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, 28 October 2016

31st Sunday Year C 2016

Thirty-First Sunday (Year C)
(Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2;  2nd. Thessalonians 1:11 – 2:2;  Gospel of St. Luke 19:1-10)

Dear People of God, some scholars (e.g. J.D.M. Derrett) tell us that according to the Law, Jews were not allowed to even handle money belonging -- if one can rightly use that word! -- to a publican, because it was considered to be money extorted by fraud or force, ultimately at the behest of the occupying power of Rome.   Since Zacchaeus (= ‘the Righteous’) was a chief tax(toll?)-gatherer it was therefore presumed by his Jewish compatriots that he himself used force and threats to exact money from sub-collectors under his control; and that those sub-collectors, in their turn, applied pressure on the poor – a fact well-known from common experience – to get the money required first of all by the Roman occupying authorities, plus what they had to pay ‘in commission’ to Zacchaeus, and then, finally, make whatever profit they might want or could get for themselves.  Wicked?  Yes, most wicked; but that is the way things were done in Palestine at the time of Our Lord’s public ministry, and that is why the Jews in Israel hated all tax-, toll-, MONEY collectors, especially the bigger-fry such as Zacchaeus.
Not only the strict and zealous observers of the Law of Moses, however, but also the great majority of those not bothering themselves overmuch about what the Law prescribed or proscribed, shared that attitude of strong hostility towards publicans: avoiding contact with them -- ostracizing them -- as best they could.  Hence Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel, being unable to get through the large and unaccommodating crowd standing along the roadside where Jesus would pass by, could not, because of them and his own short stature, see Him making his way through the town.  A tree, however, offered him a way out of his difficulty, although it would not be without the dilemma of having to clamber up it and risk exposing himself to the mockery of those observing his attempt to do so.
Zacchaeus, though heartily despised as one of the publican ‘quislings’, was yet able, it would seem, to be in the vicinity of, even though not actually among, the crowd awaiting Jesus’ passing by; therefore, it would appear that despite the fact of his being despised he was not in any direct personal danger.  Could that be because he was generally recognized as being at least better than others of his ‘ilk’?    For he would soon say to Jesus, ‘Lord, if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over’; as a top official, that is, although he could not guarantee his subordinate’s behaviour, nevertheless, he had not himself practiced extortion as far as he could remember.  He would therefore seem to have been a man of some personal dignity and one consequently allowed a certain measure of tolerance by the Jews of Jericho.
Now, how would Zacchaeus normally express that personal dignity before the townspeople who, for the most part, despised and hated all publicans?  Obviously, since he was rich and used to dealing with the upper echelons of officialdom and business, he would give notice of his standing and dignity by his dress and personal bearing.
Zacchaeus -- a Jewish/Hebrew name -- was obviously at odds with the contemporary Jewish authorities since he had chosen to become a prominent publican.  Nevertheless he was not dead to the traditional faith of his people, because the reputation of Jesus was such that news of His coming to Jericho, even if only passing through on His way to Jerusalem, was of great interest and even greater importance to him.  Jesus proclaimed the faith of the fathers but was not part of the current Jewish religious ‘set up’, indeed, He was coming with a call to individual, social, and religious repentance and renewal, offering the possibility of becoming part of, entering into, what He called the ‘Kingdom of God’.   Zacchaeus had (at the very least and at whatever cost) to see such a man!

To do that, however, he realized that he would have to throw away his dignity and dress -- his only title to some measure of public respect among the Jews of Jericho -- by scrambling up that dusty, dirty tree in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus walking along the road under his perch!   Remember St. Paul’s words:
I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ.  (Philippians 3:8)

In Zacchaeus’ case those words could be, ‘I consider myself, my dignity and my bearing, as so much rubbish, that I may catch a glimpse of Jesus.’

Therefore, as Jesus was walking silently along the road He suddenly became aware His Father’s grace, obviously (to Jesus) at work in a man before Him; and looking up quite deliberately at the man, taking calm and loving notice of him, He changed His mind about passing straight through the town, and called out:

            Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.

Zacchaeus, however, having thus eventually caught sight of Jesus and, most amazingly of all, having been publicly called to receive Him as a guest in his own house, was now deeply troubled: for this Jesus was a truly holy and mysteriously powerful man, and Zacchaeus knew that he himself was not holy.  Oh how honoured he felt himself to be by Jesus’ wish to stay at his house!, but he did not want this wonderful man to be ill-spoken of because  of himself, he did not want Jesus to be tarred with his own (Zacchaeus’) brush!  Therefore, as a surprisingly humble and sensitive person as well as a truly intelligent man, Zacchaeus resolved to protect Jesus by speaking out -- making full and accurate use of his own intimate knowledge of both Jewish Law and Roman practices – in such a way that Jesus’ coming into the house of a publican might not cause any disrespect for His Person or bring about any diminution of His reputation in Israel.

And so there follows a wonderfully delicate display of mutual respect, awareness, and appreciation, serving to bring about a reconciliation of two opposing attitudes evident that day:

            Zacchaeus received Him with joy; ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.’

Jesus, welcoming one sent to Him by His Father, drew close and patiently followed the publican whose heart was already open to Him though his house was as yet still closed; and Zacchaeus, for his part, even before Jesus could enter his house:

Stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.’
Those words were loudly spoken not because Zacchaeus was boasting before the Lord or whoever of the crowd might have followed them, but because he wanted everyone to clearly understand that Jesus would be incurring no legal fault whatsoever by entering his house.   Jesus, likewise, wanted to use this His-Father-sent-opportunity to help all around, and indeed the whole people of Israel, understand the true nature of His salvific coming by addressing words of divine wisdom, goodness, and clarity to them:

Today, salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.

Love and respect (cf. St. Paul: Jesus and the Church, husband and wife) had met!  Divine Love and deep human respect (comprising sincere humility and reverential awe) had overcome any and all opposition.  Jesus could – even according to the Law – accept Zacchaeus' joyful hospitality and give His own gifts in return.

And how did this most beautiful scenario of divine compassion and deep human joy, of most sensitively accommodating holiness and humbly sacrificial fellow-feeling arise?   Because Jesus, passing through Jericho, had suddenly become aware of His Father drawing His attention to one being sent to Him: one making something of a fool of himself at that very moment, being well dressed and yet perched most uncomfortably up a tree and suffering the mockery and coarse jibes of the unfriendly crowd beneath.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ there is much said about Zacchaeus among scholars who are not sure who he was!!  For us, however, he is undoubtedly a source of inspiration in our relations with Jesus and perhaps he now actually rejoices in himself being someone largely unknown and yet one who has been so greatly privileged as to bring to our notice something of the hidden beauty of Jesus our Lord and Saviour.   Let us now, therefore, allow Zacchaeus – for love of Jesus – to help us in our service of and love for the Lord, for the lessons he can teach us are of supreme importance.

Having shown total disregard for his own personal standing and become a ‘nutter up a tree’ in order to catch just a glimpse of Jesus, does Zacchaeus not shame many Catholics who cling so tenaciously to their own self-love and obsessive solicitude for their own reputation in the eyes of others, fears perhaps greatly harming their own peace before God or even leading them to hide behind silence when the words of Jesus and the teaching of Mother Church are subject to opposition or ridicule?  Surely, Zacchaeus’ great, indeed overriding, concern for the good name of Jesus confounds the half-hearted devotion and spineless commitment of many soft-centered Catholics today.

Oh, dear People of God, you have ‘seen’ Zacchaeus yielding himself totally to the heavenly beauty of Jesus among men, and the wonder of Jesus’ own treasuring of His Father’s gift by so patiently understanding and sympathetically guiding Zacchaeus.  Remember, all of us disciples of Jesus are such gifts to Him from the Father, being treasured now (if we allow Him) and to be treasured by Him throughout our lives for the Father.

I can do no better now than to close this address and leave you with your own memories of a most beautiful Gospel episode and the grace of God it enshrines.            

Friday, 21 October 2016

30th Sunday of Year C 2016

30th. Sunday, Year (C)
(Sirach 35:12-14, 16-19; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14)

Jesus spoke this parable, St. Luke tells us, to some who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
St. Luke might there be attacking the Pharisees whose public behaviour manifested, at times, an excessive self-confidence which led them to look down on others; he might also be thought to be implying that they wanted to show themselves righteous before men.  Jesus Himself, however, spoke this parable not simply to attack but also to offer healing.  Yet, for such healing to be effective it was necessary, first of all, for the evil to be clearly recognized (St. Luke’s words) if the medication offered (Jesus’ words) was to be appropriately welcomed.   Moreover, Jesus would seem to have addressed the parable to at least some Pharisees who were wanting to be righteous before God, because the whole point of the parable is show them that they are not yet achieving what they purposed:
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified (that is accepted by, acceptable to, God) rather than the other.
Jesus, recognized as a Rabbi, one come to teach rather than condemn, was saying in other words, if you want to be acceptable to God you are going about it the wrong way, for:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
That was precisely where the typical Pharisee in the parable was getting things wrong.
God I thank You that I am not like the rest of humanity (like’ everyone else’, ‘other men’) greedy, dishonest, adulterers.
Undoubtedly, some of his contemporaries (even fellow Pharisees) were well-known money lovers, unjust (pseudo-religious) people, and even adulterers; yet others may, in times past, have been guilty of such behaviour … and what a picture that would paint of Jewish religious society in those days!   Nevertheless, he could in no way rightly claim that all his contemporaries were like that.  If he had simply said ‘that I am not like some other men’, or even perhaps ‘many other men’ he might have been speaking truly; but his basic pharisaic habit of comparing himself with other men (as Luke’s words make clear) would seem to have inevitably led him to find no one able to ‘hold a candle to himself’.
People of God, we must be absolutely clear about this: we stand alone before God; His relationship with us is unique in all its fullness, just as our human nature is a unique reflection (‘image and likeness’) of His divinity.  In our Gospel parable the Pharisee was, in fact, afraid to stand on his own before God: he was not humble enough to be able to trust God’s merciful goodness, nor had his many devotions and personal sacrifices been able to help him learn to personally love the God he only sought to serve.   As St. Paul elsewhere teaches, the Pharisee wanted to earn what he thought would be owed him by God; he could not humble himself or love God enough to hope for the Gift that God alone could and would give: His beloved Son made man, and His most holy Spirit of Love as our Advocate and Strength.   And yet he knew well the teaching of the Psalmist (33:18s.):
Behold the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear Him, upon those who count on His mercy to deliver their soul from death.
But that salutary teaching was forgotten as he indulged his daily weakness of looking at his fellow Pharisees: who was showing himself best at doing what the Law demanded?
As regards the tax collector, he would not indeed have been found in any strict Pharisee’s circle of  acquaintances, for he would, most certainly, have been reckoned among the greedy extortioners (exacting excessive taxes) and the unjust (knowing and caring nothing of the Law) by most Jews of those days, let alone by a strict Pharisee.  However, this particular tax-collector was behaving in a truly unusual way: he was openly and most humbly praying in the Temple; in that regard, although his dress bespoke a tax-collector, his actions were those of a deeply religious and uniquely repentant man.  Our typical Pharisee, however, saw nothing other than the clothes of one whose ‘class’ he despised! Now that would seem to have been a characteristic trait of the Pharisees in general at that time, regarding all others with potential disdain: as extortionists, adulterers, and all those considered -- as a class -- to be unjust, especially tax-collectors before the Law.
It is really quite amazing that serious and sincerely religious men could have adopted such a blanket attitude!  What was at the back of it all?  Well, Jesus would seem to be emphasizing, highlighting, in order to bring into the open, an attitude that was, to a large extent, endemic in the Pharisaic observance of the Law:
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.
Notice, our Pharisee does not directly thank God for his virtuous practices: he thanks God that he is not like others whom he disdains; but in so doing he is already beginning to proclaim his virtues as his very own.   He sees sinners, directly, as offenders against God; his own personal practice of virtue, however, does not cause him directly to raise his mind and heart in gratitude to God.
This pharisaic (sic!) tendency presents a perennial danger, People of God, for committed individuals of all persuasions; indeed, in early Christianity, we find St. Paul seeking to root it out when it began to show its head in the Corinthian church he had founded:
Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?  If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor. 4:7)
God’s gifts are given, generally speaking, to be used to further God’s purposes in the world around.  They are also given to draw the recipient closer to God: for gratitude felt should be expressed to God Personally; and, in that way, should lead to closer personal relationship with God: to a deeper appreciation of, and responsiveness to, Him.
When, however, religious practice becomes merely the ‘proper’ observance of certain precepts and ordinances rather than a personal commitment and response to God known and loved, then, gifts received can be ungratefully self-appropriated and used to exalt the recipient’s pride and superiority over others, instead of establishing his humility and gratitude before God.  Moreover, when religion becomes cold and impersonal, deeds -- even good deeds -- become worthless before God, being done not out of love for Him, the all Holy One, but as claims to personal holiness, as I mentioned last week – ‘proofs’ before men, ‘proofs’ proof against any fault-finding God Himself – further additions to a sum total of personal achievement, protection, and pride.
That was the danger threatening the Pharisee in Our Lord’s parable: and nothing could better recall him to true religion than the sight of a repentant tax-collector close by, and dead to all but God in the Temple.
For, there is only one sure proof of holiness: humble love for Jesus, and in Him, for the Father, by the Spirit.  Holiness is not, in its essence, to be proved by miracles performed, nor won by good deeds done, prayers said, pilgrimages made, money given, or indulgences gained. And of course, worldly reputation -- the approval of authorities or popularity among peers and people -- has no true relevance here.  ‘Pagan’ funerals today consist almost entirely of praise for the one who has died!   Deeds done without needing any ‘grace’ from ‘God’, personality and charm now being celebrated as a free-standing tribute not needing the support of any prayers to ‘God’.
The Christian teaching and Catholic appreciation, however, is sublimely expressed by St. Paul, again writing to his church community in Corinth (1 Cor. 13:1-3,14):
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.  Faith (in God), Hope (for God), Love (of God) remain, these three, but the greatest of these is Love!
Let us now listen to Our Blessed Lord Himself answering a question once put to Him in the Gospel by a Scribe of pharisaic persuasion:
“Which is the first commandment of all?"  Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is:  Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'  There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-33)
And let us turn back to our readings for today and observe closely just how St. Paul himself rightly manifested that very spirit so badly distorted by the Pharisee in the Gospel:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.
Here one might think that Paul – a former Pharisee of course -- was dangerously close to being like the Gospel Pharisee counting up personal items of merit.  But notice how he continues, for Paul was not one to think his righteousness to be his own personal achievement, nor that he was alone among men in his aspirations and their fulfilment:
There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have longed for His appearance.
Finally, hear and admire his total humility and childlike trust before God when, fully aware of his imminent execution, he refers to his life’s achievements as having been done in him and through him by God (2 Timothy 4:17-18):                                                                
The Lord stood by me and lent me strength, so that I might be His instrument in making the full proclamation of the gospel for the whole pagan world to hear; and thus I was rescued from the lion’s jaws.  The Lord will rescue me from every attempt to do me harm, and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom.  Glory to Him for ever and ever!  Amen.