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.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

All SAints Year A 2014


(Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a)

Our readings today give a wonderful panoramic view of the heavenly feast to be celebrated for the triumph of the Lamb, the beloved Son of God, and for the glorious establishment of the Kingdom of God.
While the first reading told of a great multitude -- from every nation, race, people and tongue – to be found at that celebration, the Gospel reading told us that people of all sorts would be at home there including the poor and humble in spirit, the meek and clean of heart, and those tried and tested by the flail of long sorrow or the bitterness of persecution and insult.  And yet, all to be found there are -- amazingly enough -- merciful and peacemakers in their hunger and thirst for true righteousness.
Jesus did indeed die for all mankind and -- as the Way, the Truth, and the Life -- He is the one supreme and sublime Model for each and every human individual in that great multitude who find themselves at supper rejoicing as individual and unique reflections of the myriad aspects of the plenitude of Jesus’ glorious humanity, all so different and yet all so complementary, because Jesus’ love of His Father and mankind is truly expressed through, and in, all of them.
Who are these Saints?  We admire and celebrate, know and thank God for so many of them, and yet, there are many, many more, who are not known to us. And today Mother Church wants us to celebrate more particularly all those UNKNOWN Saints now in heaven: those of whom we know nothing and from whom therefore, we can – hopefully -- fear (!) nothing. Their lives have not been examined and found worthy by any Church tribunal, and we do not know what specific virtues they practised other than Faith, Hope, and Charity. There is, indeed, absolutely nothing concerning them about which we can say, ‘That’s beyond me; I couldn’t do that!’ and so today, Mother Church is inviting us to recognize, and rejoice in, a family where YOU AND I, EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US could quite easily find encouraging and uplifting friends, not the great and glorious who might overwhelm us, none so beautiful and good as to – though unwittingly – put us to shame.   We are the weak ones and today Mother Church is embracing (but most certainly not indulging!) and emboldening our weakness by showing us a family that is truly heavenly indeed, yet one into which we (a future and somewhat improved version of course!) might easily fit in and find both home and fulfilment there.  Today we are celebrating saints who didn’t have to be seen, recognized, and approved as such by men -- even fellow Christians and holy people -- saints of whom all we know is that GOD FORMED THEM and that they allowed Him to do so because it was what they wanted in the depths their heart. How He did it?  Of that they were, probably, almost totally unaware and largely unconscious throughout their lives; nevertheless, we can be quite sure that God was able to do it with them because of their constant personal-and-loving communion with Him in humble obedience and their trustful and selfless commitment to Him in their myriad duties and numerous trials.
Therefore, as we continue, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope you will find some comfort and a measure of inspiration from the realization that today we are, with good reason, rejoicing that we can humbly and seriously think of, and most gratefully imagine: ourselves at home in and among this ‘great multitude’.
People of God, you know that all of us, through faith and baptism, are already, as John said in the second reading, called and regarded – not just by the inspired apostle himself but what is even more by the universal and infallible Church -- as children of God:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called the children of God!  Yet so we are!
“Called and are the children of God”… such great proof of His love the Father has given us: surely, we not only can, we should, and indeed we must, have total confidence in Him!  That is what John wants to instil into our hearts and minds as we ponder ever anew those words of his:
What love the Father has bestowed on us!!
Of course, while we are still in this world we will experience the troubles of the world; indeed, as John said, we are likely to experience more trouble in some respects, since:
The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.
While that did not trouble John, for he could surely say, along with St. Paul:
For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21);
nevertheless, for many Christians and Catholics today the fact that our modern society still does not acknowledge Jesus, that our faith is mocked, our practices ridiculed, our teaching contested and even openly rejected, that does trouble them.   However, if such ‘trouble’ is due to a sincere and deep love for the Church and a prayerful concern for her well-being, not only is it both understandable and admirable, but, what is yet more, it can and will, surely, give rise to prayer which is most acceptable to God.
St. John, however, also wishes to strengthen us against concerns for self which can easily sneak into our psyche and may lead us to make compromises with the world which would be totally unworthy of a child of God:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.       Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure as He is pure.   (I John 3:2-3)
We are now children of God and should be proud and grateful for such a wonderful privilege.  Now children trust, and that is what John wants to urge upon us when he tells us that what we shall be —what God wants us to be -- has not yet been revealed.   We have received, John says, a wonderful proof of God’s love for us by allowing us to be called His children; and the reason we can be called God’s children is because we have faith in God’s Son Who died and rose again for us; and we hope in His Spirit, given us in and through the Church and now at work forming us, personally, in the likeness of Jesus with love for the Father.   There is nothing for us to bring about by our own endeavours for it has not yet been revealed what we shall be; we know just this one stupendous fact, we are God’s children now and should behave  as such by loving and trusting Him Who is Our Father… and Who, as our Father, is concerned with forming us as His children, that is, in the likeness of His only-begotten Son so that when Jesus comes again in   divine glory to establish the definitive Kingdom of God, then, amazingly -- that is, by the amazing grace and goodness of God -- we shall be found like Him, able to share in Him and with Him in His heavenly glory.  Let this hope rule in your hearts and minds, John urges:
Everyone who has this hope based on Jesus (Who gives us His Spirit) makes himself pure as He (Jesus) is pure.
That hope of ultimately sharing with all the saints we are celebrating this day in the glory of Jesus as members of His Body, and being eternally blessed with them as children of the heavenly Father … that hope based on the stupendous power of the Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead and Whom Jesus has bequeathed us in Mother Church … that hope which has made Mary Queen of heaven above all angels and archangels … that most sure and  consuming hope John says will protect and purify us from our human weakness and personal sinfulness, and from the evil of the world which will not accept us because it would not acknowledge Jesus.
People of God, today’s celebration is a call from Mother Church to renew our Christian and Catholic hope; it is a reminder that our life on earth can be transfigured into a training that will prepare us to participate in an eternal experience of divine beauty, truth, and love before God; something of which we are neither capable nor worthy at present, but which has been most surely promised to all who remain faithful in their love of Jesus:
Rejoice in the Lord always, again, rejoice.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:4-7)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

30th Sunday of Year A 2014

 30th. Sunday of Year (A)
(Exodus 22:20-26; 1st. Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40)

These words of Our Lord in answer to the Pharisees’ question are unforgettably etched on our minds:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.
And today’s reading from the Old Testament gave us some guidance on how we should respond to Jesus’ command for such love of God:
            You shall not wrong any widow or orphan;
If you take a man’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body.  What else has he to sleep in?   If he cries out to me I will hear him, for I am compassionate.
Showing such compassion to a neighbour in need was precisely what Jesus had in mind when He went on to say to the Pharisees:
And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.
Why then, if love of God and neighbour were already of the essence of the Old Testament, did Jesus need to die and rise again for our salvation and send out His Apostles to establish His Church that would endure to the end of time?
In the words of consecration every day at Holy Mass we find the ultimate answer to our question:
This is the chalice of My Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in memory of Me.
There are many in the Church today who -- it would seem, misinterpreting the Christian and Catholic call to repentance -- seek to smooth over publicly acknowledged and doctrinally condemned sins with words of exuberant Catholic friendship for and human sympathy with willing-and-wanting-to-remain sinners; rather than commit themselves to working with wholehearted confidence in the grace and the goodness of God for the essential purity and unity of Catholic proclamation and practice (not of mere individuals, but of the Church herself).   Jesus’ own words, however, tell us unambiguously -- as clearly understood by His Apostles but too often and too little appreciated today -- that His saving Blood was poured out, not as a gesture or sign of human friendship with sinners, but for divine forgiveness of their sins.
Some intimate thoughts Jesus shared with His Apostles at the Last Supper can help us here, if we can listen – as it were, with the Apostles – to their and our beloved Lord:
I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now (John 16:12).  I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you (16:7).   When He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth (and) declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you  (16:13–15)  The Advocate whom I will send, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, He will testify to Me; and you also testify, because you have been with Me from the beginning.   (15:26–27)
And so, the Son of God became man, died for us and rose again, before ultimately ascending into heaven, that He might send out His Spirit-endowed-Apostles to establish His Church and, through their sacramental handing-on of the Lord’s own most Holy Spirit, thereby enable us – members of the Church which is His Body -- to love the Father fittingly, finding joy and fulfilment in our hearing of and obedience to their ever-present proclamation of Jesus’ founding Gospel.
No human-being can love God adequately of himself, which is why the Jews -- even the most zealous -- were unable to keep the Law, as St. Paul repeatedly insisted:
Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.  As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; they have all turned aside … become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one."  (Romans 3:9-12)
Not even those who are circumcised keep the law. (Galatians 6:13)

Despite the undoubted zeal and piety of many servants of the Law, the weakness of fallen human nature was daily and inescapably evident; indeed, unsuspected evil was ever lying most opportunely dormant: not only in the hearts of the politicised Sadducees and Temple priests,  but also in those of the more spiritual and devout Pharisees and Scribes, as was shown by the fact that, when the Son of God came as man, all of them decisively rejected or ultimately hated Him to the extent that they were willing to have the Romans put Him to death on a cross for their own purposes and projects.  And so, as St. Paul explains (Romans 8:3s.):

What the Law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decrees of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who live, not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Jesus, that is, came among us as one of us so that in Him, through Him, human flesh might indeed fulfil those just ordinances of God found in the Law given to Moses for the Chosen People; ordinances that human weakness and sinfulness had hitherto been unable to fulfil (Matthew 5:17-18):
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
This Jesus did out of His all-consuming love for His Father; for He willed that, henceforward, all who -- answering His Father’s call with obedience -- would believe in Him, should be enabled to live as members of His glorified Body in the power and under the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, and thus overcome their native weakness to the extent that, as Jesus said, they would surpass even John the Baptist, the greatest of those naturally born of woman, in giving glory to His Father.
And there, precisely, is the need for Jesus, the need for the Son to become flesh, for:
No one know(s) the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matthew 11:27-28);
O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:25-26).
The glory of the Christian vocation therefore is that the Son is in us who believe, by His Spirit; and, being in us, He wills to lift us up further to Himself by sharing with us that love for the Father which is His unique prerogative.  For, by declaring His Father’s Name to us ever more and more in Mother Church, He encourages us to return love to the Father together with Himself; to which end His own most Holy Spirit is ever at work forming us as living members of His Body and, in Him Who is the only-begotten and supremely beloved Son, as beloved sons and daughters of the heavenly Father:
Righteous Father, I have made Your name known to the men You gave Me out of this world.  Although the world does not know You, I know You and they know that You sent Me.  I made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love You had for Me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:6,25s.)
People of God, our calling is -- first and foremost -- to love God as our true Father above all, in all, and through all, and thus become, in Jesus, His true children.  Such personal love of God is supremely authentic Christian holiness; whereas those things we tend to admire so much and value so highly on earth, such as achievements, reputation, charisma, talents, signs and wonders, are ultimately of no importance or worth except in so far as they are suitable expressions of such love.
How, therefore, are we to grow in that personal love, that ultimate and uniquely authentic holiness?
To that end we must examine our motives for aspiring to holiness.   First of all, we must appreciate, long for, and aspire to, love of God, for His own most compelling holiness and beauty, goodness and truth; and then, for such love’s sublime worth in itself, and the supreme worth-while-ness it can bestow on a life given, devoted, to seeking it.  Secondly, we must have the utmost reverence for the Divine Persons we aspire to love in holiness.  No human being, no human authority, no human tradition can really teach us how to love God, because true love is a personal response to the God Who is offering Himself Personally to us.  And although human authorities, venerable traditions, even holy individuals, are able and indeed endowed at times by God to help us with necessary guidance or timely inspiration -- which we cannot disregard completely or ‘a priori’, because we are called to live as one in the Body which is His Church, being guided and moved by the one Most Holy Spirit --  nevertheless, in that Body, the Spirit comes to us individually to enable us to respond to the Father, as Jesus said, with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), and that means totally, as an individual, and unique, person.
Only in Mother Church we can breathe most deeply of that salutary atmosphere needed by the children of God.  In the Church, however, we must always take great care to have our mind and heart set on Jesus above all, for He alone is the eternal Son, still loving and glorifying His Father supremely here on earth as in heaven.   It is through His Spirit that He leads us to love and glorify His Father with and in Him.  In Mother Church, therefore, we must always try to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus going before us, and our ears ever more attentive to the breathing of His Spirit within us.
People of God, Mother Church is given us by Jesus to serve as our earthly Eden replete with heavenly food able to satisfy and fulfil all our needs and aspirations, if we will learn from her to delight ourselves in her Scriptures and Most Holy Eucharist, for to seek such food is our supreme Christian duty, while to find it is our deepest Christian joy.   If we work at our Christian endowment through prayer, worship, reflection and good works, that is, through the practice -- however imperfect -- of continual companionship with Jesus in response to the prompting and guidance of the Spirit; if, above all, we deepen our commitment to both the Eucharistic Sacrifice where Jesus invites us to offer ourselves with Him in sacrifice to the Father and to Holy Communion where He comes to share with us anew His own re-creating Spirit, then the Father’s promise of heavenly reward and eternal fulfilment will become ours in instalments so to speak, even here on earth; instalments of a joy which both encourages us and most sweetly compels us to recognize its heavenly provenance.
Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.  For to this end we both labour and suffer reproach because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:8-9)
God is never outdone in generosity, and our sincere efforts to grow in His love can and will transfigure our whole earthly experience.
My dear People, look after yourselves; you have already received great blessings from God and the promise of much more.   Never, however, forget Jesus’ words (Luke 12:48):
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Produce fruit for the Lord in the garden of your soul while you can; but pray and aspire to produce the fruit that God wants from you: the fruit which He intended when He created you in His own likeness, and for which He so lovingly redeemed you.  And what is that supreme fruit?  Listen once again:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.   The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

29th Sunday Year A 2014

 29th. Sunday (A)
(Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1st. Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21)

In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah we learned that God is indeed Lord and Ruler of All, even secret happenings in the course of human history:
For Jacob My servant's sake, and Israel My elect, I the Lord have named Cyrus, though you have not known Me; I will gird you, though you have not known Me.
And St. Paul in our second reading took up that appreciation of God’s divine authority when he wrote:
Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, as you know what kind of persons we were among you for your sake.
How Mother Church today needs such ‘persons’ whose faith is for them a fount of holy power and assured commitment to Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and for ever!
However, in modern Western society, effeminacy is widespread; not because women are becoming numerically preponderant in our society, nor, indeed, simply because some are showing themselves to be both self-promoting and confrontational in men’s regard, with repeated and voluble criticism of masculine attitudes as being violent, insensitive, unloving, lacking in communication skills, not to mention other opined faults.  But it is also a fact that, in conjunction with such feminist tendencies in individuals and society, too many men are, alas, imitating Adam by allowing themselves to be over-influenced, at times even intimidated, by such widespread humanistic and overly-emotional individuals, and by public appreciations based, not on the Christian trilogy of faith, hope, and charity, but on the (French) revolutionary and iconoclastic ideals of freedom, equality, and fraternity.
Freedom: who can speak better of that than St. Paul:
Brothers and sisters: For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1)
A yoke defined by Jesus for us Catholics and Christians:
Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34),
but totally ignored by modern humanists, with the result that a crushing yoke weighs down upon innumerable slaves subject to the drugs and sex industries that disfigure and disgrace our society and our world today!
‘Equal’ … what a word, just right for inciting nit-picking and fostering discord and dissension!!   What words have we Christians been taught and received?  ‘Equal’ indeed in divine dignity as children of God; ‘complimentary’, however, in personal relationships and shared human endeavours for the coming of God’s kingdom:
Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.    (1 Corinthians 12:14–18)
‘Fraternity’ … the Romans of old, at least those in the upper echelons, prided themselves on their ‘fraternity’!  If I might, I will quote Peter Brown in his recent book ‘Through the Eye of a Needle’ (p. 101):  Whatever their beliefs, Symmachus wished to treat members of his (senatorial) class as peers held together by the old fashioned “religion of friendship.”
And what, originally all-conquering, Christian word have we, in this respect, fecklessly lost by repeatedly allowing our opponents to determine the meanings of words and our use of them?   ‘Charity’, divine charity, able to inspire and elevate our human relationships and endeavours over and above all merely human understandings of goodness and love which otherwise so frequently and manifestly show themselves able and prone to accommodate all sorts of infamous distortions and open contradictions.  
And so, although the Catholic understanding of Christian marriage rightly emphasizes  that man and woman marry for both the divine and social good of giving birth to children as also for their own personal and mutual benefit; nevertheless, in this modern social context, Christian family life is suffering because contention and challenge are eroding the unity and ruining the example of the spouses; with the result, for example, that children are now being seriously damaged due to a lack of authentic discipline and an absence of true love.   A Christian husband should teach his children how to love their mother by his own example, and likewise, a mother should insist that her children follow her example and learn to respect and obey their father.  Thus the Christian husband and father should use his accepted authority not as a despot to get absolute obedience for himself from his children, but to insist on and exemplify love and honour for his wife; while the Christian wife and mother should use her unique hold on the family’s heartstrings, not to get ever more love for herself from her children -- as some neurotic might -- but to lead and guide them in showing respect and obedience for their father, her husband.
It used to be jokingly (?) said that ‘a lady is a woman who makes it easy for a man to be a gentleman’; and I personally grew up with a secret and deep awareness of, and admiration for, my ‘complementary’ mother, because I never saw her undermining my father, but rather helping him to be and become a man, by supporting him as her man of the house and my father.    This mutual helping and oneness of the spouses is, moreover,  truly sacred, being meant to exalt and support both of them in all their dealings with their children: no child should be allowed to threaten or break that unity of father and mother; no child should be used in selfish confrontational attitudes by either of their parents.
The present-day fragility of family life is reflected in society as a whole, where criminality is rampant because – among other factors – Christians, having too often supinely surrendered words and their meanings over many years, have thereby allowed emotive enthusiasts, for example, to decry punishment as vengeance, and portray justice as inhuman, and both, therefore, as unchristian words and unacceptable social practices.  
There are other passages in today’s Gospel reading relevant to our times in which political violence and racial terrorism seek to cover themselves with a cloak of so-called religious devotion.  There we are clearly shown the Pharisees and the Herodians trying to lull Jesus into a sense of false security:
Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.
They were using such flattery to soften up Jesus before the putting to Him the punch question that was ready on their lips:
Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
The idea was to get Jesus in trouble.  If Jesus were to have said it was right to pay taxes, then those patriotic Jews and the Zealot agitators would have decried Him as some sort of traitor or quisling.  On the other hand, had Jesus said it was wrong to pay the taxes,  then the Romans would have deemed it necessary to seek Him out as one potentially troublesome, and deal with Him accordingly; which, of course, was just what the Pharisees and the Temple hierarchy wanted. 
Jesus was not going to fall into the trap.  He answered them:
Show Me the tax money."  So they brought Him a denarius.  And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?"  They said to Him, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
Who can fail to recognize the beauty of God’s wisdom in those wonderful words spoken in such a situation?  That beauty, both simple and sublime, is something to contemplate alone before God.  But now, gathered here as disciples of Jesus wanting to learn from Him how to worship and serve the Father, let us consider something of the implications of those words and perhaps understand Jesus’ attitude of mind and heart a little better.
Those words of flattery spoken by the Pharisees and Herodians were meant to ensnare Jesus, and the attitudes they sought to promote are a perennial temptation and conceit for Christians of all ages, and today we should -- like our Blessed Lord -- be quick to recognise their poison and strong to reject their subtle infiltration into our lives.
A man of integrity!  We, as disciples of Jesus, are called to lead good lives, that is, lives of integrity before God, not conformity with the prevailing modern standards and judgements.   We have to try to live up to the role set before us in the Scriptures and called for in the teaching of Mother Church.  However, knowing well that our sins are many and our weaknesses manifest to the eyes of God, we try to assimilate this awareness into our own self-consciousness, and so, true Christian integrity should always be accompanied by a corresponding degree of humility.   However, the danger is that we can begin to weary of the gradual grind of humility under the training of the God to Whom our sins and weaknesses are so perfectly well-known, and begin to slide into an easy acceptance of the accolades of men who are willing to give immediate rewards for our compliance with their views.
Jesus Himself was not in any way swayed by such flatteries: His personal integrity would always and only be used to glorify His Father and promote the true well-being of all those who heard and listened to His words; and so, His resolute independence of men and their opinions would be -- always and only -- the other face of His constant care to be free and able to serve them, for Jesus was always the Servant, never a braggart.  Nevertheless, His requirement of independence made it necessary for Him to be fearless, and so, here, He separated State and Religion for the first time.  Until Jesus came the state had been in total charge of religion: the Emperors were worshipped as gods in the all-powerful Roman state.  And therefore, those famous and most beautiful words of Jesus:
Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's,   
are not only wonderfully wise words, they were also remarkably brave words for those times.
Pius the 12th. is often blamed today for not speaking out against the Nazis on behalf of the Jews.  I do not know the details, but I do know that life under Nazi domination was not a time or situation for parading blunt truth, personal pride, and public recklessness.  He was in a sort of hostage situation: millions of his Catholic people lived under the Nazis who were men of no conscience.  The Church, with her Lord, must needs be independent of the State, but she cannot behave as if the State does not exist; and sometimes -- as we saw in our OT reading -- a pagan state might be used by God for His own good purposes.   The Church may not seek to overthrow the State, but she can -- and does have to -- seek to influence the practices of the state through her proclamation of Christian truth.  At times, situations can arise which resemble the situation of Jesus in our Gospel passage today, and who can blame a man – even one as great as Pope Pius XII -- or Church authorities, if they are found not to have had the divine wisdom of Jesus?  Even St. Paul, who proclaimed all men equal before God, did not challenge the State of that time to free all slaves: he chose to teach that true Christians neither could before God nor ever should in fact abuse their slaves in their persons or in their labours, and in that way he gently yet incontrovertibly prepared the way for their future total freedom.
People of God, only the holy power of the Spirit and the assured commitment to Jesus which our faith affords us can enable us to be independent and free in our proclamation of and witness to our Catholic and Christian truth in the face of the society in which we find ourselves.  However, we must never allow such aspirations to become insidiously perverted so as to serve our own personal pride or profit.  We are, above all, servants and disciples of Jesus, and, at all times and in all situations, we must seek -- in Him and by His Spirit -- to glorify God our Father.  While thus endeavouring to practice true personal integrity before God, we should also never forget that we are, individually, members of His People, of His family, and therefore we can never think of ourselves as independent of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Our own personal integrity and independence have to be able to embrace all those for whom Christ died; for just as true glory can only be given to God the Father with, in, and through the whole Body of Christ, Head and members; so also true, personal, praise and profit can only come to us as a sharing in the well-being of the whole Body of all who, in accordance with the Father's will and working of the Holy Spirit, are being led to share in the fullness of salvation to be found in Jesus.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

28th Sunday Year A 2014

28th. Sunday of Year (A) 

         (Isaiah 25:6-10; St. Paul to the Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14)

Today we are celebrating God’s infinite goodness to us in Jesus Christ His Son, Our Lord, and also His yearly generosity to us in the harvest.  There is a close connection between these two aspects of God's love for us, because, in the course of Mass the celebrant says:
Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer You, fruit of the earth and work of human hands: it will become for us the bread of life.
Similarly, when offering the wine he says:       
Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the wine we offer You, fruit of the vine and work of human hands: it will become our spiritual drink.
In that way we are led to recognize that not only is the whole of God’s creation good, but also that, because of its natural goodness, the whole of God’s creation can become a channel for our supernatural sanctification and ultimately -- most mysteriously -- share with us in a glorious restoration.
Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.   (Romans 8:21)
Understanding this relationship between natural good and supernatural blessing, we are in a position to appreciate Isaiah's words:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. 
We recognize that such an earthly, natural, picture can well imply an infinitely more splendid, joyous and fulfilling, occasion: a banquet of heavenly consequence at which divine life and eternal beatitude is celebrated.  This Isaiah foresaw indeed, because after those words describing an earthly feast, he immediately went on to speak of the spiritual blessings of heavenly life, where suffering and death have no part:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples… On this mountain He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples … He will destroy death forever.  The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of His people He will remove from the whole earth….  For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
On this mountain, recalls those high places which ancient peoples used to climb in order to approach the Most High God as closely as they physically could, and where -- being able to see and admire the wonder of His creation all the more -- they might all the better worship Him.
 On this mountain relates most closely to Mount Sinai, where God revealed something of His glory and majesty, and gave Moses and the People of Israel the Law of election, blessing, and guidance.
Again, on this mountain embraces Mount Zion where Solomon built a Temple to Israel’s God -- using materials sedulously prepared for that purpose by his father David, a man ‘after God’s heart’ (Acts 13:22) -- and where, on the occasion of its dedication, he prayed:
May Your eyes watch night and day over this temple, the place where You have decreed You shall be honoured; may You heed the prayer which I, Your servant, offer in this place.  Listen to the petitions of Your servant and of Your people Israel which they offer in this place. Listen from Your heavenly dwelling and grant pardon.  (1 Kings 8:29s.)
Ultimately, on this mountain signified for the Jews of Jesus’ time the Temple in Jerusalem, rebuilt by Herod from the former, very modest, ‘second temple’ with such munificence and splendour as to make it renowned throughout the Roman world and be the pride and glory of the Jewish people, despite their hatred of Herod himself; indeed, it should have become the very centre of the nations (Ezekiel 5:5), from where the God-given treasure of the Law, committed to the custody of Israel, would have been proclaimed and transmitted to all mankind.
Today we do not ascend mountains nor even climb hills in order to approach God's heavenly dwelling, neither do we turn our eyes to any material Temple; no, we come to Jesus in Mother Church, which is the Body of Christ, vivified, guided, and protected to the end of time by the Holy Spirit of Father and Son; and there we lift up our eyes to heaven, just as Jesus did in prayer to His Father, joining our prayer to that which He now, in heaven, continually offers to His Father on our behalf.
In Mother Church then, the ‘Body of Christ’:
(God) will destroy death for ever and wipe away the tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will remove from the whole earth,
for all those, that is, who seek to find in her just how great is His goodness and how sweet His saving grace.
Today, very many people have little or no trust in God: indeed, in our Western world, many find themselves either so cossetted in their well-being or so full of cares and concerns about their well-being, that they have no conception of ‘salvation’; the world gives them all they can get and apparently holds all that they could want, with the result that they cannot see any need to pray to some imagined God.  Others, however, can’t quite shrug-off God altogether, and so they cautiously excuse themselves from giving Him any time or attention by saying they are so busy they just don’t have time for prayer; they would like to have, but in fact can’t find, time for God.    
And that is, indeed, the situation painted by Our Lord in the parable we heard about the wedding feast and those invited to it.  The Father had prepared this banquet for His Son and the guests ignored the invitation given them.  The Father sent a further, yet more urgent, request for their presence at the banquet: some of those invited, however, contented themselves with mocking the messengers as they went about more important matters purportedly needing their immediate attention, while others -- not a few -- went so far as to beat and even to kill those who brought the invitation.
There we can possibly recognize ancient Israel in the Promised Land, flirting with the gods of surrounding peoples and failing to understand the exclusive majesty of  the Lord their God Who had brought them out of Egypt, through the desert, and into their Promised Land; then came the prophets -- brave and faithful all of them, and some even glorious – who were, for the most part, mocked and progressively ill-treated until some were killed for the Saviour-to-come Who would fulfil in His own Body their testimony and crown with His own Blood God’s goodness and patience.
In the Gospel parable there were some, the poor and the needy, the good and the bad, who were almost forced by circumstances to come to the banquet; it did not matter who or what they were or from where they came, for God -- as St. Paul and then St. Augustine would most emphatically declare – had not been searching for, or requiring, any foregoing merit on their part, all that mattered was their bearing and behaviour in the banqueting hall. 
There, we are told that the King Himself came round to see His guests:
When the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.  He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence.  Then the King said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’  Many are invited but few are chosen.
What is that so absolutely necessary “wedding garment”?    St. Paul tells us when, in his letter to the Romans, he says:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts. (Romans 13:14)
How could anyone, however, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, commit themselves to Him, without first recognizing and acknowledging Him as the Son sent by God His Father?  In the parable, it would seem that the ‘friend without a wedding garment’ had managed to come to, get into, the wedding feast without even bothering about -- let alone recognizing and reverencing -- Him for Whom the feast was being held, and such dishonour to the Son redounded to even greater offense being given to the manifest presence of the great King himself.  Here we can recognize the chief priest and elders of the people, who had secured prominence for themselves as chosen ones in the Chosen People, and were now unable and/or unwilling to recognize Jesus as Son of the very God they claimed to worship, serve, and proclaim so faithfully:
It is My Father Who honours Me, of Whom you say that He is your God.   He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father Who sent Him. (John 8:54; 5:23)
Today, in our society, a like drama is being unwittingly prepared: our worldly well-being will end; for what -- but a short while ago -- seemed to be mere flies-in-the-ointment have begun to fester in many parts of the globe, and the bubbles may soon be bursting in our own neighbourhoods, indeed in our very faces.  Why?  Because neither godless rationalism nor military might can resist, let alone master, the forces of destruction -- let loose by disbelief in God -- rampant in the world today:
Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith.  Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)
There is nothing in this world, neither power nor money, neither science nor technology, and most certainly not man’s moral pretensions, that can preserve us from the evil inclinations of the human heart and the weakness inherent to the human spirit.   God alone, in and through Jesus Christ, saves – by His Holy Spirit -- those who have faith in Jesus.
The rich and the prosperous refused the wedding invitation in the Gospel passage, and likewise, you will not find those in Church who, in whatever way, promote pride by seeking fame and renown, and cultivating power and influence.  Because, such people want to remain and proclaim their own selves, and ever further their own prospects, whereas we in Mother Church are called, on the contrary, to learn  this one supreme lesson -- as you heard and know well -- to put on Christ.
Our parable speaks of only one hypocrite being found in the wedding hall because it is the King, the Father Himself, Who instantly recognizes and discloses the one basic sin of all those called and rejected: failure to recognize and believe in His beloved Son.  That one supreme sin is the total cause and supreme expression of our vulnerability to Satan and alienation from God; and our Gospel message today is for all those members of Mother Church who, being truly humble and contrite, want indeed to put on Christ and sincerely endeavour -- by His Spirit -- to leave behind their own weak and sinful selves for His sake.
People of God, as our tables are once again covered with the fruits of this year’s harvest we cannot fail to recognize that God’s creation is both bountiful and beautiful, and that is a source of great joy for us.  However, we must not allow ourselves to get so wrapped up in the beauty and desirability of this earthly banquet as to ignore the invitation that comes along with it to that other eternal banquet celebrating an eternal harvest.  The God Who makes us so pleased with this world’s good things, can He not prepare even greater joys for us in His heavenly kingdom?  Of course He can.  Let us, therefore, take up His invitation.
God's call is, as we have said, non-judgmental, embracing all alike, be they previously bad or previously good according to the world’s estimation; He is both supremely generous in His help -- giving us His own Son and Holy Spirit -- and patient, as He awaits our faltering response to His repeated and glorious promises.  However, decisions must finally be made because judgment will eventually come, and for that we must prepare ourselves, since we do not believe in an impotent or indecisive God.
Therefore, as disciples of Jesus, let our lives echo the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading:
To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.     
Let us lift up our eyes to our blessed Lord Jesus Who has gone up on high to that mountain whither He calls us to Himself, that He might lead us His captives (Ps. 68:18) suitably clothed in wedding garments, into that feast of juicy rich food and pure choice wines, being celebrated before the face of His Father, where:
Many are invited, but few are chosen.                                    

Friday, 3 October 2014

27th Sunday Year A 2014

 27th Sunday of Year (A)
   (Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43)

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah we heard the prophet describe Israel as a vineyard planted by the Lord which, despite the care He had taken of it, failed to bring forth good fruit.  Therefore the prophet went on to warn Israel that the Lord would reject her:
Now, I will let you know what I mean to do to My vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled!  Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it.  The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His cherished plant; He looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!
In fulfilment of that prophecy the kingdom of Israel first of all, and subsequently the kingdom of Judah, were indeed destroyed: both were no longer kingdoms or political powers of any sort, just mere tracts of territory ruled by foreign lords, inhabited by vassals.
Therefore, when Jesus took up again the prophecy of Isaiah -- when He, in His turn, told a parable about a landowner who planted a vineyard, prepared for and protected it to the full, and then was unable to get his share of the fruit --- His hearers, the religious authorities in Israel and Judah of Jesus’ time, realised the significance of His words.
Some changes had been made by Jesus to the picture painted by Isaiah: the vineyard itself was fruitful, as you will remember Jesus’ other words:
The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.  (Mt. 9:37s.)
Yes, the vineyard itself was capable of producing good fruit.  However, those in charge of the vineyard, the tenants, would not hand over any produce or profit to the landowner even though, eventually, the owner’s very son came to claim it for his father.
At this point the Jewish leaders were not paying attention to the detail about the Son: they were only intent on what they feared would be the final outcome: their power, their position of authority, being taken away from them.
Earlier, the prophet Isaiah had foretold of the destruction of the political kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and that prophecy had indeed been realized.  In the past, kings and rulers had resisted the prophets’ messages in order to maintain their own political power -- haven’t kings and potentates been doing that since the beginning of time?    But now something much more sinister was taking place: Israel’s religious leaders -- in particular the Pharisees and Scribes -- were fighting against Jesus for the establishment of God’s spiritual kingdom on earth, claiming their own teaching and traditions to be the unique authority for the spiritual formation of  God’s Chosen People.  Therefore, Jesus now speaks of the end of the Temple cult with its priests and Levites, and of the spiritual authority of the Scribes and Pharisees as authentic exponents of the Torah and guides towards the attainment of God’s ultimate promises.  Indeed, and above all, Jesus is now foreshadowing the end of the nations’ exclusive spiritual privilege as the People of God.
All these privileges, and the provisional type of divine worship they represented, would now have to make way for the future Church of Jesus Christ, the new and authentic People of God worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth, and embracing not only Israelites, but all men and women of good-will who would hear and obey the Good News of God’s own Son authentically proclaimed to all mankind:
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’?   Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.
You can understand why Jesus was both feared and hated by the proud religious authorities of what had once been the kingdom of David: it now comprised nothing more than the two small and insignificant Roman provinces of Judea and Samaria, along with mistrusted Galilee in the north.  Yes, they hated the humiliation which had befallen their proud and once relatively prestigious country; and now this Jesus -- coming indeed from Nazareth in Galilee of all places -- was proclaiming Himself as the Son, yes, the very divine Son of God, come to harvest the fruit due God from the vineyard of His Law and the Prophets, promising no Messianic restoration of political power but, on the contrary, proclaiming that Israel’s hitherto unique privilege would no longer be their exclusive pride and glory but would be opened to all, including the presently disdained Gentiles and pagans who knew nothing of God, and even embracing the hated and despised Romans now ruling their country.
However, some might be thinking, all this is past history, how is it relevant for us today?  We understand that God punishes sin in His people and we recall that, as punishment for sin in His Chosen People, He once destroyed their temple at Shilo which the early Israelites had thought untouchable; and then had likewise brought the Temple of Solomon down to the ground; before finally, as Jesus foretold, humbling the supremely impressive and prestigious Temple of Herod.  We also recognise that the once wide-spread Kingdom of David had ultimately, under punishment for sin, become a political non-entity and a vassal state.  But what does all this mean for us?  There is no unique Temple today; we are from all nations not just one religious people: the Kingdom of God’s own Son cannot, surely, be destroyed as were those ancient indeed, but, nevertheless, temporal institutions?
Again, let us look at those who brought about the downfall of the Chosen People. The ones responsible for the twice-repeated exiling of Israel were predominantly political figures, kings, with their courtiers and sycophants, their emulators and opponents.   They did great harm to God’s People and were punished accordingly.  However, they opposed, resisted, God’s Kingdom in Israel for predominantly worldly reasons, being afraid of the political effect of God’s message of holiness proclaimed by the Prophets.  Later however, others, such as the Pharisees and Scribes, resisted the coming of God’s Kingdom, its flourishing in Israel, for religious reasons, by attempting to take control of God’s proclamation itself.  The first opponents were rejected by God and indeed thrown into exile by His instruments, those mighty powers they so cravenly feared and yet so foolishly sought to imitate.  The latter, however, were so proud of their own pseudo-holiness and so hungry for the power they presently held over the people, that they rejected God’s supreme authority and only-authentic holiness by their presentation and interpretation of His Law and inspired prophecies, to such an extent that their cancerous influence could not be uprooted, exposed, and condemned other than by the death and resurrection of God’s own most holy and only-beloved Son.
People of God we should be supremely careful of, solicitous for, the purity of our faith.
Today there are so many who set themselves up as teachers and guides in the ways of God and who, by means of labels and slogans that disturb and band-wagons that crush -- such as ‘sexist’, ‘racist’, ‘undemocratic’ and ‘out of touch with modern thought and sensitivities’, ‘rigid and intolerant’ -- seek to denigrate and divide whatever they oppose because their pride will not tolerate what their minds cannot subjugate; while themselves ever seeking the limelight of popularity to promote the proclaimed innocence and inevitability of their own actions with words such as ‘we had no option, could not avoid’, and the purity and simplicity of their own intentions with references to ‘the goodness and compassion of God’ and ‘the happiness and well-being of ordinary Catholics and Christians’.
There are, alas, too many Catholics and Christians who allow themselves to be wounded by such, at times ludicrous, but ever pernicious messages and deluded or devilish messengers.   Let us therefore look at the wondrous faith and steadfast love of Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
You will remember His night of torment in the Garden of Gethsemane when His human nature shuddered and trembled at the imminence of His Roman crucifixion.  He prayed three times in that garden, alone; only a stone’s throw away from His disciples’ help indeed, yet completely alone since such potential human comfort was, in fact, totally uncomprehending.  He prayed three times before His Father, He prayed intensely, His sweat being like drops of blood trickling, dropping, down from His forehead and face; He prayed persistently whilst His hardened disciples could not prevent themselves from sleeping through exhaustion; He prayed with patient love and total trust:
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)
You know all that very well; but notice, He heard nothing from His Father. Subsequently He was scourged at the pillar, publicly mocked, spat upon, and crowned with thorns by surrounding soldiers; and still, nothing from His Father.  He carried the Cross to His place of execution and had to suffer several severe falls along the way, which evoked foul curses and coarse jibes from the soldiers driving Him on; but nothing, again, from His Father other than the sympathetic tears of a few women standing by!   And yet, He had prayed, so very intensely; so, perseveringly; and with such loving confidence, commitment, and trust!!
Jesus, however, never doubted His Father!   To calm and confirm His human frailty He had prayed not just once but three times … He knew, therefore, that His Father heard Him … as He once expressed it:
Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father I thank You for hearing Me.  I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here (at the raising of Lazarus) I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”  (John 11:41-42)
People of God,  as most sublimely exemplified by Jesus when His life and mission were climaxing in the degrading sufferings of His death,  there is only one true peace, God’s peace, and it has to be treasured at whatever cost; there is only one true way of progress and profit towards that peace and the fulfilment it bestows, and it has to be fought for in a constant struggle against self-seeking and the encroachments of worldly delights and aspirations; and that most loving master-class bequeathed to us by our Blessed Lord is today commended to our gratitude, our loving contemplation and humble imitation, by the Spirit-filled words of His faithful follower and fellow-sufferer, St. Paul, in our second reading:
Brothers, have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Keep on doing what you have learned and received in (Mother Church). Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.