If you are looking at a particular sermon and it is removed it is because it has been updated.

For example Year C 2010 is being replaced week by week with Year C 2013, and so on.

Friday, 31 July 2015

18th Sunday (Year B) 2015

18th. Sunday (Year B)
(Exodus 16:2-4, 11-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35)

Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you; for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.
Here we learn that it is with a view to Jesus, the Son of Man and Risen Christ, that God the Father offers us a heavenly home and an eternal destiny.  Because His only-begotten Son deigned to become one of us: humbly living among us and fully sharing our earthly experience, before finally and most dutifully dying for us on the Cross, God the Father wills that we be offered a share in His glorious Resurrection.
It has ever been so, for it was in view of the Son of Man, Jesus the Messiah, Who was to be born of the future People of God, that God decided to lead those chosen captives out of the slavery of Egypt to freedom in a land of their own , and guide them towards an endowment replete with sublime privileges:
To them pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the service of God, and the promises, of whom are the fathers, and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, Who is over all, the eternally blessed God.  Amen.  (Romans 9: 4-5)
Now, in the beginning, those slaves called out of Egypt did not, could not, truly appreciate or fully understand what God was doing with them or offering to them.  Their sufferings under the Egyptians had made them truly hate their oppression, but only their experience of God’s power through His servant Moses had given them hope that freedom could be theirs.  However, they also had to learn from experience that freedom did not come cheap or easy; and so, as the going got hard in the desert, they began to hanker after the fleeting moments of pleasure that had occasionally come their way in slavery: those few hours each day when they might be able to rest from their forced labours and enjoy a restricted allowance of Egyptian food.  Fearing that their present journey through the desert might cost more than they had anticipated and forgetting their desire for freedom, they began to fantasize over those occasional bits of meat -- quail, was it -- they had been given in Egypt.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to taste the like again!  Imaginations of that sort indulged in and shared with relatives and friends in private conversations soon led to public grumbling and ultimately confrontation with Moses and Aaron as we heard in our first reading:
The Israelites said, “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”
The people were being led by God on ways unknown to them: freedom and food … these were longings God heartily approved of in His People, but these desert wanderers could only imagine eating something satisfying and tasty, appreciate something they could immediately be proud of!
The Lord said to Moses: I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites.  Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the Lord, am your God.
We can imagine with what eager anticipation and reckless abandonment many of them awaited and then embraced that evening hour of peace and relaxation as -- reconciling themselves to slavery once again -- they recklessly yielded to the enticement of cooked quail after weeks of difficult desert travelling on a daily allowance of unappetizing food:
But (as we are told in the book of Numbers 11:33) while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people.
The Lord God, with Jesus in view, was preparing a homeland of His choice for their good -- a land of milk and honey – a temporal sanctuary for them to be at ease with and grateful for, a motherland where they might live in freedom and gradually learn what freedom in its fullness could mean and demand.
In their desert trials they came to learn that freedom had to be fought for and could only be truly appreciated through a socially well-ordered and disciplined experience of it.  That experience would bring with it -- in God’s Providence -- a further vision and a deeper calling to another, and supremely true, freedom:  freedom from the slavery to sin with a view to an eternal and glorious destiny before God.  For such a transcendent prospect, however, they would have to learn how to persevere in the ways of God and become holy before Him.
But now, by choosing to wallow in a pottage of pleasure, they were disposing themselves to go back to earthly slavery after the example of Esau who had despised his birthright for one miserable dish of pleasurable food:
            Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, and Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of        lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:33-34)
They were, accordingly, punished severely for doubting the goodness of their Maker and disdaining the dignity of their choice as God’s prospective People:
            The Lord struck the people with a very great plague.
The only food suited for God’s people being led from earthly, freedom-sapping, delights, had to be -- as we learned last week -- a very special and supremely sustaining food-for-the-journey: wafer-thin manna, foreshadowing – even in its physical nature – the outward aspect of our saving Eucharist.
Dear People of God, let us just pause here in our considerations and learn from the mistakes of those Israelites, still largely slaves in their attitudes and expectations and for whom that God-given manna occasioned yet further grumbling.  Let us learn from their failings and resolve here and now, as true disciples of Jesus, to ever dutifully and wholeheartedly give thanks to God for our ‘manna’ (our experience of God’s goodness and love in our lives to the present moment, our confidence in His Spirit’s guiding Providence over our future, and our hope for our eternal fulfilment in the heavenly home Jesus has gone before to prepare for us)… all of which can be summed up in our gratitude to God for our reception of the most  precious Body and Blood of our dearest Lord and Saviour in the Eucharist, our sole and supreme sustenance for the Spirit-led journey to our heavenly Father’s home.  We must, by faith, accustom ourselves to the fact that we – like those desert-wandering Israelites of old -- are being led to what is at present, though not unknown to us, nevertheless, vague and shadowy, and so far above our natural abilities and capacities that only by self-committing patience and humility, backed up by steadfast perseverance, can we learn to appreciate and rejoice in God’s plan of salvation as it gradually transfigures us for heavenly life.  Here, the words of our Apostle Paul are typically direct and hard-hitting because they are so very pertinent for too many present-day Catholics wanting to be true Christians but yet trying to live it up with those around them enjoying what the world seems to offer them:
I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ.  You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth. 
As you heard in the Gospel reading, Jesus said to the Jews, the best living and most spiritually aware of people in the world of those days:
Do not work for food which perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.
People of God, just as human beings cannot find happiness living like animals for the immediate satisfactions of food and debauchery, likewise, one called to become a child of God cannot find authentic happiness and fulfilment by pursuing a merely human plan for life, be it mediated as a ‘pronouncement’ of the United Nations or filched directly from the European Union’s poisonous legacy of French Revolutionary ideas.  Our Catholic and Christian calling demands that our lives be both human and divine in the likeness of Jesus Who, though God, became one of us, in order that we fallen human beings, might, in Him, be able to live a divine life of righteousness as adopted children of God in the power of His Spirit.
The great modern tragedy is that our Western societies have the power and the technology to make endless opportunities for people to enjoy the things of this world.  After having imperfectly learned over the centuries something of God, many Christians are now despising their heritage of a heavenly calling, as did Esau and Israel  of old: the imperfectly understood and little appreciated promises and teachings of Jesus and His Church seem ‘old hat’ in comparison with the always ‘new’ and immediately available pleasures of modern life, with the result that many are preferring to grab what they can for themselves now, rather than to rely on and commit themselves to the goodness of One Whom they cannot see, for blessings which seem – to faithless hearts and opaque eyes -- to be nothing better than empty promises of unverifiable things to come.
However, they should not forget what history has to teach us, for we have heard what happened to Israel in the desert.  And, to the Jews of His time, likewise wanting ‘food’ for present pleasure and fulfilment, Jesus declared:
 You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the      loaves and were filled.
They and their contemporaries wanted not the signs of the Messiah of God but what was tangible: ‘teaching’ subject to their own scrutiny and traditions, and ‘popularity’ bought by the food and plenty a victorious King and leader might bring them. Jesus however, offered them then, as He does us now, the teaching of the Only One Who has ever seen God the Father, the Only One ever sent by God the Father, and His own Eucharistic Flesh and Blood -- prefigured by the desert manna -- as the true Bread from Heaven and as Food for a long and difficult journey, indeed, the only ‘proper’ Food for those called to follow Him on pilgrimage from this world to their Father’s heavenly home:
            I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Each of us, People of God, has to make this choice in our life, and it has indeed ever been so; for Moses warned the slaves escaping from Egypt:
            I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set      before you life and death, blessing and cursing.  Therefore choose life that    both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord             your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him; for        He is your (very) life and the length of your days.  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
One greater than Moses speaks to us today; therefore let us learn from the Scriptures to hear His message, let us apply our minds to understand the teaching of His Church, finally, let us try to respond to His call with faith and follow His example with courage and perseverance.    

Friday, 24 July 2015

17th Sunday Year (B) 2015

 17th. Sunday (Year B)                                                      (2nd. Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15)

We often hear people say, sometimes from bitter experience, that ‘looks’ can be deceptive; with Jesus however, ‘looks’ always promote truth: giving teaching and comfort, offering guidance and help.
When Jesus, in our Gospel passage, told His disciples to have the people sit down and prepare for a meal, He undoubtedly remembered Elisha’s words, recorded in the Scriptures (2 Kings 4:43), when he was preparing to miraculously feed one hundred people:
            Thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’
And, indeed, there was some left over; but how much, or what later became of it, we are not told.  With Jesus, however, after His feeding of the five thousand, He had the remaining fragments gathered into baskets which eventually totalled twelve in all, foreshadowing the complete tally (cf. the 12 tribes in Israel of old) of God’s future Chosen People whom the Apostles and their successors would feed as shepherds offering -- in the name of Jesus -- eternal life and the glory and fulfilment of a place at the feast of the Lamb in the Kingdom of God.
Noting the ‘looks’ again, we see that whereas Elisha multiplied twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain, Jesus multiplied loaves and fish… what does that difference help us to understand, in what way does it instruct us?
Jesus’ bread was not just for bodily sustenance, as His words against the devil seeking to tempt Him in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry remind us:
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  (Matthew 4:4)
Elisha, being a prophet of God, provided bread for the bodily needs of his companions, the sons of the prophets gathered in Gilgal in his honour.  Jesus however was more than a prophet, and so the bread He multiplied was food for the people’s bodily needs at that moment in time of course, but also and most significantly, it was a symbol of the food of God’s Word of salvation and re-creation:
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.   For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”   (John 6:32–33)
Likewise, the fish He multiplied and gave to eat evoked the end days for which the prophet Ezekiel (unknown to Elisha) predicted that a stream would flow from the Temple in Jerusalem and purify the sterile waters of the Dead Sea:
The angel brought me to the entrance of the temple of the Lord, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east.  (The angel said), this water empties into the sea, which it makes fresh; wherever the river flows there shall be abundant fish. (Ezekiel 47, 1, 8-9)
That flow of purifying and life-giving water from the threshold of the old Temple foreshadowed the water that Jesus, Himself the new Temple, would give (John 7:37-39):
On the last day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink.’  He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in Him were to receive.
The fish in Ezekiel’s prophecy thus foreshadowed Jesus’ future disciples, ‘fruit’ of His most Holy Spirit bestowed upon and working in His Church. 
The Greek word for ‘fish’ in the New Testament became an acronym among early Christians for the ancient creed: ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’; and the symbol of fish -- big and small representing Jesus and His disciples -- was every bit as common among Christians in the early Church as is the crucifix in modern times.  At Holy Mass, therefore, we Catholics receive the true bread of God, Jesus Christ our Saviour, Who ‘gives us life’ by bestowing His Spirit upon His Church … the Spirit given to form us ‘little fish’ ever more and more in the likeness of the Big Fish Himself, for the glory of the eternal Father.  We are indeed called to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth!
The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship Him.   God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.”  (John 4:23s.)
This nourishment for God’s Christian People looks like bread and wine because it is to be food for His disciples; but it is not like ordinary food which we eat and, by digesting, change into our own bodily substance, since the food that Jesus gives is intended to gradually change the recipient into a member of the Body of Christ living by the Spirit of Christ.  And that presence of Jesus as heavenly food for His People on earth we call His Eucharistic, Sacramental Presence.  The glorious Jesus, however, the One Who is to come at the end of time -- resplendent in all His heavenly majesty as Judge and Lord of All -- is not, as yet, directly present to us.  Therefore we should appreciate that the Jesus we receive at Holy Communion comes primarily as Food for the way, as we see foreshadowed in another episode from the life of the great prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:7-8):
The angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched (Elijah) and said, "Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you."   So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
Elijah ate the food the Lord provided for him in order that he might have strength and power to continue on his way to finally reach the mountain of God; and today, at Holy Communion the priest says:
            May the Body (the Blood) of Christ keep me (you) safe for eternal life.
The Eucharistic Gifts do not directly confer divine life, they strengthen and empower divine life already bestowed on the recipient, that we – like Elijah -- may fulfil God’s plan and our vocation to reach the mountain of God and share in the heavenly feast of the Lamb.
In a similar vein, Saint Paul told us in the second reading that, for the disciples of Jesus, on the way to their heavenly home:
There is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in all.
Notice those words: “there is one body and one Spirit”.  “One body” refers primarily to the Church as the Body of Christ, but it is also to be related to the one Body, the one Food, for all those who are living members of the Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ. “There is one Body and one Spirit” because the Body, the Eucharistic Presence of Christ, is given so that we might be filled – each and every one according to his or her measure -- with the one Holy Spirit of Jesus, by Whose power alone each of us will be enabled to follow Jesus and ultimately attain, in Him, our heavenly destiny.
That is why it is so important for good Catholics to appreciate the real nature of the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist: He is there as food for the way – to sustain those who are actively on the way.   And to those on the way to what is beyond their imagining and largely hidden in the future, He says, You have My promises and My presence, so:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.’  (Matthew 7:7-9)
That is what Jesus expects from His Catholic people: that, unashamedly, we ask and ask again with sure hope and patient trust; and that, with humble confidence, we persist in our knocking; because the only good Catholic is one who is spiritually alive, that is, one constantly searching for Jesus, and in Him -- by His Spirit – looking towards the Father.  Likewise, the only ‘good’ communion we can make is one that opens us up to want to know and love Him ever more, and to serve Him, His Church, and His people, ever better; a communion with Jesus that makes us, in and with Him, yearn to know and long to do the Father’s will.  No matter how old or weak we may become, we can still long and aspire to such knowledge and love, to such prayerful service and praise of God, in Jesus and by His Spirit.
Finally, let us also learn from the ‘looks’ of our Eucharistic food, People of God. Jesus’ presence there is humble – a thin white wafer and a sip of wine -- apparently insignificant, veiling as well as transmitting the Flesh and Blood of the Lord.   Such appearances should help us appreciate that we can best show our love and appreciation of Jesus in the Eucharist by walking humbly and with deep gratitude along that journey whither He is calling us.  It is in and through this daily Eucharistic food-for-the-way that Jesus communicates to us His Spirit, so that,  abiding in us and working with us, the Spirit might enable us to progress along the way of Jesus and grow in His likeness to the extent that, on arriving ultimately at the Father’s house, we will recognize it as our true home:
In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)
And so, as we rightly rejoice in the Lord, let us remember that this food is always a new beginning whereby, as St. Paul puts it:
Forgetting what lies behind (and) straining forward to what lies ahead I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13)
We have before us much walking to do: along ground both rough and hard, with, perhaps, some ascents to exhilarating joys, but certainly not without descents into suffering and sorrow; and, much of the time, indeed, we will be walking along ways that can seem both wearisome and boring if we allow our love for the Lord to become lukewarm.  However if, by the Spirit, we humbly persevere on that journey and take care to protect ourselves against snares hidden along the way, we will ultimately behold and worship the Lord Jesus coming in all His glory to meet us and take us, as His faithful disciples, into His  Father’s presence. 
May our whole-hearted participation in this our Sunday Mass, and our grateful reception of Jesus in His Eucharist Presence, help us on our way to join those blessed ones whose hunger and thirst for what is to come continually urges them to cry out with ever greater longing and expectation: Come, Lord Jesus, come!                        

Friday, 17 July 2015

16th Sunday of Year (B) 2015

Sixteenth Sunday of Year (B)
(Jeremiah 23:1-6; Saint Paul to the Ephesians 2:13-18; St. Mark’s Gospel 6:30-34)

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the O.T. Scriptures, as we know them, were built up very gradually over more than a thousand years, with later ages adding new layers, strata, to traditions received from earlier times; and in some of the most ancient of these traditions thus Providentially preserved and developed is the theme of shepherd:
Then (the prophet Michaia) said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.’ ”  (1 Kings 22:17)
The Israelites were originally nomads, people wandering with their flocks and herds from one grazing land to the next, always in search of pasture for their animals.  This original, wandering existence -- bound by no ties other than the well-being of their flocks and herds and the constant search for the best available grazing -- this, in a word, nomadic life was very much admired in later ages by some of the great prophets of Israel who found themselves surrounded on every hand by decadence: by the luxury, violence, injustice, superstition and depravity of city life, and the abuse of settled agriculture for the pursuit of profit and the accumulation of money.  They looked back with nostalgia for the old days because it seemed to them that as nomads they had lived with the dignity and simplicity of men who were free, being disciplined and protected by the peace and rigours of desert life.  Yes, they regarded the original nomadic life as ideal for God’s Chosen People seeking, ultimately, only God’s will, while rejoicing in His great beauty and goodness in the world around, and above all in their own history and in their own lives.
With such sentiments those prophets regarded the Exodus as the high peak of Israel’s spiritual experience, when – with God as her shield and guide – she came out of Egypt’s slavery and wandered over desert wastes learning to know her God on the way to the land He had promised them.  Moses appeared to them as the true shepherd and David -- the great king -- as his heir.  After David, however, his successors failed to respond satisfactorily to their calling and so we heard Jeremiah declaring to them in today’s first reading:
Woe for the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of My pasture, says the Lord.
Looking to the more distant future the prophets foretold two things: God Himself would be the Shepherd of His People; as would also a future king, the Messiah of God.  These two traditions were fulfilled in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ … and the great work of Christ our Shepherd was to bring peace to His flock: peace with God and with men of good will, as Saint Paul told us in our second reading:
He came and preached peace to you (Gentiles) who were far off and peace to those (Jews) who were near, for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Peace for progress; peace through (faith in) Jesus and, in the power of His most Holy Spirit, access to the Father.
And so, when we heard in the Gospel reading that:
When He disembarked and saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
we can guess that He pitied them above all for their lack of peace and ultimate purpose.
His Apostles had just returned from the missionary work on which He had sent them and they were so very excited about the results of their work: the conversions brought by their preaching, the cures they had wrought and the demons they had cast out.  Oh, how excited they were; and how glad, how anxious to tell Jesus all about it! 
Jesus’ first care was to restore peace to their over-excited minds and jubilant hearts:
He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.
Notice Jesus’ method:  Leave the crowd and rest in the presence of Jesus. 
I am somewhat puzzled by Jesus’ words since I would have expected Him to say, ‘Come away with Me to a deserted place (away from the crowd) by yourselves’, but He does not explicitly say ‘Come away with Me’, but ‘Come away by yourselves from the crowd’.   Can it be that Jesus there -- for our future instruction -- does not want to promise explicitly to be physically there with, or  waiting for, His disciples; but rather -- by use of the word ‘Come’ -- implying His presence, and yet also encouraging us to seek Him there in that lonely place.   He wants to be found indeed, but nevertheless, He does not want to be thought of as being ‘automatically’ available?
Then He saw the crowds who followed after Him, and how He pitied them!  How deep was their unrest!
We notice a similar thing so very frequently these days.  In a crowd how easy it is to forget yourself; how easy to be swept along from one absorbing interest to another; a kaleidoscope of ever-changing events and excitement!  But what about when these people separate, as they must, to go their own ways, and each is then left alone with his or her own thoughts.  How few can bear that silence: for some, a threatening loneliness, for others, oppressive boredom!  And what does that show?  Simply that, of themselves, they have little that is positively theirs: that life for them is a wearisome business without the constant novelties of crowd-life, crowd-noise, crowd-reaction.  How often young people are to be seen with ear-phones pumping into their heads rock and pop music or whatever is the latest hit-style.  There is, of course, nothing directly wrong about that, but I’m sure Our Lord pities many such young people too, who cannot bear to be alone with themselves, to be aware of nothing but their own thoughts and fears, longings and regrets.  Why?  Because they don’t know where their life is going, they don’t have any guiding purpose.  Out of touch, out of tune, with themselves, surrounding silence only seems to provoke deep and largely inarticulate longings, vague and unrecognizable aspirations, which seem to well up within themselves when noise from outside and distractions round about cease.
Jesus came to bring peace to our souls by offering us life; true life such as the world cannot give, life with a calling and a purpose that endures throughout the varieties of natural life and goes beyond the grave; life centred on a rock which no storms can unsettle let alone overthrow, life with a joy which cannot be taken away from us by worldly chance, because it wells up from within our own hearts and minds; life, drawing us with our neighbour as companion and friend to God as Father and fulfilment.  That is the treasure offered us by faith in Jesus and the Gift of His Spirit in the Church.
People of God, don’t let yourselves get too wrapped up in the things of this world.  Take serious measures to be alone in the vicinity of Jesus at times; open yourself up to be with Him in faith that He may deepen His Peace, His Life within you.  Those words are emphasized because Christian prayer, and above all Christian contemplation are not to be entered upon in accordance with popular Yoga practices.    We do not use any technique on, we do not have any power (even persuasive) over, Him.   We turn to Him in our neediness, and in His Power is our peace; we hope in His great Goodness, and in His merciful Wisdom and Providence we confidently rest.
Thus we may learn to say with all our heart the words of today’s Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;     Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Friday, 10 July 2015

15th Sunday Year B 2015

15th. Sunday, Year (B)
(Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-10; Mark 6:7-13)

Jesus left Nazareth profoundly shocked by His townspeople’s personal disdain and lack of faith.  According to St. Mark, He had always intended from the very first moment of choosing His Twelve Apostles, to send them out to proclaim the Gospel for which He Himself had been sent:
Hearing what He was doing, a large number of people came to Him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighbourhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told His disciples to have a boat ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush Him.

He went up the mountain and summoned those whom He wanted and they came to Him.   He appointed twelve (whom He also named apostles) that they might be with Him and He might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.   (Mark 3:8-9; 13–15)

After His rejection at Nazareth Jesus carried on preaching in the villages around but His mind was somewhat pre-occupied: He was beginning to appreciate that it would not be He Himself who would bring Israel, let alone the nations, back to God: at least, Israel would not repent and be converted back to the Lord in direct response to Himself.  The saving message would be, indeed it had to be, His message, for He Himself was the only and ultimate Good News; but others would have to continue the proclamation of His Gospel to its prescribed fulfilment, since He Himself, though being the very Son of God incarnate, would never be Personally acceptable because He was known as Jesus, Son of Mary from Nazareth.
Faced with such a situation Jesus began to think of how His future Church would be able to proclaim His Good News to the whole world and offer His saving grace to all who would believe in His Name, be they Jews or pagans.  Jesus, therefore, decided to send out these twelve disciples, for a limited period of time and exclusively to the symbolic whole of Israel (twelve tribes), on what we might call a trial run.  
Jesus also gave His Apostles strict instructions regarding the preparations to be made for the journeying ahead of them:

He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff -- no bag, no bread, and no copper in their money belts -- but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.

Now these were no random instructions, for they were of such a nature as would not fail to impress upon the Apostles that they were being sent out on a holy mission: for these same requirements would equally have fitted them for entering the Temple in Jerusalem.  Thus, it was with a similar attitude and a like intention to that of worshippers entering the Temple that they were to embark upon this mission Jesus was entrusting to them, it was to be a holy mission for God’s glory above all.  It was, undoubtedly, also to be for the well-being of those to whom they were going, because according to Mark, Jesus:

            gave them power over unclean spirits,

whereby they would be enabled to go through Israel preaching the coming Kingdom of God, and overthrowing the power of the devil by casting out unclean spirits and calling people to repentance.  This decision to send them out was made by Jesus perhaps with the hope of noting people’s response to His disciples proclamation so that He might thereby profitably adapt the final mission of His Church; but more importantly, He may also have been wanting to see how His Father would bless the mission as a foreshadowing of His Church, because Jesus was always attentive to even the slightest manifestation of His Father’s will.

As you can see, this sending out of the Twelve -- intended by Jesus from His initial choice of them (cf. Mk. 3:13-15) -- is extremely significant for us who are His disciples and members of His Body, the Church.  We should therefore try to appreciate not only the physical arrangements for food and clothing; not only the spiritual powers He gave the Apostles for their work; we should also carefully note the personal attitude Jesus enjoined on them:

In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place.

They were not to move about from place to place.  That could easily happen; for example, modern, good, kindly and considerate, Christians on such a mission might well think -- and secretly praise themselves for thinking thus – that it would be only right and proper for them to move from house to house so as not to be too much of a burden on any one household.  However, it is clear that Jesus here is telling His Apostles to be in no way apologetic for needing and accepting some help on their mission.   Indeed St. Matthew insists on this point, for according to him, Jesus said to His missionaries:

Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it.  If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (10:11-14)

Let me make it clearer: Jesus is saying, “Inquire who in the town is worthy to shelter you.  Have every confidence, because the blessing you bring with you is truly God’s blessing of peace, but it is only for those who are worthy.”

That blessing of peace for the host household was quite special; however, it was by no means the only blessing the Apostles carried with them, for we are told:

They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.

Many in that town or city would, indeed, have had good reason to rejoice at the Apostles’ coming.  As yet, however, I haven’t even mentioned the greatest blessing the Apostles brought with them, the blessing for which not just some would rejoice … no, the supreme blessing being offered by the Apostles was for all in that town or city: it was the blessing of having the Good News preached to them and being given the opportunity to believe in the name of Jesus and, through repentance, have their sins forgiven:

            So they went out and preached that people should repent.

These were truly Apostles of peace: peace, first of all, among the members of the household that would charitably shelter them; and then, a much more wonderful peace: peace with God to all who, welcoming their preaching and believing in the Jesus they proclaimed, would repent of their sins before God for love His Son.  These Apostles were those of whom the prophet Isaiah had spoken hundreds of years ago:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,  who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7)

That such Apostles, men with such a message and such blessings to bestow, must be in no way apologetic, that was the very purpose of Jesus’ command, for they came, were sent (just like Jesus Himself) bearing unique gifts from the only and most sublime God of Israel; but, on the other hand, they must be in no way proud or avaricious, because the gifts they bring are, indeed, from God: gifts of His gracious giving alone, theirs but to humbly bestow in His Name.

People of God, Christians should in no way feel any need to apologize for God; above all they should never present, portray, themselves as more understanding and sympathetic than God either by their words or their attitudes.  Sad to say, however, such posturing seems far too common today among those who try to win human approval by apologizing for or watering down whatever is decried and opposed as being too strict or demanding for modern society in the Gospel.

Do you think that I am being too critical of modern tendencies?  I think not, because Mark goes on to tell us what was Jesus’ final bit of advice, indeed His final command, to His Apostles about to go on mission:

Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgement than for that city!

Now, many, very many, seemingly good Christians of today -- by that I mean those who are considered good Christians by modern people because they are so acceptably kind, considerate, and adaptable, rarely allowing principles to occasion, let alone cause, offence or hurt in any way -- many, very many, of such Christians, I say, would never condone such an attitude today.  And that, of course, forces us to ask ourselves the question: “Who is right, the Gospel or some of the popular modern presentations of it?”   Or, put in another way: “Who are we, Catholics and Christians generally today, following?  Is it, as indeed it should be, Jesus and His Gospel as proclaimed by His Church, or what many popularity-seeking moderns, including scholars and religious figures, like to present as the modern understanding and presentation of the Gospel? Is it Jesus, or those, the self-styled compassionate and understanding ones, who like to step forward whenever the Gospel of Jesus, the proclamation of Mother Church, threatens to get ‘out of sync’ with popular modern attitudes and practices? 

For example, Mark tells us (10:6-7) of Jesus’, not just attitude to, but rule for, Christian marriage.  And note that it is not simply concerning sexual activity, but about what is absolutely fundamental in their relationship.   Jesus says:

From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother.

Jesus there interprets the Scriptures and states that, in the beginning male and female, men and women were made, and so still are, complimentary to each other; each made with the other in view.  ‘For this reason‘ they may be joined in Christian marriage.
There are indeed other such issues, because the whole of Jesus is rarely portrayed by those who seek popularity (for Jesus, of course!).  There are two aspects of Him Who is both truly God and perfectly man (Matthew 11:28; 10:37-38):

Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

The first quote presents the Jesus Who gives us His all for our eternal fulfilment; the second tells us what we ourselves have to aspire to, and be willing to offer if circumstances (such as, for example, modern persecutions) temporarily require it, in return.  The first is easy to proclaim and provokes acclamation and rejoicing even from self-seekers.  The other presentation of Jesus needs time and teaching, sacramental grace and spiritual awareness, that its hearers may slowly understand and gradually respond to it with love and ever greater self-giving. 
Of which Church are you a member, of the Church that has suffered and endured throughout the centuries to maintain the divine fullness of truth about Jesus, or of some pleasing, comfortable, up-to-date version, which seeks to maintain not principles and teaching but popularity and prestige?

Friday, 3 July 2015

14th Sunday Year B 2015

              14th. Sunday (Year B)               
 (Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2nd. Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6)

We have here a most important Gospel reading: important, that is, for our right understanding of the vocation and spiritual life of a committed Christian; and it is prefaced by two remarkable readings from the prophet Ezekiel and St. Paul.
Let us, first of all, listen once again to our reading from the prophet Ezekiel:
Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against Me…. You shall say to them: ‘Thus says the Lord God!’  And whether they head or resist --- for they are a rebellious house --- they shall know that a prophet has been among them.
Things were apparently so bad with the Chosen People in those days, that the prophet was not being sent to comfort God’s people like Isaiah, not even being sent to convert delinquents since it was doubtful whether any would be converted -- whether they head or resist -- but simply to proclaim God’s word, and thus impress upon the people that there was a prophet in their midst, and force Israel to recognize that though they had often failed Him, He would never fail them.
Witness to the truth, to God’s truth!   That is the prophet’s – and a Catholic priest’s -- first and supreme function, as Our Blessed Lord said of Himself and His mission when being questioned by Pilate:
For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world: to bear witness to the Truth.  (John 18:37)
Not to convert, first of all, but to bear witness to God’s truth; conversions will come later, as Jesus went on to say:
          Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. (ibid.)
In the reading from St. Paul, we heard again about this contradictory aspect of God’s word … be it God’s activity or His spoken message.  Paul had received an abundance of revelations and was in danger of becoming too proud, and therefore a thorn in the flesh was given him.  That was God’s word in action, you might say a word of contradiction indeed, which Paul most certainly did not like, but – as ever with God – it was a word to save him.  And so, although Paul pleaded earnestly with God that the thorn might leave him, God’s reply was something which, initially, he found hard to understand because it was so much at variance with his own way of thinking …
My grace is sufficient for you, My power is made perfect in weakness.
Paul wanted to do great things for God, but he had to learn that God alone does great things, for Himself and for us.  Consequently, He would only allow Paul to do great things for His holy name in such a way that, at the same time, Paul would be learning – unforgettably – the truth that, of himself, he could do nothing for salvation.  And so Paul eventually came to rejoice, for example, in his own inability to make great literary sermons, because experience gradually taught him that when he went forward in faith – obeying God’s call and trusting in God’s help -- then, despite his own inability, God would work wonders through him and for him.
Jesus, the Word-of-God-made-flesh, Himself came among us as Lord and Saviour and -- in accord with God’s message to Ezekiel -- both His Person and His spoken words proved unacceptable to sectarian pride and less than pleasing to human hopes, with the result that, as you heard in our Gospel today, Jesus did not convert many at Nazareth because His fellow townspeople had no faith in His Person and were not impressed by the wisdom of His words.  Nevertheless, Jesus successfully carried out His mission and fulfilled His Father’s purposes in Nazareth for He bore witness to the truth and exemplified those sublime and prophetic words given to Isaiah:
 My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD.  (Isaiah 55:8)

People of God, so often today great things are desired of the priests of Mother Church: they are exhorted at times by bishops and frequently expected by Catholic people to somehow make Jesus popular and His teaching acceptable to all who hear them.  That, however, is not their primary function: they must first of all bear witness to God’s truth, learnt first of all from Mother Church and then vivified by their own faithful awareness of God’s Personal activity and goodness in their lives.  Conversions will, in God’s mercy and great goodness, follow, for:
Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.

There is something here for all in God’s flock … something to help us live our faith more fruitfully.  For we must recognize that God’s word will be – at times – a contradiction to us, or it will seem so: creating a decisive tension within us, or simply jolting us out of our complacency.  And that is its essential purpose and function: to touch and sound new depths in, to open up the very roots of, our God-given being to the influence of His grace, and thus lead us to a richer, fuller, and more authentic human life and Christian fulfilment as witnesses to God’s truth.
For, left to ourselves, we tend to spend so much of our lives in superficial pleasures and distractions which empty us of character; and these God-given contradictions, where God can seem, at times, so absent, are not necessarily meant to make us more noticeably holy  or religious, more obviously ‘good’, but simply, at times, to help us realize that we are needy individuals, and to make us look below the surface, deeper than the obvious, in order to find the true meaning and purpose, beauty and truth, of our experience of life.  Now, faith is the Christian faculty that enables us to believe, recognize, and to respond to God’s presence in and throughout the whole of life; and we respond to His presence by doing what is true, loving what is beautiful, and dedicating ourselves to life in all its fullness -- spiritual as well as bodily, eternal a well as natural -- because of His imprint which they bear and His call they express for us.
For example, how often good Catholic parents experience anguish and anxiety as they see their young people wandering away from religious practice and the Faith itself.   And yet, if they will embrace it aright, this experience can be a great opportunity for them, as with Saint Paul, to  glorify God and to draw even closer to those they love  despite the sorrow and suffering involved.  As good Catholic and Christian parents -- despite finding themselves in such a situation – they can yet persist in loving and trusting: trying to draw God to their children by constant prayer and trust, and their children to God by ever deeper (and more costly!) love and patience.  As silent witnesses to God where words of exhortation and instruction cannot be given because they will not be accepted, such parents who continue to unite God and their children through their own love and suffering for both are then, themselves being conformed very closely indeed to Christ on the Cross with one arm outstretched to men and the other to His Father, uniting them both in the great love of His most Sacred Heart. 
Again, young people growing up can encounter for the first time what have been called the ‘frontier experiences’ of sex, when their growing sexual awareness opens up frontiers of life hitherto unknown, instilling a zest and adventure into life, and discovering vast, exciting, new areas of sensibility.  On the other hand though, these ‘frontier experiences’ can also bring tension and intense anxiety, fear, and disillusionment into sincere young hearts.  Nevertheless, these trials and sufferings are not situations, experiences, where God is absent; no! for those who have faith, who seek life’s golden nugget of worthwhileness, these experiences can also be recognized as God’s word, meant to make them more humble and patient in and with themselves, more loving and trustful of His Spirit gradually leading them to the depths of human maturity that they may then be made more truly and fully divine in Christ.
Let us then, People of God, take confidence; because life’s most bitter moments, its most searching trials, when met with faith and embraced with trust in God, can be experienced as encounters with His holy word, His saving will; indeed as His self-revelation to you for a personal fellowship with Him throughout your life.  They are contradictions like the Cross, meant to result in our resurrection as newer and fuller human beings and more authentic Christians … men and women all the more capable of joy and fulfilment for having lived through such troughs of sorrow and trial.  For that to happen one thing is absolutely necessary: faith in the teaching of Mother Church and in our personal awareness and experience of God’s goodness.
Seek true humanity, full and free; seek confidently and unswervingly the meaning of life: its true beauty, worthwhileness, and purpose.  Seek, in a word, God, revealing Himself in His Son, through His Church, unique and universal, and in you by His Spirit.
May this Holy Mass bring about for us who participate in it with faith the great miracle of our resurrection from the shallows to the fullness of all our possibilities, human and divine; the fullness for which He created us and towards which He ever guides and ‘upgrades’ us through sorrow and joy, in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.