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.

Friday, 30 August 2013

22nd Sunday of Year C 2013

 22nd. Sunday, Year (C)

(Sirach 3:17s., 20, 28s.; Hebrews 12: 18s., 22-24a; Luke 14:1, 7-11)

The story about the place of honour at the wedding feast seems, of itself, to be merely worldly advice; indeed it seems -- again of itself -- to lead to a rather hypocritical semblance of humility with the subject publicly choosing the lowest place whilst not only inwardly thinking himself worthy of a higher place, but indeed planning to receive honour in the sight of the other guests on being called higher by the host.  And yet, Our Blessed Lord uses such worldly scheming as a parable for heavenly truth and experience.
This, first of all, teaches us that our basic human attitudes and feelings are orientated towards the good ... that our human nature is not fundamentally vitiated.   Though we are weak and ignorant, our human nature is by no means totally corrupted, nor is our natural sensitivity without a measure of spiritual  awareness.  We have been and are made in the image of God, and this nature of ours is deeply disturbed by sin which, fundamentally, does not suit us.
The story told by Jesus about the natural embarrassment one would feel on being dislodged from the highest seat and sent to the lowest, is concerned not only with the resulting public humiliation, but also with the very intimate and morally good response of deep embarrassment on being forced to recognize one’s original and wrongful self-exaltation by unjustly arrogating the place of honour at the banquet table. 
Human nature is made for God and can at times warn us of the presence of sin – something opposed and foreign to our true good -- when our explicit thinking is unable or unwilling to detect or recognize such a presence.   For example, many young people will instinctively feel embarrassment or even a certain fear at the first wrongful sex activity: their good human nature warning them even when their minds and consciences are not sufficiently aware or enlightened; and how, indeed, can they subject themselves to their very first experience of dangerous drugs leading to hitherto alien experiences with unknowable personal consequences without instinctive trepidation?  Adults also may make ‘faux-pas’ or gaffs in public and feel intense embarrassment as a result; and often enough, such feelings are not merely due to an anticipated loss of face, but also from the awareness of having originally spoken foolishly out of personal vanity, or fulsomely in a quest for human acceptance and praise.
Human nature is, I repeat, still good and sensitive enough to give authentic warning signals -- truly, intimations of immortality -- to our minds and their explicit thinking.  Unfortunately, however, we can so quickly learn to resist and confuse our residual integrity, fighting against or even rejecting our instinctive modesty and honesty, with the result that even prostitutes and murderers, thieves and traducers, become hard-faced as the Scriptures and daily-life in the world today tell us, and they will say, ‘Where is our sin; what harm are we doing? 
But why, after wrongly choosing the highest place at the feast would the person concerned have to betake himself to the lowest seat of all?  Because, all the other seats were perhaps taken?  It may be.   However, it may be also that Our Blessed Lord has adapted the real-life situation somewhat in order to fit it for its present function as a parable of heavenly truth.  For, before God we cannot in truth say that we are more worthy than anyone else: first of all, because we cannot – indeed, often will not -- recognize the sin in our own lives, and secondly because we can never penetrate the hearts of others.  Therefore, the only attitude for a conscientious Christian is to take the lowest seat of all.  For greatness in the Kingdom of God is determined not by our opinion of our own worth or that of anyone else, but by God’s judgment, as St. Paul says: 
With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.  I do not even judge myself.  I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.  It is the Lord Who judges me.  Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, Who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.  Then every man will receive his commendation from God.  (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
This part of our Gospel passage for today is rounded off by a general statement which seems to have been a favourite saying of Our Lord:
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.
Pride, self-assertion in ordinary human society is both bad manners and bad policy, but in the Kingdom of God it is totally inadmissible.  There, ‘pride goes before a fall’; there, there is only kind of privilege and dignity: the kind that comes to those who do not seek it, but are content to serve God and man in love and humility.  The advice given in our Gospel reading about who to invite to your parties, is not meant to be exclusive of anyone, rich or poor, close friends or chance passers-by; the hospitality advised by Jesus is one which seeks to give generously, not to get surrepticiously.  To all who in need -- and the rich can be in need also – we should give, if our concience calls and as our conscience guides; give, that is, in generous simplicity not with calculating discernment.
To close, let me offer you a story, from the Desert Fathers, of one who knew how to give when faced with need and how to humble himself in his giving:
Before Abba Poemen’s group came there, there was an old man in Egypt who enjoyed considerable fame and repute.  But when Abba Poemen’s group went up to Scetis, men left the old man to go to see Abba Poemen. Abba Poemen was grieved at this and said to his disicples, ‘What is to be done about this great old man, for men grieve him by leaving him and coming to us who are nothing?  What shall we do, then, to comfort this old man?’  He said to them, ‘Make ready a little food, and take a skin of wine and let us go to see him and eat with him.  And so we shall be able to comfort him.’  So they put together some food, and went.  When they knocked at the door, the old man’s disciple answered, saying, ‘Who are you?’  They responded, ‘Tell the abba it is Poemen who desires to be blessed by him.’  The disciple reported this and the old man sent him to say, ‘Go away, I have no time.’  But in spite of the heat they persevered, saying, ‘We shall not go away till we have been allowed to meet the old man.’  Seeing their humility and patience, the old man was filled with compunction and opened the door to them.  Then they went in and ate with him.  During the meal he said, ‘Truly, not only what I have heard about you is true, but I see that your works are a hundred-fold greater’, and from that day he became their friend.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

22nd Sunday of Year C 2013

22nd. Sunday Year (C) 

(Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14)

Our readings today are centred on the virtue and practice of humility and the gift of wisdom which can alone sustain it:

Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favour with God.
The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.
In the Gospel reading Our Blessed Lord openly spoke of humility:
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
Now that was the Jewish, and the scriptural, way of saying, ‘Whoever exalts himself, God will humble; but the one who humbles himself, God will exalt.’
It is important to recognize this, because otherwise Our Lord's little parable could seem somewhat hypocritical:
When you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.
On the human level such behaviour saps of hypocrisy I say, where outward pretence alone seeks to make a good impression and so lead to the desired invitation "friend, move up higher".  That can, indeed, happen with men who are fixated on worldly appearances and appreciate little or nothing of heavenly realities.
With God, however, things are much different, for in all the events of our lives here on earth God sees and is concerned about their effect on our personalities, above all on whether they further or frustrate the restoration of our original oneness with God, which, having been lost by the sin of Adam, Jesus came to give back and lead to its ultimate fulfilment.   In other words, throughout our lives we are being formed in the likeness of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, for the Father; and whether we are aware of it or not every single event of our lives has some effect on us, if not directly, then by the reaction it provokes in us …. That is exactly what is meant when Jesus and the Scriptures declare, and when His Church is not afraid to teach in His name, that God sees all, weighs all, and ultimately will judge all:
I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. (1 Chronicles 29:17)
Whoever exalts himself, God will humble; but the one who humbles himself God will exalt.
Jesus, the visiting Rabbi Who probably had spoken at the preceding service in the synagogue, was now reclining at the centre table with His host -- as was fitting for the guest of honour -- while the other guests were at tables circling round the room, at a respectful distance but, nevertheless, well within hearing distance of the host and his Guest should either of them choose to address the others present. Therefore Jesus, having been invited as an acknowledged teacher and spiritual guide, did not speak trivialities at table -- as we, for the most part, do today when jokes are so often the approved medium of conversation for receptions and social occasions – but rather He chose simple words of wisdom portraying an everyday situation to recall a profound truth, as indeed befitted a young Rabbi reputed to have a most remarkable and unusual ability to expound deep things of God in terms of ordinary human awareness and experience.
And so, Jesus was in no way belittling His host and fellow guests when He chose to speak about what He had just seen happening in this very room where they were all gathered together; indeed, far from belittling them, He would open their eyes, alert their minds, and indeed, hopefully, humble their hearts by revealing what was actually going on around and within them:
When you are invited (to a banquet), go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position.'  Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
Listening attentively, and perhaps a little critically, to this much-discussed Rabbi, His fellows at table would be immediately aware that His words did not refer so much to the earthly feast they were at that moment enjoying, but rather to the eternal feast of heaven hosted by the Holy One to Whom the hearts and minds of all men are as an open book, and that He was offering them not criticism so much as spiritual enlightenment and understanding when He went on to say:
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled (which, as I say, meant for a Jew, whoever exalts himself, God will humble), but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (by God)."
Jesus, having empathised with the human feelings of one publicly asked to move up from a lowly position to one much more prominent, really wanted His hearers to gain thereby some appreciation – not just some notional awareness – but to actually gain some sensitive feeling for, and insight into, what might be the heavenly bliss of one exalted in similar fashion at God's heavenly banquet.  They were being led to experience something -- be it ever so little -- of heavenly truth and wisdom: to appreciate the present reality of their own spiritual life with their whole being, mind, heart, and human sensitivity, as distinct from just being notionally aware of it in their abstract thinking.
The second reading, likewise, tries to help us gain some feeling for the religious significance and depths of our presence here at Holy Mass today by recalling the terror experienced by the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, when the Lord was speaking to Moses at the top:
For you have not come (as did your forefathers) to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.
The people of Israel had been stricken with awesome fear and apprehension at what had been commanded them: "If so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow."  And indeed, so terrifying had been the occasion that Moses himself had said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling."
In other words: You haven't come to an erupting volcano (and we have all seen, at least on TV, something of the horrors of such titanic violence)!   Not at all!  You have come to something much more fearsome:
You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the Judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
He is saying, that the People of Israel -- even Moses himself -- were rightly terrified by the awesome events on Mount Sinai when God gave the Law to Israel; how could anyone, therefore, fail to be humbled now by the much greater glory of our present liturgy which is, as it were, knocking on the portals of the heavenly Jerusalem where there are gathered myriads of angels, the Church of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and the spirits of the righteous made perfect? How, above all, could anyone fail to hear, refuse to listen to and obey, the voice which speaks with the majesty and authority of Jesus the Mediator and the supremely awesome glory and power of God the eternal Judge?
But, wait a minute, it might be objected, we don't see anything of all that; we only see the Church in our day, with good and bad members, the Church with a past history replete with traces of glory but also so full of warts that you can easily give your whole attention to nothing else but wart-watching if you were so disposed.  We don't see anything other than that.
Precisely, that is all a surface glance can perceive; but as we heard earlier, God loves and reveals His secrets to the humble, and such humble ones, to whom God reveals His secrets through the gift of faith and the grace of the Holy Spirit, are those thereby enabled to recognize -- beneath the very ordinary outward appearances of Mother Church -- that hidden splendour of the city of the living God, where Jesus Himself, and all the blessed in Him and with Him, are to be seen bathed in the glory of God the Father.
Today therefore, we have before us texts recommending humility before God;  texts that show us how far and how frightfully pride can lead us astray, as the first reading could have also quoted:
There is no cure for the proud man's malady.
Such a person hears Jesus' words in the Gospel and, remaining on the surface of the words, decides that they smack of hypocrisy; and, being proud, is unwilling and unable to ask, to search for, to seek, the true meaning.  Pride speaks secretly in his heart telling him that he is not one to be hoodwinked, he can understand what he reads well enough, and the words he has heard are hypocritical, typical of so much religious preaching and practice.   
Proud people today look at Mother Church in that way.  They see only what they can recognize: pride, lust for power, and all the other warts which, alas, do indeed make up part of Mother Church here on earth.  But, as we have said, they cannot perceive, they are blind to, the inner reality: the presence of divine beauty, truth, goodness and power, lying just below the human covering of frailty and failure.  St. Paul explains this truth most clearly for us (1 Corinthians 2:14-16) and, in so doing, shows us the glory of Mother Church when he tells us:
The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.   But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.  For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
People of God, by the grace of the Spirit given to Mother Church we do, indeed,  have the mind of Christ.   That Spirit, however, can only produce fruit in our lives if we humbly allow ourselves to be led by Him along the way of Jesus to that heavenly feast at which human pride has no place.
Finally, Jesus, in telling the Pharisee, His host, how best to choose guests for any lunch or dinner he might want to give, surely gives us also an important insight into our own invitation to heaven brought to us at His Father’s behest by Jesus Himself:
      When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.
People of God, such were we before the Father called us and Jesus redeemed us.  Let us therefore humble our human pride before God as -- in, and together with, Jesus -- we now offer ourselves and our most heartfelt worship and praise to God in the liturgy and sacrifice of Holy Mass.  Here, there is, already, a banquet prepared for us at which Jesus serves us and bestows upon us His own Most Holy Body and Precious Blood, thereby refreshing and deepening the Gift of His Most Holy Spirit, Who is to dwell and, indeed, abide in us, gradually forming us here on earth until, ultimately, we are able -- fittingly and fully -- to participate in the eternal liturgy and banquet of the family of God in His Kingdom.  Let us, therefore, receive Holy Communion with humble and trustful hearts; and let us pray that the Holy Spirit might form us, in and with Jesus, so that we may attain, not to places higher or more prestigious than those of our neighbours, but to seats as close as possible to the God and Father Who is the source and centre of all our longings and aspirations.

Friday, 23 August 2013

21st Sunday of Year C 2013

 21st. Sunday, Year (C)

(Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30)

‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’  He answered them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough (not be able).’

The first lesson to be learnt from those words of Jesus is that we should take great care lest we allow ourselves to be swept along with the majority. There are, sadly, many nominal Catholics and pseudo-religious people who imagine that because they are only doing what others -- most others, they would say -- are doing these days, they can consider themselves to be safe and secure from serious fault ... for who could fairly blame the majority, how could the understanding and expectations of so many so-called Christians and even Catholics be wrong?  And so, despite some possibly niggling vestiges of conscience, they approach the Lord with false confidence and soft words of entrapment, ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?’  

What does ‘be saved’ mean there?  It is a passive expression and it does not appear to be a question about being saved by someone, so much as being saved from someone, from something.  ‘Being saved’, it implies, is what happens to some people without their involvement, and one can already anticipate -- hidden in such passivity --  the future complaints and ready excuses of the majority not thus saved, ‘We couldn’t do anything about it; it wasn’t our fault, we only did what lots of others were doing’.

Jesus rejects such passivity and any suggestion of such helpless innocence, immediately; He insists on an active appreciation and open expression of the question involved, and therefore He answers, Strive to enter through the narrow gate, which means, ‘You strive to enter through the narrow gate, for it depends ultimately on you; without doubt you cannot do it of yourself but neither, most certainly, will it be done without you, in spite of you, or against you.’

At the root of this attitude to God is the bogy of sin.  Why should God label some of our actions as sinful, why should He get angry when we do such things?  They don’t touch Him; they just satisfy us, give us some pleasure in life.

Here we need to try to face up to a basic, and unfortunately wide-spread mis-appreciation, and wrong-headed understanding, of Catholic teaching: God, Jesus, and His Church, do not simply ‘label’ actions as sinful because they anger, or are thought to anger, God.  God declares something to be sinful for us because it would hurt us, and could become like a stone of offence against us at the deepest level of our being.  When Mother Church in the name of Jesus, likewise says, ‘such an action would be sinful for you’, she means, such an action would hurt us, and could, perhaps, even ultimately destroy us.   God is motivated by love when He warns us against sin; He is not pushed by anger in such matters but allows Himself to be moved by compassion and concern for us, even though it gets Him ‘bad coverage in the popular press’, so to speak.

People of God, our heavenly Father, our Lord and Saviour, the most Holy Spirit our Helper, is omnipotent of Himself and for us, but He is neither foolish nor arbitrary; He wills to re-form us in Jesus by the Spirit as His children, His children in Spirit and in Truth.  He will not have our merely passive subjection but desires our total love and active understanding, our sincere obedience and self-commitment, so that, ultimately, we may be fit and able -- in Jesus -- to share in His eternal beatitude; and to that end He is constantly at work in us and with us, for us and our eternal well-being, through His Spirit.

Many will refuse or ignore God’s inspirations, because they choose to sample the attractions of earthly life rather than work with Him; they want to experience some of the earthly pleasures they can afford, or to which – in accordance with what others were apparently doing around them – they feel they have a right, and so can ‘legitimately’ allow themselves.  These are the ones who would not say ‘no’ to their own desires, rejecting, even mocking, the very idea of discipline, and regarding sacrifice as being for fanatics only.  Because of such spiritual indifference and indulged sensuality many, attempting later to enter by the narrow gate, will find themselves ‘not strong enough’ to do so, according to our translation’s active understanding of the Gospel words ... as distinct from the normal and more passive expression, ‘not be able’ to do so.   Their original, ‘bi-focal’, so to speak, question, ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved,’ spoke indeed of salvation but secretly hinted at and mocked the ‘bogy God’ Who, they frequently say, is always calling things that annoy Him, sins; labelling something as wrong and sinful merely because it is against His subjective preferences or despotic wishes.

All such people want a broad path and a large gate, slightly perhaps, but permanently, ajar; they want what a famous Lutheran pastor, one persecuted by the Nazis, called ‘cheap grace’.  Let me quote him:

‘Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.’

Such grace is much sought after: people will go from church to church to find it, and on finding what they want they will call such an accommodating church a truly  Christian church, a loving, caring, compassionate community from which no one is to be excluded and where none are judged; where sin is recognized as being mainly in the eyes of the beholder, and where, for the pure all actions and all people are pure; where the only thing that matters is a good intention, and the supremely good intention is not really wanting to harm anyone else.
In our Gospel reading we heard Jesus say:

There will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out.

The times of Jesus and His Church are offered us to enable us to avoid those eternal punishments.   Jesus is merciful, loving, and understanding, but all with a view to our repentance and conversion; He cannot, would not want to, remove what His Father has established ... eternal punishment awaits those who deliberately and wilfully ignore Jesus for whatever reason.  Jesus comes to offer us what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor I quoted earlier, calls ‘costly’ -- not cheap – grace; grace that leads to eternal joy, fulfilment, and peace.  He writes:

Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.’

My dear People of God, we are very highly privileged because the Lord has revealed to us the truth of the Gospel in the Church which He established and which His Spirit guides and protects.  The Gift of His Spirit is always there for us among His people and we know where to seek and ask for It in the Eucharist and the other sacraments of the Church.  Let us take care and watch, let us pray and let us work, because at times the way can indeed seem to be narrow, stretching on and on before us with no end in sight; we might even, at times, fear that the door is closed to us ... but such things are but fears, not fact, imaginings not reality; for Jesus has assured us:

Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.  (Luke 12:32)