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, 29 December 2013

Mary, Mother of God 2014

Mary, the Mother of God

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

In today’s 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 our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 

Those words of St. Paul invite us today to consider how wonderfully the Spirit dwelt in the heart of Mary!   They show us, indeed, the magnitude of her blessing when we consider that the Spirit abided in and filled her whole being to such an extent that, whereas we are enabled by the Spirit, Paul tells us, to express our aspiration to and love for God with the human words 'Abba, Father'; Mary, on the other hand, responding to God’s call with love of such total commitment and a trust of such selfless abandon, was enabled to conceive in her womb and ultimately to ‘express’ God’s Divine Word Himself – allowing the Father’s co-eternal Son to find human ‘expression’ as Son of Man!   That was the faith for which Jesus openly praised her:

While He was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that carried You and the breasts at which You nursed.”   He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”  (Luke 11:27-28)

Indeed, it was that faith and commitment which Jesus appreciated in and associated with Mary above all else: 

"Who is My mother, or My brothers?"  And (Jesus) looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother." (Mark 3:33-35) 

And, although in this respect the following teaching from one of the Cappadocian Fathers in the early Church is both beautiful and uplifting:

Whenever you receive Christ’s word within you, and let it live in your heart, and build it up with your thoughts as in the womb, then you can be called Christ’s mother.

Perhaps the teaching of St. Augustine is more direct and inspirational:

Whoever believes with all his heart and is ‘justified by faith’ (Romans 5:11), he has conceived Christ in the womb.  And whenever ‘with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’ (Romans 10:10) that man has given birth to Christ.   Be you therefore overflowing with fertility in the spirit, and at the same time unchanging in the soul’s virginity.

We can also compare and contrast Mary with Moses who, as you heard in the first reading, brought great blessings down on Israel.  There, we were told how God would bless the Chosen People of the Old Testament through the use of certain words of priestly blessing that He gave to Moses for the use of Aaron the priest, his sons, and their descendants:

Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: “This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The LORD bless you and keep you!   The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!   So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them.”   (Numbers 6:23-27)

Those are truly beautiful words used to confer a treasured blessing.  But consider how God the Father blesses us, and all who share with us in the New Testament covenant, through Mary and her Son.  For, Mary does not simply hand down, pass on, God-given words for occasional, though repeated, blessing in Israel; she receives and clothes with her own flesh and blood the One Eternal Word of God, and giving Him birth offers mankind its supreme blessing for all time and for eternity.  No longer simply a prayer invoking blessing for Israel, but God's gracious and unfailing presence in Mother Church for the salvation of the whole world!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him.  In love, He destined us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favour of His will, for the praise of the glory of His grace that He granted us in the Beloved.  In Him we have redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of His grace that He lavished upon us.  (Eph. 1:3-8)

Holy Mary, you are indeed blessed above all women by God the Father, for you have given us the One through Whom and in Whom all the blessings of heaven itself are ours!

In our Gospel reading we learned that those who searched for the Child found:

            Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in the manger.

Matthew, however, in his Gospel (2:11), makes no mention of Joseph when the Magi come into the presence of the new-born King of the Jews:

On entering the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Perhaps Luke was intent, as was his wont, to give us the historical picture, whereas Matthew gives us his more theological understanding of the scene.   Whatever the reason, Matthew’s version is exact for all of us today: in our search for Jesus, we find Him with Mary.  For, when Jesus was on the point of dying on the Cross of Calvary, He addressed all His future disciples in the person of John, the one apostle standing there at the foot of the Cross, and told him to take Mary to his heart as his own Mother: 

            ‘Woman, behold your son!’   Then, to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother’

And so, Mary is no mere optional extra, and -- most certainly -- no unwarranted or unwanted complication, for Catholic spirituality.  For we recognize and appreciate that Mary leads each and every one of us to Jesus when we also recall that she is not simply the model for the Church, but the Church itself in its origins, and only in Mother Church can each and every one of us find Jesus truly and love Him fully.

Finally, we also need to understand that Mary, who is, as it were, Mother Church’s conductor for the Holy Spirit’s lightning and a channel of countless blessings, is also our model and inspiration in our personal relationships with Jesus, in so far as the Scriptures tell us that she, our Mother, was always sublimely one with Jesus: 

Keeping all these things (that she had experienced and heard concerning Jesus), reflecting on them in her heart. 

There is to be found the supreme example and the ultimate guidance for anyone longing and hoping to find God our most loving Father in and through Jesus.  Imitate Mary by treasuring the Good News of Jesus handed down to us by Mother Church who, through her presentation and preaching of the Scriptures, illuminates our minds to understand and appreciate the promised Christ of God; and, through the economy of her sacraments, enables us to fittingly welcome and worship His presence in our midst by receiving Him with whole-hearted personal love and commitment, allowing Him to rule our lives as disciples on earth and beseeching Him to fulfil our aspirations as children for heaven. 

Therefore, hear the Word of God proclaimed in Mother Church with reverence and joy; treasure the goodness of His grace in your mind and with your heart; and, above all, seek to respond – by the Spirit – to the Father, the Giver of all good gifts, with that wholehearted trust and gratitude to which Mary herself gave perfect expression when she said:

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word!   (Luke 1:38)

Let us close our considerations with heartfelt words of gratitude and praise for Mary, the Mother of Our Lord and Saviour, and His most loving gift to us:

 You are the glory of (heavenly) Jerusalem, the surpassing joy (and) splendid boast of (of all reborn in Christ).  With your own hand you have done all this; you have done good and God is pleased with what you have wrought.  May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty forever and ever!  And all the people answered, “Amen!” (Judith 15:9-10)

So be it, today: Amen, amen!  Deo Gratias!!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Holy Family Year A 2013

  The Holy Family (A) 

(Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)

Today’s readings are concerned, as we should expect, with human relationships, particularly those of family life.  In our modern society, where parental responsibility is, at times, notably and tragically lacking, there is a marked tendency for the government and society in general to “take over” from parents, and a corresponding tendency to give children rights against their parents.  This political support of, and encouragement for, children against their parents, has no parallel in the Bible.

There, children have rights indeed, and Jesus Himself tells us to reverence and respect them:

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 18:10)

 St. Paul tells his converts in the Church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:14) that:

Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for (their) parents, but parents for (their) children. 

The Scriptures are not ignorant of the abusive behaviour of some parents but, notwithstanding those failings of the few, hold firmly to the best teaching and only model for the wholesome upbringing of the many, as you heard in the first reading:

The Lord honours the father in his children, and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.  Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins; he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.

We read in the Gospel how God Himself dealt with His Son as a human child.  The Father in heaven did not by-pass Mary and Joseph to communicate directly to the Infant, nor even to the young boy Jesus.  The heavenly Father spoke to Joseph and to Mary: they were the ones who would tell the Child and the Boy what to do and how to behave; they were the instruments of God for the Child, even though the Child was God’s own Son.  Consequently we can easily recognize the Christian attitude and teaching as regards parenthood: it is an honour and a privilege to be a Christian parent, it is a position of authority and also a position of responsibility; authority given by God and responsibility before God.  In all that is good, for the spiritual and the human good (both physical and psychological) of the child, the parents have a God-given authority and also a God-given backing: they do not need to have degrees in child psychology, nor certificates in human and social studies; seeking sincerely the good of their child, in favour with God and man (as the Scriptures say of Jesus), they will be guided by God in all the normal situations of life, and even in the extraordinary circumstances where no human help can be found.  No Social Services, no child experts, can supply for God-given parents, and no legislation should be allowed which insinuates otherwise, nor should parents themselves ever begin to doubt their own special grace for bringing up their child as a child of God and as a positive and helpful member of society.

Parents, being aware of their position of authority and responsibility, should be ever on the watch to help each other in the acceptance and fulfilment of that position.  You will recall how Mary, the mother, spoke to her Child when He had been lost for three days:

And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you." (Luke 2:48)

Mary was concerned, first of all, for Joseph’s authority; she wanted first of all to remind her Child of the respect He owed Joseph:

His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you."

“Your father and I”, that was the order of concern for Mary: Joseph’s position first, her own, second.  That is a model for all parents, for the Christian husband should have as his first concern that his child should love its mother; whilst the mother, like Mary, should always first teach and inculcate the child’s obedience to and respect for the father.

Finally, today, Christian parents should recognize that they, together, are the basis and foundation for the well-being -- spiritual, psychological and physical -- of their children; consequently they should pay close attention to the words of our second reading today.  On no account should they ever allow their child to separate them, for the good of the child they should come first for each other:

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.   (Colossians 3:12-15)

Remember also those other words of St. Paul:

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.

Those are not words of domination but of co-operation for the good of the children, the words mean what I have already explained and what Mary has already shown: that the wife should be concerned that her children respect and obey their father, and she should give them an example of that attitude; and that the father, in his turn, must insist that his children follow his example in loving their mother.  It is on that firm and solid foundation that the other words of Paul will be fulfilled:

Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)

In this respect we can discover something of the particular reason for Joseph’s position in the Holy Family.

Joseph was not the physical father of Mary’s child and it might seem, for that very reason, that he could never be really essential for the coherence and establishment of that family.  He was legally necessary for Jesus’ Messianic descent from King David; he was personally necessary for Mary’s comfort and strength by sharing with her the public opprobrium of an apparently inappropriate conception; and he was physically necessary to protect the Child and His mother, above all when they were under threat from Herod’s persecution of the Holy Innocents.  But, since it was Mary who -- having given, exclusively from the human standpoint, both body and blood to the Child -- would be largely responsible for the mental and spiritual formation of His human character, wasn’t Joseph therefore, for the essentials, somewhat superfluous, supernumerary?  

By no means, for here we touch on the contribution of St. Joseph to Jesus’ human make-up – not just for His protection and upkeep, His health and security – but indeed for His make-up as a human-being, and above all, as Son-in-human-flesh before His heavenly Father.  For Jesus, as man, had to learn about God, to recognize and respond to, His heavenly Father through the understanding and awareness of His human mind, and the experience and sensitivity of His human heart; and in order to do this He had first to learn what ‘father’ meant for Him as a child, a son, in a human family,  above all, He needed to learn not simply what the word ‘father’ meant, but  what was to be expected of a father and how a true child should relate to its father.   As a child at Mary’s feet -- in her constant company and under her watchful guidance -- He would read and learn, love and appreciate, the Scriptures speaking of God’s love of and concern for, Israel His child, and in the synagogue He would learn to respond as an Israelite to such a God and Father.  However, at home, He would learn to respond as an individual person to a human father through His Personal experience of Joseph’s individual presentation of fatherhood, and also from observing His mother Mary in her own attitude and response to Joseph as father in the family.   Initially, such experiences would be very influential in helping the Child relate to the Heavenly Father -- uniquely His own true Father -- speaking to Him through the Scriptures, hearing and responding to Him in His life of human prayer and worship.   Joseph would thus, initially, be supremely important for what was of supreme importance in Jesus’ life: promoting and guiding His initial sensitivity and responsiveness to, His growing appreciation and love for, His heavenly Father.

People of God, we should all recognize that the Scriptures do not offer mere options for our consideration, options that we can ignore or reject as the fancy takes us; nor is the Spirit of the Scriptures subject to the spirit of modern times.  Holy Scripture, with its example of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, gives us divine and authoritative guidance together with the promise of sustaining grace and strength.   We can indeed ignore it, we can reject it, because God has made us free; but we cannot do those things without cost, and most certainly, we will never be able to find better guidance, strength, or fulfilment from the prevalent ideas of currently acceptable worldly wisdom, the lurid examples of many news-making lights in today’s decadent society, or again, the preferred easy options of the many whose main aims are earthly pleasure and plenty, and conformity with the prevalent attitude of current society.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Morning Mass 2013

Christmas Day, 2013                                              

 (Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18)

When we look at the world around us and consider the overall evidence of people’s understanding of and response to the message of Christmas -- even though the majority no longer recognize and accept that message as the root inspiration of their Christmas celebrations, and even though others may distort it horribly -- we cannot fail to see that in even the most modern consciousness,   Christmas is regarded as the time for rejoicing with a joy that is singularly untouched, unaffected, by any other considerations.

I am emphasizing the joy of Christmas because it is an essential element in our Christian life.  Christmas is, of its very nature, a time for supremely good and holy rejoicing; it is not just a season which comes round, apparently willy-nilly, once a year; rather, Christmas is meant to gradually permeate and form our basic Catholic character.

However, it seems to me that too many Catholics have forgotten the joyous aspect of our Faith in their relationship with God; for they regard their practice of the Faith mainly as a duty, an obligation; and God is seen, above all, as One demanding obedience, One Whose rule in their lives -- far from liberating them and enabling them to know true joy -- they find somewhat oppressive.

Now these experiences are not totally wrong and unaccountable, for we have to endure growing-pains in our Christian discipleship -- we have to face up to the devil who is ever seeking to tempt us, weaken our faith and destroy our resolve; while, on the other hand, we constantly need to learn that humility and patient endurance which will allow the Spirit to guide us in the ways of Jesus and gradually strengthen us through His discipline.  But any resultant acceptance of an attitude that merely endures and reluctantly ‘puts-up-with’ the demands of the Faith, would be a sad distortion of the truly fulfilling and ‘mind-blowing’ experience of, and loving response to, Him Whom Jesus taught us to call ‘Our Father’.  Indeed, without the mutually complementary and fulfilling balances first of Christmas Joy and then of Easter Love and Hope, such an attitude of merely reluctant toleration of the demands of the Faith would become quite corrosive of any truly Catholic character.  Christmas, therefore, comes round each year to introduce a most holy joy into our Christian awareness and to cement it into our character as an absolutely essential part of our religious psychology and personal make-up.

Of course, the pagan rejoicing at Christmas, being so often excessive, rationally un-motivated, and even licentious, is an evil abuse and misrepresentation of Christmas joy; but, the abuse of Christmas does not, cannot, be allowed to undermine or diminish the abiding and enduring reality of that JOY which is intended by God for His children, to characterise not only this wondrous season, but the whole of their lives.  This joy cannot be sullied by human abuse because it is a joy centred on a most beautiful Child, indeed a heavenly Child: God’s all-holy and only-begotten Son, given to mankind through a totally immaculate Virgin, and sent as Son of Man to win salvation for all His brothers and sisters who will accept Him.

Christmas rejoicing has, however, even for many sincere believers, been gradually watered down into a merely human and, indeed, childish rejoicing; and then, thus robbed of its inherent inspiration and vigour, it has been further disfigured and degraded to such an extent that it has become a season of more-or-less sensual pleasure-seeking, where, at the best, that pleasure-seeking is done through gifts, and the merely human joy of giving and receiving gifts, is regarded as the holiness of Christmas.   Among non-believers, however, or among non-observant believers in a post-Christian era, Christmas rejoicing is too-often used as an excuse for licentious excesses which have become totally unchristian, involving human exploitation, drug taking, anti-social behaviour, and even openly criminal activities; in such circles, a hang-over on wakening up is commonly regarded as the amusing sign of what is considered to be a good night-out the day before.  

Among Catholics one reason for the lack of true Christmas joy in the practice of our Faith is due to the fact that we have also deformed Easter.  Because the sufferings of Christ have, in the past, been given excessive prominence in popular preaching and devotional practices, Easter has been gradually deprived of what is of supreme importance, namely, the example and inspiration of love -- Jesus’ love for His Father and for us -- and the call to hope and confidence in the Risen Lord of Glory.  Now, if the Easter message of love and hope to the Christian soul is often obscured and muted, is it any wonder that the Christmas message of joy no longer clearly characterises the life of too many Catholics today?  Duty, obedience and fear are a pretty dismal residue from the original glorious endowment of joy, love, and hope.
People of God, we should try to open our hearts anew to the joy of Christmas.  We should pray to the Holy Spirit and beg Him to renew our lives according to those parting words of Jesus:

I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

Joy in the Lord is an essential part of our Christian and Catholic heritage, and we should not deprive ourselves of that which is meant to characterise us in Jesus.  We must not, however, repeat past mistakes, for it is a joy that God gives, not one that we try to procure for ourselves.  Now, don’t think I am wanting you to eschew, reject, human joys; far from it, for I repeat that those human joys which are according to Christ and used as such, are also a gift from God.  However, the Christmas Gift is, above all, a cause for spiritual, supernatural, joy; it is a Gift given to those who, first of all, pray for it, and who then try to delight in the Lord and live for His glory.  

As you heard in the Gospel reading:

Jesus, the true Light, was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him;

and that is still the condition of all present-day pagan revellers who in no way intend to celebrate the Name of Jesus at Christmas.

            He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 

That too is still the present situation in the case of those who are merely nominal Christians and Catholics.

For ourselves, however, and for all who are sincerely seeking the Lord, we are then told that:

As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name;

and that is the source of our Christmas joy.  Because we sincerely believe in Jesus, we know that in our baptism we were given a new life, we were born anew:

Not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 

In Jesus, those words we heard in the second reading apply also to each of us:

            You are My son, this day I have begotten you.

            I will be a Father to (you), and (you) shall be a son to Me.

My dear People of God, we have wondrous cause for rejoicing at Christmas; or rather, wondrous cause to begin rejoicing, begin, that is, a never-ending, ever-deepening and developing spirit of rejoicing, in our lives as Christians and Catholics.   However, make no mistake: God gives the cause of our rejoicing, but He expects us, freely and personally, to do the rejoicing.  How, therefore, do we learn to rejoice as true disciples of Jesus?
For this we should turn to the other principal character in the drama that is Christmas, to Mary the one addressed by God’s angel with the command:

Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women! (Luke 1:28)

Mary began her rejoicing first of all by trusting wholeheartedly in God: adultery by one betrothed (as seemed to be the situation opening up before Mary) was punishable by stoning to death in accordance with the Law; but, far from worrying herself sick about her future predicament, Mary hurried off help her cousin Elizabeth cope with pregnancy in her old age.  Mary’s total trust in God’s word enabled her to be totally forgetful of self and totally available for others.

Mary continued, strengthened, and deepened, her rejoicing in the Lord thanks to her great gratitude: 

My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour, for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; henceforth all generations will call me blessed, for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. (Luke 1:47-49)

Those are the two essential ingredients for Christian rejoicing: complete trust in God, and, on the basis of that trust, the ability to look at things from His point of view and learn gratitude.  The Annunciation could have been, depending on how Mary looked at it, either a cause for great rejoici or one of deep anxiety: death and dishonour or blessing and renown.  Mary, however, had no hesitation, no doubt:

He who is mighty has done great things for me; henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

Anyone who would become a true disciple of Jesus should learn from Mary to rejoice by steadfastly trusting in the Lord; by consistently refusing to indulge solicitous considerations for personal well-being and advantage; and also by developing a grateful awareness of blessings already received from God: blessings such as good parents and family; loyal and true friends; personal talents; guidance received and help given; health of mind and body; hopes that draw you on and ideals and aspirations that inspire you … while few have all these blessings, none are bereft of all of them; every one of us has some cause for gratitude to God, and such causes, once recognised and gratefully acknowledged, readily multiply themselves so as to be seen with increasing clarity and appreciated with ever deeper gratitude as time goes on.

The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 

The Law was a challenge, a requirement, written down as a legal document.  The Gospel of grace and truth, on the other hand, is a call, an invitation.  In the Gospel message and in the Person of Jesus God is manifesting Himself, making Himself known, so that He might attract and lovingly draw those who -- through faith in Jesus and baptism in the Spirit -- have or will become His children.  And surely, it is no hard thing to encourage such children to learn to trust, and show gratitude to, the Father Who so lovingly approaches them as does our heavenly Father through Jesus and in the Spirit?

Learn to trust, People of God, grow in gratitude, and joy will fill your heart.  Look at Mary; imitate her attitude to life: shall I worry about possible threats and difficulties or shall I trust God wholeheartedly?  Can one who has been reborn in Jesus by the Spirit, one who has been made a true child of the Father, one to whom the Father promises:

            I will be a Father to (you), and (You) shall be a Son to Me,

can such a one have any hesitation?  Follow Mary!  After all Jesus has given us to her and her to us as our mother.  Follow Mary, and learn to rejoice anew in your practice of the Faith: it is not just a Law to be obeyed, it is your Father’s loving invitation and call for you to learn to know and love Him more and more in and with Jesus.  And because it is your Father’s call, it does not just come from outside and hit your ears; you are His child and His call to you re-echoes in your heart, and, in the deepest -- perhaps still secret and unknown to you – recesses of your being, where its reverberation repeatedly provokes the response of like to like: 

Come my beloved (child), (there are) all manner (of blessings), new and old, which I have laid up for you.  Come. (Song of Songs 7:13)