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, 26 April 2019

Second Sunday of Easter Year C 2019

 2nd. Sunday of Easter (C)
(Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-19; John 20:19-31)

On thinking about today’s Gospel reading it might seem strange that the risen Jesus should go to such lengths to prove to the apostle Thomas that He was no ghost, that He was a real man of flesh and bones, and with blood coursing through His veins.  He was glorified indeed -- had He had not just entered the room although the doors were closed? -- but He was nevertheless still recognizably real and objectively present to and with His apostles in the room:

Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see My hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into My side.  Stop doubting and believe.

After doing so much for Thomas, why does Jesus today refrain from doing anything similar for modern people to prove that He is really with us?  We have to accept the truth about the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and presence to us, for us and with us, by faith ... how come that Thomas got so much proof?

First of all, notice that Thomas did indeed have faith.  A scientist seeing what Thomas saw might simply say, ‘There is something here I cannot understand, but science will be able to explain it later.  Indeed, if I could scientifically study this over a period of time I myself could probably explain it.  For the present, however, I will just have to suspend judgement.’  That was not the attitude of Thomas: straightway he leapt from fact to faith: after touching the wounds ... fact ... he immediately declared his faith with those momentous words:

My Lord and my God!

Thomas’ sense of touch only confirmed what his eyes saw; and with those earthly eyes he did but see the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, he did not, could not, see God.  It was the light of faith alone which enabled him to recognize the divine truth about Jesus and proclaim, My Lord and my God.

There is more to it, however, than that.  Something happened to the apostles when Thomas was absent, as we heard in the Gospel reading:

Jesus came and stood in the midst of the Apostles and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.’  And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’

Until then the Eleven had been a group of individuals, united indeed by their love of Jesus, but still a more or less somewhat disparate group of people capable of breaking up and each going their own way, as they in fact did when Jesus was apprehended.  However, when the Risen Jesus appeared to them -- in Thomas’ absence -- He gave them a distinctive and exclusive mission:

As the Father has sent Me, so I send you,

after which He bestowed on them the Gift of His own most Holy Spirit with power to forgive and retain sins, as you have just heard.   From that moment on, those ten apostles in the room with Jesus were no longer ten individuals devoted to the memory of Jesus as they had experienced Him previously; now they had been re-formed into a unity looking towards a common future and common endeavour for Jesus, an enduring unity of unique significance and universal consequence for mankind’s salvation: the CHURCH.

When Thomas originally refused to believe -- despite what his fellow Apostles and Mary  Magdalen had said -- until he himself also had seen the form, heard the voice, and indeed touched the very wounds of Jesus, he knew nothing about any Church ... he only knew a familiar group of friends and disciples of Jesus, each with their own hopes and fears, sorrows and longings, each with their very personal and at times quite obvious limitations and failings.  That is why Thomas needed -- and was given by his Lord and God -- that extra help that we today are not offered, because we have something much better, we have the witness of that universal Church established by Jesus; and, in her we are become members of His very own Body, personally empowered and ennobled by His most Holy Spirit, Who has washed away the sins that would prevent us from recognizing the truth about Jesus and overcoming the faults and failings that would impede us from humbly loving and faithfully serving Him.

The Church, God’s Chosen People, is, as I have said, the Body of Christ, the  Temple where Jesus has promised to be -- for our finding -- until the end of time; she is the Spouse He will never desert, and the loving Mother of all God’s children born in baptism, through faith in Jesus as sent by the heavenly Father and by the gift of His most Holy Spirit.  Her sacraments give us the food of life, while the word of Jesus -- alive in her -- is for a light to the nations and the glory of all God’s children.

Thomas, on being told of the first apparition of Jesus to the assembled disciples was only

an individual human being ... we, on the other hand, are much more blessed: being

members of the Church and having her witness to the truth, we are aware of and are able

to appreciate the abiding presence of Jesus her Head in our midst, with her sacraments

channelling for us and accomodating to us, His Own Personal presence and the abiding

power of His Spirit.  At that moment, Thomas’ refusal -- truly his confession of need –

was blunt and absolute, a veritable expression of his personal character; nevertheless,

when subsequently on his own, he had the time and opportunity to think things over, he
must have become deeply conscious of the separation between himself and his hitherto

mutually committed friends and companions, and how he must have longed to be able to

share their new found peace and strength drawn from this so-called Risen Lord Whom he

himself could not, as yet, fully embrace.  This longing was indeed God’s prompting that

would prepare him to embrace his second opportunity when Jesus once again appeared

to all Eleven of His apostles ... an opportunity for which Thomas had been humbly seeking

in his heart and mind.  This ‘opportunity’ became the most decisive moment of his whole

life: when his touching of Jesus’ wounds, and Jesus’ own words, prompted and

encouraged him to make a total personal commitment of faith in the Risen Lord he had

long loved.

For faith is -- as the Compendium of our Catechism teaches -- a supernatural virtue which is necessary for salvation; it is, indeed, a free gift of God accessible to all who humbly seek it.  The act of faith is a truly human act, an act of profound human understanding, by a person who -- prompted and encouraged by God’s grace -- joyously assents to divine truth revealed by God and proclaimed by Mother Church.  Faith is certain and works through charity.  It is, even now, a foretaste of the joys of heaven; and how this very occasion of today’s celebration evokes such joy for us, because one called, at times, ‘doubting Thomas’ could so manifestly provoke and lead us to such great appreciation of and joy in the Catholic and Apostolic Faith as is ours today!!  Pope Saint Gregory the Great was undoubtedly the one most famously and most deeply grateful to God for Thomas’ doubts which – as he said -- have won for us such blessings of joy and peace in our appreciation of the true Faith.

Yes, we Catholics rejoice in Mother Church and our Faith, two supremely wonderful and complementary gifts of God.  Our faith is indeed a joy because it is SURE when so much in life is belittled, betrayed, and riddled by insecurity ... life-long love and enduring commitment and fidelity between man and wife is hardly expected today and, indeed, frequently mocked in so many presentations of modern life in society where personal gain and pleasure, public approval or even mere acceptance or tolerance, are more than enough to tip the scales against any prospective possibility of sacrifice.   For intellectual, or even religiously-inclined people, Catholic faith can be deemed impossible because the world and our knowledge of it are changing ever so rapidly that no one can know what time may bring.  One former learned Christian acquaintance of mine, thus afflicted, could not say, when I asked him concerning the divinity of Jesus, what he might ‘believe’ in ten years’ time.  Consequently, for so many, instead of the sure light of faith guiding towards the fulfillment of our human destiny and the abiding promise of a God-given future, there is only an individual, or at best shared, opinion; available, not indeed to guide onwards, but merely to hopefully justify personal past and future choices.  There is no love in-and-through life, just adventitious adaptations to whatever might seem the best available personal option at the moment in question.

Catholic Faith, because it is founded on the Word of God, is both sure and certain: it is essential for salvation because it alone can respond fittingly to the great Goodness of God and the sublimity of His promises made to mankind in Jesus.  Even though, for example, one can still read past issues of national and international papers recounting the wonders witnessed by thousands at Fatima and Lourdes, even though pilgrims still today experience startling cures at those and similar shrines, nevertheless every new generation wants to experience for itself so much that, without such corroborating personal experience, the reports of others gradually lose compelling attention and are, inevitably forgotten or simply no longer taken into account.  Faith alone can respond to and overcome such depradations of our human character by time and cupidity.

People of God, there has been so much truth and beauty brought to our attention today, and I have not even mentioned the wonderful promptings of God spoken of in the Catechism, promptings that speak directly to individual hearts and minds, that relate to individual and secret needs and aspirations!  However, the order of the day – so to speak -- is heart-felt gratitude to the God of our Faith for Thomas’ ‘blunt’ confession, and for the enduring apostolic proclamation of Mother Church, which afford us so much comfort and peace while, nevertheless, inspiring us with an ever-deeper longing for and delight in Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Saviour.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Easter Sunday 2019

 Easter Sunday (2019)
(Acts of the Apostles 10:34, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9)

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, on this glorious day let us look at one verse in our Gospel passage which speaks volumes about our Risen Lord.  You heard that both John and Peter ran to the tomb; John, being the younger, arrived first and:

Stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.

Peter, coming next, characteristically went straight into the empty tomb where:

He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around (Jesus’) head not lying with the linen cloths but folded together in a place by itself.

Now, just recently, St. John told us about Jesus miraculously bringing Lazarus back from the dead and out of the tomb:

Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"  And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.   (11:43-44)

There, Lazarus came out of the tomb at Jesus’ command, but he appeared:

bound hand and foot with grave-clothes and his face wrapped with a cloth.

The fact that he was still bound in his grave clothes signified that he was not totally free from death; he would needs face death again.  For the present time, however, Jesus said to those around:

Loose him, and let him go.

As you can see there was a big difference between Lazarus’ being raised and Jesus’ Resurrection, for when Jesus rose He left the linen cloths behind:

Simon Peter saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.

Jesus rose totally from the bonds of death, never again would He be subject to them.  Lazarus, on the other hand, had come out of the tomb “bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth”. 

Let us consider further the linen cloths left behind in Jesus’ otherwise empty tomb, and, in order to help us, let us recall how Jesus later appeared to His disciples for the first time:

(That) same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." (John 20:19)

The doors were locked, and they remained locked, just as if no one had entered.  However, Jesus had been able to enter the room, because closed -- even locked -- doors presented no obstacle to His Risen Body.  It was like that with the burial cloths and the kerchief: though Jesus had risen, the burial clothes remained as whole as they had been when wrapping His body, save that now they enclosed, wrapped nothing; the head-cloth, however, the kerchief which had been round His head, was now neatly folded and separate from the body cloths.

The message of the grave-clothes, as with that of the closed and locked door in the upper room, was that the Risen Lord was now glorified.   Lazarus had been called back to ordinary earthly life; Jesus had risen to a new and glorious life not destructive of this creation – witness the burial cloths that had wrapped His body -- but partaking of, sharing in, that heavenly Kingdom which He had proclaimed to be close at hand.

And if we now pay yet closer attention to the kerchief we find that it might have its own particular message for us.  The kerchief, which was generally used to cover, protect, one’s head and also for carrying money, was used in funerals to wrap the head in such a way that the jaw bone was prevented from falling open, thus preserving the dignity of the dead person.  The special mention of the kerchief being separately placed and neatly folded can be understood and appreciated as a preservation of Jesus’ Messianic dignity, a sign that Jesus’ proclamation of the Good News of salvation was eternally valid and would never be silenced: the fruit of His labour and the fullness of His teaching needing only to be wisely matured and faithfully handed down through the ages by the Church He had established on the rock-witness of Peter and the testimony of His chosen Apostles under the guidance of His own final and supreme Gift, His most Holy Spirit.

It is now time, therefore, to turn our attention to the supreme Christian mystery, that of the most Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; three divine Persons, one God.  How are we to think of this?

God the Father, to be Father, must have a Child -- His Son, the Bible says.  God the eternal Father, therefore, eternally begets His only beloved Son, Who is like Him and equal to Him in all respects, save that the Father is the Person Who begets whereas the Son is the Person begotten.  Thus, the Father and His only-begotten Son are eternally One in the power of that begetting -- that uniting power of their mutual Love -- which is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is called God’s Gift, for in and through Him the Father and the Son give themselves to each other in total knowledge, understanding, appreciation, and love; and that is why, when God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- determined that the Son should become man in the Incarnation, He was sent -- as Son -- by the Father and conceived as a human being in the Virgin’s womb by the Holy Spirit.  Moreover, when His earthly life had run its course, we are told in the letter to the Hebrews, of the Holy Spirit uniting the Son to His Father in Jesus’ very act of dying:

Christ, through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, (to) cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God! (9:14)

Therefore, when the Son, after His Passion and Death, was raised to new and eternally glorious life, the Scriptures tell us that both the Father and the Spirit raised Him.  We read Paul preaching the Gospel to the Jews at Perga (Acts 13:32-33):

We declare to you glad tidings -- that promise which was made to the fathers.  God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.'   

Yet when writing his letter to the Romans (1:1-4) the same Paul also says:

Jesus Christ our Lord … was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

St. Peter likewise mentions the Spirit:

Christ also suffered once for sins … being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

Through His Passion and Death, as the letter to the Hebrews tells us, Jesus had been brought to perfect Sonship in His humanity:

Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. (5:8-9)

And now, the Risen Jesus, having being raised by the Father and glorified in His human flesh by the Spirit -- perfect man and perfect God -- has become the perfect channel through Whom we are able to receive the divine Spirit into our poor, sinful, lives.  For Jesus, Son of the Father and Giver of God’s Gift, comes to us now in the Eucharist so that we, who are of earthly flesh and blood might, by receiving His glorious Flesh and Blood, be able to share in His Holy Spirit; whereupon, that Spirit of holiness -- the bond of love and power uniting Father and Son -- begins to form us, in the likeness of Jesus for the Father.

As of old, the Ark of the Covenant had tabernacled God’s Law for His chosen People, so, when He Who had been long-promised came, it was Mary who housed and nourished Jesus in her womb.  Today Mother Church is the treasure-house where Jesus is ever-present to His people by His Word and in the Holy Eucharist, and it is Mother Church who, by the Gift of His Spirit and according to the model set for her by Mary, now

treasures and ponders in her heart

all that Jesus taught and did (Luke 2:19, 51).  All who live by faith in Mother Church’s proclamation of Jesus receive, through her, the Gift of His Spirit, so that they might be formed into a true likeness of Our Lord and Saviour, and as adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father.

People of God, wonderful things have been done for us this Easter: through oneness with Jesus our Saviour and by the power of His most Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Strength, we -- in all our daily endeavours to walk along the way of Jesus -- are offered union with the Father as St. Paul said:

You (have been) raised with Christ, (so) seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Your (real) life is hidden with Christ in God, (and) when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Let us therefore strengthen our faith, as, with deepened understanding in our minds and renewed joy in our hearts, we proclaim our own Easter hymn of praise and thanksgiving, saying: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, in holy mother Church for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Good Friday 2019

 Good Friday 2019.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today we are called to consider an absolutely essential aspect of our Catholic -- which means universal -- Christian faith.  We should not, and indeed cannot, identify Christian values with those currently prevalent in our Western part of the world, because our present, secularized, Western culture is most seriously wrong, for example, in the exaggerated emphasis and value it puts on living long to experience and enjoy all that life has to offer.  Because of this fixation on satisfying our human capacity for pleasure and fulfilment Western society has come to regard death as the end of everything that is desirable, and consequently views death, with all its concomitant forms of suffering, as something to be avoided above all else.  It is time, therefore, for modern, secular, self-satisfied and non-believing, Westerners to learn from the attitude of other great cultures, in this case of Japan and Islam – yes, even from some former world-war and some present world-turmoil opponents – who believed and believe that  death can be regarded as a possible gateway to future glory, and who can, therefore, gladly embrace death for what they consider to be a worthwhile cause.

Now, although we Catholics and Christians could never accept the idea of political convictions being a worthy cause for deliberate self destruction, and while the manner in which certain  former adversaries deliberately chose to kill themselves and die along with  their opponents alarmed and amazed us; and although the notion of heavenly glory so frequently imagined by simple ISIS enthusiasts and proclaimed by manipulative leaders, is both degrading and earthly, nevertheless, the willingness of members of those two great cultures – Japan and Islam -- to sacrifice themselves for what they – rightly or wrongly -- saw or see as an ideal or belief, is something both truly human and worthy of admiration.

We Catholics can never resort to self-inflicted death, to self-destruction, as a direct means to express our hatred or promote our cause, because death cannot be of our free and deliberate choosing;  nevertheless, as Christians, we are called to become so freed from the fear of death, to be inspired with such love for what is divinely beautiful and true, that we can wholeheartedly embrace death when it is encountered for witnessing to Christ and expressing love for God or neighbour.  Today, however, our secularized Western societies are smothering Christians aspirations and dragging down believers into fearing death above all, something to be feared and avoided or at least delayed, at whatever cost; while saving life – except of course the lives of aborted infants – justifies almost anything.

Today, we Catholics and Christians need very much to remember that we celebrate GOOD FRIDAY, the day when Jesus, our Redeemer, Lord and Saviour, embraced death for love of His Father and sinful mankind.

Yes, People of God, today we Catholics celebrate Jesus’ death; and we must never allow ourselves to be led astray into mourning Jesus’ death.  We embrace, rejoice in, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ way of dying, Jesus’ use of death, for us; we lament, we mourn, we weep, for mankind’s (including individuals like you and me) killing of, hatred for, self-centred disregard of, Jesus, His truth and His love.  Jesus’ death we love and celebrate; it is our -- and mankind’s -- killing of Him and His that we both loath and mourn.

Our modern society in this much-changed country once known as Great Britain has come to admire mourning: many people today seem to think it good to say they cannot forget; forget what?  Of course, they cannot forget nor could anyone ever ask them to forget their loved ones whose memory deserves to be cherished.  However, what they should learn to forget, to put behind them, is their loss, which too many mourn, year after year after year!  In that mourning there can indeed be sincere heart-break; but also, there is far too much self-love; and such mourning is not for our Christian remembrance and celebration of Good Friday, for it does not proclaim any good.

Today, I say, we Catholics and Christians are called to celebrate Jesus’ dying, Jesus’ embrace of death, for us.  As for mourning, we mourn most certainly our own sinfulness, so like, indeed so one-with, that of those who actually killed Jesus two-thousand years ago; BUT our mourning compels us to tackle our sinfulness; we can hope and must aspire to overcome our sinfulness and thereby transfigure our mourning, by God’s grace.

Looking now, on this Good Friday, at the crucified Jesus, we recognize that, for Him, death was not the end but rather the climax of His life; it was not the loss of all that He had loved, but rather the sublime moment when He was at last able to give supreme expression to the love which had filled His life.  Jesus said, “It is finished”: that is, first of all, He was aware and content that He had completed the task His Father had given Him when sending Him into this world.  What was it that was finished?  Not simply the work of our redemption, because the full fruit of that has still to be gathered in over the ages by His disciples working in the power of His Spirit in the Church and in the world.  What then was already fully and finally finished as Jesus breathed His last?

It was Jesus’ constant and ever-more-consuming desire to give Himself entirely to the Father in His earthly life; to give true and full expression -- as much as the limits of His human body would allow Him -- to the consuming love He had for His Father (Luke 12:50):

            I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! 

Our Good Friday Jesus was finally able to say, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit” with ineffable peace and joy, before He then deliberately breathing His last.  Life did not just slip listlessly out of His grasp: He wholeheartedly gave over His life in total trust to His Father.  This final and total gift of Himself to the Father was, in that way, the fullest expression He had ever been able to give of the love that filled Him.

For us Catholics and Christians therefore, death may even be supremely desirable, and can and should, most certainly, be hopefully reverenced and humbly embraced, because it offers us also a supreme opportunity to express our love for the Father, our trust in Jesus, our hope in the Spirit.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Palm Sunday Year C 2019

       Palm Sunday (C)                                        (Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14 – 23:56)

We are gathered together here in solemn preparation for the Easter Passover of Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and, on hearing St. Luke’s account of our Lord’s Passion and Death we have been struck by the horror of His sufferings and by His wondrously patient endurance.  Embracing the Cross, on the left hand by His total commitment to us and, on the right hand by His absolute trust in and love for His Father, He was, ultimately Himself, resting in the peace and joy of total fulfilment as our Redeemer and as the only-begotten Son of the Father.

Now, having listened reverently to that Gospel reading, let us turn our attention from the Lord to ourselves, His disciples; and, searching our self-awareness as honestly and dispassionately as we can, did we perhaps find that reading at times rather long and perhaps a little wearisome?   If so, that can be a humbling and somewhat depressing acknowledgement, in so far as we tend to think that if we were proper Catholics, if we were true disciples, we would not just hear of that holy event and find such hearing long and taxing, but rather would we experience it with hearts filled with deep sorrow and ardent longing.  And, inevitably, we vaguely fear that our lack of emotional involvement betrays some hidden fault or even serious failings on our part.

Let us, therefore, take a closer look at such unwanted weariness which can obtrude itself upon us at times when we would much prefer to experience fervent devotion.

First of all, we should be clear in our minds that we are here, above all, not to get emotional rewards for ourselves but to give ourselves, through devotion, whole-heartedly to God: those wretched words, ‘I don't seem to be getting anything out of it’, should never be part our thinking.

To that end, we need to be clear in our minds about the difference between emotion and devotion for they are not the same, nor are they necessarily found together.  Emotions express and affect our natural feelings, whereas devotion is the sign and measure of our supernatural commitment; moreover, our emotions are largely instinctive and self-centred whereas devotion is subject to our will and centred on God.  Devotion can, most certainly, benefit greatly when backed-up by the appropriate power of emotions; however, devotion is not necessarily diminished by the absence of emotions; indeed, devotion can be at its greatest when deprived of them.  Emotion, alone, is of no worth, its function is to assist what is more worthy than itself; devotion, on the other hand, is always solely and supremely commendable before God

Dear People of God, it is essential for us to recognize that we are sinners and that God alone is holy.  All the good we have, all that we can have, is His gift to us.  Therefore, we must never be surprised at our own weariness, dryness, or lack of emotional feelings on occasions like today, for that is a true, indeed the truest picture of us, for we are, of ourselves, barren and fruitless.

As Christians, however, our attention and expectation are centred on God.  He is good, and He has given His own Son to save us from our sinfulness.  What we have to try to do is what the Suffering Servant, in the first reading, shows us:

Each morning (he woke) to listen like a disciple to the Lord, making no resistance nor turning away.

Jesus woke like that, immediately; He was always immediately and most lovingly in His Father’s presence, listening, watching, and waiting.  We, however, can hope to grow in such wonderfully Filial dispositions by learning from the Scriptures and putting ourselves into the presence of God, obtruding ourselves on Jesus, as did, first of all, the blind beggar Bartimaeus (Luke 18) who so humbly and courageously drew Jesus’ attention to himself, a nobody, despite the hostility of the crowd; or, as did  Zacchaeus (Luke 19), an important civic figure in this case who, because he was short of stature, humbled himself -- despite the hostile mockery of onlookers – by resorting to climb a roadside tree that he might at least catch a glimpse of Jesus passing by on the road beneath.

And that, indeed, is what we are, in fact, doing here today: we have put ourselves in Jesus’ way, waiting and listening in case He might turn His gaze, see us, and speak to us as He did to blind Bartimaeus, or even come to dwell a little with us as He did in the case of Zacchaeus.  If He does neither of those things, we should have no complaint, it is His will and we have no claims on Him: whatever He does, we know that He does it for our true good and that He is right.  If, on the other hand, He does turn His glance our way, then we should gratefully accept those ardent emotions by using them as a spur to our devotion, endeavouring thereby to give ourselves back, in Jesus, to God our Father more completely and more wholeheartedly than ever before. 

Dear People of God, never let feelings engross you who seek to be true disciples of Jesus; for ultimately, it is only the straight and sure path of true devotion that follows Jesus heavenward; our emotions, on the other hand, can sometimes be like flowers bordering that path and rejoicing our hearts; or, at other times -- and perhaps more frequently – they can be like stones that would hinder us by cluttering the way or upsetting our balance. 

Friday, 5 April 2019

5th Sunday of Lent Year C 2019

          5th. Sunday of Lent (C)
                                              (Isaiah. 43:16-21; Phil. 3:8-14; John 8:1-11)

Today’s gospel passage is famous, exemplifying, as it does, what is certainly the most popular, and perhaps the best-loved, aspect of Jesus: His compassionate understanding of our human weakness.   Let us therefore take a closer look at it.

First of all notice that the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman -- quite possibly surreptitiously trapped in the act of adultery – to Jesus and set her standing in full view of the assembled crowd; they wanted everyone to be able to see her clearly, but even more than that, they wanted the crowd to have their attention fixed on Jesus whom they confidently hoped to trap in His words.  However, it would seem that, in their eagerness to entrap Jesus, they had not fully averted to the significance of their actions; for, in the book of Numbers the Law prescribes that, in the case of a woman guilty of adultery:

The man shall bring his (adulterous) wife to the priest, and the priest shall first have the woman come forward and stand before the LORD.  (5:15-16)

The Scribes and Pharisees, having taken charge of the adulteress handed over to them, and being completely absorbed in their planned ambush of Jesus, actually set her before Him quite unaware of the significance of their action before the Law!

After having thus ostentatiously proclaimed the charge against her, they then asked Jesus to tell them the best way of dealing with her.  In response, Jesus, we are told,

bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger.

Notice that in His compassion Jesus did not look the woman straight in the eye; He was not seeking to cause her further embarrassment.  He would look her in the eye later when offering her His saving grace and giving her a final warning.

At this moment, the scribes and Pharisees were seeking to make use of this woman’s adultery in order to call for Jesus’ opinion on the proper procedure they should follow in such a matter, so that those of them who were experts of the Law might be able to ensnare Him in legal technicalities.   Jesus, in other words, was their principal target, and that is why:

            When they continued asking Him, (Jesus) raised Himself up.

Yes, when they persisted in questioning Him, Jesus straightened up to face them directly.  The woman was publicly humiliated; the Scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, were publicly proud and secretly malicious: Jesus most certainly did want to face up to them, He wanted to both knock down their pride and thwart their malice, and so, standing up and facing them, He said:

            He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.

Those baying and eager accusers melted quietly away one by one until Jesus was finally left alone with the still-standing woman, to whom He said:

            Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

Many sinners – and would-be’s -- remember that famous ending to the story and both misunderstand and abuse it.  What so easily and so forcefully strikes them is the vague, general, impression of Jesus rescuing an adulteress from the Scribes and Pharisees, self-appointed upholders of the Law.  They rightly consider that it shows how Jesus -- knowing our sinfulness and compassionating our weakness -- is always prepared to forgive rather than to punish.  However, they then show their own perversity by imagining that the gravity of sin is thereby seen to be easily excusable and their own personal sinfulness less condemnable, easily condonable.  Of course, they cannot deny that Jesus did say “sin no more”, but, for them such words are what we today might call ‘politically correct’ words, necessary in such circumstances: satisfying Pharisaic proprieties but having no real significance or meaning.

Now, what for us is the real meaning and significance of Jesus’ actions here?  Recall what the prophet Isaiah said in our first reading:

See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.  Wild beasts honour Me, jackals and ostriches; for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for My chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for Myself, that they might announce My praise.

Water, then, as now, was precious in Israel: it meant life for a people who could see in the desert wastelands so close at hand the ever-present threat of death: for them, the greatest miracle imaginable was to make water flow in the desert and streams run in the wastelands.  Moreover, this new thing would lead even the wild animals to praise and honour God, before finally achieving its ultimate purpose of forming a new people to sing worthily the praises of their God:

This people I have formed for Myself that they might announce My praise.

What would this NEW THING be?  How was God going to bring it about?

The Scribes and Pharisees had recognized aright that the woman taken in adultery was a sinner.  What they did not understand, however, was that this woman’s bad living was a symptom of the whole world’s sinfulness, a sinfulness from which they themselves were not exempt, learned and devout-according-to-the-Law though they were.  She and they, yes, and all mankind, were still slaves, not, indeed, to Egypt any longer, but most certainly to sin.  The Scribes and Pharisees could not understand what the prophet Isaiah had foreseen: he had spoken of a new thing, a new act of God, that would make all who heard of it forget even the miracle at the Red Sea which the authorities in Israel revered as the supreme act of God that could only be repeated, never transcended.  God, they thought, could and would repeat what He had done at the Red Sea: as He had slaughtered the Egyptians there long ago, so the time would come when He would lead Israel to triumph over the Romans, slaughtering them and all her worldly enemies; then would the prescriptions of the Law be perfectly fulfilled and God would be King.

Isaiah, however, had spoken of a new act of God that would totally transcend the former physical deliverance, because this new act that He would perform through Jesus would save not simply Israel but also the whole of mankind from a captivity far worse than Israel’s former slavery in Egypt, that is, from the spiritual and potentially eternal thraldom to sin.  God’s new spiritual act would prepare, as you heard Isaiah foretell, a people able and worthy to sing God’s praises.  Neither slaves nor sinners could do that.  Yes, God’s new act would bring about a new creation, a new People of God able to sing a new song, expressing both the beauty and goodness of divine glory and human beatitude.  How was Jesus going to do this?  

Do you remember the Gospel reading just a fortnight ago?  There, Jesus told a parable about a landowner wanting to cut down an unfruitful tree whilst the gardener pleaded:

Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.  If not, you can cut it down.

Jesus knew it would be Himself Who, in real life, would fertilize the failing tree of God’s own planting with His own most Precious Blood; and that orchard tree of the parable figured the whole root and stock of sinful Adam, represented today by the adulterous woman, by the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees her accusers, and by the surrounding crowd of curious but faithless observers. 

We are now in a position to understand the whole picture.  How could Jesus condemn this woman for whom He was soon to give His life on the Cross?  In fact, it would be easier to save her because she had just been made aware of and, we trust, ashamed of her sinfulness.  Jesus was going to give all sinners, like her, one last chance, such was the very purpose of His life, death, and Resurrection: He would loose the bonds of sin by pouring out His own Most Precious Blood in sacrifice on Calvary.  His final words on both these occasions have the same significance:

It may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.

Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.

The Scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, refusing to recognize and unwilling to admit their own sinfulness, thereby made it much more difficult for Jesus to set them free.  And why were they so blind to their own sins and failings?  Because they saw the Law as a list of commandments to be obeyed and prescriptions to be carried out, not as a heavenly gift inviting them to total love of God and service of their neighbour.   As a result, they were centred on and satisfied with what they regarded as their own achievements: they gave tithes of everything they earned, they prayed at prescribed times and observed the requirements of liturgical purity, and in this respect their achievements – thanks to the grace God had bestowed on His chosen people -- were indeed more than those of all others.  But in all this they had only learnt to love themselves, not God; they trusted in their own punctilious performance, not in God’s goodness to them and mercy for all; and instead of serving their neighbours, they could only criticise and condemn them along with the adulterous woman.  Therefore, for their own sakes, Jesus had to try to make them realize and admit the truth about themselves:

Let the one among you who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her.

Now, dear People of God, let us look at our own sinful selves and at our excessively sinful times.  Jesus in no way condones sin.  When He dealt so kindly with that adulterous woman, He was in fact giving her a last chance.  However, those firm last words of Jesus, ‘go and sin no more’ have, for many, become enveloped in a protective cloth of supposed human rights and an overly sentimental understanding of Jesus’ saving purpose.  Many sinners today neither have nor want true knowledge or clear understanding of Jesus; they are stuffed up with pride at their supposed human right to live as they see fit and delight in their ignorance both of God and the reality of sin.

But we, Catholics and Christians, most grateful disciples of Jesus, must never forget that our God is a God of both Truth and Beauty, and that, as physical beauty is built upon the sure basis of a good bone structure, so spiritual beauty calls for a firm foundation of obedience to God’s will and Christian truth.  The Goodness and Holiness of God are likewise co-ordinated, for His goodness toward us is only fully realized by calling us upwards, out of our earthly condition, towards Himself and a share in His holiness.  He is indeed compassionate, He knows our sinfulness and our weakness, our ignorance and our blindness, that is why He sent His own Son to die for us, and why He sustains and guides Mother Church, so that through her His Son might be present to us and with us by His Spirit throughout the ages.   However, His Son in no way intends to allow His disciples to live for an earthly destiny: He was sent and He still intends to lead His own with Himself heavenwards.   Remember what the prophet Isaiah in our first reading said:

I have formed My chosen people for Myself that they might announce My praise.

That is indeed our ultimate calling in Jesus: to sing the praises of God in heaven for all eternity in total joy, peace, and fulfilment.  Thinking of that, St. Paul told us in the second reading:

I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … not having any righteousness of my own based on the Law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know Him and the power of His resurrection ….

That we might attain to the Resurrection from the dead and to praise God for all eternity, Paul advises us:

Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

Let us then, aspiring to maturity in Christ, adopt this attitude with him.