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.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

The Holy Family Year A 2019

The Holy Family (A)
(Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)

Today’s readings are concerned, as we should expect, with the relationships of family life, in particular the relationship between parents and child.
In our modern society, where parental responsibility is, at times, notably and tragically lacking, there is a marked tendency for the government and society in general to “take over” from parents, and a corresponding tendency to give children rights against their parents.  Such political support of, and encouragement for, children against their parents, has no parallel in the Bible.  There, children have rights indeed, and Jesus Himself tells us to reverence and respect them (Matthew 18:10):

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven. 

 St. Paul tells his converts in the Church at Corinth that:

Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to  save up for (their) parents, but parents for (their) children. (2 Corinthians 12:14)

The Scriptures are not ignorant of the abusive behaviour of some parents but, notwithstanding those failings of the few, hold firmly to the best teaching and only model for the wholesome upbringing of their children by the majority of parents, as you heard in the first reading:

The Lord honours the father in his children, and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.  Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins, he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.

We read in the Gospel how God Himself dealt with His Son as a human child.  The Father in heaven did not communicate directly to the Infant Jesus, nor even to the young child Jesus.  The heavenly Father spoke to Joseph and to Mary: they were the ones who would tell the Child and the Boy what to do and how to behave; they were the instruments of God for the Child, even though the Child was God’s own Son.  Consequently, we can easily recognize the Christian attitude and teaching as regards parenthood: it is an honour and a privilege to be a Christian parent, it is a position of authority and also a position of responsibility; authority given by God and responsibility before God.  In all that is good, for the spiritual and the human good (both physical and psychological) of the child, the parents have a God-given authority and also a God-given backing: they do not need to have degrees in child psychology, nor certificates in human and social studies; seeking sincerely the good of their child, in favour with God and man (as the Scriptures say of Jesus), they will be guided by God in all the normal situations of life, and even in the extraordinary circumstances where no human help can be found.  No Social Services, no child experts, can supply for God-given parents, and no legislation should be allowed which insinuates otherwise; nor should parents themselves ever begin to doubt the special grace which is available to them  -- through sincere endeavour and personal prayer -- for bringing up their child as a child of God and as a respectful family member and positively helpful member of society.

Parents, being aware of their position of authority and responsibility, should be ever on the watch to help each other in the acceptance and fulfilment of that position.  You will recall how Mary, the mother, spoke to her Child when He had been lost for 3 days:

And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you." (Luke 2:48)

Mary was concerned, first of all, for Joseph’s authority; she wanted first of all to remind her Child of the respect He owed Joseph:

His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you."

“Your father and I”, that was the order of concern for Mary: Joseph’s position first, her own, second.  That is a model for all parents, for the Christian husband should have as his first concern that his child should love its mother; whilst the mother, like Mary, should always first teach and inculcate the child’s obedience to and respect for the father.

Finally, today, Christian parents should recognize that they, together, are the whole basis and foundation for the well-being, spiritual, psychological and physical, of their children; consequently, they should pay close attention to the words of St. Paul in our second reading today.  On no accounts should they allow their child to separate them; for the good of the child they should come first for each other (Colossians 3:12-15):

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 
Remember also those other words of St. Paul:

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.

Those are not words of domination but of complementary co-operation for the good of the children, the words mean what I have already explained and what Mary has already shown, that the wife should be concerned that her children respect and obey their father, and she should give them an example in that attitude; and that the father, likewise, must insist that his children follow his example in loving their mother.  It is on that firm and solid foundation that the other words of Paul (Colossians 3:20) will be fulfilled:

Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.

People of God, we should all recognize that the Scriptures do not offer mere options for our consideration, options that we can ignore or reject as the fancy takes us; nor is the Spirit of the Scriptures subject to the spirit of modern times.  Holy Scripture, with its example of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, gives parents divine and authoritative guidance, together with the promise of sustaining grace and strength in response to obedience and prayer.   They can indeed ignore it, they can reject it because God has made us free; but they cannot do those things without cost, for they will, most certainly, never be able to find better guidance from our modern, pagan, and self-righteous society.

The teaching and tone of this address, dear People of God, are not for anyone and everyone but for those Christians and Catholics who have entered into matrimony with a specific purpose: offering their mutual love to God for His glory, their own personal fulfilment and for the greater well-being of mankind; and they are able to aspire to such purposes on the basis of God’s sacramental grace promised and ever available to them to transfigure their human endeavours so as to serve and further the infinite goodness of God’s loving intentions and saving plans for all men and women of good-will.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Christmas Day Year A 2019

Christmas Day  (A)   2019                                                      
(Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18)


When we look at the world around us and consider the overall atmosphere of people’s understanding of and response to the Christian message of Christmas, despite the fact that the majority no longer recognize and accept that message as the root and inspiration of their Christmas celebrations while others distort it horribly, we cannot fail to see that Christmas above all other seasons in the Christian calendar is still thought to be a time for rejoicing, the time for rejoicing, with a joy that is singularly unaffected by any other considerations.

I am emphasizing the joy of Christmas because it is an essential element in our Christian life. Christmas is not just a season which comes around, apparently willy-nilly, once a year; rather, it has been given us to gradually form our Christian and Catholic character. Far too many Catholics today seem to have forgotten the joyous aspect of our Faith, of our relationship with the God and Father of Jesus, Who wants to be a Father for us too.  Many seem to regard the Faith mainly as a duty, an obligation, and God Himself as One demanding obedience under threat of punishment; not so much as a Father, but as One to be feared.   Such attitudes, dear People of God, are most serious distortions and even betrayals of the truth of what our response to, and relationship with, Him Whom Jesus taught us to call ‘Our Father’, should be like.

The Christian year as a whole is a comprehensive, balanced, and gradual presentation of the most emotionally formative aspects of Christian spirituality: first of all, Christmas Joy and Peace; then the strengthening, deepening, and personalising awareness of Gratitude and Love evoked by Easter; and finally the crowning Pentecostal fulfilment of Hope and humble Confidence through Spirit-bestowed strength.

Christmas, therefore, comes around each year to cement holy joy into and in our life, to make joy an essential part of our religious experience and psychology.  Of course, the pagan rejoicing at Christmas, being so often excessive, spiritually un-motivated, and even licentious, is an evil abuse and misrepresentation of Christmas joy; nevertheless, such abuse of Christmas does not, cannot, be allowed to undermine or diminish the abiding and enduring aspect of JOY as intended by God for His children, characterising not only this holy season, but the whole of their lives: this joy is spiritually motivated by a unique Child – one naturally beautiful by reason of its innocence and purity – and One awesomely, even piercingly, beautiful as a heavenly Child -- God’s most sublime gift to mankind -- through a totally Immaculate Virgin; a Child sent to bring, win, offer, salvation for and to mankind.

For many believers Christmas rejoicing has been gradually watered down into a merely human and childish rejoicing; and then, from being thus robbed of its inherent inspiration and spiritual dignity, it has subsequently been disfigured and degraded to such an extent that it has become a season of sensual pleasure-seeking and licentious excess.  At the best that pleasure-seeking is done through gifts, and then the merely human joy of giving and receiving gifts, is regarded as the ‘holiness’ of Christmas.  At the worst, those licentious excesses in our modern culture become totally unchristian, involving human exploitation, drug taking, anti-social behaviour, and even openly criminal activities; in such circles, a hang-over on wakening is commonly regarded as the amusing sign of what is considered to have been a ‘good night out’. 

Among some Catholics the reason for this lack of true Christmas joy in the practice of our religion is partly due to the fact that we also – as practicing Catholics -- have witnessed Easter being gradually de-formed by the sheer physicality of Christ's sufferings being given excessive and unbalanced prominence in popular preaching and devotional  practices  to ‘make up for’, counterbalance so to speak, the weight of human physical sinfulness.   Easter has been gradually deprived of that which is of supreme importance, namely, the example and inspiration of Personal, spiritual, love -- Jesus’ love for His Father and for us -- and the call to hope and confidence in the Risen Lord.

In that way, Christmas joy for too many of the faithful -- starved of deep Easter love, humble Pentecostal confidence and hope -- is no longer deep, pure and spiritually powerful enough to characterise their lives today; at the best, faithfulness and duty, obedience and fear, are the  pretty dismal residue from the original glorious endowment of joy, love, inspiration and hope.

People of God, we should try to open our hearts anew to the joy of Christmas, let us pray most ardently to the Holy Spirit that He may renew refresh and restore our lives according to those parting words of Jesus:

I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (John 15:11).

Joy in the Lord is part of our Christian and Catholic heritage, and we should not deprive ourselves, or allow ourselves to be deprived, of that which is meant to characterise us in Jesus.  We must not, however, repeat past mistakes, it is a joy that God gives, not one that we procure for ourselves.  Now, don’t think I am wanting you to eschew, reject, human joys, far from it, for I repeat that those human joys which are according to Christ are a gift also from God.  However, the Christmas Gift of Joy is above all a cause for spiritual, supernatural, joy; it is a Gift given to those who, first of all, pray for it, and who then try to delight in the Lord and live for His glory. 

As you heard in the Gospel reading:

Jesus, the true Light, was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him;

and that is still the condition of all present-day pagan revellers who in no way intend to celebrate the Name of Jesus at Christmas.

            He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

That too is still the present situation in the case of those who are merely nominal Christians and Catholics.

For ourselves, however, and for all who are sincerely seeking the Lord, we are then told that:

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

and that is the source, aspiration and hope, of our Christmas joy.  Because we believe in Jesus, we are told that we have been given a new life, born anew:

Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Therefore, in Jesus, those words we heard in the second reading apply to each of us:

            You are My Son, (My child), today I have begotten You.

And again:

My dear People of God, we have wondrous cause for rejoicing at Christmas, or rather, wondrous cause to re-new and re-fresh our rejoicing, a never-ending, ever-deepening and developing, spirit of rejoicing in our lives as Christians and Catholics.  Make no mistake, though, while God gives the cause of our rejoicing, He expects us, freely and personally, to do the rejoicing.  How, therefore, do we learn to rejoice?

For this we should turn to the other principal character in the drama that is Christmas: turn to Mary, to the one addressed by God’s angel with the command to “Rejoice” (Luke 1:28):

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

Mary began her rejoicing first of all by trusting wholeheartedly in God: adultery by one betrothed (as seemed to be the situation opening up before Mary) was punishable by stoning to death in literal accordance with the Law; but, far from worrying herself sick about her future possible-predicament, Mary hurried off help her cousin Elizabeth cope with pregnancy in her advanced age.  Mary’s total trust in God’s word enabled her to be totally forgetful of self and totally available for others.

Mary continued, strengthened, and deepened, her rejoicing in the Lord thanks to her great gratitude:

My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour, for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed, for He Who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. (Luke 1:47-49).

Those are the two essential ingredients for Christian rejoicing: complete trust in God, and, on the basis of that trust, the ability to look at things from His point of view and learn gratitude.  The Annunciation could have been -- depending on how Mary looked at it -- either a cause for deep anxiety or one of great rejoicing, death and dishonour or blessing and renown.  Mary, however, had no hesitation, no doubt:

He who is mighty has done great things for me; henceforth all generations will call me blessed

Anyone who would become a true disciple of Jesus should learn from Mary to rejoice by steadfastly trusting in the Lord; by consistently refusing to indulge solicitous considerations for personal well-being and advantage; and also by developing a grateful awareness of blessings already received from God: blessings such as good parents and family; loyal and true friends; personal talents; guidance received and help given; health of mind and body; hopes that draw you on and ideals and aspirations that inspire you … few have all these blessings, none, however, are bereft of all of them, every one of us has some cause for gratitude to God; and such causes, once recognised and gratefully acknowledged, readily multiply themselves so as to be seen with increasing clarity, and appreciated with ever deeper gratitude, as time goes on.

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The Law was a challenge, a requirement, written down as a legal document.  The Gospel of grace and truth, on the other hand, is a call, an invitation.  In the Gospel message and in the Person of Jesus, God is manifesting Himself, making Himself known so that He might attract and lovingly draw those who, through faith in Jesus and baptism in the Spirit, will become His children.  And surely, it is no hard thing to encourage such children to learn to trust, and show gratitude to, the Father Who so lovingly approaches them as does Our heavenly Father through Jesus, and in the Spirit?

Learn to trust, People of God, grow in gratitude, and joy will fill your heart.  Look at Mary; imitate her attitude to life: shall I worry about possible threats and difficulties or shall I trust God wholeheartedly?  Can one who has been reborn in Jesus by the Spirit, one who has been made a true child of the Father, one to whom the Father promises:

            I will be (to you) a Father, and (You) shall be to Me a Son (My Child),

have any hesitation?  Follow Mary!  After all Jesus has given us to her and her to us as our mother.  Follow Mary, and learn to rejoice anew in your practice of the Faith: it is not just a Law to be obeyed, it is a Father’s loving invitation and call for us to learn to know and love Him more and more.  And because it is your Father’s call, it does not just come from outside and hit your ears; you are His child and His call to you re-echoes in your heart, and in the deepest, perhaps still secret and unknown to you, recesses of your being its reverberation provokes the response of like to like:

Come my beloved (child), (there are) all manner (of blessings), new and old, which I have laid up for you.  Come. (Song of Songs 7:13)

And here dear People of God is the unique aspect of Christmas: Jesus comes as One of us, our Friend, proof and confirmation of our human dignity and perpetual incitement to mutual love and human respect, that He might become the Saviour of each of us in a Personal relationship leading from earth to heaven, even to the Father's presence and embrace. 

Friday, 20 December 2019

4th Sunday of Advent Year A 2019

4th. Sunday of Advent (A)
(Isaiah 7:10-14; St. Paul to the Romans 1:1-7; St. Matthew 1:18-24)

The People of Israel had only come into existence by God's own call: from a motley gathering of enslaved ethnic groups they became a People by God’s choice; and as the People of God they could only prosper in existence by growing in their trust of the God Who had called them into being.  As the prophet Isaiah (30:15) would tell them:

In quietness and confidence (before the God Who called you) shall be your strength.

Ahaz, king of Judah the homeland of God’s Chosen People, was, however, a totally selfish and unreliable person, and a disastrously faithless king.  He sacrificed to the gods of the Canaanites and, when pressed by enemies, would not put his trust in the Lord God of Israel as God’s prophet urged him to do, but rather turned to the current super-power, the Assyrians, for more immediate and appreciable, military, help.

In the Old Testament, and in the Mediterranean world of that time, the King of a country was regarded as son of the country’s God.  Whoever the god of a nation might have been, the king was regarded as his son and his chosen instrument to bless, guide, and protect the nation.  This was also the common understanding of the "father/son" relationship between Yahweh, the only true God, and the reigning king of Judah and God’s Chosen People.

Thus the words of Yahweh in Psalm 2:7:
            You are My son, today I have begotten you,

were understood as a formula of adoption for the day of the king's coronation.  The king was called God's son because, after having ascended to the throne, he was understood to have entered into a special relationship with Yahweh which set him apart from other mortals, in so far as he -- the crowned king -- was regarded as the visible guarantee that Yahweh -- the Lord of Hosts -- was with His Chosen People for their blessing and protection; the king was, it can be said, son of God because of, for, the People of God.

You can imagine then the disgust Isaiah felt for this present king Ahaz who -- supposedly a son of God for Judah, an instrument of God for the blessing of His Chosen People -- was, in reality, faithless before the God of Judah and indifferent to the well-being of the nation, being entirely devoted to his own self-interest.  Therefore, Isaiah prophesied in the name of the Lord as you heard:

Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?  Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, a name which means "God-is-with-us". 

The Great King who was to come, the Messiah, Emmanuel, would be, quite literally, GOD-WITH-US.  Ahaz had neither the faith nor the trust to live in difficult times as God's instrument of blessing for His People; the King to come however – Emmanuel -- would be God's very presence, not simply on the basis of human faith and fidelity, but on the fact of His divine origin and dignity: truly, the only Son of the only God; no mere instrument of blessing, but God’s most Personal Blessing Himself.

He would in no way be a descendent of Ahaz the unworthy, because His mother would be a virgin.  She would, indeed, be totally unlike Ahaz who was most miserably and cynically failing his people through distrust of God, for she would have such full and perfect trust in the Lord, that Elizabeth -- under the impulse of the Spirit of God -- would declare such faith and trust to be Mary the Virgin’s supreme characteristic:

Blessed is she who has believed for there will be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord. (Luke. 1:45)

Let us now, therefore, look at both Ahaz and Our Lady and learn what they, in their very different ways, teach us about the meaning of Emmanuel, God-with-us; for God is with us not only as Saviour for all mankind, not only with us as Head of the Body which is His Church, but also with each and every one of us who believe, for the right living and fulfilment of our earthly lives and the attainment of our ultimate reward in heaven.

Despite the Lord's promise of divine blessing and help made through Isaiah the prophet, Ahaz perversely put his trust in the military might of Assyria, opting for a quick-fix that would provide personal advantage and security though at the cost of crushing taxes for the people as a whole.  Mary, for her part, would totally ignore her own personal reputation and, trusting the Lord, would seek only and totally to know and to do His will, putting her total confidence and trust in His word given her through the angel Gabriel.

Ahaz feared for his throne and his life; Mary dedicated, consecrated, her humble virginity totally to the Lord, despite thereby -- according to the Law – possibly putting her life at risk.  Ahaz’ faithless gamble turned out predictably -- or should we say prophetically -- to be disastrous both for himself and his people.  Mary’s total trust that God would protect her was vindicated, and since then she has been proclaimed blessed above all women on earth and will be so praised throughout all time.

Therefore God-is-with-us means that He is always with us to guide us into and protect us along the right way, if – setting aside both our human fears and our personal pride -- we will, with confidence and trust, accept that guidance.   God-is-with-us to enlighten us, watch over and help us, in all our needs, but -- that grace and power can only flow into us through our faith and trust in Him.

Finally, we can say the God-is-with-us means precisely what it says: He is with us as our constant companion: always with us, sharing, and being involved with and for us, in every aspect of our life experience; in all situations He wills to be at our side -- whatever we may have done, whatever we may have made of ourselves -- if only we will turn to Him, humbly open ourselves up to Him, and trust Him.  As the negro spiritual puts it so eloquently: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus”.

He is there, moreover, not only for our guidance, comfort, and strength throughout our earthly pilgrimage, but also to lead us to the Father, our eternal destiny … that we might learn to love Him as Jesus would have us love Him Who is, indeed, the supreme love of Jesus’ Being.

Soon we will be able to celebrate with true joy and gratitude the birth of Emmanuel -- Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God become Son of Man, and for us adults in Christ there is a most important question to ask ourselves: have we, over the years, become more like Ahaz than Mary?  The gifts that Ahaz wanted could not be asked of God, Ahaz did not appreciate, could not even understand, what gifts God might offer him.  Do we now not have that abiding confidence in God, that steadfast love for Him, and that ever-hopeful awareness of the wonderful gifts He bears with Him for our supreme well-being; that confidence, love, and hope, I say, that pushes us to make requests of Him?  In other words, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, do you really have a deep longing and desire for any of the gifts that Jesus will come offering us this Christmas, or have you grown old, and not venerably old, as a Christian, if not yet as a person?

It is eminently fitting, therefore, that today -- before the wondrous Son of God, the most beautiful Child of Mary is with us anew -- we should celebrate her from whom the Son of God took flesh in order to become the Lord and Saviour of mankind.   It is most truly fitting that today, we celebrate Mary precisely as the one who most perfectly surrendered herself in trust and faith to the promise made her by the Lord, since it is in this regard, supremely, that she is our model as well as our Mother; for St. Paul tells us that faith and trust in God's word is the very essence of the Christian life for all in Mother Church when -- as you heard in our second reading – he declares:

Through (Jesus Christ our Lord) I received the privilege of an apostolic commission to bring people of all nations to faith and obedience in His name

Holy Mary, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, that we may have the grace both to live life fully and to die peacefully, trusting in the promises of Him Who, in His great goodness, has already blessed us with faith to believe in His only-begotten Son, and endowed us with His Spirit, to lead us to the home that He has promised is already prepared and waiting for all who prove themselves to be true children of  her who is the God-given Mother of all believers.  

Saturday, 14 December 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A 2019

Third Sunday of Advent (A)

(Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Advent prepares us for the celebration of our Lord’s coming on earth: as an Infant, like one of us, yet destined to reveal, and indeed make manifest, something of the most intimate Personal glory of God; and as Redeemer sent by God, come to save His chosen ones and all who learn to invoke His most holy Name.  Moreover, our celebration is not meant to be a mere fond reminiscence from the past, for it offers us an eye-piece for the future, as it were, whereby we might be able to understand, look forward to, and in some God-graced measure prepare for what is otherwise totally unprecedented in sublime majesty and solemn decisiveness for us:  His future coming as the glorious Lord and Judge of mankind.

In today’s Gospel reading John the Baptist was about to die alone in the lowest dungeon of Herod’s prison for the Truth of the God Whose only-begotten Son-made-Man would Himself also die soon, alone but lifted high on Rome’s Cross of crucifixion. 

John was in prison awaiting his executioner and he was not absolutely sure about Jesus.  The prophets, as we have just heard in our reading from the book of Isaiah, had foretold the coming of God:

Say to those whose hearts are frightened:  Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.

John was the one chosen not only to announce the Messiah but actually to introduce Him to the people, and John was well aware of this:

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is mightier than I.   I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John had been greatly impressed by what the prophets had foretold about God’s vengeance and retribution, and he duly forewarned the people, expectantly listening to his words, that the Messiah would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire, and:

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism

he addressed them directly with words of divine truth indeed, but spoken with a vehemence that was his own, saying (Matthew 3:7-12):

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  The One Who is coming after me is mightier than I; I am not worthy to carry His sandals.  He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire. 

Such words showed something of John’s prophetic fire and fragility: for though the prophets as a whole foretold the truth of God, they never knew precisely the ‘when’, the ‘where’, or the ‘how’ their words would be fulfilled; and in that respect, even the immediate forerunner of the Lord Himself, not seeing clearly the whole plan of God, was obliged at times -- as on this occasion -- to use the veiled language of metaphors in order to express what he experienced most surely within himself and what he needed -- most urgently -- to proclaim in God’s Name to God’s People.    When therefore John -- remembering the proud and arrogant Pharisees and Sadducees sent from Jerusalem to observe, report on, and decry all the crowds of penitents that used to come to him for baptism, and more particularly to decry John himself and his work of baptising in preparation for One to Come -- his present enforced inactivity and silence did not ‘sit well’ with him at all, and, hearing nothing else but the fact that Jesus was calmly baptising by the Jordan, but, it would seem, uttering no words threatening punishment or  awesome ‘retribution’ for sinners,  let alone hearing no news of Jesus actually beginning to fulfil any such heavenly punishment, John was puzzled.  And above all now, when, as both prophet and precursor, he was actually incarcerated, being ill-used and threatened in Herod’s lowest dungeon, his human fragility showed itself, under such psychological and physical pressure, as a measure of prophetic anxiety and he needed to send disciples to urgently ask Jesus:

            Are You the One Who is to come or should we look for another?

Jesus, however, sent his disciples back with a message telling John to accept, and indeed embrace, the light which had already been afforded him:

Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

In other words, Jesus was saying, ‘What has been given you is enough for you, for now.  God’s retribution will come in God’s good time; accept what fulfilment has already been given you and realize:

Blessed is the one who takes no offense at Me.

Great things were being asked of John, People of God.  Jesus did not declare John to be the greatest of all the children born of women without good reason: John would prove the truth of those words by persevering in faith, and dying in the peace of complete trust in God, and for so great an end and glorious fulfilment he had to be supported and encouraged by Jesus, not indulged.  Even though he could not see or understand all that he would have liked to have seen and understood, nevertheless, he knew full well that God is beyond all human comprehension, giving light enough to guide our footsteps surely and bestowing grace sufficient to keep us safe along His ways so that we can be free from all solicitude about self and thus able to open up our hearts and minds in total commitment to Him in return.  Now, there can  be no such gift of self-dedication where comprehensive foreknowledge of the outcome is wanted, expected, or required.  John was offered sufficient light; and, when asked to back it up with all his love, he did not turn back, but was willing and able to enter into the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil.  Trusting in the word of the Lord and in the faithfulness of the God of his fathers, he was allowed to foreshadow with sublime fidelity Our Blessed Lord’s own end:

“Father, into your hands I commend My spirit”; and when He had said this, He breathed His last.  (Luke 23:46)

Jesus admired and loved John:

As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?    Someone dressed in fine clothing?  Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”

Note carefully here, People of God, that Our Lord’s words about John concern Mother Church also, and as such are addressed to all who, along with us today, will and do take the trouble to go out and seek for God’s truth: who are prepared to set aside worldly pre-occupations at times in order to look more closely for the God and Saviour Who promises eternal life to all who will open when He knocks on the door of their spiritual awareness.

Yes, John was indeed a prophet, he was the greatest, and in that respect he is so intimately one with, like to, our Mother Church, which is the consummation, not only of all the prophets, but of all the teaching, laws, and worship of the Old Testament Revelation.

What did you go outout of your warm and comfy homes – for; why did you disturb your pleasant rest, leave your happy gatherings, interrupt your holidays, and the like?  Why did you go to Church?  To find a reed swaying in the breeze?  That is, a Church whose teaching changes in accordance with every contemporary doctrine of supposed science, with every whim of popular conceit, and with every plaint of human self-love and solicitude?   A nice Church, perhaps even a very nice Church, which says you can believe and do what you want so long as you have a sizeable number of people thinking along the same lines as you?

NO?  Then what have you gone out and come to Church for today?  To find someone wearing fine clothes?  That is, a Church providing a splendid liturgy, with all due pomp and pride, but not teaching, proclaiming, any troublesome doctrine.

NO?  Then what do you go out of your homes each Sunday and come to Church for?  To see a prophet?  Yes, and much more than a prophet.   You have come to the Church which is our true Mother and which dares to proclaim to us the saving truth of God whether it meets with popular approval or not.   Indeed, you have come to Jesus Christ Himself, Who promised to be with His Church to the end of time; and this Church, the Catholic and universal Church, by His gift our Mother, is the only place where He has promised so to be.

This theme of ‘going out’, looking for a prophet who proclaims divine truth, this awaiting, searching, longing, for the Messiah to bestow on us personally the Salvation He brings for all, is the whole theme of Advent.  Blessed are you who have allowed yourselves to be moved by such a desire today. 

Our Christmas celebration of Jesus’ coming to us as Saviour has always held a unique attraction for us!  What humble peace, simple joy, and deep human fulfilment, have always emanated from that Holy Family bound together by unbreakable bonds of mutual love and reverence, and cherishing in its embrace the Child of divine promise and most sublime expectations!  All that now serves, as I said, as our eye-glass for appreciating and preparing for what we can hope to find when He comes again, this time in divine glory and as Judge to reward the faithful and condemn the sin of the world.  It will be most awesome and far in excess of our imaginings, expectations, or anticipations, and that is why we were given the experience and example of John the Baptist today: for, though our weakness will be tested, our faith must not be shaken, for our hopes will not be disappointed, as Isaiah said:

(You) will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God.  Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He come to save you!

Dear People of God, as we look around us today, Christmas has become what has been long threatening, Xmas.   I pods and tablets, televisions and computers, technology of all sorts, are being constantly produced and promoted, sold and sought after … and all are worthy of praise for their testimony to mankind’s ability to overcome, master, use and administer the world in all its complexity and wonder.  But, without the gifts that only Jesus Himself brings, they make up what is but a soulless celebration of human wit without wisdom, fullness without fulfilment.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day, the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw.  But for you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.  (Malachi 4:1–2 NLT)

Both aspects of Christmas are there; John the Baptist is there and Jesus is there. Indeed, all aspects of Christmas are there, for I love to see what I regard as a delightful reference (metaphoric, of course) to our own, very human, spirit of Christmas rejoicing, in those final words:

 And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture!!

Friday, 6 December 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent A 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent (A)
(Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12)

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.

Those words from the prophet Isaiah are very moving because they promise what is idyllic.  But what is that promise based on?  Let us listen to him again:

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.  The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.  

That idyllic prospect was opened up for mankind because Isaiah foretold of a Saviour to come among us, One from and among us.  And yet, He Jesus, the Son of God made Man, was not acknowledged by the Chosen People of God, and so His coming could not possibly work any change for those who, in fact, rejected Him; He could only work a change for people if He was allowed, first of all, to make a change in them.  That is why we heard the prophet go on to say in the name of the Lord:

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, for the Gentiles shall seek the Root of Jesse.

God’s Kingdom of glorious peace will come when the earth, that is, all mankind on earth, is full of the knowledge of the Lord: not knowledge about the Lord, but knowledge of the Lord, the Root of Jesse.  Such knowledge is given only to those who seek and persevere in seeking not only for what might be called ‘a working relationship’ of acknowledgement and obedience but also an intimately P/personal relationship of total commitment based on our faith-desire – knowing Him proclaimed to us by Mother Church we desire to love Him whole-heartedly -- and on His infinite goodness and mercy, because all such P/personal knowledge is the result of God’s gracious G/gift (sic), not the result of human endeavour or skill.

In that way knowledge and fear (awesome reverence, respect) of the Lord work in man the changes that enables the promised Lord and Saviour to bring to fulfilment for man the idyllic promise foretold by Isaiah.

In our present-day, post Christian and proudly anti-Christian world, those words of Isaiah they shall not hurt nor destroy are not understood to be the fruit of faith commitment as intended by the Prophet but exclusively as part of an earthly work to be taken in hand by the state-controlled social services, and there are many individuals who want to share in that ‘doing good’.  But the promised Saviour could only serve men who had recognized and accepted Him; as I have said, He could only work a change for people if He was allowed, first of all, to make a change in them.  And there we have the tragedy of modern God-less, pseudo, holiness: modern ‘spirituality’ rejects all supposedly divisive and discriminatory attitudes in its exclusively earth-bound views, even Creations’ distinction between man and woman is denied as far as is actually, physically and psychologically, possible; good and evil are now understood only as legalistic terminology, ‘good’ being what is socially acceptable and legally approved, ‘evil’ is not indeed admissible as a word, and its alternatives ‘bad, wrong’ are considered to be such only on the basis of man’s legal, decree.  There is nothing of a supposed ‘God’ that is active above and beyond mere man.

Jesus Himself had opponents who thought themselves, and were regarded by the Jewish People of God, as ‘holy’ in the God-accepting and God-worshipping sense, but in their human pride they had become skilled at deceiving the people and putting God’s decrees aside for the sake of their own particular traditions, and it was when speaking to those proud Pharisees of His time, men who were jealous of His manifest teaching authority and miraculous powers, that Jesus said with the utmost clarity and decisiveness:

            You who are evil know how to give good things to your children ... (Luke 11:13)

In other words, mankind – whether rejecting God’s authority or denying His very being -- is thereby, despite the ‘good works’ they may seem to do, rendered evil, ontologically evil as being cut off from God’s life which is the only authentic life of HOLINESS.  Put more simply, dirty water though poured out both generously and abundantly is still dirty water.  Our God-rejecting, supposedly good men and women on this earth are only good in human estimation; for, in so far as they reject God’s rule in their lives, they are left subject to the supernatural power of the devil, whose deceits lead them to doing whatever -- under his guidance and impulse -- they may ‘fancy’ in their private lives: abortions (for very good reasons, of course), corruption (riches made easy), revenge, hatred (socially acceptable, even obligatory, at the top level of many cultures), sexual extravaganzas of all sorts, and subject above all to the Devil’s supreme weapon, spiritual Pride, in their publicly apparent and much-appreciated  ‘good’ works.

Bearing these things in mind we should, therefore, not be too surprised when -- on turning to the Gospel passage from St. Matthew -- we heard John the Baptist say to certain Pharisees and Sadducees coming to observe his ministering of baptism to very numerous penitents coming to him on Jordan’s banks:

            Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 

What could have brought the Pharisees and Sadducees together?  Little that promised good for John the Baptist, certainly.  The Pharisees, the ‘separate ones’ as their name proclaims, lived their lives according to rules derived from their own reading of the Jewish Scriptures, understood and made regulatory in accordance with their own Pharisaic oral traditions.  They prided themselves on the minute accuracy of their rules and were much admired by the ordinary people for their rigorous application of those rules.   The Sadducees, on the other hand, were traditional priests of the Temple; they were social aristocrats who did not accept the ‘modern’ scriptural understanding nor the unscriptural oral traditions of the Pharisees, neither did they like the fact that the common people were much impressed by the obvious – often begging-to-be-noticed – Pharisaic ‘holiness’ of their ascetic practices.  What therefore enabled such naturally opposed factions to unite on this occasion?   Surely, only the fact that both regarded John the Baptist with common antipathy!

“Brood of vipers”, indeed, because both were fixed in their ways, and intensely proud and protective of their own chosen positions of power and privilege.

John was not totally dismissive of them but warning them against their Abrahamic, human, pride – ‘We have Abraham as our father’ – and pointing to those coming in crowds for his baptism of repentance he said:

            God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

Nevertheless, being mindful of both God’s goodness as well as His power, he urged them to prove themselves true sons of Abraham by:

            Bearing fruits worthy of repentance.

As St. Luke tells us, he gave examples of what he meant by those words:

“He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”  To the tax collectors he said, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”  Likewise, to the soldiers he said, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

Such were the works immediately accessible to anyone truly wanting and willing to ‘repent’ as St. Matthew tells us John’s initial proclamation required:

John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  For this is He who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.”

However, the coming of God’s Kingdom as long foretold by the prophet Isaiah, and then witnessed to by one greater than all  those born of woman, the Saviour’s immediate forerunner John the Baptist -- -- and brought into being by the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Himself, is not something that can be furthered by merely human endeavour, learning, or skill, for it cannot be acquired, neither can it be won, or deserved; it can only be gratefully received, after having been freely given by God Himself to and through those filled with knowledge of the Personal goodness of the Giver, the Lord Whom they have long lovingly, diligently, and humbly sought at all times, under all circumstances, and above all else.

Today’s reading from the Book of Psalms makes perfectly clear that God is the First and the Last, and will ultimately be shown and known to be All in all, when it tells us:

He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper.   He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy.

His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun.  And men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed.

Dear People of God, the Advent proclamation of Mother Church is one of indescribable Beauty and most solemn and saving Truth; our modern, tawdry social Yuletide celebrations will have little that is authentic in them, for Christmas speaks only to those who are expecting and hoping for Jesus to come for them and make a change in them; a Jesus rewarding their faith-desire with an ever-deeper awareness and knowledge of Himself, inflaming their personal and total commitment to His love and to the ever- greater glory of His most holy Name.  Jesus alone is our Light of Truth, our Food of Life; He alone is our most-glorious and long-promised, long-awaited, and most ardently prayed-for Saviour; without -- apart from -- Him ‘good works’ are not truly good, and the authentic Christmas celebration of life both earthly and heavenly is non-existent.


Friday, 29 November 2019

1st Sunday of Advent Year A 2019

1st. Sunday of Advent (A)

(Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44)


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our Gospel reading is indeed suited to the Advent season of anticipation and expectation, but there Jesus is anticipating something much more solemn than the subject of our traditional Christmas celebration: preparations for which are usually centred on choosing gifts, arranging festive gatherings of family and friends, and planning meals of more pleasing, ample, and diverse character than those for normal daily sustenance.

Note this, dear People of God, that our three readings today – from the prophet Isaiah, St. Paul, and the Gospel of St. Matthew, are comprehensive in the fulness of their Christian anticipation:

Isaiah spoke of the initial awareness of Christ’s coming, and the desirability, the need, to seek out and learn from, His saving teaching:

Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, for from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem;

then we heard St. Paul in his letter to the Romans telling the Christians of Rome -- the capital of the Empire and the world’s sin -- to bear adult witness to, to ‘put on’, Christ:

Salvation is nearer than when we first believed, let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ;    

and finally, Our Blessed Lord Himself in our Gospel reading went yet further exhorting His disciples to persevere to the very end, to the ultimate climax of human life and Christian hope and expectation:

Stand erect and pray that you have the strength to stand before the Son of Man coming with power and great glory.

Dear People of God, let us, as children, always be ready and eager to learn about Jesus our Friend; let us, as committed disciples witness to and fight with Christ Jesus, our  Guide and Protector, against sin in us and in our world; and let us pray that, at the end, we – as those who have long loved Him -- may have unshakeable confidence and trust in Jesus the Lord and Judge of all mankind and the Saviour of all His true disciples.

During Advent, traditional Catholics preparing to celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem, commonly try to cast their thoughts back nearly 2000 years while rejoicing whole-heartedly in their present-day awareness and experience of the joys and blessings 2000 years of Christian faith and fulfilment have brought to the world and their own personal and family lives.  As modern Christians however, up to date indeed as regards worldly things demanding their attention, they are not necessarily up to standard for the appropriate expression of the fullness of authentic Catholic appreciation, worship, and love of God.  They do rightly want to teach their children about Jesus and to give God heartfelt thanks for the coming among us of His Son, born of the Immaculate Virgin Mary of Nazareth for our salvation; however, they tend to think only of going back to the shepherds, the angels, the crib, and the Magi, all long cherished and well remembered.

A closely related and like fault can to be seen frequently with indulgent grand-parents: they love their grandchildren and want to make and to see them happy, and so they often lower themselves down to a childish level of behaviour for immediate companionship and joy; too rarely do they seek to raise the children up -- even very gently -- towards more adult appreciations.  To try to lift up the mind of a child can be a risky business many prefer not to take; they find it so much easier for themselves to behave as a child with the children, winning immediate and joyful laughter all round and -- as a very acceptable bonus -- they get praise from all who are watching and admiring their easy rapport with their grandchildren!

Now that is what happens not only at home and in the family but also with the overall Catholic and Christian use of the Advent preparation: ‘just delight in the Infant Child, with spontaneous childish delight which delights parents as well; don’t spoil it by trying to somehow include a thought about something more serious and demanding, least of all any thoughts of Second and final Coming.  After all, Advent is not Lent!

That of course is very true, Advent is not Lent.  Nevertheless, Advent does bear a marked likeness to Lent in so far as both are times of expectation, preparing for an ever-more intimate sharing with Jesus in our appreciation of and co-operation with His work of salvation; and Advent, preparing to celebrate the very beginning of Christianity, also looks forward to all that is Christian, which means that it is the most comprehensively anticipatory, expectant, of all the liturgical seasons, as Mother Church’s choice of readings for today shows.   Indeed, Advent would tell us most insistently that Christianity is, essentially, a faith that is ever looking-forward in anticipation, and with humble, joyful expectation, to all the ever-greater blessings and glory Jesus has promised that God, His Father, is preparing for us as His prospective adopted sons and daughters.

ADVENT EXPECTATION calls for adults to encourage and teach their children how to find and express joy in the first coming of Jesus as a child of Mary and as their special Friend and also to help them begin to learn and express love for Jesus, come to be with them as their constant Guide and sure Protector.   And that initial, glowing, love for Jesus should itself then be gently sign-posted – yes, by parents and grand-parents! -- for later awareness of Him as Lord and Saviour over the years of deepening human maturity leading to full-blown Catholic commitment and Christian witness to Jesus Christ, Son of God made Son of Man for our salvation.

And those adult years of Christian maturity ---  years of loving service through suffering and joy, years of witness to well-known and understood faith and to truths of faith known only partially though promised a most glorious fulfilment --- those years of full discipleship,  enable the Spirit of God to bring to the mind for such disciples thoughts,  considerations, and even a measure of EXPECTATION of the Second, most public and indeed Universal, Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  When?  We do not know, but we do know with certitude that we ourselves will experience an authentic foretaste of that Cosmic Coming at the moment of our own death to the world and all that passes:  a moment, the occasion, of our entry into the eternity of God’s infinite mercy, Jesus’ saving sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit’s life-giving embrace of love, or else of the dread doom of reckoning and retribution for those who deliberately rejected or ignored the Father’s will to save, and so crucified the Saviour He actually sent to live with and die for us.

As it was in the days of Noah so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.  Therefore, stay awake for you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  Be sure of this: you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

Jesus used ‘Son of Man’ when speaking of Himself as endowed with a most solemn and sublime mission, whereas ‘your Lord’ is much more personal and intimate, and I think we can legitimately see there the motive for Catholic adults’ adult celebration of Christmas harmonizing so well with the celebrations they share with their children.  The children’s joyful welcoming of Jesus is, as it were, the first flowering of their family’s Catholic faith; the parents’ own humble awareness and hopeful expectation of Jesus’ constantly renewed coming into their own hearts and minds are more mature and more beautiful blossoms of the same Catholic and Christmas faith. However, the Second and universally public Coming-of-the-Son-of-Man, will herald the ultimate fulfilment of all their hopes and aspirations, which, having arisen from Jesus’ saving Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, now evoke the utmost love and glory for His Most Holy Name that saved mankind can offer.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Advent is meant to help both parents and children prepare more fully for truly Catholic-and-Christian Christmas joy!  Advent invites and urges us all to become more truly children of God; let us, therefore, close our present considerations by recalling today’s Alleluia antiphon:

                Show us Lord Your love; and grant us Your salvation!