Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday in Octave of Christmas 2007 Sermon

Sunday in Octave of Christmas 30.12.07 Adulthood

Our Lord tells us we should be like children if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Some have explained this requirement for adults as meaning we should be child-like but not child-ish.

It does not mean all the adults must suddenly start playing chasey or hide-and-seek, but it does mean that we should all be innocent of sin, and retain or regain that sense of childlike wonder in the presence of the majesty of God.

When we look at the wonders God has done, we should be amazed (cf Psalm 8) and that should apply to any age group.

Children achieve this spontaneously; adults may have to work on it, because adults are subject to cynicism and tiredness. We can lose that sense of wonder and become bored and disenchanted.

Any adult who tries to explain this world without God has definitely lost the childlike quality.

St Paul in the epistle speaks of our being heirs with Christ. We have been like children in the sense of having to learn our lessons. Now we are moving into adulthood and ready to take over full responsibility for our inheritance.

We enjoy being children (we hope) but we must become adults. It need not be a sad loss of innocence. It should actually be a progression in holiness. With the innocence of childhood retained we can then take a more mature part in understanding and cooperating with God’s will for us.

The best part of being adult is that we have a more mature understanding.

Ironic that ‘adult’ bookshops or films means the opposite of mature understanding but let us talk about adult Christianity as meaning someone who has the wisdom of the years but still childlike wonder and innocence.

So with adulthood we develop our various gifts and talents. We take on new responsibilities such as marriage, religious vocations, studies, careers, missionary activity etc.

The saints will give us examples of adult fulfilment, and the variety of ways in which the will of God can find expression in different people.

God does want us to think for ourselves, but not in a rebellious way as that phrase is often taken. Think for ourselves how good and wise God is, and come to see His hand at work in all things. Think through His word to us; His providence for us; read the signs all around us.

Think how things could be different if we responded differently. Think about Christ at Bethlehem and being presented in the Temple, and how the humility of God should guide us.

Think about the people who reject God and why they do that, and think how to answer them. There is much need for Catholic apologetics in the present world.

You might say, I am no academic. I cannot read books, or in any case I don’t have the time. Adulthood does not mean you have to be an academic, only that you be mature and responsible in the approach you take.

Sometimes it is not the book answer that is required but the answer comes from straightforward charity. Look after the hungry man sleeping outside, and that is being adult in the true sense, and will answer critics of our faith.

Various answers to various questions, but all of them expressing the best of childhood and adulthood – innocence combined with wisdom.

But I have lost all claim to innocence, some will say. It can be reclaimed through repentance and Confession. And once reclaimed it can be retained.

We are forever rejuvenated in Christ. As we say at the beginning of each Mass: Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. Unto God who giveth joy to my youth. All that we may have lost comes back to us; and without getting old we grow into our full stature as adopted sons of God.

Christmas 2007 sermon

Midnight Mass Christmas 2007

In all the busyness, the frantic activity, the vast array and amount of human suffering, there is a still point, a place of peace and we find it at Midnight Mass, transporting ourselves in spirit to Bethlehem.

The never-changing scene which transcends all time give us comfort and reassurance that all is well, and all shall be well, provided we take refuge with the Holy Family.

It is hard to switch on peace. We can tell each other to relax, calm down, but it is not so easy to stop the engine running.

If we are full of anxiety and have a hundred things going on at once, it is very hard to stop all of a sudden and contemplate divine Mystery.

Yet that is what Christmas invites from us. Stop, Look, Listen and become a child again.

Let the peace of Christ come over you like a wave and be refreshed.

It may take a while for the peace to sink in, but let it begin tonight.

St Paul says: Let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. This would mean that even if we are frantically busy, jumping in and out of the car, on and off the phone – those things are only what the body is doing – but in the spirit, at the centre of our being we can be still, at peace with God.

The Bethlehem scene invites us to interior and exterior peace.

If we have peace in our hearts, if we slow down sufficiently, we will have time to consider our relationships with others.

One of the reasons people quarrel and are rude to each other is that neither party is at peace within, so tempers are quick and fuses are short.

But if we get ourselves right with God then we see other people in a whole new light. We see them as He sees them, requiring compassion and care.

Our Saviour came to the earth in a great act of love and sacrifice at a time when we were still sinners. We were not loveable 2000 years ago, and still not today. Yet He could feel sorry for us. He was more sorry for us than angry with us.

And this is how we must be with each other, with any people we have feuds or quarrels with. They are not so bad really; they just need a half hour or so before the Crib, drinking in peace.

And even if the other person does not change, we do, so we are Christ-like enough to be able to love, even when not loved in return.

It may take time; more than one Christmas Day, but at least we know where we must head.

It is nice to come to Midnight Mass; it is nice to have Christmas Day and all its trimmings – but to make serious progress in having peace within and learning to love like Christ, it will require that we work on this every day.

We must pray every day and confess our sins regularly, and take part in Sunday Mass, and seek to do good works in every possible way.

Christmas is about Christ, and Christ is all year long. If we don’t manage to achieve perfect peace in our hearts today, then tomorrow will do! Or six months time, or whenever we can. But achieve it we must, if we are ever to be His disciples or to have any hope of peace in the world.

Peace comes from the Christ-child who has descended into our midst. Let us honour Him tonight, in gratitude for His coming, and let His peace enter deeply within us.

Monday, December 24, 2007

4th Sunday of Advent 23.12.07 Sermon

4th Sunday of Advent 23.12.07 Enabling others

When someone wins an award he will make a speech thanking everyone who has made this award possible. He might thank his parents, his wife, his colleagues, his coach/teacher etc.

These people have all contributed something to his success. He is the shining light; they provided the platform for the light.

We prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas. He is the shining light, but others have helped Him to come, through their own humble and faithful contribution.

John the Baptist paved the way for Him (just before His public life).

Our Lady enabled Him to be born, and St Joseph in his turn enabled her to perform her role.

This was Our Lord’s ‘team’ that He would wish to thank for making possible what He went on to achieve.

So we also are part of His team. Each of us has an irreplaceable role in the scheme of things, something which only ‘I’ can do. We may not be on the same scale as the great saints, but still we are needed. If an aeroplane needs wings to fly, it also needs nuts and bolts to keep the wings attached. If you are just the screw holding something else in place you are essential to the whole operation.

Maybe as our life unfolds the best contribution we make will be to enable someone else to make a bigger contribution.

St Monica is a saint in her own right, but what she is best known for is that she brought about the conversion of her son, St Augustine.

Her greatness lay in bringing forth someone greater (just as for St John the Baptist).

It could be your children, but it could be anyone that you have helped to develop or discover a hidden talent, or overcome a certain weakness. It could be an unknown word or prayer or example that has a flow-on effect.

In the Stations of the Cross, the eighth station is: ‘Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem’. Our Lord told the women to weep for their children, by way of inducing repentance. I think of the many mothers who come into churches to pray for their wayward children – those prayers do make a difference and many a ‘child’ becomes a fervent disciple as a result.

A lot of that prayer is performed in obscurity, non-recognition. No one knows the mother is praying, nor for whom, yet eventually the prayer hits home.

So we proceed, not just mothers, but all of us can contribute the enabling of others to find their true place in the Church, and in the scheme of salvation.

We might wish for a more spectacular role, one that will bring recognition and even fame.

But humility is the keynote of Christmas, and we are told repeatedly the humble are pleasing to God.

As we contemplate the Crib at Bethlehem we feel this is not a time for self-assertion, but for stepping aside. It is a time for good will to all men.

The good we wish on others is not just physical health or prosperity, but the ultimate good of being in union with God, and developing to the full the gifts with which God has endowed them.

What we yield in humility we gain from the benefit of the other’s growth. St John the Baptist benefited from the life and death of Jesus Christ. If John had tried to grab the glory for himself where would it have ended?

But because he made himself less, we regard him as great, and so for all the saints.

If we are to assess our lives, either looking back on what has been or looking forward to what is coming – what have we contributed? How many awards have we won? No, that is not the place to look. The real value is hard to determine and may not even be known to us, but the principle is clear: have we been humble enough and faithful enough to enable God’s will to be achieved in others (and in the process, ourselves)?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas times

Christmas Day Mass times are Midnight Mass and 9.30am.

Extra Confessions are available: Friday 21st Dec from 7pm-8pm
and Monday 24th Dec from 11pm to Midnight.

A Happy and Holy Christmas to all!

Monday, December 17, 2007

3rd Sunday of Advent 16.12.07 Sermon

3rd Sunday of Advent 16.12.07 Joy

People have noticed over many generations that there is a certain cyclical effect to life. You are up one day and down the next. What comes around goes around. If your football team wins the premiership one year they may be bottom the next year, or vice versa.

No wonder that certain false religions developed along the lines of reincarnation – that we go around in one big circle and never get anywhere.

We of the Catholic faith also notice the cycles but we do not think they go on forever. We are conscious (and especially so in Advent) that things do come to a definite end.
There will be an end of sorrow and suffering for those who trust in God, but not an end of joy.

It may be that we have only ever known the cyclical effect, but that does not mean it will continue forever. It just means there is another reality (called eternity) which we have not yet experienced.

On a similar level we can identify that at any given moment we feel happy and unhappy about different things.

We might be happy that the weather is cooler, but unhappy that we have to go back to work.
Happy that we have passed an exam; unhappy that we have a headache etc.
Always we have this mixture. If someone asks us how we are, it is really a matter of what we focus on that determines the answer. I am happy and unhappy about different things.

So here again we can be resigned to a kind of perpetual mixture, and think that this arrangement will go on forever.

But not so. At the end of the day, or the end of Days, all the temporary things will come to an end, and when all is said and done, when the dust has settled, what have we left?
When you pull away all the layers, what is there going to be? Some would say, Nothing.
We would say, God.

At all the different levels of reality, the last word is that God Is, and knowing that, we can say that all will be well.

Today, Gaudete Sunday, we consider the bedrock of reality, the Last word on the subject. It is very important to know.

Is there God or is there Nothing?
If God then we are truly joyful; if nothing then we are despairing.

We put all our trust in God, and what we lack in trust we turn into a prayer that He will supply the faith, hope, and joy we presently lack.

If we are joyful it may be we do not know it or feel it, and indeed it is hard to feel what is at the deepest level.

We are more likely to feel the last thing that happened, the surface impression, the most current emotion at the time.

This can lead us to think we are unhappy when in fact if we peel it all away we are actually and always happy at that bedrock level.

What’s the use of being happy if you can’t feel it? Well, it is very useful to know that when it is all over, when we wake up from this dreamlike state called life on earth, that there is something better, and a whole lot better.

It would be nice to feel that now, granted, but knowing we are headed towards it is the next best thing.

It also helps to stabilise our emotions and our general sense of purpose to know we are going somewhere definite and not just around in circles.

The pleasure-seekers, those who have abandoned themselves to living for the moment, are acting out of a kind of desperation. They do not have to be desperate. Relax, there is a whole eternity of bliss waiting for you if you can just be a little bit patient.

So, let us rejoice, cultivating the deeper awareness of what we have, union with God the source of all Joy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

2nd Sunday of Advent 9.12.07 Sermon

2nd Sunday of Advent 9.12.07 Standards of holiness

The figure of John the Baptist is both appealing and repelling. He is appealing because fascinating. Here is someone who obviously takes seriously what he does.

Even Herod, whom John was attacking for living in adultery, liked to hear him speak.

It reminds me of the old days when people would crowd churches at parish missions, to be told by a fiery preacher there was a good chance they would go to hell.

What did you go out into the desert to hear? Someone that would tell you there is no sin; that everyone goes to heaven; that life is easy and you should go out and enjoy yourselves. No, you went out there to be told that you are a sinner, that you are on the way to hell; that there is still a way out, however, if you repent quickly.

There is something appealing about high standards, the desire to do better.

The religious orders that are strict will attract converts, even in today’s easy times. The orders that make no demands attract no one. Why?

There is something instinctive in us that makes us want to do better, to aim for the highest standard of perfection.

We see this clearly in other fields beside the spiritual. Someone who plays a sport, for instance, wants to play as well as possible.

It would be no fun playing basketball if we just threw the ball any old place, and ignored the narrow target of the goals. All sports have an inherent difficultly about them. If it were not difficult it would become meaningless.

Yet, when it comes to the spiritual life there are those who will say that the standards set by Christ (and conveyed by the Church) are too strict and too demanding, and should be relaxed.

But we know there is something dishonest about that; some kind of self-deception.

Our admiration for St John the Baptist and other holy men and women tells us that they were onto something good.

Our Lord spoke of the pearl of great price. The kingdom of God was such a good thing to discover that if you did come across it, you would sell everything you owned to be able to possess this kingdom. It was the precious pearl making all else seem worthless by comparison.

The exacting moral standards put before us by Christ - such as loving one’s neighbours, and forgiving one’s enemies - are part of this desirable kingdom.

The very difficulty of these commands is a clue that there is something here worth striving for. If the kingdom were to be proclaimed as a place where everyone does exactly what he likes and no one thinks of the needs of anyone else – we would say we’ve got that already! We don’t need to strive for that place.

God has planted within us a share in His own desire for perfection. He saw what He had made and it was good. Would God settle for an imperfect universe? Of course not.

He allows sin and imperfection to come in as a byproduct of freedom of will, but He does not want imperfection, and continuously sets about trying to restore perfection.

The Saviour came to give sight to the blind, to make the lame walk etc, signs of the Kingdom of Perfection taking hold. There is something obviously pleasing about a blind man suddenly being able to see. In just the same way it is pleasing if someone who has been slack morally suddenly becomes disciplined and self-sacrificing in his approach to life.

He has been ‘healed’ of something that was wrong.

So we keep coming, to be told we are sinners, that we need to repent. It does appeal because we are geared for perfection; and it does help because it gives us a way out. May John the Baptist continue to inspire each new generation and the Saviour he introduced continue to bring to perfection.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

First Sunday of Advent 2.12.07 Sermon

1st Sunday of Advent 2.12.07

We are told in today’s Gospel that when the events of the Last Day come upon us, far from being afraid, we should, as faithful followers of Our Lord, go out to meet Him, with our heads held high.

Not for us the terror of those who have rebelled against Him.

The teaching of the Second Coming of Christ is a rather neglected part of our tradition. Perhaps because it is something that has not happened yet, it is much harder to talk about than some of the other events which have happened.

Nevertheless it is part of our belief and we reaffirm it in every Creed: He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

On that day every person who has ever lived will come back to life; will bodily rise from the grave. It will be a day like no other. If we think the Olympic Games and World Cup soccer are big, this event will far eclipse them all.

We are told to look forward to this day. It all depends on the wording. If we told someone we were looking forward to the end of the world, they would question our mental stability; but if we say we are looking forward to the return of Christ – well, that is alright. Yet the two events are the same. The coming of Christ will end the world, at least as we know it.

We should not fear this day. If we do fear it the only possible reason is that we have Sin dividing us from Our Lord. So, the remedy in that case is to remove the sin, and perfect love will cast out fear.

We will be glad to see Him simply because we love Him, not to mention that He will be setting everything right.

What about all our plans? Will He not be interrupting our plans to get married or start a new job, or build a new house, or just plain holidays?

But anything He interrupts – we need not worry – He will give us something far better in its place.

When will this event occur? Every generation has wondered, and thought that perhaps they would be the last.

We understand from the Scriptures and with the help of the Fathers that there will be certain signs preceding the Last Day.

These include: disturbances in nature; a major conversion of Jews; the return of Enoch and Elijah; widespread apostasy (we have already qualified for that one!); the coming of Antichrist.

We will have some warning, but Our Lord does not want us to be too absorbed in when it will happen. Rather, He wants us to be on our toes, like the wise bridesmaids or the faithful servants of the Gospel. Not knowing when helps us to engage more fully in the task before us.

And that task is to fill every available minute with love for God and making Him known to the people around us.

The ending could come in two ways: before it comes things could get worse or they could get better.

Worse: will the Son of Man find any faith when He returns? Things could get to the point that even the elect would be tempted to lose their faith. If so the Son of Man will return in time to save them.

Best: we could, by the grace of God, succeed in spreading the Kingdom and bringing people in from all directions. Then we will be hastening the coming of the Lord and the Last Day will not be a terrifying event but one that most people will be welcoming.

We hope things get better but even if they do not, we who hear or read these words can resolve to hold firm. By His grace and our mutual prayer and example we can hold each other to this resolution. All the while we make our own the prayer of the second last verse of the Bible: Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!