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.

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.