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, 26 September 2014

26th Sunday, Year A 2014

 26th. Sunday of Year (A)
(Ezekiel 18:25-28; St. Paul to the Philippians 2:1-5; Matthew 21:28-32)

Last week’s Gospel parable concerned men being hired to work in the master’s vineyard.  Today, Jesus picks up once more the theme of work in the vineyard and goes on to develop His earlier teaching.   His focus, as before, is on the attitude of those called to work; this time, the attitude of two sons with regard to their own father in whose vineyard they are told to work.  
What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’   He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.  The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.  Which of the two did his father’s will?  They answered, “The first.”
Now the teaching of today’s parable is supremely close to the heart of Jesus because it concerns “doing the will of His Father”:
"Which of the two did his father’s will?"  Jesus asked.
Jesus, you will recall, once told us the whole purpose of His own coming on earth:
I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him Who sent Me. (John 6:38)
Nor was that an expression of some merely passing emotion; for, in the most agonizing moments of His suffering in the Garden, in torments which caused Him to sweat blood, He repeated those same words to strengthen Himself:
Abba, Father, all things are possible to You. Take this cup away from Me, but not what I will but what You will.   (Mark 14:36)
And above all, that very same attitude is fundamental to the only prayer He taught us, which is, ultimately, the only prayer we need:
Our Father Who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Therefore, for all who want to be disciples of Jesus, our life as Christians is not simply a matter of carrying out a determined task in the master’s vineyard with humble trust and respect, but rather a journey to be undertaken with a loving desire to become true children of the Father Who is ever drawing us to, and calling us in, Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour.
Presuming we have such a desire, how are we, in fact, going to set about doing His will, with and in Jesus, and finding our salvation?
Let me first of all clear up a possible misunderstanding resulting from the first reading.  To be sure, it is not a mistake that would easily be made by any sincere disciple of the Lord; but for some going through difficulties, perhaps only half-hearted in their love for the faith, those words of Ezekiel in our first reading might be thought to signal an easy way out:
If a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.
Someone might think -- as, for example, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great is reported to have done -- that one could leave thinking about conversion and the good life until death was at hand, and then, “turn away from wickedness” and be saved from all past sins by the unique power of the baptismal sacrament.
In such a case, however, conversion would be more apparent than real, only having been ultimately adopted after life-long indulgence of one’s weaknesses and gratification of one’s lusts; with professed love for the Lord faring no better than Herod’s ‘reverence’ for John the Baptist.  Moreover, Ezekiel’s words “turning from wickedness does what is right and just” would not seem to give any encouragement to such worldliness: for a death-bed, fag-end, remnant of life, is hardly a suitable time for beginning to do what is right and just, let alone a fitting gift to offer the Lord.
And so, whilst it is, indeed, never too late to mend; and whilst it is always possible -- even at the eleventh hour, and in whatever situation one may find oneself -- to turn to God our Father and find forgiveness in the name of Jesus; nevertheless, it is absolutely essential that we turn to the Father in sincerity and truth.
St. Paul told us in the second reading how we should set about trying to do the Father’s will:
 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Today we often hear people with a fundamentalist turn of mind, saying:  “All that is necessary is to read the Scriptures and do what Jesus did”, or, “do what Jesus would have done”.  Let us just look rationally at those two bits of fundamentalist advice.  “We must do what Jesus did.” How can we do that?  Jesus lived on earth two thousand years ago, His circumstances were not the same as ours today; our society, with its background and its understanding of the world, its possibilities and prospects, is far different from that of Jewish society in Jesus’ time.  Jesus, with His sublime understanding of people and of the workings of divine grace, sometimes did things, spoke words, which we today -- having only a sin-stained appreciation of, and sensitivity for, our fellow men, together with a native ignorance of the workings of divine grace -- would not dare to say or think of doing.  "All we need to do is to read the Scriptures and do what Jesus did."  Indeed!  Who would dare to say with Jesus: "It is not fair to give the children’s food to dogs” to a woman begging for her daughter’s healing? Or again, what doctor or nurse, or, indeed, anyone in a position to be of help, would treat dear friends, as Jesus -- in His supreme love and divine wisdom -- treated Mary, Martha and Lazarus:
When He heard that (Lazarus) was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. (John 11:6)
Let us therefore recall the Apostle's teaching:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
We cannot 'do what Jesus would have done', until we have, in truth, the same mind, the same attitude, as Jesus; and that can only come about by the gift of the Holy Spirit, for it was the Spirit Who led Jesus on His earthly mission.
Now, the Spirit of Jesus is not given to any of us either fully or permanently, nor is He given to all of us in the same degree.  However, the Holy Spirit of Jesus is given in sublime and abiding fullness to Mother Church so that she can make her children living members of that Body of Christ in which all have a unique purpose and personal role to fulfil for the Body as a whole, and for the glory of the Father.  Therefore, our first and supreme duty, in order to learn and to do the Father’s will, is to hear and obey Jesus’ clear commandments given for all His disciples in the Scriptures and in their authoritative presentation to us by Mother Church.  That, indeed, we can all do thanks to the baptismal grace of the Holy Spirit given to all who believe in and commit themselves to Jesus.  That is the minimum expected of a true, catholic, disciple.
But in order to have the same mind as Jesus Himself, and so do the Father’s particular will for each one of us, we must desire and pray much more.
By enabling us to obey the commandments of Jesus and the Church, the Spirit can be said to rule our actions.  However, most of our choices in life do not directly or necessarily involve serious sin, being largely somewhat indifferent choices of themselves.  And so, if we aspire to have the same attitude and mind as Jesus and  thus to do the Father’s will in all things, we must ask, beg, pray, the Holy Spirit not only to rule our actions so as to keep us from sin, but also to guide our lives in every respect to the extent that it is no longer we who live, but rather -- through the Spirit -- Jesus living in us for the Father, as St. Paul said:
It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
The Spirit is the Father’s Gift, Jesus' bequest, to Mother Church; He is not ours, He cannot be acquired, so to speak, and then possessed.  Because He is Gift, we have to keep close to the Father in prayer, and to Jesus in the Eucharist, if we aspire to receive the Spirit ever anew and appreciate Him ever more faithfully.  Moreover, we must also beg the Holy Spirit Himself to so penetrate our very being that He might  guide and rule us, not only in our rejection of sin, but also in our own free choices and deepest desires, until He has wholly transformed us into His faithful instruments for the Father’s glory.  In other words, we should beg the Spirit to make each of us a likeness of Jesus painted by His own divine hand for the Father’s purposes in our world of today, rather than allow us to make ourselves into an inauthentic imitation produced by personal pride under the motivation of a fevered imagination or esoteric fancy.
But once again, how -- with what dispositions -- should we thus turn to the Holy Spirit in prayer?
For such final guidance we should look to our Blessed Lady who, after her beloved Son’s resurrection from the dead, saw Him disappear from her sight into heaven at His Ascension into Heaven.  What joy for Him filled her mind and flooded her heart as she thought of her Son’s glory and fulfilment with the Father!  But also, inevitably, what gnawing emptiness -- though never any sorrow – she experienced in herself, albeit never for herself!!   What a loss!  What a longing!!  What a gulf!!!
And precisely for such a suffering Mother of, and Model for, the Church, the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and bestowed by Jesus, to completely satisfy and transfigure such dispositions.  Because of her longing and love for Jesus, because of her total self-emptiness, Mary could and would become the chef d’oeuvre of the Holy Spirit … for ever serving Mother Church as a most sublime lightning conductor, so to speak, drawing and leading the light and the power, the fire and the beauty, of the Holy Spirit -- the eternal bond of Love uniting the Almighty Father and His only-begotten Son -- to Mother Church and potentially into the minds and hearts of all her children.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is in like dispositions of love for Jesus and emptiness of self that – with the help of Mary our Mother -- we should pray to the Holy Spirit for His guidance and strength in our lives, that Jesus may be ever-born- anew in us:
(Jesus) said in reply to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother? Who are My brothers?”   And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers.   (Matthew 12:48-9)
Thus may we, worshipping God the Father in Spirit and in Truth, become true sons and daughters of His in Mother Church, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and bearing witness to the power of His Spirit, so that:
All, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, may (come to) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

25th Sunday Year A 2014

 25th. Sunday of Year (A)

(Isaiah 55:6-9; Paul to the Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16)

Dear People of God, we profess that God is all-holy, but what do we mean by “holy”?  In our first reading we were given an intimation of what God’s holiness means:

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD.   As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are My ways above your ways and My thoughts above your thoughts.

That characteristic “otherness” -- including even a certain “strangeness” -- but above all, the “absolute and incomparable superiority” of God’s holiness, was also shown very clearly in the Gospel reading, for you all heard the cry of the earlier workmen on receiving their pay for the day:

These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.

Although our understanding can accommodate the attitude of the landowner in the parable, nevertheless our emotions are such that we are much more readily inclined to sympathise with those early workers and, as a result, we can find ourselves somewhat puzzled by Jesus telling such a parable for our instruction.

However, Jesus not infrequently shocked people in order to make them pay attention, and that would seem to be the case here, for the very difficulty this parable has for us teaches us a basic, and absolutely essential, lesson: namely, that we, of ourselves, are not holy, only God is holy; and His holiness is so sublimely transcendent that we cannot rightly conceive it other than by experiencing it … first through early stages of growing appreciation, and then through succeeding phases of wonder, amazement, and ultimately in self-abandoning humility and self-committing love.

That was the lesson God had, by His great prophets, been teaching Israel over many centuries.  The prophet Daniel finally summed up Israel’s long historical experience of God’s dealings with them in words of simple finality and conviction:

O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day -- to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You.  O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.  (Daniel 9:7-8.)

The prophet Ezekiel taught the same truth in terms that correspond yet more closely to our present situation as we try to understand Jesus’ teaching in the parable before us:

The house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?   Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways," says the Lord GOD. "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.  Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.  For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:29-32.)

And so, despite Israel’s failure to understand and unwillingness to obey, God still wanted, and was determined, to offer them fullness of life in appreciation of and response to His own holiness, as those words of Ezekiel proclaimed:

“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies”, says the Lord GOD. “Return and live!”

Therefore, the Father sent His Son as our Redeemer, that through Him we might receive forgiveness of our sins and a share in His holiness by the gift of His Spirit; and, ultimately, be prepared and enabled to live as His children with love in His Presence for all eternity. Let us, therefore, carefully try to understand more of Jesus’ teaching about God and ourselves in this parable.

We are told that the landowner:

went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard (and) agreed with the labourers for a denarius a day,

before going out again, about the third, sixth, and ninth hours to hire more labourers.

Now that was most unusual; there was a steward by his side to pay the men’s wages, and he it was who would normally have done the drudgery of repeatedly going and coming to negotiate with and hire workers as needed.  On such occasions, voices might well be raised, heated opinions expressed, and wild accusations made -- rough and tough men under stress, then as now, might call at times for firm handling – and therefore, such negotiations would not normally be carried out by the landowner himself.

The landowner was obviously deeply concerned about those workmen unable to find employment: looking below mere surface appearances he saw them not just as potential labourers for his own personal profit, but as husbands and fathers unable to earn enough to feed and shelter their wives and families; much as Jesus saw, with supreme compassion, the ultimate evil of sin ravaging the lives of those lost sheep of Israel whom He had come to save by giving Himself, sinless as He was, to death for all who would be brought to repentance.

Look at the workers now.   Those hired at the eleventh hour could have gone off elsewhere or even back home much earlier, for example after sixth the hour; why hang around so very frustratingly, especially after the ninth hour (mid-afternoon), for who would be hiring men so late in the day?  The fact that they did remain, therefore, would seem to show that they did so because they hoped for what seemed most unlikely.  This last group therefore, were those unwilling to give up hope: hoping against hope, they were still waiting there at the eleventh hour only one hour before sun-down and tools-down.

The central theme of Jesus’ preaching was the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, and the parable He was putting before the people was, even in the saying of it, taking on reality: for the Kingdom of Heaven is about a concerned and committed Lord and Saviour, and a humble people irrevocably committed to trusting in and hoping for Him.

What was the other difference between those five groups of men?  Did you notice?  And if you did, do you realise the significance of that difference which is slight in words but portentous in meaning?

Only the last group, hired at the last minute so to speak, said that they had been standing there doing nothing “because no one has hired us”.  Experience had led them to recognize that the opportunity to work was a gift, a blessing, one which they could not give to themselves.  Each of the other groups, having been more or less spared the humbling anxiety of wondering whether any work would come their way, had been waiting to receive offers of work ready and primed with confidence in their own abilities, and those who had accepted a job and now completed the task, were keenly aware of the amount of work they had done for the landowner: ‘we have slaved all day; we have been hard at it from the third, sixth, or ninth hours’.

That, however, was not the whole picture; indeed, such a portrayal distorted the basic reality of their situation which only the members of the last group -- the last-gasp-group so to speak -- had come to recognize through an understanding of what the landowner had done for them.  They were the ones whose experience made them humble enough to recognize -- as the hours went inexorably by -- just how much they depended upon the goodness of the landowner, who, in fact, ultimately hired them not for the work they could do for him but out of his compassion for them and for their families in need.

At the end of the day when all were gathered to receive their pay all those workers taken on in the beginning and then in the third, sixth, and ninth hours were full of the work they had done … and that brought them bitterness of heart.  The eleventh hour group, however, were able to taste something of the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven proclaimed by Jesus, for they were stunned by the awareness of God’s goodness and the landowner’s compassion.  Thank God this landowner came back again for us!

Self and sorrow; Jesus and joy!

The sublime truth here taught by Jesus was that the gift, the reward, which God offers to His faithful, being both divine and eternal, infinitely transcends any earthly work we can give, any personal merits we may invoke.  Our first and foremost Christian calling and duty is to humble ourselves before God and praise Him with grateful hearts and minds for His great goodness whereby He has called us into His Kingdom and even given us an opportunity to work for that Kingdom, in His Son and under the guidance of His Spirit.  And, whatever work we do will only have value before God in so far as it is offered as our humble yet loving contribution to the great redeeming work offered to the Father by Jesus, our Saviour and Brother; and that awareness will be the deepest root of our heavenly delight: God is All in all; He is All for us in Jesus in Whom we are all for Him and for each other by His Spirit. 

There are many who go through life without reference to God, they seek to do their own will, not His; they want to satisfy their own desires or the world’s expectations, not win His promises.  They have that attitude of mind described in the book of Job:

They say to God, 'Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways.    Who is the Almighty that we should serve Him?  And what profit do we have if we pray to Him?' (21:14-15)

Such people may, indeed, come towards the end of their lives thinking: “I’ve been very successful; I have proved myself a winner; I always managed to get the most out of the system”; or perhaps in the case of simpler, less ambitious, or more timid individuals, “I have always been popular and well regarded.”

Job, in the midst of all his difficulties and trials, struggled to understand these things:

Why do the wicked live and become old (and) mighty in power?  Their descendants are established with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes. … They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. (Job 21:7-8, 13)

And how many suffering people in the world today are tormented with similar awareness and such thoughts!

Still, the Christian message is clear: those who work for themselves, for this world alone, will ultimately experience the terrible truth of Jesus’ judgment:

They have had their reward. 

Our work for God should never lead to the bolstering-up of our native self-satisfaction and pride.  On the contrary, whatever befalls us during our time on earth -- whatever good we may be given to do, whatever successes may come our way, or whatever trials we may be called upon to endure -- only when we come to gratefully recognize, and whole-heartedly respond to, the goodness of God secretly and surely guiding and sustaining us in and through all these happenings, will we begin to appreciate something of that fullness of joy and peace in Him called eternal life.

People of God, here below, we are always – in response to our heavenly calling -- on the way to our heavenly reward, and there can be no greater blessing than, in the course of our efforts for God, to have become so emptied of our self-esteem and pride, as to be totally open and able to delight to the full in the infinite beauty and goodness of God, as members of His family in Jesus.  Remember St. Paul's words:

For me, life is Christ and death is gain; I long to depart this life and be with Christ … (for) that is far better.  Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.   (Philippians 1:23, 27)