Thursday, September 18, 2008

Exaltation of the Cross 14.9.08 Sermon

Exaltation of the Cross 14.9.08

Today we exalt the Cross, that is, we honour it, give thanks for it, in every way try to grasp and express how important it is to us.

We are led to think of the Cross under two aspects. As it was on the original Good Friday and how it affects us now.

The epistle today reminds us of how momentous the Cross was in its original form. How many people would have expected God Himself to come down from Heaven even to be with us in any form, let alone to allow Himself to be executed as a criminal? Gods just don’t do that sort of thing!

(Even still the Cross is a barrier to some in believing in Christianity. It is a ‘scandal’; it just does not fit their expectations.)

Yet come He did, and allow Himself to be taken and crucified He also did.

We honour Him for that. St Paul goes on to explain that God the Father honoured Him by raising Him from the dead and all the way into heaven.

We honour Him in His resurrection and ascension, but we also honour Him in His crucifixion and that is the point we emphasize today.

At the time people laughed at Him and mocked Him. They said things like, He could save others; let Him save Himself. They reasoned that if He stayed on the Cross He was weak, and therefore not worthy of their respect. Whereas, if He came down from the Cross He would be powerful and invite respect.

What they did not understand is a point at the heart of God’s eternal plan – that He would make of Himself a sacrifice for the sins of mankind and then offer that sacrifice to Himself, thus reconciling humanity to God.

To do this He had to stay on the Cross; He had to see it through to the end. We honour Him for doing that. We say, Well done. If anything was ever well done this was. We could not express enough gratitude or appreciation for this event if we applauded and cheered for the rest of our lives.

He welcomes our adulation but He also wants something else – our imitation. He wants us to live the Cross ourselves. We do not just look at the Cross from a distance but rather from along side of Our Lord. We are on the Cross next to Him, more like the Good Thief.

The Cross is still happening today, in that Christ if being crucified in His members.
(Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?)

This is very difficult for us because it involves suffering. On the other hand every time even one disciple endures some pain on behalf of Christ... be glad when they persecute you ... it is a triumph for that disciple and for all of us, because it is making present the Love of Christ in our time.

Every blow received by Our Lord or by one of His disciples translates into Love, and Love heals. The more they load onto Him the more Love He shows in enduring it and the greater the fruit of the sacrifice.

If we are His disciples we join Him on the Cross. We change from crucifiers to crucified.
We become victims with Him, and this is helping to complete the process of salvation.

The more people on the Cross the better, the less people mocking the better. We must be one or the other.

Eventually the sufferings of Christ will be completed. The last nail will have been driven home, the last drop of blood shed.

Until then we exalt the Cross for what it means, for what it did, and still does in our time.

Monday, September 08, 2008

17th Sunday after Pentecost 7.9.08 Sermon

17th Sunday after Pentecost 7.9.08 Love of God

"I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul." So said St Therese of Lisieux. How could it be so?

What is important is not so much the action as the intensity of love with which it is performed.

Some fortunate souls are capable of mystical experiences of God. They are taken up into ecstacy when they pray. They experience wonderful feelings at such times.

But every saint and spiritual writer warns against making those experiences the centre of attention. What should be at the centre is the desire to please God, not just what is pleasant to ourselves.

Thus if to pick up a pin is my duty that day, or some other task, and if I do it with the motive of pleasing God, then the action takes on a spiritual value far beyond its physical usefulness.

So much of life is dull and routine. If we could learn that what we do in those routine motions of the day can be turned into spiritual conquest, then there is consolation in that.

It is why we do things, even more than what we do. If the thing I do is good and I do it for love of Him then it merits extra grace – reward for one thing, but also grace to achieve other good, such as the conversion of a soul.

This is how to be good without really trying! If we periodically consecrate all that we are about to do (eg in the Morning Offering) for the glory of God, and we then do those things with the prevailing intention – then grace is being accumulated, and we are doing a lot of good for the world.

If that is what He wants and you do it for love of Him then you are doing a great thing.

The command to love God is tailored to our capacity. God does not expect us to love Him as He loves Himself in the Blessed Trinity, but to love Him as much as we can acording to our limitations.

Loving God becomes: get the next thing you do right. And then the one after that, and so on. Avoid one sin, make one act of reparation, do one act of generosity etc. If we do these things we are loving God at that moment.

To do the will of God in that moment is pleasing to Him. Whatever He wants, even suffering, if I do that patiently. If He wants it then I want it, not at first perhaps but I come to want it. I value my opinion more than His to start with but I let His will take hold and that is big spiritual progress.

Even with the mystics, it is actually much harder to put up with a neighbour’s annoying habits than to pray. And more pleasing to God if we come through such tests.

Don’t confuse how you feel when you pray with how much you love God. You love Him as much as you are trying to please Him. Your prayer may be dry and not leave you feeling any better, but if you are sincere in wanting to please Him the prayer will be pleasing to Him and you will have succeeded in loving Him.

This is one reason He lets us feel dryness, to push us to that extra level of understanding, so that we do not seek just high feelings all the time.

Everything comes back to what pleases Him, even if it does not please me. Then eventually it does please me as well, because I have become one with Him.

So we look for pins to pick up! Well, any task, if it is a good thing to do, we do it for love of Him. And we can convert our neighbours in the process.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

16th Sunday after Pentecost 31.8.08 Sermon

16th Sunday after Pentecost 31.8.08 Reaching your potential

We have just had the Olympic Games where we see athletes striving to be the best possible at pole vaulting, swimming, running, etc.
It is very hard to be the best in the world at something like that. Should we even try? A lot of the activities, of themselves, would not seem to contribute much to the wellbeing of the human race. For example, if I can run very fast, what good does that do anyone?

On the other hand if no one ever strove for perfection at anything we would have no Mozart, no Shakespeare, no sporting brilliance... No exploring of new lands, no inventions, no medical progress... So it is actually good for the human race that people try to be the best at what they are doing, provided the thing itself is good, or at least morally neutral.

It then becomes a matter of vocation, of what God Himself wants from each person. In God’s wisdom He would, we imagine, call someone to do all the things that need to be done. And each one of us should try to work out what that is for oneself.
No use if I try to be the world’s best egg-and-spoon racer if God wants me to spend my time at something else!

But what we should all be trying to do is to be the best possible person we can be. Moral, spiritual goodness.
For example, to be kind. Sounds boring, but is it better to be the fastest runner in the world or the kindest person in the world?
To be genuinely good, heroic, self-sacrificing, that is the ultimate. We generally do not rank these things or have medal ceremonies, but this is how people are ranked in heaven.

St Paul prays not that we win the premiership but that we will learn the depths of God. If we do that we will each be the best person possible. We will have come to our full potential.

You could do a course on woodwork, cooking, Latin dancing, self-defence and countless other ways to improve yourself.
But we need a ‘course’ on how to love God and neighbour and how to keep in balance all our various desires and passions, so that we get everything right.
Don’t stop the other things but make sure you develop your spiritual self.

Saints it would seem took little or no recreation, preferring heavy penances, and self-denial at almost every turn. We can be intimidated by that when we study their lives. We think we could never forego all the pleasures the world has to offer.
Again it is a question of vocation. God does call some to a very hard life of renunciation, but not everyone. We must find our own level. Whatever else we do with our lives, we do not neglect the spiritual dimension. Don’t leave your religious life to be an optional extra.

If you are working on some project, ask God to confirm it is what He wants you to do. If so, ask Him to bless it. Above all, ask that it never take His place and become a false god.

Seek the living God first whatever else.

We will find Him through the other things if we get them in the right balance. This is why He gives us created reality and it is so beautiful in its different ways.... music, literature, the outdoors, sport, food and wine... .They all point back to Him if we only see it.

And we do not forget that some lives are called to perfection after only a short time on earth, either through martyrdom or sickness. So again it comes back to vocation. What God asks of you may be different from the next person. But if it comes from Him it is your fulfilment.