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, 30 January 2011

Fourth  Sunday (Year A)
(Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; 1st. Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12)

Once again, People of God, we have the Sermon on the Mount for our Gospel reading.  We are given it again because it is indeed a compendium of the Good News brought by Christ to promote glory to God in the highest and bring peace on earth for all men of good will.  However, it is to be approached today from the point of view of the accompanying readings  from the prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul’s first letter to the Church he founded in Corinth.
Our reading from the prophecy of Zephaniah started with the words:
Seek the LORD, all in the land who live humbly, obeying His laws; seek righteousness, seek humility; it may be that you will find shelter on the day of the LORD's anger.
Notice the subtle difference between the translation before you which says “Seek integrity”, and the version I have just quoted which prefers: “Seek righteousness”, which is also the choice of all the other versions I can lay my hands on.  The difference is this: “integrity” is very frequently used today in the phrase “personal integrity”, meaning, “true to oneself”.  The modern understanding of personal integrity requires that a man or woman speaks his or her own mind and behaves according to his or her own feelings or opinions with an open and probably somewhat bullish "I am what I am" attitude; in doing so they may speak of their own ‘conscience’ but by that they do not usually mean to imply that they are being obedient to God in such words or actions.  On the other hand, the translation “righteousness” is not, in its essence, in any way personal to us, it is personal only to God, and “seek righteousness” means “try to put on the holiness of God”, it requires that we learn from Him what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is beautiful.  In order to “seek righteousness” we need to be prepared to die to ourselves and our opinions, to our own passions and sinful inclinations, and learn how to walk in the ways of Christ by the power of His Spirit, in order that, walking along such ways, we may, gradually, become ever more truly children of God.  True to Him Who is our heavenly Father, not to our own pseudo-integrity and sinful selves.
The great gulf between the translations ‘seek integrity’ and ‘seek righteousness’ becomes especially clear when we realize that the greatest sinners are often  those who are most proud of their own personal integrity, which, approximating to the supreme sin of personal pride, is the Devil’s own pseudo-virtue and totally opposed to God’s righteousness.  That is why the prophet Zephaniah declared in the name of the Lord (3:11):
I shall rid you of your proud and arrogant citizens, and never again will you flaunt your pride on My holy mountain.   I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.  
And to confirm this vision of a purified Israel, Zephaniah’s prophecy ends with words evoking the thought of Mary:
Sing, O daughter of Zion!  Shout, O Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! (3:14)
Mary the supreme daughter of Zion and purest flower of Israel; Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, beloved of God because of her humility!  With her, how far we are, indeed, from the modern understanding of personal integrity which makes the hearts of so many people today totally unresponsive and indeed seemingly impervious to God’s offer, in Christ, of true righteousness, because such divine righteousness can only enter the hearts of those prepared to hear with faith and respond with humility to Jesus’ Gospel call:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  (Matt 4:17)
St. Paul in today’s reading taken from his first letter to the Corinthians tells us:
He who glories, let him glory in the LORD;
for, as he explains:
            no flesh should glory in (God’s) presence.
Paul is there reminding his Corinthian converts that God had not chosen them because they were particularly wise, or politically important, nor because they came from noble families; indeed, he said, it was because God wanted to shame those who are wise and strong in the world’s estimation -- those most proud of their personal standing, achievements, and integrity -- that He chose what is foolish by human reckoning: the weak, and those whom the world regards as common and contemptible.  Not, indeed, that God loves ignorance or lack of moral fibre; but rather that He wants to give us true virtue, heavenly wisdom, and divine strength, gifts that will free us from the chains of sin and allow us to fulfil our authentic selves by becoming, in Jesus, God’s true children.  In order to change the old stale water of our stagnant lives into best wine God must first of all get rid of the illusory human righteousness involved in the phrase “personal integrity”; for it is only when that has been shown up in all its deceitfulness can He then make us, as Paul says, members of:
Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God -- and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
People of God, observe how wisely, how lovingly, Mother Church tries to lead us to a true and fruitful understanding of Jesus in the Scriptures!  These two readings from Zephaniah and St. Paul are essential if we are to be able to understand and try to live the message of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  It is our human pride, our human self-esteem, which so blinds us that we are rendered unable to recognize what is true and what is false, what is real and what is illusory, what is ours and what is of God.  The gentle, who do not fight for power, the merciful, who are unwilling to condemn, the peacemakers, who refuse to malign others, such people cannot prosper on a diet which feeds “personal integrity”, because they find it poisonous.  Neither can the worldly man of great personal integrity understand what he regards as the weakness of those who do not fight for power, the indecisiveness of those who are unwilling to condemn, the flabbyness of those who, in order to preserve peace, are loath to speak ill of others.  And, of course, the worldly man, eager to assert and stand up for his own personal integrity, is bound to be somewhat disgusted with what he would regard as the insipid and servile attitude of those whom the prophet so lovingly mentioned in our first reading:
the remnant of Israel will do no wrong and tell no lies, nor will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths.
Of course, the words of Jesus at the end of the Beatitudes are absolutely alien to those who pride themselves on their personal integrity; they are not so much mysterious words, as utterly ridiculous words depicting a somewhat despicable attitude:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
For us, however, those are words of the utmost moment to which we must give some special attention.
‘Blessed are you when they … ‘   Who are they?  Up to now Jesus has spoken about ‘those who mourn’, ‘the meek’, ‘those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘the merciful’, ‘the peacemakers’, ‘those who are persecuted for  the sake of righteousness’ …. But, then, all of a sudden, He speaks of they  who do the hateful things:
            Blessed are you when they insult, revile, and persecute you.
Who, I ask again, are these they?
Surely Jesus must be referring to some, perhaps many, who have already begun to show such hostile, contemptuous,  to Him and His disciples.  And they are with us today, aren’t they, most confidently showing their faces and proclaiming their opinions and opposition for all things Christian and Catholic.  You should notice, therefore, People of God, why you, we, Catholics and Christians generally, are the butt of so much ribaldry and the objects of so much antipathy and distaste, it is because of Jesus:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
The opposition, mockery, and loathing shown to Christians and Catholics will not be because you are John Soandso, Margaret Whatshername, Mr. This or Mrs. That, but simply and solely because you are a Christian.   You as an individual are, in the world’s estimation, lost in hatred of Christ … and that is why Jesus said ‘Blessed are you’ when such things happen because that is the sort of Catholic and Christian you are called to be, totally Jesus’ …. Living in the Church which is His beloved Spouse and supreme Witness, by His own Body and Blood whereby He nourishes us and the Holy Spirit He bestows upon us; proclaiming, loving and living the Faith and Hope which His words have generated within us; aspiring towards our only Father Whose Kingdom is in Heaven and Whose lordship extends through all the earth and by Whose loving Providence countless brothers and sisters who have witnessed before us are awaiting and encouraging us in our pilgrimage of testimony.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
For all who, as authentic disciples of Jesus and children of Mother Church, have abandoned the sordid garments and worldly aspirations of personal integrity, and have put on, instead, the righteousness of Christ, those words are, indeed, both eternal and true; words that lead us to confess the truth about Jesus together with the very first disciples -- Peter and the holy apostles -- who said:
Lord, You alone have the words of life.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Second Sunday of Year (A).
(Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; 1st. Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34)

In the first reading, taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we heard that God, speaking of the promised Messiah, said:
It is too slight a task for Your, as My Servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob, to bring back the survivors of Israel; I shall appoint You a light to the nations so that My salvation may reach earth’s farthest bounds.
Out of all the nations on earth, God had specially formed, cherished and taught, one people, which became known as Israel, God’s Chosen People.  By the time of Isaiah that teaching and cherishing had been ongoing for over a thousand years, and Isaiah himself was one of a line of prophets sent by God to His Chosen People to form a Servant worthy and able to take His name and His saving Word to the whole world.  Israel, however, could not be the definitive Servant of God’s salvation because Israel herself was, in her degree, also sinful; rather, she would be the stock from which that Holy Servant would ultimately rise Who would be uniquely able to fittingly reveal the Name, proclaim the Word, and show Himself to be the Salvation, of God for the whole of mankind.
By means of the Old Testament covenant God ultimately prepared a people able to bring forth the wondrously holy and sublimely beautiful Mary of Nazareth, of whom we read in the Song of Songs (2:1):
            I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys, a lily among thorns.
Uniquely endowed, she it was who would welcome and nurture the Son-of-God- made-man as foreshadowed again in the prophecy of Isaiah:
Rain righteousness you heavens, let the skies above pour it down, let the earth open for it that salvation may flourish.  (45:8)
In Jesus, not only the Chosen People are called to become children of God in the beloved Son of God, but also the Gentiles -- who for millennia had walked in darkness and lived under the shadow of death -- are to be evangelized, invited, and empowered, to turn from their former ways and embrace the Good News of Jesus brought to them by the universal Church founded upon the Apostles.   The proclamation of the New Testament is, indeed, God’s offer of salvation to all nations through faith in Jesus the Spirit-anointed-Saviour Who brings ‘glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to men of goodwill’, for mankind is to become one again in Jesus, sharing, as adopted children, a heritage in the Kingdom of the Father, a heritage which the only-begotten-Son won for them by shedding His blood on the Cross of Calvary, a heritage for which the Spirit bequeathed by Jesus will prepare them. 
We should be filled with gratitude, People of God, as we think on this: God trained the Jewish people for 2000 years, and then, in His immense mercy and goodness, put us -- in Jesus -- alongside and together with those He had chosen and cherished for so long!!  As St. Paul told the Christians of Rome (Rom. 11:16-17):
If the root is holy, then the branches also are holy. And you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in to share the rich root of the olive tree.
Let us now turn to today’s Gospel passage where you heard John the Baptist, the forerunner of the promised Messiah, revealing Jesus to the Jewish people:
“I did not know Him; but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that He might be made known to Israel." John testified further, saying, "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon Him.  I did not know Him, but the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, He is the one Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'  "Now I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God."
You remember the scene, surely, when Jesus was coming up from the waters of the Jordan used by John for his baptism?  It was then -- when Jesus was dripping with water -- that John saw the Spirit coming down upon Jesus in the form of a dove, -- the symbol of peace -- here signifying the peace between God and man, and among men, which Jesus, the promised Prince of Peace, would bring about.
Think of that scene, People of God, and then remember the words Jesus was later to say to Nicodemus, a leader among the Jews:
Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (Jn. 3:5)
Water and the Spirit: what did they mean for the Jews and the Gentiles, both called in Christ, the Saviour of the whole world, to become God’s children?  Listen, and wonder at the wisdom, the beauty, and the goodness, of God; for, in order to save mankind from the bonds of sin and death, God had to convict mankind of their sinfulness, in order that they might turn from sin, reject it, and embrace -- gratefully and wholeheartedly --  God’s offer of eternal life in Jesus.
The Chosen People, had, over thousands of years, become a supremely spiritual and moral people; and yet, although they had been given a Law which was holy, they had, in their observance of that Law, become ever more reliant on their own efforts: they had come to think that they were able to observe that Law by themselves and imagined they could, in that way, prove themselves worthy to be  the Chosen People of God.  They came to regard themselves as having been chosen, not out of God’s boundless mercy, but because of their own particular spiritual superiority and ability; to believe that God had been right in choosing them, because they, above all other nations, had the strength of will and moral character to keep His Law.  There, People of God, we recognize the sin of the Jews: spiritual pride.
In this scene by the Jordan where John was offering a baptism of repentance, the Jewish people were being told that it was only by God's free gift of the Holy Spirit -- to be given through Jesus the Lamb of God -- that they could practice a holiness acceptable to Him Who is the all-holy One: only by God’s Gift, which is the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Holiness, could they become holy; and the Spirit was wholly Jesus’ to give, which is why the Spirit was to be seen descending and resting upon Jesus as He came up out of the waters.
The Gentiles on the other hand, although they had risen to great cultural and social heights in the ancient empires, and more recently in the glories of Greece and the achievements of Rome, nevertheless, they had become morally degenerate despite all the truths they had glimpsed, the beauties they had created, and the grandeur of the social fabric they had established.  They had sunken into all sorts of moral abominations and for this the Jews despised them, despite being subject to Rome’s omnipresent military power.
St. Paul, himself born and reared as a strict Pharisee, expressed this awareness of the Jews with regard to their conquerors when he wrote to the Romans:
Although they (the Gentiles) knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. …. God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.  (Rom 1:21-32)
There you have the Gentiles’ sin: wallowing in abominations for which they needed to become repentant if they were to be washed clean; a cleansing symbolised by the water dripping off Jesus as He came out of the waters of the Jordan. 
Water and the Spirit for the cleansing of Jews and Gentiles: water and the Spirit, whereby Jesus would assume and redeem the sins of the world!  The whole of human life had been infected with the sin of Adam from its lowest depths to its highest achievements: social life, intellectual vigour, and spiritual aspirations, all had been stained by the Gentiles’ lust for pleasure and power and the spiritual pride of Judaism; all had to be convicted of sin in order that forgiveness and fulfilment could be offered to all.
People of God, as we recall these truths, let us rejoice with the deepest gratitude to the Father Who sent His beloved, only-begotten Son as:
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;
let us have generous appreciation for that people specially chosen of old to prepare the coming of Him Who -- as the Glory of Israel and Light of the Gentiles – now offers peace and salvation to all who believe in His Name; let us, finally, open our hearts to embrace His gift of the Spirit Who -- as the eternal bond of love between Father and Son -- wills to make us members of the heavenly Family and eternal Kingdom of God the Father.      

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Baptism of the Lord (A)

(Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17)

Our readings today began with the Lord saying through the prophet Isaiah:
Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights;
and they ended, as you heard from the Gospel of St. Matthew, with the voice of the heavenly Father declaring:
            This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
There can, therefore, be no doubt about the focal point of our celebration today: we must look at, and learn to appreciate, Jesus, the Father's beloved and only-begotten Son, His chosen Servant in Whom His soul delights. 
Notice, first of all then, that the Father does not proclaim Jesus as did John the Baptist by declaring:
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
At the Baptism in the Jordan, the Father does not say "this is your Saviour" nor any other such introductory words making reference to Jesus’ saving mission.  No, the Father’s proclamation relates Jesus to Himself, expressing His delight in His Son-made-flesh; and thereby the Father would seem to  invite us to learn, first of all, to delight in Jesus because of Who He is, not simply because of what He does for us:
            This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
The canonization of saints can be somewhat misleading: because it has to be shown that any candidate for canonization had practiced Christian virtues to a heroic degree, people can easily think that holiness demands, first of all, the practice of virtues.  That in turn leads some devout people and even spiritual teachers to consider the pursuit of the spiritual life to be a matter of drawing up a list of virtues, practicing the first until it is mastered, then going on to the next virtue, and so on; meanwhile, of course, always avoiding any trace of sin.  That can lead to a very strange image of and negative attitude to, Christian living: indeed, it can lead to a very unattractive and somewhat inhuman way of life.
In fact, however, Christian holiness can only be characterized -- fundamentally and essentially -- as loving God, whole-heartedly and supremely, at all times and under all circumstances; avoidance of evil and the practice of virtues following necessarily and even naturally from that all-absorbing love.
First of all, therefore, that such love may reign in our hearts and in our lives, we must learn to appreciate the Person of Jesus presented to us by the Father; and then -- in Jesus and by the power of the Spirit -- we must learn to listen and follow as Jesus, in His turn, reveals the Father to us in all His majesty, faithfulness and truth, beauty and goodness.  Thus we might begin to learn how to love the Father with Jesus' own love, being shared with us through the Spirit, for in that way we are called to become adopted -- but authentic, and true -- children of the Father, in Jesus, by the Spirit.
Let us, therefore, look anew at today's readings.
Isaiah told us, in the first reading, about the Servant:
Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations;
while Peter told us in the second reading:
You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power.
Both passages clearly relate to Jesus' experience in the Jordan at His baptism by John.  After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him.  In that way we know that Isaiah's prophecies about the Servant were, indeed, prophecies about Jesus. 
Now, John had not wanted to baptise Jesus, as you heard:
John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?"
Jesus, however, would have none of that: He had come to do His Father's will ("all righteousness") which meant that His life could not be lived in accordance with merely human standards nor be subject to merely human judgements, however holy those setting such standards or making such judgements:
Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." 
Isaiah had foretold the mission the Father had in store for Jesus:
            He will bring forth justice to the nations.
Few words, but words full of meaning, because "justice" means the truth about God and God's truth for us.
But Isaiah devoted more words to telling us how the Servant, Jesus, would go about His work; in other words, telling us something about what sort of Person the Servant would prove to be:
He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street.
There would be no taking advantage of simple people by bombast, nor any haranguing of emotional crowds: He was to proclaim His message of justice, calmly, truthfully, and with full respect for His hearers.
Isaiah then went on to show us another aspect of God's Chosen Servant -- the Son, in Whom the Father delights -- when he said:
A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.
And so, although anointed with the Spirit and with power, Jesus would be characterized by His gentleness to and, once again, His respect for, His people.   St. Peter confirmed this in our second reading:
Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
Nevertheless, since He had been given the mission to bring forth true justice on earth, He would inevitably meet with opposition in a sinful world, and this prospect led Isaiah to give another characteristic of the Chosen Servant and Beloved Son:
He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth.
Neither breaking what is bruised nor extinguishing what glows but dimly , He Himself would be neither disheartened nor crushed by His experiences of life in a sinful world.  He would, indeed, experience similar trials to those we experience, but He would live through them as the Son beloved by His Father, as the Servant upheld by His Lord. In that way Jesus would be like us, one with us and able to understand us but, nevertheless, the One who would faithfully bring forth justice, the One Who would not falter in His mission:
            until He has established justice in the earth.
People of God, that means, Jesus will never give up in His endeavours to help us appreciate the Father's goodness and love, never give up in His endeavours to raise us up to become worthy children of such a Father.
Today, however, there are many who try to proclaim Jesus’ love by telling us how much He empathizes with us in our sufferings because He too has suffered, and how His whole purpose is to bring us comfort and joy, peace and love, now.  And they leave it at that, being unwilling or afraid to speak of any further suffering to be borne or efforts to be made by those who want to belong to God.
That is a travesty of the full truth: a comforting little half-truth, easy to speak but deadly in its effects, for it would leave us no longer looking up to, and striving for, heaven; but resting here on earth, satisfied with ourselves and our immediate prospects. 
The true Jesus, on the other hand, we are told:
Will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth;
that is, until He has established true justice in the hearts, minds, and lives of you and me, and of countless others like us throughout the whole world, who will listen to His Good News and learn to fight the good fight to leave behind the tinsel glitter of this world, the insidious delights of the flesh, the opinions and esteem of men, and our very own self-solicitude and pride, in order to follow His compelling love and win a new and better home in heaven.
People are not always willing to learn to lift their eyes to heaven, because the devil abuses their weakness and ignorance so that they know neither their own needs, nor the goodness of God to be found in His power presently at work in our lives and in His wondrously beautiful and fulfilling promises for our future.  But through Isaiah, God tells us clearly of the Lord:
I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind yes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.
Although we are indeed blind and prisoners, only the proud can resist God's gift of such a Saviour, Who intends indeed to free us from our sins and enlighten our ignorance by drawing us, as the prophet Hosea foretold:
            With cords of a man, with bands of love  (Hosea 11:4)
And this Jeremiah told us with even more striking words:
Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you and you shall be rebuilt. (Jeremiah 31:3-4)
So, People of God, let us resolve this very day to allow God to rebuild our lives as He draws us with the cords of man and bands of love, and let us seek anew to appreciate and love more and more the Jesus recommended to us in our Gospel reading:
After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."
However, we should not be dismayed or disheartened when difficulties arise or trials overtake us.  The establishment of true justice in our darkened minds and unruly hearts, and in our lives formed by years of worldly conformity and self-indulgence, is both absolutely necessary and supremely sensitive, and can be as painful as it is demanding.  Nevertheless, the rewards are immeasurable greater than any such costs; for a room in our Father’s house, and a place at His eternal banquet, are already being prepared for us: a room where we will be at home, a place that will both befit us and give us honour among our fellow guests.
Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you and you shall be rebuilt …..                                 
in Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, for the Father.      


Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Epiphany       
               (Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

In the Eastern Church today’s solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord is given precedence over Christmas, whereas for us in the West, Christmas Day is the greater celebration; and the reason for this diversity is that these two solemn celebrations are complementary. 
At Christmas we celebrate God’s gracious humility and merciful goodness whereby His only-begotten Son takes to Himself human nature, puts on human flesh, and involves Himself totally – sin alone excepted because of His unassailable holiness  -- in the mess into which we have got ourselves, the mess publicised daily in the media.   And that Christmas awareness of such amazing humility and goodness on God’s part batters at the foundations of our pride and fills us with humble gratitude and childlike trust.
On Christmas Day we recalled the words of Elizabeth to Mary our Mother:
Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord (Lk. 1:45);
and we too, as her true children, likewise renewed at Christmas our belief and trust in all God’s promises for our salvation.
At the Epiphany, on the other hand, we rejoice in the divine glory manifested in the life and being of One like us, Jesus of Nazareth, Our Saviour: as a Infant, like a wondrous loadstone, He draws the heavens (planetary movements quite recently apparently confirmed by computer simulation) and the Magi to His crib; at His baptism, His humility before John opened the very heavens, calling forth a divine witness as the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the Father proclaimed Him to be His beloved Son; at the wedding in Cana, where He changed water into rich and copious new wine, His power was matched and manifested by His supreme generosity and human awareness.  And these signs of His majesty, glory, and power and compassion, give us unshakeable confidence that what He has promised, He can and will fulfil in and for His Church throughout the enduring ages of her public ministry, and in and for all His true disciples, as they try to live their personal lives for the praise and glory of His name. 
As you all are well aware human joy appears most desirable, but experience can show it to be equally unreliable: worldly joy can change some people into louts and hooligans as easily as it makes others into happy and generous companions; moreover, when circumstances change, such joy can quickly disappear, leaving behind it corresponding sadness and gloom. 
For us, therefore, who are disciples of Jesus, there should be a more than worldly, human, joy when we celebrate the birth, the majesty and power, of Jesus, because His Kingdom is not of this world, as He Himself said.  Jesus the Lord has triumphed for us by destroying sin and death in our flesh, and His promise is that He will share His triumph with all who put their faith in Him and become one with Him through baptism and the Eucharist.  His victories are eternally valid for in His Resurrection human flesh is once again restored to heaven and is now, indeed, placed at the right hand of the Father in glory; and He, the Son of Man, is now both willing and able to triumph over the darkness of  sin and ignorance, not only in our minds and hearts, but also in the world around us, as was shown by His bringing to naught the schemes of that cunning and murderous tyrant, Herod.
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you and His glory will be seen upon you.
At Christmas we rejoiced and renewed our humble and grateful trust in the promises made to us in Christ, for St. Paul teaches us that:
All the promises of God have their "Yes" in Him.  That is why, when we give glory to God, it is through Christ Jesus that we say "Amen". (2 Cor 1:20)
Now, on this feast of the Epiphany, a word which means the shining-forth, the manifestation, of the glory of Christ, let us stir up anew the confidence which heaven alone gives, as you heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim:
Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you.
Grateful trust and sure confidence, humility and power, patience and vigour,  each so necessary to the other for the fulfilment of our personal calling and Christian vocation, just as Christmas and Epiphany are equally essential for our liturgical awareness and appreciation of Jesus, perfect God and perfect Man, our only Saviour.
And so, though the deep darkness of human sin is so evident in the world around, and even though there may be no light in our own soul at times, nevertheless, His glory will appear for those who firmly believe His promises and confidently commit their lives to His most loving, and supremely powerful, Providence.
Therefore, People of God, I urge you in this holy season to experience deeper peace by renewing and deepening your trust in Jesus’ promises, and to renew your confidence and joy as you celebrate His glory and power, for such are the signs given and the blessings offered us in the Christmas season.  We are told that the multitude of angels sang:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! 
Meanwhile the shepherds who had told their good tidings to all gathered around the Infant Christ:
Returned (to their sheep in the fields), glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Let all of us, too, sincerely pray that our celebration of the Epiphany today may give glory to God, and -- through the comforting and strengthening of all who are her true children -- further the exaltation of Holy Mother Church.  Amen.  

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Solemnity of Mary,
the Mother of God,
(Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

In the second reading we heard St. Paul telling his converts in Galatia:
As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"
Those words of St. Paul invite us today to consider how wonderfully the Spirit dwelt in the heart of Mary!  Indeed, they show us the magnitude of her blessing when we consider that the Spirit abided in and filled her whole being to such an extent that, whereas we are enabled by the Spirit, Paul tells us, to respond with love to God with the word 'Father', the Spirit dwelling in Mary worked so wondrously in her that she was enabled to respond to God the Father with an intensity of love that enabled her to bring forth not just words of praise for the Father from her lips, but the Divine Word, the Father’s co-eternal Son made Man, from her womb!   And so intense, so complete and unreserved, was this response of Mary to God’s word delivered to her by the angel Gabriel, that Jesus openly praised her for that above all else:
And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!"  But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:27-28)
When, on another occasion, His teaching of the people was interrupted by a message to the effect that His mother and family members were asking for Him, He expressed His displeasure at such an intrusion by making perfectly clear the priorities that guided and governed His life and work:
"Who is My mother, or My brothers?"  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother." (Mark 3:33-35)
We can also compare and contrast Mary with Moses who, as you heard in the first reading, brought great blessings down on Israel.  There, we were told how God blessed the Chosen People of the Old Testament through the words of priestly blessing He gave to Moses for the use of Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and their descendants:
Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them, 'This is how you shall bless the Israelites.  Say to them: The LORD bless you and keep you!  The LORD let His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace.'  So shall they invoke My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
Those are truly beautiful words used to confer a treasured blessing.  But consider how, under the New Testament covenant, God the Father blesses us through Mary and her Son: unlike Moses, Mary does not hand down one special form of blessing for one Chosen People; she brings forth the One Eternal Word of God Himself clothed in human flesh, her flesh and blood, God's saving presence in Mother Church and gracious blessing for the whole world!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.  (Eph 1:3-8)
Holy Mary, you are indeed blessed above all women by God the Father, for through you there comes to us the One in Whom and through Whom all the blessings of heaven itself are ours!
Again, in our Gospel reading we learnt that those who searched for the Child found:
            Mary (and Joseph), and the Babe lying in a manger.
So it is for all those disciples whom Jesus has told to take Mary to their hearts as their own Mother: in our search for Jesus, we will find Him, most easily and most surely, with the help and comfort of Mary’s prayerful presence in our lives.  Mary is no mere addition, certainly no complication, for Catholic spirituality.  Indeed, we can readily appreciate the privilege of Mary that enables her to lead each and every one of us to Jesus when we recall that she is not simply the model of the Church, but that, during her pregnancy she was, in all literal truth, the original Church itself, the unique dwelling place on earth of Jesus, God’s Son made flesh, the New Testament Ark of God’s presence among His People; and that she still is the purest essence of the Church, without spot of wrinkle of any sort.  Only in Mother Church can each and every one of us find Jesus truly and love Him fully.
Finally, we need to recognise that Mary is also our model and inspiration for our personal relationship with Jesus, in so far as the Scriptures tell us that she, our Mother, was, and is always, most sublimely one with Jesus:
Mary kept all these things (that she had experienced and heard concerning Jesus) and pondered them in her heart.
There is to be found the supreme example and the surest guidance for anyone seeking the salvation of God, for anyone hoping and longing to find God, as our most perfect Father, in and through Jesus.  Imitate Mary by treasuring the Good News of Jesus handed down to us by Mother Church: in her teaching which forms us as His disciples, and in her Scriptures which not only recount for us the foretelling and forthcoming of the Christ, but also, together with her sacraments, mediate His very presence in our midst and in our hearts today.
People of God, hear the Good News of Jesus with reverence and joy; treasure and nurture His grace in your hearts; and seek, above all, to respond – by the Spirit -- with that wholehearted confidence in, and gratitude to, God, to which Mary gave such perfect expression when she said (Luke 1:38):
Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.