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, 26 February 2012

                   First Sunday of Lent (B)                                            

 (Genesis 9:8-15; 1st. Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15)

In the course of history God has made four covenants with man: the first being entered upon with Noah for the whole of mankind and indeed for all animal life.   Subsequently, in the course of history God made three further covenants for the good of His Chosen People through Abraham, Moses, and David, before finally a fifth covenant, for the eternal salvation of all mankind, was established in and through His incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ.
You heard of the covenant with Noah in the first reading:
I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.
Never again would water be a flood to destroy life on earth: notice that connection between water and life in this the first covenant.
The terms of God’s covenant with Abraham were:
Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-2)
Thus the second covenant set up a pilgrim people; a people called to set out on a journey towards the unknown following God’s guidance in complete trust.   It was a covenant of faith.
You well remember the covenant with Moses:
Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. They said, "All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient."   And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words."  (Exodus 24:6-8)
This, the third covenant involved obedience to the Law given by God through Moses: it was, indeed, a covenant of obedience.
The fourth covenant was that God made with David and his house:
When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.  (2 Sam 7:12,16)
In this covenant we have the promise of a Messiah, a Saviour of kingly line, whose kingdom will endure for ever.  It was a covenant of hope.
Finally we have the fifth and eternal covenant which Jesus inaugurated, and called us to enter into through baptismal faith and the Eucharist:
This is My Body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.  He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. (Luke. 22:19-20)
Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood you have no life in you. (John 6:53)
People of God, we should clearly recognise and appreciate the wonderful wisdom of our God, for this fifth covenant includes all that had gone before.  Here water is sacramentally associated with life again; but no longer is it a flood to destroy life, for now water and the word of God serve to mediate the new life of the spirit to all who believe in Jesus.  Again, as with all true descendants of Abraham our father in faith, Jesus’ redeemed people are a people of faith looking forward to that which eyes cannot see, which ears have never heard, and of which the tongue of man could never tell.  Moreover, this new People of God, the house of Jesus, are pledged to obey a teaching -- foreshadowed indeed and prepared for by the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai -- but now a law, not of letters inscribed on stone tablets, but of grace poured into our hearts by the Spirit of Jesus, enabling our response to the Gospel proclaimed to us by Mother Church, the Body of which Jesus is the supreme Head.  And finally and most fittingly, Jesus Himself, the promised Messiah, is our Saviour and Leader Who -- by His death and Resurrection -- is able and willing to make of us a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, called to sing more beautiful praises of God than even king David and all the Psalmists could bring forth.   This covenant of Jesus is a covenant of love which we must now consider more closely.
God did great things for Israel: He brought His people out of servitude in Egypt and renewed that epic event by bringing back His people from exile in Babylon.  He gave them the Law on Sinai to form them into one people, and a land in which to serve Him; as Zacharias would put it (Luke 1: 69):
            Raising up a horn of salvation for (them) in the house of His servant David.
The covenant of Jesus, however, was unimaginably new, for God would not simply perform some wondrous event, but make a pledge, in JESUS, of His unfailing love for the people He had originally chosen and then formed over more than one thousand years:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son … that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-18)
And surely can we see once again something of the wonderful beauty of God Who  is never outdone in His goodness and generous love; for here He recalls Abraham to our minds again and explains to us, so to speak, His original plan and purpose in His dealings with ‘our father in faith’:
By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, YOUR ONLY SON (words most surely expressing special appreciation and full of secret meaning), blessing I will bless you, and in your seed (the Christ, St. Paul assures us in Galations 3:16) all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 3:16-18)
Just what God’s pledge of love and salvation meant and involved we were gradually revealed in the unfolding of Jesus’ life on earth -- among men and in conflict with the devil -- until it climaxed in love’s triumph on the Cross of Calvary.  God deigned to show HIS LOVE in OUR way, a way that we might be able to understand and appreciate: making it supremely perceptible (raised up on a cross by imperial Rome and the Jewish religious authorities on Calvary!) and supremely understandable in the human words and sufferings of Jesus, Our Lord.  Jesus was and is the love of God the Father made visible to us and for us.
Moreover, Jesus is the glory of the Father in our midst, for Jesus lived and died for the glory of His Father Who loves us.  And so, His gift to us of the sacrifice and sacrament of Holy Mass is the constant renewal, recalling, representation, of the Father’s unfailing offer of covenantal saving love into which we enter by faith in Jesus and confirm, above all, by our reception of the very Body and Blood of Jesus in the course of Holy Mass.
And yet, the wonder of Jesus is not thereby exhausted, for it shows itself still more when we realize that Jesus lived and died for the glory of His Father, and thereby He shows us, exhorts and enables us, to enter yet more fully into God’s covenant with mankind by our ever deeper return of love following Jesus’ example, in the power and under the inspiration and guidance of His Spirit, the Gift of both Father and Son.  Jesus draws us with Himself, after Himself, into love of the Father, by the Spirit He has bestowed on Mother Church in fulfilment of His Father’s promise, and still bestows on each and every one of us who receive His most holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
How wise is our God!  How beautiful is the revelation which Jesus and the Spirit make known to us through Mother Church, in the Scriptures!  Cleansing water bringing a new supernatural life of pilgrimage from earthly sin and death to eternal joy and divine fulfilment; a pilgrimage along a way not of our own choosing or any merely human imagining, but one marked out for us by the teaching of God’s beloved Son Who, by His own Most Holy Spirit bequeathed to us in Mother Church,  enables, inspires, and leads us to follow along His way:
This is the time of fulfilment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must never forget that before Jesus proclaimed His Good News in Israel -- before He set about healing the sick, enabling the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dumb to speak -- He was, Himself, led out into the desert to fight personally and alone against the power and cunning of Satan in the course of which He won for us a victory over our common enemy.  The fact that it was not definitive -- according to St. Luke’s Gospel (4:13) we are told that the devil who tempted Him, thereupon Departed from Him until an opportune time --was so that we ourselves, in the strength of His uniquely definitive victory over sin and death on the Cross of Calvary and in His subsequent Resurrection, might become associated with Him in His ultimate victory over the ‘sin of the world’.
Therefore, as true disciples, who aspire to further the coming of God’s Kingdom in our world of today, we must first of all -- under the guidance of the Gospel and in the power of the Spirit -- enter into more serious combat this coming Lent with our own personal sins and sinfulness, and may we, with St. Paul, thereby merit that good Christian conscience which is both the sign of a fight well fought and the pledge of eternal salvation through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

7th. Sunday, Year (B)

Seventh Sunday, Year (B)

(Isaiah 43:18f., 21f., 24-26; 2nd. Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12)

So many public figures celebrated by the young seek happiness and end up (quite literally) in a surfeit of pleasures under a mantle of degradation; and yet, surely  their very obvious searching for happiness is what, to a large extent, makes them so attractive to young people.  Now we Catholics and Christians ourselves are committed searchers for happiness, although we would, of course, add the word ‘true’: we search for, and we would also claim to possess, in a certain manner and to a certain degree, ‘true happiness’.  Why then is there so little community of spirit, so little empathy, between our Christian aspirations and the longings of great swathes of modern youth?    Can we not offer anything to challenge the wretched body-and-soul-destroying pleasures to which they so eagerly resort despite all warnings?   Is their experience of life so desperately empty and meaningless that our current version of Christian hope seems totally irrelevant to their need? What can we offer that they can appreciate?  We do offer faith, hope, reconciliation, peace of soul -- and we can offer much more as I am sure you know -- but what can we offer that might satisfy their longing for a happiness they can, easily and yet seriously, experience and share?
Now people are happy because they have some aspiration, some work, some person, they delight in, to whom, to which, they can most completely give and devote themselves with fulfilment.  Consequently, the best offer we can make for all modern seekers of happiness is surely to help them find joy and delight in, admiration of and love for, the Person of Jesus our Saviour as shown to us in the Gospels.  We cannot offer them a life of approved obedience, much admired self-discipline, not even our personal assurances and protestations of private fulfilment in the life of faith; we must rather offer something ‘objective’, something there for all to see and appreciate in the Gospels, we must be able to help them to an understanding and appreciation of the  wonderful life’s work and Personal beauty of Jesus; for the truly perfect human beauty, goodness, wisdom, love and courage of Jesus is, as it were, the richest vein of purest gold for human joy (our version of happiness) and fulfilment, which we must learn to mine – as Catholics indeed but also for ourselves -- if we are to recommend Christian faith and Catholic commitment to happiness seekers and addicts.  Happiness, of itself, is a sort of half-way-house, it is always fragile and dependent, it needs to develop, and has two options: one possibility is that offered by the world’s band-wagon of pleasures, which are feverish in every respect; the other is Christian joy, both deep and consuming, not simply enduring towards but indeed positively blossoming into eternity.  
In order to respond to youthful yearnings and blindness we need to  deliberately promote happiness in our own Christian quality of life, to develop our own joy in, love for, and peace with Jesus, so that He might be recognized as our mysterious joy and fulfilment.  To this end we should try to appreciate and delight much more in the Lord, not with clap, happy, artificial abandon, but with a deeply serious and yet lovingly sincere search for and appreciation of the beauty and goodness of our God and Saviour.  Let us take today’s readings for a starting point.
You heard in the Gospel of a certain paralytic who was blessed with four good friends who brought him, on his stretcher, to Jesus when He was at Peter‘s house in Capernaum, and:
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above Him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
They might have been simply seeking for a miraculous cure for their friend; but Jesus’ words on seeing them lower the man down in front of Him would seem to indicate that He understood something more than a mere cure was needed:
When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven you."
Now, devout Jews of those times regarded sickness as a punishment for sin.  From early traditions contained in the book of Exodus we read:
So you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will take sickness away from the midst of you. (23:25)
The Torah repeats the same teaching in the book of Deuteronomy (7:12, 15):
It shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.  And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and will afflict you with none of the terrible diseases of Egypt which you have known, but will lay them on all those who hate you. 
The great prophets of Israel taught likewise; as we find, for example, in Isaiah:
Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. (40:2)
Moreover, Psalms were sung in the daily Temple liturgy and we there we hear:
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases.  (Ps 103:2-3)
And so, throughout the Old Testament such teaching was to be found, and Jesus Himself gave expression to it on one occasion mentioned in St. John’s Gospel:
Afterward Jesus found (the man He had healed) in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."  (John 5:14)
It was an attitude firmly fixed in the mind and heart of St. Paul also, who wrote to His converts in Corinth concerning their celebration of the Eucharist:
He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. (1 Cor. 11:29-30)  
Therefore, in today’s Gospel reading, noting the spiritual anxiety of the sick man and of his friends, and appreciating their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic:
            Child, your sins are forgiven you.
On hearing those words the Scribes -- who were present to keep an eye on Jesus for the Jerusalem authorities -- said in their hearts:
Why does this Man speak that way? He is blaspheming.  Who but God alone can forgive sins?
Notice that they are not speaking these words for all to hear, they are just thinking them in their minds, or, at the most, perhaps whispering them one to another.  Now Jesus’ words, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven’ were in perfect conformity with  Jewish piety which, for reverence’ sake, made use of the passive turn of phrase even though the actual meaning was:
            God has forgiven your sins.
The Scribes, however, were maliciously interpreting His words ‘Your sins are forgiven you’ in such a way that they might be turned against Him:
He is blaspheming; who but God alone can forgive sins?
Jesus had actually said nothing about Himself forgiving the man’s sins; but since the Jewish authorities considered Him to be extremely dangerous for both religious and political reasons, accordingly, there were many like these Scribes, who -- thinking Jesus to be of but little personal account and hoping to win approval for themselves -- would not scruple to maliciously twist His words so that, thereby, a much-sought-after charge might be brought against Him: “This fellow is pretending to forgive sins!   He is blaspheming!”    
It is now, however, that Jesus begins to turn their malice against them, showing that the charge they have conjured up against Him -- a claim to divine authority and power -- far from being a blasphemous pretence on His part, contained something of a mysterious truth about Him.  Having no regard for Jesus, indeed, wanting to get rid of Him, they are about to be totally confounded when their chosen charge against Him is shown to reflect something divinely true about Him.   They may well, at that moment, have been congratulating themselves that they would soon be able to take an acceptable report back to Jerusalem, when Jesus looking at them said:
            Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
They began to feel embarrassed, uncomfortable; after all, how did this fellow know what they were thinking, planning, in their hearts?  Jesus went on:
Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, pick up your mat and walk'? 
Here we must bear in mind the opinions of the Rabbis based on the Scriptures’ teaching about sin and sickness, for the Rabbis taught that no one would be cured from sickness without first having their sins forgiven (cf. Edersheim 348).  Therefore choosing either one alternative or the other ultimately required both to take place.  Jesus words “Your sins are forgiven” could only be shown, proved, to be true if He were then to go on to say to the paralytic “Get up, pick up your mat and walk”.  On the other hand, if He had first said “Get up, pick up your mat and walk” His words, according to Jewish teaching, could bring about no God-given cure without the man’s sins having been forgiven beforehand.  It was absolutely necessary to say the words and do the deed, there was no ‘easier’ way; according to the Scribes’ own teaching, both forgiveness and healing were required.
Having shown the extent of His knowledge of their Law, Jesus now proceeded to confound and embarrass the Scribes’ in their secret thoughts by exercising a healing power which He did not hesitate to declare to be His own by saying:
            I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.
Did such words perchance hint that He also had Personal authority to pronounce   those words of forgiveness of which they had maliciously accused Him?  For, after all, forgiveness had to precede healing; surely, they both went together?  Such thoughts would be deeply disturbing but also, perhaps, secretly providential for the Scribes.
The people, however, unaware of that secret struggle between malice and mercy, between dogmatic authoritarianism and divine Wisdom, were truly delighted with the man’s healing and full of praise for God’s goodness,  saying:
We have never seen anything like this!
The Scribes had no such immediate feelings of joy in their hearts or praise on their lips, for Jesus’ apparent ability to read their minds and hearts was filling their thoughts.  They departed to make their report to the religious authorities but, despite whatever words of success they might have used in their report, they went away with unsettling thoughts on their minds, and apprehension in their hearts: had that fellow really been able to read their hearts, had He truly known their thoughts?  Even more, did He perhaps -- perish the thought – somehow have power and authority to forgive sins and heal God’s punishment?  Who was He?
Nevertheless, unknown to themselves, those returning Scribes were -- together with the rejoicing people, albeit in a far different manner – being patiently prodded and invited by God to look more carefully and more humbly at the mystery of the disturbing One Who referred to Himself as ‘the Son of Man’.
Let us also, coming to the end of our consideration of this episode in the life of Jesus, and having so much admired Jesus and delighted in His wisdom, recall, and better appreciate, those words of the St. Paul:
We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
For, they would tell us -- who are being drawn by the Father to Jesus and called to love, delight in, and glorify His Name -- that over the course of our years as His disciples so many, many, events, occasions, and occurrences must have worked  most wonderfully together for our good.  And yet, our weaknesses and failings as Christian witnesses -- having far too often not even noticed such occasions let alone delighted in them -- has meant that we have consequently been unable to convincingly declare the beauty and goodness of Jesus before our contemporaries searching so desperately for happiness in their lives; perhaps, at the best, we used merely human words to falteringly hint at what the joy of our features and the serenity of our bearing  -- secret and unsuspected gifts of the Spirit of Jesus -- might otherwise have manifested beyond all doubt and questioning. 
Jesus had much work to do, and so the Gospel continues:
Once again He went out along the sea.  All the crowds came to Him and He taught them.
May He continue indulgently, we pray, to teach us too by His Most Holy Spirit, in and through Mother Church: leading, guiding, and enabling us, to hear and appreciate, to rejoice at and delight in, His unfailing witness to the love, truth, goodness and beauty of His and our heavenly Father.     

Sunday, 12 February 2012

6th. Sunday of Year (B)

Sixth Sunday of Year (B)

(Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; 1st. Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45)

In the first reading we heard that, in Jewish society of Gospel times, anyone with a skin disease whom the priest had pronounced to be unclean was obliged to separate himself or herself from society and live apart; alone, that is, or with other similarly diseased people:
As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean.  He shall dwell apart; making his abode outside the camp.
Moreover, in order to prevent contact with ordinary members of society:
The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, 'Unclean, unclean!'
As a result, a leprous person was – according to rabbinic teaching and in the popular estimation -- as good as dead so far as normal society and normal human contacts were concerned.   Moreover, leprosy made the victim liturgically unclean according to the requirements of the Law and unfit to participate in the worship of Temple or synagogue … and this was interpreted so severely that were such a person so much as to enter a house all vessels therein would be immediately rendered unclean for Jewish use.  Worst of all, however, for the stricken one, leprosy was considered as a direct punishment from God by rabbis and lawyers (who had drawn up a list of four possible crimes he might have committed), which meant the sufferer was considered and proclaimed to be one cursed and rejected by God Himself.  Consequently, the rabbis considered the cleansing of one suffering from leprosy to be as impossible as raising the dead, and a story we are told concerning Naaman the Syrian shows how clearly Israel and the ancient world recognized that none but divine power could cure it:
Naaman brought (a) letter (from the king of Syria) to the king of Israel, which said, Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.  And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me."  (2 Kings 5:6-7)
Now, we are told by St. Mark that:
A leper came to Jesus, and kneeling down begged Him and said, "If You wish, You can make me clean." 
There we can recognise the hope (perhaps nearly worn out) still managing to spur on the leper, and the faith (just beginning to blossom) sustaining him, while Jesus in heart-warming spontaneity:
Moved with pity, stretched out His hand (and) touched him.
In this momentous encounter of human suffering and dereliction with divine goodness and mercy, comes to mind some words from a hymn by Fr. Faber:
The love of God is broader than the measure of our mind: we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own, and we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.
For, in response to the leper’s courage and faith, Jesus -- powerful in word and deed – had reached out and touched (some would translate ‘embraced’) the man before having actually cleansed him -- thus totally destroying any possible thought of the leper being one cursed or rejected by God.  Only then did He solemnly add:
I do will it.  Be made clean.
 Here Jesus helps us appreciate what we read in the letter to the Hebrews (11:3)
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.
This creative Word is expressive of the very essence of God, and therefore, in the Church, we have sacraments, bequeathed to us by the Word made flesh, consisting of words together with specific actions -- symbolic of divine grace and human agency -- just as Jesus healed the leper by His divine word of power and human touch (or, embrace).
If we would look a little closer at Jesus and try to understand and learn from His very attitude, it could be of much help and might save us from many errors.
Warning him sternly, Jesus dismissed him at once, and said to him: See that you tell no one anything; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.
In accordance with the Torah He directed the man to a priest that he might be authoritatively recognized as one completely cleansed of his leprosy, and so be pronounced able, once more, to live among men and serve and worship the God of Israel.  Jesus told the man that such an action would “be proof for them”; that is, it would testify to the priests that Jesus had both respect for the Law and for them. And, of far greater significance, it would bring to their attention the fact that here was Someone Who could, by His very word of authority, cure leprosy which had always been acknowledged as notoriously incurable for mere man.
Notice how Jesus adheres to the Law set down in the Torah even after previously having most decisively rejected the excessive interpretation given it by the Scribes and Pharisees.  Now this law of exclusion embodies a divine principle, both Jewish and Christian, whereby the good of the whole transcends that of the individual, and the individual good should be conducive to the good of the whole.  This was one of the guiding lights for St. Paul throughout his many missionary labours, as you heard in the second reading:
I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit, but that of the many, that they may be saved.
 Our modern Western society is so ostentatiously committed to human individual rights that the good of the whole is easily overlooked. And yet, individual rights are only valid when, and indeed can only exist if, they are conducive to the well-being of the whole of society; and the validity of this principle is being vindicated in our day by the fact that now, at last, the evil of abortion is becoming manifest to all as the European birth rate is increasingly unable to support the continuing viability of its member nations: several of which are dying out; dying on their feet, so to speak.   For many of our contemporaries, however, this principle is neither clearly understandable nor readily acceptable; consequently, although as a divine principle it is, indeed, for the common good, nevertheless, today, none but the Church and some other religious bodies have sufficient conviction to resist prevalent western hedonistic tendencies and doctrines, such as abortion above all, but also homosexuality when accepted and presented as an alternative life style to that of heterosexual love and marriage.  For, heterosexual love in marriage is the bedrock of human society, fulfilling the spouses and serving the whole human race through the children they raise as a wholesome family.  Homosexuality, on the other hand, when practised, and presented as an optional life style -- distinct that is, from a more noble and perfectly blameless psychological tendency that might be termed homo-empathy (witness David’s love for Jonathan) – can satisfy only the individuals concerned, at the expense of society which is thereby debilitated, as, once again, our modern experience of diminishing home populations in this country and on the mainland of Europe shows.
Again, lack of discipline in our schools -- due in no small degree to the slavish adhesion to what are thought to be human rights -- is leading to an educational and social crisis, because an education that is not able to teach children self-control and personal responsibility by the exercise of discipline can neither produce balanced adults truly at ease with their personal make-up, nor, a fortiori, dependable members of society.  Indeed, such faulty education is increasingly liable to turn out young adults who are a potential danger to their neighbour and to society, because their un-recognized and un-appreciated emotions are not subject to their own control, and can be wildly at variance with the rights of other individuals or of the social body as a whole. 
And so it was in our Gospel reading, where human emotions apparently served to confer a right:
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
Jesus had come to cure Israel, and ultimately the whole of mankind, from the supreme uncleanness of sin, but the cleansed-leper was only able to think of his own case.  Jesus had cured him!  That was all that mattered. He must go and talk of what had happened to himself!
Of course, today some might think, because the man was presumably so grateful to Jesus and so happy in his new-found health, that therefore he is not to be blamed.  But in fact, because of that man’s (understandable) ignorance of Jesus’ overall purpose, and because he (culpably) ignored Jesus’ express command, in other words, because of his self-centeredness (blameworthy, no matter how understandable we might like to consider it), Jesus could no longer enter a town to preach His message of salvation, and perhaps other sufferers were denied the opportunity for a healing such as he himself had received.  The Healer, the Master, had said ‘keep quiet’ and the former leper -- carried off by the flood of his own emotions, and perhaps his own ‘human rights’(!) -- ignored his Saviour’s strict warning.
People of God, Jesus came to take away the sins of the world; and our personal needs and desires are but tiny components, however important to us, of God’s overarching purpose, and they must, therefore, be subject to its requirements.  It is so easy for us to be totally unaware of, and more or less indifferent to, the needs of mankind as a whole when our own personal needs are pressing upon us; and yet none of us can find fulfilment and happiness apart from our integration into the well-being of the whole body of society.  So often in the lives of each and every one of us, we would like -- we would love -- as disciples of Jesus, to make some great gesture, give some generous and remarkable response, adopt some striking initiative, and, consequently we can find it both frustrating and depressing when quiet obedience to God seems to be required of us most frequently and above all else.  Whereas we might want to find things happening, to make things happen, have other people see things happening, in our lives as Christians, all too often we can feel ourselves to be mere nobodies of whom nothing more than simple obedience, sincere prayers and a modicum of sacrifice is requested or required ….  and that, human self-love can find extremely hard. 
Because we are chronically self-centred, therefore, we need to constantly remind ourselves that none can cure the malady of mankind but Jesus Who is ceaselessly, and  ultimately infallibly, at work by His Spirit in and through His Church; and if we want to be His co-workers, to become faithful instruments serving His purposes, we have to resist all yearnings to carve out for ourselves some niche of acclaim, and aspire to seek, first and foremost, His supreme glory, await patiently His most holy will, and proclaim always His great and unfailing goodness.
And so for us, the good of the individual, though valid in itself and truly necessary for the good of the whole, must subordinate itself, or be subordinated, to that good of the whole, and such subordination is not necessarily recognized nor always proclaimed by society.  Nevertheless, it is that balanced good, the true and ultimate good prescribed by God the Father and proclaimed by Our Lord Jesus Christ, that we should make our joy and privilege to seek, work and pray for, in the power of God’s Gift, the Spirit. 
I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit, but that of the many, that they may be saved.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

5th Sunday Year (B)

Fifth Sunday Year (B)  

   (Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1st. Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39)

Simon and his companions searched for Jesus and, finding Him, they said to Him:
“Everyone is looking for you.”  He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For that is what I came out to do.”
We can gather from that passage of the Gospel that Jesus considered His preaching to be supremely important.  This fact led that great imitator and apostle of Jesus, St. Paul, to declare in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:17):
            Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.
Therefore, we should not be surprised to find that, throughout His public ministry, Jesus’ preaching provoked astonishment as well as opposition and confrontation among those who heard Him; and they reacted in this way first of all because of the content of His preaching -- many, for example, would say after hearing Him:
             Where did this man get this wisdom? (Mt. 13:54)
There were others astounded by the manner in which He spoke, as you heard in last week’s Gospel passage:
The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
Now, this was not just the reaction of simple people perhaps too prone to religious excitement, it was also the response of soldiers notoriously untouched by any such sensitivities, as St. John tells us in his Gospel (7:46):
            The officers answered, "Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.”
And, indeed, the religious authorities themselves -- those highly intelligent and extremely dangerous enemies of Jesus -- had a like appreciation of His preaching and Person:
The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.   (Mark 11:18)
Now, when the scribes -- learned in the Law and the Jewish oral tradition -- taught the people, they frequently did little more than string together a series of quotations centring on some brief passage of the Torah -- taking them from earlier authorities or currently well-known and influential teachers – without making personal statements that might involve or commit themselves.   With Jesus, however, it was quite different: He would, indeed, quote on occasion, but only from the Scriptures; then, also, He would frequently refer to the natural world around, and recall everyday events and situations of human life, before finally -- by the fullness of the Spirit that was in Him -- bringing forth a supremely authentic revelation of God’s presence and purpose in the Scriptures, and in the history -- past and present -- of Israel.  In this way His teaching was able to reveal the divine meaning and eternal purpose, as well as show something of the present beauty and hidden significance, of everyone’s ordinary experience of life and their vocation to worship in Israel.
His was, indeed, a unique authority, being based upon a unique awareness of divine realities:
Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. (John 3:11-13)
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.  (Matthew 11:27)
St. Paul, again, appreciated this aspect of Jesus’ teaching, as we can tell from the advice he gave to Titus, an early convert of his whom he later established as head of the church in Crete:
These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Titus 2:15)
As Paul bears witness, this authority, so striking in Jesus’ own Person and preaching, was essential for the founding of the Church, and consequently, is still essential today for the well-being of the Church.  It is not, however, something that can be directly imitated by ordinary human beings: to attempt anything of that sort would smack of the heretical illusion of those who believe themselves to be divinely inspired or the satanic pride of those who want to impose their own personality and ideas on others in order to seize hold of, and enjoy the experience of, some measure of power.
The  proclamation of the Word of God, by public preaching and personal witness, is, indeed, essential for the Christian Church; for us, however, the authority recognizable in the priest’s manner of preaching and the people’s witness of Christian living can only come from faith: a faith gratefully received, wholeheartedly believed, and deeply loved.  This confidence in the Church’s proclamation and assurance in her Christian living cannot come from some stirred-up, emotionally contrived, personal ambition which ultimately only seeks to promote self.  It must come from an absolute and total commitment to what transcends our own being and what, nevertheless, becomes essentially part of, and the very key to, our deepest self; a total commitment to the God proclaimed by our faith, evoked when we come to truly and fully realize that our supreme duty as Christians is to know God:
The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  (Habakkuk 2:14)
This knowledge, however, is not just the awareness of some facts about God, or about the Scriptures or the Church; it has to be a personal appreciation of, love for, and commitment to, God Himself, as manifested to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and witnessed to by His revelation of the Father and His Gift of the Holy Spirit in and through Holy Mother Church.  This is a knowledge that can only be received by those who consistently and perseveringly seek to do what Jesus did, that is, commune with God in prayer:
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  
It is the lack of such loving knowledge and appreciation of, communion with and whole-hearted response to, the Personal God abiding with and in Mother Church and all the faithful children born of her that bedevils the proclamation and the witness of too many Christians and Catholics today; and just how deeply such ignorance afflicts us and, of course, the whole of our world today, can surely be imagined from the following few words of the prophet Hosea and then of Our Lord Himself:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have   rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. (Hosea 4:6)
I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (6:6)
Our Blessed Lord, for His part, can be said to have quite literally bequeathed to us  the following most inspiring prayer of praise and intercession revealing the bond of mutual knowledge and love between Himself and His Father with which He would endow and enrich us :
O righteous FatherThe world has not known You, but I have known You and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.  (John 17:25-26)
The world’s religiosity today is above all a proclamation of self-sufficiency and mutual approbation: we can be holy of ourselves without any God.  Because God is rejected as not-necessary, there is no authority able to command respect and give peace, strength, direction and coherence, to our modern experience of life: the institutions and laws that would govern the nations are subject to cynical self-interest, widespread hypocrisy, and frequent barbarism; the law that seeks to govern our society is at times quite derisory in its pandering to popularity, and for an ever growing number of its citizens there appears to be no right law nurturing our society, nothing other than the compulsive pressures of the markets’ search for profit, the corrosive passions of individuals lusting for pleasures of every sort, and the merely political aspirations of parties and candidates hankering after prominence, power, and renown.  This recalls those ancient words of Job we heard in our first reading:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?  Troubled nights have been allotted to me.  If in bed I say ’When shall I arise?’, then the night drags on and I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.  My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle; they come to an end without hope.  Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.
And yet, People of God, those words of Job are no final assessment, not an end in themselves but a help and provocation for us to appreciate what Jesus and His salvation has brought into our lives; a salvation the prophets Isaiah and Hosea had glimpsed already dawning centuries before Jesus:
He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him; so let us know, let us press on to know, the LORD. (Hosea 6:2-3)
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Therefore, let us pray that not only the Lord may give authority to both the preaching of Mother Church and the witness of all her devoted children, but that even our own personal lives may themselves be penetrated through and through by the faith we have most gratefully received, in which we whole-heartedly rejoice, and to which we most sincerely hope and humbly aspire to give witness and expression in all its compelling truth and beauty by both our life and our death in Christ Jesus our Lord.