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, 30 October 2015

All Saints 2015

                                    ALL SAINTS    (2015)                                                     


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



Today we are celebrating all the saints, all those, that is, who -- known and unknown -- are beloved of God and share in His eternal blessedness by a supremely fulfilling gift of God that can never be lost or taken away, for He is almighty and His will is eternal.  Let us now, therefore, look at those blessed ones we are celebrating, and also look closely at the way Jesus traces out for all who would share with them in like blessedness. 

You heard in that first reading something of the glory of heaven:

After this I had a vision of a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.  They stood before the throne and before the Lamb … They cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from our God Who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb!"

No racism, no sexism, no privileged groups there, but people from all nations and all times; all of them standing as one before the throne of God and the Lamb, their Lord and Saviour, and praising God for the victory He has won for them:

Amen! Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honour, power and might, be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.

It is there, People of God, we, as disciples of Jesus, aspire to go when this our earthly pilgrimage is ended.  Don’t think: “I can’t imagine me enjoying an eternity of nothing else but that”, for the only way to appreciate something of heavenly joy is to recall some special moment when you felt yourself both uplifted and supremely delighted: how time then passed by unnoticed and so, so, quickly, as you later realized!  Now the happiness, the blessedness of Heaven is something  of that nature: totally overwhelming, uplifting and ecstatic joy that obliterates time!   Such recollections should help you realise that in heaven there can be no such thing as weariness or boredom, for heavenly joy and blessedness is an eternal instant of total ecstasy which has its origin in the vision of the infinite beauty, goodness and glory, of God Himself.

That blessedness, moreover, is not exclusively reserved for heaven; for those who come to some appreciation of the beauty of God’s truth and an awareness of His goodness to all believers in the name of Jesus, can begin an analogous experience of it even here on earth, as St. John tells us:

Behold what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called children of God! Yet so we are!  The reason the world does not know us, is that it did not know Him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure, as He is pure.

We who lovingly acknowledge the only Son of God sent to die for our sins and rise again, we who hope in the promises of Him Who is now seated at the right hand of power, are -- by His Spirit given us -- being purified even as He is pure.   And in that purifying -- through our increasingly prayerful commitment to Jesus and faithful service along His way -- God’s great goodness can, at times, secretly shine upon our minds and inflame our hopes, so that we find ourselves surprised beyond all our normal measure of awareness and delighting in an earthly anticipation of that heavenly joy so intimately bound up with the gift and treasure which is our Faith.

If, then, you would know more of the heavenly joy to which we are all called as Christians, turn your attention now with me to the Gospel and try to understand better the way through life that Jesus has marked out for His disciples.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

There we have the virtues of the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed servants of God mentioned in the first reading.  It is a wonderful compendium of whatever was best in the Old Testament: the truest fruits of the Law, the inspirations of prophets, and the meditations of sages; all finding sublime expression – both human and divine -- in the ecstasies and laments, the humble prayers and joyful songs, of the Psalmists; and finally culminating in what was to be both the fulfilment and the crown of everything that had gone before: the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, Who came (Matthew 5:17):          

Not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfil them.

Now, therefore, in fulfilment of all that the Law and the Prophets had been able to effect in Israel, Jesus goes one unique and immeasurable step further: He reveals Himself both as God in His Personal flesh and blood, and as the supreme glory of the disciples standing around Him:

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of Me.

It is as if He was saying: such, indeed, were the virtues of the Old Testament; but now, for you who walk with Me, your true title to heavenly glory is that you are My disciples.  It is no longer enough to say that you are among the gentle, the poor in spirit, and the merciful; for you who listen to Me and follow Me are all of that and more: you are My true disciples, and that will be your sovereign passport for heaven and title to glory (John 16:25–27):

I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father.  On that day you will ask in My name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have come to believe that I came from God.

Yes, People of God, I am sure that you will appreciate that, in heaven, it is not possible that the meekness, the gentleness, of any of the blessed could be admirable before the God of all holiness.  He is pleased to see such virtues of gentleness, humility, patience, mercifulness, or whatever, but being Himself all-holy, He therefore and most necessarily sees also the limitations of our virtues, and loves them best of all as anticipations of Jesus’ grace, preparations for Him.

The fact that someone has personally responded to His incarnate Word in Jesus, that someone has loved and served His beloved and only-begotten Son Personally, that does indeed evoke the Father’s love.  For, in His Father’s eyes, to love His Son supremely here on earth is the summit and culmination of all virtue, including and surpassing all that has gone before.   You who are parents will understand.

Perhaps we can picture it best if we think of a sculptor.  God chose His material, the nation of Israel, and through the Law and the Prophets He formed -- as does a sculptor with his chisel -- this block ('stiff-necked people' the prophets called them) gradually into some likeness of the Christ who was to come.  This work, however, was always done from the outside, so to speak, just as the chisel of the artist always chips away from the outside.  When Jesus the Christ -- the Son of God made flesh -- came, however, He gave His divine word to His disciples to take root in their mind and heart, and His example to inspire them.  Finally He gave His human life for them; and then, having risen from the dead in the power of the Spirit of God, He ascended to the right hand of His Father, from where He sent the Father’s promise -- His own most Holy Spirit -- to be with His disciples, making them into one Body, His Body, His Church.  The Holy Spirit was given to remain with His Church, guiding her into all truth and protecting her from the snares of the enemy, and in that continuing task the Spirit works from the inside, in the minds and hearts of the disciples, constantly forming them into a living likeness of Christ, their Lord and Saviour, for the Father:

Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’.  He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in Him were to receive.  There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.        (Matthew 11:11; John 7:37s.)

People of God, the glory of our calling, and indeed the joy of all the blessed in heaven, lies in the fact that, as living members and likenesses (not plaster-cast copies) of His Son, we are destined to share in His glory, and rejoice in the Father’s love:

You are in Christ Jesus, Who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord."  (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)

In our first reading we heard questions being asked about the blessed in heaven:

Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?

In answer to the first question "who are these wearing white robes?" we can recall that we heard St. John tell us, Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure, as He is pure.  So we know now why the blessed are dressed in white robes: they are disciples who, in Jesus and by His Spirit, have purified themselves as He is pure. 

But what about that second question, "where did these people come from?"  Here we must bear in mind what Jesus has already told us:

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

That is where those dressed in white have come from; as the elder in heaven said:

These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Today we have great reason to celebrate: as disciples of Jesus we have already been given a share in heavenly life and blessedness, and we can experience some measure of that blessedness if we purify ourselves, as St. John told us, by trying to walk ever more faithfully in the way of Jesus, and to appreciate ever more deeply the beauty of His truth.  The final washing of our robes, however, will only be brought about through suffering with and for Jesus, as indeed so many of our Catholic and Christian brethren throughout the world are now suffering , as and how God wills for each and every one of us in the adulterous and sinful world we are now experiencing.

Even here -- such is the blessedness already given us -- we can, in some degree, come to rejoice in our sufferings for Jesus as the apostle Paul assures us:

As Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.  (2 Corinthians 1:5; Romans 8:18)              

Friday, 23 October 2015

30th Sunday Year B 2015

30th. Sunday (Year B)

(Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)



Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Jesus only used those words:

                Your faith has saved you

on four occasions: with Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel; with the woman suffering from a 12 years-long haemorrhage (Mt.9:22; Mk. 5:34),  with ‘Mary’ the sinful woman cured in the Pharisee’s house at a meal being held in Jesus’ honour,  and with the grateful Samaritan former-leper (Lk. 7:50, 17:19). 

However, in our Gospel reading it was not the miracle performed for Bartimaeus that is of central importance for us today but Jesus Himself Who – despite the noise of the surrounding crowd and those who were shouting down the beggar’s cries -- heard that cry for mercy and recognized the faith behind it.

God’s mercy and goodness is also the focal point of the prophet’s celebration of Israel’s deliverance from exile in Babylon of which we heard in the first reading; a temporal deliverance as it turned out due to Israel’s abiding sin, but one both foreshadowing and preparing for Jesus’ definitive salvation:

Behold, I will bring them back as an immense throng from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child.  They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them.  I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble; for I am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my first-born.

Jesus’ compassionate understanding is likewise emphasized in the second reading where we were told that, as our High Priest:

Taken from among men (being born a human being of the Virgin) He is a priest forever, able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring.  

Now that is the key for our understanding and appreciation of today’s readings.

Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ cry because Bartimaeus was centered totally on the Person of Jesus: deaf to the words and abuse of the crowd he was ‘locked onto’ the Person of Jesus, and if we recall the other members of the quartet who were addressed by Jesus with the words, ‘Your faith has saved you’ we will recognize that all of them were -- each in their own way -- fixed on Jesus: the woman with the incurable hemorrhage working her way through the surrounding throng, the Samaritan grateful beyond measure, going back to Jesus before going home; and Mary oblivious to the disdain, scorn, and indeed contempt being shown her as she wept for her sins before her Lord.

The obvious ‘next step’ would be to say, ‘that is how we should pray … wholeheartedly and personally’, which would be undeniably true; but I am not sure how helpful it would be to state the obvious so bluntly.  For Bartimaeus – as indeed all the other three persons mentioned – had most compelling motives and/or pressing situations spurring them on to meet with Jesus; we, on the other hand, often start our prayer ‘from cold’ so to speak, having just set aside our previous business, trying to forget recent distractions, feeling tired and weary towards the end of the day.  How can we motivate ourselves à la Bartimaeus?

The clearest guidance he offers us is a most important consideration for all seeking Jesus: the need to be independent of public, ‘peoples’, opinion.  It is, indeed, a ‘dogma’ of classical spiritual teaching that dependence on, active membership of, a crowd is inimical to the moral well-being of whoever would be a serious disciple of Jesus.   This is contained in those remarkable words of Jesus to His Father:

I gave them Your word and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  Consecrate them in the truth.  Your word is truth.  (John 17:14, 17)

Jesus’ disciples can have perhaps innumerable relationships with, for, before, the world, but they cannot belong to the world any more than Jesus did; and ‘people’s opinion’ is no guide for, nor should it hold any terrors for, such disciples.

There is something else that can be helpful for us as regards Bartimaeus’ healing.  To human eyes, he just happened to be humbly positioned by the roadside with his begging bowl as Jesus was passing by:

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, sat by the roadside begging.  On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out.

Now, when we want to pray, it is most helpful and – out of reverence – essential, to put oneself, deliberately as best we can, in the way , as it were, of Jesus.  Bartimaeus was indeed just sitting there; but he had put himself in the right place, where he was able to hear Jesus Who was not directly looking for Bartimaeus but just in the vicinity, passing by.   Such patient, humble, hanging around, in a ‘place’ where Jesus might come near – perhaps even stumble over us, so to speak -- is essential for prayer. Our Lord does not book appointments when people can come to Him, discuss with Him, and learn from Him, rather He hears, infallibly, those who, like Bartimaeus, cry out to Him in patient faith and sincere humility, with true reverence and persistent endeavour.

There is yet another aspect of Bartimaeus’ relationship with Jesus: he recognized the unique presence of God in the otherwise much disregarded humanity of Christ.  His was a distinctly Christian faith.   We too believe that the all-holy God is uniquely present in something, someone, so weak and frail as a creature of God, part of His creation: the Church and the Eucharist:

Saul persecuted the Church and the voice of the risen Lord said to him:  ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME?’

Jesus commanded us to receive the Eucharist saying: ‘He who eats ME, shall live because of Me.’

Both the Church and the Eucharist are called Jesus’ Body in the Scriptures; and we should ever more clearly realize that we are worshipping here today because we, like the blind beggar in our Gospel, believe that the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ with us today in the Church -- despite whatever individual scandals may momentarily disfigure and betray her -- and in the Eucharist, is the unique, ultimately sublime, presence of God here on earth for the salvation of mankind.  People of God, never be complacent or careless with regard to such treasures; seek to know and appreciate the Faith more, and try to deepen your love and reverence for Our Lord in the Eucharist as the Holy Spirit inspires you.

Friday, 16 October 2015

29th Sunday Year B 2015

29th. Sunday of Year (B)

(Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45)



This Sunday we have a matter of translation to consider first of all, but it does quickly lead to a most serious issue concerning Catholic spirituality which translators are not necessarily aware of:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;   whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.

That is our New American Bible Revised Version’s translation and it is a literal translation of the Church’s official Latin Vulgate text, as also of the original Greek Gospel.

However, certain other modern translations change the word ‘will’, future tense, to ‘must’, imperative.  Why?   Obviously, it would seem because that is what the scholars involved consider Jesus’ intention must (!) have been.  But does that then mean that -- in their view -- the evangelist himself, or perhaps even Peter the originating source of Mark’s Gospel, did not understand Jesus accurately enough?  Or rather, might it, in fact, be the case that those translators -- professional and learned scholars who without doubt do great work for the Gospel – have, as scholars sensitive to their international standing, to bear in mind such a multitude of technical facts and human opinions that they simply do not have the time – or the ability – to be able to appreciate and answer spiritual questions with a like excellence as shown in their professional capacity?   It is a question worth asking and considering, because professional exegetes today produce volumes of New Testament studies of such burdensome size, quoting the opinions of seemingly innumerable scholars often writing in their own language, that it is hardly possible for them to have read and understood as required all that they quote or refer to, let alone to have carefully weighed and pondered consequences and further issues that might be involved.

Let us therefore consider what the Evangelist, St. Mark, says in his Gospel as we have it today:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;   whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.

Notice first of all that Jesus is speaking privately to His chosen disciples, whom He knew intimately as regards both their individual characters and their personal love for and devotion to Himself; men who, indeed, He is in the very process of training as  His future Apostles:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be... 

Many translators think that here Jesus means ‘must make yourself to be…’ a servant of the others; because to attain their object, their desire, their ambition, to be great they must (!) do something rather special … something that distinguishes and shows them to be ‘special’!  And surely we can understand that.

Yes, we can understand that because it is a normal, worldly, way of thinking.  But, precisely, here we are not considering the thought patterns of every-day human beings firmly ensconced in an ordinary worldly situation: we are thinking about men chosen by God, for their love of Jesus first of all, and for their spiritual sensitivities, responsiveness, and capabilities; and we are hearing words being spoken and training being given to them by Jesus, the ‘Word’ of God made flesh.

The translation ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servantdemands that anyone of them harbouring such ambitions must do something to make himself  a suitable servant, worthy of such prominence; it demands in that way a measure of self-interest, self-seeking and, indeed, of self-appreciation.   Now that is most certainly not what Jesus wanted in His Apostles.

On the other hand our translation ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant’, declares that any one of them with – that is, any one to whom God has given -- aspirations, hopes, prayers for such greatness, will be brought by God the Father to serve his brethren, either in actual physical service, or in self-sacrificing spiritual humility and fraternal commitment.  Now that is the way Jesus Himself lived in our regard: not choosing for Himself, but being led by His Father, just as our first reading, taken from the book of Isaiah, made so abundantly clear:

                The Lord was pleased to crush Him in infirmity;

                The will of the Lord shall be accomplished through Him.

And this attitude is incontrovertibly shown by Our Blessed Lord at His agony in the Garden when He said:

Abba, Father, all things are possible to You.  Take this cup away from Me; before adding, but not what I will but what You will. (Mark 14:36)

Let us therefore look back at the preposterous request made (according to Mark’s Gospel which vividly records Peter’s preaching) by James and John, sons of Zebedee:

                Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You!!

Matthew tries to make it more acceptable by saying the request was made by the mother of those two disciples … but the original indignation of their fellow apostles is surely most clearly witnessed to and justified by Mark’s account as remembered by Peter.

Therefore assuming Mark is accurate and James and John did make such an outrageous request of Jesus, the question arises, ‘Why did Jesus treat their request so seriously?’  And surely the answer must be, ‘Because He had something important to teach them from it.’  He is about to show them something essential for their understanding of themselves and of the ways of their God, His Father.

They were at that moment trying to express, in badly chosen words -- but also quite simply and humbly before Jesus -- what His Father was trying to inspire in them: an aspiration, in no circumstances whatsoever to be mistaken as an ambition.

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;   whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.

Yes, you will be servants and slaves because My Father is trying to draw you along, guide you on, His way for you; but His will alone will be done in you, not your will for your own personal renown, not even your will for His renown.  His will will be done in you, and in His way.

Jesus took their preposterous but childishly innocent request seriously because they were indeed intended to become Apostles for the establishment of His Church and the Kingdom of God, and this childish folly and misunderstanding, this misinterpreting of His Father’s intentions in their regard, must and would be corrected: indeed in a certain measure it was being corrected at that very moment, by their deeply experienced and well-deserved embarrassment before the present company of Jesus and ‘the ten’, their indignant fellow Apostles-to-be.  They would have learnt so much about themselves and about God’s will for them in those words of Jesus!

Dear People of God, as we consider the history of Mother Church past and present, we can surely appreciate the superhuman task that faced and still faces the Twelve Apostles and their subsequent episcopal successors: the establishment of a cohesive Catholic Church: one in faith, morals, and obedience, throughout history and for all mankind.  They would indeed have the Gift of God, the Holy Spirit, sent them by Jesus and abiding with them as a Body, forming them as the very Body of Christ for the glory of God the Father and the salvation of all men and women of good will; but what immense difficulties would arise from many who, like James and John in our Gospel reading, would mistake (not so innocently as James and John however!) their own ambitions for God’s inspiration, God’s inviting and guiding grace.   How many souls would and will suffer from the overweening pride of individuals in powerful positions: be they bombastic, arrogant, and ambitious prelates or harsh and unbending mother superiors in tiny convents and schools or enjoying cherished power and treasured prestige at the head of large, national or international congregations.

Undoubtedly, the most important task in Catholic spirituality and the supreme need for the Church today is for men and women able to assume responsibility and exercise authority yet also to forget themselves as they seek to draw ever closer to, more centered on, and humble before, God: living to do His will and becoming ever more able to discern and distinguish His will from their own, and His glory from their own reputation or the acclamation of men.  How pathetic it is to hear chosen prelates apologizing for not being unknown Christians and Catholics, for not being women when needing to clarify and confirm Catholic teaching on the family.  They are anointed as CHRISTS for our times, passing down what they have themselves received: the teaching of Christ and the historically declared will of God for mankind’s salvation!!  They are placed in the centre of the world and the Church’s attention not for their own peaceful and popular passage when in office, nor merely for the good will and pleasure of all, to whatever degree or however remotely, concerned.  They are anointed Christs to proclaim the One Jesus Christ, as Jesus Himself encouraged them:

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One Who sent Me.  (John 13:20)

Let them live up to such encouragement, to such a glorious promise, and stop fearing for self and hedging for popularity!

Friday, 9 October 2015

28th Sunday Year B 2015

28th. SUNDAY of Year (B)
(Wisdom 7:7-11; Letter to the Hebrews 4:12-13; Gospel of St. Mark 10:17-30)
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answered him, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but God alone.”
Perhaps Jesus was gently telling the young man not to use flattery such as ‘Good Teacher’ even though well intended; again, perhaps the young man was thinking that a human being could acquire eternal life for himself and explain to another how to do it; whatever the case Jesus tells him:
No one is good but God alone.
The young man was not thinking aright and so Jesus began inciting him to do better:  ‘No one is good, save God alone; why then do you ask Me about your eternal life, about your eternal relationship with the God Who made you?  God made you, made you unique and for Himself; you know all that from the Scriptures, why then do you seek My help?  Who do you think I am?’
Thus Jesus, emphasizing His own humanity, provoked the young man to do some closer thinking.  It was, however, a very gentle process of correction for, as the Gospel says:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him.
He loved him because he had kept the commandments of the Law conscientiously from his earliest years, and Jesus could see the results of such obedience in him.  As a reward for that faithfulness in little things, Jesus sought to lead this young man to greater ones, that is, to a more explicit, direct, and personal love of the Personal God.  He answered him, though, in such a way that while not directly asserting His own divine Personality He did, nevertheless, respond to and acknowledge – and this time more favourably -- the young man’s  opening remark, ‘Good Master’:
You are lacking in one thing.  Go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me.
Today Jesus still gives His Catholic disciples such advice directly in the Faith of His Church – her proclamation of faith in Him and in His teaching – which is a broad framework embracing all of us believers, and within which there are as many diversities possible as there are individuals created by God for an eternally unique relationship with Himself.  And the whole wonderful and mysterious fascination of the spiritual life, and the purpose of spiritual direction, is to find out, in the framework of that One, True, Faith, and under the guidance the Holy Spirit of Wisdom and Truth, how God’s perennial call of individuals to Jesus guides them along their way with Him to the Father.
For someone really seeking God those words – offering the opportunity to accompany and live with Jesus – should have brought intense joy to that young man.  In fact, however, we read:
At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Dear People of God, indeed, dear fellow human beings, that is the great danger of possessions: they afford satisfactions and consolations in this life to people largely unaware of their own spiritual needs and weaknesses and their ‘natural’ inclination to sinful folly; and once having opened up before them such an ‘attractive’ byway, they can stifle any selfless appreciation of the Good News, and indeed block up any approach to whole-hearted love for, and abandonment to, God.  Such satisfactions and consolations take advantage of our weakness so very easily, making us afraid to experience that instant when we give up, lose hold of, what is so very gratifying to us for something we have not as yet got our hands on, or started tasting, for ourselves.  They can make us unwilling ever to entertain the thought of staking ALL, let alone embrace the possibility of giving ALL for the fulfilment which God indeed offers but for which we have still to prove ourselves.
The rich young man’s wealth could not lead him to clear wrong-doing, nor could it prevent him doing much that was good, but it did make it impossible for him to love God wholeheartedly, and it did prevent him from tasting the joy of living in Jesus’ company.  With his captive mind and heart he seems to have thought Jesus would perhaps tell him something extra, esoteric, as it were a further treasure which he could make his own and take delight in, put it to diligent use, and thereby assure himself of the holiness required for eternal life without ever having to risk his earthly comforts and securities.
Holiness, however, is not an object we can acquire, it is not a technique we can master; it is God’s loving and total gift of Himself to a soul which – in order to receive such a gift – can only do so by opening up its own ‘self’ in return, as a return gift to the God Who chooses thus to relate Personally with His chosen ones.
The danger of cherished riches of any sort in the world, be they tangible or intangible, is that they are spiritually impersonal and would enslave us by urging us to delight in them, consciously seek deep satisfaction from them, and ultimately trust in and rely on them so completely that we -- like the rich young man -- would then be unable to accept or opt for any deep and intimate personal relationship with God, just as he turned away from following Jesus as His disciple.  In such a situation we would then find ourselves clinging most tenaciously to lies which, having early-on promised fulfilment in this life -- such as friends, beauty, strength, power, influence, popularity, satisfaction, and the like – cannot ultimately fulfil even such feeble promises and, instead, leave us a legacy of disillusionment that grows ever deeper with the passing years.
I well remember a frail old lady telling me just how lonely she was finding it to be old, even though -- at the very moment she was thus explaining herself to me -- she was actually surrounded by members of her numerous family going down to the third generation.
Dear People of God, give yourselves exuberantly to pleasures and you will inevitably taste bitterness and pain; trust too much in riches and you will most certainly experience your personal poverty when least able to do anything about it; yes, embrace too ardently (which is not good) the joys of family life (which are good) and you will meet with sad frustration and come to know loneliness.
Only God is definitively good; anything, anyone, else promising salvation is a lie, and would only enslave us so that, with the rich man in the Gospel – because we hadn’t dared risk what we loved wrongly and too much – we could find ourselves rejecting our only true and most sublime destiny, namely, God’s offer of Personal love, abiding fulfilment, and peace beyond all telling.
We can say that the whole purpose of Christian teaching, the Church’s doctrine and dogma, is to give us the Truth; and the whole function of Christian asceticism -- of the Church’s sacraments and exercises of spiritual devotion -- is to make us free to embrace such Truth.  And the greatest truth of the Christian faith is:
For human beings salvation is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God with those who believe in the One He has sent, Jesus Christ.
Only when we calmly realize and gratefully appreciate that God is all our hope can we then truly commit ourselves to Jesus, putting Him first in all the details and aspirations of our lives:
If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  (Luke 14:26)
Only when we have appreciated on the one hand something of the joy of His presence with us and in us, and delighted in the promises He brings, and on the other hand experienced and realized something of the hopelessness and meaninglessness of life without Him, only then are we free to begin to truly love Him.
And whole-hearted love for God doesn’t rule out love for others; indeed, it can help us love them better, because the greatest danger in human love is that we soon start seeking personal gratification instead of expressing love with and for the other.  When, however, having become aware of our own emptiness, selfishness, and folly, we hunger and thirst for the coming of God’s Kingdom in our lives and His love in our hearts, then we find ourselves free to love without -- some way or other – always seeking to get something back for ourselves in return.
People of God, pray to understand your need of God and His grace,  your need of Jesus and His companionship (= His most Holy Spirit); pray, indeed, for grace to appreciate with deep gratitude the good things of this life, but also beware of the satisfactions and pseudo-consolations, yes, especially the self-satisfaction, they can so easily inject into our psyche.   You are here on earth to learn that God is Good and Holy ... don’t sink to being satisfied with His earthly goods; rather, knowing that the heavenly Giver is infinitely better, beyond, and above all such earthly anticipations try, by the Spirit, to recognize the voice of Jesus as echoing that of His heavenly Father, when He says:
            Come, beloved of My Father, follow Me.

Friday, 2 October 2015

27th Sunday Year B 2015

             27th Sunday (Year B)                                        
                                     (Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-12)     

Our readings today are clearly centred on the relationship between man and woman that we call marriage.  It is both a most natural yet deeply mysterious relationship --  involving passions which promise great joys but also occasion deep sorrows -- that it is understandable that there have been and still are many wrong ideas and false attitudes in its regard. However, by considering this difficult but fundamental relationship we can gain a deeper insight into the nature of our Catholic faith, so let us proceed.
Jesus told the Jews that they had, so to speak, twisted Moses’ arm into his giving them an inauthentic attitude to both the divine purpose and the human experience of ‘marriage’; an attitude which, by making it easier for men to get out of arising difficulties or even pursue fancied options, only served to prevent them from being able to appreciate and attain the true beauty and fulfilment of that relationship.
Note first of all that, as Jesus explains, Jewish ‘marriage’ was intended by God to bring about social benefit of women: affording them greater security and promoting a deeper appreciation of their dignity.  But for us Catholics and Christians, marriage is a sacramental union which a man and a woman – presuming the necessary freedom and knowledge -- bestow on each other before Jesus and His Church; and its supreme purpose is to ‘supernaturalize’ nature in man and woman that they may thus be enabled to adequately provide for and bring up their children as children of God and, for themselves, find marriage a social blessing and a divinely guided pedagogy in the ways of Jesus (e.g. humility, patience, love and commitment before self and satisfaction) leading to and preparing for their personal fulfilment and eternal happiness  before God.
According to Protestant teaching the fullness of Christian doctrine is to be found in the Bible expressed in the written words contained there; and because the words are there to be seen and read by all, a devout Protestant can appreciate the Scriptures as both the source of what is generally acceptable in faith and practice and also as the quarry where individual, personal, preferences can be diligently discovered and duly adopted.  Of course there are some difficult passages which might need explanation but, fundamentally, such difficulties do not affect the basic position which is, that what one can see and read in the Bible forms the basis of belief, and ‘my’ serious belief is as good as anyone else’s because it is ‘my’ personal and sincere response to what is written objectively in the Scriptures.
It has never been like that in the Catholic Church … and remember, the Christian body of believers in Jesus has always been called Catholic; indeed, before 1054 it had no other title whatsoever, being simply known as the Catholic Church.  And so it is today, to the extent that we always consider ourselves as Catholics, members of the Catholic Church, even though others in our Christian fraternity insist on referring to us as Roman Catholics.  We are not ashamed to be called Roman Catholics for, understood aright, it is quite true; nevertheless, we are most of all attached to that title which has always been ours, Catholic.
Now, Catholics are and always have been -- first and foremost -- hearers of the word of God, not readers of it:
But how can they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?  And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!"  But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what was heard from us?"  Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.  (Romans 10:14-17)
It was ever so, even in the very founding structure of the Church: preachers, as you heard, had to be sent, and those originally sent by Jesus Himself were the Apostles proclaiming the ‘Gospel of Peace’; and as a consequence of that original Apostolic mission those Churches were called Apostolic Sees that had either received the Gospel from such an Apostle, or had developed a specially close and proven historical connection with one such See that other centres of Christianity did not have.  Such Apostolic Sees – having heard and received the Gospel from Apostolic preachers -- were accepted as the criterion for catholicity.  Churches not thus founded on or by an Apostle were regarded as members of the Catholic Body only if they were in communion with those Sees properly called Apostolic; and it was supremely the Church at Rome -- recognized as founded upon the two supreme Apostles, Peter and Paul -- that was regarded as the God-willed witness to Catholic Truth and ultimate criterion for membership of the authentic Catholic Communion.
In that Catholic Communion our initial Scriptures were the Jewish Scriptures in the Septuagint Greek translation which Mother Church subsequently termed the ‘Old Testament’, because she regarded them as God’s revealed word only as read and understood in the light of Jesus.  Those Jewish Scriptures of themselves, she believes, are an imperfect revelation because they are preparatory: they were preparing the way for the coming of Jesus and can only be understood aright when interpreted in the light of His Person, His Good News, and His history.  Our own New Testament Scriptures, on the other hand, are final; and apart from the fullness of Old and New Testaments together, there is no other divine revelation to be found or to be expected.
Nevertheless, though originally ours, those New Testament Scriptures also need to be understood, interpreted aright, for they are a witness to the original Gospel proclamation made by Mother Church before anything was written down, and as such they are always to be understood according to the Church’s Rule of Faith which gave them birth and which they were originally meant to express, preserve, and extend. 
Therefore, in our attitude to marriage, we Catholics cannot accept the Jewish  approach condemned by Jesus, nor can we adopt a Protestant attitude which allows an individual to read the Scriptures and ultimately form his own opinion about ‘my belief’.  As Catholics we receive our Christian identity and life by our faithful response to the Church’s Rule of Faith for, we are ‘hearers’ of the living Apostolic preaching not ‘readers’ of ancient and unchanging books.  For those books, supremely venerable though they are for the divine truths contained in them, are only infallible as guides when understood in accordance with, and as expounded by, the living Rule of Catholic and Church Faith.
Many today seem to assume for themselves the title ‘catholic’ while having but a minimal concern with faith.  They are not ‘hearers’ of the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel message to which they have obediently committed themselves in a response of faith.  Neither are they true ‘readers’ of that Gospel, who can, indeed, at times be  so devoted to what they read that they are willing to sacrifice all for it except that right to personally quarry their own beliefs from the Scriptures.  Rather, they are seekers of a message of pleasant and peaceful accommodation with the world around them offering the additional spin-off of a measure of personal spiritual comfort.  They don’t want to hear the Gospel, they don’t even want to read the Gospel, they prefer a gospel they can ‘feel’.  
There are, however, some staunch Catholics to be found in parishes today who, somewhat surprisingly, show themselves to be of this persuasion by their habit of giving their attention, first of all, to weighing up, assessing, the person of the messenger sent them and critically studying his style of presentation before attending to the message itself: they want first impressions to persuade them to like the person of the priest or find his presentation interesting and attractive  before they recognise his authority or attend to his message.  Only if those first and personal requirements are fulfilled will they seriously consider giving both hearing and a measure of commitment to the authoritative message proclaimed and presented to them by their ‘new’ priest.
However, for us Christians and Catholics who are hearers -- people called by God through the proclamation of messengers sent by Him -- it is the message of God’s Good News that counts.  That is precisely the nature of our vocation: we hear the word of God, and we recognize it as the word of God, thanks to the Spirit of God given to the Church and working within all whom the Father calls to faith in His Son.  And if -- once having been reborn through faith in baptism -- we are to go on and become mature children of God, we have to be able to recognize the message proclaimed by the Church as Jesus Himself addressing us through the words of her messengers:  He is the Speaker to Whom we attend, His alone is the message to which we respond; all that we can require of the messenger is that he has the necessary authority to back up his message, for Jesus Himself always spoke with authority.  Such required authority, however, is not to be accorded him by listeners who like his personality or his presentation, but by the Church of Christ which -- sure of his ability and knowing his sincerity -- guarantees the authenticity of his Catholic teaching: 
We are of God.  He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us.  By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One Who sent Me.  (1 Jn. 4:6; Jn. 13:20)
To put things very simply and somewhat bluntly, it is a matter of distinguishing between the provisional packaging and the contents which abide.  If the packaging is attractive it helps, but the contents, God’s gracious gift, are alone what matters.
The attitude of wanting, demanding even, to be superficially pleased before considering the message or receiving the gift, can have most serious repercussions even to the message of faith itself.  Take the example of the Pharisees questioning Jesus in the Gospel:
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" They were testing Him.  He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?"  They replied, "Moses permitted a man to write a bill of divorce, and dismiss her."  But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.”
Jesus, on the other hand, taught:
From the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.  ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to ‘his wife and the two shall become one flesh'.  So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Then He went on to add the most solemn words of all:
Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.
In modern society however, as the person and personality of either spouse becomes less pleasing over the years, when their mutual love is no longer felt so powerfully, and when difficulties inevitably surface in the course of their shared life, some -- who through selfishness and superficiality never recognized any call to regularly re-assert and confirm their original commitment -- abdicate their own, personal, responsibility for the permanence and beauty of the bond which they sealed before God and claim a totally pagan freedom to ‘start afresh’ and satisfy personal whim and pleasure rather than seek God’s good will, cultivate moral forgetfulness and ‘lots-of-work-to-do’ as a substitute for peace of mind and heart.
The Chosen People -- a people formed and prepared by the grace of God over two thousand years to enter into and maintain a unique relationship with Himself and thus to hear, recognize, and proclaim His Law of truth and love to all the nations -- likewise turned out to be an unfaithful spouse, entering into illicit relationships with the gods of the surrounding nations.  Having failed to hear and respond to the proclamation of God’s word by prophets raised up from their midst, they ultimately – contrary to their very being as His Chosen People – rejected the decisive proclamation of God’s word because the ultimate Messenger, the Son of God Himself, did not come up to expectations they had sinfully indulged for too long.
Dear People of God, in Mother Church we have to become children of the truth:
Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.  (Mark 10:15)
As new-born babies, desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. (1 Peter 2:2-3)
As children of God, we have to long for God’s truth, we cannot pick and choose,  even from such a quarry as the Scriptures, to form our own selection of items for belief; we must embrace the Apostolic Faith offered to us by the perennial proclamation and continued preaching of the living and universal Catholic Church. 
Mother Church, ever rejoicing in the divine truth of her Gospel message which is the word of God amongst us still, lives by the Word she proclaims, enabling us who are born of her proclamation to be born alive; let us therefore, endeavour -- in the power and beauty of that living truth -- to love the Lord at all times, to seek His blessing in all circumstances, and to praise and proclaim His glory before all peoples.