Wednesday, April 23, 2008

4th Sunday after Easter 20.4.08 Sermon

4th Sunday after Easter 20.4.08 Immersed in God

The three young men were cast into the furnace, and emerged without a hair singed, and not even the smell of burning about them. Just a pleasant excursion for them (cf Daniel 3).

This is a very remarkable story, because we are accustomed to think of fire as a very destructive element and something much to be feared.

We could say they were cast into God’s protection as well as the furnace and He delivered them from evil by the greater power of good.

God Himself is sometimes likened to a fire in mystical language. The intensity and power, and warmth of His Presence make it an appropriate if inadequate image.

If we could think of being cast into the fire, only this time the fire is all good in its effects; not destroying us but blessing and healing us – this would be an image of our interaction with God.

He asks us to cast ourselves into His care, totally believing and trusting in Him.

This fire will change us certainly, but always for the better.

We often do not know what to pray for; so many different things play on our minds and occur to us.

At such times we could think of God as being in front of us, like a raging fire, and we stand in need of Him in all sorts of ways.

Just cast ourselves into His presence, immerse ourselves in the flames of His love.

He will forgive us, console us, guide, protect, heal, supply what is lacking, change vices into virtues, make things happen, prevent other things happening... He will act always and only for good.

So our prayer must bring about good. It is always good to pray, and always necessary too. (We might think: well, everything is going smoothly at the moment; nothing to pray about – never! At the very least we could give thanks, but there are always a million needs to ask for.
The prayer of immersion in the fire covers every kind of prayer, including thanksgiving and praise.)

Whether we are praying for our own needs, or another person, or the whole Church, the principle is the same. Make contact with Him, in a casting-down motion (indicating trust and abandonment) – and things will happen. (Sparks will fly, we might say)

This approach will work whether we are thinking generally or in particular, large or small scale. Everything goes into the fire.

St James says that only good things come from God. There is no impurity in Him; all is pure and clear, like a flame. And the same with Our Lord in the Gospel, referrring to the Holy Spirit. He will show up evils by the purity of His own goodness.

If we come into His presence He will burn away all impurities from within us.

All fear, all self-interest give way in the light of God’s glory. We are raised to higher things as our understanding and capacity to give are increased.

Often we don’t know where to start when it comes to changing our lives. We have one fault, one weakness and that leads to another and we can’t seem to get out of the cycle of sins.
For example, if we are too lazy to pray we will not pray to be free of laziness; so we are trapped in the cycle.
If we are too angry to forgive we will never forgive and thus always be angry.
We need something to help us break free.

The Holy Spirit (God) will burn through the barriers and all at once enable us to see and do things differently.

If we stand close enough to the Fire we cannot fail to receive some of the heat. Throw ourselves into His presence and change must happen (for the better).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

3rd Sunday after Easter 13.4.08 Sermon

3rd Sunday after Easter 13.4.08 Easter mentality

It is proposed that soon we could be buried on the moon. It should not make any difference on the Last Day. Those on the moon also will rise.

Death is not the end, but a passing to glory. We think of the dead as in God’s presence. My Uncle Joe is not in West Terrace cemetery, getting rained on, but in heaven (or at least purgatory). A big difference of perspective.

Our Lord was building the apostles up to expect His resurrection. It was a tall order. Harder to get them to believe than to rise from the dead!

We understand the apostles’ difficulty because we ourselves are conditioned to think of death as final, even though we believe (partially at least) in the resurrection. It is just hard to see a dead body rising up again. It does not happen every day and is not part of our experience.

When standing in a cemetery it occurs to me that one day all these bodies will rise. A bit spooky perhaps, but just part of our creed (which passes unnoticed). It is outside of our normal experience but it will happen all the same. All at once on the same day.
It is not outside the power of God (no harder than making us in the first place).

The readings are about harnessing the Easter spirit so that we have a resurrection-mentality or a next-life-mentality, whereby all our dealings in this life will be conditioned by a familiarity and confident expectation of the next life.
This is a major point of struggle and immensely important to get right.
If we make a habit of including the next life in our thinking, regular daily thinking, then we will live much more happily and more usefully in this life.

It is good to be reminded how time-bound and earth-bound we are most of the time (carnal, as St Peter calls it). We need to be lighter on our spiritual feet, and more in tune with heavenly and eternal matters. The dead are not really dead, and we may not be really alive! Life equals union with Christ, and no other definition will do.

Our Lord is asking us to step into this other world, not only in hope of going there ourselves in due course, but already (cf epistle) of living like we were there. As in St Peter’s exhortations to live spiritually rather than in the flesh.

This is what I mean by making a habit of it (why the Church gives us an Easter season and not just a weekend). We need seven weeks (at least) to grasp the idea of resurrection, of living forever, of living in a different kind of world than the one we see around us.

We can make resurrection happen in the sense we can create a better kind of society by the way we live.

If more Christians lived like Christ we would start to see such a world.

In which case death would be seen as not so much a rude interruption to earthly plans, but a gentle transition to the ‘other’ house (like going down to the beach house) in which we are just as much at home.

The interplay between the two worlds is normal to us in some ways, for example, prayer. When we pray we routinely expect that the other world can hear us... angels, saints, Our Lady and God Himself.

We do not understand a lot of what goes on, but we know they are there, and believe our communication with them will make a positive difference.

This normal interaction includes also a comfortable sense that our loved ones are in God’s keeping and although beyond our direct communication they are very close, like in a different room of the same house. This is the best and most realistic grief therapy. They are with God; we are with God; so we must be with them also.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

2nd Sunday after Easter 6.4.08 Sermon

2nd Sunday after Easter 6.4.08 To be loved or feared?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The image of Him gathering up a stray lamb and carrying it home is a familiar one and very comforting. That stray lamb is you or I.

Just when we become comfortable with that image, however, we remember that there are other passages where Our Lord is presented as Judge and will scatter evildoers in all directions. So now we are disturbed.

Are we wounded lambs waiting to be comforted, or are we wolves waiting to be destroyed?

We are all sinners, certainly, all in need of attention. Whether the attention we receive from Our Lord is comforting or disturbing all depends on the attitude we take.

If we are humbly contrite for our sins we make ourselves lambs before Him and He will be gentle with us.

But if we are proud and defiant and say we have no sin, or no need of Him for any help then we are distancing ourselves from Him and we are turning into wolves.

Even the wolves He loves, but He has to be severe with them to bring them to repentance.

If there is no repentance then only judgment and condemnation can follow.

The different approach that people take explains the apparently contradictory images of Our Lord. One minute He is gentle; the next minute He is fierce. Which is true?

Both are true, but the gentleness is His primary attribute. God is Love, St John teaches. He does not say, God is Judgment! Judgment is what happens when the Love is refused.

If we refuse to receive God’s love for us, and refuse to love Him in return, then we are putting ourselves into a state of alienation from Him, so that when He judges us He is merely ratifying what we have already put in place.

It is not as though He arbitrarily takes a dislike to certain people and throws them out of His presence. An unjust judge might do that, but never this Judge.

He is so good that to be without Him is so bad: there is no neutral inbetween position,
With Him is everything; without Him is not nothing but minus-everything, painful, horrible. (eg inside the boat or outside – inside, security, peace; outside, chaos, suffering.)

So we must do everything we can to receive Him, to be in union with Him.

Ultimately it is not so hard to be saved, or not so unappealing. It is like a beggar on the street being told: Excuse me, sir, the king desires your company at his table, and he wishes to give you everything you could wish for. Do you want that, or would you rather remain on the street?

Our Lord, it has been said, came to comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.

If we have any doubts about our salvation it is a good sign because at least it means we do not suffer from complacency or presumption. We are in a position to acknowledge our sins and throw ourselves at the mercy of the Shepherd. That is all we have to do to release the torrents of His compassion. (cf Woman caught in adultery, publican, prodigal son...)

It is only the proud and hard-hearted who need to fear His judgment. (Pharisee, the would-be stoners). If we are the least bit that way we can change. So the comfortable must be disturbed, for the purpose of then being comforted in the right way.

The disturbed meanwhile, those who seek union with God, will certainly find it.

May the Good Shepherd gather us all into His arms and hold us there.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Low Sunday 30.3.08 Sermon

Low Sunday 30.3.08 Faith and Mercy

At the Easter vigil the people were asked: Creditis... and they replied Credimus to certain propositions, such as God is Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Catholic Church...

Do you believe it? Do you really really believe it, in the depths of your soul, or is it just a mental concept for your brain only but not really in your heart?

It is saying a lot to say Credimus to all those things.

A lot of people will say they believe in God in the sense that ‘there’s gotta be something out there’, but to believe in God not just as a proposition but as a Person is another matter altogether.

Belief in God at the personal level means we trust Him. It means that if we lose our house and car and family and job on the one day we still trust God, and still expect Him to set everything right.

We do not abandon Him at the first sign of trouble, but await the revelation of His glorious power.

The words to Thomas, Touch My wounds, see for yourself... – these words are for our benefit also and assure us that faith in God is not taking some risky gamble but an absolute certainty.

If we have this perfect trust in Him which is required we will be very happy in ourselves, able to cope with anything (because resigned to His will); and we will be able to inspire others.

A lot of people think they believe in God but it is only a concept in the head. They believe as long as things are going well, but if they suffer some adversity they stop believing and just rereat to other pursuits.

Our Lord wants us to believe with that same physical certainty as Thomas experienced.

So He comes to us and makes Himself known. He does not expect us to believe in a vacuum, or just by sheer willpower.

He makes His presence felt. He embraces us in His love and drives away doubt and fear, and sins too (Mercy Sunday).

Why do we doubt? Because we do not experience the presence of God fully enough. If we could see Him face to face; if we could touch Him – then we would believe. If we could see Him walking with us everywhere we go, then we would never be downcast, nor would we ever commit a sin.

The doubt, the fear, the sin are all products of the same thing – that we feel God to be distant from us and ourselves to be left alone like orphans, fending for ourselves and not properly equipped.

Is not this an accurate picture of the human race at any given time? And even the Christians are like this.

Somehow we have allowed the gloom back in, which the light of Christ dispelled. Christ Is Risen, but no Alleluia, no resonating affirmation.

How can we capture Him in our hearts so that we always know He is there, even in the midst of everyday difficulties?

It needs prayer and sacraments and good works. These will deepen our contact with Him so that we can perceive Him deep in our hearts. Familiarity breeds Love in this case. We come to know Him.

If we stay at the level of ‘gotta be something out there’ we will never have the intimacy the trust required. God is just an impersonal principle in that case, and we will always feel alone.

But if we seek Him out relentlessly, turning everything to prayer, inviting Him into our hearts, then we start to feel His love. There will still be difficulties but they will be manageable and there will be a sense of partnership with Him as we work through them.

‘Creditis’? Still? Yes, and more each week.