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

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

Friday, 28 December 2018

Holy Family Year C 2018

Holy Family (Year C)

(1Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 / 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 / Luke 2:41-52)


Our readings today are all centred on the idea expressed for us in St. John’s first letter:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

We heard in the first reading how Hannah besought the Lord for a son, and how, when her prayer had been heard and her wish granted, she gave her son to the Lord after he was weaned, by handing him over to the High Priest to serve in the Temple before the Lord all his days.

That does seem a heartless action to us; let us, however, just consider why we look at things in this way and why Hannah thought so differently.  We regard her action as inadmissible because our first thoughts are of the mother and child relationship and/or for the child himself.  Her first thoughts were of and for God.  She was filled with gratitude to the Lord for the gift of her child, and she wanted to express not only her gratitude to God but also, and above all perhaps, her appreciation of His sovereign Lordship.  Looking at the situation in that light we will perhaps no longer think so condescendingly of Hannah’s attitude and action: she was quite probably thinking on a far higher level than us.  We tend to think naturally first and foremost; relatively speaking, very few people then go on to think more spiritually, and almost none supernaturally, whereas Hannah immediately thought on the supernatural level of God’s original gift of this son to her.  Let us, therefore, respectfully put aside any questioning of the morality or propriety of Hannah’s giving of her child to God …. all we know for certain is that her action did indeed fit in with God’s providential plan of salvation because Samuel did serve in the Temple, indeed he served before the Lord all his days, and he became one of Israel’s greatest prophets.  Hannah was guided by the Spirit of God to behave as she did, let us not pretend competence to judge her action, but rather let us question our own awareness of and love for God: would we, even though asked by God and inspired by His Spirit, ever have been able to respond with such selfless love and obedience as she showed?

Now let us turn to Mary.  Here we feel more at home.  Mary brought up her divine Son in the normal, human, way: He lived with her at home for the early years of His life with no apparent distinction from other boys living at home in the same village.  In fact, Jesus lived with Mary and worked with Joseph until He was approaching His thirtieth year.  Was Mary, therefore, responding to God less perfectly in this respect than did Hannah who made such a wonderfully self-sacrificing gift of her son?

No, that was not the case.  In Jesus we see the wonderful union of humanity with divinity: Jesus was perfect God and perfect Man, perfectly divine and perfectly human as Mother Church teaches us, but living among men He was outwardly unexceptional from others around Him, a man among men.  Now that perfect oneness of humanity and divinity in Jesus is reflected in the life of her who was the closest of all to Jesus.  So, we see Mary too, both human and divine in a way that far excels all others, with no visible ‘flaunting’ of her hidden worth before God.  Mary was most beautifully and fully human in her motherhood because her holiness was so much greater than that of Hannah; just as we have the suspicion that perhaps Hannah’s appreciation and holiness were far greater than ours is.

Hannah had needed to pray long and hard before she was given a son through the normal course of married life and love.  Although Hannah believed her child was a gift from God, young Samuel, nevertheless, was in no way different from other infants: he was the child of his mother and father.  Mary, on the other hand, had not prayed to be given a son herself: she prayed that God would visit His people Israel, that He would send the Messiah, but never did she in any way imagine that the she herself would bear such a child.  How, could she?  In both her mind and heart she wanted to be and to remain a virgin for God.  Thus, the Child she was given was indeed totally God’s Gift; Israel’s Messiah and Saviour came at God’s behest exclusively; He came as Mary’s Child also at God’s totally exclusive behest: Mary accepted God’s Gift in response to His request made through the angel Gabriel sent to her for that purpose.  So, Hannah prayed for a son and shared in the decision that led to his birth; Mary, however, made no such natural prayer for herself and she had no part -- by any whatsoever legitimate physical longing -- in any motherly aspiration or decision, for with totally-virgin simplicity, she most whole-heartedly out of total love for and obedience to God, acquiesced in and embraced His decision.

Hannah, as you heard, gave her child -- aged about 3 years -- to God in the Temple, to the High Priest Eli for service in God’s Temple.  Again, Mary made no decision which would direct Jesus’ future.  We are simply told that:

            Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.

Therefore, for possibly eight or more years Mary and Joseph had taken Jesus up to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple and had then returned home from Jerusalem with all the other pilgrims; in no way visible to human eyes did this small Nazareth family distinguish themselves.  Mary just watched and prayed over her Son, and waited for God:  her Son had come from God, what did He want of Him?  Mary did not know, and she did not push or precipitate things in an attempt to find out.  Indeed, the annual visit to the Temple in Jerusalem became so normal a part of life that when Jesus was 12 years old, they went up again to Jerusalem and did not notice that the Boy this time was not with the party when they set out to return home.  That means that they had noticed nothing unusual about the Boy whilst they were in Jerusalem; is also seems to indicate that Jesus had said nothing particular about His feelings in the Temple.

When He was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom.  After the Feast was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.

Notice that!  Mary knew nothing special about Jesus’ thinking during that visit to Jerusalem.  He had gone there, received impressions, heard teaching and shared discussions that had stirred His heart and mind profoundly, but kept such thoughts – ultimately about His heavenly Father - to Himself.  He did this so well that Mary had no idea He had been so thrilled, and was still so very deeply absorbed, with what He had heard there.  She set off home with Joseph and the other returning pilgrims while Jesus stayed behind; and Mary never dreamt He was anywhere other than somewhere in the caravan journeying back with them to Nazareth:

Thinking He was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends.

Think!  Hannah had shared in God’s decision to give her a son and she determined her son’s future.  Mary had no share in any such decision: only her consent was asked; and Mary did not in any way determine her Son’s future.  Jesus’ future was determined as a result of the communion which originally existed and gradually developed between the Child, the Boy, the Man, and God, His heavenly Father.  This Child -- the Saviour of mankind -- was God’s Gift, and as such Mary had no say in determining His future.  She was given the Child to nurture and cherish Him as a son of Israel, and also to teach and discipline Him, as her very own Son; but as Lord and Saviour, He was God’s Gift, God’s alone.

Jesus gave His mother and Joseph a hint in this direction when, on being found in the Temple,

His parents were astonished when they saw Him. His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You."

His answer was most strange; one apparently somewhat distant and not encouraging or inviting further questioning:

"Why were you searching for Me?" He asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in My Father's house?"

Mary had just spoken – somewhat reproachfully – to Jesus about His ‘father’ Joseph’s distress; Jesus, on this somehow very special occasion, did not allow that, for He, in response, spoke explicitly of the Temple as the house of His real and heavenly Father.  Again, Jesus seemed surprised that Mary had not realized where He would be: “Didn’t you know?”  It had, indeed, been a secret in which Mary had not been included: a secret between Jesus and His heavenly Father, between the Saviour of mankind and the One who had sent Him.

However, it soon showed itself to be a secret with a quite definite purpose for, all of a sudden, things were perfectly normal again, or so it appeared:

He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.

But things were never really quite the same again.  Mary had been brought – such had been the purpose of the divinely inspired secret -- to realize much more clearly that there was something awesomely deep and mysterious developing in her growing Son: He was most certainly God’s gift to her, but He was now becoming somewhat unknown to, beyond, her;  perhaps she herself was becoming less able to fully appreciate and anticipate this developing Man whom she had so totally cared for and formed as a child.  Mary had always prayed, and continued to pray, for God’s salvation to be made manifest in Israel; how and when it would come-about she had not known.  Now, however, she could not understand it even though it was developing before her very eyes. She continued to do what she had done for so many years already, she watched, prayed, and waited, but she now did those things ever so much more attentively and expectantly after this visit to the Temple when Jesus was 12 years old.  We are, indeed, told that she lived and interpreted all the details of her subsequent, and apparently ordinary, life in the light of what had happened there in the Temple:

His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

We can get a glimpse of her watching and waiting, her prayer and her expectations, growing ever greater and ever more compelling if we just jump forward another 18 years.  Yes, 18 years!

Mary was then at a wedding.  Jesus had begun to attract disciples, followers, and He also was at the wedding feast with some of them.  The wine ran out.  What a disgrace for the young newly- weds!  Mary after all these years of waiting and wondering felt impelled to turn to her Son to do something -- something perhaps only He might do -- about the lack of wine.  At first Jesus was unwilling to accept her implicit request: it was not His or her business.  He said it kindly, according to local custom, but it was as it would always be: with regard to His work of salvation Jesus was entirely His Father’s Son, God’s total gift both to Mary and mankind.  Mary could in no way direct His future as Saviour.  Nevertheless, on this special occasion -- the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry -- God the Father showed His great mercy and goodness to Mary once again, with the result that, at His Father’s behest indeed, Jesus eventually acted in accordance with her wishes, and the subsequent miracle thus came-to-be as the result of Mary’s request and as final guidance for her dearest Son, but more, and quite uniquely, as her maternal blessing for the work He was now entering upon as Israel’s Messiah and mankind’s Saviour. 

We have all been shown something of the glorious mystery of God’s Son here on earth.  St.  John had long been absorbed with the thought of that, and you heard him cry out in our second reading:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

My dear people, let us imitate Mary and “think on these things in our heart”.   What a privilege to be called a child of God!  Do we try to listen to the Holy Spirit as Jesus listened to His Father?  Are we too easily upset when people show that they do not appreciate us?  Perhaps that is a sign that we ourselves do not realize what it means to be a child of God; that we ourselves do not appreciate the wonderful privilege we have been given.  Let us turn to Mary I say, and like her, think on and treasure these things in our heart.      

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Christmas: Mass during the Day Year C 2018

CHRISTMAS: Mass during the Day, (C)

(Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18)


What a wonderful evocation of joy and gratitude Isaiah offers us in the words:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace!

The city had been under long siege and neighbouring towns and cities had been taken and destroyed.  Hope was no more in evidence than the almost non-existent and much disputed food, as low as the few pitchers-full of water available from what had once been deep, brim-top-lapping, cisterns.  The army had gone out to fight indeed, but they left more in desperation than in expectation; some of the people had cheered them on their way, but the conviction was not there; prayers also had been offered, but with lips that trembled; and now those left inside the city walls waited in silence, with hearts unable to shake off a dark foreboding of what might soon befall them.

Eventually a runner was noticed in the distance by those keeping watch from the protecting walls.  He had been expected of course; but, as they caught clearer sight of him, they began to look at one another in disbelief: this runner is running strongly, running confidently; he is not pumping his arms in agonizing effort, he is raising them, waving them exultantly!   He is, surely:

            Bringing good news, proclaiming salvation!

At such a sight, first of all the watchmen on the towers, then, the citizens within the walls, all in unconscious obedience to those prophetic words of exhortation:

Sing together you waste places of Jerusalem,

broke out into a veritable delirium of thanksgiving and praise, while the priests – with now more firmly solemn voices -- began to intone:

            The LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem!!

Dear People of God, Jesus comes to us each year at Christmas like that runner, bringing supreme cause for our total joy: our God reigns over sin and death!  Whatever the past year may have witnessed and no matter how miserable our own record might have been over that period, Jesus comes to assure us that:

            Our God is King and has bared His holy arm for our salvation!

He comes, as we heard in the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, as One:

Who (is) the brightness of (His Father’s) glory and the express image of His Person.

Therefore, seeing Him, we can be confident and sure that God is able and willing to reign for us, both in us and through us, if we -- for our part -- are humble and brave enough to turn away from ourselves and faithfully turn to Him in all sincerity.

This Christmas rejoicing calls for much more than mere joy of heart, however; for Jesus, as our second reading told us, is:

God’s Son, heir of all things, through Whom also He made the universe; Who upholds all things by the word of His power;

to which St. John, in our Gospel, adds:  In Him (is) life, and the life (is) the light of men.

Therefore, Jesus’ coming means not only passing joy for our heart, but fulfilment for the whole of our being, since He is most truly our Lord and Saviour: our Light to guide us, our Hope to sustain us, and our Life that leads to the eternal peace and joy of our heavenly home.   His coming manifests and indeed offers to us:

            His glory, as of the only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth;

and, by sharing that glory with us, He wills to transform all who believe in Him from human beings subject to sin and death into children of God, as St. John again tells us:

As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.

Children reborn, that is, no longer from merely human stock through the will and/or passion of our parents before us, but born anew of water and the Holy Spirit: God’s Fatherly gift expressing to the full His infinite Goodness, and our free will responding with sincerely filial longing by the obedience of faith. 

And it is thus -- as children reborn of water and the Spirit -- that we can repeat:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Dear People of God, our right-beholding of the glory of the Word-become-flesh proves that we are indeed already being made like Him and becoming able to see Him as He truly is; that is our share in the glory which is His as the only begotten Son of the Father, a share making us, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it:

So much better than the angels, as we have, by adoption in Him, obtained a more excellent name than they.

And thus, being reborn and renewed in Jesus, and sharing His glory which enables us to live through faith and by His Spirit, our Christmas joy and hope is crowned and completed by the Father Who now says (2 Corinthians 6:18):

I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.    

Once reborn in Jesus with the right to become children of God for all eternity, we have an endowment that our sincere endeavour to live a life of faith and filial love will bring to glorious maturity.  Each year Jesus comes to visit us, to see and encourage our progress, and that is why, during Advent, Mother Church cries out to us encouragingly:

            Behold, the Bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him! (Matthew 25:6)

Every Christmas we do just that, we go out to meet the Lord with lighted lamps that shine with love, praise, and gratitude.  Ultimately, the time will arrive – and we are now already preparing, at the deepest level, for that time -- when the Lord will come for each and every one of us, calling us from this world as He did Lazarus from the tomb, to meet Himself.  Let us, therefore, dear People of God, welcome Him this day as we wish to embrace Him on that our final day, when earth’s fading and fitful light will be transformed into the prospect of eternal glory.       

Friday, 21 December 2018

4th Sunday of Advent Year C 2018

4th. Sunday of Advent (C)
(Micah 5:1-4a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-44)

It has been noted from very early times in the Church that John the Baptist, while still in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, ‘leapt for joy’ at the presence of Jesus being carried by Mary whereas Elizabeth responded to the presence of Mary:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.   And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  

Why did not Elizabeth -- together with her own as yet unborn son -- rejoice at the presence of Mary’s baby which she acknowledges as being ‘her Lord’, rather than at the immediate presence of Mary herself?

As of old, many of our Protestant brethren still feel jealous for the honour of Jesus; but we Catholics should rather gratefully rejoice in and learn from the sublime truths contained in St. Luke’s gospel account of The Visitation.

Listen again carefully to Elizabeth’s words of greeting to Mary; her first words– at the instigation of her own child leaping for joy at Jesus’ proximity -- are words with reference to Mary as mother of the Child she was carrying

Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

But then she goes on to speak adult to adult, woman to woman, Israelite to Israelite:

Dear People of God, the whole story of God’s dealings with His Chosen People started with God making a promise to Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a child despite their old age.  Abraham believed that promise of God, he believed you might say against all medical probabilities and despite the deep disappointments he and Sarah had suffered repeatedly over many years because of their childlessness, a state so alien to Israel’s traditions.  Abraham glorified God by putting more trust in His spoken promise than in his own years of bitter experience and the no doubt snide words of other Israelites not above commenting on their lack of offspring.  St. Paul tells us that such trust in God:

            Was credited to his (Abraham’s) account as righteousness.  (Romans 4:3)

Thus, he was to be the father of all who believe, so that to them also righteousness may be credited.  (Romans 4:11)

He is our father in the sight of God, in Whom he believed, Who gives life to the dead and calls into being what did not exist. (Romans 4:17)

That is how God’s People came into being, through FAITH, and that is why Elizabeth, herself rejoicing in the fulfilment of a promise of God, greeted Mary personally saying:

Blessed are you WHO BELIEVED that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.

St. Augustine puts it very clearly when he writes that Mary conceived Jesus in her heart by faith before she conceived Him physically in her womb; words which are an echo of the teaching of Jesus Himself (Luke 11:27-28):

A woman from the crowd called out and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that carried You and the breasts at which You nursed.”   He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and (believing) observe it.”

And so, dear People of God, we who follow St. Luke’s lead and join with Elizabeth in her greeting to Mary, are brought back to Jesus immediately and with deepened conviction, for Mary’s faith is in the miraculous Gift of God’s own Son which no human mind could then conceive without God’s most special grace … given to Joseph and now to Elizabeth thanks to the closeness of their spiritual relationship with Mary.  Give thanks to God, dear Catholic people, for the wondrous beauty of His truth!

And how much we need Mary’s example and Elizabeth’s spiritual awareness this Christmas time where all the celebrations seem to trumpet but one thing: GIFTS manifesting human GOOD WILL!!  And people say, “Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?”  In our modern western world God’s Gift to man is forgotten, ignored, while so many people publicly rejoice about their own giving-gifts-goodness, without the need of any God interfering in their lives.

However, Mary has another supremely important lesson for us to appreciate in this Advent time.

God the Father Himself, by His Spirit, made Mary of Nazareth one with Jesus through faith, love, and body-and-blood physicality; in no way are they to be separated. Mary is now living eternally in heaven for the glory of God, and her prayerful influence on earth is totally for the glory of her dear Son in the hearts of all men, so that those well-known words of Jesus:

            What God has joined together, let no man separate

are most important and significant for our considerations today.

In Luke’s story of the Visitation of Our Lady, Mary is shown as a figure, a foreshadowing, of the Church:  Mary is, by Jesus’ gift, our heavenly mother; the Church is our spiritual mother on earth, for as Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Church gives birth to disciples of Jesus who are born from her proclamation of His Good News or birth from her womb -- the baptismal font -- by the power of the Holy Spirit bequeathed to her by Jesus; Mary is praised in Scripture as ‘she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled’ while Mother Church ‘unfailingly adheres to the faith … delivered once for all to the saints’.     We have to recognize this mystery of the real oneness between Jesus and Mary, and also the spiritual oneness between Mary and Mother Church; and we should learn from St. Luke to reverence the Church as Elizabeth reverenced Mary; it is only the devil who works to separate what God has joined.

Jesus has promised to be with His Church to the end of time; He has given His Holy Spirit in fullness to His Church, to guide her into all truth; when His disciples gather together as Church Jesus is infallibly in their midst; and He has promised that He will defend her against the Devil’s attempts to destroy her.   As we heard in the second reading that:

For this reason, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; holocausts and sin offerings You took no delight in.  Then I said, ‘As is written of Me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do Your will, O God.’”

The Son of God took a human body from Mary in order to do His Father’s will on earth for our salvation; so, now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, He still uses His body to continue His Father’s work: but not the fleshly one -- which is, as I have said, at His Father’s side in heavenly glory -- but a mystical body, His Church, of which He is the Head.

Human beings, even those most highly placed in the Church, even those subsequently recognized as Saints, are weak, and at times may manifest those weaknesses, failings, and even sins.  Mother Church is greater than any individual, even greater than Mary who is a member of the Church, and as such is of the Church, in the Church, not above her.  And so, we must reverence Mother Church given to us for our salvation by the Lord Who is her Master and ours.  He uses His Church, our earthly Christian-and-Catholic Mother, to guide us and bless us; and He never allows the inherent human weakness of her individual members to betray His divine Truth committed to her for protection and proclamation for the salvation of mankind.

People of God learn from Elizabeth; she was, as the Gospel tells us, ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and the Holy Spirit led her to cry out:

And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  

Reverence and love, honour and delight in, Mary, now Queen of Heaven but ever our deeply-concerned Mother and occasional visitant; and in the same spirit pray and stand up for, serve and trust in, Mother Church, not because of her earthly pomp, prestige or influence, but because she is the instrument Christ wills to use, she is His Mystical Body; He is her Head and His Spirit is her very life …. Such is the purpose of God that, as loving and obedient children of her He has chosen to serve His purposes of salvation, His Spirit will fill our lives and form us ever more and more into the likeness of Him Who is to come, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who is our present hope and will be our future reward.

Friday, 14 December 2018

3rd Sunday of Advent Year C 2018

 3rd. Sunday of Advent (C)
(Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18)

Today is traditionally called ‘Gaudete’ Sunday; now, it is not easy to ‘gaudere’, that is, to rejoice, as our readings encourage us: it is not easy because such rejoicing is not natural, it is supernatural, a gift from God. Let us, therefore, for a short while just think about our human rejoicing and God’s gift.

Most commonly -- apart from family love -- it is success, pleasure, or advantage of some sort, that leads most human beings to rejoice.   But success, pleasurable feelings, and advantageous circumstances or events are all natural experiences, and all of them are dependent upon and subject to so many natural influences, that we can never know just how and when they might be lost or taken away from us: perhaps a disappointment, or an ailment of some sort; again, it might be a disagreement, some vague feeling of unease or foreboding, some unexpected and unfortunate turn of events, and, of course, always human weakness and wickedness, all such things can mar or embitter our success, thwart or spoil our pleasure, deprive us of anticipated advantage without warning.  In countless ways our hoped-for joys of whatever sort – including family joys, alas -- can be turned, surprisingly easily and unexpectedly, into disappointment, sorrow, frustration, or anxiety.

Because of this, we recognize that neither pleasure, success, nor advantage, all of which so often promise to promote human rejoicing, can in fact bring us to that desired state of constant rejoicing recommended by the prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul.

Moreover, natural pleasure, of its very nature, is fickle, repeat it too often and it easily becomes tasteless; and success won or advantage gained, frequently provoke antagonism and animosity in others, which is by no means conducive to our rejoicing.

How, then, should we appreciate and can we hope to attain such full and enduring joy?

With such thoughts and experiences in mind, there have been those who have sought to find, if not rejoicing, at least a measure of peace in mind and heart, by cutting themselves off from the world by philosophical or ascetic practices whereby they aspired to become indifferent to the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ as Shakespeare puts it.  But surely, such practices are non-starters for those who want to know how they can learn to rejoice in this life?

We are on a more promising track if we can rejoice over beauty and truth … but, what are true rejoice-able beauty and authentic rejoice-able truth??   The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and there is both unimaginable beauty and life-serving and inspiring truth to be found in the glory of the world around us and in the heavens above us for those simple ones (before God!) whose eyes are open, whose mind is humble, and whose heart is pure.   But, precisely, how, oh how, are we to attain and develop rightly those qualities of openness, humility, and purity of heart??

We are now, however, and despite all the difficulties, beginning to see that it might be possible for us to rejoice continually in this world, with the help of some blessing that would enable us to accept the trials of life, to transform or overcome them, by directing them to a transcendent end, one not subject to human favour or worldly fortune.  Such a blessing, moreover, must not only help us become more ‘open’, more ‘humble’, and ‘purer of heart’, it must not only afford us strength to accept and overcome the trials of life; it must also enable us to appreciate our new selves, because, such is our nature, that we can only rejoice over something when that something makes us feel or regard ourselves as in some way special, specially blessed.

Here we begin to recognize why the prophet and St. Paul exhort us to constant rejoicing: it is because of our Christian birthright!  Because we belong to Jesus Whose Holy Spirit is forming us in Him as true children of the Father, we have a heavenly inheritance that makes us special, not of our particular human selves, as if we were of ourselves superior to and better than others, but because of the Lord Who died and now lives for us and we in Him, because of the Spirit Who guides us, because of the Father Who calls us.  That is why St. Paul is able to tell us:

            Rejoice IN THE LORD always. Again, I will say, rejoice!

Nothing whatsoever in this world can rob us of that birthright we have received through faith in Jesus, nor of the inheritance being prepared for us personally in heaven by the Father.   Moreover, we rejoice all the more because we will -- by the Holy Spirit now at work in us -- ultimately be integral members of that eternal family where each one is appreciated for their own unique identity by every other member of that family, the family of God.

The early Christians -- those disciples who were closest to the Lord -- had a firm conviction that Mother Church is not of this world even though she exists in this world, because she exists for the Kingdom of God, that is for God’s Messiah and all those who -- thanks to her proclamation of His Good News -- will believe in Him Whom God has sent as Saviour.  In Christ, the Kingdom of God has entered this world and that Kingdom continues both to endure and to grow through the ministry of Mother Church, with the result that, although Christians are flesh and blood of this world, nevertheless, their real life is ‘hid with Christ in God’, and their earthly living is for eternal beatitude.  It was that overwhelming and transcendent joy and confidence that enabled the early Christians -- men, women, and even children -- to lovingly face up to the most atrocious persecutions.  They were indeed special, for, having received a special birthright, they became -- as St. Paul most forcefully puts it -- a new creation:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

There is, however, a modern, pseudo-spiritual, way of thinking that says it is wrong to regard oneself as special; it is wrong to think oneself different from, and in some way better than, others.  Christians, true Christians -- such thinking goes – should esteem all men as good as, even better than, themselves. 

Such talk, coming ultimately from the Devil, has -- as is usual with the Devil – an over-stretched and twisted grain of truth in it.  The Devil did, after all, quote Scripture correctly to Our Lord in the desert, even though he had no right understanding of the words he so glibly quoted.  It is like that here.  It is true that we Christians are not to think of ourselves, personally, as better than others.  That does not, however, in any way prevent us from considering, and firmly believing, ourselves to be wonderfully blessed by the fact that, of God’s great goodness, we are Catholics and Christians: gifted with the True Faith, whereby we can know Jesus in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, and receive His Spirit given to us through the sacraments of Mother Church, herself our sure refuge and abiding beacon in this world, as we journey along the way to our heavenly home.

To pretend that good Catholics and Christians should not appreciate such shared gifts and the many individual blessings we have all received is the devil’s talk: talk that would rob us of the ability to rejoice, and would lead us to become ungrateful and unworthy beneficiaries of God’s great and merciful goodness.

What do you think was in Mary’s heart after hearing the angel’s message and receiving God’s only Son into her womb?  The prophet had said:

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!  Sing joyfully, O Israel!   Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

Can you possibly think that Mary, the supremely holy and truly spiritual human being, thought to herself that it would be wrong to rejoice as if she was in any way special?  The prophet had foretold, and the angel had assured her:

Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!

Can you imagine her saying: “I mustn’t think that He is with me more than He is with other people”?  We know what she felt, we know what she thought:

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour, for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant.  For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed, for He Who is Mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His name.

Again, the prophet had gone on to say:

The Mighty One will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in His love, He will sing joyfully because of you.

Should Mary have closed her eyes and stopped her ears to that prophecy?  Should she have thought it a sin to believe those words “He will rejoice over you”?  Without such a joy and confidence in her heart how could she have faced up to the private trials and public opprobrium of the virgin birth?

Mary should indeed have been filled with confidence in God for she needed to be … she should have been filled with unimaginable gratitude and joy at the thought that God took great delight in her, because she had to be a perfect mother for God’s only Son.

And, for our part, how could we, dear People of God, do what Saint Paul tells us (Philippians 4:9):

The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me THESE DO, and the God of peace will be with you ,

if we were too holy to practice the Apostle’s other most pressing advice to:

            REJOICE IN THE LORD always. Again I will say, rejoice!

We must not allow ourselves to be influenced by those who would condemn such rejoicing on the pretext that it is uncharitable, presumptuous, and proud; for those without faith, those who reject obedience to God, have no right understanding of the words they bandy about, they have no living awareness or appreciation of Catholic truth and the divine beauty reflected in what is spiritually wholesome and salvific. People of God, we can in no way live up to our calling without finding overflowing joy in, and taking supreme confidence from, our Christian blessings. 

John told those who came to him at the Jordan that the hope they had in God must manifest itself in works, and today, Gaudete Sunday, we meet together to give witness to the whole world of the power and beauty of faith and life in Jesus, by the Spirit, for the Father.

Therefore, we need that supreme confidence and joy which led eleven ordinary Galileans, together with the educated Paul, to go out and teach the nations, ignoring mockery and overcoming torments.  We need the strength of which Paul spoke when he declared (Philippians 4:13):

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.

Dear People of God, do not let yourself be robbed of your birthright, cling to it with both hands, so to speak, and with all your strength of mind and heart.  Hold in contempt the teaching of pseudo-Christians which, far from being imbued with divine spirituality, is tainted and poisoned by human pride and sanctimoniousness.                                                                               

            Rejoice IN THE LORD always. Again, I will say, rejoice!

Friday, 7 December 2018

2nd Sunday of Advent Year C 2018

2nd. Sunday of Advent (C)

(Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6)


John the Baptist, some two thousand years ago, called upon his Jewish compatriots to prepare themselves for the fulfilment of their vocation as God’s Chosen People, by preparing the way for the coming Messiah: a Lamb-of-God Man recognized as such by John, Who would be born of their own immaculate virgin Mary as Jesus of Nazareth, the One now recognized as Jesus Christ, the Lord, God, and Saviour of all mankind.

Today Mother Church recommends that we, her modern-day children, carefully reconsider John’s inspired proclamation because of its great significance for us who, by our Advent discipline and devotion, are now preparing to invite and welcome the same Lord, God, and Saviour, into our very own hearts and minds anew this Christmas.

Some 700 years before John, the prophet Isaiah had spoken of the messianic times to come in Judah by evoking:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.   Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill brought low. The crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough ways smooth.

For our evangelist St. Luke, John was that voice crying in the wilderness, and John -- the greatest of all those born of woman, as Jesus said – taking up that prophecy of Isaiah, insisted that all those awaiting the imminent coming of the Messiah had to do something to further both the advent of the Messiah in their days and the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  And Mother Church, setting Luke’s Gospel message before us today, suggests likewise that we -- each and every one of us who believe in Jesus and  anticipate His Advent blessing this year – do something in accordance with John’s inspired proclamation that we alone can and should do: first, acknowledge with sincere sorrow our too-many personal sins, and accompany it by fruits expressive of such repentance; but above all, however, by awaiting the Coming One with hearts full of gratitude eager to receive and embrace Him as the Only-begotten Son of God, sublimely gifted to us as One of us, the One Who can uniquely enable us, to live fuller and better lives as adopted children of God, His own brothers and sisters.

It is common among practicing Catholics these days to more or less forget about this obligation to open up the way for the Lord in their own hearts and minds, and consequently their lives as Catholics and Christians can so easily settle DOWN and become somewhat stagnant:  too many basically faithful children of Mother Church limit themselves to holding firmly to the Faith they were originally taught, taking care they do not betray or fall short of it.  In fact, however, since Jesus the Prince of Peace and Light of the World, is wanting to come anew into their refreshed lives this Christmas, they should desire above all to grow in that Faith and embrace anew the Love that enwraps it: Jesus’ Own love for us all, and the love of many martyrs, confessors, and fellow faithful Catholics who have treasured and handed the Faith down to us over centuries.

Again, many devout Catholics are regular in their observance of Sundays and holydays, and they intend to receive the sacraments well.  However, though they do these things regularly, which is good, they also tend to do them routinely, which is not so good.  For, having done these practices, which they often call duties -- duties which can be counted and ticked off as having been done for this week or for this month -- they then tend to wait for the Lord.  They do not often think to undertake more personal heart-and-mind approaches, which are not things that can be called duties, but are endeavours to respond to God’s secret invitation, to answer God’s Personal call, to them personally.

In such ways, far too many Catholic disciples of Jesus hear Mother Church calling them in the name of God, from without themselves, but do not seem to hear God Himself whispering within themselves, from that secret and most holy sanctuary which is their own soul.  Thus, they confine themselves to mediocrity: because they are, in fact, coming to a halt, settling for obligations and duties -- long known and recognized -- being faithfully observed each year, but going no further, no deeper. Now such a ‘coming to a halt’, at whatever level, is mediocrity for one called to let the Holy Spirit lead him or her throughout their life to become more like Jesus, ever more truly a child of God.

Other people might think highly and speak well of such a person, because he or she may have stopped at, and apparently remained at, a relatively high level, so to speak, when compared with others.  But that’s just it, God doesn’t compare one with another: if you stop, at whatever level, you will begin to stagnate, and that is, for you -- in the eyes of God the Father Who is calling you and the Holy Spirit Who wants to lead you further along the way of Jesus -- settling for mediocrity, settling for something less than God wants of you, than what God wants FOR YOU.

Paul was very proud of his converts in Philippi and he acknowledged that not only were they indebted to himself, but that he too was indebted to them for the assistance they had given him in his need.  He prayed for them as special friends:

And this I pray: that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.

Now, that should be the programme for all of us: for our love can abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.  Don’t think that is not for you, that you can’t do that.  Of course you can’t!!  But God can and He does want to do it for you, to bring it about in you.  You might not, indeed, be the reading, the studious, type, you might not be a deep thinker, but that does not exclude you from taking up God’s invitation: because it is a special invitation to you by Him Who knows you best of all; it is an invitation to lead you to the fullness of your vocation, to give Jesus all your love, in your uniquely personal way.  If you are not a reader, not a deep thinker, O.K., don’t feel any need to force yourself into long periods of tedious and fruitless study or reading.  Do what you do best.  Perhaps you like to be with people rather than with books: try, then, to do your best to be with Jesus more.  I don’t necessarily mean kneeling in Church, you might have too many duties and tasks for that: then, just try to be more with Him in your mind and heart: just as you are so often with your children or your grandchildren in your mind and heart.  If your life seems burdened with other people’s troubles, then mention those troubles to Jesus, ask His help, ask Him to bless yourself and those in need.  Some people find they can’t keep their attention on prayers which tend to become just empty words: among them, however, some might find great peace in just being in Jesus’ presence in the Church without saying anything: content and happy simply to know that He is there and they are in His presence.  I can’t go through all the ways of deepening love for Jesus here, that is spiritual direction, much ignored today, but be quite sure of this, you are invited, called, urged by God the Father, Who wants to help your love for Jesus, His Son, to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight: not knowledge of facts or insight into problems, but personal knowledge, awareness, appreciation, of the Person of Jesus, that is, understanding of, and empathy with, commitment to, Him.  Knowledge and insight of this sort will enable you to grow just as St. Paul wanted his beloved Philippians to grow:

That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.

Some people, even some good Catholics and Christians, try to set good works for others at variance with, or as a substitute for, deep personal holiness, oneness with Jesus.   They tend to think that they ought to be doing something for Jesus, some good work, some visible, tangible, work that helps to free at least one corner of the world from its overwhelming burden of suffering and sin: work of that nature, they feel, is much better than just ‘becoming holy’.

Of course, when they put it in that way to themselves, they are loading the dice for their own purposes, because, comparing supposedly generous works for others with the implied selfishness of oneself trying to become holy before God is totally wrong.  True holiness is the most unselfish state possible, it is entirely God centred: true holiness is love of God that leads to total forgetfulness of self, and such self-sacrifice in the likeness of Jesus, is only authentic and true when it is a spontaneously free gift, brought about indeed by the Holy Spirit, but allowed, accepted, embraced, and whole-heartedly followed, by the recipient. Such holiness is most un-common and no easy option.  True holiness, it was, that sustained the early martyrs suffering persecution under the Roman Empire; and still today continues to manifest itself in the lives of those enduring and dying for Jesus under modern fanatical or totalitarian regimes, or those saddened and oppressed by their own compatriots’ rejection of Jesus’ demanding love for easier and more pleasing worldly and/or fleshly options:

The time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)

God can always find many people to do things for Him; for many there are, who will do good things for motives that are not so good, such as self-approval or public appreciation; frequently, the very relief of working at something that occupies their mind and distracts their heart is enough for them.  Indeed, there are those to be found, as St. Paul himself experienced (Philippians 1:15–18), who will even do good things for evil reasons: 

Of course, some preach Christ from envy and rivalry, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment.  What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? In that I rejoice. Indeed, I shall continue to rejoice.

Therefore, let us turn back to our second reading where St. Paul spoke to the Philippians of:

Their fellowship (with him) in the gospel from the first day until now.

In that spirit of loving appreciation and gratitude he prayed most especially that:

(Their) love (might) abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.

Dear People of God, our fellowship with St. Paul in proclaiming Christ in today’s hostile world requires that work of us which he so persuasively urged his friends at Philippi to undertake in all confidence.  It is, precisely, our essential part in the missionary work of Mother Church today; and ultimately, only such a partnership of the whole faithful Christian people in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel will lead to the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy:

All flesh shall see the salvation of God.