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, 27 October 2017

30th Sunday Year A 2017

30th. Sunday of Year (A)
(Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40)

Dear People of God, we are not quite sure about those questioning Jesus in today’s reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel because St. Mark also gives us this same life-episode and saying from Jesus’ ministry:

(adding only: ‘and with all your strength’, before continuing with Matthew):

This is the greatest and first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

Today’s reading seems to say that ‘one of the Pharisees, a scholar of the Law’ was testing Jesus in the sense of an adversary trying to catch Jesus out or lead Him into error, whereas Saint Mark tells us that Jesus’ interlocutor regarded Him as a much admired teacher.

That doubt about who was/is hearing and interpreting Jesus’ most solemn words is at the very core of Mother Church’s truly sorrowful experience in our Western world today, where great numbers of people formerly proud to call themselves Catholic are now openly agnostic or atheistic; or, where perhaps they were less well-informed as Catholics and being still under-educated socially, have just drifted into whatever sect seems to best offer them immediate religious comfort of whatever sort.

Mother Church’s present grief concerns the reception of her proclamation of Jesus’ supreme and central teaching for mankind, which because it is both sublimely spiritual and of fundamental human importance it is now being targeted by the devil, concerning whom Saint Luke tells us that, after having been defeated in the desert and then dismissed by Jesus:

he departed from Jesus for a time (4:13).

Essentially a liar who delights in lying only marginally less than harming human beings and disrupting all human good and harmony, the devil never likes to show his hand clearly; on the contrary, loving to deceive, he presents himself as an angel of light and quickly teaches any disciples he thus gathers around himself to serve his own purposes and likewise to delight in deceit, especially ‘good-willed’ deceit where they claim to be able to love as good as any Christian without, however, serving the God Christians love to call Father.  Thereby the devil seeks both to frustrate Jesus Whom he whole-heartedly hates, and Who spoke explicitly of a first and greatest commandment ever to be accompanied by a ‘second that is like it’, whilst also harming those human beings who are ‘supposedly’ called to supplant him and his fellow fallen-angels as denizens of heaven and who amount to little more than objects of loathing and contempt in his eyes.

Jesus Himself, out of sublime love of and obedience to His Father in Heaven, came/was sent by His Father to love, serve, and save us.  In other words, Jesus in His earthly being and public ministry totally exemplified the teaching He gave us of there being a first and greatest commandment and a second like it, and His own words about Christian marriage are surely totally relevant and supremely important here:

                        What God has joined together let not man – or devil – separate.

Moses had been unique in Israel with his love for, commitment to, understanding of, the God Who Alone saved and was called Yahweh; and Moses had received from Yahweh a unique Law embodying national love of and obedience to their saving God along with individual respect and service of fellow man in Israel, a Law quite unique in the world of those times.  Moses had personally exemplified and manifested both the Law and the Prophets.  Subsequently further Prophets arose who mainly reminded Israel -- then in the process of lopsidedly betraying their covenant with their God -- about Yahweh’s concern for their respect for and service of their fellows rather than for an ever-greater multitude of sacrificial offerings being made to Himself.  The Law and the Temple on the one hand, and the Prophets on the other had become largely at loggerheads in Israel. 

Jesus, the second and greater Moses came to make all things one in His own unique human being and divine Self: beloved and only-begotten Son of the Father in heaven, and our own flesh-and-blood brother and Saviour.

How ambitious therefore was, and is, the devil’s project to separate, divide, what the very Person of Jesus so gloriously manifested, and what His Holy Spirit so graciously and powerfully supports and furthers, as potentially and vocationally one!   Who are the devil’s instruments?   All those do-gooders of today who remember something of the beauty of Jesus’ once-loved teaching while refusing to follow His example of obedience to His Father, their God. They will practice a love towards men which makes themselves feel good, but not a love of God that calls for their obedience!! 

And how can they do this?  Because their ‘doing good’ makes them feel good independently of God!  They feel no need to give glory and obedience to God once they have embarked on the good ship ‘Good will to all men’.  The ‘do-gooders’ of whom I am now speaking are not fools, they are not insincere or hypocritical, they possibly actually love being able to do some good among men and for men, but from a Catholic and Christian point of view they are foolish in thinking that they can separate what God has joined together, more particularly in their attempt to practice authentic ‘goodness’ without themselves being obedient to the God Who alone is Good.

Such ‘do-gooders’ deny that they themselves are subject to the slavery of sin: their good works, they would say, show their goodness!!   They themselves should know that that is not logical thinking, nor is it factually true in so many cases!

Jim’ll-fix-it … a man’s popular public name in Margaret Thatcher’s time … did very much good indeed, but his self-confidence led to self-indulgence, of a gross kind indeed; but that grossness reflected not so much his common humanity as his own distinct personality, for any and every unredeemed man or woman who rejoices in the goodness they do as being a work of their own goodness, is already a slave of the devil, is already being prepared by him to do whatever work he may want of him  … not necessarily something gross as in the case of Jim’ll-fix-it, but something ultimately very indicative of the deepest human and angelic sin, that of pride: I have no need of God, least of all to do good to fellows of my choice!

Let us look back to Jesus’ own experience (Matthew 26:6–12):

Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to Him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on His head while He was reclining at table.  When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, “Why this waste?  It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.”  Since Jesus knew this, He said to them, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for Me.  The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have Me.  In pouring this perfumed oil upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.  

St. John (12: 4-5) gives some more particular and pertinent details of the one whom we may consider as the prototype of ‘do-gooders’:

Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, and the one who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this oil not sold for three hundred day’s wages and given to the poor? 

Our Church is much divided today, People of God, and that is due, I believe, largely to the fact that Jesus is not being preached and proclaimed sufficiently today, to the fact that His own standard-setting words are not being followed:

The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

Mother Church’s proclamation is no longer centred on the greatest and first commandment but rather on social, sexual, relations and difficulties which are being emotionally enhanced and ‘stirred up’ to such an extent that they are disturbing her centre of gravity and ultimate identity which will be, and should now be:

You shall love the Lord your God with all heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 
One of the great and burgeoning, so to speak, evils of our day is suicide in both young and old, whether finding themselves alone or accompanied by spouse or friend(s).   In the deepest depths of the human personality there was, is, something missing for such people, and that is the Personal presence of the acknowledged God of Love Who created us originally in His Own likeness and for Himself eternally.  And Jesus is the God-given link, bond between that lonesomeness which is ours of ourselves, and the blessedness of Divinity which is His from ‘the beginning before the world was made’.  Jesus the only-begotten and most beloved Son of the Father, and at the same time our Self-sacrificing Saviour, Lord, and Brother.   Jesus the Link and our Lord, Jesus our supreme Pontiff!

Forgetting Jesus, turning away from, ignoring, Him for whatever human reasons -- for He Himself and His most Holy Spirit are unfailingly available and true -- a man can fill his life with work and, where those works are deliberately chosen as good works, can fill his own personal void with a pseud-divine presence, that of his own goodness or godliness.  That is the best a man-without-God can do.   Others fill their lives with absorbing activities or distracting pleasures, which can -- because of their latent evil content -- very soon wear thin, especially in the young who, because they should, in their youth, normally be experiencing relatively wonderful ideals or aspirations, instead find themselves victims of disillusionment.   There are still others, and these are most potent examples of what I am speaking about, those lovers who marry and  remain lovers throughout their much-blessed lives, but, in the end, or rather at their mutually chosen time, commit suicide together, witnessing thereby to the fact that man and woman though filled with the best that mere humanity can afford them still experience a personal void that can and will destroy them when they reject, refuse, and ignore the Personal presence of God in their hearts and lives.

Dear People of God, we are weak and ignorant human beings who can be and once were deceived by the devil showing himself as an angel of light; that is why Jesus speaks to us today in and through His Church using words that are of crystal clarity:

You shall love the Lord your God with all heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.

The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.



Friday, 20 October 2017

29th Sunday Year A 2017

Sermon 49a: 29th. Sunday (A)
(Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1st. Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21)

In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah we learned that God is indeed Lord and Ruler of all, even of certain supremely important happenings in the course of human history:

For Jacob My servant's sake, and Israel My elect, I the Lord have named Cyrus, though you have not known Me; I will gird you, though you have not known Me.

And St. Paul in our second reading took up that appreciation of God’s divine authority when he wrote:

Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, as you know what kind of persons we were among you for your sake.

How Mother Church today needs such ‘persons’ whose faith is for them a fount of holy power and assured commitment to Jesus Who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever!

A disturbing aspect of modern Church life, however, is the growing tendency to find the Jesus of yesterday, today, and forever, too unpopular to turn to, look to, for guidance, to love with zeal, and to proclaim fearlessly.  Rather many figures in Mother Church today look to society around, to observe what is happening there, especially in matters of popular sexual morality and social responsibility, and to then try to make the Jesus we know -- the traditional Jesus of countless martyrs and saints, the Jesus proclaimed and fought for by St. Paul and St. John in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction , the Jesus of the Gospels -- and then, I say, try to make that Jesus somehow fit in seamlessly with society’s popular practices and ‘beliefs’! 

The traditional analogy of the development of doctrine with human growth is much used now to say -- as has always been the case -- that change is necessary for life; but today’s advocates do not advert to the fact that nowhere in the course of human growth does the person become unrecognizable as, or contradictory to, what he or she was before.  Nowhere did Jesus ever say that His disciples, His Church, would be popular, with ‘bums on all seats in their Churches’.  He did indeed say that His Gospel was to be preached to all, but not that it would be accepted by all, or even by the majority.  In fact, He did give voice to one of His most solemn and considered warnings:

          When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)

Certain passages of our New Testament are now regularly omitted in liturgical readings; how many more will have to be omitted in future to accommodate modern ‘popular “Catholic” sensitivities’, to allow those whose public words or open life-style contradict the Gospel yet feel at home in Mother Church?

In modern Western society, effeminacy is widespread; not simply because women are becoming more preponderant and powerful in our society, more appreciated in the life of Mother Church (where, however, they have always been not merely popularly, but most devoutly recognised, admired, and beloved as religious), nor, indeed, simply because some are showing themselves to be generally much more career-conscious, self-promoting, and confrontational in men’s regard, with mordent criticism of masculine attitudes as being violent, insensitive, unloving, lacking in communication skills etc.  But it is also a fact that, in conjunction with those feminist tendencies in individuals and society, too many men are, alas, imitating Adam by allowing themselves to be over-influenced, at times even intimidated, by humanistic and overly-emotional individuals, and by public appreciations based, not on the Christian trilogy of Faith, Hope, and Charity, but on the (French) revolutionary and iconoclastic ideals of freedom, equality, and fraternity.

‘Freedom’: who can speak better of that than St. Paul who says:

Brothers and sisters: For freedom Christ set us free; so, stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1)

A yoke defined, indeed, definitively for us who are Catholics and Christians by Jesus when He said:

Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34),

a yoke which is totally ignored by modern humanists who know no sin, with the result that its crushing weight bears down upon innumerable slaves delighting in and/or subject to the power and pleasure of drugs and sex, industries that disfigure and disgrace our society and our world today!

‘Equality’ … what a word, just right for inciting nit-picking and fostering discord and dissension!!   What words have we Christians been taught and received?  Men and women are ‘equal’ indeed in divine dignity as children of God; ‘complimentary’, however, in personal relationships and shared human endeavours for the coming of God’s kingdom:

Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as He intended. (1 Corinthians 12:14–18)

‘Fraternity’ … the Romans of old, at least those in the upper echelons, prided themselves on their fraternity/friendship!  If I might, I will quote Peter Brown in his book, ‘Through the Eye of a Needle’ (p. 101):  Whatever their beliefs, Symmachus wished to treat members of his (senatorial) class as peers held together by the old fashioned “religion of friendship.”

And what, originally all-conquering, Christian word have we, in this respect, fecklessly lost by repeatedly allowing our opponents to degrade our words and determine our use of them?   ‘Charity’, divine love, able to inspire and elevate our human relationships and endeavours above all merely human understandings of ‘love’ which, so very frequently and manifestly, show themselves open for, and prone to accommodate, all sorts of disgraceful distortions and open contradictions. 

And so, although the Catholic understanding of Christian marriage rightly emphasizes  that  man and woman marry for both the divine blessing and social good of giving birth to children as also for their own personal and mutual benefit, nevertheless, in this modern social context, Christian family life is suffering because contention and challenge are eroding the unity and thus ruining the example of the spouses; with the result that, for example, children are now being seriously damaged due to a lack of authentic discipline and an absence of true love: they are even being thought able (though not yet sixteen!) to go to court in order to change their native sexuality against their parents wishes!

A Christian husband should teach his children how to love their mother by his own example, and likewise, a mother should insist that her children follow her example and learn to respect and obey their father.  Thus, the Christian husband and father should use his accepted authority not as a despot to get absolute obedience for himself from his children, but to insist on and exemplify love and honour for his wife; while the Christian wife and mother should use her unique hold on the family’s heartstrings, not to get ever more love for herself from her children -- as some neurotic might -- but to lead and guide them in showing respect and obedience for their father, her husband.

It used to be jokingly (?) said that ‘a lady is a woman who makes it easy for a man to be a gentleman’; and I personally grew up with a deep awareness of and admiration for my ‘complementary’ mother, whom I never saw as undermining my father, but rather as helping him to be and become a man, by supporting him as her man-of-the-house and my father.   As for my father he -- by his own personal discipline -- in return helped my mother become more capable of being a truly loving mother, wife, and person by controlling her own emotional exaggerations and excesses.   This mutual helping and oneness – this complementarity -- of the spouses is, moreover, truly sacred, being meant to exalt and support both of them in their dealings with their children: no child should ever be allowed to threaten or break that unity of father and mother; no child should ever be used in selfish confrontational attitudes by either of their parents.

The present-day fragility of family life is reflected in society as a whole, where criminality is rampant because – among other factors – Christians, having too often supinely surrendered words and their meanings over many years, have thereby allowed emotive enthusiasts to decry right punishment as vengeance, and portray justice as inhuman, branding both punishment and justice therefore, as unchristian words and unacceptable social practices. 

There are other passages in today’s Gospel reading relevant to our times in which political violence and racial terrorism seek to cover themselves with a cloak of so-called moral sensitivity or religious devotion, for there we are clearly shown the Pharisees and the Herodians trying -- as consummate hypocrites -- to lull Jesus into a sense of false security:

Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.

They were using such flattery to soften up Jesus before the putting to Him the punch question that was ready on their lips:

Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"

The idea was, of course, to get Jesus into most serious trouble.  If He were to have said it was right to pay taxes, then those patriotic Jews and the Zealot agitators would have decried Him as some sort of traitor or quisling.  On the other hand, had Jesus said it was wrong to pay the taxes, then the Romans would have been informed immediately and they would have deemed it necessary to seek Jesus out as one potentially troublesome and deal with Him accordingly; which, of course, was just what the Pharisees and the Temple hierarchy wanted. 

Jesus was not going to fall into the trap.  He answered them:

Show Me the tax money."  So they brought Him a denarius.  And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?"  They said to Him, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Oh! dear People of God, who can fail to recognize the beauty of God’s wisdom in those wonderful words spoken in such a situation?  That beauty -- both simple and sublime -- is something for us to admire and contemplate most gratefully before God!!  But now, at this moment, gathered here as disciples of Jesus wanting to learn from Him how to worship and serve the Father, let us consider something of the implications of those words and perhaps understand Jesus’ attitude of mind and heart a little better.

Those words of flattery spoken by the Pharisees and Herodians were meant to ensnare Jesus, and the attitudes they sought to promote are a perennial temptation and conceit for Christians of all ages, and today we should -- like our Blessed Lord -- be quick to recognise their poison and strong to reject their subtle infiltration into our lives.

We, as disciples of Jesus, are called to lead good lives, that is, lives of integrity before God not conformity with society’s – be it lay society or Church society -- prevailing modern standards and judgements; we have to try to live up to the role set before us in Jesus’ Scriptures and called for in the traditional teaching of Mother Church. 

However, knowing full well that our sins are many and our weaknesses manifest to the eyes of God, we -- needs must -- seek to assimilate this awareness of faith more and more fully and deeply into our personal self-consciousness, so that our Christian integrity may ever be ‘instinctively’ accompanied and embellished by a corresponding degree of humility, truly vigilant lest we ever begin to slide into an easy acceptance of the demands or wishes of men, as ever, willing and wanting to give immediate rewards of praise for compliance with their views.

Jesus Himself was not in any way swayed by such flatteries: His personal integrity would always and only be used to glorify His Father and promote the true well-being of all those who heard and listened to His words; and so, His resolute independence of men and their opinions would be -- always and only -- the other face of His constant care to be free to serve them, for Jesus was always the Servant, never a braggart.  Nevertheless, His requirement of independence made it necessary for Him to be fearless, and so, here, He separated State and Religion for the first time.  Until Jesus came the state had been in total charge of religion: Emperors were worshipped as gods in the all-powerful Roman state.  And therefore, those famous and most beautiful words of Jesus:

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's,
are not only wonderfully wise words, they were also remarkably brave words for those times.

People of God, only the power of the Holy Spirit and the assured commitment to Jesus which our faith affords us can enable us to be independent and free in our proclamation of and witness to our Catholic and Christian faith before the society in which we find ourselves today.  However, we must never allow such aspirations to become insidiously perverted so as to serve our own personal pride or profit.  We are, above all, servants and disciples of Jesus; and, at all times and in all situations, we must seek -- in Him and by His Spirit -- to glorify God our Father.  Therefore, we must never forget that we are, individually, members of His People, of His family, of His Body, and consequently we can never think of ourselves as independent of our brothers and sisters in Christ: our own personal integrity and independence must be consonant with and embrace the authentic Christian good of all those for whom Christ died.   Just as true glory can only be given to God the Father in and through the whole Body of Christ, Head and members, so also, praise and profit can only come to us as living members of the whole Body of those who, in accordance with the Father's will and the working of His Holy Spirit, are being led to share in the fullness of salvation won for them by Jesus.

Friday, 13 October 2017

28th Sunday Year A 2017

 28th. Sunday, Year A
Isaiah 25:6-10; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy rich food and pure choice wines.  On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to Whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for Whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us!”

This passage, indeed the whole of the first reading, is wonderfully suited to picture the blessings of Christianity, and by that, I mean above all, the Catholic religion,  for those who, be they pagans or nominal Christians, have felt the anguish of ignorance accompanied by a vaguely oppressive sense of sinfulness and inadequacy, weakness and insignificance, those who have felt the insufficiency of all merely human ideals to enable them to withstand the trials and temptations of life – “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19) -- and all who have suffered from divisions within themselves, within family, society, and between nations.  All who have experienced and want to learn from such occasions of suffering and sorrow, the Catholic faith is a most wonderful reconciliation with God, with the world, and with one’s own self.  It is a setting free, a restoration of peace, meaning, beauty, and above all, of hope, to life.

Nevertheless, all these wonderfully great blessings do not easily penetrate through to the warm sensitive core of men as individuals.  For men are formed by, and live most fully in, their personal relationships with others.  It is in the deliberate and free gift and acceptance of whole-hearted personal love (not the impulsive, driving passion of sexual encounters!) that a human being first opens him- or her-self up for maturity.  When a man or woman gives and receives such love for the first time they are changed thereby, and life is no longer the same as it was before that encounter and embrace… it is the initial warrant and seal of one’s worth as a personal being.

Now it is the Eucharist which brings that glow of personal, loving, encounter, fully into prominence in the spiritual life of a Catholic Christian, for the Eucharist is indeed the feast, the banquet, of rich food and pure, choice, wines.  For the most stupendous fact and meaning of the Eucharist is that Jesus, the very Son of God made Man for us, there presents and renews (not repeats!) His original and eternally enduring gift of Himself as man in sacrifice for us all, and in Personal love to each one of us who receive Him.  Now that gift of total love by Jesus is unique and absolutely inimitable: we human beings can only offer ourselves partially to another, and can also only receive another’s gift partially, even though most sincerely and committedly.  Uniquely with Jesus, in the Eucharist, is total gift and commitment to be found, and -- by the Spirit of Jesus -- to be gradually and most carefully nourished in us who receive Him.  As foreshadowed on the human level, so here most sublimely, this union of love (CHARITY) is indeed the ultimate fulfilment of one’s being, it is the total vindication of one’s worth as a human-being now become a child of God the Father in Jesus.  For Christ is Truth, Love, and Life, and He comes to us that He might give us a share – chosen for us by the Father – in His Own Life of Truth and Love before the Father.

All these blessings, which reach to and transfigure the core of our human being are ours in Christ indeed, but we are only aware of them through faith, and we have to pray that we might grow in faith precisely in order that we may appreciate, esteem, value, and respond to these blessings to which our Father invites us.

That is not always easy for us since we, like children who seek all that glitters, are very subject to the impressions of our external senses and our resultant inner emotions, and these can easily drive us to over-involvement in worldly activities; not that is wrong to be fully involved in all that we undertake -- indeed St. Paul warns us against half-heartedness – but that over-involvement so easily leads us to over-esteem success in those worldly activities and under-value those spiritual blessings which we can only perceive through faith, to which our instinctive emotions do not immediately respond.  And it is here that we must turn to our Gospel reading.

The invited guests in Our Lord’s parable were first of all, self-regarding-righteous Jews, and the OT covenant with God was the first invitation.  Jesus Himself was the servant ultimately sent to announce that the Messianic feast, long foretold, was now prepared.  Because that meant leaving aside the pursuit of power, profit, and success, the excuses came back thick and fast from all sides with varying degrees of politeness: but they all had the same fundamental meaning, ‘We have much more important things to do just now than come to your feast.’

That is the great danger for us today, People of God: we can come to value earthly, visible, emotionally stirring, activities exclusively if we allow ourselves to become too wrapped up in them … the traditional fault, indeed, of too many husbands in their family life, and sadly the modern, and yet more unnatural failing of some wives – I am writing as a Catholic priest for married Catholics, not for legal ‘partners’ or pseudo-wives -- who find they have not enough time,  when money can be earned and personal success be gained, for them to be true mothers.  Of course, the surety which such sinners feel in denying any significant value to religion is not so much a proof that religion has nothing to offer, no meaning for them, no reality in itself, but rather an indication of the extent to which they have been blinded by earthly attractions, and deafened by the cares and solicitudes of life, to the intimations of spiritual truths.

In this parable Jesus teaches on the one hand that no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven by his own efforts without an invitation from God which has to be not only heard but also recognized and accepted as being  for our compliance; and, on the other hand, that no one is condemned to remain outside the Kingdom except as a result of their own deliberate rejection or willful disdain of God’s offer.

People of God, there is no automatic predestination or salvation, no impersonal fate.  A choice has to be made by all of us; it is a choice for Jesus,  a choice involving  life or death, a choice to be made not once by God judging for us or against us, but one to be made and re-affirmed by ourselves many, many, times over the years of our life.

Lest light-headed, and perhaps big-headed(!) youngsters, care-oppressed adults, weary elders, are inclined to think of these things as of no modern importance, let me quote some tragically beautiful and yet so sadly mixed-up thoughts of a modern philosopher of renown, Bertrand Russell:

“The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain – a curious, wild pain – a searching for something transfigured and infinite.  The beatific vision—God, I do not find it.  I do not think it is to be found – but the love of it is my life.”

The only-begotten, most beloved, Son of the heavenly Father came as our Lord Jesus to save those original likenesses of God still loved by His Father but cut off from the benefits of that love by life preferences and practices adopted through ignorance and weakness.  Our Lord died and rose from death to save those spoiled ‘likenesses’; and ascending back to His Father in heaven He offered them the Gift of His Most Holy Spirit to enlighten their ignorance and support their weakness, and, as living members of the Body of Christ on earth, Mother Church  (unknown or at least unappreciated by Bertrand Russell looking for understanding and truth exclusively to his own powers of human thought) to lead them to the fulness of earthly life and heavenly glory as ‘other Christs’ in the beatific vision divinely revealed to us in Mother Church, and so vaguely loved and doubted by Russell.

Friday, 6 October 2017

27th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

27th. Sunday of Year (A)
(Isaiah 5:1-7; Paul to the Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21: 33-43)

Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah foretold the destruction of the Temple of Solomon and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah; in the Gospel we heard of Jesus directly warning the Jews of their ultimate rejection as Chosen People called to bring in the Kingdom of God and -- as subsequent history would show -- indirectly that the Romans would raze Jerusalem to the ground and destroy Israel’s Temple, the glory of Jerusalem.  In both cases the destruction was a punishment for the nation's sin, continued and deliberate sin: the vineyard itself – the house of Israel and the people of Judah --failed to produce fruit in the parable of Isaiah, and in Jesus' parable the tenants – vide. the chief priests and religious elders --repeatedly and deliberately, withheld the produce, the fruit, to which the landowner, the God of Israel and Judah, had a right, and ultimately killed his most beloved son.
But of course, God is not concerned about grapes for Himself.  What 'fruit' does He expect of us who are now disciples and members of Jesus called to serve and usher in God’s Kingdom world-wide?
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.  (Heb. 13:5)
We, disciples following Jesus their Lord, are called to offer up His uniquely supreme and eternal sacrifice, with our own accompanying 'sacrifice of praise', 'the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name'; thanks, indeed, to God for the many personal blessings we have received throughout our lives from Him in the name of Jesus and through His Spirit.
In order to give thanks, however, we have to be able to recognize and appreciate our blessings;  and since many people in our modern, western and affluent, society, though constantly relating themselves to the material and physical world around us for what pleasures or riches they can get from it,  do not regard it as God’s generous gift to us, His truly beautiful and wise creation for us, and  they do not, consequently, feel gratitude to God so much as praise for themselves when having been able to grasp something of what they wanted for themselves..  And if such people, wanting much, then envy others who seem better at getting than themselves, how can they appreciate as blessings the things they themselves have already taken from an unacknowledged God?  How can young adults appreciate the blessing of a good home with loving parents if they are all the time wanting to live it up, so to speak, with the wildest and most foolish of their peers around?  Can those who have developed a lust for pleasures a-plenty take in even the wisest words of their parents or teachers about the benefits and joys of a good education?
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, (but) apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
What, among the multitude of gifts that God gives, are the blessings for which we Catholics and Christians should most particularly bring forth the fruit of lips giving thanks to Him?  In that regard, the Christian tradition, in its Jewish-Christian origins or its Gentile-Christian development is unanimous in its teaching, as is witnessed in the letter of St. James from Jerusalem:
The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.  Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (3:17-18);
and by those of St. Paul, writing to the Gentile Church at Rome (15:13):
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit;
and again, to his own converts in Galatia (5:22):
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.
Joy and peace in believing, hope based on the power of God's Spirit, such, St. Paul tells us, are the better gifts that God gives those who truly believe in, and faithfully follow, His beloved Son. 
Let us listen, however, as St. Paul tells us what can threaten that tradition:
The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.   (Romans 14:17)
Apparently, there were, even in the earliest Christian communities some who were beginning to appreciate immediate worldly pleasures more than heavenly blessings.  Now this switch from the heavenly to what is earthly begins first of all with the earthly imitating the heavenly: pleasure being paraded as joy; sexual and passionate love-making being thought of as an ideal expression of Christian love/charity; indifference and indulgence being accepted as substitutes for patience, kindness, and goodness.  In other cases, however, the heavenly blessings are regarded as no longer suited to more modern situations and so are blatantly substituted by worldly counterfeits: righteousness before God cannot be seen by others, and so, for the spread of the faith, the disciples of Jesus should aim at popularity and public appeal.  Again the gift of peace,  which is rooted in God's Spirit ruling our mind and heart, is popularly supplanted by a carefree ignoring of the claims and commands of conscience; after all, a life-style uncluttered by self-discipline or examination of conscience is much more easy to sell on the doorstep or promote in the street, so to speak: just as an invitation to assemblies promising a communal good time will be accepted with far greater alacrity than one to a gathering for true worship and serious prayer.
That is why our Gospel message today, supported by the age-old experience of God's dealings with His People, is so important for us.  It shows us with all clarity that we cannot turn our hearts to, nor indulge ourselves in, the sin of the world and, at the same time, pretend to know God or hope for His blessings.  It also warns us that we should not allow ourselves to be led into the inviting downward spiral – a truly horrific ‘black hole’ -- which, going round and round, would comfort us, at one moment, by offering what is worldly, and then, occasionally try to reassure us with what might appear heavenly, for it is always and inevitably spiralling round and down from heavenly to earthly according to the strength of one’s worldly desires.  Round and round, indeed, that spiral goes, but ever-more steeply downwards, until, in the end, the worldly is found to be totally illusory while the heavenly is no longer understood or forthcoming.
Through (Jesus) then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15)
To do this, our Catholic and Christian calling, we have to invite God much more seriously into our lives: we need to prepare a welcome for Him by suspending, warding off, holding in abeyance, the cares, anxieties, and fears that can fill our hearts and weigh us down; we need to create a breathing space in the multitude of our daily thoughts and imaginations, preoccupations and fears, so that He might be able to speak with us and we hear Him. Oh, how such interior silence and peace is feared and hated by people today! To encourage us to give time to Him in our daily living God originally established the sabbath rest day; today, interior silence and peace should, for truly Catholic people, be part of the rhythmic routine and strength of our lives; we can never tell Him, ‘I have only a few minutes, You must do all that both You and I want in the only time I have available.’
Moreover, we need to give a truly personal welcome in our hearts to God Who is sublimely Personal Himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  First of all, a welcome for Jesus, God the Son made man, our Brother and our Saviour; and in Him, for the Father, our Father and your and my Father; and for the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, my comforter, my strength, and my joy.  For our Faith is more than our common bond and identity, it has to become also, for each and every one of us, our total and most personal, loving commitment.
God is infinitely, sublimely, Personal, and our capacity for a truly personal relationship is a unique gift of God to mankind.  However, it is not a cheap gift, for it demands a foregoing sacrifice: a willingness to open up self to Him and an on-going preparedness to hand over self, to yield personal autonomy for love of Him and His.
Now self is also, in some respects, the great ‘forgettable’ of modern times.  Boy and girl, man and woman, meet, and instead of meeting someone find themselves, already conditioned through social practices and pleasures, to being immediately confronted with a body: a girl or woman displaying, or drawing attention to, her body; or a man … or mannish boy … obsessed with her, or embarrassed by his own, body.  In such circumstances the essential Christian relationship, a truly personal relationship is very difficult if not impossible, and that is why our Faith demands that we must not let sex, bodily gratification (please, don’t even think of the modern word of self-justification, ‘love‘, in this respect!) rule in our lives, mar our relationships.
Our Faith is meant to be far more than our common bond and identity.  We Catholics should be, in this increasingly pagan world, ever more conscious of and gratefully thankful for our difference in the world!   We cannot tell people today how to live; fellow Christians once could help each other by occasional, mutual, correction, but today we can only give the worldlings around us -- some of them perhaps even of our own family -- a humble and sincere witness to Jesus and His Christian teaching by our open service to and love for Himself, and for all in their need for Him.  Our Catholic faith is today called to be, for each and every one of us, our total and most personal commitment:  to Jesus, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit; and that personal commitment, response, and self-sacrifice should be reflected in the whole of our lives in Mother Church, becoming far more influential than our ‘body’ commitment to the life and culture of our modern society; indeed, it can and, hopefully and prayerfully, will lead us to the fulfilment spoken of in those beautiful words of St. Paul:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise —meditate on and practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.