. Death in any form can be overcome and will be if we but ‘touch the hem of His garment’, approaching in simple faith.