Thursday, August 28, 2008

15th Sunday after Pentecost 24.8.08 Sermon

15th Sunday after Pentecost 24.8.08 God comforts us in suffering

The Lord has compassion on the widow, the main motive for His miracle. He extends that compassion to us as well. He shows both how much He loves and how much power He has. Power and Love make a great combination.

He is not working a miracle just for that particular family. It is a sign for all of us that He has come for precisely that purpose... that the blind may see, the lame may walk, the dead may live.

He is Life Himself and gives life to others like a rich man throwing coins as He walks along.
Life is His signature, we might say. Wherever He goes He leaves a trail of life.

Giving life in general He also gives the particular aspect of life that we need at any given point... food if we are hungry, sight if we are blind, forgiveness if we are in sin etc.

And if we are in grief or sadness He will give consolation and joy.

Sometimes His help is obvious and dramatic, but not all the time. He does not normally bring the dead back to life as in this case. We understand that they come back to life in a different way, and much better than coming back to this earth. We would not wish our loved ones back here if they have reached heaven. It would be cruel to pull someone out of heaven and put them back here just to keep us company!

In this case our consolation is the hope/belief that the person concerned has gone to a better place, and we express our love for that person by unremitting prayer and penance.

Separation is painful but reunion in a better state is more than compensation.

The Scriptures tell us that God wipes away our tears. There are countless passages that make this point. (eg He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more;mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’Rev 21,1-6)

He will do so, either immediately as in today’s Gospel, or over the longer term gradually restore everything to how it should be.

He came to give life and life to the full. So, He does that. Sometimes it takes time, as in bringing people to resurrection and eternal life, but it is happening. Always He is acting for good on our behalf, and our prayers and sacrifices will accelerate that process.

So we bring Him all our griefs, sorrows, and hurts. The Church is like a hospital. Plaster, slings, crutches. We are hurt, sad, suffering. We take so many knocks and we want consolation. It will come. Did He not say He was like a doctor, coming for the sick?

It is important not to exacerbate each other’s pain by any unkindness. We are all in same boat and the boat often appears to be sinking. We need therefore to be sensitive to each other.
The people in the waiting room don’t fight and kick and punch. Nor in the Church.

It is OK to be sad sometimes. It is sometimes said that Christians should never look gloomy. Certainly we could be a lot happier if we had more faith. Nevertheless we cannot always be dancing in the street, not just yet. There are still too many disorders in the world for that.

We live the Cross as well as the Resurrection. Our Lord himself was not in a state of bliss on the Cross.

So we can acknowledge we are unhappy and we cannot be totally free from it in this life, this valley of tears, valley of darkness, this exile, this tent waiting to be folded up. We do not expect total bliss here; we just need enough consolation to keep us going. The bliss will be uninterrupted later.

The Lord, the giver of life, will carry us through until that point.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

14th Sunday after Pentecost 17.8.08 Sermon

14th Sunday after Pentecost 17.8.08 Trust in God

Our Lord tells us to trust in God to provide for us. Funny that we do not do that when we otherwise claim to believe in God and are happy to believe that He has rescued other people at other times, such as Israelites from Egypt, but somehow doubt that He will rescue me at this particular time – even though even in my own personal history He has rescued me countless times before!

And then we are happy to believe that He keeps the universe running smoothly, so we do not fear, for example, that the planets would get into the wrong orbit. We have perfect confidence that the sun will rise at 6.53 tomorrow morning but doubt strongly that God will find me enough money to pay my bills, or give me courage to face a particular ordeal.

Whom are we dealing with here? When we say we believe in God we are talking about the Supreme Being who can regulate the stars and planets, and who also knows how many sparrows are airborne at any one time, and all the fears and anxieties that might be inside your head. We are fine with the stars and the sparrows but not with the personal fears.

So we just have to move along a little bit further and trust Him with the little things as well as the big ones.

Little to Him if not to us. We have a twofold problem with this. One is that our personal needs seem very big to us, whereas to someone who drives the whole universe they must appear very easy to solve.
Secondly, that we do not pay sufficient attention to Almighty God in the midst of our troubles, because we are so absorbed by them we forget to call upon Him.

This is one reason our liturgical prayer so often recalls the greatness and reliability of God. The readings from Scripture, especially the psalms recall the wonders He has done, not just as a history lesson, but because He still does great things now.

The prayers give Him thanks for what He has done, and then glide into asking Him to do some more for us now.

Strengthened communally by recalling as the Church what God has done for us, we are then more able to face our own particular personal or family needs.

It is unthinkable that God would have forgotten you, or would not make some provision for your needs. Rest with that thought and then wait to see how He will deliver you.

A few practical steps: We need to be in a cycle of prayer whereby we constantly interact with God, calling to mind past blessings, and confidently placing present needs before Him. Not to tell Him what we need (because He already knows) but to tell ourselves that we need His help.

Resist the tendency to panic. Remember St Peter on the water, how he was doing fine while he kept his eyes on the Lord but started to sink as soon as he saw his position without divine help.

We can start off in a sinking position. We need to hold firm and just tell ourselves what we know to be true, that God does not forget His children, as He remembers even the sparrows.

One more thing: remember that everything that happens is for a higher goal, namely eternal salvation. We do not receive everything we want, exactly as we want it. We have to fit our plans in with God’s plans and this will mean we have to rearrange things.

Whatever disappointments we might feel will be compensated for as God will bless us beyond what we would have asked for.

This is what it means to seek first the Kingdom. Let God decide what He does with us and we will end up a lot happier than we would have managed for ourselves.

Our confidence might sink but God remains the same every day and for all eternity. He will provide for us. Do not fear.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

13th Sunday after Pentecost 10.8.08 Sermon

13th Sunday after Pentecost 10.8.08 Thanksgiving

When things go wrong we hear people say things like: ‘It’s just my luck; this would happen to me.’ Funny that so many say that. ‘Why is it always me that these things happen to?’ It is not actually true that we always get the wrong end of things. It is just that when we get the right outcomes we take it for granted. (For example, we notice parts of our body when there is pain, eg in the elbow, but otherwise would not think about that place.) And we notice and dwell on the bad things, and store up resentment.

Look at the balance sheet of life; is it worth being born? We had no choice. We just have to live with it. Your parents thought you deserved a chance. And their parents thought they deserved a chance. In any case God thought we deserved a chance. We were planned by Him. They talk of unwanted babies. Never unwanted by God.

Is it worth it? Well, for an eternity of bliss, millions of years of happiness. For such a reward just about any suffering is worth it.

Why are we so inclined to complain and be bitter and resentful. Because we are not quite right with God. We commit sin and it puts us in a bad mood, easily annoyed, all out of sorts.

The balance sheet shows that we face an eternity of bliss on one side and have only short-lived sufferings on the other. We are running at a profit!

But there is a temptation to be ungrateful, to blow up our troubles out of proportion. Ingratitude is at the heart of all sin. Sin is when we say to God: I do not like how You run things, so I will take it into my own hands! It is saying, ‘I didnt want any of this.I never asked to be born; I never wanted to get involved in all this etc etc’ It is like having a tantrum with God. (If it goes on long enough it can become eternal, and there we have a definition of Hell) We can be like that when we are bitter with God: ‘Lord, why did You do this to me? How dare You treat me like this, and I am one of your best people!’ The devil tricks us into copying his own attitude. It is such a waste, when all that happiness is there beckoning us.

So what we have to be instead is humble and grateful. Grateful for what? Everything. Being born, being baptized, having the gift of life and the gift of faith. For the sun in the morning and the moon at night, and all the blessings of nature around us. For everything that is not hurting, or that does still work.

And for what is going wrong, thankful that God among His many abilities can heal us, and can make things come right, bringing good out of every situation.
We will be far more sensitive to positive things if we have right attitude. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances’, says St Paul.

God makes things better; union with God makes things better. This is the attitude we need.
If we can’t stop evil altogether we can certainly reduce it and give it less space.
This is the balance sheet. We are running at a profit.

So we can be like the one leper who returned to give thanks. His salvation was not complete until he had done so. We are not fully saved until we have stopped arguing with God about how He should run the universe. Just be glad that you are here. It’s better than non-existence.

11th Sunday after Pentecost 27.7.08 Sermon

11th Sunday after Pentecost 27.7.08 Hearing the word of God

As Psalm 94 puts it: If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

This, and countless other biblical references, exhort us to hear the word of God. Hear it and let it take root in our hearts, and then be expressed in action.

It seems, however, we are not inclined to hear the word of God.

Especially the words that tell us what to do, or not to do. We don’t like taking orders.

I heard once a member of a drug rehabilitation community explaining how his community works. One of the things this man said he enjoyed was to sit with someone at breakfast and receive any criticisms the other might have of him! I don’t think many of us would like to spend breakfast hearing our faults catalogued, but this man was humble enough and industrious enough to want to hear – so he could change.

We should all be willing to hear what God has to say about our faults, about what we could change to please Him more (breakfast or not). But this is just where we are likely to resist.
We do not hear the voice of the Lord because our fallen nature does not want to hear it.

Not at least when His voice puts demands on us (such as loving neighbour, or sharing possessions, or demanding strict chastity etc).

If we refuse to hear Him at this level we will probably fail to hear His other words to us – words of consolation and encouragement. Such as promising us eternal life, promising He will be always with us; promising He will provide for all our needs; watch over us carefully; forgive us readily of our sins... and countless other related promises.

We don’t hear these words either... well, we hear them, but they don’t sink in, because we are already too far from Him, having hidden from His commands.

We are like Adam hiding in the bush, when we should be like Zacchaeus coming down from the bush to welcome Our Lord.

Sin has made us ‘deaf’. We need the Lord to touch our ears as He did for the man in the Gospel, and open up the pipelines.

We will hear (perceive) the goodness of God, become aware of His love, and thus turn away from sin of our own accord.

It is only because we do not perceive Him clearly that we sin as it is. We turn to the false gods (the golden calves of the world) because we feel the real God has abandoned us.

But we only think that because the sin has clouded our vision (or our hearing). The problem is of our own making.

Once He touches us; once He opens up a new awareness of His presence we rise easily to a higher level of holiness.

This is what He wants to do for each one of us. The Gospel miracle symbolizes God’s desire to make it easy for us to hear Him.

What a tragedy when He has so much goodness to offer the world, yet people turn away in fear and distrust, and so much more trouble follows that.

We need not worry if He tells us our faults, or tells us we have to change some aspect of our lives. He also tells us of the rich rewards that await us if we only let Him give them to us.

What He wants to give us far exceeds what He asks from us.

Amen, amen I say unto you, that he who heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath life everlasting; and cometh not into judgment, but is passed from death to life. (Jn 5,24)

So we claim that eternal life, in the process freeing ourselves from the anguish and misery of sin.
“I don’t want to hear, but make me hear. I don’t want to trust You, but make me trust!” This is our prayer. It will be heard.

10th Sunday after Pentecost 20.7.08 Sermon

10th Sunday after Pentecost 20.7.08 Status

Much is made of self-image among youth. They worry what people think of them.
Much is made of appearance. The hair, the clothes, the look. The Pharisee in today’s parable worried about appearance too much. He was more worried how he looked to others than how he looked to God.

Man looks at appearances; God looks at the heart.

The Publican had the right heart. He may not have looked much but he had the one thing that mattered – union with God.

To the Youth – looks don’t matter much. What is in your heart? That is what counts. (One thing: if your heart is pure you will probably look better anyway.)

Search for the true God and you will find yourself. True self-identity is found only in relation to that true God. No other basis for life can deliver a proper self-understanding.

I must have some god even if only myself, but what god can lead me to my true self other than the true God?

WYD is quest for true God. For some perhaps it will be only the buzz of being part of a large event, but for some at least it will be an encounter with the living God.
He makes Himself known in different ways: He can be spectacular like Fatima or subtle like the gentle breeze.
Some discover Him in big rallies; others in the quiet of their own room. Same God.
We discover true self in humility. The first thing is to die to self. Like the seed. Then we bear fruit.
To be humble enought to say that I am not God; I am not the centre of the universe. No. I am a satellite of God. I revolve around Him.
To see myself as branch of the tree. I draw life from Him. I cannot exist by myself. I would not have the power to create myself or sustain life; nor can I do anything useful apart from Him.

But if I connect with Him then I come to life; then I have my true identity and the joy of that we see in some of the pilgrims. And we may have had that experience ourselves at some earlier time.

We become somebody the moment we say we are nobody.

Not nobody so I go and kill myself, but nobody by comparison with God who then raises me to be somebody.
If I had won Wimbledon and had been a war hero, and had academic brilliance and so on... impressive? We are in awe of people for the wrong reasons. Earthly status does not mean two straws if the person is not in union with God.
Conversely the tramp in the street is a royal personage if he is in union with God.

But we don’t waste time saluting each other, rather directing all our praise and attention to God Himself, knowing that we shine brighter when we do that.

We sense our weakness and vulnerability. Some are crushed by that. In reality it is a sign of hope. It means we are on the way to discovering true identity.

Also it means identity with each other - which in turn delivers us peace and joy etc, no small by-product.

So we have much to hope from WYD. It is in the end just one more way that God can reach people; it will do more good to some than others.

We continue in the large and small events of life to seek union with God more fully and to pray it and show it for others.

12th Sunday after Pentecost 3.8.08 Sermon

12th Sunday after Pentecost 3.8.08 Loving God (and neighbour)

The first and most important commandment is this: love God with your whole heart and soul and mind...

We find this one hard because God is invisible, and inaudible, and intangible... and we are creatures of flesh and blood and we find it hard to love in the abstract.

So God, knowing this, comes to our help. He sends us countless blessings and good things which He hopes will remind us of what He is like and in turn will lead us to love Him.

Things like food, wine, music, sunshine, life itself, sport, sleep, fishing ... not everyone enjoys all these things, but everyone enjoys at least some things that God provides.

Trouble is, that we enjoy these things so much we may become attached to them and not do the extra bit of thinking to follow through to where the blessings come from.

These things are just ‘messengers’, signs and glimpses of a much greater glory beyond. Whether we look beyond is another and crucial matter.

We love the blessings of God but not the God of blessings.
God wants us to love Him for His own sake, and not just for what He can do for us. He wants to give us good things, but that we would still be able to see beyond them to Himself, and be happy with just Him even if there are no obvious blessings.

Thus the true Christian can love God in a rat-infested dungeon, facing execution the next morning! Only God is the possession at that point. There are no frills, no comforts, but God is enough.

To help us along this path of discovering Him, God makes sure that our possessions will not satisfy us completely. Sometimes they are removed from us; sometimes we become bored and restless with them. We never feel completely right if we focus just on earthly things.

This is for the good reason that we are designed to love God and without Him there is always a void, a yearning. God’s command to love us is also a teaching about how we are put together.

If we get this first commandment right the other ones will fall into place.

We break all the commandments (between us) but the others all come down to this one, that we do not love God enough, if at all.

Many will say – when they lose their possessions or similar setback – that there is no God. Precisely the opposite. The fragility of earthly delights proves there is something more solid behind it all.

So we seek out that which is solid, immoveable, unchangeable – how we long for happiness which cannot be taken away. We have it in God (and nowhere else).

When He has brought us that far we have the key to everything. Ultimately Heaven itself is the possession of complete union with God. We talk of getting to heaven as the end of our journey, but we really need to get to heaven in our hearts before we can go there when we die.

We go there in our hearts when we give first place to God. We love the God of blessings more than the blessings of God.

And what of the love of Neighbour? It is the second command and flows from the first. If we love God we will automatically love neighbour because we will be thinking as God thinks. We will value what He values, and we know He loves the neighbour in question, so we must also.

The selfishness, laziness, greed or whatever prevents us from loving neighbour are all in their way a denial of God. Affirm Him and those things disappear. We cannot fail to keep the other commands which include all our obligations to other people.

What God commands He also enables. He enables us to love Him and Neighbour.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Delay in posting

Sorry for the delay in posting recent sermons. I have moved house and have been out of internet connection for some time. Will be back to normal soon!