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 March 2017

Fifth Sunday of Lent Year A 2017

 Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A

(Ezekiel 37:12-14; St. Paul to the Romans 8:8-11; St. John’s Gospel 11:1-45)

Today’s Gospel, dear People of God, is both dramatic and deeply consoling, revealing Jesus to us in the power of His divinity and the tenderness of His humanity, and also – indeed, most wonderfully -- in the ineffable beauty of His Personal commitment to and communion with His heavenly Father.   And that St. John was well aware of all this is shown by the fact that the raising of Lazarus is the last of Jesus’ Son of Man miracles in his Gospel and, for that reason, of special significance and worthy of our close attention.
First of all we should note that the intention of Jesus to establish, confirm, and fulfil faith is paramount in all aspects of the Gospel account:
Jesus said to (His disciples) clearly, “Lazarus has died, and I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”
Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who is coming into the world.”
Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for hearing Me.  I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”
Six times Jesus uses or calls forth the word ‘believe’ in our Gospel passage, before St. John himself ultimately tells us:
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what He had done began to believe in Him.
All is indeed directed towards faith, first of all in Jesus’ chosen disciples through whom and upon whom He will build His future Church; in those very dear friends of His, Martha, Mary, and their risen-brother Lazarus whom He loved and whose home in the village of Bethany was ever open to Him, serving, when needed, as a place of refuge for Him; and then in the ‘crowd’ who had come to commiserate with Martha and Mary over their brother’s death.
When Jesus arrived in Bethany He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
Jesus had prepared His disciples for that but He had not been able to calm their anxiety for His safety since He was now back in Judea where the Jews had tried to stone Him.  The disciples were -- as Thomas said -- prepared to die with Jesus such was the hostility they had only recently experienced in Judea, but God’s agenda was quite different  from those their very real fears.   They would witness the glorification of God with Martha, Mary, and the Jewish visitors, and when their former oppressive fears for Jesus’ and indeed their own safety melted away into such a glorious dénouement, they would never ever forget --- as it behoved future apostles --- what they had seen.  The Gospel proclamation was about to be indelibly imprinted in them.
It is not easy to assess just what Martha believed about Jesus; as you have seen she did most certainly believe in Him, but somehow she seems always to have had too much to do, too much to say, too much to occupy her mind, for such belief to slow down her active involvement in whatever might be going on or being said around her, let alone to ‘stop her in her tracks’.   Perhaps her relationship with Jesus might be described as one of religious admiration befitting an awaited-super-prophet and miracle worker, a vaguely understood Messianic figure with, of course, a generous measure of personal ‘affection’; on the whole, a somewhat loosely co-ordinated relationship, very real indeed, but so very different from Mary’s simple and most humble self-demission before One Who was awesome in His power, but above all, mysterious in His Person.  Martha would do anything for Jesus, but she was not one to slow down, let alone stop, her ever-pressing and important work so as to be able to sit and listen intently at the feet of the Person of Jesus.
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”  
All is now ready for Jesus to publicly reveal -- by a most remarkable miracle -- His divine power, first of all to His disciples and friends, to anchor their faith and reward their devotion and courage and to the Jews present awaiting the Messiah of God; but also to afford us modern Catholics and Christians, together with all those so very dear to Him who were present on that day in Bethany, a deeply comforting awareness of the beauty and integrity of His human nature by a most privileged -- almost secret -- glimpse into the depth and tenderness of His sympathy and compassion: 
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping … He (Himself) wept.
He did that, however, in no foppish manner; for in line with the Vulgate translation we learn that when He saw their weeping:
 Jesus became perturbed -- not just upset, not merely distressed, but with a certain mixture of anger and indignation -- and deeply troubled.
It was in pursuance of such indignation that He asked to be shown where the body of Lazarus had been placed that there He might make manifest His determination to destroy the abusive power of Satan in the human lives of all who would believe in Him and learn to walk in His ways.
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.  Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha could now no longer control herself and she gave agitated expression to her own thoughts and feelings and surely those of all the Jews around, saying:
“Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”   Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”    So they took away the stone. 
Martha’s ‘belief’ needed to be both deepened and purified; for the moment, though, her undoubted commitment would allow her to see and appreciate something of the glory promised by Jesus as she managed to take hold of herself for a very short while and wait for whatever Jesus would choose to do.
Saint Paul gives us a clue to the nature of that glory of God she was about to witness when he writes to his converts at Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:6):
God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ.  
And indeed, what unutterable beauty, what other-worldly glory, was now to be seen on the face of Jesus as He:
Raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for hearing Me.  I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 
He was actually allowing the ‘crowd’ to overhear/see, and hopefully learn from, His Personal relationship with His heavenly Father!!
And then, suddenly breaking off such tranquil intimacy:
He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” 
We are surely not erring if we allow ourselves to think that what was to be seen on Jesus’ up-turned face and echoed in His short prayer, was a transcendence expressive of the wondrous beauty of Jesus’ total oneness with and undying presence to His Father, of His unconditional obedience to and love for His Father ever seeking not His own will but the will of His Father and the glory of His Name … all that was, surely, even more glorious than the divine power so wondrously manifested when Lazarus came out -- still bound in all his burial bands -- from the tomb where he had lain for four days.  And again, dear friends, notice that, as we began so here at the end, all is for love of His Father and of us:
That they may believe. 
‘Believe’ what?
Jesus had told His disciples on His first hearing of Lazarus’ death:
I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.
That was further clarified when, standing before the tomb of Lazarus and surrounded by the accompanying crowd, Jesus prayed:
Father, I thank You for hearing Me … because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 
Belief in Jesus as the One sent by the Father; that is the kernel of our faith in, and the true glory of, the Son of Man.  He is God the Son become flesh of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit; and His glory on earth lies in the self-sacrificing love of His proclamation and manifestation of the ultimate Glory of the eternal God:  the sublime oneness and goodness of the most Holy Trinity, Father and Son -- begetting and begotten -- in the unity of the Most Holy Spirit of Truth and Love. 
Dear People of God, we are most surely meant to draw strength for our faith, consolation, comfort, and joy, for our heart, as we ponder today’s readings.  For, in and through the temptations and trials, the difficulties and griefs, of living and ultimately, of dying, the most important question we will all have to answer is, ‘Do you trust in My love, do you believe in My power, to save you?’   And if in such a moment of crisis we can say with Martha, ‘Yes Lord, I believe’; if indeed, with Mary, we can trustfully allow any stone blocking, or ever-so-slightly impeding, the entrance to our heart to be fully rolled away and thus -- despite any fear, great or small, of what might be hidden there -- leaving the way to our innermost self being opened up wide to the saving power and healing love of Jesus, then, undoubtedly, we shall, as Jesus promised, see the glory of God and rejoice whole-heartedly and most gratefully for His Church our Mother who has taught us so firmly, so clearly, and so beautifully that,
                JESUS CHRIST is indeed for us PERFECT GOD AND PERFECT MAN.



Friday, 24 March 2017

4th Sunday of Lent Year A 2017

 4th. Sunday of Lent (A)
(1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)


In the first reading David, the ‘baby’ of his family, was chosen by God to be anointed King by the prophet Samuel in preference to his stronger and more experienced brothers.
And, in our second reading St. Paul says, You were darkness once.
Thus we can see that God at times chooses men and women for His servants not because of their social standing, natural ability, or personal merits, but rather because He wills to manifest His own mighty power in and/or through them; and that was expressly acknowledged by Our Blessed Lord in the Gospel reading:
(The man’s being blind from birth) is so that the works of God might be made visible (manifest) through him.
God uses human beings!   Isn’t that an awful thing to say and even more awful to do!  Use people for your own purposes!!
Dear People of God, there are so many today with no love for God who are yet so given to speaking out about what God should have done, what he (he since he is no God for them) should do or, in today’s case, what he should not do!
Our God is good and He made us originally and gave His only-begotten Son up for our salvation because He loves us; and because He loves us He can and does use us for His own good purposes and our own better good.
Notice how Jesus was most urgent about showing God’s good purposes in and through this born-blind man; without pausing even to ask the man whether or not he wanted to see, or if he had faith in Jesus’ power, He willed to begin His work – a fact which showed that Jesus’ main intention was to do something for His Father’s work plan, not something primarily of His own choosing or for the man himself:
We (Himself and the blind man!) have to do the works of the One Who sent Me while it is day.  Night is coming when no one can work.
He set about curing the man, not as so often on other occasions with exhortations to faith and words of healing, but by relatively well-known actions (used by local healers etc.) now intended by Jesus to gradually draw the man along with and into His own purposes.  He made clay with the help of His spittle from the dust of the earth.
Now God had originally made man from the dust of the earth and Jesus was wanting to show that He – His whole life, indeed, not just this one occasion – was completing God’s creative activity:
                My Father is at work until now, so I am at work. (John 5:17)
He then smeared the clay over the man’s eyes to give him hope of healing; and then, to test his faithful obedience, told him– still unseeing! – to go and wash in the pool of Siloam; thereupon his cure would be completed, and God’s work would be completed and most fully manifested in him and through him to all the Jews and Pharisees, themselves so wilfully blind in spirit.
The pool of Siloam recalls for us the waters of baptism; St. John, himself, interprets Siloam as ‘Sent’, referring to Jesus, sent as the Christ for the salvation of the world; and, in Isaias (8:6) we are told that the Jews refused the waters of Siloam, just as they would later reject Christ Himself:
                Because this people has rejected the waters of Shiloah that flow gently …
The pool of Siloam (Sent) can still be seen today, filled with water from the Virgin’s Spring. 
The man-born-blind obeyed:
                He went and washed and came back able to see!
‘He came back’ like the Samaritan cured of leprosy, to see and give thanks to Jesus, but Jesus had gone for the moment, and now was the time for the cured-man to give witness to his Healer. 
The Jewish officials repeatedly asked him how Jesus had cured him.  At first, not being suspicious of such authoritative and reputedly ‘holy’ people, he thought they wanted to hear again what he had already fully described, in order to rejoice in the wonderful work that had been done:
                I told you already and you did not listen,
instead you went and troubled my parents:
                Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you also want to become His disciples?’
It would seem that this man born blind had been regularly taken to the synagogue for worship there and for instruction in the traditions of Israel, since he was in no way overawed by his questioners now, but spoke in reply as one confident in and well aware  of his Jewish upbringing and privileges.  Now, however, he was beginning and indeed learning fast to see into what he had always before unquestioningly assumed, that is, the authority and holiness of these men addressing him:
The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where He is from, yet He opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does His will, He listens to him.

Now, in the power of the Spirit of Jesus, he was beginning to show authentic ‘Christian’ credentials, and was indeed risking a great deal by thus standing up for his healer:
They answered and said to him, ‘You were born totally (blind) in sin, and are you trying to teach us?’  Then they threw him out.
Out of the synagogue and out of Jewish fellowship.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  He answered and said, “Who is he sir, that I may believe in him?”  Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him and the One speaking with you is He.”  He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshipped Him.

Dear People of God, notice how God quite amazingly brings the blind man into a measure of co-operation with His own purposes, for the born-blind man actually recognizes why he has been specially chosen by God the Father to witness to the Son He has sent among men:
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this Man were not from God, He would not be able to do anything!
And what was that most important work of God for which the blind-from-birth man was being used?   The manifestation of this sublime truth about Jesus:
                While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
This ‘unfortunate, ill-used, abused’ (according to modern supremely self-righteous critics of God!), this born-blind-man had actually, in fact, had his eyes, as it were lit for the first time, by Him Who was the true Light of the World!!  Oh happy man, blessed far more than all those Pharisees and Jews around who could only see things of earth!  For his eyes, opened for the first time by Jesus, the Light of the World, were truly seeing eyes, and had led him, to see, recognize, believe in, and worship, the Son of Man and Saviour of the world!
Later God would use the death of Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, likewise (John 11: 4):
                This is for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified through it!
However, our man-born-blind was yet more blessed than Lazarus, even though he, Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, would be raised from the dead; because our man-born-blind was led to actually co-operate in some positive manner with the glorification of Him Who was the Light of the World! 
Dear People of God, let God, ask God, to USE you!    Many in our Western societies today are so very much aware of their human and personal rights in society … and are thereby often made far too proud and self-centred in their relations with God to ever allow themselves to be used for His purposes.   And there are others, of timid spirit, who cannot trust themselves to God’s purposes because they are ever-and-over fearful for themselves.
Both types are so wrapped up in themselves, be it for pride or for fear, that they cannot conceive our central Catholic and Christian truth that God is so good and does so love us that His very using us for His own glory and purposes always and -- humanly speaking one might say, inevitably -- brings us known (now) and unknown (as yet) personal blessings, for our having been humble and brave enough to have allowed and committed ourselves to thus being of use to Him.
Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy will be done in me for Thy purposes and for Thy glory; and -- of Thine infinite and unquestionable goodness -- for our blessing in Jesus Thy Son, our Lord and Saviour, by Thy most Holy Spirit of Truth and Love.  Amen, amen.

Friday, 17 March 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent Year A 2017

 3rd. Sunday of Lent (A)
(Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; St. John 4:5-15, 19-26, 39-42)

It was a long Gospel reading today, People of God, and I don’t want to distract you from what you have heard nor to overburden you by myself ‘talking’ too long.  Let me, therefore, just bring to your attention two points in particular. 
In these days you can often hear from over-enthusiastic Ecumenists and from former Catholics seeking to justify their betrayal of the Faith, “All that matters is to do good to your neighbour.”  Sorry, I have made a mistake there!  Those words ‘to your neighbour’ are not acceptable, they are too Christian, too reminiscent of the Bible.  You are more likely to hear over-enthusiastic Ecumenists and former Catholics saying, ‘All that matters is to do good!!’
That sort of attitude is, indeed, very prevalent today because our modern Western societies, having rejected Christianity, are striving to justify themselves by doing good, that is, good as they see it: marriage is for everybody, sexuality is not to be regarded as being determined by our birth but is to be subject to whatever might be our personal will or preference; all sorts of operations or treatments can help anyone finding it too difficult to practice self-discipline!! Yes, our modern Western societies are seeking ‘good’ independent of religion, totally freed from any sort of obedience to or dependence upon a transcendent God.  Now the main criterion for what is thus to be the desired good, useful for their purposes, is that it be popularly justifiable and even more popularly acceptable.   And that is not sarcasm but absolute truth … no ‘democratic’ government, party, or caucus, will readily take up and ‘faithfully’ support what is unpopular.
Well, in answer to such an attitude, notice Our Blessed Lord’s words to the Samaritan woman:
You (Samaritans) worship what you do not know; we (Jews) worship what we do know; for salvation comes from the Jews.
Jesus had much fault to find with Jewish practice, but He did not hesitate to tell this Samaritan woman that ‘We’, the Jews, know the truth about God and His offer of salvation.  Jesus had respect for Samaritans, as His parable about the ‘Good Samaritan’ shows, and as also does His delicate reticence when answering His Jewish opponents:
The Jews answered and said to Him, “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and are possessed?”  Jesus answered, “I am not possessed; I honor my Father, but you dishonor Me.  (John 8:48–49)

Nevertheless, He did not flinch from making it quite clear to the Samaritan woman-at-the-well that they, the Samaritans – as distinct from the Jews -- did not have the fullness of God’s truth in their teaching.  As one commentator (Saunders) writes concerning this part of St. John’s Gospel, ‘By rejecting all of the O.T. but the Pentateuch, the Samaritans had wilfully denied themselves of access to the revelation of  God and shown themselves prone to error…. The old Covenant (with the Jews) may have been incomplete, but it was -- unlike the Samaritan schism -- on the right lines.’
The same can be said of the Catholic Church today.  The old, enduring Church, our Mother, has made many human mistakes, and she is still slow in advancing towards the youthful beauty and perfection her Lord requires of her, but, nevertheless, she is still on the right lines, and salvation still comes -- despite all the attacks of her, usually so self-righteous, critics -- through her uniquely authoritative proclamation of Jesus’ Gospel truth and through her sacraments which are the inimitable channels of His heavenly-bestowed saving grace.
The truth – not religiosity, not sentimental love -- was of supreme importance in Jesus’ eyes.  Why was this?  Because the proof that He was the Son of God was His knowledge of the Father:
                Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know You.    (John 17:25)
Truly, truly, the Son can do nothing of His own accord but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)
As the Father knows Me and I know the Father … For this reason the Father loves Me because I lay down My life … this charge I have received from My Father.  (John 10:15-18)
People of God, Jesus came to give us a share in His own sonship, to make us children of God in Him; do then strive to know your Father, to know your Faith.   Sentimental feelings are not enough as Jesus Himself said to His disciples:
The Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have come to believe that I came from God.  (John 16:27)
Jesus was, as a young boy-cum-man, found by His anxious parents in the Temple:
Sitting in the midst of the teachers listening to them and asking them questions.
What an example for us!!   How few, even among devout Catholics , ask simple questions today; how few find the Faith beautiful and ‘interesting’ enough to want, indeed to need, to know it better, understand it more, and just love it!   For doctrine is there for us (objectively, so to speak), faithfully given us by ‘Old’ Mother Church, to be known and loved first of all, even before we prayerfully ask God and calmly consult our own conscience, or even perhaps humbly consult others for help and/or advice, how best to respond to it.
There are many today, however, who will only pose (not really ‘ask’) a question in order to open up a field for their own opinions and ideas; Jesus, on the other hand, was humble, and we are told that He just listened to the teachers and asked them questions …. with no subsequent ‘but’s, or, ‘it seems to me’, ‘wouldn’t it be better’ etc. etc.
The second point I would like to make is, observe carefully the sort of knowledge of God we should seek: knowledge, and ultimately worship, in Spirit and in Truth.
We receive the truth in the faith which Mother Church hands on to us; but we have then, in our turn, to live that faith for ourselves, that truth, in Spirit, under the guidance, the impulse and protection, of the Holy Spirit of Jesus dwelling in our hearts nourished by the Eucharist.  As I have just mentioned, it is not a faith for our heads alone … we are meant to treasure it also in our hearts, as did our Blessed Lady, until the warmth of the Holy Spirit dwelling there gradually ignites it and makes it glow, before ultimately causing it to burst into flames – reminiscent of the Spirit Himself -- giving new light and new warmth to all around.
Like the Samaritan villagers in today’s Gospel reading, we believe on hearing the message of salvation, but, in our case, from one deliberately chosen, publicly endowed, and sent by Jesus Himself, that is, Mother Church’s preaching and teaching.  However, it is not meant to stop there, we are called to then live (stay) with Jesus (Who stayed two days with those Samaritans; Who invited Andrew and his companion to go and see, stay a while, with Him).  We in our turn are meant (in our measure) to hold and treasure His teaching in our hearts, and thus come to know Him from our own experience … a person-to-Person knowledge, nourished above all from our closeness to and with Him here at Mass where He sacrifices Himself for us and gives Himself to us in Communion.  That is how we too can say with those Samaritan villagers:
We believe and we have heard (learned, experienced) for ourselves, and we know that this (Jesus) is truly the Saviour of the world.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, may our Blessed Saviour draw us as we proceed with Holy Mass to an ever deeper awareness and appreciation of Himself, and in Him, with Him, by His Spirit, to a truly filial trust of and self-commitment to Him Who is indeed our Father and our fulfilment.  

That love, that appreciation of Our Lord, His Spirit, and the Father is way above what the writer of an 'apologia' (in a famous Catholic Journal just received by me) for what he chooses to call 'de facto' marriages as distinct from 'de iure', Church approved, marriages, is able to appreciate, for he writes, 'For the individuals concerned, their marriage -- 'de facto' or whatever we choose to call it -- is the most important, valuable, and wonderful thing they knew of.'    And that, dear People of God, is the point ... so many are willing put the Faith second in their lives and want us to admire their choice and acknowledge the beauty of their resultant lives.  They may be good human lives, but they are definitely not, as such, Christian lives, lives lived by the Spirit of Jesus, for love of Jesus, and for the glory of the Father.

Friday, 10 March 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent (A) 2017

 2nd Sunday of Lent (A)
(Genesis 12:1-4; 2nd. Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9)

In our Gospel reading St. Matthew tells us:
A voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!"  When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.
Such fear of the Lord on the part of the disciples was a natural instinctive reaction to their experience of God’s overwhelming majesty and power, but also a fitting response in accordance with traditional wisdom in Israel.  We read in the book of Deuteronomy:
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (10:12)
Those were words of Moses given in his last testament to the People of Israel just before he died on the threshold of the Promised Land.
The Psalmist handed on this tradition, but also drew from it a conclusion most pertinent to our salvation, that those who truly fear the Lord should fear no man:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the defence of my life; whom shall I dread? (Psalm 27:1)
Let us , therefore, look at this question of 'fearing the Lord' because it is a subject that troubles many traditionally devout Catholics who are sometimes inclined to see sin too frequently and fear punishment excessively; others of a modern and liberal persuasion claim that the Gospel of Jesus has done away with all memories of such an Old Testament attitude as fear of the Lord, which they, consequently, either ignore or deride, often enough displaying a certain attitude of self-conscious superiority.
First of all we should just regard the facts.   Fear is a necessary part of our human make-up.  We fear fire because it burns and can be very dangerous for us; however, our fear of fire does not in any way prevent us from making use of it; it is a blessing that teaches us, simply, surely, and unfailingly, to respect fire.  Likewise, although we who have faith fear God instinctively, because He is the Almighty, the ultimate and eternal Judge of our individually sinful lives; nevertheless, fear of Him should not be a mere reaction that paralyses us but, on the contrary, a faithful response that helps us relate to God in a more fitting manner.
All our natural fears: the dizziness we experience above ‘domestic’ heights luring us down, down; or the fainting of our own physical power we feel before the power of volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, overwhelming cosmic powers; or our total mental astonishment, amazement,  and inadequacy at the incomprehensible multitude not only of stars but also of galaxies, and yet, wherewithal, the seemingly endless extent and ‘intensity’ of empty space; and finally indeed our very own fear before the mystery of death; all these are but reflections or intuitions of the supremely sensible fear of the Lord.   Listen to Jesus speaking to us in St. Luke’ Gospel (12:4-5):
I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!  
However, in our Gospel reading today, those chosen disciples who were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and who, having just heard the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven were prostrate with fear, were told by Jesus:
            Get up; do not be afraid.
Stand up, do not cower down, that was the voice of My Father and yours, do not be afraid! His voice was to strengthen Me for what is to come and to strengthen you also with Me.  So stand up erect, for by listening and not reacting with fear but responding with trust, you will be strengthened to attain your destiny with Me;  a destiny pictured and promised in the very last book of the Bible, the Revelation to St. John:
Then I saw in heaven something like a sea of glass mingled with fire. On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory over the beast; they were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:  “Great and wonderful are Your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are Your ways, O King of the nations.  Who will not fear You, Lord, or glorify Your name? For You alone are holy.   (Revelation 15:2–4)
We know, as Christians, that Jesus has come as our Saviour, and that He was sent to us by God Who wants to be a Father to us and to make us, in Jesus, His children.  This Gospel of grace proclaimed by Our Lord is used, as I have mentioned, as a pretext by those who are presumptuous themselves and would persuade us that we should have no fear of God now that Jesus has come.  Jesus did not come, however, to lead us to ignore the reality of our relationship with God and most certainly not to mock it; rather, He came to help us understand it -- Get up, hold your head high to listen and learn, for this is your Father speakingembrace it, and then live it to the full as His disciples.  He Himself, the Father's beloved, only-begotten Son, is the only one who can teach us how to appreciate the Father aright and how to live in filial and loving response to Him.   Indeed, Jesus came to help us realize that the distance separating us from God which is at the root of our religious fear of God is, when rightly appreciated, a sublime measure of His love for us:
God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (His beloved Son).  (Ephesians 2:4-5)
Therefore, taking 'fear of the Lord' seriously, and trustingly acknowledging the reality of our being,  we are led to appreciate something of the astounding love that surrounds us even here on earth and, what is even more, to  entertain hope for, and even aspire to, the glory that awaits us in our heavenly home.  That, our Christian attitude to life, is not only realistic and positive, but also supremely fulfilling and fruitful.
It is easy for people, at times, to slip from 'thinking' attitudes to 'instinctive' ones; and when this happens in the case of religious people, ‘fear of the Lord’, which should be both a considered, supernatural fear and also an appreciated and unfailing support, becomes degraded and deformed into a totally natural, feeling of fear; an inescapable anxiety before the God Who is mighty and awesome in Himself and so, threateningly above and beyond us.  For those in such a state of mind, God's exaltation easily becomes suspect, for suspicion of God is the first dose of the devil’s poison; and when that happens, the feeble soul can easily fall under the rule of blind emotion and instinctive, raw fear, rather than find confident peace in a right understanding of ‘fear of the Lord’ as God-given for our salvation and strength.
God’s majesty and power, His wisdom and holiness, in other words, His transcendence, is essential and unquestionable for us who believe, but must be understood in the light, and embraced in the grace, of Jesus' Gospel if it is to become a transcendent power for salvation in our lives.  God’s might and majesty, His all-seeing knowledge and wondrous wisdom, are various aspects of the One God and Father Who first of all called us to Jesus, and Who now offers us a share with Him in the bliss of heaven where Jesus is now seated at His right hand.  Therefore our awareness of the greatness of God should help us to realise the wonder that Jesus came to help us recognize and embrace:  namely the wonder that God, so glorious and majestic of Himself, has chosen us, has given His only begotten Son to us and for us, and, ultimately, wants to give us, in Jesus, a share in His own eternal blessedness.  Moreover, that glorious God Who is so far above us can see all that would approach to harm us; Who is so mighty that nothing in heaven or on earth can penetrate the loving shield with which He wills to surround us; Who is all-knowing and all-seeing in His compassion for us that is all-embracing … knowing our every thought, our every feeling, even all the secret chemical changes that affect our bodies or the spiritual powers that would disturb our personality.  With such a God to defend us we should be supremely confident, as was the psalmist of old who cried:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  (27:1)
This total confidence in Him Who is exalted is not just the stuff of great occasions; those unknown authors of the Psalms, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, life, and death on the Cross, show us that the very fabric of every-day living -- replete with every-day situations – can be shot through and through with that same saving thread of total confidence and trust in the One Who, though unseen, is more truly real and effective-for-good than all worldly appearances:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.   You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  (Psalm 23:4-6)
Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.   For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.  Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.   Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:1-4)
When we turn to the New Testament, St. Paul expresses this trust in and commitment to God in sublime words that only a great lover of Jesus could have used:
If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? … It is God who justifies, who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
And finally, supremely, Jesus Himself could say on the Cross:
            Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit.
And so, dear People of God, let us recognize the error of those who would scoff at the  thought of fearing the Lord, for that is, indeed, a mark of supreme folly and potentially fatal pride.  Only those who humbly embrace the fear of the Lord can, as we heard from the book of Revelation, truly glorify God:
            Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name?
Only they can experience the sublime confidence and joy, peace and strength, that enables true Christians to overcome the world with Jesus; just as our father Abraham was enabled, as you heard in the first reading, to leave his pagan background and set out, through unknown and hostile terrain, for the distant land of promise; and as St. Paul was never ashamed to bear testimony to Jesus but rather inspired to regard suffering for the Gospel as his supreme privilege and joy.


Friday, 3 March 2017

1st Sunday of Lent Year A 2017

1st. Sunday of Lent (A)

(Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12, 17-19; Matthew 4:1-11)

In our first reading, the Serpent, speaking to the woman in the Garden of Eden, directly contradicted God’s warning against eating fruit from the forbidden tree:

You will not die.  For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil.

However, when speaking with Jesus in our Gospel passage, Satan considered it wiser not to openly contradict the words spoken by the Father at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan:

 This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17.)

Was He indeed God’s Son?   Satan was hesitant, certainly not out of respect for this possible Son of God, but out of a desire to proceed appropriately and attain his ends.  Therefore, instead, of directly contradicting what the Father had said as he had done when speaking with that foolish woman Eve in the beginning, he turned to his favourite weapon, serpentine cunning and subterfuge, wanting to settle his own doubt by insinuating some little seed of distrust into the mind of this quite ordinary-looking man:

            If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.

Jesus’ period of testing in the desert had gone on for a full forty days and nights, and the devil apparently thought that a few carefully chosen words of his at the end of it, when Jesus was human enough to be feeling exhaustion, might cause Him to wonder whether His visionary experience at His baptism by John in the Jordan had been as real as He had first thought.  Satan hoped that Jesus -- having been very much alone for forty days and nights and now feeling extremely weak -- might be unable, at this moment, to deal with a suspicion he, Satan, might possibly be able to ‘slip in’ to the back of His mind.   It would have amused Satan hugely if Jesus were to try secretly to satisfy this most stealthily inserted, slightly nagging, doubt – a fruit of Satan’s very best sowing – while outwardly  proclaiming Satan to be totally wrong in having expressed such a doubt! 

            If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.

However, Jesus’ mind and conscience was no fertile ground for any seed of Satan’s sowing, no gnawing root of suspicion of His Father could find sustenance there.  Jesus had nothing to prove to Himself and He most certainly had no intention whatsoever of giving Satan the satisfaction of receiving an answer to his question.  Throughout His ministry Jesus would never allow evil spirits to testify concerning Him, and He had no inclination now to reveal His personal identity to their master.  And had Satan also thought that an opportunity for Jesus to secretly satisfy His natural hunger might influence Him, he was soon disabused of any such thought by Jesus making it supremely clear where He found His true nourishment:

He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' "

Jesus, the Son of God, sent as Messiah to save God's People from their servitude to sin, was being tempted just as the early Israelites had been tempted when crossing the desert towards the Promised Land under the guidance of Yahweh their God and the leadership of Moses their prophet.  On that journey, Israel of old -- sinful children of their sinful mother Eve -- had behaved as she did: feeling the pangs of hunger, they would not trust God and complained bitterly to Moses that God was planning to kill them in the desert, openly expressing a longing to return to the slavery of Egypt for the food that was plentiful there.  Later on Moses reminded them of their behaviour saying:

Remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger.      Do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness.     (Deuteronomy 8:2-3; 9:7)

Jesus had shown Himself to be in no way subject to that over-riding solicitude for self, so characteristic of fallen humanity; therefore, Satan turned his attention from Jesus’ human make-up to His ‘supposedly’ divine mission, homing in, so speak, on Jesus’ desire to be recognized and accepted as Israel’s Redeemer and Saviour.

Satan had noted Jesus’ reference to the Scriptures and so, continuing his attempt to find out just Who Jesus might be, he took Him to the Holy City, Jerusalem, set Him on a pinnacle of the Temple, and said: ‘Here, on this pinnacle of the world-famous Jewish temple is just the spot to prove yourself and win your people.   Here, you can do something that would resound throughout Israel and be fully in accordance with the Scriptures you quote so lovingly; it would be something whereby the whole Jewish nation could easily recognize that the Lord has chosen and appointed you, therefore:

If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'

Whether by suffering or by trial Jesus could in no way be induced to suspect His Father or to abuse His own gifts, and so He replied, once again quoting the words of Scripture:

            It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'

Thwarted for a second time, Satan showed persistence for he was beginning not only to despise, but also to fear this unknown Jesus of Nazareth.  Who was He?  What the hell (a most suitable word for Satan!) was He up to?  Today we who have, as St. Paul says, ‘the mind of Christ’ know that Jesus had not come for His own human aggrandisement or satisfaction, nor had He entered upon His divine mission for the well-being of Israel alone: He had been sent by His Father, to save the whole of mankind.  Although Satan knew neither Jesus nor His mission fully, nevertheless, his temptations were diabolically cunning shots in the dark: he seems to have thought that any human-being could be tempted successfully, providing the stakes were high enough.  Therefore he made one further and final attempt to derail Jesus’ mission:

The devil took Jesus up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.

At that moment Satan -- in the fullness of his maniacal pride and ambition -- overreached himself and Jesus, no longer tolerating his presence, responded by a manifestation of His own outraged authority:

Away with you, Satan!

before adding, yet once more, the words of Scripture:

It is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'

‘Away with you, Satan!’   Words cannot express the loathing, revulsion, and holy anger of Jesus’ reply, but we can recall that later -- at the very end of His mission -- He relived once again, and once again rejected with vehemence, this desert experience, on the occasion of Peter trying to persuade Him to follow an easier path than that of the Cross:

He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offence to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (Mt 16:23)

In these temptations of Jesus in the desert we recall, as I have mentioned, Israel’s trials in the desert of Sinai on the way to the Promised Land, in particular the occasion when Moses told the Israelites:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.  You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him. (Deuteronomy 6:10-14)

Now Jesus sums up, and fulfils in Himself, the history and calling of Israel the Chosen People; but He is also preparing for the future world-wide People of God, the Church that would be His Body and Bride and of which He Himself would be both Head and Saviour. Consequently these temptations of Jesus in the desert are for our instruction and confirmation as His disciples.

In the first two of these temptations of Jesus Satan starts off with the words, ‘If you are the Son of God’ endeavouring to stir up suspicion of God’s love and providence.  How many Christians, today, succumb to this temptation!  They fall away from God because they begin to doubt that He is with them, they are not sure He is hearing them, they are unaware of His helping, guiding, hand in their lives.  “I don’t feel anything; He makes no sign.  If only I could be conscious of His presence, if He would only answer I would be satisfied.”  In some such way they begin to demand a sign from God to convince themselves of His Providence over them: some turn away from the true Faith and seek refuge in religious sects which provide them with all sorts of pseudo-divine signs; others try to stir up signs for themselves by rashly setting aside reasonable behaviour and pushing themselves to become neurotically excited and disturbed.  You will see some of these in ‘popular’ churches doing all sorts of strange antics or excessive practices.  Many more, however, complaining that God is silent in their lives, fall away from the Faith and, as it were returning to Egypt’s slavery, turn aside to enjoy the pagan life-style of the surrounding society, trying to forget their worries and even their conscience, in a maelstrom of worldly endeavours and comforts, pleasures and distractions.

Let us learn from Jesus, People of God, starving after 40 days and nights in the desert: He would in no way make demands of God, nor would He divert His divine calling or abuse His divine gifts in order to get earthly satisfactions for Himself; above all He would never love Himself so much as to entertain any suspicion of His Father (John 8:29):

The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him. 

Finally, in the third temptation, notice that Satan does not begin with the words, ‘If you are the Son of God’ because this time at issue is the supreme sin of human, devilish, pride.  Here we have the situation of those who do indeed set out to do the work of God but allow themselves to be tempted to accept just a little help (that is, initially, just a little ‘unscheduled’ help) from an apparently friendly source: they carry on, apparently seeking to do God's purposes indeed, but gradually for reasons other than God alone.  Then, becoming discouraged under difficulties or fearful in the face of opposition, they no longer try merely to accommodate themselves but seek to win wider popular acceptance and approval: they resort to making compromises and accommodations in order to be in tune with popular tastes, with the aim of recording success where previously there had only been apparent failure.  From then on, all the high aims and loving purposes originally proclaimed and pursued are increasingly subject to their growing desire for results, good results, successful results, but above all, publicly acceptable results.

The ultimate end for such victims of the devil's deceits is that, far from serving God’s plans and the true good of their fellows they serve, and end up promoting, first and foremost, their own hypocrisy; and far from worshipping God as they started out, they end up worshipping the devil in his very best clothes, those of human respectability!  They worship him who will give them humanly appreciable and acceptable success in work done apparently for God; they worship him who will enable them to taste the general approval and personal self-satisfaction that comes from wearing easily recognizable and generally acceptable tokens of pseudo-holiness!   Inwardly, however, they dread the humility, the waiting, trusting, hoping, and praying, involved in worshipping God alone. 

The variety of humanity’s life experience and the vagaries of its response are multiform; and though, too often, they show clearly its fallen condition, nevertheless our evangelist would have us always remember that God-given, God-orientated, aspirations and endeavours are -- despite the frailties of our human condition -- truly sublime, for when Jesus had successfully overcome His trial on our behalf:

            The devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

Who would want to lose such heavenly consolation and fulfilment for this world’s passing pleasures and the blandishments of worldly wise and wicked men?