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, 31 July 2011

Eighteenth Sunday, Year (A)
(Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35, 37-39; Matthew 14:13-21)

In the ancient world of the Gospel’s beginning Christians were mocked by the learning of Greece and persecuted by the power of Rome for proclaiming an exclusive, unique, God, Who had taken on human flesh: in which He suffered and died on the Cross before rising from the dead.  And today Christians -- above all Catholics -- are mocked and reviled for proclaiming this Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life for human beings, whereas so many acclaimed philosophers, scientists, and scholars of this world repeat Pilate’s question, ‘What is Truth?’
Now, today’s Mass readings are a most pertinent guide for our situation as Catholic Christians living in an alien society and facing an increasingly hostile world for which the only acceptable criteria for human living are the morals of political correctness and the success engendered by money or guaranteed by popularity.
In Isaiah’s time, as you heard in the first reading, things were much the same: the success many people looked for in life was that of having ‘good things to eat and rich food to enjoy’, whilst worship of the most popular god from the local pantheon was the obvious way to walk easy together with plenty of comforting companions.  But what did Isaiah proclaim in the name of the God of Israel:
            Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.
Leave your bawling, easy, and lusty, companions crowding to worship popular idols, turn aside and listen to Israel’s God speaking in the depths of your heart, hearken to the one true God Who alone can give true success to your life,  success which consists not in amassing the things of earthly life -- things which for the most part clumber as much as they sustain bodily existence -- but in embracing real life itself: soul-life, transcendent and eternal life; far above and beyond what is merely earthly.
Today, our alien society and hostile world, along with their proclamation of success and popularity as the only criteria for a worth-while life, also assert that there is no god greater than mankind itself, there is nothing ‘higher’ than human thought and aspirations.  And that is where the terror of secularism shows itself, since those who find themselves unsatisfied with occasional helpings of success or a padding of popularity are warned to like it or lump it since there is nothing else on offer … jump on to the band-wagon or else be left behind in your loneliness: there is no God Who wants to speak with you personally; there is nothing special about you that cannot be seen and appreciated by society around you; the only message for you is society’s message, in which the peer-pressure of schooldays is undisguisedly perpetuated and fulfilled.
Isaiah spoke of the God of Israel Whom no man could ever see and survive; a God, therefore, unseen indeed but not unknown, since He had been active in Israel’s history for over a thousand years; indeed, it was He Who had made Israel into a nation.  In our second reading, however, this true but unseen God has taken on human flesh, becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ; and, it is on His behalf that St. Paul offers for our aspirations not a pottage of worldly success or social popularity, but that supreme blessing for the human heart and mind, which is the abiding love of the God Who made us and the Lord Who saves us:
Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ …. Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.
St. Paul offers us there a shield, a helmet of salvation, for our present situation:
Even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes or being threatened or even attacked …. These are (but) trials through which we triumph, by the power of Him who loved us.
From that you can appreciate why the spirits that rule our modern world and technological society are ever more hostile to Jesus: for He exercises power they will not acknowledge, because it is greater than anything they themselves can muster.  Moreover, it is a power He exercises through people who appear to be nothing: because they fear, obey, and love, the God Who speaks with them in the depths of their conscience, Who mysteriously touches them in their daily experience of life, and Who has Personally triumphed over all the torments of the Cross and found life eternal.
Yes, People of God, we are increasingly regarded as aliens in today’s world and modern society because we are a peculiar People of Faith: faith in the God of conscience and Love; the God Who rules in our minds and hearts and reigns from the Cross.
However there is something that makes us yet more mysterious and suspicious to secular influences around us, for our Faith in God and Love for our Saviour is imbued with an unbounded Hope which springs up confidently within us from the Gospel proclamation you heard:
Jesus said to His disciples: There is no need for them (the hungry) to go: give them something to eat yourselves.  He took the five loaves and two fish, raised His eyes to heaven and said the blessing.  And breaking the loaves He handed them to His disciples who gave them to the crowds.  They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps; remaining, twelve baskets full.  Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.
There, of course, we see foreshadowed the Holy Eucharist in Mother Church, that sacrificial offering and sacramental banquet we are now in the process of celebrating.   Holy Mass is, indeed, the source of our Hope, since here Jesus’ Self-sacrifice is our offering to the Father, and His Holy Spirit is the abiding, sacramental Gift of the Father and bequest of the Son, through Whom God’s life and power are at work in Mother Church and in our individual lives.  And not in our lives only since Jesus’ disciples gathered up 12 baskets full of food left over, food suitable and sufficient for all God’s People (symbolically the 12 tribes of Israel) throughout time.  And the divine life and power nourished by such food can neither be negated by human weakness nor thwarted by our sinfulness, because the Spirit is unfailingly able to raise up children of Mother Church who will not bend the knee to Satan; children whose Faith, Hope, and Love allow the Spirit to form them in the likeness of the Jesus Who said:
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Seventeeth Sunday of Year (A)

(1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52)

Our readings this week, my dear People of God, give us great reason for gratitude, great cause for hope and joy.  Just think of those words of St. Paul:
Those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers; and those He predestined He also called; and those He called He also justified; and those He justified He also glorified. (NAB)
God foreknew each one of you baptized Catholics here present and has predestined you to be formed in the likeness of His Son.  How do we know that?  Because God the Father called you to faith in Jesus, and -- through the waters of baptism -- to become a member of His Body the Church, where you were endowed by the Gift of God’s Spirit and once washed clean of all your sins.
Now, those are verifiable facts of your lives, and objective proof -- for faith -- that God the Father has called you and predestined you in Jesus.
You are also being glorified; for that outpouring of the Spirit of Christ into your soul was the beginning of a life-long process whereby the Spirit of Jesus seeks to lead you ever further along the way of Jesus until ultimately you are endowed with a God-given share in the glory of Jesus before the Father.  For example, every time you receive Jesus in Holy Communion and open yourself up to Him in loving prayer, commitment and obedience, that glory, which shines with resplendent brilliance on the face of Christ, is reflected onto you, and gradually remains shining more and more brightly on you for the Father.  You and I -- each one of us known and loved by God the Father before time in Jesus -- are thus destined, through time, for eternal glory if, by the Spirit, we persevere faithfully and humbly in Jesus and His Church!
What degree of glory will be ours?  That we do not know and it is probably the wrong sort of question to ask, because the glory of Jesus -- the glory we hope to be allowed to share -- is not an objective, measurable, quantity of which we can be vainly proud, but a quality, a change of heart and mind, a totally selfless and self-sacrificing love, in Jesus, for the Father.
We do know that Mary – given to us as our Mother by Jesus from the Cross on Calvary – was a simple girl from Nazareth, and is now Queen of Heaven and of all the angels, principalities, and powers; and we believe that, because we love Jesus and hope for, look forward to, His heavenly promises, our glorification as her children has begun.  And our faith is confirmed by the fact that, although subject to temptation here on earth, we do not allow ourselves to be ruled by the earthly lusts of our flesh, nor to be dominated by that earthly pride which would drive us to seek earthly success, power, and prestige above all else.  As yet, we cannot see the fullness of our on-going glorification, but St. John assures us that, when Christ is revealed in all His glory at the end of time, we too -- members of His Body being led by His Spirit -- shall be like Him and able to share in His glory:
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. (I John 3:2)
What we have to do therefore is to remain faithful to Jesus in the response we make to our experience of life; for, as St. Paul reassured us in our second reading:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
That means, that in all the events of our life, no matter how uninspiring or perhaps unwanted, however puzzling or even painful they may be, God our Father is at work: seeking to form us, by His Spirit, in and through those very experiences, into the likeness of His Son so that we might ultimately be able to share His glory.
Surely, therefore, dear friends in Christ, we can both gratefully appreciate and joyfully respond to Jesus’ parables in today’s Gospel reading:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.   Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
There, Jesus puts before us two individuals: one, an ordinary man and a chance-finder, the other, a business man and a professional-searcher; two very different people yet with the same characteristic attitude; for, when they find or track down something of supreme value they are both able to appreciate it enough to want to make it their own at whatever cost, both of them willing and glad to give all they have in order to acquire such a treasure, such a pearl!
Now, all of us here are in a similar position, for Jesus is the treasure, the pearl beyond compare, and the Father Himself evokes our appreciation of Him:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.  No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.  (John 6:44s.)
Why has the Father drawn us to Jesus?
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   (John 3:16)
Yes, Jesus is indeed the treasure, the pearl of great price, and each of us knows where He is to be Personally found and revealed in all His glory: in the Scriptures and Sacraments of Mother Church; and in our sincere experience of, and faithful response to, Life as God offers it to us.
Only the Spirit of Jesus, given in fullness to Mother Church, can reveal to us, in and through her teaching, the fullness of Jesus' saving truth contained in the Scriptures; only the Spirit of Jesus can share the life of Jesus with us through the Sacraments given us in Mother Church as sources of divine life and conduits of saving grace.  One can indeed find treasures of wisdom and pearls of beauty in the various religions and traditions wherein men and women have sought and served God throughout human history.  However, the one supreme treasure, the one pearl precious beyond all compare, is Jesus -- God's supreme revelation and gift of His very Self – and He is to be found uniquely and supremely in the Christian Scriptures and Catholic Sacraments of Mother Church, unfailingly sustained and infallibly guided, by the very Spirit of Jesus.
Our final consideration today -- our response to life – brings Prayer to our attention.
You know about that treasure in the field of the Church, that pearl of great price in the Eucharist, but what efforts are you willing to make to ensure that the treasure available to you, the pearl being offered you, will indeed be yours for all eternity?
Have you noticed that once again we have put the wrong sort of question: speaking about getting instead of giving?   Life’s greatest question, surely, must be: how can we give our whole selves – mind, heart, soul, and being – to Jesus, God’s priceless pearl, given for us in a love transcending time?
Pope St. Gregory the Great tells a story which goes something like this: imagine someone going on, let us say, a journey on the Orient Express, travelling in luxury towards some wonderful destination, let us imagine, Venice.  It is a long journey; deliberately so, because the trip is meant to embrace many places of great interest along the way: places of beauty such as mountain villages and places of curious attraction, such as ancient bazaars.  Let us further imagine that the train stops at some of these places and, on one particular day, allows passengers to alight in order to visit a most famous bazaar during a two-hour stop by the Express.  One of the passengers goes from stall to stall, into one bar or boutique after another; he haggles here and there for bargains to take back, and in this delightful process forgets all about the ultimate destination for which he had set out on this long, expensive, journey!  He forgets about Venice, the uniquely situated and wonderfully adorned city of history, culture and beauty, he forgets all about the friends awaiting him there, and misses, indeed forgets all about, the train.  What a fool! 
People of God, so many Christians are like that, allowing themselves to be distracted from seeking the Lord by the pleasures and cares of life.  Others there are, once faithful servants, perhaps true lovers of the Lord, who -- over time – have allowed themselves to gradually lose their early fervour and love for Jesus.  We saw this in the life of King Solomon, as we heard in the first reading:
In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  Solomon answered: “O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act….  Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.   For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”   The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.  So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right— I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.  In addition, I give you what you have not asked for, such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like.  If you live in my presence as your father David lived, sincerely and uprightly, doing just as I have commanded you, I will establish your throne… over Israel forever.
However, King Solomon did not persevere in loving and following the Lord; he allowed himself to be distracted by his worldly renown and successes – that is by his self-love – and by the many fleshly loves of his life:
When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God, as the heart of his father David had been.  Adoring Astarte, and Milcom; building a high place to Chemosh, and to Molech, the idol of the Ammonites, on the hill opposite Jerusalem, he did likewise for all his foreign wives who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.   The LORD, therefore, became angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.
People of God, the Father may not have appeared to us but He has called and still does call us to Jesus; and the Holy Spirit – the Promise of the Father -- has been given to Mother Church and to us, to guide and support us in our search for Jesus, in our endeavours to centre our life on Him.  Let us not be distracted, led astray, by earthly pleasures; let us not be deceived by the temporal security promised by money or perhaps by sought-after popularity; let us not be put off by the troubles and difficulties which are an unavoidable part of our calling as disciples of Jesus, our Lord and Master.  We are on a journey and we must press on to the end, because that is the hall-mark of the true Catholic and Christian.  And this is where Prayer demands our attention and commitment,  for prayer is co-extensive with life itself for a Christian whose search for Jesus, whose endeavour to find, love, and respond to Jesus, in all life’s encounters and activities, is often called his, or her, spiritual life, his or her prayer life.  Prayer cannot be limited to longer or shorter periods on one’s knees before the Blessed Sacrament or in private …. Rather, it is like a mountain range hidden under the great ocean of life which appears as, culminates in, an island …. That beautiful island of prayer is only real and substantial insofar as it is the culmination of an apparently hidden but extensively solid foundation and support.  Prayer is indeed, as the old catechism beautifully put it, ‘a raising of the mind and heart to God’; but it is more than that, it is a sharing of one’s life with Jesus, by the Spirit, before and for the Father.
You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of  you: only to do right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8 NAB)
Prayer is the engine, set and maintained in motion by the power of the Spirit, carrying us along Jesus’ way to our heavenly home, without which we quickly become like those merely nominal Catholics mentioned in our third parable today, who find themselves caught like bad fish, idly and perhaps unwillingly, in the Church’s net and thrown away.  Let us rather follow the advice of the Psalmist:
Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad.  Seek the Lord and His strength, seek His face continually, remember His wonders which He has done.  Glory in His holy name.  (105:3-5)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sixteenth Sunday Year (A)

(Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43)

Today, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the parable of the tares, the darnel, or, as we would call them, the weeds, sown in a field of good corn, we have Jesus’ answer to those who complain about, or accuse, Mother Church in order to justify their own lack of faith.  Their complaint, their accusation, frequently ends like this:  “You don't need to go to Church in order to live a good life”, and they reach that face-saving conclusion as the necessary consequence of charges you will all have heard at some time or other: “I’ve seen so-and-so doing this; the priest was very rude and unkind to me; when you meet them outside Church they are no different from anyone else; I don’t want any part with them, they are a lot of hypocrites".  All of which finally leads up to that memorable phrase: "I may not go to Church but I live as good a life as most of them, and a better one than some of them who pretend to be so good and holy!”
Strangely enough, the devout Pharisees of Jesus’ time were somewhat akin to many of our faithless Catholics today in the sense that they liked to imagine the Assembly of faithful, or the Church, as an exclusive community into which only those truly holy are to be admitted.  But what is such true holiness?  Can it be surely recognized, measured, or guaranteed to endure?
One great grief the Pharisees held against Jesus was that He did not accept their oral traditions as true criteria for holiness; indeed, He demanded from His disciples a holiness greater than that of the Pharisees.  Moreover, He did not despise, refuse contact with, sinners: at times He was to be found eating and drinking with them; indeed, He welcomed some of them as His disciples, and  even chose one to become an Apostle.
Minutely observing Jesus’ behaviour, the Scribes and Pharisees found themselves with thoughts like to those of Simon, their fellow Pharisee who, once having invited Jesus to a meal in his home, found himself mentally criticising his Guest’s attitude of patient indulgence towards a reputedly sinful woman present in the company:
This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner. (Luke 7:39)
Even John the Baptist -- sent to prepare the way for Jesus – might seem to have an attitude very similar to that of Simon and the Pharisees, after all, didn't he once say of Jesus:
I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire? (Luke 3:16-17)
However, whereas the Pharisees considered themselves, to be sufficiently learned  and holy, authorized and prepared, to separate the good from the bad here and now, ultimately, John was shown to be faithful and true, for Jesus, the Messiah, will gather the wheat into his barn and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire; but He will do that in His Father’s own good time, the time set by His Father for judgement day, and until then, all who are called, both good or not so good, devout or neglectful, sincere or insincere, will remain together in the field of Jesus’ planting, which is His Church.  Of course, we are not considering here those who openly and seriously contemn the teaching of Mother Church or those who knowingly try to lead astray her faithful by their own bad example, for St. Paul clearly instructed his converts to get rid of such people.  Here we are thinking of those who -- like weeds – surreptitiously hide themselves among the corn; those who outwardly seem to be part of the living, growing, fruit-promising, crop, but inwardly are not.  Bearing that in mind, let us listen again to Jesus’ answer to His own ancient adversaries and to His Church’s modern critics:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way …
That pseudo-wheat mentioned in Jesus’ parable was notorious and considered a great nuisance.  It resembled wheat in appearance but had no marketable value, nor was it of any use for eating.  The rabbis described it as “prostituted wheat”.  Sowing such stuff in someone’s field was regarded as a crime, and the Romans had a law against such actions, which said that “If you have sown tares into another’s field so that you might damage its productivity, not only can the master (of that field) act with force or covertly, but … also he can sue for damages.”   Jesus was clearly telling a serious parable about events that were part and parcel of the lives of those listening to Him.
Notice, first of all, that this parable shows us that Jesus knows full that there are weeds as well as wheat to be found in mother Church.  Indeed, in His parable, the problem is so urgent that He has the master’s workers say: “Should we root out these weeds at once?”  The master, however, knows more about the agricultural issues involved, for the roots of the tares are intermingled with those of the wheat: pull one up and you draw both. Therefore he decides to delay the removal of the weeds: while the crop is growing both weeds and wheat are to remain together; however, when the time is full, the tares are to be uprooted and bound into bundles for burning – for, though useless as food, they can serve as fuel for the fire -- whereas the wheat is then to be carefully harvested and gathered into the barn.
What, therefore, is the teaching of Jesus for us today, People of God? 
To answer that question we must look carefully at today’s readings since they might seem at first sight to be concerned with mutual relations between individuals in the Church and teaching a ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ sort of attitude, whereby no impressions are to be acknowledged nor thoughts formed which might seem to distinguish between right and wrong teaching, reverent and irreverent worship, publicly good Catholic behaviour and that which harms the Catholic name.  Indeed, the Gospel can be easily misinterpreted so as to imply that since it is only for the Lord to judge, therefore, until that time, all are to live and worship together in mutual acceptance, appreciation, and affirmation …. a nice family where no one rocks the boat by disapproving of what others might do or say, and where no one can rightly call for positive standards higher than those popularly acceptable.  Such an attitude has, of course, already penetrated and permeated far too many parishes and churches with the result that the dignity of divine worship and the healthy integrity of catholic teaching and moral standards are fearfully disregarded in the name of fraternal charity.
However, that is certainly not the concern of today’s Gospel reading which is totally centred on the kingdom of heaven in its earthly constitution and development.   Although there are, indeed, individual members in that kingdom, both good and bad, it is, nevertheless, the good of the kingdom itself which is the supreme consideration, and this is, currently, a most unwelcome emphasis.  In our modern society any idea that the corporate whole, the social body, may have even more important rights than those of individuals is anathema.  For us, however, the true good of  Mother Church, is supreme, she is our joy and must be our  confidence, something we both live and would die for, since she is, already here on earth, the beginning of what will ultimately become the kingdom of heaven, the glorious paternal home of all God’s children.
People of God, we should not to allow ourselves to be unduly scandalized, and most certainly never put off Mother Church because of individuals be they every so highly placed, be they ever so many, be they ever so arrogant or disdainful.  Nor should we ever become despondent for her no matter how powerful or popular her enemies may become; because in every parable of today’s Gospel reading the wheat is finally and successfully gathered in, the minute mustard seed becomes a tree giving shelter and refuge to the birds of the air, and the yeast ultimately permeates and leavens the whole measure.
The corn sown by Jesus can grow only in the field which He, the Master, has chosen; any seed that falls by the wayside, among thorns or on the stony path, surely perishes in one way or another.  The seed of Jesus’ planting is His Word proclaimed authoritatively by the Apostles chosen by Jesus and subsequently sent out by Him to bring His Good News to the whole world.  Such seed can only grow in the field of Jesus' Church where it can be fully nourished by life-giving showers of His Most Holy Spirit; and in that field there will always be good workers to be found -- called and appointed by the Master to look after the seed He has sown --  through whom, His Spirit, will always provide His People with the grace and guidance necessary for their supernatural fulfilment.  
However, there is an aspect of life in the Church for the Kingdom that is not always appreciated by Church members, but which is perfectly obvious to any farmer watching his crop grow; namely, the fact that, just as weeds hinder the growth, vitality, and the quality of a crop, so also those of sinful life in the Church harm all who are in the Church.  This is what we must bear in mind today when we see Mother Church disfigured in so many ways, short of vocations, and bereft of children.  The disfigurement we may be tempted to complain about is brought upon her in no small measure by her children’s sins: indeed, by the wrong we ourselves do and the good we fail to promote or protect.  Rather than allowing ourselves to give way to so-called righteous indignation about this or that aspect of the Church, we should pity her, love her all the more, because she is suffering for our sins.  I doubt that there has been anything done and perpetrated by others throughout the history of Mother Church which does not find some trace or echo in our own personal weakness and fallibility, or that there is any tide of popular contagion that has not been encouraged or furthered by our own sins of omission or positive faults.
Sometimes in films and fiction, and even in the liberal talk of those wanting to show themselves in a popular light, we are presented with the picture of a jolly sinner, a loveable rogue, an attractive scoundrel.  In actual fact, though, such sinners, rogues, and scoundrels, are the wolves in sheep's clothing of which the Gospel speaks; and the Gospel assures us that they come only to kill and destroy, for there is nothing lovable in known sin and indulged weakness.
People of God, we should always have loving concern for, and trustful commitment to, Mother Church, and therefore we must always confidently hope and trust in Jesus, as we were encouraged in the first reading:
Your might is the source of justice; Your mastery over all things makes You lenient to all; (and) You show Your might when the perfection of Your power is disbelieved.   But though You are master of might, You judge with clemency, and with much lenience You govern us; for power, whenever You will, attends You.
And it is to His Spirit that we should always turn in our every need, for the Holy Spirit has been given both to perfect Mother Church and to form each and every one of us, uniquely, in Jesus, for the Father, as our second reading told us:
The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.   And the One who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because He intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Fifthteenth Sunday of the Year (A)  
(Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23); Matthew 13:1-23)

Jesus had just told a surrounding crowd of people His parable of a Sower; His disciples were somewhat puzzled by this and so they asked Him, in private:
"Why do You speak to them in parables?"  He answered and said to them,    "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”
Jesus knew full well that, as He said on another occasion (John 6:44):
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.
As man on earth, He was truly humble before and reliant on, His Father in Heaven; He always registered, noticed, and tried to appreciate what His Father was doing and saying at any given time and in any particular set of circumstances; and that is why He made use of parables when speaking to the crowds because, as He said:
To know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has not been given to them.
Whereas many so-called disciples of Jesus in today’s politically-correct society, not knowing the Father, would consider themselves obliged to echo the cry of ‘injustice’ at such apparently preferential differentiation in God’s treatment of people, Jesus Himself never experienced any need whatsoever to justify His Father before men.  Jesus was too humble to have anything but the utmost reverence for His Father’s actions and decisions, and also too truthful to entertain ‘politically correct’ appreciations of the people He had come to save: He might well have recognized that many, perhaps, the majority, of those crowding round Him were there not because they wanted to learn from His teaching, but rather out of idle curiosity …  since Jesus was probably the most renowned and controversial figure they would encounter throughout the whole of their lives … and that their attention likewise was mainly being directed to the simple story put before them in the parable, rather than to listening and hoping for spiritual guidance.
Therefore, because they were behaving just as Isaiah had foretold:
hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive,
Jesus, therefore, spoke to them in parables so that, for the time being, they might at least retain the story that interested them and the words Jesus had used; later on, in His Father’s Providence, those words might still be able to bear fruit when their minds and hearts had grown both more humble and more mature.
In that practice of Jesus we can glimpse something of the humility of God, Who accommodates Himself to human weakness by using the softer speech and lowly words of parables to communicate heavenly truth with sublime wisdom.  In like manner, His Holy Spirit, given to us and working in us and with us, constantly adapts His divine holiness and power to our weakness, worldliness, and wilfulness.  Nevertheless, when and where Jesus is able to speak more directly, it gives Him such joy that He was able to say to His apostles:
Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
When we use or hear the expression ‘the Word of God’, it brings to our mind, first of all, the second Person of the most Holy Trinity, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and before all time; and then it denotes, Jesus, the Word of God made flesh for us, the divine yet human Person Who walked this earth with the Apostles and Who will introduce us all into the presence of His Father at the end of time.  Finally, it speaks to us of God’s saving message, spoken in time, through the prophets, and ultimately culminating in the Gospel message of Jesus Himself, enshrined in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and expounded in the living proclamation of holy Mother Church.  Now, it is to this latter ‘word of God’, the Word of Scripture – proclaimed these days by the living, authoritative, witness of Mother Church, that Isaiah made reference in our first reading:
As the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
It is one and the same word, whether heard with attention or indifference, whether received joyfully or reluctantly, whether remembered or forgotten; Ultimately, the only difference is due, not indeed to divine partiality but simply to the vagaries of human fruitfulness:
Behold, a sower went out to sow.  As he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; some fell on stony places, and some fell among thorns; but others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
However, there is yet another more pervasive and simple way in which the Word of God can reach us and speak to us, and it comes from both the world around us and from the universe below and above us, all created out of nothingness by the same Word of God:
God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters." Thus God made the firmament.
Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth"; and it was so.  (Genesis 1:6-7, 11)
Still today the voice of creation sounds around us and can find deep resonance within us:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.  Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Ps 19:1-4)
The Spirit bequeathed to us in Mother Church as the Holy Spirit of both Jesus and the Father, and Who ever seeks to guide us along the way of Jesus back to the Father, that same Spirit was present in the beginning we are told:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-4)
Now, that same Spirit still hovers over creation, and – be it inanimate, voiceless, or simply inarticulate -- He is able with supreme artistry to touch the strings of creation in such a way as to enable it to bring forth music of divine provenance and beauty for us whom He is ever seeking to lead along the way of Jesus, in order that -- taking up and joining in that great chorus -- our lives  might bear supremely explicit witness to, and speak profoundly articulate love and gratitude for, the beauty, goodness, and truth of the eternal Father.
That music of creation, both harmonious and beautiful thanks to the artistry of the Spirit, expresses not only creation’s very being but it also evokes our own deepest selves as St. Paul goes on to explain:
For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
And for that reason creation looks to and waits for us, as St. Paul declared:
The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
People of God, our readings and our celebration today, are meant to renew in us an awareness of the majesty of our calling: both the wonders of the mystery already being opened up for us in Mother Church and the promised glory awaiting us in the heavenly Kingdom of which we find some transcendent impression in words of the book of Revelation (21:1-5):
I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."  Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."
That glorious new heaven and new earth will be centred on Christ for He will be its light and splendour; and because He is both Lord and Saviour of mankind His true disciples be there with Him, held in high honour and knowing eternal peace and joy:
The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.  And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into it.  Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).  And they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it.  But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. (Rev 21:23-27)
Into that glorious city the waters of life flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and those waters we are privileged to foretaste here on earth if we can but recognize and appreciate something of the beauty and the power of the Spirit-led song of creation around us, and if we will but hear with our ears, understand with our minds, and treasure in our hearts the Word of God preached and present, in Mother Church:
All things are yours: the world, life, or death, things present or to come: all are yours; and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. (1 Cor. 3:21s.)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Fourteenth Sunday of Year (A)

(Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30)

My dear People of God, in the Gospel reading you have just heard Jesus was addressing His Father in the first two verses:
I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.   Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.
In the next verse Jesus was speaking about His Father:
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
And finally He was speaking directly to us when He said:
Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
In those words He promises rest to the weary and burdened, but notice, He speaks not of the rest commonly experienced, He speaks of a “rest for your souls”, a rest transcending all the terror and turmoil of this world.
How are the weary and burdened to find this new, special sort of rest?
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.
Jesus’ teaching, People of God, can be summarized as follows: all who are wearied and overwhelmed by troubles -- deserved or underserved -- should turn to Jesus for true rest.  The rest He promises is neither bodily nor even mental rest; no, He promises rest for the soul: a rest not to be overwhelmed by physical burdens or mental stress, nor compromised or embittered by them.  This most wonderful rest -- even in the midst of trials and tribulations of all sorts -- is only for those who will take Jesus’ yoke upon themselves; that is, it is for those who, by putting their faith and trust in Him and striving to live according to His word, allow themselves to be gradually formed in the likeness of their Lord Who is gentle and humble in heart.
There are many people today who, far from wanting that gift of peace from Jesus, desire, above all, to feel thrills of pleasure and excitement in whatever moments of pride and glory, power and prominence, satisfaction and sensuality may come their way; and, as a result, they never cease to weary and burden themselves further with troubles, trials, and sins, new and old, constantly being stirred up or exacerbated by such earthly striving for personal and sensible satisfactions.  Moreover, as those sought-for moments of excitement, pleasure, and exultation inevitably become less frequent and less satisfying, they find themselves more and more prone to experience a gnawing fear of that inevitable time when -- either through age or suffering, or even through the dreadful curse of boredom -- weariness will cloud over their search for worldly fulfilment and they will find themselves empty, embittered, and alone, being forced to recognize that what they once had considered best and most desirable has finally shown itself to be empty and unfulfilling.
Rest, however, my dear people, is not the greatest gift of Jesus, not the supreme secret He has to teach us.  You will remember that for the greater part of our Gospel reading Jesus was speaking to or about His Father.  To the weary and overburdened He offers rest first of all, indeed; but for those who, having become His disciples and, through faithful perseverance, have also begun to experience something of His rest, He puts before them the prospect of a far greater blessing yet to come.  For it is His desire, not simply to give them a mere foretaste of heavenly rest here on earth, but to bring them to the glory and splendour of their heavenly and eternal fulfilment in His Father’s presence:
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
People of God, “no one knows the Father except the Son”, that we can understand; but what follows is the supreme manifestation of the infinite love of God, namely, the fact that the Son  chooses  to reveal the Father to His faithful and persevering disciples.  In fact, He makes knowledge of the Father, that is, a personal appreciation of, and responsiveness to, the Father, a sign or token of authentic discipleship: true disciples of Jesus should know the Father in such a way because Jesus has taught us that, in order to pray as His disciples, we must be able to use the word ‘Father’ as he would have us, in the prayer He gave us as the norm and model for all our prayers.
We can glimpse further along this road of true discipleship if we consider the words of the apostle Philip who once said to Jesus:
Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us. (John 14:8)
Philip was indeed orientated in the right direction, because he did long to see the Father; but Jesus was most disappointed at the little progress Philip seemed to be making, and His disappointment was such that He suggested that Philip hardly  knew Him at all:
Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? (John 14:9-10)
Jesus obviously considered that His whole life’s mission was to make the Father known and loved; and therefore He found it so disappointing and frustrating that Philip who -- as a chosen apostle -- had both shared His presence and experienced His teaching so intimately and for so long still seemed unable to recognize the Father in Jesus Himself.
People of God, this awareness of and love for the Father is what Jesus longs to see in us above all else; but it is a shared knowledge, shared by Jesus with us: it can never be our own possession, it is ours only in, with, and through Jesus.  Therefore, if we have no longing for the Father, no desire to see Him, no awareness of His beauty, wisdom, goodness and power, then we have not yet come to know Jesus.  Jesus’ gift of rest for the weary and the burdened is as nothing compared to that which His very being cries out to bestow: that is, knowledge of and love for the Father.
Jesus knew full well that it was His Father Who sent His disciples to Him:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44);
and Jesus the Son longed to reciprocate.  He desired above all else to bring those the Father had given into His care to recognize the One whose call had led them unknowingly thus far, and in coming to recognize Him as Father, to love, praise and serve Him as true sons with and in Jesus by His Spirit:
Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
Philip, however, Jesus feared, apparently knowing so little of the Father, could not, as yet, have come to know Jesus Himself truly, despite such close proximity and intimate communion with Him.
People of God, how long have you been receiving the Eucharist?  Have you come to really know Jesus: not with mere book knowledge, not with a knowledge of ritual and prescriptions, but with a living, loving, personal knowledge?  If you want to know the answer, it is not hard to find.  Do you love, long to see, to know more of, the Father?  If not, then no matter what facts or opinions you may know about Jesus, no matter how long you may have been attending Mass and receiving Communion or practicing devotions and doing good works, you still have not come to know Him anywhere near well enough.
Dear people, ask Jesus to help you come to know the Father.  There can be nothing more fulfilling and glorious than such knowledge of the all holy, all wise, totally beautiful and infinitely good God, because such knowledge is, actually, the unshackled presence of the Spirit, the bond of mutual love and appreciation between Father and Son, dwelling within us.  That is the beginning, even here on earth, of heavenly life and beatitude. 
Seek, as St. Paul advised (1 Corinthians 12:31), for the higher blessings:
Earnestly desire the best gifts. And I show you yet a more excellent way.
What is that way?  You will remember how Paul went on to describe it:
Now abide faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
“Charity” is the word for that heavenly love for the Father of which Jesus has been speaking to us in the Gospel today.  Follow Paul’s advice: seek the Father in Jesus and Jesus in the Father, for that is not just rest in toil, People of God, that is life  Itself, eternal and  glorious.