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, 29 January 2015

4th Sunday Year (B) 2015

 4th. Sunday, Year (B)       

(Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1st. Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28)

Moses had found it extremely hard leading the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and through the perils of the desert: their self-confidence as individuals, and above all their cohesiveness as one People of God, had still to be established; with the result that throughout their travels they found it hard to maintain firm trust or sure confidence in the Lord, let alone give steadfast obedience to His commands given Moses for their guidance.  So perhaps there was some irony in Moses’ voice when -- referring to the ‘prophet to come’ promised by the Lord -- he warned them:
To him you shall listen.
We then heard words from the Lord Himself telling why it would be so very important for them to listen to the promised prophet better than they had thus far listened to Moses:
If any man will not listen to My words which he speaks in My name (and at My command), I Myself will make him answer for it.
After Moses, the Lord did indeed raise up a whole series of prophets: prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others, whose inspired messages live on in the Bible still proclaiming the goodness and glory of God to this very day.  But even though they spoke faithfully in the name of the Lord God of Israel, we find only too often that their words were soon forgotten and His message largely ignored, as the Lord Himself averred through the prophet Jeremiah (35:15s.):
I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me.
In Isaiah, indeed, His words are most dramatic and much more reproachful:
Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see.  You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; your ears are open, but none hears. (Isaiah 42:18-20)
A prophet was specially called and sent to speak words entrusted to him by God; and should such a prophet betray his calling by substituting his own words for those of God, -- which was always a possibility because of human sinfulness and the attention, both flattering and threatening, accorded to a recognized prophet -- God had warned:
If a prophet presumes to speak in My name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.
And so, when the prophet Hananiah did presume to speak falsely in the Lord’s name he had to die, as we hear from Jeremiah:
The prophet Jeremiah said, "Hear now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie.  Therefore thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I will cast you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have taught rebellion against the LORD.'"  So Hananiah died the same year in the seventh month.  (Jeremiah 28:15-17)
The same thing happened in the time of Ezekiel and the Babylonian exile:
“You say, 'The LORD says,' but I have not spoken.”  Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Because you have spoken nonsense and envisioned lies, therefore I am indeed against you," says the Lord GOD.  “My hand will be against the prophets who envision futility and who divine lies; they shall not be in the assembly of My people, nor be written in the record of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.”  (Ezekiel 13:6-9)
And so, the Lord took great care to have His word faithfully proclaimed and publicly appreciated in Israel; but, for all that, His true prophets – despite their faithfully giving voice to His authentic message – were routinely ignored by the people and frequently opposed by leaders inclined to expect and listen only to what they wanted to hear, not the authentic word of God:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! (Matthew 23:37)
Nevertheless, despite such indifference and resistance to true prophets and the authentic word of God, the promise of the prophet to come -- the ultimate prophet -- was not forgotten by faithful Israelites, nor was there total ignorance concerning the supreme importance of the message He would bring, about which the Lord Himself had said to Moses:
If any man will not listen to My words which he speaks in My name, I Myself will make him answer for it.
Now you are in a position to appreciate the serious intent of those priests and Levites who, on behalf of the Jews in Jerusalem, questioned John the Baptist:
 Are you the Prophet? (John 1:21)
Recall again what Moses said of the prophet to come:
To Him you shall listen.  
And recall also the voice of the Father speaking from heaven to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration:
This is My beloved Son.  Listen to Him!  (Mark 9:7)
We believers now know the reason why the Prophet promised by God through Moses would speak with such authority in God’s name: it is because the Prophet-to-come would be the very Word of God Himself made flesh:
Jesus answered, "My doctrine is not Mine but His Who sent Me.  I and My Father are One."  (John 7:16, 10:30)
It is, perhaps, a testimony to a renewed sincerity of religious life in Israel in the times of the Messiah, that those in the synagogue listening to Jesus’ words, recognized what they had not encountered before:
The people were astonished at his teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes….  All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this?  A teaching with authority!
It was not simply in His religious teaching that Jesus’ authority was recognizable; His whole being and bearing bespoke that aspect of His Person so compellingly that we have, in this regard, the most beautiful and amazingly spontaneous testimony of one completely formed by, responsive to, and appreciative of, authority in all its aspects; one who, even though a pagan, used such authority as a suitable instrument for promoting care and expressing reverence:
When Jesus entered Capernaum a centurion came to Him pleading with Him saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”  Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”  The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.  But speak only a word and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority and have soldiers under me …” (Matthew 8:5-9)
Now, People of God, that same Jesus speaks to us in and through Mother Church today; indeed, He is speaking now, at this very moment, as I proclaim His word to you, in His name.  And we must always bear in mind that He was, and still is, the Saviour of those -- and only those -- who want to be saved and are willing to acknowledge and accept His authority.   Many of the Jews to whom He spoke would not accept His teaching-with-authority and did not appreciate His Person; those He left to themselves, not seeking to force Himself upon them:
            I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Mt. 9:13)
And so each of us must answer a secret question arising from the depths of our heart: “Do I want to be left in the peace of my own comfortable indifference or do I want to be rescued from my sinfulness.  Do I want Jesus to be my Saviour?”  If you really want Jesus to be your Saviour: a Rock of strength and security for you, a light to reveal the true beauty of life and to guide you surely along the right way through life; if you want Him to be your present joy and your eternal reward, your earthly wisdom and your heavenly glory; in other words, if you want to become in Him a true child of God and to share in His eternal blessedness in the Kingdom of the Father, then you must accord Him authority in your life now, here on earth.
Listen to Our Lord Himself again (John 7:16s.):
Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.  If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.
“If anyone wants to do God’s will, he shall know, he will realize …”   God has done His work by giving us His Son Who died and rose again for us, and offering His Spirit to guide and form us as His children; but we have to choose:
“If anyone wants to do God’s will, Jesus said, he will know the truth of My teaching.” (John 7:16-17)
People of God, if you want God to be big in your life, if you desire to be His and to do His will, then make Him big in your life and He will indeed become big for you.   There is no chance that He will become big in your life if you treat Him as someone of minor importance: if He is so unimportant in your life that you don’t find it at all difficult to miss Sunday Mass for even minor reasons; if you really can’t find time to pray because of your many other jobs and more important duties; if whatever calls for your worldly attention outweighs His claims on you; if He is always the one who can be, and is, set aside, put off, to some other day, some other occasion… then He will never become big in your life whatever words of prayer or praise you may occasionally direct His way, or whatever excuses you may regularly proffer on your own behalf.
Jesus never fails His People; the fact is that too few of those who call themselves Christians and Catholics do in fact acknowledge Him as Lord and Saviour here and now in their daily living and earthly aspirations: they may give Him the biblical and liturgical titles of Lord and Saviour indeed, but not the present authority of Lord and Saviour in the important decisions of their lives, the deepest longings of their hearts, and the highest aspirations of their minds   And if He is not in that way authoritative in your life, then, in fact, you are not close to Him; and perhaps He is not purposefully in your life at all, perhaps all you are allowing Him to do with you, for you, is to stand outside, knocking at your door.
Authority is not a dirty word that has to be submerged and forgotten in a flood of emotional goodness; nor is it something embarrassing, to be avoided by jokes or ‘folksy’, popular talk; for true love cannot be exercised without authority … that is why a world of masculine authority without female caring, or a world of feminine caring without masculine authority are both loveless worlds, where the chaos and hypocrisy of selfishness reign, and where children, in their original simplicity, are disadvantaged and harmed by physical or emotional oppression.   People of God, the authority that God wills for Himself and for His Church is wholly for our eternal salvation and, indeed, for our earthly peace, joy, and fulfilment; we must, therefore, allow His true love, His authoritative love, to touch, inform, and gradually transform our lives.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

3rd Sunday of Year B 2015

                3rd. Sunday of Year (B)               (Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; 1st. Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20)

In the Gospel reading today we have the account given us by St. Mark of Our Blessed Lord’s proclamation to Israel at the beginning of His public ministry, and we can expect that this, His first call to Israel, might well contain something absolutely central to His future teaching:
This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
Thus He declared the imminent proximity of that which had been foretold by the prophets and longed for by the faithful for over a thousand years:
            “The time is fulfilled" He said, "The kingdom of God is at hand”.
What joy!  God has been mindful of His People, and, having seen their distress, is now at hand to bring them salvation!  What then should they do to welcome Him and embrace the salvation He offers? 
            Repent …… and believe in the Gospel!
Notice the order of the words.  “Repent”; then, “believe in the Gospel”.  For those Jews of old, for us Christians, and all salvation-seekers of today, repentance must come first in order to believe aright in the Gospel, the good news of Salvation.
In order to follow and better understand Jesus’ gospel proclamation we must appreciate something of the wonder of the Jewish people of those times.  Having been specially prepared by God over a thousand years through charismatic leaders (Abraham, David …) and great prophets (Moses, Elijah, Isaiah …), they alone among mankind were in a position -- spiritually, intellectually, and even socially -- to be able to hear Jesus with sufficient understanding and sympathetic appreciation that would allow them hopefully to embrace His proclamation, or at the very least -- would they  reject it -- never be able to forget His Person or quite ignore His message.
Of course, if Jesus had presented Himself as a charismatic leader come to drive the Romans out of the Promised Land, then there would not have been any call to repentance; the first thing would have been a call to arms: “Aux armes, citoyens”, as the French cry in their national anthem, and Jesus would have become merely a bigger and better, even more popular, version of their folk-hero king David.  Jesus, however, was the only-begotten Son of God made flesh, and He came with a message not of liberation from the Romans but of salvation from sin; and in order to appreciate such an offer it was, and still is, necessary to accept the truth of God’s charge of corporate and personal sinfulness.  None can appreciate God’s offer of salvation who are not humble enough to listen to His telling them of their need to be saved from sin: their own and that of the world.  And oh, the wisdom of God!  He gave them a Law through Moses which they came to take pride in and even for some of them, to love … despite the fact that that Law was to teach and convict them of what mankind then and still today denies and ridicules, their own human, national, and personal sinfulness.  O yes indeed, a disciple of Jesus must first of all learn to repent of personal sin and reject that of the world in order to be able to embrace the Good News, the Gospel’s offer of salvation to humankind!
John the Baptist had required of those coming forward for his immersing something that modern society can appreciate, namely works:
You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.         
And when the crowds questioned him, saying, ‘what shall we do?’, he would answer them with words such as:
The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise. (Luke 3: 7-8, 10-11)
John’s immersion with its acknowledgment of sin was a direct preparation for Jesus; its lustration, on the other hand, was administered with a view to the ritual requirements of the Jewish Law, for which bodily purity was essential.
Jesus, however, made no such ritual demands; His first words were quite simply:
            Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
The fact is, of course, that people can do works from all sorts of motives, not all of them admirable: they can do such works to impress others, to avoid something else more difficult, to prove their own personal worth, indeed, demonstrate their own holiness.  Now Jesus wanted all to be done with sincerity and humility, for love of God and to serve His purposes, and therefore He said Repent, and believe in the Gospel. It was to be from the depth of their faith in and commitment to Himself and His Good News that Jesus’ disciples would bring forth the necessary fruit of good works.
The ancient scriptures had long proclaimed that mankind is not -- as Buddhists like to think -- on a level with earthly things, part of, intimately and essentially bound up with, creation around us; for Moses and the prophets told God’s Chosen People ages ago that human nature is uniquely made in the very image and likeness of God Himself and destined, again uniquely, to find fulfilment in and before Him alone.  And Jesus was now come to proclaim and to offer, that in Him -- the Son of God made flesh – our sin-tarnished likeness to God could be restored to its original beauty through faith in Him and obedience to His Gospel; whereupon we would receive His Spirit, the Gift of God, not only to free us from our sins but much, much more, to form us spiritually as true children of the heavenly Father -- lift us up to become His very adopted sons and daughters -- in Him Who is the only-begotten and eternally-beloved Son made flesh for our sakes.
The Law, any binding ‘legal’ prescription, can – of itself – at the very best promote, provoke, regret and a humble acknowledgement of sin against such a Law, but is cannot inspire conversion: which involves, demands, a complementary turning in love to something overwhelmingly better, more beautiful, and supremely lovable.  Humility learned from one’s response to the letter of God’s Law, and love inspired by the sublime beauty of God’s very presence in human form, such was the purpose and the substance of Jesus’ first public proclamation:
The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
Today many do not want to hear about human dignity transcending the rest of creation; they hate the very idea of an originally chosen people (for which the Jewish people still suffer today all over the world) or of a present, as St. Peter (1 Peter 2:9–10) puts it:
Chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that you may announce the praises” of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy” but now you have received mercy.
The majority of people today will not to learn to aspire to higher things, because they do not want to be subject to, or rely on, the power or the promise of One greater than themselves; they refuse to acknowledge or strive for anything other than what they can presently appreciate and hopefully learn to control.  Consequently, the idea that human beings might have a greater, higher, dignity than that of the world around us seems a preposterous suggestion to them, because it is, first of all, an unwelcome one.   And that God sent His Son to a specially chosen and prepared people from whom He -- a divine Person -- might take on human flesh, and thus from being true and perfect God become also truly, perfect Man and thereby show mankind through His own Church and the Gift of His Spirit both the possibility and the way for man to become one with God …. all that is for so many modern free-thinkers like St. Paul’s Athenians of old, ludicrous of course, but also strangely arresting and even somewhat alarming.
It is of course true that such oneness with God cannot be attained by any human works and that is why Jesus did not call, first of all, for works; rather He demanded faith -- in Himself and in His Gospel, the Word of God -- whereby human beings might be lifted up to a heavenly level by the sheer goodness of God, in Jesus, through the Spirit.  Heaven cannot be gained by any human excellence or power because heaven is not a place to be found nor a state to be acquired: heaven is the divine Presence into which only Jesus -- the beloved and only-begotten Son -- can lead those who in faith submit to Him and aspire, by the Spirit, to His promise of heaven as proclaimed by the Gospel:
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
In the face of such a newly acknowledged and eternal destiny man cannot continue living as though nothing had changed, as even the ancient and pagan Ninevites appreciated:
Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,”  when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.
We too have to stop living as if we are simply part of this earth in which all our happiness and fulfilment is to be found.  The blessings of life on earth are, indeed, many, because God has made all things good; nevertheless, they were meant for us to use on the way to our eternal destiny and calling, they were not intended to become a drug that would stultify any higher aspirations.  Because we have been fashioned by God in His own likeness, we are not meant to be ruled by things or considerations exclusively of earth.  Paul was speaking of this in our reading:
I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,  those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning,  those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.
Paul is saying there that marriage may indeed be for us, that is, it can be of help to our salvation, but we are not to think that there is nothing better to come than marriage.  Likewise, those who mourn should not fear that their whole life has been totally blighted; their destiny is – still -- to eternal joy and happiness.  And  those who are happy must not be so foolish as to think that earthly happiness can be compared to the blessedness awaiting those who will sit at the Lord’s Supper in heaven as God’s children, for, as St. Paul elsewhere  tells us (1 Corinthians 2:9):
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
People of God, we live in an affluent society which, on the whole, desires only one thing: to enjoy, even to wallow in, what we have got.  There are those who practice the most degrading sex; those who are expert at gaining money hand over fist at others’ expense; those whose life style is outrageous and who pander to the basic instincts of our animal nature; those whose pride allows them to acknowledge no higher authority than that of their own thinking.  All these have little or no shame and are frequently, indeed, even admired in our society because they are only giving extreme expression to what is commonly accepted and appreciated by a people with no aspirations other than pleasure, plenty, and pride. Money is worshipped as the supreme goal of human endeavour because it promises alluring pleasure, buys obsequious respect, and provokes envious admiration on all sides.  Moreover, since for many today popularity is second only to the power of money, there can be no excellence allowed where popularity is wanting, and so, whatever is popular and exciting is considered to be excellent, no matter how tasteless, futile, or degrading it may be. 
Jesus’ call, ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel’, is an invitation -- most serious and pressing -- to help us first of all realise our true worth, our divine calling and eternal dignity.  Learn from Jesus, let Him teach you what to hate and avoid, and let Him do that above all by inspiring you to love to the utmost of your God-given being what is worthy of your total gift of self,  and show you where to find it: that is the essence of repenting.  If you thus repent and believe in the Gospel, that Good News will lead you to joy and peace in this world, and, for the future, give you an inviolable hope transcending all earthly limitations.
Considering these aspects of our world today, surely, People of God, it would be a surprise if Christianity were popular, because the present unpopularity of the Church is proof to us that her teaching and her life style are a condemnation of much evil that is done in our midst.  Let us take heart, therefore, from Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospel:
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.  (John 16:33 and Matt 24:35)

Friday, 16 January 2015

2nd Sunday of Year (B) 2015

          2nd. Sunday of Year (B)                   
 (1 Samuel 3:3-10, Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20; John 1:35-42)

Dear People of God, let me begin by giving you some background on Eli, the high priest who received the boy Samuel into the service of the Temple where:
he grew in stature and in favour both with the Lord and with men.
Eli was by then an old man with a long history before God:
A man of God came to Eli and said to him: “This is what the LORD says: ‘I went so far as to reveal Myself to your father’s family when they were in Egypt as slaves to the house of Pharaoh.  I chose them out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, and to wear the ephod before Me; and I assigned all the oblations of the Israelites to your father’s family.  Why do you keep a greedy eye on My sacrifices and on the offerings which I have prescribed? And why do you honour your sons in preference to Me, fattening yourselves with the choicest part of every offering of My people Israel?’   (1 Samuel 2:27-29)
Eli was, and had long been, a disgraceful high priest; and for that he was under threat, as the messenger from the Lord went on to make clear (v. 31):
Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father's house, so that there will not be an old man in your house.
However, that sword hanging over his head did not express the full horror of his situation, for the man of God had yet more words of the Lord for Eli:
Any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age.  Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.  (v. 33s.) 
And Eli’s two sons did, in fact, soon die together, along with many in Israel’s defeated army; and those of his descendants who remained would only serve to blind his eyes with tears and burden his heart with grief before they too died in the prime of life.  What a terrible punishment!  It was, indeed, one given to match the magnitude of his sins: both as a high priest who dishonoured the Lord in his service at the altar, and as a father who – loving his sons more than the Lord – pandered not only to their desires but also to their sins.  And yet it was, at the same time, a most loving punishment, one meant to waken up the old man both to an unambiguous awareness and acknowledgement of his past failings with regard to his responsibilities as High Priest, but also, along with those still-abiding responsibilities, to a most humbling awareness of God’s boundless goodness and forgiveness towards himself, in His bringing young Samuel to the Temple where -- thanks to the guidance of a now deeply chastened and humbly renewed Eli -- he would grow up in the ways and service of God to become one of Israel’s great prophets.
Today, parents so often claim that they are good parents because they try to make their children happy here and now, as they themselves want to be happy.  They don’t want ‘trouble’ in the house they will often say,  they want to be enveloped in a sunny atmosphere, full of childish laughter, giggles and kisses, an atmosphere that promotes warm feelings about themselves and confidence in their standing in other peoples’ eyes: for surely everyone will see that their children are happy and have plenty.  Eli had been a good father according to such standards: his sons would have said that they were enjoying life; after all, they got plenty of the best available, and they were sharing their father’s honour as priests in Israel.  However, unknown to themselves, they were walking to their death and would never afford Eli any comfort or consolation, let alone joy or delight.
That is enough about Eli for the moment, People of God, for now I want to bring something else to the forefront for your attention, hopefully for your further guidance and possible comforting.  Recall what we heard in the Gospel reading:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”   The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
A little further on you heard that one of those two disciples, Andrew by name, went to tell his brother about Jesus:
 Andrew first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).   Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Kephas” (which is translated Peter).
What great blessings have been called down upon John the Baptist because he guided those two disciples of his to follow Jesus!  Likewise, what praise and thanksgiving has Andrew not received for bringing his brother Simon Peter to Jesus?   The greatest prophet in Israel, and a simple fisherman: both, great before God, as in our own hearts and minds, for guiding others to the Lord.
Now, who do you bring to the Lord?   Perhaps you are thinking that you do not have words in your mouth like those of John the Baptist: very well then; but do you have a brother like Andrew or perhaps a sister? You don’t need special words when speaking to them.  You don’t have a brother or sister?  Neither do I.  But that does not mean that we are not to be zealous for the Lord, that we are not called -- not able -- to help people to God.  Look again at Eli.  He was a failure, indeed, a disaster: having been unfaithful before the Lord as High Priest, having brought dishonour on his own father‘s house, and ultimately, having been found miserably wanting in care for his own children and grandchildren.  Yet even one such as Eli was still obliged, and therefore still able, to help others to the Lord; and, in the event, he did ultimately manage to help someone to God, the child who -- for Eli’s blessing – would grow to become the great prophet Samuel:
Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.   So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Now, with such an example, you can surely appreciate that no one can truthfully say that they are unable to help anyone in the Lord.  For, unless we are totally dead spiritually, we can -- by word or deed, by prayer or advice, by teaching, example, or encouragement -- still be of some help in the ways of God to one sent, guided, to us by God’s secret Providence.  That is why we who are called are able -- at all times and in whatever circumstances, be they important or seemingly insignificant -- to help the spread the Kingdom of Jesus. 
However, it is above all priests of the Lord, together with parents of God-given children, who are at the focal point of our readings today.  A priest must preach God’s truth for the good of God‘s people, not to seek favour and approval for himself; he must guide those who hear him in the ways of Jesus as taught by Mother Church, not cravenly seeking popularity or following the presently prevailing, politically correct, attitudes of those whose mind and heart are set upon the things of this world rather than those of heaven.  Parents, too, should look carefully at themselves in their relationship with and teaching of their children.  At times it seems that some parents are more intent on indulging themselves -- always descending to their children’s level, wanting to show themselves as sympathetic and understanding by pretending to delight and share with them in their childish excitement and pleasures -- rather than serving their children’s true good when opportune or necessary, by lifting them up as well as loving them, by correcting as well as comforting, and at all times confidently seeking and humbly praying to fulfil their God-given privilege and calling to be the first and most fundamental, the best and most discerning, life-guides and heart-teachers of those entrusted to them by the Lord.
The example of Eli does, indeed, show that some parents can be condemned in their children for having seriously failed to guide and support, correct and discipline, them in the selfish tantrums of their infancy, during their childhood’s lack of knowledge and proper understanding, and in the worldly inexperience of their early adult years; condemned, because they failed, ultimately, to truly love those children.  Eli gave his boys plenty of food, plenty of freedom, and plenty of social opportunities; and those sons then went on to use such advantages to sate themselves with pleasures and satisfactions, bringing upon themselves an ever greater measure of present disgrace and future punishment. And Eli himself was personally involved in these later developments because he had never before prevailed upon himself to teach or discipline them as children or remonstrate with them as they grew older.  It was for that guilt that he suffered much, as you have heard; and there are parents today who will likewise suffer much because of their guilty indulgence towards themselves and their children.
Finally, let us turn to St. Paul’s teaching in the second reading:
The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
 Avoid immorality.  Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body.  Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, Whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been purchased at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.
As you heard, the body originally was created not for immorality but in view of Jesus, the Word of God, being able to take on such a body from the Virgin:
            The body is … for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
Moreover, for all the baptized, the body is now:
A member of Christ’s body and a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, Whom you have from God.
And indeed, in the future the body can be raised far above all immorality:
            God raised the Lord and will also raise us by His power.
And so, originally, now, and in the future:
The body is for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
When therefore the Apostle says the body is not for immorality I think we can infer that no one, abusing his or her body initially and for the first time, does so innocently … for our very body itself in the depths of our nature is uneasy with, and complains against, such abuse.  Our body is God’s gift to us and -- recalling St. Francis -- ‘brother body’ is our very own and most intimate friend. However, since it communicates with us most intimately and accommodatingly it can easily be ‘shouted down’, deliberately ignored, or allowed to go unperceived when passions, selfishness, and pride, in their innumerable guises connive and co-operate against it.  And in such cases the young are most especially vulnerable, as the Psalmist (Ps. 119:9) recognized:
            How may a young man lead a clean life? By holding to Your words.
With further sorrowful life-experience, of course, all sorts of special pleading can muddy the waters of our relationship with our body.  Women’s liberation supporters can be heard saying a woman’s body is hers -- alone and exclusively -- to do with as she wills; and so they condone and promote abortion.  Many young men -- and women too these days -- want to think that some of life’s deepest joys are their birth-right for directly personal gratification, not a God-given concomitant of responsibly shared love.  They can, also, easily come to think that getting married is an expensive thing, indeed perhaps a dangerous course to enter upon, especially when still relatively young; and therefore they are inclined to opt to live together outside of marriage, where there is no dedication to God, no self-giving pledge of life-long love, but only a waiting and watching to see how much “I” is getting out of “our” arrangement, with little thought or acceptance of enduring responsibility for the endurance of that ‘arrangement’.
People of God, you belong to God because you are members of Jesus His Son Who died for you and Who lives in you by His Spirit.  Bear witness to Jesus whoever you are, wherever you are, and however you can; even if all else seems to be lacking to you, praise and serve Him in your body, with your body – ‘brother body’ -- which is always present to you and for you, always waiting, wanting, and able, to do some good work.  It has been given you as an instrumental means for the physical expression and full realization of your unique personality and spiritual calling.  And though, at times, your mind might be dull and your heart dry with no elevating thoughts or warm inspirations, your body can still enable you to serve both God and man in such simple ways as perhaps genuflecting with care before the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling in prayer, refraining from an impatient or angry remark and offering instead a neighbourly word and/or accompanying gesture of encouragement and sympathy.  In a multitude of ways you can put your ‘brother  body’ to a worthy use: let it help you glorify God, express true love, and find the salvation Jesus has won for all of us despite our many weaknesses, failings, and sins.   He, ‘brother body’, is your unfailing companion and was always meant to be your sure friend for God’s glory and your salvation. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Baptism of Our Lord Year B 2015

 The Baptism of Our Lord (B)     
         (Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11)

Behold, I tell you a mystery are words of St. Paul in his first letter to his converts at Corinth (15:51), and they are most applicable to our consideration of today’s celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord.  Let us first of all look at John and his work of baptising or immersing.  For preference I will use the word “immersing” because John was not baptising in the way we understand the word as disciples of Jesus.  John had been sent to warn the People of God that a great judgement was imminent, and that they would have to mend their ways if they were to be able to survive that judgement.  He had a special message for those who, having fallen away from Temple and synagogue worship and daily obedience to the Law, now wanted to return to faithful Jewish practice.  In keeping with the seriousness and the urgency of the situation, John proclaimed to those now coming in crowds to hear him preaching by the banks of the river Jordan that merely ritual immersions or lustrations were not enough: those who were truly repentant needed to bring forth fruit worthy of such repentance by actually starting to do what was right and just; they must, he said, first of all bring forth visible, tangible, proof of sincere repentance, for God would be satisfied with nothing less than true righteousness, personal as well as ritual.   Those aware of, and sorry for, their personal failings had to make it clear to the Lord and, initially, to John also, that they were sincerely turning away from evil: being resolutely intent on both amending their future ways and making a measure of present atonement for past misdeeds.  God alone could cleanse a sinful heart, John proclaimed, and, He would indeed cleanse the heart of those who, in accordance with John’s exhortation, showed their repentance by sincerely taking upon themselves the practice of righteousness.  Once the heart had been cleansed by God, then the immersion they were seeking from John could profitably purify the body; for bodily purity was of the utmost importance to all Jewish believers who wished to be acceptable to God through obedience to His Law.  The whole person, inside and out, had to be prepared to do the whole of God’s will, which demanded right human behaviour together with true and acceptable divine worship.
We now turn our thoughts to Jesus.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all tell us about the immersion of Jesus by John in the Jordan.  Only two of them, however -- Matthew and Luke -- tell us about the birth of Jesus; Mark and John do not mention the manner of His birth, presumably because for them, Jesus’ public significance only began with this wondrous event of His immersion in the Jordan.  How are we to understand these differences in approach?  We should note that although Matthew and Luke tell us of the conception and birth of Jesus, they make no mention whatsoever of the growing Child doing any marvels in the power of the Spirit: all such mighty deeds only come after His immersion or baptism; in that respect they are at one with Mark and John. 
So we can see that although Jesus was indeed conceived of the Virgin Mary by the working of the Holy Spirit, and given the name Immanuel, ‘God with us’, as Matthew and Luke tell us:
The angel said to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God;” (Luke 1:35)
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us”; (Matthew 1:23)
nevertheless, for both Matthew and Luke, the Child had -- like every other child -- to grow slowly, through childhood to youth and through youth to manhood, before He could finally attain the maturity required for His role as Saviour.  This St. Luke (2:52) explicitly tells us:
Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.
As He grew thus, Jesus became filled ever more and more with the desire to know, love, and serve His heavenly Father, as we recognize from the occasion when -- still physically and psychologically only a youth -- He was lost to Mary and Joseph in Jerusalem. There, He was totally entranced listening to and talking with the doctors and scribes in the Temple about the God of Israel Whom He recognized as His own true Father.  He had forgotten all about returning to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, and wholeheartedly desired and was prepared -- even then and there as, possibly, a fresh ‘bar mitzvah’ youth -- to begin His public witness to His  heavenly Father.  Only after being found in the Temple by Mary and Joseph and admonished by His mother, was He willing to be led back to His home in Nazareth – without, in the least, apologizing for such commitment to His heavenly Father.
He grew not only before God but also before and with respect to humankind around Him, becoming, in the process, ever more aware of His own humanity which, though sublimely pure and holy, could not as yet enable Him to do all that He longed to do for His Father and all that needed to be done for His People. 
Eventually however, having reached full maturity in His manhood, Jesus left home in Nazareth and sought out John immersing in the Jordan all those dissatisfied with themselves in their relationship with the  God of Israel, because that was the one place in all Israel where God was most providentially present and active, and because He, Jesus, was totally consumed with longing to actually begin the mission demanded of Him by the very nature of His Being, Son of God and Son of Man: a mission for the glory of  God and His Chosen People, and for the salvation of mankind.  Ultimately however, He sought out John in response to His Father’s secret inspiration – Whose loving appreciation of and condescension towards human nature is most wonderfully to be seen in His ‘dealings’ with Mary the Virgin of Nazareth and Elizabeth, with John the Baptist here beside the river Jordan, and with Mary the Mother at Cana -- that He might, on this occasion of John’s immersing of Jesus, publicly commission His beloved Son for His Messianic ministry and also show His Fatherly appreciation of John’s lifelong work of preparation for this manifestation of His Son, before it would be brought to its brutal earthly conclusion in the dank, dark, solitude of a royal dungeon.
Now we are prepared to understand the meeting of John the Baptist and Jesus at the banks of the Jordan.  Jesus stepped forward, manifesting not only His longing to glorify His Father but also His personal awareness of His human nature’s enduring inability to fully support Him in that.  He needed His Father’s ‘sending’!  In that sense Jesus was the first fruits of all those who were, are, and ever will be, repentant; because Jesus was totally, absolutely, aware, of what none of us are ever sufficiently aware, namely, that God alone is good, and that human nature can do no such good of itself.  The failure to appreciate our natural nothingness leads ordinary sons and daughters of Adam into sins of all sorts; with Jesus it simply made Him long, with excruciating desire, for that crowning fulfilment which only His Father’s sending of Himself and Gift of the Holy Spirit would impart.
The Father was indeed well pleased with His Son.  He had sent His Son made flesh to glorify His Name and save His People from their sins; and, in pursuance of this aim, the Child’s growth in holiness had not in any way separated, cut Him off, from men; on the contrary, His gradual human development had been such that, together with an ever greater awareness of and longing for His Father, He experienced an ever deeper compassion for His People and understanding of the trials and sufferings of mankind.  The God-given-Child was now on the threshold of becoming the perfect God-made-Man His Father had planned; and so, in the sublime fullness and perfection of His humility, He stood before John the Baptist beside the river Jordan; and although John was allowed the fulfilment -- in God’s condescension -- of immersing Jesus, it was the Father in heaven Who embraced His Son rising from the waters, and Who bestowed on Him the Gift which is the Holy Spirit to ultimately prepare and finally empower Him for the task which lay immediately before Him: His conquest of the devil in his own homeland, the desert, and His Messianic proclamation of God’s salvation to Israel.  And so, as we heard in the Gospel:
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.  On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” 
Thus Jesus was presented to God’s people as the sinless leader of all those who have become aware of their human needs and inadequacies, and in that He was and is at one with all repentant sinners of all times: for although He did not, and indeed, could not, share their personal sins -- sin being totally alien to His nature and Personal character -- nevertheless, their human needs and personal, godly, aspirations are to be found in Him, sublimely transfigured and transcended. 
He rose up out of the immersing waters and His heavenly Father embraced Him, as the Psalmist (19:5) puts it, like a strong man ready to run his race. John had indeed prepared the Chosen People for Him Who was to come; and now, here on Jordan’s bank, the Father confirmed the original gift of His Son, by His messianic bestowal of the Spirit, thus enabling Jesus -- the messianic Son of Man -- to take up the baton for the final stage in God’s saving plan as foretold:
He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.  (Micah 5:4)
Jesus was, indeed, become the good Shepherd, Who would lead His flock in full awareness and understanding of their human weakness, revealing to them heavenly things with divine authority, whilst empowering them to walk along His  way by granting them a share in His own Spirit.  And thus, ultimately, will He lead all of us who persevere in docility to His guidance and obedience to His teaching, into our glorious fulfilment as children of God: in Him, and with Him, become co-heirs to eternal life in the heavenly Kingdom of His Father and our Father.    

Friday, 2 January 2015

The Epiphany 2015

             The          Epiphany                                           (Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

It is commonly thought that the technical terminology of some Church documents and theological writings makes them not only largely meaningless but even conducive to spiritual indifference for ordinary Catholics.  And yet, because such doctrinal terminology has been finely tuned over many centuries by some of the greatest minds and the deepest hearts among the disciples of Christ, in many cases it most subtly articulates supremely beautiful truths about God and His great goodness toward men, truths well able to kindle ardent flames of divine love and glowing words of divine praise from faithful men and women still to be found who -- in even these most modern times -- are able to quieten worldly worries and the multitudinous noises and distractions of society around them long enough for them to dispassionately listen to, thoughtfully appreciate, and gratefully learn from the teaching of Mother Church.
Our God is unique and transcendent in all His perfections, such is the teaching of both Christian philosophy and Catholic dogma: He cannot be contained within any limits because He is infinite, and infinity is limitless: He is the Almighty and the All Holy, whose sovereign Power sublimely expresses and sustains His incomparable Wisdom and supreme Goodness. 
In line with such appreciations of God we find in today’s Gospel reading that the Magi first became aware of the proximate birth of the Christ through the appearance of an extraordinarily bright star in the heavens, whereupon and without delay, they set out to follow its lead, bearing as their first gift, incense for the most holy Being announced by this new heavenly phenomenon.  Their high expectations were to be abundantly confirmed by certain shepherds – mentioned by Saint Luke -- who reported that, as they were watching over their sheep in the fields during the night, an angel from heaven appeared to them proclaiming the birth of One most Holy, and that a veritable multitude of the heavenly host thereupon joined the angel, singing the praises of God and the glory of the Child Whom the Magi had been so diligently seeking, with the words:
            Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.
The Magi, having long followed the lead of the star from heaven, had expected to find the One they were seeking among the highest on earth, that is, in Jerusalem, the city where the great God of Israel had chosen to dwell; perhaps, indeed, at the court of him who was the present Rome-favoured king of this Chosen People and builder of their glorious Temple which was one of the wonders of the Roman world.  Consequently, in line with this expectancy, they had brought with them a second gift; this time, one of royal gold.
They had been well received by Israel’s king, Herod, who, after having summoned and enquired of his most learned scribes and scholars, priests and sages, encouraged the Magi in their search for the Child with an oracle taken from the age-old Jewish scriptures:
You, Bethlehem, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.
The Magi, therefore, confidently proceeded in their search for the Child by continuing to follow the star of great beauty in accordance with the ancient oracle, taking grateful advantage of the royal encouragement given them in the holy city of Jerusalem where the One to come was clearly foreknown, expected, and -- it would seem -- reverently desired.
However, since no limits can be set to God’s perfections, though God is indeed limitlessly in majesty, He is also limitless in humility: He is greater than all, yet there is none more lowly than He.  Therefore, when the Magi eventually arrived at the spot over which their guiding star seemed to have stopped, they saw -- to their surprise indeed, but not to their dismay -- that there was little more to be seen than a house or shelter containing a manger, in which:
They saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him.
This was not what they had expected to find, and yet, turning to take up and offer their gifts, they realized how wondrously wise had been the Power that had brought them thus far; for, bringing forth their gifts, they found – as intended -- not only frankincense for the holy and gold for the great, but also myrrh, essential indeed -- and again intended -- for the anointing of high priests and kings, and also – and this was quite unintentional -- much appreciated for the weak who need to be embalmed in death, and for the lowly and rejected who need succour and comfort in their pain and distress:
Nicodemus came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. (John 19:39-40)
They brought Jesus to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.  Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it; and then they crucified Him.  (Mark 15:22-24)
People of God, today we celebrate the Epiphany, the celebration of the glory and majesty of Jesus.  However, I hope that, having come to some appreciation of the rich content of the technical terminology used in the Church’s teaching at times, you are now aware that the glory and the power, the majesty and the beauty, of Jesus in all His perfections, in no way excludes you, because those perfections extend down as well as up, so to speak: God is the greatest, He is also the least; supremely majestic, and yet there is none so humble.  In the Eucharist here at Mass He offers Himself as bread and wine to be our spiritual food, and yet His power is such that He supports the earthly being of all that is around us, while His eternal majesty is worshipped by myriads of angels in heaven.  He reigns in glory and bliss, and yet none -- be they brought ever so low in the bitterness of their sufferings – endure any torment or degradation that He, their Lord and Master, will not take upon Himself and share with them for their comfort and salvation.  In His omnipotent power He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end of all; in His wisdom He pervades the heights and the depths as He surveys all times and seasons, past, present, and to come.  Above all, He knows our minds and hearts in all their twists and turns wherein even we ourselves are so frequently and disastrously at a loss.  This He can do because of His great love: the love that originally led Him to make us in His own likeness, and the love whereby He remade us when -- having sacrificed Himself in our flesh for our redemption -- He endowed us with His own most Holy Spirit.
People of God, let us understand aright the essence of this divine celebration and manifestation which is the Epiphany: our God is unique, infinite, and transcendent in His myriad perfections; and yet all His perfections can be summed up by these three words of St. John: God is love.  All the divine perfections are varied manifestations of His essential love, and so, divine charity and Jesus’ love for humankind is the key that gently opens for our understanding and gratitude all God’s wondrous doings and awesome plans.
For those still daunted and somewhat put-off by the technological scholarship required for the doctrinal expression and defence of God-given truth as well as its theological understanding and development, let love explain all: because love sustains all, love inspires all.  Love, and love alone – divine love, that is – embraces and supports all that Mother Church teaches, all the saving and inspiring wisdom that her Holy Scriptures contain, and all that the human mind can ever rise to understand and come to appreciate about Jesus our Saviour – Son of God and Son of man -- under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and for the glory of Him Who is the God and Father of us all.