Wednesday, July 16, 2008

9th Sunday after Pentecost 13.7.08 Sermon

9th Sunday after Pentecost 13.7.08 Strength in trial

In the epistle we are told we are never tested beyond our strength. However, we often feel as though we are so tested!

God is telling us that whatever we are called upon to suffer in this life, no matter how hard it is, or seems to be – He will give us the grace necessary to cope with that suffering, and turn it to a fruitful outcome.

We hear that, and we believe it, but we still often feel we are at breaking point. According to God, however, we are not ever going to ‘break’ because we have grace to sustain us. Twenty times the present suffering would be no problem if we have twenty times as much grace to deal with it.

We have to ask for that grace and it is easy to panic at that point, but if we do ask we will receive.

(St Rose of Lima said that we would never complain again if we knew how carefully God measured out the cross for each one of us.)

Knowing our cross is tailor-made is a great comfort. No longer do we feel randomly cast out on the universe, but can feel secure that we are working through our troubles in direct consultation with God Himself!

No longer are we expecting God to be an efficient administrator siphoning off the sufferings, letting only joys come through to our desk (like a spam filter) .

So, should we pray for good things to happen, or should we just leave it with God, or even ask for suffering to save souls? St John Vianney would come back from heaven to suffer more to save souls. Amazing! A totally different way of looking at things. God will take advantage of such goodness and load suffering onto such a person. It is an honour as Our Lord said: be glad when they persecute you...

Do we pray for specific outcomes or just sit back and say, Lord send me anything You like.

In practice it is a mixture. We ask for good things, then say that if it does not come I will deal with it; with God’s help I will turn negatives into positives. Just make the best of it; adapt all the time.
Pray the house does not burn down, but if it does build another one!

Constant trust in God. We don’t always know why things go wrong, and don’t essentially need to know. Just reaffirm belief in God, get back on the horse, pick up the pieces and carry on.
If we all lived like that it would remove a lot of evil and that would clear up the mystery to some extent.

What if one person suddenly becomes better: still suffering but nature of suffering changes. Not so much the self induced punishments, but the purer mystical identification with Christ, and also persecution. It still hurts, maybe even more, but more grace available as well.
(St Faustina once asked for the pain of one thorn in Our Lord’s head – she received the thorn and it hurt, but she was glad to share His suffering.)
We pray simultaneously, not sure how it comes out in the wash: Thy will be done and Deliver us from evil.
His will is to deliver us finally, certainly, but not necessarily from all evil just yet.
We must expect some blows but we can at least raise the tone of the suffering, and give it that quality of identifying with Christ. Thus opening up so much more grace.

We must be prepared to suffer in that purer sense. It will be no more than we can bear because we get stronger all the time. Actually we are much happier this way because we trust God, and do not feel angry with Him for apparently deserting us.

Not only can we bear the suffering but we sense we are doing something useful as well – no less than helping to save souls.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

8th Sunday after Pentecost 6.7.08 Sermon

8th Sunday after Pentecost 6.7.08 The smart thing to do.

Our Lord praises the dishonest steward, not for his dishonesty, but for his astuteness – that he used his brains. Beyond that He does not comment.

The reason He is telling us this story is that He wants us to use our brains also. Or more theologically, to use the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge and counsel – all graciously provided by the Holy Spirit.

There is in prevailing secular opinion an idea that religious faith is more or less the opposite of intelligence. [An academic recently conducted a survey among other academics and found that most of them did not believe in God. His conclusion was that since academics are generally more intelligent than the average population belief in God shows a certain lack of intelligence.]

Many see the loss of faith as a kind of graduation to maturity. You believe those things as a child but shed them on reaching adulthood. Many do follow that path, but that does not prove it is a wise thing to do.

Firstly we need to say that intelligence is not the same as wisdom. A person of low intelligence could show far greater wisdom by humbly accepting the truth of the Gospel than a highly educated person in rejecting the Gospel. Wisdom is the smart thing to do; it is what we really do with our lives. It is the practice and not just the theory.

The main proof of possessing wisdom is the unquestioning belief in God – not only His existence, but His importance and centrality for every aspect of life. Then, putting into practice what one believes, so that there is no gap between the theory and the practice.

We show lack of wisdom when we commit any kind of sin, because then we are acting in a way which contradicts what we believe - and this is a fundamental split in our lives, which has a lot of negative consequences (guilt, fear, depression, anger, addictions...)

The lifelong challenge we face is to close the gap between what we believe and what we do, or to put it another way, to believe what we believe to such a degree that there is no room for any other action.

Our problem is that we do believe but not enough in all the truths of our faith, and that ‘not enough’ leaves us room to look for other things to compensate. That is when we turn to false gods, the golden calves of the world, to fill up the void.

Sin is always a misjudgment of some kind; a false assessment of value.

In the intellect (mind) we know what we have to do, and that seems easy enough, but in the will (heart) we find we are not always motivated to do what ought.

There is a split between heart and mind. How can we fix it?

By asking for more light for the intellect, so that we are flooded completely with the light of Christ, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit; to the point that there is no possible room for any alternative view of reality.

Then the will follows automatically what is in the intellect. As things are the will is wobbly because the intellect is cloudy. We do not fully grasp what God is putting before us, so we do not fully accept it.

For example, chastity is God’s will, and we can see what is good about chastity, yet we are still dabbling with impurity.

There is no sin committed in heaven, because everyone there is fixed on the vision of God and seeing Him there is no possible alternative.

If we are to be free from sin (epistle) we must ask to see God more clearly in this life; see His will; see the wisdom of His laws.

The smart thing to do is to pray to be smart. Smart (wise) enough to see the truth and where it comes from, and then (as a matter of course) to live that way.

Sts Peter and Paul 29.6.08 Sermon

Sts Peter and Paul 29.6.08

We honour these men for who they were, as individuals, but also for what they symbolize.

There is a saying about what happens when an irresistible force meets immoveable object? If the two are opposed it is hard to say what will triumph. But what if the force and the object are on the same side, working together? What if someone or something could be both an irresistible force and an immoveable object?

The Catholic Church is just that. Of course, we have to call on the divine part of our identity for this to be true.

At the human level we can be like Peter on the night of the Last Supper, still largely talk, but not yet substance.

But reinforced by divine grace we are then like Peter after Pentecost, ready to suffer and die for Our Lord, rejoicing to suffer in His name.

So the Church – an immoveable object. Some would say stubborn. [I note that one group wants to arrest Pope Benedict when he comes to Australia for crimes against humanity... for not allowing condoms.]

The Church does not change its dogmas despite receiving plenty of advice that we should do that. But of course they are not ‘our’ dogmas in the sense that we did not make them up. They are from God Himself. Tell Him to change them!

So we are very confident in what God has revealed to us, and this is what gives us the appearance of being stubborn, when we are really just being loyal. As solid as a Rock, the rock of Peter.

At the human level there is much rebellion within the Church, but the remedy for that is not to change the doctrines, but to change hearts, till everyone can bow before the greater wisdom of God.

So we stand like a rock. But enter St Paul. It is from Paul that we learn the importance of being all things to all men.

Paul symbolises the Church's ability to reach into all cultures and all ages.

Christ is for the heart of every person, and so the Gospel is for every one.

Paul understood this and was an irresistible force as he proclaimed Christ risen.

For us the symbol of Paul is that we must be prepared to share our faith. We must be willing to make known to our neighbour the riches of Christ.

So we are not just a defensive fortress, in splendid isolation, but on the attack into the world, attacking with truth and love to uproot falsehood, and replace darkness with light.

We can do this without relaxing the truth itself. We are still rock-like but also like the wind in moving in all directions at once.

We need to be both Peter and Paul - rock-like, and all things to all men. In season and out, conveying word of life to all comers.

As individuals we have different gifts; we are made up differently. No one of us can do all that the Church needs to do.
No matter, if we each do what we are good at, others will do the bits we cannot. The Church will have its teachers and preachers, its missionaries, its footsoldiers – all united both in doctrine and zeal.

We need Peter to hold firm to the truth; we need Paul to make it known.

So the immoveable object is itself moving with irresistible force.

The Church will expand, drawing others in, without losing anything of what it already has.

Sts Peter and Paul pray for us!