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, 30 October 2010

 ALL SAINTS                                                
(Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12)

Today we are celebrating all the saints, all those, that is, who -- known and unknown -- are beloved of God and share in His eternal blessedness by a supremely fulfilling gift of God that can never be lost or taken away, for He is almighty and His will is eternal.  Let us now, therefore, look at those blessed ones we are celebrating and also look closely at the way Jesus traces out for all who would share with them in like blessedness. 
You heard in that first reading something of the glory of heaven:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
No racism, no sexism, no privileged groups there, but people from all nations and all times; all of them standing as one before the throne of God with the Lamb their Lord and Saviour, and praising God for the victory He has won for them:
Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honour and power and might, be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.
It is there, People of God, we, as disciples of Jesus, aspire to go when this, our earthly pilgrimage, is ended.  Don’t think: “I can’t imagine me enjoying an eternity of nothing else but that”, for the only way to appreciate something of heavenly joy is to recall some special moment when you felt yourself both supremely delighted and uplifted: how time then passed by unnoticed and so, so, quickly, as you later realized!  Now the happiness, the blessedness of Heaven is something of that nature: totally overwhelming, uplifting and ecstatic joy that obliterates time!   Such recollections should help you realise that in heaven there can be no such thing as weariness or boredom, for heavenly joy and blessedness is an eternal instant of total ecstasy which has its origin in the vision of the infinite beauty, goodness and glory, of God Himself.
That blessedness, moreover, is not exclusively reserved for heaven; for those who come to some appreciation of the beauty of God’s truth and awareness of His goodness to all who believe in the name of Jesus, can begin to experience something of that blessedness even here on earth, as St. John tells us:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
We who believe in the only Son of God who died for our sins and rose again, we who hope in the promises of Him Who is now seated at the right hand of power, are thereby being purified as He is pure, and being blessed with a beginning of the eternal blessedness which is His.  And as, through prayer and faithfulness in the way of Jesus, we deepen our hope, we come to appreciate -- and perhaps even, at times, imagine we experience -- something of that heavenly joy so intimately bound up with the gift and treasure which is our faith.
If, then, you would grow in that foretaste of beatitude, if you would know more of the heavenly joy to which we are all called as Christians, turn your attention now with me to the Gospel and try to understand better the way through life Jesus has marked out for His disciples.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are the pure in heart, Blessed are the peacemakers, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
There we have the virtues of the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed out of all the tribes of Israel as mentioned in the first reading, a wonderful compendium of what is best in the Old Testament: the truest fruits of the Law, the inspirations of prophets, and the meditations of sages; all, indeed, finding expression in the ecstasies of the Psalmists, and leading up to and preparing for that which would be the fulfilment and crown of all that had gone before.  As Jesus said (Matt 5:17):
I did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfil them.
Now, however, since with Jesus the time of fulfilment has indeed come, instead of simply recalling the disciplines of the Law and the experiences of the prophets, which had gradually prepared a people for the Lord over the course of Old Testament times, Jesus goes one immeasurable step further: revealing Himself as God in flesh and the supreme glory of the disciples standing around Him:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
It is as if He was saying: such, indeed, were the virtues of the OT, but now, for you who are my disciples, your true title to heavenly glory is that you are My disciples.  It is no longer enough to say that you are among the gentle, the poor in spirit, the merciful, for you who listen to Me and who follow Me, are all of that and more: you are My true disciples and that will be your sovereign passport for heaven and title to glory.
Yes, People of God, I am sure that you will appreciate that, in heaven, before the God of glory, it is not possible that the meekness, the gentleness, of any of the blessed could be admirable before the God of all holiness.  He is pleased to see such virtues of gentleness, humility, patience, mercifulness, or whatever, but being Himself all-holy, He therefore, most necessarily, sees also the limitations of our virtues, and He loves them best as anticipations of Jesus’ grace, preparations for Him.  However, the fact that someone has personally recognized His incarnate Word in Jesus, that someone has loved and served -- in Jesus -- His beloved and only-begotten Son Personally, that does indeed evoke the Father’s love, for to love His Son supremely here on earth is the summit and culmination of all virtue, including and surpassing all that has gone before, in His eyes.   You who are parents will understand.
Perhaps we can picture it best if we think of a sculptor.  God chose His material, the People of God, the nation of Israel, and through the Law and the Prophets He formed -- as does a sculptor with his chisel -- this block ('stiff-necked people' the prophets called them) gradually into some likeness of the Christ who was to come.  This work, however, was always done from the outside, so to speak, just as the chisel of the artist always chips away from the outside.  When Jesus the Christ -- the Son of God made flesh -- came, however, He gave His divine word to His disciples, to take root in their mind and heart and His example to inspire them.  He finally gave His human life for them, and then, having risen from the dead in the power of the Spirit of God, He ascended to the right hand of His Father, from where He sent His own most Holy Spirit to be with His disciples, making them into one Body, His Body, His Church.  The Holy Spirit was given to remain with His Church, guiding her into all truth and protecting her from the snares of the enemy, and in that continuing task the Spirit works from the inside, in the minds and hearts of the disciples, constantly forming them into a living likeness of Christ, their Lord and Saviour, for the Father:
Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matt 11:11)
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood, crying out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  (Jn.7:37s.)
People of God, the glory of our calling, and, indeed, the joy of all the blessed in heaven lies in the fact that, as living members and living likenesses (not plaster-cast copies) of the Son, we are destined to share in His glory, and rejoice in the Father’s love:
You are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God -- and righteousness and sanctification and redemption -- that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord."  (1 Cor. 1:30-31)
In our first reading we heard questions being asked about the blessed in heaven:
Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?
In answer to the first question "who are these arrayed in white robes?" we can recall that we heard St. John tell us:
Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He (Jesus) is pure.
So we know now why the blessed are dressed in white robes: they are disciples who,  in Jesus and by His Spirit, have purified themselves as He is pure.
But what about that second question, "where did these people come from?"  Here we must bear in mind what Jesus has already told us:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
That is where those dressed in white have come from; as the elder in heaven said:
These are the ones come out of the great tribulation who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Today we have great reason to celebrate: as disciples of Jesus we have already been given a share in heavenly life and blessedness, and we can experience some measure of that blessedness if we purify ourselves, as St. John told us, by trying to walk ever more faithfully in the way of Jesus, and to appreciate ever more deeply the beauty of His truth.  The final washing of our robes, however, will only be brought about through suffering with and for Jesus, as indeed so many of our Catholic and Christian brethren throughout the world are now suffering , as God wills for each and every one of us in our life.
Even here -- such is the blessedness already given us -- we can, in some degree, come to rejoice in our sufferings for Jesus as the apostle Paul assures us:
Just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  (2 Corinthians 1:5; Romans 8:18)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

30th. Sunday, Year (C)

(Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14, 16-19; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14)

Jesus spoke this parable, we are told, to some who were:
Convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
The evangelist, St. Luke, might be attacking the Pharisees whose public behaviour  manifested an excessive self-confidence which led them to look down on others; he might also be thought to imply that they wanted to show themselves righteous before men.  Jesus, however, spoke this parable not to attack but to offer healing, and for such healing to be effectively received it was necessary for the wrong to be recognized and for the medication be rightly applied.   Moreover, Jesus would seem to have addressed the parable to Pharisees who were, indeed, wanting to be righteous before God, because the whole point of the parable is show that they are not actually achieving what they wanted:
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified (that is accepted by, acceptable to, God) rather than the other.
Jesus, Who was recognized as a Rabbi, that is, a teacher, was saying, in other words, if you want to be acceptable to, righteous before, God, you are going about it the wrong way; look at the tax-collector, and learn this from me:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
So where was the Pharisee in the parable getting things wrong? 
God I thank You that I am not like other men -- greedy, dishonest, adulterers.
No doubt some of his contemporaries were well-known money lovers, unjust (pseudo-religious) people, and, indeed, adulterers; others, perhaps even a notable proportion of them, may, at times, have been guilty of such behaviour … and what a picture that would be of Jewish religious society in those days! … yet he could in no way claim that all his contemporaries were like that.  If he had simply said ‘that I am not like some other men’, or even perhaps ‘many other men’ he might have been speaking truly.
As regards the tax collector, he would not have been found in the circle of acquaintances of a strict Pharisee, and he would indeed have been reckoned among the greedy extortioners (exacting excessive taxes) and the unjust (knowing and caring nothing of the Law) by most Jews of those days, let alone by a Pharisee.  However, this particular tax-collector was behaving in a most unusual way: he was openly and, most humbly, praying in the Temple: in that regard, although his dress bespoke a tax-collector, his actions were those of a religious man.  Our Pharisee, however, saw nothing other than the clothes of one he despised.
Now, that would seem to have been a characteristic trait of the Pharisees in general at that time: regarding all others with potential disdain, especially tax-collectors, extortioners, adulterers, and all those unjust before the Law!
It is really quite amazing to think that serious and sincerely religious men could have such a blanket attitude!  What was at the back of it all?  Well, Jesus would seem to be emphasizing, highlighting, in order to bring into the open, an attitude that was, to a large extent, endemic in the Pharisaic observance of the Law:
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.
Notice, our Pharisee does not directly thank God for his virtuous practices: he thanks God that he is not like others whom he disdains; and then he proclaims his virtues as his own.   He sees sinners, directly, as offenders against God, and also against his own religious sentiments; his personal virtues do not, however, directly, cause him to raise his mind and heart in gratitude to God.
This pharisaic (sic!) tendency presents a perennial danger, People of God, for committed individuals of all persuasions; indeed, in early Christianity, we find St. Paul seeking to root it out when it began to show its head in the Corinthian church he had founded:
Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?  If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor. 4:7)
God’s gifts are given, generally speaking, to be used to further God’s purposes in the world around.  They are also given to draw the recipient closer to God: for gratitude felt should be expressed to God, personally; and, in that way, should lead to closer personal relationship with God, to a deeper appreciation of, and responsiveness to, Him.
When, however, religious practice becomes merely the external observance of certain precepts and ordinances rather than a personal commitment and response to God known and loved, then, gifts received can be ungratefully appropriated and used to exalt the recipient’s pride and superiority over others, instead of establishing his humility and bolstering his gratitude to God.  Moreover, when religion thus becomes cold and impersonal, deeds, even good deeds become worthless before God, being done not out of love for Him, the all Holy One, but as claims to personal holiness, further additions to a sum total of personal achievement and pride.
That was the state of the Pharisee in Our Lord’s parable: and nothing could better recall him to true religion than the sight of a repentant tax-collector near by, and dead to all but God in the Temple.
For, there is only one sure proof of holiness: love for Jesus, and in Him, for the Father, by the Spirit.  Holiness is not, in its essence, proven by miracles performed, nor by good deeds done, prayers said, pilgrimages made, money given, or indulgences gained; and of course, worldly reputation, the approval of authorities, or popularity among peers, have no true relevance here.  All of these can indeed, under the right conditions, be indications of some measure of holiness; but love alone is the authentic and certain criterion of that God-given holiness which is charity.
This teaching is sublimely expressed by St. Paul, again writing to his church community in Corinth:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-4)
Let us now listen to Our Lord answering the question once put to Him in the Gospel by a Scribe of pharisaic persuasion:
“Which is the first commandment of all?"  Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is:  Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'  There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-33)
And let us turn back to our readings for today and see how St. Paul himself manifested that very spirit so badly distorted by the Pharisee in the Gospel parable:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.
At that point one might think that Paul was dangerously close to being like the Pharisee counting up personal items of merit.  But notice how he continues, for Paul was not one to think his righteousness to be his own, personal, achievement; nor that he was alone among men in his endeavours and in his success:
…. There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have longed for His appearance.
Finally, hear and admire his total humility and childlike trust before God when, fully aware of his imminent execution, he refers to his life’s achievements as having been done in him and through him by God (2Tim. 4:17-18):                                                               
The Lord stood by me and lent me strength, so that I might be His instrument in making the full proclamation of the gospel for the whole pagan world to hear; and thus I was rescued from the lion’s jaws.  The Lord will rescue me from every attempt to do me harm, and bring me safely into  His heavenly kingdom.  Glory to Him for ever and ever!  Amen.       

Saturday, 16 October 2010

29th. Sunday, Year (C)
(Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2; Luke 18:1-8)

As Moses was guiding Israel to the Promised Land, we heard that:
            Amalek came and attacked Israel at Rephidim.  (REB)
Now, it is important that we notice what followed, for Moses said to Joshua:
Pick men for us, and march out tomorrow to fight against Amalek; and I shall stand on the hilltop with the staff of God in my hand.
Moses was not a bloodthirsty man, in fact, Scripture tells us that:
Moses was a man of great humility, the most humble man on earth (Num 12:3-4);
and yet, as you heard, he went -- as leader with the staff of God in his hand -- to intercede for the army of Israel fighting in battle at his behest :
Whenever Moses raised his hands Israel had the advantage, and when he lowered his hands the advantage passed to Amalek . 
Ultimately, it was thanks to Moses' intercession that:
      Joshua defeated Amalek and put its people to the sword. 
And so, despite being the most humble of men, Moses led his people into war believing it to be in accordance with the will of the Lord.
Moses was also the holiest of men, for Scripture tells us that the Lord:
The Lord used to speak with Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. (Ex 33:11)
The full significance of this is explained to us in the following words of the Lord:
If he were a prophet and nothing more, I would make Myself known to him in a vision, I would speak with him in a dream.  But My servant Moses is not such a prophet; of all My house he alone is faithful.  With him I speak face to face, openly and not in riddles.  He sees the very form of the Lord. (Num 12:6-8)
Because Moses was totally dedicated to God in his holiness and his humility, he could not be directly involved in the bloody struggle against Amalek taking place in the valley below him; nevertheless, for the sake of God's People, he would share in the battle, in the manner best suited to his particular calling and personal character, that is, by his prayers.  From this we can see that war is not, of itself, evil; but, in our fallen world, it can only become an acceptable weapon for the People of God when used with an intention and for a purpose acceptable to God.
However, as the centuries have passed and human society has developed, the somewhat simple issues over which wars were fought formerly have become, politically, involved and uncertain, while the effects of war have become ever more disastrous.  Therefore the Christian spirit is now increasingly inclined to turn from earthly weapons of war and rely instead upon the God-given weapons drawn to our attention in the Gospel and the second reading.
Timothy was a man totally dedicated to God in his life, but, as with Moses, that did not mean that he could not, should not, fight.  His ministry was indeed to be a fight, and the words of St. Paul in the second reading were preparing and encouraging him to be a fighter in the best Christian sense, for God’s glory and for men's salvation:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.  Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
Worldly weapons of destruction are readily, almost inevitably, backed by worldly passions, and too often they result in hatred, violence, and ruthlessness being directed against our fellow men.   St. Paul, on the other hand, explains that the Christian fight is against the devil:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)
Moreover, the Christian must learn to fight not only against evil in the world around, but also against the evil, the weakness and the ignorance, ensconced within his own heart and mind; and for such a campaign -- one that has to be fought throughout life -- only faith and prayer can enable him to endure and ultimately win the promised crown:
Take up the armour of God that you will be able to withstand on the evil day.  Stand fast; fasten on the belt of truth, for a breastplate put on integrity; let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you firm footing.  And with all these, take up the great shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the burning arrows of the evil one.  Accept salvation as your helmet, and the sword which the Spirit gives you, the word of God.   Constantly ask God’s help, praying always in power of the Spirit.   (Eph 6:13-18. REB)
In armed conflicts emotions naturally arise in the combatants; and, being  instinctive, they can soon develop, becoming so powerful and imperious as to be indeed, passions: forces we cannot simply use, but which rather use us and from which we suffer greatly: impulses and drives blinding and hardening us to such an extent that they overwhelm our judgment and override our conscience.  From such indulged and sated passions there directly arise not only human tragedies and great suffering, but also retaliatory crimes of passion, spreading human misery over an ever longer time and wider field.
The virtue of faith, on the other hand, can never become an overwhelming passion since it is a supernatural gift of God which only develops through our deliberate and persevering faithfulness and humility before God; moreover, faith exercises its power against all that provokes and promotes passions and their excesses, that is, against the multitude of irritations and antagonisms, injuries and vanities, lusts and longings -- not to mention anxieties and fears -- that can so easily fill the lives and stir the hearts and minds of men and women today. 
Therefore, our Gospel passage ended on a very sombre note to which we should give at least some thought here:
When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
Many Christian men and women lead lives basically dedicated indeed to God; but being involved in the world and living partly for worldly ends, their Christian faith can, at times, be seriously weakened by the dangers and difficulties they inevitably encounter; for there is no doubt that our Western civilization is that of a post-Christian era, indeed a post-religion era, and although there still remain  remnants of Christian teachings, examples of Christian attitudes and values, publicly acknowledged and appreciated or, more generally, hidden in the intimate and private corridors of men’s minds, these are only rarely able to tug at public heart-strings.  Moreover, since many of our contemporaries have lost all direct contact with the living Church, our present-day afflictions are the largely the result of a catastrophic loss of trust in God which has developed over many years, and not only have morals deteriorated in our society, but reason itself, which might seem, as judged from our technological advances, to have been so wonderfully encouraged and empowered, has, in fact, been dreadfully distorted.  Originally given as a unique blessing to enable mankind to recognize and appreciate something of the glory of God in the wonder of creation, the human intellect has increasingly been used by many to glorify themselves whilst seeking to deny any divine power over creation or divine influence in human affairs. 
Moreover, in the Church herself, false and hypocritical piety has gradually led many to use devotions and even the very sacraments themselves wrongly: for, instead of seeking thereby to draw ever closer to their heavenly Father in a personal relationship of loving trust and obedience, they have used devotions to build up a personal pseudo-holiness on a basis of things supposedly done for God, and abused the sacraments to provide themselves with a kind of protecting shield against a God imagined as a threatening Judge.
And yet, because humankind is made for God, we cannot turn away from Him without hurting, bruising, and even, perhaps, ultimately upsetting the harmony and shattering the beauty of our human make-up.  The minds and hearts of many have, indeed, been turned away from God, but still, in the depths of their human psychology they continue to feel a need to be justified, to be at one with the Other, which, if it cannot be the transcendent God, must then be society itself. In difficulties and disputes of whatever sort today the solution of individual problems and general moral issues is so often sought exclusively at the bar of public opinion and common practice: whatever is popular must be right and acceptable, so that we regularly hear such phrases as: “I’m only doing what lots of others are doing”.  And there are yet others for whom it is sufficient to feel at one with their presumed personal fate, with the blind forces at work in society; and these will frequently explain and excuse themselves by such words as
There was no other option open to us; we could not have done otherwise. .
When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
Will He, that is, find some few still willing to create a silence, a peace, within and without themselves that they might be found listening for His voice, wanting to hear and willing to answer His call?  And if so, will He find among these any prepared -- in accordance with His word -- to sacrifice themselves, with Him, for His purposes, and for the glory of the Father?       
To that end we must remember that Jesus told our parable in today’s Gospel to encourage us to pray continually and never lose heart; and this He did because such perseverance in prayer is guaranteed the ultimate fulfilment it seeks:
Will not God give justice to His elect who cry to Him day and night?  Indeed, I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.

Monday, 11 October 2010

28th. Sunday of Year (C)

(2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19)

If I were to ask you whether you remember a parable told by Jesus about a Samaritan and some Jews, I am sure that it would not have been today's parable that came to your mind; most, perhaps all of you, would have thought immediately of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Now that is instructive, because it tells us something about our modern attitude in regard to religion, and it also lights up a certain weakness in our spiritual character.
It is popularly thought in our contemporary Western society that religion is about being kind to people.  God can’t even be imagined; people alone are real.  Consequently, most of those who never go to worship at church would say of themselves, as proof of their deep-seated religious worth -- and how often do you not hear it said of one who has just died -- that they would do anything for anybody.  Here we have an example of the process whereby relics of Christian teaching -- having been torn out of the context of the living faith -- are then used, by the devil and his unwitting human tools, to destroy Christianity. 
It is, as you all well know, a supremely important teaching of the Christian faith that we should love our neighbour as ourselves; and this aspect of Christianity has been seized upon by non-worshipping, self-styled, Christians who say that getting on with, and being willing at times to help, our neighbour, is the only requirement for Christian living, all else being optional: "You might not see me at Church but I'm as good a Christian as the next man; I'd gladly help anyone who needs help." This sort of love-of-neighbour religion is very popular among Christians who have nothing but vestiges of the Faith left in their minds and hearts, because it solves for them the great problem of Church worship and Church obedience: for, as they glibly say, there is no need to go to Church in order to do good to others, and there is, most certainly, no need to obey her.
Of course, those who assert that Christianity only requires that we do some good to others, never think of offering a sacrifice of praise to God.  No!   'Sacrifice of praise to God' sounds alien to their way of thinking: the word 'sacrifice', in particular, tends to offend them.   Anyhow, He doesn't need anything, least of all a sacrificial offering of praise from us.  Here we begin to touch at the heart of the modern weakness of Christian character which I mentioned earlier, for sacrifice implies loss, hurt, suffering, and many modern worldly Christians, not wanting to hurt anyone, including themselves, would gladly surrender any principles they might hold, should those principles prove offensive to others or seriously detrimental to themselves: for, being more attached to the world than to Jesus and His Church, they most certainly do not want to lose any of the worldly privileges, possessions, and pleasures to which they have grown accustomed and in which they take great delight.   And so we have it that when certain young Muslims seem to be quite ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for what they consider -- albeit quite wrongly -- to be worth their sacrifice, many of these so-called Christians are not only outraged (rightly) at the evil of indiscriminate killing and partisan fanaticism, but also somewhat disgusted and frightened at the thought of such distasteful self-sacrifice, since their own pseudo-faith requires nothing more of them than to think occasionally of doing some good, some time, to some people.
This sort of faith, of course, is nothing short of a parody of true Christianity which is essentially founded on sacrifice and demands a fully sacrificial attitude in all its adherents.
As Jesus entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.  And they lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"  So when He saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.  And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at (Jesus’) feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
If you remember from the first reading, Naaman, after being cured of leprosy by the prophet Elishah, said:
Please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD.
In other words he, Naaman, filled with gratitude, wanted to sacrifice to the true God, the God of Elishah and of Israel, and he thought -- according to the ideas prevalent in his day -- that he could only offer such worship on Israelite soil.  Therefore, although he had to return to his king in Syria, he resolved to take Israelite soil back with him so that his worship of Israel's god would be acceptable.
That is also the significance of the Samaritan returning to Jesus as soon as he realised that he had been cleansed:
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at (Jesus’) feet, giving Him thanks.   And he was a Samaritan.
God had shown Himself present and active not simply in Israel, on Israelite soil, as in Elisha’s time for Naaman, but in Jesus; and so, that Samaritan returned to Jesus, shouting the praises of God active in and through Him, and throwing himself at His feet.  Jesus' words to His disciples standing by indicate the real significance of this:
Where are the nine?  Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?"  And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well." 
Jesus had healed the man, and he had rightly, as Jesus said:
returned (to Jesus, in order) to give (acceptable) glory to God.
People of God, the only way to give glory to God for the salvation given us through Jesus is by returning to Jesus Himself with grateful thanks; and thus, through Him, in Him, giving glory to God, as was foreshadowed by Naaman taking Israelite soil back to his home in Syria in order to be able to make his sacrifice acceptable to the God of Israel.  No nominal Christian gives glory to God while remaining apart from Jesus and His Church.
Let us look a little deeper.  Giving thanks to Jesus and glory to God is the essence of our Christian, Catholic, faith: that is the spirit of the Eucharist, for 'eucharisteo' is the Greek, the Gospel, word for giving thanks.   At the Eucharist, at Mass, we give thanks and glory to God the Father, through Jesus, as we offer, first of all, Jesus' sacrificial offering of Himself to the Father:
Christ has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Eph. 5:2);
and then as, in and with Jesus, we offer ourselves likewise in sacrifice:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom 12:1)
As the Catechism of the Church tells us:
The Eucharist, according to the traditions of East and West, is the 'sacrifice of praise’. (2643)
Now you can understand why I said, earlier, that Christianity is supremely sacrificial, because it offers to God the Father the supreme sacrifice, the self-sacrifice of His own beloved Son, from the rising of the sun to its setting, from East and West, North and South; and the Christian faith urges all its faithful to offer themselves likewise in sacrifice with and through their Lord.  How pale, therefore, and pathetic is the version of Christianity professed by those who say it is enough to do what they call 'good' to others; those who, living largely apart from Jesus and His Church, have no appreciation of Christian sacrifice and are so fearful of it.
Let us listen again to one of the very earliest professions of faith passed on to us in the Church, as you heard, by St. Paul:
This is a faithful saying: if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him.  If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.
The early Christians were quite prepared for sacrifice as such language shows.  They were also absolutely convinced of the importance of remaining true to Jesus.  For Jesus is the eternal Son, the Son who is always turned towards, relating and giving Himself entirely to, His Father.  His disciples can only remain faithful if they follow His example; for authentic Christianity is not determined by the popular attitudes and opinions of any given time, but by loving faith in, and commitment to, Him Whose life, teaching, and self-sacrifice were shown -- by His Resurrection -- to be supremely and solely acceptable to His heavenly Father.
Today a significant part of our Christian difficulties and failings is due to our allowing religion to become world centred, indeed, people centred, rather than God centred.  In that respect notice how Elisha cured Naaman of his leprosy with nothing more than the simple command to go and bathe in the Jordan.  Naaman was both disappointed and offended for he had expected some solemn pronouncement and display in words and gestures: but they were not forthcoming: just a command, passed on by a servant, to go and bathe in the Jordan as directed.  Likewise, in our Gospel story, Jesus is quite impassive; looking towards the pitiable lepers He simply says:
Go, show yourselves to the priests.
Such an attitude seems strange to us today, because so much of what we like to consider as religious fervour, Christian charity, and neighbourly service, is conceived and expressed in ways meant to be seen and appreciated by the world.  And as a result of this, basically good people so often say too much, get themselves into all sorts of exaggerated expressions and wrong situations,  because they feel awkward, ill-at-ease, with Jesus’ attitude so clearly expressed in His words:
Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' be 'No,' for whatever is more than these is from the evil one.  (Matt 5:37)
Jesus could be tender, as He was with the widow at Nain; He was deeply moved at times, as at the death of Lazarus and the weeping of his family and friends; but Jesus did nothing because people expected it of Him, He owed the world nothing, all He did was done for His Father.  Today, many Christians are greatly impeded and hindered by the fact that they are accustomed to attempting to give what the world wants: namely, an emotional display accompanied by a plethora of words and replete with approved attitudes and expressions.  And, devoting all their attention to carrying out such supposed duties and satisfying such spurious expectations, they are distracted from, and become ever less sensitive to, the requirements of the Spirit of Jesus.
Today, therefore, let us learn to look more intently at Jesus and commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to Him; and, satisfying ourselves with His approbation alone, let us thus allow ourselves to be further formed in His exclusive likeness, and come to know and appreciate ourselves as being redeemed by His grace alone.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

27th. Sunday, Year (C)

(Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10)

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our first reading from the prophet Habakkuk contained one of the most famous phrases in Scripture:
            The just shall live by his faith.
This phrase has been repeated directly and indirectly time and again in the New Testament:
Romans 1:17           For in it (the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Galatians 3:11         But that no one is justified by the Law in the sight of God is evident, for the just man shall live by faith.
Hebrews 10:38       Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
Romans 11:20         Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith.
As you can see it was a central and an essential point of Christian teaching for St. Paul … and where do you find faith held in such respect anywhere today other than in the Catholic Church?
Why is faith so important?  Well, recall the Gospel reading.  The Apostles -- perhaps after the failure of nine of them to heal an epileptic boy brought to them, a failure, Jesus had said, due to their lack of faith; and also, perhaps, after the other three, Peter, James, and John, had felt themselves so totally overwhelmed on the Mount of Transfiguration where they heard the voice of the Father speaking from the cloud and had witnessed  Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah – the Apostles, all twelve of them, had come to recognize their need, above all, to grow in faith; and they turned to Jesus and besought Him, saying:
            Increase our faith.
How those recent experiences seem to have affected those Apostles, for they had put a very simple and childlike request before Jesus, a request that made it evident that they were indeed in the process of being formed as children of God.
However a childlike spirit should never be allowed to become childish, and so the  Lord replied:
If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
A mustard seed is the smallest of seeds in the lands of the Bible, St. Mark tells us:
A mustard seed, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth (4:31).
The mulberry tree, on the other hand, was an extremely sturdy and deep-rooted tree which could grow to some 35’ high.
The Apostles were only beginning to understand the treasure which was theirs.   In true spiritual childhood they had asked for greater faith to be given them, but they could not be allowed to childishly think that only God’s giving was involved … they had to grow in understanding and realize that all gifts of God require our co-operation if we are to appreciate them aright and profit from them fully.
They wanted an increase of faith, a greater amount of faith, to put it more concretely, and they were told that, even if their faith was no bigger than the proverbial mustard seed, if they really believed, they could even uproot a  mulberry tree and throw it into the sea … a metaphor to illustrate the un- imaginable power of true faith.
St. Paul did understand this unimaginable power of faith after the Resurrection of Jesus, for in a letter to the Christians at Ephesus he says:
(I pray) that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21)
That is the full understanding of the wondrous power and final purpose of faith: through our faith, the power of God which raised Jesus from the dead unto the right hand of the Father in glory, that very power can be at work in us too.
It is not so much a question of the quantity of faith we may have but of its quality: having received the initial gift of faith, it is not a matter of our asking for more to be given us by God so much as our co-operating more closely and whole-heartedly with what we have already been given; it is a matter of whether we allow faith to work freely in us, or whether we put all sorts of worldly considerations in the way as obstacles to its development; whether we commit ourselves without reserve to the guidance and the demands of our faith or whether we allow earthly fears and selfish considerations to constrict our heart and inhibit our commitment.
The Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Even if your faith be like a mustard seed, allow it to work freely and fully in you and it will prove to be an ever-increasing and ultimately irresistible force in your life until it brings you to fulfilment.
We are told that throughout His earthly life Jesus – as a man – was being perfected until He was totally committed with the fullness of His humanity – in every recess, at every level, and to the fullest extent of all His human powers and potentialities – to His heavenly Father and to us:
Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. (Hebrews 5:8-9)
There was so much He could not appreciate and embrace as a child … only as full-grown man, for example, could He appreciate the loving obedience of suffering and embrace the sacrificial commitment of death … and only when having become absolutely perfect in His humanity, could that humanity serve as the source of our eternal salvation.
Throughout creation life engenders life, life alone nourishes life …. What has never been alive can never serve to nourish and sustain the living.  Our Blessed Lord brought new life for mankind; He is the unique source of life able to promote the fullness of humanity and share in the goodness of divinity.  That is why we are not ashamed to say that we eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ:
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.    Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him.  (John 6:53-56)
Jesus’ humanity was irrevocably perfected throughout His life on earth because He was, from beginning to end, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father being led by the Holy Spirit; and a like process of perfecting cannot begin in us until we become children of God through faith in Jesus.  It is our faith which sets that process going; you can say faith is that power of perfection in our life which leads, under the guidance and power of Jesus’ gift of the Spirit, to eternal glory in heaven.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not only treasure, but let us also understand the nature of, our faith: it is a vital power of communion, meant to become ever more compelling and fulfilling as we are led to take ever greater personal control of our lives; it is not an inert parcel of something which can be given in bigger or smaller portions and which -- remaining the same as when originally given -- might cause us to ask: ‘Give us more, please.’  No, it is a living process of dialogue, appreciation and commitment, which of its very nature goes on and on (if indeed we let it and follow it) until we reach the perfection of our being and the fulfilment of our personal identity.  Although nothing can resist it -- it could uproot even a mulberry tree, transfer a mountain into the sea -- we ourselves, however, can slow it down, indeed, even stop the process of our growth, by indifference, ignorance, worldliness and, ultimately, sinfulness. 
Let us end with St. Paul again, as you heard him speak in the second reading:
Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us.