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

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

Friday, 28 February 2020

1st Sunday of Lent Year A 2020

1st. Sunday of Lent (A) 2020
(Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11)

I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ.   (2 Cor. 11:3) 

‘Sincere and pure commitment’, was indeed the attitude shown by Our Blessed Lord Himself when tempted by the devil after His forty day fast in the desert; and, in order the better to appreciate the wisdom of Jesus’ demeanour and learn from the reckless folly of Eve’s example, let us turn to our first reading and study Eve’s attitude when she met with the devil and talked herself into temptation.

The devil questioned the woman, not the man; obviously, he did that not because his was a ‘sexist’ or ‘racist’ attitude – although he did most certainly despise the human race -- but for the surer success of his own plans.  What were the weaknesses that drew his special attention to Eve: was it that he recognized her as personally being of a wilful, even rebellious, disposition; or was it that he saw native curiosity, perhaps a tendency to conceit and personal vanity, as being prominent in her make-up?  Most certainly she wanted to ‘know for herself about things’, above all, she wanted to be able to form her own judgement concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil concerning which Adam had told her about God’s prohibition.   Such a wilful desire for independence from God and self-determination and self-appreciation seems to have made it possible for Eve to think she could take on, chat with, the devil, and impossible for her to recognize him even when showing himself in his very first words, manifesting himself to be what he is essentially and eternally: namely, the liar, and the most implacable enemy of all who allow him to find a niche for himself in their lives.  How tragically ironic it is that Eve, preparing herself to be so wilful before the Lord seeking to protect her, could be so very, very, simple and stupid before the devil seeking only the downfall of these two privileged dwellers in Eden, despicable human-beings that they were!

Recall again his devilish words, and recognize his endeavours to portray himself as siding with Eve against God in a pretended confrontation he himself was trying his very best to concoct and promote:

            Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?

He knew full well that God had not given any such command: the couple were living in God’s garden and eating its good fruit, the devil’s words were simply a ruse to provoke  Eve and find out precisely what had gone on between God and the couple still walking innocently and unashamedly in His garden before His eyes.
The very fact that Eve responded so readily to the devil was amazing; for, after all, he was evil itself!   Dolled-up, disguised, or whatever word you may like to think, he was nevertheless, himself: on this occasion somewhat of a flatterer, but above all the liar, lying as always in order to destroy.  Neverthless, Eve sensed nothing at all untoward, she just talked with him freely and listened to him carefully!!  In doing so, she revealed both her ambitious nature aspiring far beyond what God had arranged for Adam and herself, and her deep dis-satisfaction with a humble life of simplicity and obedience before God.

Adam, on the other hand, found himself caught up in an already somewhat developed relationship between Eve -- secretly alienating herself from God in her heart-of-hearts -- and the devil, with whom Eve was now in open discussion.  It was a situation of which he was apparently unaware; and surprised , perhaps alarmed, he behaved like a wimp who simply wanted to avoid trouble by going along with his wife rather than actually take upon himself the responsibility of seeing that God’s solemn warning and express command concerning the tree in the centre of the garden was obeyed -- a command originally given to himself before his help-mate had even been created -- both out of reverence for God and love for Eve:

The LORD God gave man this order: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.” 
The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”    (Genesis 2:16-18)

No matter what God had commanded Adam, Eve wanted to know for herself, to be able to form her own judgement concerning that most attractive tree, bearing delicious fruit and – oh! how very intriguing!! -- giving knowledge of good and evil.
Such, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, was the situation which brought sin and death  into our lives; and such pride and irresponsibility, such ignorance and indifference, are still haunting and thwarting us as Christians and Catholics today.

Jesus however -- the beloved Only-Begotten Son of God and the culmination and sublime fulfilment of mankind -- in His confrontation with the devil, was not interested in promoting or confirming His own human awareness and appreciation of His Father’s love for Him; and He was most certainly not going to attempt to prove anything before the Devil’s tribunal. He did not need  to test, and convince Himself of, His divine power by changing stones into bread, even though it would have immediately satisfied His gnawing hunger;  nor would He -- by a farcically theatrical display – descend (quite literally!) to demonstrating the reality of the Scriptures’ attestation of Himself and the eternal significance of His mission as the Messianic Son of God to the devil, who was desperately seeking to sow but the smallest seed of doubt and mistrust into Jesus’ mind.
Throughout all this, Jesus would not entertain any wish other than that, in all things, His Father’s will exclusively might be done in Him for the fulfilment of the mission for which He had been sent by His Father: 

My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me, and to finish His work.   
I delight to do Your will, My God. (John 4:34) (Psalm 40:9)

At the beginning of the season of Lent, dear People of God, it behoves us to learn from the tragic failure of faithless Eve and feckless Adam as we, disciples of Jesus, seek to walk more faithfully with Him for the praise and glory of His and our heavenly Father; and Mother Church has given us, in our second reading, a text of Saint Paul that can help to interpret the whole situation for us:

Just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.

With regard to his own converts in Corinth, Saint Paul said that he feared for them lest their thoughts might be, or have become, corrupted from a sincere (and pure) commitment to Christ, and the corruption he feared was, basically, a lack of simplicity in their bearing as disciples of Jesus, a lack most strikingly exemplified for us both in the behaviour of Eve, ambitious and conceited, wanting to know for herself and decide for herself, and that of Adam, indolent and – out of pseudo-consideration for his wife –  not wanting the responsibility of taking hold of the reins, so to speak, to see that God’s will was done.
As we turn directly to Jesus for guidance, we see that -- as distinct from the spineless and accommodating Adam – He took hold of the reins most firmly when the devil offered Him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence if He would but prostrate Himself and worship him.  Up to that moment Jesus, facing questions about His own power, and His position in the Scriptures, had been dismissive of the devil, answering him with but a few chosen and decisively interpreted words of Scripture.  However, as soon as the devil sought to invade His Father’s realm by seeking worship for himself, Jesus immediately revealed the devil’s personal identity and his evil essence by the irresistible power of His own authoritative command: 

            Get away Satan!  It is written: ‘The Lord your God shall you worship’.

In a like manner He gives us guidance with regard to ambitious and self-assertive Eve gladly hearing the devil speak most disrespectfully of God:

You certainly will not die!   No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.

Eve’s evil example and baleful legacy Jesus utterly condemned by His own selfless and absolute commitment to the honour and glory of His Father, the God Who had sent Him, and Whom -- by the Spirit -- He served wholeheartedly to His earthly death, and now rejoices, in the heavenly glory of their mutual beatitude, for all eternity.
Of course, Eve gladly listened to the devil because his words expressed what she wanted to hear… he didn’t so much deceive her as proclaim and apparently support her secret hopes and desires in order to stir up her rebellious inclinations.

I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere (and pure) commitment to Christ.

Dear People of God, the New Testament bears repeated witness to Jesus’ preferred understanding of our eternal fulfilment as our becoming, in Himself, children of God; and His whole life gives us constant inspiration, guidance, and spiritual power towards the fulfilment of that purpose.  And so it is that, in our readings today, Mother Church chooses -- as we have seen -- to give us further insight into the authentic make-up of a true child of God, by showing us how Adam and Eve both failed in that respect.

Saint Paul calls to our minds the threat and danger of a corrupted, insincere, commitment to Christ, which consists, he tells us, in a lack of simplicity in our relationship before God our Father and with Jesus our Saviour; and we have seen such a lack of simplicity and transparency at the root of the behaviour of both Adam and Eve, in his spineless acquiescence and her self-centred and ambitious conniving. 

People of God, only simplicity before God allows God’s Gift, the Spirit of Jesus, to work freely in us and form us in the likeness of Jesus for the Father … and it takes both  true humility and significant courage if such a reign of the Spirit is to become a decisive feature of our lives.  For simplicity embraces what is essential and most beautiful in the Christian life: it springs from deep trust and sure hope; it enfolds calm patience and long-sufferance; it requires a pure gaze of self-surrendering love fixed most devoutly on the Lord Himself in all His beauty, if we will but advert to His Spirit addressing, calling, and wanting to guide us throughout the course of, and even to the final dénouement of, our earthly lives for and before Him.

Let us, therefore, aspire to, love and pray for, such a humble but beautiful virtue.  Spiritual simplicity is unknown and indeed inconceivable for the majority of men and women today, but it was most admiringly recognized and treasured by St. Paul as he constantly prayed for, and most ardently aspired to, full maturity in Christ Jesus his Lord and Saviour, both for us and for himself.

Friday, 21 February 2020

7th Sunday Year A 2020

 7th. Sunday, Year (A)

(Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48)

Today’s Gospel reading is, to say the very least, most striking; but who could put it into practice, is it practical?  How did Our Blessed Lord intend His words to be understood and be of most benefit to His disciples?

Obviously, I don’t pretend to answer such questions definitively, but I will -- indeed I should -- offer some suggestions, some observations, to be borne in mind when thinking, and above all when praying, about these and other like words of Our Lord.

It is not to be expected that Mother Church should always and at any given time have a clear and full understanding of everything Our Lord said and did.  She infallibly teaches, and spiritually endows her children that they might appropriately live, the essentials of Christian life; but the broad extent of its ramifications and the wondrous beauty of all the gifts and possibilities bestowed on and available to her through the Spirit of Jesus’ abiding presence with her is beyond measure.  Moreover, she lives by the Spirit and consequently is ever developing in the service and understanding of her Lord, with the result that there is much in her treasure-house that we – ourselves always but little children of Mother Church and sincere, though still fragile, disciples of Jesus – can only gradually become truly aware of and learn to love aright, through a developing awareness and experience of discipleship in this world under the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Who, precisely, is God’s Gift to the Church that He might lead her into all truth.

Let us, therefore, try to recall other teaching and examples given by Our Lord, other truths of Holy Scripture, other examples of God’s saints and doctors; and as we do so, let us prayerfully invoke the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

We can first briefly recall an episode from 1st. Book of Maccabees (1:41, 43), where a problem, such as occupies us at present, weighed heavily on patriotic and faithful Israelites subject, at that time, to an alien, pagan, power attempting to force them to abandon their  faith and their traditional practices:

The king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king, and many Israelites were in favour of his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath.  

Under such threat, the Chosen People living according to, and loving wholeheartedly, the Old Covenant bestowed upon them by God, decided that they must defend themselves and their religion thus threatened with extinction; indeed, later they would feel obliged to defend themselves by fighting, if and when necessary, even on the Sabbath.

However, that took place, as I said, under the old covenant, and is not directly relevant to us who are disciples of Jesus not followers of Moses, although that covenant was Jesus’ background and nurtured Our Blessed Lady.

In the Gospel of St. John (18:22s.), however, we have something unquestionably more pertinent:

When Jesus said this (to the High Priest), one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ’Is that how you answer the High Priest?’  Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike Me?’

Now that was a perfect opportunity for Our Lord to exemplify the literal observance of His own words:

If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well;

but, as you have heard, He did not do so.

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Christian community he had founded at Corinth, says in two places (11:1 and 4:16):

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.  I urge you, be imitators of me.

Again, in his first letter to the Thessalonians (1:5-6) he writes:

You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord. 

What kind of man, then, was Paul who set out to instruct the first Christian communities not only by his teaching but also, and quite explicitly, by his personal example?

We can, first of all, turn to St. Luke’s account concerning Paul in the Acts of the Apostles:

The High Priest, Ananias, commanded those who stood by Paul to strike him on the mouth.  Then Paul said to him, ‘God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall!  Are you sitting to judge one according to the Law, and yet, contrary to the Law, you order me to be struck!’    (23:2-3)

Again, there was a remarkable opportunity for the literal fulfilment of Our Lord’s advice, but St. Paul did not subscribe to such a literal interpretation it would seem.

On another occasion, he even made – or wanted to make – provision for the deciding of grievances between brethren within the community at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:1, 5), so as to avoid the scandal of brethren choosing to sue each other before pagan judges:

When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?   Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood? 
And so, it would seem that, in the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord was intimating – not illustrating -- what sort of spirit should guide and determine the behaviour of members of God’s kingdom being inaugurated by Jesus.  And it is, consequently, quite possible that we are wrong to look for precise instructions as regards our own personal behaviour in particular cases: if someone strikes you on the cheek, do this; or, if another seeks to take your tunic, do that; or again, if someone were to order you to go one mile with him, do this.

Perhaps Our Lord – being in a position to use but a very few human words to indicate and promote the spirit that should motivate all His followers throughout the world and throughout all time – was really preparing them to learn how, under the leading of His Spirit, to rightly decide for themselves how to act in all the various circumstances of life as true disciples of, and faithful witnesses to, Himself.   In other words, He was preparing them to gradually acquire the ability to recognize surely and respond appropriately -- sponte sua -- to whatever guidance His Spirit might give them in order that they should bear true witness to their Lord and Master, give glory to their heavenly Father, and attain thereby the end He has eternally planned for them.

For such an interpretation of Our Lord’s words we can again turn to St. Paul when, speaking elsewhere about himself, he did not hesitate to say:

I think that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 7:40)

In his letter to the Romans (12:17-21), Paul thus interprets his Lord’s teaching:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.   If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.  Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”   Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”  Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

Let us therefore, once again, consider together Our Lord’s Gospel words.

‘Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also’ .... now, such a slap was back-handed and above all an insult;

‘Whoever forces you to go one mile go with him two’ ... any Roman soldier could legally oblige a civilian to carry his military ‘gear’ for one mile.

Think on these things and surely the almost instinctive response of one thus humiliated and oppressed, would be to respond with a measure of vehemence, ‘NOT ME!’, to insist on his personal pride, his own dignity; and perhaps even with beggars one could well imagine someone saying, ‘Do you think I am a fool?’  All instinctive ways to insist on, bolster, one’s ego, to assert one’s OWN SELF. 

Now THAT I suggest is what Jesus was wanting to eradicate in His followers, that deep pride and selfishness was what these words of His were meant to sift out from among those crowding around Him who were waiting and longing for, and would so easily – and indeed tragically  -- follow, a militant Messiah, an authoritarian, self-assertive leader and warrior!!eHHH  H

There we have, I believe, the essential point of Jesus’ teaching given us in the Gospel for today --- but that does not mean that a literal interpretation is absolutely excluded; indeed, it could be that, as we follow the Spirit, He might choose to lead one -- become both sufficiently docile to His call and responsive to His influence -- to a literal understanding and fulfilment of Our Lord’s words, and thus literally turn the other cheek, give to those who ask, more than comply with the unjust demands made on him.  Such a possibility would seem to have been at the back of St. Paul’s mind when, after making arrangements, so to speak, for lawsuits between Christians to be judged within the community, he went on to say:

It is, in any case, a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against one another. Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather let yourselves be cheated?   (1 Corinthians 6:7)

However, until we are at the desired level of union with God, Jesus’ literal words can be understood more broadly while, nonetheless, still engendering and expressing the essential spirit of Christ and His Kingdom.  Thus -- far from possibly crushing the broken reed – they will advantageously establish us on a sure basis of humility that alone can open up and solidly support a future full of hope and God-given possibilities.

For a final, and perhaps a more truly comprehensive appreciation of Our Blessed Lord’s intentions, let us turn back to the Gospel reading again, for there He gave what was most certainly His supreme teaching and desire for us:

Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect!

And such perfection He said was to be found and expressed in:

Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.

All those other gestures -- turning the other cheek, handing over not only one’s tunic but also one’s cloak, going two miles rather than the one demanded – are only pleasing and acceptable to God in so far as they are pure expressions of Christian love.  At times, and under suitable circumstances, they could, indeed, be supremely authentic expressions of Jesus’ guiding Spirit in our life; at other times however -- times, that is, of our own choosing -- they could be nothing more than human gestures betraying spiritual ambition and self-exaltation.

A true mother will always be prepared to sacrifice herself for her child’s good; but at other times she might be quite strict and unyielding, as was once the case with me in my childhood.  It seems I was insistent on wanting to put pepper on my dinner myself.  My mother explained that she had already put enough on for me; but, nevertheless, I wanted to shake the pepper out myself.  She finally gave way to my insistence and indulged me.  I shook out pepper with gusto and then, of course, did not like the result.  Then my mother showed her true love for me by insisting that I ate what was before me!!  I don’t think I ever made the same mistake again!

And so, the psalmist said today:

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

Dear People of God, Our Lord is the font of all goodness, beauty, and truth for us; isHis sublime words, however, can only be truly appreciated in the context of Mother Church’s living tradition and teaching, and only carried into appropriate effect under the olHoly Spirit’s discerning wisdom and sustaining power.  Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ words, are meant to prepare us for eternal life, to adumbrate the spirit with which we should be imbued as children of God: all forms self-assertion, self-reassertion are unbecoming and wrong for true children of Him Who supremely loves, guides, and will, most sublimely, reward them.

Let us, therefore, give heartfelt thanks to God for Mother Church; and -- ignoring our native pride and forgetting our self-solicitude – let us, with her, open up our hearts and minds, and commit our very selves, to the guiding Spirit of Jesus ever interceding on our behalf with the heavenly Father Who, in His great mercy and loving kindness, calls and draws us by His Spirit and wills to ultimately crown us in His Son with a filial share in their triune glory and eternal beatitude.  And let us hold clearly and firmly to what is the essential aspect of today’s words of our Blessed Lord, they are meant to indicate to us the extent to which we should be prepared to go IF the Holy Spirit of Jesus living in, ruling over, and freely guiding, our lives should thus want us to follow Him.   It is not a matter for previous cogitation – subject to the devil’s snares and our own native weakness – rather it could only be the immediate, calm, and most humble response of total trust and confident obedience to Him Who is our all.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

6th Sunday of the Year A 2020

 6th. Sunday of Year (A)

(Sirach 15:15-20; 1st. Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37)


As we look around our society today we see some amazing things not only happening, but increasingly being accepted as part of normal modern behaviour.  We hear constantly about ‘racism’ of all kinds and the banter of centuries in the United Kingdom is now racist for a people becoming more and more neurotically sensitive and over-feminised by the calls to talk, talk, about one’s ailments, feelings, and needs!! We hear about babies being ‘acquired’ and fostered by gay or lesbian couples, a baby girl with two men or vice-versa; we know of groups of people lavishing much effort and showing great compassion for suffering children, whilst our society --- as a whole --- is most assiduously putting the very youngest to death for the most selfish of reasons.  Children are so very decisive and divisive: being well loved by some parents willing to lavish money on their offspring yet failing to form a deep loving relationship of shared life, experience, and understanding with them; we hear of mothers who find their children more of a troublesome care than a personal joy, and of others who are less than willing to devote their own selves and their personal financial and sporting careers to their child’s human and personal formation, development, and well-being.  Today, most paradoxically, children – the beautiful fruit of God-blessed human sexual and married love -- can easily be regarded and treated almost as a commodity or even as an alien invader.

Along with such attitudes to children we also read of people in modern society who so love animals that they will threaten -- even maiming or killing -- others who do not subscribe to their radical, not to say fanatical, way of thinking; and it is part of very ordinary, world-wide practice, for subversive organizations to bomb, maim, and kill fellow human beings – ordinary, uninvolved and innocent, people -- in order to draw attention to their particular causes without any sense of guilt, let alone compassion. Even in our own towns and villages, some young people, perhaps, will have little compunction about stabbing or kicking someone near to death if they become involved somewhere in violence; while city yobs will not scruple to mug, beat, rape and kill old and defenceless men, women, and even children, to satisfy their rampant passions of all sorts.

Sorrowfully recalling these things, and many others like them, to mind, we wonder at times what is happening to our world.  How have people come to behave in such ways?  How can a sheep, cut-in-half and preserved in a glass tank, be plugged as human art but not recognized as God’s marvellous creation?  How is it that an apparently formless group of bricks or concrete blocks can be piled up by some supposedly-gifted but also possibly disturbed mind, and then be put forward and even sponsored for the admiration of the more or less normally gifted and balanced public?

How difficult, how very difficult it must be to bring up young people, and for young people themselves to grow to authentic maturity, in such a society!   Who can protect, guide and sustain them in right ways?   How can they not learn to walk in accordance with all that goes on around them?

And so, very many people today say about their own faults and failings, ‘I couldn’t do anything else, I had no choice ..’  Sin, personal fault, is no longer acknowledged, accepted, ‘it’ has always been caused by someone else, ‘it’ has always been forced on the culprit.

Such thoughts occupied the mind of the author of our first reading who wrote:

Do not say ‘It was the Lord’s doing that I went astray.       Before each person are life and death, stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.  Great is the wisdom of the Lord, His eyes are on those who fear Him, and He knows every human action.

Jesus, our Lord and God-given Saviour to guide us through the desert of this sinful world, Jesus the all-holy Son of God made man, has even stronger words for us His followers and disciples, as your heard in the Gospel reading, words of both warning and most solemn promise, words that both challenge and inspire:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Such words of Jesus were regarded exclusively as words of warning and threat by the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus’ time, who preferred their position of authority among the Chosen People to the prospect of God’s Kingdom coming among them where all men and women of good-will would be able to know and love God and attain the salvation and fulfilment He promised. The Pharisees and Scribes interpreted and adapted the Law given to Moses according to their own human traditions and they were most unwilling to look forward to blessings ... even though they were promised by God Himself ... because their own present advantages of power and prestige filled their hearts and minds.  That is why Jesus went on to tell us:

I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

People of God, we Catholics are in a fluctuating and transitional situation today.  We have experienced times when it was widespread among Catholics to imitate the Scribes and Pharisees by looking upon God’s commandments as more of a warning and threat than as an opportunity, a challenge, and a promise.  In their days the Pharisees had, with great effort and industry, built up a hedge as they called it, a hedge of human prescriptions and practices which were meant to preserve the children of Israel from failing in their observance of the commandments of the Law as understood by the traditions and teaching of their Pharisee leaders and self-appointed guides along God’s ways.  Jesus spoke with feeling about such people and practices saying:

They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)

There he was sympathizing with those thus burdened; at another time He openly attacked the Pharisees for concocting such loads for others (Mark 7:6-8):

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.  They worship Me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

So too in the Church at particular epochs the commandments of men have been brought in to shore-up, so to speak, the commandments of God and of His Church: practices of devotion were thought up and recommended to, urged upon, others, which again were meant to protect the commandments and prevent sin of course, but which also in practice ended up by stifling others.  The result was that many, especially of the young, either rebelled or gave up in ‘despair’.  That situation then provoked a reaction from some well-meaning clerics and teachers of various sorts who tried to help the lapsed or lapsing return to the practice of the Faith by watering-down Mother Church’s moral law.  Unfortunately, at times they went on to not only make lighter the load of human commandments and, but also to water down those of God: and today we, as a result, many find themselves in a state of flux, not knowing when to be firm and unyielding or how to adapt and develop.

There are two great commandments in our practice of the Christian and Catholic way of life.  The one was much cited in past centuries, and was first given us in the Scriptures, where Samuel said, in the name of the Lord, to the errant king Saul:

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice.

Today, that command still remains as valid as ever for Pope, priests and people, for each of us and for our children.

The second great commandment was given us by the example of the Lord Jesus and from His words, but expressed perhaps most memorably for us by St. Paul (1 Cor 13:11-13) when he wrote:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The legitimate developments of modern theology help us towards the fulfilment of this commandment of love by strongly reminding us that we, being made in the image of God, are free; indeed, we are essentially made for freedom.  In this, modern theology is only restating words from our Lord Himself Who said to some Jews aspiring to follow Him as His disciples:

If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  (John 8:31-32)

So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

This teaching of Jesus was reiterated with emphasis by St. Paul in his 2nd. letter to the Corinthians (3:17) and also to the Galatians (5:1):

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

However, we must be aware, dear People of God, that the word “freedom” is both much misunderstood and widely abused today, and therefore we must be careful to understand aright the true Christian appreciation of freedom: its whole purpose and meaning is to enable us, both truly and fully, in both a human and divine way, to love and serve God in and above all things, and our neighbour as ourselves; and in so doing, to enable each of us individually to become our own authentic self as planned, willed, and loved, by God.

That is the great challenge and promise of our life here on earth, to learn -- despite the morass and chaos brought about by our sins past and present – how, under the guidance and power of the Spirit of Jesus, to love God the Father, and become in Jesus, His true children.  And in order to fulfil that glorious privilege and calling we have to hold firm both to God’s commandments and to our divine endowment of freedom.  We cannot become children of God by disobeying His commandments, commands Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfil; we cannot walk in the ways of Jesus by ignoring His teaching in the Scriptures opened up to us by His Church, for we are only brought to life in Jesus by the Spirit as members of His Body, the Church.   We must therefore, hold firm to God’s commandments in His Church.  We must also hold firm to our freedom with regard to the customs, the popular practices and persuasions, of men: for we have been made free for God: we can choose among human prescriptions as we will, but always and only with this one aim and aspiration in mind: to learn love God with our whole mind, heart, soul, and strength in Jesus and freely by the Spirit. 

Notice that I say learn to love God, because none of us, of ourselves, knows how to love Him aright.  That is one of the reasons Mother Church has been given to us and we to her: we have to learn how to love God as He wants to be loved, and we can only learn that with our brethren in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and our Mother, and which, as such, alone is permanently endowed with the presence of the Holy Spirit of Love.  For the Spirit alone, the Holy Spirit of Love, given us by Jesus and working in and through Mother Church can be part of the life of each one of us, can make us holy in Jesus for the Father.  Human practices can help but they may also hinder, and they can never make us holy.  Holiness is loving God in self-forgetfulness; true sanctity is delighting in God above all and in all.  It is a gift, a grace, from the One who is Personally the Gift of God.  That is the only way in which our righteousness can and will surpass the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees as Jesus demanded.  Their righteousness was admirable in many respects but it was a legal, human, and ultimately, a self-contrived righteousness.  Our righteousness, to be authentic, can only be received as a gift from the Father, given by the Spirit, to those whose supreme desire is to be found as His true children in the kingdom of heaven, in Jesus, His only-begotten and most beloved, Son.

As Moses was leading Israel across the lonely desert, guided, protected, and nourished by God alone, towards the Promised Land where Israel would be surrounded by pagan powers and pagan practices, he wanted so much to guide and protect his people, that he said to them shortly before his death:

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me; observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations.  Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not let (these laws and decrees) slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deut. 4:1, 5-9) 

Saturday, 8 February 2020

5th Sunday of the Year A 2020

5th. Sunday of the Year (A)

(Isaiah 58:7-10; 1st. Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16.)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you take your mind back to that first reading from the prophet Isaiah you will recall the words:

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your wound shall quickly be healed.  Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear-guard.

In that reading a healing is being referred to: God healing us from the wound of sin and the sore of pride, and we are told that by His help men will recover, and their recovery will be backed up subsequently by the glory of the Lord supporting them.  All that will be God’s GIFT, thanks to His saving mercy.  God’s healing is not like the work of some picture restorer, cleaning away the grime of ages and revealing the original beauty of some painting in all its integrity;  His restoring work is the gift of eternal life in Jesus by the Spirit, something previously only foreshadowed for Adam and Eve before being irrevocably lost by our forebears’ sin.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, your wound shall quickly be healed.  Your vindication shall go before you and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

This healing of the wound of sin and the sore of pride thanks to God’s merciful gift to us in Jesus, this abiding and sure protection given by His glory which follows us, results from the gift of eternal life and is the source and the shield of our earthly “righteousness” that makes us “the salt of the earth”, and “the light of the world”.  And this our Gifted-Light, must shine in the sight of men, not as a witness to our personal integrity, but -- as Jesus said -- to “glorify your Father in heaven”, and thus will we become living members of Him Who summed up His whole life in the words:

(Father) I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4),

of Him Who wanted even His act of dying on the Cross to serve the same end (Jn 17:1):

Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.  

And so, in order to fulfil our vocation as members of that beloved Son, we have to recognise that we are special, not of ourselves but by God’s gift to us in Jesus, and we have to remain special, because we have a work to do with Jesus for the Father:

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.

Our realising that “righteousness” is the gift of God thus becomes tantamount to awareness of our “responsibility”: we cannot allow our life in Christ to become tasteless by adopting behaviour that belongs to the world, where “my personal and professional integrity” are held in high esteem and the humility of Christian righteousness is contemned.

If we look more closely at Jesus’ choice of words to describe His disciples: ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ we will understand that both ‘salt’ and ‘light’ are self-less words, so to speak: salt in the ancient world being widely used to preserve food items, and even today to give ‘taste’ to food; of itself salt is relatively nothing.  Likewise, light serves to illuminate whatever is there to be seen by us; and again, of itself, apart from the things it illuminates, light is not of any personal use.  It is that self-less character which Jesus would like to see in His disciples, and which was well exemplified in the first two readings, where Isaiah advised:

If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday;

and St. Paul told his readers and converts that he had deliberately sought to centre their faith in God by affirming the essential importance of Jesus sent by God, and making himself and his own preaching as unpretentious as possible:

When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom, my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Paul, ‘salt of the earth’ sought to ‘preserve’ his converts by proclaiming and glorifying not himself but Jesus, for God.

One of the characteristics of some modern, self-styled religious people is that they look to get something out of religion for themselves here and now.  They usually want to hear and experience something new, preferably indeed, something mysterious and oriental, that will, hopefully, free them from the weariness of what they have long been aware of in our Western society yet have never known or experienced; they want to feel the power and excitement of being swept along by charged communal emotions or the bliss of being surrounded and lulled by a scented and gently swirling fog of mystery.  Such people are centred on their own earthly, supposedly-spiritual, feelings and experiences, and they end up finding Christianity, which speaks of a transcendent God, quite boring; especially, indeed, when the Christian message is proclaimed with clarity to their minds, whereas they want to have their emotions strongly stirred and clamouring but with their minds left relatively -- that is comfortably and peacefully -- disengaged.

The apostle Paul said that He preached the mystery of God in such a way that his convert’s faith should rest, not on the wisdom or cleverness of men who can speak words almost salacious in their ability to delight and sway the hearts of those who hear them, but on the power of God.  And there, you might think, there is something that needs explaining, for displays of Godly power are, surely, just what many of us Catholic and Christian people rejoice to hear of and perhaps want to see and experience?

Yes, that is indeed the case.  But the power of God of which St. Paul speaks is never displayed: it is, indeed, sometimes exercised for the encouragement and benefit of people in particular circumstances hearing the testimony of God for the first time, or, striving to live according to His teaching.  However, God's exercise of power on such occasions and for such people is not a display of spiritual fireworks to make all who witness it gape, but rather a rare and extraordinary visible manifestation of what is God’s continuous invisible battle through the Church and by His Spirit for the minds and hearts of men and women of all times and all cultures against the abusive and tyrannical rule of Satan; and there is no power other than that normally unseen power of God’s grace in Jesus and the Church that can rescue mankind from their fallen, sinful, state.  Today, in our affluent, sinful and adulterous society, we see the awful consequences arising for ordinary individuals when society as a whole acquiesces under the power of Satan and opts for the wages of sin, with the result that ever more and more disgusting and degrading exuberances of evil appear in our midst, and against which the miserable fig-leaves of human self-righteousness and the ‘rule of law’ are powerless to control, let alone redress.

People of God, Christians and above all Catholics have to try to be salt of the earth and light of the world.  Salt was used, as I said, in the ancient world to preserve food from corruption; and those disciples of Jesus who do not resist the corruption of evil, have become like tasteless salt, as Jesus Himself said:

Good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

Likewise, light is meant to show people the way, to lead them in the right direction; Catholics who do not, in any way, lead along that way, but rather only and always follow in the wake of the world, whose consistent excuse is that 'what everyone else is doing can't be that bad', are not true Catholics, not authentic disciples of Jesus, at all.  And yet so many formerly nominal Catholic people today do not fight against moral corruption, allowing themselves to positively delight in ‘their own eggs’ -- the pleasures of darkness and self-esteem – people, that is, who turn most deliberately from the light and follow the pagan majority into fornication, divorce, adultery, contraception and, above all, into abortion; they steal, they malign, and they lie.  Some even do such things and then consummate their sin by receiving the Eucharist without contrition, without confession, but with oodles of piteous self-deceit or disgusting hypocrisy and pseudo ‘personal integrity’.

People of God, be simple and sincere in all your dealings, and do not fail to be quietly but totally confident in Jesus’ promise that, because you are humbly trying to be His true disciples, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and all the witness that you bear for Jesus will bring forth fruit in His good time that is both ‘pleasant and desirable’ for God’s people.  Do not be eaten up with concern for yourself and your standing among men, but rather -- trying to be true to Jesus and His teaching in Mother Church -- trust in God and give Him a free hand to take care of you, for He is the unfailing Shepherd of His flock.  In that way the prophecy of Isaiah will be verified in you and for you:

Your light shall break forth like the dawn, your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and He will say, 'Here I am.'