If you are looking at a particular sermon and it is removed it is because it has been updated.

For example Year C 2010 is being replaced week by week with Year C 2013, and so on.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

The Holy Family (A)  

(Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)

Today’s readings are concerned, as we should expect, with human relationships, particularly those of family life.  In our modern society, where parental responsibility is, at times, notably and tragically lacking, there is a marked tendency for the government and society in general to “take over” from parents, and a corresponding tendency to give children rights against their parents.  This political support of, and encouragement for, children against their parents, has no parallel in the Bible.
There, children have rights indeed, and Jesus Himself tells us to reverence and respect them:
See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven. (Matt 18:10)
 St. Paul tells his converts in the Church at Corinth (2 Cor 12:14) that:
Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for (their) parents, but parents for (their) children.
The Scriptures are not ignorant of the abusive behaviour of some parents but, notwithstanding those failings of the few, hold firmly to the best teaching and only model for the wholesome upbringing of the many, as you heard in the first reading:
The Lord honours the father in his children, and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.  Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins; he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.
We read in the Gospel how God Himself dealt with His Son as a human child.  The Father in heaven did not by-pass Mary and Joseph to communicate directly to the Infant, nor even to the young boy Jesus.  The heavenly Father spoke to Joseph and to Mary: they were the ones who would tell the Child and the Boy what to do and how to behave; they were the instruments of God for the Child, even though the Child was God’s own Son.  Consequently we can easily recognize the Christian attitude and teaching as regards parenthood: it is an honour and a privilege to be a Christian parent, it is a position of authority and also a position of responsibility; authority given by God and responsibility before God.  In all that is good, for the spiritual and the human good (both physical and psychological) of the child, the parents have a God-given authority and also a God-given backing: they do not need to have degrees in child psychology, nor certificates in human and social studies; seeking sincerely the good of their child, in favour with God and man (as the Scriptures say of Jesus), they will be guided by God in all the normal situations of life, and even in the extraordinary circumstances where no human help can be found.  No Social Services, no child experts, can supply for God-given parents, and no legislation should be allowed which insinuates otherwise, nor should parents themselves ever begin to doubt their own special grace for bringing up their child as a child of God and as a positive and helpful member of society.
Parents, being aware of their position of authority and responsibility, should be ever on the watch to help each other in the acceptance and fulfilment of that position.  You will recall how Mary, the mother, spoke to her Child when He had been lost for three days:
And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you." (Luke 2:48)
Mary was concerned, first of all, for Joseph’s authority; she wanted first of all to remind her Child of the respect He owed Joseph:
His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you."
“Your father and I”, that was the order of concern for Mary: Joseph’s position first, her own, second.  That is a model for all parents, for the Christian husband should have as his first concern that his child should love its mother; whilst the mother, like Mary, should always first teach and inculcate the child’s obedience to and respect for the father.
Finally, today, Christian parents should recognize that they, together, are the  basis and foundation for the well being -- spiritual, psychological and physical -- of their children; consequently they should pay close attention to the words of our second reading today.  On no account should they ever allow their child to separate them, for the good of the child they should come first for each other:
And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.   (Col. 3:12-15)
Remember also those other words of St. Paul:
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.
Those are not words of domination but of co-operation for the good of the children, the words mean what I have already explained and what Mary has already shown: that the wife should be concerned that her children respect and obey their father, and she should give them an example of that attitude; and that the father, in his turn, must insist that his children follow his example in loving their mother.  It is on that firm and solid foundation that the other words of Paul will be fulfilled:
Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. (Col. 3:20)
In this respect we can discover the particular reason for Joseph’s position in the Holy Family.  Joseph was not the physical father of Mary’s child and it might seem, for that very reason, that he could never be really essential for the coherence and establishment of that family.  He was legally necessary for Jesus’ Messianic descent from King David, and he was physically necessary to protect the Child and His mother especially to save them from Herod’s persecution.  But, since it was Mary who -- having given, exclusively from the human standpoint, both body and blood to the Child -- would then be largely responsible for the mental and spiritual formation of His human character, wasn’t Joseph therefore, for the essentials, somewhat superfluous, supernumerary?  
By no means, for here we touch on the supreme contribution of St. Joseph to Jesus’ human make-up – not just for His protection and upkeep, His health and security – but indeed for His make-up as a human-being, and above all, as Son-in- human-flesh before His heavenly Father.  For Jesus, as man, had to learn about God, to recognize and respond to, His heavenly Father through the understanding and awareness of His human mind, and the experience and sensitivity of His human heart; and in order to do this He had first to learn what ‘father’ meant for Him as a child, a son, in a human family,  above all, He needed to learn not simply what the word ‘father’ meant, but  what was to be expected of a father and how a true child should relate to its true father.   As a child at Mary’s feet -- in her constant company and under her watchful guidance -- He would read and learn, love and appreciate, the Scriptures speaking of God’s love of and concern for, Israel His child, and in the synagogue He would learn to respond as an Israelite to such a God and Father.  However, at home, He would learn to respond as an individual person to a human father through His Personal experience of Joseph’s individual presentation of fatherhood, and also from observing His mother Mary in her own attitude and response to Joseph as father in the family.   Initially, such experiences would be very influential in helping the Child relate to the Heavenly Father -- uniquely His own true Father -- speaking to Him through the Scriptures, hearing and responding to Him in His life of human prayer and worship.   Joseph would thus, initially, be supremely important for what was of supreme importance in Jesus’ life: promoting and guiding His initial sensitivity and responsiveness to, His growing appreciation and love for, His heavenly Father.
People of God, we should all recognize that the Scriptures do not offer mere options for our consideration, options that we can ignore or reject as the fancy takes us; nor is the Spirit of the Scriptures subject to the spirit of modern times.  Holy Scripture, with its example of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, gives us divine and authoritative guidance together with the promise of sustaining grace and strength.   We can indeed ignore it, we can reject it, because God has made us free; but we cannot do those things without cost, and most certainly, we will never be able to find better guidance, strength, or fulfilment from the prevalent ideas of currently acceptable worldly wisdom, the lurid examples of many news-making lights in today’s decadent society, or again, the preferred easy options of the many whose main aims are earthly pleasure and plenty, and conformity with the prevalent attitude of current society.

Midnight Mass, Christmas

(Isaiah 9:1-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14)

The angel said, "Do not be afraid; I bring you good news, news of great joy  for the whole nation.  Today there has been born to you in the city of David a deliverer – the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger."
Let us think a little on those words: ‘This will be a sign for you: a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.’
What might that infant signify?  What would strike you about such a baby?     What could there be in the baby itself so impressive that it could serve as a sign for the shepherds and for us?
Now there could well be some difference in the order of precedence but I think all of us will agree – on consideration -- that a baby speaks to us about new life and new beginning; again, an infant is so helpless and vulnerable, and yet, nevertheless, exudes a mysteriously protective and literally disarming innocence.  Finally, an infant is wrapped, so to speak, not merely in swaddling clothes, but in an all-embracing beauty somehow independent of its individual features.
In a baby, then, we see new life, a new beginning in life, and in this respect the Babe of Bethlehem was supremely significant, because the Son of God became the Infant Jesus in order to bring new life to the human race, in order to offer sinful men and women a new beginning.  Jesus is our deliverer, our saviour, because He comes to free us from the power of sin and the fear of death: He offers new life, divine life, to all those who are aware of the abiding emptiness of worldly glory and the ultimate frustration of human attempts at self-justification, and who, believing in the Good News, commit themselves to Jesus by faith; and subsequently hope -- by the power of His Spirit -- to live and die with Him for the glory of Father.  And, by thus embracing the Gospel of Jesus and accepting the Gift of His Spirit through the ministry of Mother Church, there are many who have come to experience and recognise -- in the hitherto unsounded depths of their human nature – an echo, so to speak, instinctively resonating with and corresponding to this new beginning and thereby testifying that the divine life of ultimate and eternal fulfilment is indeed stirring within them.
There are, of course, others who would seek new life only in order to know again certain aspects of the death-streaked life of ordinary earthly experience, or to enjoy once more the taste and tang of sins committed earlier, sins in which they are no longer able to indulge, perhaps, because of age and infirmity.  For people with such restricted or perverted horizons there is no possibility of new, or renewed, life; their bodies will perish and they too will perish with them, not, as they might fondly hope, into silent and peaceful oblivion, but into the punishment of eternal loss.
An infant is characterized also by its innocence, and in this respect too, the Child of Bethlehem was a sign for the shepherds as He is for us, because Jesus comes to free us from the disfiguring and destructive power of sin.  The Christ Child stirs up in many a vague, perhaps even reluctant, awareness that they have failed to live up to their conscience, that they have tarnished the best in themselves, that they have too often betrayed that which was worthwhile and true, and lived – devoted themselves -- to things now seen as more or less unworthy, more or less, indeed, degrading.  For such people, contemplation of the Babe in the manger at Christmas stirs thoughts, brings back memories, and causes emotions both bitter and sweet.  Such experiences, though perhaps painful, are, nonetheless, worthy of Christmas; for the Infant Jesus is a continual reminder from God the Father that in Him – the Jesus Who is Emmanuel, that is, ever abiding with us and in us thanks to the Church -- there is not only a real possibility of, and opportunity for, a new beginning of innocence, but also the offer of an accompanying wisdom and power that will protect, strengthen, and bring such a beginning to fulfilment, if we will but sincerely turn back to Him, humbly take His yoke upon us, and perseveringly walk in His ways.
Moreover, the Babe revealed to the shepherds of Bethlehem was, in His helplessness and powerlessness, also a blessed sign that Jesus, and also His Church, has no mission, no desire, to dominate us, to force our minds into submission or our hearts to subjection.  His chosen method is to provoke the attention, and then guide the development, of our minds which are made for the truth; to purify our emotions which were created good and which sin has not been able to totally corrupt; and to evoke our love: therefore this Child can so easily be portrayed holding out His arms to us, and can so readily be felt pulling gently, yet strongly, on our heart strings.  This is an essential part of the process of our total renewal, for it restores in us a right awareness – a right self-awareness -- that we alone in the whole of creation have been made in God’s own image and likeness, with an ultimate destiny and calling to become sharers in the divine drama of eternal love and communion: a calling and a destiny which can never be forfeited, only sadly ignored and tragically rejected.   
There is an undeniable joy about Christmas, it has an atmosphere that is quite unique.  This tells us something about ourselves and about God.  Because Christmas and the Infant Jesus are so deeply in tune with our human nature, they awake something so deep and fulfilling within us which we can only respond to and express by all sorts of joy-provoking activities: by family gatherings, eating and drinking together, parties and outings, receiving and giving gifts, sharing with each other and with the poor.  Notice all these things are primarily joy-provoking, not pleasure-producing, activities.  Of course, at Christmas there are many who seek pleasure-producing measures, such as drugs, drunkenness and orgies; but we all know these are not Christmas activities, they are part of the devil’s distortion of and hatred for Christmas.  Those other, authentically Christian, Christmastide activities, however, are signs that Christ is come to make us members of God’s family, and it is there, in His family, that we will find that fullness of joy and communion for which the human heart longs:
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
St. Augustine knew this when he wrote those wonderful words: “Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
Christmas is the time for beginnings, new and renewed beginnings, for all are called to share in the Christmas rejoicing which anticipates and prepares for eternal glory.  Christmas is a season of joy -- Mary’s joy as the angel Gabriel declared -- and this joy is meant to help us on to an ever deeper and more trustful commitment in the Faith to union with Christ until, as true children of God in the only-begotten Son, the Father receives into the heavenly home prepared for us. There, Christmas joy and fellowship will be transfigured beyond all imagining into the eternal fulfilment and peace of divinely adopted children who, in the Son, are glorified by the Spirit as members of the family of God, eternally rejoicing in the presence of the heavenly Father Who is in All in all.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.  And the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.   Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.
            The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Second Sunday of Advent (A)

(Isaiah 11:1-10; St. Paul to the Romans 15:4-9;
St. Matthew's Gospel 3:1-12).

Advent is the season given us by Mother Church to prepare the way for Jesus' coming:  He wishes to heal our world’s suffering, and for that He needs entrance to the minds and welcome in the hearts and of men and women everywhere, even, and especially, the hearts and minds of every single Catholic and Christian; for no one is holy before the Lord, and pseudo-religiosity is among the world’s deepest and most painful sores.  Let each of us, therefore, try to open our minds and hearts to Him at this our Sunday gathering and pray that His Spirit may rule in us, our families, our society and our world.
In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah we heard some words which are frequently imitated today by people of all persuasions:
            They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.
Many, indeed, are those who, when speaking of themselves, use such expressions as, "I harm no one, I hurt nothing", thereby witnessing to and justifying their own life styles.  If we try to take their words in the kindest way and on the worldwide scale, we can see what our modern society is claiming, for there seems to be no doubt that our world is, as a whole, improving.  This would seem to be evidence of moral progress: with human beings, and even animals and the environment, beginning to be afforded more respect.
In the past, kings, emperors, and rulers have waged dreadful, slaughter-full, wars, often enough for merely personal pride and national advantage.  At other times, when floods came and crops failed, thousands, even millions died, and nothing was done by the rest of mankind.  You might say that was because others did not know what was happening, but that is far from the whole truth, because even in recent times the potato famine in Ireland, for example, was known and more or less politically ignored, while the world-wide slave trade was blatantly practiced and protected for profit and power.  Today, however, the nations of the world are regularly urged, and frequently consent, to join together in providing help where and when needed.  Children are no longer used for cheap labour with such impunity as was formerly the case, and the equality of women is more widely recognized and accepted.  In modern societies the poor are supported; the disabled are beginning to be integrated more, and the mentally incapable are subjects to be cared for, not nuisances to be buried in oblivion or otherwise disposed of.   In all such respects our world seems, indeed, to be much improved, and these advances are frequently considered to be the result of purely human endeavour by those who think that to do no hurt, no harm, or even better, to do good all around, is the panacea for our world's needs and the surest guide to human fulfilment.
However, there are other, disturbing, indications, which seem to contradict such a rosy picture.  Never in history have there been such murderously successful leaders as Hitler the racist, Lenin the ideologist, and Stalin the opportunist tyrant, to say nothing of the Far Eastern demagogue, Chairman Mao, and petty African tyrants.  Closer to home and in days of peace, politics and politicians are suspect, being openly mistrusted by large swathes of the population; terrorism is not only practiced but also openly justified, while money is worshipped and thuggery practiced by drug barons and their minions who ruin more lives world-wide than even Hitler or Stalin were able to kill.  Corruption and venality are everywhere to be found infecting iconic sporting events, while terrorism and rogue states such as North Korea, Burma, Iran and Somalia are constantly in media headlines.
Such considerations should lead us to think that perhaps our world’s apparent moral progress is not the same thing as real spiritual progress; and that is indeed the case, for morality is not holiness: mere morality can mask supreme pride, whereas holiness is not possible apart from fundamental humility.  The Scribes and Pharisees were most moral, despising the licentiousness and cruelty of both Roman and Hellenistic society; and yet you will remember from the Gospel reading that John the Baptist said some seemingly cruel words to the Scribes and Pharisees coming to him for baptism:
            Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
What was John targeting with such severity?  It was their racial pride, their presumed personal righteousness:
            Abraham is our father. (John 8:39)
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' (Luke 18:11-12)
What then is the Christian truth about our world's progress? 
It would seem that, to a large extent, the progress, which has been noted, is due to greater public awareness:
Then He said to me, "Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, 'The LORD does not see us.' "  (Ezek 8:12)
You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.   (Ps 90:8)
Harm and hurt are more readily done in the dark.  And so, while the light of day and the glare of public awareness can guide and promote human sympathy as they also expose and dissuade criminality, only the light of God’s grace discovers the pride and self-love which lie so often hidden in the depths of men's hearts, and which so frequently stain their most noble efforts and motivate their most abominable crimes.
Today we have instant publicity, world-wide awareness, and therein a primary reason for our apparent moral improvement; the counter indications, on the other hand, show that wide-spread within human society today there are latent forces capable of causing terrible harm and great hurt, forces which, far from being fundamentally changed by the threat of possible exposure, are -- being personal and private -- merely more cunningly disguised and more deviously promoted .
What did the prophet Isaiah say about not harming, not hurting, on God's holy mountain?  Listen:
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Hurt and harm, destruction and death, he says, will only come to an end, as distinct from being ignored or brushed under the carpet, when mankind is filled with knowledge of the Lord, when men and women are willing to humble themselves before God and seek to direct all their intentions along the way of the Lord Jesus, for the glory of Father, and the good of their neighbour.
Our modern do-gooders, however, and those who so confidently proclaim that they do no hurt, no harm, to anyone, often enough have no intention of obeying or glorifying God in what they do: rather they believe that the good they do proclaims their own righteousness and humankind’s sufficiency without any dependence upon a God, a Faith, or a Church.
Until men and women of today come to recognize the true nature of the sin that is to be found not only in human actions but also in the human heart, there is no chance that any number of sincere endeavours will effect any real change to our world; and until it is recognized that salvation only comes with repentance, and as a gift -- from God alone, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit -- no amount of self-justification will be able to bring peace to the heart of humankind.
We can all appreciate the peace pictured by the prophet Isaiah:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.   The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den.    They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
But the prophet solemnly told those who heard him that One alone, the promised Messiah, could bring about that state of affairs on earth:
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.  The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.    His delight is in the fear of the LORD, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.    Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist.
People of God, let us recognize where we should look for salvation and fulfilment: it can only come to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Apart from Him, even in those who seem to be the best of human beings, sin is never absent, only not seen, not publicly appreciated as such; and the best works of merely human sincerity and concern have no power to promote that salvation which is human kind's supreme good and which can come only as a gracious gift from God our Father in the name of Jesus, His Son and our Saviour.   

Sunday, 28 November 2010

       First Sunday of Advent (A)                

(Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44)

Advent has come round once again and I would imagine that all of us here who are mature adults will be thinking how the time since last Christmas has flown.  I really should say the time from last Advent, but perhaps many of you would not remember the beginning of Advent last year, whereas you will certainly remember last Christmas: how the time has flown since then!!  People of God, I want you to think on that: how quickly the last year has passed by!   I ask you as disciples of Jesus to do this because it is so easy for people to live through their whole life and, when it comes to an end, find themselves not only surprised -- the years having passed like a dream, as the poet puts it – but also quite unprepared for what awaits them.  That is why, in God’s Providence, the Church’s liturgy has periods of preparation – Advent and Lent -- that recur annually and thereby remind us: “Look, another year has gone by!   How many more do you think you have?  You need to prepare yourself.”
Today’s readings fit wonderfully well into that purpose by reminding us of the ultimate significance of our life here on earth and how supremely important it is for us to make good use of the time at our disposal.  These readings have two main themes: first of all they evoke the joy of pilgrims going up to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and praise in the messianic times to come. 
Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.
We can almost feel the excitement and anticipation of those pilgrims journeying to meet Him Who, they believe, will guide them along the way of salvation.
They then tell us of the need to be truly prepared for that final, solemn, meeting with the Lord coming to judge the nations and reward His faithful servants:
Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.  Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know (when) the Lord will come.
Surely such a belief, such a hope, should stir up in us -- who today are still living in a war-torn and terror-stricken world -- a like determination and confidence as that which filled the breasts of those ancient pilgrims, who walked along, exhorting each other, as we have heard, with the words:
            Come house of Jacob, (People of God), let us walk In the light of the LORD.
We are, as St. Peter said, a privileged People, for we have already, in a far truer sense than those pilgrims could ever have imagined, reached Jerusalem, the dwelling-place of the Most High, because we have the privilege of being children of Mother Church.  For, in her, the letter to the Hebrews (12:22-24) tells us:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.
Therefore, being so privileged, we should come -- each and every Sunday -- with even greater joy and expectation to the house of the Lord,
            (Who)  will teach us His ways, (that we may) walk in His paths.
The Jerusalem which Isaiah foresees is a figure of Mother Church since in her the faithful disciples of Jesus have already been given a share in heavenly life, and are being continually guided towards the fullness of Christian maturity.  That will enable them attain to the heavenly Jerusalem and to join the general assembly of the blessed gathered there, the Church of the righteous made perfect, as fully living members of the Body of Christ -- sons in the Son -- able to be presented to, and  stand in the presence of, the God and Father of us all.
Let us then pray that we may indeed learn the ways of the Lord and come to walk in His paths in accordance with the second theme of our readings today:
Stay awake!   For you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
For, not only do we not know the day of the Lord’s coming, but we have even been warned, quite explicitly, that it will take place when we least expect it:
The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  
St. Paul, that most faithful apostle of the Lord Jesus, tells us what this means for us, and how we are to set about doing what Jesus requires of us in preparation for that meeting:
It is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.  Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts.
We human beings are creatures of habit: we can do something one way, and then, by repetition, allow it to become first of all a tendency for us, and then finally develop into a firmly fixed habit that we do almost instinctively.  Now, in God’s Providence, the liturgy of Mother Church each year invites, indeed, urges us, to observe Advent as preparation for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Christ; just as she also gives us Lent to prepare for the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord.  And she does this because, without repeated observance of such seasons of preparation, we might easily drift into a habit of unthinking observance of feasts of great moment for the Spirit at work in our lives, instead of establishing a truly Christian habit of preparation that will enable us to appreciate, celebrate, and profit from, the enduring goodness of the Lord.
Consequently, People of God, I urge you to use this Advent well: try to form a habit of welcoming the Lord into your life.  We have a month in which to start a new habit, or in which to strengthen a habit we have already been trying to build up over several, perhaps many, years.  The whole point is that if we do not have a habit of recognizing, welcoming, and gratefully responding to Jesus, a habit diligently practised and firmly established over years of observing the Advent preparation for Christmas, then when He comes, unexpectedly, at the end of our days, we might find ourselves unable to welcome Him.  Be sure, People of God, one cannot live a forgetful life and then, when suddenly challenged, come out with the right response or show the right attitude.  His coming at the end will be quite unexpected, there will be no time to collect our thoughts and weigh up what should be our attitude; we will find ourselves responding instinctively, at that unprepared moment, either in accordance with the character we have carefully built up by faithful devotion over the years, or with that thoughtlessly allowed to develop over years of selfish, careless, and faithless living.  And that response will, for better or for worse, prove to be our final response and our last opportunity: a violent person, under pressure, will always react violently; a weak-willed person, under threat, will always be craven; a faithless disciple will always prove himself a hypocrite.   No wonder Jesus said:
            Blessed is that servant whom his master finds doing (right) when he comes.
Recognize yourselves, People of God: sudden trials, sudden and unexpected threats, leave us neither the time nor the ability to act in an unaccustomed manner: to be found doing the Master's will when He comes, we need to have seriously formed good habits and the right instinctive attitudes.  Advent is an opportunity given us by Mother Church to try to establish the supremely good habit of recognizing and welcoming the Lord into our lives this Christmas.  Therefore, the way we prepare during the course of this Advent could be the mirror image of our state of preparedness when He comes – suddenly -- to settle accounts with each of us personally at the end of our time of preparation and formation in Mother Church. 
In Psalm 53 we read:
God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
And, according to the Psalmist, He found none:
Every one of them has turned aside; there is none who does good, no, not one.  They do not call upon God.
That was the situation, even in Israel, before Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour, came to redeem us; and that is still the situation of many today who turn away from, reject, Jesus: they do not acknowledge God; they do not seek or call upon Him; they have not understood the probationary nature of their life experience on earth, where both the wonder of God’s creation – so beautiful with all its natural powers and sublime human potential -- and the depth of mankind’s needs seem to be so  irreconcilable for them.
So, dear People of God, use Advent to prepare to welcome Jesus fittingly: try to recognize all those occasions, both great and small, clear and only glimpsed at, where truth and beauty, goodness and love, sympathy and help, power and fragility, fear and wonder, impinge on your consciousness and invite you to respond to God somehow present there, and may your Advent character of awareness, gratitude, trust,  peace, and joy further Jesus’ Kingdom of faith, hope, and charity in your souls.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Christ the King (C)
(2 Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43)

Today we are invited to rejoice in Christ our King Who is the Son of God made flesh.  We should be aware that throughout the New Testament the many mentions of "the God", for example, “the God of our fathers", "the God of the living", "may the God of hope", and other such expressions, all refer to God the Father, He is "God" because the Father is the source of all. 
However, because He is Father, always and eternally, therefore He always and eternally expresses His Fatherhood in His Son, His co-eternal Son, for without His Son He would not be Himself, that is, He would not be the Father.  The Father withholds nothing from His Son, as Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper:
All things that the Father has are Mine (John 16:15)
(Father,) all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine. (John 17:10)
And therefore we heard in the second reading that:
            He (the beloved Son) is the image of the invisible God.
The Nicene Creed proclaims in our Mass the eternal relationship between Father and Son in the one Godhead: He is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten not made, of One Being with the Father.
Therefore, in the one God, the Son is the essential, total and complete, expression of the Father's very being. 
Creation, on the other hand, is not essential to God; it is a choice He makes and,  though it is an abiding choice of His will, it is only a partial expression in space and time of His infinite wisdom, goodness, and power.  Nevertheless, as true Father He loves creation as He made it (Gen 1:31):
Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.
Since the Son is the total, co-eternal, expression of the nature of God the Father while creation is but a partial, temporal, expression of His goodness and truth, we can begin to appreciate there being a special relationship between the Son and creation, as we heard in the second reading:
He -- the image of the invisible God -- is the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created, in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers -- all were created through Him and for Him.
Moreover, we can now understand why it should be the Son Who was sent by the Father for our salvation; the Son Who, having taken truly human flesh of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, became the One of Whom the letter to the Colossians says that:
He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Col. 1:17)
Indeed, though outwardly seen as a mysteriously humble figure known as Jesus, the son of Mary of Nazareth, the same letter to the Colossians goes on to tell us that:
            In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Col. 2:9)
Let us then try to appreciate something of the glory of the Father, manifested to us in the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of His Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It was the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the bond of love between Father and Son in the one Godhead, Who guided, strengthened, and sustained, the incarnate Son, Who, -- having been made one with us in all our powers and potentialities, even to the extent of sharing in our native human weakness though without sin -- would be led to the full maturity of His human nature by the Spirit.  This was publicly manifested, as you will recall, at the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan:
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  (Matt 3:16-4:1)
The beloved, only-begotten, Son of God, the Lord and Saviour of all mankind, had to be brought to perfection in His fleshly existence for our sake; and -- because of our sins -- that perfection could only come through suffering as the letter to the Hebrews tells us:
It was fitting for Him, for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Heb 2:10)
And now, we begin to see the true nature of Christ's glory in its earthly manifestation, we begin to glimpse His goodness and His humility:
 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through  fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.(Heb 2:14-15)
This He was able to do because:
Though He was in the form of God, (He) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)
And having (thus) been perfected, He became the author of salvation to all who obey Him. (Heb 5:9)
Let us now raise up our minds from things on earth to have a look in faith at the heavenly beauty of Him Whom the prophet Malachi, in the name of God, described as the "sun of righteousness":
For you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. (Mal. 4:2)
For this Son-of-God-made-man was revealed in all His beauty by rising from the dead as the prophet Isaiah also had foretold (Isaiah 33:17):
Your eyes will see the King in His beauty, they will see the land that is far off.
Indeed, only the beauty of the risen Christ enables us to raise our eyes in hope to the promised land of our heavenly home with Christ.  As the prophet Zecharia had foretold:
On that day the Lord their God will save them, His own people, like a flock.  What wealth is theirs, what beauty!  (9:16-17).
What beauty must be His since He offers such comeliness and beauty to His faithful flock!  What beauty is His Who, rising like the sun, is able to bestow such blessings on those who formerly:
sat in darkness and in the shadow of death? (Ps 107:10)
To understand a final aspect of the glory of Christ the King let us now just consider Him in heaven.  There, He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and there we can recognize His eternal goodness, truth, and faithfulness; for, we are told that, in heaven, He is eternally solicitous for our well-being:
It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Rom. 8:34)
He is able to save forever those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb 7:25)
What way to God will those prayers of Jesus open up for us?  What guiding power will enable us to walk faithfully and perseveringly along that path?  Let us carefully attend to Jesus Himself on the Cross and learn His ways.
The people stood looking on (and) even the rulers with them sneered saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself”.(Luke 23:35)
But Jesus did not save Himself.
One of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” (Luke 23:39)
He was the Christ, He knew He was the Christ, but still He did not save Himself.  Why?  Listen yet more closely:
Then (the other criminal hanged with Him) said to Jesus, “Lord”, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 42-43)
Jesus, so calmly and completely certain what was to happen to Himself, did not promise that He would take the former thief with Himself into Paradise, “you will be with Me” He said; in other words, ‘He Who will receive Me into Paradise will draw you there with Me’.  Notice most carefully Jesus’ total commitment to and trust in His Father and in the Spirit Who was working in Him for the Father’s glory, for that is the royal way of Jesus from this world to the next as children of God.
All the conceits of our human sinfulness have gradually to be set aside until we are totally convinced that we can neither grab the fruit of tree of Paradise, nor can we merit heaven for ourselves.  Such fruit is given only to those who -- through faith in Jesus, and in the fear of the Lord -- become increasingly aware of His Gift of the Spirit at work in their lives and who humble themselves with heartfelt gratitude beneath such gentle yet sovereign goodness: those who pray for, and are willing to wait for, His lead in all things; those who sincerely seek to distinguish aright between His guiding and their own passions and fears, between His enlightening and their own imagining, wishing, and wanting; and finally, those who will then commit themselves totally in an endeavour to follow His lead as closely as their trust in Him and death to themselves will allow.
And here we should just glance back at our first reading:
All the tribes of Israel came to David saying: “We are your bone and your flesh.  In times past you were the one who led Israel out and brought them in; and the Lord said to you, ’You shall shepherd My People Israel’”.
Yes, dear People of God, Jesus Christ is Our Lord, He has been with us in and through all the vicissitudes of our lives; whenever we have turned to Him He has been waiting and available; indeed, walking our way for us He has gone before to turn the dark shades of our death into the glowing portal of the heavenly home  which is even now being prepared for us. 
Lord Jesus, trusty Friend and Brother, dear Lord and Saviour, King of all creation and only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, may our celebration today further the rule of Your Spirit in our hearts and minds, promote Your Lordship over our society and our world, and give eternal praise and glory to Him Who is and will be ‘All in All’.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Thirty Second  Sunday Year (C)

(2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16 – 3:5;
Luke 20: 27-38)

In the first reading from the second book of Maccabees you heard the words:
Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men's hands yet relying on God's promise that we shall be raised up by Him; whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.
Today, many people who do not frequent Church might think on hearing those words that they were from some Muslim source, for on TV and in news bulletins  we – not infrequently – see and hear of predominantly young Muslims shouting out defiance of the West with hatred for America and Israel in particular, and boasting of their willingness to die for what they say is the cause of Islam, believing that thereby they would slaughter some enemies and subsequently, as patriots or perhaps martyrs, ultimately enjoy a heavenly survival.
Here, we must first of all recognize that we are dealing with religious people supposedly aspiring to a better life to come.   They challenge us to learn and to practice something more about the type of commitment our faith requires of us.
I mention this because, in Western society, we are normally surrounded by people so sated with possessions and with the diverse pleasures of life here on earth that they have but the faintest hope or desire for a heavenly life to come, since its appearance on the horizon could only herald the end of their earthly satisfactions.  Many even of our religious, God-fearing, people, professing belief in and hope for a heavenly life to come, seem to be spiritual wimps in comparison with these young Muslims apparently so eager to suffer and willing to die for the Prophet, while they show themselves to be hesitant, wavering, and fearful, in their response to the call of Jesus, even though they acknowledge Him as the Lord of Life and Conqueror of Death for all mankind.  We should, in short, as religious Christians, have a certain measure of admiration for these zealous Muslims around the world together with a large measure of shame for our own faint-heartedness.
However, we cannot ignore the fact that their zeal seems to be closely identified with fanaticism, springing from ignorance and frequently subject to political manipulation, and long-kindled by historic circumstances mingled, at times, with humiliations and deprivations of various sorts.  The fires of hatred, having been thus effectively stoked, now burn so hot, within and around these zealots, that their minds are no longer able to clearly appreciate, nor can their hearts calmly meditate, the faith they would promote; and whilst proclaiming ultimate reverence for the message of the Prophet, it is the present preaching of radical mullahs and the satisfaction of their personal feelings of hatred, that actually rule their lives and claim their allegiance.
This is a warning for us Catholics and Christians: for we have to be strong with a strength that comes from commitment and obedience to Christ in the Church, not from human passions or political motivations.
If, bearing in mind the prominence given to martyrdom in the current political situation, we consider carefully today's Gospel reading, we can hopefully learn something about the nature of our Christian hope and expectation for the resurrection and the promised life in heaven.
The Muslim zealots whom I have mentioned seem to be looking forward to a heavenly life filled with blessings of a distinctly earthly sort: anticipating an abundance of sensual, and even sexual, delights as their reward.  This stems from the ignorance which afflicts them, as I said.  On the other hand, the ignorance of many Catholics, and indeed, Christians generally, leads them to harbour a faint and fragile, but, still seriously false, image of a heavenly experience totally at variance with, and opposed to, anything we know of life as experienced and loved here on earth.  And so, whereas we have Muslim zealots eager about a heavenly future they fondly imagine to be sensual and sexual in such a way and to such a degree as to perpetuate some of the worst aspects of human society and life here on earth; conversely, many Catholics and Christians have no enthusiasm or longing for what they conceive to be a heaven apparently unable to offer comfort in, or fulfilment of, their present human experience.
Therefore, many modern Christians are not willing to publicly declare the reality, let alone the extent, of their heavenly expectations; and, indeed, rarely do we come across those who sincerely and devoutly hope for the future rewards of heaven more than they enjoy the pleasures, or struggle with the cares, of their present worldly experience.
In this situation it is obvious that we should enquire something about the true nature our Christian hope for the Resurrection. Let us therefore turn to Jesus speaking to us in the Gospel reading:
The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are counted worthy to attain that age (to come), and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the Resurrection.
Jesus is speaking here, with total realism and complete absence of sentimentality, of the root condition of humanity on earth, which is, that human beings inevitably die and therefore they marry in order that, through new birth -- the fruit of married love and commitment -- death might not become destruction.  That is the condition of humanity in its present, earthly, state before God.
Now, those who are counted worthy to attain the age to come and the resurrection will not marry because their life will no longer be imperilled by death, Jesus said.  Does that mean, therefore, that the ice-cold, totally sanitized, picture of heaven is confirmed?  Far from it, for the direct implication of Jesus’ words, is, on the contrary, that those who attain to the coming Kingdom of God will no longer be ordinary human beings capable of merely ordinary human joys and fulfilments, but rather, they will be, as Jesus said:
            Equal to the angels and sons of God.
Their life will be immeasurably enriched, having been born again -- not of flesh and blood -- but of God, as St. John tells us in his Gospel:
As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Resurrection in Jesus, therefore, will mean a transfiguring re-birth for human beings, who, thereby, will become children of God: no longer subject to earthly limitations of human frailty, incursions of sin and death’s depredations, but finally able to appreciate, and respond wholly and unreservedly to, heaven’s personal fulfilment, transcendent joys, and eternal blessedness.
That fulfilment, those joys, that blessedness, of heaven will not be alien to our human mind and heart, because they filled and fulfilled the mind and heart of Jesus Our Lord and Saviour, Who, in His sacred and perfect humanity on earth delighted entirely in God the Father:
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.  (John 15:10-11)
And Jesus assures His disciples and us that ‘abiding in His love’ will mean:
That My joy remain(s) in you, and that your joy be full.
Just consider: the joy that filled Jesus’ own human heart will, He promises, abide in us and will gradually, as we open ourselves up to it, bring our joy to the supreme fullness of our capacity for receiving and giving love, so that eternity for us will be the timeless instant of an ecstatic sharing in the love which, as the Holy Spirit, binds Father and Son eternally.  And how can we now begin to open ourselves up to such a treasure?  By thinking on it appreciatively in our mind, and treasuring it lovingly in our heart; by following its lead in loving aspirations and grateful acts of thanksgiving to God; by acts of joyous commitment to God’s will and the service of our neighbour in all things.
It has been rightly said by Dr. Johnson that, for the most part, Christian people do not so much need to be told what they have never heard, as to be reminded of what they have already heard but have now, in fact, forgotten: for the most part they need to be helped to recognize what they have not previously tried to distinguish or appreciate.   And above all that means that too many do not try sufficiently to appreciate what Jesus has won for us and what the Father gives us through the Spirit.  Listen to a passage from our Scriptures, written in the earliest years of Christian development, when some supposed Christians had been living in and for the world long enough to have become half-hearted in their faith:
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.  So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 
What was the trouble?  It was the same trouble that so many of us Westerners suffer from today:
Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.  (Rev 3:15-17)
People of God, our readings today, heard in the context of modern events, have something to say to us which these very events we are experiencing might hopefully encourage us to take notice of:
            (God) is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.
The Father is God for those who are striving to live in Jesus by the Spirit, wanting, praying, to be led ever forward by the Spirit; the lukewarm prefer to remain where they find themselves comfortable and with easy, earthly, options to hand, and they are in grave danger of suffocating themselves and suffering rejection by God.
There is another such passage from today's second reading, where Paul prays for his Thessalonian converts saying:
May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.   
That Is, he prays, that Christ's love of the Father, that Christ's continuance in that love through thick and thin, might characterise his converts.  He wants none to be spiritually idle, lukewarm and dying; he wants rather, that they live ever more fully, as Jesus said: steadfastly waiting for God and trusting in His Spirit, resolutely loving Jesus with their whole mind, heart, soul, and strength, in and through all life’s circumstances.
People of God, the teaching of the Scriptures before us today and the baleful examples of both fanatical excess and supine indifference in our modern multi-cultural society, can and should give us a most-needed and salutary spiritual jolt to wake up and strive afresh to live as true Catholics and Christians.