Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Septuagesima Sunday 20.1.08 Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday 20.1.08 Working in the vineyard

In the Christmas season we have been celebrating God’s generous offer of salvation. In Septuagesima/Lent we must consider our response to this offer.

It is necessary we respond, otherwise the offer of salvation will remain only a possibility and not become actual.

So the readings today put before us vital aspects of our response.

The Gospel tells us that we must accept the offer to work in the Lord’s vineyard. We are idle if we do not. This work is the main work we have in this earthly life. We may do other jobs, have other careers, but to work for the Lord is our first concern. To do His will.

We take up this work at different times. Some early, some late. Whenever we start we must continue to the end.

It is no use complaining if others seem to have it easier. We must do what each of us must do. The Lord knows what to ask of each one.

The epistle warns that one who has started the work might still be lost. St Paul says that he himself might be lost. We would be stunned by that, these days, but he knew what he was saying.

The devil never ceases to tempt us, no matter who we are or what our reputation.

We have established how long we must work – till the end of our lives. How hard must we work? Very hard. The work takes different forms but there needs to be a certain intensity and commitment about it.

This becomes clear if we look at the Church as a whole. Going back to Pentecost, which was our official launching, we see there was a high degree of enthusiasm and commitment in the early Church. There was much praying, much witnessing to the faith, much generosity, much willingness to shed blood for the faith.

(All in the first few chapters of Acts we find these things).

So how did we get to the idea that being part of the Church was just a minimalist thing, of getting baptized and confirmed and going to Mass at Christmas and Easter, otherwise being just the same as everyone else?

It was just the erosion of time on the first fervour of conversion. At the beginning we are ready to scale any mountain, slay any dragon. After a few years we are happy just to fall over the line, happy just to qualify.

This is just weariness, which can be refreshed, so it is not a permanent problem. We need to be refreshed and rekindled, and this season of repentance will enable us to recapture some of that lost fervour.

One of the things to overcome is any sense of resentment that it takes so long, that so much seems to be required of us for salvation.

Others have invented easier formulae – just believe, for instance – but we cannot make it easier than God Himself makes it.

If God makes it so, it must be good for us to work so hard. He gives us thereby a way of showing our love for Him. We don’t mind doing things if we love the one for whom they are done.

The saints teach us to be cheerful in the Lord’s service. How can one be cheerful if being scalped by savages, or fed to the lions? Because it is done for One we love. Once we discover that love the rest follows easily.

May the Lord revive us in these next ‘septuagesima’ (70) days, by awakening all our best resolutions and keeping us fervent till the end.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Epiphany 2008 Sermon

Epiphany 6.1.08 Progress to the Light

We always hope with a new year that there will be peace on earth, especially an end to violence and bloodshed. Yet one cannot escape a single news service in which there is not a suicide bombing, a murder, an outburst of killing somewhere or other in the world (lately, Pakistan, Kenya, Iraq...)

These violent events are all the harder to take when so close to Christmas. We feel that something sacred is being violated.

Just when we should be wearing our best aspect (morally, socially) in terms of goodwill and fraternity, the brutal killing seems even more obscene.

So we might despair of the effectiveness of our religion. We preach peace, but we cannot live it, it seems.

Rather than give up, however, it just means we have to go back to the drawing board and keep working on it (like an inventor with a new machine in mind).

We sense that progress can be made even by a minority. If three people in a hundred are determined on peace that might grow to seven or ten over time.

Even if the numbers do not grow we still can see that it is better to work for what is right than to acquiesce in evil. To save one Jewish refugee in the second World War, or one baby at an abortion clinic might not seem much numerically, but one life saved is still worth a lot.

So Epiphany, this feast which puts before us the idea of universal salvation is very much a challenge to our level of hope, but is also a source of hope, reminding us that God has His plans, and what He plans is very likely to happen, despite all our sins and contrary behaviour.

God means to save, and save He will. On this feast we reaffirm this central fact of our faith, that we are all called to salvation.

But how does it work? Is salvation automatic? Does it happen to everyone regardless of what path they take? No, Salvation comes only to those wise enough (like the wise men) to take the path that leads to the Light.

It is a quest (pilgrimage) to be saved because one can be derailed at so many points along the way.

The wise men in their pilgrimage symbolise the rest of us, travelling from far away to the Light.

Far away, in that we begin in darkness; and far away in terms of time, the length of our lives. We could have gone anywhere (and some do) but we have arrived in the right place and have found the Child, the Lord, as those wise men did, and all need to do.

Keep the light in view. Keep alive the hope that all will be saved. Keep alive the hope that things do not have to continue as they have always been. That we do not have to wake up to news of bloodshed in every form.

The Old Testament prophecies speak precisely of the swords being turned into ploughshares, pointing to a time when there will be no more war.

It is a matter of progressing to the final goal. Individually, make sure you are still swimming in safe waters; collectively, try to spread peace about us, the Peace of Christ, which stems from union with Him.