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.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

31st Sunday Year C 2019

31st. Sunday Year (C)
(Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 2:2; Luke 19:1-10)

St. Luke has been picking out for us incidents from Jesus' journey to Jerusalem where He was to be crucified.  He has told us of the ten lepers cleansed by Jesus; of the Pharisee and the Publican, praying side by side in the Temple; of the Rich Young Man who wanted to be perfect; and now he tells us of Zacchaeus endeavouring to catch a glimpse of Jesus passing through Jericho.

Notice that there is something unexpected, from the Jewish point of view, in all of these accounts: first of all, of the ten lepers healed, only one -- a hated Samaritan -- returned to Jesus, giving thanks to God; the prayer of the despised publican in the Temple was more acceptable to God than that of the publicly esteemed and respected Pharisee. St. Luke obviously wants to insist that no one is so far fallen that Jesus cannot raise them: why, he even ends his gospel on the same note, being the only evangelist to tell us of the good thief who, having asked Jesus on the Cross to remember him in His Kingdom, received that unique promise: ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise.’

No one is excluded, none is too far gone, and so no one should give up or despair.  On the other hand, no one can presume anything.  The nine Jewish lepers, the Pharisee praying in the Temple, the Rich Young Ruler whom Jesus loved, all of these compared badly with others who might have been considered non-starters  Absolutely no one can ever be sure of salvation; none, not even the last or the least, is out of Jesus’ saving reach; all of us have to seek for ever greater proximity to, closeness with, Jesus throughout the whole of our life.    With that in mind let us now take a closer look at our Gospel reading.

Jesus was not intending to stop, let alone stay, in Jericho; as He walked along purposefully, He was being followed by a crowd of people hoping to see a miracle or something notable, not particularly wanting to hear Jesus' teaching. 

Zacchaeus, who was small in stature, had climbed up into a sycamore tree to see (Jesus) Who was about to pass that way.

This man, Zacchaeus, was a prominent citizen: no ordinary tax collector, He was a Tax Commissioner with much responsibility and authority in what was an important centre for the Romans, since Jericho was a frontier city through which passed vital roads much used by camel trains carrying exotic wares over desert expanses from Syria and further East on their way westwards towards Rome, and which also facilitated a large local trade in costly balsams.  This very considerable civic official, however, exposed himself to both ridicule and contempt by his vain attempts to glimpse Jesus in the crowd, and then subsequently, by hastening through the crowd to get ahead of Jesus in order to clamber up a tree so as to be able to see Him clearly passing by on the road below.

Picture the hustling, struggling, figure of Zacchaeus: he wasn't hanging around in the crowd hoping vaguely for something to happen; he was deeply interested in the Person of Jesus and was making every effort to catch a glimpse of Him. This aspect of effort and haste is reflected by Jesus' words to him:

Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.

And haste he made, tumbling down (he was no climber!), to receive Jesus most joyfully!

Can't you see the picture of a true disciple, the model for a true Christian, being traced before our eyes?   Zacchaeus hurrying, striving, to see Jesus; and then hastening again to receive Him ever so gladly into his house; and finally, in total spontaneity, giving up all that might hinder his companionship with Jesus:

Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.

Surely St. Paul words in our second reading today can be applied to Zacchaeus:

May our God count you worthy of this calling, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him.

However, to arrive at the full meaning of this Gospel passage for us today we must just look at the words Jesus chose when first addressing Zacchaeus:

            Make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." 

I want to draw your attention to those two words "I must".  Jesus "must" stay at Zacchaeus' house.  What does that mean?  Jesus does not say "I will", nor does He say "I would like to"; instead He puts it in such a way as to imply that it was not simply His choice but something pre-ordained for Him by His Father.

Listen to the other two occasions in St. Luke's Gospel, and the only other occasion in St. John's, where Jesus uses the phrase, "I must":

When it was day Jesus departed and went into a deserted place; and the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them.  But He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent."  And He was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee.         (Luke 4:42-5:1)

Other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16)

On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You."  And He said to them, "Go tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.'  Nevertheless, I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem. (Luke 13:31-33)

So, it was preordained that Jesus should preach first of all in the synagogues of Judea, because He had been sent to the lost sheep of Israel; after that had been done it was preordained that He should bring other sheep in, not of the fold of Israel, because that was required for the fullness of redemption that He had been sent to achieve.  Finally, it was preordained that His work had to be completed in Jerusalem on the Cross:


Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”  Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. (John 19:19–22)

Now, how could Jesus' staying at the house of Zacchaeus be of such importance that it too could be said to be preordained?  To find our answer let us now look at the word "house" used by Jesus when speaking to Zacchaeus.  Obviously, it was another way of saying: "Zacchaeus, I must stay with you" because Jesus when leaving said:

            Today salvation has come to this house!

Salvation had indeed come to Zacchaeus not to the building which was his house.  In that way "house" can -- in certain circumstances -- mean, the person, his mind, heart and soul.  We find this confirmed in a parable told by Jesus' (Luke 11:24):

When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, "I will return to my house from which I came.

In the OT God dwelt among His Chosen People and His presence was shown by the pillar of cloud which hovered first of all over the tent of meeting in the desert and then filled Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.   In the New Testament times, however, God not only dwells, makes His home, among His People, He also dwells within His People, in their minds and hearts, in their souls, by His Spirit.  Now Moses had said to the Lord, when Israel was experiencing difficulties in the desert:

If Your Presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.  Is it not by Your going with us, that we … may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" (Exodus 33:15-16)

God's presence with them was the distinguishing feature of Israel: not the literal keeping of the Law, not circumcision, not Sabbath observance, for necessary though these observances were, ultimately it was God's presence among them which distinguished Israel from the pagan nations around them.

Now, it is the same today in Mother Church, because it is God's presence -- by His Spirit -- which alone preserves, protects, guides and sanctifies Mother Church today: and that presence of God's Gift, through Jesus, of His Spirit, must not only dwell among His People, in the tabernacles of our Churches for example, but also, and supremely, that presence of God's Spirit must abide within her children, in their minds and hearts, in their souls.

This meeting of Jesus with Zacchaeus is so essential because Zacchaeus is being shown as the figure of the disciple of Jesus.  Jesus must stay at the house of Zacchaeus, because Jesus must make his home in the hearts of His faithful people.  The "house of Zacchaeus" means much more than a building, it means his heart, his soul, his mind, as we find again in these words of Jesus (Mt. 6:6):

When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

There, the mind and heart of a man at prayer, the secret depths of his soul, are pictured as an inner room of his house.

So, Jesus must stay at the house of Zacchaeus, because He must enter and abide in the soul, the mind and heart, of His true disciples.  He must do this because it is essential for His work of salvation: salvation is not to be gained by law-keeping alone, even though those laws be religious laws.  Salvation can only be gained by becoming, in Jesus and by the Spirit, a true child of God: worshipping the Father, knowing, loving and trusting Him, with one’s whole mind, heart, soul, and strength.   Zacchaeus was personally chosen to show the power of Jesus and of God's grace, because Zacchaeus had practically everything against him becoming a disciple: he was a lapsed Jew, apparently lost spiritually, and absorbed in a world where he was powerful, influential, and very rich.  Everyone would have said that he was completely chained by worldly desires and expectations.  Jesus changed that by His call:

            Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." 

But, People of God, notice why Zacchaeus is being portrayed as a model disciple.  First of all, because Jesus' supreme power is to be seen: forming a spiritual failure, one addicted to worldly success, into a true disciple.  Secondly, because Zacchaeus, for his part, co-operated with the grace and calling of Jesus.  He first of all struggled in the crowd to see Jesus, and then left the crowd behind and made himself look ridiculous by running ahead in his fine official clothes and climbing a tree in order to glimpse Jesus passing by.  He then, to the disgust of the Jews and no doubt the amazement of his influential friends, gladly welcomed Jesus into his house and whole-heartedly gave his riches away in order to respond to Jesus.

People of God, can you see yourself in Zacchaeus searching for Jesus, striving to see Him, responding wholeheartedly to Him?  I hope that you truly can, because the great failing in Mother Church as we know her today, is that many Catholics, even some apparently devout ones, want to live in a way that Moses, even in OT times, knew to be impossible for us, and unacceptable before God.  Salvation is not a reward for politically correct words and publicly acceptable deeds; merely statistical fulfilment of our obligations with regard to Mass attendance and reception of the Sacraments is equally fruitless; only the presence of the Spirit of Jesus guiding our minds, ruling our hearts, and consecrating our lives can save us.  Jesus’ Spirit of love and of truth must be able to move and guide us constantly – though it be imperceptibly so at times – along the way of Jesus throughout our lives: appreciating His truth more deeply, loving His Person, yes, and His Church,  more warmly and sincerely, and with unwearying patience and humility listening for, and waiting to obey, His call though it come at an hour we might not expect.  Even in Mother Church we cannot be content to remain in the crowd, doing what others seem to be doing and nothing more.  Each of us is personally called to follow the example of Zacchaeus: searching continually to see Jesus more clearly, to welcome Him into our hearts more joyfully, and to be ever more willing and glad to get rid of all that would hinder us from responding to His plans for us.  It is so easy and comfortable to remain in the crowd and to rely, as did the Jews, on the old formalities: doing what we have always done, thinking as we have always thought, whilst enjoying what is going on in the world around us.  That I say is comfortable, but it is also very harmful.  Therefore, today, Mother Church invites us to hear Jesus calling us as He did Zacchaeus:

Make haste and come down, (come out of the crowd), for today I must stay at your house.

Friday, 25 October 2019

30th Sunday Year C 2019

30th. Sunday Year (C)
(Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14, 16-19; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14)

Pride,  that is, self-esteem ready to reject divinely-imposed, and therefore according to Eve’s mind, distasteful obedience, and ambition giving unjustified credence to the words of the serpent who is the Father of Lies -- was at the root of the Eve’s original sin before being compounded by that of Adam, too easily swayed by his wife’s example and persuasion.  And so, the very first lesson given by the Serpent and so gladly learnt by Eve and ineptly adopted by Adam, was to distrust God; then, under the Liar’s aegis, they tried to grasp for themselves what they could not trust God to give them: likeness to God, as the serpent had promised Eve, “you will be like gods”.
We can say therefore, that lack of trust in God is the first and most truly serious manifestation of human pride: whether it be shown outwardly in aggressive ambition and self-assertion, or by self-esteem turned inwards, burrowing down to ever-deeper levels of the human psyche and stirring up the muddy waters of solicitude and anxiety about self, about ME.  Pride is a fault-line in the human nature that we have received from Adam and Eve: men and women of all ages and all climes – be they important or non-entities, strong or weak, knowledgeable or ignorant, rich and successful or apparent failures – are susceptible to it and, should they yield themselves to its power, can be led to such a degree of self-assertion or self-love that might sour all vestiges of love for fellow-man in their life and alienate them irrevocably from the healing hand of God.
Our heavenly Father, however, is infinite in holiness, power, and goodness, and He wants to give us a share in His eternal life, beatitude, and glory.  To achieve that end the Father sent His only-begotten Son to become One of us -- living and dying with us and for us, before rising as our heavenly Saviour -- through Whom the Father also endows us with His Holy Spirit to work with and within us throughout time, so that all peoples might come to the glorious destiny He has planned for them.   Before such majestic goodness and compassion, human self-love is clearly shown in the horror of its sinfulness: for our arrogant pride will neither admit nor accept God’s supreme Lordship, whilst our anxious self-love cannot believe, and will not trust, in His infinite goodness.  
Let us now observe how the Pharisee prays to so wonderful a God and Father:
God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.
Notice that after addressing God first, he then – immediately -- turns his gaze aside from God to concentrate his whole attention on HIMSELF: he mentions others but only to compare them most unfavourably with himself.
This Pharisee, obviously, is not praying to God so much as extolling his own spiritual excellence, by reciting his own ‘officially good’ deeds and showing his spiritual discernment by expressing his disdain for those around him.  The few words he directs to God are merely ritualistic and conventional, the ‘politically correct’ language of a man of God such as he believes himself to be.  You might say that his prayer has the right ‘material’ but develops the wrong ‘themes’; it is not a prayer thanking God P/personally for guiding, gifting, and enabling him to ‘fast twice a week’ and ‘give tithes of all he possesses’, such an approach might, indeed, have led him to have a certain understanding of and sympathy for the tax-collector standing next to him along with those other nicely parcelled-up and distinguished groups of sinners. Finally, notice how Jesus so very accurately and succinctly describes this man’s prayer:
            The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.
We should notice, however, that the Pharisee’s prayer betrays knowledge of God’s will which he intends to obey: he himself is not an extortioner, not an adulterer, and he tries to be and thinks he is, ‘just’ before God.
On the other hand, when speaking of the tax-collector at prayer, Jesus mentions only his humble gestures and words of self-accusation:
            God, be merciful to me a sinner!
There, God is supremely important, and He is recognized as being merciful, Someone totally other than the suppliant now praying, who knows himself to be a sinner.  His prayer betrays no knowledge of God like that of the religious Israelite and learned Pharisee; and as for himself, a professional tax-collector for the Roman occupiers, he is – generally speaking -- just a selfish, stuck-in-the-mud, too-wealthy, sinner.  NEVERTHELESS, at this short time of prayer he is alone, before and -- unknown to himself – with God; and therefore, his prayer is a truly personal awareness, however vaguely felt and acknowledged, of his own sinfulness and God’s majestic holiness and ‘otherness’. 
Unknown to him, centuries earlier, the Psalmist (Ps. 91:14) had written words perfectly applicable to the tax-collector’s prayer:
I will set him on high, because he has known My Name (that is, because he has known Who I am -- the all-holy God – and what I am -- infinitely merciful).
That the tax collector knew – existentially -- something of the reality of God’s Name, was shown by his present faith (unusual, since he wittingly obeyed no commands of God), and his uncharacteristic humility (since he was no regular Temple or synagogue worshipper) before God; and therefore Jesus, Who alone knew His Father in the fullness of His glory and goodness, went on to say:
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.
As for the Pharisee whose pride allowed him little more than a notional appreciation of God’s Name and glory, and who enjoyed comparing himself most favourably with others,  Jesus went on to say :
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
People of God, whoever sets out for a distant destination must always keep their eyes fixed on some fixed object that establishes the right direction: looking at one’s feet, it would be impossible to arrive at the desired destination.   
So too in the spiritual life, we have always to fix our mind and heart, our intention and our desire, on Jesus.  Of course, it might be objected that he who does not look where he is putting his feet is asking for trouble; and there are some who would allow themselves to be convinced by such an argument and would feel encouraged to continue either worrying about themselves or else congratulating themselves for their imagined prudence.  The great falsehood hidden in such attitudes is, of course, that it is not we who are going heavenward of ourselves, but rather God Who is guiding us: we attain His planned destination for us only if we follow the lead He gives us.  As St. Paul said in our second reading:
The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and bring me safe to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen!
Jesus wished to impress this upon His disciples when He warned them of pressures to come that would, if they did not take care, lead them to worry overmuch about themselves:
You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak, for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father Who speaks in you.   (Matthew 10:18-21)
We all know that the apostle Paul suffered more than any of the apostles for Jesus, and the hearing of only a few of his sufferings and trials fills us with admiration for his steadfast proclamation of the Good News:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep.           (2 Corinthians 11:24-25)
How did he survive such punishments and sufferings and still have the courage and strength to continue his witnessing to Christ?  Listen to him:
By the grace of God I am what I am; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Cor. 15:10)
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, Who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)
My dear people, it is not only necessary for our eternal salvation, but it is also so much happier and so much more fulfilling for us here on earth, to keep our mind and heart centred on Him Who is calling us onward and upward,  to learn to delight in Him, to trust and thank Him at all times and in all things.  There is no one happier than one who is grateful, there is none stronger than he who trusts in God.
Trust in God is absolutely essential for a Catholic and Christian life, for there can be no true love where trust is lacking.  Trust in God is not, indeed, part of our fallen human nature, but it is a readily available gift from God, a gift we can ask for, a gift we are exhorted to work with.  We need to pray constantly for greater trust in God, for a more instinctive and childlike reliance on Him, and we should also seek to back-up such prayers by resolute endeavours to turn aside from ourselves, through personal discipline of mind and heart.  As trust grows it brings with it such a deep peace and quiet joy that one wonders how one could have been so foolish as to have relied on, or worried about, self so much before; moreover, with a deepening awareness of, and trust in, God one can more sincerely sympathize with others in their faults and failings, and also appreciate more surely and fully what reasons we have to be grateful to God for His great mercy and goodness to us in Jesus.  People of God, for any human being, such unshakeable trust and gratitude constitute a fulfilment beyond anything this side of heaven. 

Friday, 18 October 2019

29th Sunday Year C 2019

29th. Sunday of Year (C)

(Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2; Luke 18:1-8)


Our readings today speak to us about both prayer and warfare, and that can seem to us incongruous or even contradictory. Traditionally, however, Christians have always understood life here on earth as a time of spiritual combat under the banner of Jesus: a battle against the devil and our own ignorance and weakness.

The first reading spoke most clearly about prayer as a weapon in that combat; and since most weapons need ammunition, we then heard St. Paul, in the second reading, speaking of Holy Scripture as our arsenal; while, in the Gospel reading, it was Jesus Himself Who finally and fully assured us of the ultimate superiority of our weaponry.

It should be noticed, however, that Jesus spoke about prayer in a surprisingly ambiguous manner, setting -- perhaps intentionally – a somewhat ludicrous scenario for today’s parable.

Try and picture it for yourself: on the one hand there is an unscrupulous judge, an officially-licensed criminal we might say today.  Then, on the other hand there is this widow, a woman of whom we know nothing else, except that she could nag!  The pseudo-judge had his finger in many pies no doubt and he was not interested in little matters concerning unimportant people, he wanted money or, if money was not all that plentiful in his catchment area, so to speak, he wanted the things that are associated with money, that is, gifts, influence, and prestige.  Most assuredly, he had no time for small fry.

However, wherever this legal thug/thief went, he found himself being followed by this woman whom he regarded, no doubt, as a troublesome hag, whose voice was constantly ringing in his ears as she cried out again and again:

            Render a just decision for me against my adversary!

Can you imagine what a good comedy director could make of such a story?  A criminal justiciar, an unscrupulous magistrate, beginning to tear his hair out because of the fact that wherever he went he heard that same shrill voice repeating that same cry-cum-demand, ‘Give justice for me against my adversary!’

Why did Jesus use a parable which could easily been regarded as a parody?  Could it, indeed, be the case that He wanted His disciples to smile a little at the thought of anyone being able to seriously conceive a doubt about God’s unfailing attentiveness to our prayers or question His willingness and power to answer them?  Jesus had just previously been talking most seriously to His disciples about His Second Coming, foreshadowed, as He said, by the dire memory of Noah’s destroying flood and the fire and brimstone at Lot’s departure from Sodom.   Here, however, in this immediately subsequent parable  He can be understood to be saying, “Give serious matters serious attention by all means; but, as for doubts about the usefulness of prayer to God, treat such imaginations as they deserve: they are laughable for anyone who knows God, as, indeed, you should know Him by now.”

However, Jesus did add a more serious and more consoling final observation:

He (God) will see to it that justice is done speedily for His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night. 

In those words, Jesus spoke as One who knew God, indeed, as the One who knew His Father and reverenced Him totally: “He does hear and will answer your prayers speedily.  As soon as your true prayer begins He will be answering; and though that answer may take years to come to fulfilment, it will always, and throughout, be found to have been as complete as the circumstances in which you found yourself or had placed yourself would allow.    However -- and this is why I speak this parable to you at this moment -- the ultimate question will not be one about God, but about mankind; for:

            When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?

There Jesus hinted at the large numbers of nominal Christians and Catholics who allow doubts about God – ‘does He hear my prayers?’ – not only to surface in their heart but also to then hang around in the nooks and crannies of their mind, unaware that it is they themselves who are thereby beginning to lose hold of their end of the bond of faith with God, by taking their worldly fears, their pseudo-spiritual anxieties, too seriously.

And so, People of God, be in no doubt that the life of a Christian on earth is a time for combat, spiritual combat.   As St. Paul told Timothy in our second reading, perseverance is essential:

Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed because you know from whom you learned it.

It was in Mother Church that we were first taught about the importance and the efficacy of prayer to God, and it is Mother Church who gives us, and helps us to understand, the arsenal of the Scriptures, as St. Paul again said:

From infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Joy in the Lord is a supremely important part of the armour of a Christian; and so, let us all learn from Jesus and never allow any foolish doubts about God hearing our prayers to linger on and hang around at the back of our mind.   Most certainly, with such thoughts still  troubling your imagination, your prayer may not be the best of which you are capable; but, despite all that, prayer that is sincerely made will, unquestionably, be acceptable to God, and will, most certainly, be heard and answered by your Father in heaven.  So, let us all once more hear and resolve to follow the teaching of St. Paul, that most faithful through-thick-and-thin disciple of Jesus, who tells us from his own life experience as the Apostle of the Gentiles:

I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-9:1)

But, more even than all that, we have the supreme example of Our Blessed Lord Himself praying during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He implored His Father, He wept, and prayed to exhaustion, and yet not one of the evangelists or other apostolic writers tells us that Jesus heard anything from His Father in answer to His prayer: so far as we know from Scripture, He received no audible – so desirable, humanly speaking -- reply.  Why?   Jesus had evidently willed that the Apostles should hear His Own prayer, why not His Father’s answer??

Jesus Himself tells us what His Father’s will and silence meant to Him (John 12: 50):

            I know that His command is eternal life.

Jesus, on earth, loved His Father above all, and as an essential aspect of His earthly mission and human saving-experience, He sacrificed His own will, His own Self, to do His Father’s will for mankind’s salvation: as He Himself said, He came on earth not to do His own will but the will of  His  Father Who sent Him.  He knew -- with His whole mind, heart, and existential being -- that His Father’s deliberate will was, is, and ever will be, a supreme expression of His merciful love towards weak and sinful human beings aspiring to heavenly fulfilment in Jesus by the Spirit.   Jesus was sent as Saviour for mankind: He saved us by His suffering as One of us, He redeemed us by His obedience as the only-begotten Son of His heavenly Father.



Friday, 11 October 2019

28th Sunday Year C 2019

28th. Sunday, Year (C)

(2 Kings 5:14-17; 2nd. Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Gospel reading gives us important guidance concerning our spiritual life.   All true disciples of Jesus want to become fervent ones who sincerely love the Lord, and who, indeed, might become worthy of an intimate, personal, relationship with Him; and recently, in our Sunday Gospel readings, we have heard advice from Jesus on how we can achieve that desire.  Just last week we were told by the Lord that we must not look for quick, earthly, rewards since here on earth we are servants whose job it is to work for the Lord, not to look for personal comforts and satisfactions; earlier, we were encouraged to treasure our faith and to have confidence in its power to raise us up with Christ; and yet earlier we might still remember being told to persevere in knocking, seeking, and asking.

Today, we have another piece of essential advice for our spiritual growth … and by that, I mean our growth as children of God before our Father in heaven, not before human beings, whomsoever they may be, here on earth.

As Jesus continued His journey to Jerusalem He travelled through Samaria and Galilee.  As He was entering a certain village ten lepers met Him; they stood at a distance from Him and raised their voices saying, “Jesus, Master!  Have pity on us!”

When He saw them Jesus said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that, as they were on their way to the priests, they were cleansed.   One of them -- when he saw that he was healed – returned, glorifying God with a loud voice, and fell down at the feet of Jesus giving Him thanks. He was a Samaritan.  So, Jesus said:

Ten were cleansed were they not? Where are the other nine?  Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?

Try to imagine that instant when those erstwhile lepers first realized, almost incredulously, what had happened to them!!  That horrible, flesh-devouring, corrupting, process, that cursed plague which had shut them off from all familiar contact with family, loved ones, friends, indeed, from all healthy human society, THAT … IT … was obliterated; it had simply disappeared and they found themselves well again, no longer ugly and repulsive; now they were normal like everyone else, and they would soon be able to meet with others in homely and familiar surroundings, doing ordinary, every-day, things, so lovingly remembered and so deeply missed!

It is hard, indeed, perhaps impossible, to imagine that moment of utter and stupendous joy and relief …. But, what else, do you think they might well have felt?  Surely, at the centre of that volcanic upsurge of joy and relief, they would have felt burning gratitude too?  We know for a fact that at least one of them did: for he had to return to Jesus without any delay to thank Him.  The others were, perhaps, so excited at their recovery of health that they simply forgot all else; or else it might be that some were so desirous of getting the priests to witness their new-found cleanliness -- which was necessary before they could officially be allowed to join ordinary people once again -- that they did not feel that gratitude until after they had been certified clean by the priests; yet others may have felt they had first of all to visit family and begin picking up the threads of their previous lives once again.   Nevertheless, in all those ‘other’ cases, not responding immediately to whatever grace of God did move them cost them the opportunity to express their gratitude to Jesus, for He had gone on, dismayed somewhat by their failure to return to Him.

Now, that is something of the utmost importance in the spiritual life, People of God.  We are blessed if we feel in our heart gratitude to God for whatever it may be: experiencing moments of clear awareness of the beauty of God’s creation, being awe-struck at manifestations of His power, suddenly appreciating His goodness to us personally, being astounded at His wisdom in the Scriptures and at His supreme goodness and love in the gift of His beloved, only-begotten, Son for our salvation ….. there are countless ways in which God and His grace can touch our heart at any given time, and every one of them is a priceless blessing if indeed we respond immediately, if that touch actually moves our heart, and leads us to give thanks to God, admiring Him as we are moved.

One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell the feet of Jesus and thanked Him.   He was a Samaritan.

You notice that only one, a Samaritan, responded immediately and came back gratefully to thank Jesus, and he was not considered to be a religious man as were the other nine Israelites, according to Jewish appreciation of those times.  But of course, for some people, religion was then -- as it still is today for very many -- all about performing duties and obligations in order to save themselves, rather than being the most sublime expression of their mind’s communion with, and fulfilment of their heart’s longing for, the God Who loves them and is calling them.

It is a noble ambition, an admirable desire, to be a true Christian.  It is, indeed the calling of all Christians and one which has touched the heart of many disciples of Jesus at some time or other; but sadly, those who respond whole-heartedly to such a calling and perseveringly seek to fulfil its demands are no more numerous than the one out of ten cleansed lepers:

Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed were they not? Where are the other nine?  Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

One of the great causes of would-be-disciples thus losing their way is pointed out to us by the Lord today: count it a blessing to experience the mysterious working of the Spirit of God in your heart, but you must try to respond immediately, for that is a supremely  important step on the way to intimacy with the Lord.

There is further instruction for us on this matter in our first reading today where, as you will recall, Naaman, the Syrian army commander, having bathed in the Jordan at Elisha’s command found himself miraculously cured of his disease. His heart was not just touched by the grace of God, it was truly moved, and being humbled with consuming gratitude, he forgot all about his own dignity as a royal representative with imperious royal duties and immediately:

Returned with his whole retinue to the man of God.

On his arrival Naaman stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.  Please accept a gift from your servant.”  “As the LORD lives Whom I serve I will not take it” Elisha replied; and despite Naaman’s urging, he still refused.

Why did Elisha so bluntly, even so vehemently, refuse Naaman’s grateful gift?    Let us turn back the pages of our Bible and read Genesis 14:23:

Abram replied to the King of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD, God most High, the Creator of heaven and earth,  that I would not take so much as a thread or a sandal strap from anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 

Elisha, under God’s guidance and in imitation of Abraham, refused to accept Naaman’s gift – a gift offered in sincerity of heart – lest Naaman should then have thought that he had settled his debt with Elisha’s God, indeed, settled it with generosity.  God was choosing Naaman for purposes unknown to him, with the result that being unable to pay his debt to the man of God as he would have liked, Naaman’s sense of honour would not allow him to forget what had been done for him in the land of Israel by a prophet of Israel’s God. Therefore, he requested of Elisha earth from Israel in order to pray acceptably, as he thought, to the God Who had restored his flesh through the prophet’s intercession and by his own washing in the Jordan.  

Personal prayer of worship and thanksgiving to the God of Israel Who, through His prophet, had cleansed him ...where would that lead Naaman?  What were God’s plans for him??

            Go in peace – Elisha said – ‘such faith will save you’, we might well add!

Once more we are being taught about gratitude before God; and the example of Naaman is of the deepest significance, for Naaman did not only say ‘Thank you’ to Elisha immediately, he also took serious measures to make sure that he would henceforth remember and be able to offer acceptable signs of gratitude to the God of Elisha, the God of Israel, even when he had returned to pagan Syria to continue his work in the service of Syria’s ruler. 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, God is divine and so good that He wills to share His divine blessedness with us; we, however, are human and indeed sinful, and consequently must open up to Him something of the very best our human capacities for our renewal and refashioning in Jesus by the Spirit: and that must, most surely, include an attentive and humble mind able to recognize one’s needs before God, and a heart and will committed to gratefully cherishing the remembrance of God’s resultant great goodness to us personally and to all of good will.


Friday, 4 October 2019

27th Sunday Year C 2019

 27th. Sunday Year (C)

(Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4.  2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14.  Luke 17:5-10)

Why did the Apostles say to Jesus: Increase our faith?  Were they imagining some lack of, insufficient ‘quantity’ of, faith given them, for some difficulty or failure on their part?

Luke does not give us any information about what had occasioned this request by the apostles, but, whatever the reason, their request highlighted their ignorance of the true nature of the gift of faith; and Jesus' answer seems intended to nip-in-the-bud any possibility of their doubting God’s providence as His disciples and ministers of the Gospel, by helping them  better appreciate the wondrous power of authentic faith:

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

Notice that Jesus did not call their faith into question; He didn’t say, ‘If you had faith’, but, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed’.  In the Christian life it is not that God’s gifts are insufficient for our real needs, but rather that we, so very, very often, fail to appreciate the wonder of what has already been given us, as St. Paul himself said in the second reading:

            Therefore, I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you.

Let me now give you a short description of the mulberry tree (Barnes' notes) and you will have a clearer idea of the significance of Jesus' parable.

Look, now, at this tree: its ample girth, its wide-spread arms branching off from the parent trunk only a few feet from the ground.  Next, examine its enormous roots: as thick, as numerous, and as wide-spread into the deep soil below as the branches extend into the air above.  What power on earth can pluck up such a tree? Heaven's thunderbolt may strike it down, the wild tornado may tear it to fragments, but, surely, nothing short of miraculous power could pluck it up by the roots."

At that time the apostles still had Jesus with them as the centre of their minds' attention, their hearts’ affections and expectations, and perhaps for that reason they were not, as yet, able to appreciate the power of that supernatural gift of grace which had made them  into disciples and, most especially, Apostles of His.  And so, Jesus now goes on to hint that at a time close to hand He will no longer be with them at their side.  He pictures a time when He Himself will be "resting", and they will be expected to continue working, apparently alone, but, in reality, working on His behalf under the guidance and in the power of, His most Holy Spirit:

Which of you, having a servant ploughing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'?  But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'?

Speaking in this way Jesus opens up a further aspect of the apostles' incomprehension:  God does not bestow His spiritual gifts on his servants for them to possess as do children who cling to, and at times boast of, presents they have received.  God gives us, and most especially His Apostles, His chosen blessings in order that thereby they might live in ever closer communion with Himself, empowered to co-operate in the spread, and promote the understanding, of the  Gospel Good News among all peoples and throughout all times.  Jesus, in short, wanted to counter any possessiveness on the part of the apostles, to protect them from that innate tendency to selfishness and pride that would shortly incite them to argue amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest.   He needed to ward off the perennial threat to all those who are specially gifted, by warning His apostles and their successors, against the pride and arrogance so commonly seen in the  widespread, then and now, abuse of worldly and even spiritual power.

He spoke only a few words because the apostles were not yet ready for more, but the words He chose covered all that needed to be said; and, being simply expressed, certain aspects could be readily understood by the apostles, while the more hidden depths would subsequently be revealed by the Spirit to Mother Church -- who treasures all such words of Jesus in her heart – through all the ages of her mission here on earth:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'

Which, relating to the request they had made so shortly before, meant: ‘bearing in mind that what has been given you, the endowment already bestowed on you by God, is immeasurably superior to whatever may be asked of you as Apostles, you should be saying with heart-felt gratitude and sorrow: We are unprofitable servants; we have only done our duty, we have only done what was well within our power to do.

Jesus was preparing His Apostles for the time when they would soon be without His comforting presence, alone, yet commissioned to proclaim the Good News of their Lord and Saviour to a largely alien world where they must never dream of calling God into question, where they must never ever, allow themselves to indulge in such self-pity.

The prophet Habakkuk had also spoken, as did Jesus, about the time for labour in this world, when rest is longed for but -- though its promise be sure -- its fulfilment is, and has to be, delayed:

Write the vision and make it plain on tablets; (it) is yet for an appointed time, at the end it will speak and will not lie.  Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.

Lovers of this world, the proud, the sinful, cannot abide such delay, for, as you heard, “the rash one has no integrity”,  his soul is not upright in him; he cannot reconcile himself to waiting in trust, neither can he humble himself in the service of a cause where success is not in some way readily apparent or tangible.  Such selfless devotion is only for those whom God has specially blessed, as the prophet's words make abundantly clear:

The just shall live by his faith.

St. Paul told us how God the Father has blessed all who are in Christ Jesus:

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  

We have been given two gifts in Jesus St. Paul tells us there: the gift of faith to hold fast to ‘the pattern of sound words’ contained in his teaching and that of Mother Church, and the gift of love to seek and serve Jesus P/personally in our daily living of that teaching.  Now, with two such gifts, our call to selflessness does not mean a life of sheer endurance as we journey through a desert of aridity in the face of storms constantly exposing our weakness and anxiety; rather is it a life which, being gradually emptied of self-love, is thereby made ever more capable of receiving the gifts of the Spirit, of being filled to overflowing with the peace, joy, and love which are to be found in Christ Jesus alone.

As Jesus told His disciples, the gifts already given us are sufficient for all our needs:

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

And not only are God's gifts sufficient for all our needs, they are more than enough for all our desires!  For faith is a treasure, and love of Jesus is not only the fruit, beauty, and glory of that treasure, but also the tool whereby we can come to appreciate what He has given us ever more and more:

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us.

The Apostles had to learn, as we too must learn, that a disciple of Jesus has to work not only outside, in the mission-field of daily life and witness in the world, but also on the inside, in the secret depths of his own being.  The one, true, Faith is not merely a public form of words and practices to be believed and fulfilled, it is also a personal treasure to be quarried and appreciated ever more deeply in one’s mind and heart.  When worked on in that way the treasure which is our Faith yields up great beauty for our inspiration whilst it bestows a godly power, immeasurable indeed, but not one for boasting and self-aggrandisement as the early apostles were tempted to imagine, but one, on the contrary, that empowers us to respond with humble, quiet and consoling, sympathy and ‘adequacy’ to what is now almost ‘within our reach’, as we stretch out with holy obedience for correspondence to the beauty of God's truth, and  with faith-enflamed delight to share more and more in the wonder of His love, thereby inspiring us to become ever more selfless and wholly other, to the extent that, as St. Paul puts it:

It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)

Christ, by the power of His Spirit in us, leads, guides, encourages and empowers us to work ever more at and with our treasure trove of our Catholic and Christian Faith:

Therefore, I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the      laying on of my hands.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.

We are not to repeat the failure of those in the time of the prophet Habakkuk who, echoing the horrors of abidingly-sinful humanity, cried out:

Why do You make me see iniquity and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises, yet You do not save.

The time of rest, the time for rejoicing over the ultimate conquest of evil is not yet.  Jesus Himself is in heavenly glory, but we, His disciples, have work still to do for Him on earth:

Prepare something for My supper, and gird yourself and serve Me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink.

For that purpose, we have been gifted with "the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus"; let us then aspire, with sure confidence and firm hope, to the fulfilment of His promise:

Blessed are those servants whom the Master, when He comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that He will gird Himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.  (Luke 12:37-38)