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, 31 August 2019

22nd Sunday Year C 2019

22nd. Sunday (Year C)

(Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14)


Our reading from the book of Sirach was only short but replete with human awareness and divine wisdom, and the opening lines struck me immediately:

My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.

I find those words to be both beautiful and humbling, but they are words to be ‘tasted’ and delighted in when alone and at peace.

Now, it could well have been the case that not a few of the guests at the table of our Gospel’s leading Pharisee knew those words, in the sense that they were aware of them and had read them in their private reading or Scriptural studies, for these guests seem to have been invited for one main purpose: that they – regional/local fellow-Pharisees of the host -- might have an opportunity to meet the increasingly well-known ‘rabbi’, Jesus of Nazareth.  That is why, I believe, we are told:

On a sabbath, Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing Him carefully

The point is, however, that those words from Sirach are not easily appreciated and acted upon by those whose lives are fully engaged in the daily preoccupation for prestige and position, and that is why Jesus, in His chosen parable for this occasion, did not use any such traditional human words, but rather chose to develop a sense of  divine wisdom and human accountability wrapped in the following simple words:

Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favour with God.

Although St. Luke only tells us that ‘the people’ were observing Jesus closely, there can be no doubt that the ‘leading Pharisee’ himself was also carefully watching Jesus not only to see whether his dinner was proving the success for which he had hoped but most especially to see how his guests were ‘finding’ Jesus, relating or reacting to Him.

Above all, however, Jesus Himself was also carefully observing His fellow guests, for the Gospel tells us:

Noticing how they were choosing the places of honour at the table, Jesus told a parable for those who had been invited.

The situation is reminiscent of Jesus’ initial meeting with the synagogue members in His home town of Nazareth: everyone here, as had been the case there, was watching and waiting for Him to say something.  Jesus Himself knew just why He had been invited, and having accepted the invitation He intended to go along with His hosts’ hopes and expectations for the outcome of the dinner.

What a drama, where divine wisdom is to be packaged in words expressive of human cunning and self-promotion!

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honour.  A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man.’
Jesus pictures a wedding banquet, a most important occasion in Jewish society where marriage was considered both as personal fulfilment and ‘national service’, a time for dresses and dignitaries, for boasting and gifts.   On such occasions the still small voice of humility and modesty would be almost totally inaudible even for Jews far better educated in such matters than the pagans around;  overwhelmingly louder would be the ever-popular dictum of self-seekers: ‘if I do not take the best place available for myself, someone else will certainly come along and seize it to promote their prospects; I must make an immediate decision otherwise the opportunity will be lost!’   Such urgent and imperious considerations would rarely fail to convince even those allowing themselves an instant to consider the situation.

This picturing of a wedding banquet would have lulled any suspicions of Jesus’ table companions that they themselves were being ‘got at’.  They all knew the ‘goings-on’ at banquets on such occasions: mother of the daughter and bride-to-be, mother of the son and husband-to-be, facing up to each other in so many secret little ways with words, and mannerisms.  Two fathers carefully and anxiously(?) considering the financial costs involved.  And then the relatives and friends of both parties all waiting to seize their own choice patch to enjoy the celebration and observe all going on there.

Now, all Jesus fellow-guests at this smaller, less colourful, and quite serious dinner would have understood all the elbowing and whispering that went on among those specially invited to such a wedding of which Jesus spoke, and they could well have been rather amused at their own recollections of such occasions.  Nevertheless, they would also have been able to empathize quite deeply with anyone being asked to , ‘Give your place to another man’, or, on the other hand, with him asked to ‘move up to a higher position’; and so Jesus’ parable would, I think, have most certainly stirred their attention to the extent that they were prepared to realize with mind and heart what was to come.

And so, at the summit of that peaceful and absorbing general appreciation of human nature in its amusing, selfish and vulnerable aspects, Jesus added words that, for Jews with their background and training, suddenly become directly personal and much more serious, having indeed divine implications:

                Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.

‘Will be humbled’ ... that is, by God, as no Pharisee or educated Jew would fail to understand.

Now indeed the rabbi from Nazareth was beginning to show Himself to be such as they had heard Him spoken of!

Teacher, we know that what you say and teach is correct, and you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth! (Luke20:21)

Notice Jesus’ method, dear People of God.  He shows His listeners first of all, both calmly and without blame, that He knows them and theirs: the wedding banquet served to amusingly highlight conduct they could recognize so easily in others but which had, at first, seemed so far away from their own serious gathering here and now at the home of one of their leading associates.  Jesus’ words however, show that He has observed what had been happening around their dinner table.   He holds back from Personally condemning anyone or anything in particular but the Word of God He quotes is condemnatory, and a sensible tension begins to be felt among those at table as a result.   However, Jesus then continues quietly and gives what those around had secretly come to hear from Him, that is, His own human wisdom hopefully leading them to recognise and gently guiding them to embrace the beauty of the God’s Word:  

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled!  But the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
The Word of God indeed -- introduced by the Lord without any apology for considering it most appropriate for those presently gathered with Him at their host’s table -- contained a warning first, to draw their careful attention, and then, second, a promise both divinely beautiful and alluringly possible!   After such a sudden contrast in the words Jesus used there was a sensibly-felt lessening of tension among all those around the table followed by a period of short silence indicative of unusually serious introspection and  thought.

Jesus next turned His attention to His host whom He had also been carefully observing.

When you hold a lunch or a dinner do not invite your friends or brothers, or your relatives or wealthy neighbours, in case they invite you back; rather invite the poor, the crippled, the blind.  Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Jesus, I suggest, appreciated His host, and was aware that the present social occasion he had convened had been incumbent on him because of his prominence as a leading Pharisee and because he was known to have some special appreciation of the ‘untaught’ rabbi’s familiarity with and understanding of the Scriptures.

Notice, dear People of God, there was no warning given to him by Jesus; rather, Jesus bestowed on him teaching about the resurrection of the righteous,  the surety of which teaching was Personal to Jesus, over and above the Scriptures known by the Pharisee, for as yet the Jews had not come to any consensus, let alone unanimity, about the right understanding of the possible ‘resurrection’ passages of Scripture.   This statement of Jesus’ Personal divine wisdom and understanding was a bounteous reward for His host’s present appreciation of Jesus and a spur for his future intentions:

You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Dear People of God, we hear too often today those words, ‘Who am I to judge?’  Too often today the Word of God is kept hidden out of personal fear and embarrassment, false respect for other peoples’ supposed feelings.  Notice most clearly Jesus’ Own behaviour and remember that we are all members of His priestly people: some of us are ordained priests of Jesus for Mother Church, all of us, however, are one to the extent that we all have a personal calling and varying obligations to proclaim the Word of God to our world in the name of Jesus.   Jesus, as you have seen, Personally observed the situation in which He found Himself as Son sent by His Father, and He dutifully proclaimed the appropriate Word of God for that situation without fear.

All ordained priests of Mother Church and the priestly, catholic, People of God, are, by obligation and/or encouragement  endowed to proclaim in Church and in public, to witness in their homes and workplace, among friends and at  leisure times, the appropriate and necessary Word of God, in the power and virtue of the Holy Spirit.  We, however, are only called to judge (Who am I to judge?) when sin is involved, and then to judge only the sin, not the sinful person involved.   It is God Himself -- of His infinite majesty and wisdom, goodness and mercy -- Who condemns, first of all by His Words of Scripture, those who continue to ignore His Wisdom and defy His Goodness, before His ultimately final and Personal condemnation at the Last Judgement.  

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Catholic faith is most beautiful and true and we all, each in our own way and according to our personal calling should treasure and preserve it for the generations to come as we have so gratefully received it and so graciously learned to love it.   That is our most seriously binding duty as Catholic disciples of Jesus, to witness to what we believe and love.   The most Holy Spirit has come among us to witness to Jesus Who said to His disciples, ‘He, the Spirit of Truth abides with you (in Mother Church) and will be in you (personally).   Dear People of God, if the Spirit is alive in you, you must witness to your Christian and Catholic faith otherwise you yourself are spiritually close to death.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

21st Sunday Year C 2019

Twenty-first Sunday of the Year (C)

(Isaiah 66:18-21; Letter to the Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Gospel of St. Luke 13:22-30)

Today’s Gospel reading gave us an account of Jesus’ teaching as He was passing through towns and villages on His way to Jerusalem.  He knew that He was walking towards His death by crucifixion at Roman hands in that supposedly Holy City, and there is noticeable urgency and solemnity about His words and bearing: words that demand our most serious attention and deserve our most sincere and humble trust and compliance, and a bearing that brooks no idle questioning.  Again, His words stress that all of us have but a limited time at our disposal – and how heart-felt were those words on His lips at that time -- so limited an opportunity to prepare well for the coming of God’s salvation, before the door, the gate, opening onto the festive celebration of that coming will be closed definitively, while His very bearing underlines the fact that the only valid title for entry there will involve deep sincerity of heart responding with spiritual obedience to the truth: mere past familiarity with what is holy, mere former acquaintance with the truth will not suffice.

So, as Jesus walked steadfastly towards Jerusalem with crowds thronging round Him -- as would Roman soldiers soon be doing for a far different purpose -- someone cried out, perhaps like a modern-day reporter trying to get an exclusive statement:

            Sir, will there be only a few saved?

Jesus, as was His wont in such cases, gave no direct answer; even Peter, later asking a question of Him concerning his friend and junior Apostle John’s destiny, would find Jesus -- though both were well-loved and highly regarded disciples of His -- tight-lipped and disinclined to indulge irrelevancies, saying, ‘How does that concern you?’  Today, His reply was equally direct but also more enigmatic:

Strive to enter through the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be able.

Essentially Jesus’ answer would the same in both cases:  How does what you are asking about concern YOU?

The big difference however is that now it is the Jesus Who is about to suffer most dreadfully responding; later, when replying to Peter, it would be the risen – no longer under pressure – Jesus.   And so, whether under great stress or at victorious ease Jesus’ attitude is the same and His words are, therefore, all the more important and reliable: ‘Try your best now  your very best’, because only your best will be good enough to enable you to enter by the narrow door.  Notice, our Lord gives no false impression, no glossy picture, no facile encouragement, the way to salvation is a narrow door.  He does not opine, He knows, and therefore He says ‘it IS a narrow door.   Salvation concerns eternal and heavenly glory, peace, happiness and fulfilment, it CANNOT come cheap!

Many will attempt to enter but will not be able because they did not make their attempt seriously enough, had no true love for God: 

‘I will think about it later … I really don’t want to think about it at all, so I’ll put it off now and maybe I’ll be taken by surprise, I really would like to die not having to think! 

Others are satisfied by what people generally think; especially they like to think on the voluminous words of praise for the dead heard on TV, telling how the dead persons had been, every one of them, truly wonderful persons!  Now that sort of language is understandable to a degree as an expression of lost love from bereaved ones ... but for anyone willing to live their life thinking, embracing, hoping for, relying on, such generous insincerity about themselves when dead is supremely foolish; lavish specious praises clothed in no-longer-believed-in Christian terms mean so very, very, little: ‘He would help everyone; would give to anyone in need; never hurt a single person; all who knew her loved her and had nothing but good to say about her ….’

Yet others like to indulge their vaguely remembered Christian thoughts about God: surely, He is good, forgiving, Christians and especially Catholics are always speaking about that!  How then could He not accept me at the last minute if I arrange things so as to be able to make a final attempt to say and possibly do the right thing? But Jesus, Who was a supremely sincere Man warns against any such detestable faithlessness and insincerity:

After the Master has locked the door, then you will stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’   He will say, ‘I do not know where you are from’

Of course, their retort is immediate:

            You taught in our streets ... we ate and drank in Your company!

It was true, they had often heard Him teaching, but they had, in fact, never given it much thought, they had always seemed to have more important things on their minds in those days; they had indeed shared in the food and drink at religious festivals, but they had been present at such festivals for worldly motives and had never gone away spiritually refreshed; what they had received had been nothing more than ordinary food and drink for them.

But now, they know that they can never receive a God-given understanding that fills and rejoices saintly Christian minds, they can never share meaningfully at those religious festivals of yore, never know the spiritual hope those celebrations nourished:

            There will be weeping and grinding of teeth!

Notice, dear People of God, that ‘grinding of teeth’.   That is not the weeping of true repentance but a weeping from blind frustration and hatred as those locked outside outside peep into the festal hall and see

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God.

Those, of course, are their own ancestors, their own teachers ... and it is they who should be there with them, but instead they can see strangers from all over the world happy and fulfilled there.  Oh, how dreadful!  Those unworthy and wretched strangers and foreigners are filling their places!  Yes, they grind their teeth, an imitation of some snarling beast, because all pretence is now lifted up, taken off, and thrown away, and they are beginning to show their true colours with very bitter, bitter, tears and blind fury: children of the devil by their very own free-will-in-all-things design and purpose, no children of the God Whose love they ignored, Whose will they rejected, and Whose eternally fulfilling purpose and plan for them they so miserably despised and ultimately rejected.

Jesus tells us, dear People of God, that this can happen to anyone who does not, that is, refuses to believe; and that, on the other hand, all things are possible for God with those who, seeing the vision of His beauty in Jesus, God-made-man, believe:

Those who are now last will be first, and those who are now first will be last.

Friday, 16 August 2019

20th Sunday Year C 2019

20th Sunday Year (C)

(Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a much-ignored aspect of Jesus' teaching set before us in our Gospel reading today, so let me recall His words for you:
Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.
And not, indeed, any ordinary sort of division, such as east against west, black against white, or rich against poor, for example; but the most fundamental division:
For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two and two against three.  Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
How do these words of Jesus fit in with all the modern cosy talk about setting aside all differences, forgetting whatever can separate people and concentrating wholly on being comfortably one, and reasonably happy, together?   Jesus' words, of course, do not fit in with such an attitude to life.   And yet, there are very many people -- even many Christians -- who seek to shape a world in which they hope everybody will able to live together with anybody, in peace, pleasure and prosperity, a world from which they want to root-out whatever differentiates, not just set it aside as unimportant but root it out as fundamentally wrong in comparison with the great good of human superficial oneness. They envisage a world built on and governed by only such principles and such standards as all can readily accept and freely agree on.
These visionaries, however, know little about human nature and care nothing about human destiny, and their prescription for life in modern society leads quickly into a situation where the lowest common denominator always prevails:
ABORTION has to be OK because many want it and most of those who don't want it are afraid of seeming to be unkind or inconsiderate, and, of course, a silenced baby is less of a load on one’s back than a screaming woman threatened with motherhood!;
CRIME is bad, of course, but punishment can seem to be so unloving, indeed, as many say, at times, so vengeful, therefore, let us tone down serious thoughts about justice, about past and future victims, about the effective protection and authentic good of society, and devote more – novel! -- thought and more publicly-appreciable efforts to transform the criminal to become not, sadly, a morally better person, but a more socially manageable and less troublesome one;
MARRIAGE between one man and one woman is by far the best, of course, especially for the children of such a union, but surely any sort of loving relationship has to be regarded as wholly acceptable, because, after all, marriage does make serious demands on the married couple, while other relationships are much easier and allow the life-styles of those with different ideas and/or idiosyncratic psychological make-up to appear as totally acceptable and equally commendable.
This ever-burgeoning option for no divisions, no trouble, no distinction, is the easy, popular, beginning of a landslide that can soon develop into a headlong and, ultimately irresistible avalanche capable of destroying human society like the herd of Gadarene swine in the Gospel story; for moral indifference gradually breeds citizens who regard society as nothing more than the milieu where they can hope to find and publicly practice their own type of personal pleasure, and make most personal profit from contacts with others.  In the wilderness thus created, attitudes such as individual and social responsibility and civic pride soon come to be regarded as follies of the past; whist anarchy is seen, by a growing fringe, as the modern vision which alone can offer full personal expression and radical human freedom for everyone.
And so, while the doctrine of "laissez faire" as the French say, or "let things be" as we might put it, can never, admittedly, build-up or establish a truly human society, nevertheless, the common, man-in-the-street, understanding of Christian charity would seem to be totally against those strange words of Jesus:
"Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division."
Let us now face up to this difficulty instead of trying to ignore it, and we will find that the solution leads to a better understanding of human life and its possibilities. 
The demands of charity are real, and for Christians they are supreme, but we can never rightly appreciate those demands until we have first come to understand the true nature of Christian charity.
First of all, is it always and necessarily opposed to division?  If we think of charity as just getting on with other people, then, obviously, Christian charity as expressed in those words of Jesus is incompatible with modern social and secular ‘oneness’.  Charity, however, is not just a matter of getting along with people: it is a supernatural gift from God, a sharing in the love which is the very life of the God Who made us for Himself; it is the living bond that unites Father and Son in the Holy Spirit and can transform our fallen humanity into one capable of sharing something of Jesus’ heavenly beatitude.  Christian charity is a gift of God, a sharing in heavenly love come down to earth, because the Father sent His beloved Son among us, here on earth, to save us from our sins: the Son Who, in the power of His Holy Spirit, enables us to begin to live here on earth as children of God for a heavenly fulfilment according to principles that are divine.
Those who promote "laissez faire" or "let things be" do not recognize, do not acknowledge the reality of,  ‘sin’ nor do they seek to promote morality; they think only in terms of criminality and ‘political correctness’:  they think that human agreement and oneness is the all-important aim, an aim which is totally based on human, man-made, laws and regulations.  We Christians, on the other hand, hold that "oneness in Christ" and the promotion of God’s law which is inscribed in the very make-up of humanity is the only possible solution for the real needs of mankind, the only viable programme that can lead to authentic personal fulfilment and a truly human society.
Now this understanding of Christian charity as an anticipatory participation in divine charity can -- under certain circumstances -- involve and even require earthly division:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37)
There can be times and circumstances when we must put God first and loved-ones second: a choice that can indeed bring about division in family life and in society.  And yet, such earthly division must never be allowed to break the rule of fraternal charity even here on earth, for whilst Jesus unequivocally demands:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37);
He also, at the same time, tells us that there is a second commandment which is like the first and which demands that:
            You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39).
Therefore, where father or mother, son or daughter, would try to lead in ways that turn from God, from Jesus' teaching, then indeed Jesus brings division, for:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matthew 10:37).
In all this, however, it is not racism -- contemporary society’s ‘bete noir’ -- or personal ill-feeling that divides, but solely love for Jesus, love for that Jesus Who will never allow us to forget what we owe to our heavenly Father, our earthly parents and family, or set aside love for our neighbour.  In all this, it is simply a matter of the greater love prevailing in circumstances where a lesser love, though not followed, is nevertheless, not to be denied.
In other words, where love of God transcends all other loves, it can embrace and transform any earthly divisions.  Modern ideas of social oneness, a human society without any distinctions, on the other hand, are unable to express divine love, and without that divine content they cannot truly express or fully promote Christian brotherly love or authentic human well-being.  Because of this Christians are always obliged to seek, first and foremost, not human oneness, but love of God.
Because of His supreme love for the Father Jesus, to the end, evoked division:
One of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us!" But the other, answering, rebuked him saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!"  And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."  (Luke 23:39-43)
Jesus walked the way of the Cross, and today there are too many Christians who fear that way, and who consequently try to persuade themselves that they are doing right when they distort Christian teaching in order to promote human agreement.
Jeremiah provoked opposition and division as you heard in the first reading.  In the beginning of his career as prophet of God he had been afraid to speak divisive words, even though the words were God's Own words.  God took him the by the scruff of his neck, so to speak, and told him (Jer. 1:17):
Therefore, prepare yourself and arise, and speak to them all that I command you.   Do not be dismayed before their faces, lest I dismay you before them.
In other words: ‘Be afraid, and I will give you reason to be afraid!  Now stand up prepared and ready for whatever comes!’  Such indeed is the message many Catholics need to hear today, that is, many of those who, from fear of human opposition and human divisions, would rather try to water down, change, Catholic teaching in order to accommodate modern attitudes and bring as many as possible into the pseudo-fold of comfortable conformity.   These attempts can only fail because their promoters are seen to be both faithless and also very, very proud, since it is God the Father alone Who brings those He has called, to one true fold of Jesus:
            No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him.
Our job, as disciples of Jesus in Mother Church, is to show Jesus to the world, and for that purpose Mother Church has been guaranteed the presence of the Holy Spirit to lead her into all truth about Jesus and to form all men and women of good will by His grace through her sacraments into a likeness of Jesus.  The loyal handing-down of divine truth, and the gracious lifting-up of her children as disciples of Jesus for the Father, is the whole function and purpose of the Spirit-guided-and-endowed Mother Church in this world; and we, her children, must never directly seek or try to promote whatever fosters human disaffections, because Jesus has commanded us, quite unequivocally:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)
Nevertheless, on the other hand, we are not to fear unsought divisions overmuch, because human differences that arise out of love of God can be healed, for all men and women of good-will, by that very love of God. 
Therefore, as disciples of Jesus, we must always bear in mind the words we heard in the second reading:
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith Who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
The great Greek doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, lived in the 4th century, and because he was famous as a preacher -- being popularly known as the golden-tongued one (that is what Chrysostom means) -- was raised to the supreme dignity of patriarch in the imperial city.  Nevertheless, he refused to curry favour by preaching what the emperor and his courtiers wanted to hear, and consequently was banished, and ultimately died in exile for His witness to Christ.  This great saint, I say, who so eminently practiced what he preached, commenting on these words of Our Lord:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned?  It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men, (Matthew 5:13)
says in one of his sermons:
Jesus tells His disciples “unless you are prepared to face up to opposition, you have been chosen in vain.” Do not fear evil words, but do fear lest you yourselves should share in the pretences of others, for then, “You will become like tasteless salt; trodden under foot, and despised by everyone.”  However, if you resolutely refuse to back down before them, and then hear people speaking against you, rejoice; for this is what salt is for, to sting the corrupt, and make them smart!   Of course, they will blame you but that won't harm you, on the contrary, it will be a testimony to your firmness.
We who are Catholics today do not have to face up to Emperors and their cronies, as did St. John Chrysostom, but we do face a world both fearful and hostile where there are too many Catholics we need ‘to make smart’.  For, we have been given a wonderful privilege -- the true faith -- and we are called to be witnesses before the world to the truth of Jesus.  Let us resolve, therefore, to show our gratitude for God's great and gracious Gift by trying to prove ourselves more faithful to our calling: witnessing to the Faith, neither fearing opposition nor currying favour, and loving God first and foremost at all times and in all circumstances.                    

Friday, 9 August 2019

19th Sunday Year C 2019

19th. Sunday of Year (C)

(Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12; Luke12:32-48)


Today's readings afford us both encouragement and warning: the warning, however, is only given to help us hold fast to the hope we are encouraged to treasure:

Do not be afraid, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

We know that the Father has indeed chosen to give us the kingdom because He has called us to become disciples of Jesus:

No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him (John 6:44);

and we actually became disciples of Jesus through Faith and Baptism:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (and we are) justified as a gift by (God's) grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (Romans 3:23; John 3:5)

What about the warning I spoke of?  It was contained in those words of Our Lord:

Be prepared; for, on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour, the Son of Man will come and punish the (unprepared and disobedient) servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.

What then is this gift of Faith that we have been given?  In the second reading we heard:

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

How can we have a faith-based conviction about things not seen?  Because God has solemnly promised us that these blessings can be ours in Jesus by the Spirit.   Therefore, we see that faith is very, very, important, it is a personal, existential acknowledgment of God's absolute truthfulness and utter reliability; whereas to refuse to have faith in His promise would be the same as saying that if He exists He could be a liar, or at the very least, that His promises cannot be trusted to the extent of life-long faith and obedience.  For us, however, who believe whole-heartedly in Jesus, faith in Him and His Good News proclaimed by His Church opens up for us a totally new awareness and appreciation of our human life, its meaning, and significance.  By faith we can more delightfully admire and humbly appreciate the glory of creation all around us; and what is immeasurably more than that great blessing, we can actually experience something of what God has promised for heaven: that is, we can be given a  Spirit-bestowed foretaste of what a heavenly relationship is like.  We, no longer mere earthlings but now children of God redeemed by and renewed in Jesus, can experience and gratefully embrace – even here and now -- something of the BEAUTY and WONDER of our ‘sonship’ in Jesus with the Father by the Gift of God’s most Holy Spirit

Therefore, faith is not only a supreme witness to God, it is also a sublime calling for us to discover something wonderful; indeed -- as unbelievers mockingly at times but truthfully say -- an opportunity to experience and live something truly "out of this world".

Jesus Himself told us something of the wonder of faith:

If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and be planted in the sea", and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6)

All things are possible to him who believes. (Mark 9:23)

And the Scriptures give us examples of the very many men and women who trusted God and lived by faith.  In the first reading we heard that:

The night of the Passover was known beforehand to our fathers that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they had put their trust, they might have courage.  Your People awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes.

Their faith was not misplaced: God did indeed bring them to arrive at, and take possession of, the Promised Land.  And in the second reading we heard of Noah and then of Abraham "our father in faith" as we hear at Mass:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was going.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac his only begotten son.

Because of his faith, Abraham was given the promised fulfilment from God: descendants as numerous as the grains of sand on the sea-shore, through Isaac, whom he had been prepared to offer in sacrifice trusting in God.

There are striking examples of the need and power of faith in the Gospel accounts of the disciples' life with and response to Jesus in the course of His Public Mission.  After Jesus had miraculously fed the five thousand, He had remained behind on shore, alone in prayer. The disciples, crossing the Sea of Galilee in their boat, suddenly found themselves in distress when a severe storm arose unexpectedly, and it was then that Jesus came walking over the rough waters to the succour of His struggling disciples (Matthew 14:28-31):

Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."  And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, " Lord, save me!"  Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

On another occasion:

As they were sailing along, He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger.  They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm.  And He said to them, "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:23-25)

On those two occasions, the disciples of Jesus, becoming frightened by what was happening around them, began to doubt God, and very many Christians, and too many Catholics, show the same weakness today.  They quickly lose faith because they want to see, experience, faith-blessings now, whereas faith requires, indeed demands, HOPE and TRUST in the supreme goodness and power of God the Father Who is in charge of our lives.  Many so-called Christians basically want what this world has to offer, and therefore the promises of God for life-after-death gradually mean less and less to them as they yield to and indulge the weakness of their faith or the clamour of their worldly desires and/or sinful lusts.  This selfishness even leads some, in their search for present satisfaction, to renege on the most solemn promises, break the closest bonds of love and commitment, and even to destroy their own humanity as they stumble around in the clouds of drug-addiction.  Such people who imagine that this world is all that we can possibly want or aspire to, that this world can fulfil all our longings and desires, will never accept the offer of faith or aspire to what is intangible and unseen.

An even closer likeness to the Twelve is shown in the attitudes of other religious people today who fear just what the disciples' feared: the imminent threat, not indeed, of the swelling waters of Galilee, but of the uproar and tumult of the world's criticism, opposition, and mockery.  Many let go of their hold on faith in the face of such threats, whilst others feverishly seek to change their faith in such a way that it fits in comfortably with what the world around thinks and feels.

If, however, there is something in YOU that makes you long for something "better" than this world; a longing that lifts you up from, makes you somewhat independent of, this world, then there is for you the option of faith, because, as St. Paul tells us (Timothy 2:4):

            God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

True humanity, that humanity which knows itself to be more than the things of this world, is ever able to lift up its head again, and even today one can hear some young people expressing the desire to give themselves wholly to some worthwhile purpose, cause, or person.  Such young persons are the hope for our Christian civilization because they are capable of appreciating God's gift of faith.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness. (Galatians 5:22)

For them and for all of us there is the example of Our Blessed Lord, Who has won for all humankind the possibility of life, eternal and full beyond all human measure.  He, indeed, is the author of our faith, and:

It was fitting for Him, for Whom are all things, and through Whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the Author of their salvation through sufferings.             (Hebrews 2:10)

He went to the sufferings of death for our sake, trusting entirely in His Father; and we who have faith in Him must, like Him, trust God the Father totally, we must, like Jesus, have unshakeable faith in His promise of the Kingdom:

Do not be afraid, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.

However, our faith is not meant to be a stoic refusal to yield to whatever trials may come our way; it should not involve cultivating a stiff upper lip and a ramrod back whereby we might able to hold on to God no matter what the mockery or criticism of those around us; for God Himself has told us:

I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

The Father has chosen gladly to give us the kingdom and we must likewise joyfully take up that promise: our response of faith must be not only firm but joyful, lit up with love because founded on true knowledge.  In this Our Lord is Himself the example, for we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews (12:2):

(Let us) fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We too, like Him, should find such joy in what the Father has promised us, in what He has already given us in Jesus, that we not only endure the sufferings we must shoulder in this world, but positively despise them as nothing in comparison with what awaits us in heaven.  This was the attitude of St. Paul who tells:

I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

The daily practice of responding by faith to all that may occur in our worldly experience, can become the supreme joy of our lives because it is the supreme love of which a human being is capable, in Jesus.  There are, as I mentioned, some young people today, and there always will be some, who are not only able -- for all humankind is able -- but also willing and indeed longing, to give themselves whole-heartedly to what is greater than themselves.  Human beings, however, do not remain young for long, and as youth declines so, all too easily, can our longing to give and receive real love and know the authentic truth gradually diminish.  It is so easy for an elderly person to become more selfish with the years and to begin to hanker after that which, in their youth, they had egregiously set aside.  Therefore, we have to listen Our Lord's warning today, backed up by words of St. Paul again:

Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7–8)

We first embraced the faith with young love, now we need to gradually love it more wholeheartedly, appreciate it more gratefully, and admire it with deeper understanding, as our years come and go and the fulfilment to which we aspire draws ever closer:

            Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

We have to recognize that our faith is indeed a treasure beyond all: it can bring us greater peace, love, fellowship, joy and fulfilment than the human mind can imagine or conceive, a share, that is, in Jesus' Own beatitude with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Kingdom of Heaven. Love, peace, joy, will fulfil our whole being: we will become our true selves, as God destined us to be from all eternity, and we will know that our life and trials on earth have indeed been a wondrous blessing.

            You are My beloved child; in you I am well pleased.     

Friday, 2 August 2019

18th Sunday Year C 2019

Eighteenth Sunday of Year (C)

(Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21)


(Jesus) said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."  

Jesus’ words are very ’scientific’, in so far as they are in close accord with the modern scientific attitude which requires us to know the nature, the type, and the quality of whatever we might be using if we are to get the best working results from it.   Today we are bombarded by governmental warnings about the dangers of smoking and ‘binge’ drinking and recommendations concerning healthy eating and physical exercise, to mention only the least controversial items of advice for personal living.  In industry too the same practice is followed: analyse and control production methods, closely monitor product quality standards, continuously assess the requirements of customers etc. etc.  Jesus, therefore, in His advice to us today is most up to date and also absolutely fundamental:  think about life if you want to get the most out of it; learn from the experience of mankind in general don’t just let personal pleasure or immediate advantage blind you; and above all, seek out and learn from the Giver of all good gifts, that:

            Life does not consist in the abundance of the things (one) possesses.

Notice, in passing, that Jesus, in replying to the man who called out to Him from the crowd in our Gospel passage, did not try to expound on the man’s false appreciation of life, or explain what is the real truth about life’s purpose and its ultimate, heavenly, possibilities;  for, answering a man described by the Old Testament as:

A man with an evil eye, (who) hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him (Proverbs 28:22);

He simply gave him -- and all who were then listening -- something to think about, a word of wisdom:

Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

That should have encouraged the man to think, and hopefully re-consider and revise his attitude: for only after having done that, would he then be in a position to fruitfully inquire of the good, the true, and the beautiful; and here, the words of St. Paul in our second reading are most pertinent:

Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him Who created him.

Only one made new by faith in Christ is able to see and appreciate the beauty still to be found in our experience of life in a world so desperately afflicted by the effects of human sin; only one renewed with the guiding and strengthening Spirit of Christ can – through all the personal troubles and trials, social changes, international confrontations and world-wide catastrophes now so much a part and parcel of earthly life – find fulfilment and peace through hope for and delight in the Christian prospect of eternal life and the promise of heavenly salvation.

Until that change had taken place within him, however, the evil man would continue to run after riches totally oblivious to the fact that ultimate poverty was hastening in his direction, eager to meet up with him.

However, Jesus did -- as the Gospel account reports -- go on to explain further to His disciples what could not be given to those with ears that would not hear and eyes that did not see, and Mother Church does likewise for us today in so far as she – for our further enlightenment -- puts today’s Gospel passage together with readings from Ecclesiastes and St. Paul as we have already heard.

What is life?  What -- if we are humble, devout and attentive enough -- can we learn about it that will enable us to use it both rightly and wisely?

First of all, the passage quoted from the book of Ecclesiastes makes a supremely important fact about life abundantly clear:

Here is one who has toiled with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and that one’s legacy must be left to another who has not toiled for it. This is vanity and a great evil.

In other words, our hold on life is uncertain; the number of our years is unknown; and we cannot take our earthly possessions with us when we leave this world no matter what they may mean to us, nor how much time, care, and effort we may have bestowed on them.  Therefore, such a lightly-held legacy, such a tenuous life-heritage, cannot – rationally -- be considered as the ultimate purpose, significance, and fulfilment of our life.

To lead us further, the second reading from St. Paul then told us that, when our time on earth is ended, life itself does not come to an end, for we have a heavenly destiny, a heavenly fulfilment, to attain or to lose:

Set your mind on things above … your (real) life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Do those words ‘set your mind on things above’ mean that we should seek to build up a treasure in heaven instead of one on earth?  Yes!  After all, didn’t Jesus say:

Provide money-belts for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief can reach and no moth destroy.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also? (Luke 12:33-34)

Jesus did indeed mean and say that, and thereby hangs a tale, so to speak, a tale of confrontation and conflict which has helped to divide, but also, let us pray, ultimately to guide and prosper, Western Christendom. 

In order to understand those words of Jesus we have to remember that He had said immediately before:

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

Therefore, our belt-full of good works of whatever sort, will be both ‘a treasure’ for us in heaven, and a gift from God: a treasure, ours indeed, but not exclusively; for our glory, yes, but not a treasure that will enable us to buy our way into heaven, to save ourselves.  On the contrary, our heavenly treasure will be found to be one bearing eternal witness to the Father’s goodness to us, in Jesus, by the Spirit, throughout our life on earth:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)  WORKS.

He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (John 14:12)  FAITH.

Today we are very familiar with debate about the need for people to have pensions to help their needs in old age; and many, indeed probably most people, regard retirement as a time to relax and enjoy the fruits which the nest-egg they may have built up over the years will enable them to experience.  They have provided for themselves; all is well!!

That is how Catholic insistence on ‘good works’ appeared to past followers of Luther: Catholic ‘good works’ could apparently guarantee salvation for people who were otherwise living at variance with the laws of God.  That was a failure to understand Catholic doctrine but, nevertheless, such a false attitude by individuals is not absent even among some Catholics today.  Of course, there is no public reliance on indulgences bought or sold, but there is still an excessive and unwarranted personal trust in occasional ‘contributions’ of whatever sort or in passing devotions in no way backed up by faithful Church observance and Catholic obedience.  There are too many, even today, who follow esoteric teachings and practice various spiritualities and devotions, without giving serious attention to building up a personal relationship with Jesus to be assimilated from the Scriptures by prayer, encountered in the Sacraments  -- above all the Eucharist -- of the Church, and nourished by daily, loving, obedience.   Mother Church’s greatest sacrament, the Eucharist, is far too frequently ‘used’ in an impersonal manner: with no response of personal commitment to Him Who sacrificed Himself for us, and no return of sincere personal love to Him Who loved us to the end.

There is only one infallible sign and expression of Catholic and Christian holiness: it is not simply works, it is not just faith, it is LOVE, the crown of faith and the ever-fruitful vine of God-good works:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

And what love is being spoken of by the Apostle there?  Love of God: seen darkly indeed here on earth, but, nevertheless, to be experienced – as it were face to face -- in a personal relationship with Jesus:

When that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.  Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:10-14:1)

Why is such love of God the greatest?   Not simply because it is love for God, Whom we shall see clearly, face to face, Whom we shall then know as He now knows us; not even simply because it was said by Jesus to be the fulfilment of the first and greatest commandment:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

The Love of God of which we speak is the greatest, above and beyond all other virtues and excellences, because it is divine charity, a sharing in Jesus’ own love for His Father, and it is that even here on earth.  It is not a human emotional love, it is not an intellectual attraction or scholarly absorption (so attuned to what men think!), it is a sharing in the Holy Spirit of Jesus:

Because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us. (Romans 5:5)

And, People of God, as we look back on the life and death of Jesus our Lord we recognise that that Spirit of love which drove Him to such lengths for His Father and for us cannot remain inactive in us: if the love of God is truly in us, then He -- the Spirit of Love and Truth -- will be at work in us and through us in some way or other.  And our good works, will be God-good works, accomplished -- not for human appreciation -- but in Jesus and by His Spirit; they will be a treasure for us in heaven indeed, but no cause for personal pride: for they will humble us every bit as much as they delight us, being eternal reminders of God’s wondrous mercy and goodness to us in Jesus throughout our life on earth.  They will be for us an eternal inspiration to gratitude and an irresistible provocation to praise, before the Father Who worked such things for us through His Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, dwelling in us and forming us in His likeness.