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.

Monday, 31 December 2012

Mary Mother of God (YearC)

Mary, the Mother of God (C)  

(Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

In the second reading we heard St. Paul telling his converts in Galatia:
As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"
Today, therefore, Mother Church invites us to consider how wonderfully the Spirit dwelt in the heart of Mary: not just for her admiration and praise, but also for our own great good, and thus, indeed, for the supreme glory of God!
St. Paul’s words reveal to us something of the innermost ‘secret’ of Mary: they speak not what she might have been capable of, able – of herself -- to do, but of what the Holy Spirit Himself did in and through her; indeed, they speak also of what Mary allowed the Holy Spirit to do in and through her.  He did ‘great things’, but could not -- could not because He would not – do them without her co-operation; without her giving-up, losing hold of, indeed, total abnegation of, self; without, that is, her most radical and simple self-forgetfulness.  Such self-emptiness before Him, such total openness for Him, such absolute commitment to Him and His purposes; that indeed, is the secret of Mary:
Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Your Will.
So absolute -- so complete and unreserved -- was the response of Mary to God’s initial words delivered to her by the angel Gabriel, that Jesus openly praised her for that above all else (Luke 11:27-28):
A certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!"  But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
Blessed are those who hear the word of God, who like Mary let that word freely -- like a threaded needle -- introduce the Spirit of God into their lives, allowing Him to  commence His work in them.  Blessed indeed are those who then keep, hold onto, turning neither heart nor head to the right or to the left, but always, simply and solely, allowing God’s word and God’s Spirit to lead them where He will.
We can recall here another Mary of whom the New Testament speaks most clearly in this same vein, for she is able to help us learn something more about Our Lady’s ‘secret’:
Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed Him.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat beside the Lord at His feet listening to Him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving came to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me by myself to do all the serving?  The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing, Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her. (Luke 10:38-42)
Clearly, important choices have to be made, perhaps friends offended and opposition provoked; at times, even good, very good things left aside, behind, for what is better.  ‘Secretum meum, mihi.’
For further guidance we can also recall the experience of Elijah of old:
At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter.   The word of the Lord came to him, ‘Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord, the Lord will be passing by.’  A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake there was fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  After the fire, there was a tiny whispering sound.  When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.  A voice said to him, ‘Elijah, why are you here? ... ‘Go take the road back to the desert near Damascus.  When you arrive you shall anoint Hazael as king of Aram... Then Jehu, as king of Israel, and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as prophet to succeed you.’  (1 Kings 9, 11-16)
The voice of God had been ardently desired, long awaited, and carefully listened for, by the prophet in his great need.  Ultimately he recognized it by its unearthly calm and peace-breaking quiet which bespoke of holiness and led him to hide his face in his cloak before it, that thus he might listen closely and understand clearly what the Lord would have him do to achieve his destiny.
In our Gospel reading we learnt that those who searched for the Child found:
            Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in a manger.
So it is for all those disciples whom Jesus has told to take Mary to their hearts as their own Mother: in our search for Jesus, we will find Him, most easily and most surely, with the help and comfort of Mary’s prayerful presence in our lives.  Mary is no mere addition, certainly no complication, for Catholic spirituality.  Indeed, we can readily appreciate the privilege of Mary that enables her to lead each and every one of us to Jesus when we recall that she is not simply the model of the Church, but that, during her pregnancy she was, in all literal truth, the original Church itself, the unique dwelling place on earth of Jesus, God’s Son made flesh, the New Testament Ark of God’s presence among His People; and that she still is the purest essence of the Church, without spot or wrinkle of any sort.  Only in Mother Church can each and every one of us find Jesus truly and love Him fully, and that we will do most surely with Mary’s indispensable help.
St. Paul is quite explicit: it is the Spirit within us Who cries out Abba, Father!  It is not that He authorises us, permits us, or even, enables us to cry, Abba, Father!  It is the Spirit Himself, first coming to us as God’s gracious and most gloriously mysterious  GIFT -- the sublimely precious fruit of Christ’s sacrifice -- Who thus speaks in us and for us to the Father.  Thus is Jesus, Mary’s Son, born anew in each of us for the Father.   After that, everything depends on just how much ‘room’ – so to speak -- we give the Spirit of Jesus to work freely and fruitfully in us; and that means that we must appreciate, learn from, and adopt in our own lives something of the ‘secret’ of Mary our mother: for that will ultimately determine our human and Christian development as children of God and children of Mary.
We should recognise that Mary is our model and inspiration for our deepest and most personal relationship with Jesus, in so far as she -- our Mother -- was, and is always, most sublimely one with her Son:
Mary kept all these things (that she had experienced and heard concerning Jesus) and pondered them in her heart.
She is the supreme example and the surest guide for anyone seeking salvation; for anyone hoping and longing to find God as our true Father in, through, and with Jesus.  First and foremost, we should Imitate Mary by treasuring the Good News of Jesus handed down to us by Mother Church: in her teaching which forms us as His disciples, and in her Scriptures, which not only recount for us the foreshadowing and forthcoming of the Christ, but also, with her sacraments, mediate His very presence in our midst as members of His Church, and in our individual hearts as His true disciples today.
People of God, hear the Good News of Jesus with reverence and joy; treasure and nurture His grace in your hearts; and seek, above all, to respond – by the Spirit -- with that wholehearted confidence in, gratitude and commitment to, God, to which Mary gave such perfect expression when she said:
            Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Your Will.
Holy Mary, you are indeed blessed above all women by God the Father, for through you there comes to us the One in Whom and through Whom all the blessings of heaven itself are ours!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Holy Family 2012


(Ecclelsiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52)

“Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”  And He said to them, “Why were you looking for Me?  Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what He said to them.
Initially let us remark how the Holy Family did exemplify the teaching we have heard from the two previous readings:  Mary herself showed honour and respect for Joseph in her words and attitude:
Son, why have you done this?  Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.
Joseph showed his reverence and love for Mary by allowing her to speak first, giving her both emotional relief in her sovereign maternal solicitude for her Son, and first expression to their mutual longing and anxiety to understand Jesus’ strange behaviour. 
Jesus too, first of all recognizes and commiserates with Mary and Joseph’s concern with gentle words of sympathy:    
Why were you looking for me (upsetting yourselves so much)?
Then He proceeded to make clear, as best He could, what had been going on in His heart and mind recently:
Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house (for none but my heavenly Father could possibly lead Me to absent Myself from returning with you in the caravan  … surely you knew that!)?
The Boy Jesus – humanly speaking, He was in some most important aspects, still a boy – did not fully realize the impact of those words!  For the very first time He had called the God of Israel -- Whom they all, in accordance with Israel’s ancient and traditional Law, had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship and honour in the Temple, His very own House – His, Personal, Father!
Those words I must be in My Father’s house are also seriously translated I must be about My Father’s business: neither translation excludes the other, neither alone can give the full content of Jesus’ words.  
Moreover, in the intimate inner circle of family life His words were most disturbing, since they could appear to be in contradiction with Mary’s carefully chosen ‘adult’ words:
            Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety. 
There had always been in the hearts and minds of Mary and Joseph – amid the wondrous amazement, gratitude, and countless joys Jesus gave them – a hidden anxiety about how best to bring up such a child: the One they had both taken, many years ago, to the Temple to present Him originally to God as Mary’s God-given son.  They had both endeavoured to live their lives in His sight and for His guidance, as true Israelites.  Without doubt, Mary’s every word and gesture as she lived her extremely busy round of family, social, and religious duties bespoke her love of God and Israel’s faith, and she must – frequently -- have shared with her Son her most intimate thoughts and experiences of the great goodness, wondrous beauty, and awesome justice, of God.  Joseph, likewise, had his own indispensable role and function to fulfil: he had to be the man for this wondrous Boy: teaching Him responsibility in His work for and relationships with others, above all with and for His mother; it was by following Joseph’s example that Jesus learned how to love the person and appreciate the sensitivity of Mary, whilst at the same time fitting into the world of working men and gradually advancing in His God-given ‘favour’ among them.  Joseph would have taken Him regularly (Sabbath, and market days Monday and Thursday) to the synagogue for readings and explanation of the Law and prophets, together with common prayers (Sh’ma – Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One); and it was at the synagogue where Jesus learnt to hear and understand, to read and write, the holy language of His people.  
Let us now humbly try to discern what may have been taking place in the mind and heart of the Boy over the years of His hidden home life in Nazareth, before culminating in that short period  of three days when He was alone in Jerusalem.
During those three days, what was the business that Jesus was about, engaged in, that He found so important and demanding? 
He was celebrating His new majority, adult-standing, before the Law; above all He was delighting in God His Father through sharing in the Temple worship, and then participating in the regular teaching and discussion sessions -- given, held, by scribes and elders in the adjacent Temple buildings -- something not unexpected, indeed welcomed, for one who, though only twelve or thirteen years old, was now responsible before the Law:
After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers. 
He was delighting in His Father, and also acknowledging and appreciating the centuries’ old fidelity of His Jewish forebears towards God’s word and God’s worship.
Notice that this love of the boy-become-man-according-to-the-Law, this love of Jesus for His Father in heaven was an intensely personal and deeply passionate love.  It was not a distant admiration and compartmentalized commitment, one that could be appreciated objectively and weighed in the scales against other loves and other, corresponding, commitments.  No!  It was a passionate and compelling love which would brook no compare.   This consuming love of the boy Jesus ‘for His Father’s business’ had been originally nourished by the teaching of His mother Mary, for she undoubtedly taught Him much about the Psalms of Israel and the words of the prophets calling for love and obedience toward God and fellow-feeling in community and society.  It was, however, above all her humility that was ever a beacon for Him Who would eventually sacrifice Himself for the sins of men.
This Child absorbed the teaching of His mother to such an extent that He understood the Psalms of which she spoke so well, far, far more that she was aware of!  He learnt to read the sacred Scriptures she so honoured and treasured with such sympathetic awareness and profound responsiveness that they became for Him a personal communion with the Author of those Scriptures, a communion wherein the Boy ‘discovered’ Himself and was guided to that appreciation of His Father which the Scriptures themselves foretold:
My Word that goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will, achieving the end for which I sent it.  (Isaiah 55:11s.)  
The Boy’s subsequent awareness and understanding of His adulthood -- His ‘bar mitsva’ acceptation before the Law; His experience of adult worship in His Father’s house, and listening to and participating in the glorification of Israel’s God ‘in the midst of teachers’; all this was greater than anything He had previously experienced ... He was enraptured ... He would not turn from all that to join the caravan with Mary and Joseph and go back to Nazareth ... He remained three days in Jerusalem.
However, this young Man’s sublime delight in and total commitment to His now to-be-openly-acknowledged Father was not quite the same thing as His adult ‘commissioning’ by the Father for His ultimate mission.  His human understanding was still developing and so -- as was fitting for One still subject in society to His earthly parents -- the words of Mary, with Joseph’s backing, had weight enough to call Him back to an objective appreciation of His obligations as ‘their’ child.   When such obligations would be removed, however, His delighting in, loving and communing with, His heavenly Father, would inevitably take over His whole life and claim His total and absolute commitment.  In the meantime, He had made clear the essential point:
Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house ... about My Father’s business?  
It was by observing His mother Mary’s attitude and bearing that Jesus had learnt to respect Joseph as His earthly father; nevertheless, Mary and Joseph, when the time had come, were both taken totally unawares by Jesus’ behaviour at that year’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations.  There had always been a certain silence, otherness,  about Jesus … didn’t His disciples experience it as they used to walk together behind Jesus as they went about Israel with Him?  Words were not cheap with Jesus nor were His thoughts, feelings, and emotions easily traceable and recognizable … He was ‘his own man’ as a common expression would put it.  But that is not correct, not accurate, enough, for Jesus was ‘God’s man’, above all and in all He was ‘His Father’s Son’.   However, we are told that He learned to control His enthusiasm, to listen more patiently and ever more attentively to and for His heavenly Father, and:
He went down with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. 
Oh the humility of God made man!  He went back to family life in Nazareth and was obedient: He would calmly love and reverence His earthly parents as He awaited His Father to call Him, to ‘commission’ Him.  Learning ever more of God His Father, He continued to humble Himself before the men and women He served in His recognized work as carpenter with Joseph, to respect those among whom He dwelt, and in all such relationships to quietly encourage and confirm their awareness of God as He shared with them His understanding and Truth, His goodness and Love: 
Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favour before God and man.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Dawn Mass 2012


(Isaiah 62:11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20)

Perhaps the most striking aspect of our Gospel reading this ‘happy morn’ is the fact that it is all about the shepherds: from beginning to end.  Even when the story leads us into the presence of Mary, Joseph, and the ‘Infant lying in the manger’ the shepherds still remain in focus as they:
make known the message that had been told them about this child.
And though mention is next made of Mary, the shepherds are still by no means entirely dismissed, for we are told:
Mary kept all these things (told her by the shepherds), reflecting on them in her heart.
Finally, the whole gospel passage is concluded with the joyful picture of the shepherds singing the praises of God as they go back to their work:
They returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.
Why are the shepherds so very important for the Gospel story, so firmly established centre stage?
Surely the answer is that the Son of God was coming in human flesh that He might  shepherd Israel, God’s Chosen People, and that they might become sheep of His flock: the flock He would lead to rich pasture while sparing the ewes that were pregnant and cherishing the lambs still weak; the flock whose integrity He would protect from all dangers, while searching for and rescuing individuals gone astray, tending the wounded, nourishing the sick, comforting the fearful and calming the foolish.
From the very situation of His birth, therefore, Jesus began His life most emphatically proclaiming: I am the good shepherd. 
At Mass of the Day attention is directed to the divine Person and heavenly Origin of Jesus, and there our worship is called for and His glory exalted: 
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.
Here, however, at this Dawn Mass, our love is provoked by the manifestation of His great goodness and the utter selflessness of His life-long intention to be a good shepherd, qualities rudely and humanly manifested for us by the shepherds around His crib: men who were often lonely for long periods and regularly sleep-starved; men who had to be prepared to face up to hyenas, jackals, wolves and even bears, wielding only their iron-bound cudgels and large knives; men used to experiencing ‘burning heat by day and biting frost by night’ according to the patriarch Jacob who once served as Laban’s shepherd. 
Jesus had a well-known, deep, regard for and appreciation of, shepherds, saying once:
            A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
The shepherd’s life was hard and public esteem for them was generally low; but Jesus openly acknowledged His admiration for those of them willing to lay down their lives for their sheep.  That viewpoint is not generally appreciated today and can even be attacked as being wasteful of human life.  For Jesus, however, it was a self-centred life -- no matter how cultured or eminent – that was supremely wasteful; while, a life embracing self-sacrifice for love of the good (even the good of mute and, at times, stupid sheep), evoked such admiration and love from Jesus that, no matter how humble, mis-esteemed or unappreciated by others it might be, He most readily saw Himself embodying it: laying down His life for His sheep, unhesitatingly going off into the desert in search of perhaps only one, stupidly lost sheep, and  most wholeheartedly rejoicing could He but carry such a lost one back to the flock on His shoulders!
For a true shepherd there was a ‘substantial’ reward quite apart from whatever pittance they might have been able to earn from the owners of the flocks: a mutual bond of trust and appreciation.  A good shepherd loved his sheep which, though they might number thousands, were, of themselves, quite helpless, and totally dependent on him for both good pasture and protection; and, living together continually for long periods, a strong bond of affection developed between them, as the sheep, quickly and easily, came to recognize their shepherd’s commitment and to trust him completely.  The shepherd’s morning call as he led them out to drink was unique and became immediately recognizable to the sheep of his flock, and he would often play upon a pipe or flute for them as they walked along the way to water or pasture; indeed, there were individual sheep so tame that they would respond to their name being called by that voice they so clearly recognized and so completely trusted.
And so, People of God, we who are sheep of His flock, should be able recognize and most gratefully appreciate the love that filled Jesu’s own Most Sacred Heart from the very first moment of His living amongst us.  What did He expect in return?  Since Jesus came to give, not to receive -- self-love being totally alien to Him -- I think we must conclude that He expected nothing for Himself.  Nevertheless, since His ability to give would ultimately depend on mankind’s ability or willingness to receive what He offered, then out of love for us He must have deeply desired to be received as Shepherd by the sheep He came so selflessly to serve and to save.
Moreover, although Jesus expected nothing, for Himself, He most certainly hoped for, wanted, strove for, and ultimately died for, whatever the best of human nature could be brought to give to and for His Father.  What so shocked St. John and all the apostolic witnesses to Jesus was that:
He was in the world, but the world did not know Him.  He came to what was His own, but His own people did not accept Him.           (John 1:10-11)
That was the supreme tragedy of Jesus’ life: humanity (as represented by His own Chosen People) rejected Him; His own disciples (save John at the foot of the Cross and frightened Peter...probably watching from some sufficiently safe spot) temporarily abandoned Him.   And as regards His hopes, His endeavours, for His Father, the most He could say before dying was:
Righteous Father, the world does not know You, but I know You, and these (His most intimate disciples) know that You sent Me.  (John 17:26)
However, His self-less love for us triumphed over that rejection both on the Cross and in His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and that triumph has been shared with us by His Gift of His own most Holy Spirit and  of His most Precious Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  He comes anew to us, today, as Shepherd … the Good Shepherd offering Himself to us and for us … and we, today, have, by the power of His Spirit with us and in us, the opportunity to change the wretched record of history by giving Him a welcome into our own hearts not unworthy of that relationship between Shepherd and sheep foreshadowed in the stall at Bethlehem those long years ago.
However, we must recognize that though sheep can be stupid as regards their own safety, they quickly learn to recognize their shepherd, their good shepherd; human beings, on the other hand, can be -- and for the most part are -- quite good at looking after themselves, but, does our dear Lord’s human flock, do we -- that is, you and I -- learn so quickly to recognize, so exclusively to follow, and so humbly and whole-heartedly to obey Him, as those ‘stupid’ sheep??
That is why we prayed at the beginning of this Mass:
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that as we are bathed in the new radiance of Your Incarnate Word, the light of faith, which illumines our minds, may also shine through in our deeds. 
St. Paul told us in the second reading that:
The kindness and generous love of God our Saviour appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His mercy.
God takes the initiative, He leads, He guides, He calls … it is our part, our duty, and surely, ultimately our joy, to LISTEN, to UNDERSTAND, and to RESPOND.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a wonderfully happy and most beautiful morning, for the shepherds have been invited to the grotto where Mary and Joseph adore the Lord Jesus in manger familiar indeed to shepherds, and the Child is wrapped in swaddling clothes just such as would be available to shepherds’ own families; and their presence, so delightfully prepared for, so carefully and repeatedly stressed, assures us of this most beautiful and comforting truth: Jesus wants us to welcome Him this day as our own most loving Shepherd, and invites us anew to become more humble and obedient sheep of His pasture: sheep who recognise His voice, trust Him totally, respond whole-heartedly to His call, and thus come to know how to rejoice in His presence and rest in His care.